Editorial 1 / Stock in trade
Editorial 2 / Contested site
Paper over the rough edges
Fifth Column / Decline and fall of indian research
Your George for my George
Letters to the editor

The panic gripping Indian stock markets simply refuses to go away. Mr Yashwant Sinha’s budget was announced more than three weeks ago. The budget seemed tailormade for high share values. But, the reprieve was really short-lived — it lasted a bare couple of days. Ever since then, the Bombay sensitive index, the barometer of the Indian stock market, has been sliding steadily downhill. There have been days when the sensex has moved northwards. But each such move has been followed by huge downward swings. The net result has been a loss of over 15 per cent in value during the post-budget period. This precipitous slide has taken place despite the strongly positive impulse provided by the budget. Although the Nasdaq has shown more bad days than good, external factors have also been generally favourable, the most striking evidence of that being the heavy inflow of additional portfolio investment by foreign institutional investors. Indeed, one shudders to think of what might have been the resting place of the sensex if the foreign institutional investors had stayed away from the Indian markets at this juncture. Of course, the FIIs have been investing heavily in Indian stocks solely out of self-interest — they believe that share values are at a reasonably low level and so hope to make profits when the market climbs upwards. Some people have wondered why Indian public institutions such as the Unit Trust of India do not undertake some concerted action to lift the markets from their present comatose situation. But there is really no reason why UTI or the other big public sector financial institutions should help the stock market in this way. That is not their brief — they have their own assigned tasks. Moreover, this kind of firefighting exercise actually does more harm than good because it masks the real ills besetting the stock markets.

And there is no doubt that the Indian stock markets are plagued by several diseases. Every day, a new horror story seems to hit the headlines. A leading broker is accused of manipulating the share price of a bank on the basis of insider information gleaned from the bank. The broker is also accused of using bank funds to finance trades which take prices to absurdly high levels. While it may not be a crime for a broker to indulge in speculative activities, banks certainly have no business lending large sums for highly speculative ventures. There are also allegations that important functionaries of the Bombay stock exchange used their official positions to gather privileged information which was then used in their personal trades. Several of these allegations remain conjectures at this stage since there is no hard evidence about them. However, there is no doubt that at least some operators in the Calcutta stock exchange crossed all possible boundaries of prudence. Heavy speculative activities in the face of a steady downward movement caused them heavy losses, leading to payment difficulties — the brokers simply did not have enough finances to honour their buying commitments. The obvious question is why they threw all caution to the winds. Or why is there the possibility that senior bank officials could jeopardize their careers in order to engage in murky deals? The answers are also quite straightforward. The Indian regulatory systems hardly ever act, they only react after the event. This is combined with a disinclination to bring culprits to book. Finally, the legal system takes so long to deliver judgments that the vast majority of the guilty simply do not care.


A rash of small parties with radically differing aims tying up with two deadly contestants in one state and an adjacent Union territory is a sure recipe for chaos. But such a truth would be devastating publicity before the assembly elections. Both the major parties in Tamil Nadu, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which is part of the National Democratic Alliance, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have tried to project a sense of control by finalizing their respective seat sharing agreements. Of the 234 seats, the DMK has claimed 155 for itself, and the AIADMK 141. The rest has been portioned out to the numerous adherents, big and small, according to their perceived importance to the party heading the alliance. The Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress, for example, is not on the DMK’s list at all, since it wanted nine seats in Tamil Nadu and three in Pondicherry and the DMK would give it only three. This is just a tiny symptom of the seething tensions within each of the two massive alliances.

The most obvious sign of the unsettled state of things is the argument over Pondicherry in the AIADMK camp. The Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi are both stridently claiming the government there in case of a victory, and the PMK has also made it clear that it will not be part of any “third secular front” there should the Congress and the Tamil Maanila Congress try to form one. So, should the last happen, the PMK will fight the Congress in Pondicherry while sharing seats with it in Tamil Nadu. The TMC itself is now in dire straits with Mr P. Chidambaram forming the TMC Democratic Front in protest against Mr G.K. Moopanar’s tying up with the AIADMK. Although the DMK looks a little less troubled than the AIADMK at present, corruption threatens them both. It may be noted that in spite of Mr M. Karunanidhi’s bland assurance that the Tehelka tapes can do little harm to the Bharatiya Janata Party, no representative of the DMK was present at the NDA “we-have-no-cracks” exercise. And Ms J. Jayalalitha, true to form, has now been charged in another case for allegedly having illegally funded the purchase of two hotels in London by an AIADMK member of parliament. Seat sharing agreements are hollow reassurance in such a troubled contest.


