Editorial 1 / Millennium round
Editorial 2 / Those old jalopies
With hope and anxiety
Fifth Column / Reacting to a weak stimulus
Painted in indelible red
To promote a better work culture
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / MILLENNIUM ROUND 
 
 
 
 
A ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization is scheduled in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001. Since the WTO was set up in January 1995, the agreement stipulates that there should be a ministerial meeting once every two years. The first such meeting was held in Singapore in 1996, the second in Geneva in 1998 and the third in Seattle in 1999. Doha will be the fourth. The Seattle meeting assumed significance because it was expected to announce the launch of a new round of WTO negotiations, the so-called Millennium Round. The Seattle meeting ended in a fiasco, not because of the protesters on the streets, but because the three major trading entities (United States, European Union and Japan) could not agree on the agenda for the new round. There were too many square brackets (signifying non-consensus) in the draft declaration for Seattle and there was simply not enough time for the ministers to sort these out. Hopefully, member countries will have learned and will generate more consensus before the Doha meet. No government wishes to go back and announce that the ministerial meeting was a failure. Thus, preliminary negotiations will hot up in July and if the three major entities agree on the agenda for a new round, no amount of opposition on the part of the developing countries will stall the round.

As of now, the EU and Japan seem keen on the round, with varying degrees of support from other developed and developing countries. The Bush administration’s position remains at best, ambivalent. Labour standards are not as important an issue for Mr George W. Bush as they were for Mr Bill Clinton, and after reneging on Kyoto, it is anyone’s guess what President Bush thinks of the environment. With bilateral free trade agreements being negotiated with Chile and other countries, the United States’ interest in multilateralism is somewhat suspect, despite the US trade representative’s protestations to the contrary. However, assuming problems over agriculture can be sorted out (other countries want American subsidies disciplined), the US will probably come around to the idea of a Millennium Round, now that the agenda is not likely to be over-burdened through inclusion of labour and the environment.

With a Millennium Round around the corner, India’s negotiating stance remains perplexing. In Seattle, the stance was that a new round was fine, as long as labour, environment and competition policy were not discussed. From that, India has retreated to a position of resisting a new round and in this, there is little support among other countries. There is indeed support in arguing that the market access provisions (agriculture, textiles and garments and even industrial tariffs) of the Uruguay Round have been circumvented and a recent study by WTO secretariat confirms this. However, circumvention and non-implementation relate to the spirit rather than the law and no Uruguay Round agreements have been violated by developed countries. If market access is the issue, agreements need re-negotiation and this implies a new round. The Indian stance of negotiating implementation separately from a new round is thus illogical and artificial. India is likely to do what it has always done: adopt the position of an outsider who resists everything. The Millennium Round will occur, whether India likes it or not, and thanks to resistance, India will not be in a position to determine or influence the agenda. The negotiating stance was more sensible in Seattle. Rather paradoxically, the commerce minister remains unchanged since 1999.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / THOSE OLD JALOPIES 
 
 
 
 
Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s resolutions about reducing pollution, announced on World Environment Day, would have sounded fanciful had not the Left Front government made some headway in this area in its previous incarnation. The state had succeeded in reducing noise levels on festival days, particularly the decibel level of fireworks. Some partial success has also been achieved in limiting the sound and time of loudspeakers. The moral of this limited success is, simply, it can be done. What it needs is political will, execution in a fair and determined manner by the keepers of the law, and the cooperation of the people.

If it can be done, it should be. The chief minister has all the right ideas. He evidently does not think that a drop in noise pollution is anything to write home about. Nor is it. Air pollution on the roads has been lethal for a long time, and no anti-pollution checks and exemplary fines have worked. The state should take up as a serious challenge the phasing-out of old vehicles that Mr Bhattacharjee has proposed. It is to be hoped that the experience of Delhi has given the administration in West Bengal a fair idea of the planning and balancing that will be necessary to make this drive a success. Also, garbage disposal is becoming a nightmare. The roads to the main dumping ground are almost unusable in the rains. The Trinamool Congress-dominated Calcutta Municipal Corporation is busy blaming Communist Party of India (Marxist) workers for blocking garbage disposal. It would be funny if it did not mean mounting garbage rotting in the rains in every corner of the city. Mr Bhattacharjee’s ministries may not find this easy going. But, again, it is not an impossible task, provided it is the people the government is thinking of. Neither would it be impossible to shift polluting industrial units into marked zones with the help of the green bench and the pollution control board. Mr Bhattacharjee has had to do a lot of talking lately. A bit of immediately visible action, like the penalizing of inveterate horn-blowers or drivers whose cars move in fogs of evil-smelling smoke, would do much to reassure the people that he means business.

