Editorial 1/ Looking alright
Editorial 2/ Three women
In the midst of life
This above all/ The greatest of the Greats
Pure power for the pure state
Fifth Column/ Games political parties play
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ LOOKING ALRIGHT 
 
 
 
 
Mr Tony Blair thinks his landslide victory is remarkable and historic. Having got the largest mandate granted to a second-term government in Britain, it is understandable that Mr Blair and his party are rejoicing. But there is something unremarkable too about a victory that has been predicted so consistently by every poll in the country. Moreover, there is the other, equally historic, fact that the voter turn-out for this general election has been the lowest since 1918. Moving almost seamlessly into a second term, but in a democracy that seems to be distancing itself from the traditional attitude to electoral representation, is part of the paradox of Labour’s latest victory in Britain. And it does take away somewhat from the celebratory fanfare.

The issues that would determine the character and outcome of Mr Blair’s second term are fairly clear. First, he would have to deliver on the promises on which his campaign was founded, particularly the reform of the public services — mainly education, health and transport. Some of the first changes in the cabinet, and the possible setting up of a “policy delivery unit”, show Mr Blair’s perception of this crucial aspect of the people’s mandate. His new inductions to the cabinet also take the number of women up to a record seven. Second, the handling of alignments to the euro would determine not only the fate of Mr Blair’s government but also of his party’s relationship with the opposition party. This too has been reflected in the first changes made by Mr Blair in his cabinet. Mr Robin Cook’s demotion from foreign secretary to leader of the Commons perhaps forestalls a conflict with the chancellor over entry to the euro. The identity, and effectiveness, of the Conservative Party will also depend on the extent to which its euro views can dissociate themselves from banal notions of nationhood. Mr Blair’s nervousness about the referendum, or the “visceral hostility” to Europe of some in the opposition, must both have an eye to not only political contingency but also the interests of the business community. Apart from this issue, there is not very much that differentiates Labour’s centre-right position on most aspects of macroeconomic policy from the Conservatives. And this includes the much-lauded granting of independence to the Bank of England in 1997. It is, perhaps, this more or less level maintenance of economic stability, with the inflation and employment indicators showing no alarming trends, that suggests a less dismal way of looking at the low turn-out this time in Britain, as in France, Italy, Germany and the United States. Not coming to vote may not always be a form of protest or a sign of dangerous political apathy. It could be a pragmatic, “I’m alright, Jack” mentality, in which elections are not a means of expressing ideological commitment but of ensuring the economic stability of everyday social existence.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ THREE WOMEN 
 
 
 
 
The story of contemporary Indian politics can be written up as an account of the relationship of three powerful women: Ms Sonia Gandhi, Ms J. Jayalalitha and Ms Mamata Banerjee. In the recently concluded assembly elections, all three were on the same side. Ms Gandhi, it had appeared prior to the elections, had achieved some sort of a political coup by making alliances with Ms Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu and with Ms Banerjee in West Bengal. Before the elections, the expectation was that both alliances would strengthen the Congress because the allies seemed to be the front runners in the election race. The results punctured Congress expectations. Ms Jayalalitha won but the scale of her victory made the Congress irrelevant in Tamil Nadu. Ms Banerjee lost and the scale of her defeat made her and the Congress irrelevant in West Bengal. These developments radically altered the configuration of alliances much to the detriment of the Congress position. Ms Gandhi’s moment of apparent triumph was remarkably volatile: it evaporated in the heat of the election results.

