Editorial 1/ False alarm
Editorial 2/ Stage fright
More equal than others
Keep them in place
Why life might not come breaking in
Fifth column/ As death rose up from the deep
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ FALSE ALARM 
 
 
 
 
The decision by the government of India to grant refugee status to Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th karmapa of the Kagyupa sect of Tibetan Buddhists, has generated some tension between New Delhi and Beijing. China has expressed concern at the move and warned India that it should not allow the karmapa to engage “in any anti-Chinese” activity. In addition, Beijing has hoped that India would handle the situation “prudently and appropriately” in the interests of “the overall situation of bilateral relations”. These apprehensions about New Delhi’s handling of the karmapa issue and China’s implied criticism of India’s policy towards Tibet and Tibetans are both unjust and unfair.

Consider the following. In January 2000, the karmapa arrived at the dalai lama’s headquarters in Dharamsala from Tibet without any prior warning or notification, and — by all accounts — took the government of India by surprise. Since then, New Delhi has been attempting to secure a satisfactory explanation from the Chinese authorities about this mysterious flight. Prior to his departure for India, the karmapa lived in the Tsurphu monastery near Lhasa, was well-guarded by Chinese security personnel, and yet, was able to travel to India after an arduous eight-day journey by car and on foot across the Himalayas without apparently attracting Chinese attention. Moreover, according to Chinese sources, the karmapa had been receiving “an education in patriotism” and was a supporter of China’s Tibet policy. But, so far, there is no evidence that Beijing has communicated its version of events to New Delhi. In contrast, India has been particularly careful about not causing any public embarrassment to China on the issue.

For the last year, the karmapa has been holed up in Dharamsala, in cramped accommodation, and has suffered several bouts of ill-health. He has been denied access to the media and often to his own devotees. Meanwhile, pressure from the large number of followers of the karmapa all over the world, and from Tibetans within India, has been increasing. So has concern amongst advocates of human rights and civil liberties. China has not demanded the karmapa’s repatriation, nor has it suggested a particular course of action. Under the circumstances, New Delhi had very little choice, but to let the karmapa stay on in India. Democracies, China would do well to understand, are not run like totalitarian dictatorships. Even then, New Delhi has not allowed the karmapa permission to travel to the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, which was the seat-in-exile of the 16th karmapa. It is unfortunate, therefore, that there is little appreciation for New Delhi’s Tibet policy in Beijing. It is worth recalling that despite the advice of many friendly countries, New Delhi went on to recognize the sovereignty of China over Tibet in the Fifties. Even today, there are those who feel that India should have taken its cue from British policy and allowed Tibet to remain a buffer state between the two giants of Asia. The Tibetan refugees have not been allowed to carry out any overt political activities and even the dalai lama, a Nobel peace laureate, has been restrained on many an occasion. It is also necessary to point out that whenever an important Chinese leader visits India, the police routinely detain Tibetan protesters. China’s criticism, therefore, is more imagined than real. It is far more important for the Chinese leadership to introspect on their policies towards Tibet and its culture, and take corrective steps to prevent a further flight of refugees into India.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ STAGE FRIGHT 
 
 
 
 
The West Bengal government’s appetite for culture is quite insatiable — books, films, poetry and now the theatre. Two nearly ruined theatres have been recently adopted by the mayor and by the chief minister with a great deal of fanfare. The gutted down Star theatre has been requisitioned by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, while Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has set aside a crore for “revitalizing” the Minerva theatre. Not only is the conservancy department taking on the renovation of the Star building, but the newly formed committee handling the project is also talking about the “revival” of theatre. Its budget is Rs 8 crore.

