Editorial 1/ Tough as jute
Editorial 2/ Lady in pique
Ten years of slow change
Screen over harsh truths
Little pieces in the great industrial dream
Fifth Column/ Who comes in and who stays out
Letters to the editor

The pastime of crying wolf has its disadvantages. Similarly, crying “militant labour” everytime there is violence in a jute mill in West Bengal may begin to pall too. In a recent interview, the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, admitted that the jute industry had a problem, and it expressed itself in violence: the managers came armed with guns and the workers with iron rods. He identified 14 mills as worrisome and said that strategies were being worked out to “turn these mills around”. It is unfortunate that Howrah Jute Mill should be the site of ruthless violence the day after the chief minister’s apparently reasoned statement. In a peculiar twist of the cursed management-worker relationship that left a worker and two officers dead in Baranagar Jute Mill in January this year, one group of workers in Howrah set upon two officers who were rescued by another group of workers in the same mill. The hatred was unleashed by the kind of exchange familiar by now: the demands for proper pay and benefits — and objection to overwork in this particular case. A similar set of demands by aggressive workers, for permanent jobs, medical and provident fund benefits and so on had caused the police to fire and kill one worker in the Ganges Jute Mill in Hooghly in June.

Placed against the realities of jute mills in the state, the chief minister’s reasoned statements sound very thin. For the roots of worker “militancy” should be sought in the greed and irresponsibility of owners, traders and middlemen. Many owners, certain that they have got all they can get out of a “sunset industry” which will not see dawn again, have let their interests be taken over by traders and middlemen. A huge section of the workers are casual or badli workers, who have no regular pay, no benefits and whose names are not on the registers. Their wages are lower than the official amount. The owners, managers and trade union leaders have their own stakes in keeping up this huge inflow of cheap labour. One big advantage is that lockouts, of which the managements are rather fond, cannot create too much trouble for them, because the workers are hopelessly divided in their interests. The permanent workers need the badlis to fill in; at the same time the growing army of casual workers who are demanding proper employee status is beginning to pose a threat to everyone. The flaw is at the root. Unless the state government shakes out the administration of jute mills, West Bengal will keep scaring off investors with the bogey of militant labour. Poor men with families turning ruthlessly violent are a symptom of things wrong deep down and for a long time.


It is a combination of purposelessness and high pique. Listless and disconsolate in her lack of the coveted office, the Trinamool Congress chief is beginning to rattle some of her colleagues. The level at which these emotions are being played out is, unfortunately, rather ridiculous. Yet her recent actions could determine not only the nature of opposition politics in West Bengal, but also the political character of her party. The ups and downs of Ms Mamata Banerjee’s relationship with Calcutta’s mayor, Mr Subrata Mukherjee, are beginning to suggest a pattern of behaviour, particularly when seen in relation to her dealings with a few others, like Mr Ajit Panja, who, like Mr Mukherjee, hold some sort of significant office. Mr Mukherjee has barely managed to conceal his exasperation with Ms Banerjee vetoing the first anniversary celebrations of the Trinamool Congress-Bharatiya Janata Party’s board at the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. The reasons behind this last-minute peremptoriness are lamentably petty. Ms Banerjee resents not having been properly invited and disapproves of the chief minister and Mr Panja being part of the guests list.

It is unfortunate that this obstructionism and foot-stamping petulance are becoming part of Ms Banerjee’s very own manner of making her authority manifest within the party. This is not the first time that Mr Mukherjee has had to deal with this. He has had to cancel two other official events because of last-minute directives from the party leadership. His earlier course of action on hawker eviction — though far from exemplary in itself — has also been meddled with in a similar manner. So has been his plans regarding the washing of city roads. The CMC anniversary cancellation was something of a last straw, provoking the mayor to come close to stepping down. This seems to have been stalled, although the aftermath does not look very good for Ms Banerjee’s party. The word, “mess”, has been used by the mayor, and the Trinamool Congress looks internally rather badly divided on the issue. This has revealed, yet again, the extent to which the workings of the CMC remain mired in the often farcical intra-party hostilities and misunderstandings. The mayor-in-council is also showing signs of being uncertain as to whether or not to play along with Ms Banerjee’s tantrums. With Mr Panja, too, the pressure has to be sustained, never allowing him to get away with the past or to let him off the grip of the party. Ms Banerjee is supposedly waiting for the Tehelka report before she makes up her mind about the National Democratic Alliance. This is a difficult interregnum for her. Having failed to work out a substantial and dignified political strategy in West Bengal, and with her relations with the Centre in a state of suspension, she will somehow have to keep reminding herself, her party, her possible allies and her opponents that she may be down but not quite out.