The meaning of Ms Jayalalitha’s present of a shawl to the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, may not be altogether clear but she has given indications that the Congress is no longer her ally of the season. This is not a surprise to anybody save perhaps to Ms Gandhi. Ms Jayalalitha has also been openly flirting with the People’s Front. Since the lady from Tamil Nadu has little or no political scruple, she is willing to make deals with any political formation if it suits her immediate interests. And the Congress, at the moment, in no way furthers her ambition. Ms Banerjee’s situation is somewhat different if only because it is pathetic. From aspirant chief minister she has been reduced to a political also-ran. Within her own party, the Trinamool Congress, there is the strong feeling that this plight of hers is directly related to her exit from the National Democratic Alliance government and her pre-election alliance with the Congress. Many members of parliament belonging to the Trinamool Congress are keen to go back to the NDA and the latter is not unwilling to take them back provided Ms Banerjee is left out. Ms Banerjee’s face is thus turned away from the Congress since the latter is of no use to her at either the state or the national levels. All this leaves Ms Gandhi high and dry. Her critics will say, with some justification, that the circumstances are of her own making and that she should choose her allies with greater care. With allies like Ms Jayalalitha, the Congress does not need enemies. In the first battle of wiles between the three queen bees of Indian politics, Ms Gandhi has been stranded. But she is the only one with the organizational resources and goodwill, which if garnered wisely, will allow her to stay the distance.

   

 
 
IN THE MIDST OF LIFE 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
A little over a week ago, one sat in the quiet of Hathiban, a spot in the hills above Kathmandu from where one could get a spectacular view of the valley and the city. It is set in the forests that cover the hills, and even in summer the breeze is gentle and cool. Over on the right, well below the place where we were sitting, the pale broad line of the airport’s runway was a major feature, and a big aircraft drifted slowly, sedately, in to land.

We spoke of the quiet, the enchanting quality of Hathiban, and also, the chaotic traffic notwithstanding, of the lively bustle of Kathmandu; of the peace and seemingly enduring stability of the country. Appearances can be deceptive, our host warned us, but the appearance there had caught all of us in its charming web; sorcery, illusion — whatever it was it enveloped us completely.

A few days later, frantic packing and re-packing over, and we were in Bavaria — gently beautiful, forests stretching away to the mists which wreathed the Arber mountains and the Danube sparkling where the occasionally bright sunlight caught its waves and ripples. This was where we heard of the slaughter of the royal family of Nepal.

Staring at the vividly green meadows and valleys of that beautiful, tranquil place, one could not help imagining the horror of a room — and splendidly appointed room — spattered with the blood of nine of the family which held Nepal together: the king, queen, the crown prince — symbols of the country, lying sprawled over chairs or on the ground, dead, dying.

Was the fascinatingly beautiful country also dying? Was this the first, terrible step towards anarchy and mindless violence? In that place of tranquillity and awesome beauty, the act seemed to rise like a black evil shadow over it. It seemed, then, as if its enchantment had given way to the fear that stalks so many lovely parts of the world.

A few days later, in the small town of Straubing one looked at the lovely central square, in the centre of which the gilded Holy Trinity column shone brilliantly, from which cobbled streets wound outwards between old buildings with carved wooden windows and steep flights of steps, and again, images — ugly, terrifying images — of the slaughter of the Nepalese royal family came to mind; one felt heartsick at the agony of that country amidst the enchanting tranquillity of this little town. It was only a little later that it became apparent that nothing seems to be quite what it is.

A small brochure on the town gave a terse, almost curt account of its history: 1435 — Agnes Bernauer, Duke Albrecht II’s commoner wife, executed; 1633 — capitulation to the Swedes in the Thirty Years’ war; 1742 — successful defence of the town in the Austrian war of succession; 1780 — the Great Fire; and a brief chilling entry, 1944-45 — air raids. Brief words, true; but behind them were the screams of the dead and the maimed, the pain, blood, torn flesh and shattered bones of savage conflict.

The fire would have left houses broken, charred, smoking ruins; families would have been pauperized, fleeing elsewhere with pitiful bits and pieces of their belongings. And above all, the air raids: the dreadful round of explosions, people killed again, more blood, more mutilated bodies, more buildings smashed to rubble.

