Editorial 1 / Against the grain
Editorial 2 / Maintain decorum
What the crack portends
Fifth Column / When divisions become disruptive
Victors and vanquished of Vietnam
There are Biggs things in store
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / AGAINST THE GRAIN 
 
 
 
 
It is only rarely that the West Bengal government opposes a move to decentralize power since it is a great advocate of the devolution of powers from the Centre to the states. The government of West Bengal has lent its voice to the chorus of protest that has come from the governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh against the Centre’s suggestion that the procurement and distribution of foodgrains should be decentralized. The objections voiced by the states are not without basis. There are problems and hazards involved in handling and distributing perishable commodities like rice and wheat. First, there are the responsibilities and costs of procurement, and second, there are the problems of warehousing and transportation. The states, understandably, are not willing to take on these tasks. Thus, an otherwise well thought out scheme aimed at pulling the Central government from the public distribution system stands in danger of being scuppered. From the Centre’s point of view, it is not reducing the food subsidy that goes to the states; it is also not saying that it will deny grain to the states if the latter fail to meet the procurement targets. On the contrary, the Centre has said that it will take over from the state the grain that it procures in excess of the PDS.

The states have two major points against the new proposal. One is that they lack the infrastructure to carry out the elaborate procurement drive and to store the grain. Second is that they lack funds. The first point is somewhat disingenuous. The states have civil supplies corporations and regulated market yards. These can be streamlined and used to buy grain from surplus areas. The second point has more substance to it. State agencies have to be granted the same credit facilities that the Reserve Bank of India gives to the Food Corporation of India. It is obvious that strong pressures are operating to preserve the status quo. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has taken the safest escape route by appointing a committee of chief ministers to look into the proposal and its problems. In other words, the prime minister has temporized. He has refused to face the fact that the PDS needs radical changes. The PDS must target those who are utterly poor and those who are unable to work. It must be complemented by a food for work programme. To enable these to take place, the policy relating to procurement must be changed. As of now, the government is following the dangerous policy of buying at a very good price the surplus of rich farmers and landlords. This policy shows excessive deference to the farmers’ lobby and is obviously a drain on the exchequer. The entire basis of procurement and the PDS has to be overhauled for it to work satisfactorily either in a centralized or a decentralized manner.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / MAINTAIN DECORUM 
 
 
 
 
There are many ways in which Indian society punishes a divorced woman. It is almost as if the breakup of a marriage, whatever the reasons behind it, must be laid at her door. One way to punish her is to cripple her economically. This is very effective, given that a large number of women in India do not work, or work with comparatively low pay. The Union law ministry has made an effort to correct one imbalance in the divorce laws by amending section 125 of the criminal procedure code. The amendment aims to remove the Rs 500 limit on the interim maintenance allowance and to ensure that courts grant maintenance within 60 days. The second is extremely important, since the interminable spinning out of the time between petition and decision invariably works to the husband’s advantage. The removal of the limit means the courts can decide on the amount at their discretion, which, as women’s organizations have been demanding for years, should rightly be concomitant with the husband’s income. In any case, Rs 500 is an absurd amount. If the amendment is effected, economics will work both ways, at least more so than before. If some women, in spite of deep suffering, hesitated to even think of divorce because of economic insecurity, men too may have reason to think twice about it now. More important, this is good news for women forced to live in comparative poverty or as dependents in their natal family because of divorce.

Traditionally, the man is let off lightly as regards his responsibilities. It is both interesting and alarming to see how far tradition permeates lawmaking. The woman’s self-respect is never an issue, her continued dependence is to be desired rather than corrected. The very conception of interim and final maintenance after divorce is coloured by this bias, and it has taken 30 years for a law ministry to attempt to change it. It is certainly good that the attempt is being made. But it can only be a beginning. As lawyers have pointed out, even this amendment needs to be worked out in detail. One, it has to be made clear whether the maintenance amount is meant for the divorced wife alone or whether it includes the maintenance of minor children. Two, to make the removal of the maintenance limit meaningful, the final maintenance clause has to be looked at closely. One provision states that this should not exceed one-third of the husband’s total earnings. Not only is such a blanket rule arbitrary, there is no end to the little games that can be played with records of total earnings. While ruling on a particular case a few years ago, the Supreme Court had remarked that divorce should not be a punishment for the woman, she should be allowed a lifestyle equal to that before her divorce. The proposed change should help in achieving this goal.