What does one do when ideology (in the worst sense of the term) triumphs? When an elite believes what it wants to believe and no longer has much interest in the truth? After 10 years of neo-liberal economic reforms despite an utterly unimpressive balance sheet we have more people than ever clamouring that the very same type of reforms must carry on full speed ahead.

Take the current and utterly misleading claim of the government that the poverty level has fallen to around 26 per cent compared to the 36 per cent in 1993-94. New Delhi doesn’t even have the honesty to highlight what everyone associated with the collection of the National Sample Survey data for 1999-2000, on which the poverty estimates are based, knows — they are non-comparable with the past because of the mess-up in the methodology of collection which was changed in the 55th round of the NSS.

Thus there is no basis whatsoever for the claim that poverty has come down by 10 percentage points. In the 1998-99 survey, poverty was estimated at around 43 per cent. Even allowing for the fact that this was a “thin sample” survey, the mind boggles at the idea that in one year there could have been such a dramatic change.

Moreover, even neo-liberal economists like Montek Singh Ahluwahlia say that rural poverty decline is determined by food prices and high agricultural growth. This understanding is disputed by others but the point that is germane here is that neither agricultural growth rates nor food prices have behaved over the last five years in a way to suggest that poverty could have come down so significantly.

Let us, however, carry out a balance sheet of the Nineties not according to the lights of the critics of the post-1991 reforms, but according to the criteria insisted upon by the supporters of those neo-liberal reforms. For them the two key criteria are intensely ideological ones — the overall growth rate of the gross domestic product, and the state of the fiscal deficit. By making the growth rate the most important single indicator, issues concerning the inequality of distribution of income and wealth don’t really matter since trickle-down from a proper “height” will do its magic. A high rate of growth is seen as both necessary and sufficient, or at least decisive, in eliminating poverty rapidly. Who cares if the rich get even richer and the gap between rich and poor widens — as long as the poor are getting better off?

This central unspoken commitment of neo-liberal economics can be attacked on the terrain of economic theory and empirical evidence. But let us point out its political implications. Disparities in economic power always and everywhere weaken political democracy because it translates into more unequal political power and influence. A neo-liberalism in economics is always accompanied by a neo-liberalism in politics. You have to diminish the meaning, purpose and content of democracy, say, by claiming that it is not meant to be a mechanism for giving ordinary people more control of their political destinies or lessening the power gap between themselves and the elites, but simply a mechanism for guaranteeing some basic civic liberties and to enable them periodically to choose the elites who will rule over them.

As for the second criterion, it is the fiscal deficit not the revenue deficit that is the main focus. This is because even if the latter increases, the former can decrease provided you attack government activity on the capital account. That is to say, the main problem may be the excess of the government’s current expenditure over its current receipts. But don’t raise direct taxes (there is a limit to how much indirect taxes you can keep on squeezing out) since a key proposition of neo-liberalism is to further coddle the main “wealth producers” — the corporate sector and the already wealthy.

“Unproductive” social expenditure should be cut but not military expenditure which has leaped dramatically upwards in India — in the last five years there has been the greatest ever increase in defence spending dwarfing all other five year stretches in India’s post-independence history. But, then, we are all supposed to become gung ho nuclearized patriots now!

Focussing on fiscal deficit reduction enables neo-liberal ideologues to demand that government capital expenditure/investment be reduced while its capital receipts be increased. You justify doing the first on the basis of standard neo-liberal textbook assumptions (repeatedly falsified in the Indian experience) that public sector investment “crowds out” private sector investment. You do the second by public sector disinvestments, that is, selling off the “family silver”, not primarily of the loss-makers (who wants to buy them?) but of the profit-makers.

Meanwhile, the heart of the problem — the revenue deficit — is left untouched. Indeed, as long as the real rate of interest on government borrowings to cover a fiscal deficit is less than the real rate of growth of the GDP, then the ratio of public debt to the GDP will fall and the fiscal deficit in itself is not a problem. That is to say, far more important than the issue of how big is the deficit is whether government spending, say, through capital investments, is helping the economy. And if it is and the overall debt ratio is declining, then the size of the fiscal deficit does not matter, except of course if you are ideologically committed at all costs to progressively privatize the economy.

