Editorial 1 / Double talk
Editorial 2 / Deadly fare
Wishes are not horses
Fifth Column / The war over rice and what it means
More rough than smooth
Document / Ups and downs of the poverty line
Letters to the editor

It is difficult to take threats by the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Farooq Abdullah, very seriously. Mr Abdullah is known as much for his capriciousness as for his singular ability to stay on the right side of the centre. Not many would, therefore, be really worried that the National Conference may actually carry out the threat to walk out from the National Democratic Alliance. Mr Abdullah was reacting to statements by the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, that not only would the next elections in Jammu and Kashmir be free and fair, but that so far, only the 1977 elections were above board. This is not a revelation. Observers of the politics of Jammu and Kashmir are aware that systematic rigging was a dominant feature of most elections that were held in the state. Indeed, in the Sixties, under the stewardship of Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, electoral malpractices were so rampant that candidates from the opposition were even prevented from filing their nomination papers. It is also widely known that large scale rigging during the 1987 assembly elections, during which the Congress and the National Conference were in alliance, led many activists of the Muslim United Front to become part of militant organizations. In other words, an erosion of faith in the democratic process contributed to the growth of militancy in the state. The assurances from the home minister and the prime minister are, therefore, welcome although it is doubtful that isolated statements such as these will persuade separatists to join the electoral process.

There is still little evidence to suggest that the Centre’s efforts over the past year have done much to restore the confidence of the Kashmiri people in the Indian state. A large part of the problem is Mr Abdullah and the ruling National Conference, which have — in the past — felt threatened by the Centre’s overtures to separatist groups and efforts to generate a genuine peace process in the state. Recall the manner in which the National Conference passed the autonomy resolution in the state assembly last year at precisely the time that New Delhi was making attempts to initiate a dialogue with the umbrella separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. After the Centre gave short shrift to the autonomy proposal, Mr Abdullah had even then threatened to walk out from the NDA. Predictably, he did not carry out the threat. Or consider the manner in which the state police, especially the special operations group, virtually sabotaged the Centre’s brave decision to unilaterally cease all security operations against militant organizations by continuing to target militants. It is clear that the National Conference believes that it would become marginalized if New Delhi were to arrive at some understanding with separatist groups.

Mr Abdullah’s latest threat, however, may also be directed at the forthcoming elections in the state. While the Centre’s backing will ensure that Mr Abdullah is given a carte blanche as far as the affairs of the state are concerned, membership of the NDA may prove to be a liability during the electoral campaign. Most Kashmiris view the Bharatiya Janata Party, with its earlier commitment to abolish Article 370, with deep suspicion and this could make the National Conference “untouchable” as well. Under these circumstances, even if the separatists do not participate in the election, other mainstream local and national political parties could, if the elections are indeed free and fair, quite easily force the National Conference out of power.


Starvation deaths are only too common in Orissa. In the tribal dominated districts of Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput, infamously known as the KBK, there appears to be permanent famine. Close by is Rayagada, to which the country’s attention has suddenly been drawn by a series of deaths caused by the consumption of cooked mango kernel. It is a measure of the callousness of successive state and Central governments that 54 years after independence, people in the Kashipur area of Rayagada are unable to find anything but cooked mango kernel to eat. Some ministers of the state government have tried to pass it off as the people’s responsibility: they have been warned not to eat this kind of food but they cannot get out of the habit. In any case, they are not “starvation deaths”. Such statements exhibit cruelty of an unspeakable kind. It is not as if official notice has not been taken of the horrific conditions in the region. Earlier the former prime minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, and recently Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, both announced enormous grants for the region. It is not clear where the money got stuck. Mr Vajpayee’s grant, much of it in the form of a loan, was announced in 1998. It has not been cleared by the relevant ministry as yet.

Nongovernmental organizations have been active in the region, but some of them have to fight various interests vested in the politics of hunger. Human rights organizations are foaming at the mouth at the plight of the villagers who are dying because the only food they can find is killing them. It must be noted however, that it is not as if the entire region is starving. In spite of repeated droughts, in some areas there is enough food to eat as well as sell. It is the pattern of entitlement that is skewed, largely because traditional methods of land distribution are as aggressive an enemy as the drought. All this means that announcements of fat sums by the Centre and complacent buck-passing by the state government are rather less than enough. The spectacle of poverty is never civilized. But perhaps the administration should try to see that the country’s people do not die because they are forced to eat stale mango kernel.


