Editorial 1/ Not so fast
Editorial 2/ Fair or foul
Performance anxiety
Ways of an unequal land
Document/ To beat them when they are down
Fifth Column/ Take a walk on the wild side
Letters to the editor

The Reserve Bank of India, which has just released its annual report, has revised its predictions about the short-term growth rate of the economy. The RBI now feels that the economy is unlikely to achieve the 6 to 6.5 per cent growth rate during fiscal year 2001 that it had predicted earlier this year. The annual report mentions that the earlier and more favourable growth projection was based on the occurrence of a good monsoon and industrial recovery. All indications suggest that the current monsoon will help the agricultural sector to record a satisfactory rate of growth. But the industrial slowdown continues to persist, and even the RBI is forced to admit that the leading indicators of industrial activity and business confidence suggest only a modest revival of the industrial sector. Moreover, even this “modest” revival is expected to occur only in the second half of the fiscal year “in alignment with the usual seasonal upturn in industrial activity”. The report also notes that Indian growth prospects would have been considerably brighter if the global economy was in better shape. Unfortunately, the global economic perspective is equally gloomy. The RBI expects the United States economy to start its recovery process only in the beginning of 2002. The economic conditions in Europe are not too promising either. The International Monetary Fund is also reported to have cut its forecast for world economic growth to 2.8 per cent from its earlier prediction of 3.4 per cent. This suggests that the Indian export sector cannot hope to perform very well during the rest of the year. No one should have visions of export-led growth reviving the Indian economy.

A normal response to economic slowdown is to follow an expansionary monetary policy in the hope that adequate availability of cheap credit will stimulate investment demand. The RBI is also pinning its hopes on this strategy. It has indicated that it will continue to incline towards a regime of soft interest rates and easy liquidity. But it is debatable whether monetary policy alone will be of much help in reviving the industrial sector. Commercial banks are flush with loanable funds, but have no customers. Given the overall pessimism about the future prospects of the economy, potential investors are reluctant to undertake additional investment even if funds are available very cheaply. So, the situation is crying out for government intervention on a massive scale.

Perhaps, huge public investment in roads and other infrastructure will provide the required demand stimulus. Apart from increased public investment, the government must also get its act together and proceed to implement some of the reform measures which were promised in this year’s budget. It will also signal the government’s intention to stem the rot and end the current perception that this is a government whose energies are completely dissipated in fighting over non-issues. Perhaps, the message has finally gotten across to the senior functionaries in the government. Reportedly, the prime minister has decided to intervene personally. He has convened a series of meetings with his advisory councils on trade, industry and the economy in early September. The entire country will wait eagerly to see if the prime minister actually takes concrete actions on the basis of the advice doled out to him.


Institutions, like laws, are as good as their administrators make them. When it was mooted in 1991, the idea of a neutral caretaker government taking charge three months before the parliamentary elections was received with approval and enthusiasm in Bangladesh. The people had high expectations of the incumbent caretaker government, headed by the former chief justice, Mr Latifur Rahman, when he set about cleaning the house for a free and fair poll on October 1. As large parts of the country had become happy hunting grounds for politically backed criminals, Mr Rahman’s offensive against such elements was hailed as a necessary precondition for creating the right atmosphere for the polls. Equally laudable were his government’s attempts to seize illegal arms. The first reshuffles in civil and police administrations were also considered part of the well-intentioned exercise. Beyond a point, however, the government’s motives began to be questioned, not only by the Awami League, but also by neutral observers. On an amazing scale of overhaul, the government has transferred some 1,500 officials, including 13 secretaries, 54 deputy commissioners and all police superintendents of the country’s 64 districts, and replaced most of them with sympathizers of either the Bangladesh Nationalist Party or its Islamic allies.

