Editorial 1 / Dumb charade
Editorial 2 / Gulls and frauds
A Washington itinerary
Proxy for the opposition
Restore sanity to the system
Letters to the editor

There is nothing better for the national morale than a show of solidarity vis-a-vis Pakistan. Thus the mutual back patting of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, has little more than symbolic value. The timing of such fellow feeling needs no annotation. It comes a few days before what is being flaunted as a landmark visit by the Pakistan president, Mr Pervez Musharraf. The prime minister praised the Congress president for articulating the “national position’’ on Kashmir and the latter declared her unqualified support to the summit to be held in Agra later this week. Such an exchange mocks at all the invectives that Ms Gandhi and Mr Vajpayee have hurled at each other in the not-too-distant past. The show of camaraderie underlines the undertow of hypocrisy that is perpetually present in Indian politics. In this particular case, the hypocrisy has been compounded by the desire to show Pakistan that against it the entire Indian political establishment is united. There is something immature about such an exhibition. It assumes that Pakistani politicians and diplomats will be naive enough to accept this solidarity at face value.

Mr Vajpayee’s pleasure at having Ms Gandhi’s support is explicable. This support enables him to speak for India as the country’s undisputed leader. Very few prime ministers since Jawaharlal Nehru in the Fifties and Indira Gandhi, during the liberation of Bangladesh, have enjoyed this kind of status and prestige. Ms Gandhi’s gesture is more difficult to fathom. As the leader of a party which is fundamentally opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party and as Mr Vajpayee’s principal critic, she should logically not yield an inch to Mr Vajpayee. But she has done the exact opposite. If Ms Gandhi is sincere about her support to the leader of the National Democratic Alliance government, she can no longer call herself leader of the opposition with any degree of justification. With the convergence on economic reforms and on one of the crucial aspects of foreign policy, the distinctions between the Congress and the BJP appear to be otiose. Ms Gandhi has more or less conceded that Mr Vajpayee is setting the agenda and that she and her party are merely tailing behind. Such a concession may be rationalized as one made for national considerations but it will not pass muster as good politics. Politics is not about effect but about running down a rival. Ms Gandhi is working overtime to prop up a rival. If Mr Vajpayee can make a breakthrough in his talks with the Pakistan president, he will have served an ace, a desperately needed ace since he has not had a winner for a very long time. Such a success, if it does happen, will not help the Congress. Ms Gandhi may well come to regret her show of goodwill.


Something must be terribly wrong with a society in which the passion for learning produces herds of gulls and frauds. Calcutta and its suburbs have shown again the extent to which educational competitiveness could breed the lowest forms of mindless and unscrupulous behaviour. A fake body — calling itself, rather grandly, the Institute of Fundamental Mathematics Research — has gloriously duped one and a half lakh students and their guardians into helping it make a fortune of more than a crore. They touted a series of examinations for students of classes I to XII, which could earn them scholarships and a few other advantages. The response was immediate and overwhelming. But most candidates, after having paid substantial entry fees, were left high and dry as question papers failed to arrive at most metropolitan centres and hardly anybody responsible for the scheme could be traced. That the whole business was a colossal fraud soon became apparent. Four people, some of them school teachers, have been arrested. The chairman of the institute is still on the run.

This is a sordid exposé of several unfortunate traits in the West Bengal education scene. The mentality of the “innocent” party in this situation is perhaps more alarming and of greater consequence. The guardians’ gullibility in this matter is driven by a deplorable combination of competitiveness, an undiscerning fascination with examinations and oneupmanship, and — equally noteworthy — a weakness for money. This mindset is a great leveller. A large number of schools, ranging across the entire social spectrum, had associated themselves with these examinations, and the response was uniformly enthusiastic. The whole operation showed a shrewd understanding of the universality of greed. There was something in it for everybody. Even the schools which lent their premises for the examinations were getting money for sending up their students. Perhaps the worst revelation is the extent to which neither the schools nor the guardians ever bothered to check the credentials of this organization. This only goes to show how little such competitions have to do with standards of excellence, and how the most basic notions of quality are irrelevant to this particular market. The other scandal, still rather dimly perceptible, is the teachers’ connivance with this fraud. Here again what comes through is the shameful intersection of greed and gullibility. Trickery on a monumental scale, involving huge sums of money and countless victims, seldom causes any lasting agitation in Indians. But in Bengal, the education of the young comes, even if only rhetorically, with a great deal of self-conscious highmindedness. Yet, this latest hoax and the recent debate on private tuition reveal how pervasively attitudes to education, and its actual practice, thrive on greed, severely compromised standards and the most debased herd instinct. Rumours of cheap Chinese goods and fake academic qualifications pull the droves in a disconcertingly similar manner.


