Editorial 1/ Unstable Isle
Editorial 2/ Wrong cause
A crisis in direction
That bizarre state of affairs
Document/ The precision of unrelenting images
Fifth Column/ Ignorant armies clash by night
Letters to the editor

Political instability seems to be an abiding feature of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy. Just a year after the last general election, citizens of the island state must now prepare to elect representatives to the country’s parliament once again. Not only has the Sri Lankan president, Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga, dissolved parliament, but has also called for “snap polls” in early December. Ms Kumaratunga made the decision after it became clear that the government would most certainly be defeated in a no-confidence motion that was being brought in by the opposition. The constitution allows the president to dissolve parliament at least a year after the last general election. The defection of several members of Ms Kumaratunga’s coalition government led to the present crisis, and ensured that the government could not muster a majority even after an expedient alliance with the ultra-left Janatha Vimukhti Perumuna. Although the fall of the government does not threaten Ms Kumaratunga’s tenure which will continue until 2005, it is a severe setback to her credibility and legitimacy. Sri Lanka is probably facing its worst ever economic crisis in recent times, and can ill afford the luxury of frequent elections. More critically, political instability in Colombo has ensured that Ms Kumaratunga’s government has been unable to launch an imaginative political initiative that could bring peace to the island, ravaged almost continuously by a virtual civil war for 17 years.

Indeed, the elections last year were widely viewed as a referendum on Ms Kumaratunga’s plans to end the war, in which more than 61,000 people have died. Ms Kumaratunga’s proposed plan had two central elements. The first was to give more autonomy to the Tamil-majority regions of the north and east of the island state. The second was to abolish the presidency, instituted in 1978. Ms Kumaratunga wanted a revival of a Westminster-style government with executive powers held by a prime minister. The fractured electoral verdict suggested that there was only limited support for such a plan. Ms Kumaratunga had also to contend with two extra-parliamentary forces, which wrecked the possibility of launching a serious peace initiative. She has had to contend with the forces of Sinhalese nationalism, led by hard-line Buddhist monks. They argue that devolution would end the nation’s unitary structure and erode the rights of the majority, that is, 74 per cent of the population. And the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is unwilling to accept anything short of a separate Tamil state. Peace in Sri Lanka, therefore, will remain elusive. Neither parliamentary nor extra-parliamentary politics seems ready for a process that will inevitably involve making concessions and compromises by all the parties concerned. It is clear that another round of elections will do little to create the conditions for the return of durable peace and stability.


Consistency is a difficult thing to achieve. Especially if it has to be displayed by a state government led by a party that seems eager to undo much of its past. There can be no two ways about the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s decision to hold a gigantic rally in the city in protest against the allied strikes on Afghanistan. If the state administration is taking a firm stand against public rallies and processions that disrupt life in the city, it is expected to come down as strongly on a CPI(M)-led rally as it does on one led by the Trinamool Congress. The chief minister and his cabinet must not be seen to dither about the direction of their primary loyalties. As elected representatives of the people, their duties as office-holders come first, before their preferences as partymen. The centralized structure of a communist party always makes this difficult, and the stranglehold the CPI(M) as a party has had on the administrative functions of the West Bengal state government is nothing to be proud of. With Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee taking over as chief minister, the administration appeared to be taking a firm and positive direction. It was clear that nothing could be done in a day; at the same time the chief minister was obviously taking up a challenge. A rally at this stage is bound to strike the electorate as a blatant failure on this front. Comparing the degrees of disruption on a Sunday and weekdays is quite irrelevant. A rally led by the CPI(M) has a symbolic resonance in this case; it suggests that the party and its members in the administration are not speaking the same language.

