Editorial 1 / Cadre terror
Editorial 2 / Boys’ own site
Tehelka notwithstanding
Fifth Column / Lip service to the armed forces
Race for the gravy
Things are still a little out of focus
Letters tto the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CADRE TERROR 
 
 
 
 
A possible domino-effect of the violence in Keshpur might puncture the optimism of the chief election commissioner, Mr M.S. Gill. The latter has commented that the law and order situation in West Bengal is favourable for the elections scheduled to be held on May 10. Mr Gill’s statement is obviously based on reports that he has received from the state administration and from his colleagues who are supervising the elaborate election operations in West Bengal. The incident in Keshpur which led to the arrest of 51 persons and the recovery of large numbers of guns and a huge quantity of ammunition can only serve as a warning. It is a sign that violence lurks below the surface of daily life in West Bengal. This sign should not be ignored. One major reason for this kind of violent eruption — this is not the first clash in Keshpur — is the accumulation of arms in parts of the rural world. There has been no official explanation of the fact that some houses in some villages have become virtual arsenals. Such a thing can be the result of a fatal combination of intelligence failure, police incompetence and political patronage. The two major political parties of West Bengal, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Trinamool Congress, inevitably trade charges whenever a political clash takes place. But they never seek to explain how their cadre came to possess arms. Both parties, it is obvious to any observer, are prepared for violence. This should send an ominous signal to Mr Gill.

There is one other related piece of information that Mr Gill must take into consideration when he evaluates the West Bengal situation. The director general of police, Mr Dipak Sanyal, who retired on Monday, admitted that the police had failed to completely curb violence in Midnapore. He related this failure to the lack of goodwill and cooperation of political parties. This admission supports the point made earlier that violence is simmering in Midnapore. There is something even more sinister in Mr Sanyal’s farewell statement. He has made it clear that the state police is obstructed in its duties by political parties. The law and order machinery in the state is thus not free from political pressure. For reducing the police to this plight the Left Front has to bear responsibility. During its long tenure in power, the left has successfully blurred the distinction between party and government. One consequence of this is the subservience of the police to the headquarters of the CPI(M) in Alimuddin Street. Thus the police is either inactive or partisan when CPI(M) cadre are involved in a political clash. Keshpur is a recurrent example of this kind of abuse of power. Keshpur, one hopes, will be an isolated incident but that should not make Mr Gill overlook the history of violence. The battle for control has probably been already lost and won.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BOYS’ OWN SITE 
 
 
 
 
The internet redefines freedom. It could, therefore, upset accepted notions of surveillance and education — in the widest sense of these words. The 16-year-old schoolboy in New Delhi — who has allegedly created a website full of graphic sexual malice towards his classmates and teachers — has been granted bail by the juvenile justice court. But the principal of his school does not want him back, since she is quite sure that he would spoil the school’s “moral tone”. The witch-hunt mentality is evident here. This is particularly unfortunate in an educationist, for whom the ethical challenge posed by the internet could well have been an opportunity for extending the frontiers of “moral” education itself. This challenge will have to be reckoned with by schools, guardians and peer groups, and this is a specific version of the perennial conflict between individual liberty and its social limits. That these particular reckonings take place within a democracy committed to the freedom of expression does not make things any easier.

The internet, with its infinite potential for anonymous interaction, could easily become a fantasy space. In this irreversibly modern combination of liberty and anonymity lies its chief thrills and dangers. To express official outrage at an apparently innocuous schoolboy living a double cyber-life only exposes the ignorance and naivety of the school regarding the nature of the sexual imagination. Nor will it help to identify peer-group ostracization or sexual misbehaviour as causes or indications of such private conduct. The continuing concern and enquiries of the boy’s classmates, and the realistic empathy of the jury are far more reasonable and humane than the punitive attitude of his school. Modern education — in school and at home — must prepare children to use responsibly, ethically and creatively the liberties that technology increasingly makes available to them. In this, puritanical excess and callous laxity could be equally harmful. And this is also true for the regulatory bodies in India that are yet to shed their knee-jerk anxieties and insecurity regarding the freedoms afforded by the internet. The experience of framing, passing and trying to implement the Information Technology Act should point up the practical impossibility and ethical difficulties of trying to discipline and punish internet-users. Installing filtering software in servers or “nanny” packages in personal computers, and maintaining complete records of all sites visited by customers at cybercafés are a form of ineffectual paranoia that is being recognized as politically unacceptable in India and abroad. The rearing and education of children must result in the healthy accommodation of a wide and shifting range of freedoms and fantasies. Paranoid control is as pathological as secret malice.

