Editorial 1 / Varnish of tar
Editorial 2 / The lost generation
Defence is the best offence
Fifth Column / A look at what lies in store
Touching new base
How the budget affects academic excellence
Letters to the editor

Something is rotten in the government of India. It did not need the Tehelka tapes to show this to those who know how the system works in India. But the tapes served to shake the government out of its torpor and its smugness. It has taken the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, nearly a fortnight to wake up and admit that all is not well with the government and that the corridors of power are teeming with brokers who make a living by greasing palms. After the Bharatiya Janata Party and senior ministers had taken refuge in weird conspiracy theories, the prime minister was forced to accept in the national executive of the BJP that there are serious flaws in the way the administration functions. He also said that precautions should be taken to prevent a recurrence of the shortcomings. This admission, however belated, is welcome. Nothing can be more dangerous than the delusion that all is above board in the government. In another turn around, Mr Vajpayee complimented the media for alerting the government about its various flaws and faults. Earlier, Mr Vajpayee and other senior leaders of the BJP had exhorted the media to stay away from defence matters. Prying into the latter, the argument was, served only to jeopardize national security. Whoever persuaded the prime minister to abandon such a nonsensical line of argument deserves the nation’s gratitude.

But admission is not equivalent to a cleansing process. It can only be a necessary first step. Mr Vajpayee, after some obvious prodding, has taken such a step. The next steps are even more crucial. Related to those steps is another admission. It has to be recognized by the prime minister and his spin doctors that his and his government’s image has taken a terrible beating. This has nothing to do with truth but with public perception. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for the public to forget what they have actually seen on the video tapes. To obliterate those images, the government and the BJP will have to take serious steps to repair the damage that has been done. It is doubtful if a whistle-stop tour of the country by the prime minister will serve such a purpose. For one thing, Mr Vajpayee will have to convince people that the guilty will not be protected. His actions, as of date, do not generate that confidence. For another, the BJP’s regional allies may not be all that willing to cooperate with Mr Vajpayee when he visits their areas. Already discordant notes have been struck by the Telegu Desam Party. Mr Vajpayee’s government may be safe because there is no other alternative. But it now stands devoid of the moral authority required to push through crucial decisions. India, especially the economy, cannot afford a government bereft of credibility and stricken by rigor mortis. If power is corrupting, power without the wherewithal to use it is ridiculous.


Children make excellent criminals, given the right sort of nurture. In Calcutta, they are proving to be increasingly adept at murder, rape, sex work and drug trafficking, to mention the most serious in a large repertory of crimes. Juvenile crime in the city has gone up five-fold in the last three years, and Calcutta’s minors seem to be bringing to murder and rape an unprecedented degree of gratuitous brutality. India probably has the largest number of illiterate people, the largest number of children in illegal labour and the largest number of street children, most of them concentrated in the cities. The latest census shows that West Bengal is the most densely populated Indian state, while the previous one revealed that the state has 25 per cent of the national total of listed juvenile beggars. The correlations between these statistics do not have to be spelt out. The state is a juvenile wasteland where an immense and constantly mobile mass of neglected, delinquent and abandoned children roam “free” from all familial, social and legal protection. They are, perhaps, India’s toughest survivors and quickest learners. They are also the recipients of its keenest brutality — in its most institutionalized forms. Most of them associate the family with unspeakable violence and the police with terror and abuse. Their complete, often murderous, amorality most often stems from their total inability to value their own lives.

