Editorial 1 / Today’s choice
Editorial 2 / Read it right
Legitimation crisis
Fifth Column / It is high time for the lok pal
Dreaming of other fronts
Some ways to clean the poll environment
Letters to the editor

One ballot paper is the statement of a personal preference. Millions of ballot papers dismantle a government and install a new one. Millions of personal preferences become a collective choice. Today, individuals will be stating their personal preferences; by Sunday afternoon the accumulation of these statements will decide who will rule West Bengal for the next five years. The configuration of politics has made matters really simple for voters in West Bengal. There are two major contenders — the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance — with the Bharatiya Janata Party as an also-ran. Many would say, and perhaps with some justification, that the election is actually a contest between Ms Mamata Banerjee and the Left Front. Without her, the anti-left forces are leaderless and devoid of any effective striking power. Even those who dislike her are compelled to admit that she has the ability to rouse and mobilize people. It is because of her efforts and her incredible energy that what seemed even a few years ago to be like an unbreachable red bastion appears today to be fragile and liable to be pulled down. She is willing to fight the left with its own weapons and she epitomizes the disaffection that has accumulated against the Left Front. What remains to be seen is whether on the day that matters she has the organization to carry the disaffection to the polling booths.

Against this is the well-oiled machinery of the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The latter has sloughed off its revolutionary pretensions. It is a sophisticated electoral party which has mastered the art of maximizing its electoral opportunities. It does not fight shy of using terror to establish and retain or to regain control over areas. Its major area of operations has always been rural Bengal. But even there, it has failed to meet rising expectations which have grown from its own land reform programmes. Here the left’s failure to encourage industries in West Bengal and thereby create employment will be crucial. The left will have to overcome these obstacles through its massive organization and election machinery. The threat to left rule is this time tangible. This is not to suggest that the result of the elections is a foregone conclusion. Far from it. The results will be far too close to venture a prediction. Even if the left forms the next government it will have to reckon with the losses it will suffer. And if Ms Banerjee becomes the next chief minister, the left, used to power for 24 years, will have to reckon with a lot more. The people of West Bengal, familiar as they are with the process of politicians taking them for granted, hold today the destiny of politicians in their own hands. More than theory rides on the shift from individual preference to collective choice.


If right things are done for the wrong reasons, there is always the danger of the projects in question getting messed up. The excitement over what Indian youngsters must learn is a case in point. There is no way this question can be resolved in black-and-white terms. There is just too much grey, tinging with its smokiness everything from the philosophy of education to pragmatic and political issues of what should be taught and how. The ministry of human resources development is busy getting the responsible authorities to change or modulate syllabi, have new textbooks written to eliminate errors and biases. Such a project is laudable, taken by and for itself. Unfortunately, no educational project can be conceived of and executed in a vacuum, least so in a politically potent arena such as India’s. Predictably, the aims of the project are double-edged. Indian children should be taught a syllabus more in keeping with the times, that is, one with which they can connect in their everyday lives, and they should also be taught a syllabus that is “Indianized”. The problems are immediately obvious. Keeping with the times is a good thing, but whether that will come through focussing on India’s relationship with other countries in the various periods of their history, whether or not contemporaneity depends on including more Indian writers in English in the syllabus in place of the Wordsworths and Coleridges, or on popularizing the study of Sanskrit so that it becomes a “spoken” language, is a matter of conjecture. If the informing impulse of syllabus reform is coloured by uninformed enthusiasms about “culture”, the best project may lose direction. The stumble over the overt aim of “Indianization” is predictable too. Who decides what is Indian? There are just too many debating voices on the subject for the poor Indian student to have a smooth ride.

