Editorial 1 / Indefinite article
Editorial 2 / Name game
South Asia’s weak link
Fifth Column / Bright side of caste politics
Language is the key
Learn the proper way to figure it out
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / INDEFINITE ARTICLE 
 
 
 
 
The outbreaks of violence in West Bengal provide more than a stage on which the two rival political groups, the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), accuse each other. This raises questions about the feasibility of holding the assembly elections in May. It is clear that as passions mount and rivalry intensifies, incidents involving violence and bloodshed are going to escalate. This, in the cynical world of West Bengal politics, is somewhat inevitable when the political party entrenched in power faces a challenge from a rival which is willing to use the same methods that the other party used when it first made a bid for power in the Sixties. West Bengal has a history of violent and unfair elections. There is the growing fear in certain circles that under pressure, the CPI(M) may resort to methods that are not entirely democratic. The only redress available against terror and rigging during elections is the demand that elections should be held under president’s rule. Quite predictably, the leader of the Trinamool Congress, Ms Mamata Banerjee, cabinet minister, has appealed to the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to ensure that the forthcoming elections are held under president’s rule so that they are free and fair.

Ms Banerjee may have been disappointed at the prime minister’s response but perhaps she was not entirely surprised. Mr Vajpayee expressed concern but gave no assurances about the use of Article 356. Mr Vajpayee sits at the head of a coalition whose cracks are not too well cemented. The coalition has in it a party like the Telugu Desam Party which holds state power. It would be loathe to give its consent to the use of Article 356. Regional parties tend to view, with a lot of justification, Article 356 as an instrument of greater centralization and therefore are suspicious of it. Mr Vajpayee cannot alienate his other alliance partners to satisfy Ms Banerjee. He has to steer more carefully and has to keep his priorities straight about keeping the coalition workable. From Mr Vajpayee’s point of view, the situation in West Bengal has not turned so bad as to make governance impossible. What appears routine for Ms Banerjee may seem an aberration to the prime minister because their perspectives are different. As wily a politician as Ms Banerjee cannot be unaware of all this. But she also knows that she will be letting her supporters down if she, as a cabinet minister, did not put forward their case to the prime minister. Also, the threat of Article 356 is a very convenient stick to wave before the Left Front to keep it on the straight and narrow. Ms Banerjee’s demand has thus within it the elements of a shadow play. She knows she is asking for the impossible from Mr Vajpayee. But it serves to discipline her rivals.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / NAME GAME 
 
 
 
 
They never give up. The four-day delay in the publication of the electoral rolls in West Bengal was caused simply by the necessity of throwing out two-thirds of the new applications for inclusion in the voters’ list. The sum total is now acceptable, showing an increase of 1.16 per cent over the numbers of the last five years, which is counted “normal”. In the first place, 779,729 names had to be deleted because the owners of the names have either died or moved elsewhere. This is not an inconsiderable figure. The unverified inclusion of these names would have meant an almost unlimited scope for putting in false votes. Experience has shown that no political party is free from this particular form of temptation. Naturally, the position of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal makes it the most convincing suspect in allegations of rigging, but neither the Congress nor the Trinamool Congress need be spared scrutiny. One of the first jobs a political party should take on is to make sure that the electoral rolls are clean, by checking on the different assembly segments under its jurisdiction. This would go a long way in establishing its good faith in participating in a “free and fair” election. Unfortunately for the voters, for contesting political parties, it is more advantageous if the waters are already muddy. Post-election accusations can fly thick and fast and even repolls may be considered in some cases. At the very least, the losing party can claim martyr status. The party in administration, of course, reaps the greatest benefits out of the situation.

