Editorial 1 / Resigned to stay
Editorial 2 / Seams of death
Discipline and punish
Fifth Column / Identity politics becomes militant
Battle of the bookwriters
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / RESIGNED TO STAY 
 
 
 
 
The art of survival in Indian politics is to keep all the options open. Mr Subhas Chakraborty of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) seems to have made this lesson his own. He has given out enough signals to tell the world that he has serious grievances against his party and the way it is run in West Bengal. In the very recent past, he went to the extent of declaring that even the intervention of the former chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu, would not be able to placate him. From his public pronouncements, any observer would be justified in inferring that Mr Chakraborty is all set to sever his links with the CPI(M). But the break is yet to take place and for all practical purposes, Mr Chakraborty remains a soldier of the party he has served all his adult life. His staying on may be related to the talks he recently had in New Delhi with Mr Basu and the general secretary of the CPI(M), Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet. What is as important as his staying on is Mr Chakraborty’s refusal to make any kind of commitment. He has not categorically said that he is not leaving. Ambiguity and equivocation appear to have become Mr Chakraborty’s two middle names. Apart from making himself look ridiculous, Mr Chakraborty is also revealing that the so-called iron-clad discipline of the CPI(M) is a thing of the past.

There is no doubt that in an earlier era even a leader of Mr Chakraborty’s stature would have faced serious disciplinary action from the CPI(M) if he had expressed his disapproval for the party in the manner that Mr Chakraborty has done. But nobody has yet broached the idea that he should be disciplined. This lends itself to the conclusion that Mr Chakraborty’s departure/staying on is not without consequence for the CPI(M). Mr Chakraborty is a seasoned campaigner; he knows how to manipulate the election machinery; he commands a degree of muscle power; and in parts of North 24 Parganas he has a support base. This makes Mr Chakraborty a formidable figure who may be somewhat indispensable in an election that promises to be closely fought. There is also the danger that Mr Chakraborty’s resignation might precipitate a split within the party, an eventuality which the CPI(M) can ill-afford in the present political conjuncture. A split in the left votes, even in a part of West Bengal, will be a godsend for the CPI(M)’s challenger, Ms Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress. Mr Chakraborty is thus in a privileged position politically: he can render service and disservice to his party. He is thus well-placed to bargain and state his terms. It is obvious that his claims have been taken seriously by Mr Basu and Mr Surjeet. If they have indeed placated him and if Mr Chakraborty is no longer playing cat and mouse, then Mr Chakraborty can bask in the glory of his own self-importance.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / SEAMS OF DEATH 
 
 
 
 
Perhaps the deaths of miners trapped in a flooded or collapsed mine count among the many passing embarrassments for the authorities. Nothing else can explain the inundation of the Bagdigi mine, under Bharat Coking Coal Limited, one of the subsidiaries of Coal India Limited. Apart from these two authorities, which are the most directly implicated in the lack of safety in the mine, the ministry of coal and the director general of mine safety are the other authorities which should have by now overseen the implementation of the safety measures repeatedly recommended by expert panels since the tragedies in Chasnala and Gaslitand. The worst tragedies are the most memorable. But the fact is that approximately 800 people have died in different mine accidents caused by flooding over the last 20 years. Thinning walls between mines because of overworking of seams, dynamiting, the lack of easy communication between the depth and the surface, the lack of surveillance of abandoned mines full of water adjacent to working mines, proximity to water bodies are some of the chief causes of sudden flooding. In the case of Bagdigi, the source of the flood was the abandoned Jairampur mine which, it is being inferred, was not separated from the working mine by the mandatory 60 metres. Dynamiting is being mentioned as another possible cause. Whatever it turns out to be, the root cause will remain the same. Forcing the earth to yield its treasure even from places where it is exhausted, accompanied by a reckless disregard of foreseeable consequences, can only end in tragedy.

