Editorial 1 / Get the migrants
Editorial 2 / See how they run
The brash shall inherit
Fifth Column / It looks as if the women rule
Tamil Nadu’s revolving door politics
Also try sowing in the other fields
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / GET THE MIGRANTS 
 
 
 
 
It is the foreigners’ issue again in Assam. And this time the politicization is quite unabashed, although cunningly two-edged. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has admitted that it would be quite unrealistic to try to deport illegal migrants from the state. Instead, the Centre is now thinking of issuing work permits to identified foreigners who have not been evicted because of legal complications. These permits are going to be valid until the mess around the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act is cleared up. This is a piece of shamefaced vote-mongering, and goes nowhere near resolving the legal and constitutional impasse created around the IM(DT) Act by the state and Central governments. At the time of the Assam Accord, the Asom Gana Parishad had been enthusiastic about the repeal of the IM(DT) Act, promising its electorate an active stance against illegal migration. But quickly realizing the electoral consequences of such a stance, often interpreted as an anti-Muslim bias, the AGP had taken to equivocating on the issue. This was in spite of the Supreme Court directing the Centre, in August last year, to repeal the act by January this year. January has come and gone, and nothing, of course, has happened. Meanwhile, the Congress has aligned itself against the repeal, in a great show of solidarity with the Muslims, who form more than 30 per cent of the electorate. The AGP and the Bharatiya Janata Party are electoral allies now, eyeing the minority vote-bank, their relations with the Congress at an all-time low with the prime minister accusing the Congress of having links with the United Liberation Front of Asom.

Mr Vajpayee’s work-permit scheme not only attempts to allay the Muslims’ insecurities regarding the BJP-AGP’s attitude to them, but also retains sufficient qualifications so as not to antagonize that section of the electorate which was banking on a firm attitude against illegal migrants. The result is an assurance that would be as impossible to implement as the original schemes of deportation. The issuing of the permits continues to depend on identification, which was, in fact, the crux of the original problem. The tribunals had managed to identify and deport only a tiny proportion of the huge flow of migrants coming in from Bangladesh. By specifying that the permits will remain valid only until the IM(DT) problem is sorted out, Mr Vajpayee is having it both ways again. The anti-foreigners bloc is being told that this is only a temporary mercy, whereas the pro-IM(DT) people may assume that the permits would in effect be valid indefinitely because the legal tussle will take ages to be sorted out. Either way, Mr Vajpayee’s idea is in no way a sincere response to a long tradition of sensible thinking on the matter and ought to be taken for what it is — an electoral sleight of hand that will come to nothing at all.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / SEE HOW THEY RUN 
 
 
 
 
Three desperate outfits and one state is not a healthy combination. And Kerala does not look too healthy as the day of the assembly elections nears. The Congress-led United Democratic Front and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front have alternated in the house with respectable regularity. Things seem rather different now. In the reckoning are not only the UDF and the LDF, but also the Bharatiya Janata Party, apparently playing the role of an amused newcomer, but as frantic as the constituents of the two fronts. Kerala’s record for progress has suffered in the last few years. The state is definitely poorer. It has dropped behind in the race for industrialization and development of technologies, a failure made particularly painful by the rapid advances in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu next door. There has been bloodshed and the looming shadow of communalism. The LDF seems to have been badly distracted, and the withdrawal of the present chief minister, Mr E.K. Nayanar, from the electoral contest seems almost like a signal for the closing of a chapter.