But the confusions here go deeper than just the tug-of-war in an ideological space. The obsessions with “culture” and “Indianization” are as much fruit of a revived nationalist project as of a fear of globalization. It is a refusal to see the advantages of openness and of the communications revolution. If the Central Board of Secondary Education is today planning to embrace within its pedagogical sweep the Indian children of the diaspora, it is only because such things are now practical and speedily accomplished. Teaching languages and dancing or whatever else the board might feel is necessary to draw the diaspora children closer to the motherland’s heart, would have been inconceivable a few years ago. To go about syllabus reform in a meaningful way, the policymakers must first get rid of their amorphous fears of globalization and “foreign entrants”. Of course, historical facts should be corrected and literature looked at anew. But not with a readymade ideal of “Indianization” in mind. That is the best way to make education archaic and irrelevant, not contemporary.


There is little to cheer the Bharatiya Janata Party in the likely scenario to emerge after the elections to the assemblies in the five states where polling is due today. Its presence in all these has been at best marginal so far and the chances of improving its position are pretty slim. What is far more galling for it is the prospect, judging from public opinion surveys, of two of its allies in the National Democratic Alliance — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the Asom Gana Parishad — losing their majority.

Such an outcome, with the results conforming to the predictions of the pollsters, may have no immediate impact on the ruling coalition at the Centre. But if the Congress comes to power in Assam, the coalition led by it wins a majority in Kerala and the party becomes a partner in the new government in Tamil Nadu, the changes in the overall balance of power will add to its clout. Even in West Bengal, if the Left Front wins by a much narrower margin than in the previous five elections, the prospects of a broader Congress unity in the state under Mamata Banerjee’s leadership can give the party the elan it needs to give the Communist Party of India (Marxist) a good run for its money.

In any case, it has taken less than three years for the BJP’s dream — born in the flush of its surfacing as the largest party in the Lok Sabha — of extending its base to every part of the country, to go sour. The NDA partners among them have already lost Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan to the Congress. And if the leading opposition party now adds Assam and Kerala to its trophies, those who had written it off as a spent force will look very foolish.

Some BJP leaders have been using the metaphor of “a sinking ship” while referring superciliously to the Congress in the recent electoral campaign. In fact, some of the sinking ships happen to be in the rough sea of the NDA, with their captains having the honour of sharing the campaign platform with the prime minister.

The BJP can of course console itself with the thought that, whatever the election results, the position of the NDA government at the Centre will be pretty secure. The important question, however, for a government besieged by a host of challenges — the Kashmir problem which is getting more menacing, the impact of the United States recession on the national economy, the next phase of the liberalization programme which has to contend with stiff resistance from those hit hard by it and widespread public fears about the costs and implications of a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent — is whether it has the nerve and the moral authority to meet these with confidence.

Even if there is a change of government in three or four states out of the five which are to have new assemblies, it will further detract from such authority as the Central government is left with after its dismal record of going back on so many of its decisions under pressure from the more overbearing of its allies and taking too long to define with precision its policies in such vital fields as telecommunications. Even when it takes a policy decision, it leaves many grey areas, which often create uncertainties for new entrepreneurs and keeps enough arbitrary powers in the hands of corrupt state functionaries to harass those who fall foul of a fuzzy law full of gaps and ambiguities.

The Tehelka exposé has already taken some of the lustre off the government’s image. But what has soiled it even more is the offensive against it launched by members of the sangh parivar. These militant bodies have denounced not only official policies of privatization and freer import of a wide variety of consumer goods, which will mean loss of thousands of jobs, but also the prime minister by demanding the removal of his principal aide. No opposition leader has indeed damned the government and the prime minister in the kind of language used by Dattopant Thengadi, leader of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and close to the sarsanghchalak, K.S. Sudarshan.

The many front organizations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are not so daft as not to realize the constraints under which a 23-party coalition government has to work. Nor are they so dumb as not to be able to understand that this country is in no position to opt out of the world market. Yet, that does not prevent their cadres from feeling peeved at their loss of identity and the change in the balance of power in the sangh parivar which has marginalized them to the advantage of the BJP.

