Editorial 1 / All aboard
Editorial 2 / Save the girl
What the ladies want
Fifth Column / The long road we have travelled
Look beyond the border
Providing for a secure future
Letters to the editor

Economic reforms make political parties forget their ideologies. Economic reforms make friends out of enemies. Economic reforms breed insincerity. These three statements should not be read as condemnations of the only process that is genuinely transforming India to make it more modern. The statements are comments on responses to economic reforms. If the left in India were to be asked to name some of their pet objects of hatred, then the Shiv Sena and its supremo, Bal Thackeray, would feature very high on the list. But this did not stop the left from joining the Shiv Sena to bring Maharashtra and Mumbai to a halt on Wednesday. Both the Shiv Sena and the left have decided to forget their mutual animosity and join together to protest against the anti-labour policies of both the state and Central governments. A new and a more professional attitude towards labour forms one aspect of the economic reforms agenda. This means an end to irresponsible trade unionism, a more demanding work ethic and an acceptance of the fact that redundant and inefficient labour can be removed or relocated. This idea, even though the government is yet to enact laws which can be described as anti-labour, has prompted the Shiv Sena and the left to form a united front against an imagined threat. Yesterday’s enemies are today’s allies.

In West Bengal has emerged a different kind of picture. All the major political formations in the state — the Left Front, the Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party — in their election manifestos are agreed on the need to attract private capital for the industrial rejuvenation of West Bengal. The strength of private capital, one of the premises underlying the idea of economic reforms, has united political parties which are otherwise at loggerheads. To an extent it can be argued that this is a recognition of the prevailing reality. Economic growth will need resources which can only come from private investment. The political parties in their election manifestos have only accepted this reality. This is where they have all converged. There is another very sinister area of convergence. In election rallies, leaders of the political parties are paying scant respect to this aspect of their respective manifestos. In their speeches leaders are spouting their usual anti-reform rhetoric. Insincerity knows no ideology.

This kind of insincerity — many would prefer to call it hypocrisy or even opportunism — goes beyond elections. The BJP under Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the flag bearer of the second wave of economic reforms. But when it was out of power and in opposition it opposed the first bout of economic reforms initiated by the Congress under Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao. The Congress, in its turn, is not too keen on economic reforms and its leader, Ms Sonia Gandhi, talks of a return to Nehruvianism. But when Congress was in power it sang a completely different tune on economic reforms. Consistency seems to the principal victim in the responses to economic reforms. There are two obvious conclusions that can be drawn. First, the priorities of governance and the priorities of electioneering seem to pull in two opposite directions. And second, politicians on the campaign trail make promises and launch manifestos which they do not take seriously. It is this kind of utter cynicism which makes strange bedfellows. Indian politics knows neither permanent interests nor permanent friendships. Despair can be the only adequate emotion among reformists.


If law cannot do it, maybe religion can. This seems to be the driving impulse behind the decision of the Akal Takht to oust from Sikh society those who destroy female embryos. The advance of technology has become in recent years an additional weapon in the hands of a society ruthlessly biased in favour of male offspring. Amniocentesis, for such a society, is not a means to satisfy the innocent curiosity of parents but a way of ensuring that only a male foetus will be allowed to grow. This is, of course, a new and expensive tool. The well-worn methods, like female infanticide, starving the girl, leaving her to the mercy of nature when she is ill, have not lost their popularity. A mother driven to desperation may find herself throwing a baby out of a hospital window simply because she has borne female twins. Cruelty, when steadfastly perpetrated, will have the desired outcome. The male-female ratio in India shows an alarming lack of balance. By declaring its determination to intervene at this crucial juncture, the Sikh religious high command has shown remarkable sensitivity and awareness, all the more striking because of the noticeable lack of it among Hindus and minority communities.