   

 
 
TEHELKA NOTWITHSTANDING 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
Indian diplomats in North America don’t know whether they should be pleased or disappointed at their government’s decision to move N.K. Singh from the prime minister’s office to the planning commission. Since the formalities for posting Singh as India’s next high commissioner to Canada had been all but completed many months ago, they have mixed feelings about a decision which finally brings down the curtain on what could have been this controversial super-bureaucrat’s second incarnation as a diplomat: the first was in Tokyo a long time ago. Singh would have added both style and substance to the envoy’s job in Ottawa at a time when Indo-Canadian ties are on the upswing after a two-year chill caused by the Pokhran II nuclear tests ordered by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.

After all, stories about his taste for the good things in life are legion. No other Indian bureaucrat is known to have used stretch limousines on official trips abroad, none else is known to have stayed in suites in settings like the French Riviera on the Indian government’s daily allowance while attending multilateral meetings. The bullet proof car which the Indian high commissioner in Ottawa uses would have undoubtedly gone through an upgrade had Singh been posted to Canada. The high commissioner’s chauffeur now has to be content with what he has been driving his boss in. For reasons such as this, the staff at the Indian missions in Canada are disappointed.

Canadians are now regretting their ill-advised decision after the nuclear tests in 1998 to trim bilateral relations with India. Since they have some catching up to do with others who have deepened economic ties with India in the last two and a half years, Singh would have spotted immense business opportunities in Indo-Canadian interaction had he moved to Canada. Indian diplomats are relieved that the scandals and controversy which would then have inevitably followed Singh from New Delhi to Ottawa won’t be there any more.

Columnists and correspondents who cover North America for the Indian media regret that the colourful and juicy copy which Singh’s tenure in Ottawa would have yielded in the next three years will just not be there. But then Singh’s posting to the planning commission is only the side story of this column. The main plot, of course, is the speculation which his transfer has rekindled about the Tehelka fallout and the shape of things to come in New Delhi.

The conventional wisdom among the know-alls in New Delhi is to suggest that any attack on a prime minister’s aide or a powerful minister is actually a proxy attack on the prime minister. When V.K. Krishna Menon was hounded out of government, it was construed as a proxy war by those who wanted to get at Jawaharlal Nehru. When L.N. Mishra was under attack, it was said that the attempt was to weaken Indira Gandhi by removing the ground from under the feet of her powerful railway minister. So there was nothing new in the argument that by seeking the removal of Singh and the prime minister’s principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s detractors were hoping to weaken and rein in the prime minister.

But in this case, this is only partly true. The real target in the campaign of calumny and slander which New Delhi has witnessed in the last one and a half months is the prime minister’s principal secretary himself. Unfortunately, the government is in no position to openly acknowledge this or counter the campaign for what it truly represents.

On March 28, the day India’s geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle was to blast off into space, this columnist arranged to have a random check of offices on Raisina Hill on the response there to the crucial space mission. After all, the GSLV launch was crucially linked to India’s ability to flaunt inter-continental ballistic missiles, and mount surveillance and communication for military purposes. Only five countries in the world now have this capability: the multi-million-dollar satellite business worldwide is also the preserve of these five states.

However, this random check on Raisina Hill yielded the startling discovery that secretaries in various ministries who should have been sitting with their hearts in their mouths monitoring the blast-off were doing nothing of that sort. Worse, some secretaries to the Indian government only had a vague recollection that the launch of the satellite was taking place that afternoon.

Brajesh Mishra, on the other hand, had cancelled all his appointments. He sat glued to the television set in his office, taking in every detail of the launch. He switched off the TV set the moment the launch was aborted and got down to other business. The attempt here is not to make an extraordinary virtue of his commitment to India’s space programme, notwithstanding the fact that it is a commitment which others with near-equal seniority in the bureaucratic hierarchy in New Delhi obviously lack.

