Editorial 1/ Royal flush
Editorial 2/ Anxious promises
The great surrender
Fifth Column/ It might be fatal to take in the air
Get to the truth about George’s lies
Serving the nation for a price
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ ROYAL FLUSH 
 
 
 
 
The cause célèbre concerning Ms Sophie Rhys-Jones, wife of the third son of Great Britain’s reigning monarch, Elizabeth II, could only have happened in a democracy that has a queen as the head of state. This paradox is captured in the statement which says that the queen-in-parliament is the supreme power in Britain. To those unaware of the twists and turns of 17th century English history, the co-existence of monarchy and democracy would appear to be a profound contradiction. For a brief period in the 1650s, England was a republic. The return of Charles II in 1660 did not mark a full-fledged restoration of the monarchy. The king’s powers were curtailed and by the settlement of 1688, regular parliaments were assured. This meant that parliament no longer met at the behest of the monarch. This patchwork between the monarch and parliament saw a change in 1911 when the Parliament Act assured the supremacy of parliament. Since 1911, the monarchy has remained an important institution surrounded by pageantry and not a few spurious traditions. The monarch still fulfils one important function: the queen is the head of the state. For this, she and members of her household are paid through the civil list. The prevalence of such a system endows to royalty in Britain a special status. This status is extended, by definition, to those who marry into the royal family.

Ms Rhys-Jones is one such individual who has attracted public attention by the fact of her marriage to a man who is at least thrice removed from the line of succession. If she had been an ordinary citizen, she would not have been in this plight. Neither would the royal family. In any other country — even in those countries like the Netherlands which have monarchy — a person in the same position as Ms Rhys-Jones would be only an ordinary citizen. But in Britain she is considered to be part of the charmed circle of royalty. The embarrassment caused to Elizabeth II by Ms Rhys-Jones — the most recent in a long series of similar incidents authored by errant daughters-in-law, daughter and sons — should give pause to consider the special status enjoyed by members of the royal family. Perhaps the queen herself, her consort and the heir apparent deserve to enjoy special privileges. Others need not be considered part of royalty and the royal household. This will ease pressure off them to maintain the putative high standards of royal propriety. The queen too will be spared irritation and a red face.

Even such a solution will not address the problems inherent in the physical disjunction between the head of state and head of government. Such a disjunction prevails in India too with separate offices for the president and the prime minister. The Indian experience shows that a figurehead at the top of the state is not without its attendant problems. The pageantry associated with the president loses much of its relevance when the president is somebody incapable of maintaining the dignity of his office. Great Britain has not yet faced this problem because of the long reign of Elizabeth and her intrinsic sense of what is good and proper. But even she was caught on the wrong foot with the popular mourning after princess Diana’s death. The magic surrounding monarchy has disappeared in the light of democracy. Without that magic, a head of state can only be an object of embarrassment.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ ANXIOUS PROMISES 
 
 
 
 
It would be naïve to expect sincerity from pre-poll rhetoric. But the chief minister’s complete turnaround on the Sunshine issue would strike most as amazingly shamefaced. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has assured Calcutta’s hawkers that they are not going to be evicted. Moreover, Mr Bhattacharjee has given them his solemn word that the police will not be harassing them any more. In making this public promise, he has come around to a position that is identical to that of his political opponents. Operation Sunshine started about five years ago, with Mr Bhattacharjee’s comrade, the transport minister, starting a drive against hawkers, to be taken up, and politically opposed, usually around the time of the civic polls. The eviction cause had very quickly degenerated from a civic concern to an electoral tool. But Mr Bhattacharjee’s latest assurance is rather disgracefully blatant in its populism. By making a promise that is so patently a way of ensuring votes, he manifests a degree of insecurity regarding his party’s fate in the imminent elections that can only tarnish the dignity and credibility of his office.

