Editorial 1 / Over the shoulder
Editorial 2 / Examination blues
Hopes and fears for growth
Fifth Column / What the dotcoms can really do
Service with a smile
To be the phantom of delight
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / OVER THE SHOULDER 
 
 
 
 
The warning from the United States about the Indian government’s failure to safeguard the interests of religious minorities is challenge to the National Democratic Alliance and more particularly, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s level of consistency. The foreign policy of the present government has a pronounced pro-Washington tilt. There is nothing wrong in this in a unipolar world. It is also a necessary move to correct many years of pro-Moscow bias. The shift in the orientation of foreign policy has had some significant consequences. It has made South Block a little too susceptible to US reactions. A gesture of courtesy inflates India’s ideas of self-importance. A brief mention in the despatches is interpreted as approbation Thus, to take a recent example, the very fact that Mr Jaswant Singh had a meeting with Mr George Bush acquires enormous policy significance even though nothing of real substance emerged from the meeting. The mandarins in the ministry of external affairs cannot really be faulted on this since in the rebuilding of relationships, even a small step or a show of goodwill outside of protocol is important. The problem arises in dealing with the opposite of approval. The report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom is a case in point.

The report makes clear that the commission is unhappy with the Indian government’s handling of religious minorities. It has taken particular objection to the call of Mr K.S. Sudarshan, a prominent leader of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to “nationalize” minority religions and to have “an Indian church”. Well-deserved or not, the criticism is sharp. Under any other circumstances, it would have been perfectly logical for the government of India to point out to the commission and to the US government that the treatment of minorities is an internal matter for India. It could also point out with even greater logic that the RSS is not part of the government, and what the RSS says is its own concern and has nothing to do with official Indian policy. But the situation is not as clear cut as that because the government of India has taken too seriously all gestures of approval to come out of the US. In the name of consistency it cannot now ignore criticism and fears voiced by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. If what the US feels or says is important, then it should include approval and disapproval. The ministry of external affairs, if not the prime minister himself, may thus be caught in a scissors trap.

There is a wider lesson to be learn from this incident. As India becomes a more self-confident nation and emerges on the global field as a player, it must accept that it is being watched by other nations. It can no longer avoid the world’s scrutiny. More and more aspects of Indian public life are opening up to global trends: its markets, its stock exchange, its culture and so on. This has obvious benefits. With those benefits come the glare of attention and surveillance. India’s record on human rights, use of child labour and treatment of religious minorities have all become objects of global surveillance. The report of the commission is witness to this. On the issue of religious minorities, the BJP is particularly vulnerable because of its perceived closeness to Hindutva and the sangh parivar. The BJP needs to clearly demarcate its governmental policies from the rhetoric of the ideological family to which it belongs. Even if it believes that India is a country of/for Hindus, it cannot forget that India also belongs to the community of nations.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / EXAMINATION BLUES 
 
 
 
 
This goes far beyond looking a gift horse in the mouth. It is screwing the eyes firmly shut in case the gift horse becomes visible. There is no other way to describe the rejection of the assessment offered by the National Assessment Accreditation Committee by most of the 340 colleges affiliated to the University of Calcutta. The assessment would allow colleges to ask for financial assistance from the University Grants Commission. Preliminary to that, NAAC would grade the colleges, thus highlighting the strong and weak points of each. Loreto College, which invited assessment, has got five star billing; apparently St Xavier’s College will soon ask to be assessed. Excuses notwithstanding, it is clear the other colleges have something to hide. It may just be the mess their affairs are in. These colleges evidently feel that being ostriches in the middle of a sandstorm is preferable to having access to much-needed funds.

This attitude is an unfortunate characteristic of institutional authorities in West Bengal. Never mind that the services fall short of the mark and reputations plummet, as long as no one knows what is going on, nothing matters. Withering criticism of the state-funded education system and government hospitals has never made any difference to their functioning. The departments in charge of these institutions are complicit in their shoddy performance. No one is ever pulled up. Collective ennui has led to a situation in which even the most reputed colleges of Calcutta feel uncomfortable about external scrutiny. It is not that they are guilty of corruption. They are guilty of disorganization, so that anyone can get away with anything, chiefly with not doing the required work. Fear of ridicule and a false sense of esteem do not help to correct ills. Institutions like Presidency College need funding to preserve their invaluable libraries, to compete with advanced institutions in their laboratories. To run away from scrutiny is to destroy the excellent potential of the already existing infrastructure and of the youngsters who enter hallowed portals with hope. Star billing may turn out to be disconcerting, even embarrassing, at first, but that is the only way the West Bengal colleges can start to upgrade themselves.