The authorities so far seem to be in an unseemly hurry to pass on the burden of the possible human damage to whoever happens to be closest. The ministry of coal is busy blaming CIL for not following the safety guides, CIL is insisting that it is the ministry’s rising demands for coal that force the overworking of mines. What is new is the employment of divers from the navy to rescue the miners. That is about all. No one should be surprised that there is not even a list of accident-prone mines in the Jharia coal belt. Neither should there be any surprise at the fact that the many high-powered pumps intended for exactly such an emergency which were promised in the inquiry after the Gaslitand disaster are nowhere on the horizon. This is almost six years after Gaslitand. Nothing substantially different has happened in the interim except perhaps the very fact that a major mine flooding has occurred after six years and not earlier. There is a startling nakedness in the exploitation of nature and human labour which looks as if it were built into the mining system in this country. Miners’ safety is nobody’s priority, and no one is accountable for miners’ deaths. Given the past history of mine accidents, it seems unrealistic to hope that the Bagdigi inquiry will do what the Chasnala and Gaslitand inquiries did not. But that is also the only straw.

   

 
 
DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH 
 
 
BY BHASKAR DUTTA
 
 
What is the most persistent problem troubling the Indian economy? It is reasonably safe to bet that an overwhelming majority of respondents would answer that it is the fiscal indiscipline which is rampant in all tiers of government in India. The fiscal deficit of the Central government has typically exceeded five per cent of the gross national product throughout the Nineties. The fiscal health of state governments is even worse. The poorer states are hard-pressed to pay the salaries of their employees. Against this dismal background, development expenditure is at a premium. Not surprisingly, there is widespread recognition that sustained economic growth is very unlikely unless both state and Central governments take drastic steps.

Manmohan Singh did make strenuous efforts to rein in the deficit in the early years of the P.V. Narasimha Rao government. It was probably easy to implement very harsh measures during the first couple of years of the post-1991 period — we had just been through a period of acute crisis, and so everyone was willing to tighten their dhoti or sari. Despite this, the programme of fiscal compression lasted a mere couple of years or so. Almost all the opposition parties opposed the reform process.

Even the Congress itself was far from united about the desirability of the reform process. That the Congress government almost caved in to these hostile forces is evident from the fact that the reform process soon lost all momentum. Disillusionment with the reform process and a steep increase in government expenditure were more or less simultaneous. Very soon, the various indicators of fiscal indiscipline — the revenue deficit, the primary deficit and the fiscal — have all climbed back to dangerous levels.

The Nineties have seen more changes of government in New Delhi than we have ever witnessed. Displaying remarkable consistency, every finance minister has promised to bring down the fiscal deficit. Each successive speech lays down appealing targets for the deficit. Fortunately, no one takes these budget promises seriously because the targets are never met, and so finance ministers live on.

Is Yashwant Sinha very different from his predecessors? Like all finance ministers, he has been talking incessantly about the need to practise fiscal discipline. But, unlike his predecessors, he has stopped at this point. He has actually gone a step further and done something quite different. In late December, he has introduced the much-talked about fiscal responsibility bill in the Lok Sabha.

The basic objective of the bill is to tie down the hands of the Central government. It lays down in fairly great detail targets that the government will have to follow in the next five years regarding the size of the fiscal and revenue deficits. It also seeks to force the government to follow these targets by restricting its access to borrowings from the Reserve Bank of India. After all, if the Central government is denied access to borrowings from the RBI, then it cannot balance its “books” once its expenditure exceeds its revenues. This will thus force it to either curb expenditure or increase revenues.

Once the bill is passed, there is little doubt that the Central government will find it difficult to practice profligacy at the current scale. Nevertheless, very few people have reacted enthusiastically to this piece of legislation. Some feel that the government will somehow wriggle out of tight corners by somehow fudging its books. Several others point out that in the current Indian scenario, such long-term plans are useless. The government may change in the next election, and then the new government may come and modify the bill beyond all recognition. They point to the fate of the long-term fiscal policy announced in the mid-Eighties by V.P. Singh as finance minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government to buttress their point.

Perhaps the chief source of discomfort is the feeling that the bill forces the government to play dual roles. It must be both the culprit (if targets are not reached) as well as the law-enforcer. If these targets can indeed be achieved, then why cannot the government realign its expenditures and revenues without taking recourse to the fiscal responsibility bill? And if the targets are unreachable, then how will the existence of this piece of legislation in the statute books help?

Of course, the actual situation is not so cut and dried. Once the fiscal responsibility bill is passed, it will commit the government to smaller deficits. There are many situations in the sphere of economic policy-making where such commitment devices are very useful. For instance, the only way in which the government can currently withstand populist pressures to expand expenditures is by pointing out that it would be bad policy to do so. This does not quite carry the same force as a reply that it would be illegal to increase expenditure beyond existing levels. Once the bill is passed, the latter option will be available to the government.

