Editorial / Shame and scandal
Private tuition, public disgrace
This above all / Calling a fool a fool
People / Jagjit Singh Chauhan
Letters to the editor

That political parties, irrespective of the colour on their flags, have links with the underworld is a truism in the murky world of Indian politics. But known hoodlums and criminals thriving in the safety of a government stadium, directly under the minister of sports, Mr Subhas Chakraborty, is not something that the people of West Bengal can quite take in their stride. Mr Chakraborty’s complicity in the matter cannot of course be taken for granted, he is, like all citizens of India, innocent till he is proved guilty. But the very fact that some criminals were found and arrested by the police in Salt Lake stadium and in rooms close to his office brings him under the shadow of suspicion. It does his and his party’s reputation no good. The suspicions about Mr Chakraborty’s complicity are compounded by long-standing allegations that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has a mini-army of paid goons who are deployed to spread terror in the state during elections. The propinquity of armed criminals to what is well known in Calcutta as Mr Chakraborty’s den only adds substance to the allegations. The chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, cannot afford to brush aside the incident since willy-nilly it reflects adversely on the image of his government and even indirectly on his own image.

Mr Bhattacharjee’s greatest asset is that not even his enemies question his integrity. He is seen as being clean and upright. This is why he cannot risk being brazen. This seems to be Mr Chakraborty’s response to the incident. He has said that the entire episode is a conspiracy to discredit him. This is not a position that the chief minister can take if he is to maintain his goodwill and credibility. He has before him two role models that he can follow. The first is the one that Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress adopted when confronted with allegations of corruption in the Bofors deal. The second is the response of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the Tehelka revelations. In the first case, the decision to brazen it out with cries of conspiracy resulted in loss of face and power, and, more importantly, in the persistence of the corruption charges in public and official memory. Mr Vajpayee, on the other hand, did not condemn his colleague, Mr George Fernandes, but persuaded him to resign from the cabinet pending a thorough investigation on the matter. This allowed the National Democratic Alliance government to save its public face and the Tehelka allegations no longer capture the popular imagination. Mr Bhattacharjee’s choice should be clear: he will do well, despite his ideological differences with Mr Vajpayee, to follow in the latter’s footsteps. Mr Chakraborty should not remain a minister till the matter has been cleared up.

His image and his government’s image are not the only things that Mr Bhattacharjee should be worried about. He must watch his flanks where Ms Mamata Banerjee prowls looking desperately for an issue which she can use to rouse anger against the Left Front. She may not need to prowl if Mr Bhattacharjee drags his feet and is slow to stand up against the politician-criminal nexus. The possibility cannot be ruled out that Mr Bhattacharjee and others in the CPI(M) are not entirely unhappy with the incident and its somewhat obvious implications. Mr Chakraborty’s red face may bring wry smiles to the faces of some who wave the red flag.


A few days ago, I was rung up by a woman who wanted me to coach her daughter for the entrance test to my university department. Insensible to my outrage at being asked to prepare a candidate for an examination which I would conduct, she thought her approach entirely natural. When I told her that I was on principle strongly opposed to private tuition, the statement made no impression on her. Her assumptions about the teaching community and the tuition system might indeed justify the debate generated by a controversial aside to the proposed state budget.

It is another question why the state finance minister should tell us, in a footnote to a budget as bankrupt of ideas as of cash, that the government intends a bill banning private tuition by teachers in state or state-aided schools and colleges. The ban is not part of his budget, which is eager to please big business interests and says nothing about other kinds of corruption: private practice by state-paid doctors, bribe-taking by policemen and politicians, evasion of sales tax. Like his colleague, the industries minister, he seems to be trying to divert attention from failures on his own ground to the sins of teachers, a subject guaranteed to produce heated argument.

But the issue, whatever the government’s motives in reviving it, concerns us all. The proposed ban has already been fiercely opposed, both by supporters of private tuition, and by equivocators who call the ban impractical. Adherents of the Left Front have a long history of double standards on this question. The higher education minister is curiously silent, while the minister for schools has been vocal. The secretary of the anti-Left West Bengal Headmasters’ Association, Prithwis Kumar Basu, has said that, given the burden of prescribed syllabi and inadequate teaching, private tuition is indispensable.

