Editorial 1 / Muffling the boom
Editorial 2 / Great wall
A matter of security
Fifth Column / Time to Storm Indian brains
It’s the system, not the people
To overcome the standard inadequacies
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / MUFFLING THE BOOM 
 
 
 
 
Slow, but not slow enough. That is putting it mildly. What the snapshot assessment of the recently concluded census shows is that the population growth rate in India is fearfully far from the desired target. The growth figures are still staggering — a country which counted 1.02 billion heads on March 1, 2001 has already added 1.2 million to this number in the following 25 days. There is no need to recall that at this rate India grows another Brazil within it every decade or that the population of Uttar Pradesh is estimated to be greater than that of Pakistan in order to feel the knife twist in the wound. But there are a few glimmerings of light. The rate of growth has dropped 2.52 percentage points in 1991-2001 compared to the previous decade. Yet it is too early to say whether this is reason for hope, or whether the drop is purely accidental. To turn this statistic into the stuff of optimism, it would be necessary to isolate the causes — or cause — which might have begun to make population control measures effective in the past decade. The Kerala figures suggest a possible cause. Kerala shows the highest literacy rate — and the lowest population growth. Not surprisingly, the other indicator — narrowing of the sex ratio — is the most positive in Kerala too.

It is not necessary to look for neat parallels in the case of each state in order to make the point. The growth in literacy, with a narrowing gap between the numbers of men and women who can read and write, and the improvement of the sex ratio, are the most encouraging features emerging from the quick look at the census. The drop in growth rate, however small, can only be positively connected to the broadbasing of education and the growing aspiration for better life quality. Sometimes good things happen in spite of politicians. Studies show that in the last decade, the people themselves have shown an eagerness to become literate and even educated, defeating, however inadequately, the dishonesty, stinginess and deliberate indifference of politicians. This thrust is likely to grow, as industries demand more skills and technological knowhow, and television and the internet help to bring the vision of another kind of existence into the remotest corners of the country. The problem with India is that the absolute numbers of its population are so enormous that visible progress on the statistics charts will appear to be disappointing for long periods of time. The fanfare preceding the census and the expense of the exercise would be made meaningful only when the state draws the right lessons from its apparently discrete figures. It is no longer a question of lipservice to literacy programmes or vague noises about women’s reproductive health. Neither is this the time to pass off adults who can only sign their names as “literate”. Education, a lower population growth rate, reduced poverty, healthier women and children could perhaps be placed in a “join the dots” chart of action in hopeful augury for the future.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / GREAT WALL 
 
 
 
 
The political parties in West Bengal have given the Election Commission a fait accompli. The walls of many private and public buildings have already been defaced by political graffiti. No political party is free from this offence. It is, thus, obvious that the orders of the Election Commission prohibiting graffiti on walls will be largely irrelevant in the state. The prohibition on the writing of slogans on the walls of public and government buildings cannot be unknown to political parties. Despite this, they have deliberately flouted the prohibition. One reason for this is the ambiguity in the law itself. It is not clear who will be held accountable for the defacement of walls. The responsibility lies with both the concerned candidate and the political party. But what is unclear is who should be punished for the flouting of rules. This ambiguity is aggravated by the fact that the law has never been tested. No election commissioner has taken it upon himself to haul up a candidate and a political party for violating the prohibition on graffiti. The prohibition remains a few words on paper. The law will be clarified if an election commissioner has the courage to take action. This failure is related to power. Any action taken on this score will mean that in West Bengal punishments will have to be meted out to figures as powerful as the chief minister of the state and the mayor of Calcutta.

