Editorial 1/ Quick step up
Editorial 2/ Shadow teaching
What the leaders must learn
This above all/ The company of women and verse
The electric balance of supply and demand
Letters to the editor

It comes as no surprise that Pakistan’s self-styled chief executive, General Pervez Musharraf, has now declared himself the president of the country. Only those who have forgotten Pakistan’s chequered experience with the army would have expected the general to act differently. Consider Pakistan’s past experience with three military dictators. Ayub Khan, who pioneered military rule in Pakistan and stayed in power from 1958 to 1969, was forced out of office by another army officer, Yahya Khan. The latter gave up power only after he had lost the 1971 Bangladesh war against India. And there were few signs that Zia-ul-Haq would give up control even after a decade in 1988; only his death in a plane crash forced the return of democracy. Mr Musharraf seems to have learnt well from his predecessors.

Why do military rulers cling on to power even after making promises of a quick return to democracy? Clearly because they learn to enjoy absolute political power, and are unsure of their personal fate if and when civilian rule is restored. And what if the civilian government, when democracy is revived, is vindictive? Yahya Khan struck a deal with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to ensure that he was not charged with any crime, before he agreed to hand over power to him. Zia was convinced that Bhutto would “get him” — as he confessed to his confidantes — and, therefore, executed the former prime minister. Nevertheless, military dictators keep making promises of the return of democracy to keep a flicker of hope alive within civil society, and they may even be persuaded to put up a democratic façade. Ayub Khan flirted with the idea of basic democracy, which was really military rule by another name. Zia-ul-Haq, after initially promising elections within three months, installed puppet civilian regimes that he thought provided him with enough democratic legitimacy to continue exercising real power.

To be fair, Mr Musharraf seemed to give the initial impression of being different. He did not impose martial law, and — as a gesture to the times — installed himself as the chief executive. The supreme court had given his rule legitimacy until October 2002, and the general had even let the former prime minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, be exiled rather than be dealt with more violently. Did he really need to elevate himself to the presidency when he had more power than any civilian head of state could ever hope to acquire? There are probably two factors behind this step. The general may be ensuring that he will continue to exercise power even if he does hold general elections by next year. There may then be a democratically elected prime minister but real authority will continue to be exercised by the military through the general as president. Moreover, the new nomenclature gives the general greater stature in dealing with his foreign counterparts. As president, Mr Musharraf will be treated as the head of the state. This is of particular importance when he visits India next month. What the general could not have anticipated is the degree of hostility with which his elevation will be received internationally, although New Delhi, with its newfound realpolitik, has quickly accepted his new status. But those who have taken upon themselves to rule a fractured country like Pakistan must be prepared to deal with the unfriendly and the unexpected.


Another rap on the knuckles of teachers who double up as private tutors. The profitable and furtive double life of some of Bengal’s teachers - from primary school to university level — has been long held in contempt by its more principled educationists, students and guardians. The finance minister has now announced in his budget speech that the state will introduce a bill to ban private tuition by teachers working in government and semi-government institutions. This is hardly a novel move, and underestimates the robustness of supply and demand which makes this such a flourishing market. College and university teachers regularly have to agree not to offer tuition privately when they start work or before marking examination scripts. Chea-ting on this term of employment is now common en- ough to have become an accepted part of the pragmatics of education in the state. The conditions spawning such hacks and dunces are also routinely rehearsed, both to justify and to vilify private tuition: insane numbers, inordinate competitiveness, inadequate infrastructure, impossible syllabi. These have been cited by teachers’ bodies this time as well. But those opposing this bill fail to point out the only right-minded objection to it — that legislation can never stop such a ubiquitous practice.

Teachers have had a great deal of time to evolve a tradition of subterfuge and pressure in order to sustain their steady flow of non-taxable income from private tuition. A lot of lucre-driven cunning goes into maintaining the elusiveness and invisibility of such activities, particularly at the college and university levels. The market is fed not only by the usual degree courses, but an entire range of competitive public examinations, success in which is pursued frenetically by the aspiring hordes. There are also the numerous entrance examinations, from the earliest to the highest stages of education. The racket includes irresistible privileges and services — “hints” and sops, information and advantages, of var-ying degrees of exclusiveness, which make any kind of highmindedness look foolish and impractical. Beneath all this is a deeply entrenched mindset, habits of thinking, learning and transmission that leave little room for originality within the educative process. The state will have to seriously jog its implementing machinery before such a bill can contend with the ingenuity and organization that go into this lamentable, but resilient, activity.