What is important is that Mishra backs his commitment up with the kind of daring which few others in the National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi are capable of. And a factor aiding Mishra in this boldness which is alien to the Indian bureaucracy is his extraordinary ability to network worldwide.

The government may put on a brave front, but India’s space programme is severely handicapped by the sanctions on the country following the nuclear tests in 1998 and New Delhi’s just refusal to fall in line with the big-power dictates on arms control and non-proliferation.

When the GSLV launch was being planned, India’s space scientists made it clear that the blast off would be impossible without certain equipment which they could not procure because of the sanctions. Soon a global quest was under way for this equipment.

Promptly, Russia offered to supply it. But after carefully weighing the Russian offer, it was decided that it would be rejected, the main consideration having been the state of Russia’s space industry after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its celebrated space programme. An advanced west European country then offered to supply the sanctioned equipment, but at three times the normal price. After all, there are no friendships in business, and in any case, the country in question said this was the price to be paid for incurring Washington’s wrath if it went ahead and gave the equipment to India. New Delhi concluded it was not going to pay the exorbitant price demanded by the west European government.

At this stage, Mishra took the matter into his hands. He got in touch with an African head of government and persuaded that African government to buy the equipment from the West European country at normal market price. The African state then resold the equipment to India at the same price.

Mishra’s enemies abroad who want to see him out of this government are the same people who have been variously advising, cajoling and threatening India not to exercise its nuclear option. They want to prevent the country from growing too big for its boots, as they see it. These people are aware that without Mishra’s presence in South Block and in 7, Race Course Road, Vajpayee’s vision of a strong and influential India in world affairs will remain a mere fantasy.

On the other hand, those within India who are gunning for the prime minister’s principal secretary are by no means anti-Indian. But they are simply unaware of what Mishra has done for India and for its place in the world since he assumed office in South Block in 1998. Much of what he has achieved has been secured through a combination of stealth, daring and bravado, guided always by what the BJP and its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, envisioned for India for decades. Unfortunately, it is a vision which many in the BJP who are now opposed to Mishra have been willing to jettison in their search for compromises for the sake of office.

Lest anyone should doubt the story of how Mishra acquired the satellite equipment for India through stealth, it is necessary to go back in time. For close to six years in the Eighties, Mishra was United Nations commissioner for Namibia. In that role, he oversaw much of Namibia’s transition to independence. During those years, he mostly lived in Zambia, then a frontline state in the struggle against apartheid in Africa. Mishra’s personal friendship with many of today’s African heads of state and government, therefore, surpasses that of any other Indian diplomat or politician.

When Vajpayee was in Namibia two years ago, it was jokingly said in its capital, Windhoek, that there were two chief guests on that state visit — the prime minister and his principal secretary. Mishra was a hero to all Namibians throughout the visit — he had steered them through the crucial years to independence. Fortunately, Vajpayee knows too well what his principal secretary is worth, Tehelka notwithstanding.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / LIP SERVICE TO THE ARMED FORCES 
 
 
BY P.K. VASUDEVA
 
 
A limited Kargil war was a blessing in disguise, because India’s intelligence failure, shortage of essential war equipment and ammunition, and lack of coordination between the services and the ministry of defence came out in the open. Responding to pressure from the public and the media, the government set up a committee under K. Subrahmanyam to look into the lapses leading to the intrusions and their aftermath. The Subrahmanyam committee recommended, among other things, the appointment of a chief of defence staff on the lines of the joint chief of staff of the United States armed forces.

The group of ministers under L.K. Advani, following the recommendations of the task force headed by Arun Singh, approved the appointment of the seniormost service chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar of the Indian navy, as the CDS.

The difference between the JCS of the US army and the CDS of the Indian armed forces is that the JCS, as part of the US department of defence, is involved in all strategic decision-making. The CDS and all the branches of the Indian armed forces will continue to remain outside the policy-forming apparatus, the ministry of defence. General Colin Powell, a former JCS, is now the US secretary of state. In India, it is inconceivable that the CDS will ever fill in the shoes of Jaswant Singh or Advani.

