Editorial 1/ Bull in the ring
Editorial 2/ Taken alive
Streamline the rules
Fifth Column/ Playing bumper cars in the air
This above all/ It’s good to be king
How to redo the paramilitary structure
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ BULL IN THE RING 
 
 
 
 
The villains of the new securities scam span a wide canvas, encompassing regulators, fund managers, bankers and brokers. Through default or design, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, Unit Trust of India, Reserve Bank of India, Bombay stock exchange, Calcutta stock exchange and First Global are all involved. It is difficult to believe that the SEBI did not know that a bull cartel was artificially rigging share prices for close to two years, or that an unofficial badla market flourished in Calcutta. The charitable view is that SEBI’s quality of information and regulation was lax, the uncharitable view is that SEBI ignored this as long as a bull run continued. The same point can be made about the RBI, it is difficult to believe that bank funding to brokers was within norms. During a bear phase, the RBI must have tacitly encouraged the broker-bank nexus, a nexus whose existence has been known since 1992. As for UTI, not only is UTI completely unregulated, the suggestion of collusion with Mr Ketan Parekh is fairly strong. In a similar vein, it has been suggested that First Global colluded with the bear cartel and Tehelka. The BSE issues concern not only illegal use of surveillance information to benefit the bear cartel, but also broader issues of professionalizing stock exchanges and barring office bearers from trading. Much the same can be said of the CSE. The overall message that emerges is one of systemic and regulatory failure. However, as usually happens in such cases, it is convenient to pin the blame on a single individual. Thus it was that in 1992, Mr Harshad Mehta, was characterized as the villain of the piece. To a lesser extent, he was again identified as the villain in 1998. Between 1995 and 1999, plantation companies were blamed and in 1997, non-banking finance companies exemplified by Mr C.R. Bhansali bore the cross.

This time, the bull in the china shop is Mr Parekh. As long as the bull run continued, he was the blue-eyed boy and others who ventured into tech stocks also made a killing. Mr Parekh has specifically been accused of rigging the market, especially in tech stocks, using access to bank funds and closeness to UTI. Arguments are also being advanced about insider information and circular trading, not to speak of illegal dealing in the illegal market in the CSE. The point is that Mr Parekh was not alone in all this and it is for the courts to decide how much of it constituted fraud in a legal sense. As had happened with Mr Mehta earlier, ethics is distinct from breaking the law and in the strict legal sense, Mr Parekh may have committed no fraud. The question that arises is about the ethics of investigating agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation hauling people up, arresting them and treating them like common criminals. There may very well be prima facie evidence of fraud against Mr Parekh.

But so far, it is not in the public domain. Surely, if such evidence exists, the CBI owes it to the country to disseminate this information. Alternatively, the arrest and detention could have waited until such evidence was collected. Part of the problem is that the government regards itself as above the law and despite an unsuccessful attempt made in 1965, no tort (liability) statutes against the government exist. The average honest citizen, and Mr Parekh should be treated as one until contrary evidence surfaces, has no recourse against arbitrary action by the government or its various organs. An identical problem confronts thousands of undertrial prisoners languishing in Indian jails.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ TAKEN ALIVE 
 
 
 
 
The arrest of the former Yugoslavian president, Mr Slobodan Milosevic, is unlikely to quell demands for his extradition. Mr Milosevic, once one of the country’s most popular leaders, was arrested on charges of abuse of power and corruption. It is alleged that Mr Milosevic, along with his accomplices, which included the former Yugoslav head of customs, the former deputy prime minister and the former security chief, diverted millions of Deutsch Marks and billions of dinars from customs revenue either to a Belgrade bank account or distributed it in the form of cash to a large circle of beneficiaries. The former president could face a maximum sentence of five years in prison if convicted on these charges. In addition, Mr Milosevic could be jailed for an additional 15 years for allegedly inciting his personal security guards to shoot at officers trying to arrest him. In the end, Mr Milosevic, who had vowed never to be “taken alive”, however, meekly surrendered.

