Editorial 1 / Poor fiscal health
Editorial 2 / Going Native
Diplomacy / In search of a success story
Fifth Column / Shared space for war and peace
Woolly thinking at the world racial jamboree
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / POOR FISCAL HEALTH 
 
 
 
 
Total overdrafts by state governments have a normal method by which states are supposed to adjust for any temporary mismatch between receipts and payments. So, the fact that state governments have to borrow beyond the ways and means advances limit is evidence that they are facing a shortage which is much more significant than a mere temporary mismatch. Total overdrafts have already crossed half the overall level taken by them during the entire fiscal year, 2000-01. State governments resort to overdrafts after exhausting their normal quota of wma from the Reserve Bank of India, the wma being the imbalance between revenue and expenditure. For several years now, state governments have been tottering on the verge of bankruptcy. The situation has particularly worsened after the last pay commission report since salary and pension bills have sky-rocketed. On top of this, the state governments have had to resort to large- scale borrowing for several years now in order to finance even their extremely modest development plans. But their past sins are catching up with them — the heavy debt service burden is becoming intolerable.

Despite the deepening crisis relating to the state governments’ finances, perhaps the most worrying news relates to the fiscal health of the Central government. There has been a steep fall in revenue from the corporate sector. The industrial slowdown has meant that imports have also slowed down. This obviously implies that revenue collections from customs duties have slackened off. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in Central government revenue collections, the finance minister’s projections regarding the fiscal deficit will be very wide off the mark. Mr Yashwant Sinha must make strenuous efforts to increase the inflow into the Central government’s coffers. In the short run, he really has very few options available to him. But one feasible option is to dramatically increase collections from the disinvestment of government holdings in public sector enterprises. There is really no convincing reason for the government to fail year after year to achieve the target collection from this exercise. In the long run, the finance minister has several options. Downsizing of government expenditure, the removal of subsidies, reduction of debt service burdens by retiring debts through the judicious use of the proceeds from disinvestment, are some of the options available to him.

But, options are limited for state governments. The common complaint of state governments has been that all the more lucrative types of central taxes were appropriated by the Central government, thereby leaving very little scope to state governments to raise sufficient tax revenues. But, following the last finance commission recommendations, a proportion of the Central government’s total tax revenue is now transferred to the states. Hence, the Central government no longer has any incentive to tinker with the tax system in order to increase its tax revenues. There is, however, no doubt that the state governments have a pitiful record in raising resources. The main source of additional revenue is through levying reasonable user charges for services provided by state enterprises. The bulk of these services is enjoyed by the relatively affluent. These should not enjoy government subsidies. A more appropriate level of user charges will not harm the poor.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / GOING NATIVE 
 
 
 
 
There is a sad irony about some of the ethnic movements in India’s Northeast. Born largely of a feeling of alienation from the national mainstream, these movements push these states deeper into such shells. The result is that one often wonders which is the cause and which the effect, whether the isolation provokes the jingoism or vice versa. For so many of these movements turn the heat on the “outsider”, as three students’ unions in Assam, Meghalaya and Mizoram have done over the past two weeks. The All Assam Students’ Union has publicly wondered if the delay in implementing the 16-year-old Assam Accord would force its members to “take up arms” in order to stop the influx of people from Bangladesh. What the Khasi Students’ Union of Meghalaya and the Mizo Students’ Union of Mizoram have done is equally disturbing. As on all previous occasions, the KSU had the introduction of the inner line permit for “outsiders” among its dozen demands on which it organized a 48-hour bandh earlier this month. The MSU actually imposed an “indefinite curfew” on non-Mizos, as it launched a movement protesting the introduction of sales tax in Mizoram and the “lack of trading regulation to safeguard the interest of local tribal traders”.

This politics of xenophobia has long taken its toll on the region — more so on the prosperity of native communities themselves. It is time the northeastern states broke away from these vicious stereotypes of so-called popular movements. The people of the region feel, with much justification, that New Delhi has not done enough to integrate them into the mainstream of political and economic discourse and development. In fact, the Central government’s record in even showing a semblance of interest in the economic development of the region is poorer than that of most other Union governments. It is important to engage in negotiations to end insurgencies; it is far more important to engage in development dialogues in order to stem the rot that fuels divisive tendencies. The people of the region and their leaders, on the other hand, have to realize that their hope lies, not in shutting themselves in, but in opening up to new horizons. They have every right to protect their culture, but certainly not by spreading the fear of anarchy among others.