   

 
 
WITH HOPE AND ANXIETY 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
What has made the Indian government give up its earlier stance not to have any talks with the leader of the military coup in Pakistan unless the regime he heads puts a stop to cross-border terrorism? Whatever its apologists may say, there is no sign yet of any let-up either in the daily killing of security personnel and common citizens by jihadi groups or in the unstinted aid they continue to receive from the military establishment by way of money, training, arms and logistic support.

India’s initial condition followed logically from the premise that a continuing proxy war in Kashmir only queers the pitch for meaningful peace negotiations. Since the proxy war is being sold to the public in Pakistan as a religious crusade, its continuance makes the chances of an accord all the more problematic. It is no surprise if there is a certain degree of scepticism in both the countries about the outcome of the proposed talks.

The Indian government may be right in claiming that in softening its initial stand it has acted entirely on its own. But then freedom itself loses its savour when it comes in the form of a recognition of necessity. The ingredients of the necessity in this case are all too apparent. The political mess in the Kashmir valley is so awful by now that it frustrates any attempt by the Central government to clear it. Then there is the growing realization in New Delhi that the longer the current stalemate continues, the more unmanageable the situation is apt to become, with the danger of landing the two sides unwittingly in a full-scale war. Nor can the persistent prodding by the Big Brother in Washington to persuade the two countries to resume the peace process begun at Lahore, and interrupted by the Kargil war, be ignored indefinitely with impunity.

Here is indeed the rub. There is no indication yet of any change of heart or perception in the Pakistani military establishment. The chief executive’s own role in bringing matters to the present pass is pretty discouraging. It is no secret that he did not take kindly to the conciliatory spirit shown by Nawaz Sharif in negotiating the Lahore accord with Atal Bihari Vajpayee early in 1999. It was none other than Pervez Musharraf indeed who took the lead in stealthily organizing the Kargil operation which, though it failed in the end, did manage to rubbish the Lahore declaration.

It is true that the situation in Pakistan is not the same today as it was when Musharraf seized power. Even before that, during the war in Kargil itself, it was brought home painfully to him that the Pakistan army could no longer count on the patronage and indulgence of the United States administration which indeed forced it to withdraw its forces, in areas not yet reoccupied by India, back to its side of the line of control. The US also takes a highly critical view of the aid Islamabad continues to provide to the taliban regime in Afghanistan. How long can Musharraf sustain the myth that he is the only person who stands between keeping Pakistan a responsible member of the international community and its talibanization when his open aid to jehadi groups belies it day after day?

Apart from having to reckon with the change in the US strategic perceptions, what Pakistan’s chief executive has to contend with is his increasing unpopularity at home. He has miserably failed to carry out any of his promises, the economic situation in his country is getting more precarious, and he has had a clear warning from the supreme court that, in case he fails to hand back power to a popularly elected government by October next year, his government will lose whatever legitimacy it has. Thus, time is running out fast for him.

This does not mean that India has no compulsions of its own in deciding to initiate peace talks with the very person who viciously interrupted the process begun at Lahore in the hope that he could gain through a furtive military operation a vantage point from which Pakistan could then drive a harder bargain with New Delhi than the Nawaz Sharif government despite its impressive popular mandate. It would have been a different story if India had either succeeded in ending cross-border terrorism by exacting a price from the militants they could not afford or had managed the political situation in the Kashmir valley with much greater acumen.

That it has allowed the situation in the state to get increasingly tangled is more a political than a military failure. Anti-insurgency operations, in which the enemy has hundreds of targets to choose from any day, are always extremely trying. In Kashmir they suffer from a crippling handicap because of lack of adequate feedback about the militants’ places of refuge. That terrorist groups have been able to attack security posts and headquarters on numerous occasions only highlights the terrible odds against which both Indian military and paramilitary forces have been fighting in the valley.

