Editorial 1 / Managing labour
Editorial 2 / Foes of promise
The paymaster and his serfs
Fifth Column / People’s power, the long way round
All for the cut above
Learning to play in an unrestricted area
Letters to the editor

Mr William Hague is beginning to look like a desperate man. All the opinion polls, and even the bookies, seem to be pointing to a Labour victory in the British general elections tomorrow. The leader of the opposition had switched to his bottomdrawer option, trying to persuade voters of the dangers of a second Labour landslide. But it is never too late to make a fresh start, and a 20-point plan for the first two weeks of a Conservative government is now doing the rounds. Downsizing the government, foot and mouth, keeping Europe at bay are all top priority in this plan. Another significant change, unmistakably last ditch, is the attempt to say (to an Asian broadcaster on Zee TV) that “a certain amount” of immigration is not a bad thing after all, and this should be seen as distinct from his party’s position on asylum-seekers. Mr Tony Blair, on the other hand, wants the media to cut down on the prophecies of victory. If English nationalism and a smaller government form the Tory plank, then Mr Blair has put across to middle England, and to his political opponents, the terms on which this election is being fought, and possibly won. The reform of the taxpayer-funded services must come first, ensuring that the flow of money into education and health actually delivers better schools and hospitals. Then there is, of course, the little isle’s entry into Europe through the single currency, although most seem to believe that Mr Blair is timid enough to look towards a referendum before daring to make this happen. But the embarrassments remain — the squandered billion on the dome and that eternal peg for public disgruntlement, the National Health Service. The BBC has recently discomfited Mr Blair’s government by broadcasting a programme exposing the alleged rigging of the cutdown figures in NHS waiting lists.

But the main difference between Mr Blair’s probable second term and that of Clement Attlee or Harold Wilson is in the criteria on which Mr Blair will be judged by the electorate. The earlier Labour victories were largely ideological, only possible when “Conservative” and “Labour” stood for polarized sets of values. But Mr Blair’s success or failure will be measured by a hard-nosed look at his approach to economic management. This is the politics of pragmatism in which ideology has given way to what has been called “managerialism”. In the House of Lords, the governing party always sits on the right of the Lord Chancellor. But left and right are only positions on the floor. Governing from the centre on so many issues, New Labour could well become Britain’s New Establishment if it enjoys a second term in office. If Labour’s campaign poster shows Mr Hague with Lady Thatcher’s head of hair, then that famous perm could equally well have sat on Mr Blair’s receding hairline.


The promise made by West Bengal’s chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, that he would transform the industrial and investment landscape of the state seems to be blighted as soon as it was made. The destroyers of the promise are none other than Mr Bhattacharjee’s comrades. The recent utterances of Mr M.K. Pandhe, the general secretary of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), can be taken as representative of those, who, by their inability to adjust to an altered reality, are working against Mr Bhattacharjee’s dream. Mr Pandhe announced in New Delhi that “we are ready for a debate on industrial revival in Bengal’’. He might think, in his complete delusion, that he is making a grand concession but his statement only makes him look ridiculous. Two questions need to be asked of him. One, what is there to debate? And two, who does he want to debate with? The subject of industrialization in West Bengal has now passed the realms of debate and discussion. It is now a necessity for the very survival of the state. If Mr Pandhe cannot see this, all he needs to do is to take off his communist blinkers. An antiquated species, who believe in the flat theory and sit on the politburo of the CPI(M), might still hold that the time is ripe for a debate on industrial revival in West Bengal but for most people, whose lives are driven by common sense instead of some abstract theory, the time for debate is over. There is only time for action.