It is widely known that there is no consensus, at least in the developing world, about the Washington Consensus, which formed the core of the first generation of economic reform. Although the Indian policy-makers have declared that their reforms were indigenous in origin, the fact remains that the crisis of 1991 brought them to a pass in which they had to listen perforce to advice from the Bretton Woods institutions — which was essentially the Washington Consensus.

John Williamson, a leading economist, has acknowledged that he is responsible for coining the term, “Washington Consensus”. Williamson has discussed the ideas behind the Washington Consensus in an interesting article in the World Bank Research Observer of August, 2000. He devised the term to refer to the lowest common denominator of policy advice being addressed by the Washington-based institutions as of 1989, especially in dealing with Latin American countries.

The Washington Consensus now extends to the whole of the developing world. Its essential elements are: fiscal discipline; a redirection of public expenditure priorities toward fields offering both high economic returns and the potential to improve income distribution, such as primary healthcare, primary education and infrastructure; tax reform (to lower marginal rates and broaden the tax base); interest rate liberalization; a competitive exchange rate; trade liberalization; liberalization of inflows of foreign direct investment; privatization; deregulation (to abolish barriers to entry and exit); secure property rights.

The Washington Consensus is affected inevitably by its association with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. For obvious reasons, these entities have not endeared themselves to the developing world. When the international financial institutions were asked for assistance by the countries in distress, the first element of advice accompanying the assistance was “to tighten belts”. In the earlier years of the Bretton Woods’ directed reforms, countries had to sharply reduce their social service expenditure. The resulting association of ideas — namely, in the advice given by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the IMF on reduction in welfare budgets — has a great deal to do with the low esteem which the Washington institutions command in the poorer half of the world.

It is only recently that the Bretton Woods institutions, particularly the IMF, have redirected their attention specifically to poverty reduction. Indeed, the second element of the Washington Consensus itself, as noted by Williamson, asks for a redirection of public expenditure priority towards fields offering potential to improve income distribution, such as primary healthcare and primary education.

The emphasis on fiscal balance by the international financial institutions was in itself motivated, apart from the economic rationale, by the desire to make the state occupy a smaller role in the economy. It cannot, however, be denied that the state has a clear role in attacking poverty.

Another objective of the Washington Consensus, which affected the fiscal balance objective, was interest rate liberalization. The reformers sought to make the interest rates market-determined, whereas earlier the countries had resorted to financial repression, leading to governments getting funds at lower rates. After the reform process, soft options on interest were ruled out, the cost of borrowing went up sky-high and interest costs started absorbing the lion’s share of the government revenues.

Another element of the Washington Consensus, which has given it a bad name, is the focus on a “competitive exchange rate”. While the Washington institutions did not have any fixed ideas on what should be the competitive rate, their advice in almost all cases resulted in the countries having to devalue. Asking the IMF and the World Bank for assistance inevitably meant that the countries had to depreciate their currencies. It must, however, be granted that Williamson has personally not been in favour of competitive devaluation, but an intermediate regime of limited flexibility.

Another controversial element of the Washington Consensus included by Williamson is privatization. Privatization of the public sector has been very much in vogue, especially since it started in Great Britain in the Seventies. The World Bank and the IMF have been strong advocates of privatization. The lack of success of privatization in Russia is, however, an experience, which the Bretton Woods institutions are trying to live down.

In the countries of the former Soviet Union, a large block of public sector equity was handed over to the “elite”, comprising of the former managers of the enterprises themselves. The mafia also got into the act. Indiscriminate pursuit of privatization, especially in the transition economies, has led to an arid wasteland, in which the ownership rights are ill-defined and the former managers have been running to show as if they own it.

While the present government in India is quite serious about privatization, it is aware that privatization per se is not a magic remedy for the fiscal problem. The stock markets in India are not well-developed to enable the private sector to command enough resources to pay for the equity of the divested institutions. To what avail is privatization as a resource-raising measure if the bidders for equity avail themselves of loans from government-owned financial institutions to pay for the bids?