Not only do his words reduce to a farce any notion of a commitment to civic improvement, but also the rhetoric in which he chooses to express his sudden concern for hawkers is most unfortunate. They are the “poor”, apart from being the “people”, and the chief minister’s words seek to officially recognize the legitimacy of their struggle for survival within an exploitative urban economy. In doing so, he also invokes the “unorganized sector”, the protection of which will be the responsibility of his government and, more particularly, of his other charge, the police. Mr Bhattacharjee is here papering over the entirely lawless, and unlawful, nexus between the hawkers, the police, trade unions and politicians that keeps alive a form of municipal anarchy, which does not deserve a public licence from such a prominent figure of authority. Quite simply, Mr Bhattacharjee is here looking at what could well be a vote bank of several lakhs. The physical condition of a city, the safety and convenience of its inhabitants, the rule of law and the credibility of a prominent office can all be sacrificed to such a contingency — provided the right sort of rhetoric is found to package the deal.

   

 
 
THE GREAT SURRENDER 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
Freedom, the sagest of the sages say, is the key to economic development. The World Trade Organization could not agree more. And since the WTO’s word is of biblical import to our government in New Delhi, the new trade policy announced 10 days ago has ordained a total lifting of quantitative restrictions on import of 715 commodities; this is in addition to the 714 commodities that were granted the imprimatur of freedom last year. The list is truly impressive. Our countrymen are now permitted — perhaps cajoled is the right expression — to import, without let or hindrance, 147 items of farm products, 342 items of textiles and 226 industrial products.

The universe covered includes milk, cream, butter, coconut and coconut oil, tea, coffee, wheat, rye, barley, maize, parboiled rice, jawar, bajra, ragi, onion, egg yolk, seed grains, grapes, cabbage, cauliflower, pomegranate, potato, orange, tangerine, spices, synthetic fibres, cotton textiles, carpets, table covers, rugs, curtains, towels, apparel, alcoholic drinks, petrochemical products, fertilizer, rubber, ceramics, crockery, precious stones, gum, wax, plastic and fibre suitcases, handkerchiefs, exercise books, bags, tarpaulin, tents, tiles, aluminium and copper wares, pressure cookers, radio, televisions, bulbs, tractors, jeeps, motor cars including secondhand ones, lorries, trucks, scooters, motor cycles, mopeds, autorickshaws, boats, motor launches, yachts, trawlers, life-boats, watches, pens, so on and so forth.

Import duty on this range of commodities, it has been additionally stated, will be appropriately adjusted downwards and phased out over a period of time in conformity with WTO directives. All told, it is a magnificent harakiri ceremony for Indian agriculture and industry. The sagest of the sages, however, say that this is the road to development, and the WTO could not agree more. In fact, the WTO itself has a provision in its article 18B whereby a developing country is entitled to continue with QRs of agricultural imports in case the country’s balance of payments position is tight. But have not our foreign exchange holdings soared to the level of $40 billion and beyond? Is it not therefore infra dig on our part to plead balance of payment difficulties? The ministry of finance could not be a party to any such subterfuge. With great glee, it informed the WTO that the latter is welcome to order our government to lift QRs on farm imports; balance of payments problems must not any longer be used as alibi for protectionism.

Take another look at the 1,400 and odd commodities that are to be brought in freely as a result of decisions taken over the past 12 months. The nation has been of late shaken by reports of the spate of suicides among the farming community; cheap grains and cotton from abroad are taking away its market. The process will now be aggravated. The state of affairs is going to be the same in the manufacturing sector, already suffering from a bout of recession. Radios, televisions, aluminium and steel products, copper products, electrical wires, automobiles of all descriptions, watches, boats and ships are now to be let in freely. The rate of growth of industrial production has over the past decade been halved compared to the rate of growth in the preceding decade. The deceleration is bound to gather pace, resulting in large-scale lay-offs. In the automobile industry, for example, output has already dipped to 20 per cent of capacity; there should be no blinking of eyes if the utilization of capacity now declines to as low as 10 per cent. Or consider the textile sector, including small-scale operations. It has been traditionally responsible for 30 per cent of industrial employment and 15 per cent of industrial production in the country. Both percentages are going to fall further. Developments in the textile sector have a backward linkage with the problems in cotton production. It is therefore a generalized crisis which globalization will usher in.

Defenders of official policy offer one rather precious argument in support of their point of view. At least on account of liberalized farm imports, while agricultural producers might suffer, consumers might benefit from lower prices. The overwhelming majority of our consumers however happen to be sharecroppers, small farmers and landless agricultural workers. If the benign government deprives them of their source of income, where will they get the wherewithal to buy cheap imports? And very often these imports are cheap because foreign governments subsidize their export to our poor country, just as our government is subsidizing wheat sales abroad.