When Brajesh Mishra, national security adviser and principal secretary to the prime minister, walked into the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters near Washington a few days ago for his scheduled, but secret, meeting with the agency’s director, George Tenet, America’s spook-in-chief was caught up in an unexpected emergency of the kind which is part of a spy’s everyday life.

Mishra had to wait while Tenet got on top of the emergency in his operations room. But when the CIA chief eventually received the national security adviser in his office, he was disarming. He told Mishra, “Now I have the rest of the day for you.” Tenet was not making a nicety of it when he said he had the whole day for the Indian visitor. It was Mishra who finally terminated his meeting with the CIA chief, only because he had another appointment to go to.

Even two years ago, such camaraderie between the head of America’s external intelligence agency and one of the most powerful men in the Indian government would have been unthinkable. More important, the mood that prevailed during all of Mishra’s meetings in Washington reflected the unanimity of views on friendship with India across the American political spectrum.

Mishra had an incredible 23 structured meetings with the men and women who keep the Bush administration on the move and with leaders on Capitol Hill over a three-day period. In addition, over breakfast and lunch, he met other constituencies in the United States which play a pivotal role in Indo-US relations, such as the Indian American community, both Republicans and Democrats.

Mishra’s visit to Washington coincided with that of Sonia Gandhi, leader of the opposition in Parliament. To realize how much Indo-US relations have changed since the 1998 nuclear tests, one only has to look at the Washington itineraries of these two visiting Indians. Three of the most important persons in the Bush team met both Mishra and Sonia within a day of each other.

They both met the vice-president, Dick Cheney, the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage. Six meetings by those at the top of any US administration with visitors from a single country is an honour which is normally reserved for America’s closest allies like Israel or Britain. That it happened with India last fortnight speaks volumes for the present state of ties between Washington and New Delhi.

So, if relations are so good, what was Mishra’s trip to Washington all about? Most important of all, it was a precursor of President George W. Bush’s visit to India, which is now expected to take place by April next year. But well before that, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, and the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, are due to meet this month in Vietnam where they will both be present at the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional forum. Bush and Atal Bihari Vajpayee may have their first face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly in New York in September. It is also expected that Powell may travel to New Delhi as these top-level exchanges gather momentum. And of course, next week, New Delhi will receive General Henry L. Shelton, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff of the US defence forces.

After Bush’s talks in April with Jaswant Singh, which sent clear signals about Republican hopes and expectations on India, Mishra was an ideal interlocutor to set the ball rolling for a new phase in Indo-US relations under the new American presidency.

By meeting Mishra, Bush’s vice- president gave his stamp of approval to all that has happened in Indo-US relations not only after the Republicans reclaimed the White House on January 20, but also the initiatives under Bill Clinton’s presidency in its last two years in office. Cheney’s nod for the Indo-US agenda was important in view of the perception not only in the US but also abroad that the vice president is the de facto “prime minister” of the US and that Cheney actually runs the country.

Mishra’s meeting with Cheney is, therefore, being compared to Vajpayee’s whistle-stop visit to Paris in 1998 when he met the prime minister, Lionel Jospin, and won the French Socialist leader’s endorsement of what President Jacques Chirac was doing to help India after the nuclear tests.

An interesting sidelight of the Mishra-Cheney meeting was that Kashmir was not mentioned even once by either men. There was a time when Kashmir would dominate any dialogue at that level between India and the US. And until a few years ago, what India told America about Kashmir would border on the defensive. Those Americans who had an opportunity to exchange views with Mishra were excited that ideas bounced back and forth during the discussions, the sum total of which may constitute an Indo-US agenda during the Bush presidency. The national security adviser’s visit helped close the intellectual gap over the future pattern of Indo-US relations.