Spending Rs 9 crore of public money on two defunct private theatres is an expenditure that cannot be justified by any definition of enlightened statecraft or municipal obligation. There may be many in Calcutta whose cultural preferences and civic sentiments provoke an entirely worthy concern for these buildings and the theatre they fostered. These enthusiasts are perfectly free to organize private or corporate funding for such revivalist projects, and this may, indeed, enrich the cultural ambience of the city. But the state — and the municipality in particular — must operate according to other, more basic, priorities and to a more rigorous notion of accountability to the taxpayer. The CMC is entrusted with the maintenance of the material infrastructure of the city, and it has to learn to use its funds and human resources to do this much better than it manages to at present. Urban planning, management and upkeep are what the government ought to be concerning itself with, without meddling with the finer things of life, however vital these may be to the spirit of the city. Arsenic instead of art, and flyovers instead of films are what should exercise its highest enthusiasm. And fatally unclean hospitals are definitely more obscene than the cabaret. The Trinamool Congress and the Left Front have a big enough stage on which to act out their populist pageantry, without having to pull off a thespian revival.

   

 
 
MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
It may seem to be a bit of an enigma. Of the National Democratic Alliance partners, the Telugu Desam Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — for that matter, even the Shiromani Akali Dal — have a larger number of members in the Lok Sabha than the Trinamool Congress; but the prime minister and the entire Bharatiya Janata Party leadership are much more concerned to cultivate the loyalty of the Trinamool Congress. All regional parties have their specific charters of demands. Part of the requirement to keep a coalition government on an even keel is for the major party to shuffle around the quota of humour in such a manner that the temperamental partners are reasonably satisfied and none of them frets too much.

Watchers of the scene would none- theless claim that while all partners are equal, the Trinamool Congress is more equal than others. This could of course be somewhat of an optical illusion. Or perhaps not. In any event, the Trinamool Congress leader does not mind rendering herself into a vulgar exhibitionist. It is even possible to doubt whether she is capable of distinguishing vulgarity from an ambience where it is absent. Given the current inclinations of the overwhelming section of the media, she is therefore always hogging attention.

That is not, however, the entire story. The regional parties, by and large, are bereft of ideological hang-ups, while the BJP itself represents the quintessential expression of Hindu fundamentalist ideology. Each regional party is prepared to make a bedfellow of the BJP brand of fundamentalism as long as it serves its interest in the furtherance of some local causes. As far as they themselves are concerned, the impact of fundamentalism, these parties believe, will be like water on the duck’s back.

On the other hand, an ideology-based party takes a much more substantive view of the proceedings. The BJP, in its heart of hearts, has a pretty low opinion of each and every regional party. The latter serves for it a short-term purpose. In due course, the BJP is confident that it will be able to swallow up large chunks of the following of these slapdash parties. Its main concern is centred around problems arising out of confrontation with another ideology-based party. It abhors such a party, but it also secretly respects the tough nature of the opposition the latter is capable of offering. And it is ceaseless in its endeavours to evolve strategies and tactics to crush the ideological enemy.

In the national context, the BJP does not place the Congress on a high-enough pedestal. The Congress, in its view, is a rotten fruit, which will soon drop to the ground; the bulk of the party’s supporters will then be drawn to the BJP fold. The Congress rank and file follow their leaders, who will not be too greatly exercised if they have to accept the BJP label as long as their class interests are adequately protected. Therefore, in its present mood, the BJP is not overly concerned with either the regional parties or the Congress. Via a process of elimination, its only ideological rival happens to be the communists. The erstwhile socialists, such as of the ilk of George Fernandes, are already defunct, or nicely melted down in the BJP curry pot.

The communists, with their ideology and their long perspective, are a different kettle of fish. They die hard. Consider for example the phenomenon of the Left Front regime in West Bengal, which has now lasted for nearly a quarter of a century. It is a formidable nuisance. Since the communists constitute the bedrock of the front, the policy of the principle must have precedence. The policy of the BJP principle suggests that all resources and devices should be marshalled to rub out the communists.

Of the three states in the country which have communist chief ministers, the BJP has little to worry about in Kerala. That state is denominationally fractured into several groupings; the communists, in the reckoning of the BJP, will have to compromise with this or that communal splinter to survive. This necessary opportunism on the part of the communists will be weaponry for the BJP. It should be able to flaunt its ideological purity against communist wavering, so much so that the future in the state is bound to belong to the Hindutva brigands, or so think their enthusiasts.

Tripura need not be taken seriously. It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. A fortunate off-shoot for the BJP of the ethnic turmoil in the northeastern region is that Tripura too has been a major victim. According to the BJP’s calculations, the deepening ethnic divide in Tripura is rapidly going against the communists. Besides, they hope, a mini-domino thesis should work here: once West Bengal collapses, Tripura too will assuredly collapse.