   

 
 
WHAT THE CRACK PORTENDS 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
A change of government in Manipur will in normal circumstances be of no more than marginal interest to the Centre. If the ouster of the Samata Party-led ministry in this small northeastern state, with the vast majority of the Bharatiya Janata Party members voting against the confidence motion, has given a jolt to the Vajpayee government, it is because of the fact that bad blood between the two allies in Imphal may produce a new crack in the National Democratic Alliance.

The crisis produced by the political drama in Manipur showing how fragile the NDA structure is may blow over if the BJP leadership has enough authority over its flock in Imphal — which, except for two of its 26 members, defied its whip — to abandon its claim to form a government. The large number of defectors from other groups who have joined the party there, however, changed their allegiance not for any ideological reason but for a larger share in the spoils of office.

Any patch-up in Manipur between the two allies-turned-opponents will be no more than an arrangement to save the Samata’s face after what has happened. Even if the ousted chief minister returns to his old post, it will be only as a prisoner of the BJP in the state assembly which has 26 members against the Samata’s 13. In the long run, any viable compromise must reflect the balance of forces in the legislature. Whoever is the chief minister, it is the BJP which will be calling the tune. A temporary truce, for all one knows, may even provoke further changes in the complexion of the assembly, with some more defections by those whose aspirations the new arrangement is unable to accommodate.

Whatever the outcome of the new crack in the NDA facade, the way the BJP is keeping its doors wide open for defectors of all hues from other parties looking for greener pastures cannot but detract further from its moral authority which has been already eroded badly by the Tehelka disclosures. The kind of coalition politics the party is trying desperately hard to make respectable is at last asserting its logic.

Under a dispensation where every vote in Parliament counts, the smaller the outfit, the greater its chances of getting a share of the spoils of office out of all proportion to its strength. As for those who have enough clout, whether they are allies or supporters from outside, to put in question the very survival of the government, they can get whatever they want. The primary concern of Yashwant Sinha and Bimal Jalan was fiscal discipline when they said “no” to N. Chandrababu Naidu’s request for monetary support to enable Andhra farmers to get prompt payment for the surplus rice they sell.

But what was the sense of enforcing fiscal discipline at the cost of alienating a key supporter and putting the government’s own life in jeopardy? The prime minister had his own priorities and so overruled his finance minister.

The BJP’s attempt to sell the story that the recent assembly election results will have no impact on the NDA is misconceived. The prime minister is finding it difficult even to make the states ruled by its allies fall in line with some of his government’s decisions. With two more states going over to the Congress, it will become a far more daunting task for his government to implement policies which require unstinted cooperation of all the states. The prime minister has already had a taste of this by the generally adverse reaction to his plea to the states to take over the responsibility for procurement and storage of surplus cereals.

The proposal itself was quixotic, since he knew that most of the states did not have the resources to undertake the new task and that the experiment might add to the confusion, with the Centre forced to undertake last-minute rescue operations, and some of the states diverting part of the funds put at their disposal for this purpose to other uses. Dare the prime minister question Prakash Singh Badal’s setting new standards of impropriety by disbursing large sums personally to people at so-called sangat darshans?

Then there is the weird story going the rounds about the prime minister’s anxiety to award Ajit Panja with a ministerial berth in his government for defying Mamata Banerjee and campaigning for the BJP during the recent West Bengal elections. What makes this gentleman stay in the Trinamool Congress even after being divested of all his posts in that party? The answer is that he has to find two other Trinamool members of parliament to defect with him if he is not to lose his present seat in the Lok Sabha and face a byelection. The two others are hard to find because they would also like to have places in the government and the prime minister cannot oblige them. The cynics will wonder why not. Has not the BJP chief minister in Jharkhand made all the five Samata members of the legislative assembly part of his government?

