Editorial 1 / New promise
Editorial 2 / Return of she
Concern for West Bengal
Fifth Column / Touching up the reforms picture
At home with violence
Picking out loopholes in the system
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / NEW PROMISE 
 
 
 
 
In giving the Congress a decisive mandate to run the state government for the next five years, the people of Assam have made two clear statements. First, they have unequivocally rejected Mr Prafulla Kumar Mahanta’s — and the Asom Gana Parishad’s — last-ditch attempt to divert attention from issues of governance. Second, they have unambiguously expressed their desire for peace, even taking in the process the threats by the United Liberation Front of Asom in their stride . True, the ULFA’s election-eve assurance that it was not calling for a boycott of the polls and its appeal to the electorate not to vote “communal” candidates helped reduce fear. But it was no small measure of the people’s courage that they turned out to vote in such large numbers despite the bloodshed during the campaign. Having known the extent of the people’s dissatisfaction with his government, Mr Mahanta sought an escape route by striking up an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The attempt was also aimed at broadening the AGP’s ethnic appeal by incorporating into it the upper caste Assamese Hindu votebank. The AGP-BJP combine presented itself as one political formation that took care of both ethnic and social support bases . It could be Assamese and could mouth the old AGP slogan, Jai Ai Asom, while at the same time fitting into the nationalistic mainstream slogan of Jai Sriram. So strong was the people’s frustration with the inefficiency of Mr Mahanta’s government that they ignored the combine’s political ploy. The best evidence came in the defeat of Mr Mahanta himself at Dispur, but it was there all over the state. The alliance has been uniformly rejected in all parts of the state — lower and upper Assam as well as Cachar, showing that the Congress’s appeal has reached beyond its traditional support areas in upper Assam and Cachar. Even lower Assam, which has been the strongest base for the AGP over the past decade, has fallen to the Congress.

The winner now has an uphill task of proving worthy of the trust and for this, its programme has been clear from the beginning — bring back the agenda of economic development, pushing aside the legacy of sacrificing it to the altar of ethnic politics. One of the first tasks of the new government of Mr Tarun Gogoi, who is likely to take over the reins from Mr Mahanta, will be to continue the dialogue with the Bodos. Of the 19 independents who have won the polls, there are nine supported by the All Bodo Students’ Union, which goes to confirm once again the strong appeal of the Bodo movement among its proponents. The new government has to take the dialogue to its logical — and constructive — conclusion, but not at the expense of the state’s economic development.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / RETURN OF SHE 
 
 
 
 
The triumph of Ms J. Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu may lead to nervous speculation about what makes a leader. A close call could have, perhaps, been understood, given the well-worn anti-incumbency factor and various kinds of disillusion with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government headed by Mr M. Karunanidhi. But the magnificence of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s victory puts paid to pedestrian musings. If the results of the assembly elections in Kerala show the healthy face of the democratic process, there is no doubt that the results in Tamil Nadu show the unhealthiest. If a convicted criminal is welcomed back to rule a state with such an indisputable mandate that she immediately claims for herself the chief minister’s chair, there is something rank in popular opinion. On the face of it, the democratic process here is functioning with the same vibrancy as in Kerala. Tamil Nadu bundled Ms Jayalalitha out in the 1996 assembly elections, amid accusations of abuse of power, corruption, misrule, indifference to the poor and actual crime. That she was set free in the “television scandal” case could not have made much difference to perceptions about her moral character, since it was her conviction in the Tansi land case that prevented her from contesting the elections this time. What is now being proposed is preposterous, that a convicted person should become chief minister, thumbing her nose at the law of the land and at all decency in political and civic life.

It is not enough to attribute the AIADMK’s win to the “sympathy factor” or to the success of Ms Jayalalitha’s “misinformation campaign”. It may be true that Mr Karunanidhi is seen as corrupt too, and his projection of his son, Mr M.K. Stalin, as the next leader did not help his image. But what is alarming is the people’s defiance of the courts. It shows a depth of contempt for the judicial system and a cynical disregard of corruption in the form of personal aggrandizement that expose a terrible failure of political administration, culture and morality over the years. Add to this Tamil Nadu’s passionate love for whatever is larger than life, Mr Karunanidhi’s insecure handling of his allies which led the Tamil Maanila Congress and the Pattali Makkal Katchi to throw in their lot with the AIADMK, his sudden preference for caste-based parties, his inability to stem discontent among the poor when prices of essential goods rose through a ripple effect of Central policies — and there is suddenly a topsy-turvy world. It is enormously important to see that this topsy-turvyism does not come to pass. It is bad enough that Mr R. Balakrishna Pillai was allowed to contest in Kerala in spite of criminal conviction. To compound the error would ring the death knell for any effort to clean the political arena of corruption.

