Editorial 1/ Lines of battle
Editorial 2/ Deaf Dialogue
Policies in a morass
The Swami and the Commissar
Still far away from the fast track
Fifth Column/ New leader on the brink of a slump
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ LINES OF BATTLE 
 
 
 
 
The game always hots up when elections are in the offing. Especially if the history of a political class has been marked throughout by quick changes of loyalty and wily manoeuvrings in the interests of power. The political class in Uttar Pradesh is particularly adept in these skills — and devil take the hindmost. This time it seems that Mr Naresh Aggarwal, till recently the state’s power minister and head of the Loktantrik Congress Party, is the hindmost. Smartly outdone in the game of one-upmanship by the chief minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, Mr Aggarwal has been suddenly left without a portfolio, and without much of a party to call his own. It is not a style of politics he is unfamiliar with. He himself broke away from the Congress and formed the LCP in order to support the Bharatiya Janata Party government in 1998. He needed the BJP to fulfil his ambitions and the BJP needed him and his 20-member strong party in the assembly. Unfortunately, Mr Aggarwal overplayed his bargaining hand, reminding the BJP once too often that the LCP was an independent party and could always go elsewhere — into the arms of the Samajwadi Party, for example, — if it did not like what the BJP was doing. Loss of alertness is unforgivable in this quickfooted game,especially if the other player is the wait-watch-and play Mr Singh. Battling charges of corruption and failure on the power supply front, Mr Singh went straight for Mr Aggarwal’s jugular. He needed a scapegoat to convince both the Centre and the exasperated businessmen in his state that he was doing something about the problems.

What must have been most galling to Mr Aggarwal is that Mr Singh knew exactly what he was doing. The BJP’s majority in the assembly is not worth the name. Had Mr Aggarwal’s partymen followed him faithfully out, that would have been the end of the BJP-led government long before the assembly elections. Mr Singh obviously knew that this would not happen, or at least made an informed guess. Suddenly bereft, Mr Aggarwal may not find Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party quite as warm as he had appeared to be. Mr Yadav himself can still ride high. The BJP in UP is going through a tough time; the prime minister’s recent pep talk to his ministers in the state is a measure of the high command’s alarm. Mr Yadav can keep up the pressure on the state government to conduct the assembly elections in October, instead of waiting for February-March 2002. He can stir up more trouble for the party which is already wallowing in its own mismanagement. Mr Aggarwal’s sacking may seem a triumph for the BJP for the moment. But it is just a sign of things starting to go seriously wrong.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ DEAF DIALOGUE 
 
 
 
 
The outcome of the meeting of the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan at Colombo was predictable. Both New Delhi and Islamabad have agreed to remain engaged in a dialogue, but there has been little progress towards structuring a clear agenda for the talks. While both Ms Chokila Iyer, India’s foreign secretary, and her Pakistani counterpart, Mr Inamul Haq, described their interaction, on the side of a meeting of officials from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, as positive and useful, it is clear that bilateral relations are still caught in an impasse. From India’s perspective, the Agra summit and its aftermath have proved to be deeply disappointing. Although New Delhi was prepared at Agra to set up a mechanism for a bilateral dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir at a very high level, Islamabad was unwilling to take concrete steps to reduce militant-inspired violence in the state. Moreover, Pakistani officials sought to blame so-called Indian “hardliners” for the failure of the talks. They even suggested that while there was a meeting of minds between the two heads of government and their foreign ministers, others in the Indian delegation subverted the talks. Not surprisingly the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the minister for external affairs, Mr Jaswant Singh, had to make it clear in Parliament that not only were there no divisions in the Indian side but it was the intransigent and often inexperienced attitude of the Pakistani president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, that led to the Agra fiasco. In addition, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has worsened in the post-Agra period with Pakistan-sponsored militants running amuck even in the Jammu province. In short, within less than a month of the summit meeting, bilateral relations have returned to the frostiness of the pre-Agra days.