The problems are obvious. A couple going in for abortion or even infanticide because of the sex of the child is hardly likely to shout it from the rooftops. The intentions are laudable; implementing them extremely difficult, if not impossible. But two important things can still happen. A believer tends to respond to an instruction coming from the official vehicles of the faith rather than to the law. Since religion is still one of the dominant forces in the lives of most Indians, the Akal Takht’s move may have unexpected results. That is why the official centres of other religions should emulate it, instead of encouraging anti-women superstition. The second result follows from the first. Ultimately, it is awareness, sensitivity and common sense that will change the fate of female embryos. In a land where education is woefully inadequate and odds against rights groups are still stacked very high, the disapproval of religious heads may go some way in arousing consciousness. The dangers of arousing a new debate on abortion may be tackled later.


So the tumult begins. Democracy at work, the politicians will cry. We are going to the people to seek their approval, their decision. After all, they will say shrilly from the various platforms they will grace, it is democracy for the people, of the people, by the people. Whatever else it is, it isn’t that. We’ve learnt that the hard way, over the years. It’s political battle, one group arrayed against another. Right now the generals are being marshalled, the forces gathered. Right now there are only skirmishes; soon battle will be joined.

In all this two ladies are the cynosure of the media, and through the media of thousands of people who watch them passively, some with devotion, others with apathy. Mamata Banerjee and J. Jayalalitha. On the face of it there can’t be two more different persons. One is fabulously wealthy, dresses in expensive saris, lives in a fine mansion and has been convicted of corruption by a court. The other prefers a shabby cotton sari, lives in a very modest house, and has little wealth.

But there are striking similarities as well. Both are whimsical to the point of being eccentric; both run their parties as personal fiefs; both go ballistic if they’re criticized, and both are incapable of rational far-reaching decisions — they react rather than decide, and often out of pique, or rage, or an often imagined sense of injury. Arrayed behind each are motley crowds of fortune hunters, all of whom smell power which they can have through these women, if they follow them with the servility both expect and get.

There is, of course, the third lady, Sonia Gandhi, from the Dynasty, which is of course her real problem — she has virtually no identity of her own, she symbolizes the Dynasty, that’s all that can be said of her. Her success — which is very very modest — is the extent to which the Dynasty is seen as a power, as a means by which deliverance will come. And behind her are a set of shadowy and not so shadowy people who try to use her value as a symbol of the Dynasty, believing that will keep together and united the ragtag group of people the Congress has come to be.

It’s really the other two on whom all eyes will be focussed. They’ve slugged their way to where they are now, and their whimsical, near-eccentric behaviour is only a hair’s breadth away from belligerence and confrontation. Poor Atal Bihari Vajpayee knows that only too well; both have given him a dose of that particular medicine at different times. What are these two ladies going to do?

The nation holds its breath; more out of bewilderment than anything else. Because the nation has no clue as to what their agenda is. Getting the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam out, for one, is all very well, followed by getting courts to try the more prominent figures in each party for various crimes and so on. But what are the issues they are fighting the elections for? What is it that they want to do, in concrete terms, that the others have not done, or have done badly?

True, there are manifestos, but those are the usual stereotyped stuff which mean nothing or next to nothing. Can they explain where exactly the CPI(M) and the DMK have gone wrong? What should they have done? Rural housing? Off-farm employment for the underemployed? Ensure higher rates of female literacy? Reform the systems of administration drastically, cutting down on unproductive posts and offices, changing basic procedures of government business? Tightening up, with the firmness that both have shown in other fields, the police forces, so that physical fitness, discipline and plain, down-to-earth skills improve?

None of these has any really convincing answers, because they themselves aren’t really concerned. All they want is revenge, to win against a hated enemy and to do this any weapon, any stratagem will do. Nothing is too base, nothing too unworthy. Winning is all. And so, behind the rhetoric and flaming speeches, are the bands of murderers and toughs, armed and ready, to go in where necessary when other forms of persuasion fail, or where the other side’s thugs and murderers seem to have the upper hand.

That’s when battle will be well and truly joined. There will be the frenzied speeches, with thousands being brought to listen and dutifully to chorus the second part of the slogan of which the first part is shouted — or screamed — by the leaders. And after that, the battles. After these elections, there will be many dead, and many more maimed and wounded in greater or lesser degree. But they will have engendered what they are really there to create — fear, blind trembling fear among the elderly, the women, the men who just want to be left alone, and the children who grow up with this as the first text in learning about the exercise of one’s franchise.