The surprise visit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee the other day to L.K. Advani’s house for lunch was no social occasion, nor their four-hour talk a brief holiday from the exacting business of state. The main purpose of the conversation, it is safe to presume, was to persuade the home minister, who is generally believed to be closer to the RSS than the prime minister, to use his good offices with the sarsanghchalak and the more militant among the front organizations to pipe down and not make things more difficult for the government than they already are. What is likely to be more effective, however, than Advani’s intervention in taming the dissidents and pulling out their teeth is provision of easy access to government funds by packing the boards of such organizations as the Council of People’s Action and Rural Technology and the Centre for Bharatiya Marketing Development which allocate crores of rupees to non-government organizations every year, with men close to the RSS. This is precisely what the prime minister’s troubleshooters seem to be doing.

One adverse fallout for the Vajpayee government of the election results, in case they go in favour of the Congress in Assam and Kerala, lead to the ouster of M. Karunanidhi from power in Tamil Nadu and reduce the Left Front’s majority in West Bengal, will be to make it more vulnerable to pressure from allies like the Shiv Sena. Bal Thackeray never misses an opportunity of having a dig at the BJP and outside supporters like the Telugu Desam Party which, with 29 members in the Lok Sabha, will have the virtual power to veto any decision of the Central government which, in its view, is likely to invite the hostility of voters in Andhra Pradesh.

No theory about a more vibrant democracy, with greater devolution of power at every level, can wish away the logic of coalition politics which blocks effective action, promotes increasing fragmentation of political life and lengthens the shadow that inevitably falls between promise and performance.

There is a double tragedy in the country being stuck with coalition politics of a particularly pernicious kind, which rules out effective governance, and the spread of cynicism to every pore of the body politic. There can be no more dismal demonstration of the general acceptance of corruption as a part of the prevailing political culture shared by all that the conviction of J. Jayalalitha on two charges has made no difference to the dramatic increase in her support in the opinion polls. There is indeed a fast growing tribe of politicians today who contend that the final court of appeal in matters of political corruption is the electorate, not the judiciary.

All this is a chilling portent for the future of democratic polity here. A system which almost legitimizes abuse of political power to make illegitimate gains by bending rules to favour clients, and can do nothing to check bureaucrats from flattering the politicians in power by following their example in this regard, can never expect from the public the kind of discipline, initiative or work ethic which rapid and equitable development demands.

If the ever-increasing size of the ministries, both at the Centre and in the states, shows a new fierceness in the struggle for a share in the spoils of office, the all-too-frequent exchange of insults between government and opposition leaders rules out consensus building, debarring in effect all policy-makers from going in for hard options.

It is not surprising in this situation that whenever the choice is between two sets of tough decisions, the very policy-making process is often paralysed, or when a difficult decision is reluctantly taken and even gets the necessary legislative sanction, it is made redundant through resorting to extra-parliamentary action by those it is likely to hurt. This is indeed what lends a certain pathos as well as irony to the effort and money invested in elections. Though elected assemblies and parliaments are instruments of giving legitimacy to government decisions, the failure to follow the rules of the game and frequent recourse to foul play in effect delegitimize them.

The most dismal part of the story is that neither the government nor the opposition is aware of the dimensions of the legitimation crisis or their contribution to its malignancy.


Although there is no reason to believe that Tehelka has shaken the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government out of its wits, it could perhaps be supposed that it has, after all, managed to stir it a little. That explains the government’s sudden hurry in April, while the opposition paralysed Parliament with demands for a probe into Tehelka, to dig up the legislation for the setting up of a lok pal. More important was its proposal to bring the prime minister under the purview of its authority.

There is no doubt, one of the requirements for the proper functioning of a democratic system lies in the effective remedy of public grievances that arise from the abuse of power and corrupt practices of those at the helm. For this, the office of the ombudsman has assumed a lot of weight in all democratic countries of the world.