If anti-incumbency is a decisive factor, the LDF has plenty to worry about anyway. But there is that hysterical edge in its rhetoric which can only be a spillover from the uncertainties of the CPI(M) in West Bengal. If a 25-year old stronghold is shaken, maybe ultimately taken, the CPI(M) cannot afford to give up Kerala. Its enemy in the state, too, is on tenterhooks. The Congress leadership knows that if the UDF loses Kerala, the party will split. It is now or never. Five years out of power is a long, brooding time. The battle between Mr K. Karunakaran and Mr A.K. Antony has really made things grim. But that is not the worst of it. The Congress in Kerala has six factions in all, the CPI(M) three. And the newest competitor, the BJP, has three too. The BJP’s desperation has a different source. Years of cajoling Kerala voters have not yet given it a seat in the 140-member assembly. It is aiming low, but it is aiming hard. All it seems to want is to begin with three seats. The situation is ripe for intrigue. The BJP reminds everyone that the Congress and the CPI(M) are friends in Tamil Nadu. So they are only pretend-foes in Kerala and West Bengal, their deep design being the overthrow of the BJP at the Centre. Meanwhile, the Congress and the CPI(M) are accusing each other of secretly conspiring with the BJP. Everyone is low key about corruption though, because everyone has been caught out one way or another. But communalism is playing its usual useful role as hammer to beat the other rivals with. For the three main outfits and the various parties under them, there is no single strategy or slogan. Each is trying to grab every seat it can get.

   

 
 
THE BRASH SHALL INHERIT 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
Democracy, it has been said, means saying the nastiest things in the nicest possible ways. The run-up to the West Bengal assembly elections this time has seen the poll rhetoric plunge to a new low. Such was the heat of the campaign that contending parties had little time for the niceties. Irrespective of which of the contenders — the Left Front or the Trinamool-Congress alliance — finally makes it to the Writers’ Buildings, the campaign this time will be remembered as one in which dialogue and dirt were hardly distinguishable, when speeches often bordered on the vulgar and the lunatic.

One has only to recall Mamata Banerjee telling election rallies that if the Communist Party of India (Marxist) killed her during the campaign, she had left instructions at home that her body should not be cremated till the Left Front is ousted. Matching her rumbling was the state CPI(M) secretary, Anil Biswas, who accused Mamata of plotting a fake attack on herself and getting admitted to a nursing home to try and add the sympathy factor to her winning chances. Then there was Jyoti Basu going around calling Mamata a “420” (the old charge about her fake American university doctorate), which, in turn, prompted her to warn Basu of the 440 voltage that she claimed to be capable of discharging.

All this would be utterly ridiculous, if it were not a pathetic manifestation of the bankruptcy of political dialogue. Even allowing that the language of electoral politics, particularly in India, has often been that of petty village squabbles, there is more to the West Bengal campaign this time than a linguistic degradation.

The trend is ominous insofar as it degrades the level of political discourse to cheap entertainment reeking of rotten minds. The first casualties of this are decency and dignity of dialogue. But, far more importantly, it reduces politics to dirty chat from the serious business it ought to be. Such campaigning would try to raise a laugh over issues which could be matters of life and death for millions of people. The problem is that the people too are beguiled into laughing away what ought to be real issues for them. Politicians’ antics would be no more than talking points over Scotch whiskey for the elite; for the less fortunate, these would provide simple fare for tittle-tattle. Over a period of time, inert minds would not be able to distinguish between the serious and the banal, between banter and a message.

We have seen this happen to politics in other parts of India. At different places, this has taken different forms. What passes for Lalooisms in Bihar is often plain and simple verbal thuggery. The point — and that is also the problem — is that he not only gets away with those antics, but also convinces his people that politics is all about antics. In several southern campaigns, we had seen the unedifying spectacles of third-rate filmlore take over political discourse. In Uttar Pradesh, leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayavati have repeatedly taken recourse to farcical methods to get across their messages. The methods stuck and the messages mostly came unstuck.

That this has now come to West Bengal signals the demise of the bhadralok brand of politics. The exact connotations of the bhadralok — and the politics that has prevailed in its name — have long been debated. Analysts have been sceptical about the use of the term in understanding Bengal politics. One view is that in attempting to explain everything it explains nothing. And, of course, the Bengali bhandralok identity transformed itself over decades — from the old zamindar to the urban middle class and to even shopowners and small businessmen in the middle income groups. Some analysts have argued that the bhadralok should actually mean the representative of the establishment and that the bhandralok brand of politics is actually the attempt to maintain the status quo.