The effect of such a rally is not merely symbolic, it has certain unfortunate material effects. Most obviously, it gives to the opposition a handle that Ms Mamata Banerjee will love to seize upon. It is not clear how the government will bring discipline back to the streets without being nakedly partial. It has to be asked what the CPI(M) feels it has achieved by the protest, since it is paying such a high price for it. The political value of this protest is exactly nil. It can at best be construed as a symbolic fist-shaking at the Centre for having agreed to support the United States of America’s strikes on Afghanistan. An anti-war movement always has its own, extremely significant, value. But an anti-war rally led by a parliamentary party and its supporters strains credibility and inevitably raises questions about the specific and local political points being made. If the CPI(M) is anti-war, then it has to make its point in the correct forum, its debate is with the other political parties at the Centre that have taken the decision to support the US. Convening a spectacular protest at the cost of consistency cannot be thought of as more than a show of strength and a nervous desire to keep the worried minority community on its side. A people’s anti-war movement needs other leaders.


The Congress is slowly picking up the pieces after the untimely and tragic demise of Madhavrao Scindia. It is a measure of the lack of confidence in its present leader that there is a rush for the job of her deputy. Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao none had a second in command. Only very briefly, and with disastrous results, did Indira Gandhi, have Morarji Desai in such a position. The Congress functions best with one person at its helm. Scindia’s death shows not a dearth of leaders but brings to light again the sense of drift in the organization.

For the second time in two years, it mourns the death of a leader who combined the two facets of Indian politics, an ease with the small but articulate middle class and a rapport with the wider, poorer, more rustic groups that make up the bulk of the country’s electorate. Rajesh Pilot’s death last summer brought an end to a rags-to-riches story of a rare north Indian politician who was from an other backward classes community but at ease with modernity. The perennial rebel, he had accepted his place in the party’s scheme of things around the time of his death.

Scindia’s was the story in reverse. His core strength was his ability to be all things to all persons. Though a debutante as a Jan Sangh member of parliament in 1971, and a latecomer to the Congress, he raised saffron hackles by calling the latter anti-national on the floor of the house in 1994. His image in the key ministries he headed was one of a modernizer, a man who got things done. But this did not stop him from making the social justice agenda a major plank on his exit from the Congress in 1996. He was from a well known royal family but careful to emphasize he was of Maratha origin, a fact that went down well with the cultivating castes, while disarming saffron sympathizers who were unable to question his credentials as a nationalist.

The Congress appears to be veering around to a person like Shivraj Patil, the former Lok Sabha speaker as a choice. As always, the final word rests with Sonia Gandhi. Her dilemma is less about who to designate than about where next to steer her ship. Although the premier opposition force, the party has been unable to capitalize on either the Tehelka scandal or the Unit Trust of India scandal. The slowdown in the economy has not seen it launch any major initiative to show up the weaknesses of the Vajpayee government. At times, the smaller forces within the National Democratic Alliance have played the role of a stumbling block with more success than the adversary at the gates.

Even the present international crisis has shown up the differences in emphasis among key players in the Congress. The MP for Myiladithurai, Mani Shankar Aiyar, veers in favour of critiquing American foreign policy even while condemning terror. In doing so, he is close to the party’s own Nehruvian roots. The spokesman on economic affairs, Jairam Ramesh, struck a very different note in his column in a leading weekly, when he compared the American role in fostering Osama bin Laden to previous Indian leaders’ patronage of Bhindranwale. A latecomer to the party, Ramesh has been careful not to let go of the core message of “diversity, democracy and development” as the long-term means against terrorism and violence. But there is a clear mismatch of emphasis.

The choice is not of the two individuals concerned but at the heart of the party itself. Traditional Nehru-like distrust of power blocs looks strangely out of place in a unipolar world. But unlike the Bharatiya Janata Party, the only major Indian political formation that supported the United States of America in Vietnam, the Congress is more at ease with anti-American sentiments than it cares to admit.

Its problem is deepened by the simple fact of being out of power. Unlike at the state level, the Congress nationally lacks the reflexes of an opposition force that can mobilize people against the party in power. In 1977-79, by contrast, Sanjay Gandhi’s storm troopers were far more effective in taking the battle against the Janata Party to the streets. Although humiliated at the hustings, the organization blended his energy with Indira Gandhi’s tactical experience to seize the initiative when the cracks surfaced in the ruling party.

By way of comparison, the Congress has adopted a more studied response over the last few years. Smarting from the fiasco in April 1999, it refuses to strike and wound the government even when the latter is down. Instead, the focus has been on showcasing the achievements of the state level ministries. Madhya Pradesh is seen as a fine case of devolution and empowerment of the masses. Karnataka serves to underscore the commitment to technical and economic modernization.