Teachers’ bodies controlled by front partners are more circumspect in public, but their consternation is barely concealed. Even hypocrisy is proving difficult to sustain. Open dissent was apparently voiced in the recent meeting at the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-controlled All Bengal Teachers’ Association office, though formal statements “welcome” the government’s move while wanting to stall it. The proposal of the West Bengal College and University Teachers Association secretary, Anil Bhattacharya, that the government should confer with teachers conceals the knowledge that when college and university teachers accepted the Mehrotra commission payscales in the Eighties, they were debarred from engaging in private tuition. Teachers in government colleges are forbidden to teach privately by service rules, while universities like my own have statutory provisions against it.

Despite these prohibitions, private tuition has flourished unchecked. If the ban is unenforceable, should it be abandoned? This is the logic of despair. Difficulty of enforcement is not an argument of principle, merely of circumstance. Cheating in public examinations was also common in the Sixties and Seventies. It required political will to control it, but largescale cheating has now declined. Most important, it is no longer publicly sanctioned. It is on this issue of public sanction that the battle over tuition has to be fought.

Every year, after the publication of state secondary and higher secondary examination results, we are treated to the spectacle of top-ranked students listing their private tutors (at least five for the five main subjects). This year, one candidate has pronounced that one cannot gain a place in the top ten without tuition, a view that will be slavishly noted by aspiring achievers and their parents. It has already been cited in the current debate. If true (and it was not true in our time or even now for other boards), this reflects the kind of assessment that rewards conformity. Tuition itself indoctrinates schoolchildren to think that they cannot learn well independently, and it is unsurprising that the habit should continue into higher education.

What do students gain from tuition? There is a difference, first of all, between taking help in an area of specific weakness, and the edge that high achievers seek to gain over their fellows by means of coaching. Private tuition has long exceeded the need for remedial assistance. At every level today, from primary school to the MA classes of reputed universities, coaches are engaged for the highest achievers to do still better: that is, earn higher examination marks. The well-tutored pupil produces the right examination answers, especially when coaches influence assessment. In a largely free education system, parents are willing to spend sums in thousands in the final school years to ensure high examination marks. It is the beneficiaries of precisely these monetary investments whom we later see in our universities agitating over a 24 paise rise in library fines or any projected increase in fees. But that is a different story.

Surely it is time to point out that contrary to public perception, private tuition does not actually improve a reasonably intelligent and capable student. Only in the most limited and local context (rather than in higher education or at the all-India level) will it improve examination performance. Most private tuition, which encourages the learning of rote answers and set methods, is intellectually deadening (and incredibly time-consuming). It encourages dependence, stops one from reading and thinking, and removes both the desire and the ability to solve problems for oneself. Are the products of this system really the state’s “best” students, the intellectual cream of Bengal? Boringly coached, narrowly focussed, few apart from the exceptionally persevering or gifted do as well when they reach university. On the whole, at higher levels of education, it is the independent intellect, the th- oughtful, if wayward, mind that is valued.

What teachers gain from the system of private tuition is evident: very large sums of money in undeclared income. Half a century ago, before salaries went up, extra earnings from tuition may have been necessary. This is no longer true; simple greed rules the present market. Stakes are high: the top coaches can name their price and get away with teaching large groups in small spaces, mining infinite riches from a little room. The biggest schools in the city are full of horror stories about how pupils are compelled by persistent undermarking of their papers to take tuition from recommended tutors. While pupils acquire dependence, parents begin to think they have failed in their duty if they have not bought expensive educational supplements, like daily doses of Complan, for their children.

A well-known university teacher of English, a member (before he was remo- ved) of various examination committees, ran a flourishing coaching practice until his death, boasting to his intimates of government patronage. No student would testify to paying him for tuition: they had too much invested in the system to want to imperil it. They wanted the benefits as much as he wanted their money. This remains true of students who fill up coaching classes run by the “top” tutors in English, physics or mathematics, to the extent that when one such person was recently arrested for abusing his wife, the girls in his coaching class agitated for him to be released.