More disturbing is the fact that this time, among the names thrown out, a large number came from eight districts bordering Bangladesh in North 24 Parganas and Nadia. This exposes the old game of motivated infiltration. The border is left deliberately porous for constant movement, in spite of the appearance of checks and security kept up by the administration. Illegal settlers near the border increase the bulk of voters for the party which patronizes their entry. Apart from the illegality of the proceeding, such infiltration sets up serious socio-economic tensions, the disturbing results of which are evident in the Northeast. Besides, porous borders mean illegal traffic, whether in goods, drugs or arms. This is a dangerous practice, and no political party with any sense of responsibility should blind itself to either the question of legality or the dangerous outcome of infiltration by concentrating on the vote share. The Election Commission’s effort to clean the rolls of false applications is a signal of hope. Although it has not shown West Bengal in a very good light, it is at least an encouraging sign for the electorate. The voters might begin to hope that the elections this time will be fractionally freer and fairer than earlier.

   

 
 
SOUTH ASIA’S WEAK LINK 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
Activities of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation have been becalmed, particularly over the last two years. Its current state of inactivity should be of particular concern not only because the summit meetings are not being held for two years, but also because of indications that the summit may not be held at all in the foreseeable future.

The idea of SAARC was mooted by the then president of Bangladesh, General Zia-ur-Rahman, in 1981. It came into being in 1985. India’s initial reaction was of caution because of the apprehension that the organization could be utilized as a platform for its smaller neighbours to put pressure on India regarding issues on which they wished it to compromise with them.

India faced a dilemma. If it refused to join the organization proposed by Bangladesh, it would have been accused of not cooperating with her neighbours in a joint effort for the wellbeing of the people of the region despite being the biggest country in it. If India joined, it faced the dual prospects of either being subjected to pressures on issues affecting its national interests or being accused of trying to dominate the group if it made any innovative economic, technological or political suggestions.

Ultimately, India decided to join with reservations. The charter of the SAARC, therefore, stipulated that the forum would primarily function to enhance regional cooperation in the economic, technological, cultural and social fields. Bilateral political disputes were not to be brought to or discussed in the forum.

The SAARC is 15 years old now, and its success in moving towards the objectives for which it was established can at best be described as sporadic and tentative. SAARC summits and ministerial deliberations had been interrupted or postponed on several occasions. Political level meetings could not be held in 1985 and 1990, because of tensions between India and Sri Lanka on the Tamil ethnic problem. Similarly brief delays occurred because of the disputes between Nepal and Bhutan on the question of the Nepalese whose citizenship rights in Bhutan were questioned by the Bhutanese government.

SAARC deliberations were also disrupted in December, 1992 because of the destruction of the Babri mosque and the resultant agitations in Bangladesh and Pakistan against India. The military coup of General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan in October 1999 led to India’s reluctance to participate in SAARC meetings in which the military regime of Pakistan was represented.

SAARC deliberations have again been in a drift since the second half of 1999. The official level meeting of the SAARC representatives in Colombo in November, chaired by the Sri Lankan foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, came to the conclusion that given the current political atmosphere, foreign minister level meetings of SAARC and the summit may not be held even in the year 2001. In fact, even during the tenure of I.K. Gujral, when there was a revival of enthusiasm for SAARC, political issues, particularly those affecting the Indo-Pakistan relationship, bedevilled the activities of SAARC. Even Gujral thought about sub-regional cooperation among those members of SAARC who were willing to work together so that no single SAARC country could hold regional cooperation to ransom. It was suggested that India and Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, could cooperate in those areas where there was complementarity and mutuality of interests. Another suggestion has been under discussion — that is, cooperation between countries in the south Asian region constituting the littoral zone of the Bay of Bengal, namely, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation.

The disappointment with SAARC has resulted in non-governmental initiatives by eminent leaders and intellectuals of the region to come together and activate processes of cooperation through non-governmental channels by interaction through civil societies of the states constituting SAARC. The latest initiative is the creation of a forum of eminent persons of south Asia, chaired by Gujral. The first meeting of this entity was held in Kathmandu in early December.

After the nuclear weaponization of India and Pakistan, there is an incremental concern in the international community about the stability and security of south Asia for which south Asian cooperation is considered a necessity. Cultural institutions and thinktanks of the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, are actively encouraging an institutional discourse between the decisionmaking and decision influencing segments of the people in SAARC countries, with the expectation that such a discourse, will lead to governments of the region transcending their inhibitions and populist compulsions.