The recent downgrade by two leading international ratings agencies of India’s foreign currency outlook from stable to negative could not have come at a worse time for Yashwant Sinha. The finance minister had already lost most of his friends and well-wishers even before Standard and Poor and Moody’s made their announcement. The bombshell delivered by the Unit Trust of India and the widespread feeling that the finance ministry was less than vigilant in protecting the interests of the millions of small depositors had earned him enough enemies.

The rating agencies’ announcement has now generated a fresh round of debate on the current health of the economy and the progress of reforms. Both the finance minister and the governor of the Reserve Bank of India have been quick to reassure everyone that the economy is in the pink of health. Unfortunately, some recent data released about crucial parameters of the economy seem to vindicate the pessimism of the rating agencies. The obvious implication of this is another black mark against the finance minister.

Perhaps the most distressing piece of news is that industrial growth in the first quarter of this financial year has plummeted to a mere 2.1 per cent. In order to put this figure in the right perspective, it should be compared to the corresponding growth rate during the first quarter last year. This was a healthy growth of 6.1 per cent. The dismal performance this year is not restricted to any particular sector — growth rates have recorded steep declines in all the three sectors — manufacturing (0.3 per cent against last year’s 6.4 per cent), mining (0.2 per cent against 3.6 per cent) and electricity (2 per cent versus 5.1 per cent). The current figures are “quick estimates” released by the Central Statistical Organization, and will be revised in all probability. But the discrepancy is too large, and cannot be explained away by statistical errors.

Neither can they be ignored. These figures emphasize the fact that the industrial slowdown has, if anything, deepened in the economy. It looks very likely that in the absence of a miracle, the overall industrial growth rate during the year will not come anywhere close to 9-10 per cent. Even if agriculture does remarkably well, the overall growth rate is not likely to be much higher than 6 per cent. This will mean that the average growth rate in the ninth plan period will be significantly smaller than the target growth rate of 6.5 per cent. Since this was the growth rate actually achieved during the eighth plan period, critics of the reform process will be quick to point out that there has been some deceleration in the economy.

While aggregate gross domestic product growth figures are important, they tell only part of the story. Unfortunately, figures from other spheres are equally distressing for the finance minister. Perhaps the most worrisome news relates to the fiscal health of the governments, both at the Centre and the states. There has been a steep fall in revenue collection during the first quarter. This is almost entirely because of the industrial slowdown since the fall in revenue can essentially be attributed to poor collections from the corporate sector. Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in Central government revenue collections, the finance minister’s projections regarding the deficits will be hit for a massive six.

It can be scant consolation to the finance minister that the fiscal health of the state governments is in considerably worse shape. During the last decade, we have heard more talk about the need for fiscal propriety than ever before. It is more than a cruel joke to know that the aggregate fiscal deficit of the states during this period has climbed from around 3.3 per cent of the states’ GDP to over 5 per cent. Since the states cannot print currency notes, they have had to borrow to finance their deficits. Their debts are climbing up rapidly, and along with it their debt service requirements. Many of these state governments should really be declared to be sick undertakings.

It is fashionable to accuse state governments of a total lack of fiscal discipline. Indeed, they have a lot of explaining to do. They have refused to make any efforts to raise revenues by charging reasonable user fees or curb wasteful expenditure. The inevitable consequence has been a steady erosion in their ability to undertake investments. Unfortunately, the state governments can turn around and point out that the Central government has not distinguished itself in any way.

This was forcefully brought to my notice the other day. A news item actually pointed out that there has been a steady increase in the number of positions (above the level of deputy secretary) in the Central bureaucracy. What kind of example is this? At the very least, the government should take advantage of the usual annual retirements to ensure that there is some reduction in the overall size of government. It is scandalous to note that the trend is in the opposite direction. The Central government’s record in the disinvestment exercise is equally dismal. Year after year, the budget presents estimates of the amounts to be collected from sale of government equity in the public sector undertakings. These targets fail to be achieved with monotonous regularity. And this year promises to be no different.