   

 
 
DIPLOMACY / IN SEARCH OF A SUCCESS STORY 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
Reading sections of the Indian media, an impression is apt to be formed that the central issue in American foreign policy which is engaging the wholesale attention of the George W. Bush administration these days is the question of repealing United States sanctions on India. New Delhi, no doubt, would like to see the sanctions go, preferably before the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, meets Bush in New York at the end of next month.

Battered by a string of policy setbacks, both domestic and external, the National Democratic Alliance government, which has virtually ceased to function, is in desperate need of a success story. A withdrawal of US sanctions would give the NDA that success story. But contrary to the picture being painted by the government’s spin doctors, it would require a miracle to have the sanctions repealed before Bush has his first face-to-face encounter with Vajpayee.

The miracle may yet come about, especially if the Indian-American community works towards this objective the way they were organized in support of India after the 1998 nuclear tests. But as things stand, it is realistic to say that the chances of US sanctions being repealed were brighter when Bush assumed office in January than it is today. To narrate how this came about is also to provide a fascinating insight into how the American system functions.

There is no need for Bush to go to the congress in order to withdraw the sanctions imposed on India for its Pokhran-II nuclear tests. No one knows this better than Christina Rocca, the new assistant secretary of state for south Asia. As foreign policy aide to the senator, Sam Brownback, she is credited with the authorship of legislation tabled in the name of her boss to repeal the sanctions.

Yet, Bush is doing what he is not required to do. When congress returns to work after its summer recess next month, the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, Rocca and others will start consulting key men and women on Capitol Hill about what to do on the issue of sanctions against India and Pakistan. A piece of legislation popularly known as Brownback Amendment-II, adopted in October 1999, gives Bush — just as it gave Bill Clinton — the full authority to waive all the post-1998 sanctions as long as India and Pakistan do not test another nuclear bomb.

It even gives the president authority to waive restrictions on military sales and exports of specific goods for civil and military use. He only has to determine “that application of the restriction would not be in the national security interests of the US” and communicate to the congress that this is, indeed, so.

With 80-plus US companies arguing that sanctions against India are hurting their business, any American president could make a reasonable and credible case for the repeal of those sanctions. But the constraint on the White House is that seven months into office, the president is no longer the same George Walker Bush who was sworn into office in January. His popularity has declined even as the shadow of what many Americans consider a stolen election has still not left the president. But on issues like the repeal of sanctions against India, what has diminished the president’s capacity to act is his loss of control on the senate. Bush came to power with the kind of political strength which his father or his predecessors like Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon could only dream of: control of the White House complemented by a Republican majority in both houses of the congress. Not for nearly 50 years before the current Bush presidency did a Republican have such absolute control over America’s federal legislative and administrative process.

But with the defection of his Republican colleague — the senator, Jim Jeffords, of Vermont — he lost that advantage, and an evenly divided senate went into Democratic control. As a result, a humbled president has been suddenly forced to prioritize. And repealing the sanctions against India is certainly not one of the top priorities of the White House for now. When Rocca went to Capitol Hill in May to subject herself to questions by senators considering her confirmation as assistant secretary of state, she made a promise that she would sincerely and regularly consult legislators on the decisions of the administration.

The senators made a point of her hearing that, for them, “consultation” did not mean being informed of a decision as a fait accompli. Indeed, they hoped that as someone who had worked with them earlier, Rocca would respect their sensibilities and discuss decisions before they are taken by the administration. The assistant secretary-designate not only agreed: she said it was part of her conviction to do so.

The dilemma which the White House is facing on the issue of sanctions against India is that even before Rocca was sworn in, the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, started going round proclaiming that sanctions against India would be repealed sooner rather than later. Armitage’s assertions, no doubt, represent the Bush administration’s genuine desire to set the house in order on relations with India and get on with the task of building a robust bilateral relationship which covers not only strategic issues, but also commerce and investment. But by being vocal about sanctions in complete indifference to the sensitivities on Capitol Hill, the deputy secretary of state has not helped the president, who is seeking a modus vivendi with a fractious and deeply divided senate.

