Editorial 1 / Pilgrims’ progress
Editorial 2 / Chaos again
Look back in triumph
Fifth Column / Defence, both private and public
A fist full of fun
Beaming awareness on rural India
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / PILGRIMS’ PROGRESS 
 
 
 
 
Power in West Bengal no longer flows, as communists once believed, from the barrel of a gun. But it flows from a building in Alimuddin Street. There is no better evidence of this than the fact that a delegation from the Confederation of Indian Industry, including its president, paid a visit to the headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Alimuddin Street. This visit has obvious symbolic importance and it operates on many registers. At its most simple, the visit is a clear statement on the part of CII about the importance it accords to the CPI(M) in policy-making and governance in West Bengal. On the same register, but at a deeper level, the visit suggests that Alimuddin Street has precedence over the Writers’ Buildings in the exercise of power in the state. On another register, the visit of the industrialists is an indicator that they have taken at face value the enthusiasm for industrialization which has been articulated by West Bengal’s chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The stand-off between communists and capitalists in West Bengal, one hopes, is a thing of the past. Both mountain and Mohammed have reciprocated each other’s gestures. This new camaraderie between quondam enemies might mark the beginning of a new chapter for West Bengal.

History, however, is made by more substantial things than gestures. The same gestures which have warmed the cockles of optimistic hearts can be read differently. The very fact that the powers that be in CII gave greater importance to Alimuddin Street over the seat of governance and policy-making is an ominous sign. It was hoped that under a new chief minister, the distinction between party and government would be demarcated. This may not happen if the CPI(M) headquarters command more deference and obedience than a political party should in a democratic government run by elected representatives of the people. The signs can be read to mean that Mr Bhattacharjee will not be allowed to cut himself away from the diktats of his party. In the middle to long run, such a situation cannot be beneficial to the industrialization of West Bengal. The CPI(M), in more ways than one, remains a hidebound party driven by outmoded rhetoric. It will be a wonder if it can successfully jettison its antipathy towards capitalists and multinational companies. The industrialists have unerringly chosen the right people to approach and influence. But it will take more than a courtesy call to remove pink lenses from myopic eyes.

It is to Mr Bhattacharjee’s credit, of course, that he has been able to rouse some hope among industrialists. This is no mean achievement in a state which discouraged investors. Investment, as John Maynard Keynes famously remarked, is an act of faith. The basis of that faith is the confidence that investments will fetch returns. To guarantee this, Mr Bhattacharjee will have to initiate swift changes in infrastructure and ambience. But even before such changes can happen, there has to be a shift in mindset. Obstructionism and complacency have to be replaced by transparency and urgency. Nothing that has emanated from Alimuddin Street and from the new chief minister conveys the impression that they are aware of the enormity of the transformation. It will mean turning around the CPI(M) a full 180 degrees. The party has to be taught to think exactly the opposite of what it thought and the way it thought since its inception. Change, like charity, will have to begin at home. In this case, Alimuddin Street.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / CHAOS AGAIN 
 
 
 
 
The protestation of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central leaders that they had no hand in the fall of the Radhabinod Koijam ministry in Manipur may not be entirely unfounded, if one were to consider the minimal control they have on the affairs of the party that bears the BJP name in the state. That the state BJP legislature party leader, Mr R.K. Dorendra Singh, is all set to stake his claim to form the next government confirms that the writ of BJP’s central leadership does not run in distant Imphal. But Mr George Fernandes and his Samata Party, which headed the government in Manipur, could justifiably find fault with the BJP leadership for not acting fast enough to preempt the Manipur muddle, when the state unit co-opted 18 legislators from the Manipur State Congress Party, thereby raising its strength in the assembly to 26. It is possible that the state BJP unit will ignore any disciplinary action taken by the party’s central leadership because Manipur has long had a tradition in which state politicians take and leave affiliations of the national parties only to suit their immediate local interests. It happened with the Congress in the past — in fact, the state Congress unit has had a shadowy existence in Imphal ever since the departure of Mr Reishang Keishing as chief minister and after Mr W. Nipamacha Singh floated the MSCP, eventually making it an ally of the National Democratic Alliance. The syndrome has now caught up with the BJP.