In the West, the office has proved quite effective in providing clean and honest administration. The office was first created in Sweden in 1809 to probe into charges levelled against the government. Finland and Denmark followed in 1919 and 1955 respectively. In 1962, New Zealand created the post and in 1967, the United Kingdom provided for such a provision under its parliamentary commissioner act.

Troubled history

The need for such a post has been felt in India since the Fifties. It was C.D. Deshmukh, the finance minister in Jawaharlal Nehru’s cabinet, who raised the demand for the first time in 1959. Rajendra Prasad, then the president, also supported the proposal eagerly. The formal approval to the proposal came from the member of parliament, L.M. Singhvi, in 1963. However, it was the administrative reforms committee which lent weight to the approval by suggesting the prompt appointment of a lok pal at the Centre and lok ayuktas in the states.

A bill to the effect was raised in the Lok Sabha in 1969. According to it, the lok pal would be appointed by the president after consultation with the chief justice of India and the leader of the opposition. However, the lok ayuktas would be appointed by the president on the advice of the lok pal. They would normally serve for five years, but would be eligible for one more term. They would be removable by the president in case Parliament accused them of misbehaviour or incapacity. The attempt failed and the bill lapsed because of the dissolution of the house in 1970. Indira Gandhi came back to power and the lok pal bill sank into oblivion.

A second attempt was made by the Janata Party government in 1979. But once again, Parliament was dissolved on the advice of the then prime minister, Charan Singh. Two attempts to set up the office were made by Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 and 1989. Both failed. The BJP-led government brought the bill in the house in 1998 after removing some loopholes. But soon a new Lok Sabha was constituted in 1999.

Matter of caution

The bill was defeated each time because of the demand of the opposition that the prime minister be brought within the jurisdiction of the lok pal. The indecision and indifference of our parliamentarians are also to blame. Each government is fearful that the bill would boomerang on it. The fact that its actions would come under public scrutiny has invariably discouraged governments from encouraging the bill. But in some states like Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the office of the lok ayukta was created during the Seventies.

However, the mere creation of such an office can hardly guarantee an effective solution to public grievances unless the incumbent is allowed to act independently or impartially. Except in the UK, where he is appointed by the executive, in all countries the ombudsman is chosen by the parliament. The appointment of the lok pal should not be left to the discretion of the president alone.

Also, the method of his removal should be made rigid so that he is not victimized for taking action against an influential person. There should also be no scope for his reappointment after the expiry of his term so that chances of an extension does not tell upon his impartiality and integrity.

When allegations of corruption and misuse of power are jeopardizing the very working of Parliament, the legislation for the lok pal should be passed without further hindrance.


The formation of a People’s Front is yet another attempt to mobilize forces which are against the continuity of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. Whatever the composition, the basic principle that brings together the disparate political forces is the drive to consolidate a forum, different from both the Congress and the BJP. The idea of a third alternative is not new. Efforts were made by the four former premiers — V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral — who, in April, 2000 proposed the formation of a front of secular forces to combat both the Congress and the BJP.

Similar feelings were expressed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in its Thiruvananthapuram plenum. According to Jyoti Basu, the third left democratic alternative to the BJP-led NDA was “the only option to save India’s secular-democratic fabric”. Ideologically, the CPI(M) wants to form a front sans the BJP and the Congress.

Although what brings these parties together is just their opposition to both the Congress and BJP, the emergence of the front is nonetheless a significant political intervention highlighting those socio-economic and political processes in which the hitherto peripheral segments of society figure prominently. But it has, so far, failed to emerge as a stable political formation due to reasons connected with its composition and the circumstances exposing its fragility as a structure that is neither ideologically homogeneous nor united by a common agenda.

Nonetheless, the experiment is refreshing for having drawn attention away from the stereotypical assumptions regarding Indian politics to those factors and considerations which highlight the slow but steady changes at the grassroots. Both the Congress and the BJP appear to be inadequate in articulating, leave alone representing, the demands of the new social groups.