However, there is a sense in which the current piece of legislation is badly flawed. The only restriction it places on the government is to balance its books in overall terms — there are no separate restrictions by category of expenditure. This will still allow the government to get away with some level of fiscal irresponsibility. For instance, the government can meet its deficit targets by cutting back its expenditure on development or on the social sectors. Obviously, this is not the way to practise fiscal discipline.

The inordinately large fiscal deficits of the Nineties is not a short-term phenomenon. The underlying causes are structural in nature, and so cannot be wished away by the waving of a magic wand. The government must be able to identify these causes and take immediate corrective steps. These steps will involve drastic measures on both the expenditure and revenue sides of the budget. As far as the expenditure side is concerned, there must be a sharp reduction in the level of subsidies and interest payments. Of course, the latter is an obligatory payment, and can only be reduced if some amount of public debt is retired.

Government revenues have not been increasing at anything like the required rate. The “culprits” are a falling ratio of taxes to GDP as well as stagnant non-tax revenues. The buoyancy of Central gross tax revenues during the Nineties has been only 0.91 whereas it was 1. 15 in the Eighties. State tax revenues show a remarkably similar pattern. A major reason for the lower buoyancy of Central tax revenues has been the sharp deceleration in revenues from excise taxes and customs duties.

Perhaps, one reason for the failure of excise taxes to generate sufficient tax revenues may be the growing importance of the services sector in the overall economy combined with the lower rate of taxation of this sector. The Centre and the states must soon decide whether they should raise taxes on this sector.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / IDENTITY POLITICS BECOMES MILITANT 
 
 
BY MURARI MOHAN MUKHERJEE
 
 
Last year, nearly 90 Hindi-speaking people were killed in Assam. A new militant outfit called the Assam Tiger Force claimed responsibility for the massacre. But the Assam police claims that the killings were engineered by the United Liberation Front of Asom. G.M. Srivastava, Assam’s additional director general of police, has said the ATF is a “non-existent and fictitious” organization. Political observers in Assam believe that the ATF cannot be an alternative to the ULFA because the ULFA will not allow any other organization to share the limelight in Assam.

Militancy in Assam is based on national and ethnic identities. The ULFA was only one offshoot of a larger movement in Assam. The birth of ULFA encouraged other ethnic groups to float their own militant outfits to realize their sectional demands. It is well-known that the Asom Gana Parishad leaders initially had good relations with ULFA militants. Even the Assamese bourgeoisie has used the ULFA from time to time to extract concessions from the Central government. But when the ULFA decided to go ahead with a demand for an independent Assam, both the AGP and the Assamese bourgeoisie alienated themselves from it.

Lately, the army and the government have managed to tarnish the ULFA’s image and that of the National Democratic Front of Bodo- land by insinuating that they have links with the Inter-Services Intelligence. To escape military operations, the ULFA and the NDFB have reputedly shifted their camps to bases in Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Bad bargain

According to army intelligence sources, there are about 2,500 ULFA and NDFB militants in Bhutan and they have a fairly large arsenal. Allegedly, the command headquarters of the ULFA is located there.

Recent news reports suggest that the Kamtapur People’s Party has established close ties with the ULFA. Upto 500 of the Kamtapur Liberation Organization cadre are said to have been given guerrilla training by the ULFA at its bases in Bhutan and in some inaccessible regions of Cooch Behar. The KLO is also suspected to have obtained unspecified quantities of arms and ammunition through ULFA and other sources. Since independence, there have been many attempts by Assamese leaders to make it a monolingual state. Unfortunately, their efforts to extend Assamese hegemony over other national and ethnic groups living in the state through a process of assimilation have backfired. This has led to the strengthening of linguistic and ethnic identities in the state.

Unfortunately, in the bargain, development issues have been overshadowed by the politics of influx and insurgency. Neither the Central leadership nor the elected representatives of the state are prepared to seriously ponder over the link between under-development and insurgency.

Blasted development

Most development projects in As- sam have been grossly neglected. The Namrup fertilizer plant is a prominent example of such negle- ct. In spite of the viability of the pr- oject, political opposition has rendered its fate uncertain. There has been little coordinated pressure on New Delhi to attend to this issue.