The kind of debate Mr Pandhe has in mind is also clear from his statement. He said that there would be no compromise on labour laws. Thus Mr Pandhe has foreclosed discussion on a very crucial subject. This makes nonsense of his offer to extend a helping hand to Mr Bhattacharjee. Among the many things that plague West Bengal are work culture and the absence of accountability among unionized workers. The Citu has been at the forefront of irresponsible trade unionism. Mr Pandhe’s statement can be read as a refusal to recognize these problems. His intransigence can only frighten away those who are thinking of investing in West Bengal. If Mr Bhattacharjee’s promises inspire confidence among investors, Mr Pandhe’s statement evinces the opposite of confidence. Given this contradiction, most investors would rather be safe than sorry; they would not like to run the risk of facing the consequences that could follow from Mr Pandhe’s uncompromising attitude. Mr Bhattacharjee has recently spoken of West Bengal’s image problem. From Mr Pandhe’s pronouncements, he can have a better idea about the reasons for West Bengal’s poor image among investors. The chief minister’s comrades, his best friends, are his worst enemies. Very soon, nobody will write to him any more.


A dialogue with Pakistan, under whatever circumstances, needs to be greeted as a good omen. That should still be no reason for wearing blinkers. The paymaster decides. The government of India had no alternative but to agree to the American proposal for a nuclear missile defence system. After all, a deputy secretary of state — or is it an assistant secretary, or the assistant deputy secretary — no less, had dropped in at New Delhi. He was fawned upon by both the prime minister and the external affairs-cum-defence minister. Perhaps it was arranged at the sessions with him that the Indian prime minister would send a “high-road” invitation to Pakistan’s military supremo; the latter’s wife too should not be forgotten to be mentioned in the letter of invitation.

The United States administration must have exerted the same kind of pressure on the Pakistanis to ensure a positive response from that end. The paymaster’s reach is far and wide. Uma Bharti of Babri Masjid demolition infamy, in a total reversal of her role as sports minister, is planning to organize a series of one-day matches between the Indian and the Pakistani cricket teams, with possibly a test match too at Karachi thrown in for good measure.

The domestic constituency, nurtured so carefully for decades together, must not however be alienated beyond measure. Therefore the simultaneous announcement of the withdrawal of the ceasefire along the Jammu and Kashmir border on the purported ground that the militants have failed to reciprocate and are beyond redemption. The American bosses are an understanding lot; they are bound to realize what is what.

The outcome of the polls in the five states cannot be slurred over though. The message they have transmitted is loud and clear: the people in these states have had enough of the National Democratic Alliance regime at the Centre. The thesis will of course be hawked around that the results are correlated to the incumbency factor and directed at only the state administrations. But the verdict in West Bengal would still stick at the throat, whatever the other explanations offered for the debacle: it is as much a massive vote of no confidence against the mess presided over in New Delhi by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Should the economic reforms be considered as irreversible, Vajpayee and his colleagues would need to take cognizance of the other fact: the resulting alienation of the people would be equally irreversible.

The employment situation is gloomy, the industrial recession is turning from bad to worse, the American assurance of additional investments to flood the country in no time appears to be a chimerical proposition, barring of course the inflow of funds in the stock exchanges. Such investments in the share markets are yielding fantastic profits which are immediately taken out of the country in lush convertible currencies, with no questions asked from any quarter. What foreign fool would in this situation switch from speculation to long-term productive investment?

Against the backdrop of this desperate situation, the need is for desperate measures. It is therefore not surprising that the committee of ministers advising the prime minister has raised the slogan of more power to the Centre. If the suggestions they have made go through, the deployment of Article 356 would no longer be called for; the Union government would have unbridled power to send troops and other security forces, without the prior approval of state governments, into any and every state.

This is something Indira Gandhi had devoutly dreamt of, but, kismet being kismet, failed to translate into reality. If you fail once, try, try and try again: Vajpayee and his colleagues have obviously taken heed of the Robert Bruce precept and suggested the further emasculation of the prerogatives of the states — no need to bother further with the Sarkaria commission and its recommendations.