Ten years have passed by since the economic reforms started under the leadership of Manmohan Singh and P.V. Narasimha Rao. In May-June 1991, the foreign exchange reserves with the Reserve Bank of India had sunk to an abysmal low, of less than a billion dollars. Further, the State Bank of India — a bank owned by the government of India through the RBI — had difficulty in rolling over its lines of credit with the international banks. The SBI was in this position because, at the behest of the government, it had issued banker’s acceptances to various international banks to meet the forex obligations of public sector agencies in India, such as Indian Oil Corporation, State Trading Corporation and Mineral and Metal Trading Corporation. BAs are essentially bill discounting facilities. BAs could be discounted at attractive rates of interest. They had a good market in New York, London and Tokyo. International banks encouraged the practice, particularly since the SBI was owned by the government.

Following the Kuwait crisis in 1990-91, India’s balance of payment started being shaky. Remittances from Indian expatriates started dwindling. Non-resident Indian deposits started flowing out. The unstable political situation was also a contributory cause of trouble. A minority government was in place under Chandra Shekhar and the rating agencies decided to downgrade the rating of the SBI. With the forex reserves at an all-time low, the RBI could not go to the help of the SBI to repay its credits, which it had drawn against BAs. The rollover of lines of credit by international banks to the SBI was also under threat because of the change in rating by the rating agencies. The central banks of the world put strict limits for exposure of the banks to the SBI. The SBI would have had to default. It was this threat of default that the country faced in 1991-92.

It was the good fortune of India that Manmohan Singh, first as adviser to the then prime minister, Chandra Shekhar, and then as finance minister, took a leading role in handling the crisis. He had just come from the South-South Commission, where he had drawn up a report, which was strongly critical of the role of the Bretton Woods institutions in the development tasks of the world. It is, however, to the credit of Singh that in spite of the stand he had taken in the commission, he saw clearly the need for India to go to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the situation in which India was placed in 1990-91. He himself personally drafted the main elements of the reforms, which included going to the IMF, which in turn involved fiscal stabilization and liberalization, and devaluation.

I recall being present at a meeting in June 1991, which Singh had with the then prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao. As was expected, Narasimha Rao flinched at the suggestion to raise fertilizer prices. As for devaluation, Rao had a genuine problem that his government did not have full mandate, as it had not yet received the vote of confidence in Parliament. At that time, it was decided, at the suggestion of the then president, R. Venkataraman, that the RBI could handle devaluation under its usual procedures for fixing the exchange rates, based on a basket of currencies. There was no written instruction from the government in regard to 18 per cent devaluation, which the RBI undertook in two steps, on July 1 and 3, 1991.

It was a mark of the gravity of the crisis that India had to commit itself to the movement of gold for a temporary loan from international banks and the central banks of England and Japan.

The movement of gold from out of the shores of India to raise a temporary loan was a traumatic experience. When it became known that gold had been moved, in secrecy, critics started attacking the decision as national humiliation. So much so, the then government even promised to repatriate the gold as soon as the situation improved. The decision to move out gold was taken under compelling circumstances, principally the erosion in the reserves of India and the need for short-term help from abroad. When we approached the IMF for assistance, they made it clear that the release of standby credit would take some time. Immediate need for stopgap inflows dictated the use of gold reserves.

I recall that many efforts were made, but in vain, at that time to explore avenues other than resort to IMF. We even sent a high-level emissary (a deputy governor of the RBI) to Venezuela to see whether that oil-rich country could release a few billion dollars to India as a fellow non-aligned nation. This effort drew a blank. Many were the efforts by the well-meaning intermediaries, who brought in many offers of assistance, but mostly from not so reputable sources. All these efforts came to naught when they finally required a guarantee from a prime bank, which was impossible, given the crisis in India’s economy.

