Editorial 1 / Bare pass
Editorial 2 / False alarm
Vajpayee’s little drama
Fifth Column / Talking about the third persons
Grim finale to the copper story
Document / Bought and sold all over the world
Letters to the edditor

India’s local currency rating has been downgraded from BBB to BBB minus by Standard & Poor. The downgrading is from stable to negative. The ratings on long-term foreign currency, short-term foreign currency and short-term local currency have been maintained at their previous levels. Typically, a downgrading of this kind increases the cost of borrowing for domestic companies since lenders hike the risk premium. This may not have any immediate adverse impact since very few companies are currently borrowing abroad. Thus the damage to the Indian economy may be more psychological than material. But a caveat is in order. The downgrading may dampen the confidence of both domestic and foreign investors who may postpone their investment plans. The announcement from S& P may also surprise those who believed that an industrial recovery is just around the corner. There has been a distinct improvement in commercial bank non-food credit during the last few fortnights. This seems to an indicator that the corporate sector is at last preparing for expansion. Agricultural production will also pick up significantly because of this year’s excellent monsoon. The consequent increase in rural incomes will translate into a significant boost in the demand for consumer goods. There should be an obvious multiplier effect increasing incomes and demand throughout the economy. On the supply side, a bountiful harvest will mean increased supplies of agricultural raw materials for all agro-based industries.

Despite all these positive signs, S&P has downgraded India’s short-term growth prospects because of two factors. First, the fiscal deficit at the Centre and state levels; and second, the lacklustre reform delivery on disinvestments and infrastructure. There are other factors that can be noted. Some of the major public financial institutions are in apparent chaos. Witness, the Unit Trust of India. The IFCI is also in trouble as is the Industrial Development Bank of India. All this suggests that the prospects of an orderly development of the financial sector in India have receded appreciably. It also seems likely that the much-vaunted reform promises of the budget will remain only on paper.

The finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, has brushed aside the S&P’s evaluation as invalid. He has accused S&P of being too impatient. What Mr Sinha has overlooked is that his own credibility is running on an all-time low and this may have been a factor in the downgrading. The public perception is that Mr Sinha has been inept in his handling of the UTI. What is even more undeniable is that Mr Sinha has very little scope for initiating the policy measures needed to implement the reforms he promised in his budget speech. The budget scored nine of ten when he had announced it. The nine has now been turned upside down and looks more like a six. During the UTI debate, Mr Sinha passed the buck to Mr Manmohan Singh. But he has to accept responsibility for his failure to implement his own reforms. There is the growing apprehension that the present government has run out of steam. This perception together with the feeling that the finance minister is not only ineffective but also lacks vision are perhaps reflected in the BBB minus grade.


If New Delhi’s decision to backtrack on the contentious issue of “territorial limits” of the ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) doused the fires of violent protests in Manipur, it also left a trail of confusion and conjectures, some of these plainly alarmist. One cannot blame Mr Thuingaleng Muivah, the outfit’s general secretary, or his spokespersons for every speculative report that paints doomsday pictures of a possible collapse of the ceasefire. One such report suggests that the NSCN(I-M) has announced a “state of emergency” in Nagaland following the “failure” of the latest round of talks between Mr Muivah and Mr K Padmanabhaiah, former Union home secretary, at Amsterdam. In the first place, neither the negotiators nor their representatives had described the talks as either a success or a failure. Second, the purported NSCN(I-M) statement about the “state of emergency” has not been attributed to any of its leaders. Clearly, the report is little more than conjecture and derives its inspiration from the confusion prevailing over the ceasefire extension controversy. It is no secret that the outfit is unhappy about the way the Centre revoked the clause in the June 14 agreement about extending the ceasefire jurisdiction beyond Nagaland. But to conclude that the unhappiness has prompted it to declare a “state of emergency” in the troubled area is to betray a flawed understanding of both the Naga insurgency and the five-year-old truce.

As the NSCN(I-M) has always insisted on the need to extend the ceasefire to all Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast, it has also spoken of the need to keep its cadre in a “state of preparedness” in the event of the truce failing. To any observer of the Naga militancy, this is the obvious rhetoric and strategy to keep the cadre’s morale intact. As a matter of fact, it has often been alleged that sections of the NSCN(I-M) have taken advantage of the ceasefire to regroup and rearm themselves, just as its representative on the ceasefire monitoring committee has accused the security forces of violating the truce “ground rules”. It is always an “emergent” situation for militants. To read more into this because of the current controversy sounds like unwittingly ringing alarm bells.