The menacing proportion of terrorist activities provides an excellent pretext. But to exercise total hegemony over the states, it will be necessary to have major changes in statute. Given the lie of the political landscape, it is prima facie difficult to conceive a comfortable passage of the requisite statutory amendments. The NDA has a squeaky majority in the Lok Sabha and none in the Rajya Sabha. It holds power in only a handful of states. The position is most unlikely to improve in the near future. On the contrary, Manipur has suddenly become a question mark. And, anyway, Manipur, Jharkhand, and Himachal Pradesh are teenyweeny states.

There is however one possible way out. The Congress is about as authoritarian-minded as the Bharatiya Janata Party, or perhaps more so. All decisions in the party are taken at the top. It is aspiring afresh to supplant the BJP at the Centre. Its hope, the Congress would say, has a solid objective basis given the series of discomfitures suffered by the BJP of late. Sonia Gandhi would not therefore mind in case her mother-in-law’s dream of a unitary, Centre-uber-alles dream could come true.

As in the case of economic reforms, including bank and insurance denationalization and capitulation to the World Trade Organization, the two principal parties might act in tandem and attempt to take away the prerogative of the states to veto the intrusion of Central forces in their territories without their consent. Authoritarians of the same feather, who does not know, flock together.

Enough reasons exist for expressing concerns of such a nature. The Congress has evidently not changed its colours. Consider for instance the goings-on over the past few days regarding the selections of the party’s nominees for election to the Rajya Sabha from Assam. Now that the party has returned to power in the principal northeastern state with a clear majority, it has the prospect of winning two of the three seats that have to be filled. The two names that, according to reports, are being seriously considered in party circles are of gentlemen, neither of whom is ordinarily resident in the state.

Should the Congress curb its ambition and contest only one seat, the individual chosen would still be an alien corn. The nomination of such a person goes against the spirit of the Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act, which suggests that the Rajya Sabha membership should consist of only residents of the respective states so that the urges and aspirations of the people of the states are effectively voiced on the floor of the house. Those controlling the Congress in New Delhi could not care less for such an otiose stipulation. If rumours are to be believed, they are about to pick one or two persons who are described in American parlance as carpet-baggers.

The leopard does not change its spots. That adage is equally appropriate with respect to this country’s two principal political parties. A problem remains though. It might be possible to change or ignore statutes. But would it be possible for either of the parties to ignore the ground realities staring them in the face? Or, in this case, would some knocking on the head administered by the paymaster be necessary? On the other hand, who knows, the grand idea of snuffing out the states could have come from the paymaster Himself.


“No stable system of government can be established unless it is popular.” It would be an unremarkable statement in most parts of the world, but in Iran it is a subversive remark faxed out by a man who has been under house arrest since 1997. The fact that he is Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, one of the founders of the Islamic Republic of Iran and once the designated heir to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, just makes it more dangerous.

There is a presidential election in Iran on Thursday, and if Montazeri were free there is no doubt that he would vote for the incumbent president, Mohammed Khatami, a fellow cleric who also disapproves of the stranglehold that conservative mullahs have gained over Iran. There is equally little doubt that Khatami will win, though maybe by a smaller landslide than in 1997, for he has made almost no progress in loosening that stranglehold.

Yet most Iranians will still vote for him. Iran’s economy has been in decline ever since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah, and 40 per cent of Iranians now live below the poverty line. Unemployment is officially 15 per cent, but is far higher among the young. Khatami’s supporters have been beaten, jailed, even murdered, and he has not dared to speak up for them. He has failed on almost every count — and still they will vote for him again.

Part democratic

You can take this as evidence that most Iranians really do want a democracy in their country. But it also makes you wonder if there is something about the whole Muslim west Asia that makes it infertile soil for democracy.

Out of two dozen mainly Muslim countries between Morocco and Pakistan, only one, Turkey, is indisputably democratic (though even Turkey has grave flaws as a democracy). Jordan, Lebanon and Iran all have large democratic elements, but must refer final decisions on many issues to authorities (a king, a foreign army, a religious leader) who are not democratically elected. The rest are all under autocratic rule, though some hold sham elections from time to time.

