Editorial 1 / No common turf
Editorial 2 / Control pressure
New ways to use old wealth
Fifth Column / Of Monkey men and china fairs
Book Review / Switch on the bliss
Book Review / A turbulent island in the stream
Book Review / To hold a mirror up against unfair times
Bookwise / Going along with the global tide
Paperback Pickings / What a little bit of civic sense can do
Letters to the editor

The purpose of the third front is to carve out for itself a political space which is both anti-Congress and anti-Bharatiya Janata Party. Given the fact that the third front sees itself as being avowedly secular, that space can only emerge at the expense of the Congress. This is indeed the case since, except for the communist parties, all the other parties that make up the third front are former breakaways from the Congress. In fact, the rise of the third front had been predicated upon the decline of the Congress. The rise in the fortunes of the Congress, as manifest from the results of the recent assembly polls, should not please those who feel that the third front has a viable political future. Before the elections, following the retirement of Mr Jyoti Basu from the post of chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mr Basu took the initiative to set up the People’s Front, the third front in a new incarnation. This had the blessings of two former prime ministers, Mr Vishwanath Pratap Singh and Mr H.D. Deve Gowda. The obvious target zone of the People’s Front is Uttar Pradesh where assembly elections are due and where neither the Congress nor the BJP are especially well placed. The hopes of the People’s Front must be driven by that shibboleth of Indian politics which said that whoever wins Uttar Pradesh wins India.

Whatever be the aspirations of the People’s Front — there is no doubt that Mr Yadav’s ambitions go beyond becoming the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh — it remains an amorphous political formation. It has no clear ideological programme save anti-communalism and it is yet to put forward policies that will be different from those pursued by the Congress and the BJP. It is also not free from a dash of opportunism. This is clear from the fact that it did not reject outright overtures from the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham supremo, Ms J. Jayalalitha. The latter has no political scruples and is bereft of all forms of integrity. But this did not stop some of the leaders of the People’s Front from welcoming Ms Jayalalitha and from expressing the hope that she would join the front. Nurtured in an ideological and programmatic vacuum and on the look out for dubious allies, the People’s Front’s future does not look too promising. Its leadership must recognize that by being hostile to the Congress, it is only strengthening the position of the BJP since both the Congress and the People’s Front are contestants for the secular space in Indian politics. Moreover, the People’s Front is still only a bits and pieces player. A government formed by it, at whatever level, will inevitably be vulnerable unless it has the support of one of the big parties. The People’s Front’s tactics fall way behind its political aspirations. It must choose, if it wants to grow, between realism and Mr Yadav’s antipathy for Ms Sonia Gandhi.


Gujarat is in a bad way regarding its population growth. The census has recorded a 22.48 percentage increase in population growth over the last decade. Such a percentage is not only alarming in the context of India’s population figures, it also threatens the prosperity and development of the state itself. The recently evolved national population policy needs the cooperation of all states to achieve its objectives. For this, each state must assess its own condition and evolve practical means to control birth rate. Gujarat seems to be doing just that. But the means it has chosen are those of legislation, which immediately raises uncomfortable questions. The law is in the pre-formulation proposal stage and reports claim that it is meant to implement an incentive-based two-child model of the family. However perfect the model, the means of implementing it being envisaged by the state are far from perfect. First, there is an anomaly in the logic. Incentives for two-children families imply disincentives for non-two-children ones. Coming from the state, this is not desirable. Besides, a two-child limit is bound to put female embryos at greater risk than ever, never mind the government’s offer of additional benefits for girls.

A partial-incentive strategy can be adopted in government institutions and optionally by privately owned enterprises. An employee with more than two children could be put on a slower promotion track, in an adaptation of China’s policy. Actual state legislation implicitly interferes with the private decisions of families. No situation of emergency permits short cuts. The idea of a legislation is a crass attempt to cut the Gordian knot. It is not legislation, but education, which will change things. Prosperous though the state is, its levels of education, even literacy, the contrast of the rich with the rural poor, the status of women and the superstitions they are subject to, indicate that the population growth rate has to be attacked through education and poverty alleviation. A law like this would threaten fundamental rights. However firm the state may be in including all communities under the purview of the proposed legislation, any such pressure from above is bound to reawaken insecurities among minority communities, and make them vulnerable to misinformation from their own religious leaders. Neither can the experience of the Emergency be easily forgotten. It is ironic that at a time fertility rates are falling in much of the world and Japan is focussed on nurturing its sparse young generation, when even China is beginning to worry that its senior citizens will far outnumber its younger ones by the middle of the 21st century, Indian states should be desperate enough to think of legislation to control birth rates.