One question that is often heard in Washington is, “What does India want from the enhanced relationship with America?” Or for that matter, what does America want from India? Mishra’s wide-ranging talks in Washington last fortnight may have provided some answers.

It was not a coincidence that Indian and American officials meeting separately agreed on setting up a centre for counter-terrorism in India with US assistance at the same time that the national security adviser was in Washington. The biggest security and foreign policy failure that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has had to encounter since it came into office was the deal which it was forced to strike with terrorists backed by Pakistan and the taliban who hijacked an Indian Airlines plane from Kathmandu in December, 1999. Mishra is determined that the Indian government should not be pushed into such a tight corner ever again.

Under the agreement reached last fortnight, the US will assist India in setting up the centre. The US already has several such centres. These provide rapid assistance in dealing with terrorists engaged in an operation. At the same time, they also provide help in coping with the results of terrorist acts.

There are elements in the US administration at the operational level who are skeptical of both India’s determination and ability to deal firmly with perpetrators of terror. These elements have been dragging their feet on making the Indo-US joint working group on counter-terrorism truly productive. There is no doubt that visits by Mishra and others who are uncompromsing in their attitude to terrorism have helped in pushing through ideas such as the proposed centre.

India and the US have also had unprecedented talks on international human rights, the environment and peace-keeping. When Cheney and Mishra get together and word comes down the American establishment’s grapevine that the two men talked about the strategic commonality of purpose shared by their governments, it provides the political push so necessary to make the dialogue at the official level more meaningful.

An important segment of Mishra’s itinerary in Washington focussed on building channels to the highest levels of the US administration and the Congress, so necessary if India is to create an enduring relationship with America in the longer term. For this crucial effort, the national security adviser banked on the considerable resources of the BJP in the US. Which was just as well, since efforts by earlier Indian governments to dabble in the politics of the Indian American community through the Indian diplomatic missions in the US have been unmitigated disasters.

Shekhar Tiwari, one of the founders of the Overseas Friends of the BJP, got together Republicans and Democrats among Indian Americans for detailed discussions with Mishra. Given the way America’s political system functions, the significance of these meetings can hardly be over-emphasized.

R Vijayanagar, one of those whom Mishra met for breakfast, is well known for his proximity to President Bush and his brother, Jeb Bush, the Republican governor of Florida. Vijayanagar is a heart surgeon and has been the pivot of fund-raising efforts for the Bush family in Florida.

From the other side of the Indian American political platform, Mishra met Ramesh Kapur, a Massachusetts Democrat with powerful connections in the party which has just gained control of the US Senate. The least publicized — and yet very crucial — among Mishra’s meetings were American Jewish leaders. The influence of the Jewish community in the US is legendary and lobbying efforts by its leaders have been the envy of every other immigrant group in America.

Mishra held talks with the American Israel public affairs committee, which was once described by The New York Times as “the most important organization affecting America’s relations with Israel”. He met the international Jewish organization, B’nai B’rith, and the American Jewish Council, founded to safeguard the welfare and security of Jews in the US and Israel.

Interestingly, he also had extensive discussions with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a non-partisan organization addressing the security requirements of both the US and Israel as well as a cooperative, strategic relations between them. These are clearly meetings pregnant with possibilities, the scope of which will become obvious as India and the US continue to reflect on Vajpayee’s description of the two countries as “natural allies”.


A British journalist once remarked that every politician not in government needed to be in the opposition. But in Bihar all shades of politicians, except for those in the sidelines, are part of the establishment in some way or the other. The absence of an effective opposition in the state has led to a political autocracy of the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress combine. It has also taken its toll on the administration, which has lost its moorings. Fortunately, the judiciary has stepped in where the administration failed. Bihar is now governed by the long arm of the law with rather amusing results.

At 11 am on a busy Patna street, swarms of motorcycles zip past a traffic intersection while overcrowded three-wheelers, ramshackle rickshaws, private cars and carts all try to move ahead at the same time. A traffic constable suddenly rushes towards a rickshaw, brandishing his long lathi. For the next 10 minutes, he waxes eloquent on traffic regulations. The rickshaw and its passenger nevertheless ignore the police. The next day the city police comes out with a Patna high court order prohibiting the plying of rickshaws on the stretch of the road between 9 am and 12 am. It is ironic that traffic rules have to be upheld by the court.