This is a far worse record than any other part of the world. Even Africa, for all its poverty and chaos, does better than this. What is wrong with west Asia?

It’s too simple to blame it all on Islam, for there are more Muslims in the rest of Asia than in west Asia, and most of them live in more or less democratic countries.

But there is the fact that this part of the world has a huge chip on its shoulder about the West. One reason is that the Muslim west Asia has been in contact with the West for far longer than anywhere else, locked for 1,500 years in a hot-and-cold religious war with Europe in which, for most of the time, it had the upper hand. The other is that it decisively lost that war less than a century ago.

Iran’s time zone

Though its subjugation lasted in most cases only one or two generations, the psychological shock was huge, and it still resonates in the local cultures. European conquest in other parts of the world happened much longer ago, and so has less impact on the present, but in west Asia only Turkey, which never endured prolonged foreign occupation, has largely escaped the consequences of this heritage. For almost everyone else in the region, “Western” democracy is seen as fundamentally tainted because of its presumed source.

So you find many people who are deeply ambivalent about “Western” democracy, and many others who try to make it acceptable by claiming that theirs is a special “Islamic” form of democracy. This is what gave the theocrats the opportunity to seize power in Iran, and it is still the stick they use to beat the real democrats.

They keep winning the battles. They have, for example, closed down an estimated 40 newspapers in Iran during Khatami’s first term. Their best ally is the relentless hostility of the United States, as indispensable a prop to the mullahs as it is to Fidel Castro. But they are probably going to lose the war.

Another 60 daily papers are now available in Teheran, including a number that openly advocate a fully democratic Iran, and Khatami is assured of re-election this month. It will take years, but there probably will be a fully democratic Iran within this decade. West Asia is not another planet. It’s just a different time zone.


Downsizing the bureaucracy is an integral part of the economic reform process. It has to be kept in mind that the bureaucracy in India was designed for a set-up in which the public sector was assumed to ride commanding heights, and state control over activities of the national life was seen to be in public interest. Moreover, expansion of the bureaucracy was thought to be one way of reducing the unemployment problem among the educated. Expectedly, there was a rapid expansion of the bureaucracy, leading to the accretion of too much flab. This should be evident from the fact that senior Indian administrative service officers are estimated to spend at least half their service period occupying posts that call for no challenge at all. If this is the state of the élite IAS, then one can imagine the condition in the other services.

Downsizing the bureaucracy is not merely about job cuts. Reduction of posts is likely to be one definite fallout of the process. Redundant posts may be abolished and surplus personnel may be re-deployed, retired or even retrenched. Downsizing, as part of the larger bureaucratic reform, would also entail significant qualitative changes in the bureaucracy.

Many negative attributes of the bureaucracy have their genesis in its mammoth size. Inflexibility, lack of initiative, procrastination, indifferent attitude and delay are some of them. Goal displacement and the trained incapacity to think are also characteristics of the Indian bureaucracy. The lack of a direction and mediocrity continue to plague the administration, which is famous for its poor governance and weak implementation of laws and schemes. With the downsizing, it is expected that the bureaucracy will become more responsive, responsible, sensitive and adaptable to change. Decisions may be taken faster and the entire apparatus may become easier to manage.

However, it must be realized that dilatory tactics is an important strategy employed by the bureaucracy in its problem-solving efforts. Delay automatically eliminates several options. It also means that the functionaries do not have to take a decision when it is inconvenient to do so. Bureaucratic delays may be there in the system by design, just as a braking system is there in a motor vehicle. The reforms however intend to make the bureaucracy capable of conveying inconvenient decisions without delay. The authorities should be ready to accept responsibilities for unpalatable or inconvenient decisions.