The Washington Consensus emphasises liberalization of inflows of FDI. India has accepted this as a pillar of policy. But, there has not been so far a sufficient increase in the inflows under FDI. Particularly, FDI is not coming in adequate measures with respect to infrastructure, where our needs are greater. China seems to be a more powerful magnet for FDI than India.

Trade liberalization is one of the important pillars of the Washington Consensus. The impact of trade liberalization on existing industries, especially the informal and small-scale sectors, is quite grave. Restrictive trade practices in developed countries continue, notwithstanding the World Trade Organization. The precise impact of the liberalization of quantitative restrictions on the import of goods into India is still to be fully assessed. The removal of QRs has inevitably meant a death knell for many industrial enterprises, which are ill-equipped to compete with more efficient competitors, not only from the developed world but also from other developing countries.

The coming months and years will demonstrate to what extent our trade liberalization has adverse impact on the jobs and income of farmers and workers. It is only of late that the prime minister has seen it fit to involve the state governments in a discussion on the consequence of India’s entry into the WTO. While the membership of the WTO is inevitable, every effort has to be made to utilize the WTO in the interests of Indian agriculture and industry. Anti-dumping legislation and its implementation have to be assigned the highest priority. More importantly, proactive measures to enable the industry to compete on quality and delivery with their foreign rivals have to be stepped up.

The essence of this needed transformation has to be an increase in productivity in both Indian industry and agriculture. The government has to formulate policies to encourage and help the Indian industry and agriculture to participate in enhancing productivity through additional investments, wherever needed, and changes in processes and procedures.

The Washington Consensus includes as a policy element deregulation (to abolish barriers to entry and exit). The deregulation of power industry has caused untold havoc in California. The United States is struggling with the consequences of botched deregulation. India has to proceed cautiously before it adopts deregulation as a mantra or panacea.

Does the Washington Consensus per se promote reduction of poverty? In bashing the state apparatus and letting the markets resolve everything, the Washington Consensus does not help in the reduction of poverty. Poverty alleviation measures, above all, require positive action by the government. The fact that government initiatives, especially in India, for poverty reduction have flaws does not by itself argue against the continuing role of government in poverty alleviation. This leads us to one of the elements, which could perhaps be grafted to the Washington Consensus, namely, improved governance. But, governance and its quality are basically issues which are to be determined by the electorates of the countries involved. They cannot be imposed externally.

While discussing the Washington Consensus, we have to concede that competitive populism among politicians makes reforms extremely difficult, especially in functioning democracies. It is not sufficient, therefore, that there is a consensus amongst Washington-based institutions on what constitutes workable reforms. Given the emphasis on democratic forms of governance, what we need is a consensus amongst the various political participants in the democratic process in various countries. Unless such a consensus is arrived at, the Washington Consensus may not be able to achieve significant progress.

The politicians who have to win votes at the hustings cannot go to the people with a rational reform agenda, when rivals for the vote come with softer and more attractive options. The progress of the Washington Consensus involves a further task — the economic education of the political leaderships of diverse parties in the developing countries. A consensus among the political leaders of developing countries is a necessary precondition to the achievements of the goals of the Washington Consensus, however desirable they may be in themselves. To this unfinished task, the reformers have to turn if there has to be any meaning in pursuing the Washington Consensus.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India


There are dozens of biographies of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib in Urdu and English. Here is yet another one from the pen of a Russian lady, Professor Natallia Prigarina. She has already published a couple of books on Allama Iqbal and is evidently as much at ease with Persian, Arabic, Urdu and English as she is with her native Russian. And thorough in her research, having read all that Ghalib wrote in verse and prose, in Urdu and Persian, what his contemporaries had to say about him, and living scholars’ assessment of him as a poet and a man.

Lovers of Urdu literature are familiar with important events in Ghalib’s life. He was born in Agra on December 27, 1797. He was descended from a line of soldiers of Mughal blood, who regarded themselves as members of the aristocracy. Ghalib was 13 when he married Umrao Begum, aged 12, distantly connected to the ruling family of Loharu.