Curiously, the first attack on bhadralok politics in West Bengal came from the left. If the left graffiti lampooning Mamata this time makes the point, its genesis could be traced to the United Front campaign against the Atulya Ghosh-Prafulla Chandra Sen duo in the 1967 elections. That poll campaign really marked the beginning of slanderous political mud-slinging in the state.

But, after 24 years in power, it is the left, more than the Congress, that has become the most recognizable face of bhadralok politics. The left’s call to change society and politics has, over the years, played second fiddle to the call to maintain status quo. But the history of electoral battles as well as social upheavals has repeatedly showed that status quoists can be as ruthless and as unscrupulous as agents of change. The decline in dialogue is therefore matched by an increase in violence, verbal and physical. Hence the dumping of the bhadralok facade and the plunge into the abyss of unreason.

Mamata did not go through any such metamorphosis. She came on to the stage at a time when the Congress — the traditional bhadralok party — was forced to reinvent itself. Her success came exactly the opposite way — matching the Marxists in their words and action. Not for her the old Congress mantra of the middle path. Nor is she bothered with even trying to make the nasty look nice. Her street fights and their vocabulary, sometimes grotesque and raucous, are her medium as well as her message. She may still have the bhadralok as part of her social support base; but she simply does not need the bhadralok politics. The obvious reason is that she is the face of the anti-establishment movement. Hers is the mission to break the political status quo.

One might argue that there is no crying need to mourn the demise of bhadralok politics. But that is not the point. The point is whether politics will regain its desired discourse, whether dialogue will return to sweep the dirt tracks clean.

That choice is with the voters, who must also do their bit to make it the politicians’ choice. But the uncomfortable fact in polarized politics such as West Bengal’s is that party loyalties make ostriches of us. The voice of reason is drowned by the call of the vote and the vision of civil society clouded by the cannon-fire of partisan battles. A Mamata acolyte would therefore fume at Jyoti Basu’s barbs at her, but would gloat over her theatrics. Politicians can afford to strut and fret on the comic stage, especially in election time. But the common people’s life can only be tragic if it is reduced to the theatre of the absurd.

This is not even funny. In fact, there is something cynical about the way politicians on the campaign trail have made a mockery of the pressing issues of the body politic. It betrays a tendency to take the voters for granted, insult their intelligence and make a plaything of them. It is not enough to say you deserve the politicians you get. The voters must ensure that the politicians also get what they deserve. If they deserve nothing better than mud, the idea should be to stick them in mud. If the politicians have reneged on their task, the voters cannot afford to let it, and them, pass unpunished.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / IT LOOKS AS IF THE WOMEN RULE 
 
 
BY SUSHILA RAMASWAMY
 
 
Gender is, perhaps, the most important of all social divisions. Yet, it is not the basis of mass political identities that structure political debates and establish political parties. The universality of gender makes it less cohesive and hinders collective identification and mobilization. Besides gender, a person has multiple identities that include social class, ethnicity, religion and region. These multiple roles prevent any one identity from becoming decisive.

A careful survey of most of the top women leaders of the south Asian democracies is a case in point. It is quite amazing that in these essentially patriarchal societies, the number of women heads of state is more than in any other region. A closer analysis reveals that this is not necessarily an index of women’s equality and empowerment. Most of these women come from privileged political families and have been thrust into politics by their respective parties with the sole intention of perpetuating existing power relationships of an oligarchic and patriarchal nature.

A pattern is however clearly evident in all these democracies — Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in India, Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, in Sri Lanka, Sheikh Hasina Wajed in Bangladesh are all part of families which would have shared power in the political structure either way.

Clear pattern

Political families not only depend on their male members, but even turn to their women in the absence of male members to carry forward the legacy. Most of these women do not have any individual achievements to their credit but enjoy fame and prominence simply by being the daughter, wife or widow of a prominent politician. Female prime ministers more often than not see their sons rather than their daughters as their natural successors.