That all these changes were not necessitated strictly by considerations of a fair poll was underscored by the removal of the cricket board chief, whose only fault must have been that he had been appointed by the outgoing League government. The replacement of the chief of the government-owned news agency, Bangladesh Sangbad Sanstha, a respected journalist, by a junior with a pro-Pakistani record during the country’s liberation war has landed the government in a court case. Even the president, Mr Shahabuddin Ahmad, had to intervene when the caretaker government sought to transfer some senior army officers. Worse still, Mr Rahman has invited criticism by appointing a close relative as his private secretary under controversial circumstances. Even if some complaints against the government are patently partisan, there is little doubt that it has gone on an overdrive that might fetter, rather than free, the poll process. Mr Rahman should take urgent take steps to restore the credibility, not just of his government, but of the elections and the next government.


One of the important recent developments as far as India is concerned has been the downgrading of India by internationally well-known rating agencies, Standard and Poor and Moody’s. This has invited reactions ranging from almost total neglect to anger. The finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, has reacted rather angrily and lectured the rating agencies that they should look at his budget speech and not downgrade India. Surely, the rating agencies could have read the budget speech of the finance minister. But their judgments are based on what has happened thereafter — the failure to meet the targets of fiscal adjustments, the slowing down in the economy, the stock market disturbances, the failure of the disinvestment process and so on.

Rating agencies go by various measures of a country’s performance, but mostly those have to do with the capacity of the country to live up to its economic potential. The finance minister may well be right in saying that the downgrading of India by the rating agencies at the current moment is not justified because of the satisfactory rate of growth, the relatively low level of inflation and the excellent foreign exchange reserves. But, the rating agencies have their own story to tell. The high fiscal deficit in relation to gross domestic product and the high level of domestic debt as a proportion of the national gross product have been important factors in their decision to downgrade the rating of India.

It is important to note the place of rating agencies in the international financial scene. Rating agencies are uniquely an American device to give a compact measure of performance and potential capacity to service debt by countries and corporates. Individual investors may not be able to assess all the details of performance and potential of bond issuers. Rating agencies perform this task for them. The American origin of the rating agencies is evident from the way in which grades are given, such as AAA for American treasuries and corporate ratings ranging from AA+ to BBB-.

The rating agencies are understandably conservative in publishing their ratings. Many investment funds, including insurance companies and pension funds are obligated to invest their resources according to the ratings issued by the agencies. They have a responsibility to their investor clientele. They also have fresh in their memory recollections of how they were criticized for too positive a rating given to some of the east Asian countries just before the Asian crisis of 1997. Conservatism is inherent in the rating agencies. But, that is not to say that they have no logic in their recommendations.

In the international financial markets, investors are bound to follow the rating agencies’ recommendations. It is unfair of the finance minister of a country to be hysterical about the recommendations of the rating agencies. It is not correct to ask them to go back to his budget speech. After all, performance is what counts. The rating agencies may well be justified in sounding a warning note, which they have done.

They have announced their recommendations of the local currency rating for the first time in October 1996. The long-term rating remained at BBB+ until May 1998. Then it was downgraded following the sanctions imposed on India after the Pokhran explosion. It is significant to note that the long-term currency rating was BBB- for the period, September 1990 to March 1991. It is rather inscrutable as to why the rating agencies have kept the long-term rating at about the same level as they did in 1991, when India had much lower foreign exchange reserves and was under great domestic stress.

I recall my visit to the office of one of the rating agencies in 1991, when I was the governor, Reserve Bank of India, trying to persuade them to take a more optimistic view of India. The discussions did not yield any immediate result. But, it did enable us to understand the reasoning behind the decisions of the rating agencies. I am not aware of whether in the recent past any attempt was made by India’s leading financial administrators to get in touch with the rating agencies and to convince them not to take a negative view of India. It is the standard practice of the rating agencies to enter into discussions with the entities they rate and out of such exchanges may result a softening of the attitude of the rating agencies.

The finance minister of India, however, resorted to a nonchalant attitude, following which he has taken the rating agencies themselves head on. He has exhorted them to read his budget speech, where he himself has said what the fiscal problem is. In a rhetorical flourish, the finance minister has added that the rating agencies do not add to our wisdom. His rather angry words are — “I don’t have to be told by the Standard and Poor and Moody’s that I have to take care of the fiscal situation. We will proceed with the reforms at our own pace. We are not hostages to anyone.”