To examine the prospects of south Asian cooperation requires consideration of two factors: the extent of concrete cooperation the countries of the south Asian region have managed to achieve under the umbrella of SAARC, and secondly, the deeper reasons why south Asian regional cooperation is not taking off.

The achievements could be briefly summed up as follows: SAARC has provided a platform and has been a catalyst for collective consideration of social, cultural, economic, developmental and technological issues of shared concern and interest among the SAARC countries. There has been some progress in formulating suggestions and terms of cooperation in the fields of agriculture, tourism, creation of databanks with information as well as integrated plans for poverty alleviation in the region.

Technical level discussions have been completed and consensus has been developed for the creation of a south Asian preferential trade area, which should lead to the creation of a south Asian free trade area, the ultimate objective being to create a south Asian common market and then a south Asian economic community.

While the constituent elements in the arrangements for these objectives have been agreed upon, there have been differences of opinion about the time-frame within which the projects should be completed. Pakistan keeps chanting that unless the problem of Kashmir is solved it cannot participate in these processes. It is in this context that the November 2000 meeting of SAARC officials in Colombo was held. A higher level political meeting cannot be held, given the existing political atmosphere in the south Asian region. The Indo-Pakistani adversarial relationship is the kernel of this negative environment.

The negative factors or difficulties which have affected SAARC cooperation are: the asymmetry between India and its other neighbours in terms of demography, economic and technological capacities, military strength. The situation is compounded by the bilateral disputes characterizing relations between Nepal and Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. At a deeper level, India’s neighbours are subjected to political, socio-cultural apprehensions about their own national identities and security because of the overlapping phenomena of ethnicity, language and religion which characterize their populations and the people of India.

These apprehensions have led the SAARC countries to incline towards establishing links with other regions and important powers to counterbalance the overarching influence of India. Pakistan is keen on assuming an Islamic identity rooted in relations with countries of west Asia. Bangladesh aspires to link up with Malaysia and Indonesia as a Muslim country. Sri Lanka at a point of time was more keen to be part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations than SAARC. Indian strategic thinkers are similarly inclined towards having a linkage with ASEAN or experimenting with different models of regional cooperation going beyond the SAARC region.

That the prospects of SAARC cooperation are not encouraging is clear from the delay in the institutional political discourse between the governments of the region at the requisite high levels. Also, despite the track II non-governmental initiative taken, so far these initiatives have not impacted on policies of the governments of the region. The basic predicament that emerges is that none of the member countries of SAARC seems to have a deep commitment to the SAARC arrangements.

Two requirements have to be fulfilled for SAARC cooperation to be meaningful. There should be a purposive effort at resolving all the major political disputes among the member countries of SAARC. Unless this happens, the necessary atmosphere of trust would not come about. Then, the shared feeling of the need for south Asian cooperation among peoples of the region has to be transmuted into collective conviction among the governments. This would then translate itself into policy decisions. Effective cooperation within the framework of SAARC appears to be a long haul.

The author is former foreign secretary of India    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / BRIGHT SIDE OF CASTE POLITICS 
 
 
BY MEENAKSHI JAIN
 
 
Negative stereotypes of caste have been so successfully popularized that it sounds retrograde to talk of its positive dimensions. But it needs to be stated that in the political realm at least, caste has played an emancipating role. Recent developments in Bihar centred parties, principally the Samata Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Jan Shakti, are a reiteration of caste’s empowering dimension. Its contribution here parallels, if not exceeds, that of modern education, communications and commerce, in the uplift of the non-elite sections of Hindu society.

What is currently being attempted in Bihar is nothing less than an inversion of the traditional hierarchy, ironically under the aegis of wholly casteist bodies. The Lok Jan Shakti, the party of Dalits and the extremely backward castes, in alignment with upper caste Rajputs, is gearing to take on the powerful other backward classes phalanx headed by the mighty Yadavs.