So how has the Indian economy fared in the Nineties compared to the Eighties when there was a more cautious anti-dirigiste thrust and opening out of the economy but nothing like the dramatic changes of the neo-liberal Nineties? When proper statistical adjustments are made so as to be able to compare the average growth rates of the Eighties and the Nineties, what do we find? The over six per cent average claimed for the Nineties by the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, is incorrect. The poor performing year of 1991-92 is left out of the reckoning, or worse, put into the bracket of pre-reform years so as to artificially lower the average before the 1991 reforms and artificially raise the average performance for the post-reform years. The balance of payments crisis of 1990-91 was caused by the Eighties economy but the particular choice of reforms to correct that crisis in 1991-92 was very much a neo-liberal package and must be held responsible for the dismal showing of that year.

The average annual growth rate in the Nineties is thus around 5.7 per cent which shows no statistically significant increase over that of the Eighties which was 5.6 per cent per annum. Primary sector average growth at 3.2 per cent annually is the same; there is no overall improvement in tertiary sector growth; a modest slowdown in the secondary sector. More disturbingly, since 1997 there has been a definite deceleration in aggregate and disaggregated growth rates.

Agriculture grew at only 2.7 per cent per annum, manufacturing at 4.7 per cent. Together they employ four-fifths of the work force. The bulk of growth was in certain service sectors like communications (14.1 per cent) and financial services (11.4 per cent). As the economy opens out further it seems rather worse placed to meet global competitive challenges.

As for the fiscal deficit, instead of progressively declining as a result of the reforms it has stubbornly fluctuated between a low of four per cent and a high of seven per cent. At an estimated 5.9 per cent at the end of the decade, it is the same as in 1992-93. The all-important revenue deficit has hovered between 2.4 per cent and 3.7 per cent. The consolidated fiscal deficit of the Centre and states rose from 9.5 per cent of GDP in 1990-91 to 11.5 per cent in 1999-2000.

The conclusion is stark. The neo-liberal reform package has failed according to its own standards. But the misnamed “middle class”, which is really the elite of India, that is, the top 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the population, has certainly prospered. It has no reason to be perturbed that the picture looks even worse when other standards of judgment like poverty, employment, inequality are used.

The author has recently co-authored the book, South Asia on a Short Fuse: Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament


Recently an eminent scientist, C.N.N. Rao, expressed his concern about the declining standards of research work in India. His remarks deserve special attention. India is said to be among the top three countries as far as scientific manpower is concerned. However, “in a decade we may not have enough competent scientists to man our research institutions. It could impair our ability to compete globally,” said the secretary, department of science and technology, V.S. Ramamurthy.

In the year, 2000, the National Science Talent Search authorities could only award 12 out of the 60 scholarships because the rest of the candidates did not meet the requirements. The situation looks bleak. After independence, despite promises by the government, education was neglected. Higher education, in particular, was allowed to expand aimlessly. With the expansion of secondary education and vocational training remaining hopelessly low, indiscriminate numbers rushed into institutions of higher learning.

Admission into these was naturally not too competitive. Moreover, government grants have been steadily decreased while tuition fees have been kept nominal. The effect has been nothing short of disaster. Universities that were meant to accommodate a few hundred now inducted thousands of students. A continuous shortage in infrastructural facilities has converted these institutions into mere degree-delivering factories.

Seriousness pays

In the late Sixties, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research offered fellowship to all who secured a first class post-graduate degree. In some other cases, a first class degree was made a prerequisite for jobs. These factors encouraged many institutions to offer their first class degrees generously.

The importance of research has also not been properly understood by our policy-makers, despite the fact that several institutions like the Indian Space Research Organization and Bhaba Atomic Research Centre have been set up.

The whole system needs to be overhauled. We should only allow those who are serious to attend institutions of higher education. To make the degrees in science and humanities purposeful and attractive, the institutions offering them should be given enough funds and freedom. Newer courses should be introduced. Relatively newer branches in science and technology should be identified and courses in genetic engineering, information technology and so on should be offered. Courses in the commerce and humanities streams should also be similarly refurbished.

