Editorial 1 / On candid camera
Editorial 2 / Bovine inaction
Not dreaming too high
Fifth Column / Some of those who will be left out
Bigots, liberals and the Republicans
Why books should continue to matter
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / ON CANDID CAMERA 
 
 
 
 
In India, one disregards rumours at one’s own peril. That illegal fortunes are made in defence deals is a rumour that has travelled up and down the national grapevine. For the first time, thanks to the enterprise of a dotcom company, there is confirmation of the corruption that surrounds defence deals. The political fallout of these revelations has created for Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government a crisis of profound dimensions. The full import of the revelations is enormous because they show that the defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, and the party to which he belongs are involved in taking money, so is the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party. There are references in the conversations that are on tape to important officials in the prime minister’s office and to members of the prime minister’s household. There are references also to other important ministers who are supposed to act under monetary inducements. It is obvious from the tapes that deals involving crores of rupees are fixed by brokers and middlemen in return for kickbacks. Some of the top brass of the army and key bureaucrats in the defence ministry seem to be implicated in the payoffs. The government appears to be completely immersed in sleaze and corruption. It is an altogether devastating comment on the state of India’s body politic.

The allegations adversely affect the clean image that Mr Vajpayee has been projecting about himself and his government. There is clearly a very wide gap between the image and the reality. Mr Vajpayee has been in politics for a very long time and is known for his formidable memory. He will recall that two of his predecessors, Rajiv Gandhi and Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, had corruption charges levelled at them. They paid the price through defeats in elections and in Mr Rao’s case by being consigned to political oblivion. Mr Vajpayee and his spin doctors can protest his and his colleagues’ innocence from rooftops but this may not convince anybody. In politics, not truth but the public perception of it is the decisive factor in the making of public opinion. It is important not only to be honest but also to be seen to be honest. Mr Vajpayee may have already lost this battle. The BJP, thanks to the venality of its president, has surrendered the high moral ground it had assumed for itself.

It will remain a mystery why Mr Vajpayee and his advisors did not engage in firefighting as soon as the scandal broke. The immediate acceptance of Mr Fernandes’s offer to quit would have added to the government’s credibility and would have conveyed the impression that the government was not going to get involved in either a cover-up or an attempt to brazen it out. Mr Vajpayee faces an unenviable position. He heads a coalition, and many of his allies — Ms Mamata Banerjee being the best example — cannot afford to have the touch of tar on their reputations. Moreover, the inevitable furore that ensued in Parliament might put in jeopardy the passing of the budget and render hamstrung the process of economic reforms on which Mr Vajpayee has staked his government’s goodwill. This is not the time to look crestfallen: quick and forthright action against the guilty is the need of the hour. In the United Kingdom, Mr Tony Blair dismissed Mr Peter Mandelson on charges that look frivolous when compared to the allegations made against some of Mr Vajpayee’s colleagues and officials.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BOVINE INACTION 
 
 
 
 
Something very like the foot and mouth disease currently plaguing Britain is spreading among farm animals in Punjab and Haryana. It could wreak havoc in West Bengal, if not checked in time. Given the government’s reaction time with the Siliguri human measles epidemic, the situation could get out of control quite soon. In the case of FMD, human beings are not in danger; and this is how it is different from the mad cow disease. But it could severely affect the rural, particularly the farming, economy in India. Britain is now having to cope with a calamitous outbreak of the epidemic, because of which western Europe is slaughtering and burning farm animals on an apocalyptic scale. The British crisis could end up changing the very basis of the European Union’s common agricultural policy.