At one very simple level, of course, this failure is simply a lack of moral courage. It is difficult to understand why an election which openly violated the norms laid down by the Election Commission cannot be declared to be invalid. One such exemplary and punitive action against an important leader would serve to have a tremendous demonstration effect. At the heart of the matter lies a tacit understanding. The political parties know that the election commission in the state will not implement the law on graffiti. Thus graffiti has become a part of the political culture of the country. It is a culture based on an illegal act. Through an ironic twist, what should be regarded as an erosion of public culture has come to be an intrinsic part of it. Graffiti violates the crucial distinction between what is private and what is political and between the public and the political. When walls of private houses are defaced, the political is privileged over the private. When walls of public buildings have slogans scrawled on them, it is assumed that state property can be used in any manner by political matters. It does not take a great deal of imagination to see that it is the extension of the last principle that led to the utter ruin of public sector companies under successive political parties. The writing on the wall today explains the past and offers a glimpse into the future.

   

 
 
A MATTER OF SECURITY 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
The preoccupations with the presentation of the railways and general budgets, the continuing concerns about initiating a dialogue on Kashmir, preceded by a further extension of the ceasefire, and other domestic preoccupations resulted in only marginal notice being taken of the important visit to Myanmar in February of the foreign minister, Jaswant Singh. His visit was a follow-up of the visit of the vice-president of Myanmar, Maung Aye, to New Delhi from November 12 to 21 last year. The most important event during the visit was the inauguration of the Tamu Kalewa Road project in collaboration with the government of Myanmar by the Border Roads Organization of the government of India.

Geo-strategically, Myanmar straddles an area which dominates our security perceptions in more dimensions than one. Myanmar borders the north-eastern states of Nagaland and Manipur which have been the scene of separatist movements with connections across the border with Myanmar’s militant groups. Myanmar’s northeastern borders constitute a trijunction of India’s borders with Myanmar and China. The southwestern coast of Myanmar straddles India’s shipping lanes through the Bay of Bengal to southeast Asia. This coastline is close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the importance of which in India’s security planning has increased. A cooperative and friendly relationship with Myanmar is of utmost importance to India in terms of India’s political and security interests.

The issue of idealistic and moral dilemmas of dealing with a military regime which did not allow a democratically elected political party, the National League for Democracy, to rule, had inhibited India’s normal relations with Myanmar in the late Eighties and early Nineties. These inhibitions have gradually been set aside since 1992 according to the following rationale.

First, India’s vital interests require that we have a working relationship with whichever government is in power in Myanmar. Second, while India’s commitment to democracy is incontrovertible, it need not take on the responsibility of sustaining democracies in other countries. Third, there is an increasing trend in Myanmar’s politics in which the military regime is engaged in negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD and other political parties.

Fourth, the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which have a closer relationship with Myanmar, considered the military regime effective and stable enough to make Myanmar a member of the ASEAN and its security forum. And fifth, there are potentialities of long-term mutually beneficial economic relations between India and Myanmar.

Internally, though the military regime, the State Peace and Development Council, may not have the full support of the people of Myanmar, the people accept the credibility of “Tatmadaw” (the armed forces of the country) as a stable instrument of governance. The militarization of Myanmarese society since the days of General Ne Win has resulted in almost every family having some personal connection with the Myanmarese armed forces. There is also the curious but interesting phenomenon of the armed forces being the main avenue of upward social mobility and economic wellbeing.

A specialist on Myanmar’s political situation, David I. Steinberg, in a recently published book, Burma Myanmar — Strong Regime Weak State, states that the Burmese people perceive power as finite. This means that the sharing of power implies giving up power which is not easily undertaken either on an individual or institutional basis. In such circumstances, power and loyalty become personalized. Therefore, there is an inclination to accept authoritarian regimes if they give stability and minimum economic security to civil society.

It would be pretentious to claim that India’s policy of reviving and sustaining contacts with the military regime was rooted in such a deep intellectual analysis. But a general perception on these lines was a factor in India’s establishing communications with the military regime of Myanmar.