At his wedding, his eyes fell on a dancing girl and he fell in love with her. While he gave his wife several children (all died young), he continued patronizing dancing girls and prostitutes. It is believed that he converted to the Shia faith in order to have a mutaa (time-bound) marriage with a courtesan.

He was 19 when he migrated to Delhi. In his youth, he was evidently well-provided for by grants from his mother and his wife’s family. He lived in style with a retinue of servants, rode on a palanquin or a horse and demanded the respect due to him.

He was a tall, handsome man who loved women, wine and gambling. As his fame spread as a poet of unusual talent, he was much sought after by the literati as well as the kothawalis. He lived beyond his means. And when his grants dried up, Ghalib was in dire straits and fell heavily in debt.

He spent three months in jail on charges of gambling. About himself he wrote: “Fame and wealth are alien to me. I am myself the worst enemy of my good name. I am friends with all kinds of riffraff and hand-in-glove with all sorts of rabble. My feet are used to loafing about aimlessly and my tongue has the habit of talking nonsense. I am the ally of a cruel fate in my own misfortunes and a prompter of my enemy. My rushing about has raised the dust in the mosque as well as the idol house and has made the Sufi’s cloister and the tavern fall on each other.”

Ghalib loved India and its chaining seasons: “But in India even in autumn there is spring! And greenery, as if in Holi, douses the city with colour. In the winter months the north is snow-bound. And in this realm, roses blossom! To console the gardener, mourning at the departure of lilies, immediately blossom the roses of a hundred petals! Here sugarcane stands row upon row to block the way for anything withered and dropping.”

It appears that Ghalib loved just about every place he visited. When almost reduced to begging, he betook himself to Calcutta to plead with English rulers to restore the pension due to him. It was a long, tedious journey on palanquin, horseback and boat with long stops in different cities that fell on his route.

He was particularly enamoured with Benares and its beautiful women. He wrote: “What to say to Benares! Where else would you come across such a city: I happened to visit it in the evening of my youth. Had I been young at that time, I would have settled down there and would never have left it.”

And again: “Glory to the land which bestows peace upon souls;/ The heart is purified here of all filth./ And no wonder — in the air of this city./ The perishable body itself is like pure air./ But what especially raises one’s spirit is the / Contemplation of feminine beauty./ Even if you have no understanding of beauty, come/ And look at the local fair ones, born of paris;/ Be absorbed in the contemplation of incorporeal souls./ Can clay mixed with water glitter like this?”

Ghalib had great admiration for the English race, its inventiveness, discipline and its fair, white, uninhibited women.

On arrival in the capital, he composed a rubai in praise of Bengal: “Every tune of life has its melody,/ Every corner of the world has its own ambience./ They have as if removed fetters from my soul,/ Wonderful are the water and air of Bengal.”

He was ecstatic about everything he saw in Calcutta: “My friend, when you referred to Calcutta,/ You shot an arrow right into my heart, alas, alas!/ That rain-fed, succulent greenery, oh God/ And those graceful, well-dressed fair ones, alas, alas!/ Their glances try ones patience, God save them/ From the evil eye!/ Those fresh and sweet fruits, wah, wah!/ And those pure and tasty wines, alas, alas!”

Ghalib’s last years were less stressed as he received monetary assistance from friends and the nawab of Rampur. However, his health began to deteriorate. He had a premonition of death: “You wrote all over the pages of life and all came to an end;/ You had no equal in poetry and all came to an end;/ In old age wine was your consolation, Ghalib,/ But you were deprived of it also, and all came to an end.”

He died on February 15, 1869. Exactly a year later to the day died his wife, Umrao Begum.

Something to remember me by

My friends have decided it is time I left and are getting together pre-obituary tributes for me. Just about everything I have written over the past half-a-century is being re-published. Roli Books has commissioned my son to collect all photographs from my school days till today to produce a coffee-tabler to present to me before I bid them goodbye. I am most touched by their affection but I have no intention of speeding my departure.

The longer a person lives, the stronger is his desire to continue. To wit Mrs Thrale: “The tree of deepest root is found/ Little willing still to quit the ground;/ It was therefore said, by ancient sages/ That love of life increased with years/ So much, that in our later stages,/ When pains grow sharp, and sickness rages,/ The greatest love of life appears.”