Savagery was not alien to this pretty little town; but then in which lovely part of the earth is it otherwise? In Straubing, the horrors and the pain are in the past: for a long, long, time, one hopes. In Nepal, the agony has started again. Again, because there, too, there have been wars, internecine wars between clans, till the Shah dynasty ruled all of what is now Nepal. At home, there is the continuing misery and pain of Kashmir, and there are few lovelier places than that valley.

Political experts will, sooner or later, piece together what led to the carnage in Kathmandu — not just the facts of the massacre but the larger picture, the developments stretching back in time of which these events are a part. What one is underscoring here is something else: the savagery, like savagery in other places and in history, which seeks, quite dispassionately, to change events. That, and its existence in the most tranquil, idyllic environs, amidst beauty that can be gentle and dreamlike, or dramatic and awesome.

Put another way, the apparent beauty of any place is not alien to pain, to death, and to misery. The lush green of meadows and the soft birdsong in the forests do not reflect anything in particular, other than a coming together of some visible phenomena. Not that they are illusory; they certainly are not. But the loveliness of nature lives apart, in itself, as it were. It is beautiful because we say it is so. If it could it might — or all the elements that make it up, the forests, mountains, lakes, rivers and meadows — they might say that they exist as they are. When our actions cause us anguish and pain, it really means nothing to them. They continue to exist.

A Sanskrit shloka says that looking over tranquil, still water calms a person and brings peace to the mind. It has been virtually an article of faith in societies everywhere that the environment shapes character, shapes the way people live, gives societies their identities. And yet we have instance after instance of this not being so. Were these old, traditional observations wrong then? To an extent it would seem to be that they were, but it really depends on what we think they meant.

It would be a very simple person indeed who concluded that looking over tranquil waters acted like a dose of Valium or other sedative. What was obviously meant was that if a person looked out over tranquil waters, and let that image sink deep into his being, then he would indeed experience a peace, a calm that he would not otherwise feel. As deputy commissioner of the district of Cooch Behar, I had the good fortune of having an office which overlooked a large still lake. In fact, it was there that I heard the Sanskrit shloka about still waters calming the mind. I have to confess that for many months, I thought it was just one of those sayings, as the turbulence of events, which inevitably led to tension and worry, made the tranquil lake look like — a tranquil lake, no more and no less.

But on one or two occasions later in my stay, I did experience something of the tranquillity of the waters. Looking out over the lake, and letting that image of water — still, placid, sunlit — fill my mind, I did find the tensions ebbing away, at least for a time. Perhaps, that explains why a traveller can be so overwhelmed by the beauty and serenity of the country he sees; he has the time, and he lets the images come to him and fill his mind.

There is, however, much else to people — avarice, hatred, bloodlust among other notable characteristics — and these consume one totally. Then no tranquil lakes matter, no mountains clothed in silent forests and veiled in mist. Not till those other passions have run their course and left behind what they usually do — corpses, which in one form or the other return to the beauty of valleys and rivers and of green meadows.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ THE GREATEST OF THE GREATS 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
In our history books a few rulers were given the suffix, “Great”: Ashoka, Chandragupta Maurya, Akbar, Ranjit Singh. Besides their conquests and ruling over vast regions, it was their humane qualities that endeared them to their subjects. Historians don’t tell us as much about them as they should.

One gap in our information about Emperor Akbar has been filled by Shireen Moosvi, professor of history at the Aligarh Muslim University. Her slender book, Episodes in the Life of Akbar, tells us what Akbar looked like, what he ate, his hobbies, how he dealt with courtiers and commonfolk, his religious beliefs, the hours he spent at work and the hours he slept. We get to know him as a man as well as a great ruler.

Akbar was born on October 15, 1942, at Amarkot, to Hamida Bano, wife of Humayun, who had been ousted from the sultanate of Delhi by the Afghan, Sher Shah Suri. He spent some years of his childhood in Kabul in the protective custody of his uncle who remarked how closely the child resembled Babur. He was a strong little boy.