Jaswant Singh’s visit was the culmination of a process on these lines which commenced under P.V. Narasimha Rao’s regime in March 1992. The initial contacts were between senior officials of the foreign ministries of the two countries, the home ministries and then between officials of our ministry of commerce and department of drugs control. The specific objectives of reviving relations with Myanmar were, first, to create cooperative arrangements between Myanmar and India to counter secessionist activities on both sides of the India-Myanmar border and second, to ensure that Myanmar’s security and foreign policies remained balanced in terms of Myanmar’s relations with China on the one hand and India on the other.

A third objective was to enhance mutual cooperation in controlling the illegal trafficking of drugs from the “Golden Triangle” across subcontinental India to other parts of the world. The fourth objective was to create equations with Myanmar to safeguard our security interests in the Bay of Bengal and the shipping lanes.

There was a series of hiccups in India-Myanmar relations in the mid-Nineties when India awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru memorial prize for international understanding to Suu Kyi, overruling the reservations of Myanmar’s military regime. Then there was India’s defence minister’s accusation that Myanmar’s relationships with China constituted a security threat to India and that Myanmar was becoming a partner in the Chinese objective of strategic encirclement of India. However, by the end of the year 1999, Jaswant Singh’s interaction with his Myanmar counterparts at various meetings at the ASEAN removed the misunderstandings created by these events.

It would be relevant to mention that China’s southeast Asian policies have become a major factor influencing India’s policies towards the ASEAN and specially towards Myanmar. China since the middle of 2000 has launched a special programme of developing its southwestern province of Yunam. It is developing the capital of the province of Kunming as a regional energy and transpiration centre. China is also developing airports, river ports and land corridors from Kunming towards southeast Asia through Myanmar. There is a discernible Chinese objective of reaching the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar.

China is also creating communication networks in the southeast Asian region, participating in the construction of several trans-Asian roads and railway projects in collaboration with Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam under the umbrella of the six-nation greater Mekong sub-regional cooperation arrangement.

India’s regional foreign policy orientations therefore necessarily involve sustaining a normal relationship with China and structuring substantial economic relations with the countries mentioned above. Myanmar, being geographically the closest southeast Asian country, has a high priority in India’s regional policies. China has substantive defence cooperation arrangements with Myanmar. This relationship, viewed in the background of China seeking to link up with ports in Myanmar through the Mekong and Irawaddy rivers and of China having logistical facilities for its navy on the southwestern coast of Myanmar, has obvious strategic and security implications for India.

It is in this context that parallel to the Kunming-Lashio-Mandalay road, India negotiated the construction of the Tamu-Kalewa road which was inaugurated by Jaswant Singh during his February visit to Myanmar. The extension of this road further south is under discussion. Two subjects of equal significance discussed by Jaswant Singh with his Myanmar counterparts were, first, a move forward on the six-nation Ganga-Mekong project linking up the two river basins for communication and developmental purposes. The countries involved are India, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. If this grouping succeeds in developing an integrated programme of regional transport, it would contribute to the larger Asian highway project which has been under discussion for three decades.

The second subject discussed was the possibility of importing natural gas from Myanmar into India. There are possibilities of constructing a gas pipeline from the Kaladan basin, Assam and Meghalaya. Another gas pipeline could be built from Akyab (Shitwe) to West Bengal. Jaswant Singh’s visit and discussions were first an affirmation of the fact that Myanmar with its location between south Asia and southeast Asia, its western coastline dominating India’s coastline to the eastern reaches of the Indian Ocean, has the potential to be a major southeast Asian power.

Secondly, his visit and other high level exchanges over the last two years are the acknowledgment that India wishes to build a substantive and long-term relationship with Myanmar. Myanmar in many ways is the pivot for security arrangements of special interest to India. The beginnings made in recent years in establishing durable equations with Myanmar are timely and relevant.