As for the new rift in the BJP-Samata Party relationship, there is good reason why it may not lead to a permanent parting of the ways between the two. After all, both have an equal stake in keeping the NDA going despite all the charges and counter-charges. First, the five Samata ministers in Jharkhand will be reluctant to give up their posts. Second, George Fernandes, though still licking the wound inflicted on his ego when he was made to quit his high-profile post of defence minister under duress in the wake of the Tehelka tapes disclosures, will prefer retaining the weight he carries in the NDA councils as its convenor than going into the political wilderness.

Ironically enough, the real threat to the Vajpayee government comes more from the hotting up of the cold war in the sangh parivar, than from difficult allies who know that they have more to gain from keeping in power a coalition government that is vulnerable to their pressure. What is an asset for the allies, however, has become a liability in the eyes of many of the front organizations close to the parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. If these organizations have of late become more virulent in their criticism of official policies, it is because they feel let down by the government because of its vacating of most of the entrenched BJP positions.

The more militant front organizations did not press their demands with enough force so long as they thought that shelving the Hindutva and swadeshi programmes was a temporary expedient. What bugs them now is the growing feeling that three years of power have changed the very character of the BJP, committing it firmly to an economic course contrary to what it advocated during the election campaign, playing down the Hindutva card, and going much further than the Congress in trying to appease the militant groups in Kashmir.

If a person like Dattopant Thengadi is determined to go ahead with his plan to hold anti-government rallies in different parts of the country, it is because job losses resulting from the new economic policies will tarnish the image of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh he heads.

If nothing is done soon enough to create much greater cohesion in the thinking of the sangh parivar, the BJP itself can end up as a party of warring factions. In any case, the contradiction between the militant front organizations supplying the cadre to campaign for the party, in the hope that it would pursue policies more in accord with the thinking of the RSS, and a BJP-led government eager to create a climate more in accord with the logic of the economic liberalization and globalization processes cannot but adversely affect the fortunes of the leading partner in the NDA.

Inducting more pracharaks into the BJP is not going to change either the rules of the game called coalition politics or the character of the new global order, with its increasing disparities of military power, investment capital, and access to new technologies. Nor will it alter the nature of the forces that continue to fracture political life here and create an irresolvable contradiction between parties with a pan-Indian perspective like the Congress, the left front and the BJP, and groups which draw their strength from sharpened regional, caste and ethnic identities. The political culture now in vogue is a prescription for undermining what remains of Indian nationalism and strengthening all kinds of subnationalisms which, in the years to come, can give a new poignancy to the question: will the Centre hold?

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / WHEN DIVISIONS BECOME DISRUPTIVE 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
 
A different kind of heat threatens to singe the lush slopes of Jharkhand. Political instability, coupled with ethnic tension over job reservations, have sent alarm bells pealing in the state capital. Although the political roller-coaster in Manipur narrowly missed Jharkhand following the decision of the Samata Party chief, George Fernandes, to stay on in the National Democratic Alliance, the crisis is far from over.

A section of Bharatiya Janata Party leaders has cornered the Babulal Marandi-led NDA government over the issue of job quotas for tribals. The move has strained the pan-ethnic unity and allowed an “alternative coalition’’ to flex its muscles.

A huge Mahato-Kudmi rally in Ranchi on Friday professes to tie together a formidable army of “adversaries” under the leadership of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief, Shibu Soren, and a ragtag band of Mahato intellectuals.

The rally seeks to draw the state government’s attention to an “ethnic wrong” perpetrated by the British 71 years ago in the context of the NDA government’s new reservations policy. The Kudmi-Mahatos comprising 26 per cent of the state’s indigenous population are opposing the 60 per cent job reservations sought by the Adivasi Jharkhand Janadhikar Manch, a non-Kudmi lobby, comprising Santhals, Munda, Ho and Oraons.

Unscheduled anger

The manch has accused the bureaucracy of being “anti-tribal”, threatening a “do-or-die’’ agitation if Marandi fails to concede to their demand for 60 per cent reservations in government jobs. It will organize a “counter-rally’’ on May 27 and announce a Jharkhand bandh.