The little theatrical act staged by the prime minister at the executive committee of his party was well-crafted. There was a gush of sympathy for the poor man when he said he was getting old and tired and was unable to discipline the alliance he headed. Even so the members of the committee would not let him quit his post. They had no one with his popularity rating and his knack of holding together so unwieldy a coalition of disparate elements. That the party still thought him indispensable put new heart into the prime minister and almost made him feel ten years younger. The word resignation was never mentioned again.

The play could not have had a smoother run if all those present at the scene of action had been programmed by an info-tech wizard. There was of course a whispering campaign in the faction-ridden party against Atal Bihari Vajpayee, particularly by those who resented the concentration of too much power in the hands of his principal aides. But even as they occasionally leaked some of their snide remarks about the prime minister’s office to the media, they knew that Vajpayee’s exit from the government would plunge the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the National Democratic Alliance into a leadership crisis.

The prime minister is a much harassed man, forced to give up, hold back or revise policy decision at the behest of one troublesome ally or another, who is concerned more about looking after their own constituents than about the problems facing the Centre and is acquiring a more ominous look every day. Yet he is also fully aware of his strength. Why then did he have to go through this show of threatening to resign and making the executive committee members implore him to stay on? The play-acting was certainly not designed to make the allies more amenable to discipline. It was meant more to silence voices of dissent in the BJP and in the sangh parivar, whose front organizations were closer to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh than to the BJP-led government.

The members of the BJP’s executive committee may have passed the loyalty test much to the satisfaction of the prime minister. Even so, such relief as it brings to him can be illusory so long as nothing is done about the sources of dissension in the party, and about increasingly strained relations between the BJP and other members of the sangh parivar. Much of the trouble can be traced back to the marked shift in the balance of power in the BJP where there has been a tilt in favour of the prime minister’s office, and in the parivar where the RSS has lost some of its old aura of authority and many of its front organizations feel that the government’s policies are eroding their support base.

The latter have indeed had a measure of success in stalling some of the government’s decisions. The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, for instance, played as active a role in opposing the proposed changes in labour laws, considered essential to the new phase of reforms, as any other trade union organization.

Apart from dissensions in its ranks, the BJP’s image has lost much of its lustre because of the government’s dismal record. Its disaster management — first in Orissa, then in Gujarat and now in both Orissa and Bihar — has been miserable, and on present showing it may take many years before the millions of victims are even partially rehabilitated. There are also other painful reminders of the ungovernability crisis assuming a new dimension. Manipur has been in a state of turmoil for over a month because of political mismanagement by the Centre.

There is no let-up in the many insurgencies which continue to disrupt life in the northeastern states. The progress made by the disinvestment programme has been extremely tardy. And there has been no serious thinking about putting in order the finances of the states, many of which have gone almost bankrupt. Winning a vote of renewed confidence from the executive committee of his party cannot compensate the prime minister for the damage done to his government’s image by its poor performance on almost every front.

The decision to hold a summit meeting at Agra with the Pakistan president, without any prior exploration of common ground, enabled General Musharraf to outwit the Indian government and abuse Indian hospitality to tell the world through a live television interview with Indian editors that the militants whom India dubbed as terrorists were in fact freedom-fighters and that the very adjective “cross-border” was a misnomer since the line of control in Kashmir was not an international border. Even now the prime minister says that the peace talks will continue. In the view of many observers the Agra summit, far from marking a fresh start in the search for peace, has queered the pitch for it.

Whatever chastening effect the prime minister’s threat to resign may have had temporarily on his own party, it has not made any difference to the attitude of his partners in the ruling alliance. Sanjay Nirupam, the member of parliament, who enraged him by charging his aides with involvement in the Unit Trust of India scandal, has not yet sent him the expected letter of apology, which was said to be part of the government’s understanding with the Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray.

This is one more painful reminder to the prime minister of the kind of slippery customers he has to deal with. Nothing has indeed peeved him so much in recent weeks as the fact that the most hurtful attacks on him or his government have come from his own party, the sangh parivar and his coalition partners than from the Opposition groups.