In a battle of strength with his elder and bigger cousin over the possession of a painted dome, he picked up his adversary and threw him down. He refused to learn how to read or write but did learn how to draw and paint. After the death of his father who had regained the Mughal throne in Delhi, he was crowned king at Kalanaur in 1556. For four years he let Bairam Khan run the affairs of the state; then summarily sent him off on a pilgrimage to Mecca. (Khan was assassinated before he could leave India.) He was a wayward-going man who indulged in cockfighting, riding horses and elephants, flying kites and pigeons.

Above all, he loved hunting on a massive scale. Wild animals were rounded up by thousands of beaters, before he shot them with bow and arrow, muskets, speared them or slew them with his sword. It was on one such massive hunt near Bhera that he was overcome with remorse for killing dumb creatures who had done him no harm. He meditated over it for a long time and called off the hunt and hunted no more.

In 1563, Akbar had to contend with a quarrel between two close relatives, Atka Khan and Adham Khan, sons of his foster-mothers. Adham murdered Atka. When Akbar heard of it, he flew into rage.

He swore at him and ordered him to be thrown down the ramparts of the fort twice till he was dead. Adham Khan’s tomb is in Mehrauli. The hospice of his mother, Maham Anga, faces the entrance of Delhi Zoo. Atka Khan’s body was also brought to Delhi. His mausoleum is close to the dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya.

Akbar liked women and stocked his harem with hundreds of beauties selected by eunuchs who were sent out as scouts to find them. He was especially enamoured by Rajputs, the bravery of their men and the beauty of their women.

Much has been written about the nine gems (navrattan) of his court and his interest in different religions. Moosvi’s compilation from Mughal sources mention the nine gems but has a lot on his discourses at the ibadat khana (house of prayer) where he heard preachers of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam propound their faiths. Although he remained illiterate to the end, he had a remarkable memory and would recite by rote passages from Rumi and Hafiz. He also composed poems in Hindi and Persian. His interest in Sufism was first roused by Khwaja Salim Chishti after whom he named his son, Salim, and built the city, Fatehpur Sikri.

Although constantly engaged in extending his empire, and putting down rebellions (he never lost a battle), he found time to discuss problems of the common people with the governors of the states. He kept a punishing schedule of work, never sleeping more than three to four hours of the day and night.

It may come as a surprise to readers that Akbar only drank water from the Ganga and his food was cooked in waters of the Yamuna and the Chenab. He ate only one meal a day at no fixed time. Gradually, he gave up eating meat: “I don’t want to make my body a tomb for beasts,” he said. H preferred plain rice, milk products and sweets.

Early in October 1605, Akbar was taken ill. He got high fever and diarrhoea. He sensed his end was near and sent for his eldest son. He handed over his sword to him signifying recognition as his successor. He died during the night of Tuesday, October 26, 1605. The next day, Prince Salim Jahangir and his brothers took his body to Sikandara and laid it to rest. Thus ended 52 years of his glorious rule.

Through the eyes of the watcher

For people like us, who are abysmally ignorant of the world of nature (in which we live), it is a small miracle to find a few men and women who are not the least bit concerned with politics and corruption and spend most of their hours watching birds, trees, monkeys and insects and recording changes in them during the seasons. One of them is Calcutta-born Ranjit Lal who has made his home in Delhi.

This man picked up a caterpillar and put it in a glass jar with a heap of leaves of the kind it was attached to. He watched it for hours on end as it devoured leaf after leaf, went into his next stage cocooned in a chrysalis and then kept a 24-hour vigil so that he did not miss the magical moment when the worm of a few days earlier turned into a beautiful butterfly.

Ranjit lives in an apartment in Delhi in Kashmere Gate where General Nicholson, who led the assault on the city taken over by sepoys in 1857, lies buried. Its main occupants are herds of rhesus monkeys who steal food from neighbouring houses, play havoc with cars and buses parked nearby and generally have a good time playing, fighting and copulating. Ranjit has watched their antics long enough to identify them individually. He has also noticed that at times both males and females have red faces and behinds.