The handy myth that these children pick up violence from watching films and television needs to be broken once and for all. Identification with violent archetypes is a symptom rather than the cause of juvenile criminality. A violent film may provide the only images in a child’s immediate environment bearing a meaningful relation to what is happening to him. Social attitudes to the child criminal continue to be punitive rather than reformative, and notions of reform remain oppressively and unimaginatively Victorian. Remand homes can accommodate only a fraction of these children, their facilities are abysmal and they make no distinction between the neglected and the delinquent. The Juvenile Justice Act, 1986, has failed to prevent child offenders from being lumped together with adults in jail. Their relationship with the police is locked in a cycle of terror and abuse. Illegal detention, torture and extortion are routinely practised by the police on street children, whose utter vulnerability makes notions of rights or representation sound inhumanly absurd. The police’s perception of children as vagrants and criminals is aided by the Indian Penal Code considering anyone above the age of 12 an adult. The safeguards of the Juvenile Justice Act are ignored and its loophoples exploited, providing the police with de facto immunity from prosecution. Hence, Calcutta’s slums, streets, railway stations and some of its homes become a vast nursery in which abandonment and aggression are the only forms of nurture.


The other major consequences of the tehelka.com exposures have to be waited for. One particular fallout is, however, already visible. Defence should no longer be the holy cow of the Indian polity. A halo was attached till now to the nation’s defence outlay. Whoever questioned the size or pattern of military expenditure was immediately suspected of evil intentions, and, on occasion, branded as a rank enemy of the country. The Tehelka videotapes are going to put a brake on all that. Every citizen will henceforth have the prerogative to cultivate queasiness of an honest sort: who knows, an additional allocation sought ostensibly for strengthening national defence could be so much of extra payment for swelling the earnings of bribe-givers and bribe-takers; the claim of ensuring further security to the nation is all hokum.

It is an old debate. The wheat of facts has nonetheless to be separated from the chaff of vapid emotions. Look up the roster of data assembled by the United Nations on national income levels of nearly 200 of its member countries; in per capita terms, India ranks among the 10 poorest nations. Another bit of illuminating statistics: we are, after Saudi Arabia, the largest importers of arms and other defence materiel; Saudi Arabia is acknowledgedly one of the world’s richest countries.

The standard retort of the military lobby is a shibboleth. We may be poor, but, so what, even a poor country has the right to defend its territorial integrity, and decide to do so in the most appropriate manner. There is the other point of view though. For in an impoverished country, the best national defence is to have an effective foreign policy. It has meagre resources, and the more it spends on defence, the less is available to it for development, including for educational development. Expenditure purportedly towards strengthening the nation’s defence capability, it can also be shown, is largely infructuous.

Suppose country A, facing a threat — real or imaginary — from country B, raises its defence outlay by a certain percentage. The natural reaction of country B will be to raise its defence expenditure too. Country A will then feel impelled, or goaded, to raise its military budget again, which will be immediately followed by a retaliatory further increase in the defence expenditure of country B. This can be an interminable process. It is theoretically conceivable that either country, obsessed by the urge to achieve relative military superiority over its adversary, will exhaust its entire national income on defence, and yet, at the end of it, the objective with which the expenditure spree was first started will remain unachieved. At a certain juncture, both countries may even consider it essential to borrow or beg funds from better-off countries to meet the ever-rising cost of the defence outlay. The denouement will be the ruination of both.

In contrast, the efficient conduct of external affairs does not call for much allocation of resources; it only needs imagination, flair, objectivity and finesse. Consider the situation 50 years ago, in the Fifties. India was a poor country, its inheritance was deprivation and a ragged economy, its international prestige had nonetheless reached the zenith, but not on account of fearsome defence outlay. It was shown great deference by the rest of the world. The foreign policy adopted by the national government displayed remarkable skill in expounding the theme of equidistance from the most powerful entities dominating the international arena, and, at the same time, nurturing the friendship of the poorer nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The military lobby lay low in such circumstances.

Its chance came with the border friction with China in 1962. That flare-up was blown up into “a great Chinese invasion” by interested groups. National sentiments were exploited to the hilt. With Sheikh Abdullah’s incarceration, Kashmir too went out of control, followed soon by the war with Pakistan in 1965. The defence budget has not looked back since then. The past decades have been a bonanza for those eminences who have equated higher and higher military expenditure with national security.

The fact that there is an inverse relationship between economic development and expanding defence expenditure has not bothered them. What does it matter if one-third of the nation is without food, one-half is functionally illiterate and the overwhelming majority of women and children lack minimum nourishment, as long as the commission agents and crooks can have a cosy time?