Indira Gandhi had considered it natural that her sons and not her daughters-in-law should carry forward the dynastic aspirations. After Sanjay Gandhi’s death, she had turned to Rajiv Gandhi who had then been reluctant to join politics. Even though she was a shrewd and resilient politician and was the prime minister for 17 years, Indira Gandhi did very little for the empowerment of women. The representation of women in Parliament and state legislatures continued to be less than 10 per cent during her tenure. In the present scenario, Sonia Gandhi joined politics after the death of her husband.

In Sri Lanka, the first woman prime minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, assumed office in 1960 after the assassination of her husband. Her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, whose husband was assassinated in 1988, is at present the president. Benazir Bhutto, Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia have all assumed political offices after the assassination of their fathers and husbands respectively.

No role models

What is disconcerting about most of these women is their failure to address women’s issues beyond the framework of national development. The existing power structures have also been responsible for inhibiting the independent initiatives that could normally have been taken by these women. Moreover, most of these women are victims of social conditioning and believe that a woman’s primary responsibility is to her family.

However, the changing dynamics of democracy, coupled with the dedicated work that is being done by social activists and politicians at the grassroots level, could ultimately change the nature of such leadership. These activists have to their credit independent work and achievements. Furthermore, most of them have achieved success singlehandedly with little or no support from their kin.

A lack of role models has often kept women from achieving success in their respective careers. The entry of more women into politics will encourage debates on issues that are of direct concern to women. Because of the democratization of society, there is an increasing possibility that women from less privileged sections would join the political arena as they have done in areas like civil service and higher education. The first step should be the implementation of a state sponsored quota for women so that women from all sections of society could find proper political representation.

   

 
 
TAMIL NADU’S REVOLVING DOOR POLITICS 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
Why is the Tamil voter apparently so incapable of making up his mind? At every election over the past three decades, he has voted overwhelmingly to bring one or the other side to power, but never consistently the same side. In consequence, each election has seen a sea-change in power equations, the very forces who had been wiped out last time round sweeping to absolute control in the next round. This seems set to happen once again. The same Jayalalitha who was unable to retain even her own seat in 1996 will ride back to Fort St. George on a wave of at least 200 of the 234 seats in the state assembly.

It is not only each round of results that presents a startling contrast to the last results, the prime players are drawn more from reel life than real life. Karunanidhi scripted some forty films before he became the doyen of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the palace coup which followed founder C.N. Annadurai’s sudden death in 1969, a mere two years after the DMK’s stunning overthrow of the Kamaraj era. By 1972, however, the DMK split, with the matinee idol, M.G. Ramachandran, raising the banner of revolt which led to the formation of the rival All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

MGR’s life is the stuff of purple legend. He never played any role but the hero’s; and the villain opposite was equally invariably the Pran of the Tamil screen, a man called Radha. In every film, Radha bullied and blustered while the noble MGR, who in every film loved his mother, was kind to the poor and faithful to his girl (almost always played by Jayalalitha), would initially be victimized, then escape — always miraculously — the clutches of the villain, and then go on by the last reel to win everything spectacularly (including the girl). The formula never changed. And the formula never failed. Every film was a box office hit.

The twist in the tale is that on the sets in real life, Radha shot MGR at point-blank range. The hero was lifted to hospital barely alive. The appeal for blood led to lakhs of donors queuing up to save his life. And miraculously, as miraculously as in the films, MGR was snatched back from the waiting arms of Yamaraj. Stepping out on to his hospital balcony, he gazed upon the lakhs of his followers who had adoringly kept the vigil and instead of calling them, as usual, his “Brothers and Sisters”, he addressed them as the “Blood of my blood”.