The author is former foreign secretary of India

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / TIME TO STORM INDIAN BRAINS 
 
 
BY NILEEN PUTATUNDA
 
 
To mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Nobel Prize in December 2001, about 225 Nobel Prize winners will head for Sweden to deal with the world’s ills in what will be the biggest concentration of brain power in history. They will go through all that went wrong in the 20th century — why there were so many wars and conflicts — and then try and sketch solutions for the 21st. This exercise should certainly help the world — depending upon the enthusiasm with which the decisions taken are accepted and then sincerely implemented — to become a better place.

There is a pressing need for a similar sort of exercise in India as well to figure out why we are where we are and what we need to do to reverse the rot. At a specified venue and time, India’s best and brightest — select and enterprising politicians and bureaucrats, renowned doctors, economists, educationists, engineers, historians, journalists, lawyers, literateurs, scientists from all streams and especially agriculture, industrialists, corporate bigwigs and marketing mavens, the best NGO heads and social workers — can converge and provide workable solutions for a radiant tomorrow.

This confluence of minds will bring out exactly why India today is so different from the India that Aurobindo Ghose proudly spoke of. “We are a people as ancient as our hills and rivers and we have behind us a history of manifold greatness, not surpassed by any other race”. India today is languishing at the bottom of the world’s ladder — 128 in the United Nations development programme’s human development ranking.

National figures

For India’s 400 million, the symbol on the ballot paper is their beacon in suffrage, its 600 million still defecate in shame and 200 million are vulnerable to fatal enteric diseases on account of the lack of safe drinking water. The thousands of pending cases in India’s courts show that for most justice is denied in their lifetime. Black income in the country was estimated to be Rs 86,549 crore way back in 1987.

It is the stories behind these statistics that our wise men will have to grapple with and provide solutions for. They, as the architects of our future, will have to cover all issues that need to be addressed urgently and chart steps that will bring about the reforms that will catapult India into the league of the first world. Most important, the role of the government should be delineated so that it functions to facilitate India’s development.

It is commonly held that less government is good government. This is most true in India where the Centre employs 3.72 million civilians at a whopping cost of Rs 268,285 crore. Even in the age of computers, it takes seven steps for a file to move up from an under secretary to a secretary. Further, with liberalization, many ministries like steel, tourism, civil aviation, information and broadcasting and telecommunications have lost a lot of their relevance. All these points should be looked at in depth.

Get together

But who will organize this brainfest that will require a colossal effort to coordinate? Stalwarts from the print and electronic media can step in. It requires both charisma and flair to not only select the appropriate people, but also to moderate the debates during the session so that the idea that emerges is clear and unambiguous. Of course, the event should have an open house before concluding so that those who are not invited to the main proceedings have no reason to feel left out.

This should not be an occasion to display egos, instead the effort should be genuine and committed. For the entire exercise to be meaningful, it is imperative that it receives maximum publicity and multi-media coverage so that public support is mobilized to actualize the proposals offered. This in turn should exert pressure on the government to get its act toge-ther in implementing these suggestions.

Hamlet, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark said, “Sure he that made us with such large discourse,/ Looking before and after, gave us not/ That capability and god-like reason/ To fust in us unus’d.” If we truly want to realize the full potential of our own erudition, which can give the nation a map to prosperity, then the effort is a must. This will, by no means, be a simple task, but incontestably, the results will far outweigh the costs.

   

 
 
IT’S THE SYSTEM, NOT THE PEOPLE 
 
 
BY INDRAJIT RAY
 
 
In the beginning of this month, the Union finance minister, in his fourth budget, clearly expressed his plans about downsizing the government. This budget is the first step towards achieving the goal of reducing the number of government servants by 10 per cent in the next five years. It is good that no current employee is going to lose his job. However, all future recruitment will be scrutinized to ensure that fresh recruitment is limited to one per cent of the total civilian staff strength. As about three per cent of the existing government staff retires every year, this measure would reduce the manpower in the public sector eventually by two per cent per annum.