We who are mercifully old, can still see clearly that whatever else this is, it is not democracy at work. It is not government by the people, of the people, for the people. It is the rule of mobs and thugs, with an impotent police force waving a few lathis here and there, and, if these ladies are lucky, opening fire and killing somebody who is then instantly made a martyr by both sides and a reason for hartals, processions and other means of “persuading” people to do just what they are told when they have to vote.

But what saddens one is the inexplicable number of people who look to these two ladies as their saviours, as leaders who will redress grievances, bring justice to all, and prosperity; having seen political leaders for over 50 years, these be their gods — or goddesses. It isn’t so much what the ladies embody; it’s an eloquent comment on what went before, what the quality of local leadership must have been to have so many turn to these ladies. They turn to them because there is no one else whom they trust; as the other groups — the left in West Bengal and the DMK and its allies in Tamil Nadu — have their followers, also for the same reasons. They, too, look to their present leaders because they don’t trust the others — the focus is on the people, the personalities. Never, tragically, on the issues which all these leaders profess to be working for.

And, as battle is joined, such of the issues as they still mention in passing will be forgotten. Neither side will show the other side any quarter in the dark alleyways and fearful villages, where the knives and guns will be out. The monsters, the final deciders in the process euphemistically called elections that each side has, will then be unleashed; rabid, cruel beyond comprehension, but most effective in reducing their allotted areas into a state of complete terror. These monsters may make the difference in the elections, just may; but if they do, the victorious leaders would do well to be very careful indeed. Because the day will come when these very monsters will turn on them and rend them limb from limb, and there will be no one to bring them to heel — they will already have found new masters.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

This article was written before the EC decision to bar Jayalalitha from contesting the elections


Not everyone understands the fabled Laloo lingo. Crude, rustic and witty, it is loaded with innuendoes and overtones that is Hebrew to a greenhorn, but perfect “realpolitik” to friend-turned-foe Ranjan Yadav, who claims to understand “Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav’s language like none other”.

But Laloo Yadav now requires a new interpreter of political maladies. The unceremonious removal of Ranjan Yadav from the post of the party’s working president following bitter acrimony between the two has dealt a blow to Laloo’s brand of quixotic “socialism”.

Ranjan was the visionary, while Laloo, the self-professed pragmatist, took pride in giving Ranjan’s dreams practical shape. Their association dates back to the early Seventies, when the pulsating Patna University campus was nurturing budding stars like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Sushil Modi and many others, including the reticient Ranjan.

That was the heyday of “social justice” when bright young students like Ranjan Yadav and back-benchers like Laloo Yadav rode the Jayaprakash Narayan wave. The most unlikely of friendships sprung up between the two and deepened as “they spent quality time together behind bars”.

Two in one

Ranjan, a former laboratory instructor, went on to collect a doctorate degree and carved out a career in teaching. Laloo took to politics fulltime, for the want of anything better. The B.N. College graduate and veterinary department clerk, however, continued to rely on Ranjan’s “analytical skills and refinement”. Old-timers say Laloo even resorted to his former friend’s “wise counsel” in matters of the heart and “hearth”.

A jittery Laloo surreptitiously despatched “Man Friday” Ranjan to Gopalganj in 1979 to “size up’’ Rabri following rumours that she was “physically deformed”. An exuberant Ranjan apparently gave her a clean chit saying, “Shushsree hai, shaadi kar lo.” The friends bonded once again prior to the nuptials of Laloo’s eldest daughter, Misa Bharati. It fell upon Ranjan to cull out a smart, educated Yadav “yuppie” for laadli (loving) Misa.

Of the two “neo-socialists”, one preached development in a classless society and “built roads”, the other — the more astute one — put JP’s social justice model to practice with an eye on the votebank. Ranjan, with his yen for infrastructure, was unable to consolidate base at the grassroots whereas Laloo proved to be man of the masses. But Ranjan’s suave urban demeanour was a perfect foil for Laloo’s son-of-the-soil image.