However, since I have to go sometime or the other, nothing would please me more than to read about myself while I am around. So I make this request to my readers: if you have any photographs of yourselves with me, be kind enough to post them to me for consideration of Roli Books. I promise to return them the soonest I can.

Money for newfound pleasure

Young Banta returned to his village after completing higher studies in the US. He came loaded with gifts for all members of his extended family. As he proceeded to distribute them to his brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts, his father kept asking, “Puttar, haven’t you brought anything for your parents?”

Banta replied, “Bapu, I have. I will put it under your pillow before you go to bed. In America they call it Viagra. If you like it, leave a hundred rupee note under my pillow.”

The next morning Banta found three hundred rupees notes under his pillow.

“I asked for only Rs 100, but you kept Rs 300. Why?”

“Puttar, I only put Rs 100. Your mother must have added the other two hundred.”


While dedicating to the nation the first 115 megawatt unit of the Kayamkulam combined cycle power project in Kerala in 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee admitted that the state electricity boards were losing more than Rs 6,000 crore every year. Excessive cross-subsidization, inefficiency, poor collection of revenue and maintenance of network are corroding the financial health of the state electricity boards.

Two years down the line, the situation remains unaltered. The efforts of the state governments towards corporatization and privatization of the SEBs ran into rough weather, owing to opposition by political parties.

The per capita consumption of electricity in any country is a reflection of the standard of living of the people. The United States is the leading per capita consumer of electricity in the world consuming 11,700 kilowatthour, whereas India consumes only 400 kwhr. The demand for electricity in India over the past two decades has been growing at a rate higher than the gross generation. This results in massive power cuts. A recent estimate shows that an investment of about Rs 300,000 crore is required in the next decade to balance supply and demand.

The current installed capacity in India is approximately 93,000 mws. Against the presently installed capacity, power actually available for transmission is approximately 54,000 mws. After theft and pilferage, actual power available for consumption is around 32,000 mws. Thus, only 35 per cent of the total generation capacity is being effectively distributed and metred.

In developed nations, the loss in transmission and distribution is 10 per cent or less. The reasons for the high rate of loss of power in India is the vast network in difficult terrains, theft, outdated equipment and lack of a professional approach. The total financial loss of the SEBs is around Rs 10,000 crore, and their total debt around Rs 18,000 crore.

There are reasons behind this. The pricing structure, particularly for agricultural consumers is so unscientific that the tariff is far below the average cost of supply. It is essential that the governments re-assess their policies of providing cheap — even free — power to agriculturists whereas the power tariff of Rs 4 per unit in the industrial sector is the highest in the world.

The abysmal power scenario has prompted policy-makers to think of new avenues in the power sector such as encouragement of private participation. Sops are being offered to private players in the form of tax benefits, import duty concessions and so on. But much of the government’s attention is directed towards the generating sector, not the transmission and distribution sectors. Neither is there a clear demarcation of responsibility among the Centre, state and private sector companies.

The government proposes to set up a 2,000 mw power station each at North Karanpura, Talcher and Bash apart from a 4,000 mw plant in Hirma. Poor distribution system, unfavourable industrial environments and so on will inevitably result in costly transmission. Therefore the government should strictly adhere to Arthur Anderson’s recommendations, which prescribe a four-phase restructuring of the SEBs. According to these suggestions, the set-ups of the SEBs will be divided into generation, transmission and distribution, and they will be privatized gradually. Andhra Pradesh has already replaced its SEB with two corporations, AP Genco and AP Transco, for generation and tra- nsmission respectively, in 1999.

But privatization alone might not solve the problem of power-cuts. There must be a mechanism whereby the private companies will be required to follow a uniform approach for the consumer’s sake. The government must see to it that the benefit of privatizing the power sector goes to the consumer.

As India opens up her door to foreign players, the government must come up with strong policies against power pilferage. For instance, power thefts can be controlled by creating a department legally empowered to monitor this. For the last two decades, the generation system has expanded at a rate higher than that of transmission and distribution, resulting in high losses of power. Scientific expansion and computerization of the system might help stem the rot.