The fact of the matter is that in a globalized economy, we are hostages to international standards set-up, such as rating agencies. We can question them on their facts. But, given the practice, their judgments cannot be a subject of dispute. The finance minister’s attitude will, perhaps, only strengthen the agencies in taking the position they have done. It confirms them to their view that the government of India is obstinate about continuing it’s policies whatever be the view of the rest of the world. This is unfortunate.

We should rather treat the rating agencies as sportsmen have to treat their umpires. Given the guidelines the umpires’ judgement is final. There is no point in a sportsman quarrelling with his umpire’s decision. Having said this, it is still possible to take the view that the downgrading of India by the rating agencies does not mean irreparable damage to India’s economic fortunes. For one thing, ratings usually govern the rates of interest at which debt can be raised.

As far as India’s domestic debt markets are concerned, liquidity is high and the interest rates are on a benign downward path. The government of India has no difficulty in reaching its debt targets nor are the corporate houses faced as they are by abundant liquidity. The downgrade has however, a potential impact on the rates on which external commercial borrowers can raise debt abroad. In the current foreign exchange situation, India does not seem to be in need of raising sovereign debts. (Indeed, the responses to the last two NRI bonds have shown a sustained high level of confidence in India’s credit rating.)

Corporates may, however, find that their external commercial borrowings are affected adversely by the downgrading. Irrespective of how high the individual ratings are, they are limited by the country’s rating. But, this impact is also found to be limited since in our current abundant liquidity, corporates also may not be tempted to resort to external commercial borrowing on a large scale.

The rating agencies’ announcement to downgrade India has, however, performed a useful role in alerting the country’s economic administrators to the dangers of complacency. That our performance with respect to important criteria is not satisfactory is a lesson of the downgrading decision. The rating agencies have performed a useful service by issuing a wake-up call to the reformers of India’s economic system. It is time for us to speed up the fiscal adjustment process and the revival of the Indian economy.

There is no use telling the rating agencies that all is well in India according to our likes. What matters is what the rating agencies see and judge. That we have not come up to their expectation is a warning for us to look at our flaws and rectify them. It cannot be business as usual as we have to catch up with the rest of the world, which the rating agencies demand of us. It is no use ignoring the rating agencies. The path of wisdom is to take their warning in good spirit and set about the task of speeding up the reform and revival process.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India


India has formulated an unintelligible stand for the forthcoming world conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, convened by the United Nations currently on in Durban, South Africa. The attorney general, Soli Sorabjee, is to articulate the official stand to obstruct caste discrimination being at all discussed there. For India, racial discrimination is alright, but caste strangely, is anathema for deliberation. India’s prevarication is bound to cost the goodwill of 250 million dehumanized Indians.

According to the reports from Geneva, “India has strongly opposed all attempts of putting racial discrimination and caste system in the same bracket at a UN meeting.” As a major partner of the working group, India “has been active in highlighting the reform actions being taken in the country for the uplift of the traditionally disadvantaged castes.” Quite likely the UN will go by the official line adopted by India on the plea that caste, which is India’s internal matter, cannot be discussed there in the teeth of its formal opposition.

In the Republic Day address on the eve of the millennium to the nation, the Indian president, K.R. Narayanan, observed that “untouchability has been abolished by law but shades of it remain in the ingrained attitudes nurtured by the caste system”. He further noted that male “sadism” in the country is “earmarked for Dalit women who are disrobed” as a measure of public humiliation. Indeed murder, rape, parading women naked, and arson are routine. Such incidents, if at all reported in the media, generate intense and altogether different reactions when the victim is a non Dalit.

The combined report for 1996-97 and 1997-98 of the national commission for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes presented to the president of India documents about the acute and widespread prevalence and practice of untouchability in the country. These noted that SC brides are not permitted to ride a mare in villages; SCs cannot even sit on their own charpoys, when persons of other castes pass by and SCs are not permitted to draw water from the common wells and in cases, from hand pumps.