The little drama he masterminded at the executive committee of his party may bolster up his self-image for a while, but that cannot prevent the harsh reality, compounded of the fast deteriorating economic situation at home and the external pressures implicit in the globalization process, from breaking in to remind him that the situation is getting out of control.

There was already ample evidence that, even as its allies were determined not to allow the BJP to gain further ground at their expense in the regions in which they were the dominating force, its base was shrinking even in its strongholds in Gujarat and the Hindi belt. For a party committed to welding the Hindus into a political community, it was therefore sheer panic which made it resort to further fragmenting the backward castes in Uttar Pradesh by fixing quotas for those at the very bottom in this group.

The fear and anxiety over the party’s poor showing in political management in the states under its control, however, are nothing compared to the alarm raised by the UTI scandal which is likely to alienate millions of middle class and poor families from the party. When the news about the largest mutual fund in the country freezing the repurchase of units under the US-64 scheme broke out, the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, readily admitted that the buck stopped at his desk.

How can he now turn around and send the buck back to the UTI’s headquarters? To what precise degree the various financial institutions enjoy autonomy under the present dispensation may be a moot point. What has shocked the public no end is the way the ministry — which appoints the chief executives, the boards of directors or trustees, and exercises control over all public financial institutions — has disowned responsibility for any of them getting into serious trouble.

Everyone realized that at the time Yashwant Sinha had to undertake, for the first time, a bailout operation to spare the UTI the trauma of being faced with a crisis, that something needed to be done to reverse the pattern of investment of US-64 scheme funds. The all-important question which the finance ministry has yet to answer is why it failed to take any steps in the desired direction to avert the need for a second rescue package.

Do the rules of the political game as they have evolved over the years bar whatever government is in power from owning responsibility for any scandal involving large-scale defrauding of public funds, and gambling on the stock exchange with the savings of millions of families who often depend for their living in old age on a regular return on what they invest in government-managed financial institutions? It is perhaps appropriate that the fast accumulating non-performing assets in many nationalized banks and other financial institutions go hand in hand with a government which has turned politics itself into an art of non-performance.


The one match suspension that had been slapped on the captain of the Indian cricket team, Sourav Ganguly, at the tri-series in Sri Lanka raises some important issues. Even in the past, match referees have seemingly economized on their independence while adjudicating. Fairness is the name of any game and cricket is no exception. Neutrality, objectivity and consistency are the hallmark of a good match referee, but Cammie Smith seems to have failed in this regard. Of course, he is entitled to make mistakes. But Ganguly should not have been made to bear the brunt of his mistakes.

On two previous occasions, Smith has given the benefit of doubt to players. Michael Slater was let off in the last India-Australia series despite showing dissent. Sri Lankan skipper, Sanath Jaisurya, also got away even after showing his bat to the umpire. Yet in the India-Australia series of 1998, Harbhajan Singh was penalized for showing dissent. In spite of showing dissent in an almost identical way while appealing, Damien Fleming walked off unhurt.

It is imperative that match referees and umpires be fair. If Ganguly is guilty of showing dissent, then Slater’s conduct is tantamount to rebellion. Yet Ganguly was punished and Slater was not. Is Smith that ignorant? There was a time when cricket used to be a gentleman’s game. Taking part in it was more important than winning. Intense competition and the involvement of high stakes — financial as well as emotional — have made the game more aggressive. Cricket is now a war without guns. The parties involved are naturally charged up. It is this situation that had prompted the introduction of independent third party institutions.

Penal action

It is important for umpires to be careful, the third umpires doubly so. The match referees are like the higher courts. Their job is to ensure that no innocent gets punished because the damage done to one who has been wrongly punished cannot be undone.

The point is not Cammie Smith versus Sourav Ganguly. The point is match referee versus player. Institution versus individual. Everyone could make out that Ganguly’s conduct was a simple knee-jerk reaction, an appeal to the umpire that the ball had touched the bat. The umpire may have misread that for a dissent. But the match referee is in a more emotionally stable position. He has the advantage of tele-viewing and also of seeking an opinion. More important, he has the time to ponder. He cannot afford to err on such crucial matters.