The impending contest has triggered off tremendous churning within the Samata Party. OBC leaders within the party are in favour of tie-ups with other OBC-dominated parties, like the Janata Dal (U), and eventually even the Rashtriya Janata Party of Laloo Prasad Yadav. On the other hand, Samata Party leaders belonging to the upper caste and Dalit groupings are pressing for an understanding with the Lok Jan Shakti.

This is not the first attempt at inversion of the varna hierarchy. The Sixties saw the OBCs dent the political domination of the upper castes all over north India, with the rout of the Congress in 1967. Thereafter, there has been a steady political decline of upper castes.

Consolidating gains

Caste’s politically emancipating role has been sometime in the making. Even before independence, electoral politics had begun to push essentially village-oriented caste groupings out of their narrow confines into larger caste formations spanning districts, states and even regions. The process of formation of these broad horizontal categories effectively submerged jati, sub-jati, gotraand sundry other limited Hindu identity markers.

In facilitating the crystallization of larger communities, identities and loyalties, caste functioned as a modernizing agency. It is because of this that it is now possible to perceive three broad horizontal social categories — upper castes, OBCs, Dalits (tribals being clubbed with Dalits in the new grading), — a phenomena that can be regarded as a step in the direction of a more coherent polity and society.

The principal beneficiaries of the process of caste consolidation have not been the elite castes, which have been relatively homogeneous formations. It is the non-elite caste groups that have used the process to emerge as the most assertive communities in India today. While OBCs dominated the political horizon from the mid-Sixties, the decades since the mid-Eighties have witnessed the coming-of-age of the Dalits.

Social churning

In large parts of the countryside, the so-called elite castes have been reduced to the status of appendages of these two formations, as in Bihar. In the South, power passed into non-elite hands at the time of independence itself. In north India now, non-elite castes are a force to reckon with.

In Uttar Pradesh, for example, OBCs dominate the Samajwadi Party while Dalits preside over the Bahujan Samaj Party. Both parties accommodate the erstwhile upper castes in second-rung positions, even as the Bharatiya Janata Party wrestles with a viable response.

An important consequence of this non-elite caste dynamism is that identity-formation in India has acquired an unprecedented fluidity. Since numerical strength translates into political power, there is a tendency for castes to shed their exclusivity and reach out to those below them with offers of assimilation and elevation of status. In Gujarat, princely Rajputs offered Kshatriya status to lowly peasant communities in an attempt to augment their political fortunes.

Perhaps the most far-reaching consequence of the process is the de-legitimization of hierarchical ranking that some believe is implicit in the varna model. Hindu society is becoming egalitarian with major caste formations more or less evenly pitted politically. The turbulence in Bihar is symbolic of this larger social churning. Caste is reinventing itself according to modern day requirements.

   

 
 
LANGUAGE IS THE KEY 
 
 
BY RIMI B. CHATTERJEE
 
 
On a cork board in one of the stairwells of the Bodleian Library of Oxford University there is a small notice, which says, “If you can read this, thank your primary school teacher.” If Oxford is, as it claims to be, the centre of the intellectual universe, then the Bodleian is the centre of Oxford. Yet even there, where academics give the impression of having sprung ready armed with Liddell and Scot’s Latin dictionary from the head of Jove, all must acknowledge that learning begins with ABC.

Such realism is obviously far from the mindset of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his fellow travellers, to judge by his recent pronouncements on science. Vajpayee seems to share the politician’s pet foible of seeing intellectual endeavour as a set of watertight compartments, labelled “subjects” and “streams’. He is not the only politician who thinks he can pollute one stream and wash in another with impunity.

Science does not happen in a vacuum; it is done by scientists, who must communicate with one another. The more scientists talk with each other, the more they compare their findings, collaborate, disagree and compare notes, the more chance there is of intellectual cross-fertilization and less likelihood of dodgy science passing itself off as sound research. And the medium of such communication worldwide is English.

Let there be no misunderstanding about this. Science cannot happen without a common language. It is true that scientists can, and do when they must, communicate by means of grunts and mathematical formulae, but no one would consider that a good signal-to-noise ratio. But the political tendency generally in India, as well as concretely in many states, has been to downgrade English, to banish it from the curriculum, or failing that, to teach it so badly that it might as well not be taught at all. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the sangh parivar have done their share of propagating this attitude.