The government, on its part, plans to reserve 27 per cent seats for tribals and has constituted a committee to oversee its implementation. But even this is not acceptable to the “de-scheduled” Kudmi-Mahatos, who want their rightful place in the Scheduled Tribe list before the reservations policy is set in motion. This has brought the Kudmi-Mahatos in direct confrontation with the ethnic groups figuring in the scheduled list.

The situation has put the NDA government in a fix. That a section of BJP leaders is at the forefront of the reservations movement has embarrassed the government. The manch convenor and senior BJP leader, Salkhan Murmu, has urged the “legitimate tribals” to boycott those who failed to “express solidarity with their demand”.

The move has alienated the powerful Kudmi-Mahato lobby in the BJP. The government in Jharkhand has several Mahato ministers, like Sudesh Mahato, the public works department minister and Lalchand Mahato, the energy minister.

Greater brotherhood

“We will not accept any reservation unless the Jharkhand government amends its Scheduled Tribe list to include the Kudmi-Mahatos,” asserts the Jharkhand Buddhijeevi Manch convenor, Pashupati Mahato. The forum, a pro-Mahato intellectuals’ lobby, has hitched its wagon to the JMM, imbuing the beleaguered party with a semblance of “credibility” since Shibu Soren lost out to Marandi in the race for the chief minister’s post. The Mahatos, along with some other de-scheduled Sarna (animist) groups, which had sworn by the NDA during the assembly polls last year and helped the BJP cruise to power, are now a disillusioned lot.

They attribute their plight to a “historical blunder” committed 71 years ago. In 1931, the British rulers dropped the Mahatos from the scheduled tribes list after the Jhalida shootout. Five Mahato revolutionaries — Gokul, Ganesh, Mohan, Sheetal and Sahadev — faced the firing squad for daring to take on the imperialists. An enraged government dropped the Kudmi-Mahatos from the list for fanning “secessionist fire”.

But the archives show that the British official, T. Grearson, in a 1913 government of India notification had listed the Mahatos, Pans, Kharowas and Tantis (all animist groups) as “tribals”. Basing their arguments on several such “rare government records”, the Kudmi-Mahatos are clamouring for inclusion in the sixth schedule, applicable to Jharkhand under the Bhuria committee recommendation.

The senior BJP leader, Saryu Rai, feels the problem is grave. “The spirit of Hor Mitan (greater ethnic brotherhood) is under siege,” he says, echoing the sentiments of over 48,000 Sarna tribals.

   

 
 
VICTORS AND VANQUISHED OF VIETNAM 
 
 
BY V.R. RAGHAVAN
 
 
The Vietnam memorial in Washington DC is a remarkable experience. It is simple in design with a black shining wall extending into the low hollow of the grassy Mall. All the major monuments and famous buildings from the Capitol to Washington monument and the white marbled Jefferson memorial are close by. Memorials to the fallen in World War II, in Korea and to women who gave their lives are located in the area.

The Vietnam memorial draws the largest crowds. It moves those who wonder at the heavy casualties taken by the United States military personnel. It breaks the hearts of those who had anything to do with Vietnam. Candles are lit and flowers are laid by unknown hands every day. Those who lost their dear ones come to touch the inscribed names on the wall and weep. Others trace the name on butter paper to take home and keep.

The memorial is an acceptance of all that went terribly wrong in policy terms, in human dimensions and the social burden the American people still carry. It is an attempt to come to terms with all that was inflicted on Vietnam and the burden of that tragic memory.

Sadly, Vietnam does not go away, either from memory or from the lives of the American people. It surfaces and resurfaces ever so often in many forms. The US sent some of its finest men and women to Vietnam through national service. Only a few escaped through influence or evasion. One such became the president of the US. For the others who just had to go there, Vietnam proved traumatic and its scars run deep in their minds and souls.

Some of the best fiction in the US during the Seventies and the Eighties came from the Vietnam experience. The most outstanding combat journalism emerged from Vietnam. The soldiers who fought in Vietnam did not have a clear mandate, other than to sanitize large areas from the Vietcong or the VC as they were called. In the absence of a cohesive strategy, ever larger forces could not obtain the objectives, which remained vague until it was too late.