The road to the future is in wresting power from the BJP and its allies at the state level. Scindia’s death has been a time to reaffirm his own key role in unifying the once fragmented Madhya Pradesh Congress unit at the Dabra conclave in 1993, the prelude to a successful bid for power. Next year, elections are due in the Green Revolution state of Punjab, where an Akali Dal regime will complete a full term in office for the first time but be on the back foot due to its non-performance. In 2003, elections are to be held in Gujarat, a major powerhouse of economic growth, and a state where the Congress has made major strides over the last two years.

Even here, there are seeds of a future problem. Last year’s polls in Bihar showed the Congress to be highly dependent on Laloo Prasad Yadav. Similarly, few other than Sonia Gandhi’s own acolytes expect the Congress to perform creditably in the Uttar Pradesh polls early next year. The elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu showed that the breakaway groups from the Congress were far stronger than the parent party itself.

All the indicators are that the Congress will be on the sidelines in the battle for power in Lucknow. Unless the party gets its act together and reaches out to its now fragmented and shrunken voter base in the state, it will not even be able to be a small but effective balancing force in the great contest between Hindutva and its opponents. In the Nineties, the Congress with 90 and 40 odd members of the legislative assembly twice helped Mulayam Singh Yadav form coalition ministries. Later, in 1997, it was a split in the Congress that helped the BJP cobble together the numbers to get to power.

This time, only a sustained campaign will keep the Congress in the picture. It needs to emphasize that it alone has had a positive record on development issues, and strike at the ruling party in the urban pockets where the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are too weak to take on the BJP.

In a sense, Scindia was among those who instinctively realized this. If the party wants to play a key role in the coming months, it needs to get its act together in UP. And it then has to do the obvious: rethink its aversion to coalition regimes at the Centre. If the Congress will not move with history then history will pass it by, leaving it a bystander.

If nothing else, it can learn from the story of its own eminent leaders whose lives have been cut short so tragically. It needs to evolve and change. The alternative is to stay a prisoner of its past and lose hold of the future.

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum Library, New Delhi


India figures in the Nobels this year, on the 100th anniversary of the most coveted prize on this planet. The physics prize is a direct tribute to the talent of the best theoretical physicist that India has ever produced, Satyendranath Bose.

Carl E. Weiman, of the University of Colorado in Boulder, Eric A. Cornell, from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology in Boulder and Wolfgang Ketterle, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, were selected for the prize for producing a bizarre state of matter, called Bose-Einstein condensate, in which atoms merge together into a single wavelike entity, much like a beam of laser light. The trio’s feat is a vindication of an idea propounded by Bose and extended by Albert Einstein in the Twenties.

In its millennium bash, Time magazine chose Einstein to be the “Person of the Century” in 1999, arguing that he alone was the face of the remarkable advance of science that marked the 20th century. The accolade was justified. Of the two most important upheavals in science that the last century produced — relativity and quantum mechanics — Einstein singlehandedly accomplished the former and flagged off the latter. The Nobel prize, not exactly a measure for Einstein’s genius, came his way though. But what about Bose? Why has he become the most famous icon of deprivation in science?

The Nobel prize, like any other award, is bound to be a victim of subjectivism. In fact, physics, like any other branch of science, has its own list of unforgettable left-outs. Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann (omitted from the prize when Otto Hann got it in 1944 for splitting atoms), George Zweig (excluded in 1969 when Murray Gell-Mann got it in 1969 for propounding the quark structure of matter), and Fred Hoyle (ignored when the award went to William Fowler in 1983 for showing how chemical elements are produced in stars), to name a few. Bose’s figure, however, towers over all these epitomes of negligence as not one but many Nobel-winning feats owe their accomplishments to his valuable insight.