The minister’s proposal is quite justified. Consider any unit in the public sector. Whether it is run by the local corporation, or by the state government or by the Central government, one can easily find thousands of examples of obvious redundancies. Sinha, for good reasons, wants to get rid of this surplus manpower.

Surplus manpower in the public sector is indeed a severe problem. However, there are also thousands of examples in the public sector that involve obvious organizational inefficiencies.

It is found that for one simple routine task, there are quite a few capable officers who are assigned to it. As a consequence, these officers often share one job among themselves. Then, quite frequently, many officers end up travelling from their residences in the north of the city, say, to their offices in the south to find out that they have to travel back to the north again for a particular operation. Moreover, at the end of the day, they have to come back to their offices in the south to submit that day’s report, before they go back home in the north again.

There are plenty of such instances around us. It is therefore not the redundancies in manpower but the inefficiencies in the systems that should be addressed first.

Our government unfortunately thinks otherwise. The finance ministry has already set the standards by announcing that the currency and coinage division will lose 1,675 posts and the National Savings Organization’s staff strength will be slashed to about 25 from 1,191. The message has successfully been transmitted to other ministries and all other public sector units. People have already started talking about redundant workers and their future.

The agenda is not limited just to the public sector. Yashwant Sinha also announced in his budget speech that any business unit employing less than 1,000 workers need not seek state permission to lay off or retrench its employees. An overwhelming majority of businesses employ less than 1,000 workers. Hundreds of thousands of workers across the country, especially in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, could lose their livelihoods if employers in small and medium enterprises decide to use the “freedom to manage” granted to them by the finance minister and downsize workforce.

There are obvious implications of this policy. The national commission on labour has been set up to suggest amendments to labour laws. Analysts have been pointing out the nature of social welfare — or rather, the lack of it — embedded in the proposal. Workers’ unions and many organizations have started formally protesting against it.

The problem surely would not be solved by protests. On the one hand, the workforce does need social security. On the other hand, from the government’s point of view, efficiency is needed as well. But the question is, would the remaining workforce automatically become efficient once the redundancies are gone? Well, the system itself has to be efficient first. Only then can the efficient and proper use of manpower be identified.

There is an obvious and sharp contrast between the public and the private sectors in the Indian economy, in terms of the efficient use of their manpower. The same proposal, by the finance minister, has already received two diagonally opposite reactions. Ironically, India’s private management sectors, for example, received Sinha’s announcement as a bonus. This is something that the Confederation of Indian Industry had apparently been demanding for a long time. According to them, this proposal would allow Indian businesses to be more competitive and efficient.

The reaction of the private management sectors is perfectly understandable. Being organizationally efficient is clearly one of its strong points. India’s public sector on the other hand, is struggling; not because of the alleged redundancies, but mainly because of its inefficiencies.

How could India make its public sector more efficient? There are two immediate responses that come to mind. The first is to make the most efficient use of the available technologies. Technology is a part of modern life. India must embrace it. However, it should not be a substitute of manpower; it should rather be a complement. Unfortunately, however, in many spheres, even today people here can hardly use a telephone efficiently, let alone a computer.

The second method is to encourage the workforce to work from home, whenever possible. Working from home might sound a contradiction in itself, but it is one of the most successful strategies of the modern businesses in the Western world. Let the workforce work at their own time, in their own environment — of course, if it is possible to do so. With a bit of help from the available advanced technology, one can very easily do this.

Consider for example, any government officer whose job involves outdoor operations. There are often inefficiencies in such operations, as mentioned earlier. First of all, they need not be required to come to the office everyday. They should work from home as much as they can. On any operation day, the good old telephone can easily be used to instruct them to go straight to the site. This would save one redundant trip. Also, there is no reason why they should come back to the office after the outdoor operation. They can very easily prepare the paperwork at home. This would save another redundant trip to the office.

If these officers are made computer-literate, it is possible to expect them to write up their reports using a word processor. In this age of electronic mail, they can even communicate electronically with each other. They should be able to work fully from home on the days when they do not have any outdoor duties.