Chaotic traffic is only one manifestation of the bad administration in Bihar. Every major incident in the state reinforces this fact: the examination system has reached rockbottom, racketeers sell degrees and those accused of murder romp around freely, threatening witnesses.There is an ever-increasing number of politicians and parties, and the rhetoric of the opposition leaders continues to get even more shrill. Yet, had it not been for the frequent strictures on the state government by the Patna high court, people would probably have been deprived of the basic amenities.The sheer number of public interest litigations pending at the Patna high court speak not only of the breakdown of the state machinery, but also the passivity of opposition leaders.

The opposition seems to be unable to move beyond its rhetoric of “jungle raj” for the Rabri Devi-Laloo Prasad Yadav government. For want of anything better, the opposition recently listed the number of visits the chief minister had made to the secretariat and called on the prime minister to talk about the state’s problems. The attack lost its teeth when Rabri Devi retorted that she could run her office from her residence, 1, Anne Marg. How would that affect the conduct of the administration? After all, she said, she attended all cabinet meets.

The opposition also occasionally makes frenzied demands for the chief minister’s resignation. These are however never backed by strong argument, agitation or alternative plans for development. The complacence of the opposition also seems to have percolated down to the masses. Despite rampant gangsterism, Dalit massacres, even attempts to immolate the principal of a veterinary college, Patna refuses to erupt in anger.

The lack of motivation among the opposition has caused a strange crisis: that of identity and political role. Most of the National Democratic Alliance leaders, supposed to be opposition leaders in the state, pose little challenge to the ruling party. They have been inducted into the Central government ministries of either the railways, telecommunication, civil aviation or the coconut development board.These leaders hop from one state to another, attending meetings of advisory bodies or other monitoring agencies. So they have no time to spare for their state. The problem of identity has become even more difficult after the bifurcation of the state last year. Bihar has become synonymous with caste violence and terrorism.

In the Rabri Devi ministry, where most of the tainted ministers hover around the RJD president, Laloo Yadav, and laugh at his rustic jokes, the political will to act is seriously lacking. The RJD chief’s reaction to issues like caste violence is knee jerk. There are independent-minded ministers capable of working on their own, like Jagtanand Singh, Chandrika Rai, Shivanand Tiwari and Shakil Ahmed Khan, but they are completely disoriented by prevailing chaos. And the opposition leaders, who should have been the ones to spur the government, continue to watch the show without a murmur.

One opposition leader of note in Bihar is Sushil Modi. Known for his impeccable honesty, Modi is a perfect gentleman, much to the uneasiness of the other partners of the NDA. He, of course, has his own brand of rhetoric against the ruling party but he never hectors a passive government, rarely leading his troops “into the sound of gunfire”. In the last 10 years, Modi has never tabled a no-confidence motion against the government. The opposition’s real strength is to force a government to admit its flaws and offer explanations on the wide range of issues that affect the ordinary men. Even if a no-confidence motion fails to bring down the government, “the people of the state come to know what the government is doing”, alleges Lakshmi Sahu, the Janata Dal (United) spokesman in Bihar.

Thus the Modi-led NDA in the state suffers from a major identity crisis. This is intensified by the fact that the party’s counterparts at the Centre have gone to a great extent in keeping the ruling party leaders happy. Almost the entire second line of leaders in the state are either busy with the largesse offered by their party’s ministers at the Centre or are occupying posts in the public sector. The president of the Bharatiya Janata Party state unit, Nandkishore Yadav, for example, is reportedly busy managing petrol pumps. At least six other state BJP leaders were recently awarded petrol pump licences. The BJP state president also allegedly failed to pay up his bank loans for which a warrant of arrest was also reported to be issued.

Janata Dal(U) heavyweight Sharad Yadav has allegedly made several of his close associates, who worked for him during the Madhepura polls, members of various advisory bodies in the civil aviation ministry. Ram Vilas Paswan, Union minister for telecommunication, has reportedly awarded his workers advisory posts in innumerable telecom committees, especially local advisory committees. Nitish Kumar’s confidantes are supposed to have been inducted into railway and agro-development committes nationwide, from Kerala to West Bengal. A Samata Party spokesman pointed out that these were minor favours traditionally given to party workers.