Electoral politics in a society fractured by the politics of identity cannot iron out differences among groups. It further consolidates ethnic loyalties. Not only regional groups and parties, but also national parties like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, (which, ultimately, have no solutions to offer to the real problems of the people) encourage this to the extent that it serves their narrow political objectives. As long as the politics of identity dominate Assam, there will be militancy. Even if one group of militants gives up arms and surrenders to the government, there will always be others taking to arms in the name of protecting their community interests.

It is of utmost urgency that informal meetings are conducted between the government and the ULFA. There is virtually no other choice but to sit down and hold talks about this. This will probably have to be done secretly, given the fact that the ULFA is a banned outfit. But New Delhi cannot be naive enough to imagine that the ULFA will volunteer to hold talks publicly. This is the only way the ULFA’s demand of the “sovereign socialist Assam” can be discussed and the outstanding issues settled.

   

 
 
BATTLE OF THE BOOKWRITERS 
 
 
BY BRINDA BOSE
 
 
“One must grant,” says Ramachandra Guha in a recent bitter invective, “that Arundhati Roy is a courageous woman. Other novelists like to shut themselves away from the world, but she has sought engagement with it…Most writers have been individualists and careerists. An all-too-small minority has shown an awareness of public issues. Where do we place Ms Roy in this line of honourable dissenters?”

Besides the fact that Guha’s rather comically patronizing tone seems to warrant an immediate bowing-and-scraping on Roy’s part (a “courageous woman” — almost an oxymoron?), one wonders who — or what — Guha and his ilk have been reading all their lives. Since the poor man is only able to come up with George Orwell and Kota Shivram Karanth in his no doubt exhaustive search down intellectual lane, I will not burden him with a list of committed, impassioned writers through ages and across continents that he could possibly read.

Perhaps the problem is even more basic: can fiction be political? Can fiction-writers dare to be political? And most important, can we allow them to be political outside of their fiction? An even smaller niggling question itches to be raised, if in the tiniest font: can a woman writer dare to be an activist?

After all, Guha finds in Orwell “the greatest of activist-novelist” and in Karanth “the finest novelist-activist of modern India”. To think that he finds Roy “self-indulgent and hyperbolic”! There does exist in the English language a concept known as a qualifier, and two little words such as “one of” preceding the superlatives, “the greatest” and “the finest”, may not have come amiss here. In their absence, one must presume that Guha has read all the work that activist-writers have ever produced and that his is an informed critical judgment. At least one other name comes to mind immediately. A drop in the ocean of activist-writers, perhaps, but surely a name to stand up against Karanth and Orwell? The name is Mahasweta Devi, and the work — the fiction and the non-fiction, both equally activist — pretty well known in national and international readerly circles.

It is not my intention to set up a debate here about the “finest novelist-activist of modern India” — my candidate against your candidate — but to simply draw attention to the meaninglessness of such judgments in a project so transparently aimed at denigrating someone else’s “causes” that Guha, self-confessedly, finds “intensely irritat[ing]”. Everyone is entitled to his/her own irritations, but to lose one’s perspective so completely is nothing short of ridiculous.

In fact, contrary to what Guha seems to believe, it is simplistic, but safe, to say that almost all writers worth their salt have always been profoundly political, and a great many of them have used their considerable writing powers to make important non-fictional interventions into the world they inhabit. Consciously, and deliberately, I will stick with the women (all “courageous”, Guha must concede). Why, even Jane Austen was “political” upon the “Two inches wide…ivory” that was her limited sphere of practice.

But to go only as far back as the last century, how about Virginia Woolf, arguably as well known as Orwell — or better? She dared to write about pacifism at the time of a world war, and demand a place in the sun for Shakespeare’s sisters. Later, on other continents, one might name, at random, the brilliant and immensely political black women writers, Adrienne Rich, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde. And to return to the subcontinent, Ismat Chugtai, Krishna Sobti, Tasleema Nasreen, Mahasweta Devi. And yes, Arundhati Roy.

I am not making any comparative judgments here. I am neither saying that Woolf was “the greatest”. All I am trying to establish is the very basic, very simple fact that millions of novelists have activist intentions embedded in them, for better or for worse. And mostly, for better.

Consider the case of Mahasweta Devi, certainly one of the best-known, loved and honoured of Indian activist-writers at the turn of this century. Even though some of her readers know her only through her fiction, all of them are aware of her commitment to the deprived, the poor and the underprivileged, and her extensive non-fictional writings devoted to her “causes”, all connected with the terrible exploitation of people and the environment.