The ability to spread widely, quickly and virulently is the particular danger of the FMD virus. Anything that comes into contact with an infected animal, including dust particles, could transmit the virus. Hence, immediately stopping the widespread movement of livestock is of paramount importance. If thousands of cattle are being affected in Punjab and Haryana, then the entry of any animals with cloven hooves should be restricted immediately. In western Europe, all movement of farm animals has been banned; city-dwellers have been asked to stay away from the countryside. The strain of the virus in the two Indian states is apparently more potent than the British variety. Vaccinating the animals does not seem to help as new drug-resistant strains develop in no time. Also, the vaccinated and infected animals produce similar test results making detection difficult. Animals that survive the disease remain weak and produce very little milk. In India, from where the Nineties virus seems to have spread to the rest of the world, the farmers’ poverty is the single most important factor in the situation. Those who are entirely dependent on their livestock are loathe to kill and incinerate their animals. But this, and the restriction of the animals’ movement, are the only ways to stop the spread of the disease. Hence, it is crucial to raise levels of awareness among owners of cattle throughout the country. If the respective state governments delay these essential preventive measures, then the consequences might devastate the lives of some of the country’s poorest people.

   

 
 
NOT DREAMING TOO HIGH 
 
 
BY LAVEESH BHANDARI
 
 
A few years ago, the then finance minister P. Chidambaram unveiled a budget that was almost unanimously hailed as brilliant. So much so that a few economic journalists also started referring to it as a “dream budget”. History shows us that that budget turned out to be one of the biggest failures in the reform years. Expenditures were higher, revenues were lower than estimated and, of course, the economy also did not show a higher growth path. Industry, economists and the economic media have almost universally hailed Yashwant Sinha’s budget this year as “brilliant”. The more cynical have criticized certain aspects of the budget; but on the whole, both industry and academics have been quite elated by its provisions.

The budget can be judged at three levels. The first level deals with its impact on the economy as a whole — economic growth, fiscal deficit and inflation are the three main criteria. On this the budgetary provisions appear to be quite satisfactory. The second level deals with the economic impact of the specific budgetary proposals. In this case too, though many imperfections exist, the budget on the whole performs well. The third level deals with the budget’s orientation towards furthering the reform process and long-term economic growth. In this the budget does not go as far as would be desired by many.

First, consider the aggregates. The budget aims at 4.7 per cent fiscal deficit as a share of gross domestic product for the year, 2001-02. The figure is based on an assumption of about 6.5 per cent economic growth in real terms and less than 6 per cent inflation.

Given the past two years’ performance of the economy, these assumptions are not over-ambitious. However, because of the low growth in indirect taxes in the past there is not much scope for a substantial increase in tax revenues in the near future. The widening of the tax base through greater coverage of the one-in-six scheme (that now extends to all major urban areas) and service tax will yield greater tax revenues, but that will only occur in the space of the next two to three years.

The low scope of increasing tax revenues puts more pressure on containing expenditure. This is where the government is faltering. Capital expenditures need to be increased, but the government appears to be unable even to spend as much as it allocates. In fact, there is an unambiguous trend where government expenditures are concerned — revenue expenditures are increasing much faster than capital expenditures since 1992-93. In that year, about 24 per cent of the total expenditures could be classified as capital expenditures. Today it is only 16 per cent.

A lot has been said about the large share of interest and wages and salaries. However, given the past actions of the government, these expenditures would continue to form a large share of the total expenditures. The lower interest rates would benefit government finances (the public sector being a net borrower), though marginally. Downsizing of the government would only be possible if a very attractive voluntary retirement scheme package is developed — which again is costly.

That, essentially, leaves us with the various forms of subsidies. Here successive governments have been unable to reform the extremely inefficient subsidy regime that currently operates in India. In line with the past, this year’s budget too falls far short of achieving discipline where subsidies are concerned.

Overall, therefore, we have a situation where the government is stuck because of mistakes of the past and current political weakness. The interest on past loans will have to be paid, the large, and predominantly unproductive, number of government employees will have to be paid and subsidies are too politically sensitive a topic for the government to even try and change the subsidy regime for the better.