   

 
 
HOPES AND FEARS FOR GROWTH 
 
 
BY BHASKAR DUTTA
 
 
Bimal Jalan, the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, has just released the monetary and credit policy for the current year. This is an important policy statement, and is eagerly awaited — what the RBI has to say about crucial monetary parameters is of tremendous importance in our controlled economy. But this year seemed to be different. One reason for this may have been the perception that Jalan seems to have fewer surprises in store for us. More important, the monetary and credit policy statement has been released at a time when most headlines have diverted our attention to the possibility of an impending slowdown of the economy.

For quite some time now, there has been much talk about the strong possibility of a recession in the United States economy. Speculation about this possibility soon firmed up when Alan Greenspan — Jalan’s counterpart in the US — reduced interest rates. This was rightly perceived as a sign that US authorities were also concerned about the possibility of the economic boom of the Nineties coming to a halt. Given the tremendous importance of the US economy in the international economic order, it was only natural that everyone was apprehensive that the US slow- down would have major worldwide repercussions.

The first visible effects of the US slowdown were evident in the Indian share markets. Technology shares were mainly responsible for the rise of the sensitive index, the barometer of the Indian stock exchange, to dizzy heights last year. But there were growing fears that the US slowdown would have an adverse effect on the fortunes of Indian software giants. Naturally, this resulted in a sharp fall in prices of technology shares. These apprehensions took a more concrete shape when Infosys, one of the leading software companies, issued profit warnings for the next year. This announcement actually caused the sensex to touch its lowest level in 28 months.

Of course, the movements of Indian share prices follow some peculiar logic of their own. The markets have often crashed when the fundamentals of the Indian economy have been at their strongest. Correspondingly, the sensex touched the dizzy height of 6000 at a time when there seemed to be some evidence of stagnation in the economy. So, it was possible for the optimist to ignore the steady downward movement of the sensex and continue to hope that the economy was is in good shape.

Disquieting news of a more concrete nature — certainly news which cannot be ignored — has now come in the form of a report from the Central Statistical Organization that the growth of industrial production has plummeted down to 0.6 per cent in February. The corresponding figure last year was 8.2 per cent. The current growth rate is the second lowest in five years, and has been caused mainly by the steep slowdown in the manufacturing and electricity sectors. The overall growth rate during the period April 2000-February 2001 has been only 5.1 per cent. This makes it unlikely that the target of six per cent for the entire year can be achieved.

Not surprisingly, Jalan has stated in an interview that the current slowdown in the economy is his main macroeconomic concern. But, perhaps, his concern is somewhat muted. At any rate, Jalan has refused, at least for the time being, to take any concrete steps such as a lower interest rate regime. Jalan’s inaction is also matched by the seemingly complete lack of action (and even reaction) by the Union finance ministry. Certainly, I cannot recall any statement of concern about the state of the economy from Yashwant Sinha.

In fact, fears have been expressed that the Tehelka episode may have something to do with the lack of any policy initiative from the government. The departure of the Trinamool Congress from the National Democratic Alliance means that the Bharatiya Janata Party is now more dependent on its remaining allies. Some of them are less than enthusiastic about some of the more daring reforms advocated in this year’s budget.

In particular, labour reforms are likely to draw strong opposition from some NDA constituents. If the government indeed drags its feet over the reform process, then that may well lead to the private sector losing confidence in the government’s ability to deliver on its promises. That cannot be good news for the economy.

Meanwhile, at least one section of the corporate sector has exhibited some optimism for the economy’s immediate future. The Confederation of Indian Industry has issued a statement asserting that “the bleak picture being painted of the Indian economy is wrong”. It goes on to list the strong fundamentals of the economy. For instance, the estimated gross domestic product growth rate of six per cent in the last fiscal year was amongst the highest in the The Indian export sector in particular has surpassed all expectations and grown at 20 per cent in dollar terms during the last year. While it is unlikely that the sector can repeat this performance, it should still record a high growth rate.