The Indian hyperbole has dwelled on two themes: first, we must recover the territories the Chinese have stolen from us, never mind even if those territories were an imperial bequest, and second, Kashmir is an inalienable part of India, which none can take away from us.

The two arguments have been alternately, or together, used as props for mounting defence expenditure year after year. Occasions have arisen when, in the frenzy of anti-Pakistan and anti-China fervour, housewives from poor families, often unable to make both ends meet, have been coaxed to part with the residue of their jewels. Leave out madcaps like George Fernandes, the realization has dawned of late among the people that China belongs to a vastly superior league. Where it is Pakistan, the jingo spirit is, however, still alive and kicking.

Tehelka has been a great eyeopener. It has revealed the harsh, crude face of reality; defence is an alibi for politicians, ministers and middlemen to make hay. And some of them have had the audacity to suggest that a part of the bribe they receive should be paid in foreign exchange.

The agents are not without international links. The arms dealers have their patrons and sources in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Russia. India and Pakistan, it is fair to assume, have an overlap of the same set of middlemen and arms suppliers. They supply arms and equipment to Pakistan and offer a cut to politicians and civil servants there. After winning that contract, they approach India: since Pakistan has bought those arms, you must take adequate steps to strengthen your defence capability; you too must purchase more and better arms; we will be happy to arrange the necessary supplies.

Since life is not worth living unless we can give a bloody nose to Pakistan, our decision-makers, who these days are infected by the Hindutva bug, readily fall for the trap. But this is not altogether non-altruism. The politicians and civil servants get their cut in due course. If, in the process, the people are bled to death, well, kismet is kismet.

The inanity of continuous increase in defence outlay by both Pakistan and India is truly incomprehensible. For even if, for argument’s sake, it is imagined that the two countries will again go to war, the world’s only superpower is bound to step in within a couple of days or a week and bring an end to the hostilities. The superpower will not mind a larger and larger defence outlay by both countries, but a war is a different thing, it can have unpredictable side effects. Since both India and Pakistan are dependent on the superpower for their wherewithal, they cannot but obey the directive of the United States.

Thus, perhaps, the only rationale at present for mounting defence expenditure is the assured flow of cut money to those who are supposed to be our leaders and the mandarins who obey their diktat. The higher the size of defence outlay, the greater is the quantity of bribe received by the honourable rascals who preside over our destiny.

Meanwhile, a story is doing the rounds. A dialectical debate is on between two ministers. Both have received a bribe of Rs 10 crore for awarding contracts worth Rs 100 crore. One has fully honoured the commitment and sanctioned a contract of Rs 100 crore for the party concerned. The other minister too has accepted Rs 10 crore, but, instead of satisfying the full stipulation of the deal, has granted a baratof only Rs 70 crore. The argument between the two ministers is over their relative honesty. According to the first minister, he has been faithful to the bribe-giver and awarded him what was promised, while the other minister has fulfilled the commitment only to the extent of 70 per cent; therefore, he, the first minister, is unquestionably the more honest of the two. The second minister demurs. He is a patriot, he has sold the country only up to the extent of 70 per cent. He has betrayed the country only upto 30 per cent, while the first minister is a traitor and a rogue through and through, and deserves to be sent to the gallows.


Ahard blow dealt softly. That sums up what Yashwant Sinha has tried to deliver by way of the agricultural reforms in this year’s budget. Asking the state governments to procure and distribute foodgrains, for which the Centre will provide some financial support, is in reality abdicating the responsibility of providing an assured market to small and marginal farmers. All these years, the Food Corporation of India was entrusted with the task of procuring, handling and storing foodgrains. It was because of the FCI, despite the shortcomings in the system, that farmers received an incentive to grow more. The procurement system provided farmers a cushion to weather the vagaries of the market forces at the time of crop harvest.