Consequently, the government has only about 30 per cent of its total revenues that it can play around with. Given such a constraint, this budget has the following positive aspects. First, it is not based on wild assumptions of revenue growth. Second, it does not envisage a large growth in unproductive expenditures. Third, it reduces interest rates — which would have a tremendous impact on the manufacturing sector growth in general. Fourth, it calls for large scale public sector reform (disinvestment and restructuring); but by tying inflows from disinvestment with outflows for restructuring, the possible failure of privatization would not affect the fiscal. Fifth, it aims at the simplification of the tax regime and takes some sorely needed steps for the task. Sixth, it puts into place the beginnings of a wider tax base by bringing into the tax fold a greater part of the services sector as well as the extension of the one-in-six scheme to all urban areas.

However, the serious problems arising from the past budgets continue to exist with this one. One such example is that related to the public distribution system. Research shows that the PDS has an insignificant impact on poverty levels in India. The PDS has to be made accessible only for the poor. There is no other alternative. For that to be possible the government will have to overhaul the way the PDS is administered.

Another important issue is that of fertilizer subsidies. Research has repeatedly shown that fertilizer subsidies subsidize the industry and not the farmers. Allowing duty-free imports of fertilizers will ensure low prices for farmers and the fertilizer subsidy has to be done away with. The comfortable balance of payments scenario gives the government enough flexibility to allow free imports of all fertilizer items.

Selling off the public sector is another possible source of savings. Instead of utilizing the funds from privatization for restructuring, those should be used for settling debt. This will reduce the interest payment burden of the government. The experience with Bharat Aluminium Company suggests that credibility is an important issue for privatization to be successful. Involving the office of the comptroller and auditor general of India for valuation purposes, would ensure this to a very large extent. Valuation is a very complex exercise and by its very nature cannot be transparent. In such a situation the credibility of the entity conducting the valuation exercise becomes all-important. The office of the CAG is by far the most credible organization in this respect. Given the current actions of the government, the Rs 12,000 crore figure is not only over-ambitious, but it is also impossible to achieve.

Another important source of revenue for the government that is yet unutilized is land. The Central government and its affiliated bodies own large tracts of land in highly premium areas in just about every large urban conglomeration. Much of this could be leased out for commercial and residential purposes. The revenues so earned could be used for education both at the primary and higher levels.

Education is one primary expenditure head where the government is just not ambitious enough. Expenditure on education is more important than any other government expenditure. However we are just not doing enough. Though state governments are primarily responsible for education, the fact that they are unable to spend as much as is desired pushes the onus on the Central government. The Central government has to find the resources, from whatever means, to not only ensure primary education for all its citizens, but also ensure higher education for a majority.

Progress requires us to take bold decisions and to push them through. The budget is a dream budget if we don’t dream high enough. It has tinkered here and there, and achieved as much as tinkering can achieve. In that sense this is a good budget. However, it is not oriented towards substantial poverty alleviation, improvement in education, and setting the stage for fast paced economic growth and all-encompassing national progress. For that we will have to wait.

The author is senior economist at the National Council for Applied Economic Research, New Delhi    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / SOME OF THOSE WHO WILL BE LEFT OUT 
 
 
BY MOZAFFAR ISLAM
 
 
Two state governments — that of West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh — have recently hiked the maintenance allowance for divorced women and parents deserted by their adult children. But the benefits will not equally accrue to members of other religious communities. Especially affected will be Muslim women divorcees, who are covered by a Central legislation of 1986 which overrides all state laws on the subject.

It may be recalled that the Indian criminal procedure code, 1973, provided for a monthly ceiling of Rs 500 on the amount to be paid by husbands to their divorced wives and children or by adult children to their parents. In most states, the ceiling is still on Rs 500. However, decrying this limit as inadequate, the West Bengal government in 1992 amended section 125 of the CrPC, raising the maintenance allowance from Rs 500 to Rs 1,500. In view of the rising price index, the government again decided to waive the old ceiling of Rs 1,500 in February this year.

The Uttar Pradesh government, by an ordinance promulgated in December 2000, amended section 125 of the CrPC and raised the alimony for divorced women, dependent spouses or parents to Rs 5,000 per month. It also provided for payment of an interim maintenance allowance for the period of litigation.