State governments are required to adopt a more pragmatic approach towards the financial condition of their SEBs. The pricing structure needs to be overhauled. Having an independent regulatory body would also help, as the experiment in Orissa shows. Alternative sources of energy have to be tapped. Finally, an integrated energy policy is required because the present policy lacks a long term approach and strategic direction. The confusion over the Enron-financed Dabhol power project in Maharashtra is an example of this.

The only ray of hope comes from a statement by the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, that power will be a thrust area for the Central government, which plans to add at least 8,000 mws of power within the next two years. The monopoly of any one company, be it private or state-owned, must be broken and multiple distribution channels must be created for the emergence of a truly competitive market. This will in turn provide the consumers with a choice of cheap and uninterrupted power supply.



Cricketing woes

Sir — Faulty logic and a lack of cricketing knowledge riddles the article, “Weeping Willow” (June 23).While discussing Ganguly’s poor form, the writer cites Mike Brearley as an example of an underperforming captain and grounds his argument further by pointing out that Brearley was a “great success as captain”. But then, so is Ganguly. His no-nonsense approach and aggressive attitude both on and off field were responsible for transforming a despondent Indian team into a performing one. The pressures of captaincy and a genuine bad patch have been responsible for a drop in his batting average which is now a mere 27.17. It is not surprising that his performance in one-dayers even when he was out of form has been slightly better. Tests and one-dayers should not be equated and it is time we realized that. Moreover, if bad technique is indeed responsible for Ganguly’s poor performance, he is unlikely to achieve the technical perfection of a Sachin Tendulkar or a Rahul Dravid. At the age of 28, Ganguly is too set in his ways to make a major change in technique. Instead of stripping him of captaincy, critics should be patient and give him time to sort out his problems. A couple of good innings will go a long way in boosting his confidence.
Yours faithfully,
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya, via email

Not unprecedented

Sir — India has earned for itself the dubious distinction of congratulating Pervez Musharraf on his becoming the president of Pakistan, even though the people of that country have reacted to the news with wariness (“Atal too early, America too late”, June 23). It is ironic that even though India has been crusading against the military regime in Pakistan and has been trying to garner the support of the international community, it should be eager to offer legitimacy to the former chief executive of Pakistan while the world is still trying to take in the news.

Most members of the international community have been slow to react. The United States has been placed in an embarrassing position as the secretary of state, Colin Powell, had recently endorsed Musharraf’s democratization programme. Moreover, the dissolving of the parliament in Pakistan could have ominous implications given the history of the country.

China, a strong ally of Pakistan, has maintained a diplomatic silence by refusing to endorse Musharraf’s presidency and by reiterating that it is an internal issue. The US has decided not to lift the economic sanctions that had been imposed on Pakistan since it became a nuclear power in 1998. One cannot help wondering what will transpire between India and Pakistan when Musharraf visits India for the first time.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — Pervez Musharraf’s elevation to the office of the president is the latest act in Pakistan’s search for an internationally acceptable and stable political order.

The wily general’s gamble is neither surprising nor unexpected. The general has only emulated his predecessors by first deposing Nawaz Sharif and establishing military rule in country, and then donning the mantle of presidentship. It remains to be seen where Pakistan intends to go from here, as its economic and social problems are far from over. Most of us will remember the precedents set by both Yahya Khan and Ayub Khan as well as by Zia-ul-Haq, who had become the president in 1985 after eight years of careful planning. Musharraf has taken only 20 months to assume the office of the supreme constitutional authority.

In the world of Pakistani politics, few things are what they seem. The constitution has been changed several times. When Zia-ul-Haq revoked the 1973 constitution in 1985, the well-known “eighth amendment” came into force, greatly enhancing the powers of the president, and bringing him at par with the powers enjoyed by the prime minister. Taking advantage of an absolute majority in the national assembly, Nawaz Sharif had however declared this amendment null and void in 1997.

Musharraf was well aware that he would not be elected president by the country’s parliament. He also needed some kind of a constitutional status before leaving for the summit in India. As far as India is concerned, its political leaders would probably be perfectly content with going through the motions of coming to an understanding with Pakistan’s president.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Sir — A.N. Dar in his article, “It’s always good to talk”(June 5), has rightly suggested that the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, should exercise caution in his dealings with Pervez Musharraf, given that Pakistan has not yet changed its stand on Kashmir. Politicians in Pakistan still believe that Kashmir should be handed over to them as it is a state with a Muslim majority.