In one of his recent interviews, Singh explains that he opened up the window of portfolio flows because he did not want to go back to the IMF. This inbuilt resistance to Bretton Woods institutions is characteristic of the mindset of political and civil service bureaucracies of New Delhi. The resistance is understandable because accompanying aid from the IMF is a whole slew of conditionalities, which includes policy changes comprising fiscal adjustments, devaluation and liberalization. It is to the credit of Singh and Narasimha Rao that they realized that in the conditions in which India was placed in 1991, there was no option but to swallow the bitter medicine of reform. It is thanks to Singh that today the whole of India stands converted. Those who came to scoff at his reforms have remained to pray. The ruling coalition in power today has itself been a strong advocate of the reform process, albeit with minor changes of emphasis. Not only that, even states like West Bengal, under communist leadership, have welcomed the opening up of India to foreign direct investments, as part of the reforms.

The path of the reforms has not been smooth. One of the major problems has been the difficulty of reducing fiscal deficit. This problem has haunted all finance ministers of the post-reform India — from Manmohan Singh through P. Chidambaram to Yashwant Sinha. Yashwant Sinha has taken up the challenge in right earnest by introducing the Fiscal Responsibility and Management Act. Fiscal improvement cannot come about merely as a result of the passage of a bill in Parliament. Competitive populism can defeat all measures of fiscal stabilization. What we need is a massive task of consensus-building not only amongst the members of the ruling coalition but also the opposition, particularly in the states.

In a recent interview, Singh mentions that till 1991, the history of India had been one of chronic shortage of foreign exchange. He says: “So bending the forex constraints was crucial to the further development of India.” In reaching this goal, the reforms have definitely succeeded. With forex reserves of about $ 40 billion, India is far from the weakling it was in 1991.

Credit is due to Singh and his successor, P. Chidambaram, for the successful manner in which they guided the reforms and successfully averted the Asian flu. Their policies have helped India to acquire the high forex reserves it has today. It is another matter that the software boom, which itself was helped by reforms, enabled large inflows under invisibles. The post-reform period in India was also an era of large global capital flows. Portfolio inflows and foreign direct investment have been strong pillars of BoP of India, in spite of its high trade deficit.

The continuing challenges before the reform process are not merely fiscal. They also concern major issues of macro-management. The continuing decline in industrial growth causes worry. India faces tremendous problems in the barrier of exports to developed countries.

The reform process has had many successes to its credit, especially the emancipation of the Indian industry and trade from the control of minutiae by bureaucracy. It has also enabled India to attain global standards in regard to achievement of quality and other benchmarks. The burgeoning of software industry itself owes its strength to the winds of change unleashed by Manmohan Singh’s reforms.

It is in the fitness of things that we celebrate the passage of a decade since the reform started in 1991, when we had to pledge our gold and approach the IMF for assistance. Will such times return? With the abundant forex reserves today, such fears may surely turn out to be unfounded. But, the fear of failure is still a key to continuing success. We must remember the overbearing burden of fuel — petroleum, oils and lubricants — imports, which is threatening to choke our BoP. It is never too late to get ready with the right polices — fiscal, industrial and energy-related-before the next crisis hits us.

What we need to avoid, above all, is an attitude of complacency. In addition to managing the fiscal problem, we have to evolve an integrated energy policy and a job-oriented economic policy, which ensures growth of jobs. These involve difficult choices. It is to be hoped that Singh, the founding father of reforms, from his position of political vantage, will be able to help Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Yashwant Sinha in evolving a national political consensus on economic reforms.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India


Few subjects excite Bengalis as much as an assault, real or imagined, on culture. Consider the row two film personalities — one an ageing hero and the other an actress past her prime — have kicked up, claiming the ruling communists have put a ban on the screening of their films in battle-scarred Midnapore.

Nayana Bandopadhyay, an actress of minor repute, and Tapas Pal, once a major star whose appeal is now fading, are currently grabbing more headlines in the mainline media than they ever did in their heyday in Tollywood. As Trinamool Congress legislators, both Bandopadhyay and Pal —-in a rare burst of creativity in the opposition bench, the two as a combine have been named Nay-Pal, not as a take-off of the original, but for easy reference — successfully pushed to the backburner some of the proven attention-grabbers in the Trinamool legislature party. They created a row by claiming in the state assembly on June 27 that the ruling communists were stopping their fans in Bhaja Chauli, a village in Contai sub-division of Midnapore, from watching their films.

Lending an issue to Trinamool’s shouting brigade, Pal and Bandopadhyay led the party’s walkout from the house in protest against the claimed persecution of cinema and video parlour owners of Bhaja Chauli for showing their films.