In fact, as Maitreya Ghatak points out in his introduction to Dust on the Road, a collection of Mahasweta’s activist writings, it is well known that in her novels and short stories, she draws directly upon her intimate knowledge of the places and communities the rights of which she untiringly works for. Mahasweta herself has gone on record to say that her commitment to the causes she believes in involves “documenting the past and the continuing struggles of the people” in her fiction.

I wonder, then, whether Guha’s peremptory command to Roy — revert to fiction, now! — is supposed to be generally applicable, or whether (as it appears to me) the vendetta is incredibly personal. Who decides that Roy’s activism is “self-indulgent” while Mahasweta’s may be tolerated and Karanth’s celebrated, for instance? Guha, one might recall here, says grandly in his piece: “Arundhati Roy might very well equal Orwell and Karanth in her bravery. But she lacks their intellectual probity and judgment. Those men wrote with a proper sense of gravitas, in a prose that was lucid but understated, each word weighed before it was uttered…”

It may have escaped him altogether that Roy’s purpose in life may not be to equal Orwell and Karanth in bravery.

One grave and bravely-pontificating male setting very male standards for a troublesome, if courageous, woman. Not all prose that deals with serious concerns and causes need to be “understated”, either. And Roy is, if nothing else, lucidity exemplified, even when she is hysterical and hyperbolic. Surely the political reserves the right to be polemical? When one is espousing a cause, cannot one be emotional, passionate, fiery? And Roy isn’t coy, at least: “He’s right, I am hysterical. I’m screaming from the bloody rooftops.” The ultimate irony remains, of course, that Guha is no less hysterical in his absurd denouncing of her political interventions.

“I am told”, says Guha at the end of his tirade, persisting in being quaintly ponderous, “that Arundhati Roy has written a very good novel. Perhaps she should begin another.”

Perhaps she will, and acknowledge Guha for an idea that certainly wouldn’t have occurred to her before his avuncular advice was splashed in the public arena. Why should that prevent her — or any other celebrity fiction-writer, for that matter — from using their visibility to fight for causes they believe in? Why can’t Roy be a novelist and an activist-journalist at the same time, if Guha can be a cricket writer and an ecological historian simultaneously?

The last word, I’m afraid, rests with Roy: “It’s not his insults I find as corny as the rest of it — his pronouncements about what’s good for the environmental movement…what constitutes good writing. His unsolicited advice — advice to the NBA to disengage from me, advice to me to stop writing political essays and go back to literature. I mean apart from being someone with the Jurassic notion that politics and literature are mutually exclusive, who is he — the headboy? Cupboard captain? What’s next? Is he going to put me on a diet?…Sentence me to mustard bellbottoms for a whole month?”

That should be lucidity enough for other aspiring tyrannosauruses, and just about as much of overstatement as they deserve.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Dressed to kill

Sir — Much is being made of the meeting of the managing director of FTV, Michael Adams and Sushma Swaraj (“FTV on salvage mission” Feb 3). Adams’s declared concern is to make the channel “acceptable” in India. That things should come to this speaks of the mindlessness with which the government in India acts as the moral police for the billion people it represents. What is even more irritating is that the directors of the French fashion channel are even thinking about negotiations with this lady. By sending out feelers to the Indian embassy and employing other similar strategies, the French authorities are actually encouraging the likes of Swaraj to unleash their absurd tyranny. This channel is broadcast worldwide and no one seems to have problems with that. The display of the body, which seems to be the biggest bee in Swaraj’s bonnet, is a necessary component in a television channel that specializes in fashion programmes. To hold this as immoral or unacceptable is insane.
Yours faithfully,
Brij Kumar Sharma, via email

Passport to restriction

Sir — There is little logic behind the hullabaloo over and media attention on the sanctioning of a British passport to Srichand Hinduja. It is surprising that a British cabinet minister had to resign over such a trivial issue (“Hinduja hole in Blair cabinet”, Jan 25).

Peter Mandelson’s supposed crime is not his “limited” involvement in handling Hinduja’s application asking for British citizenship, but for misleading the parliament and the press by withholding the fact that he, and not his ministry’s official, spoke to the home office minister on the matter. This is clearly a case of misinformation, something that is quite common in these days of political jugglery. Besides, the person involved had made a donation of one million pounds for the Millennium Dome, which is a British project. Had it been India, Mandelson would have been considered a patriot.