In any of India’s public sectors, almost surely, one can find organizational inefficiencies in the system. We have to first get rid of these structural redundancies to make the system efficient.

The existing workforce, educated, intelligent, sincere and diligent, is an asset of our country, not a liability; by no means is it a redundant force. We must learn to use our forces efficiently, instead of trying to shed them.

   

 
 
TO OVERCOME THE STANDARD INADEQUACIES 
 
 
BY BARUN KUMAR SAHU
 
 
Some years from now, unless it is possible to enter something into the computers, it will be impossible to write it at all. But given our neglect of the Indian languages in this respect, we may not be able to write the Vedic hymns, as also many other things.

The Indian language softwares in use today generally map ASCII codes meant for Latin languages to glyphs of Indic scripts. It is done in an ad hoc manner. There is no standard coding of the glyphs of Indian languages. However, the Unicode Consortium is evolving a unified standard for all languages and scripts. Devnagri, Bengali, Gurmukhi, Gujarati, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam scripts have been included with other similar languages such as Tibetan, Myanmarese and so on. But in the Unicode standard, each Indic script has been assigned about 128 codes on an average. Latin scripts, despite being simpler, have been assigned much more codes.

Interestingly, Indic scripts have been allotted codes in a sequence without any gap. The codes, for example, for Devnagri are 2304 to 2431, Bengali 2432 to 2559, Gurmukhi 2560 to 2687 and so on. As a result, for any expansion of the set of codes, an Indic script will have to contend directly with another Indic script.

Improper representation

The present version of the Unicode standard is 3.0. The code for Indic languages in this version is based on the ISCII 1988 standard, which may be too outdated for use in the 21st century. Besides, the present version of the Unicode standard leaves out many characters such as the Indian astrological planets like “Rahu” and “Ketu”. Also the complex ligatures of the Indic scripts have not been standardized. Further, the two or three additional types of anusvara found in some Sanskrit hymns written in Devnagri scripts have not been included. Moreover, just as Roman numerals are written using English letters, numbers are also represented in Indian languages by a combination of vertical and horizontal strokes and other signs. Similar signs are used in official documents for measurement of land and so on. Such symbols in popular use may be included in the Unicode standard.

There is no code for the decimal separator for Indic languages in the Unicode standard. The decimal separator in Devnagri is slightly different from the English decimal point, which will make it impossible to write a number in Devnagri unless it is a whole number. Evidently, Indic languages should get a better representation than it has received so far in the Unicode standard. There is a need to assign more codes for each of the Indic languages, in fact to re-assess the whole approach to these languages.

India is aspiring to be an information technology superpower someday. It is the largest producer of software professionals in the world. It will be an irony of sorts if it fails to ensure adequate representation of its languages in the Unicode standard.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Singing in the rain

Sir — Mukul Kesavan’s “Ode to the wet wind” (March 9) was full of the kind of humourous insight that is increasingly becoming rare in Indian newspapers. Kesavan is right in thinking that it is time to take a federal view of Indian rainfall. This will also be in tune with the current wave of federalism cropping up in most political discussions here. However, just as Kesavan holds the rajresponsible for propagating the idea of a “national” weather, the rich corpus of songs on the monsoon in Hindustani and Carnatic classical music can be held equally responsible for establishing the primacy of the monsoon among half a dozen seasons in the country. It would not be too far off the mark to say that all the best songs in the Indian languages seem to be written with the rains in mind. The surfeit of rain sequences in Hindi films, and the songs invariably accompanying them, are thus an extension of this national obsession with the monsoons — also another way of reminding that as long as it rains, all is well with the world.
Yours faithfully,
D.K. Pal, Calcutta

Prized point

Sir —It is heartening to find that distinguished writers like Amitav Ghosh have sought to expose the exclusiveness of the Commonwealth Writers Prize and of the very concept of the Commonwealth (“Just a good Saxon word”, March 25). The recognition the Commonwealth Writers Prize bestows on a writer contain a veiled imperialist and elitist condescension. It is quite absurd to disregard the vast repertoire of vernacular literature.