There are three other difficulties which complicate the ending of sanctions. First, the conviction among many senators and congressmen that more ought to be done globally to contain the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, notwithstanding the senate’s decision not to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty. Joseph Biden, the Democrat who became the chairman of the senate foreign relations committee as a result of his party’s control of the upper chamber, is a vocal member of this group although he believes that sanctions have not had the desired effect on India’s nuclear weapons programme. Given the tenuous nature of the current relationship between the White House and the senate, India may find Bush unwilling to ignore the sentiment on Capitol Hill that New Delhi ought not be rewarded for Pokhran-II at least until it signs the CTBT and stops the production of fissile material.

Second, nonproliferation officials in the state department, who have had to put up with Clinton’s decision to embrace India despite New Delhi’s defiance of global nonproliferation standards, now feel strong enough to have their case heard in Washington. They argue that countries like South Africa and Brazil, which renounced their nuclear option, would feel cheated if India and Pakistan were to be let off the hook. This is finding increasing resonance not only within the administration, but also on Capitol Hill.

Which leads us to the third problem: Pakistan. The Bush administration’s mantra on south Asia has been that it will deal with each country separately and have a bilateral relationship which is truly bilateral. But it is realizing as it gets down to implementing policy that this is easier said than done, a difficult instance being the sanctions. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, and last week its foreign secretary, Inam-ul-Haque, made a convincing case in Washington for repealing sanctions against India and Pakistan simultaneously. Between Sattar’s and Haque’s talks in the US, this case was forcefully put to Rocca, who was in Islamabad and met General Pervez Musharraf. There is far less support on Capitol Hill for ending the sanctions on Pakistan than there is for India. But the perception in Washington is that India triggered a nuclear race in the sub-continent, forcing Pakistan to follow.

A new element has been added to the sanctions debate by revelations that a state-owned Chinese firm has sold missile parts to Pakistan, violating Beijing’s previous promises not to do so. Unlike the Clinton administration, the current tenants at the White House are far less inclined to be indulgent about these transgressions of global norms.

Conspiracy theorists argue that China has shipped missile parts to Pakistan at this stage, knowing full well that the inevitable exposure of its action would complicate moves to repeal US sanctions on India. China has argued both at the United Nations and in bilateral meetings with other nuclear powers that India should be punished for Pokhran-II. It continues to call for the implementation of a June 1998 UN security council resolution on Pokhran-II, which New Delhi has rejected.

It doesn’t help India that Biden is one of two senators who visited China last fortnight and has returned convinced that some action has to be taken against Beijing for being a chronic proliferator. The other was Fred Thompson, a Republican from Tennessee. Biden would find it difficult to support a repeal of sanctions against India while asking for sanctions on China over what will increasingly be seen as a common problem of more arms in all of south Asia.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / SHARED SPACE FOR WAR AND PEACE 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
There is some good news for the Indian military establishment. Media reports suggest that the Indian Space Research Organization is shortly going to launch its next polar satellite launch vehicle rocket with the Cartosat surveillance satellite as its principal payload, exclusively for defence use. Cartosat would be equipped with a powerful camera which will enable the field commanders to acquire point-specific information about target areas. To cap it all, one of the four proposed deputy chiefs of the defence staff in charge of combined intelligence set up under the combined defence services would control the Cartosat operationally.

Military and civilian space launches have no clear distinction since any satellite can be used for either sector. According to the former air chief, S.K.Sareen, “It is easy to convert satellites from civil to military use.” For inst-ance, communication satellites can carry either military or civilian traffic, and navigation satellites are widely used by both the armed forces and civilian organizations in some of the advanced countries.

The same is true about communication satellites.The information from the navigation and meteorological satellites is also used by the military for both defense and offense. However, the potential military impact is most conspicuous with regard to imaging and reconnaissance satellites.

Ballistic development

For India, the capacity to launch satellites into the earth’s orbit is closely linked to ballistic development, an area where the country has made significant progress ,despite limitations imposed by the missile technology control regime. Technically, once the country fully develops dependable launchers, they can also be easily modified into intermediate or intercontinental range ballistic missiles. In this way, the high cost of the military missile system will be absorbed largely.

Despite being a late entrant in the field, India has developed the most active and advanced civilian space programme among the emerging space powers. But India has been slow to take military advantage of such capabilities. The government has yet to take explicit policy decisions to utilize outer space for its defence needs.