It has become fashionable in some circles to argue that increasing globalization and liberalization of the economy have rendered redistributive politics irrelevant. On this view, the growth generated by economic reforms will by itself be sufficient to lift significant sections of society out of poverty. Whatever the intentions, the net effect of a redistributive politics in India is increased statism and regulation. Since dominance of the state dampened innovation, circumscribed entrepreneurship, stifled growth and prevented living standards from rising, undue emphasis on redistribution is likely to hamper growth.

This argument derives its plausibility from two fallacies that underlay previous paradigms of redistributive politics in India. First, by and large those on the left who advocated redistribution, failed to give adequate recognition to the importance of economic growth. Second, the call for a redistributive politics was often confused between two different aims, poverty alleviation and economic equality. In principle, the two aims are distinct. Prosperity and inequality can coexist as much as poverty and greater equality. The Indian left’s suspicion of the market has predominantly derived from a fear of inequality. To put it bluntly, the Indian left minded inequality more than it minded poverty.

Only the most dogmatic of ideologues can deny that the growth generated by the reform process started in the Nineties has brought substantial gains. This growth has lifted close to 90 million people above the poverty line and created a substantial middle class. In the southern and western states growth also seems to have had a beneficial impact on human development indicators. These developments and the past fallacies of the redistributive paradigms do not render the politics of economic justice irrelevant. On the contrary, they make redistributive politics even more important.

What paradigm should a new politics of redistribution take? There is a considerable irony underlying past paradigms of redistributive politics The Indian left, for instance, produced some of the most incisive analyses of the ways in which the Indian state came to be captured by dominant proprietary classes. Yet, what was its solution to this problem? Invest even more hope and resources in the very state that it had declared to be thoroughly captured by the dominant classes in the first place.

The second paradigm of redistributive politics was based on the idea that access to state power would empower marginalized groups like the lower and backward castes. This argument has considerable merit but is limited in its scope. The state has limited resources, its capacities for expansion are at breaking point, and most wealth in society will be generated outside the state. While most of the middle classes were using the best private and foreign institutions available to get access to the leading sectors of the economy, members of marginalized groups were being condemned to second-rate institutions.

It is clear that these two paradigms of a redistributive politics increasing the power of the state, or redistribution through increased state spending are currently unviable. The great disjunction in Indian politics consists of the fact that all the distributional coalitions are still based on old redistributive paradigms. The left’s reflexes are limited to a kind of statism that protects the state sector even if it means stifling the rest of the economy. Caste politics after Mandal has not generated new ideas that can impel a significant transformation.

The proponents of both paradigms fear that reforming the state will have a disproportionate impact on parts of their key constituencies. The left wants to protect labour in the state sector at the expense of economic growth; the proponents of Mandal fear that rolling back the state just at the moment at which backward castes are getting access to its resources would be an exercise in bad faith. The proponents of both have been unable to articulate a different paradigm of distributional politics.

In practice, of course, they are more pragmatic. Even though, when in opposition, all political parties have conspired to slow down the process of economic reform, they become reluctant liberalizers when in power. But this impetus towards liberalization is still largely driven by the exigencies of fiscal crisis, rather than any long term strategic vision. On the other side, proponents of reform have been unable to build a new political constituency by showing the ways in which economic reform can be used to empower marginalized groups in Indian society.

This is so for a number of reasons. First, the capacity to generate economic growth is not by itself a winning political strategy. In India, political parties routinely lose elections in periods of high growth. Political collations cannot be created and sustained around the slogan of “growth” in the way in which they can be around distribution. The gains of growth, while tangible, are diffuse and indirect and it is more difficult to claim causal responsibility for them.

Second, proponents of liberalization have not come up with imaginative ways in which they can show a direct link between the process of economic liberalization and distributional gains for the newly influential groups in politics like the backward castes. The fact that no political party has managed to use the process of economic liberalization to form a new distributional coalition has meant that the process of reform continues to be slow, piecemeal and uncertain. While there may even be a policy consensus on the desirability of reforms, there is no distributional coalition sustaining them.