Ranjit has noted that the change of colour came with their periods of fertility, although, like humans, they indulged in sex both homo and hetero. Other areas where Ranjit Lal watches birds, trees and insects, is the stretch of Yamuna from the Gandhi Samadhi to Majnu ka teela, the Ridge and Jackson’s jheel. Despite Delhi being one of the most polluted cities of the world, it also has more trees to the spare kilometre than any other. So it teems with bird life and is the watchers’ paradise.

The one minor problem for people not familiar with birds is that his book, Mostly Birds, Some Monkeys and a Pest : Nature in and around Delhi, is not illustrated. His descriptions of nature make good reading but if you can’t tell a pochard from a widgeon, pin-tail or Brahmin duck, or different varieties of bulbuls and mynahs, you won’t know what he is writing about.

Colours of Hindi songs

From the shadows of the evening till the
break of dawn
Music being the soul of life, play on
Play on because it’ll fill you with love and
praise,
Play on because it will illuminate your
gaze
Play on if you want to soothe your sullen
soul
Play on if solace and joy be your goal,
Play on to the cruel and the coward
because music can
Melt a monster into human and mould a
human into Man.
Play on to the whole nation the universal
melody
For what has kept this country together
chiefly so far
Is nothing lofty
But the good old and the humble Hindi
film songs
Play on, for Tamil Nadu enjoys it
And Assam understands it every bit;
Ae meri zohra jabin, too abhi tak hai hasin , aur mein jawan
Play on, for the Kargil men and patently
hostile to Hindustan
Even Musharraf succumbs to the magic
of old Hindi songs —
A bond still between India and Pakistan.
   

 
 
PURE POWER FOR THE PURE STATE 
 
 
BY ANURADHA KUMAR
 
 
Since 1995, Afghanistan has seemingly been caught in a time warp, at the hands of the taliban that stands for a new brand of political-fanatical leadership which periodically grabs the world’s attention by its medieval puritanical decrees. Yet the men who pass these decrees, as part of the collective called the taliban, remain cloistered. Little is known about them as they confabulate in the cities of Kandahar and Kabul, hooded in secrecy, even as Afghanistan and its people sink into a morass of poverty and misery.

But despite the universal shudder that accompanies the mention of the taliban, the taliban’s emergence that has now made Afghanistan a pariah in the world community, was once widely welcomed by most Afghans after years of Soviet occupation and the civil war that followed.

The network of teachers and students, mullahs and talibs, in rural madrassas in Afghanistan and the neighbouring Pashtun-populated areas of Pakistan has played an important part in the history of the country for centuries. Contemporary Afghan history is littered with records of the vital roles the taliban and mullahs have played in all major wars in Afghan history, especially during the British-Afghan wars in the 19th century.

During the anti-Soviet jihad, they constituted one of the important sources of recruitment for the mujahedin. In April, 1992, as civil war broke out amongst the different mujahedin groups, millions of Afghans became refugees. The country’s educational system collapsed, and rural madrassas provided almost the only education available. Today’s taliban movement was formed in response to the failure of the mujahedin to establish a stable government after the Soviet withdrawal.

A group of madrassa teachers and students led by the mullah, Muhammad Umar, formed the taliban movement to end the warlords’ power and establish a pure Islamic regime. Aid from Pakistan enabled them first to seize Kandahar in October-November 1994 and to expand till they controlled virtually the entire country in August 1998.

Despite their expansion beyond their original home base, the core taliban group consists of a group of mainly Kandahari mullahs trained in madrassas affiliated with the Deobandi movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This leadership thus has both a regional and ideological component.

But the taliban does not represent simply the traditional code of the conservative Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan, but an Islamic ideological radicalization of elements of that code under the impact of war and mass displacement.