Although, India’s space research programme is intended for peaceful purposes with specific emphasis on satellite communications and survey of earth resources, there is no denying that these will have inherent military spin-offs. In 1980, India became the first developing country to launch its own satellite on its own launch vehicle. Missile development began in earnest in the early Eighties when the integrated guided missile development programme led to the development of the Prithvi missile.

Peaceful purposes

The INSAT communication series is built indigenously by ISRO, but is launched by Ariane IV launchers of the European Space Agency. These satellites have telecommunication and television channels in the country, and contain meteorological imaging systems.

India has also given high priority to the development of imaging satellites, which are apparently designed for civilian purposes, such as estimating agricultural yields, mapping water resources and so on.

However, they have promising defence potential too. Data obtained from Indian remote sensing satellites are believed to have been used by army commanders during the Kargil conflict in 1998.

But their spatial resolution of 8 to 10 metres was inadequate to spot intrusions of the type that led to the Kargil military offensive. But the soon-to-be-launched Cartosat, with a capability of one metre, will be able to read the license plates of the vehicles on the roads and thus provide vital intelligence input about hostile activities.

Till now, apart from IGMDP, there has not been any effort worth naming to coordinate civilian and military space programmes in India. Now that Agni II is operationally available, and there are indications of future versions such as Agni III and Surya intercontinental missile as deterrents, a stronger interface between the civilian and military launch vehicle progammes will be needed. Similarly, attention should be given for the dual use of satellites in the field of communications and remote sensing.

   

 
 
WOOLLY THINKING AT THE WORLD RACIAL JAMBOREE 
 
 
BY ANSU DATTA
 
 
Even in the best of circumstances, the word, “race”, generates all kinds of feelings, some of them couched in convenient clichés. But when an international meet, popularly known as the world conference against racism, is formally labelled as the “world conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intol- erance”, the incisive observer can safely conclude that we are moving towards major mayhem.

And trouble indeed is brewing only a few weeks before the conference is due to begin in Durban on August 31. Two similar conferences were held in 1978 and 1983, dealing primarily with apartheid in South Africa. The Durban conference is more ambitious. It aims at adopting a statement of principles and, more encouragingly, a programme of action, hopefully resulting in “measurable results”.

However, arriving at a common corpus of guiding principles, or even an agreed agenda, is proving to be far from easy. There are too many real and potential participants with too diverse, often opposing, interests. Israel and, expectedly, the United States have threatened to boycott the conference if it discusses Zionism — the customary knee-jerk reaction to the usual Arab strategy before a meeting of this sort. African states would like to talk about slavery, reparations for slavery and colonialism, but many Western nations reject the idea. And, embarrassingly for this country, some people are demanding that caste-based discrimination be placed on the conference agenda. A South African commentator rightly points to the seemingly harmless phrase “related intolerance” in the title of the conference as the gateway to a Pandora’s box.

WCAR marks the climax of the international year of the elimination of racial discrimination, preparations for which were going on for some time. To pressurize those who are finalizing the agenda, several non-governmental organizations have formed the International Dalit Solidarity Network. Its plea to include caste on the agenda of the conference is justified on the following grounds. First, the caste system, like race, provides descent- and occupation-based discrimination; the two can, therefore, be bracketed. Moreover, caste is not limited to India. It exists elsewhere in south Asia. Systems similar to it can also be found in Africa (illustrated, according to some, by Rwandan society) and Japan. In Japan, the position of the Burakumin is strikingly similar to that of the Dalits in India.

To discuss caste at WCAR is, therefore, not to internationalize the issue. It is also argued that India has signed and ratified several international human rights conventions including the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination that stipulates that a state is accountable for racism even where there is no proven intention to indulge in it. Consequently the record of India in this area, like that of any other signatory-state, is to be monitored at international fora.

The government of India is opposing inclusion of caste on the agenda of the conference. Of course, the conventional argument that the caste system should be seen as an internal matter of the country holds little relevance today when human rights violations in any part of the world are being increasingly addressed at world fora.

The official position of India is additionally based on the argument that caste can be raised at international fora only when it is shown that the internal mechanism for dealing with it has proved ineffective. Government spokesmen claim that this is far from the case. Expectedly, Dalit spokespersons are at pains to give it a lie by citing instances of actual oppression perpetrated on the Dalits.