Can the process of economic reform be linked to a new kind of distributional aspiration? Such a link is necessary to sustain the political credibility and legitimacy of economic reform. Early proponents of markets like Adam Smith knew that markets as institutions can be legitimized only if they are allied with a redistributive politics that brought gains to all sections of society. While growth would be necessary for lifting people out of poverty, it would not be sufficient. For one thing, the state would have to create the social preconditions for a successful market econ- omy. Proponents of economic liberalization have been presumptuously silent about how these preconditions are to be created.

How will marginalized groups, which form the basis of appeals to a distributional politics, be given access to make full use of the opportunities of the market? The left, on the other hand, has tried to avoid this question by, in effect, becoming the party that protects the Indian state, as it is currently constituted. The crafting of a new distributional coalition now depends upon thinking of imaginative ways in which the state can be used to help more people gain access to the opportunities of the market. One modest proposal would go as follows.

There is a legitimate fear that the proceeds that accrue to the state from liberalization will not be invested in the creation of an infrastructure that will ensure that marginalized groups can fully benefit from the opportunities of a market economy. The simple solution to this fear is to earmark all the funds generated from disinvestments for programmes that will help these groups gain access to the market economy. The purpose of this earmarking would be this: to use these funds to help Dalits and other marginalized groups gain access to the market economy in much the same way in which affirmative action ensured access to the state.

This can be done in a variety of ways: investment in education, ensuring that marginalized groups have the same access to those private institutions that are increasingly the gateway to the market economy, creating a class of Dalit entrepreneurs in the same way as we have created a class of Dalit civil servants.

The simple fact is that the interests of these groups will in the long run be better served by access to the private sector where most future wealth is likely to be generated; and the process of reforms will gain greater legitimacy if a direct link can be made between liberalization and gains for marginalized groups. Economists will argue that earmarking the Rs 12,000 crore projected from disinvestments is a less than optimal use of these funds. But the political gains of such earmarking would be palpable. It would give marginalized groups a stake in the reform process, it would break the reflexive statism that dominates left politics, and it would create a new distributional coalition to sustain reforms. The challenge is to make populism and the market work for each other, rather than against one another.

The author is professor of philosophy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


How far is a nightmare from a daydream? Nine hundred miles, apparently. So is the distance between Delhi and Calcutta. Late last month, as one metro was plagued by the terror of the mysterious monkey man, the other was besieged by rumours of an exhibition sale of incredibly cheap Chinese goods. In both cases, the effects on the public mind were so powerful that the city administrations had to sit up and take notice.

While the Delhi police formed a special task force to catch the so-called monkey man, in Calcutta an important minister had to camp at Netaji Indoor Stadium, the purported venue of the sale, to monitor the volatile situation. So far, the culprits have eluded the people and the administration. While the monkey man has left a number of casualties in his wake, the enticer of Calcutta has only left behind leaflets and broken hearts.

The two incidents are unconnected, and inhabit two separate zones of human experience: one, an ineffable terror that lurks in the backyard of consciousness; the other, the mirage of a consumerist dream. But as the victims and their tales of horror and heartbreak tumbled out of television screens, one couldn’t help but detect a vague likeness between the two incidents, an overarching climate of mystification, perhaps even the wisp of a connection.

Glimpse of evil

Victims, for one, belonged to similar socio-economic backgrounds. In Calcutta, as well as in Delhi, they mostly belonged to the suburban lower-middle class. When Rukmini Devi of Noida resigned herself to another terror-filled night on the open terrace because she could not afford an aircooler in her one-room barsati, her plight somehow mirrored that of Sirajul Mondal of Kakdwip who had come all the way to Calcutta to buy two Chinese fans at Rs 75 each.

What is significant about this rumour is not just the price factor, as the analysts of consumer behaviour would make us believe. Sirajul could have purchased non-branded fans at about the same price from one of the shops off Chandni Chowk. But it is the fairytale-like quality — luxury goods coming from an inscrutable country at dirt-cheap prices — that fuelled the imagination. The gift-laden ship, in this case, was an adult version of Santa Claus’s sleigh. The same type of puerile imagination dominated the eyewitness accounts of the monkey man. Some said it was a remote-controlled robot, others described its bizarre features. What do all these details point to? According to the sociologist, Ashis Nandy, the monkey man is the incarnation of evil that encircles our lives but whose tangible form we miss in our humdrum existence.