Poor political management and failures of military high command notwithstanding, those who fought there did their best. General Colin Powell had a man dying in his arms in Vietnam, and it left a lasting impression on him about the futility of such campaigns. Those who fought there were brave and there were any number of acts of high valour.

One such case was that of Robert Kerrey, who later went on to become a senator. He was a naval officer in the special operations branch which was used to eliminate specific individuals of the Vietcong hierarchy.

On a moonless night in February 1969, Kerrey led a team to eliminate a known VC leader. They made their way to the target, silently slitting the throats of four who were perhaps guarding the route to the village. Thereafter, Kerrey’s team came under fire.

The fire was returned in the way it was usually done in Vietnam — by a massive fire response. The team reportedly fired 1,200 rounds of ammunition and found that it had killed more than a dozen women and children. The VC had a record of firing from behind a shield of women and children, a practice still followed by guerrillas all over the world. Kerrey received a Bronze Star for the operation.

A month later, while leading another operation Kerrey’s leg was blown up by a grenade. Under attack from many directions and being pinned down, he continued to direct fire and organize a safe pullout for his men. He was awarded the Medal of Honour, the highest gallantry award of his country. It is not an award easily earned nor lightly given by the president personally.

Kerrey went into politics, became the governor of a state and then a US senator. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992 and remained a hopeful for the future. Like the Republican, John McCain, Kerrey was a visible and forceful politician. He became the president of a university after his stint as senator.

A widely read journal recently carried a story based on the statement of one member of Kerrey’s Vietnam team. It stated that Kerrey had ordered the women and children to be killed and this was done in cold blood. Kerrey denied the story in a public statement. He said the raid was in a “free fire zone” where there were no restrictions on returning fire. He said he has chosen to speak since it helps him to heal, presumably, the memories of that night. He said he reported the incident to his superiors. Other members of his team have maintained silence.

He also announced that he would not be seeking a presidential nomination. On the other hand, a 62-year old woman from the Vietnamese village where the incident occurred, spoke up and claimed to have known of the killing. She neither saw Kerrey giving the orders, nor was she a part of the group which got shot up in the firing.

The expose has reopened debate on the wrongs and rights of US actions in Vietnam. Some have asked for an inquiry which the defence department has ruled out. There is a body of opinion which claims that a full inquiry is needed to prove that the US cares for truth and justice.

Others seek an inquiry as an act of expiation for all the wrongs inflicted upon Vietnam. The other view is that the VC always fired and pulled back leaving innocent villagers to face the fire and other consequences.

Those who decry an inquiry believe that memories of an operation on a moonless night thirty years ago cannot be clear. There are letters in the media asking why an inquiry should be held against a young and gallant officer when the really guilty were the president, the secretary of defence and the chiefs of staff. These latter had no qualms about sanctioning the use of napalm and Agent Orange against thousands of innocent Vietnamese.

Newspaper articles have ranged from comparing the wanton killings ordered by well known commanders during the Civil War, to the brutalities of other wars. War drives men to actions in the heat of battle which they regret all their lives. That personal sorrow for having killed in the line of duty and the nagging memory of that action is a personal burden.

That burden should not be increased by legalistic scrutiny against those who only tried to do their best in combat, knowing that being second best meant being killed. That is the burden of the debate about Vietnam.

As a poignant reminder of that war, even as the Kerrey story was breaking, a helicopter carrying Vietnamese and US officials looking for Americans killed in action in Vietnam crashed, killing all on board. There were no victors or vanquished in Vietnam. The memories however run very deep and will continue to haunt.

The author is a fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies, Stanford University

   

 
 
THERE ARE BIGGS THINGS IN STORE 
 
 
BY RANJITA BISWAS
 
 
The return of Ronnie Biggs, the “Great train robber” from Rio de Janeiro to Britain, his homeland, has hogged as much limelight as the robbery and his subsequent escape from custody had about 35 years ago. Biggs might have volunteered to come back. But then he is 71 and ailing after two strokes. He also probably knew that his wish to return to Britain to have beer in a pub before he died is a sentiment countrymen would identify with.