Under the circumstances, there is much to be glad that the meeting between the two foreign secretaries did take place without any last minute hitch. Given the growing public scepticism about Pakistan’s intentions, it is understandable that Ms Iyer, in her statement, linked “normalization of relations to the stoppage of cross-border terrorism.” The Indian foreign secretary also pointed out that the recent incidents of civilian killings in Jammu and Kashmir had created “extremely negative sentiments” at the public and political level. It is also clear that despite the pessimism about bilateral relations, New Delhi is going to continue with the process of engaging Pakistan. The Indian foreign secretary conveyed the acceptance of the invitations to the prime minister and the external affairs minister to visit Pakistan. While no specific dates have been fixed for the meetings, there is a real possibility that Mr Vajpayee and General Musharraf may meet on the side of the United Nations general assembly session in New York in September. However, it is unlikely that Mr Vajpayee will visit Pakistan without a clearly structured agenda and the real promise of a meaningful outcome.

   

 
 
POLICIES IN A MORASS 
 
 
BY S. L. RAO
 
 
International rating agencies starting with Fitch, and now Standard & Poor, no doubt to be followed by the others, have begun the new round of lowering the Indian economy’s credit rating. The responses of government spokesmen have been predictable. It will have no effect, says one; the rupee will remain stable and our overseas borrowing costs will not rise. Another berates the rating agencies for picking on India whose economic prospects are better than those of most other countries. A third produces figures to show that our exports are rising in relation to imports; the current account deficit to gross domestic product has fallen; the monsoon has been good and should therefore by October stimulate agriculture and the rest of the economy; the budget has shown that the fiscal deficit will fall, and even with poor tax collections this year, it may still be lower than last year; foreign investment flows show an upward trend; foreign exchange reserves have crossed $ 40billion; inflation is under control; and so on.

What is the reality of our situation? Let us first look at the externals. The American economy is in decline. Accounting for 22 per cent of our exports, this might affect our exports adversely. Along with the continuing stagnation in Japan, beginnings of a decline in Europe, the consequent adverse impacts on export-dependent Southeast Asian economies (where exports to GDP vary from 124 per cent in Malaysia to 52 per cent in Thailand), the signs are there of a global economic decline. But though exports to GDP have risen in India from 7 to 11 per cent, a fall in exports because of economic decline in other countries will not hit us badly.

If anything, we might benefit because of a fall in import costs, especially of petroleum and other oil products for which world demand will also fall. Our low costs and expertise in information technology might attract more business to us. Foreign direct investment is low, and may not be affected. Portfolio investment is ruled more by safety and return, and unless the rupee collapses, may not be adversely affected. The rupee may continue its slow decline.

It is not the world economy that is going to hit our economic prospects. It is our lack of coherent and coordinated policies that are properly implemented. This lack is not a prerogative of the present government. It has been with us all along, and has been more apparent after the changes in economic policies after 1991. The fiscal deficit of the Central government (to GDP) was estimated at 5.5 per cent in 1999-00, and 5.2 per cent in 2000-01. The state governments probably add about 4 per cent taking it to over 9 per cent. In comparison, in 1998 the figure for China was 1.5 per cent, Indonesia 2.4 per cent, Malaysia 2.9 per cent and Thailand 4.6 per cent.

Our deficits are high, but the levels would have been even higher if governments had invested adequately over the last decade in building physical and social infrastructure. There was an overall decline in developmental expenditures in the GDP from 17.0 per cent to 17.4 per cent to 13.7 per cent at the Central and state levels together. Between 1980-81 and 2000-01, the Central percentages declined from 9.3 to 6.2 per cent, and the states from 11.1 to 9.6 per cent.

Expenditure on social services maintained themselves at about the same levels. These trends in expenditures were due primarily to the attempt to contain fiscal deficits, which could be done only by cutting developmental and not non-developmental expenditures. Non-developmental expenditures together for the Centre and the states, rose from 8.9 per cent of GDP in 1980-81, to 11.15 in 1990-91 and 13.55 in 2000-01.

Capital formation in the economy has therefore stagnated during the Nineties as a percentage to GDP. It was 14.7 per cent in 1960-61, 23.2 per cent in 1992-93, and 22.7 per cent in 1999-00. But while public (or government) capital formation has been declining during the Nineties, private capital formation has been rising. This is true primarily in agriculture. Unfortunately, public and private capital formation are not substitutable though they are complementary to each other.