There is not enough reason to think there was a motive behind Ganguly’s action. Penalizing the likes of Ganguly and Singh is merely victimizing an individual and his team for not mastering the art of sledging. The recent instance has certainly been a case of wrong judgment. And instances of wrong judgments in cricket are rising. Not only in the case of match referees, but in the case of umpires too.

Fall guy?

Poor umpiring has often influenced the outcome of the game. There have been cases when third umpires have not even been consulted. And there have been instances where match referees have acted indiscreetly. The improvement in the quality of judgment that should have come with the advancement of knowledge and sophistication of technology is absent.

It is time the cricketing brains around the world tried to address this issue. One wrong judgment can cost a match, sometimes a series. There is a need to strengthen the third party institutions in the game so that players, people and performances do not suffer at the hands of those who are not playing. This calls for a big improvement in the quality of umpiring, especially since there is scope for it.

True, umpires are human, but people watching the match on the television are now in a position to make out the umpire’s mistakes. If an umpire is allowed to get away with a mistake on grounds of human fallibility, why should the players be regarded as infallible?

It should be kept in mind that the player is more involved, emotionally, in the game than the empire. No one is asking why Smith suspended Ganguly. All people want to know is why Slater or Jaisurya were not. Smith must answer, for the sake of cricket and the credibility of refereeing.


Moosaboni, one of the oldest copper mines in the country, is a ghost of its former self. The industrial meltdown in Jharkhand has taken its toll on this mine nestling in the lap of the Chhotanagpur hills. The copper deposit at Moosaboni was first prospected by the British in 1927. The high-yield concentrate opened the industrial floodgates, drawing entrepreneurs by the dozen. It also led the way to an Aladdin’s cave as prospectors prised open several mines in the adjoining areas — forming what came to be known as the “Singhbhum copper plate”.

Moosaboni (with its outlets at Badiya, Banalopa and Patragora), Kendadih, Raka and Surda — spanning roughly 50 kilometres — changed the landscape of the Chhotanagpur hills, straddling the Subarnarekha and its network of tributaries. Townships mushroomed on the lush slopes of the undulating hills bordering the river and mining began in right earnest. A mammoth smelter at Moubhandar near Ghatshila sifted the rust-coloured dust mined from the pits for the “poor man’s gold.’’

The open-cast mines yielded premium-grade copper that added grist to the roaring “hearths” at the neighbouring Tata Iron and Steel Company, the Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited and the units of the Steel Authority of India Limited, scattered over the Jharkhand-Orissa plains. Voluminous pipelines from Moubhandar to Jadugora, barely 30 km away, transported the “tailings” or copper ends to the next-door neighbour, the Uranium Corporation of India Limited for extraction of uranium isotopes.

The copper ran its course for 70 years, nourishing the sprawling Hindustan Copper Limited plant at Moubhandar. The Indian Copper Complex became the pivot on which the economy boomed at the micro-level. A subaltern axis of local contractors, traders, babus and the mafia reaped this harvest.

The fact that Ghatshila was the headquarters of the Dhalbhum sub-division accelerated the process of growth. An allied economy struck roots, providing hundreds of local tribals, Bengali, Bihari and Oriya migrants with alternative sources of sustenance. The green of the mountains blended perfectly with the laid back corporate culture of the protectionist era.

HCL splurged on the social sector, including key infrastructure projects like the Kumaramangalam bridge over the Subarnarekha (replacing an old causeway) and the Ghatshila College. The upmarket company clubs, luxury guest houses, swimming pools and tennis courts vied for honours with the neighbouring Tata facilities at Jamshedpur.

But the Nineties marked a watershed. The odds started outweighing the aces at the turn of the decade when the government flung open its doors to liberalization. Free trade re-scripted the copper story with a rather grim finale. Removal of protectionism, radical tax restructuring and a drastic slash in subsidies to ease imports and allow other players in the field took the wind out of Hindustan Copper’s sails.

The giant gasped for breath as the Birlas stormed the scene with cheaper concentrate imported from abroad, and Anil Agarwal of Starlite weaned away the best brains from Hindustan Copper. The Centre tucked away the silver spoon and asked it to generate its own resources. With no funds forthcoming, an orphaned and over-staffed HCL found it difficult to compete in the open market. High mining costs and spiralling overhead expenditure gnawed at its underbelly and the edifice crumbled. “We tried everything but it was difficult,’’ rues a senior HCL official.