Playing to the board

That divorced Muslim women will not benefit from the recent drives of the two state governments can only be termed as unfortunate. Their deprivation can be traced to a legislation passed in 1986 relating to the famous Shah Bano case.

Mohammed Ahmad Khan divorced his wife, Shah Bano Begum, after 43 years. The judicial magistrate of Indore in 1979 granted her an alimony of Rs 25 per month under section 125. Dissatisfied with the amount, Shah Bano appealed to the Madhya Pradesh high court, which in 1980 awarded her a maintenance of Rs 179.20. Khan then moved the Supreme Court against the high court order.

The apex court in 1985 delivered a historic judgment that if a divorced women is able to maintain herself, the husband’s liability ceases with the expiry of the iddat period, that is three months from the date of divorce. In case, she is unable to maintain herself after this period, she is entitled to take recourse to section 125 of CrPC, that is maintenance for life.

Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister however surrendered to the demands of the all India Muslim personal law board. In 1986, Parliament passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) bill by overturning the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Unfair deal

The act of 1986 provides for a reasonable and fair maintenance allowance (the amount is not mentioned) for the iddat period and maintenance for the children for two years. This is in addition to an amount equal to the sum of mehr paid to her at the time of the marriage and properties or gifts given to her before or at the time of the nikah. Thus Muslim divorcees can get alimony for three months only.

The act allows a Muslim woman to file a case under section 125 of the CrPC, but it makes the former husband’s consent necessary for such a settlement. Both parties should agree to a negotiated arrangement under CrPC. The practical difficulty is most Muslim husbands do not agree to pay alimony to their divorced wives for life as laid down in section 125.

This act in fact denies justice to Muslim women and protects the interests of the men. Until this act is amended by Parliament, Muslim divorced women in India will continue to be deprived of the higher alimony provided for by several state governments. However, Muslim parents deserted by their adult children will be benefited by the new provision.

Increased alimony is a concrete step to protect the rights of thousands of Hindu divorced women and deserted parents of all communities. To expedite matters, the state governments should arrange to pay the monthly allowance through the nearest bank, instead of through courts as is the present practice. Most divorcees and old parents face unnecessary hardship in getting these payments. Further, a system should be evolved so that divorced women and deserted parents who do not get any allowance despite court orders from their husbands and children can get some money for their subsistence.

   

 
 
BIGOTS, LIBERALS AND THE REPUBLICANS 
 
 
BY PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY
 
 
The American university system once again finds itself at a crossroads. The ideological inclinations of the new Republican government are gradually beginning to filter in through the different rungs of academia via a number of bureaucratic means. Not that during the past eight years of the Bill Clinton administration the university, as an institution, was politically neutral. Far from it. But what the democratic government by and large used to uphold was a certain definition of academic freedom and integrity which is built into the university system in the United States. The new government is challenging precisely this structure.

The German concept of academic freedom, for instance, embodied in the principles of Lernfreiheit and Lehrfreiheit, had influenced the American view to a considerable extent. Lernfreiheit meant that German students were free to determine what courses they wished to take and in what sequence. Lehrfreiheit referred to the freedom of the professor to investigate anything he wished to and to report his findings in lecture or in published form. He enjoyed the freedom of teaching and research.

American academia modified this model. The less flexible side to this American variant was that it was conditional — it assumes the scholar’s obligation to engage in scientific and scholarly study. Institutionalized disinterestedness, especially in the “pure science” departments was made out to be a rigid virtue.

To this must be added a deep distrust of the Oxbridge variety of liberal education, a fallout of the general American ambivalence towards all things British. It is in this context that the Parisian uprisings of the Sixties and what is, for a want of better term, known as the “’68 philosophy” came in handy for American academia, especially in the humanities. The Republican administration has begun to question this very model.

Broadly speaking, the undermining is being ushered in from two angles. First, through tangible material means. This could mean the calling upon of Forbes readers to defund the errant departments. The message from the George Bush administration is clear to the wealthy, conservative alumni of the elite institutions: if you return to your alma mater and find more women or Asians than you think belong there, either in the faculty or in the student body, you can be sure that there is a rot down there; keep your eyes open and your cheque-book closed.