It is this grim background that not only explains but, to some extent, justifies the initiative taken by the Indian prime minister to resume the peace process begun at Lahore even at the cost of some loss of face. Judging from the entrenched positions of the two governments it is quixotic to expect any dramatic result from the early phase of the talks. The very fact that both are getting ready to talk to each other, however, ought to help reduce somewhat the tensions between the two estranged neighbours which impose an intolerable burden on both in terms of political bad blood, retarded economic growth, woefully under-funded welfare services and persistence of large areas of poverty.

The Pakistani military establishment particularly needs to get rid of the illusion that waging a proxy war through cross-border terrorism is a much cheaper affair than effective counter-insurgency. All it needs is to have a closer look at the wretched state of its national economy for which it is responsible in no small measure since it has been pre-empting all along a much larger share of the gross national output than all its neighbours. The political costs may be even heavier if whatever government is in power becomes a prisoner of the jehadi forces and the country turns into a larger edition of Afghanistan which has already been recast in a medieval mould.

Any headway made at the resumed peace talks between the two countries will ultimately depend on how far the change in the strategic outlook of the US and other powers, the failure of Musharraf to keep the promises to the public he made when he seized power, the deteriorating economic situation at home, the sullying of Pakistan’s image abroad as the chief patron of the taliban regime and its export of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy have chastened the chief executive.

As for the resumption of the peace talks, the story of a new beginning with high hopes which soon fizzle out is all too familiar. The first exception was the Shimla accord of 1972 which committed the two neighbours to treating the Kashmir dispute as a purely bilateral issue. But Pakistan, after abiding by the undertaking for some time, is now keen on reviving the United Nations resolution of 1948 which had become defunct even by the time of the Bangladesh war. The second was the Lahore declaration of 1999 which turned into an even bigger fiasco since it saw not only a serious attempt by the Pakistan army to grab a large chunk of strategic territory on the Indian side of the LoC but also the ouster of the very government that had signed it.

Judging from their respective positions, the prospects of any worthwhile progress in resolving the Kashmir tangle at the first round of talks are practically nil. It may take years indeed for the two sides to realize how limited are their options in regard to this issue. Indeed, the wider ground the talks cover, apart from Kashmir, the better will be the chances of reducing the present tensions in their relationship and lightening the burden which both find unbearable.

The Indian government may have waived the earlier condition it laid down for a resumption of peace talks. But it does not affect in the least the logic behind the proposition that while the peace process demands mutual trust, the continuing proxy war only breeds mutual distrust and hostility. In this situation the public in India can only wait for the talks to begin with an uneasy feeling in which scepticism overshadows hope and the expectation of a fresh start is edged out by a sense of deja vu.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / REACTING TO A WEAK STIMULUS 
 
 
BY AMITENDU PALIT
 
 
Within months of the change of guard at the White House, the Federal Reserve Board cut interest rates in the United States. The initial cut was followed by similar moves in quick succession, all to tackle the slowdown in the US economy.

The present incumbent in the White House is surely not to be blamed for the economic difficulties. However, the change of stand is noteworthy. During the Clinton era, monetary policy aimed mostly at control, rather than expansion. It had to be so as the US economy was consistently outperforming itself. But after riding high for eight years, the economy is showing signs of slowing down. Monetary policy has thus been forced to shift gears.

The US economy was growing well till the middle of last year. The problem began from July, 2000. Economic growth in the third quarter of the year was only 2.2 per cent, although personal consumption and productivity figures remained high. The fourth quarter was dismal with a growth of 1.37 per cent. Personal consumption and imports showed signs of slowing down. Private investment and exports showed negative growth. The International Monetary Fund expects the economy to grow at just above three per cent during the year.

It is still premature to declare a recession in the US economy. But concerns about a slowdown have spread beyond the US shores. Global economic growth is expected to fall sharply this year. Emerging economies in east and south Asia are looking at a depressed future. The situation is more gloomy for Latin America.

Big worries

The US economy has been the epicentre of world growth throughout the Nineties. The “new economy” revolution, led by the US, witnessed proliferation of information technology, accompanied by advances in communication throughout the world. The US was the largest buyer of products from the emerging economies and was the biggest supplier of private capital to the developing world.

The shortfall in US economic growth is going to pull down world economic activity. East Asian economies, like that of Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, recovering over the last one and half year, will encounter pitfalls again. They could stage partial comebacks because of heavy absorption of their goods in the US. Now with private consumption and import expenditure beginning to decelerate in the US, these economies will suffer.