The target to concentrate on is, therefore, West Bengal. By fair means or foul, the communists have to be thrown out of their demesne there. The foul instrumentality of promulgating Article 356 is tempting, but Bihar has been a disaster; once bitten, twice shy. There are three roadblocks: first, the president may turn out to be non-complaisant; second, the Congress, for its own reason, may fail to support the move with its vote in the Rajya Sabha; and third, the judiciary may take a dim view of the affair.

All this persuades the BJP to lean on the crutch offered by the railway minister. She has not much of a party; she, really and truly, is the party. But she has succeeded in developing charisma of a particular sort. She has consolidated the state’s lumpen proletariat, along with considerable sections of the unemployed and under-employed, under the umbrella of her so-called party. Strangely or not, elements of the bureaucracy and the police, either retired or on the verge of retirement, are also with her. If the Left Front succeeds in stretching its longevity, their profession, they have concluded with fair justification, will be irretrievably lost.

For the BJP, it is an inviting prospect. The uncouth lady presiding over Trinamool Congress may be the last chance to crush the communists in West Bengal. Hence she needs to be coddled extra-specially. The Telugu Desam Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Shiromani Akali Dal should not mind. Even if they do mind, the BJP will not bother, at least not for the next four months. By the middle of May, the election process will be over in West Bengal. The political arithmetic could then be considered afresh.

This is a complicated game of calculations and counter-calculations. Risks are involved for both sides. Should the Trinamool gambit fail in West Bengal — there is at this moment more than an even chance that it would — the Bharatiya Janata Party would be rid of some of its enchantment for the railway minister. Nothing fails like failure; the supreme leader of the Trinamool Congress might then discover that not only had she no friends within the BJP, but also none among the other coalition partners.

What is worse, many individuals and groups, who had joined her in West Bengal on the assumption that, come next May, she would help them reach El Dorado, could begin to desert her at a scamperingly fast peace. Some of her own partymen, who till now have been her silent hewers of wood and drawers of water, might also gather the audacity to speak up. She would then realize what a discomfiture awaits her.

For the BJP too, win or lose in West Bengal, the circumstances need not be altogether propitious. Even as it is, there are silent grumblings amongst the other coalition partners — as well as within the party itself — about the policy of uninterrupted appeasement of the Trinamool Congress. Should the Trinamool gamble fail to pay off, swords and knives would be unsheathed from unexpected quarters. Many coalition partners could begin to demand the same kind of considerations the Trinamool Congress was granted; the sum of their demands could lead to an impossible calculus for the finance minister. And were their demands to remain unfulfilled, quite a few of the coalition partners could choose to walk away to greener pastures.

Finally, are the powers that be at all sanguine about the prospects ahead in case the Trinamool Congress perchance makes it and outs the communists in West Bengal? Demagogy and a penchant for taking liberty with facts do not constitute an ideal recipe for efficient administration. As a result, all hell might be let loose: Kashmir, the northeastern states, Assam, to which the latest addition would be West Bengal. It is bound to be a most unsavoury grog.

   

 
 
KEEP THEM IN PLACE 
 
 
BY BISWAJIT NAG
 
 
Post-liberalization, the business environment in India is changing dramatically. Indian industries are being exposed to fierce competition both in the domestic and the international arena. Moreover, as a member of the World Trade Organization, India is committed to further liberalization of the economy. The imminent removal of all quantitative restrictions will make the challenge faced by Indian firms more real, especially since many of the small and medium enterprises in the country have flourished so long under a framework of protection, subsidization and reservation.

The insulation of industry from the dynamics of competitive growth has resulted in poor technology and the setting up of unviable units. To survive global competition, Indian small and medium enterprises have to overhaul their strategy. Technological upgradation, innovative marketing policy, product diversification, branding development and so on should be the thrust areas. The government should provide the necessary assistance, given that there is still a lot of scope for subsidies and protection even in the post-WTO era.