There are far more honest teachers and enlightened parents than there are honest politicians, yet the public debate about tuition remains crippled by guilt, anxiety and a sense of complicity. The system touches us all: every middle-class parent has given hostages to fortune. Such is the anxiety generated by school education today that very few can hold out on principle against their children taking tuition — though some do. The government’s move will not deter the corrupt teacher, just as it cannot stop parents or students from buying illegal benefits. Ra- ther, it should make us re-examine the false premises on which tuition rests, and change teaching and assessment. Only in a more open climate can we begin to cultivate genuine intellectual ability and achi- evement. This we must create for ours- elves, independent of punitive legislation.

The author is professor of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta


Ever since Murli Manohar Joshi, the minister for human resources development, sanctioned the teaching of what he grandiosely describes as vedantic astrology at the university level, I have been itching to take him and the chairman of the University Grants Commission on in a public debate: they believe it is a science. I am convinced it is unscientific hocus pocus, which has spread like an epidemic among India’s superstitious millions. Consequently, when Manoj Raghuvanshi rang me up and invited me to a debate on the subject for a Doordarshan channel, I accepted his offer with alacrity. “Who will be the others?” I asked. “An astrologer and an official of the HRD ministry,” he replied.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon, I was taken to Eagle Studio in Noida — up a flight of stairs and ushered into the make-up room. In the room were five people, of whom I only recognized Raghuvanshi and two ladies I had not met before. One of them, who was being “made up” by the cosmetician, was introduced as Dimpy Chopra, who writes a regular astrological column for the Hind Samachar. (She is a cousin of Ashwini Minna, editor of the Delhi editions of the group.) So it wasn’t an astrologer but an astrologess (if there is such a word) that I’d have to contend with. The HRD ministry decided to keep away from the debate.

A lot of argument began while we were still in the make-up room. I let off a tirade against astrology. I told everyone in the room that the third battle of Panipat was lost by the Marathas because they listened to the advice of their raj jyotishi who told them not to commence with hostilities till he gave them the green signal. Instead of going into the battle when they were still fit they delayed action till they were famished owing to the lack of rations — and though they outnumbered the Afghans 10 to one, they were routed. “Belief in astrology can have dangerous consequences,” I declared triumphantly. Dimpy was having her cheeks rouged, so she could not answer, but a gentleman who later I learnt was her husband, took up cudgels on her behalf. “Who was that raj jyotishi?” he asked, “How do you know he was not in the pay of the Afghans?”

“You mean he could have been bribed by Ahmed Shah Abdali?” I asked.

Eventually, Dimpy was free to enter the fray. She made her introduction and started on a gentle note. “I agree with you, astrology has been and is being misused by so-called astrologers. Even I have been offered large sums of money to give wrong advice to my clients by their rivals. That is why there is an urgent need to clean up the profession.”

I noticed how much she resembled her cousin, Ashwini Minna: short, chubby, cuddlesome, animated and a torrent of words. She was loaded with heavy gold and precious stones: nose, ears, neck, arms, rings on almost all her fingers and gold chains around her ankles and rings around her toes. She is living proof that astrology is good business. I sensed I was in for a lively give and take.

In the studio, Raghuvanshi asked me whether astrology was a science fit enough to be taught in universities. “It is not a science, it cannot be a science because you cannot verify and correct its errors,” I replied. “It is bharam — superstition; it will take our country back several centuries.” I quoted the instance of ashtagraha of February 2, 1963 when all Indian astrologers predicted the end of life on earth at 5.35 pm. Nothing happened. According to the planning commission’s estimate, the country lost Rs 35 crore because trains, planes and buses went empty and tons of ghee went up in smoke in havans. And the world laughed at us. I cited other instances of national catastrophies like the partition of India, assassinations of prime ministers, cyclones and earthquakes when not one astrologer had predicted them. It was Dimpy’s turn to answer me. She evaded my direct questions and instead expounded the wisdom in ancient texts and how charlatans had given astrology a bad name. There was no stopping her. I tried. She brushed me aside with a wave of her bejewelled hand. Manoj Raghuvanshi tried. She cut him short to have her say. The shooting had to be suspended for 15 minutes to sort out the procedure of debate. Ultimately, Raghuvanshi persuaded Dimpy to give straight answers to his question about whether or not she herself had made predictions which had come true. She gave a couple of instances of her success.