The fall of the Koijam ministry could have been written off as one more unstable Manipur government going unsung, but for the curious chain reactions it has the potential to spark off as far away as in Ranchi and New Delhi. The Samata Party’s threat to pull out of the Babulal Marandi ministry in Jharkhand or even the NDA government in New Delhi over the “betrayal” in Manipur may be yet more posturing than anything else. The threat exposes the fragile and vulnerable state of the NDA, which makes it a happy hunting ground for partners out to make or break deals. One hopes that the decision on the imposition of president’s rule in Manipur is seen as an administrative step and not as a bargain between bickering NDA partners.

   

 
 
LOOK BACK IN TRIUMPH 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
The anti-incumbency factor as an explanation for the state assembly election results is passable in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and even Pondicherry. It has, however, failed to click in West Bengal. Why this has been so perhaps deserves some examination.

Sections of the print media in West Bengal created their own myth. In their view, the continuation of a party or a combination of parties in any government beyond a couple of terms is anti-democratic, a scandal and an outrage. Democracy, they did not have the least doubt, is not what the people want, but what they, the media, want the people to profess. In every other state, governments changed with regular or irregular frequency, new chief ministers are ushered in, former chief ministers are pushed out; it is such a lovely medley of events. Why should it be otherwise in West Bengal?

The media watched with dismay the return, term after term, of the Left Front government in the state with a huge popular mandate on each occasion. The wretched electorate in West Bengal, some of them concluded, is beyond redemption. Some others even recommended on occasion that, along with poll personnel and security forces imported from elsewhere to mount guard over the election process in West Bengal, voters too should be brought in from other states: that was the only way democracy and freedom could be ensured in the state. A select few amongst the wise mediapersons went the whole hog. They formulated a thesis. If a party or a combination of parties succeeded in retaining the trust of a state’s electorate year after year and decade after decade, that has to be reckoned as a misnomer for democracy.

The Indian Constitution, it was suggested, should be so amended as to make it mandatory that, notwithstanding a party receiving popular mandate in a state for more than, say, a couple of times, it must not be allowed to continue in office beyond a stipulated period. Democracy implied change and if the addle-headed people in West Bengal were so dumb as to continue to return the same party times without number, such a verdict needs to be declared as illegitimate and infructuous.

These indolences were not taking them anywhere. This time, the ladies and gentlemen of the media decided to take the bull by the horn. Some of them were convinced that they, and they alone, know the mind of the electorate in the state. The people in West Bengal want a change in government; they have to be helped to reach this objective. In any case, the media have the sole prerogative of deciding what democracy is, or is about.

A few months ahead of the election date, important segments of the media launched a furious campaign of dissembling. The people of West Bengal, it was ipso facto evident, want a different regime to rule them and they, the media, are ambassadors extraordinary, directly despatched by the Almighty to bring about this change. The media set to work. They posted hilarious imaginary tales about how the minds of the voters were working in district after district and constituency after constituency. Once such an exercise is on, it is contaminating: A’s gossip becomes B’s staple, B’s gossip becomes C’s staple, and so on down the line, with illusion feeding upon illusion. The media began to take as gospel truth the garbage they themselves created. They went to the length of questioning the sanity of any one who questioned their presumptions.

Life was of course insufferable under the Left Front. But a residuary problem remained, even if that proposition was accepted as axiomatic truth. The electorate had to be provided with a substitute for governance. This section of the media discovered the substitute in no time. Despite their adoration for left politics, since the Bengalis have compartmentalized minds, they would have great fascination, the media concluded, for religious icons too; they could therefore be easily bamboozled in case they were gifted an anti-left icon with a larger-than-life image.