As part of the liberalization policy, import duty and other restrictions are being removed fast. Export-oriented small industries should benefit from this as imported raw materials are now available at a cheaper rate. This could result in lower costs of production and improved “market access”. Some of the small industries that produce only for the domestic sector might also get some cost benefits, but others will have to face the blow of WTO regulations, particularly the lifting of the QRs.

The latest round of QR removals has generated dissatisfaction among the small and medium enterprises, many of whom fear an upsurge of imports in the QR-free era. Moreover, whether exports from this sector will get government subsidy is being questioned. But there are instruments available even in the post-QR era, which may be useful to tackle the problem.

The removal of QRs is one of the important components of the ongoing liberalization policy. About 714 items have already been freed on April 1, 2000. QRs on the remaining 715 products will be eliminated by April 1, 2001. There is still the protection of tariffs for the domestic industry. India has the right to increase its applied rates to appropriate levels, wherever the tariff rates are either unbound or the bound rates are higher than the applied rates, upto the bound levels. Out of 714 products, from which QRs have been removed, 346 products are unbound. Among 368 bound products, it is found that in the case of 345 products, the applied rate is less than the bound rate. An almost similar kind of protection is there for another 715 products, which will be freed in April 2001. Out of these 715 products, 440 are unbound, 117 products have bound rates greater than or equal to 100 per cent. This clearly implies that the government has enough leverage to increase tariff rates in case of urgency.

Apart from tariff, protection against unfair imports is also allowed in the case of dumping or subsidized exports through the imposition of antidumping duties and countervailing duties respectively. Even in the absence of unfair trade, a WTO member may restrict imports of a product temporarily if its domestic industry is threatened by a surge in imports.

The agreement on subsidies and countervailing measures prohibits a country to use “export subsidies”, which has a significant trade-distorting effect but allows only “permissible subsidies”. Permissible subsidies allowed to exporting countries can be actionable and non-actionable. Countervailing duties can be applicable against any actionable subsidy. In India, the export promotion capital goods scheme, certain income tax benefits and so on are considered as actionable subsidies. Subsidies to small scale industries could also be brought under permissible subsidy if it is made “non-specific”. This clause of the agreement must be interpreted properly to promote export from the small scale sector.

Also, because it is possible in the post-QR regime that low quality cheaper products will flood Indian markets, it is necessary to set proper “standards” to check the import of poor quality goods.

QRs on as many as 6,161 tariff lines were removed on March 31, 1996. And since then, 1,905 tariff lines for imports had been made free till the beginning of the year 1999-2000. Import growth rates since 1995-1996 have come down substantially, which disproved the fear of swamping by imports because of the removal of QRs. As detailed import data are not available for the post-March period, the impact of the recent lifting of QRs from 714 products cannot be analysed properly. The total import during April-July 2000 increased by 24.6 per cent compared to the same period in 1999. It increased by 41 per cent in April 2000 compared to April 1999.

Indian exports from the small scale sector may not be badly hit as the economy is opening up. In fact, it may get some cost advantages if cheap imported raw materials are used. But the question remains regarding the “market access” of India’s exports. The existence of several non-tariff measures prevalent in many countries works as one of the main stumbling blocks for Indian products. Some of these measures are WTO-consistent too. The agreement on technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures and environment-related provisions will act as a hurdle for trade even in the post-WTO regime. Many of India’s exports of electrical machinery, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals have been either rejected or considered for further tests for standardization on such grounds.

So it has become mandatory for Indian companies to upgrade the standard of manufacturing and to use cleaner and healthier techniques to produce food and agro-products to increase the volume of exports. Small scale producers with limited resources and technology will have difficulties in upgrading their products to the international standard.

Developed countries often protect their domestic producers using these clauses as excuse. India must negotiate these issues in the WTO meeting. On the other hand, a large number of small scale industries, such as tanneries, iron foundries, metal plating, glass manufacturing, paper and pulp making units are engaged in manufacturing which create pollution.

India should take up a proactive stand rather than a reactive stand to combat the pollution problem. It should opt for clean technology to consolidate its strength on the trade environment issue. Installation of combined effluent treatment plants, ensuring credit facilities to small producers for modernization, labelling environment-friendly products are necessary steps to make Indian products more competitive internationally.