Fantasy as commodity

If the monkey man is pure evil, then surely the fabled ship crammed with cheap Chinese goods is the very image of wistful consumerism. As the locked gates of our economy are opening up to the outside world, this mystical ship is finding new channels in our society. But while the goods are meant for only the upper-middle classes, thanks to advertising and the reach of the electronic media, the backwash effects are hitting larger sections of the population. Moreover, the new economic order has made the lives of ordinary working class people more difficult.

This has led to various uncertainties and deceptions. From misty-eyed Mumbai-bound girls being caught at Howrah station to an array of astrologers and tantriks staring out of the classified pages of newspapers, the manifestations are many and complex. But what is more disturbing is that all these have resulted in a rapid wearing out of our social fabric.

This is an unprecedented phase in human history when a vast proportion of the world’s population is living in urban areas, mostly concentrated in poor third world countries. People are being uprooted from their traditional surroundings and are having to struggle over basic resources and infrastructure. This leads to frayed nerves and a culture of instability and violence. Technology comes, without attendant education, giving birth to fantasies and horrors.

In this age of the global market, everything is a commodity, even horror. Thus, while the monkey man of India makes excellent copy in the Western press, Hollywood weaves nice fantasies out of horror for the consumption of the third world.


By Sudhir Kakar,
Viking, Rs 295

“This is the story of a phenomenon,” Christopher Isherwood’s Ramakrishna and His Disciple (1965) famously begins. Isherwood wrote this biography not simply for the believer or devotee. He was also addressing those who are “not afraid to recognize the marvellous” or to bring to it an “open-minded curiosity”. As mystic and possibly saint, Ramakrishna is not only “extraordinary and mysterious”, but also “a fact, an object of experience”. Isherwood’s own exploration of this experience results in this historical biography, as well as the autobiographical My Guru and His Disciple, and the spare, beautiful novel set in Belur, A Meeting by the River. These lean, reticent narratives can be fleshed out by Swami Saradananda’s Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga and by Mahendranath Gupta’s Boswellian Ramakrishna Kathamrita.

One turns to Sudhir Kakar’s novel also expecting mystery to be made flesh. The reaches of fiction ought to be wider and deeper, free of the limits of a commissioned biography. His preface admits to the novel being based on events in Ramakrishna’s life and in his relationship with Vivekananda. Kakar’s Gopal, later Baba Ram Das, is a composite mystic, also drawing from the lives of Muktananda and Teresa of Ávila, among others. Similarly, Kakar’s Vivek is a composite rationalist, compulsively drawn to love Ram Das through acts of surrender which also leave him baffled. Their relationship unfolds from the early Thirties into the Nineties. Gopal is from a Brahmin family in Rajputana; Vivek is a brilliant college student in Jaipur, a civil servant’s son. Kakar begins interlacing their lives before they meet, although his main focus is their intense love for each other and its spiritual consequences.

Kakar comes to this novel as psychoanalyst and writer. He has written prolifically on the “inner world” of Indian, particularly Hindu, society, looking at its attitudes to childhood, the family, sexuality and healing. His first novel, The Ascetic of Desire, is based on the life of Vatsyayana, writer of the Kama Sutra. One is, therefore, dismayed by the shallowness, the glib recycling of the most appalling clichés on Indian spirituality which stare at one — with a bland, helpless smugness — from every page of this novel. Most noticeably, Kakar’s prose buckles under the demands of this fascinating subject. One has to be a saint, or a very good novelist, in order to enter the “ineffable” imaginatively. And Kakar is, quite obviously, neither.

His overreaching preface and epigraphs invoke Surdas, Tukaram, Blake, Rilke and Hopkins. But what, one wonders, has he imbibed from these great leaps into the dark? Gopal’s early visions, his ecstatic experiences at crucial moments in his spiritual evolution, all become scenes of the writer’s failure, in which Kakar’s English flounders into unintentionally comic karma-cola jingles. The mantra given by the naked sadhu, Nangta, helps him “switch on the bliss”. Looking deep into Gopal’s eyes, Nangta tells him, “I am your mantra and I am your tantra”, somehow reminding one of Cole Porter’s “You’re Mahatma Gandhi, you’re Napoleon brandy”.