The CII also lists other positive figures. For instance, the economy continues to exhibit remarkable price stability. The possibility of high rates of inflation is quite remote. So, the government can always follow expansionary monetary policies if it feels the need to stimulate the economy. In addition, the external sector also remains quite strong. We now have a very comfortable level of foreign exchange reserves. Our reserves are sufficient to cover more than seven months of imports.

Moreover, despite the volatility in the Indian stock exchanges, foreign institutional investors continue to be net investors. In fact, the current depressed state of the market may well induce fresh buying since several stocks are available at very attractive prices. So, there is hardly any fear of the FIIs withdrawing funds from India in the near future.

The CII is not alone in its optimism. The Asian Development Bank has also forecast that the Indian economy will grow at 6.2 per cent in 2001 and a higher rate of seven per cent in 2002. Of course, these figures are more “guesstimates” than firm predictions. The actual growth figure may well be different. But, the important point is that they have been arrived at on the basis of an evaluation of the currently available information. In other words, the ADB and the CII certainly do believe that the short-term outlook for the economy is much rosier than that suggested by the industrial growth rate for February.

Of course, a month’s figure may well be misleading. Much will depend on how well the sluggish agricultural sector performs this year. There are reports of drought in some parts of the country. If the monsoon is not timely or is inadequate, then a chain reaction can well set in, verifying the predictions of the pessimists. Conversely, a good harvest is almost certain to ensure that the actual GDP growth rate is somewhere close to the ADB projection.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / WHAT THE DOTCOMS CAN REALLY DO 
 
 
BY DIPANKAR DAS
 
 
The Tehelka tapes have not only sounded a warning to the government, but have also signalled the arrival of internet journalism as a rival form of journalism.

Till some time ago, such an exposé carried the tag of established institutions of the fourth estate. That such a bold exposé of corruption in defence deals has been successfully undertaken by a portal has certain implications for the fate of the media in the country, and more particularly, for the possibilities of the internet, even in an inadequately networked country like India.

The internet has been heralded as a democratic medium in the West. Last year, Tehelka’s findings on cricket matchfixing shook the game to its foundations. That a dotcom is able to come up with such an exposé is no flash in the pan: it is prompted by deeper reasons.

The established media has a much cosier relationship with officialdom that editors and publishers are reluctant to change. Added to that is the advantage of the medium. The internet has allowed chan- ges in two basic aspects of news gathering — cutting costs and sla- shing through levels of bureaucracy. Tehelka.com is barely a year old, with a small team operating out of a lean office. In a traditional news gathering set-up, publishers would have had to spend vast amounts to set up facilities to print or broadcast. Tehelka’s reporters could coordinate closely on all aspects of the story and end up picking up tabs of just more than Rs 10 lakh.

Fast work

In a large organization, it is easy to come up against a number of editorial hurdles which could have slowed down or blocked the progress of the investigation. The internet can easily reach a large audience and cheaply too. Although the internet has only around two million subscribers in India, its influence is greater because it reaches the elite and internet news tends to spread via emails.

What all this does not disprove in any way is that to do an exposé of such proportions, one still needs to be a good journalist with the proverbial nose for news, have good technology, and some daring to break a good story.

The internet is also a much-needed corrective to the existing media. The information media, taken together, was never meant, collectively, to be just another industry. Information must necessarily be free. Media existed to spread ideas, to allow argument, to challenge and question authority, to set a common social agenda. Its purpose to the French revolutionaries and Indian freedom fighters was to advance human rights, spread democracy, ease suffering, pester the government when it took the wrong step. But on the contrary, as the media critic A.J. Liebling, wryly observed about the American media: “In America, freedom of the press is largely reserved for those who own one.”