In a rich multi-lingual and multi-cultural country like India, there is no dearth of proficient and prolific writers in the regional languages. Much of India’s cultural diversity and complexity is revealed in vernacular literature. Years of literary canonization and perhaps a “colonial” mindset have prevented the real gems of the colonized countries’ literature from receiving the attention and recognition due to them, even from their own people. It is ironic that in an age of globalization, the English language continues to exist as a culturally homogenizing and imperialistic tool.

In merely acknowledging the “English” works of the Commonwealth writers, the Commonwealth Writers Prize restricts the span of Indian writing and that of the other countries. It requires the firm stand of established and internationally acclaimed writers like Ghosh to redefine the notion of Indian literature. With the growing success of Indian writing in English, one can only hope for a growing recognition of Indian literature as a whole.

Yours faithfully,
Sandhya Sreekumar, Calcutta

Sir — Amitav Ghosh makes an extremely valid point by his refusal to accept the Commonwealth Writers Prize. All the countries of the Commonwealth have languages and cultures of their own, which are distinctive and equally rich, if not richer, as those of Britain. India, for instance, has a much richer and older literature in the regional languages than it has in English. So do the former British colonies in Africa. The prize could have reached out to a larger number had it included within its ambit, even if in translation, the regional literature of the Commonwealth countries.

Ghosh must be praised and thanked for taking up the cause of the neglected regional literature of his country while the rest of the Indo-Anglian writers are busy convincing the world about the great literature they are producing.

Yours faithfully,
Shamita Karmakar, Calcutta

Game of quits

Sir — The resignation of Mamata Banerjee from the Union cabinet is another lowly political stunt from a politician who has mastered the art of politics. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, rather than mourning her resignation, must be breathing a sigh of relief as she has never behaved as a responsible minister.

Banerjee’s latest act has proved once more that for her, West Bengal and its politics remain far more important than the interests of the country. Her actions have demonstrated that she is not cut out for anything greater than a role in the politics of the state. The reasons put forward by Banerjee for her resignation and withdrawal of support to the National Democratic Alliance are difficult to believe. If indeed she has a firm stand on corruption, why didn’t she resign from the P.V. Narasimha Rao cabinet when the securities scandal broke and several of her cabinet colleagues were under a cloud?

Parliamentary democracy is premised upon collective responsibility. The Constitution calls for collective responsibility among the members of the cabinet. By demanding the resignation of her colleague and by herself resigning, Banerjee has failed the Constitution.

Can Banerjee make a public announcement that her former ministry, of railways, is free from the menace of corruption? She should have tried first to wield the broom in her own house before dramatically announcing her resignation.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Kumar Sharma, Kharagpur

Sir — Ever since the Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections last year, it was clear to the Trinamool Congress leadership that the Bharatiya Janata Party was more of a liability than an asset as far as West Bengal was concerned, and that an alliance with the Congress would fetch them better returns. Following this realization, Mamata Banerjee showed particular eagerness to break off her alliance with the BJP on some pretext or the other. But on all previous occasions, the prime minister tamely gave in to her demands, so it became impossible for her to resign.

The Tehelka revelations have finally given her a plum opportunity and she wasted no time in quitting her ministerial berth. The recent developments between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress have proved she is a shrewd calculator and had all along an eye on the West Bengal elections rather than her ministry’s welfare.

Yours faithfully,
Debaprasad Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — Mamata Banerjee has shown that her support to the NDA was simply for selfish gain. When all the constituents of the NDA were solid in their support for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, she was the only one to withdraw her support. In this she has acted like an immature politician and proved beyond doubt that she is not a friend in need.

Yours faithfully,
N.S. Dua, Calcutta

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