Inanity, thy name is officialdom. The first generation of so-called reforms has done sufficient lethal damage. The government’s response to this discomfiture is to initiate the second generation of reforms, exemplified by this year’s Union budget, the set of monetary and financial policies recently announced and now the trade policy proclaimed with such flourish. The nation is being told that, for the sake of its survival, it is essential to globalize, never mind if such globalization, in its turn, as good as liquidates the nation. It is an echo of what the American general had once informed the world: in order to save Vietnam, it is first necessary to destroy that country.

One other argument touted by the liberalization lobby is that in case you allow free imports, the foreigners, particularly the group of seven nations, can also be persuaded to allow our exports to enter their countries to a greater extent, thereby raising our share in world exports. Do these people ever care to look at the nitty-gritty statistics that are available? During the quinquennium, 1950-55, India’s average share in world exports was 1.64 per cent; at the end of the great decade of globalization, this share has shrunk to 0.62 per cent. Similarly, in the mid-Fifties, the share of exports to the G-7 countries was more than 53 per cent of our total exports; this share has declined to around 46 per cent in the decade of freedom. These data have not been invented, but are mentioned in a recent publication of the department of economic analysis and policy, Reserve Bank of India.

Let us consider some other facts. India’s exports were of the order of $18.5 billion in the year immediately preceding the introduction of the records, that is in 1990-91. This magnitude had advanced to $38.5 billion in 1999-2000, the latest year for which data are available. In contrast, imports were $27.9 billion in 1990-91 and advanced to $ 55.4 billion in 1999-2000, which means that over the decade of expanding free trade, our trade deficit had nearly doubled. The situation is likely to be far, far worse in the coming decade. The retort will be, “What do we care? We have $ 40 billion worth of foreign exchange reserves to tackle any balance of payments that might arise. But we also have NRI deposits worth $23 billion which are repatriable on demand; there are, besides, three billion dollars of portfolio investments which could flow out of the country at a moment’s notice. On top of all that, the country’s external debt is in the neighbourhood of $100 billion.”

In such matters, any meaningful exchange of views with the decision-makers is quite impossible. They are determined not to look at facts. They will not take into account the hardship countrymen are to be subjected to because of the frightful import policy they have announced. The bulk of these decision-makers, if not all, belong to the thin stratum of society at the top. If a cataclysm strikes the country, their foreign friends, they firmly believe, will bail them out; let the rest of the nation drown, nobody need bother to save them.

Those in power, some will maintain, are not altogether heartless. Have not the government mentioned a “war room” where a monitoring committee will sit, watch the effects of the new policy and, where necessary, take ameliorative measures? Has not the government also proposed new legislation to stiffen anti-dumping measures for protecting our producers? These are, alas, all eyewash: once the great surrender has been effected, any pro-producer measure our government may contemplate will be subject to WTO rules, which are stern in the extreme. Rest assured, the WTO will also insist on the rapid demolition of tariff walls.

But ordinary folk should still feel buoyant. They can drown their sorrow in Scotch whisky, now freely available in the country.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ IT MIGHT BE FATAL TO TAKE IN THE AIR 
 
 
BY SAHELI MITRA
 
 
Studies on environmental pollution in the recent past reflect that the major source of air pollutants posing a major threat to urban health is automobile emission. The reports also highlight the menace of carcinogenic elements that are found during the breakdown of the automobile fuels.

Over the past decade, environmental activists have kept pressurizing the authorities to reduce the huge number of vehicles crowding the roads in the cities and to gradually shift from the common fuel sources to the cleaner ones. But how much change have we noticed so far, specially in cities like New Delhi and Calcutta? Children and elders choking by the roadside as a bus or lorry passes by, leaving a thick cloud of smoke, is a common sight on our city streets. And not to mention the rising health problems related to throat and lungs and allergic asthma that has seen a phenomenal rise in these cities over the past decade.

The mandatory pollution certificate, introduced by the authorities a few years back, that shows whether an automobile’s engine is in proper shape and whether the releasing particulate matter has a concentration below the prescribed level, is nothing but a farce. Almost all of us know by this time that such certificates can be bought in any petrol pump without checking the vehicle.