Public capital formation would include roads, rail, ports, electricity, water, irrigation, bulk storage, and so on. Private capital formation would be in factories, equipment, bunds, farm and other such equipment. Public capital formation builds the physical infrastructure, an essential enabling condition for economic growth. It would also be in education, health, nutrition and so on, which build the social infrastructure, and which has been stagnant. After ten years of no-growth in developmental and social expenditures, we cannot expect spectacular revival merely because of a good monsoon.

In any case, the government is holding over 45 million tonnes of food grains in stock. Procurement prices are very high, are no different from minimum support prices, and are higher than market prices. It is very likely that procurement prices will again be raised for political reasons and the government will further add to its stocks, for which it will have to find money to pay and to carry in stock. This will substantially increase deficits, borrowing, possibly interest rates and general level of prices. If procurement prices are kept low in an act of political statesmanship, the farmer will earn less. In either case we have a problem: of inflation or poor rural demand for industrial products.

It is not as if industry is in any better condition. Capital formation in the private corporate sector has been stagnant for over five years. The investor is not responding to equity issues, and lenders have piled up non-performing assets, which have made them cautious. Overseas equity and borrowing are much less attractive and feasible today than three years ago. Profit margins are being squeezed because of the inability of most companies to respond to the new competitive situation and restructure, introduce professionalism, invest in research and development and building brands, improve productivity and quality, cut costs and become innovative in the market place.

The customers who were waiting for new and improved products till 1991, have made their purchases. There are many millions more potential customers, but they have to be wooed to purchase, and companies are not able to find the right triggers with which to woo them. The service sector was an important engine for growth in the first half of the Nineties. Tourism, financial services, information technology, hotels and restaurants, retail trade, repairs and maintenance establishments were the drivers. All of them are now in different stages of decline. They will be further affected by the slowing of the economies of the developed countries.

Our macroeconomic indicators may seem, on the whole, to be healthy. But the underlying figures and trends are not so. Acts of commission over the Nineties have made for a situation in which even the most competent industry or farmer, finds it difficult to be more productive and competitive. A good monsoon is not likely to resolve the problem, which is composed of stagnant demand, lack of new capacities to increase low-cost supplies, and lack of funds for investment.

At the micro-level, we have the absence of new technologies in industry and agriculture, and the lack of understanding within much of industry of what they need to do to compete. As public investment increases and the regulatory framework makes our companies and bourses more transparent and accountable, we may see the beginning of a move away from GDP growth of 5 to 5.5 per cent to much higher rates. It will be at least 18 months before we can hope to break out of the present morass.

During that time there is the danger that unbridled government expenditures might launch us into high levels of inflation. We would then be back to the days before the Emergency, of stagflation. One can only pray that our leaders will have the statesmanship to control the consequent political turmoil.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]

   

 
 
THE SWAMI AND THE COMMISSAR 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
There is a striking similarity between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the manner the two parties, usually at opposite ends of the political spectrum, try to hijack academic freedom and push their own agenda in the running of seats of learning. If the high priests of Hindutva consider it their nationalistic duty to unweed the Centre-aided research bodies of pernicious leftwingers and to saffronize the curriculum, the Marxists of West Bengal seem to think their class struggles are better fought in the classrooms of schools run by the Ramakrishna Mission. Hence the unedifying saga of the state government’s one fiat after another on Mission-run schools .

The threat by the state education department to stop payment of salaries to teachers of a Mission school in Baranagar is actually the latest offensive in the continuing battle that had earlier been fought at Mission institutions at Rahara, Purulia and Calcutta. In fact, in the case of the Purulia school some years ago, local CPI(M) satraps stooped so low as to stop the drinking water supply to the premises to try and force the Mission authorities into submission. Some years back, the Mission’s hospital in Calcutta was held to ransom by Centre for Indian Trade Unions-affiliated workers’ union.

The government and the party have conjured up all kinds of provocations for their interventionist actions. At Rahara, where the first attacks on the Mission campuses came in the Eighties, the government’s directive to the Vivekananda Centenary College to recruit teachers from the West Bengal college service commission followed a longdrawn agitation by the Marxist-majority West Bengal College and University Teachers Association to have its way in the matter.