Today, the euphoria generated by Yashwant Sinha’s last budget seems completely inappropriate. Were we all taken in by some smooth talking? In the midst of all the post-budget applause for Sinha, I remember that there were some voices of caution, who pointed out that Sinha still had to deliver on his budget promises. They also pointed out that several of the reform measures promised by him were political dynamite, and that it would take a great deal of political courage to implement them.

The past months have demonstrated that there is many a slip between promises and implementation in India. The government does not seem to have made the slightest progress towards pushing through any of the second generation reforms. Despite the absence of “hard” reforms, there were many who felt that the Indian financial sector was in better shape than in Thailand and several of the east Asian countries which went through the meltdown. However, the horror stories which are now coming out in the open about the UTI, IFCI and several of the nationalized banks demonstrate that the strength of the Indian financial sector is more apparent than real. This will make it that much harder to push through reforms in this sector. Labour market reforms are also long overdue. The infrastructure sector continues to cry out for attention.

Unfortunately, a kind of collective paralysis seems to have afflicted the present government. The government has not announced a single policy measure which could be said to have been designed to revive the economy. Instead, senior ministers keep asserting that the economy is in fine fettle, completely ignoring the ground realities. Obviously, they don’t know that wishes are not horses.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi


The United States patent and trademark office ruling, which upholds the patent granted to the American food company, RiceTec, is in reality a “back-door” patent on Basmati rice. By patenting “similar or superior” Basmati grains outside India, RiceTec has also succeeded in ending the subcontinent’s monopoly over it. Basmati can no longer be considered an exotic product, unique to the specific climate and soil conditions of the Himalayan foothills. Therefore India loses its right to protect Basmati rice under “geographical indications” like the Scotch whisky of Scotland, which cannot be produced and marketed anywhere else in the world.

RiceTec was granted a patent on “Basmati rice lines and grains” in September 1997 on the basis of 20 claims that it had submitted. On August 14, the USPTO’s examiner upheld only three of RiceTec’s claims, amending two others, while striking down the rest. India filed for re-examination on April 28, 2000. The Indian challenge was limited to only three of the claims, which RiceTec subsequently withdrew last September, knowing that these claims would not stand before the Indian challenge.

It was then that the country’s leading patent experts termed RiceTec’s decision to withdraw four claims as a “partial victory” for India. In reality, RiceTec had tried to upstage India by withdrawing not three but four claims so that it became difficult for India to challenge the remaining claims.

Other side of victory

If India had at that particular time asked USPTO to strike down the patent, we probably wouldn’t be faced with the piquant situation that the recent ruling has created. The August ruling by the USPTO being touted as another “victory” for India, is yet another instance of us missing the wood for the trees, thereby leaving the basic flaws in the patent regime intact.

It is true that the USPTO has now dropped the term “basmati rice lines and grains” from the definition of the patent. The title of the patent now reads: “Bas 867, RT1117 and RT 1121” (these are the names of the Basmati lines that RiceTec has evolved). The obvious intention of the USPTO to provide a Basmati patent through the “back-door” becomes visible from the abstract provided for the patent.

The USPTO has cleverly manipulated the patent claim to uphold RiceTec’s assertion that the company had produced Basmati rice with qualities that were equal to, if not better than, the traditional Basmati varieties being grown in northwestern India and Pakistan. The company can now sell its product, Bas 867, in the market with a label which claims the packet contains “superior basmati rice”. How is this a “victory” for India?

Nice guys come last

India had only challenged three of the 20 claims of the Basmati patents. If USPTO could allow RiceTec to amend two claims before ruling on the patent, isn’t it fair to give India the opportunity to contest those claims? India was not asked to say whether it agreed with the remaining claims on which the patent has been granted. And yet, the patent says that the rice lines that RiceTec has produced are not known in “prior art” and have “unique genetic characteristics” and are therefore patentable.

In a related issue, India has been claiming that Basmati rice is part of its culture and traditions. It therefore wants to protect the rice under the geographical indications provision that is at present provided for Scotch and wines. India is pressing the World Trade Organization to include Basmati rice and other products such as Kanchipuram sarees and Kolhapuri chappals under this provision. If Basmati needs to be protected under geographical indications, then why is India reluctant to tell the USPTO that it cannot uphold RiceTec’s patent rice varieties as equal to or superior to Basmati grains?