Sinha has taken a major initiative towards disbanding the FCI. The announced phase out is aimed at giving the farmers a clear message — the government is no longer interested in increasing or procuring agricultural produce, and farmers would have to learn to live with low prices that private trade and the market forces would provide at the time of glut. Had Sinha categorically announced disbanding the entire procurement mechanism, which also includes procurement prices, the government would have surely faced large-scale protests.

Sinha’s announcement is in fact the second step in the phase out programme. Earlier, during the paddy harvest in September/October last year, FCI had deliberately delayed procurement operations. For three weeks, farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh sat waiting over the heaps of paddy. This was the first indication of things to come.

At the receiving end

Why should Punjab be asked to procure the entire surplus that flows into mandis? Punjab provides nearly 50 per cent of the country’s foodgrain surplus and is rightly called the country’s food bowl. Should it be penalized for its role in producing food that has gone to feed the hungry millions? How is it expected to raise the huge resources needed to procure and store the overflowing food stocks?

The onslaught on the assured market for the farming community comes at a bad time. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide in the past few years to escape their mounting indebtedness. This is a warning that all is not well with agriculture. Yet, Sinha hardly paid any attention to the malaise.

The finance minister has said that the credit flow to agriculture will increase from Rs 51,500 crore in 2001 to Rs 64,000 crore in 2002. In addition, he thinks kisan credit cards was a good instrument to help farmers get seeds, fertilizer and other inputs on credit. Despite regional disparities in the issuance of these credit cards by service area banks he hopes that all “eligible” farmers would be covered in another three years. In simple words, Sinha has cleverly skirted the issue.

Don’t bank on him

The cooperative banks and the regional rural banks that Sinha thinks will help farmers get more credit are in reality eating into their own corpus of funds. The additional resources provided in the name of agricultural credit are likely to go into servicing these banks. Moreover, for several years now, agriculture is no longer part of the priority sector lending that nationalized banks were expected to ensure. For quite some time, these banks have also stopped recruiting agricultural officers — a clear pointer to the fact that providing credit to agriculture is not the business of these banks.

Sinha is probably not even aware that in Punjab alone the outstanding debt against farmers, including that from private money-lenders, stands at a staggering Rs 6,000 crore. In Orissa, tribals pay a phenomenal interest of 460 per cent a year on the private borrowings from sahukars. In Madhya Pradesh, tribals have to cough up 350 per cent a year.

The agricultural reforms that Sinha is talking about are aimed at helping a few million farmers on either side of the Atlantic to feed the one billion plus population of India. With the quantitative restrictions on agriculture being lifted from April 1, India will be flooded with cheap and highly subsidized imports of agricultural commodities and processed foods. Sinha has bowed to pressures from the international community. Indian farmers have been left to fend for themselves. They probably have to stop farming and look for menial jobs.


The devastating earthquake that rocked Gujarat on the Republic Day was a grim reminder of the fact that no matter what man has achieved in the field of science and technology, nature’s fury still remains unbridled. Earthquakes are the largest killer among the other natural elements that take lives. According to United Nations estimates, more than 50 per cent deaths in the world caused by natural calamities for most of the 20th century have been due to earthquakes alone.

Collapse of buildings on an unprecedented scale in Ahmedabad, Bhuj and other outlying areas of the epicentre has been largely responsible for the loss of lives in Gujarat. Analysis of the past catastrophic earthquakes reveals that properly designed earthquake-resistant structures cause less havoc than structures constructed without the guidance of expert architects or engineers. The California earthquake and the Latur quake were of similar intensity, but the latter took a higher toll on human lives for this reason.

Two-thirds of India lie in seismic zones. Conventionally, the Himalayan-Naga Lushai region, the Indo-Gangetic plains, western India and the Kutch and Kathiawar regions are geologically unstable and past earthquakes confirm that fact. Risk to life in such belts has become more pronounced with the rising population, abject poverty of the people, lack of awareness, scarcity of modern building materials and requisite construction skill.