They also sought a statement from the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, on the issue. In the immediate context of the subject, Bhattacharjee looked like a natural target not merely because he was the chief political executive, but also because of his serious and well known pursuit of culture.On inquiry, the charge did not stick for there is not a single hall in Bhaja Chauli and the local Trinamool functionaries could not produce a witness or a victim in support of their contention.

By no stretch of imagination can Pal or Bandopadhyay be said to be occupying as powerful a position in Bengal’s psyche as, say, Amitabh Bachchan or Madhuri Dixit in the national consciousness. Yet, the two appear to have managed to hog attention, albeit briefly, because of the script which has as locale Midnapore, known for bloody political conflicts. They are making a strident claim that an assault on culture is under way, which is based on the assumption that talk about imperilled culture may whip up popular passion.

At the end of the day, the script managed to produce, at least in Calcutta, filmic imagery of communist supporters, flush with the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s success in the May election, openly attacking the exhibitors of their films as part of what they implied was a wider communist plot to control culture in Bengal. As far as the ch- arge goes, there are two ways of looking at it. In one way, it appears to be in the realm of possibility because the energy-sapping, bloody feud between the CPI(M) and Trinamool over the past one year has shown up Midnapore, India’s largest district, as a disturbed region where things bizarre, violent or unpredictable can happen. To break and re-engineer the mould of politics in Midnapore, both the CPI(M) and Tr- inamool, in the months preceding the elections, went for each other’s jugulars on the slightest of pretexts and caused largescale deaths, mayhem and destruction of property. Neither party can claim to have been sane during the election in the district where at stake were a total of 37 seats, prestige and the fear of losing the turf.

The other, and decidedly demanding way, is to go beyond the obvious and try and reconcile the charge to the ground realities against the richly textured local social, political and market conditions. In seeking to project Midnapore again as a metaphor for what Trinamool calls “CPM sponsored-terrorism” in Bengal, and by leveraging their names as brands, Pal and Bandopadhyay ignored certain facts and walked into an indefensible situation.

Like in the rest of India, films are a passion in rural Bengal too and often provide a window into its soul. So it is not surprising that Midnapore boasts nearly 125 cinema halls and 500 video parlours. Though mostly ill-equipped, decrepit and hazardous, the cinemas and parlours represent about 70,000 seats — including the ones in about 60 closed halls — and Rs 1.80 crore in revenue. In terms of geographical spread, Contai sub-division has the largest number of halls with 28 accounting for earnings worth Rs 23 lakh and a total seat capacity of about 14,000, though not a single one is in Bhaja Chauli, the scene of the claimed persecution.

A study of the cinema trade in Midnapore reveals highly interesting facets of life which conform to an all-India trend as well as contrast jarringly with the ruling communists’ loud emphasis on shustha sanskriti or meaningful culture. In tune with the trend of audience preference across the country, money-spinning, sleek Hindi films, like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Tal, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke or Fiza monopolize the majority of halls in five sub-divisions of Jhargram, Kharagpur, Midnapore and Tamluk. Bengali films are patronized alongside the ones in Hindi, in Contai and Ghatal sub-divisions.

Disguised by the contrived outrage is the disquieting fact that a large number of cinemas and parlours in Midnapore, which the ruling Left Front prides on citing as a showcase for its politics, thrive on the screening of hardcore pornographic films. Schoolchildren and college students throng the halls running such films. Though they profess to be concerned about various social ills, Pal and Bandopadhyay do not appear to be losing their sleep over the seedy halls, blue films or closing of cinemas in Midnapore.

Why are Pal and Bandopadhyay going to town over an imagined situation? One answer is that they do have exclusive knowledge of it happening in a far-flung Midnapore village — doubtful, though — and sincerely believe some deep vein of public disgust can be discovered and exploited in such claimed persecution.

A more plausible explanation is that a section of Midnapore Trinamool leaders seeking to get into Mamata Banerjee’s view and capture the local organizational power levers, have manipulated Pal, a relative novice, into the situation. To do so, they have tapped Pal’s concerns and the sense of insecurity, common for one engaged in the show business.

Pal’s concerns are best explained by a look at the trade figures which suggest neither Pal or Bandopadhyay is saleable any longer in Midnapore where the audience of Bengali films, as elsewhere in Bengal, has mostly been appropriated by the hit pair of the moment, Prosenjit and Rituparna, and to some extent, Chiranjit. The success of Kulangar, Pratibad or Bastir Meye Radha and the bombing of Pathbhola, a Tapas-Nayana starrer, bear the argument out, strengthening the suspicion that the issue, shorn of rhetoric, is actually a battle of our films, their films.