During the last two weeks, at least 54 people have been killed across the state in a burst of violence over land disputes. The victims included six members of the Nat caste, a backward nomadic group whose preservation had even been part of Laloo Yadav’s election agenda. The men were suspected to have committed burglary. Soon after the killings at Ara, Laloo Yadav visited the spot to assure people safety. A week later, about 12 people stormed the hospital where the injured women relatives of the victims were undergoing treatment and abducted them. The women were the crucial witnesses of the killing. They are yet to be traced.

The people of Bihar have only one option: to resort to judicial safeguards for protecting individual rights. During the past year, it is the state judiciary’s pro-active role which has imposed a semblance of order in the state. The panchayat polls were held in the state after a gap of 23 years in April not because of the opposition’s agitation, but because of an unambiguous judicial order. The municipal employees are on strike now and the state is yet to hold election to municipal bodies in 17 years. The power supply system broke down last month. It was the judiciary which forced the state government to explain what had gone wrong.

On any working day, Patna high court is the hub of activities. Top bureaucrats of the state are seen waiting for the judges in the corridors of the court to give their version on issues that cause public grievance. There are low profile, non-political activists like Mahendra Prasad Gupta, Arun Kumar Mukherjee who are taking up the cases on behalf of the ordinary people. It was on the court’s order that a beautification plan for Patna was drawn up. During the last 20 years, the roads of Patna and the rest of the state have turned into death traps as the contracts used to go to the mafia. The high court has banned the award of contracts to those who themselves don’t own hot mix plants. In some parts of the state, the condition of roads has started improving.

The judiciary however cannot be any alternative to the government. One of the reasons the judiciary has assumed the role of the opposition is because Bihar’s politicians have always believed in power politics to keep their associates together. No social reform, no ideological fervour has proved attractive enough for workers to join hands with politicians in the past, says social scientist, Shaibal Gupta. This perhaps explains why despite his earlier claims of sticking to state politics, Nitish Kumar had approached the Central government for a ministry after he lost out to the RJD in the state assembly in 2000. This may also be the reason Paswan, a die-hard socialist, had to change colour and join the rightist bandwagon.

But shouldn’t the suffering of the people of the state be enough to wake up the opposition from its stupor?


Finally, we come to credit, perhaps the most significant constraint faced by small and new businesses. It is well known that most of the savings that formal financial institutions collect in West Bengal do not get invested in the state. Among the garment manufacturers in Metiaburuj, it is a rare firm that has any connection with the formal capital markets (banks, term-financing institutions, etc.). This reflects in part the fact that the Calcutta-based banks (particularly United Bank of India and United Commercial Bank) are now classified as weak banks, and as a result have become extremely conservative about new lending. But perhaps the most serious problem stems from the fact that bankers have become extremely suspicious of borrowers in West Bengal. The Choudhury and Sen report documents numerous instances where the bank refused to go along with a refinancing plan by the government and/or reputed consultants. This, in turn, reflects the experience of banking in West Bengal in the last thirty years. Time and again, investors have borrowed money, stripped the assets of their firm and declared a lock-out. Of course, only a fraction of the investors actually behave in this way, but the rest get punished for it.

A number of steps need to be taken to restore sanity to the system. First, the state government should put pressure on the Central government to revive the Calcutta-based banks, ideally by merging them with other banks (as privatization is an unlikely option, given the political resistance that this is likely to elicit from their workers, and also the fact that no one would want to buy them at a reasonable price). Second, the banks should be encouraged to increase loan-deposit ratios within the state, with reasonable allowances for bad debts that prevent excessively cautious lending practices. Innovative schemes such as micro-credit can be encouraged to limit default risks, and mobile banking can increase the reach of the organized credit system to agro-businesses in rural areas. Efforts can be made to create information networks among banks that help them track credit histories of individual borrowers, which can also have a remarkable effect on loan repayment incentives. Third, the state government should institute a set of special industrial debt tribunals, aimed at disposing of the many pending liquidation cases. These tribunals should have the power to bring immediate criminal proceedings against those found guilty of deliberate fraud against lenders. Fourth, the state government should take steps to prevent firms from delaying payments to the West Bengal state electricity board and other government undertakings for input purchases. The Choudhury and Sen report documents many cases where the immediate cause of bankruptcy was the fact that WBSEB stopped supplying power to these firms because they had not paid their bills for months. Making WBSEB toug-her in terms of collecting its bills (e.g., blacklisting any company associated with someone who has a poor record in repaying electricity bills is one way) will help avoid getting into situations where companies owe so much to WBSEB that their incentives get distorted.