In India, where more than 90 per cent of the population lives in non-engineered dwellings of clay, wood, adobe, stone and bricks laid in clay mud, and so on, even earthquakes of moderate intensity can spell disaster. This is evident from the collapse of a large number of buildings and the concomitant human deaths during the earthquakes of north Bihar, Uttarkashi and Latur. The colossal destruction of houses in the moderate earthquakes of Killari and Uttarkashi was due to poor quality of building material and weakness of stone masonry construction. Most tragic is the fact that the traditional earthquake resistant construction like dhaji-diwari in Jammu and Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh and ikra-wall construction in most seismic regions of the Northeast have gone into disuse in favour of the dangerous stone and brick combination.

The type and extent of damage to structures during an earthquake depends to a great extent on the strength of building materials used in construction, the structural systems, joint details of reinforced concrete members like the roof, beam and column, quality of construction, and soil condition. Studies have shown that foundation instability could be one of the serious causes for heavy losses of life and property during an earthquake. For example, the Trans-Yamuna residential colonies in New Delhi which are situated on the Yamuna bed are most susceptible to liquefaction. Soil liquefaction is a process by which water saturated sediments can temporarily lose strength because of violent shaking and behave as a fluid. The toppling of several bridges, expressways and buildings during the earthquake in Kobe in 1995 was attributed to soil liquefaction leading to foundation failure.

Right and timely prediction of earthquakes is sometimes considered as the only way to mitigate these vagaries. However, this is not feasible in reality. Despite considerable advancement in the field of seismology, it is not yet possible to make tangible forecasts on the timing and location of future earthquakes. The point to concentrate is on minimizing the losses. This can be done to a large extent if the already well-known design and construction practices prevalent in advanced countries which are vulnerable to earthquakes, like Japan and the United States, are adopted for future constructions in earthquake prone areas in India.

“Base isolation” technique is increasingly being used in Japan, the US and New Zealand to safeguard structures from the catastrophic effects of earthquakes. It is a concept whereby the motion of a structure during an earthquake is decoupled from the ground motion by introduction of a low stiffness layer between the foundation and the superstructure. The building is mounted on a rigid base from which it is isolated by steel-rubber or lead-rubber bearing. Base isolators and shear walls for hospitals, school buildings and high-rise commercial and residential buildings will help provide adequate safety and stability to such structures in the event of earthquakes. During the 1994 earthquake that hit Los Angles, a hospital mounted on base isolator survived the quake despite its being very near the epicentre.

In India, well-built constructions survived the Latur and Uttarkashi earthquakes. For random rubble and half dressed stone masonry type of construction, the provision of “through stones” along the thickness of the wall will help immensely during an earthquake. Likewise, mud walls could be made stronger by providing buttresses or pilasters at corners and wall junctions. Earthen houses could be fortified with lintel and roof bands made of wood. In urban centres, properly designed and constructed highrises in which the structural elements are better tied-up will provide greater ductility to the structure to escape destruction.

The Bureau of Indian Standards has brought out a series of standards on earthquake resistant construction — “Code of practice for earthquake resistant design and construction”, “Improving earthquake resistance of earthen buildings”, “Improving earthquake resistance of low strength masonry buildings”, “Code of practice for ductile detailing of reinforced concrete structures subjected to seismic forces” and “Repair and seismic strengthening of buildings — guidelines”. Use of these standard codes on earthquake protection/strengthening measures would help mitigate the damage. Ironically, these provisions are statutory in nature, and as before can be ignored by the civic bodies who are responsible for enforcement of building bylaws in their respective jurisdiction.

Measures for earthquake resistant construction as stipulated in the codes, such as symmetrical and rectangular house plans with symmetrical door and window openings, selection of lighter roofs, tying together of all the elements of a building to ensure “box-type” action in which walls act as shear walls and the roof as a diaphragm, provision of seismic bands at plinth, lintel and roof levels, and vertical steel along the jambs of doors and window openings and corner walls, and horizontal bars in walls at all junctions at regular intervals, and so on would help. “Box-type” action of a building helps various elements of the building to behave as a mass, which is subjected to horizontal sway in unison with the ground motion during an earthquake. These will add a five to 10 per cent increase to the overall construction cost, which is nothing compared to the risks involved.