In some recent instances, parlour owners have shown ingenuity by organizing the screening of Pal’s Nishante, commercially uninspiring, sandwitched between Prosenjit’s Utsav and Malabadal. The marketing trick seems to be working well as the three tier-sandwich shows have been drawing crowds at the desired level, suggesting that behind the programmed demonstration of anger in the house and the walkout, the two had a prosaic but more compelling personal goal to achieve.

No matter how deafening the decibel level, how appropriately grim the combine’s facial expression, the Bhaja Chauli episode is not, cannot be, in the frontline of popular concerns in Midnapore.It is not only morally ugly, but also politically incorrect for a beleaguered but principal opposition party like Trinamool to waste precious time in and outside the assembly highlighting rich filmstar-members’ career problems. It should instead be actively campaigning for the return of party supporters to their own homes in the district which they were forced to leave as a price for Mamata Banerjee’s provocative and mindless “politics of hot pursuit”.

For Mamata, there is a lesson to learn from Bhaja Chauli.Once a truly aggressive challenger, the Trinamool Congress, is drifting in Midnapore which, in the months preceding the election, was touted as Mamata-country. If reports are anything to go by, the party is already divided into several factions whose leaders are working at cross-purposes, alarmingly, often independently of her.

After the election, according to signs, popular sentiments are shifting in favour of the communists who do not have any immediate challenge to face, as is evident from the smooth functioning of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government as well as the current honeymoon with the media. Mamata needs to put her heart into confidence-building in Midnapore, a task which cannot be assigned to condemned functionaries or be based on silly issues like “our films, their films.” And she need not hurry, for she must realize she is in a race which will have no finishing line for the next five years.


Second, investments in large scale industry, such as Haldia Petrochemicals, is also fraught with a number of risks and uncertainties. Managing such a large joint venture between diverse stakeholders, and raising necessary finances have already shown significant str- ains. More fundamentally, the challenges of managing such large scale enterprises are immense. The larger the industry (and Haldia Petrochemicals is very large indeed), the more it relies on the skills of its management — personnel management gets harder as the manager becomes more remote from his workforce; materials management becomes demanding as the number and amounts of purchased materials grows, and so on. It is well-established that at least in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, managers are paid much more in bigger firms, which presumably reflects their heightened importance in such enterprises. The shortage of skills (management skill in this instance) therefore suggests large firms will suffer from poor management. The report by Chaudhury and Sen mentioned above, makes frequent mention of poor judgment on the part of management as one reason why particular firms failed. It is also possible to see the preponderance of lock-outs as a result, in part, of poor personnel management — firms had to close because they were unable to negotiate the right deals with the workers. While one fervently hopes that the Haldia project will indeed survive and prosper, it would not be wise to pin the prospects for industrial revival entirely here either.

Third, and perhaps most important, even if high-tech industry and Haldia were to take off, how would that ensure that the resulting benefits spread widely, in terms of employment creation and wage growth for the semi-skilled and unskilled workers, not just in Calcutta but also in mofussil towns throughout the state? There is a big market potential for West Bengal’s small scale units in the supply of cheap toys, stereos, watches and household implements to the rest of India. This is what China supplies to the rest of the world, and has formed the basis of their phenomenal industrial success in the past two decades. One can add to the list of high potential consumer products the following as well: garments, leather, food processing, spare parts and metal-working, industries all of which have had a long tradition in West Bengal.

The Chinese strategy is particularly attractive in being labour-intensive and broad-based. Under what is sometimes half-ironically referred to as people’s capitalism, a lot of China’s output is produced in relatively small firms located in small towns and villages. The reason is that the products have been so chosen that an entrepreneur with limited education, little capital, semi-skilled workers and no professional management can still achieve a high level of productivity. One also observes a similar pattern emerging in Punjab, though with a different product mix. Indeed West Bengal also has a long tradition of successful small-scale enterprises. The engineering workshops of Howrah were once famous all over India, and even now, the small garment producers in Metiaburuj and elsewhere in south Bengal have a substantial presence in garment retail stores all over India. Moreov- er, West Bengal is now flush with savings waiting to be inv-ested. It has a higher rate of small savings net collection per capita than richer states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Prad- esh. This is no doubt in part a result of agricultural prosperity in the state. A lot of these sa- vings are presumably in small towns and rural areas, where labour is especially cheap. The diversification of agricultural production into a variety of non-food crops also provides promise for the development of agro-processing industries.