Dangers of tameness

There is no longer a consensus, among practitioners or consumers, about journalism’s practices and goals. One of the best examples of journalism’s “best practices” can be culled from the life and times of Thomas Paine. Of course, the ferociously spirited press of the late 1700s that the likes of Paine helped invent differed from the institution we know today. It was dominated by individuals expressing their opinions. The idea that ordinary citizens with no special resources, expertise, or political power could reach wide audiences, even spark revolutions, was new to the world.

But these values were easily overwhelmed when they collided with free-market economics or state power. The rotary press and other printing technologies that later made it possible to mass-market newspapers also led publishers to make newspapers more moderate so that their many new customers would not be offended.

But with the advent of the net, media history is being reversed. Individuals are pouring back in to make media interactive. But the internet has its shortcomings too. The digital age is young, diverse, already nearly as arrogant, and, in part, as greedy as the mass media it is supplanting. A substantial section of net surfers are pornographers, hackers and thieves. The new generation faces danger from governments, corporations that control the traditional media, from commercialization, and from its own chaotic growth. It has to tread carefully lest it ends up as just another tame medium.

   

 
 
SERVICE WITH A SMILE 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
Unlike Western democracies, India never felt the need to introduce compulsory military service because of the easy availability of young able-bodied men, willing to serve the army. This, despite the fact that during half a century after independence, the nation was drawn into four savage wars with its neighbours.

Even during World War II, the British rulers did not feel the need for conscription in India, unlike in the United Kingdom. As in India today, even then, there was no dearth of young men volunteering to undergo the rigours of the toughest possible training. Thereafter, these men joined their respective regiments on various war fronts facing the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese and earned a name for themselves in military history. India today boasts of a nearly 1.5 million strong military establishment, the fourth largest in the world in terms of manpower.

As the recent Tehelka episode proved, India, which is anyway rated among the most corrupt nations in the world, is in the throes of a grave social and moral crisis. Patriotism today has literally become “the last refuge of scoundrels” and the problems seem to defy solution. The unsavoury Tehelka expose notwithstanding, our armed forces continue to uphold and strengthen the traditions of devotion to duty, integrity, discipline and, above all, patriotism. The gratitude the nation showed to its soldiers in the Kargil conflict is just one indication of the high esteem in which the defence forces are held.

In this context, the suggestion that basic military training be made mandatory in educational institutions for the sake of instilling a sense of discipline and moral values among the youth makes sense. Former defence minister, George Fernandes, had suggested compulsory short-term military training for the younger generation of Indians. He even gave serious thought to the idea of conscription on which a part of the funds meant for internal security could be spent. Fernandes believed that the Indian armed forces and the National Cadet Corps were the two organizations which had broken barriers of language, caste, creed and religion.

Till now, the student community has participated only in the second line of defence through the NCC, and that too on a limited scale. Though the total strength of students enrolled in the NCC is about 12 lakhs, it covers only 3.8 per cent of the eligible student population of the country. The network of 754 NCC units caters to 4,500 colleges and 6,500 schools throughout the length and breadth of India. With the spread of education, many more schools and colleges will be brought under the NCC’s flag of discipline. The social scenario seems to have radically changed since Lord Curzon’s comment almost a century ago, that military education should be confined to the small class of nobility or gentry.

The National Cadet Corps Act was passed by the constituent assembly in 1948 with the aim of shaping the country’s youth into better citizens and able leaders, apart from providing the armed forces a dependable pool for its officers’ corps. Under this act, boys and girls studying in schools and colleges are provided an opportunity to undergo training in military subjects and field craft. NCC also provides an excellent opportunity for the student community to take part in adventure activities and various aspects of community service. In recent years, a greater weightage has been given to community service and social activities. The thrust of NCC has been to bring an ever increasing number of cadets under it. The organization has been successful in providing an opportunity to a vast number of students to get a flavour of life in the army, navy and the air force.

On the question of making military training mandatory in our schools and colleges, Lieutenant General A.S. Rao, the present director general of NCC, highlighted that compulsory training was introduced in 1963-67 but could not be sustained because of the lack of infrastructure. According to him, for any training to be valuable and effective, there has to be the relevant infrastructure and methodical guidance. Till these are in place, making NCC training a mandatory subject in the educational institutions will not be justifiable.