It is imperative that codes of the BIS are made mandatory in the existing building laws of the urban civic bodies all across the country. The Union urban development ministry has already issued instructions to all civic bodies in Delhi to follow the provisions of the national building code and the Indian standard codes. But the state governments will have to follow suit if the impending disaster in quake-prone areas is to be avoided.


The Union budget has for the first time announced a loan scheme to enable students to avail themselves of higher education. Students can now access sums of around Rs 7.5 lakhs for studying in India and upto Rs 15 lakhs for pursuing studies abroad. Unfortunately, what the finance minister has given with one hand he has taken away with the other. This year’s budget has introduced a massive cut in the allocations to this sector. The outlay for university and higher education alone has been slashed by Rs 948.4 crore from the revised estimates of the last budget, which works out to a massive 36.6 per cent reduction in one year.

Ironically, this move has been given an aura of “egalitarianism”, with the minister linking it to a corresponding Rs 274 crore increase in the allocation of funds to primary education. The increasingly popular belief that those who are at the highest rank of the education ladder should be made to pay for it, while state funding should be reserved for the more “needy sectors” seems to have finally won.

The government’s decision to emphasize the need to strengthen the primary education system as well as make basic enrolment compulsory makes perfect sense. However, the secondary stage should also be improved and greater vocational opportunities provided to those who desire them.

A sector in need

There are nearly 200 universities, 8000 colleges, 5 million students and 27,000 teachers in our country. However, they account for a mere six per cent of the population, which is low in comparision to the figures available from developed countries like Britain.

This raises questions of whether higher education is diverting resources fron the primary sector. The wave of privatization that has swept through the technical education sector in the past decade has ensured a steady flow of funds to the sectors with marketable degrees. As private institutions were allowed to open engineering and medical colleges, admission to these colleges was no longer granted on the basis of merit alone.

By diverting funds away from higher education, the government is not only encouraging a bias against academics but is also discriminating against the poorer sections of society. The overall expenditure on education is only a mere 3.5 per cent of the gross domestic product, which is far short of the six per cent recommended by the Kothari commission in the Sixties. The government should address this crucial area and devise appropriate measures in the coming year.



Living life queen size

Sir — Shakespeare was right when he said, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” — which is why it does not matter whether Cleopatra was plump or short or both (“Cleopatra image loses allure”, March 26). By now, the legendary queen of Egypt is too deeply entrenched in popular perception as a Liz Taylor-like figure to be dislodged by such revelations, no matter how true they are. Besides, attributing a special kind of beauty to Cleopatra made it far easier to explain her seduction of Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. It would be interesting, nevertheless, to explore, in the light of the recent findings, the source of her personal allure. They might even excite feminists into discovering a new icon of womanhood in Cleopatra, whose power did not come from putting to use her physical beauty, because apparently, she did not have any. This might open up some new directions in research, but it would be too much to expect that a new film on Cleopatra will have to find a plump, but alluring, leading lady.
Yours faithfully,
Subhra Sen, Calcutta

Praise the captain

Sir — Mukul Kesavan deserves praise for not being afraid to call a spade a spade (“The Prince and the Showman”, March 25). His revelation of the truth behind the showmanship of the Australian cricket team and the crafty verbosity of a group of predisposed “cricket experts” could not have come at a better time. The experts in particular sat out the 15 days of the three tests in the cosiness of the press box, and rarely missed any opportunity to spit venom at the Indian skipper.

Not only did Sourav Ganguly turn the Aussie applecart upside down, but look what he did to the morale of the Australians. Shane Warne had his head shaved in a gesture befitting the outcome of the Eden test. Ricky Ponting, so runs the story, is thinking in terms of psychotherapy and what is more, the rift between the Australian captain and his coach was evident by the end of the Chennai test. What could be more satisfactory for a man who kept his cool and silenced his critics in the final reckoning? It is time that Ian Chappell and all those who had launched the campaign against Ganguly ate their words.