In sum, the strategy of encouraging the small scale sector should be a multipronged one, aimed at alleviating the diverse constraints in the supply of key inputs faced by such units — infrastructure, credit, technical and marketing support. There is no need to repeat the mistakes of traditional policies for encouraging the small scale sector, which were built around reservation of selected sectors and products for such units. It is very hard for a government to know and predict the kind of technology and firm scales that are the most efficient for any given sector. Moreover, reservations insulate selected units from the competition that is essential to foster the required cost consciousness and the incentive to adapt to changes in the marketplace and adopt new technology. Instead, the emphasis should be on maximizing entry and competition in every industry.

The broad industrial strategy proposed here is based around three critical priorities: infrastructure, education and support for small scale units specializing in light manufacturing goods. Above all, the guiding philosophy should be not to pick winners and pin hopes on a few select sectors, and subsidize these heavily. Such a strategy would be risky, narrowly based, expensive and subject to the risks of political capture by resulting special interest groups. The aim should instead be to create a facilitating environment for a broad-based and diversified industrial sector, of the kind seen in China or in successful east Asian countries. To make this feasible will require a substantial shift in how the government itself functions. It is by no means obvious how to make this happen, how to build a governance that is both more responsive and more able to stand back and allow things to happen. These and many other important questions that have to do with agriculture and the delivery of public services must await discussion in a different article. Meanwhile, both in industry and in ideas, let a hundred flowers start blooming.



Playing with the mouse

Sir — Years ago, the then Janata Dal leader and de jure king of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, was seen in a hat and dressing gown, sitting with non-resident Indians at a conference to facilitate the entry of foreign money. This was after years of fighting shy of foreign investment in the state. Laloo Yadav’s attire, apart from inviting laughter, failed to convince the NRIs. Foreign investment continues to elude the state. There might be a repeat of a similar situation now that the de facto ruler of Bihar has decided to say yes to computers, albeit at the prodding of his son-in-law (“Laloo lays bridge over digital divide”, July 9). Laloo Yadav might be seen taking to computers with gusto, if only to play computer games. The state may play host to international conventions on information technology at the cost of millions of rupees, but it is doubtful if IT will be allowed to make inroads into Bihar. With its caste wars, mass killings every fortnight and widespread corruption, the state still remains in a lawless feudal era. Neither the landlords who actually rule Bihar, nor the Yadav rulers of the state have any use for computers. The gun is more important than the mouse there and will continue to be so in years to come.

Yours faithfully,
J. Singhania, Calcutta

Classroom struggle

Sir — Supriya Chaudhuri’s “Private tuition, public disgrace” (June 30) is a bold analysis of the problem that has beset our educational system. The lure of money is the motivating factor for people fr om all sections of society. Thus punish ing teachers or banning private tuition is not the right solution. People need to be shown the inefficacy of private tuition by honing the inherent intelligence of students through sincere teaching.

Both students and parents should be made to realize that private tuition makes the pupil dependent on the teacher and destroys the individual’s capacity to think independently. The large number of failures in the joint entrance examination at the Indian Institutes of Technology, for example, shows that students acquiring high marks in the examinations are not necessarily those who occupy the top positions in the JEE for the IITs.

Yours faithfully,
S. Bhattacharjee, Kharagpur

Sir — The editorial, “Shadow Teaching”, (June 25), rightly pointed out that the practice of private tuition by a large section of teachers cannot be remedied by simply passing a bill in the assembly.