Lonelier on top

The friends, say insiders, have bickered before, but the tiffs were transient. The belligerence was missing. This time, however, the hostility has reached a flashpoint. Ranjan’s outburst has its roots in allegations of Laloo’s increasing pro-Brahmin bias.

His core group, comprising Shivanand Tiwary, an upper caste Brahmin, Jagdanand Singh, a Rajput, Shakuni Chowdhury, a Koeri and Ramchandra Purve, a non-Yadav, seems to have rubbed Ranjan up the wrong way. Tiwari, fondly addressed as “Baba”, virtually calls the shots in the party. The official RJD spokesman, Tiwari has been instrumental in marginalizing the Yadav lobby and incurring Ranjan’s wrath in the process.

Laloo has been unfair to his party ideologue, who burnt the midnight oil to draft the RJD constitution, frame policies and conjure up credible poll manifestos. The target, according to Ranjan aides, is not Laloo, but the Brahmin and Rajput heavyweights dictating terms to the backward brigade.

Though Laloo Yadav has asked his old friend to “mend his ways”, a rapprochement is unlikley. It seems that the RJD chief is gearing up to expel Ranjan from the party in the general convention. If thrown out, Laloo stands to lose the last “friendly outpost”. Those around him are his traditional caste enemies.

Despite the show of bravado, Laloo Yadav is a lonely man. Most of the Janata Dal old timers have deserted him. Devi Lal, Sharad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan — the list is long. Ranjan was the last of the Mohicans and his exit heralds an uncertain future for beleaguered Laloo, specially at a time when the Central Bureau of Investigation dragnet is closing in on him. A politician without a confidante is always on an unwieldy pitch.


The attacks last week on Border Security Force posts in Assam and Meghalaya by contingents of the Bangladesh Rifles and the Bangladesh army and the brutal killing of 16 BSF personnel have exposed some of the hitherto concealed semi-realities of India-Bangladesh relations. The events also portend serious threats ahead to the security and stability of India’s eastern and northeastern peripheral regions.

It may be politically and diplomatically correct to project these atrocities by the armed forces of a friendly country as “aberrations” or the outcome of ‘‘local level adventure”, but from all indications, the totally unwarranted action from the Bangladesh side was a pre-planned act of aggression. The attacks on the BSF were preceded by massive mobilization of men from cantonments as far away as Mymensingh and other garrisons. No local level adventurist could have pulled together such a huge invasionary fighting force without the approval and logistics support from higher formations, including the BDR and army headquarters.

The scale of the attacks on the BSF and the gruesome killing of its jawans had the potential of triggering a massive backlash. It goes to the credit of the Indian .ities that their restraint and firm handling quickly defused the crisis, at least for the time being. But the trail of bitterness left by this barbarity will continue to fuel tensions between the two border forces.

Bangladesh, surrounded on three sides by India, preceives India as the only source of threat to its security, although it owes its liberation from Pakistan to the immense sacrifices made by this neighbour. Despite India giving Bangladesh all possible support, Dhaka has been expanding its armed forces and procuring sophisticated weapons and combat equipment, including F-16 fighter aircraft. In their simulated war games, the Bangladesh defence forces always project India as the aggressor, which strengthens the anti-India orientation of the military outfits. Training of Bangladeshi military personnel in Pakistan and China has sharpened anti-India sentiments in Dhaka’s military establishment. Recruitment of communal and pro-Pakistan elements, including cadets of the fiercely fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami during the Ershad and Bangladesh National Party regimes also contributed to this anti-India force-profile.

Termination of the bilateral friendship treaty by the Begum Khaleda Zia government amidst sustained anti-India propaganda, with encouragement and support from Pakistan and international Islamic non-governmental organizations, aggravated the feeling of hatred towards India both in the armed forces and the Bangladeshi population.

At the root of the susceptibility of Bangladeshis to anti-India propaganda is their yet to be resolved crisis of national identity. Bangladeshis are still unable to decide whether at their core they are Bengali first and Muslim next or vice-versa. This has created conflicting loyalties within Bangladeshis with regard to the Bengali language and cultural heritage on the one hand and Islam, which is the religion of the majority, on the other. Buffetted by these contrary pulls and pressures, large sections of the population, as also the armed forces, have been deeply influenced by the pro-Pakistan, communal and fundamentalist propaganda against the nationalist, democratic and secular commitments of the Bangladesh constitution.