Unleaded option

The use of unleaded petrol has also failed to pick up. While most of the the vehicles run on cheaper diesel, unleaded petrol cannot be considered as an alternative fuel option.

But the tragedy behind this enormous problem lies elsewhere — with the Indian citizens who seem to be completely unaware of the pollution menace and would go to any extreme to stop the authorities from taking a bold step. An immediate profit is so important to them that they fail to realize that they are pushing their next generation towards destruction.

This was recently highlighted when the Supreme Court passed a verdict specifying a time limit to convert all buses, autorickshaws and taxis plying in Delhi to compressed natural gas mode.

CNG is undoubtedly a cleaner fuel option compared to diesel and petrol. It’s emission has much lower amounts of particulate matter, especially lead and benzoid components, known to be carcinogenic and found in petroleum products. Moreover, CNG is a cost effective fuel found abundantly in the Northeast, unlike the costly petrol that has to be largely imported. The gas can be easily supplied from cylinders and gas stations and the construction of expensive petrol and diesel pipelines can be avoided at the same time.

City in chaos

Despite knowing that the authorities have taken a positive step towards reducing air pollution, a chaos followed the passing of the Supreme Court verdict, with life in the capital almost coming to a halt. Thousands of commuters and schoolchildren had a tough time as transport operators went on strike to protest the verdict. And most of the helpless public also joined hands with the operators who thought nothing other than their own needs.

Although the authorities had identified the agencies that would handle the process of conversion of diesel and petrol vehicles to the CNG mode and had set up several gas stations, it was a section of the public that forced them to appeal before the apex court to reconsider the verdict and extend the date. Even though the apex court gave partial relief by extending the date conditionally, the transport owners described the verdict as “anti-people” and announced general strikes.

Even Calcutta saw a similar crisis when the authorities had thought of phasing out the older vehicles, including private cars and taxis that did not have the Euro II engine. The protests were on such a wide scale that the government had to hold back its decision and reconsider the implementation of such a plan.

Though conversion to CNG as the major automobile fuel might not be the best step in reducing auto-pollution, it is definitely a better option and with this fuel being used in a majority of Latin American countries and even in developed nations like the United States and France, it is for the people of India to decide whether or not to help in the process of reducing air pollution and save the future generation from ill health.

   

 
 
GET TO THE TRUTH ABOUT GEORGE’S LIES 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
The convenor of the National Democratic Alliance, George Fernandes, has described the Tehelka tapes as “all lies”. Boasting that because he does not have a television set (Wah! What a socialist! Wah! What a Gandhian!) and, therefore, has not himself seen the tapes, George says the tapes only show some army officers being plied with booze to make drunken claims aimed at defaming the honest George, a conspiracy concocted to punish the noblest defence minister of them all for his relentless clean-up of defence procurement which has left the middlemen starving in the streets.

The star turn in the Tehelka tapes is the jhola-wali he has made into the president of his party, the former Miss Miranda House of my Delhi University days, then known as June Chettoor and now sporting the stage under the name of Jaya Jaitly. She married my class-mate, Ashok Jaitly, who went into the IAS and became George’s private secretary when the post-Emergency election brought the Janata Party to power. The first act of the incoming Janata administration was to order the prosecutor of the Central Bureau of Investigation to drop all charges against the innocent St George who would not, they said, recognize dynamite from Baroda even if it came wrapped in Christmas paper.

George repaid Desai this favour by staunchly standing up for him in the Lok Sabha when the irrepressible Raj Narain began bringing down the Janata Party’s house of cards. Then George proved true to his true self by voting against the prime minister who had not only sprung him from jail, but had entrusted him with high office. In leaving the government, George also took with him the wife of his private secretary. (The story, however, has a happy ending because Ashok got married last week to someone else while their daughter wedded the cricketer, Ajay Jadeja, regarding whom, as the police say, enquiries are in progress.)

The lady in question has been caught on camera receiving two alleged arms dealers from London, their middleman in Delhi and a just-retired army officer, Major General Murugai, whose last assignment was connected with defence procurement. Whatever George might say about the Tehelka lies, what we do not get to see or hear is Jaya asking this motley crew what the hell they are doing in her house — which, incidentally, is also the raksha mantri’s home. On the contrary, what we do hear her saying is that her party accepts two lakh rupees from two arms dealers for a party convention they are holding, towards which she has to contribute 50 per cent of the funds.