Moosaboni was the first to feel the “downsizing” heat and closed shop in 1998. The mine had emptied itself and operations became unviable. The ore quality degenerated and the company found it difficult to keep the pits running. The sprawling infrastructure gathered rust and an exodus stripped the township bare. Those who stayed back struggled to sustain on the voluntary retirement benefits.

The Moosaboni virus spilled over to Kendadih which fell like nine pins in 1999, followed by Rakha. For two years, it was attempted to keep Rakha operational, but the costs were forbidding. The Rakha mines breathed their last on June 30 this year. The 1,100-odd workers were bade a golden adieu and asked to retain their official quarters for two years. The mood at Surda, the lone functional mine, is sombre. The mazdoor union expects the axe any time.

Shrinking mining activity has crippled the local economy. Small-time contractors have taken to “scrap business’’ to recoup their losses. The Bengali and Oriya traders are struggling to make ends meet. “My shop used to transact business of over Rs 8,000 a week, but now it barely manages to rake in Rs 2,000 per month,’’ laments Swapan Nanda, a Rakha-based trader. A number of private schools, including the Central Academy at Surda, are thinking of closing down because of the high dropout rate.

Officials attribute the ICC’s plight to three factors — the glut in the domestic market flooded with cheap imports, rampant copper smuggling through the porous Indo-Nepal border in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and the government’s disinvestment policy. Since 1991, Birla Copper and Starlite began feeding the copper-based industries with cheaper concentrate forcing the HCL to do the same at ICC. It curtailed local operations and began importing ore from its Malajkhand mines in Madhya Pradesh. Depleting reserves provided the company with an excuse to shift focus.

A well-organized international copper smuggling racket added to ICC’s woes. The local ancillary units at Adityapur industrial complex in West Singhbhum sought recourse to smuggled copper from Nepal, sold at almost half the market price, since 1995. The smugglers took advantage of the lopsided Indo-Nepal trade pact and ferried back imported copper, which passed through India en route to Nepal (and over which India had no jurisdiction vide clauses in the the treaty) through the porous border. Though the HCL has represented its case in Delhi a number of times, India has yet to take it up at the bilateral level with Kathmandu.

Officials feel that there could have been an upswing in ICC fortunes had the Bihar government renewed the Chapri-Siddheshwar mine lease in 1989. In 1975, the HCL commissioned an Australian agency to carry out a feasibility study of the Chapri-Siddeshwar seam after the GSI discovered fresh copper deposit in the area. The survey, conducted at a cost of Rs 2 crore, revealed that the valley tucked in between Rakha, Kendadih and Surda was a virtual treasure trove. But the HCL required Rs 40 crore to open a channel and Rs 100 crore to get the mine operational. The Centre refused to cough up the amount. The lease expired in 1989 and the former Bihar chief minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, decided to play dirty.

The Centre has drawn up a detailed disinvestment plan involving a number of key HCL units, including the ones at Khetri and Taloja. Officials fear that a similar fate awaits the ICC, which may end up the Balco way.

There is, however, still some hope. Streamlining manpower and cost-cutting drives are on a war-footing. The recipe for remedy is simple. If the workforce is reduced to 10,000 and the government comes forward with a bail-out package and disinvestment plans are kept on hold, the ICC can still become a viable unit for open competition. The ICC is even ready to hive off its infrastructure to private parties and develop the area for “eco-tourism’’. Former employees may even be asked to buy the quarters at reasonable rates on the lines of the SAIL experiment.

The visions, though noble, are far-fetched, going by the fact that the Jharkhand government has yet to come up with a draft industrial policy. HCL’s story encapsulates the changing face of Jharkhand’s economy. Almost all the public sector units are on the verge of closure or face the chopping block of disinvestment. Be it HEC, Meckon or SAIL, the story is the same everywhere.

The house of the beleaguered Jharkhand chief minister, Babulal Marandi, is still in a state of flux. Sick public sector units figure low on his list of immediate priorities.