   

 
 
CONCERN FOR WEST BENGAL 
 
 
BY SURENDRA MUNSHI
 
 
It is not often that some academics come together to publicly present their views at their own initiative on the development of a state for which they feel concern. Nor is it often that a critique of this statement is developed in the editorial comment of the newspaper that publishes such a public statement in a prominent manner. Such a treat is available in the editorial page of The Telegraph of May 13, 2001. Both the group of nine eminent economists who have presented their views on the economic revitalization of West Bengal and The Telegraph deserve to be complimented for stimulating thought and provoking discussion.

The economists have set a clear agenda. Irrespective of the party or group of parties that forms the next government they urge a coherent economic programme that goes beyond political speeches and the next round of elections. They present their views in the form of a consensus among economists regarding the ingredients of a successful economic strategy for the state.

They deserve to be seriously read. Five priority items are listed for improvement that should form the core of a successful economic strategy: education, infrastructure, health, work culture and control of corruption. The state needs to do better in education at primary and advanced levels. Not only the improvement in basic literary rate but also the need for establishing the state as a major centre of excellence in higher education is emphasized.

Four principal areas are identified relating to infrastructure where improvements in quality and quantity are needed: telecommunications, road transport, power and port facilities. Good health for citizens is recognized as essential for economic progress. Particularly, improvements in people’s access to safe drinking water and basic health facilities are noted. There is a need for better work culture. This is important for workers as well, for they stand to gain by an industrial revival that brings more jobs and higher wages. Finally, corruption needs to be curbed. It is noted that the politicization of administration and institutions encourages corruption.

While the emphasis is on the role of the state government, there is scope for the private sector in this revival, as for instance in creating new academic centres and promoting research and development. Indeed, partnership is visualized between the state government, the panchayats and non-governmental organizations in the spheres of primary schooling and health. It should be kept in mind that the focus is on long-term goals and on “a successful long-term economic strategy for the state”. A long-term view is not only good economics but also good politics.

What can be possible objections to this position? The editorial comment in The Telegraph under the heading “Opium of the intellect” criticizes the article for being “stricken by the crisis of consensus”, “the effort to put forward something which is unobjectionable and beyond reproach”. Two basic objections are raised. The article does not go to specific uncomfortable issues. If it is agreed for example that the pursuit of excellence in higher education is to be achieved in the state, then the crucial point is to discuss how this is to be achieved. The second objection follows from the first. The article ends with banality; it merely states the obvious.

This criticism misses one point. It seems the economists under discussion have tried to provide a “common minimal economic programme” without, as they clearly state, “going into excessive detail”. And then it may be argued that there may be merit in stating the obvious if it is not obvious to those who are in charge. Moreover, it is important to take care of the first things first before making a more ambitious effort. A car that lies in a garage without both its wheels and the steering wheel requires first of all that these essential parts are put in place before the issue of fine tuning for optimal performance is raised.

For a sociologist it is satisfying to find economists taking seriously such social issues as education, health, work culture and corruption. This goes beyond equating growth in national income with growth in welfare. That such “nebulous” matters as work culture and corruption may be important enough to be listed with infrastructure as a priority for an economic programme is in itself an advance that is to be appreciated.

Yet the editorial comment succeeds in stimulating further thought. What is being presented by the economists? Is it a “common minimal economic programme” or “ingredients of a successful long-term strategy” or “priorities that should form the core of such a strategy” or an analysis of the “root”of industrial problems that afflict the state?

Clearly, a major limitation of their article is that certain critical issues are left ambiguous or unexplored. Reference is made to the “current international economic environment” that can be used as an opportunity by West Bengal, for instance with respect to the demand for skilled labour conversant in English. This is without an analysis of how this international economic environment may in turn be a threat to the objective of raising living standards across the board. Inadequacies regarding work culture are mentioned reportedly by possible investors as a discouraging aspect of the industrial scene in West Bengal. To consider this problem adequately will mean going beyond a view that looks upon this problem in uniform terms or as a problem of just labour relations.

Culture as a term is broader than is generally assumed. It includes conventional patterns of thought and behaviour. With reference to a group it refers to its way of life. Indeed, anthropologists have argued that it refers to material as well as immaterial resources of a group.