Bureaucrats supreme

The GoM is also believed to have recommended the elevation of the defence secretary to the post of principal defence secretary. This will ensure that the bureaucracy remains supreme in the defence ministry. So the CDS will be a mere titular head and the armed forces will remain where they were.

Unless the ministry of defence is integrated with the service headquarters, that is, the army, navy and the air force, and their nuclear command is put under the CDS, no useful purpose will be served by the creation of the new post. India is already paying the price for the lack of strategic planning despite having a national security adviser and a national security council.

The prime minister and the defence minister must take into consideration the views of the armed forces on strategic planning through the CDS. To avoid embarrassing situations like the Chinese debacle of 1962, the Kargil intrusion, underhand arms deals, the massacre of Border Security Force jawans by Bangladesh Rifles men and so on, the government has to allot to the CDS a role similar to the JCS in the US. He must be involved in the decision-making process.

Cosmetics in place

There have been several MiG-21 accidents in the recent past resulting in the death of a number of pilots. Who is responsible for these deaths in the routine flights in obsolete aircraft? The main cause of the deaths has been the lack of training on fast moving modern jet trainers. The purchase of Advance Jet Trainers is hanging fire for over 16 years. The price of one AJT has gone up from £5 million to £18 million during this period, and there is still no sign of its purchase. A large number of Indian soldiers died in Kargil for the lack of high altitude snow equipment. Who is accountable for the deaths of these soldiers and pilots?

When the Indian air force recommended the purchase of Jaguar aircraft and support equipment in 1973, they were to cost Rs 550 crore. The Jaguars were bought six years later at a cost of Rs 1,700 crore. The list can go on.

The armed forces need a large quantity of modern weapons, arms and ammunition to combat the superior weapons system of our neighbouring countries. The armed forces have been crying hoarse for years about the need to make the country self-sufficient in the weapons system by manufacturing the main weapons indigenously. But the ministry of defence is turning a deaf ear, while the bureaucracy has been chanting the mantra of “civilian supremacy”.

By appointing itself between the professional armed forces and the democratically elected government, the unelected and unaccountable bureaucracy has proven itself to be singularly adept at mismanaging the defence establishment. Unless we accept this truth, the appointment of the CDS will only be a cosmetic exercise.

There is no sign yet that this cosmetic addition will change the ad hoc functioning of the defence structure of the world’s largest democracy.

   

 
 
RACE FOR THE GRAVY 
 
 
BY SHRABANI BASU
 
 
So the humble chicken tikka masala had its moment of glory! No less than the British foreign secretary has endorsed it as Britain’s national dish. And if you are one of those who still think British food is fish and chips or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, your views belong to the last century. Robin Cook stated that CTM (as it is known in the curry industry) is not only the favourite dish, but also symbolic of the fact that Britain is a multi-cultural society that absorbed all races and cultures. That Britain is Anglo-Saxon is a myth, he said, suggesting that he enjoyed no more a monopoly on Britishness than his friendly Patel newsagent. The statement was bound to rile the mainstream right-wing British press.

Cook’s claims on CTM were no surprise. As an avid curry-watcher, having written a book about how the Brits have been wooed by curry, it was, to me, nothing new. Two years ago, when the book had been published, it had led to a major stir in the British media, because I had said chicken tikka masala was a British invention, created for the British palate. It didn’t exist in India and was now being actually exported back to India, as I had spotted it on restaurant menus back home.

The phone didn’t stop ringing after that. A reporter from The Sun — that right-wing, Paki-bashing tabloid whose readers typically devour CTM — was on the phone to me wanting the Full Monty on CTM. A television chat show wanted to bring a particularly ghastly lurid-red specimen of the stuff and check out a claim that “in parts of Yorkshire, the dish glowed in the dark”. I gently opted out. The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian carried front-page stories about Britain’s new export. For the uninitiated, CTM is actually a firm favourite. Cook had not — as he is prone to do (some will remember his disastrous trip to India with the Queen in 1997) — put his foot in his mouth.