Rao, who himself is a proud former NCC cadet, says, “If you take eligible student population of the colleges and consider providing one year of training to them, the total number works out to be approximately 66 lakh students. This will need an outlay of Rs 1,500 crore annually.”

The proposal, if accepted, will also require a large number of military training staff, which the armed forces will not be able to spare from their ranks. Keeping this problem in mind, Rao proposes utilization of the valuable services of a fairly large number of trained and locally available former servicemen in all parts of India to implement this scheme. These experienced soldiers, sailors and airmen could be paid a fixed package of remuneration which will keep them gainfully occupied near their homes. Since these former servicemen, who retire at a comparatively younger age than their civilian counterparts, will be like contractual employees, financial resources of the government will not come under strain. Rao says that it is ironical that such a mass of trained manpower should lie idle in the country. “Society must use this valuable national asset in imparting military related training to our youth,” says the NCC director general.

Rao thinks that the NCC has achieved the objectives for which it was established. He is pleased with the fact that his cadets’ role has been particularly commendable during the natural disasters. After the killer cyclone devastated Orissa in 1999, NCC cadets provided prompt assistance. They volunteered their services in restoring civic amenities, packing relief material for aerial drop, distribution of relief supplies and help in medical relief.

Likewise, in the aftermath of the earthquake that shook Gujarat on January 26, 2001, NCC battalions swung into search and rescue action immediately. Cadets fanned out to the affected areas and helped in the removal of debris, rescue of trapped bodies, first aid and distribution of food packets. From that day onwards, every cadet was selflessly engaged in providing succour to the suffering humanity. Rao himself visited the quake affected areas to monitor relief work undertaken by the cadets. He feels that the advantage of the NCC in such tragic situations is that it provides the services of a youthful, energetic, enthusiastic, dependable and a notably honest workforce that is available locally to provide the initial healing touch. This force can be incorporated by the state and local administration in their respective disaster relief plans.

The director general also made it clear that NCC has ample capability to act as the nation’s second line of defence in emergencies. During the Pakistani aggression of 1965, NCC cadets were entrusted with certain types of air defence tasks, traffic control and hospital duties. The Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999 also witnessed the Jammu and Kashmir NCC students contributing their mite in pushing back the Pakistani intruders behind the line of control.

The fearless cadets carried ordnance stores and other essential supplies right up to the frontlines in the high mountains. In fact, Cadet Stanzin Namgial was especially awarded by the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, during a public function in recognition of his selfless services during the Kargil war. Cadets also provided assistance by helping the families of soldiers, making monetary contributions and donating blood.

Community development schemes are where the NCC is lately proving its mettle. “Whenever requests were made for the service of the NCC cadets, there was always overwhelming response, for instance, in the conduct of general elections. The cadets have done NCC proud by their selfless service wherever they have been.” The nation must tap this talent and enthusiasm to achieve success in national schemes like the drive for literacy, family welfare and so on, besides adding to the manpower needs of the armed forces.

The impression in some circles that the NCC concept has not been as successful as it was originally envisaged is definitely incorrect. The concept in fact has scope for further expansion, feels Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak, noted defence expert and deputy director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies. “Compulsory military training should be a modality for overall man management in the armed forces,” says Kak, adding, “To keep the forces young, 70 per cent of the officer cadre should be from the short service commission stream while the balance 30 per cent can be permanent staff.”

NCC cadets will be the most competent section to fill in the short service commission slots. Kak’s counsel was also to reduce the colour service for personnel below the officer ranks to seven years instead of the present 20 years. This, he feels, will not only keep the fighting services young but also drastically reduce the whopping pension bill which amounts to more than the budget of the Indian navy. After their innings in the armed forces, this trained, toughened and young human resource can be absorbed in the para-military forces and the numerous government departments and public sector units.