However, even the fact that Mr Milosevic is likely to spend a fairly long time in jail has not subsided demands by Western governments for his extradition. They want him tried for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal based in The Hague. One evidence of this new pressure is the statement from Mr Jean-Jacques Joris, the political adviser to the tribunal’s chief prosecutor: “The transfer is the result of a non-negotiable obligation and it must happen immediately.” The Hague tribunal had, in 1999, indicted Mr Milosevic over crimes allegedly committed during the Kosovo conflict. The Serbian authorities have so far tried not to link the arrest of Milosevic with the indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal. The dilemma for the Serbian leadership is clear. On the one hand, they are reluctant to extradite the former leader on the grounds that such a move could provoke political unrest and generate widespread sympathy for him that could eventually undermine their position. On the other hand, they desperately need Western support to rebuild their war-ravaged country. Interestingly, the United States has agreed to free upto 50 million dollars in loans to Yugoslavia after the arrest, and signalled that more would be on offer in case the former president was sent to The Hague.

   

 
 
STREAMLINE THE RULES 
 
 
BY RAVI VISVESVARAYA S. PRASAD
 
 
Parliament’s paralysis in the budget session has seriously damaged India’s broadcasting, cable television, internet, telecommunications and information technology sectors by delaying the enactment of the communication convergence bill 2000. The committee headed by Fali Nariman had crafted an innovative future-oriented draft which exemplified the growing technological convergence of telecommunications, datacommunications, internet, satellite and terrestrial broadcasting, cable television, audio broadcasting, software and content creation. Radio and television broadcasts are now feasible via the internet over telecommunications networks, and internet services possible through satellite, cable and terrestrial television broadcast networks. India thus missed the chance of becoming one of the first major countries to have enacted convergence legislation, following only Malaysia.

Nariman’s committee achieved what Europe has been struggling to do for the last four years. In 1997, the European Commission issued a “Green Paper on the Convergence of the Telecommunications, Media and Information Technology Sectors, and the Implications for Regulation”. But Europe has still not been able to reconcile disparate regulatory regimes in different countries and formulate a uniform policy because of disagreements among key players.

British Telecom contended before the European Commission: “Contrary to convergence, there are four distinct markets — content creation, services management, delivery networks and customer equipment.” BT wanted separate pan-European regulators for each of these four sectors, and warned, “Each of the four sectors has its own barriers. As services are still evolving, early regulation could hit the wrong target as well as delay development.”

The European Public Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association had a different view: “Dismantle sector-specific regulation, adopt a single technology-neutral regulatory approach for all converged services, and give administrative responsibility to a single authority.” Nariman’s committee is broadly in consonance with this view.

The European Service Providers Interest Group disagreed with ETNO: “Designing a single regime to cover very different market structures would in practice cause substantial over-regulation. We support the retention of existing separate regulatory regimes. Deal with convergence on a case-by-case basis.”

Even the most deregulated country in Europe, the United Kingdom, has 25 regulatory agencies covering various “convergence” sectors, an extreme instance of SPIG’s approach. UK cable companies need to obtain licenses from both Independent Television Commission and Office of the Telecommunications Regulator. Depending on the specific services they intend to provide, many satellite television operators also need to obtain licenses from both. ITC and Oftel had fierce battles over digital terrestrial television services. A compromise was worked out whereby ITC would be the principal regulator over content but access systems would be under Oftel’s control. UK’s multiple regulators are still squabbling over video-on-demand services provided over telecom networks, near-video-on-demand services provided over broadcasting networks, and their contents. Nor can they agree on who will control web TV.

Even the United States and Canada, which have had a single regulator for telecommunications, radio and television, are facing problems in dealing with convergence. Larry Strickling of the American Federal Communications Commission admitted: “The key challenge in front of us is to understand the converging nature of different industries. We have to develop regulatory systems which will allow that convergence to thrive instead of getting bogged down.”

Françoise Bertrand, chairperson, Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, conceded: “Direct-to-home satellites, wireless technologies, multipoint distribution systems and local multipoint communications systems have substantially changed our traditional ideas about service delivery and the packaging of services. The commission’s prime responsibility is to adapt to this new environment, in which the industries it regulates, or exempts from regulation, evolve. CRTC has to develop new principles to deal with access to facilities by new entrants, facilities-based competition, and resale of bandwidth and access services.”