Exhaustive surveys have shown that it is the dish Brits mechanically order when they enter their High Street curry joint, or the dish they take away from the chilled counters of supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda. Marks and Spencer sells 18 tonnes of the stuff every week and has a chicken tikka sandwich, which is a favourite lunch-time snack. Even Parisians wept when their branch of M&S was closed down recently, saying they would miss those wonderful chicken tikka sandwiches.

To come back to the point, pleased though the media were when I said it was a British dish, they didn’t quite enjoy it when Captain Cook told them that it meant they were raceless. That hurt the Anglo-Saxon pride and predictably the papers went into full gear to decry both Cook and the offending dish that had reduced them to this half-caste state. The irony in Cook’s brave pre-election statement (interpreted as wooing ethnic minorities, hitting the Tories where it hurt, etc) was that while he made a plea about multi-culturalism, in effect the reality was quite different. Fondness for CTM was one thing. Loving the “hand that makes the CTM” quite another.

In fact, those who slaved long hours to bring the curry and CTM to the current “favourite dish” status, are nearly all Bangladeshis from Sylhet who set up the Indian restaurants as a means of survival. Today, the Bangladeshis are the poorest community in Britain, with the worst education, housing and employment levels. You can still get your head kicked in and your ribs broken by racists in the East End of London where the vast majority of Bangladeshis live. In the Fifties, when Britain was wallowing in the raj hangover and yearning for both the Empire and spices, the Bangladeshi restaurants found ready takers. Decorated with flock wallpaper with names like Last Days of the Raj, or Viceroy of India, the restaurants willingly recreated the sights and smells of the Empire. Though the fish-and-rice eating Bangladeshis knew nothing about north Indian food, they happily cooked it and adapted it (with dollops of cream and tomato puree) for British palates. A whole new cuisine was born and would grow to make the culinary revolution.

Over the Seventies and the Eighties, the restaurants grew rapidly. Today, there are more than 8,000 Indian restaurants in Britain, and London claims to be the curry capital of the world. Along with the curry came the image. Eating the hottest of vindaloos was every English yob’s initiation into manhood. The worst of the lager louts flocked to the curry houses after the pubs had closed and sweated it out over pints of lager and vindaloo, often racially abusing the soft-spoken Bangladeshi waiter and restaurant owner. Over the Seventies and the Eighties, some of the worst racial attacks took place in the curry houses. But they survived. The supermarkets took off from the restaurants and soon enterprising Indians like G.K. Noon and Perween Warssi were minting money supplying readymade factory food to supermarkets to fill the ever-growing appetite for curry.

With CTM as his guiding light, Cook called for more immigration, more racial harmony and tolerance. It was actually a carefully calculated move to put the Tories on the backfoot. A few days after the famous “chicken tikka speech”, the commission for racial equality, an independent body funded by the Home Office, and presently headed by a radical Sikh, Gurbux Singh, released the names of Tories who had refused to sign a declaration that they would not allow race to be an issue in the coming elections. All other party leaders and members had signed it. It led to the pathetic sight of Conservative leader, William Hague, defending his front benchers and in turn accusing Cook of playing the race card.

Recently, the papers were full of the story of how a World War II veteran had been attacked by a gang of Asian youth who had kicked and punched him and told him to get out of “their” area. Asian gangs in Oldham, in northern England, are apparently reclaiming the land and becoming as aggressive as the racist thugs who had plastered them before. It led to another outcry in the papers. But while racial attacks on blacks and Asians take place regularly in Britain, few make it to the newspapers. The murderers of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager who was attacked at a bus-stop, are still to be caught. The Leeds footballers, who attacked an Asian youth outside a night-club, may walk away too. That trial has been called off. Ricky Reel’s mother is still campaigning to find her son’s killers. The police has closed the case saying it was an accident. The list is lengthy.

Cook has opened the Pandora’s box. Race, immigration and asylum have become some of the most visible issues in this election. And all thanks to chicken tikka masala! Like CTM, they may even be a winner. After all when the count-up begins, ethnic votes matter.