Chinese, Asian, Mexican, central American, Russian and other former Soviet Union gangs are among the major traffickers of people. Chinese and Vietnamese Triads, the Japanese Yakuza, South American drug cartels, the Italian mafia, and Russian gangs increasingly interact with local networks to provide transportation, safe houses, local contacts, and documentation. Traffickers acquire their victims in a number of ways. Sometimes women are kidnapped outright in one country and taken forcibly to another. In other cases, victims are lured with job offers.

Traffickers entice victims to migrate voluntarily with false promises of good paying jobs in foreign countries as au pairs, models, dancers, domestic workers, etc. Traffickers advertise these phony jobs, as well as marriage opportunities abroad in local newspapers. Russian crime gangs reportedly use marriage agency databases and match-making parties to find victims.

In some cases, traffickers approach women or their families directly with offers of well-paying jobs elsewhere. After providing transportation and false documents to get victims to their destination, they subsequently charge exorbitant fees for those services, creating lifetime debt bondage.

While there is no single victim stereotype, a majority of trafficked women are under the age of 25, with many in their mid to late teens. The fear among customers of infection with HIV and AIDS has driven traffickers to recruit younger women and girls, some as young as seven, erroneously perceived by customers to be too young to have been infected.

Trafficking victims are often subjected to cruel mental and physical abuse in order to keep them in servitude, including beating, rape, starvation, forced drug use, confinement, and seclusion. Once victims are brought into destination countries, their passports are often confiscated. Victims are forced to have sex, often unprotected, with large numbers of partners, and to work unsustainably long hours. Many victims suffer mental break-downs and are exposed to sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS. They are often denied medical care and those who become sick are sometimes even killed.

An estimated 225,000 victims are trafficked from southeast Asia annually according to the United States state department. The growth of sex tourism in this region is one of the main contributing factors. Large-scale child prostitution occurs in many countries. Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines are popular travel destinations for “sex tourists”, including paedophiles, from Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia. Japan is the largest market for Asian women trafficked for sex, where some 150,000 non-Japanese women are involved. Half are from the Philippines and 40 per cent are from Thailand. Victims are also trafficked in increasing numbers to newly industrializing countries and regions, including Taiwan, Malaysia, Hong-Kong, and Thailand. Cross-border trafficking is prevalent in the Mekong region of Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the southern Yunan province of China. Vietnamese women are trafficked to China and Cambodia.

According to various NGO sources, hundreds of thousands of foreign women and children have been sold into the Thai sex industry since 1990, with most coming from Burma, southern China, Laos, and Vietnam, east Asia, especially Japan, is also a destination for trafficked women from Russia and eastern Europe. Victims from southeast Asia, especially China, Burma, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, are also sent to western Europe, the US, Australia, and the Middle East.

In south Asia, the US department of state estimates that some 150,000 victims are trafficked annually. The low status of women in some societies as well as the growth of sex tourism contribute significantly to trafficking in this region. Sri Lanka and India are the favoured destinations of sex tourists from other parts of the world.

Bangladesh and Nepal, the poorest countries in the region, are the main source countries. India and Pakistan are the key destination countries. Estimates of the number of Nepalese girls and young women lured or abducted to India for sexual exploitation each year ranges from 5,000 to 10,000.



Ashes to the right urn

Sir — The defeat of the English cricket team by the indomitable Australians for a record seventh consecutive time raises the important issue of whether the winners are justified in taking the original trophy back to their country or not. It is heartening to see that The Telegraph has raised this vital question because, at the end of it all, one should admit that the prime stake of the tournament is the coveted Ashes urn (“Aussie request for trophy turned down again”, Aug 7). As a close follower of the game, I think the Australians have earned the right to take the original trophy back home after giving the English quite a drubbing for the seventh consecutive year. Moreover, only in few sporting events like the Wimbledon — a British tournament again — is the winner unable to carry back the original trophy. If the Australians can assure the English cricket authorities about the safekeeping of the urn, there seems to be no reason why the English should continue with their tradition of keeping the Ashes trophy in the Lord’s museum.

Yours faithfully,
Pratiti Kar, Calcutta

In and out of Bengal

Sir — To be a “brown sahib” is an Indian phenomenon and this is not confined to Bengal alone, as suggested by Ramachandra Guha in his article, “Rooted cosmopolitans” (July 22). In fact, imitating the colonial masters is a universal trend. There is also the desire to assimilate the positive side of a famous culture. Even the English once used to parrot the French. A Bengali is no exception to this rule, and this makes him no less an Indian or more a slave to Western culture than his fellow countrymen in other states of India.