The matter was ultimately settled in the Supreme Court, where the state won something of a pyrrhic victory. The Mission authorities at Rahara had to put up with party pressures on sundry other issues. At one time, the bullying degenerated to ridiculous levels , as it did when partymen, albeit with supposedly popular support, demanded a say in admissions to the school’s kindergarten section. Other Mission schools had to suffer the government’s non-cooperation and worse for refusing to drop English from the primary curriculum to comply with state policy.

The specific provocation is not the point. The hounding of RKM institutions is actually intrinsic to the CPI(M)’s larger scheme for control of education. The more the Marxists succeeded in setting and working out their agenda, the greater was the loss of academic freedom and standards in the state. No wonder one of the biggest casualties of Marxist rule in Bengal has been excellence in education. It is their perverse “pedagogy of the oppressed”, which would refuse autonomy to Presidency College because that would be “elitist” or run down RKM because it is “exclusivist”.

The school education minister, Kanti Biswas, has argued that the act governing the school service commission does not allow any institution to get teachers’ salaries from the government if they are not recruited by the commission. The government had put forward a similar argument in the case of the Vivekananda Centenary College.

It was pretty much the same fiat for the abolition of English from the primary classes. If you are taking government funds, the missive from the Writers’ Buildings said, you must submit to our writ. If the government’s actions were not fraught with such sinister consequences, Biswas’s sabre-rattling at the monks would have looked rather comical, like Don Quixote charging at the windmills. Such are the struggles Biswas and his Alimuddin Street mentors are condemned to simulate as they face the end of ideology in a market-driven world.

Made wiser by their past experiences, RKM authorities have seen through Biswas’s gameplan. Anyone who has some experience of the school service commision — and its college counterpart — would agree with the RKM counterpoint about the partisan nature of their functioning. Bureaucratic delays are the least of the problems with recruitment by these bodies. The real problem, as Mission authorities rightly fear, are the pulls and pressures by party bigwigs in favour of their chosen candidates. Getting a preferred posting would require chasing bosses at Alimuddin Street and their minions for months, if not years. A candidate without the backing of the party would be lucky to be selected and luckier still to get a posting of his or her choice. The popular perception of these commissions as extensions of the Left Front’s education cell is not without basis.

But there are other dangers as well. As many college principals and school headmasters have painfully learnt, teachers appointed by these commissions often tend to act in the manner of trade unionists, defying the school/college authorities, because they have been recruited by the commissions and not by the governing bodies of the institutions which merely formalize their appointments. RKM institutions will cease to be what they have been so far if trade unionism by teachers gets any kind of legitimacy there.

To be fair to Biswas and his partymen, it is not that they nibble at RKM out of their antipathy to religion. By its own admission and by the Supreme Court order in the Vivekananda Centenary College case, the RKM is not a religious order. The Marxists’ prejudice against the Mission authorities runs deeper — they resent the monks’ refusal to bow down to the party and government.

Similarly, the commissions’ tendency to favour party-backed candidates has nothing to do with ideology, although there are celebrated cases of ambitious academics feigning a love of Marx and the party in their quest for career promotion. Rather, this tendency to hijack school and college appointments is just one more example of a ruling clique’s typical game of distributing largesse. Cronyism can be as rampant in capitalist cliques as in Marxist cabals. And school and college teachers form one of the most important support bases of the CPI(M).

One would have thought the CPI(M) would finally give up this old ploy in the new liberalized regime into which the new chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, keeps promising to usher Bengal. He sailed through the last elections, putting up a new face of the left that suggested a new creed of efficiency, excellence and competition. In fact, his government has initiated steps that still keep the promise alive. In a major departure from the days of the old left, he has been inviting private enterprise in education. Even before the elections, it seemed like a new dawn of hope when the government agreed to autonomous functioning of the West Bengal University of Juridical Sciences.