Given the facts and India’s challenge, the patent should have been struck down at the first instance. Moreover, the basic flaws in the US patenting system are not being challenged. India’s biodiversity and its traditional knowledge increasingly continue to be patented in the US. Nearly 48 per cent of the 4000-odd plant patents granted by the USPTO are related to traditional knowledge from countries like India. If India is reluctant to take the Basmati case to its logical end, how can we expect the protection of national interests on the remaining plant-based patents in the US?


Sixty-two year old Umadhar Prasad Singh, an independent member of legislative assembly from Darbhanga, spends his evenings sitting behind a cluttered wooden desk. The desk is usually crammed with volumes of red literature and thick files.

By eight, Singh is deep into the dialectics of class struggle and the role of trade unions with a select group of friends. In these brief evening sessions, the past overshadows the present. This firebrand former Naxalite leader is dubbed “Bihar’s Kanu Sanyal” not just because he had worked with Bengal’s leftist stalwarts in the late Sixties, but because he has set a classic example of “red” changing hue to suit the needs of parliamentary politics.

Singh is now a trade union leader, fighting for the cause of the sick Ashoke Paper Mill based in Hyaghat in Darbhanga. The mill was a government undertaking befo- re it was handed over to a private organization in 1997. Singh believes the change of guard was not justified and that the mill could have been revived. He scouted the pages of economic theory, staged dharnas and hunger strikes before the Supreme Court last year, pressing for the return of the unit to the government. He even sued the state and the Central government for not taking initiatives. In his own words, it is a crusade against the “open door economic policy”.

Singh has today replaced his sten guns and rifles with huge files that he carries during his frequent visits to courts. Yet, in the early days of social upheaval in Bihar, his name had spelt terror to the big landlords of north Bihar. Taking up the cudgels for the exploited labourers in Bihar would invariably displease the big peasantry. The confrontations led to killings. According to the police, Singh was accused in 30 cases of armed attack on people, murder and carrying illegal arms.

By the late Seventies, his cases were in the final stages of prosecution when Singh had a chance encounter with Jayaprakash Narayan in jail. Despite the ideological duel with him, Singh began to change. His metamorphosis took final shape after he met Karpoori Thakur, the former chief minister of Bihar. Thakur lobbied for Singh with the first non-Congress Central government in 1978, and Singh was granted reprieve .

Singh’s release did not mean a smooth transition into mainstream life. He was soon booked again by the police, this time with a strange charge:sodomizing a minor. Still a radical, Singh however looked for opportunities to take up people’s causes and never looked back. Even though the second generation of left ultras began operations in the late Eighties, Singh got busy in trade unions of Samastipur where he fielded himself in a parliamentary poll but made a poor show there.

He came back to Darbhanga and the gradual decimation of Ashoke Paper Mill drew his attention. Today his routine begins with visitors from his constituency and with taking up their cases with state government. He has won the seat from Hayaghat twice.

On a patch of land surrounded by sprawling paddy fields is Dr Vinion’s ashram in Jehanabad. On the courtyard of the ashram, Vinion sits on a string bed to listen to the poor Dalits who failed to take control of their land. The 55 year old reflects on the next move regarding the organized and forcible occupation of land allotted to the poor. Vinion had led Party Unity, the most powerful underground ultra-left organization of central Bihar for almost two decades. He had carried a reward of Rs 1 lakh on his head. He has changed today. He realized the battle he is waging now is far more challenging: one of empowerment of the backward women and of providing landrights for the poor.

There are scores like Singh and Vinion — the first generation of Naxalites — who have made a gradual switchover from insurrection to the mainstream, unlike the younger people today who cross swords over the idea of laying down arms. State governments like Jharkhand and Bihar take initiatives for surrender with the lure of financial incentives and protection only to get embroiled in political controversies.