If West Bengal is so favorably endowed, the puzzle is why this kind of industry has not already taken off? What are the key constraints, and how can they be relieved?


Almost forty years to the month after the building of the Berlin Wall, Costa Rica is building its own wall, and its neighbours are not pleased — especially Nicaragua, whose defence minister, Jose Adan Guerra, called it “deplorable. It’s a symbol that speaks louder than words.” But exactly what is it a symbol of?

Unlike the Berlin Wall, Costa Rica’s is a rather modest construction: only one kilometre long and a mere two metres high. Also unlike former East Germany, Costa Rica is not trying to keep its own people in. It is trying to keep much poorer Nicaraguans out. There are already at least 300,000 Nicaraguans in the country of 4 million people, and most Costa Ricans reckon that there are at least as many more who have come illegally, so you can sort of see their point.

One Nicaraguan border official recently told the Costa Rican paper La Nacion that around 300 of his fellow-countrymen slip across the border into Costa Rica illegally each day, and up to a thousand per day at weekends. Every one who gets through competes for jobs with poor Costa Ricans, and there are still a lot of poor people in Costa Rica. But would the Costa Ricans be building walls if the migrants were skilled workers?

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the Germans have finally admitted after a century of denial that their country does indeed need permanent immigrants.

Guest workers

On July 4, an all-party commission chaired by Rita Suessmuth (a leading figure in the conservative Christian Democratic opposition party) formally recommended that Germany import 50,000 skilled workers every year. “We are a country of immigration,” she said, “and not just starting today, but already for quite a while.”

Thanks to the wave of Gastarbeiter, or guest workers, who were brought in from Balkan and Mediterranean countries in the Sixties and Seventies, the current German population of 80 million includes seven million people who are of Turkish, Yugoslav or other non-German ancestry.

But the myth was always that they were just “guests” — and that even their children and grandchildren, born in Germany and speaking no other language fluently, would also always be just guests.

The Suessmuth report delivers a mortal blow to that notion. It suggests that Germany select immigrants on the “points” system pioneered by Canada, in which applicants are scored on age, education, level of desirable skills and willingness to integrate — a tough, self-interested system designed to ensure that the “host country” creams the available crop of prospective immigrants.

Economic migration

As for why Germany would do this, the interior minister, Otto Schilly, was brutally frank: “We will offer those workers who are urgently needed by German business, and who cannot be found in the German labour market, a long-term future so that our country stays internationally competitive in key sectors.”

In the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where it is already widely understood that attracting immigrants from all over the world is a key strategy for ensuring the country’s economic future, this would be a statement of the obvious, but it is still a radical notion in developed countries that are devoted to a pure ethnic vision of themselves. It doesn’t matter. Their choice is mass immigration and prosperity, or ethnic purity and poverty, and in practice they all end up jumping the same way.

There are plenty of borders outside Europe and North America where there is the same steep gradient of relative wealth and poverty, and the same desperate “economic migrants” trying to make it through: India and Bangladesh, Iran and Afghanistan, South Africa and Mozambique. “Economic migration” is how the Americas and Australasia were settled in by poverty-stricken Europeans, and it is now a global phenomenon.

One difference in the present pattern is that the qualifications needed to make it through the borders legally have risen steeply. The other is that the richest countries, in their quest to stay ahead of the pack, are on their way to becoming the most spectacularly mixed societies, in terms of the variety of ethnic and cultural origins among their citizens, that have ever existed on this planet.



Aiming to transform

Sir — The Union minister for health, C.P. Thakur, may well have opened up a Pandora’s box by expressing his desire to include sex education and AIDS awareness as subjects in the school curriculum (“Minister crusade for safe-sex lessons”, July 6). Sex education has been a sensitive subject with Indian educationists and policy-makers who have steadfastly refused to acknowledge the growing menace of AIDS in our country. While psychologists and medical experts have expressed concern over the growing incidence of the disease among teenagers, the National Council for Educational Research and Training has not given the issue much thought. With the Centre’s approval, Thakur’s ambitious plan, which involves the active participation of children in sex education, makes sense, given that they will become parents and educators in future. However, all efforts in this direction will stand defeated unless there is a change in attitudes towards sex and individual freedom.
Yours faithfully,
Joyita Saha, via email

Southern excesses

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s outrage at anything that Atal Bihari Vajpayee does is so predictable that it no longer surprises anyone when he rants and raves against the Indian prime minister. One cannot help protesting though at some of the statements made in his article, “A Tamilian protests”(July 3). That he should attribute Fathima Beevi’s dismissal to her being a woman and that too a Muslim is outrageous. By putting a communal colour to the Centre’s decision to recall Beevi, Aiyar has proved why his secular reputation was always suspect.