After that there was no looking back. Every donor believed at least a drop of his own blood now flowed in the veins of the hero. And when the hero passed on, it was Jayalalitha, the silver screen’s girl-next-door, who emerged as his political heir. Fact has never more strangely — or tellingly — emulated fiction.

Yet, it is all too easy to explain the contortions of Tamil politics as the unfolding of an overdone film script. There is much more to it than that. Had the DMK remained united, it would have consistently won at least 70 per cent of the vote and never been defeated. But because it split, the politics of the state has been consumed for the last three decades with all the viciousness of a family quarrel.

The internecine feud within the Dravidian movement also gives others — ranging from the Congress to the BJP through numerous groups and groupuscules — the opportunity of playing off one Dravidian party against the other. That explains how almost every other party has been allied to both the principal parties at different times, the Congress as much as the BJP, G.K. Moopanar’s Tamil Maanila Congress as much as Vazhapadi Ramamurthy’s Rajiv Congress, P. Chidambaram as much as the CPI and the CPI(M).

The 70 per cent support for the two Dravidian parties has remained virtually unchanged, but split down the middle, thus ensuring that on its own neither Dravidian party is capable of securing a majority. The outcome is, therefore, dependent far less on the issues than on which of the two principals cobbles together through alliances the larger share of the residual vote. That side then goes on to sweep the polls.

Till and including the elections of 1991, the tilt was determined by the plus 20 per cent Congress vote. Where the Congress went, there Dravidian power went. However, in 1996, on the eve of the general elections, the Congress split. The majority of the Congress vote slid towards the DMK through its alliance with Moopanar’s TMC. Therefore, the DMK emerged triumphant. Jayalalitha was both crushed — and written off. Those who wrote her off clearly had not done their sums. For had the Congress not split, Jayalalitha would have won. So while her opponents gloated, Jayalalitha scooped the BJP into her camp and thus made up for the loss of the Congress vote. In the elections of 1998, the pollsters were made to eat crow.

The Lok Sabha elections of 1999 saw the DMK alliance (which, this time round, included the BJP) leading the AIADMK alliance — but that proved nothing because the outcome was clearly the consequence of Moopanar’s third front playing the spoiler. While his front lost 233 of the 234 segments contested, simple addition showed that the votes of the Moopanar alliance added to those of Jayalalitha’s guaranteed the joint alliance a decisive win. The chief minister, Karunanidhi, has made the mistake of thinking a rootless BJP is partner enough to overcome the mathematics of democracy.

This, however, is the last revolving door election in Tamil Nadu. By the time the state next goes to the polls, both Karunanidhi and Moopanar would have retired from active politics. The DMK would have disintegrated in the battle for succession which, like a scene out of Mughal times, involves the sons, daughter and nephew of Karunanidhi. In consequence, no DMK will be left to take on Jayalalitha. Meanwhile, the two camps of the Congress would have merged and it is to be seen whether such a merger, in the changing political scenario, can spark a Congress revival.

The BJP too will count for more rather than less in the evolving politics of the state. What is of lasting significance is that the politics of alienation from the national mainstream, which was the raison d’etre of the Dravidian movement, seems to have run its course. Both Dravidian parties have been ruling parties at the Centre — and Jayalalitha will be an enduring candidate for prime minister in any coalition government at the Centre. The anti-north Indian, anti-Hindi, anti-Brahmin ethos of Tamil politics is changing. Therefore, the politics of Tamil Nadu is also changing.

The Tamilian was never nuts; he was just different. That difference is being erased as Tamil Nadu joins the national mainstream.

   

 
 
ALSO TRY SOWING IN THE OTHER FIELDS 
 
 
BY V.S. MAHAJAN
 
 
A bout one-third of the Indian population, that is about half of rural India, works as small or marginal farmers. Yet, there are hardly any sustainable income-yielding programmes for this section. Naturally, an overwhelming majority of these people live below the poverty line and most of the others somehow make both ends meet.