However, Kakar’s academic training helps him get to the key issues in the Ramakrishna phenomena. Each of these affords the writer a chance to stretch the limits of the psychological novel, and also to forge a new kind of history-writing. The book starts, arrestingly, with the 15-year-old Gopal suddenly growing breasts. These “distinct little mounds” form an important motif in the novel. The older Gopal wakes up from a dream of the Lord with aching nipples, and actually gives suck to his 14-year-old disciple, Ajay, “possessed by the mood of Yashoda, Krishna’s mother”. But Kakar chickens out of taking this androgyny beyond the most predictable theorizing.

The fusion of the maternal, the erotic and the spiritual; the profound misogyny of a spiritual discourse that is also obsessed with the feminine; its relations with Brahminical machismo and its disturbing afterlife in contemporary Hindu chauvinism: Kakar flirts with all this. But he is simply not competent enough to transform these insights into the language of fiction.



By Shubha Singh,
Har-Anand, Rs 295

Fiji is a group of islands in the south Pacific Ocean boasting picturesque natural beauty. People of Indian origin have lived peacefully here with the indigenous population for more than a century. Though India had been sending indentured labourers to these islands as early as 1879, Indians are largely ignorant about the country outside of its geographical location. The Indian government’s apathy over the years to this major Indian diaspora has gradually brought about a disenchantment of the Indians who have settled there for good.

Fiji became the focus of attention of international media in general and Indian media in particular when a group of armed men stormed the Fijian parliament on May 19, 2000 and took hostage the prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry and his cabinet colleagues. As if suddenly, Indians realized their kinship with the Fijian prime minister of Indian descent. But as in the past, once the crisis was over, the Indian government made it a point to let the Fijian Indians face their own destiny.

Shubha Singh’s book, apart from augmenting the reader’s knowledge of the people living in the distant seas, also makes him realize how important it is for those in India to keep in touch with the Indian diaspora all over the globe. With her family connections with Fiji of over a hundred years, Singh is one of the best persons to write about the country. Her attachment to the island makes her account both personal and detached.

The account begins from 1884, when the author’s great grandparents reached Fiji with the first batch of indentured labourers. In a little less than 200 pages of narrative combining information with somewhat flat prose, Singh tries to uphold before the readers the Indian way of life in Fiji till the events at the turn of the century generated distrust and resentment between the two major communities.

Singh devotes greater attention to the Indian community and its contributions to its adopted country. In the process, she manages to bring alive the community’s history. Personal history is here woven so closely into the narrative that it is likely to seem overdone for the discerning reader. But it is Singh’s family history that is her narrative’s strong point. It creates a sense of immediacy and prevents the book from becoming a dull series of facts.

Indigenous Fijians, their independence and constitution are glossed over. A more detailed analysis of Fijian culture and the Fijian way of life would have made the book more comprehensive. A great deal of light needed to be thrown on the interaction between the two communities and the root causes of the locals’ distrust of the Indians. It is difficult to gauge where the writer’s sympathy lies. But Singh’s is an earnest attempt to present an objective analysis of events that took place in this island nation and the current dynamics between the two major communities. With her background and familiarity with the country, nobody could have done better.


By Saratchandra Chatterjee,
Ravi Dayal and Permanent Black, Rs 395

Saratchandra Chatterjee, the prolific Bengali novelist of the realist school during the early 20th century, was by his own admission a pleader for the cause of oppressed womankind, the dispossessed and the destitute. The Final Question or Shesh Prashna is one of his later novels. While incorporating some of the trademark attributes of his earlier works, it still stands apart from them. It challenges some basic values of the middle-class and lower middle-class society, also Chatterjee’s target reader-groups. It attacks the hallowed concepts of nationality and asceticism, rife in Bengal at the time. Most important, the novel projects a model of the liberated woman through its central character, Kamal.

It is also self-deconstructive as it dismisses much of the sentimentality which once endeared him to his readers. The novelist, if unwittingly, exposes the limitations of his own narrative style. Little wonder then that the novel elicited mixed response on its publication.