But not all the constituents of the front have equal acceptability among the target groups. For instance, the success of the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh or that of the CPI(M) in West Bengal may not correspond with the track record of other partners. Despite the recent optimism, the People’s Front does not appear to be radically different from its past incarnations. Seeking to thrive on negative feelings of its constituents towards the major political parties, the recent endeavour is just another conglomeration in which parties with ideological differences are brought together. Past experiments demonstrate that apart from the ideological disjunction, there are other factors that led to the disintegration of the fronts.

The third front is a region-dictated political phenomenon. In order to combat both the BJP and the Congress, several regional political parties with the aim of pushing the BJP and the Congress out of power came together to form a coalition. Even in the NDA, the regional parties appear to have a significant say in its consolidation and continuity at the Centre.

The rise of the regional parties as a combined force bidding for power at the Centre is possibly due to the following factors: first, the decline of the Congress as an institutionalized party representing various and conflicting socio-economic interests. The party lost its hegemony due to the departure of the nationalist generation, the demise of internal democracy and the emergence of personalized mass appeal of the top leadership. Second, with successive elections, new social groups and strata are being introduced to the political process. Since the entrenched groups in the dominant party tended to impede their entry to the political processes these new entrants found it easier to make their debut through non-Congress parties or occasionally even founded new parties.

Third, the judiciary also played a role in upholding the importance of regions in national politics. The judicial verdict in the S. R. Bommai case is illustrative. Although the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the four BJP state governments on December 15, 1992 under Article 356, it nonetheless said that the presidential authority in this regard is subject to judicial review. In this changed environment, the instruments of governance, like the president, governors, the Election Commission and inter-governmental agencies have displayed a greater sensitivity towards issues couched in regional terms.

A perusal of the history of the third front reveals the extent to which the conglomeration owes its birth and consolidation to individual personalities. The dominant section is built around the seemingly most capable personality. What caused irreparable damage to the National Front was, for instance, the non-cooperation of the group, clustered initially around Chandra Sekhar and later Devi Lal. As regards the United Front, the personality factor acted in two different directions: on the one hand, the United Front agreed on a personality not because of his strong political base but because of his acceptability to the constituents. The selection of Deve Gowda as the leader was guided largely by the fact that he was less controversial and thus acceptable to even those jockeying for the highest seats of power. Gujral became the leader by default because the Congress refused to accept anybody else.

Finally, what appeared to have plagued the front in its different incarnations was lack of an ideological bond among the major partners, except the left parties. It is the left which, with all its failings, stood as the core component of the front. Of the left parties, the CPI(M) has taken the lead to see that a third alternative is constituted. What has irked its supporters is the relatively soft attitude of the CPI(M) towards the Congress. This is justified as a short-term tactical strategy to keep the BJP out of power. But this in itself does not express any deep-rooted commitment to abiding hostility to the BJP. Herein lies probably the reason as to why some of the prominent front partners switched their loyalty to the BJP-led NDA government.

A perusal of the third front’s track record reveals that without a social alliance at the grassroots, durable coalitions are bound to remain pipe-dreams, no matter how frequently they may be put together in New Delhi, cemented by the exigencies of a hung parliament and powerlust. Given that most political parties represent certain well-defined class/caste interests, it is important that a social coalition is forged at the grassroots which eventually translates into a political arrangement.

Illustrative here are examples from West Bengal and Kerala. The Left Front in West Bengal owed its continuity to a successful mobilization of the marginals along class lines. Kerala provides a more interesting example because both the Congress and the Left Front are simultaneously engaged in forging parallel caste/class alliances with stable partnership arrangements to combat each other electorally.

The other side of the coin can be illustrated by examples from Uttar Pradesh. An electoral alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party led to the formation of a Mulayam Singh Yadav-led government. The alliance proved fragile because the historic contradiction was too deep-rooted to be resolved by an electoral alliance between a Yadav-dominated Samajwadi Party and a Dalit formation, the BSP.