To sustain the blow from the international arena, it is necessary for the small and medium enterprise sector to develop certain strategies to enhance their skills and competitive strength. The sector should understand the WTO rules clearly. The thrust should be on marketing and brand development. The sector must upgrade its technology so that productivity level is not compromised. The incentives given to it should be utilized optimally.

India needs to be developed as a sourcing point and sub-contracting base. This will help the small and medium enterprise to develop dynamically. Clusters of these have to be formed with databanks comprising related information at district levels. The service sector must be made WTO compatible. India also needs to negotiate the existence of high tariffs and non-tariff measures imposed by many countries on exports from this particular sector.

   

 
 
WHY LIFE MIGHT NOT COME BREAKING IN 
 
 
BY MOHINDER SINGH
 
 
According to an estimate made by the World Health Organization, at least 1000 people take their lives every day, of which about 125 are Indians. These statistics, however, reflect only a part of the reality. Lapses in reporting, lacunae in post mortem examinations, bureaucratic connivance and family sensitivity often conspire to blur many a suicide into a case of accidental death. Unless a suicide is backed by a suicide note, or is very obvious, like someone jumping from a highrise, the police is reluctant to treat the case as such. The obvious stigma associated with the act of taking one’s life is one of the reasons for this attitude.

According to a report, Accidental deaths and suicides in India, released by the National Crimes Record Bureau, the suicide rate was 10.8 per 1,00,000 in 1998, with a perceptible rise over the last few years. Reported suicides can be divided into two categories — those caused by “dreadful diseases” and by “family quarrels”. Other reasons include bankruptcy, poverty, unemployment and career problems. Incidentally, 50 per cent of suicides are listed without a definite cause.

The right kind of attention

Poverty alone cannot be one of the main reasons for suicide since comparatively prosperous states like Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have a higher incidence of suicide than Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Personal tragedies like the loss of a job, failure in an examination, a favourite project or the death of a loved one can often trigger suicides. What is particularly disturbing in the Indian context is the large number of suicides resulting from “illnesses”. One reason for this is the rising incidence of HIV/AIDS. Increasing awareness about this disease could go a long way in reducing the number of suicides. Family quarrels also lead to suicides and nearly 45.62 per cent of the victims are women.

Some misconceptions remain. A person who has survived his first attempt is believed to be cured of the impulse. There is also the belief that those who threaten to take their lives never really do it. An estimated 75 per cent of suicide victims give an indication of their intentions. The act of suicide is usually a cry for help. Advances in medicine have led to an increase in the drugs that are available in the market and promise painless oblivion for anyone contemplating the act.

Depression can lead to suicide. Even children who are only 5 years old can suffer from depression. Depression can be fatal and about one in ten depressives will try to take their lives. Some people are genetically predisposed towards depression. Changing social, psychiatric and medical attitudes to depression and AIDS, for instance, together with more openness to counselling and help-lines may be some of the ways in which suicide may be tackled within Indian society.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ AS DEATH ROSE UP FROM THE DEEP 
 
 
BY CYRIL ARIJIT GHOSH
 
 
According to the United States navy and the Federation of American Scientists, the USS Greeneville is a nuclear attack submarine, an advanced and versatile warship. It weighs 6,900 tonnes and is 360 feet long. It is equipped with a Tomahawk cruise missile system and is powered by a nuclear reactor. And as if this were not enough for its repertoire, it also has a “hardened sail” and “retractable bow planes” which enable it to cut through Arctic ice if required. In comparison, the Ehime Maru was a fishing trawler 190 ft long, weighing 499 tonnes, with 35 people on board, many of whom were students of Uwajima Fisheries High School, Japan. This boat left Japan on January 10 to hunt for tuna, swordfish and shark and this was the first long sea voyage for most of the students on board.

Enthusiasm turned into horror for its crew and others aboard last Friday when the American submarine, without preamble or intimation, surfaced in the Pacific, nine miles south of Diamond Head, off the coast of Honolulu, and collided with the Japanese trawler. The trawler sank in 10 minutes. What is absurd about this accident is not its nature. But that it happened at all.