Should India have invited Musharraf to New Delhi at this juncture even though Pakistan has refused to reign in terrorist outfits like the Lashkar-e-toiba? Moreover, Pakistan is economically and politically volatile right now, as has been proved by the recent developments .

While observers have remarked that Musharraf’s hasty move has been propelled by his fear that this is the only way he could have become the president of Pakistan, political analysts in the country are already debating the term of his presidentship. The Indian leadership must make sure that Pakistan does not pressurize India into accepting a solution that will benefit it more than it does India.

Yours faithfully,
Mita Haldar, via email

Sir — It was disturbing to read the news report, “Partition plan pops up again” (June 23). The idea of dividing Jammu and Kashmir on the basis of Hindu and Muslim majority areas is ridiculous and cannot be an acceptable solution to the Kashmir issue. Such a solution would only be an extension of the two-nation theory and would lead to an escalation of tension across the border. Instead, the two countries should concentrate on evolving a strategy that would be acceptable to both as well as to the people of the valley.

Yours faithfully,
Namita Sinha, Calcutta

Road to comfort

Sir — The roads in Calcutta are in very bad shape. Given that Calcutta is not a planned city, overpopulation and the multiplication of vehicles have made matters worse. A blatant disregard for traffic rules causes great inconvenience to commuters, especially during peak hours. Red Road and the Loudon Street/A.J.C. Bose Road crossing are some places that can be nightmarish. Traffic constables sometimes stop traffic needlessly and thereby cause inconvenience. The maintenance of existing roads is poor and irregular. As a result, these roads become impossible to negotiate, especially during the monsoons.
Yours faithfully,
Tejash Doshi, via email

Sir — The news report,“Traffic clock for capital crossing” (June 13) was interesting to read. The endeavour made by the Delhi traffic police will reduce the number of road accidents, as drivers will be now be more receptive to traffic rules. One can only hope that the Calcutta traffic police would follow in the footsteps of their Delhi counterparts and think about this unique technique of traffic management. The system will also reduce pollution as drivers can shut down their engines and conserve fuel.

Yours faithfully,
Ayan Chattopadhyay, via email

To Bangladesh, with suspicion

Sir — There seems to be no end to the tension that has been simmering between India and Bangladesh (“Bloodshed on Bangla border again”, June 16). First came the dispute over the construction of a pavement that escalated into a major crisis which claimed the lives of 16 officers of the Border Security Force who were allegedly butchered to death by their Bangladeshi counterparts. The present conflict has erupted despite the fact that New Delhi and Dhaka had come to an agreement that the two countries would try to solve all outstanding disputes amicably.

It is not clear from the report whether the blame for this incident rests with the Indians or with the Bangladeshis. As expected, each side is blaming the other for the crisis. While the Bangladeshis have described the attack as random, the Indians have said that the attack took place when the BSF tried to stop some people from smuggling cattle across the border.

Instead of passing the buck, both sides should concentrate on normalizng relations so that such episodes do not recur. If necessary, the chief minister of West Bengal could be involved in the resolution of the dispute.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Is it a coincidence that Bangla- desh seems to get involved in one dispute after another with India just before elections are held in the country? Since India-bashing forms a very important part of Bangladesh’s electoral strategy, political parties will no doubt try to make the most of the disputes.

Yours faithfully,
Riya Ganguly, Calcutta

Shopping is in

Sir — The article, “Buy buy buy” (May 26), has rightly pointed out that urban India seems to have become obsessed with the so-called “good things” of life. The boom in the advertisement industry, coupled with the growth of a consumerist culture, has been responsible for this. The increase in the disposable income of the urban population has led to a surplus which can now be spent on buying one’s favourite pair of jeans.

Advertisements have also played their part in attracting the middle and upper middle classes who have now learnt to differentiate between brand names. Visits to supermarkets and checking out the latest departmental store have become the preoccupations of the urban middle class. Young people have been worst affected by the “shop till you drop” syndrome. Perhaps shopping will now replace reading and watching television as young people’s favourite pastime.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

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