The biggest worry for the emerging economies lie in the unpredictable behaviour of the global equity market. In recent times, the US equity market has seen a lot of prosperity because of the sustained rise in the new economy stocks. But many of the scrips were overvalued. When the asset-price bubble burst, it meant the end of the road for the new economy stocks, particularly for dotcoms.

Global aims

A bad global equity market, coupled with damp prospects for corporate profits in the US, underline difficulties for global flows of portfolio investment. Low corporate expectations and a gloomy regional growth would constrain the flow of direct foreign investment to the emerging economies.

A remarkable aspect of the US economy has been its ability to spend, unlike other major economies like that of Japan, known for its propensity to save. The European Union too, because of its discriminatory protection against exports from outside the union, together with heavy subsidies to the domestic farming community, has remained a watertight compartment.

Globalization aims to reduce economic distances between nation-states. That the world is getting closer is evident from the contagion effect of the east Asian crisis, or the more recent stock market debacle set off by the falling Nasdaq. In the globalization process, it is the US economy which forms the core. Diverse emerging economies comprise the periphery. They are placed at different distances from the core, depending on their linkages with the US economy.

If globalization strengthens this pattern of relationship, exogenous development for the majority of the emerging economies would become elusive. The state of the US economy and its links with the nations would become the key variable of development. The stimulus from the core, may be negligible, as it is now, but not entirely absent.

   

 
 
PAINTED IN INDELIBLE RED 
 
 
BY TAPAS CHAKRABORTY
 
 
Nepal, a land of breathtaking beauty, always conjures up an image of a kingdom of “never- ending peace and love”, an image which overshadows its political travails.

This image, with the tradition of royalty as a unifying force for three centuries of its existence, cracked in just one hard, maddening blow on the night of June 1. According to one story, the blow originated in a strange impulse of self-destruction in the then crown prince, Dipendra. In one burst of bullets the dignity and the legacy of the crown were gone. Allegedly, he spilled royal blood and destroyed himself later.

This, however, is not the only story doing the rounds. Buried still in a cloak- and dagger palace intrigue, the truth behind Nepal’s royal family mass assassination mystery may or may not unfold. But the reiterated theme of the love-revenge tragedy has brought into disturbing focus the state of mind of a young man in Nepal: disoriented, volatile and aggressive. His habit of keeping a loaded revolver even when he was a student of Eton, his tendency to sell liquor to get the extra buck despite affluence, were reflections of the insecurities in his personality.The tales of his mercurial temper confirm his susceptibility to extremes of behaviour.

But, given that this image of Dipendra has something to do with reality, does he not typify the behaviour of the contemporary educated Nepali youth whose mood is on edge? A national soul- searching should start on what has gone horribly wrong with them, argue social scientists. They ask: is Dipendra’s outburst a grim metaphor of the state of youth in Nepal, caught at the crossroads of transition from monarchy to democracy, of the nation’s socio-economic decadence and the upsurge of left radicalism in the districts?

The roads of Kathmandu had a touch of the surreal on June 2 when, along with pallbearers, youngsters marched along with shaved heads, cried and banged their heads on the parked cars in despair. Yet, when the grief turned into anger, an avalanche of slow, unstoppable mass of hate gathered momentum. It exploded a day after when Dipendra’s death was announced.

It also coincided with the preparation for the coronation of Gyanendra, who did not enjoy a clean image. The youngsters instantly got an enemy towards whom to direct their ire. The volatility drew thousands of young people to rioting and stoning the police, while they bore the teargas from exploding cannisters and suffered the stone hits and wounds on their tonsured heads.

Dipendra, the 29-year-old prince who is believed to be the chief architect of the grandiose act of love revenge, would have been a face in the crowd in a different set of circumstances. With a failed career abroad and a training in karate, his passion ranged from a favourite automatic sten gun from a Pakistan factory to his love, Devyani. Dipendra would have been, had he not been a prince, among the group of volatile youths taking to the street on provocations less serious than a palace massacre. Or with his gregarious nature, he would have loved to be in the boisterous, fun-loving pub crowd. And when it weighed too heavily on his nerves, he would whip out his gun in a ruthless impulse or lift a man by grabbing his collar. The angry young man image in Nepal levelled royalty and commoners, apparently without reason.