I did not let her get away with her answers: they were in the roundabout lingo used by astrologers. I described the new fad about vaastu and feng shui as total rubbish and people who believed in them as maha moorkh (great fools); I took good care to say them at the end of the debate. So Dimpy did not get the chance to call me the greatest of all moorkhs. We parted as friends.

Nuggets of knowledge about an old city

All ancient monuments have stories to tell to those interested in listening to them. Of course most of them are make believe or fiction but nevertheless fascinating. Delhi is full of such monuments, now smothered by new buildings. Little is known about them. Take for example a nondescript mosque close to New Delhi railway station. Upto the 19th century, it used to be the meeting place of thugs. They assembled there at Dussehra to be initiated on the fine art of strangling people to death in such a way that they died without uttering a cry. The ceremony was known as ramasee. They had their own form of greeting, “Ali Khan Bhai Salaam”. There were both Muslim and Hindu thugs; their patron deity was Kali.

The champion of the thug fraternity was one Meer Sahib Ameer Ali of Morena who killed as many as 719 people. He was finally betrayed by his own followers but escaped the noose by turning approver. For some reason, thugs never killed people of lower castes, lepers, barbers, bakers, eunuchs or Sikhs.

Where have I come across this information? In a small illustrated book, Delhi: Tales the Monuments Tell by R.V. Smith. Ronald Vivien Smith is a journalist, historiographic poet and novelist. After retiring as news editor of The Statesman, New Delhi, he has been contributing a special column, “Quaint Corner”, which makes The Statesman doubly readable.

There are many nuggets of information about Delhi in Smith’s book. He tells you of Chawri Bazar and the abode of talented courtesans of the city. There was the famous Nur Bai who told Nadir Shah that her chief patron, Mohammed Shah, kept the Koh-i-noor in his turban. There were Chanani, Bahenia, Firdaus, Nilofer, Mumtaz and Nazaneen Jan. Although called kothawalis (prostitutes) by commonfolk, they were much sought after by nawabs and seths.

There are Haveli Sadr Sadar, Matia Mahal near Jama Masjid which Mirza Ghalib used to frequent to recite his latest compositions. There are innumerable baolis (wells with steps going down to the water) with names like Devrani-Jethani, and Khari Baoli. There is a lane known as Gali Namak Haraam where stood the haveli of one Bhawani Shanker who, while being an agent of the Marathas, betrayed their secrets to the British and was untrue to his salt. And from where did Tees Hazari derive its name? Many theories, none conclusive. Those who love Delhi will love reading Smith’s collection of articles.

Believe what you don’t have to

A priest declared after the Gujarat havoc “God’s wrath caused the quake.” The stupid fellow did not know. Why the oval earth does shake! Scientists have asserted time and again Astrology is not a science but “a casual stroke” MM Joshi, our saffron minister Has turned it into an academic joke. Netaji’s daughter frankly admits “My father is no longer alive.” Some people still insist There is ample proof he didn’t die.” Why are we so credulous that we believe What any leader or misleader says? When will the sun of sanity rise And illumine our hearts with its rays? (Contributed by : G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)



Return Native

Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan’s return home to Punjab is not so much a victory for common sense, growing maturity on all sides or “ground realities” on the Khalistan issue, as Indian government officials in London like to put it. It is something a lot more basic. His is the case of the surfing Sardarji who has come in from the cold.

Last Sunday, Chauhan was sitting in a newspaper office in London — and how distant all this already seems now — sharing the deepest confidences with a journalist. The 75-year-old Sikh leader expressed great delight with the purchase of a personal computer, with a special program which enabled him to dabble in Gurmukhi.

Chauhan quickly became a surfing addict. His particular fix was Indian newspaper and agency sites, which told him far more convincingly than any government propaganda ever could, that things had changed in Punjab since he left the state in 1971 to pop over to Lahore.