The moot question is: does this constitute honourable behaviour on the part of the president of the raksha mantri’s party who has made her office in the raksha mantri’s home for the good reason that she happens to share lodgings with the raksha mantri? No one is boozed in this scene. No one is making any bogus boasts. The heart of the dialogue is a promise by the Samata Party president to ensure “justice” for the arms dealers. No nexus is established to the two lakhs then handed over. But it is indisputable that two lakhs are offered and two lakhs accepted from two arms dealers whose credentials are not questioned and who make no effort to disguise the fact that they are in the Samata Party leader’s drawing room not to see her pretty face but to yank up the defence procurement system in their favour through the raksha mantri.

Is any of this a lie? George is perfectly right in saying that inebriated army officers — and others without even the benefit of Scottish soma ras — say all sorts of things in the tapes. Some of it is, as George is at pains to emphasize, just lies. Some of it is vain exaggeration. Some of it is just un-officer-like behaviour. Culpability with regard to these oafish army personnel is being decided by a court-martial. What needs the attention of the retired judge appointed as a one-man commission of enquiry is not whether these armed forces personnel are lying. What needs to be probed is: who appointed them? There are, after all, hundreds of majors-general; what made the raksha mantri appoint, or agree to appoint, a character like Major-General M.S. Ahluwalia (no relation of poor Montek!) to so sensitive a post as additional director-general, weapons and equipment? Was this not the same system that appointed B.P. Verma to head of customs and excise even after the chief vigilance commissioner had warned them against the man?

And what of that delightful buffoon, R.K. Jain, national treasurer of the Samata Party, no less? He himself tells on the Tehelka tapes the story of how he got his coveted post. He says he rang George out of the blue and offered to raise money for George’s indigent party. George asked for a couple of lakhs. Jain protested that a national saviour of George’s stature should not sell himself so cheap. George, the honourable St George, said he only wanted what his needs demanded, not a paisa more. Jain then delivered the amount required. And George, profoundly moved and deeply impressed, pleaded with Jain to undertake the onerous responsibility of being national treasurer of a party aiming to run the Union government from the summit. Today, George dismisses R.K. Jain as a liar. But who appointed such a liar to such a key party post?

Ever since St George slew the dragon called S.K. Patil in the elections of 1967, Parliament has been subjected to sermons by him about how our standards have fallen. His recitation begins with the Mudgal case, a first Lok Sabha story where Nehru, on discovering that a Congress MP had defrauded the exchequer, threw his own MP out of the party. George’s sermon then moves to Ariyalur, a small town near Trichy in Tamil Nadu, where the railways minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, taking constructive responsibility for an engine-driver’s fault, resigned his high position.

Next, George has treated about half-a-dozen Lok Sabhas to his version of Nehru’s son-in-law, Feroze Gandhi, denouncing many of his father-in-law’s key aides for straying from the strait and narrow in the Mundhra stock-market scandal. He moves from there to the petroleum minister, K.D. Malviya, being compelled to resign when it is discovered that he had accepted Rs.10,000 from some shady character. And thus, we are told, is probity in public life upheld.

All this was much before my time. However, I was as caught up personally as I could possibly be when I was appointed, along with George, to the joint parliamentary committee which investigated the Harshad Mehta-led securities and banking scam. The JPC contained, besides George Fernandes, no less than 7 ministers of the present Vajpayee regime: the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha; the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh; the commerce and industry minister, Murasoli Maran; the petroleum minister, Ram Naik; the railways minister of state, Digvijay Singh; and the former defence production minister, Harin Pathak. The best and the brightest of the NDA firmament. They took the lead in denouncing Manmohan Singh for not accepting his constructive responsibility for the negligence of a whole series of Reserve Bank of India officers from at least five years before he became finance minister.

The boot is now on the other foot. It is not the lies told by defence ministry personnel that is at issue, but the truth about the responsibility for these lies. From Vajpayee down, the country’s most sensitive ministry has been run without a modicum of sensitivity to national concerns, not even common or garden patriotism. Vajpayee must pay the price for this mess. And George’s resignation is no prayaschit as he has immediately been renominated head of the NDA.