The meticulously planned robbery on a Glasgow -London mail train in 1963 masterminded by Biggs had yielded £ 2.5 million. Biggs escaped from prison in 1965, went to Australia, the contours of his face changed by a plastic surgeon’s scalpel, and later fled to Argentina. There he led a high profile, glamorous lifestyle.

Biggs’s success story has been grist to numerous novels and films. With the media hype, the gullible public fails to notice one thing. Biggs is a criminal. The hero-worship in fact reflects the blurring of the line between the right and the wrong. Nobody seems to be giving a thought to Jack Miles, the driver, who was clubbed so badly that he could never drive again. There have even been demands that Biggs be saved from serving the jail term for the rest of his life. The driver’s son rightly wonders why it should be so.

The victims

The aura of romanticism built around wrong-doers is dangerous for impressionable young minds. Though opinions might vary on the influence of the visual media on the young, the fact remains that for them the world of imagination and the reality often merge. Otherwise, why should a young boy try to fly like the Shaktiman? This only shows that the young fantasize and emulate their heroes. Juvenile criminals often cite some film or the other having inspired them.

An extensive survey on children’s reading habits by the Nottingham University revealed that one in every seven books children prefer is a cinema or a television adaptation. This suggested that “TV or cinema and reading are not necessarily in competition with one another, but interest in one may well stimulate an interest in the other.” Thus, if the media glamourized crime, the effects would be obvious on the children.

Even adults are no exceptions. After the recent sensational murder of a nightclub hostess in Tokyo by a high flying playboy, Joji Obara, came to light there was apparently a rush of male customers introducing themselves as Obara.

Special treatment

The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton is about a ruthless criminal, Edward Pierce, who picks up an expert team to loot the Folkestone Express carrying gold bullion to Crimea in 1855. The film, shot in Ireland, was hugely successful in Britain “thanks to the real Great Train Robbery of Ronnie Biggs and Co”, as one reviewer added.

In Entrapment, Sean Connery was recently seen doing a clever job stealing priceless art with Catherine Zeta Jones, an insurance agent, as his accomplice. This was again an incredibly successful film. The audience even sighed in relief when the duo hoodwinked the police at the last moment to retire to their castle.

That a best-selling tabloid like Sun actually arranged to fly in Biggs in a chartered plane in order to produce its exclusive story, sends out the wrong signals. The tabloid is probably catering to the prevailing taste of its readers, which is also a barometer of the changing times. Criminals have always existed in society, but the trend to portray them as the real heroes is disturbing. It shows that the old belief that “crime does not pay” is gradually changing to a steadfast belief that “crime does pay” after all.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Lend him an ear

Sir — To the discerning it should be obvious. Mamata Banerjee is a bad loser. If her volley against the chief election commissioner isn’t proof enough, one should take the punishment meted out to the Trinamool rebel, Ajit Panja (“Party keeps punished Panja in bear-hug”, May 22). Instead of inviting Panja for talks to sort out the internal problems of the party, Banerjee — in her bid to cut off the wings of the troublemaker who she thinks has been singly responsible for her defeat — has reduced Panja to the status of an ordinary member of the Trinamool Congress. Sweet revenge. Only didi doesn’t quite realize how ridiculous it makes her standing. Panja has raised some very important issues that can be crucial to the party’s future — Banerjee’s autocratic way of functioning, Trinamool’s stand regarding the Centre and its role as a responsible opposition. If Banerjee is serious about her political future, she should start using Panja as her sounding board. Difficult, but perhaps not impossible.

Yours faithfully,
J. Sen, Calcutta

Nine on the right side

Sir — It was with a great deal of interest that I read the article written by the nine Bengali economists as well as your analysis and comments on the election results (“Bengal’s economic survival”, May 13). Even though I am a foreigner, I consider myself to be a friend of India, and would like to second the views of the economists. The government and the people of West Bengal would benefit tremendously if efforts are made to refurbish the economy and speed up the process of industrialization. This would help create jobs for the people in this state.