The documents also said that in Orissa, an SC bank officer visited the temple along with his wife on a festival day and was humiliated and fined Rs 100,000 which was later reduced to Rs 10,000. In Tamil Nadu, local people refused to tolerate even the naming of a bus after an SC leader; innocent girls were blinded if they took water from a common source in government-run schools; in many teashops and dhabas, separate crockery and cutlery are used for serving tea to the SCs; barbers refuse to cut their hair; even the Indira Awas and Ambedkar Awas schemes segregate them further since separate colonies are built for scheduled castes. Moreover, Tamil Nadu runs 1231 “Adi-Dravidar” separate schools charging the expenditure to the special component plan by denying other developmental activities.

In Hoogly in West Bengal, a backward classes woman, who defied an age-old restriction to bathe in a pond and then offer puja to the nearby temple last year, invited the wrath of the villagers. They forced her husband, a schoolteacher, to pay a sum of Rs 50,000 as a punishment for the sin of polluting a pond exclusively used by the higher castes.

In the golden jubilee year of Indian independence, the national commission says, “That sympathy is becoming apathy for SCs/STs would be clear from various cases handled by the commission recently. When two widows with similar educational qualifications applied for compassionate appointment to one PSE, it chose to offer a clerk’s job to the general category widow and a peon’s job to the SC lady.” It further notes, “There is a tendency to post SC/ST employees to far off places or in insignificant posts which lowers their morale and creates an inferiority complex. The officers tend to misinterpret the rules and provisions to the disadvantage of SC/ST employees.”

Segregation is not an alien concept to India. The scriptures sanctify discrimination by segregation marked by graded inequality. In the era of globalization with the free flow and sharing of information, caste problems and discrimination can hardly be kept under wraps. According to the national commission, the main causes for the continuance of untouchability even after 50 years of independence are a deep rooted caste system, illiteracy, lack of social awareness among the scheduled castes, rigidity and bias created by religious literature.

In many cases, instead of physical untouchability, there are instances of mental and social distancing. Illiteracy, which is the biggest blot for India, is not accidental. It is deliberate. Its continuance is calculated to retain status quo and to nurse discrimination in the society for the benefit of the few.

If the learned attorney general were to ask who the discriminated Indians are, he would get a prompt answer that they are India’s scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. They have been living for centuries under a regime strikingly akin to that of apartheid. They are social slaves, who live in separate quarters and villages bereft of education, healthcare, electricity and transport. In other parts of the world such localities are referred to as ghettos.

Caste even defied the the devastating earthquake in Gujarat. Some newspapers reported that separate camps for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes were set up away from those of highborn Hindus. It was also reported that relief material did not reach the Dalit camps.

The national commission highlights the dark portents arising from atrocities and discrimination. “Such instances are numerous and reflect the deep seated prejudice still dwelling in the hearts of the vested interests. This tendency has alienated the Dalits and has the potential of turning this hatred into militancy and fissiparous tendencies.” Year after year, its reports are routinely submitted to the head of the Indian state which simply leads to their being laid on the table in Parliament. Discrimination has not stopped.

“The decisions of the courts on economic and social questions,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “depend upon their economic and social philosophy.” By ignoring caste discrimination, India will present before humanity the social philosophy of oppressors and persecutors who have perpetuated discrimination and disunity in society.

A parliamentary committee of the ministry of law, justice and company affairs in 2000 put it thus: “Judges from the elite group may find it their filial duty to defend a system established by their forefathers, even at the cost of truth and universal values. The necessity of upholding the system by which they know they stand to profit becomes their limitation or inhibition.”

B.P. Sawant of the Supreme Court of India holds in a landmark judgment, “All aspects of life are controlled, directed, and regulated mostly to suit the sectional interests of a small group of the society which numerically does not exceed 10 percent of the total population of the country. This has resulted in concentration of the executive power in the hands of a select social group. It is naïve to believe that the administration is carried on impartially, that the sectional interests are subordinated to the interests of the country and justice is done to those who are outside the ruling fold.” In India the tail wags the dog, not the other, natural, way round.