Recall the outbursts of December 24, 2000 when young people of Nepal plunged themselves into a violent anti-Indian riot, ransacking business establishments owned by Indians and setting the shops ablaze. What was the provocation? An unconfirmed media report on some alleged anti-Nepal remarks purported to have been made by film star, Hrithik Roshan. The cinema halls banned Indian movies, Hrithik’s effigies smouldered in the fire of young Nepal’s anger. Before the apology and clarifications came, the flare-up left about half a dozen men killed in police firing. The youngsters’ anger was quickly seized on by political parties for their own advantage. The former Congress prime minister, K.P. Bhattarai, for example, dubbed the outburst “a reflection of geneal unrest among youth in the kingdom because of the ruling government’s failure to deliver”.

Like Bhattarai, political parties of all hues including the communists are making use of young people, taking advantage of their volatility and lack of direction. These leaders all knew that a horribly contagious virus was eating into the vitals of the young because of social exclusion caused by economic decay. “When there is rapid mobility in systems or a transition, only complex multi-cultural communities, backed by economic growth, can absorb much of the stress of transition,” says Ritesh Chetri, a researcher in Nepal’s Tribhubhan University.

Unable to cope with the changes the country has undergone since the restoration of democracy, large numbers of teenagers are crowding the streets of Nepal to enjoy the hallucinatory effect of drugs on the mind. These young men and women throng the cities like Bhadrapur, Biratmod, Biratnagar, Birgunge from various districts to look for better prospects. But many of them end up being members of the drug trafficking gangs. The most common form of drug supplied to them is the odour of dendrik (an adhesive extracted from a tree), manufactured locally.

Besides this local stuff, narcotic intoxicants make easy entry through the open border. Saath-Saath, one Nepal-based non-governmental organization which has been studying the Nepali teenagers’ mind, found the number of these youths growing rapidly. The NGO’s study found teenagers near major Kathmandu hospitals burying their nose into polythene sheets, getting high on the drags. These teenagers, some of whom have good school education, then go on to form their own gangs, controlling their own territories. “When we are high on the drug, we fantasize having dinner in a Chinese restaurant with a favourite film actress,” Dili Bahadur Pradhan, a 19-year-old college student, was quoted by the NGO as saying.

In Birgunge, similar youths run drugs-cum-women trafficking gangs. Rajeev Tamrakar, a journalist with Kathmandu Post, a local daily, writes: “Politicians even use them for their own personal benefit as these kids are ready to do anything for money to sustain their habits. The recent Hrithik Roshan episode also saw the maximum use of these children to spread terror among the general public.” Rishi Keshav Regmi, a noted sociologist at Tribhuvan University, was quoted saying: “They are in no-man’s land.”

Kathmandu and other towns in Nepal, where hill roads switch back and forth under azure skies, sizzle with fear as tension builds up among youngsters. Killings are common and an overwhelmingly large number of young people in the ultra-left militant groups are taking up arms against the government. One of the Maoists, arrested in Bihar, had told the police in Raxaul that the Maoists would not have to fear police repression in Nepal. “The youths fill the void whenever some comrades are killed,” he said.

The rural youth is hard-pressed because they work on landlords’ farms, the land recorded in the name of religion and royal family. They grow good paddy from them but in return they do not get much. The unrest among the rural youth is being fully used by the underground Maoists.The Maoists are active in at least six districts of west Nepal. Of the estimated 2,000 people killed in Naxalite violence so far, 700 were young policemen of whom 90 died only in April when ultras struck by burning police stations, blowing up outposts and looting arms.

The decay of monarchy, alleged corruption in the ruling Koirala government which led to its failure to offer a fitting alternative to the monarchy and the relative prosperity of Nepalis of Indian origin commonly known as madhesias in the terai region bordering Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India caused another area of tension, driving the youths into bursts of revenge. The young people from the hills vent their ire on anything associated with India, which the underground Maoists have been systematically instigating.

Sandwiched between shrinking urban prospects and red terror in the villages, the Nepali young men and women seem poised on the edge of existence. The powerstruggle among various political parties in the fledgling multi-party democracy confused them further and they felt their identity was under threat in the wake of a rapid demographic change in the country. The efforts to bar the non-Nepalese citizens from buying land through the land reforms act of 1962 also failed to check non- Nepalis get citizenship of the country. The trade and commerce of the main cities slipped out of Nepali hands as 60 per cent of the trade is in the hand of “outsiders”.