The fondness for Russia and China among some Bengalis should be seen as a longing for an egalitarian society. Vietnam’s long battle against the United States attracted the support and respect of Bengalis. It is not just affairs outside the country that attract Bengali sympathy. The Narmada Bachao Andolan, for one, has drawn the attention of the people of the state. In fact, the celebrated writer-turned-activist, Arundhati Roy, who is fighting the case in court, exemplifies the best of the Bengali sense of internationalism.

While other states are conducting their crusade against foreigners from outside the state, West Bengal has still kept its doors open to non-Bengalis. This state has shown its generosity in matters that concerned other states as well. The huge amount of money collected by The Telegraph and Ananda Bazar Patrika for the victims of Gujarat and the cyclone affected people of Orissa proves this point.

Yours faithfully,
Sujit De, Sodepur

Sir — Zahir Abbas in his letter has said that he will quit the city of joy when he discovered a communal bias among the people while looking for a rented house (“Shocking bias”, July 31). I would like to relate some of my own experiences. When I was unmarried, I found it very difficult to get a rented house in Calcutta and Baroda. The problem was my bachelor status. The other hurdle in getting a house in Gujarat was the fact that I was a Bengali. Most house-owners there are vegetarian and dislike the smell of fish.

The moral of the story is that religion is not the only thing people are biased against. Moving out of the city is not the solution. Moreover, let me remind Abbas that despite being a progressive society, London is still witnessing race riots.

Yours faithfully,
Tarun K. Sarkar, Abu Dhabi

More than a border

Sir — The recent massacres in Doda are testimony to the fact that following the failure of the Agra summit, militants have stepped up the violence in the valley as a part of their never-ending jihad against India.

This country in fact is facing a catch-22 situation, particularly after the visit of Christina Rocca, the US assistant secretary of state for south Asia. She has laid the onus on India to establish peace with Pakistan at any cost. She feels that unless a dialogue is initiated with the Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf, on the Kashmir issue, India cannot expect the general to rein in the militant outfits operating from Afghanistan for the cause of Kashmir. This is because it is essential the general keep the militant groups in good humour and show that he is lobbying for the Kashmir issue in order to survive in office.

Had we made some formal declaration at the conclusion of the Agra summit, it would have served as a basis for an agreement with the militants. That alone can help us work out a solution to this historical impasse, as India must realize.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — The gruesome incident in Doda (“Massacre return in soft-target belt”, Aug 5) suggests the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. India and Pakistan are like two estranged siblings. Their decades-old rivalry has prevented them from realizing their full economic potential.

Both the countries should respect each other’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty”. But if Pakistan continues to encourage militants, it will become difficult for India to maintain the decorum.

At present, the relationship between India and Pakistan is at its worse. It would not be surprising if it deteriorates further. Pakistan should also look at the realities of the situation. It is necessary that it come down from its high horse and settle the border dispute with India amicably.

Yours faithfully,
Neha Chowdhury, Chandannagore

Destiny in their hands

Sir — Rajendra Singh of Rajasthan was named the winner of this year’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award. What has been acknowledged by the award is his commendable contribution to the revival of some rivers, dead for more than a decade. This was done to bring water to 45 parched villages in Alwar.

In an interview to a television channel, Singh pointed out that the government’s fixation with large projects had led to the neglect of smaller and cheaper projects. These call for people’s participation, and can actually help them.

Eager to read more about this marvel, I looked for the reports of this in the newspapers the next morning. I was disappointed. Barring one, which simply mentioned Singh as the winner of the award, there were no details about the stupendous task the man had achieved in the desert. Till today, there has been no coverage given to this man in the most respected dailies of the country.

When we are facing floods and droughts every year, pumping crores of rupees into mega projects without achieving the results, isn’t it the responsibility of the media to give the widest coverage possible to the sincere and successful efforts of people like Singh?

I request the media, especially the newspapers, to widely publicize the trend-setting works done by Singh and others like him. Let us Indians change our own destiny.

Yours faithfully,
Gouri Suresh, Jamshedpur

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