Physics, at the beginning of the last century, was going through a state of upheaval, a not-so-unhappy outcome of some tantalizing discoveries during the 1890s. Three of those came in successive years. First, there was the detection of an invisible light, called X-ray, by the German experimental physicist, Wilhelm Konrad von Roentgen (incidentally, the first Nobel prize winner in physics) in 1895. The next year, the French expert, Antoine Henri Becquerel, discovered that the element uranium emitted a radiant light, a phenomenon called radioactivity. And then the British physicist, Joseph John Thomson, stumbled upon a universal fragment of all atoms, the electron. All these discoveries came as a pleasant surprise to a German professor named Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck.

In 1900, upon conjecturing, somewhat reluctantly, that atoms absorb or emit light not in a stream but in little lumps, Planck ushered in a revolution in our understanding of nature. On a New Year’s day walk with his small son he told him that a new era of physics had begun.

Although Planck’s daring hypothesis meant to say that light was grainy — just like matter, in the final analysis — his contemporaries did not take the new concept seriously. They were still glued to the idea that light propagated itself in waves. This was despite the fact that in 1905, in one of the five papers that Einstein wrote in Annalen der Physik (the one that eventually earned him a Nobel prize in 1921), he suggested that light itself must be made up of its grains, rather than just being emitted and absorbed in those grains.

The man who changed this scenario by a stroke of genius was Bose, then a physics professor from Dhaka University. An avid follower of Albert Einstein’s works, and one of the first translators of relativity into English, Bose took the idea of light particles seriously. In 1924, he wrote a paper arriving at what Planck had achie- ved long ago, but getting there in an ingenious way. What Bose showed was that you need not assume that light is absorbed or emitted in little lumps, light itself is somewhat like a gas of particles. To arrive at this, you only have to adopt a new statistics, or, simply put, count those particles in a manner different from the way others had been using.

Bose sent the paper to the Philosophical Magazine for publication, but, for some unknown reason, did not get any response from it. Desperate, he then sent it to Einstein, introducing himself as one of his distant disciples. Requesting him to go through the paper, Bose urged Einstein to pass it on to the Zeitschrift fur Physik if it was worth it. Impressed by Bose’s brainwave, Einstein himself translated the paper into German, and sent it to the journal with a note, saying, “Bose’s derivation of Planck’s law signifies, in my opinion, an important step forward. The method used here gives also the quantum theory of an ideal gas, as I shall show elsewhere.” He kept his promise and wrote three papers in the Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin in 1925 incorporating the idea of the new statistics. The Bose-Einstein statistics was born. That was Einstein’s last major contribution to quantum theory.

Extending Bose’s statistics to describe the behaviour of gases under different conditions, Einstein showed that just as light could be explained in terms of particles, so particles ought to behave as waves. Einstein’s paper meant that if a sample of atoms were cooled sufficiently, a large fraction of them would lose their individual identity. They would, in effect, merge, occupying the same space, and behave as though they were a single “superatom”. This is what came to be known as Bose-Einstein condensate.

That bizarre state of matter is but one prediction of Bose-Einstein statistics. The roots of quantum electrodynamics, the theory of interaction of light and matter which earned Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga the Nobel prize in physics in 1965, go back to that statistics. Quantum chronomodynamics , the theory of quark structure of matter for which Murray Gell-Mann bagged the prize in 1969, is modelled after QED. And it is through QCD that physicists hope to achieve their Holy Grail — a single concept to describe all phenomena in this universe, the so-called Theory of Everything.

Physicists classify all particles in this universe in two groups, bosons and fermions. Bosons are the ones obeying the Bose-Einstein statistics. Fermions, named after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, obey the statistics enunciated by him and the British physicist, Paul Dirac. It is believed that fermions interact with one another by exchanging bosons among themselves.

Bosons have been figuring, directly or indirectly, in the Nobel prizes for a long time now. When Abdus Salam, Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow bagged the Nobel prize in physics in 1979, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences honoured them for having shown that electromagnetism and radioactivity, although diverse activities apparently, were essentially the same phenomenon. The trio had predicted that the unification of those two phenomena would require three boson particles — W-plus, W-minus and Z-zero — to exist. When Carlo Rubbia and his colleague, Simon van der Meer, detected those three bosons at the European Centre for Nuclear Physics near Geneva in early Eighties, they were awarded the physics Nobel in 1984.