Islamization of the constitution started in the era of Zia-ur Rehman and continued under H.M. Ershad, who declared Islam as the state religion. The professedly secular government of Hasina Wajed has not dared to reverse the process, although it has taken a few bold steps against the pro-Pakistan forces. The arrest and trial of former military officers who assassinated Sheikh Mujibur Rehman in 1975, stern action against atrocities perpetrated in the name of the Shariat by mullahs and other obscurantist forces, have generated strong resentment among the opposition groups. The recent legislation rescinding the infamous Vested Property Act, which deprived Hindus of their ancestral properties, has also stirred a hornet’s nest.

The political confrontation between the ruling Awami League and the four-party opposition alliance comprising the BNP, Jatiya Party of Ershad, Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Aikya Jote has acquired a sharper edge with general elections drawing closer in Bangladesh. Besides prolonged boycott of the parliament, the opposition has taken to violent agitation on the streets, projecting the government as India’s lackey. This despite the Awami League government having successfully resolved the longstanding Ganga water-sharing dispute, the many trade and other concessions extracted from India and the introduction of regular bus services between Dhaka and Calcutta, which has facilitated travel between the two countries. The extension of rail service for carriage of goods between the countries has also given a new momentum to bilateral trade and commerce.

These achievements, coupled with the spectacular progress of the Awami League government in agricultural production, industrialization and substantial improvement in the banking and other financial sectors, have greatly increased the popularity of the incumbent government. The frustrated opposition, alarmed at the prospects of electoral defeat for a second time has stepped up its anti-India tirade. On its part, Pakistan has stepped in to fish in troubled waters and is providing all possible support to heighten the anti-India propaganda.

With a desperate BNP-led opposition intent on trying out every means, fair or foul, to throw out government, it is possible that a nexus with the pro-Pakistani elements in the armed forces has been worked out to embarrass the Awami League government by driving a wedge between New Delhi and Dhaka. Although no specific evidence has surfaced yet, the possibility of sections of the armed forces, ill-disposed towards the present government, having had a hand in the Boraibari mayhem cannot be ruled out.

Regardless of the political complexion of the act of aggression by the Bangladeshi armed forces, the incident has ominous implications for the stability of Bangladesh and the security of the eastern and northeastern regions of India. The Bangladesh military is incorrigibly power-crazy and prone to meddle in politics. As late as early 1996, the army was responsible for a botched up coup attempt. The capture of power by General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan may have given ideas to adventurist pro-Pakistan elements in the Bangladesh armed forces, particularly in the context of the sharpening conflict between the ruling Awami League and the opposition. The military regime in Pakistan will not be found wanting in doing its bit to encourage a military seizure of power.

The Inter-Services Intelligence, which was trying to destablize India from bases in the Himalayan Kingdom, is currently facing adverse action from the Nepalese security services. The face-off between the border security forces of India and Bangladesh comes as a god-send opportunity for the ISI to make up its losses in Nepal by stepping up operations from Bangladesh. An immediate fall-out of the increased cooperation between the Pakistani agencies and their Bangladeshi counterparts could be a renewed thrust to insurgencies in northeast India. Though the Awami League government has significantly curbed the activities of the United Liberation Front of Asom, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), National Liberation Front of Tripura and Bodo and Meitei rebels in Bangladesh, the fact remains that Paresh Barua, the ULFA army chief and some other leaders of the outfit, continue to be sheltered in Dhaka. The Bangladesh armed forces in close collaboration with the ISI could now encourage and assist the Indian insurgent groups to step up their war against India.

In such an event, the ongoing negotiations between the rebel outfits and the Indian government, including the existing ceasefire arrangements with the NSCN(I-M), could collapse. In any case, the tension on the India-Bangladesh border and the possible resumption of hostilities by the northeastern insurgents will necessitate deployment of additional forces by India on its eastern and north-eastern flanks. Pakistan will no doubt relish such a development as it would relieve its armed forces significantly of the Indian pressure in the western sector, particularly along the line of actual control.