The look of desperation on young people, analysts in Nepal also admit, is a manifestation of psychological damage, a phobia of total loss of control. With little left to grab in the shrinking economic pie, there has been an escalation of insecurity among the youth.

The palace remained a relic of consistency and continuity amidst the multi-party power struggle. Dipendra and his generation of youth were obsessed with the role of king as a symbol of order. The theory of progressive son pitted against feudal parents does not apply here. The impulse was more common. But the degree of violence was royal.

   

 
 
TO PROMOTE A BETTER WORK CULTURE 
 
 
BY SUSANTA KUMAR BISWAS
 
 
The fourth pay commission in its report on West Bengal makes a remarkable observation. It says, “There is a prime need today for stressing the cruciability of merit in determining suitability for functional promotion.” For a state and its administrative machinery, which have for decades relied entirely on seniority as the basis of promotion, it was a hint to move in the right direction. At a time when the mixed economy and the licence raj have been done away with, it is no surprise that efficiency should be made the criterion to judge government employees.

Logically speaking, merit should be the basis for all promotions. Rise to a higher rank demands excellence. It is only by adjudging the excellence of an object that we accept or acknowledge its superiority over others. The aspect of merit is so intrinsically attached to human values that we usually accept the higher gradation of any professional only when that person has successfully established his merit in the related field. We agree to pay some doctors or lawyers exorbitant fees because they have proved their excellence.

Unsavoury mix

Merit is also the yardstick of promotion in every sphere of life. When we name Tiger Woods as the number one golfer, we are actually appreciating his excellence. When we pay an astronomical sum for a Henry Moore sculpture, we are admiring his superior skills.

In the private sector, it is merit alone which counts. Then why defy logic and the functional rationale to frame an altogether different set of rules for the government servant? Ironically, even the pay commission is ambivalent in its concern. It says, “There is no one single indisputable mechanism that may ensure that merit gets its due place in evaluation.” Later it adds, “Merit should mix with the other crucial factor seniority...in varying proportions to determine...promotion on seniority-cum-merit or merit-cum-seniority.”

Which means experience is being included as another basis for promotion. Proponents and defenders of the system of routine time-bound promotion even argue that this way the chances of favouritism and nepotism are carefully eliminated. Yet, these people fail to acknowledge that it is performance alone which counts in the private sector and this is what motivates the employees.

Defying seniority

They also fail to recognize another major flaw. Government employees often make light of their responsibility to their immediate superiors because they know that the person next in the hierarchy has reached that place not because of his merit, but because of a longer period of service. This kind of defiance invariably leads to a decline in work culture.

The system definitely needs change. The world economy has already put immense pressure on the administrative machinery to keep pace with the times. In a market economy, it is only quality that can ensure survival. This applies to individuals as well. Since the government no longer rules from the top, it is there to strengthen the consumers’ bond with the market, it has to conform to the parameters which the market set for it.

That for the first time a separate efficiency evaluation report is being sought on an annual basis for the promotion of all higher government officials is a good thing. Earlier, “efficiency” used to have only one column to itself in the 12 column annual confidential report. It would also do the government services a whole lot of good if the open performance report for the lower and middle level officials was replaced as soon as possible with an annual confidential report.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Half in hate with love

Sir — Mukul Kesavan’s “Love elsewhere” (June 3) misses the point on various issues. No understanding of “the real differences in the way in which men and women write about sex and love” would be accurate because, as Kesavan knows, most of these bodice-rippers are written under pseudonyms. Female sexuality is not given a voice, it is seen as a weakness which allows the man to subjugate the woman. Her desire is often shown to bring about her chastisement — note that she “allows” herself to be seduced. Her acceptance of her punishment (often rape) only perpetuates the myth of feminine masochism. Moreover, when Kesavan talks about men who are ethnically more diverse, he does not seem to account for locales where men can behave like brutes but can still be loved because it is not the “civilized” Western world. The Arab sheikh, the Russian aristocrat are the “others”, fearful yet fascinating. Finally, the ideals of nurturing, maternal love and womanly subservience permeate the predominantly female readership through what Antonio Gramsci calls the ideology of “common sense”. The dangers of an unquestioning acceptance of such stereotypes have to be kept in mind.

Yours faithfully,
Nitoo Das, via email

Fount of blood

Sir — The news of the deaths in Nepal’s royal family was shocking (“Blood ties freeze, blue blood flows”, June 3). Even more shocking is the reason for the deaths provided by the prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, and the king, Gyanendra. It is hard to digest that a gun could go off on its own and kill eight persons and injure one critically.