The next big prey in the boson family is called the “Higgs boson”. Its detection would surely bag another Nobel, for it’s believed to solve a great mystery of nature —that of mass. Physicists do not know why particles have masses at all, or, more importantly, why they have the masses that they do, and not a bit more or less. As billions of euros and dollars are being allocated for the race to track that high-profile member of the boson family, the importance of Satyendranath’s brainwave is looming larger than ever. And, with that, the image of a colossus unrecognized.

Nobel Winners

List of Nobel-winners whose feats go back to Bose’s idea:
1965: Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga
1969: Murray Gell-Mann
1979: Abdus Salam, Steven Weinberg, Sheldon Glashow
1984: Carlo Rubbia, Simon van der Meer
2001: Carl Wieman, Eric Cornell, Wolfgang Ketterle

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2001 is awarded to the British writer, born in Trinidad, VS Naipaul, “for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories”.

V.S. Naipaul is a literary circumnavigator, only ever really at home in himself, in his inimitable voice. Singularly unaffected by literary fashion and models he has wrought existing genres into a style of his own, in which the customary distinctions between fiction and non-fiction are of subordinate importance.

Naipaul’s literary domain has extended far beyond the West Indian island of Trinidad, his first subject, and now encompasses India, Africa, America from south to north, the Islamic countries of Asia and, not least, England. Naipaul is Conrad’s heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in his memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.

The farcical yarns in his first work, The Mystic Masseur, and the short stories in Miguel Streetwith their blend of Chekhov and calypso established Naipaul as a humorist and a portrayer of street life. He took a giant stride with A House for Mr. Biswas, one of those singular novels that seem to constitute their own complete universes, in this case a miniature India on the periphery of the British Empire, the scene of his father’s circumscribed existence. In allowing peripheral figures their place in the momentousness of great literature, Naipaul reverses normal perspectives and denies readers at the centre their protective detachment. This principle was made to serve in a series of novels in which, despite the increasingly documentary tone, the characters did not therefore become less colourful. Fictional narratives, autobiography and documentaries have merged in Naipaul’s writing without it always being possible to say which element dominates.

In his masterpiece The Enigma of Arrival Naipaul visits the reality of England like an anthropologist studying some hitherto unexplored native tribe deep in the jungle. With apparently short-sighted and random observations he creates an unrelenting image of the placid collapse of the old colonial ruling culture and the demise of European neighbourhoods.

Naipaul has drawn attention to the novel’s lack of universality as a form, that it presupposes an inviolate human world of the kind that has been shattered for conquered peoples. He began to experience the inadequacy of fiction while he was working on The Loss of El Dorado, in which after extensive study of the archives he described the appalling colonial history of Trinidad. He found that he had to cling to the authenticity of the details and the voices and abstain from mere fictionalization while at the same time continuing to render his material in the form of literature. His travel books allow witnesses to testify at every turn, not least in his powerful description of the eastern regions of the Islamic world, Beyond Belief. The author’s empathy finds expression in the acuity of his ear.

Naipaul is a modern philosophe, carrying on the tradition that started originally with Lettres persanes and Candide. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired, he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony.


Osama bin Laden, early October 2001: “The nations of infidels have all united against the Muslims...This is a new battle, a great battle, similar to the great battles of Islam like the conquest of Jerusalem...[The Americans] come out to fight Islam in the name of fighting terrorism. These events have split the world into two camps: the camp of belief and the camp of disbelief.”

Bin Laden’s videotaped message to the Muslim world, pre-taped for release after the first strikes of the United States of America against Afghanistan, should give Samuel Huntington a warm glow of satisfaction, for it was he who predicted in his best-selling book in the early Nineties that Islam and the West would become global adversaries in a “clash of civilizations”. Bin Laden also believes that this clash will define the next phase of world history, and is doing his best to hurry it along.

Huntington’s book was especially popular among the Washington-based professionals who had built lucrative careers on fighting the Soviet threat, and by the early Nineties were desperately in need of a new threat to replace it. Just substitute bearded fanatics for godless commissars, and carry on making money.