A plethora of laws and schemes is also responsible for the size of the bureaucracy, since their implementation requires a huge workforce. Some estimates hold that there are too many laws in our country. Attempts have been made to weed out obsolete laws. However, there should also be a serious effort to reduce and rationalize the legislations. More laws do not necessarily translate into better administration. It could, on the other hand, lead to weaker implementation of the laws. The same is true for government schemes. If block development officers have to implement over a hundred schemes, only a perfunctory work can be expected. Without reducing the schemes and rationalizing the laws, downsizing of the bureaucracy will be difficult.

The job of cutting down itself may prove difficult. Under normal circumstances, bureaucracy has a natural tendency to grow. As Parkinson’s fourth law of bureaucracy has it: “The number of people working in any group tends to increase regardless of the amount of work to be done.” The acute problem of unemployment among the educated also stands in the way of downsizing of the bureaucracy.

However, the concept of downsizing of the bureaucracy is gradually becoming more and more politically acceptable. For a big bureaucracy does not only mean more jobs. It also means more taxes to sustain the bureaucracy, more chaos, more red tapism and more hindrance to development. With successive governments finding it difficult to control the runaway expenditure, the need to correct the size of the bureaucracy is no longer being evaded. Nevertheless, policy-makers still find it easier to talk about a “rightsize” than “downsize”.

But “rightsize” or “downsize”, the talk has become unavoidable. Special category states are increasing in the country at a fast pace. These states get liberal assistance from the Union government since they have a very small resource base. Yet, the size of the government in these states is more than their economy can sustain. The bureaucracies in these states are virtually sustained on Central assistance. Although a bigger bureaucracy here does not mean proportionately more taxes for the people of the states, the cumulative financial expenditure becomes difficult to bear, both for the government and the people of this country.

The Indian bureaucracy today appears to be a group of directionless officials, constantly being posted and transferred elsewhere. Yet, all the transferences are supposed to be in public interest. However, it is seldom that the public interest is specified. Often bureaucrats themselves are unaware why they or others are chosen for the posts. Consequently, transfers and postings are sometimes seen as exercises in shunting and favouring bureaucrats. Even the media speculate on these lines. It is also discussed in the corridors of the bureaucracy. All this speculation how- ever has a deleterious fallout on the bureaucracy.

The directionlessness can be reduced by laying down clear and unambiguous targets of achievement. The nitty-gritty of the targets should also be laid down in black and white at all levels. Performance may be measured against the yardstick of targets.

It should be remembered, however, that the efficiency of the bureaucracy cannot suddenly be hiked up without a proper performance appraisal system for the bureaucrats. The reform in the bureaucracy will be incomplete without a fair, just and objective — if not transparent — system of evaluation.The present system of performance appraisal is based on the annual confidential reports written by immediate superiors. But ACR-writing is very subjective since those writing the reports do not have to substantiate their statements, especially the commendable ones. This results in overestimation of the performance. Thus, it is said that a “good” ACR is actually an account of average or below-average performance since there are too many bureaucrats getting “outstanding” and “very good” ACRs. This also means that the performance of an outstanding bureaucrat may be belittled by its categorization as “good”. The subjective nature of ACR-writing in fact promotes sycophancy, which is harmful to the establishment of an impartial administration. Performance appraisal should be objective and broad based. Scientific principles may be used in this regard.

Rightsizing or downsizing should not be regarded as a stop-gap arrangement. The timing of the attempt to rightsize, moreover, leaves some question marks on the government’s intentions. It is well known that fiscal situations of the Centre and the states have deteriorated continuously in the Nineties. But downsizing as one way out of a bad fiscal situation is a dangerous proposition.

Downsizing the bureaucracy and making the bureaucracy more focussed, responsive and efficient are in the public interest. It is ironical that the government is considering these options seriously only when it has been pushed to the wall because of the resource constraints. Downsizing the bureaucracy should have been the priority of the nation. Ironically, it is being considered as one of the last options.