Last fortnight, the Babulal Marandi government staged a surrender show in Giridih, where 47 leftists believed to be members of the banned organization, Maoist Communist Centre, came out without their arms. Marandi, in a hurry to impress foreign investors, had his own compulsions to wipe out militancy. But the incident sparked off an embarrassing political row. The MCC disowned them quickly. A Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) MLA alleged that all 47 MLAs were not only known to Marandi, they had worked for him at some point of time or other.

Jharkhand opposition leaders also accused Marandi of draining the state exchequer to appease Bharatiya Janata Party workers. But the state government billed this as a major achievement. Perhaps taking a cue from the Andhra Pradesh govenment and Marandi’s move, the Bihar state cabinet approved a project clearing yet another militant rehabilitation scheme. The chief secretary said, “After all, they were driven to militancy by a social circumstance and the state government’s role is to reform them.”

Is the process of ritualistic surrender worth it? What will the militants do with their hefty surrender cheques and employment schemes in the new environment? Will they carry on their crusade to suit the parameters of the mainstream and become angels of peace? Or will they languish in obscurity, detached from their ideological moorings? Or run the risk of being used by the governments to track down their former comrades in a dog-eat-dog policy?

But the new militant activists would be unlikely to step into roles like those of Singh and Vinion because of the equations they would be left to cope with between the state government’s police and the existing, hostile militants. They may be shot down any day by their former colleagues whom they sought to divorce themselves from.

The experiment of the Asom Gana Parishad government under the leadership of Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is a glaring case in point. In a spate of surrender shows, he had organized 40 ceremonies for all shades of militants — Bodo, United Liberation Front of Asom, Karbi and Dimisa rebels. An estimated 1200 militants surrendered in the Eighties and early Nineties. The state government promised self-employment schemes. The army provided temporary security.

The militants found themselves divided into two classes — Ulfa and Sulfa (surrendered Ulfa). But things did not go well for them. In the residential colonies where Sulfas were accommodated, a number of them, suspected to be spying for the police, were allegedly killed by Ulfa members.

If the state governments are serious about their mission to end militancy, they should first get out of the trappings of officialese.They should stop aiming at political mileage from the shows. Nothing worthwhile is expected to emerge if, for example, Marandi or Rabri Devi plays an Arjun Singh in the Madhya Pradesh of the mid Eighties, clubbing bandits and militants together. For what was achieved in the ravines may just fly in the face of the government in the flaming fields of Bihar or Jharkhand.

The militants of Jharkhand, Bihar or the Northeast never raised hell over silent individuals making a clean slate of their past and leading a quiet life in the Seventies. In the competitive militancy of Nineties, they are unlikely to indulge in ideological mayhem as long as they continue to get patronage from some political force or other.

In Bihar, for example, the package of rehabilitation refers to left militants ignoring the presence of private militia like the Ranvir Sena and Pandav Sena. If the left ultras surrender, it would be easier for the rightist militia to annihilate them. Right or left, the bench mark for surrender should be motivation. Options for psychological rehabilitation through counselling and promotion of peace initiatives through non-governmental organizations should be explored, for the reformist lobby. When the motivation is high, the war is won and when the war is over “rebels become your countrymen again”, goes the proverb.


In east Asia, poverty declined most rapidly during the 1990s, falling sharply in China. However, growth in China’s poorer and more rural western provinces was much slower than in the more industrialized east. This divergence reflects slow growth in rural incomes related to declining prices for agricultural products and reduced opportunities for off farm employment. This widening of income inequality slowed the rate of poverty reduction for the country as a whole. Elsewhere in the region, poverty increased in the aftermath of the 1997-98 financial crisis. In Indonesia, the government responded to the crisis by strengthening safety nets, which helped cushion the impact of the crisis. However, the incidence of poverty still increased substantially, doubling from its pre-crisis level. Since early 1999, there have been indications that poverty has declined significantly as rice prices have fallen, and real wages are starting to recover...

In Vietnam, the incidence of poverty, as defined on the basis of the national poverty line, dropped from 58 per cent in 1993 to 37 per cent in 1998. The big gains for poverty reduction came from, but were not limited to, growth of per capita expenditures, stimulated by agricultural diversification and economic growth...