Nariman was well aware of these pitfalls when he stated: “The real issue facing us is not how technological convergence should be regulated, but rather, how the nature of regulation itself has to change in the light of convergence of technologies. The impact of the convergence bill on the nature of future regulation in India may turn out to be much greater than the influence of the present regulatory system on the convergence bill.”

There are a few deficiencies in Nariman’s draft. In clause 2 (21), the definition of “network service” does not include any provision regarding interconnectivity. The provision of interconnectivity is an important aspect of network service. Terms such as “interconnection”, “interconnection provider’, “interconnection seeker” should be introduced and defined. The present definition of other terms, such as “application service”, “network infrastructure facilities”, “communication service”, “service providers” should also be expanded to cover interconnection activities. Otherwise it is possible that the judiciary may misconstrue the convergence bill as not applying to interconnection services between various network providers or service providers. Similar lack of clarity regarding interconnection in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act 1997 had led to prolonged litigation before the TRAI and the Delhi high court.

Nariman’s committee should recognize that services provided to end users cannot be effectively regulated if all service providers involved do not have fair interconnectivity norms and equitable access to infrastructure, last mile local loops, backbone networks, long-haul networks and so on. A service provider should not be allowed to dictate onerous interconnectivity and access terms to other service providers.

In clause 2 (25), the definition of “programme” should not be restricted to television or radio programmes alone, but should be extended to internet programmes, as well as other future delivery mechanisms.

Nariman’s draft does not define the term “telecommunication service”, although clause 2 (3) defines “broadcasting service” and clause 2 (7) defines a “communication service” as “a network service or an application service; or a content application service”. “Telecommunications service” is defined in the TRAI Act, 1997, which will stand repealed when the convergence bill is passed. Therefore it is necessary to amend the definition of “communication service” as including “broadcasting service” and “telecommunication service”, as well as services that may be developed in the future. The definition of “content application service” in clause 2 (9) should also be expanded to make it future-proof.

Nariman’s draft is also not very specific when it comes to regulation of tariffs. This may well be because he may be going by ETNO’s argument to the European Commission: “Price regulation — although intended to protect consumers — will restrain the introduction of new services.” However, tariff issues had led to prolonged litigation before the TRAI and later, the high court of Delhi. The communications commission of India should formulate detailed rules of business by which it will arrive at tariffs for end customers and interconnection charges. It can follow the experience of UK’s Oftel, which has consumer price caps based on a (retail price index – x percentage points) formula.

Since Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited is a powerful incumbent compared to the new private sector entrants; the communications commission should have the power to fix interconnection charges and terms. Section 11 (1) (b) of the TRAI Act 1997 dealt with this. But since the TRAI Act will stand repealed on passage of the convergence bill, the appropriate clauses should be included in the latter. The interconnection charges should be on the “cost plus” principle being followed in several European countries.

India would benefit greatly from the quick passage of the convergence bill, especially in view of what happened to the broadcasting bill. After being drafted in 1997, it was referred to Parliamentary committees. The government received their recommendations only in 1999, and found that most provisions had become technologically obsolete.

We should keep in mind the warnings given to the European Commission by ETNO: “Regulatory uncertainty has caused our members to defer investments and harmed Europeans by holding back the introduction of innovative services”, and by SPIG: “Regulatory uncertainty will force our members to invest outside the European Union, rather than wait for rules to be clarified”.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ PLAYING BUMPER CARS IN THE AIR 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“It’s not a normal practice to play bumper cars in the air,” said Admiral Dennis Blair of the United States last Monday, laying the blame for the mid-air collision that downed a Chinese fighter and forced an American spy-plane to land in China firmly on the Chinese side. But he looks like he’s old enough to remember when we played very similar games at sea. When I was still a beardless youth, serving in a navy that wishes to remain anonymous, we sometimes played a game we called “silly buggers”: high-speed manoeuvres at close quarters. Mostly we played it among ourselves, but once in a while we played it with the Russians.

We’d be four or five days into a big NATO exercise, bored out of our skulls, and the Soviet intelligence-gathering ship that always shadowed these exercises would push in a little closer than the unwritten rules allowed. They were probably bored too. So we’d steam across their bows at high speed, forcing them into an emergency turn — and occasionally, they’d reciprocate with equally stupid manoeuvres. Silly buggers.