Consider the results of such teaching. Unless parents are rich enough to afford private tuition or elite schooling for their children, they grow up communicating primarily in their vernacular. Leaving aside questions of the standard of teaching of vernaculars, the children access ideas from outside their community mainly through translation, if at all. Because human intelligence is a protean and adaptable thing, some of these children nevertheless grow up to be brilliant. Like other brilliant kids they sit and pass competitive exams. Suddenly they are in a world where they must speak English or perish.

The tragedy of this is difficult to comprehend unless one witnesses it in the flesh. It is not simply a matter of having to work harder than everyone else. The sudden loss of the power of speech and understanding is like being reduced to a social and intellectual cripple in an environment that prizes ability above all else, and at an age when one’s self-confidence is particularly fragile. I have seen highly intelligent young people reduced to helpless immobility by the thought of making a telephone call to someone who does not speak their language.

It is hard enough dealing with a huge syllabus and tight schedules without having to comprehend everything through a fog of linguistic uncertainty. That such students do as well as they do is entirely to their credit alone.

The genesis of the tragedy is simple. As a tiny minority, the ablest students of any community form a group whose votes are not worth a squat in the numbers game of demagoguery. If they are unlucky enough to come from a state whose ruler says things like “Yeh ITYT kya hai?” while using a mobile phone, the damage is done long before they enter the hallowed portals of one of our centres of excellence. Having gone through the mill of state education, their intellectual toolboxes are already set before they reach the apotheosis of a scientific or technical education.

Because levels of intelligence are quite difficult to determine in a child until quite late in life, it is pointless to waffle about model schools for those with lower incomes where the best can be trained to be the best. Any child in a government school has the potential to make it into an elite institution, but our political masters have made sure that if they do so, they will enter with a massive handicap. Family income, regardless of popular opinion to the contrary, is not a measure of intelligence.

In this country English is the only way that someone from Kottayam can communicate with someone from Purnea. Most people mouth pious platitudes about everyone learning the rashtrabhasha in the secure knowledge that they will rarely have to encounter such situations. But educational institutes that take students from all over the country face the problem on a day to day basis. What is merely a debating topic in legislative bodies or the opportunity for some energetic wall-painting elsewhere, is for such organizations a constant operational hazard and a drag on achievement.

Science does not exist in some meta-universe where alumni of our regional schools will suddenly and miraculously acquire the ability to work and think in tune with its global ecumeny. Armed only with linguistic structures that have not bothered to modernize, or have done so by fiat and directive, students cannot truly grasp the principles of a blast furnace or a silicon chip.

Even if they do, assessment sometimes fails because the students then face the problem of expressing their understanding. If they pass both these tests and emerge from their trial with good marks, they face the further ordeal of job interviews, assignments all over the country if not the globe, daily interactions in an alien and ill-understood tongue.

It is not a solution to compose unwieldy and incongruous thesauri of “scientific” words derived from Sanskrit to be shoe-horned into the regional languages. These will only help (if they help at all) regional language speakers to learn science. These will not help them communicate their findings to the scientific community. To use them is to condemn Indian science to sit behind a linguistic purdah that ensures its invisibility to everyone else. Our visibility on a global scale is bad enough as it is. Do we really want to sit around absorbing second hand science?

We should also understand that we are not alone in facing this problem. Periodically, misguided patriots in Europe and elsewhere raise calls for German, or Russian or French or Japanese or some other tongue, to be the language of science. Why must we all bow to the hegemony of English? they ask in pamphlets and newspaper articles.

Suppose one such group were to win such a concession from some global apex body. Can you imagine the ensuing chaos? Would Mr Vajpayee then shell out a few thousand crore to teach our top scientists Japanese? English is the line of least resistance, and least fuss, for all the world at this present historical moment.

There could be some constructive advice for parents. If they are truly convinced that, as our leaders so often tell us, English is irrelevant in free India and should be shunned as a badge of colonial servitude, then by all means they should educate their children solely in the vernaculars.