In south Asia, the share of the population living in poverty declined moderately through the 1990s, but not sufficiently to reduce the absolute number of the poor. Household survey data indicate limited growth in average consumption in rural areas, reflecting slow growth in agriculture. Urban poverty appears to have declined at twice the rate of poverty in rural areas. However, poverty data in India are subject to considerable uncertainty. In particular, private consumption as measured in the national accounts has grown about three times faster over the 1990s than household consumption as measured by the National Sample Survey...The survey data tends to understate the consumption of higher-income households. Nevertheless, the size of this difference and the slowness of poverty reduction revealed in the survey data are difficult to account for, particularly given the improvement in human development indicators. Thus more accurate data could indicate more rapid poverty reduction than our current estimates.

In Bangladesh, steady growth reduced the incidence of poverty during the 1990s, in contrast to the relative stagnation experienced in the 1980s. Poverty in urban areas fell at a considerably faster rate than rural poverty, partly reflecting slower growth in rural wages and higher rural unemployment. Landlessness has been key in holding back the reduction of poverty in rural areas.

Performance has been poor in Pakistan: low growth rates throughout much of the Nineties, a very weak human resource base, and a slow down in poverty reduction. In Sri Lanka, there has been very slow progress in reducing poverty despite adequate gross domestic product growth.

In Africa, slow growth increased both the share and number of the poor over the 1990s; Africa is now the region with the largest share of people living below $1 per day.

In Nigeria, which now accounts for nearly one-fourth of sub-Saharan Africa’s poor, the number of people living in extreme poverty rose steeply following the reversal of the 1985-92 reforms, reaching an estimated 70 million (66 percent of the population) based on the national definition... Urban poverty in the country has grown faster than rural poverty, owing to massive migration from rural areas to the cities, with the incidence of urban poverty now matching that of rural poverty.

By contrast, the rural poverty rate fell in Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country and one of the poorest. The reforms implemented after the end of the civil war in the early 1990s spurred a strong recovery, ending a two-decade slump. The benefits of agricultural price liberalization have spread quickly, boosting growth of rural incomes. Urban poverty, on the other hand, has been stagnant. Urban inequality has risen, in part due to large population movements resulting from the civil war, and in part as a result of economic reform, as agricultural price liberalization raised consumer prices in urban areas and civil service rationalization reduced urban employment. Unfortunately, progress is likely to have been slowed by the border conflict.



Not everything is contemptible

Sir — While it always helps to have a celebrity fighting for a cause, once in a while it can backfire. And Arundhati Roy’s latest pet project, Narmada Bachao Andolan, seems to be suffering because of her shenanigans with the Supreme Court (“Arundhati alone in contempt dock”, Aug 29). The incident of Roy being hauled up by the judges, Ruma Paul and G.B. Patnaik, for contempt of court brings to light two issues. First, Roy is setting a bad example to others when she, while campaigning for right of the displaced villagers, expecting that they be treated with the respect and consideration they deserve by the government, displays her own disregard for the dignity of the Supreme Court. Second, her extreme act of daring the court to start contempt proceedings against her only gained her publicity, when she is generally accused of using attention grabbing tactics anyway. If the NBA cause is indeed important to Roy, she must know that it would help the villagers if she spent her time trying to keep the media focussed on their problems.

Yours faithfully,
Rahela Padachira, Cochin


Sir — The editorial, “First class first” (Aug 21), was a bit too generous in showering praise on the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Following close on the heels of your earlier editorial, “Oasis of peril” (Aug 14), one cannot help feeling that you have done a complete volte face with regard to your opinion on law and order in West Bengal. Although in reality, the law and order in the state has not improved even slightly.

You congratulate the state’s police for the “success it has shown in tracking down those involved in the abduction of Mr Parthapratim Roy Burman”, the owner of Khadim shoes. This is misplaced, since it is due to the efficiency of the police departments of Hyderabad and Mumbai, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations in the United States that most of the culprits have been caught. The role played by the Calcutta police in the entire investigation has been insignificant. Till date, they have been unable to even get a substantial confession or even adequate information from their interrogation of the main suspect in the Roy Burman abduction, Swati Pal.