But probably the most important ground for rejecting the Dalit network’s plea is the assertion that caste discrimination and race discrimination are two different things. Andre Beteille, a Delhi-based sociologist, powerfully projects this viewpoint: “If discrimination against disadvantaged castes can be defined as a form of racial discrimination, there is no reason why discrimination, real or alleged, against religious or linguistic minorities cannot be phrased in exactly the same terms…Treating caste as a form of race is politically mischievous, what is worse, it is scientifically nonsensical.”

The seed of the conflict can partly be traced to the woolly thinking that generally characterizes attitudes such as bias and prejudice, and their outward manifestation — discrimination. When it relates to a complex institution like caste, popular imaginations and pseudo-scientific theory-mongering may run wild.

Racial theory has been associated with attempts at explaining the origin of the caste system in the so-called Aryan invasion of northwestern India. An early observer, H. H. Risley, commented on differences in the racial characteristics between castes. There have been additional efforts to liken caste to alternative bases of stratification, not always with exemplary success.

Some time back, the chairman of the backward classes commission of an Indian state, known to be “progressive”, explicated in what he must have thought to be an illuminating passage: “Class is synonymous with caste or tribe, so far as Hindus are concerned. Class is synonymous with tribe, or racial group so far as tribal communities are concerned.”

The present impasse arises additionally from the inclusion of a few seemingly innocuous words in the title of the conference, xenophobia and related intolerance, that have widened the scope of the debate to unmanageable proportions. Xenophobia is a word not generally found in a scientific word-list of the social sciences. Its dictionary meaning is “unreasonable fear and dislike of foreigners and strangers”. We are told that the groups regarded as foreign may vary from an entire continent (such as anti-American feeling) to a neighbouring family of migrants even from a different part of the same country if they are looked upon as intrusive.

Similarly, the intensity of dislike born of xenophobia may be anything from mild social disapproval, such as unwillingness to patronize the same social club, to pathological fear, including paranoia. Finally, who is going to judge if a specific instance of fear or dislike is reasonable or not? One shudders to think what could happen to this country (or to another country similarly placed) if, in pursuance of this line, enthusiastic senas and bhumiputras of diverse hues take their briefs to jumbo-sized international forums. If two more words, “related intolerance”, are thrown in, then we really have opened a very large Pandora’s box indeed.

Can a multitude of participants, some of them expected to be highly charged emotionally and given to sloganeering as an appropriate method for solving complex social problems, hope to manage a never-ending agenda of this sort, even with a cool breeze blowing over them from the Indian Ocean?

Ironically, the world has yet to sort out some of the major problems surrounding race. Just as the palaver over the conference agenda was hotting up, South African newspapers were reporting an ugly incident in the idyllic coastal town of George, a thousand kilometres from Durban, in which white supremacists painted a big “K” (for kaffir) on the breast of a white woman because she committed the crime of selling meat to blacks from her butchery. The repulsiveness of this episode is perhaps uncommon, but South Africans worrying over the way things are unfolding in the country will give you a long list of cases of racial discrimination, and even of prejudice, stubbornly persisting in the country.

Elsewhere, the records of Germany and France do not inspire much hope. And the ferocious race riots in Britain in the recent past remind us only too unmistakably that racial straitjackets still provide the most readily available categories of thought and action to many whites and non-whites, even under New Labour.

What is frightening is that there are lunatic fringes in liberal and hitherto “colour-free” Scandinavia that are afflicted with the race virus. Instead of mounting a concerted and multi-pronged attack on the scourge of racism worldwide, the world body has thought fit to “trouble-shoot’” all kinds of discrimination and prejudice at one go. One doubts if in trying to solve everything that smacks of “discrimination”, it can solve anything at all. But then not everyone attending a big jamboree like a world meet prefers light to heat.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Beyond the veil

Sir — The recent acid attacks on Kashmiri women for violating the dress code diktat imposed by a militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Jabbar, shows the grim reality of women not only suffering in the hands of the patriarchy, but also under religious fundamentalism (“Burqa diktat follows acid attacks”, Aug 10 ). Such imposition of rules regarding “indecent clothes” only brings back the memory of a principal of a reputed college in Calcutta, who insisted on a particular form of “decent” attire for the women students in the college. That was misplaced puritanism and unbearable intervention; the Kashmiri women are obviously facing something far more dangerous. The threat to them is severely affecting their mobility in the valley. This is not a positive trend when attempts are being made to bring peace and order to Kashmir. One can only hope that proper steps are taken to put a stop to the violation of human rights and to give Kashmiri women a chance to lead a life similar to that in any progressive and liberal society.