In the name of supplementing classroom teaching, most private tutors provide their students with a set of prepared answers to a set of probable questions for the board or university examinations. If the education system is to be freed from its deep-rooted ills, the entire system, from deciding the syllabus through classroom teaching to the setting of questions and evaluation of answers, has to be thoroughly scrutinized and overhauled.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Kumar Dutt, via email

Sir — We expected much from the new state commerce and industry minister, Nirupam Sen. His firm stand against private tuition by school and college teachers is a bit disappointing. I am not condemning his stand that teachers should be concentrating more on teaching effectively in classrooms than on making money from tuitions. What amazes me is his eagerness to provide an alternative employment opportunity to the unemployed young people of West Bengal by asking them to fill up the void created by banning teachers from giving private tuitions. Sen might not realize that successful private tuition requires special expertise on the part of the tutor. Could a jobless young person with a university degree as his highest qualification possess these qualities?

Yours faithfully,
Debal Kumar Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — As a student, I would like to point out that some students, irrespective of the school and syllabus infrastructure, do require additional help to be able to meet the educational standards of schools and then make it in the international educational arena. Private tutions are therefore beneficial to these students and its banning is bound to have a negative impact on these students. Though certain teachers view private tuition purely as a means of making money with no responsibility to the students under their care, there are others who don’t. The government should not have an oversimplified view of the situation and should realize that the banning of private tuition will leave many teachers, dedicated to helping students improve their academic performance, quite despondent, and the students floundering for help.

Yours faithfully,
Ajanta Akhuly, Durgapur

Sir — Private tuition has become a necessary evil in our society. It is indeed sad to see young people being dragged to coaching classes after a gruelling day at school. The situation is, however, different at the secondary and higher secondary level where even the best of schools and colleges struggle to cope with the vast syllabus. Students resort to private tutors to complete the syllabus and also to study the subjects thoroughly. Individual attention does make a lot of difference to many. It is also not that teachers are compelling students to take tuition. It entirely depends on the students and their parents. Hence, the proposal to impose “stern penal measures” on teachers if they are found guilty of offering tuition is shocking. What is ridiculous is Nirupam Sen’s idea that the young unemployed can substitute private tutors. Does Sen think that anybody and everybody can become a teacher?

Yours faithfully,
Priyanka Aich, Calcutta

Centre stage

Sir — The Centre’s neglect of the Northeast’s problems has been further reinforced by the recent inaction of the government during the ongoing agitation in Manipur against the ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) (“Manipur burns in truce backlash”, June 19). It is worth noting that the Union home minister gave preference to his foreign tour to the crisis in Manipur, to rush back only upon the arrest of a former chief minister of Tamil Nadu and two Union ministers.

Also worth observing is that the Centre immediately despatched the former defence minister on a fact-finding inquiry to Tamil Nadu, while such an action was felt unnecessary during the upheavals in Manipur. Is the chief minister or even an Union minister of Manipur less important than his counterpart in Tamil Nadu? Are the lives of the Manipuris of no value compared to that of other Indians?

Yours faithfully,
Ajit, via email

Sir — Placing the entire blame on the Centre for the outbreak of the June 18 violence in Manipur (“Manipur mutiny rocks centres of power”, June 19) arises from a distorted picture of the entire issue. There is no denying that the Centre has compounded the worst fears of the people of Manipur in trying to placate the Nagas by appearing to infringe on the territorial integrity of Manipur.

One should not absolve the political leaders of Manipur of the responsibility for all that has happened. It was because of these leaders that the present turmoil in Manipur has arisen and their activities led to political instability, resulting in the imposition of president’s rule in the state. The extension of the controversial ceasefire, of course, led to the situation getting worse. L.K. Advani and his party should realize that the people of Manipur have genuine sentiments that should not be treated lightly. and have a right to be considered before decisions are made.

Yours faithfully,
James Anthony Songate, Churachandpur

Parting shot

Sir — On a recent train journey, among my co-travellers were a man and two ladies who were foreigners. Upon spotting the foreigners, the man left the compartment, only to return with soft drinks. He gallantly offered the drink to the foreigners while ignoring the rest of us. Do Indians even realize that foreigners rarely treat us with the same awe and and deference? His actions simply displayed the fascination shared by many Indian’s for anything foreign.

Yours faithfully,
S.A.Rahman, Calcutta

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