   

 
 
TO BE THE PHANTOM OF DELIGHT 
 
 
BY SHOMA A. CHATTERJI
 
 
Women, encouraged to be consumers, are urged to buy through television commercials, products that are “liberating”. A flawless complexion, an unwrinkled face, fair skin, a slim, lissom and tall figure wrapped alluringly in a saree and shapely breasts have become the metaphor for female success because attaining these symbols of female achievement requires a great deal of sacrifice, hard work and control. Susan Douglas captures the essence of this focus on women’s body’s as flawless with one sentence, “Narcissism as liberation is liberation repackaged, deferred, and denied.” This is stressed through the beautiful women on TV screens. The urban middle-class housewife finds her dreams realized through watching soaps. The wife from a higher economic class identifies completely with this image of beauty because it justifies the money she spends on age-defying face-creams or hand creams. The business of beauty parlours shoots up. Gold facials, fruit and herbal facials, facials to tighten the skin find their way into middle-class Indian homes.

Dream of slenderness

Jean Kilbourne’s video titled Slim Hopes: Advertising and the Obsession with Thinness illuminates some frightening statistics concerning women and dieting. One of the most upsetting facts are that 80 per cent of girls between the ages of eight and 12 in the United States are on a diet. Kilbourne states that media images tell women and girls that acceptance means being painfully and unnaturally thin.The average fashion model weighs 23 per cent less than the average American woman. Twenty years ago, the average fashion model weighed only eight per cent less. Only five per cent of all women are born with the ideal body type of fashion models, and the other “non-ideal” ninety-five per cent are shown images of only the five per cent ideal.

Advertising uses a multitude of techniques to create perfect images of female beauty for viewing. Body doubles and computer retouching are two examples of how advertisers are able to manipulate images. We may believe we are actually looking at one woman’s body when we are actually looking at sections of three or four women’s bodies which, when spliced together, allows for the most desirable aspects of each woman’s body to be showcased. Young girls learn very quickly that they must spend much energy, time and money on achieving these standards.

Food, horrible food

Various American studies show that body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders are more prevalent among females than males. This gender specificity is apparent in that over 90 per cent of patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are women. This is not restricted to adolescents or adults. In a study of almost 500 schoolgirls, 81 per cent of the 10-year-olds reported that they had dieted at least once. A study of 36,000 students in Minnesota found that girls with negative body image were three times more likely than boys of the same age to feel badly about themselves.

Television is a powerful tool. Its influence in shaping the Indian woman’s sense of herself and her future is important. The media’s ability to convey mixed messages to women that fragment their identities makes it difficult for the women to become unified selves. Schizophrenic methods to portray the roles of women have just that effect: each feels an unorganized mixture of different women, one who has learned that she is always being watched.

Women must redefine themselves to begin the reversal of gender oppression. The tyranny of slenderness makes them regard food with dread because eating leads women away from the present ideal of slenderness back to an older, apparently frightening imagery of female abundance.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

The state of unconcern

Sir — The report, “Health robs Indians of wealth” (May 2), has painted a shocking yet realistic picture of healthcare facilities in our country. The findings of a study conducted by the World Bank at the initiative of the health and family welfare ministry have revealed the glaring inconsistencies in the present system. Not only is healthcare expensive in India, so much so that it is beyond the means of nearly half the population, but basic awareness about health is also minimal. Interestingly enough, West Bengal is not mentioned in the report. Could this be intentional and a way to spare the authorities in the state further embarrassment? The condition of government hospitals in the state is appalling. Even the basic amenities are denied to patients. Instead, these hospitals have become the breeding ground for stray animals. Most of us remember the dead body of a baby girl being dragged out by a dog a few years ago in a city hospital. The incident had raised a furore then. Very little has changed since then though.

Yours faithfully,
Rupa Saha, via email

Untimely outburst

Sir — The editorial, “Beyond personal attacks” (April 29), has rightly pointed out that Indian politics is dominated by personalities and personal attacks rather than by issues. Not only has the realm and idiom of political debate remained backward, but also very few of our leaders have been able to set aside their mutual differences for the good of the nation. The kind of accusations and counter-accusations that have been levelled by both the government as well as the opposition have become symptomatic of present day politics in our country.

It is high time that the prime minister, and the leader of the opposition tried to reach some kind of an understanding so that Parliament is not adjourned on one pretext after another and important bills can be passed.

Yours faithfully,
Nina Singh, via email

Sir — “Sonia’s anguish explodes on Atal” (April 28) is certainly the cry of anguish from a woman who has experienced a lot of political harassment. Bofors and Rajiv Gandhi are two subjects that have been milked dry by the present government. Ironically, while Bofors has even begun to supply ammunition to the ministry of defence, Rajiv Gandhi continues to be hauled up long after his death.