   

 
 
THINGS ARE STILL A LITTLE OUT OF FOCUS 
 
 
BY UJJWAL K. CHOWDHURY
 
 
Gujarat is currently the battleground for the warriors of peace and relief — the Indian armed forces and paramilitary organizations, rescue teams of 14 nations and innumerable relief teams of citizens and voluntary organizations, many of whom are entirely new to the operation. Gujarat is a battleground for the media as well. Mediamen of all hues swarmed to the state to make a killing. The electronic media in fact never had it so “good” and it made the most of it through round-the-clock updates and visuals.

Two months after the catastrophe, questions arise about the tone, scope and method of media coverage on this worst-ever natural calamity in independent India. The story of death and destruction was told well by the Indian media. But there were reasons for that. There has been a phenomenal growth of television as a medium over the last decade. Besides, inter-channel rivalry, V-sat uplinking, the internet, satellite telephony and the ease with which still visuals can now be transferred obviously helped. However, the media failed to go beyond the obvious.

What it missed

While field-reporting was commendable, research, insight, perspectives and direction to policy-makers and citizens suffered. Even the reporting was limited to death, destruction and bureaucratic responses. There were few stories on how the grief-stricken helped the other equally unfortunate ones. There were hardly any positive stories on how caste and communal differences in a sharply stratified Gujarat society had almost vanished, how community living had given birth to a new way of looking at life. The state might have failed, but the people did not. But human interest stories in the media largely ended with stories of rescue and visuals of voluntary relief work.

There was no reports that could guide the rescue work. The transit problems of the professional rescue teams from abroad, and not their methods of rescue, were talked about. The Japanese team-leader came with documents on rescue and relief measures taken during the recurring earthquakes in Japan. Neither the media nor the government made use of them. The lessons from Latur were hardly discussed.

Where to look

The negative tone of the media rightly criticized the almost non-existent role of the government. But it did not elaborate what it meant by administrative “coordination”, how it should be created and manned or what kind of crisis management could be undertaken. While several leading newspapers in the West gave graphic description of networks to be created to handle similar crises, the scope of operation and terms of reference of such networks, the Indian media went on beating about the bush.

The media also failed to give any guidelines to the citizens and voluntary organizations regarding relief needs in the affected areas. As a result, while cooked food and perishable items were wasted, the absence of tents, blankets, medicines and the like caused a lot of suffering among the survivors. The local vernacular print media seemed obsessed with the death toll. By publicizing astrological predictions regarding the recurrence of tremors, it added to the panic. Even the local English media, which takes pride in its rational profile, did nothing to combat the situation.

Telling the truth is not the only responsibility of the media. It also has to mediate social change. The Indian media came a cropper on the latter in this crisis. The media must report on rehabilitation policies, but it must also try to provide the administration with the information necessary to carry out the process. The nation has to be educated in handling various aspects of a crisis and the media has to step in to provide the required assistance.

   

 
 
LETTERS TTO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Unfair screenplay

Sir — The move of the state election commission to ban the telecast of films and serials featuring actors contesting in the coming assembly elections is bizarre, if not draconian (“TV blackout for poll stars”, April 24). The move may have been justified in the days of state-sponsored audio-visual media, but certainly not in the Prasar Bharati era. If a candidate can boast of his achievements — roads, parks, flyovers and so on — to woo the voters, why can’t another display his/her contribution to the arts and entertainment? After all, the Constitution guarantees the “freedom to practise any profession”. Does not the ban encroach upon that freedom of the television channels too? If the TV audience prefers films and serials featuring Madhabi Mukherjee or Tapas Pal, and are ready to pay for them, preventing the channels from showing them would be to deprive them of their rightful revenue. Also, can the ban be enforced if HBO or STAR Movies beam a Satyajit Ray film with sub-titles featuring Madhabi Mukherjee?

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

Quietly stocked up

Sir — If you give a very good driver the latest version of Mercedes Benz and ask him to drive it at a speed of over 200 kilometres per hour on Indian roads, what would be the result? Not only would it crash, it would leave behind a large number of vehicles badly damaged. The reason? The infrastructure here is not suited to driving at such speeds, even though the American one is.