While their restrictions on women may bear some resemblance to the tribal code, other regulations, such as forbidding celebration of Navroze are opposed to traditionalism. Especially in the non-Pashtun cities that they rule, the taliban enforces this ideology through a new disciplinary apparatus alien to tribal traditions. Their rule thus has more to do with power than with an avowal of Islamic principles.

In their five years in power, the taliban has had few resources, as most resources go to the war effort. But it has increasingly sought to adopt a discourse of Afghan nationalism as well as Islamic traditionalism and is trying to recreate a centralized Afghan state as seen in the establishment of the ministry of enforcement of virtue and suppression of vice (al-Amr bi al-Ma’ruf wa al-Nahi’an al-Munkir), with responsibilities for “guidance” or irshad, the Islamist term for political and moral control.

For all the power that resides in Umar, at the helm of unarguably one of the world’s most totalitarian regimes, he remains in obscurity, rarely making any public appearance, or even addressing the media. Umar was “elected” amir al-mu’minin (commander of the believers, a title of the caliph) by an assembly of about 1,200 invited ulama in 1996. All decisions are ultimately taken by him.

He originally headed a 10-member supreme shura (consultative body) and a military shura, both based in Kandahar. After the taliban captured Kabul, it established the Kabul shura, consisting of the ministers and acting ministers of the taliban government. It is believed that as Umar is based in Kandahar, there is a conflict of interests that often develops between the Kabul and Kandahar sections of the taliban.

The taliban has been successful in maintaining a monolithic image, with Umar as the head of the movement. But the current taliban movement is, an integrative movement, having in its ranks different taliban from various regions as well as some former army officers.

With the passage of time and after the incorporation of local commanders who “had defected from other mujahedin groups, the taliban leadership has also been exposed to more dissension. The major division is between factions of the taliban itself, with some factions going for a more moderate line.

Another faction includes the supporters of the late maulvi, Rabbani, and is more orthodox and supported by Umar. The second split is between the new entrants and the older leadership.

It is this factionalism that is probably in a way also responsible for the increasing fanaticism displayed by the taliban. Plagued by insecurity, ostracized by most of the world community, there is now all the evidence of a power struggle between the second rung of taliban leaders, intensified since the death of Rabbani earlier this year.

The open attacks on minorities, disregard of world opinion as over Bamiyan, are also indicative of the malaise of insecurity and power-hunger that is seen in most totalitarian, fanatical regimes. It was evident in Germany under Hitler, even in Stalin’s Russia — where each player tries to outdo the other in his quest for the ultimate “pure” state.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ GAMES POLITICAL PARTIES PLAY 
 
 
BY SURENDRA MOHAN
 
 
The statements of the former Union minister, Ajit Panja, and some of his colleagues that the Trinamool Congress under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee was willing to return to the National Democratic Alliance have not been categorically contradicted by the leader. Panja’s friends point out that although the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, including the prime minister, had not spared Banerjee and her party for abandoning the BJP midstream and joining the Congress, Banerjee never spoke a word against the BJP during the election campaign.

They point out that thereby she had kept the option of going back to the NDA open and that was the reason why the Trinamool Congress parliamentary party had not informed the speaker of the Lok Sabha about its dissociation from the ruling NDA coalition. On the other hand, Banerjee and the Congress leader, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, had jointly addressed a press conference only last week.

In case Banerjee decides to join the NDA, her credibility and that of the party will be seriously eroded. But if she does not, then the party will be faced with a vertical split and four, if not five, of the members in the Lok Sabha will cast their lot with the NDA. It is significant that the Congress is also divided on the issue of inviting Banerjee and her followers to join. Some of them have a serious complaint against her failure to distance herself from the BJP.

Evil crossings

They, therefore, are wary of having her as the party’s leader in the state for that would permanently deprive the party of the support of the minorities. Yet the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, is reportedly quite keen that Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress come back home. This is part of her larger design to get the Tamil Maanila Congress led by G.K. Moopanar and other similar groups of ex-Congressmen to rejoin the party in a grand consolidation.