Above all, it may well be argued that the failure in the industrial sector in West Bengal is the failure of vision. Even a casual visitor to the small state of Sikkim is struck by the confident assertion that the state will become the number one state in telecommunications, using clearly spelled-out indicators. This confident assertion is missing here, nor is there much evidence of the will to turn a vision into reality. This is not only the problem of political will; different sections of people in West Bengal seem to be resigned to the reduced status of the state.

A discussion of strategy must address this problem seriously. Any standard textbook on management tells us that vision is necessary especially at the time of changing circumstances so that it is possible to live through and benefit from them. Strategy refers to the determination of mission and the adoption of the course of action (including the allocation of necessary resources) for achieving the aims that are set by an organization.

Now that the Left Front has won again and this time under the leadership of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, it is time to reconsider priorities. An approach that combines rhetoric against imperialism with dependence on McKinsey or Arthur D. Little needs to be reviewed, just as the actual balance sheet of achievements and failures in different sectors needs to be drawn and examined. Is it too much to expect that the new leader of the Left Front will grow to be the new leader of the state? Is he going to be receptive to ideas that come to him from those who are concerned about the state in the manner of the nine economists discussed here?

The author teaches sociology at the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / TOUCHING UP THE REFORMS PICTURE 
 
 
BY P.S.M. RAO
 
 
The critics of economic reforms criticize the government for its bad economic policies. But, if you ask them to list the failures of the government they begin with the accusation that the government could not contain the fiscal deficit at the level planned. They insist that the reduction in fiscal deficit is the most important goal of the reforms. The poor fiscal management manifested through the economic chaos in 1990 was the central impulse behind embarking on the reforms path. So, failure on this front should attract criticism.

But fiscal deficit simply means the total deficit of the government (its excess spending over its income) without treating borrowings as its income. Prior to the launch of the economic reforms, the government’s borrowings were also shown on the receipts side and the deficit was calculated on that basis; this led to the belief that the government’s spending was less than what it actually was.

The reforms not only brought about a change in this system, but also brought the fiscal deficit into the limelight. Alongside, it tried to prove that a high deficit was the result of high unproductive spending. Borrowing money to spend it in areas that did not create any assets or profits forced further borrowing in order to repay the previous loans and the interest accruing on it.

The government thus fell into what is called a “debt trap” — meaning a situation of debt borrowing only to pay back the interest on the previously-taken loans. Obviously, the increased supply of money in the economy led to inflation. This, together with the resultant rising costs, would affect the poorer sections most.

Debt trap

The panacea for all these ills was found to be a drastic reduction in the fiscal deficit, which meant a cutting down of all the unproductive expenditure. The government also decided to spend less on subsidies and the like, which yielded no commercial returns. But this was opposed by many, including the critics of the reforms.

Meanwhile, as far as deficit reduction is concerned, the government performed dismally. This despite the fact that it could assert that the fiscal deficit in 2000-01 stood at 5.1 per cent of the gross domestic product, just equal to what was estimated in the budget. The government has set for itself the further target of achieving a still lower level of 4.7 per cent in 2001-02 and not more than 2 per cent of the GDP by 2006.

How has this low spending been achieved? In 2000-01, it was because of its inefficiency that the government could not utilize money to the extent allotted in the budget. The defence ministry, for example, underspent by as much as Rs 4,000 crore. On the whole the amount spent on the capital account — which could create assets, income and employment, was 7 per cent less (Rs 2,636 crore) than the budgeted amount.

The poor were not hurt

However, the government has the statistics to prove that the poor were not hurt. It can establish that poverty was reduced by as much as 10 per cent during the reforms period. The National Sample Survey data comes to the government’s rescue. The 55th round of the NSS data suggests that the percentage of the people below the poverty line went down to 26 per cent in 1999-2000 from about 36 per cent in 1993-94. The government conveniently relies on this data rather than accepting the criticism of expert economists who can prove that there are inadequacies in the techniques employed by the NSS.

Some economists have tried to use the data released by the NSS with regard to their findings on purchasing power and employment. The results unequivocally suggest that unemployment has increased during the reforms period and real incomes have stagnated.

Nonetheless, some pro-government economists continue to use outdated methodology such as the “employment elasticity of production” and attempt to demonstrate to an unsuspecting public that all is well with the economy. It is time that these people accept that some of the fundamental premises that they use — for instance, assuming that greater growth always takes care of employment and welfare — are no longer valid. Of course, 10 years of reforms have brought about increased growth — but it has not brought about an equitable and just social order. This reality has to be looked into.