But they should also make sure that these children never aspire to be scientists, doctors, engineers or even, in this changing world, farmers, builders, electricians or traders. Instead, they should be found a calling which will ensure that their world remains confined within the extent of their linguistic community. This will be doing them a kindness.

For those who are not so convinced, the time has come to stop taking nonsense from the people who control our children’s futures. It is not enough for us to thank our primary school teachers. We must also make sure that coming generations have reasons to thank theirs too. That notice in the Bodleian was a futile protest against Thatcherite cuts in spending on education; it accompanied a summary of how these cuts had worsened British education. If Britain is no longer spending all that much on teaching its children English, there is no reason why we should follow the example of our former colonial masters. Unless, as our politicians seem to believe, Indian independence never really happened and we are still shadow-boxing with our linguistic oppressors.

   

 
 
LEARN THE PROPER WAY TO FIGURE IT OUT 
 
 
BY BARUN KUMAR SAHU
 
 
Lack of data may be an unlikely reason for the inadequate pace of development in our country. Various government departments and agencies conduct censuses and surveys to generate data for the use of planners, policy-makers and policy analysts. Huge data are generated in these studies. The quality of this information, the delays in publication, the cost of collection, processing of the data and coordination of the work are the problem areas, though.

In addition to the population census, other censuses are also conducted by the government as part of national or state programmes. These relate to agriculture, livestock, economy or any particular aspect of the population as estimating the number of families living below the poverty line and so on. The studies are also conducted for specific purposes as in surveys on housing, benefits to weaker sections and others. Moreover, the National Sample Survey Organization keeps conducting various rounds of surveys with emphasis on different sectors in each round.

Prejudiced view

Many such censuses are conducted at the grassroots level by district collectors, sub-divisional officers and block development officers. Usually, school teachers and other junior government employees are appointed as enumerators and supervisors for the censuses. The process is integrated at this level. Coordination is bad at the upper level, where the heads of the departments concerned plan, design, conduct, monitor and supervise the censuses.

The lack of integration at the top leads to various problems. First, the departmental heads draw up the census schedule when they find it convenient. That the district and lower levels of administration might be preoccupied with other censuses is often overlooked. Thus at the district level, censuses become part of the daily official routine. Second, the biases of departmental heads are often found reflected in the outcome of the studies. An example is the estimated percentage of people living below the poverty line in states. There is a remarkable difference in the estimates of different government agencies.

Third, there is underutilization of the administrative infrastructure. For example, the set-up for the decennial population census is pretty much idle for seven to eight years in a decade.

Combine efforts

There is need for an integrated approach. This may be achieved by setting up a single apex body which will be responsible for all censuses taken up in the country at the national level. There may be a similar set-up at the state levels. The structure may be on the pattern of the election commission which has bodies both at the national and state levels. The national body may be placed under the supervision of the Central Statistical Organization.

With this integration, it will be possible to avoid the duplication of work. In fact, some of the censuses may even be combined into one. For example, censuses for livestock and agriculture may be combined into a joint census. The unification will also make it possible to pool in expertise and develop resources. This will also relieve the district administration, which conducts the studies at the grassroots level, of some of its burden.

The National Statistical Commission set up by the Central government is now reviewing the statistical systems in the government. It will go a long way in streamlining the statistical system of our country if a single body is entrusted with the responsibility of all types of censuses.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Honourable intent

Sir — With a bit of help from the management and cooperation from male colleagues, the workplace may actually become a more gender sensitive place for most women (“Sex harassment focus on govt crown jewels”, Jan 14 and “More muscle for women’s panel”, Jan 16). The Centre’s decision to make this year the year of the empowerment of women and the promise of the human resources development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, to strengthen the national commission for women so that it can play a more assertive role in the future, will undoubtedly give hope to working women all over the country. However, it is difficult not to take this news without a pinch of salt. Are the companies serious about creating a friendly working environment in which female employees do not feel insecure? Or are they interested in avoiding liability and only paying lip service to the guidelines of the Supreme Court? Either way, enforcement of the guidelines may actually help to create the necessary awareness.
Yours faithfully,
Deepa Khanna, via email

Chiefly adulatory

Sir — The editorial, “Test By fire” (Jan 9), compliments the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, on his emphasis on “issues relating to development” and conveniently absolves him of any responsibility for the rot that has crept into the administration and the police force over the last 24 years. The very next day the editorial, “Violent Trail”(Jan 10), displays a complete change of tone and denounces Bhattacharjee because for him too “party loyalty comes before the responsibilities of a chief minister”. It is difficult to understand what happened in the course of 24 hours for such a reversal of opinion.