Human rights violations occurred throughout India, with socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society continuing to be particularly vulnerable. Inter-caste, communal, inter-religious and political violence claimed many lives in several states including Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. The government’s continuing preoccupation with national security led it to pursue several initiatives for tackling “terrorism” throughout the country, including giving increased powers to a police force which continued to be identified with torture, corruption and other abuses.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance continued in office throughout 2000 with A.B. Vajpayee as prime minister. Armed conflicts continued to claim hundreds of lives in Jammu and Kashmir and states of the Northeast, despite apparent moves towards cease-fires and peace talks in several states. A ceasefire was announced by the armed opposition Hizbul Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir at the end of July but collapsed 15 days later. A further ceasefire for the month of Ramzan was announced by the government in November. Killings of civilians in the state continued at an alarmingly high level despite this and other political initiatives towards an end to the conflict....

Torture by police and security forces remained endemic in states throughout India. The National Human Rights Commission expressed concern about the widespread use of torture. In August it disclosed that between 1999 and 2000 it had recorded 1,143 deaths in police and judicial custody. Figures for the number of complaints of torture are not made public, although the chair of the NHRC reportedly indicated that the majority of complaints received relate to police excesses.

A number of official studies which reported during 2000 acknowledged the widespread use of torture and ill-treatment and pointed to political influence, broad powers of arrest, public approval and inadequate methods of investigation as reasons for the continuing practice of torture.... By the end of 2000 India had not yet ratified the UN convention against torture which it signed in October 1997, nor had it invited the UNspecial rapporteur on torture to visit the country.

In discussions with officials of the government of India about measures needed to end torture, AI recommended initiatives including police reform, enactment of new legislation and comprehensive monitoring mechanisms....

While in a few cases individual members of the security forces were brought to justice for human rights violations, most violations were committed with impunity. Lack of political will, compromise and coercion allowed law enforcement officials to escape censure for violating the rights of people who were mostly members of underprivileged sections of society.

In areas of armed conflict, special legislation continued to shield perpetrators from prosecution. A cautious welcome was given to an announcement by the government of Jammu and Kashmir in October that it was establishing judicial inquiries into a series of incidents which took place in March and April in which scores of civilians were killed by security forces and unidentified gunmen. By the end of 2000 no inquiries had begun. Numerous other incidents remained uninvestigated. In Punjab the establishment of a “Peoples Commission”, which sought to document evidence of widespread human rights violations in the face of the failure of the state to investigate past human rights violations, was halted by the high court on the basis that it was establishing a parallel judicial system. The decision was upheld by the Supreme Court in May.

A new one-man commission of inquiry was established in May to investigate the 1984 riots in Delhi which claimed the lives of more than 2,500 people, mainly Sikhs. In October the retired judge presiding over the inquiry was reported to have already received over 10,000 affidavits. An earlier inquiry held between 1985 and 1986 had found 147 police officers guilty of dereliction of duty but proceedings were initiated in only around 20 cases. Of more than 700 criminal cases filed in connection with the riots, only 10 per cent had resulted in conviction.


It is a common fallacy that urban poverty is to be found only in the developing countries. People are poor because the available resources are insufficient for socially acceptable conditions of life in a particular historical community. The availability of a level and variety of resources, and the system of goods and income required to achieve them, vary from society to society, and depend on an acceptable standard of life in any given context. However, the total effect of the disadvantages must also be considered and therefore those who experience the greatest difficulty in obtaining an income are the same people who face the biggest problem in using it to improve their living standard.

Taking an international perspective, Enzo Mingione writes that in the case of Italy, urban poverty is more diversified and individualized in the north, while in the south, it concerns mainly large households segregated in decaying neighbourhoods in the inner city and its periphery.