The submarine’s emergency surfacing training procedure, which ostensibly caused the accident, is normally conducted after checking for hazards. It is expected to use the periscope and acoustic searches from a depth of about 60 feet. If the area is found to be “clear”, surfacing is carried out.

Routine investigations

Inquiries are being conducted by the US national transportation and safety board, the US navy and the US coastal guard. There has been a profusion of apologies and condolences from, among others, the secretary of state, Colin Powell. Promises have been made about the inspection of the sub’s log books, videotapes of periscope viewings, the electronic records of any acoustics in the ocean.

Twenty six people have been rescued from the site and nine others, including four 17-year-olds, are still missing. A search (by the US navy and coast guard) covering a mammoth 5,000 square miles — not only visually but also by electronic devices at night — has so far yielded no results. There has been pressure from the Japanese that the vessel be salvaged, but this task too is appearing insurmountable given the 1,800 ft depth of the water in the area.

No one doubts the contrition and integrity of the Americans in this case. Besides, some officials have already claimed that the incident occurred in an area designated on charts as a “submarine operating area”. But in the same breath, it is also added that this stipulation notwithstanding, the area does not constitute “restricted waters”.

Into oblivion

There have also been comments on the CNN insinuating that given the fact that the Ehime Maru capsized before a “May day” signal could be sent out, it could be assumed that the boat was not properly “compartmentalized” — suggesting that damaged areas in the boat could not be blocked off, resulting in the rapid sinking.

The facts will remain confusing. The culpability of the fishing boat’s crew is certainly less than that of the crew of the Greeneville itself. Again, the fact that the accident occurred inside Hawaiian waters will bring Hawaiian territoriality into the picture. In such tragedies, where does the accountability ultimately lie?

Meanwhile, relations between Washington and Tokyo are fragile because of the US military presence in the Japanese island of Okinawa. Puzzlingly, the Japanese have been conspicuously lenient about the event and its aftermath. They have only demanded an “explanation” for the accident and that the boat be salvaged.

The Japanese prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, has been bitterly criticized for not comprehending the nature of the crisis and continuing to play golf even after being told about the event. Even leaders of the New Komeito Party, an important ally of Mori’s Liberal Democratic Party, are not too pleased.

Somewhere buried in the midst of these controversies lie the fate of nine lives (possibly corpses by now). We are now going to witness games of political oneupmanship, an elaborate media fête, diatribes against US imperialism, diplomatic bargaining about apologies and “positions”. But Uwajima High School will, perhaps, fade out of our reckoning in no time.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Hit and miss

Sir — The bullets aimed at Subash Ghising are actually a shot in the arm of his political cause (“Ambushed Ghising hit behind head”, Feb 11). There is no doubting the seriousness of the attempt on Ghising’s life, which could have also sabotaged the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council’s ongoing negotiations with the Centre and the West Bengal government. It would have also doomed North Bengal to another period of uncertainty and bloodshed. But having missed its target, the incident will now push the ageing Ghising back to the centrestage of Darjeeling’s politics and will reinforce his appeal to the people in the hills who were gradually becoming disillusioned with his leadership and with the functioning of the DGHC. While the assault is already being exploited to the hilt by the Gorkha National Liberation Front to recover lost ground, Ghising’s party should keep in mind that the opposition to it is definitely growing. The continuing violence is only one indication of this opposition.
Yours faithfully,
M. Chaudhuri, Calcutta

What’s left?

Sir — This is with reference to two reports on Naxalite activities in West Bengal — “State revives squad to thwart Naxalites” and “Left seeks PWG ban” (Jan 29). In the first, Shankar Mukherjee appears to suffer from a loss of memory with regard to the genesis of “anti-Naxal” cells in the state. Such a cell was first formed in 1970, and when the Left Front government took over, it reorganized the cell in the early Eighties under another infamous police officer, Rajat Majumdar. The countrywide amnesty movement for political prisoners in 1977 released many Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) activists and a majority of them opted for mainstream, mass and representative politics and not just for the Indian People’s Front and the Communist Revolutionary League of India.