The incident over the South China Sea smells exactly of the same. The electronic intelligence aircraft, a US Navy EP-3, was flying over 96 kilometres off the south Chinese coast, with most of the 24 crew-members busily gathering information on a new class of Chinese destroyer sailing in international waters, when two Chinese F-8 fighters came out to investigate.

Game of aerial chicken

Fighter jocks are much the same all around the world: bumptious young men with a broad streak of bravado and a strong belief in their own invincibility. They deliberately select that sort of personality to fly fighters. Once in a while, however, this leads to a modified version of the “silly buggers” game.

That is almost certainly what happened off China’s south coast at the end of March. I have no direct knowledge of Wang Wei, the pilot of the Chinese F-8 that was involved in the incident, but it would be astonishing if he wasn’t a bit of a cowboy. So he probably crowded the lumbering American aircraft in a game of aerial chicken, and got so close that his plane was sucked into the Venturi vortex that forms near the nose of propellor-driven aircraft.

The drawback with the aerial version of “silly buggers” is that after aircraft collide, even relatively gently, they tend to fall rapidly out of the sky. Wang Wei managed to bail out of his machine, but his body has not been found. The EP-3 couldn’t maintain altitude and had to make an emergency landing at the nearest airfield, on Hainan Island off the south Chinese coast. After a week, they are still being held, which is very hard to justify. The US authorities have shown considerable patience with the Chinese — who insist that the American aircraft was at fault in the collision, and even maintained at first that the incident occurred in Chinese airspace.

Strategic restraint

This behaviour simply encourages comparable foolishness in the US, where the usual primitives are emerging from the swamp to beat the tribal war drums. Consider the Congressman, Duncan Hunter (Republican, California), for example, who complains that “while we trade with China, they prepare for war.” But it is reassuring that nobody in authority in the US is talking like that.

The Chinese government is clearly torn between protecting its interests abroad — pending membership in the World Trade Organization, Beijing’s bid for the 2008 Olympics and so on — by acting to end the incident sensibly and quickly, and exploiting the accident to raise its nationalist credibility at home. So far, the latter reflex is winning. The US has nothing to apologize for — electronic intelligence-gathering in international airspace is not illegal — and the major fault for the collision almost certainly lies with the Chinese fighter-pilot, who clearly came too close to the EP-3. (The lumbering turboprop obviously wasn’t looking for Chinese fighters to snuggle up to.)

In the circumstances, with its aircraft and crew being illegally detained in China, the US government is being quite restrained. It clearly understands that it would be a major disaster if this incident put a long-term blight on US-Chinese relations right at the start of the Bush presidency. But the responsibility for preventing that now rests principally with China.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ IT’S GOOD TO BE KING 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
Plans to celebrate the second centenary of the coronation of Ranjit Singh as the maharaja of the Punjab on a grand scale and all over the country are being drawn up: they begin in April and will go on for a full year. Apart from the inaugural speech by the prime minister, conferences and seminars, two equestrian bronze statues of the maharaja, and a display of relics borrowed from Pakistan, England and private collections, a mobile light-and-sound programme is being prepared. Needless to say, there will also be a lot of media coverage: Tara Punjabi’s Kishwar Ahluwalia is making a documentary, Kamna Prasad is translating the biography of the maharaja into Hindi, which was written by me in English. Perhaps other regional languages will follow suit with better biographies than mine.

Ranjit Singh deserves all the adulation that will be showered on him. He was undoubtedly the greatest son of the Punjab. I only hope his admirers will not make him out to be a handsome, anaemic, saintly character, which he certainly was not. He was an ugly, small man who loved the good things of life: liquor, good-looking men and women around him. He loved horses and leading his troops in battle. To wit Rudyard Kipling: “Four things greater than all things are/ Women and horses and power and War.”