   

 
 
AT HOME WITH VIOLENCE 
 
 
BY R.D. SHARMA
 
 
There has been a phenomenal rise in crime against women. According to the report of the National Crime Records Bureau, dowry deaths have gone up from 5,513 in 1996 to 6,917 in 1998, cases of rape from 14,846 to 15,031, torture from 35,246 to 41,318, molestation from 28,939 to 31,046, sexual harassment from 5,671 to 8,123 for the same period. In addition, pernicious practices like child marriage, sati, prostitution and sex-determination of the unborn baby are widespread both in rural and urban areas. These figures, however, represent only the proverbial tip of the iceberg, as the majority of cases remain unreported for a host of reasons.

Not that there have been no efforts to contain the rising violence against women. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 has been amended twice to make its provisions more stringent and punitive. The Indian penal code, the criminal procedure code and the Indian Evidence Act have also been changed simultaneously to deal effectively not only with dowry deaths, but also with cases of cruelty against married women. Similarly, suitable modifications in the law against rape have been incorporated to remove some of its drawbacks. But all these changes have not reduced the incidence of crime at all.

According to the report of the national commission for women, a woman is molested every 26 minutes. Every 54 minutes, a rape takes place. Every 48 minutes, an incident of eveteasing occurs. Every four minutes, a woman is kidnapped or abducted, and every 10 minutes, a woman is burnt to death in a dowry dispute. One act of cruelty every 33 minutes and one criminal offence every seven minutes against women take place in India.

But these statistics do not include the cases of sexual abuse by kith and kin. The percentage of this is 87.4 according to the findings of a Delhi-based women’s group. Victims rarely report such crime to the police for fear of shame, humiliation and guilt.

The objectives of preventive laws may not be faulted, but what is of crucial importance is their enforcement. A wide gap exists between laws with high social and economic purposes and their implementation on account of police inefficiency and widespread corruption. In this climate, the cutting edge of laws, both as instrument of crime prevention and of social change, is bound to become blunted.

The position is further aggravated when the culprits are seen by the populace as flouting, perverting or getting round the letter and spirit of the law. So long as these laws are not accompanied by the empowerment of women at all levels and by accountability in the enforcing agency, they will serve little purpose.

In any case, legal remedies alone cannot cope with a regressive socio-economic set-up in the absence of radical, structural and economic reforms which can be implemented only by mass mobilization and participation. With the kind of bureaucracy, police and political set-up that we have, the mere passing of laws will not serve any purpose.

More important than legislative reforms is the strict enforcement of rights already available to women in relation to property matters. In fact, women’s plight is made worse by their reluctance to seek legal remedies even when they are aware of them. The voluntary surrender of their rights in the matter of inheritance is the single biggest reason behind women suffering the ignominy of the dowry system that continues to make marriage an ordeal for many of them.

Judicial bias against women is also evident. According to a survey conducted by Sakshi, a non-governmental organization, as many as 64 per cent judges are of the view that women are themselves responsible for the violence they face. In criminal cases like rape, needless emphasis is often placed on the victim’s character and conduct and her past is scrutinized, whereas the history of the accused is ignored. The part of the definition of rape which says that “the act of sex must be against her will and without her consent” is more often than not invoked by courts in order to show that there was some form of consent on the victim’s part.

This is not all. Long delays in law courts are also responsible for the spurt in crimes. It has been seen that it often takes years for cases to reach the final stage of disposal. At present, a staggering 1.34 crore, or maybe more, criminal cases are awaiting trial in lower courts across the country. While cases are pending, most of the victims are either lured or scared away or the relevant evidence destroyed by the offenders.

As a result, cases cannot be conclusively proved. The law commission has recommended simplification of penal provisions, establishment of more courts and improvement in the working of enforcement agencies. But the government is yet to work on its recommendations to shorten the trial procedure in criminal cases.

To hasten matters, cases like dowry deaths, rapes and other related crimes must be summarily tried by special courts set up for the purpose. This will certainly ensure speedy justice. In fact, they might also serve as deterrent since it is the severity and certainty of punishment that prevents crime. Similarly, family courts, set up with immediate effect after a crime and presided over by women judges, can take care of many problems faced by married women. However, it would be too much to expect that these steps will be taken without delay by a male dominated political class which baulks at gender equality.