The graveness of the problem becomes clearer on an analysis of regions such as Punjab, which have experienced the green revolution and are now agriculturally prosperous enough to fill the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. Ironically, the number of small and marginal farmers have been growing in this region. An increasing rural population has led to the fragmentation of already small land-holdings. Most of these will eventually become economically unviable.

Holding on

Many of these small farmers have leased out land to medium or large farmers on long-term contracts which, however, fetch a paltry lease rent. Some have sold their land and switched to other low-income yielding vocations. Many have migrated to other places within the country. There is very little this group can do to improve their living conditions.

If the situation is bad in Punjab, it is worse in the rest of the country. Land-holdings everywhere are being cut up into fragments. One way out is to find alternative means of employment for those members of the family who might choose not to work in the fields or who cannot be accommodated there. Thus there would be less people to work on the same pieces of land, thus facilitating higher incomes. Another way is to encourage cooperative farming where several small pieces of land can be ploughed together as one large piece. But this system has its own drawback — clash of interest among people who join the venture. If like-minded farmers with the same level of income could be brought together, this system would perhaps have worked.

Processing change

There is a need for a radical change in the existing cropping pattern and substituting it with other, more income-yielding ones. The present system of “limited farm cycle”, confined mainly to the production of wheat and paddy, despite being the building block of the green revolution, has proved harmful to the ecology and has brought about other adverse consequences like water-logging.

Agro-processing is another area that should be looked into. One of the major reasons behind the slow growth in this sector is the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the government as also the private sector. Huge amounts of fruit, vegetables and other agricultural produce are wasted every year because we do not yet know how to utilize the media and other agencies to promote the sale of agro-products. If a rigorous programme of preserving these products and encouraging their sale is undertaken, both the farming sector and those dependent on it will be benefited.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

No smokescreen for contraband

Sir — The public interest litigation filed by the Women’s Action Research and Law for Women is justified in asking the government to stop the menace of cigarettes being smuggled into India in huge quantities (“Smoke alert on customs” May 5). Unfortunately, no action seems to have been taken against this rampant smuggling. Most of the shops in Calcutta, especially in the centre of the city, both display and sell contraband cigarettes openly. Why can’t the customs officials and police carry out extensive raids against these cigarette retailers and confiscate their stocks? This will act as an effective deterrent against the sale of these items. Along with this, they can even start tracing the sources of the supply of these contraband items by putting an initial pressure on these retailers and then working backwards to rope in the original distributors. What is required is the will among the customs officials, the police and other authorities to eradicate this malpractice. If they are not interested, no amount of lawmaking will help.

Yours faithfully
Brita Sarkar, Calcutta

Loss of control

Sir — Sonia Gandhi’s gameplan, as far as the current assembly elections in the five states are concerned, is three-pronged. She has been fortunate that the first has come her way in the shape of the Tehelka exposé. At last, nearly one-and-a-half decades after the declaration on Swedish radio about middlemen getting money in the Bofors deal, Sonia Gandhi has a level playing turf, where she can accuse other people of corruption as well.

The second means of attack at her disposal is the strategy that had earlier been mastered by the Bharatiya Janata Party — one of entering into an alliance with anyone and everyone who comes along and offers support. Although this brings into the equation regional, sectional and other interests, it simultaneously offers a better bargaining position for the party. Sonia Gandhi has been quick to learn this from the BJP. The third way by which she is putting pressure on the BJP is by making the other allies of the National Democratic Alliance uncomfortable with the party.

Lately, Sonia Gandhi has also been trying to engage with the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in verbal duels under one pretext or another. The latest in this series was after Vajpayee’s valedictory speech on the final day of Parliament’s last session (“Sonia’s anguish explodes on Atal”, April 28). Sonia Gandhi’s insinuations and allegations are repetitive. They are clichéd expressions, tailormade to make political points. The media is mistaken in making them out to be emotional outbursts of an outraged daughter-in-law, mother and wife.