While still a boy, Ranjit got small pox, which blinded one eye and left his face dotted. Emily Eden, who was with her brother, the governor general, Lord Auckland, when they called on the maharaja, described him as “exactly like an old mouse, with grey whiskers, one eye and a grey beard.” A legend goes that his favourite Muslim mistress, Bibi Mohran, in whose name he had a coin struck, once asked him where he was when god was distributing good looks. He replied, “When you were asking for a comely appearance, I asked him for power.” Before meeting him, the governor general asked the maharaja’s chief minister, Fakir Azizuddin what his master looked like. Fakir Azizuddin gave a diplomatic answer: his face has so much jalaal (dazzle) that I have never dared to look at him.

Emily Eden wrote about Ranjit Singh’s partiality for strong liquor. Dr Martin Honigbarger, who prepared gunpowder for the maharaja’s artillery, also prepared brandy for the royal table. At the state banquet, Emily took care to sit on the blind-eye side of the maharaja, who poured drinks himself in the gold goblets of his guests seated on either side of him. Every time he turned to talk to the governor general, Emily quietly emptied her goblet on the carpet. Ranjit filled it over and over again and then turned to one of his courtiers and said in Punjabi: “Mem taan khoob peendee hai” (this white woman can hold her drink). Once he asked a Frenchman whether it was better for health to drink after a meal as some doctors advised or before the meal as others said. He replied, drinking, both before and after meals, was good for one’s health. The maharaja roared with happy laughter.

One aspect of Ranjit Singh’s character which made him unique among Indian rulers was that he was totally free of religious prejudice. Though slaughter of kine was forbidden and many of his Hindu and European officers did not cut their hair and beards to please him, he did not impose his views on anyone. His council of ministers was dominated by the three Fakir brothers; it included Dogras and of course Sardars, Sandhawalias, Majithas, Attariwalas and others. Likewise, his army, trained by European officers, comprised all communities. The cavalry was largely Sikh, the artillery, commanded by General Elahi Bakhsh, largely Muslim, and the infantry, a mix of Dogras, Gorkhas, Sikhs and Muslim Najibs. Commanders on the battlefield were men like Diwan Mohkam Chand and his son, Diwan Chand, Hari Singh Nalwa and Prince Sher Singh. In short, it was a composite Punjabi fighting force which created history by reversing the tide of conquests back to the homelands of the traditional invaders — Pathans and Afghans. Nothing more proves Ranjit’s credentials than when it came to determining the future of the diamond, Kohinoor. Instead of leaving it to one of his sons or donating it to the Harimandir, which he had renovated in marble and gold leaf, he wished it to be given to the temple of Jagannath in Puri.

It is ironic that it is the Akali Dal-BJP government of Punjab, led by Prakash Singh Badal, which is taking the lead in organizing the coronation celebrations because Ranjit Singh had little respect for the akalis of his time: “Kuj faham wa kotch andesh” (of crooked minds and short-sightedness).

Some compulsory books

Books have become expensive and not all of us can afford to build up libraries. However, there are some that you must own and keep beside you for reading reference — no matter what they cost. On top of this list is a medium-sized dictionary. You must always consult it to make sure that a word you are not familiar with means exactly what you imagine it does. There are a few other books which are a must and should be within easy reach. Not all of us can afford to have encyclopaedias in our homes but there are small books of reference which cost much less. Two such books I keep on my writing table. They are Historical Dictionary of India, compiled by Surjit Mansingh, and Geographical Dictionary of India by Basil Johnson.

I have already written about Mansingh’s compilation. Johnson is emeritus professor of geography in Canberra. He served with the Indian army during World War II and later visited India many times to compile material for his dictionary. What exactly a geographical dictionary is, he explains in the first paragraph of his preface: “Essentially it tells in words what an atlas tells in maps. It answers the questions: ‘What is it?’, ‘What is it like?’, ‘Who lives there?’, ‘What do they do?’”

Whether it is Chandigarh, or Coimbatore, Jhelum, Brahmaputra or Cauvery, you’ll find it in this dictionary.

Hidden eyes

My mind was full of doubt
I thought it couldn’t be true
How, without a visible device,
God could know what I do?
The other day, on the small screen,
I was wonder-struck to see
Laxman accepting wads of notes
With willing hands and obvious glee!
Such are the miracles of a hidden camera
Mind you, a camera made by man,
In one go, it exposed them all
George Fernandes, Jaya Jaitly and Jain
Now, has wisdom dawned on me
How God watches all actions of mine.
He has admittedly a hidden camera
Which is equipped with lens divine.
(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)

What a divine shame

Why can’t we see God?