It is essential that the government of West Bengal realizes the importance of foreign direct investment in the current socio-economic scenario. Countries that are unwilling to accelerate the reform process will have to bear the consequences: the flow of investment capital will forever elude them. It is here that good governance comes into play. Core issues like education (both primary and secondary as well as vocational training), and healthcare, must be accorded top priority. Given that industry cannot flourish without proper infrastructure, the government must do all it can to provide the necessary groundwork. All this must be accompanied by improvements in the judicial system. Efforts must also be made to fight corruption and pilferage and to better the work culture.

The newly elected government of West Bengal can improve the living conditions of the people by following the agenda set out by the nine economists. Only then will it be able to serve the interests of the people better.

Yours faithfully,
Stephan Kinnemann, via email

Sir — Any advice given to political parties about economics should be neutral. The editorial, “Opium of the Intellect” May 13, seems to have missed the point made by the article published in The Telegraph on the same day. By touching upon issues that they think are vital to Bengal’s economic survival, the nine economists have merely expressed their concern for their state. The article was well-timed and meant to coincide with the declaration of the results of the assembly elections.

The editorial has pointed out that the consensus among the nine economists has contributed to the triteness of the document. Sometimes it is necessary to point out bare and obvious facts both to the voters and to the politicians — and the purpose of the article was just that. The nine economists had not planned to pen an economic manifesto in a newspaper — this would have been self-defeating. All that the economists had meant to do was to chart out a possible course of action for the government that would help the state regain its position as one of the leading states in India. The editorial seems to be endorsing the opinion that West Bengal does not require the expertise and the learned opinion of its most able sons and to do so would be to undermine its sovereignty. The consensus among the economists only goes on to demonstrate that there can hardly be a disagreement about what Bengal needs.

It is unlikely that the economists were reluctant to be more provocative. The article was intended as a reminder to the political parties concerned that they have certain responsibilities towards the people of West Bengal which they must fulfil if and when they are voted to power.

Yours faithfully,
S. Mitra,via email

Sir — As a Bengali, I cannot prevent myself from congratulating the nine Bengali economists for their superb article. The article was both easy to read and understand. One hopes that the government will implement the suggestions made by the economists. The government should also try and involve the private sector as much as possible so that it has enough capital to jump-start the economy.

Yours faithfully,
D. Ray, via email

Motherly feelings

Sir — It would be wrong to say that Chokila Iyer’s official visit to the United States during which she will attend her daughter’s graduation at Boston has robbed “Indo-US relations of the aura and respect given to it last year” (“Chokila diplomacy for daughter”, May 18). This visit was planned by the ministry of external affairs and it is just coincidence that her daughter happens to be graduating around the same time. There is nothing wrong with her travelling to Boston to attend the graduation ceremony. It would be rather unusual if she did not go. K.P. Nayar could have speculated about what would be discussed with the US officials instead of bringing the foreign secretary’s daughter into the limelight. Also, Iyer and her husband need no sightseeing and shopping as both of them are well-travelled.

Yours faithfully,
Jigme Wangdi, via email

Sir — K.P. Nayar’s report proves beyond doubt that Chokila Iyer is a real diplomat, who is capable of attending her daughter’s convocation at her government’s expense while earning a handsome travelling allowance in dollars. Hers is an instance of a sophisticated form of corruption which is distinct from the cruder variety that the likes of Bangaru Laxman and Laloo Prasad Yadav indulge in. Nothing shows up better the true colours of the Indian bureaucracy.

Yours faithfully,
M. Akhtar, Gorakhpur

Sir — Chokila Iyer’s trip to Boston via Washington DC is nothing short of a scandal. It is a disgrace both for India and for Iyer herself. The prime minister’s office should consider removing her from the position, since this comes only a few weeks after her assuming the office of the foreign secretary. Should we still wonder why India and its official representatives do not get adequate respect in the Western world? The individuals who represent the government flagrantly show by their deeds and attitudes that they are corrupt and easily manipulated. If Iyer did not want to pay for her air ticket to visit Boston, she should have taken a collection. That would certainly have been more honourable.

Yours faithfully,
D. Sen, Cambridge, US

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
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Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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