There was the same promise when the health minister, Surya Kanta Mishra, announced that the government was planning to give “some kind of autonomy” to the authorities of the Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial Hospital. Whether it is academic institutions or hospitals, the record of government administration has not been exactly exemplary. The Mission’s record, on the other hand, in running educational institutions or hospitals has been laudable . This latest bout of RKM-baiting will therefore be viewed with suspicion all round. Didn’t we say, Doubting Thomases will gloat, that the leopard cannot change its spots? That is not going to do any good to Bhattacharjee’s image.

   

 
 
STILL FAR AWAY FROM THE FAST TRACK 
 
 
BY R.J. VENKATESWARAN
 
 
What is the truth about India’s economic performance and its prospects?

In this connection, it will be interesting to consider what The Economist has revealed in its survey of India’s economy. It has highlighted several grave deficiencies in implementing the reforms that have been in force for the last 10 years.

It has said, “Electricity of atrocious quality at astronomical prices has severely retarded the growth of the economy.” Power shortages at peak hours are around 13 per cent. Many companies have set up their own power plants, which account for nearly a third of the electricity used by industry.

The survey has sharply criticized the neglect of agriculture, which makes up a quarter of the economy and 60 per cent of the labour force. It has said that no other sector is being “as thoroughly hobbled by government intervention as agriculture and this is the single biggest reason for the persistence of poverty”.

Commenting on the rampant corruption, the survey states that Delhi’s 250,000 bicycle rickshaw drivers collectively pay bribes of around Rs 25 million a month for permission to pursue their profession.

It is not surprising therefore that both the Indian government and the business community have expressed concern at the economy’s disappointing performance. Foreign businessmen have refrained from investing in India on a large scale despite advantages such as a vast and growing market, high-class scientific, technical and managerial manpower, abundant labour and natural resources.

What is even more regrettable is that the actual inflow of foreign direct investment has been far below approvals. For instance, the amount of FDI from the United States approved between 1991 and 2000 was Rs 50,379.44 crore, but actual inflow was only Rs 9,776.71 crore, according to the latest annual report of the Union ministry of commerce and industry.

In the case of the United Kingdom, the amount of FDI approvals in this period was Rs 16,387.95 crore while the actual inflow was Rs 2,484.92 crore.

Among various types of capital inflows, FDI is preferable since it is non-debt creating, not prone to quick reversal unlike portfolio investment, and facilitates technology upgradation and the adoption of modern production and management practices.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry has said, “While we have long recognized the role of foreign direct investment, our performance in attracting substantial capital inflows through this route still remains a pipe dream.”

It has revealed that China is the only country that will be able to sustain its record of mopping up huge FDI, estimated at $38 billion in 1999. It has also suggested that New Delhi should be able to realize at least $5 billion to $6 billion in the current year.

The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the meeting of the Planning Commission on June 29, said that the power situation in the country was critical. Vajpayee needs to be reminded that ever since the commencement of the planning era over fifty years ago, this situation has persisted.

But the government has been unable and unwilling to take systematic steps to tackle the problems, apart from setting up task forces, study teams and working groups and holding periodical meetings of the state power ministers in New Delhi.

It is not surprising therefore that even on the eve of the commencement of the tenth plan, the Union power minister continues to grope in the dark.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ NEW LEADER ON THE BRINK OF A SLUMP 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“I am resigned to not seeing a visible economic recovery for two or three years,” said the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, last month. He had just won a resounding election victory despite his tough-love talk about the need for economic pain to pull the country out of its long slump — but his plans scare the conservative leaders of his own Liberal Democratic Party half to death.

He scares foreigners, too. “The present prosperity of Japan is built on the sacrifice of those who died in war,” he said shortly after his surprise choice as the LDP leader last April. Not only is that historically untrue, but it is rhetoric that the rest of Asia links with the right-wing Japanese nationalists whose only regret about World War II is that they lost it. Despite the outrage abroad, Koizumi is still holding to his promise to visit the Yasukuni shrine to Japan’s World War II dead on August 15, the anniversary of the war’s end. He will be the first Japanese prime minister to visit the Shinto shrine in central Tokyo in 15 years. So is he a reformer (good), a nationalist (bad) or maybe just a flash in the pan?