A Reuters report published in British newspapers as far back as November 6, 1971, stated: “Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan, the international Sikh leader, said in Lahore yesterday the community’s supreme religious body would raise a liberation army of 200,000 to achieve their goal of an independent Sikh state in India.”

He is best known, of course, for his comment, published on June 14, 1984, following Operation Bluestar. He told a London press conference — and the remark was broadcast on the BBC World Service — that the world would soon learn of Indira Gandhi’s death. When that happened, the Indian government held him responsible in some way for inciting her murder, and the British authorities as well as the BBC were both bitterly attacked by Delhi for allowing Chauhan openly to preach terrorism.

Mrs Gandhi’s assassination was followed by scenes of jubilation in Southall, the heart of the Sikh settlement in the UK, when sweetmeats were distributed to passersby. Relations between India and Britain reached their lowest point.

The BBC’s decision to broadcast Chauhan’s interview “violated all civilised norms,” was the comment in one Indian newspaper. In a leading article the paper raged: “How would the British have reacted if the IRA terrorists had been permitted to broadcast over All India Radio a vicious attack on their Queen and Prime Minister.” So what was it that Chauhan had said?

“Some man, some young person, I don’t know who he will be, will come forward and take off the head of Mrs Gandhi and all those responsible for the sacrilege of this palace,” were Chauhan’s exact words, reported verbatim in the British media. To rub chilli powder into India’s grievous wounds, Chauhan also declared himself president of a Khalistan government in exile. He had moved from his previous base in Reading, where he had lived since 1980, to an apartment in Westbourne Grove, Bayswater, which was renamed “Khalistan House”. He also began to pay high profile visits to Washington. When Margaret Thatcher visited India in March, 1985, the Indian government again took up the case of Chauhan. The way was prepared for an extradition treaty between London and Delhi and a thaw in diplomatic relations. Realising his refuge in Britain could be endangered, Chauhan — or Jagjit Singh “Chohan”, as he signed himself sometimes (perhaps to confuse those who kept files on Jagjit Singh Chauhan) — wrote to The Daily Telegraph on March 21, 1985.

Here, he put forward a non-controversial political philosophy which he said he espoused. “I have never believed in violence. I have never advocated violence. I have never, either in private or public, called for anybody’s murder,” he insisted, although not entirely convincingly. And he added: “If I am a ‘terrorist’ for holding the political belief that I do, then it must be said and said clearly and loudly that the late M.K. Gandhi was the leader of them all through the ages. I do not hold the view that he was a terrorist; nor am I one.” In 1992, he accepted undisclosed damages from the Sunday Times for publishing an article seven years previously linking him with terrorism and drug trafficking.

Last Sunday, in London, Chauhan came across as a “lonely man”. The charms of living on modest state handouts while the rest of the Sikh community became increasingly prosperous were starting to pall. He explained he was also a “through and through Punjabi” who did not want to die in England. The Punjab High Court had ordered the Indian government, which had revoked his passport years ago, to restore his travel document.

There were other reasons for Chauhan wanting to return home. Although there are an estimated 300,000 Sikhs in Britain, the word which crops up only rarely in conversation these days is “Khalistan”. And a name which is almost forgotten is Jagjit Singh Chauhan. Most gurdwaras still have posters on Khalistan, but as an issue it is pursued by only a dwindling band of supporters. And among them, the factions are divided on the wisdom of Chauhan’s decision to go back.

But returned he has. Since then, he has spoken by phone to friends in London and assured them he is “full of joy”. He is unlikely to be arrested for the time being, even though he still faces serious charges. There is probably some “understanding” with Prakash Singh Badal, the Punjab chief minister, or so it is believed in Britain. Since Chauhan has told friends in Britain that he does not expect to return in the near future, the government hopes the risk it has taken in allowing him back will pay off. A militant mended could help matters in Punjab.