They got hold of a woman demagogue who literally foamed in the mouth in rage whenever a reference was made to the Left Front government in West Bengal. In no time she was transformed into a goddess come to deliver Bengal and India from the demon of communism. She was as crude as crudeness could be, the language she used was that of the gutter. The upper stratum of the Bengali bourgeoisie — who, in their heart of hearts, are cowards par excellence and whose upbringing normally prevents them from using filthy language — fell for her; she, after all, dared to dare, she could lambast the Left Front in a lingo they do not have the nerve to deploy. They were prostrated at her feet. She had the appropriate making of a female Hitler.

A scanning of the history of 20th-century Europe reveals that, to stem the tide of communism, one needs the assistance of an apparition of Hitlerite proportions. Thanks to the ceaseless effort of this segment of the media, she immediately became the Great Deliverer. The media had already agreed amongst themselves that she perfectly fitted that role; the electorate had now to be persuaded to think likewise. With great perseverance, the media performed this chore over the past few months.

This “demagoguess”, if that is the correct expression, had a single campaign point: throw out the Left Front; once that was done, she promised the people of West Bengal a golden Bengal. Nobody knew what the contours or contents of this golden Bengal were. Neither she nor the media cared. The media further decided that the electorate had to be told that the success of the Left Front in the five successive elections since 1977 was the upshot of muscle power and vote-rigging, and it was their social obligation not to fall into the trap of the front any more.

None of the media bothered to find out whether voters in West Bengal, in town and country, could have a mind of their own and might have benefited in some measure or other on account of the activities of the Left Front regime in the course of the past two and a half decades. They regarded the electorate in West Bengal as dummies who would vote as the media would direct them to.

As divertissement, the media also built up into a major political entity the hotchpotch of a handful of stray characters who had recently deserted the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and formed a paper organization, the Party for Democratic Socialism. The PDS was provided with huge space in the print as well as the electronic media. The phantom leaders of this so-called party emerged overnight as all-India figures, courtesy the media. The electorate was assured that, apart from the deliverer lady, the PDS too would contribute substantially towards the driving of the final nail in the Left Front’s coffin. (Almost all the candidates put up by this outfit were found to have lost their security deposits when the poll results were out.)

The majority of the West Bengal electorate resented these grave acts of insult to their intelligence. They were determined to answer back the media: while, in their absentmindedness, they might occasionally fall for the allure of a temptress deporting herself as a Joan of Arc, they, at the same time, also carried the legacy of the culture and language Tagore had bequeathed to them. They ignored the harangues directed at them as well as the opinion polls; they laughed at the pretentious exit polls. When the electronic voting machines were opened on the 13th of this month, the media learnt the lesson of their lives.

Some of them, and their acolytes, have nonetheless continued to maintain the stance that the verdict this time too is no different in character from what happened in the past; the people’s will has been frustrated by such evil-doings as booth-capturing and vote-manipulation on the part of the Left Front, this time with the active cooperation of the Election Commission. Should there not be a legal provision whereby, as in the case of the judiciary, the Election Commission too should have the right to haul up for contempt individuals and bodies who indulge in such abominable talk?

While concluding, it is necessary to mention that, the anti-incumbency factor or otherwise, the verdict in the five states is equally a verdict against the government at the Centre. Tehelka apart, the people at large are being smothered by the burden imposed by the glorious economic reforms. This was the first opportunity for the people in these five states to voice their protest against the machinations afoot to rain rack and ruin on the people as well as to sell off the country to foreigners on the plea of an arcadia to be arrived at tomorrow or the day after. Who knows, in the manner of the media, the present government in New Delhi is equally dumb; it can even claim some legitimacy that it is only implementing the policy transformation initiated by its brother and enemy, the Congress.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / DEFENCE, BOTH PRIVATE AND PUBLIC 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
The decision to permit private participation in the military industrial domain, till now reserved for the incompetent public sector units, is a welcome step. The government seems to have realized that keeping defence production under tight and clumsy state control does not pay. Hence, the political will to open up the defence manufacturing industry to the private sector on the basis of licences issued by the ministry of defence.