Koizumi burst onto the national political scene last spring like Godzilla with a perm, trampling the LDP factions that traditionally choose the party leader and sparking adulation in the Japanese public. His off-the-cuff frankness was as novel for a Japanese politician as his perfectly coiffed long grey hair, and within a month his popularity rating had reached 90 per cent (compared to 10 percent for his disgraced predecessor, Yoshiro Mori).

Godzilla with a perm

But Koizumi’s claim to be a radical new force in Japanese politics has somehow to account for the fact that he spent a quarter-century as a loyal LDP soldier on the back benches of parliament, as his father and indeed his grandfather did before him. His promise of sweeping economic reform rarely ventures into specifics. Even his nationalism seems a bit calculated.

His wish to change the system seems genuine; but it is widely suspected that the major LDP faction-leaders let Koizumi have the leadership after the stupid and incompetent Yoshiro Mori, the eighth LDP prime minister in eight years, because at that moment the leadership was a poisoned chalice — and because they wanted to set the reformers in the LDP up for a fall.

That may be why Koizumi feels the need to play the nationalist card, but it is not an especially ugly card. Extreme right-wingers inJapan have made the Yasukuni shrine a symbol of their ambitions, but it is no fascist monstrosity celebrating national pride.

It’s just a modest memorial for the millions of Japanese who died in the war, and if Koizumi can fortify his position by a visit and then go on to rescue the world’s second-biggest economy, nobody will hold it against him for long. The question is: can he?

Big bang approach

Japan’s economic miracle in 1950-90 was based on a competitive export sector that inundated the world with cars, electronics and so on, while the domestic economy was cosseted like nowhere else. Farmers got huge subsidies, the Byzantine retail distribution system kept every small shop in business and excluded foreign goods, and a huge construction sector fed by public money built useless roads, dams and bridges.

Koizumi is talking of reform on every front at once: forcing the crippled Japanese banks to write off their huge burden of bad loans (which will drive some banks and many other businesses into bankruptcy); ending the pork-barrel construction projects; privatizing much of the government; and deregulating the whole economy. It all needs to be done, and from Koizumi’s point of view it needs to be done all at once, before his enemies get him.

But it’s questionable whether this “big bang” approach is wise when the rest of the world is sliding towards recession and Japan is probably already in one. “There is a debate in Japan about whether we’re coming in for a hard or a soft landing,” said the economist, Andrew Shipley. “[The latest data] suggest, if anything, that we might be hitting the runway with no landing gear.” In which case Koizumi is toast, the LDP old guard regains power (at least for a while), and Japan drags the rest of Asia, if not the entire world, into a very deep recession indeed. There’s a lot riding on his (quite untested) ability to manage large-scale change.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Bad science

Sir — According to the news report, “Cloning camp braves storm” (Aug 9), scientists and biochemists will start cloning babies for infertile couples from this year. This concept of cloning children and weaning out embryos with defects is objectionable on various grounds. First, clones of animals have already displayed a high rate of defects. Second, just as Adolf Hitler tried to snuff out the non-Aryan population of Germany, scientists now can “play god” and decide which embryos are to survive. While many of the biochemists may not misuse the science of cloning, there are others who might. In fact, scientists belonging to a group called the Raelians have already announced plans of cloning children in an effort to attain “eternal life”. It is mainly because of such people and their intentions that the science of cloning human beings must be banned. Unless the United States government can guarantee that cloning will not be misused, scientists should not even be allowed to conduct cloning experiments.
Yours faithfully,
Vikram Bhalla, New Delhi

Step down a step up

Sir — The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, played to the gallery by staging a mock resignation upon being questioned on the Unit Trust of India scandal by the Shiv Sena member of parliament, Sanjay Nirupam, (“Vajpayee’s little drama”, Aug 9). Not only was Vajpayee’s resignation immediately refused, he was also showered with praise for his “leadership qualities” by sycophants and by power-hungry politicians of the National Democratic Alliance.

It is surprising that Vajpayee never resigned over his ineptitude in handling issues such as the Tehelka controversy and the UTI scandal. But his inability to manage the NDA well seemed reason enough to resign.