It is believed that the removal of quantitative restrictions over 715 items would have a significant impact on India’s small industries. In the pre-reforms era, that is before 1990, there were QRs on the imports of about 8,000 items. It was reduced to 2,700 items in 1997. The Indian government reached an agreement with major trading partners, such as the European Union, Japan, Australia, Canada and others except the United States to phase out QRs by January 1, 2003. The US did not figure in the list because it insisted on an accelerated phase out citing that India’s balance of payments situation was sound enough.

With this plea, the US approached the dispute settlement body of the World Trade Organization in 1997 and complained that India was not gearing up itself to phase out its QRs by January 1, 2003 as per the WTO agreement. India’s argument that its BoP position was still critical did not find many takers. The WTO body ruled that India must lift its QRs on imports within the stipulated time since its BoP situation did not justify restrictions. India has already lifted import restrictions on 2,000 products for its SAARC partners and now it has to remove all import curbs before the January 1, 2003 deadline.

Turn ahead

To face the challenge posed by the new economy, the ministry of small scale undertakings has enhanced the investment limit for the sector from rupees one crore to Rs 5 crores. The Central government has also hiked the investment limit in the sector from the present 24 per cent to 49 per cent. The policy of reservation for the small scale sector has most adversely affected large investments, which, in turn, has made Indian companies incompetent in achieving the economies of scale and price competitiveness.

The government has taken a positive step by reducing customs duties on different raw materials used in the small-scale undertakings combined with an increase in the exemption limit on excise. The immediate beneficiaries would be manufacturers of electronic components, electronic toy-makers, dry cell battery-makers and the like. This move is expected to improve the price competitiveness of the domestic small scale industries and equip them to compete against cheap imports, especially from China. The government has also worked out a comprehensive strategy to help small scale units fight anti-dumping cases, which include providing financial assistance to these units and setting up a panel of legal experts to fight these cases.

The fear that removal of QRs on imports will instantly flood the domestic market with cheap imports is not true. But there would be some derangement in highly protected sectors where the cost of production is much higher than the international levels. The steps taken by the government will hopefully bring about a change of attitude in the small scale sector and make it globally competitive.



With coloured eyes

Sir — Rukun Advani’s “Return of the prince of Awadh” (May 27) reopens the debate about how unbiased history-writing actually is. We have reams of written records of rigorous, intellectual confrontations and debates between the Cambridge school of historians and the Marxist scholars of the discipline — chiefly about the role of the Indian agrarian society in the Indian nationalist movement. We have also had an arrogant lambasting of the Cambridge scholars by the subaltern study group on issues of decentralization in colonial India. And, all this has been done by a selective classification of historical data and their subsequent analysis to prove or disprove a particular point. This is not the sort of blatant twisting of facts that politcians have become famous for. It is rather a subtler and a more adroit move to establish the understanding of history in a predetermined way. The result is public disenchantment with history, about which whatever claims are made are bound to be biased and subjective.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

A chat across the hedge

Sir — One cannot help wondering what could have possibly changed in India-Pakistan relations in the last couple of weeks that made the Indian prime minister invite Pervez Musharraf for talks. This drastic change in foreign policy could well result in a disaster. Given that Pakistan has not made any promises to New Delhi about reining in the terrorist groups, it is difficult to understand what the Indian side hopes to accomplish by engaging in a dialogue with Pakistan at this juncture.

Moreover, by backing off from its earlier stance, India has merely demonstrated its weakness. Until the two sides involved in a dispute are willing to give up some of their demands and look towards a compromise, a peaceful solution is out of the question. In this case, Pakistan has not given up on any of its original demands including the claim that the Kashmir issue can be resolved through a plebiscite. Given the present set of circumstances, the peace process seems doomed even before it has begun.

Yours faithfully,
Nita Singh, via email

Sir — The Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has once again demonstrated his diplomatic skills by inviting the military ruler of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, to New Delhi for talks (“Atal puts letter agenda on table”, May 26). Any initiative to restore peace in the valley is more than welcome given that it will benefit the people of both countries. That this attempt to normalize relations between the two neighbours has been accompanied by the decision of the Central government to grant permission to the Indian cricket team to play in Pakistan is another good sign.