Public response to such crimes has also been seen to be one of indifference. This is evident from the recent bizarre and shameful incident, in which two Dalit women were repeatedly assaulted, stripped and paraded naked in full public view by a few Thakur landlords of their village in Kanpur. The fault of the women was that they had allowed a mentally retarded Thakur girl of the same village to spend a night in their house. The girl’s family did not take kindly to the this. During the public humiliation of the two women, no one tried to help the victims despite their cries for help. All this reveals the lack of a social conscience and the incompetence of the police. The same attitude allows bride-burning.

The problem of violence against women has its roots in a socio-economic order which is heavily biased against women. Ancient law books in fact equate women with beasts and drums, implying that women, like beasts and drums, also deserve to be beaten. A woman who rebels, or tries to forge an identity of her own, is immediately ostracized.

Given the milieu, there can be little hope for a drastic uplift in the status of women. Only a change in the fundamental perceptions of people can bring about a transformation in society. There can be no two opinions about the need for stringent laws, a sensitive judiciary, an effective law-enforcement machinery, vigilant women’s groups to deal with crimes against women. But what is needed more than anything else is a revolution in the way society regards women. It must stop blaming women for acts of which they are the victims, not the perpetrators.

   

 
 
PICKING OUT LOOPHOLES IN THE SYSTEM 
 
 
BY PARAMA SINHA PALIT
 
 
The recent efforts of the United States to establish a National Missile Defence system threaten to undermine international strategic stability. Washington calls it a protective measure. It feels, a world stashing ballistic missiles in various corners, coupled with user technologies and other fatal weapons of mass destruction, is not a stable habitat. An NMD is essential to safeguard against accidental launches and missile attacks by “rogue” states.

The move, however, has met with disapproval both at home and outside. Opinion polls in the US indicate that it has not gone down well with the Americans. The Chinese view the move as a demonstration of US intention to achieve “absolute security” for its military position globally. And Pakistan has started singing the same tune.

Careful response

Apart from marginalizing China, the step is indicative of the US desire to police the world. China is also apprehensive of how the defence system will tell on US role in east Asia, the growing military potential of Japan and US military assistance to Taiwan. Implementation of the defence system is almost certain to lead to strained US-China relations.

Tremors of the move have also been felt in Russia, although it has tried to act undisturbed by claiming that the defence system will not be directed against it. But beyond diplomatic niceties, Russia would be careful in responding to the US initiative while trying at the same time to maintain good relations with the US.

The US seems to be overestimating its threat perceptions with regard to rogue states, none of which can possibly acquire missiles capable of threatening US military might. By blowing up its security concerns, the US is paving the way for global destabilization. The NMD will not decrease threats. It can do exactly the opposite. The world will get divided between the NMD “haves” and “have nots”. The implementation of the NMD can also spark off an arms race in strategically sensitive areas like the Indian subcontinent.

More troubles

Since the Eighties, India has been experiencing rapid proliferation of ballistic missiles in its neighbourhood. While India-US relations are on the upswing, the mood is quite different on the Chinese front. The US president’s visit to India last year was followed by the failure of the Sino-US talks in Beijing, the key issue in which was Chinese missile transfers to Pakistan. The failure implied that China was not willing to review its transactions with Pakistan. India can apprehend that initiation of the NMD would force China to modernize its missiles. A mightier China and a better-equipped Pakistan can hardly be the most peaceful neighbours for India.

India would thus have to work on an effective missile deterrent to keep both China and Pakistan at bay. The obvious outcome would be greater volatility in a region that an do without any more trouble.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

King of good times

Sir — Laloo Prasad Yadav is like the proverbial cat, only he seems to have more than nine lives (“Laloo goes to people with court relief”, May 13). The Supreme Court’s stay order on the arrest of Laloo Yadav proves that fortune is at the moment favouring the former chief minister of Bihar. But then, he has given proof of his bravery several times in the past, most recently, by expelling Ranjan Yadav from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, even at the risk of losing a considerable chunk of his support base. The apex court’s decision has not only saved Laloo Yadav from experiencing unpleasant confinement, but may actually have saved the fall of the RJD government in Bihar. For, as the editorial, “The road to Ranchi” (May 11), pointed out, Rabri Devi would be clueless, with her husband — the ruler behind the scenes — in a jail which would not facilitate remote control governance. The creation of Jharkhand, rather than taking away the mineral resources of Bihar, has proved to be a boon for Bihar’s first family.

Yours faithfully,
Sampad Mishra, Hooghly

Eyes left

Sir — The article, “Missing links” (May 6), has highlighted four major issues which the various parties contending for supremacy in West Bengal have glossed over. Apart from these four, there are a few others which were also ignored.