The excitement that the novel had caused within the literary circle can be gauged by what Manabendranath Roy wrote to Mao Zedong from prison: “Shesh Prashna may be compared with the books of Sinclair Lewis of our times...The centre of the book is a young woman...The novel shows how this girl, by crushing conventional rules, mores and customs in India flowing from time immemorial has tried to teach the young men, the followers of the religious thoughts of Rabindranath and Gandhi...”.

The Final Question actually questions the prevalent ideas of sexual morality (especially of women), nationalism and ethnic traits of a race. The novel was published in 1931, two years before Hitler assumed power in Germany — an interesting coincidence, as much of its polemics is oriented against aggressive nationalism.

Chatterjee’s earlier novels and essays show his knowledge of anthropology and sociology. Yet, The Final Question is his only novel where the issues of freedom and sexual morality are presented with a rebellious zeal.

The female characters in Chatterjee’s novels are usually more dynamic than their male counterparts. But Kamal’s enormous energy and robustness set her apart from the rest. She does not face any serious challenge from the male characters with the exception of Akshay. But Akshay’s limited vision and personal grudge against Kamal give his character a negative edge. Kamal does not have any significant interaction with the female characters. The novel is set in Agra, within a small non-resident Bengali community, a condition that restricts Kamal’s field of operation. Besides, the linear episodic structure of the novel appears too old-fashioned to effectively communicate radically new ideas on freedom and morality.

The translation betrays a charming felicity of style. The translators should have been named in the title page. Surprisingly, neither of the editors has written an introduction. The one by Amitava Das does not live upto expectations.



Publishing business has not changed so much in the last hundred years as it has in the last ten years. The Eighties marked the new high which has been carried through the Nineties into the new millennium. Companies were bought and sold and again bought and sold at a frenetic pace. Independent publishers with brilliant track records found themselves at the wrong end of the bargaining table and just disappeared or their lists got integrated with the parent company. Just to keep track of these changes, the British trade journal, The Bookseller, ran a report, “Who Owns Whom in Publishing”, in the Nineties. Now they have given up, because publishing has grown to become a sub-division of the burgeoning communications and entertainment industry.

What does all this mean? First, and obviously, that publishing has become more global than ever before. This has a host of implications and the trends are all there to see. Three major developments of the Nineties that would significantly affect the structure of publishing in the new millennium and also its international operations need careful analysis. Publishers have to think big. Small printings, scholarly and serious literature that don’t sell more than a hundred odd copies worldwide is out. Also, profit margins and rates of return of investment have to be high .

Higher printings and higher margins have meant poaching for and buying up “bestselling” authors, but for a steep price. As a result, publishing companies have had to pay huge advances to authors and, sometimes, even before they had written a single word. But any decent book, mass-market or upmarket, takes three years before publishers can hope to see any revenues from it. What has been most damaging to publishers is that they have increasingly found themselves playing banker to both authors and booksellers. This is particularly true of India.

The net effect is that publishers have started to hand out cash, rather than bringing it in. The book divisions of the conglomerates have to generate cash surplus quickly. Book divisions that could not generate a surplus had to be hacked.

Cash crunch has become the prime problem in publishing houses today. One way out, apart from tighter credit control over booksellers, is to diversify, or go into journal/magazine publishing. But subscriptions may not come and readers may get their requirements through retail trade. And when publishers fall back on traditional trade outlets, they would have to reckon with the same old problem of unsold copies coming back and delayed payments.

But perhaps there is another way out. When authors have to be paid more and printings made larger, a logical solution would be to establish chain bookshops that would be able to handle the mammoth size and get all the kinds of books displayed like high merchandise. There aren’t many in India — Landmark and Crosswords come immediately to mind — but bookshops as part of superstores are bound to come up. In the new global supermarket, books are one more commodity and must find their place among everything that is sold.



A Guide To Active Citizenship is a free booklet, released by the chief minister, on World Environment Day (June 5), at a meeting organized by the West Bengal pollution control board. It is put together by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and People United for Better Living in Calcutta. It seeks to make Calcuttans aware of their right to receive quality civic amenities, and of their duty to protect and improve their environment, by cooperating with the CMC. It collects legal information, practical suggestions and essential contacts regarding trees, noise, air pollution, garbage, water, drainage, heritage buildings and public property, food adulteration and power. It also provides a directory of the CMC borough offices and the phone numbers of the vigilance officer for registering complaints against corruption in the CMC. It is an invaluable publication. One hopes it is translated and distributed widely.