The Union finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, announced recently that the role of the securities and exchange board of India in the stock market scandal will be investigated and the board, if found guilty, will be punished. Soon after the scandal had broken, Sebi on March 5 had promptly announced risk management measures to fight volatility at bourses. However, the action does not seem to have been enough to secure the interests of the small investors.

A small investor is one who holds a small number of shares in different companies for a considerable time in expectation of capital appreciation of his holdings. Section 11(1) of the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992, states that it shall be the duty of Sebi to protect the interest of the investors in securities and promote the development of the securities market and regulate it.

Rough and tough?

In keeping with the legislation, Sebi took a tough stand against alleged price manipulations by both domestic investors and some foreign institutional investors and decided to examine deals carried out by certain broking companies. It proposed to reduce the threshold limit for applicability of volatility margin from 80 per cent to 60 per cent. The rates of volatility margin and other slabs were to remain unchanged. On March 7, Sebi asked all market participants to undertake sales transaction of shares backed by delivery with effect from the next day except where a sale transaction is proceeded by a purchase position of at least an equivalent amount in the name of the same client in the same or any other exchange. The most stringent action was taken on March 15. Proposing drastic measures to protect investors from market manipulation, Sebi decided to introduce a code of ethics for directors and functionaries of stock exchanges and suggested the introduction of at least 200 top scrips to “on the spot compulsory rolling settlement process” by July 1.

Measures for measure

Only time will tell how far these measures would prove to be effective in protecting investors’ interests. But one thing is definite. When speculators were manipulating the market to their advantage, the process almost went unchecked for a considerable period without interference from the market regulators. Sebi woke up to it only after it was conveyed that the finance minister was outraged by the happenings. For whose interest are the regulators working then?

The Central government is supposed to set up an investor protection and education fund under the Companies’ Act shortly. Right now the government is finalizing the rules that would govern the fund with the help of the comptroller and auditor general, the ministry of finance, the Reserve Bank of India, the Sebi and ministry of law and department of company affairs. The committee aims to inform and enlighten investors. But will the measure prove effective?



Men at work

Sir — The old warrior, Jyoti Basu, is following his party’s prescription of a public meeting a day like an obedient patient (“Metalled carpet for rally-a-day Basu”, April 21). Basu’s reason for campaigning for the Left Front perhaps has nothing to do with his altruism or party-loyalty. Voters will judge the Left Front on the basis of Basu’s performance over the last five years, and not that of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee over the last few months. As such, Basu has little option but to go to the people with the factsheet of his tenure. That this is not a particularly brilliant one is evident from the fact that brick-laid paths had to be touched up with stone chips prior to Basu’s meeting in Dhuliyan. This is in violation of the Election Commission’s directive that no development work should be undertaken after the notification of the election date. Whether the ad hoc road repair, done in the garb of ensuring comfort for the 87-year old comrade, will after all impress the electorate is something only the ballots boxes will reveal.
Yours faithfully,
Sunil Kumar Tarafdar, Howrah

Quantitative worries

Sir — Like Ashok Mitra, everyone would be wise to read the writing on the wall (“The great surrender”, April 11). The government’s decision to lift quantitative restrictions in two phases on the import of 714 and 715 commodities over the last two years in accordance with the World Trade Organization regulations, is going to prove costly for the Indian economy.

The decisionmakers would try to defend themselves by repeating time and again that this move would ensure the improvement in the living standards of the people, raise employment, bring about a large and steady growth in the volume of real income and effective demand and expand the production of and trade in goods and services. But the reality is entirely different from the rosy picture conjured up by such rhetoric.

Mitra, as one of the few sensitive economists of the country, warns the readers about the dangers of such a move. There are several shortcomings in the WTO agreement, and they will affect agricultural economies like India more than the industrial economies. For instance, the agreement makes no distinction between subsidies to promote food security and self-reliance. It would be impossible for the government to lend price support to particular agricultural commodities. The access to global markets and the removal of QRs would severely affect the farming community of the country.