Yours faithfully,
Uddalak Mukherjee, Calcutta

Fault lines

Sir — The uncharacteristically candid speech made by the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the Rajya Sabha should serve as an eye-opener for the people of India (“Atal exposes Advani’s anxiety”, Aug 17). If Vajpayee is accurately relating the behaviour of the home minister, L.K. Advani, during the prime minister’s talks with Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf, it is matter for concern.

Advani’s interruption of the meeting could have hampered the talks, and there is no certainty that it did not. It is obvious that the prime minister is surviving in office alongside political rivals. Perhaps Advani has not managed to rid himself of the mindset that contributed to crises such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid. That Advani is allowed to hold the position of home minister in spite of his allegedly undiplomatic behaviour is a shadow on Vajpayee’s leadership. The revelations which the prime minister made during his speech only showed that the real decision-making power in the government lies with his ministerial colleagues.

Yours faithfully,
G.K. Reddy, Kharagpur

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee wisely chose the Rajya Sabha as the venue for his speech during which he clarified what actually took place during the Agra summit. The timing of the speech, too,is commendable, as it did not follow on the heels of the summit. The honesty and candour Vajpayee showed will help bolster his dwindling popularity, which was reported in a recent opinion poll. Even his own party has cast aspersions on his ability to steer the coalition government through the choppy waters created by the Unit Trust of India scandal and the failure of the India-Pakistan talks.

Vajpayee’s combination of straight talking and wit gave a clear message to his party members, the sangh parivar and the people of the country, that he is in total command of the government. His speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort further kindled hope in the hearts of the people. Although it has been a practice of sorts for previous prime ministers to use the Independence Day address to push their party’s agenda and to highlight their own achievements, their words normally sound hollow. Whether an act or not, it appears that this time round there is a genuine desire by Vajpayee to deliver on whatever promises he has made.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee never ceases to fool the country by donning his politician’s mask. By admitting that L.K. Advani tried to keep an eye on Vajpayee’s tete-a-tete with Pervez Musharraf, Vajpayee has tried to absolve himself of all responsibility for the failure of the summit.

His years as a politician have obviously taught him that the cunning avoidance of responsibility makes for a successful politician. All his speech managed to prove is that the government is running amok and the prime minister has virtually no command over his closest colleagues.

Yours faithfully,
Sagarika Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech in the Rajya Sabha was a reminder of L.K. Advani’s display of apparent indifference in other political situations too. It is impossible to escape the feeling that he might be more sensitive towards the ordinary people living in troubled regions such as Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast. The question is, how could the prime minister allow Advani to behave the way he did? Instead of relating Advani’s behaviour jovially, Vajpayee should have taken a stronger stand with him.

Yours faithfully,
Kantilal Dugar, Assam

Led astray

Sir — Mamata Banerjee’s threat of “paralysing Bengal” through a “continuous Bangla bandh” will only worsen the condition of the state and its people (“Mamata threatens slow burn”, Aug 11). Banerjee should try and project herself as a constructive opponent of the ruling Left Front instead of as a destructive force. It is because of this image that Banerjee gives herself that she received a thrashing in the last assembly elections. Her party won only 60 out of the 295 assembly seats. These results clearly indicate that she must give up her anti-people activities if she plans to dislodge the Left Front from the Writers’ Buildings.

Her main aim should be to project an industry-friendly image of the state. In this time of recession and high unemployment, West Bengal does not need a fire-breathing leader. Banerjee should not get carried away by the attendance at her rallies as it never seems to translate into votes for her. It is high time she stopped threatening the ruling government and instead focussed on the needs of the people.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — Mamata Banerjee’s threat to paralyze the state administration and the equally bitter reaction of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will lead the state to anarchy (“Mamata lobs challenge, Buddha smashes”, Aug 9). However, what disturbed me most about the report was the picture accompanying it, which was captioned, “Mamata being driven to Sonarpur by an activist”. I wonder how both the driver and the pillion rider were allowed to ride the motorbike without wearing helmets, which is mandatory. Are VIPs and political personalities above the law? They are certainly not promoting road safety.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhushan Saha, Calcutta

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