The Congress, the party to which he belongs, has always interpreted the word, “secularism”, according to its convenience. The Constitution of India confers on the governor the power to invite the leader of the majority party in the assembly to form the government. However, what makes Jayalalitha’s case different is that she had been disqualified from contesting elections.

While Aiyar may be justified in criticizing the Bharatiya Janata Party for its Hindutva colour, one is not sure how to interpret his statement that he is an Indian only because it does not stand in the way of his being a Tamilian. Further, his attacks on the National Democratic Alliance government have no basis in fact. A politician of Aiyar’s stature should have refrained from using such foul language while criticizing his political rivals.

Yours faithfully,
Rina Chawla, Calcutta

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s hysterical rantings against M. Karunanidhi and A.B. Vajpayee would have been more credible and less funny had he not earned for himself a reputation as a turncoat. He has repeatedly fulminated against J. Jayalalitha in the same column and will no doubt do so in future if she is wooed back to the NDA by the BJP.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, via email

Sir — It is ironic that while Mani Shankar Aiyar was busy trying to bury the NDA government, the lady he seemed so hellbent on defending was offering expensive gifts at various temples in Kerala. That J. Jayalalitha should mastermind M. Karunanidhi’s arrest and then leave town so that she does not have to face the heat, gives us some idea about her malevolence. Is Aiyar’s passionate defense of Jayalalitha born out of some kind of warped loyalty towards a fellow Tamilian?

It is not yet clear what exactly transpired on the night that Karunanidhi was arrested. However, the high-handedness of the police while conducting the arrests cannot be denied. By muzzling the media, Jayalalitha has only made matters worse for herself. One shudders to think what she will do once she manages to get herself elected to the state assembly in a few days from now. It is a pity that Jayalalitha was able to use the loopholes in the law to her advantage and in the process make a mockery of the Constitution.

Aiyar’s criticism of the Centre’s decision to recall Fathima Beevi demonstrates his lack of insight and his political bias. Instead of echoing his party’s line on this issue, Aiyar should voice his own opinions.

Yours faithfully,
Devlina Ray, Calcutta

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar’s article was full of separatist undertones. While defending a fellow Tamilian, he has tried to brush aside the ugly incident by dreaming up all kinds of conspiracy theories. Instead of coming up with a sound argument in Jayalalitha’s defense, he only manages to sound unconvincing and vague. Aiyar’s vivid imagination has helped him conjure up a major conflict between the North and the South. By describing the Indian prime minister and the former defence minister, George Fernandes, as Aryans, Aiyar has only succeeded in projecting himself as a man who would do anything to grab the spotlight. The article is in bad taste and betrays Aiyar’s desperation.

Yours faithfully,
S. Bhattacharjee, Kharagpur

Sir — There can be no excuse for the kind of language that Mani Shankar Aiyar uses in his article. As an individual and as a politician, Aiyar is entitled to his opinions. Even though the Constitution guarantees to all Indian citizens the right to express themselves freely, this freedom should not be used for a personal vendetta. It is disturbing that Aiyar has used words like “traitor”and “terrorist” to describe a veteran politician like George Fernandes. Aiyar should not have used his column in the The Telegraph as a vehicle for venting his anger against the Indian prime minister. Being in the opposition does not give Aiyar the right to come up with such far-fetched conclusions.

In a state where most filmstars become politicians after they retire from films, Karunanidhi’s arrest could easily be interpreted as a classic case of life imitating art.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam V, Assam

Sir — Mani Shankar Aiyar may be right in saying that Karunanidhi and his family were well aware that he was going to be arrested by the police on the night of July 29. However, substantial portions of Aiyar’s article are filled with racist remarks. He can also be accused of stirring up disruptive feelings by suggesting that the departure of Fathima Beevi was part of a sectarian vendetta. Aiyar has accused the BJP of targeting Sonia Gandhi’s Italian roots when he too is guilty of the same prejudice.

Yours faithfully,
B. Bhattacharya, Durgapur

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