This is also the agenda behind the unilateral decision to freeze hiring systematically in select departments known for their “progressive views” in the state of New York, affecting universities like Cornell, Columbia, New York University and sections of the State University of New York system. One is sure that more dire measures await the southern universities, possibly beginning with the untimely retrenchment of certain tenure-track professors.

A more subterranean battle is raging internally. This is the more abstract theoretical battle, but one no less important. The hawks within US academia have opened up once again the “political correctness” debate. The charge is against the left-wing syndrome or what a decade ago, the Harvard sociologist, David Riesman, called “liberal close-mindedness”. Put simply, the charge is that a new postmodern generation from the Sixties have come into power in the universities — mostly in the humanities departments, but also among the administrators. These professors — the “Visigoths in tweeds” — promote a strange radical ideology that decries the US and the West as helplessly oppressive and focuses on the reactionary prejudices of Western culture.

But the worst thing they do, according to the accusations, is to generate an atmosphere of campus repression. In the name of “sensitivity” to others and under threat of being denounced as sexist or racist, the postmodern radicals require everyone around them to adhere to their own codes of speech and behaviour. Professors and students who remain outside the new movement have to walk on eggshells. As a result, well-respected professors have to drop courses that touch on controversial topics and official speech codes have been imposed on a large number of campuses. And the resulting atmosphere—the prissiness, the air of caution that many people in academic settings have adopted, the new habit of using one language in private and a different and euphemistic one in public — has finally come to resemble, according to the accusers, the odious McCarthy era of the Fifties. Except this time, the intimidation originates in the left. These accusations are not original, and coming this time from within the Bush cartel, they ring farcical.

But what are the real structures of the US university system that the conservatives are questioning? Is it not, in the first place, a simplification, a best-selling argument at best, to pigeonhole the whole of humanities as a “communist fascist feminist deconstructionist multiculturalist” clique that operates in unison to threaten the American public and their children. Even if we agree that the present generation of professors is on a political overdrive to fulfil its Sixties dreams, clearly the left-wing uprisings of 1968 had at least two phases, which were mutually discordant.

The first phase was an uprising on behalf of the ideals of liberal humanism — an uprising for the freedom of the individual from a soulless system. The second phase was its opposite. It was a revolt against liberal humanism. It said, in effect, that liberal humanism is a form of deception. Western-style democracy, rationalism, objectivity and the autonomy of the individual are slogans designed to convince the downtrodden that subordination is justice. This second phase, the phase of ultra-radicalism, received a chiselled expression in the hands of various Paris philosophers.

The US tried to import ideas from France and Germany, but since these sounded too baroque and cynical for its tastes, the revolt against liberalism in the US became more a matter of action than of theory. Among these, what had a permanent impact on American life was what eventually came to be known as “identity politics” — the movements for women’s rights, gay and lesbian liberation, ethnic revivals and, more obliquely, black nationalism.

But the reactions to all these were never unitary among the academics. Within this framework, the whole of humanities is divided in various sects and sub-sects. Also, more importantly, many of the figures that the conservatives cite as dangerous relativists — Jaques Derrida or Stanley Fish, for instance — were no student activists in the Sixties. Fish, in fact, grew up in the Fifties and had nothing to do with the leftist movements of the Sixties.

That the conservative attack is motivated becomes manifest when they show reluctance to confront the more complex of the “Visigoths in tweeds” — scholars who can reflect effortlessly on the latest debates in identity politics as well as teach them a thing or two about Tacitus, Thomas Aquinas or Matthew Arnold.

The Republican hawks are right about one thing though — the US university system has indeed been united so far on one issue, and that is not about left politics or about political correctness. It still speaks a liberal democratic language. Even the radical anti-liberals, when they argue for multiculturalism, do not mean to displace the culture of rationalism and humanism. They merely wish to remind everyone not to fall prey to bigotry and small-mindedness. Tolerance, the legacy of the Enlightenment, is the name still blazoned across the jackets of the American dons. This is certainly elitist, but an elitism based on humanitarian values.