Till date, not a single Naxalite faction has condemned armed struggle as a strategy, despite their participation in various mass fronts and representative politics. In the early Nineties, the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights launched an amnesty movement for Naxalites who were still illegally detained in various prisons in the state under the Left Front regime.

So one can easily understand the paranoia in the pysche of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) which demanded a ban on the People’s War Group, the Revolutionary Youth League and the Maoist Communist Centre. I am not amazed to see the striking similarity in the narratives of the director general of police and the CPI(M) leaders of Hooghly.

Why hasn’t the approach to Naxalite politics changed in the last 30 years? Did anti-Naxal cells and the ban on Naxalite activities give better results in the left’s understanding of the complexity and need for a radical change in our society? In their 23 years of the “creative” application of Marxism, has the Left Front government ever seriously expressed its self-reflexive attitude towards state-terrorism, which it had once deployed? Without a discussion on the questions raised, it would be premature and illogical to establish another anti-Naxal cell or ban Naxalite groups, especially before the elections. Political groups must have the right to campaign freely.

Yours faithfully,
Amit R. Basu, Calcutta

Sir — Madhushree C. Bhowmik rightly points out in “Red is the colour of conflict” (Jan 17) that in West Bengal, it is the left hunting down the left. In the border districts of the state, it is a naked battle for power that is spilling the blood of innocent people. Be it the CPI(M), the People’s War or the Maoist Communist Centre, the motivation is to secure as much political space as possible for itself.

What is interesting is that in this fight, it is the Trinamool Congress which is emerging as the biggest beneficiary. If Chhoto Angaria is anything to go by, the Trinamool Congress is reaping enormous benefits from the bag of bones the conflict is filling up. What this means for the people of the state is clear. Whether right or left, red or green, the situation will be no different from what it is now.

Yours faithfully,
S. Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — In my college days, I had great respect for the leaders of the Communist Party of India. Hiren Mukherjee, Bhupesh Gupta, Somnath Lahiri, Biswanath Mukherjee, Benoy Krishna Konar commanded adulation for their character, charisma and intellect. Unfortunately, after the formation of the CPI(M), most of these leaders remained with the CPI.

The anti-establishment concept of the communist party went through a radical change as it started participating in the so-called democratic election process. When the communists came into power in West Bengal, I had strong faith in them for bringing about the necessary change in the polity. In the meeting to celebrate the victory of the United Front, Somnath Lahiri declared and promised on the behalf of the left to bring a breath of fresh air into the life of the people of the state. After 24 years, I agree that any political philosophy should change with the times. Today I feel that the word “Marxist” in the CPI(M) should be replaced with the word “muscle” since the party now survives on hooliganism, barbarism, mass killings and inefficiency. This is the left’s own “democratic” process for retaining power.

Power makes a party strong-willed; undeserved, absolute power for a long period makes a party corrupt and bankrupt. The people of West Bengal are to pay the price of handing over their future to the hands of some inept, insensitive and power-hungry people.

Yours faithfully,
Amar Lahiri Majumdar, Calcutta

Culture vultures

Sir — One has doubts about Bhaskar Ghose’s ability to gauge hard economic realities if one reads his article, “A shutting down spree” (Jan 23). May I request Ghose to reserve his goodness for other causes and cite one reason why we, the honest taxpayers of the country, should allow the government to spend our hardearned money on a few individual aspirants who, instead of preserving our rich and diverse culture, debase it by adding to the masala of Hindi films? Moreover, these individuals go on to earn enormous fortunes by their separate endeavours and contribute little to the economy.

When the government is incapable of running even the most basic social security schemes, there is no substance is Ghose’s argument on the Film and Television Institute of India. As in the United States, the Centre should relinquish control on similar institutions and allow the big business houses of to shoulder the financial and administrative responsibilities of FTII, the Sangeet Natak Academy, the Lalit Kala Academy and the National School of Drama.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — Bhaskar Ghose reminds us of the perils of bureaucratization. K.P. Geethakrishnan, who proved to be the FTII’s nemesis, is symptomatic of the mindset that is proving to be the bane of Indian enterprise. He should have first ensured that the FTII was “run by the industry” before summarily declaring its closure.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sharma, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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Calcutta 700 001
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