First, the development of command areas of the major irrigation projects in West Bengal. Out of 57 lakh hectares of agricultural land in West Bengal, the total command area originally envisaged for kharif irrigation in the Damodar Valley Corporation, Mayurakshi and Kangsabati projects was 11.67 hectares. The command area development authority has been established with the objective of effecting farm development, including the construction of field channels, land levelling and so on within the particular command area.

The provision for allocating Central grants in accordance with the state budget allocation on this score has been in place for about 15 years. Other major states have been using 20 times or more of such Central funds than West Bengal. Consequently, not more than five per cent of the command area could be covered in West Bengal.

Micro watershed development projects in 36 drought-prone area programme blocks in the western undulating terrains in the lateritic belt of West Bengal have not received proper attention. More than five years back, they were introduced to arrest depletion of water and soil resources with the help of very cheap and simple technology. Rain-water harvesting in appropriate topography, greenery development in wastelands, improved practices in agriculture, social forestry, animal husbandry, cottage industries, women’s participation, children’s nutrition and so on were among the many goals of the project.

Implementation of such projects could also have countered or progressively reduced the disastrous effects of recurring floods and droughts in the state and generated rural employment. Funds have not been a constraint. But apart from costly high level seminars in different cities, little has been achieved at the ground level.

Prospects of generating rural employment through motivating self-help groups to engage people in vocations like agriculture, animal husbandry, cottage industries and so on also remain largely unexplored.

Yours faithfully,
Basudeb Moulick, via email

Sir — The article, “Missing Links”, devotes some of its attention to the problem of arsenic contamination in West Bengal. It would also be helpful to know that the best course of action for villagers living in areas afflicted with this problem but who are not equipped with arsenic-treatment plants is to purify and boil surface water before drinking.

Yours faithfully,
Amartya Kumar Bhattacharya, via email

Sir — “Missing links” has served to be an eyeopener for the electorate, and hopefully, for the politicians too. Prior to the assembly elections in West Bengal, the ruling Left Front was busy highlighting its achievements to the people, while the opposition parties tried their best to show the claims to be false. In the mudslinging that ensued, vital issues received cursory mention in the manifestos of the parties.

Education is one such issue. West Bengal, according to the latest estimates, has the largest number of illiterates after Bihar. The ruling government has failed to extend adequate infrastructural support to primary and higher education, neither has it been able to introduce job-oriented courses which would reduce the problem of unemployment in the state.

Though eight districts of the state have been identified as problem areas in terms of water, little has been done to solve the problem of arsenic contamination. Nearly a million people, including those in Calcutta and its suburbs, are dying slow deaths from arsenic contamination. Most government hospitals lack proper facilities to tackle serious diseases and a paucity of doctors at the rural health centres aggravates the problem. Along with these, the poor condition of the roads and power cuts, make for a rather poor standard of living for the people of West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Centre and periphery

Sir — Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government took over power at the Centre, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has been accused of interfering in the affairs of the government. It little realizes that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government is supported by many allies, most of whom do not take kindly to such interference by the sangh parivar. The news report, “Atal ready to make room for Sangh” (May 8), once again highlights this aspect of the sangh. The RSS should realize that if the NDA government falls, it will be largely because of such uncalled-for interference. Instead of compromising with the RSS’s demands, Vajpayee should issue an ultimatum. If that fails to deter the RSS, Vajpayee should quit. That will ruin the RSS’s only chance of being close to power.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Guha Majumder, Calcutta

Sir — The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is unduly expressing concern about the freedom of religious minorities in India, and trying to earmark India as a “country of particular concern” (“India under US minority watch”, May 2). The commission has cited the role of the RSS and the sangh parivar. But at an official level, the Centre has made clear that its policies are not dictated by the sangh parivar.

Besides, there is a strong opposition in Parliament waiting to catch the Centre out. The commission is bent upon viewing religion from a political angle. It would be advisable for the commission to abandon its pursuit.

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir — The sangh parivar members are well aware that in West Bengal, where voters are fairly sharply polarized, votes are cast in favour of either left or non-left forces. The non-left forces crystallized under the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance. Hence the call to the members of the parivar to go by their conscience (“Sangh sings conscience tune”, April 30). From a practical point of view, this was the most respectable thing for the sangh to do, since the BJP had little hope here. It is good that the organization has finally come to terms with its poor standing in the eastern state.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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