It is also interesting to note that ever since John Profumo resigned from the cabinet after the scandal broke out associating him with Christine Keeler, British cabinet ministers and members of the House of Lords have been resigning at the slightest hint of scandal, or whenever their integrity was challenged. This can only be said to reflect the belief of the British politicians that “Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion”. Are their Indian counterparts listening?

Yours faithfully,
Subrata Chakravarty, Calcutta

Sir — Another carefully hidden skeleton seems all set to come out of the cupboard, with the Hinduja brothers being summoned by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The Bofors scandal has been under investigation for more than a decade with nothing but a few half-truths being revealed so far. Now that the prime implicated have been pinned down, the case can be resolved once and for all. Another dimension to the case has been brought to light by the resignation of the British cabinet minister, Peter Mandelson, for sanctioning the British passport for Srichand Hinduja. This is the best chance before the CBI to wrap up the Bofors case. Or else, several such cases will soon follow.

Yours faithfully,
T.R. Anand, Budge Budge

Sir — The Hinduja brothers have come to India of their own to help the CBI in its investigations and of course, to defend themselves. The CBI is through with its interrogation and the court will now decide the case. To obstruct the departure of the brothers now is likely to send wrong signals to other offenders. They will try their best to avoid coming to India. Such a trend has been observed earlier as well. One can recall how long the music director, Nadeem, stayed on in London to avoid arrest.

This can only hinder the disposal of important cases pending investigation and trial. Had there been no obstruction to the safe passage of the Hindujas, they could have been expected to appear before the court whenever summoned. The long drawn-out procedures of investigation and trial have eroded the faith of the common people in India and it would be wrong to expect faith in the system from expatriates.

Yours faithfully,
H. Roy, Calcutta

Peak of honour

Sir — It came as a surprise to see the name of Chittaranjan Ranawat on the Republic Day honours list. Ranawat’s sole claim to fame seems to be that he has operated upon the Indian prime minister’s knee, which must surely have been paid for from the country’s exchequer.

Yet people who have actually brought honour to our nation, like the badminton player, P. Gopichand, the Indian cricket captain, Sourav Ganguly, were overlooked. Even Viswanathan Anand, one of the greatest Indian sportsmen of all time, was felicitated with only a Padma Shri. His recent feat of winning the chess world championship should have made him eligible for a higher honour.

The country’s greatest civilian honours are becoming the centre of controversy. Will the government take care that the awards become felicitations in the true sense?

Yours faithfully,
Ashish Jain, via email

Sir — The Union government has initiated a healthy system of honouring living icons with the Bharat Ratna. In awarding the Bharat Ratna to the likes of Lata Mangeshkar and Bismillah Khan, the government has moved away from the controversial practice of conferring the award posthumously. Controversies should be avoided by awarding eminent individuals within a year of their death.

Bismillah Khan has been honoured with all four civilian awards, the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan, the Padma Vibhushan and now the Bharat Ratna. There have been occasions when the Padma awards have been “misused” by being aimed at upgrading the honour of personalities. It is an absurd practice to award the Padma Shri to a person and go on conferring the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan as he adds new feathers to his cap. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to wait and confer the higher Padma award on him?

Also, since India has separate international awards, the Bharat Ratna and the Padma awards should be reserved for Indian nationals only.

Yours faithfully,
S. Agrawal, New Delhi

Sir — The 2000-2001 civilian awards seemed like an exercise in favouritism. Not only was the surgeon who had operated on Atal Bihari Vajpayee awarded, but a relatively unknown Padmaja Phenany Joglekar, who has lent her voice to Vajpayee’s verses, also featured on the honours list. If the nation’s highest civilian honours become counters of favouritism, why rue partisanship in private awards?

Yours faithfully,
Sudhindra Mahapatro, Rourkela

Governing concern

Sir — After a long time we have an active governor who thinks seriously about the problems which are obstructing development in West Bengal (“Shah shows strongarm signature”, Jan 25). He is entirely right in saying that the state of basic medical facilities in our hospitals is despicable. It is not possible for everyone to take patients to nursing homes all the time. If state-run hospitals do not function properly, why have them at all?

Even in education at the higher levels, the state is still lagging behind many others in India. English-medium schools are costly and without a command over English, it becomes difficult for students to enter college. Shah has also shown sharp powers of observation when he commented on the lack of communication between departments in the universities.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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