The hype around the new chief minister’s pious intentions and the praise heaped on him by a section of the media is bewildering. It is almost as if a new government has been sworn in with a new chief minister. Whereas in reality Bhattacharjee was very much a part of the government for the last 10 years and was even the home minister. It is therefore hard to believe that he was unable to do anything about the law and order situation or stem the growing decadence in the police force. Was it his incompetence or was it because the former chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, vetoed all his efforts? If it was indeed the latter what is it that compelled him to continue in office? One can only hope that the press will play a more constructive a role in the future.

Yours faithfully,
A. Ghosh, via email

Sir — The editorial, “Test by fire” (Jan 9), rightly sums up the political trends in our country where party leaders seem to assume the position of gods and where the protectionism of the party overshadows the problems of the masses. The country’s interests are not served because of infighting.

It is not yet clear what exactly happened in Keshpur. However, West Bengal will not be able to go very far if the political parties do not stop indulging in the politics of violence and bandhs. In a democracy, it is the duty of those in the opposition to play a more constructive than an obstructive role. Opposition parties like the Trinamool Congress should concentrate on maintaining a series of checks on the government rather than indulging in petty quarrels.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Unarmed with the truth

Sir — In his article, “How to get all tanked up and win a war” (Dec 14), N.K. Pant misses two home truths. It is not a superior main battle tank, but superior training and leadership that wins tank battles. The last two major India-Pakistan wars have convincingly proved the point for the Indian army. Recall the Deccan Horse at Asal Uttar in 1965 and the Poona Horse at Basantar in 1971?

As a veteran of both these wars in the western sector, I must say that an intelligent involvement of the private sector would have meant less imports and more indigenous arms. There is a tendency here to squander money on imported arms.

The T-55 was procured as an emergent measure since the Vijayanta was not used properly; the Arjun was to have been inducted subsequently. Instead, the Indian army got the T-72 and now the T-90. It is time for the government to present a white paper including all the comptroller and auditor general reports on the country’s arms procurement over the past five decades.

Yours faithfully,
J.K. Dutt, Calcutta

Sir — Four of the Indian army’s former officers, cleared by the Delhi high court in the spying case, have alleged that all the 50 accused were victims of “whims and fancies” of some “vested interests” in the army establishment. One of the four acquitted, further stated that the two jawans, Aya Singh and Sarwan Dass, who were originally charged with espionage, were not tried for that offence, but court-martialled for remaining absent without leave and dismissed from service, but then reinstated in the army a year later. This is nothing short of unbelievable.

Although the high court has exonerated all the accused, and restored their military honour with full compensation of their monetary loss, the matter must not be allowed to rest here. Apart from restructuring the military justice system, the government must also find the identities of the officers responsible for this shameful act, and the vested interests they were trying to shield. Transparency dictates that the army personnel should do this on their own. It is surprising that the army has remained completely silent on this issue.

Yours faithfully,
N.B. Grant, Pune

Ungentlemanly approach

Sir — Every nook and corner of Calcutta now has a cricket coaching centre. Inexperienced people, who have no idea about the game, are claiming that they are going to teach little children this “gentleman’s game”. Unfortunately, every Tom, Dick and Harry, even those who have played only para cricket, are claiming that they are equipped to coach.

Because of these phoneys, young talents get misdirected. There should be stringent laws which stipulate that only those people who have played professional cricket be allowed to open these coaching centres — just like the Bournvita Cricket Academy. This is the only way we can ensure that cricket does not go to the dogs.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, via email

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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