By Krishnan Srinivasan
(HarperCollins, Rs 195)

Krishnan Srinivasan’s The Eccentric Effect is a very accomplished political thriller. Wiry, deadpan and stylish, it moves effortlessly between London and New Delhi, between the Commonwealth Secretariat in London’s Marlborough House and the ministry of external affairs in South Block. The English bits are narrated by a programme coordinator working under the Nigerian secretary general to the Commonwealth, “my boss, my guru, my traditional Chief and my master”; the Delhi bits centre around Chandrashekhar Rishikesh of the MEA. Krishnan draws upon his extensive diplomatic and ambassadorial experience to create an immensely readable world of international diplomacy. “Diplomacy”, as one of the epigraphs puts it, “is an obscure art, which hides itself in the folds of deceit, which fears to let itself be seen, and believes that it can exist only in the darkness of mystery.” The sex, always the test of a good thriller, is untypical, funny and does not feel added on.

By Kiran Bedi, Parminder Jeet Singh and Sandeep Srivastava
(Sage, Rs 295)

Kiran Bedi, Parminder Jeet Singh and Sandeep Srivastava’s [email protected]: New Governance Opportunities For India is a terrifically upbeat book on the wonder that will be — and indeed, is — citizen-centric, e-enabled governance for the New India. (It has certainly produced wonderful new compound epithets, thereby abundantly increasing the resources of postcolonial New Indian English, for those who can use it.) Invoking visionary chief ministers and Maharashtra’s Warna Wired Village Project (70 villages in two districts), this book envisages e-governance as “redefining the vision and the scope of the entire gamut of relationships between citizens and government”. The problem is not in poverty, illiteracy, underdevelopment or corruption. It’s all in the mindset, “stuck with the developing world mentality”. Just Net Set and Go!, as one of the chapter-headings spurs on.

By Ruskin Bond
(Penguin, Rs150)

Ruskin Bond’s When Darkness Falls and Other Stories is a collection of little stories about nostalgia, “an attempt to preserve that which is good in the past”. But Bond points out in the delightful introduction that these tales are not simply about nostalgia. “They are about how the process of growing up has made us what we are today.” The past, as recalled in these stories, is the days of Bond’s boyhood and youth, spent in his grandmother’s home and later freelancing in penury. This is Dehra Dun in the Forties and Fifties, the time of passions, foibles and eccentricities, observed and accommodated humanely, sitting in a “nice old building with a patch of grass in front...on the verandah where a frond of bougainvillea trails”.

By Inger Skjelsbæk and Dan Smith
(International Peace Research Institute and Sage, Rs 495)

Inger Skjelsbæk and Dan Smith’s Gender, Peace and Conflict is a valuable — and certainly expensive — collection of essays on the role of gender difference in conflict resolution and political decision-making. It believes that men and women are differently involved in armed conflict, and that policies and research have reflected a “gender blind” approach. This is largely because male norms have been taken to represent the norm for all human beings. There is also the essentialist notion that men are for war, while women are for peace. There are discussions on rape as a deliberate weapon of war, of the role of the United Nations, and analyses of the testimonies of women from Bosnia, Rwanda, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Colombia, El Salvador, Vietnam and the former Yugoslavia.



Forgive and forget not

Sir — There might have been “No hidden agenda under shawl” (June 6) wrapped around the prime minister, but it is unlikely there wasn’t any at all. In fact, the hints dropped by J. Jayalalitha just outside 10, Janpath about her being positively inclined towards the third front, shows what had brought her to the capital. It was important for Amma to have lemon tea with the Congress president, to put her at ease before stabbing her in the back. Two years ago, as the report mentions, Sonia Gandhi had refused to comply with the wishes of the puratchi thalaivi by insisting on a prime ministership and the exclusion of Mulayam Singh Yadav from the game. Amma forgets nothing and forgives no one. Her first act on assuming office was to ask the governor, Fathima Beevi, for permission to put her tormentors, the leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, on trial on corruption charges. Her next act is to seek revenge for the humiliation she faced at Janpath two years back.

Yours faithfully,
J. Dutta Chaudhuri, Calcutta

Rate of decline

Sir — The editorial, “Starshine” (June 4), rightly notes that the granting of a five-star status to the University of Calcutta by the national accreditation committee is a contentious issue. It is a grim predicament for such a prestigious university that it has now to depend on the national assessment accreditation committee funds, especially given the apathy of the authorities to the assessment procedure.