The drama also brought into focus certain things that have gone unnoticed. Although the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, has been held partly responsible for the UTI scandal, he is confident that Vajpayee will not oust him from the cabinet. This is because it might bring to light other scandals which have been covered up by the finance and other ministries. It is sad that Indians are gradually sinking under the economic burden that is being exacerbated by the NDA’s inefficiency as well as the continuation of Sinha’s term in office.

Yours faithfully,
Rajaram Mohta, Calcutta

Sir — The report, “Atal marches off to soldier on” (Aug 1), speaks volumes about the current political situation in India. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s offer to step down from the prime ministerial chair was indeed matter for concern. Thankfully, he retracted his resignation and saved India from yet another political crisis. Vajpayee must not shirk his duty of trying to resolve the political instability in India.

Vajpayee should not be held solely responsible for problems such as the Naga ceasefire, the failed summit between India and Pakistan and the recent UTI scandal. Each government has had its fair share of problems and controversies and this government is no different. While individual ministers who are proven guilty of inefficiency and corruption should be expelled from the party, Vajpayee’s resignation will only worsen the political situation.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee broke all precedent on July 31 by offering to resign. He expressed a sense of moral responsibility for the NDA’s inefficiency as well as a sense of failure for being unable to hold his allies together or lead his government in a disciplined manner. It takes courage and a certain amount of magnanimity for a prime minister to offer his chair to someone else on grounds of morality.

The political situation has become a matter for concern. It is in such a mess that a distinguished leader like Vajpayee felt he needed to quit office for the country’s welfare. He has been a politician for almost half a century and has always stood for transparency and probity in his political actions and public life, unlike other politicians.

The NDA has been sensible enough to recognize his importance and has placed full faith in him. Instead of resigning, Vajpayee should take some steps that will bring some order to the political scene. The formation of a code of conduct and the constitution of an ethics committee for the NDA is a welcome step. This should be adopted by all parties. Another step in the right direction would be a code of conduct for all MPs with the aim of improving their disgraceful behaviour in Parliament. Differences of opinion among NDA constituents should also be settled amicably within the party forum.

Having re-consolidated his hold over the NDA, Vajpayee needs to look into the allegations made by his colleagues and allies. He should also seriously consider the recommendations of the recently concluded Bharatiya Janata Party national executive and bring the guilty in the UTI scandal to book instead of finding scapegoats.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jharkhand

Sir — The recent resignation offer by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, created temporary unrest in political circles. However, he withdrew his threat within 24 hours and the nation breathed a sigh of relief. By dint of his honesty and integrity, he has managed to hold together the 24 party NDA. If he had not retracted his resignation, the NDA government would have in all probability have fallen. Since the opposition is fragmented and not in a position to form an alternative government, this would have meant yet another election and a further waste of the taxpayer’s money.

Despite occasional hiccups, such as the Tehelka disclosure and the UTI scandal among others, Vajpayee commands the same amount of respect that he did when he first formed the government. All public opinion polls in the last three years have placed him far ahead of any other leader.

Even though many of his critics claim that his resignation should have been accepted, they should realize that currently there is no other politician capable of running the government as successfully as Vajpayee is.

Yours faithfully,
Mili Das, Sindri

Powerless

Sir — I would like to assure Kalipada Das that the dismal power situation at Chinsurah is not an isolated case (“Uneven power play”, Jul 24). I live in Rupnarayanpur, a small township in the district of Burdwan, bordering the newly formed state of Jharkhand. The township and its surrounding area house retired employees of Chittaranjan Locomotive Works and Hindustan Cables. The power supply in this region is one of the worst in West Bengal.

Apart from regular load shedding which lasts between one to three hours every evening, there is countless tripping, both for short and long durations. The total duration of power for the day varies between eight and ten hours.

This pathetic condition of the power supply has been constant for the last three or four years. The power supplied to neighbouring Chittaranjan and Hindustan Cables that are directly fed by Damodar Valley Corporation remains more or less stable.

The managing director of the West Bengal Power Development Corporation, B. K. Paul, should have been aware of the condition in his own state before declaring that “we have sufficient power and are selling out surplus power”. Maybe Paul should visit the area and have a look at the power situation himself.

Yours faithfully,
Subrata Banerjee, Burdwan

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company