It is not George’s lies, but the truth about the system which needs investigation. That, tragically, does not appear to fall in the remit of the retired judge. Which is why a whole new government is needed to ferret out the ugly truth about how Fernandes worked his way from being a terrorist to the summit of our national security system.

   

 
 
SERVING THE NATION FOR A PRICE 
 
 
BY BARUN KUMAR SAHU
 
 
In the din of the mudslinging following the tehelka.com exposé, the core issue of probity in public life is getting lost. The exposé has brought into focus the funding of political parties and political activities. While running of political parties and undertaking political activities have always been justified in public interest, it may inadvertently lead to improbity among those in public service, particularly in the higher rungs. Unless we address this issue, the nation may benefit little from the spy-cam exposé.

It is common sense that no one funds political parties without expecting something bigger in return. Once the fund is accepted, the recipient cannot remain completely oblivious of the concerns of the funder. In fact, a quid pro quo is the most likely outcome as financers are not there for charity alone. Funding in cash can also distort the economy and help generation of black money. If money is paid in cash to aid political parties, unscrupulous functionaries may even siphon off a portion of it for personal use. It is in the public interest that political parties are there to articulate public opinion. Since we expect an exceptionally high degree of probity and commitment to the nation from political parties, state funding of political parties may be an option worth considering.

State subject

If political parties have to depend on the rich for funds, the Indian democracy may not turn out very different from a plutocracy. With multinational companies forming a significant section of the economy, it is all the more necessary to prevent India’s political parties from being dependent on them. State funding will provide a somewhat level playing field to the ruling and opposition parties inasmuch as mobilization of funds is concerned.

Yardsticks may be drawn up for reimbursement of expenditures of, and making financial grants to political parties. To begin with, only national and state level political parties may be considered for state funding. Even banks may be allowed to finance political parties to the extent that the reimbursement is assured. With state funding of political activities, reduction in the cost of such activities is likely to become of utmost importance.

The reduction may be achieved in several ways. There may be restrictions on political activities that are undertaken more as a show of strength than for articulating popular sentiments. There may be a complete ban on holding of mammoth rallies and meetings, which invariably cause public inconvenience, except during elections.

Return gifts

Even during the election, there should be restrictions on holding of rallies and meetings in urban areas so that the electioneering does not cause problems to the people. Modes of electioneering may also be carefully weighed. There may be quantitative as well as qualitative limitations on the use of flags, festoons, posters, banners and so on for electioneering. Moreover, since political parties collect and use the funds for public purposes, there is every reason to bring their accounts within the ambit of public scrutiny and regular audits.

Since we expect both sincerity and competence from the political functionaries, they should be compensated adequately. They may be paid handsomely and directly, rather than indirectly, by way of hefty perquisites, allowances, reimbursements and so on.

There is a need to evolve and strengthen a system that encourages both probity and competence. The message that we should fight against corruption is nothing new. However, the Tehelka exposé has offered an opportunity to cleanse the system. Only when credible steps are taken to promote and encourage probity, the fight against corruption will be taken seriously.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Wasteful tears

Sir — It has become a convention to adjourn Parliament or the legislative assemblies on the first day of every session under some pretext or the other. Most often, this happens when a past or present member has died in the interim period. The idea is to show respect to the dead by adjourning the assembly or Parliament for the entire day. This is a perfectly avoidable practice. If indeed respect has to be shown, a two to three minute silence should be enough. In the event that the entire house feels an enormous collective grief, a half-hour adjournment might be allowed. But the frittering away of an entire day is a bit much. If recent history is anything to go by, more than half the number of hours allotted for legislative work in the country is, in any case, wasted because the opposition chooses disruption of parliamentary proceedings as the principal way of expressing discontent over an issue. Law-makers should refrain from expending the taxpayer’s money by not engaging in wasteful symbolism.
Yours faithfully,
T.H. Chowdary, Secunderabad

Dotcoms are not forever

Sir — It is a matter of concern that India’s information hub, Bangalore, which was growing at a phenomenal pace, is now being affected by the imminent lay-off in software firms (“Life after the death of dotcoms”, April 9).