It is plausible to argue that the stability of a political arrangement is proportionally linked with the strength of the social coalitions, forged at the grassroots. Underlying this argument lies a significant clue as to why the third front — that came into being in 1989 and 1996 — was never as strong as it appeared at the outset. That its constituents, except the CPI(M) and the Samajwadi Party, lacked a solid social base was evident in the 1999 poll outcome.


The tense political and socio-economic environment has imposed some extraordinary responsibilities on the Election Commission, whose business it is to ensure that the polls are fair, the counting flawless and the entire election process free from corruption.

The EC has assumed special importance in the light of present efforts to rid the system of the influence of money and muscle power. In the past, the commission was considered necessary only to complete the formalities of the election. It was under T.N. Seshan as the chief election commissioner, that the EC framed a model code of conduct for candidates and political parties. The present CEC, M.S. Gill, might have a low profile, but he has carried on the job of his predecessor commendably.

Missed roots

However, even under Seshan, the EC had proved ineffective in reaching the root of the problem. Two decisions of the commission proved disastrous. First, the enhancement of the security deposit of candidates from Rs 500 to Rs 10,000 and of the limit of expenditure from Rs 4.5 lakhs to Rs 15 lakhs. The measures, taken to eliminate non-serious candidates from the election fray, did not help in reducing the influence of money power. In fact, these made elections the playground only for the wealthy.

What is needed is a clear cut and transparent policy on the funding of election campaigns of candidates of political parties. It should be made compulsory for candidates and political parties not only to submit an account of the ex- penditure incurred, but also to mention the source of such funds.

Source of worries

In a less developed country like ours the concept of state funding of election campaigns would prove unfavourable to the economy. But given the prevailing conditions, this looks like the only alternative since in reality the campaign expenditure as also the cost of conducting the elections are paid for by the public in some form or the other. If it is paid directly, what is the problem?

The introduction of photo–identity cards among voters is a smart move. But till date it hasn’t been made compulsory. Other identification cards like ration cards, passports or driving licences are also accepted. Voters often allege that polling officers do not cooperate with them in registering their compliants against malpractices. The EC must conduct an inquiry as soon as such a matter comes up.

Changes in the police and administration may prove effective in curbing muscle power in elections as in most cases the state machinery is misused by vested interests. The boldest move may be the imposition of president’s rule from the day campaigning stops and continued till the day the results are declared. If needed, the Constitution should be amended in this direction. Is the government ready to make the changes?



Out with the sore thumbs

Sir — The police mugshot of the former president of Philippines, Joseph Estrada, with a criminal case number, proves that democracy is alive and well in that country (page 4, April 27). Estrada was accused of embezzling national wealth and was put behind bars. Will the Indians ever see similar photographs of Laloo Prasad Yadav, J. Jayalalitha and their ilk? Many highlyly-paid filmstars and cricketers have repeatedly defaulted in the payment of income tax dues (“Amitabh heads filmstars’ tax dues list”, April 28). The outstanding income tax dues of Amitabh Bachchan and his family reportedly stand at Rs 15.1 crore. And yet, Bachchan was honoured with a national award this Republic Day. Avoiding the payment of income tax has become the habit of the rich and the mighty. Admitted, it will be some time before the Indian socio-political system evolves enough to give the celebrity truants the same treatment as Estrada, but the awards can certainly be taken away from the defaulting celebrities, and their films can be boycotted.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Winners and losers

Sir — West Bengal goes to the polls today. Whoever emerges the winner, both the winners and losers of today’s battle will be seen either thanking or cursing the media, especially television. The past few weeks has witnessed an unprecedented volume of election-oriented programmes on the various Bengali cable channels. One moment it is the merciless interrogation of a candidate by a member of the public, and in the next it is the audience that is being taken on the campaign trail of the various leaders. The TV-watching voter has never had it so good. Neither has the aspirant, who can lambast his opponent across the table and woo his voters at the same time.