The agreement on trade related aspects of investment measures, which calls for the removal of trade related investment measures within five years, is impracticable as well as vague, and cannot help a developing economy like India. The general agreement on tariff and trade rules of 1994, pertaining to the phasing out of the QRs, is likely to affect India’s export-oriented growth. The general agreement on trade and services goes against the interest of the country, as does the agreement on trade related aspects of intellectual property rights.

It is still unknown how long India has to wait to realize the objectives of the WTO agreement. If one does not heed Mitra’s warning, it may well be that the one per cent of the population, whom the clauses of the agreement favours, will flourish, while the remaining 99 per cent is left to perish in misery.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Kumar Guha Roy, Durgapur

Sir — The boost given to the agricultural sector in the export-import policy for 2001-2002 by the Union commerce minister, Murasoli Maran, is laudable. At a time when information technology and cars and consumer goods are given priority, the poor farmers have been given some reason to think that all is not lost for them.

In the progression towards a market economy, it is taken for granted that the urban sector will come to the forefront. But in a democracy, and particularly in a primarily agricultural democracy like India, the economic development of the larger chunk of the population has to be ensured. The media should focus on the fact that India is trying to push its farm items abroad rather than make headlines like “Doors open for world of choice and threat” (April 1).

Yours faithfully,
Rajeev Bagra, Calcutta

Sir — The 2001-02 exim policy, with the removal of QRs on the remaining 714 items, is a step in the right direction for an eventual economic integration of the world. This will ensure more income and higher prices for the produce of the land for Indian farmers. The rich will have the privilege of buying items of quality for a price and the government will get additional revenue.

The money kept in hidden closets will come out, while smugglers will be deprived of their routine cuts. As a result, a sense of honesty will creep back into the system. The members of the opposition who are crying foul saying that imports will kill domestic industry are wrong, because there will be imports only to the extent that the Indian people are capable of buying. This is inevitable. Imports will also give a natural boost to exports, and foreign exchange will pour in, because Indian goods, especially farm products and software items, are upto world standards.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — It is true that the removal of QRs on imports will bring in a host of foreign goods into the Indian market, which will make the foreign brands lower their prices to survive the competition from domestic products. But is it difficult to visualize Indian producers also hiking their prices, knowing full well that the alternatives before the consumer are far more expensive than their products?

Yours faithfully,
Seema Ghosal, Calcutta

That humane science

Sir — As Sukanta Chaudhuri rightly points out in “Whither humanities?” (April 8), there is no doubt that humanities has advanced the growth of civilization. Yet today, this branch of learning lies in a sorry state. In a world governed by hard economics, literature and art can hardly survive.

The decline of the arts began with the advance of science and it was the industrial revolution which gave it the rudest shock. The writings of the utilitarian philosophers and classical economists changed the current of human thought. Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy and the teaching of political economy made England the centre of materialism. The greatest advocates of humanities in this age were Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin and Matthew Arnold. They struggled to retain the ancient glory of the humanities. However, with the turn of the century, humanities lost ground to trade and technology. The plight of Greek and Latin in the Oxford and Cambridge universities and of Sanskrit and Pali in the Indian universities is only a continuation of this dismal trend.

Ironically, the modern languages are not secure either. The pull of science and industry might ultimately succeed in depleting the humanities classroom completely.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The best and even the not so good brains nowadays go for the technical courses which promise to fetch a job. The craze for private engineering colleges which ask for an enormous amount as capitation fee should serve as an indication. The obsession with technical courses is also harming scientific research.

Technology cannot stand without a grounding in science. For future technological advancement, we cannot afford to ignore scientific research.

As for humanities, it should be kept in mind that “man shall not live by bread alone”. To encourage the study of humanities, the curriculum should accommodate more contemporary theories. Apart from one university, no other university in West Bengal imparts quality education in this area. The government should improve the standard of education in humanities. Refresher courses for teachers to keep them informed of the latest researches should become routine.

Yours faithfully,
Nilanjan Biswas, Malda

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