Enemies within

In Islamic fundamentalist circles, on the other hand, they had no need of Huntington. They already believed that contemporary history is a morality play in which the oppressed and despised peoples of the Muslim world are destined to unite, wage a final battle against “Western civilization”, and overthrow its domination throughout the world.

This is the world-view that bin Laden pushes relentlessly every time he finds a camera to address, and there are plenty of Muslims, especially in the Arab world, who already believe it. The current crisis will give this definition of the world a big boost in both the “civilizations” in question, but it remains, nevertheless, pure paro-chial nonsense. There is no “clash of civilizations”, only a clash between traditionalists and modernizers WITHIN each culture, religion and “civilization”. All of bin Laden’s real enemies are Muslims.

The battle between reformers and conservatives has been underway in the West for over 500 years, long before it began in other parts of the planet. This lets the defenders of the old ways everywhere else portray their opponents within their own society as mere pawns of Western influence. As a pro-taliban youth in an Afghan refugee camp put it recently: “The Americans love Coca-Cola, but we love death.”

Muddling through

It’s a striking statement, but the point is that there’s nothing particularly Islamic about it. A Japanese kamikaze pilot in 1945 could have said it with equal sincerity. Every major culture on the planet is at some stage or other of working its way through the same series of changes, and occasionally some country or even some entire “civilization” may spin out for a while and go slightly mad.

This is NOT happening to the Muslims as a whole, some 1.2 billion people of widely diverse languages, histories and traditions who live in around 50 different countries in three continents. It is not even happening to the Arabs, who account for only one-fifth of the world’s Muslims. It is conceivable (though not likely) that a couple of Arab states might face revolutionary take-overs by Islamic fundamentalists if the current crisis lasts too long or involves too many innocent Muslims’ deaths, but you still don’t get a “clash of civilizations” out of that.

The vast majority of the world’s Muslims live in Asia, and countries such as Indonesia and Bangladesh, while they certainly have their problems, have not been long-term failures at either democracy or development. They will not be joining in Osama bin Laden’s jihad against the West — nor, for that matter, will many Arab countries either.

There are genuine global trends at work today: democratization, globalization, equality for women. The “global village” that Marshall McLuhan predicted to much puzzlement 40 years ago is a reality. But the trends, while they cause puzzlement, do not show signs of leading towards a titanic “clash of civilizations”. Instead, we are all muddling through the mess, far too busy coping with the deluge of change in our own lives to fall into the grand historical patterns foreseen for us by men like Huntington and bin Laden.



We can always say sorry

Sir — The report, “Japan wins China with apology” (Oct 9), would suggest a great leap in Sino-Japanese relations, soured by allegations of Japanese atrocities committed on the Chinese during World War II. During the occupation of China, between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese were held responsible for offences ranging from using the services of “comfort women” to the terrible treatment of Chinese children. The gesture of goodwill by the Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, in the form of a “heartfelt apology” to the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, has strengthened the relations between the two countries. This has enabled Japan to win over the Chinese government in favour of Tokyo’s proposed military role in the United States of America-led war on terrorism. But this might revive Japan’s militarism, ultimately affecting the power relations between the nations. It is interesting to note the extent to which foreign diplomacy has changed over the years, particularly since the World War II, with respect to Japan and US.
Yours faithfully,
Ratoola Kundu, Calcutta

One more drive

Sir — It is shocking to find that the West Bengal chief minister, who seems determined to construct a transparent and efficient government, is backing the illegal activities of Lakshmi De, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s legislator (“Sur panel hits Buddha clean-chit hurdle”, Oct 10). De was allegedly involv-ed in the recent vandalism at the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital. It is hard to believe that De was not involved, bec-ause his past record shows his involvement in antisocial activities. After a thorough probe if it is proved that the hospital superintendent, Sachchidananda Sin-ha, has falsely lodged a first information report in De’s name, then Bhattacharjee has every right to punish the super. It is unfortunate that senior CPI(M) leaders like Subhash Chakraborty and Bhattach- arjee are giving De a clean chit beforehand.