The only hitch so far is the somewhat lukewarm response from Pakistan. But India continues to display a tendency to compromise on crucial issues while dealing with its neighbours, so as to be in the good books of the international community.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — Entering into or breaking off talks with Pakistan, or, extending or revoking a ceasefire in Kashmir have become useful tools in the hands of this coalition government that goes by the name of the National Democratic Alliance. Whenever, the coalition faces a problem in Parliament, it plays its “Kashmir card”. This time too things have been no different. One can only watch with dismay as the prime minister is shamelessly playing up the Kashmir issue by terminating the ceasefire and inviting Pervez Musharraf for talks in order to divert attention from the goings-on in Manipur.

If indeed the government is interested in finding a permanent solution to the crisis in Kashmir, why does it not take the sensible and courageous step of converting, once and for all, the line of control into an international border? It is unfortunate that leaders on both sides would prefer a situation where there is a Lahore bus ride one year and a Kargil impasse the next.

Yours faithfully,
Ketan Madia, Calcutta

Sir — The government’s decision to call off the six-month-long ceasefire in Kashmir has come at the right time. While the Indian security forces were asked to exercise maximum restraint against the militants during this period, the latter took this opportunity to continue their jihadi propaganda. The government’s decision to invite Pervez Musharraf for talks demonstrates its acceptance of the fact that the only way to solve the Kashmir issue would be by involving Pakistan in a dialogue.

If Pakistan has the intention of including the All-Party Hurriyat Conference in the peace talks, it would be really disturbing, given that India is not in favour of tripartite talks.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — By demonstrating his willingness to talk to his Pakistani counterpart, Vajpayee has sent out very strong signals to both the Kashmiris as well as the people of Pakistan.

It is now up to Pakistan to reciprocate on similar lines. It should not be assumed that India has gone “soft” on the Kashmir issue. Pakistan must shed its confrontationist attitude in order to enable friendly relations with India because this is the only key to prosperity for both the countries. Apart from discussing Kashmir, India and Pakistan should also discuss the vital issues relating to poverty, health and education which are the common enemies of both.

Pakistan should make full use of this opportunity and even the slightest reluctance on its part, like the setting of pre-conditions for talks, would jeopardize the entire situation and result in a loss of face for the country in the eyes of the international community. If the Berlin Wall can be dismantled, and the two Koreas can think about coming together, why can’t India and Pakistan do the same?

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Inefficiency sector

Sir — West Bengal has eight private and public sector wagon industries and provides supplies for about 90 per cent of the country’s wagon requirement. Following Mamata Banerjee’s resignation from the chair of the railway minister, the Centre has now ordered only 5,000 wagons to be produced in the state as opposed to 23,000. Work in Texmaco has come to a standstill for about two months because of the lack of sufficient orders.

The chief executive officer of Texmaco, the largest manufacturers of wagons in the eastern sector, R. Maheswari, is at a loss. The situation has threatened the economic security of hundreds of employees. The total workforce in the eight wagon-producing units comes to about 50,000 employees. About one lakh workers are engaged in small factories supplying ancillary parts and units to these. The minister in charge for railways, Nitish Kumar, should note these developments.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Kanti Nandy, Barasat

Sir — The main trouble with Indian public sector units is that the workforce is inefficient. While it is true that there are redundant employees all over the place, this is a less serious problem than the inefficiency with which human and other resources are used in these units. This inefficiency is inherent in the system. Therefore, the whole mechanism of recruitment and training has to be changed first before criticizing overemployment. As far as the plans to downsize are concerned, one is tempted to be curious: will the remaining workforce automatically become efficient once the redundant staff is got rid of?

Yours faithfully,
Bhanu Ghosh, Calcutta

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