The problem of urban poverty is crucial for the understanding of contemporary societies and to the existence of a growing area of social privation in opulent societies, and its increasing concentration in big cities to the detriment of disadvantaged groups such as immigrants and minorities.

Range of services

The department for international development mentions that nearly half of the world’s population presently live in urban centres. It is estimated that the number of urban residents in developing countries will double by 2025, and will constitute 80 per cent of the world’s urban population. Towns and cities can provide access to a range of services at a low cost. Therefore, poor people should benefit from improved healthcare, better education opportunities and so on. Many are excluded on grounds of high cost, discriminatory practices and the failure of the urban administrators to cope with the growth of settlements on the urban fringe. From the Nineties, the DFID has developed programmes for the specific needs of the poor and the vulnerable. At a global level, they have increased funding for the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat).

The basic demographic nature of urban poverty is that it is highest in households where the dependency ratio is the greatest. The most disadvantaged urban residents are the children, their mothers and grandparents. Begging, prostitution and child labour may be their only source of income.

In India, among the urban poverty alleviation programmes was the Nehru Rozgar Yojna, launched in October 1989 to provide employment to the urban unemployed and poor. This was of two types — one related to the establishment of self-employment ventures and the other to the provision of wage employment through the creation of socially and economic ally useful assets and shelter upgradation schemes.

Social inputs

The programme had three aspects. The first was for setting up micro-enterprises and providing training and infrastructure for the urban poor. The second was a scheme of wage employment, which was applicable in towns with a population of less than a lakh. The third sch- eme was of employment through housing and shelter upgradation in low-income sectors. This was applicable to settlements with a population below 20 lakhs.

The target group of the Yojna was the urban poor, women and the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The main achievements were the scheme of urban micro enterprises or a subsidy totalling Rs 234 crore and institutional finance amounting to Rs 702 crore. Under the training and infrastructure support component, 2.98 lakh beneficiaries were trained for skill upgradation. Under the SUME, about 484.65 lakh man-days of wage employment were generated.

The scheme of urban basic services for the poor in the Nineties was based on the convergent provision of social and physical inputs in low income urban neighbourhoods through various specialist departments with the active participation of community groups. The main target is to improve the overall quality of the lives of the slum dwellers.

Much has been done, but with the addition of 20 to 35 million people to the existing base of the urban poor in India by 2000, more attention and action are needed.



Have things really changed?

Sir — Eight years after the Bowbazar bomb blasts in March 1993, the last surviving Terrorist and Anti-Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act court in the country has pronounced Rashid Khan and his associates guilty of conspiring against the nation (“Blast justice done after eight years”, Aug 31). This case has been unique in the history of Calcutta in more ways than one. Not only did the blast occur four days after the Mumbai serial blasts, but it also destroyed the image of the city as a haven of peace by exposing the politician-criminal-promoter nexus and the inefficiency of the police who were unable to anticipate it. Even though justice has been done for the victims and their families, it is disconcerting that the law enforcement agencies in the country seem blissfully unaware of the escalation in terrorist activity in the last few years. Although TADA has been formally abolished, the Central government is yet to introduce an alternative law that would address the issue of terrorism without resorting to the excesses of its predecessor.
Yours faithfully,
Sunita Kangra, via email

Back to square one

Sir — The people of West Bengal have by now accepted Mamata Banerjee for what she is (“Advani regrets, Atal rules”, Aug 28). Her return to the National Democratic Alliance has proved that she is in no way different from her counterparts in other parties. Her decision to leave the NDA after the Tehelka scandal exposed her opportunistic nature. Instead of supporting the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government during the crisis, she demanded the resignation of the then defence minister, George Fernandes.

Her desire to defeat the Left Front impelled her to take the drastic step of joining forces with the Congress, a move which eventually backfired. Yet nothing has really changed between then and now. Those who were accused in the Tehelka scandal are yet to be exonerated. Moreover, the second round of revelations have exposed the role of sex workers in defence deals. Banerjee is no doubt aware of these developments and has in all probability realized that she will not be able to hold her party together, especially if her legislators are forced to forgo the privileges that come with power. With the Writers’ Buildings seemingly out of reach, there was no alternative left for her. Unfortunately, she has severely undermined her own credibility as a politician by switching loyalties all too often.