But Sonia Gandhi’s outburst took place after Parliament had adjourned. Even the prime minister was not present. The timing of this lid going off seems a little wrong. But if properly channelled, the Congress could turn it into an advantage in the five states going to polls. Sonia Gandhi might have caused enough disruptions in Parliament. But at least her party has succeeded in making the government move. “NK shift signals bigger shake-up” (April 28), is just one indication. However, the opposition must show more mature reactions and democratic behaviour, particularly when the nation is going through a crisis.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — If the prime minister can be accused of double standards, so can Sonia Gandhi and the Congress. Congressmen have made it clear that they want a joint parliamentary committee probe into the Tehelka issue, but when a member of the Congress happens to be named in a similar case, they stall the proceedings of the house. If indeed they are so confident that Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi didn’t do anything wrong, why are they opposing an inquiry? Sonia Gandhi should think twice before considering herself to be the equal of a statesman of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stature.

Yours faithfully,
N.V. Murali Krishna, via email

Sir —The turbulent budget session of Parliament has ended with bitter recriminations from the leader of the opposition. Even though her remarks were directed at Vajpayee, it was L.K. Advani who had to bear the onslaught. It is shocking to see our politicians behave in such an immature manner.

Sonia Gandhi is new to Indian politics. Since the Congress is still dependent on the legacy of the Nehru-Gandhi family, she was easily accepted as the leader of the party despite her inexperience.The Lok Sabha is hardly the place to give vent to personal feelings, the grouse against the prime minister or any other minister notwithstanding. The two leaders should get together and talk things over. The hatchet should be buried once and for all.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — It is a pity that Sonia Gandhi and her party should go hysterical with their anti-corruption rhetoric, and that too with J. Jayalalitha and Laloo Prasad Yadav sitting on the party’s shoulders. The real sufferers are the people whose Parliament is taken hostage by politicians living on gimmicks.

Yours faithfully,
T.S. Rao, Visakhapatnam

Match point

Sir — India has had a long tradition of sports ministers with no sporting background. Uma Bharti is merely carrying on that tradition. Low on cricketing knowledge and high on patriotism, she has decreed that India’s policy on cricket “will not be subservient to the interests of the cricket planners” (“Uma talks tough to cricket board”, April 26). There is one bright spot though. Given the huge amount of sponsorships and investment cricket attracts to the country, Bharti’s colleague, the finance minister, is likely to voice his protest if Bharti tries to take things too far. The Board of Control for Cricket in India may be surprised to find that they have allies, after all, in the Central government.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Saxena, Calcutta

Sir — While Uma Bharti calls the BCCI whimsical, she must admit that the organization at least runs on some semblance of teamwork and planning. It is the government in general and Bharti’s ministry in particular where decisions are taken on the whims of individuals. While economic liberalization, privatization and decentralization seem to be the buzzwords, the men (and the few women in particular) in government want to interfere and have their say in everything. This is not the sign of a vibrant democracy.

As long as India needs to have diplomatic relations with other countries and the people of various countries visit one another on grounds of business, entertainment, art and culture, government interference is uncalled for and ought to be minimal.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Saraf, via email

Sir — The sorry state of administration in the BCCI was proved yet again when the Indian cricket team was not sent for the triangular series in Sharjah. Given the enviable form of the team during its encounter with Australia, it may have been possible for the team to win the series. If politicians must play their dirty games, they should stop drawing cricket into it.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — I agree with Sumant Poddar’s views in “Minister, be sporting” (April 28). Today, Uma Bharti, who till recently was sidelined by the party, is the most talked about politician in the country. I also think that Bharti is doing what she is for publicity. While deciding on terminating cricketing ties between India and Pakistan, the least she could have done is to have gone for a nationwide survey on what the people of this country would have liked. Bharti is sabotaging the game. If the BCCI cannot stop the damage to cricket it should cease to exist. As a cricketer myself, I would like to remind Bharti that the sporting spirit is very different from that which guides the corrupt politics in India.

Yours faithfully,
Zaki Mubarki, Calcutta

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