The “new economy” has become a much-touted phrase in all the places that are ostensibly going through an information technology revolution. The ardent believers in this “new economy”, whether in India or in the United States, cannot foresee some of its inherent contradictions. Common sense tells us that what is new is usually uncertain and fraught with risks. One cannot foretell which technologies will succeed commercially and which will not.

Many of the dotcom companies which spearheaded the “revolution” have become the butt of brutal jokes. The new economy is on the verge of becoming old and unusable.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Rangaswamy, Durham, US

Sir — This is a horror story. Thousands of youngsters are tempted into joining dotcoms every year. They come from virtually any discipline one can imagine and suddenly do a computer course or two, and lo and behold, they are IT professionals. If these dotcom companies start going bankrupt, it will surely mean an enormous burden for our economy. Apart from experiencing a colossal unemployment problem, we are going to have a generation of young people with low morales.

Another worrying problem is the drop in the H1-B visas. Although, it cannot be a good thing if thousands of Indians are shipped to the United States every year with IT jobs, it will also become a problem for the national economy if all these prospective IT professionals have to stay back here and look for employment.

Yours faithfully,
Pratap Singh, via email

Sir — At the moment, the work culture in India is such that it provokes people to grab as much money and in as short a time as possible. There is no sense of welfare for the workers. Most particularly, software companies are extracting maximum productivity from their employees. Despite the fact that they often offer very fat sums of money as salary, these workers have very little time to spend outside office. Naturally, they do not get the chance to spend the money they earn. This is a typical feature of dotcom companies. Paying too much money to a software professional is not healthy in the long run. Besides, the longevity of these firms is also suspect. But no one thinks about the future.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

harity show

Sir — It is disgraceful to see the way the earthquake-affected people of Gujarat cringed and begged in front of a total stranger. The whole nation has come forward generously to help in their rehabilitation, from little children to pensioners in retired homes. This is perhaps not enough because the scars that this calamity has left behind are of massive proportions. But these people are looking at Bill Clinton as some kind of messiah. However, even in his own country, there are areas where one can find evidence of devastation caused by earthquakes that occurred almost 10 years ago.
Yours faithfully,
Iti Misra, Calcutta

Sir — Surely, Bill Clinton had not expected to be as warmly welcomed this time as he has been in the past. Unfortunately, the Indian media went into paroxysms as soon as he landed here. It has displayed its inability to judge the importance of an event. Clinton’s previous visit was in the capacity of a nation’s president. But, this time, it is only a visit by an American citizen who has some good intentions. The kind of media coverage that he is getting is unnecessary.

Yours faithfully,
Ashish Jain, via email

Unmaking a hero

Sir — It seems that the Australian media is after the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly. The Indian captain has shown guts and outwitted the Australians in their own game of sledging. Giving in to these provocations, Sunil Gavaskar had once led his team out of the field in Australia and Javed Miandad had gone after Dennis Lillee with his bat.

Ganguly has decided not take the verbal assault lying down and to pay the Australians back in their own coin. This may have been the real reason behind Ian Chappell’s ire, expressed through his column in The Telegraph. His calling Ganguly a “stupid captain” during the fourth one-day international in Vishakhapatnam was clearly biased, and cricket commentators are expected to be free of this.

Yours faithfully,
Amar Lahiri Majumdar, Calcutta

Sir — It is disappointing to find that some sections of the Indian media, and of course the entire Australian media, have reserved a stepmotherly treatment for Sourav Ganguly. The Australian media has been incessantly harping on what it alleges as Ganguly’s “unsporting” and “rude” behaviour. It is also distressing that some sections of the Indian media, instead of defending the captain, have joined the Australian chorus. While Steve Waugh was being hero-worshipped even before he landed in India for his humanitarian deeds and the Australian team was being idolized for its aggression, every action of the Indian captain was being scrutinized and he faced severe criticism for not playing the charming host.

As Ganguly has rightly said, the host captain does not require a good conduct certificate from the scribes of the visiting team. That Ganguly managed to lead his team to a phenomenal performance in the test series even in such circumstances is indicative of the Indian captain’s motivating powers, grit and determination.

Yours faithfully,
Ratul Chakraborty, via email

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