Sonia Gandhi should remember that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If she is drawing political mileage out of mud-slinging, surely, she must realize, the same tactics can be used to taint her status as a politician. But then, if she were to fear this, she would never have gone ahead with her allegations at all.

Yours faithfully,
Jitesh Sonee, Calcutta

Sir — Criticism will always be a part of democracy. But it should not be baseless. At the moment, criticism has become a tool for personal attacks and character assassination in Indian politics. It was generally assumed that senior leaders do not indulge in such personal attacks. The leader of the opposition, Sonia Gandhi, has however failed to qualify for this category. She has called Atal Bihari Vajpayee a traitor. Seasoned politicians would normally have distanced themselves from such unethical remarks about a veteran politician like Vajpayee. But, surprisingly, most in the Congress have done no such thing.

Politics in this country is increasingly coming to be dominated by members of a handful of families. In the media, we hear of M. Karunanidhi’s son, M.K. Stalin; Laloo Prasad Yadav has installed his wife as the chief minister; Sonia Gandhi is heading the Congress as the widow of Rajiv Gandhi. This is the most overwhelming example of nepotism. Is this how a participatory democracy works?

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — Sonia Gandhi has no control over her emotions. Otherwise, this lady could not have accused the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, perhaps the most honest politician in India, in the way she has. She has hurt the sentiments of the majority of Indians by calling him all sorts of names. All this is a result of her low self-esteem and the frustration at the realization that she is not an able parliamentarian. Sonia Gandhi has spoilt many working sessions of Parliament during the budget session and a huge amount of public money has been thus wasted. But, Sonia Gandhi is unperturbed.

What was her problem? Couldn’t she suffer the New Delhi heat any more? One of the prime duties of the leader of the opposition is to supply the treasury benches with constructive advice. But, she has never really acted in the capacity of a leader of the opposition. Instead, she has come across as a hysterical person and someone without any political acumen whatsoever.

Many of her problems stem from her incapacity to deal with Hindi and English, none of which is her native tongue. She should now concentrate on picking up these languages. She should stop relying on the sycophants that surround her and also stop being jealous of Vajpayee’s popularity.

Yours faithfully,
M. Das, Jamshedpur

Pet projects

Sir — It is a relief to the public that the railway budget has finally been passed by Parliament with no increases in passenger tariffs. The erstwhile railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, spoke boastfully of completing on-going projects. Several new projects, to the tune of no less than Rs 20,000 crore, have been announced over the years. But there seems to be no development on this front.

Added to this is the gauge conversion work that is expected to cost Rs 9,100 crore and the line doubling project which works out to another Rs 3,300 crore. All these ventures have been the favourite pastimes of railways ministers over the last five decades. One can plot the areas which have yielded railways ministers from the unfinished projects on the railway map.

In the new budget, resources are sought to be raised through utilization of vacant railway land and the laying of fibre optic cables. While the latter will yield about Rs 750 crore, commercial utilization of railway land and airspace will generate another Rs 150 crore. Additionally, austerity measures could save as much as another Rs 865 crore.

However, what is urgently needed is a cut in the excess labour force in the Indian railways. Most experts agree that its labour force of about 16 lakh employees can be cut down by about 30 per cent. Let us now wait and see what the reinducted railway minister, Nitish Kumar, makes of his tenure now that he has been returned to the chair that he had magnanimously relinquished following the Gaisal tragedy of 1998.

Yours faithfully,
Philip Elisha, Calcutta

Sir — “Another dacoity on train” (March 26) near Berhampore is yet another horrifying piece of news. Things are getting completely out of hand. Every month we have to hear news of deaths and dacoity on trains. Many complain of the police staff who are put on duty. But the railway police consistently claims that there are simply not enough personnel to man all the compartments.

Not only this, the railway police also blames the lack of cooperation from the local police. In this manner, the various law enforcement agencies which would ordinarily be accountable to the people have been passing the buck. How long will this be allowed to continue?

Yours faithfully,
Satyendranath Chakrabarti, Howrah

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