The deplorable state of affairs in the university does not need much elaboration. Not only are the syllabi outdated but the university till now fails to declare results on time. Add to this the suspect system of evaluation. Many a time, students find it difficult to get first hand information about examination schedules from the university and have to depend on newspaper reports. Teachers neglect their duty while expanding their business of private tuition. A pertinent worry is the political appointment of teachers. The authorities concerned should stop the downslide of the university by making good use of the funds being made available to it by the NAAC.

Yours faithfully,
Subhajit Mitra, via email

Sir — The Calcutta University is symptomatic of all that is wrong with the system of education in this state. Yet, students from outside West Bengal used to come to the state in order to study in the Calcutta University. The picture, unfortunately, has changed in the course of the past few decades, particularly after the Nineties. Now, students from all streams find it more worthwhile to go to other states for higher education, although unlike other states, West Bengal has a subsidized educational set-up. At present, anybody can continue higher studies in West Bengal in lieu of Rs 15 per month as tuition fees. This is much less than what students have to pay in other states.

But, in reality, students have to go to college or university teachers to be taught privately in return for a considerable amount of money. The amount can vary from Rs 200 to Rs 1,500, depending on what students want to get from their teachers, who incidentally get on an average Rs 13,000-Rs 15,000 as monthly salary. They are also prohibited by the university statutes from running private tuition classes. Students can thus remain absent from classes in colleges, their attendance being doctored in exchange for a small sum to the office clerk.

Yours faithfully.
Sanat Mukherjee, New York

Sir — The report, “New Left, old lesson” (May 26), undoubtedly points to the hypocrisy of the Left Front government in the sphere of higher education in West Bengal. It is really a matter of shame on the part of the ruling party that appointment of teachers in colleges and universities are made solely on the basis of political or electoral reasons.This instance of rampant favouritism and wilful discrimination bears testimony to the left’s blatant apathy to the growth of exellence in higher education. If this policy of pampering mediocrity at the highest level of intellectual development continues, posterity will remember left rule in West Bengal as an era of politically induced intellectual stagnation.

Yours faithfully,
Indranil Chowdhury, via email

Sir — As Ramanuj Majumder of the Indian Institute of Management has rightly pointed out in “Lessons in business at seats of learning” (May 25), the West Bengal government needs to take a leaf out of Germany’s book. The superlative performance of the German economy can be attributed not merely to the hard-working nature of its people, but more importantly, to the national policy to facilitate technical innovation, pioneered in the late 18th century.

In the early 1820s, Prussia established a system of schools to train technicians for private industry. It soon brought within its fold about 20 vocational schools in the provinces providing one-year full-time courses for craftsmen and factory shop-masters. Above the provincial schools was the Technical Institute (Gewerbeinstitut) in Berlin, offering a two-year course for technicians to enable them to set up and manage factories. Most German states followed suit by establishing polytechnical schools, later called Technische Hochschulen.

The West Bengal Government would do well to set up new vocational schools, but should also exploit the existing engineering and management schools such as the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Jadavpur University and IIM, Calcutta. The links between the education system and industrial firms should not be restricted to the supply of trained personnel alone, but also include consultancy by professors in engineering, management, and applied sciences. West Bengal’s university professors will have to guard against an intellectual orientation, which might make them averse to the utilization of new ideas for commercial purposes.

Bengal can also have firms offering traditional apprenticeship programmes. These can create their own schools oriented toward specialized vocational training. In Germany, firms in the machine construction industry began their own apprenticeship programmes as early as the 1860s, while firms in the electrical and optical industries did the same in the 1880s. The end-results will not be immediately apparent, but the position of Germany in the world economy proves what foresight can achieve.

Yours faithfully,
Sireesh Talluri Rao, via email

Sir — Publication of the results of the Madhyamik examination this year within such a short time has been appreciated by all. It only proves that if there is a will, there is also a way. The large exodus of students from the state could be prevented if the West Bengal board of joint entrance examination for admission to engineering and medical colleges could publish the merit list and complete the counselling ahead of others. I appeal to the board and the ministry concerned to take measures to publish the merit list by the end of this month.

Yours faithfully,
B. Ghosh, via email

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