Similar uncertainties and confusions plagued politics in Manipur where the unscrupulous politics of the BJP has created a situation for the imposition of president’s rule. The BJP, with only six members in the assembly, allowed 20 defectors from the Manipur state Congress to join it. After having secured a total strength of 26 members, it managed to get the support of a few other groups which were, in turn, extending their support to the Samata Party’s government led by Radha Binod Koijam. This way, they could overthrow the latter.

It had no compunction in ousting the government of a party which has been its most trusted ally in the Centre. The face-off between the leaders of the BJP and the Samata Party and their later reconciliation led to the disintegration of the BJP.

Choice of advantages

It could be possible for the Central leaders of the two allied parties to create a coalition government and thereby to provide stability in a state where defections have led to frequent destabilization of state governments. But that was not to be. Another problem that the NDA faces is the disquiet expressed by the Haryana chief minister, Om Prakash Chautala, over the BJP’s decision to invite Ajit Singh and his Lok Dal to join the NDA. Chautala, whose party extends support to the NDA’s government from outside, has threatened to withdraw support if Ajit Singh is brought into the NDA and consequently into the government.

Ajit Singh himself has to contend with largescale revolt within his own party for taking the decision to join the NDA. He has already expelled two office-bearers, S.P. Malaviya and Rashid Masood, from the party and is losing a few more senior leaders. But his ambition for a berth in the Union cabinet has compelled him to ignore the loss of credibility and support base for the party. The BJP leaders have preferred Ajit Singh to Chautala owing to their preoccupation with the election preparations in Uttar Pradesh, which is to go to the polls in February 2002.

Defections and opportunistic alliances are not the only games that the parties play. As has been pointed out by the Vohra committee, the Election Commission, and other independent observers, closeness to financiers and, in several cases, to the leaders of criminal gangs is no less common. It is therefore doubtful whether the future of the party system and indeed parliamentary democracy is as assured as it appeared in the past.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Cruising overboard

Sir — Tom Cruise has gone to town with denials of ever having had a homosexual encounter with anyone (“Cruise files suit on smut fiction”, June 6). He has also filed a lawsuit for $ 100 million against the Los Angeles man, Michael Davis. Often all sorts of people send intimations to news organizations, making similar and other claims to the effect that they have incriminating evidence of having caught celebrities on videotape during their most private moments. Steffi Graf is the classic victim of this kind of behaviour because she was exceptionally guarded about her private life. In the present case, Davis has only made a “claim”. Cruise meanwhile has jumped the gun and alleged that these are “false and defamatory assertions” and has sought an immense amount of money in damages. Relax, Mr Cruise. There is no need for the hype. Eventually there is going to be no defamation if Davis cannot actually produce the tapes. At the moment there is no need for this publicity. It will only help Davis’s cause.
Yours faithfully,
Sourav Mukherjee, Calcutta

Private power

Sir — The legal battle between the Maharashtra state electricity board and the Enron-promoted Dabhol Power Company is yet another example of how successive Congress governments in the state have put the development of the Konkan region in their “least priority” list.

One doubts if the project would have met the same fate had it been in western Maharashtra or in the Marathwada region of the state. Most of us, the natives of Konkan, were proud of the fact that the largest gas-based power project in the world is coming up here and will eventually give a much-needed boost to the “money order” economy of the region. Sadly, because of political manipulations, this was not to happen.

The chief minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh, has treated this three billion dollar project like a commodity offered by an unauthorized roadside hawker. His dramatic appointing of the Godbole committee on energy review added insult to injury. A few straight questions need to be asked. If the chief minister was convinced that his government could not afford the second phase of the project, what was the point of appointing the Godbole committee in the first place?

If Madhav Godbole is such an upright person, why did he not resign when the DPC openly challenged his integrity, expertise and locus standi by refusing to renegotiate with him, and waited till Sharad Pawar expressed similar concerns? The very fact that he was appointed to head the committee showed the cabinet’s faith in him. Elected representatives of people went down on their knees to reiterate this faith and made him withdraw his childish resignation.