Till now, the bulk of combat and the support hardware for the armed forces was either being supplied by the ordnance factories and defence PSUs or purchased in the international arms bazaar. While the present setup suffers from inefficiency and procrastination, there are influential middlemen meddling in the arms import business, as exposed by the Tehelka tapes.

In an unprecedented and bold move, the Union cabinet has not only allowed 100 per cent private sector participation in the manufacturing of defence equipment, but has also permitted upto 26 per cent foreign direct investment in the sector. The military industrial complexes in the United States and in the western European countries have long been in private and corporate hands. Many items made by Indian defence PSUs are often produced under licence from these privately owned foreign companies.

The Indian private sector venturing in defence production can now directly seek participation of reputed foreign players in the field and manufacture indigenously military hardware for the Indian armed forces or for export. Israeli defence industries, for instance, have already expressed their keenness to establish joint ventures in India for their high-technology combat or non-combat equipment.

Tap a new source

Among the developing countries, India possesses one of the largest bureaucratically controlled arms industry, whose annual estimated turnover is around Rs 10,000 crore. But with the outmoded infrastructure of the defence manufacturers and ordnance factories, it is not possible to deliver state-of-the-art weaponry to our armed forces. This compels the government to import aircraft, combat ships, tanks, field guns, missile systems, radars, communication equipment and even snow-clothing worth billions of dollars. More than one-fourth of the army’s equipment requirement is met through imports. To reduce this heavy drain on currency reserves, the technological and industrial base in the civil corporate sector needs to be tapped.

So far the proposals for private participation in the defence industry have been confined to seminar rooms. Foreign companies, by collaborating with Indian companies, can take advantage of the cheaper and skilled Indian technical manpower. They could also source cost-effective goods and spares from their Indian counterparts. With greater access to the industrially advanced countries, the Indian corporate sector will be in a better position to attract foreign direct investment and superior technology.

Combined efforts

Export of indigenously manufactured defence goods will have a promising market especially in the third world countries, provided the quality and reliability of the weapons systems are comparable to the best in the world.

There have been fears that the entry of private sector and foreign capital in the defence sector will be detrimental to India’s security. In industrially advanced countries, hi-tech combat equipment is produced by corporate bodies without compromising national security. Of course, foolproof mechanisms to safeguard national security will have to be worked out by the defence ministry while issuing licences to private concerns.

Initially, the ministry may not be keen to entrust the civil sector with the production of actual combat gear. Yet a beginning should be made by allowing the private players to produce support equipment in military transport, communications, electronics, clothing, field rations and so on.

In order to attract the private sector, the armed forces will have to ensure steady commercial flow of orders to the companies. The industry too, will have to reciprocate by maintaining a high standard of quality, competitive prices and strict deadlines for delivery. Corporate enterprises venturing in defence production can also benefit from technologies developed by the research establishment of the nation’s military industrial complex.

   

 
 
A FIST FULL OF FUN 
 
 
BY SHRABANI BASU
 
 
The British media haven’t had so much fun in a long time. After months of reporting burning carcass in the countryside — thanks to foot and mouth — along with relentless bad weather for the last six months (the worst spell in 250 years), it needed an old-fashioned punch from the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, to bring the hacks back to life.

What will go down for ever in the history books as the “Prescott Punch” was actually a left hook delivered by Britain’s burly deputy prime minister on the chin of a 29-year-old Welsh protester who had thrown an egg at him during a walk-about at Rhyll in North Wales. Within minutes the two were on the floor grappling with each other till security forces and the public managed to wrench them apart.

The deputy prime minister is actually a trained boxer who took up boxing at the age of 18 and won a silver trophy in 1957 as a seaman on the Rangitata ship. He earned fame and the trophy for knocking out the ship’s renowned toughie. The cup — called the Prescott Cup — is now with his former school in Chester. When Craig Evans and his egg came too close for comfort, the minister struck out.