The debate about political correctness is a non-issue as dead horse. This is where one gets suspicious. The hidden agenda might be something else — to divert us from the real issue and stifle the elite, but proportionately democratic, model of the American university system.

   

 
 
WHY BOOKS SHOULD CONTINUE TO MATTER 
 
 
BY S. SUBRAMANYAN
 
 
A recent survey in Britain has revealed that the habit of borrowing books has declined in recent times. If this trend continues, people will soon be borrowing half the number of books than they did a decade ago. Apart from the cut in library budgets, the dwindling number of professional librarians also presents a dismal picture. What draw people away from public libraries have been identified as television, shopping, drinking, football, videos, the gym and the internet. A similar situation may soon arise in India.

When faced with the lack of resources, the axe everywhere falls on library funds. Primary schools in India lack resources for even bare necessities like blackboards and desks, let alone libraries.

Food for thought

But this should be as important as spending money on midday meals. The impressionable period for inculcating reading habits is at the secondary school level. Students getting library facilities from the beginning will be better equipped to face entrance examinations for admission to professional institutions. At the college and university levels, the question is how far the libraries keep up with the advancements in various fields. It is here that the authorities would have to constantly measure the path of the reading graph.

The British Council division and the United States information service have been providing their library services in the main Indian cities for over 50 years. Their contribution to the habits of reading and book-borrowing is quite significant. The chapter on “Book promotion” in the last annual report of the ministry of human resources development refers to the national book promotion council, the Centre’s policy of importing books without any restriction and the sales of the National Book Trust without mentioning the trends over the years. It does not talk about the habit of reading or book-borrowing or even about the number of libraries in the country.

Promoting excellence

In the chapter, “Promotion of books and reading habit”, there is only a mention of the various book fairs held or was about to be held in the country and the details of the national book week. The most authentic indicators of reading habits are circulation surveys of the various newspapers and periodicals. But newspapers cannot be a substitute for books.

A recent flourishing of quizzes on television has created a different kind of thirst for knowledge. Magazines have started publishing guides for these quiz shows. This is likely to fritter away the attention of young readers in the pursuit of superficial knowledge.

Serious magazines have grown fewer in number. Most of the English weeklies deal with topical issues and are never stimulating reading beyond an hour. It is time authorities at all levels began examining how they can help the growth in the number of libraries in a sincere effort to maintain the excellent habit of reading books.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Condolence squad

Sir — Unlike his visibly fractious predecessor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seeks to show his ostensible love and concern for the people of his state by visiting the homes of bereaved families and empathizing with them. The editorial, “Worthlessness” ( March 5), aptly compares such visits to those of “Victorian ladies with their charity baskets”. However, I feel that “monks with their begging bowls” would have been a better comparison. The politicians and the policemen try hard to look and sound sagacious, but end up looking smug and sounding hollow. And who does not realize that these gimmicks are only staged to indirectly beg for votes? Politics has always made strange bed-fellows, and now it is breeding stranger actors, with the result that this so-called “oasis of peace” is being treated often to free shows of “the beggars’ opera”. Is this why politicians like Ajit Panja are taking more to the stage than to their constituencies, and actors like Tapas Pal and Madhabi Mukherjee are trying to venture into politics?
Yours faithfully,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta

Secular high ground

Sir — It is difficult to accept that Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to enter into an alliance with the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is based on the moral high ground of secularism (“Single and single”, Feb 20). It may be recalled that in Maharashtra, the Congress has allied with the Nationalist Congress Party, which is a partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Meghalaya. Sonia Gandhi’s party is against the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala, though the NCP is the latter’s partner in the state. But in West Bengal, the Congress refuses to tie up with the Trinamool Congress because of the latter’s BJP connections.