It is no surprise, however, that the Chennai crowd booed the Indian skipper even after he had pushed his team back from the edges to a dream achievement in cricketing history.

Yours faithfully,
Amit Sen, Calcutta

Sir — At a time when most pundits have been criticizing Sourav Ganguly left, right and centre, Mukul Kesavan’s kind of praise can only be like manna from heaven for Ganguly. It is ironic that people are questioning his skills as a captain — although he has emulated the feats of the likes of Mike Brearley and W.G. Grace.

Kesavan notes accurately that the Australian team has launched a “Sourav-bashing campaign” as their winning strategy. India has seldom had an aggressive captain. Traditionally, we have had captains who seldom go for an all-out victory. They have most often played defensive games. Sunil Gavaskar would make the team bat for four days and ruin a test match (India versus England, Calcutta, 1984-85), and recall Sachin Tendulkar’s late declaring in Mumbai (India versus Sri Lanka, 1997-98).

Ganguly has never followed this line of action. He has led the team to triumph several times, and even in Kenya, he led the team to being the runners-up, despite the fact that its morale was at a severe low following the matchfixing scandal.

The Australians were well aware of Ganguly’s motivating powers, and unleashed a campaign in collaboration with their correspondents and commentators, to psyche out Ganguly from the battle. Instead of shielding the Indian skipper, the India media and public encouraged the attack. It did not help Ganguly that his team lost the first test in Mumbai with two days to spare.

Apart from Kesavan’s defence, Ganguly can draw consolation from the fact that both Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag, man of the test series and man of the first one day international in Bangalore respectively, attributed their success primarily to their skipper. There can be no doubt that Ganguly has retained the confidence of his teammates, and, when all is said and done, that is the only thing that counts.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — Since nothing succeeds like success, Sourav Ganguly must be a brilliant captain. But would Mukul Kesavan still have praised Ganguly’s verbal counter-attacks against Steve Waugh’s pre-series remarks, or his numerous changes in field placement in the middle of overs, had India lost the series? The former would then have become marks of a spoilt, rich boy’s audacity, and the latter of his indecision. Ganguly should thank his lucky stars that India has won the series and think of contributing more with the leather and the willow.

Yours faithfully,
Shankar Sinha, Calcutta

What’s wrong with meat?

Sir — The activities of the vegetarian lobby is disturbing (“Green revolution”, March 25). After Sushma Swaraj dictating what Indians should see on television, now it is Maneka Gandhi’s turn to force vegetarianism on her countrymen.

What is People for Ethical Treatment of Animals doing but going against nature? As a poem by Wislawa Szymborska says: “The buzzard never says it is to blame,/ The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean,/ When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame,/ If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands are clean,/ The jackal doesn’t understand remorse,/ Lions and lice don’t waiver in their course/ Why should they when they know they are right?”

Prevention of cruelty to animals is a noble pursuit — but only within reasonable limits. When PeTA targets leather goods from India, it has no scruples about the cruelty perpetrated through the act on thousands of wage-earners in a country which still has 26 per cent of its population below the poverty line. Members of PeTA talk of banning honey as it is extracted by smoking bees. Have they forgotten that modern day apiaries produce no-hands honey? What is PeTA doing against the cruelty to humans by animals? What comfort can they provide to the mother of the child lifted by a leopard? Will they go and protest in the jungle against the leopard?

Yours faithfully,
Paresh Rajda, via email

Sir — Vegetarianism is growing fast in the West and particularly in the United Kingdom, where various Indian vegetarian snacks are increasingly attracting the British in large numbers. There is no denying that Indian vegetarian cuisine offers a variety of delectable dishes to suit the taste of people from all nations of the world. It is therefore the most opportune time for the Indian government and businessmen to market Indian vegetarian food worldwide.

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Lakhotia, New Delhi

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