Within minutes he was christened the “Raging bull of Rhyll” as the press in sheer delight unleashed a barrage of puns. The Mirror headlined the story “ManiFISTo”. The Sun had “Two Jags was Two Jabs” and the story was a splash with detailed pictures of the jabs. There were others of course: “At least the Labour campaign has a bit of a punch this time….Round one to Prescott….Punch out privatisation”. Even “Come and have a go if you think y’er Left enough.’’ It was simply irresistible. The Sun sent its election team the next day to cover Prescott’s second engagement wearing big red boxing gloves. A story at last, after months of denial.

Throwing eggs, flour and the occasional custard pie is the standard treatment for politicians during British polls. Margaret Thatcher escaped a blow to her head with a bunch of flowers from a woman demonstrator in Stockport. The Iron Lady simply carried on as security grappled with the woman and her daffodils. Others like John Major were the model of humility and only smiled mildly when pelted with eggs or flour. John Gummer, as environment secretary, faced the wrath of protesters fairly often and never reacted adversely to either custard pie or flour. Tony Blair was hit on the shoulder by a tomato as he arrived to visit a school in Bristol this year. Neil Kinnock, former Labour leader, was once hit on the head with a menu card at an Indian restaurant in Ealing by two customers. He chased them down the street.

Besides, Prescott was not the only one facing egg-yolk this week. On Thursday, Bill Clinton was hit by an egg as he toured Warsaw, where he is on a speaking tour. Seems it’s egg season for politicians, past and present.

But while most politicians grin and bear it, Prescott was not one to take it on his chin, or worse, turn the other cheek. Known as someone who is blunt to the point of rudeness — he once famously called a crab that he had fished out of the Thames “my friend Peter’’ (referring to Peter Mandelson) — Prescott swung out at his 17 stone attacker. Even Blair, forced to defend his free-fighting deputy, simply said : “John is John. But I tell you I’m lucky to have him as deputy.’’ He even concluded about Prescott : “He’s got very very great strengths. Not least in his left arm.”

In his Hartlepool constituency, Mandelson, got his own back at Prescott. Appearing before a bunch of school-children with a cut on his right nostril (left by his labrador Bobby), he said : “For the benefit of the press photographers present, I have not had an incident with John Prescott.’’ All of which was wonderful for the press.

If anything, Prescott’s punch has livened up this otherwise dull-as-ditchwater election campaign. With Labour comfortably in the lead, and William Hague (heaven bless him) inspiring only amazement at his ever being party leader at all, the stage is set for Blair to have a walk-over. With nearly a 42 per cent lead in the opinion polls, the Labour government’s only worry is that bad weather and voter apathy may see low turnouts. Even Cherie Blair, hard-working barrister and busy mum, is not joining her husband on his election tours. She has opted to simply get on with her ever-increasing work-load — tend to her legal cases as well as look after the family, including baby Leo who will be one this month.

For Labour, it looks like a smooth ride. The foot and mouth crisis has nearly faded, the fuel protests which immobilized the country last year are virtually forgotten (though Evans had hurled his egg as a protest against fuel prices), unemployment and interest rates are at all-time lows and the threat of recession coming from across the Atlantic still seems far away. Crucially, New Labour now enjoys the support of the professionals and business people (formerly traditional Tory supporters). Also, the Tory-whipped-up frenzy on the single currency, Europe and asylum don’t have many takers. The Hindujas passport affair may remain an irritant, but will not be a major poll issue. Blair has asked the electorate for ten years to get the job of building Britain properly done. In the absence of any opposition, he may well get what he has wished for.

For the media, that leaves hardly anything to report. After filing that Geri Halliwell was the latest Blair babe kicking off the election campaign with a special song, and that Ffion Hague looks deadly glamorous accompanying her husband on his election tours, they might have just as well headed for the pub. But thanks to Prescott’s opening punch, the poll battle has come alive. When it comes to fights, there’s nothing like an old-fashioned punch-up.

At any rate, the British need not fear that their elections will get violent. Public anger is usually confined to eggs, flour, pies and chocolate eclairs. Pity the Indian, also part of the same democratic process. At its best, poll violence in India may mean a broken arm or leg or a stone thrown at one’s head. At its worst, it could mean death. And the story doesn’t end there. Parliamentarians have to frequently duck from flying chappals and chairs even inside the Lok Sabha. Two years back, a free-for all in the Tamil Nadu assembly resulted in injured members of the legislative assembly being taken away on stretchers. All of which were shown on the nation’s television sets. One can clearly remember the agitated reporter saying that the MLAs were now demanding that they be allowed to wear helmets to the assembly as there was a risk to their lives.