It is not that the policy-makers are ignorant of these problems. Certain steps have indeed been taken. Unfortunately the measures are not comprehensive and there is a basic absence of vision.

Absence of vision

The Centre has finally realized that these institutions are not charitable dispensaries and that they must be allowed to generate and mobilize resources and be given some form of economic autonomy. The Indian Institutes of Technology have this in some measure but most other institutions do not. Possibly encouraged by this the government has now upgraded an institution like the regional engineering college at Roorkee to the level of an IIT.

Since the Seventies, technological education seems to be attracting numerous students. But government-run institutions can offer only a limited number of seats. Those who do not make the required grades have to opt for private engineering schools in lieu of heavy capitation fees. Most of the latter are money-making rackets with a second-rate faculty which is not really interested in research or experimentation. They are doing a great disservice to our youngsters and the nation.

Strangely, the state and Central governments do not comprehend the nature of the damage this can do. This is where the problem ultimately resides. The government needs to ensure that only the most serious students and scholars are given the opportunity to go for higher education. And all students must be obliged to pay for it. Of course, there should also be some provision for the truly meritorious but economically weaker students to get some relief in this regard. We need to motivate the best students to opt for research, rather than other career options. This is of utmost importance for the country.


In December 1999, an officer of the enforcement directorate, Ashok Aggarwal, a pea from the same pod as spawned the likes of the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Bangaru Laxman, and the president of the Samata Party, Jaya Jaitly, began to sing under sustained interrogation. The Central Bureau of Investigation informs us through its spokesman that by January 2000 — 15 months ago — Aggarwal had told them all they could squeeze out of him about Vincent George, personal secretary successively to Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.

For the next 15 months, the CBI did nothing beyond dangling the information like a sword of Damocles over the head of the Congress. Not that the CBI did not vouchsafe to the media whatever it was that it claimed to have gleaned; on the contrary, every salacious detail was leaked to favoured journalists of the print and electronic variety. There was, for a few weeks, a mild flutter in the dovecots. And then, because nothing further happened, the story died its inevitable death. The public and the press moved on to the next plate of political pornography.

Then came tehelka.com. The rotten, stinking carcass of the nation’s defence procurement system was exhumed and displayed on TV to crores upon crores of viewers. We saw the president of the major ruling party not throwing out the crook from the headquarters of the BJP for bribing his way into a national security niche, but accepting a hundred thousand soiled notes from a masquerading defence dealer.

We were then subjected to the spectacle of the key political aide and personal companion of the raksha mantri not demanding to know what Major General Murugai, the just-retired additional director-general of weapons and equipment, was doing infiltrating callow defence equipment pimps into the raksha mantri’s official residence, but instead going into a long-winded explanation of why even rupees two lakhs was enough for her to check with “sahib”; that justice was ensured for the hands holding out the cash. “Ah! Take the cash in hand/ And waive the rest/ Oh!! The brave music/ Of a distant drum!” (The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam).

With George’s hand caught in the till, or at any rate his personal companion’s exquisite hand seen burrowing at the bottom of the barrel, the National Democratic Alliance establishment suddenly remembered another George — Vincent George. The joke about V. George in Congress circles is: what’s the difference between India before independence and India after independence? Answer: then we were ruled by George V, now we are ruled by V George! Therefore, choosing the precise moment when the nation was gasping at its raksha mantri stripped naked as a treacherous little conman, the NDA Empire struck back, slapping on the personal secretary to the leader of the opposition a first information report. Where, one asks, is the FIR on the personal companion to the NDA chairman?

The substance of the charges is for Vincent George to answer. And doubtless he will — and probably has done this so successfully in his four encounters with CBI sleuths that his answers left the CBI stumped for 15 months. What concerns us here is the vicious abuse of the CBI ever since those two veteran knickerwallahs, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, captured the investigative agencies in March 1998.

First came the action taken report on the Jain commission recommendations tabled in Parliament in July 1998. Justice Jain had regretted that the CBI had not investigated, or even interrogated,Muthuvel arunanidhi, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, who, said Justice Jain, held the key to unravelling the conspiracy behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. The Congress asked why the ATR was silent on this point. Home minister Advani, at his accommodating best, most obligingly amended the ATR to direct the CBI’s multi-disciplinary monitoring agency to investigate Karunanidhi’s role in the conspiracy.