The Bharatiya Janata Party was only too eager to welcome Banerjee back into its fold. Things may not be quite so easy for the Trinamool Congress chief this time, given that she will have to do all she can to convince senior BJP leaders like L.K. Advani and Jana Krishnamurthy of her loyalty to the NDA.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti Ray, Mankundu

Sir— Mamata Banerjee could well be compared to the proverbial cat on the hot tin roof ever since her party, the Trinamool Congress, lost the West Bengal assembly elections. There have been all sorts of speculation regarding her return to the NDA in the last few months. Even though Banerjee lost the elections, she did not lose her place in the hearts of the people of West Bengal. For them, she was like a breath of fresh air and all their hopes for change and development were centred around her even after she lost the elections.

Instead of taking up the challenge of re-organizing her party so that she could challenge the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the next elections, she chose the easy way out. Banerjee’s political immaturity made her take the hasty decision of returning to the NDA as quickly as she left it.

The erosion of values has given rise to a whole generation of selfish politicians who would do anything to remain in power. Banerjee has proved that she is no different. One can only hope that she will not let down the people of the state this time round.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir — The real challenge for an opposition party in West Bengal is to oust the CPI(M) from power. This was what had compelled Mamata Banerjee to walk out of the NDA and enter into a mahajot with the Congress. She would not have been averse to having the BJP too on her side, but had to compromise on that issue as it was completely unacceptable to the Congress. In fact, Banerjee parted company with the NDA because it had become a liability for her.

However, given that her alliance with the Congress did not really work to her advantage, Banerjee is more than justified in exploring other avenues. It is to her credit that she has refrained from criticizing the prime minister or her allies in the NDA even after she left. The editorial, “The fall”( Aug 29), may have been a bit too harsh in judging Banerjee. The dynamics of coalition politics forced both the Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Banerjee to make the necessary compromises. It is astonishing that The Telegraph should criticize Banerjee so severely while being so generous in the praise of the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, in the editorial, “One hundred days of promise” (Aug 25).

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Das, via email

Belief and knowledge

Sir— It was interesting to read Ghazala Wahab’s article, “A matter of faith” (Aug 25). Wahab has discussed the changes that have occurred in the Muslim community over the last few years and has attempted to analyse the role played by education in moulding the lives of modern Indian Muslims. I would like to clarify a few things in this context. Islam is not just a religion but also a way of life. No one can become a true Muslim without understanding the meaning of Islam. In fact, one becomes a Muslim not by birth but by acquiring knowledge and then putting it into practice.

It was interesting to read what many of the interviewees had to say about their so-called progress in society. It would be pertinent to point out that Islam has never discouraged anyone from acquiring knowledge or from pursuing a modern education. But it strongly discourages education which is not beneficial or is not value-based. In this age of corruption and greed, it is important that we inculcate the right values in our children. The Quran does exactly that and acts as a guide for children who are encouraged to become better human beings.

There is no denying the fact that the world around us has changed and we must change with it. There is nothing wrong with modern education as long as it does not try to replace traditional values.

Yours faithfully,
M.A. Siddiqui, Udaipur

Sir— It was shocking to read Ghazala Wahab’s article on the modern progressive Muslim. It seems that Wahab and those interviewed by her equate education and wealth with modernity. It would however be erroneous to describe Islam as an orthodox religion. On the contrary, it has always been a liberal and progressive faith. Going to pubs and missing prayers does not necessarily make one more modern.

Moreover, Islam has never imposed undue restrictions on its followers — it is we who have interpreted it in the wrong way. There is nothing wrong with imbibing a modern outlook or expanding one’s horizons. But one does not have to dispense with one’s traditional beliefs to do so. Religion is an inextricable part of one’s life. It not only gives us our roots but also determines our way of life.

Yours faithfully,
Syeda Nusrat Fatma, Calcutta

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