The recommendation of the securities and exchange board of India panel to start rolling settlement without continuous net settlement provides a close similarity (“Decks cleared for options and futures”, April 28). In India, almost 90 per cent of the trading in stock exchanges is done by individual traders and investors, whereas in the United States, almost 90 per cent of trading is done through mutual funds and institutional investors. The difference in the percentage of delivery-based trades in the two markets is also stark. These basic differences have been conveniently forgotten by Sebi for reasons best known to it.

The Sebi panel recommends starting options and futures in 20 odd index-based scrips. The consequences will be dangerous. The trading volumes will be then largely made up by these 20 scrips and the rest would have to be relegated to the status of Bombay stock exchange B2 scrips for all practical purposes. Does Sebi want to kill the market? The Unit Trust of India and Indian financial institutions will be saddled with a huge bunch of unsaleable scrips quoting at two to three price earnings and will require a fresh bail-out by the finance ministry.

Has Sebi forgotten its experience of scrapping the controller of capital issues formula and advent of the free pricing of public issues in 1994? It was done merely because it is done that way in the US, but the US has strict laws on insider trading and they are implemented. But in India, unscrupulous promoters raised huge sums from the public at exorbitant premiums by manipulating the markets. How many promoters have been asked to refund these amounts with interest to the public in the past seven years? What are the prices of those free-priced shares now? Who is responsible for the huge losses to innocent investors?

Till April 26, Sebi said that rolling settlement will be started from 2.7.2001 with CNS and the stock exchanges were asked to develop the software accordingly. The Sebi panel met on April 26 and surprisingly recommended that there will be no CNS. But the sensitive index was already hurtling from 3649 to 3557 on that day when the markets closed at 3.30 pm, one hour before the Sebi meet was over.

The next day the sensex closed at 3422. It is clear that someone had got the inside information about this shocking decision and had sold off in a big way (probably sold off the momentum stocks which they had bought in the past 10 days). Who leaked this information? It has to be from inside Sebi. One or more of the panel members or officials have played the markets at the cost of the investors.

D.R. Mehta may be aware by now that such people do not trade in their own names. So it will not be sufficient to check whether any of these people had traded that day in their accounts. Such information is passed to players and cash changes hands.

What is required is to examine which officials have assets beyond their known sources of income. Will a probe ever be started? Is Yashwant Sinha listening? He promised that the guilty will be hanged. Now let us see which official is hanged. If this is not insider trading of the highest order, what is? Sebi and finance ministry officials should see the reality of corruption in the system and then take far-reaching decisions which affect the markets. Else, whatever little is left with the investors will get wiped out or be transferred to the mighty insiders.

Yours faithfully,
Janardan Kothari, via email

Sir — Sebi, the Reserve Bank of India and all the other regulatory organizations seem to be at a loss about the dark goings on in the stock markets. And the common man who has lost his entire life’s savings is more confused than ever. Why is it that the watchdogs like Sebi and the RBI seem to know the least and all others, particularly the media, seem to know all there is to know?

The skin-saving strategy seems to be find the best scapegoat; hang him now, probe later; appease Parliament. Anand Rathi was virtually sacrificed for a phone call to the surveillance department. Then came the Shankar Sharma episode, followed by the Ketan Parekh scandal. Sebi’s slips have caused the finance ministry and the government endless embarrassment. And still it complains of not having enough teeth.

Yours faithfully,
Kamal Chopra, via email

Role model

Sir —Subhash K. Jha in, “Fly to the top” (April 27), has tried to portray Sushmita Sen as a forthright person whose frankness and no-nonsense attitude have become major obstacles to her success in Bollywood. Jha has even gone to the extent of comparing the rivalry between Zeenat Aman and Hema Malini with that between Sen and Aishwarya Rai.

But Jha seems to be stretching his argument in defence of Sen a bit too far. To say that Sen has the same kind of glamour and talent as screen goddesses like Marilyn Monroe and Sharon Stone is to go against the grain. Is Jha in any way trying to promote Sen?

If Rai gets bigger banners and better roles, it is because she is more talented of the two. Sen should try to put in a better performance. Only that can assure her better roles.

Yours faithfully
Mithileshwar Jha, via email

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