Three years on, the MDMA has not even set eyes on Karunanidhi, let alone ask him a single question — in person or in writing. There was no sincerity to the home minister’s pledge to Parliament. It was no more than a cheap political gimmick to appease their then ally, the restive Jayaram Jayalalithaa.

When Karunanidhi switched sides to become the BJP’s most faithful camp-follower, the MDMA was stopped in it stracks.Second, the Bofors charge-sheet. Ever since April 16, 1987, when Swedish Radio broke the story of unexplained payments by Bofors into secret Swiss bank accounts, the BJP and its cohorts have been screaming themselves hoarse about Rajiv Gandhi’s culpability.

Fourteen years on, we know the money was paid into three sets of bank accounts: one, the accounts of an Indian agent appointed by Bofors when Vajpayee was external affairs minister; two, an Indian-Iranian-British family long and notoriously associated with Vajpayee; three, the associates of an apparent sting operation master-minded by one“N”,which appears to be the initial of a Vajpayee candidate in the last Lok Sabha elections.

Vajpayee and Advani, ably assisted by those two caterpillars of their commonwealth, shifty lawyer Arun Jaitley and muckraker Arun Shourie, bided their time till Sonia Gandhi ousted Sharad Pawar to become leader of the opposition. Almost literally at the very second that the Congress parliamentary party elected Sonia Gandhi its leader, the BJP put down Rajiv Gandhi’s name as an accused in the Bofors charge-sheet knowing full well that a dead Rajiv Gandhi could not defend himself. George Fernandes is not dead. Why then is he being treated as an accused not sent up for trial?

And now, it’s Vincent George: You take my George and I’ll take yours! There is a perceptive line in my favourite James Bond novel, Goldfinger, where the chief of the mafia, Mr Solo, captures Bond sneaking into his premises. “Mr Bond,” says he, “we have a saying in Sicily: the first time it’s happenstance; the second time, it’s coincidence, the third time, it’s enemy action.” The MDMA’s failure to interrogate Karunanidhi might have been happenstance; Rajiv Gandhi’s inclusion in the Bofors charge-sheet might have been coincidence; the FIR on Vincent Georgeis enemy action.

It is no use the prime minister pretending that the CBI is an independent agency immune by law from governmental interference. For it was Vajpayee, none other, who told the Lok Sabha on March 11, 1996 (I quote from the official translation in the records of the Lok Sabha): “No one can acknowledge the genuineness of the CBI as an independent investigative agency. It is under the government’s control. The honourable prime minister exercises full control on the CBI. It is said the prime minister cannot dictate anything, but there can be hundreds of ways to influence the CBI.”

Prime Minister Vajpayee is now showing us, one by one, each of his hundred ways of “influencing the CBI”. It is time an FIR was lodged against him.



Watch out for those eyes

Sir — Ambereen Ali Shah’s article, “Lover or Laxman, look before you leap” (March 26), is scary. The descriptions of the spycam and what it can do speak of awful forms of infringement into people’s privacy. Whether it is between husbands and wives, or business partners, this is the kind of thing that can lead to deep paranoia among people. If this slowly becomes a cultural pattern and people by and large get habituated to being spied upon, everyone will spend their lives self-consciously. No one disputes the fact that the tapes that revealed that Bangaru Laxman has taken bribe have helped the nation. Like most technological inventions this too, if used with discretion, can be immensely useful, but when abused, it can cause a society to live on tenterhooks. This is the kind of thing celebrities are constantly complaining about — that they are not allowed to live their lives without people prying. It is not a petty question of secrecy but a larger issue of individual freedom.
Yours faithfully,
Arjun Prabhakar, via email

Leading ladies

Sir — Sonia Gandhi’s leadership received a severe blow when eight Congress members of the West Bengal legislative assembly decided to defect to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (“Congress cracks, but survives exodus”, March 5). The situation may be redeemed by the Trinamool Congress’s alienation from the National Democratic Alliance government. Meanwhile, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, J. Jayalalitha, is keeping the Congress on tenterhooks with her non-committal attitude; what future the Congress has after the polls in Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu is anybody’s guess. Now, Jayalalitha has sided with the Pattali Makkal Katchi.