Meanwhile, various incidents indicating the erosion of law and order in Calcutta and in other parts of West Bengal keep on occurring. During the past week, there have been fresh reports of the kidnapping and rape of a college girl in a crowded locality of Calcutta in broad daylight. The murderers of the chairman of the Dum Dum municipality, Sailen Das, are still around. These incidents hardly do credit to the efficiency of Bhattacharjee or his police department.

Under the circumstances, it seems too much to hope that West Bengal will achieve the position of “First class first” under the Bhattacharjee’s leadership. At present West Bengal does not deserve a higher grade than “gamma minus”.

Yours faithfully,
Ashoke Sen, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “First class first”, did not seem to have considered the recent happenings in West Bengal while deciding the grade the state deserved. It is common knowledge that Calcutta has become increasingly unsafe for businessmen. The abduction of Parthapratim Roy Burman is not an isolated case. S.B. Ganguly, the managing director of Exide India Limited, was also abducted a few months back and was released later. The dismal condition of West Bengal is further apparent from the daily news reports of robberies, rape and other crimes taking place in the state. Although it is reported that our police department is improving, there is little sign of it. If the state would like to be worthy of the position of “First class first”, maybe the police and the politicians of the state should pull up their socks and improve the present condition.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Star billing

Sir — The inclusion of Sachin Tendulkar in Donald Bradman’s “dream team” is indeed a tribute to the “little” genius (“Seven Aussies in Bradman’s Dream XI”, Aug 14). It speaks volumes of Tendulkar’s talent that he was chosen from a list of 69 prospective candidates, which included Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Brian Lara and Mark Waugh. Bradman had been bowled over ever since the first time he witnessed Tendulkar playing. Tendulkar’s contemporaries such as Brian Lara, Saeed Anwar and Mark Waugh have said that they would buy tickets to a match just to be able to watch the “little champion” bat. It is nice to see one of India’s most talented and modest cri cketers get the recognition he deserves.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The line-up of cricketers in Don Bradman’s dream team is very intriguing. The selection of Sachin Tendulkar was impressive. More so because he is the only member of the dream team who is still playing cricket. Tendulkar’s positioning in the team is also important as he comes in at a pivotal position at number four, just behind Bradman himself. The team holds great interest for the Indian cricket fan because of its inclusion of Tendulkar over the legendary cricketing contemporaries of Bradman. If only India possessed such a team, we could be ensured a constant string of victories.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Crossed line

Sir — The news report, “Great Kashmir trick ties India up in knots”(July 30), by K.P. Nayar contained several unjustified references to the “leadership” of the Indian embassy in Washington D.C. and it is necessary to place, on record, the correct position. No responsible representative of the embassy spoke to any Indian news agency on the subject of President Bush’s statement as referred to in the report. It follows, therefore, that there was no attempt at what the diplomatic editor calls “media management”. If any mis-reporting was done by any agency from Washington D.C., then it is the sole responsibility of that agency alone and attempts to draw the embassy into the controversy are far-fetched.

These attempts to draw the embassy into needless and unsubstantiated controversies only serve to hamper the lively interaction between the embassy and the press. The reference to the embassy’s alleged “Stalinistic style of keeping the media at arm’s length” is disappointing, all the more so as the diplomatic editor has been a frequent and welcome visitor to the embassy and a regular invitee to the embassy’s functions and briefings.

Yours faithfully,
Navtej Sarna, counsellor (press, information and culture), Embassy of India, Washington D.C.

K.P. Nayar replies:

I stand by my story. Attempts at “media management” from within the four walls of the Indian embassy in Washington are nothing new. The most brazen of such attempts recently was on the day Christina Rocca, the new assistant secretary of state for south Asia testified before a senate committee for her confirmation. It coincided with the visit of foreign secretary Chokila Iyer to Washington. A joint secretary from the ministry of foreign affairs who was travelling with Iyer — who has subsequently left for a neighbouring country as ambassador — individually spoke to Indian correspondents at the embassy, doctoring and interpreting Rocca’s testimony. The previous ambassador to the United States, Naresh Chandra, used to vainly boast that he could get the Indian media in Washington to write anything he wanted. Mr Sarna’s letter is at its diplomatic best when he implies that the “representative of the embassy (who) spoke to any Indian news agency on the subject of President Bush’s statement” was being irresponsible.

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