“Because after making such a mess of the world, he can’t show his face to anybody.”

(Courtesy: J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)

   

 
 
HOW TO REDO THE PARAMILITARY STRUCTURE 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
There are too many cooks spoiling the security broth in India. Apart from the army, navy and air force, there are nearly a dozen Central police organizations, each with its independent chain of command comprising regional and central headquarters based in the capital. This structure leads to superfluous staff. Some of the CPOs, with a large fleet of aircraft to add to their strength, are even running a minor air force.

The continuing insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern states have necessitated further expansions of these forces. It is understood that 209 new CPO battalions will be raised at the cost of Rs 550 crore.

India had only two CPOs at the time of independence. While the Crown Reserve Police looked after law and order in the country, the Assam Rifles was responsible for security in the far-flung areas of the Northeast.

In 1949, the CRP became the Central Reserve Police Force. Major expansions, including recruitment of women, followed. In 1992, the Rapid Action Force was instituted to deal with communal riots. The RAF is operationally better equipped than the conventional CRPF battalions.

The aftermath of the war with Pakistan in 1965 saw the birth of the Border Security Force. The force was originally intended exclusively to guard the borders with Pakistan, and later, Bangladesh. It first substituted the regular army in internal security duties. The BSF, with its own military-style command structure, training establishments and intelligence set-up, is extensively deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, West Bengal and the northeastern states bordering Bangladesh.

Similarly, another CPO, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, was created to keep an eye on the Sino-Indian borders. Later, during the Punjab imbroglio, new battalions were set up. At the moment, some ITBP units, along with other CPOs, have been deployed in Jammu and Kashmir.

The problem of the security of large and medium scale public sector units led to the creation of the Central Industrial Security Force, another manpower-intensive paramilitary organization. This was in addition to the existing Railway Protection Force.

The latest to join these forces is the 36-battalion-strong Rash- triya Rifles under the ministry of defence. Unlike the other CPOs, the RR was raised at the behest of the Indian army, which had strongly felt that over-deployment of soldiers in counter-insurgency operations hampered their peacetime training schedule. It would hamper their defence preparedness too.

In the early Eighties, the government had set up the Coast Guard, another paramilitary naval force to relieve the Indian navy of the task of policing India’s more than 7000-kilometre long coastline and the adjoining exclusive economic zone. Like the RR, the CG functions under the defence ministry. Though the CG has its own cadre of officers and personnel, there are a fair number of naval officers at senior levels. The force has also been equipped with a large fleet of aircraft and helicopters to facilitate aerial patrolling of vast stretches of sea.

The counter-insurgency campaign in Jammu and Kashmir has exposed serious lacunae in the training and performance of the CPOs. The army has recently prepared a detailed report which was highly critical of the role of the Central paramilitary forces, clearly bringing out the fact that these forces were not geared to deal with the terrorists effectively. There is a lack of coordination among the various CPOs themselves as well as between the police forces and the local army field formations. A specific cause of complaint has been the inadequate training of these forces.

In the interest of national security, it is imperative that all these Central forces are integrated into one single, cohesive organization under a single headquarters. The Union home ministry is understood to have mooted a plan to introduce the system of a unified command for the BSF, CRPF, ITBP and CSIF, but the forces will continue to retain their identity. This is important.

The army needs to concentrate on its primary task of defending the country from external aggression which can happen only when there is a single restructured CPO geared to tackle internal insurgencies.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Nothing Indian about it

Sir — If it was known before the Oscars were announced that Julia Roberts would win one, it is only because she has put in a stunning performance in Erin Brockovich (“No crystal gazers needed”, March 31). And not because the annual Academy awards are predetermined. The Indian experience in recent years, with Anupam Kher filing affidavits and members of the jury resigning in protest, may influence people to draw such a conclusion. It is true that the Oscars have always had an eye for social realities — the award going to From Here to Eternity, and not to Roman Holiday, after World War II — or for political correctness (Tom Hanks winning his first Oscar for playing an AIDS victim in Philadelphia), but the nomination and final selection are conducted in a democratic manner, and it is this professional honesty that gives the Oscars a global credibility. The awardees are nominated by people attached to the film industry in various capacities, unlike in India, where the decisions are often motivated by political reasons.
Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