The Congress evidently has different policies for different states. In the last Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal, the Left Front secured about 50 per cent of the votes, the Trinamool-BJP combine got 37 per cent and the Congress around 17 per cent. If the Congress is really interested in overthrowing the Left Front in the state, it is imperative that there be a one-to-one contest.

The state Congress chief, Pranab Mukherjee, wants to put Congress candidates in all the constituencies. This will result in a triangular contest and divide the anti-left votes. Sonia Gandhi is probably banking on the support of the left members of Parliament if her party is ever in need of support to form a government at the Centre. If she had a finger on the pulse of West Bengal, she would have found out that the people of the state desire a change. They will not take kindly to the fact that the Congress president’s decision may prevent it from happening.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — Although the Congress president has made it clear that the Congress in West Bengal will not join the mahajot , the deal made by A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury with Mamata Banerjee for a minor alliance in his home constituency, Malda, is a bold step (“Grateful Ghani in minor mahajot”, March 9). It is also a practicable one since it will improve the prospects of the anti-left parties. The scare of the mahajot still haunts the CPI(M) and its allies, and it is evident from the number of meetings the CPI(M) leadership recently had with Sonia Gandhi on the issue.

Although it is now certain that the Congress president will not allow her party to enter into an electoral alliance with the Trinamool Congress, it is time the anti-left forces joined hands to pose a strong enough threat to the 24-year old misrule of the Left Front in West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
Deba Prasad Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — The veteran Congressman, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, has staked everything by forming an alliance with the Trinamool Congress in Malda. That he has done this in full knowledge that it may invite the wrath of Sonia Gandhi indicates that the Congress is a helpless force in the state. Moreover, Congressmen in West Bengal know full well that an alliance with the Trinamool Congress will help them no end in the coming elections. It is only their party high command’s orders that is stopping them from forming such an alliance. In the face of this, Ghani Khan Chowdhury has sent a clear message to his leader — ensuring his own win is much more important than two-faced ideologies.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee are running after a political mirage. Does Sonia Gandhi think that her decision will lessen the stature Mamata Banerjee has gained for herself in the state?

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

Saving glory

Sir — The success of Pullela Gopi-chand has once again given Indians a reason to look into the stepmotherly behavior meted out to sports other than cricket. It is because of sportsmen like him, Karnam Malleswari, Vishwanathan Anand and others that India has its taste of sporting glory once in a while. The sponsors should also redefine their role and stop showering excess attention on cricket. The government should stop lavishing money and parliamentary seats as soon as a sportsperson is successful and try to provide facilities so that we can produce more champions.

As has been said many times over, Indians do not lack talent, but the will to synchronize resources. Gopichand’s victory in the All England Badminton Championships is an indication, which, if unheeded, will wipe India out of sports even before it has properly entered it.

Yours faithfully,
A. Jain, via email

Sir — March 11 was one of the brightest days in the history of Indian sports (“Smashing Gopi grabs glory”, March 12). Gopichand has made the Indian name brighter in the world map of sports by winning the most prestigious tournament in badminton. Over the last year, he has been in outstanding form, and success has not eluded him for very long.

Indian sports authorities, interested only in investing huge sums in cricket, have neglected all other sports in which Indians could have been world beaters. Interestingly, in the recent past, other sports like tennis, weightlifting, boxing and badminton have brought India many more titles than cricket. If these sports can get adequate backing from the government and corporate sponsors, India can surely do better in these events. One hopes that for want of money and facilities we do not not have to wait for 21 years to get another All-England Badminton Champion.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Harbhajan Singh claimed as big a headline as Gopichand in most newspapers in the country. But did the two really deserve the same platform? For all Singh’s spinning magic, India will perhaps still fare dismally against Australia. Singh’s feat is more of a personal landmark than a matter of national pride. The importance given to the two sportsmen is symptomatic of the status enjoyed by the two sports in the country. In cricket, it only takes a brilliant performance on one day of a test match to grab front-page headlines, while a badminton player must win the most coveted title in his sport to get the same sort of attention. This lack of discrimination is unfortunate.

Yours faithfully,
Paramita Banerjee, Calcutta

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