Is this not a mockery of democracy? How is it that the collections by the MSEB have gone up substantially in the last five months? Even if the DPC has proved to be a bad experience and has highlighted lacunae in the MSEB’s functioning, I appeal to the people of Konkan not to fall prey to false propaganda by so-called leftists and bear in mind that only such large projects can bring prosperity to the region.

Yours faithfully,
Madhav Chimbulkar, Ratnagiri

Sir — The whims of politicians are difficult to understand. They make a rule one day only to break it the next (“Orissa brings power firms under ESMA”, May 30). Take the Enron imbroglio for instance. How is it that the ruling party in Maharashtra could not foresee the present situation when apprehensions were expressed even by the man on the street?

Orissa was the first state to privatize the power sector, but only because it was ailing. Privatization was an excuse, and not a process of reform. The multinational companies saw through the facade and went for the kill, while the rulers were only too happy as long as their palms were greased. The result was inevitable: harassment of the paying public by the distributing company, non-payment of dues by them to the generating firms and finally to the government.

As a foreign national, the distributing company’s managing director could not be prosecuted. What is the point of bringing the state’s power sector under the Essential Services Maintenance Act when the thief has escaped with his booty?

The power sector should not be handed over totally to private players. They would keep hiking tariffs on grounds of power theft and misuse for which the paying public is not responsible. A proper policy should be framed to ensure corruption-free functioning.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir — India has been marching ahead of many developing countries in the application of renewable energy, especially in the solar energy sector. Solar power has already progressed towards commercial use in remote areas for supplying energy to rural people at a price cheaper than unsubsidized conventional power. The spurt of activity in West Bengal, particularly in the Sundarban area, which is inviting global attention, is laudable.

Solar thermal devices have shown economic viability when compared to oil, coal and electrical heating. However, in spite of rapid progress in the generation of wind power with installed capacities reaching upto 1,700 megawatts in the last five years, and constituting about 80 per cent of renewable power, this year’s budget provision is discouragingly lower than the figure last year.

The same is true of biogas, biomass and improved chullah which have a direct bearing on meeting the rural cooking energy demand. No appreciable increase has been made here which is indicative of the failure to popularize them, even though they have distinct advantages in the rural economy. Nearly 100 million improved chullahs have yet to be installed in order to reduce the consumption of firewood and improve the health of women in villages.

It will not be possible to attain a target of more than one million installations unless separate funds are allocated for such rural development. The other neglected sector is power generation from urban and agricultural waste.

It is worth considering how an increase of at least 25 per cent in budget provisions can be made for balanced growth in all spheres of renewable energy. A constructive review might set the balance right.

Yours faithfully
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Children’s day out

Sir — It is impossible to escape the trauma of parenting teenagers. This has been proved by Barbara and Jenna Bush, the teenage daughters of the United States president, George W. Bush. What is disturbing is that even though a judge sent them to an alcohol awareness class for underage drinking, they were caught again trying to buy alcohol with fake identity cards.

When governments of different countries are trying to curb the alcohol-narcotics menace, the charges against the Bush twins are very disturbing. As a father, Bush should take all the necessary steps to ensure that his daughters do not repeat the offence.

Yours faithfully,
D. Krishna, via email

Sir — Gifted children should be encouraged more to excel in their field (“A touch of genius”, June 9). The examples of whiz kids like Priyanshu Roy, a Microsoft certified engineer and a Cisco certified network professional at the age of 12, were refreshing. Years ago, Surya Shekhar Ganguly was introduced to the world of chess at The Telegraph schools chess tournament. He has proved that given proper encouragement and training from an early age, children can come out winners.

In order to promote young talent, the government should introduce policies conducive to their nurture. Sponsorships and fundings are an integral part of such a policy.

Yours faithfully,
S. Poddar, Calcutta

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