Not surprisingly, the CPI(M) state secretary, Anil Biswas, has made the obvious statement that the police and the administration will take necessary action against those involved in the incident. Both the CPI(M) and the administration seem to be reluctant to pursue the matter but the Indian Medical Association sho-uld take strong exception to a slowing down of the inquiry. It should expect at least an unconditional apology for the hospital super from the guilty parties.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — The report, “Eviction drive a clean sweep” (Oct 10), arouses mixed feelings. On one hand, the eviction of unauthorized occupants from the hospital premises is welcome. But the manner in which it happened is unfortunate. The alleged involvement of the CPI(M) member of the legislative assembly, Lakshmi De, in the eviction has tarnished the image of the party. Instead of declaring De an innocent soul, the West Bengal chief minister should have waited before the inquiry came to a conclusion.

The idea of evicting illegal squatters from the premise of the hospital makes sense but it could have been done without this kind of violence. The administration should also try to save its face in the future by not giving shelter to dubious people.

Yours faithfully,
T. Banerjee, via email

Sir — The initiative taken by the state health minister, Suryakanta Mishra, to revamp the dismal condition of services in the hospitals, though overdue, is praiseworthy (“Hospitals declared strike proof”, Sept 30). The order in respect to strikes and gheraos, rescheduling of classes in all the medical colleges and so on is a correct and positive step. The flourishing practices of some private doctors should be checked. The touts operating in the campuses of hospitals should be firmly dealt with. The government efforts in this regard should get the support of the public.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhusan Saha, Durgapur

Sir — The West Bengal government’s effort to make a blockade-free Bengal was initiated by declaring sit-ins and gheraos in hospital premises as illegal. The decision of the health minister, Suryakanta Mishra, came at a time when the state health department needs a thorough overhaul. This step was taken because of the lack of discipline in the medical colleges and hospitals among the students and staff. Mishra should be appreciated on this account.

Yours faithfully,
Shruti Moitra, Calcutta

Rough change or smooth

Sir — The recent resignation of the Gujarat chief minister, Keshubhai Patel, in the wake of the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the byelections shows that the party system has not worked well in our kind of democracy (“Smooth change pat for Patel”, Oct 5). The system has its shortcomings, which should be addressed. Supremacy of the big party bosses should give way to freedom of the ordinary members of the legislative assembly to elect the chief minister. This can be done through the system of secret voting on the floor of the house, on nominations signed by at least one-third of the MLAs. Proposals for confidence motions may be accepted for secret voting only on the written demand of the same number of MLAs. Such changes will also ensure the saving of funds because full terms of assemblies will be ensured. Funds can be utilized for giving official status to the cabinets formed by the opposition leader to provide an effective check on the functioning of the ministers.
Yours faithfully,
S.C. Agrawal, New Delhi

Sir — The writer of the report, “Smooth change pat for Patel” (Oct 5), may have witnessed the look of relief on the face of a number of BJP stalwarts, who are grateful to Keshubhai Patel for stepping down. The leader maintained that the manner in which he was removed was “not proper”. But this does not matter, given that Narendra Modi is making smart promises to the people of Gujarat. Only time will tell whether the change of guard will brighten the BJP’s future in Gujarat.

Yours faithfully,
S. Shekhar, Calcutta

Sir — The drama regarding the resignation of Keshubhai Patel brings into focus that all is not well with the BJP. Although the party maintains that the leadership change was “smooth”, this event has reflected the division existing within the party.

Yours faithfully,
G. Patel, Gandhinagar

Senior citizens’ mite

Sir — It looks like the prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the minister of finance, Yashwant Sinha, have no time to think about the hardships of retired senior citizens. Small savings, the United Trust of India debacle and inflation have made retirement years extremely tough. After satisfying the bureaucracy and the legislature in the form of the fifth pay commission and the pay hike of the members of parliament, little is left to help the senior citizens. The government should adopt measures to bring relief to this section of the population, without further delay.
Yours faithfully,
S. Bose, Calcutta

Sir — Unfortunately, in India senior citizens are now leading lives of alienation from society. For them a telephone is indispensable. Only a few can afford to pay for a telephone because recently banks and post offices have reduced their interest rates. It would be heartening to see the government introduce 50 per cent relief in telephone bills for aged consumers.

Yours faithfully,
Debu Ghosh, Jamshedpur

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G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007

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