Operation cover-up

Sir — The Tehelka episode has proved that the Bharatiya Janata Party, the “party with a difference”, is not much different from others, even in witchhunting (“Why Mathew was branded mole at home”, April 6). Thomas Mathew, the director (organization and methods) in the home ministry has been the first casualty in the cover-up undertaken by the Centre. It is unfortunate that government officials are being dubbed Inter-Services Intelligence agents. Framing false charges and harassing upright officials are not new in India. The Samba espionage case or the Maldives ladies case are still fresh in public memory. A common citizen who has no connections in high places cannot ensure that he will get a fair trial in his own country. This is a sad comment on our democracy.
Yours faithfully,
M. Akhtar, Gorakhpur

Sir — The credibility of the portal, tehelka.com, is gradually becoming suspect. First, the charges made on the home ministry were withdrawn and unconditional apology was offered. Second, there were a series of denials by R.K. Jain and R.K. Gupta. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders also condemned the portal for unnecessarily dragging its name into the controversy. The finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, has sued Gupta for taking his name without furnishing substantial evidence. Gupta has apologized in court. Mamata Banerjee has also filed a case against a Bengali daily for taking her name in vain.

All this shows that the tehelka.com episode is full of contradictions and its claims are not above suspicion. It is surprising that the Congress and the left parties demanded the resignation of the National Democratic Alliance government on the basis of such questionable “evidence”. In a democracy, transparency should be an important criterion in public dealings.

If hidden transactions are suspected, it is the duty of the journalists to dig them out and present their findings before the public. But the exercise itself should not become entangled in controversy. That is what the tehelka.com episode has become.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The media has always been overawed by the “holier than thou” image of India’s “honest” prime minister. This seems to be continuing even after the Tehelka exposure, with the palpable hesitation on the media’s part to highlight the hypocrisy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his gestures with the “now-on now-off” mask.

The Vajpayee government had criticized the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu, for inviting the tainted cricketer, Mohammed Azharuddin, at his party. But the prime minister himself was seen attending the marriage of Ajay Jadeja, a cricketer implicated and punished in the same matchfixing case as Azharuddin.

Yours faithfully,
Sagarika Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — Why are the big guns of the BJP so annoyed with Mamata Banerjee for snapping her ties with the NDA following the Tehelka revelations? The NDA members have now taken it upon themselves to publicly call the Trinamool Congress leader an “opportunist” and a “betrayer”. One may ask them what term should be coined for the leaders, many of whom are among their ranks now, who have employed similar tactics in the past for political reasons. As in love and war, in politics too, dirty games have become lawful.

Yours faithfully,
S.A. Rahman Barkati, via email

Sir — The editorial, “Varnish of tar” (March 28), is timely in describing the Vajpayee government’s condition to be in rigor mortis. The defence scandal has shown that the party which uses the rhetoric of honesty and clean politics during its election campaigns is far from clean. But since there is no alternative at present, the government, though no longer with any moral authority to do so, has been allowed to function. But how long can the electorate’s patience and intelligence be tried?

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Pal, Calcutta

Sir — Sham Lal has correctly diagnosed the malaise eating into the Indian polity (“Tehelka fallout”, March 22). On observing the “armsgate” scandal, one is led to the conclusion that the crux of the problem lies in the nature of the Indian polity. A form of government based on universal adult franchise in a country steeped in illiteracy cannot deliver the goods.

As a result, values are martyred at the altar of brute majority rule. That intellectual giants like Radhabinod Pal, N.C. Chatterjee and R.C. Majumdar were rejected by the electorate bears testimony to this.

Yours faithfully,
Rakhal Chakrabarti, Howrah

Sir — The role of the opposition in the wake of the Tehelka findings suggests that India does not have much of a democracy, since the strength of a democracy is largely determined by the strength of the opposition parties. And the equanimity with which the findings have been received by the opposition makes one take not so lightly the charges that the entire operation may have been the brainchild of an opposition leader

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Gara, Shillong

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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