Chauhan trained as a doctor and became a finance minister in the 1960s in the state government of Lachman Singh Gill. Somewhere along the line, he became a convert to the cause of Khalistan. According to a spokesman for Chauhan’s Council of Khalistan in London, his views “have not changed an inch”. He has been consistent on one point, though. He always said he wanted to return to Punjab and, to this end, never took up British nationality. He will certainly enjoy the attention of journalists, which was so conspicuously lacking in what had become a routine life in London.

As to how the government should handle the return of the prodigal, a prominent Sikh in Southall with little time for Khalistan or Khalistanis had this advice to offer: “They should ignore the bugger.”



Mother of thine

Sir — The tragedy that struck the Yateses in Houston underscores the need of family planning even in the rich nations (“Killer mom faces death penalty”, June 22). It is unfortunate that Andrea Yates had to go through repeated pregnancies without any respite. If she is going to be punished for killing her five children, her husband too should be punished for compelling her to commit the crime. The description of pregnancy as “the pleasing punishment that women bear” becomes a rude joke in such situations. It is interesting to note that the lady to whose memory Taj Mahal was built died giving birth to her 14th child in as many years.

Yours faithfully,
Shyamal Chakrabarti, Kharagpur


Sir — According to press reports, the Unit Trust of India is expected to announce a dividend payout of around 9 per cent for its US-64, which is much less than the 13.75 per cent paid last year. Mostly senior citizens and those who wish to have a guaranteed rate of return have invested huge amounts in this scheme. Since the UTI pays dividend on the face value of units and not on the market price, that is, at the rate which investors have purchased the units, the actual rate of return becomes much less than the apparent rate of dividend.

For example, the sale price for units was pegged at Rs 13.50 in July last year — that was the cheapest price for units of US-64. Assuming that the units were purchased at Rs 13.50, if dividend now is 9 per cent, then actual rate of dividend will be around 6.67 per cent, which is unreasonable. Even the nationalized banks are paying one per cent extra rate of interest to senior citizens. Therefore, a reasonable and minimum actual return should be 10 per cent. Which means the UTI must declare at least 13.5 per cent dividend for the US-64 units. Millions of investors trust the UTI with their investment. That is one reason investors still haven’t sold off their US-64 units. The UTI should not betray this trust.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, via email

Sir — The UTI has already lost its accountability to investors. Recently, the trust has started to repurchase its retirement benefit units although this plan was proposed to be inapplicable till the age of 58 years of the investor. What is funny is that the UTI is paying the investor at a much lower rate than what is declared in their own website. I deposited my RBP units at UTI’s Calcutta office on June 14 for repurchase. I was paid at the rate of Rs 15.44 per unit, whereas the website was showing the rate at Rs 17.33 on that day. On inquiry, the staff failed to explain. Even the head office of the UTI has not been replying to emails.

Yours faithfully,
Dayal Bandhu Majumdar, Barrackpur

Sir — The statement of the chief general manager, S.S. Nayak, that the meagre 5 per cent annual return declared for the MIP-95 “is a one-time affair and will not affect other schemes is incorrect (“MIP-95 malaise not to spread to other UTI schemes”, May 13). The interest rate of MIP-96 (IV) for the year 2001-02 has also been drastically reduced to 5 per cent from 9.25 per cent of the previous year. Investors were lured with a lucrative 15 per cent interest in the opening year. The UTI has belied the trust of investors.

Yours faithfully,
Somnath Ghosh, Calcutta

Leave him alone

Sir — There seems to be too much speculation about Sourav Ganguly’s form. The article, “Weeping willow” (June 23), highlights a lot of the skipper’s drawbacks. But one must remember that this bad patch has been obvious only in the last couple of series in which he has, unfortunately, also been chosen the skipper. Before that Ganguly had displayed a superb form both with the bat and the ball. What jars is the obvious tendency to discriminate against Ganguly. When Sachin Tendulkar was out of form, former cricketers-turned-commentators had backed him. Even though a bad patch in four years is quite normal for any cricketer, cricket experts seem to be giving an ugly turn to the situation.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Why are senior cricketers hellbent on destroying Sourav Ganguly’s spirit? Why should he not even be given the time to recover?

Yours faithfully,
S. Chatterjee, Calcutta

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