So much for parliamentary democracy. John Prescott can cheer up. After all, it was only an egg. Besides didn’t he half scramble it?

   

 
 
BEAMING AWARENESS ON RURAL INDIA 
 
 
BY RADHAKRISHNA RAO
 
 
Ever since its inception, one of the objectives of the Indian space research programme has been to harness satellite technology for social and economic development. In the Sixties, Vikram Sarabhai had realized the immense potential of satellite broadcasting for taking the message of development and education to rural India. Out of this vision evolved the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment, the largest satellite-based mass communications experiment in the world. In 1975-76, instructional programmes were telecast directly to the augmented TV receivers located in 2,400 backward villages in six Indian states.

The ATS-6 satellite, made available to India for one year by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, constituted the space segment of SITE. For the Indian Space Research Organization, SITE provided valuable experience in the development, testing and management of a satellite based instructional TV system aimed at the rural population. SITE also provided a sound insight into the production and telecasting of educational and developmental programmes to widely dispersed geographical locations with diverse problems and languages using a single broadcast channel on a time-sharing mode.

Beware of centralization

Socially too, it was shown to have led to greater awareness about health, environment and family planning. However, there was an apprehension about the possible “centralization” inherent in the technology of direct broadcasting used for SITE. While looking for technological options that could meaningfully complement this centralization, the ideas of “limited rebroadcasting” was hit upon. And the result was the Kheda Communications Project managed by the Ahmedabad-based Development and Education Communications Unit of ISRO. As part of the KCP, as many as 550 community receivers were installed in 400 villages, which received programmes on development and educational issues, and on news and general entertainment.

KCP proved that the involvement of people with the medium and the credibility of the medium greatly increases when the medium deals with issues of immediate concern. Communications research can help in building a system sensitive to people’s needs. KCP received a UNESCO award for rural communications in 1985. The experience gained during the implementation of SITE and KCP significantly contributed to the definition of India’s INSAT domestic satellite system which continues to be utilized for socially relevant broadcasting projects.

Pilot projects

The INSAT system, which went on stream in 1983 with the launching of INSAT-1B, has been a major catalyst in the expansion of TV coverage in India. Satellite TV covers more than 80 per cent of the Indian population. As many as 22 TV channels are now being operated through C-band transponders onboard the INSAT series of spacecraft. The Training and Development Communications Channel, using INSAT system capacity, has been operational since February 1995. Essentially, TDCC provides a teleconference network for industrial training and education. The TDCC system is now being used by several organisations, including the National Dairy Development Board, State Bank of India, Indira Gandhi National Open University and Goa University for education and interactive training.

Experience gained in the course of the implementation of TDCC has led to the evolution of the Gramsat pilot project for speeding up rural development by exploiting the innovations in satellite communications technology. Orissa has become the first Indian state to launch Gramsat pilot projects on a significantly large scale.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Love’s labours lost

Sir — The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is the biggest labour union in India. Earlier it was targeting the left-led unions for their alleged leanings towards the former Soviet Union. Now it is keen to paint the prime minister, A.B. Vajpayee, as anti-national (“Atal advice lost on BMS”, May 20). When Indira Gandhi nationalized the banks, the BMS was in the forefront to oppose the decision, favouring the private sector. Now the BMS has changed colours and is opposed to the privatization of Bharat Aluminium Company. The BMS did not oppose the United Front government when it went ahead and toed the line of the World Trade Organization. One can agree with the view that any sovereign country should have the option to come out of the WTO agreement. But the BMS, if it wants this, should try to build up public opinion against the WTO’s harmful impact on the Indian economy, instead of targeting Vajpayee individually. The leftists and Sonia Gandhi are, of course, happy because the BMS has taken it upon itself to relieve their burden.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Launching a policy

Sir — The editorial, “Shield for a sword” (May 7), talks about the National Missile Defence policy framed by the president of the United States, George W. Bush. The NMD is a protective shield empowered to stop an incoming missile with another. But there is a problem; the incoming missile may have the facility to deploy thousands of electronic decoys known as “chaff” during its flight, to confuse the defender. Even in theoretical terms, the American scientists are not unanimous about the feasibility of such a technology being developed in the foreseeable future.