Will this extensive audio-visual media coverage make a difference to the pattern of campaigning in the days to come? It can certainly lessen the importance of door-to-door campaigning in the urban areas, where nearly every household possesses a TV set. However, the rural voters still make all the difference in the state. For all the glamour and sophistication of the small screen, in West Bengal there does not seem to be a shortcut to election-victory.

Yours faithfully,
Sudipta Sadhukhan, Hooghly

Sir — The pretentious remark of Sushanta Ghosh, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s hatchet-man in Midnapore — “My wife Karuna and I have decided not to have children because we are devoted to the party and the responsibility takes up all our time” — is at best amusing (“Architect of turf take-back”, May 2). Assuming that even a few of the CPI(M) workers are half as “dedicated” as Ghosh, it becomes difficult to explain West Bengal’s backwardness in industry, education and health. Ghosh further commented that most of the Trinamool Congress workers are anti-social elements. Anybody who knows the politics of the state even a little will agree that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

Yours faithfully,
Ajit Bose, Calcutta

Sir — The photograph of Ajit Panja with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Tapan Sikdar at a rally in Kamarhatti (pg 7, May 7) is hardly an indication that there will be a “friendly” fight between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal (Ajit Panja is officially still a Trinamool Congress leader). It was not too long ago, when, during the days of the BJP-Trinamool Congress alliance, the allies took potshots at each other with 72 hours to go for the elections to the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation. Ajit Panja had himself requested the voters not to “waste” their valuable votes on the BJP candidates, but to vote for the CPI(M) candidates instead. How is it that the same individual who felt that the BJP was at his party’s mercy in the state is suddenly full of praise for the BJP leaders?

Eventually, the fate that Vajpayee has predicted for the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance, in his reading of the Congress’s attitude (Hum to dubey hai sanam, tujhe le kar dubenge), is going to befall the BJP as well, making it a near-cakewalk for the Left Front in West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
Anjani Kumar Pande, Calcutta

Sir — That Pranab Mukherjee, often blamed for Mamata Banerjee leaving the Congress, Somen Mitra, who used to be Banerjee’s bitterest enemy in the state, and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, who tried to walk the tightrope, have all come out in unconditional support for the angry young woman of West Bengal, will probably have farreaching consequences for the state’s politics (“Salute to Mamata at unity show”, April 16). A strong opposition is a must for a functioning democracy, at least to keep the ruling party or coalition on its toes.

Since the Congress, according to Mamata Banerjee, has played the role of the CPI(M)’s “B” team, there was no real opposition in the state. If the two parties manage to stick together, the people of West Bengal will perhaps witness a proper opposition, and who knows, maybe even a change in government, after a long time.

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir — The package for the unemployed young people of West Bengal, announced in the joint manifesto of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress, will raise the hopes of the thousands of educated unemployed who have registered their names with the employment exchanges during the last 10 years. Mamata Banerjee has been known to have worked for reducing unemployment in the state in her capacity as minister for railways. It remains to be seen whether she is voted to power on the basis of this single promise. The voters will not forget that since independence, no party in power has been able to solve the unemployment problem. What hope is there that things will suddenly change now?

Yours faithfully,
Dhaneswar Banerjee, Bolpur

Sir — Tapan Sikdar claimed that it was the BJP which had “taken the frog [Mamata Banerjee] from the well to the ocean”: She was never an able administrator, yet she was given an important portfolio like railways and with it, a chance to work for Bengal (“Gloves off BJP finds Mamata vices”, April 23).

Contrary to Sikdar’s claim, it was Banerjee’s support that improved Sikdar’s chances in the last Lok Sabha elections from Dum Dum. Sikdar also owes his ministry indirectly to Banerjee, since he was only made a minister after the BJP-Trinamool Congress tie-up produced fairly good results in the state. Just because all hopes for his party have been dashed in West Bengal does not justify Sikdar’s comments.

Yours faithfully,
Monojit Sanyal, Chandernagore

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