This is interesting because at one time, the PMK had celebrated the assassination of the former prime minister and Sonia Gandhi’s late husband, Rajiv Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi does not have the political acumen to lead the 116-year-old Congress. She is surrounded by sycophants — 10, Janpath has become a sort of pilgrimage for any Congressman. The party has no future unless power is decentralized within it. Sonia Gandhi must understand that a famous surname is not eligibility enough for the prime minister’s chair. It is a pity that the same party which ruled all the states in the Fifties, has now only a pitifully low number of Lok Sabha seats under its leadership.

Yours faithfully,
M. Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — The editorial, “Pot and kettle” (March 20), reinforces the idea that although the Congress is far from a “clean” party, it now has a new weapon with which it is trying to dislodge the Vajpayee government. But the Tehelka revelations and the possibilities they have opened up have made Sonia Gandhi lose all composure. The Congress is without a well-articulated agenda and in no position to dethrone the Bharatiya Janata Party from its majority position in Parliament. Yet, Sonia Gandhi does not want to let go of this chance. She is hoping that by putting immense pressure on him, she can make the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, resign from his seat. But this will not happen easily.

Yours faithfully,
R.H. Putran, Calcutta

Sir — The Congress’s 81st plenary session concluded at Bangalore. It will be remembered for two things. First, it signalled the emergence of the second Indira in Sonia Gandhi. She was aggressive in her criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party, attentive towards party workers and displayed that she did not get intimidated by any political bigwig. Second, P.V. Narasimha Rao managed to convince the likes of the pro-reforms Manmohan Singh to accept a “revisionist policy” towards reforms (“Plenary pride of place to Chanakya”, March 20). The jamboree was also a success in terms of political content and arrangements but the treatment meted out to the media left a lot to be desired. The locals were not as much to be blamed as the All-India Congress Committee’s media department. The journalists were kept 30 kilometres away from the Palace Ground venue.

Meanwhile, the pub culture of Bangalore also attracted many a Congressman. Sonia Gandhi’s directive that austerity should be maintained clearly did not have much of an impact. The Congressmen were on cloud nine, giggling amongst themselves, cracking jokes about Bangaru Laxman and so on. The promise of the prime minister to the nation saying that “Defencegate” would be probed by a sitting Supreme Court judge also saw a humiliating end to its prospects (“No justice for Vajpayee,” Mar 20). The chief justice, A.S. Anand, refused this request.

Yours faithfully,
Anita Sabat, via email

Fine policing

Sir — Sometimes the Mayakovski in the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, gets the better of the Marx in him. Or why would he, of all things, summon his police chiefs and order them to make the police force people-friendly (“Image sermon to police”, March 20)? Has he forgotten that there are elections around the corner? Or has the vision of an easy victory in his Jadavpur constituency over his Trinamool rival made him complacent?

In any event, he shouldn’t forget that not all candidates fielded by the Trinamool are former film personalities and debut challengers; most of them will give the Left Front a run for its money, and if this happens, he will need all the support he can muster, even the police’s.

The counter-offensive by the director-general of police, Dipak Sanyal, is also interesting. He says that other than some political skirmishes “in a particular zone”, the law and order machinery was most efficient. By doing this, Sanyal has outdone Bhattacharjee.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ganguly,Calcutta

Sir — Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, ever since he has become the chief minister, has given a new hope to the people of West Bengal. All his steps to improve the overall image of the state have been in the right direction. Bhattacharjee’s asking the police to get tough is also praiseworthy.

His insistence that the police should treat the common man in a pleasant manner is also commendable because the law enforcement agency regularly takes a hostile and unapproachable stance regarding ordinary people.

Bhattacharjee should also insist that the police be apolitical and unbiased in its dealings. Stern action should also be taken against those officers who have criminal connections.

Yours faithfully,
Shabbir Ahmed, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — Signalling that his talks with the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, has drawn a blank, the Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president in charge of West Bengal, Kailashpati Mishra, while talking to reporters after their meeting, invoked Rabindranath Tagore to say: “Jodi tor dak shuney keu na aashey, tobe ekla cholo re (If no one responds to your call, then go alone)” (“BJP obliges Mamata”, March 22).

I would like to request all politicians to leave Tagore out of this. Indian politics is not the nicest of things to be uttered in the same breath as the poet.

Yours faithfully,
Sumit Ghosal, Dabhol

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