The cost estimates for this ambitious project currently range between $ 60 billion and $ 100 billion. The budget for all this has to be provided for against the backdrop of the proposed tax-cut about to be passed by the US congress to revitalize the economy. Bush has tried to mollify the Russians and the Chinese, saying that the NMD is meant to protect the US from “rogue states”, which have developed nuclear capability and are pronouncedly anti-American in their views.

But, why would these countries try to bomb the US using their own ballistic missiles (which are widely believed to be unreliable and inaccurate) to launch the nuclear bombs? It looks more likely that they may rely on chemical and biological weapons which can be delivered more easily to the targeted American cities by their terrorist squads. Meanwhile, why is India supporting the NMD without any public debate?

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Durham, US

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party government may have made several mistakes in Kargil, Kandahar and Pyrdiwah, but to give the devil his due, it has done well in supporting the NMD. Cries of the NMD leading to an arms race are emanating from Moscow, Beijing and Islamabad, which are technologically not in a position to compete with it. The NMD, aimed at rogue states, would effectively make redundant the dozen or more Chinese inter-continental ballistic missiles. Russia has had a very bad experience in the arms race. International relations are not a children’s party where everyone gets an equal slice of the “security cake”. Only those who can keep up with technology make it. Those who cannot should reconcile themselves to an inferior position. Opposing the NMD because some Chinese general will find it hard to bomb Washington is ludicrous.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, via email

Sir — George W. Bush’s NMD is a dangerously destabilizing move. While unworkable in practice, it will provoke China into a massive missile-building spree, with defensive missile proliferation, thus harming India’s security position. Further, the development of “suitcase nukes” will speed up, and inevitably these will be acquired by terrorists. One can easily imagine the consequences for New Delhi, where even the South Block cannot be protected from tiffin-carrier bombs on bicycles. Under these circumstances, the BJP’s euphoric reaction to the NMD is not just strange, it is preposterous.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, via email

Mother of all corruption

Sir — Isn’t it a travesty of a democracy in which the very law that barred J. Jayalalitha from contesting the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu has not been able to keep her away from the chief ministership in the state (“Sworn-in Jaya swears to be honest”, May 15). The governor, Fathima Beevi, who is also a former Supreme Court judge, did not think it appropriate to seek advice from experts before taking her decision.

In a television interview, the insouciant amma claimed that the verdict of the people in her state was the ultimate truth and that her party’s victory was the nicest Mother’s Day gift to her. In any case, the law repeatedly appears to be full of loopholes and the powerful invariably know how to use them. But, the law seems to be particularly ineffective when it comes to dealing with this lady.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — The haste with which J. Jayalalitha was ushered in as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu is dubious, to say the least. Popularity should not automatically give a person the right to govern a state. In several Indian states, it is not difficult for a popular mafia don to get elected and then ride rough-shod over the criminal charges against him. There should be some mandatory procedures to be followed before such elections are made.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Ghosh, via email

Sir — The “honest” man of Indian politics, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, made the effort to congratulate J. Jayalalitha for defeating his friend, M. Karunanidhi (“Jaya case crusaders jump ship”, May 17). Nobody in India will be deceived by this show of propriety. Vajpayee obviously wants to build a rapport with the lady from Poes Gardens, because his government looks insecure at best.

Undoubtedly, Jayalalitha will soon be lucky enough to get her name cleared of all corruption charges, as was the case with L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti recently, and this honest man would then find in her a “natural ally”.

Yours faithfully
G.K. Reddy, Kharagpur

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