It is understandable that before disclosing the truth, an atmosphere conducive to its unpleasantness must be created. To cool mass frenzy, it is necessary sometimes to hide parts of the truth. But Koirala and the king should realize that the people are not so naive as to believe things that are absurd. What has been done cannot be undone. Why veil it in inadequate explanations?

Yours faithfully,
Renu Agrawal, Parlin, US

Sir — With the assassination of Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, the former king of the world’s only Hindu kingdom, a visionary has been lost. Birendra strongly believed in close and cordial relations with India and Nepal’s other south Asian neighbours. He also played an active role in the formation and development of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Although the cause of the gory deaths has not been confirmed yet, Dipendra was declared the new king even when it was thought that he was the killer. Just to carry on the family name, could a killer be crowned king?

This tragedy may lead to more political instability in the Himalayan kingdom, already suffering at the hands of an incompetent government. It can also strain Nepal’s bilateral relations with India which was slowly returning to normal after the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight in Kathmandu and the Hrithik Roshan episode.

India has done well to share its neighbour’s grief by declaring a three-day state mourning in a bid to stop bilateral relations from souring.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — The tragic events in Nepal can have a deep impact on Indian politics. Nepal is the only Hindu nation in the world as well as a monarchy. The proponents of Hindutva in India have never forgotten to stress the essentially peace-loving nature of the Hindus, and have held Nepal as a model. The dark, gloomy underbelly of Nepali royal life and the blood that has been spilt must be giving the Hindutva brigade cold shivers now. How will they ever reconcile the idea of peace-loving and tolerant Hindus with the gruesome reality?

Yours faithfully,
Partho Datta, via email

An industrious approach

Sir — One of the glaring failures of Jyoti Basu’s 24-year-old rule was the decline of industry in the state. The present chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, seems determined to rectify his predecessor’s mistake (“Business pilgrimage to red sanctum”, May 21). Does the visit of the Confederation of Indian Industry heavyweights to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) headquarters in Alimuddin Street hold any real hope for ailing industries of the state? There was a big jamboree of industrialists at Raichak a few years ago, and a mad rush in the mid-Nineties to sign memoranda of understanding with the chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation. These have not borne fruit yet.

As the editorial, “Image worship” (June 5), points out, Bhattacharjee must realize that industrialists have no reason to put their hard-earned money in a state where militant trade unionism is backed by the state and work culture is one of the worst. There are 24 state-owned public sector units, most of which are now white elephants. The state has lost crores of rupees over the years in these sick PSUs. Bhattacharjee must stand firm against the unreasonable demands of the unions and tackle them before beginning any ambitious project.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — By inviting industrial barons for a meeting in Alimuddin Street, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has created a precedent. Let the capitalists realize that the bastion of the communists is not like the lairs of the Minotaur. There has to be an easy give-and-take between the two. The difference between the industrialists and the communist government of West Bengal is one of perspective. The capitalists are concerned with productivity and profits, whereas the communists traditionally try to safeguard the interests of the workers and the consumers. The time has come for both to walk hand in hand for the state to prosper.

Yours faithfully,
H.P. Mitra, Calcutta

Sir — Anandarup Ray’s suggestion that the evaluation of the performance of the new government of West Bengal by such agencies as the World Bank will help it gain credibility to draw investments is welcome (“Another face of Marx”, May 25). Though a lot of people are lamenting the ruin of the industrial prospects of the state, things are not so bad in reality. During my trips in the last three years, I was shocked to find numerous Kannada-speaking beggars in Bangalore, Marathi-speaking beggars in Pune and Telegu-speaking beggars in Hyderabad. I am convinced that Calcutta cannot “boast” of so many Bengali-speaking beggars.

The suicide rates of farmers in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh are far higher than that in West Bengal. It is quite illogical to say that Bengalis are fleeing their home city when it is a proven fact that non-Bengalis are flocking to the state.

Since West Bengal was one of the first states of India to have mechanized industries, it is natural that these industries should grow obsolete by now. What is required now is rationalization and transformation. The people of West Bengal have expressed their faith in the Left Front. It is the front’s turn now to act. Only international scrutiny can evaluate their performance beyond the contesting parties’ interests.

Yours faithfully,
Surajit Dasgupta, Calcutta

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