Editorial 1 / New priorities
Editorial 2 / Fatted calf
For whom the state acts
Fifth Column / Not an Excess of activity at all
Now for the booster dose
Document / Providing the routine services
Letters to the editor

One perceptible fallout of the events of September 11 and the the subsequent retaliatory action by the United States of America is the increased involvement of the latter in the affairs of the south Asian region. This may not lead, as most leftists fear, to a physical US presence in India’s backyard, but there is no denying that India, Pakistan and Afghanistan will all feature prominently in US foreign policy deliberations. The visit of the US secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, to India and Pakistan is an indication of the importance the region has acquired in the US agenda. It needs no special insight to say that the primary aims of Mr Powell’s visit is to lower the level of tension that exists between India and Pakistan with Kashmir acting as a constant source of aggravation and aggression. The last thing that the US wants in the present conjuncture is a renewal of hostilities between India and Pakistan. Yet, the situation is volatile after the bomb attack on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly in Srinagar and the refusal of Mr Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan president, to admit that the violence in Kashmir cannot be described by any other word save terrorism. The US response to the situation is bound to be a complicated one since at the moment it must act on behalf of Mr Musharraf; the alternative to him is another general, but with a fanatical bent of mind. The US cannot afford in any way to alienate India since the latter is the only stabile polity in the region and is firmly committed to the complete eradication of terrorism.

This emerging situation may be difficult for South Block to accept. But it must abandon its knee-jerk anti-Musharraf priorities and accept that the entire perspective has changed. An increased US influence over Pakistan’s decision-making can only be to India’s advantage. For one thing, a stable regime in Pakistan provides a viable channel for dialogue without too much crackle intended for domestic consumption. For another, the US, after September 11, can only act as a deterrent to any intentions to galvanize terrorists against India. Most importantly, the US presence guarantees that Pakistan will not be able to abuse its nuclear assets. There is also an obvious geopolitical advantage for India derived from the US presence in the region. The latter acts against the formation of a strong Sino-Pak alliance. Indian foreign policy makers can no longer ignore the major shift that has taken place with the emergence of China as a global player. In south Asia, the US needs a large enough player to counter the growing importance of China. Only India with its deep-rooted democracy, political stability and economic potential can viably fulfil the functions of such a counterweight. Indian foreign policy carries with it a heavy anti-US hangover from the days of Indira Gandhi. In the present new and more urgent situation, it is imperative that South Block changes the filters through which it looks at the world.


The return of the prodigal is not always a story with a happy ending. Mr George Fernandes’s return to the cabinet and his resumption of office as defence minister was carried through at a smart pace, given that the Venkataswami commission has not yet completed its inquiry into Mr Fernandes’s possible role in the defence deals scandal exposed by tehelka.com. The effectiveness of a government is in large part related to its transparency and consistency. Although the Election Commission has so far failed to institute the requirement of clean backgrounds for electoral candidates, it is nevertheless true that a Union minister under investigation for a charge of corruption is unacceptable to the people. The Union government had not stopped functioning because of the absence of Mr Fernandes. Besides, even if it had, simple common sense would say that Mr Fernandes’s return was not the answer. And if Mr Jaswant Singh was finding it impossible to carry the extra load of the defence portfolio at this critical time, somebody else should have been found to take it on. Defence is a particularly sensitive ministry at any time. With the terrible uncertainties of the moment, it is bound to seem especially suspicious that a minister under the shadow of a corruption charge should be brought back almost at the sole insistence of the prime minister. The general excuse being bandied about, that Mr Fernandes is more trouble outside the ministry than in, is unbecoming of any government. It is almost a declaration of its ineffectuality when pitted against a powerful former friend.

So far, the sudden spurts of activity exhibited by the prime minister have usually cut through the cant and bickering of allies and partymen or other members of the sangh parivar. This time, however, his decisions are quite bewildering. Besides Mr Fernandes, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has also brought back the Bharatiya Janata Party member of parliament from Ahmedabad, Mr Harin Pathak, as minister of state and put him in charge of defence production. He had quit because charges had been framed against him in a murder and rioting case. Evidently, Mr Vajpayee is no longer bothered about insignificant things like credibility. Neither is he concerned about the image of his ever-expanding cabinet. The fact that he brought back Mr Bangaru Laxman, the erstwhile BJP president disgraced in the Tehelka scandal, as chairman of the Rajya Sabha house committee, should have indicated a change. This may be the beginning of a determined attempt to erase the scandal and its significance from public and political memory. By being proactive in favour of the allegedly lawless and corrupt, Mr Vajpayee is sending the worst signals to the judiciary and the people. Such tales seldom have happy endings.


The government is meant to be for the people. But it is understandable that there should be serious doubts on this score. The September 30 issue of Down to Earth is a case in point, where there is a story about Goudpali village in Naktideul block of Sambalpur. The village has 100 families and is surrounded on three sides by the Sankhanala river. On the fourth side, there is the Kusumpur drain and around the village, there are reserve forests. In 1984-85, the department of irrigation decided to build a check dam over the Sankhanala river. This would not only have irrigated Goudpali village, but also the adjoining village of Bramhanipali, and increased agricultural productivity.

Nothing happened, although the department of irrigation had conducted a feasibility survey and had assured villagers that the check dam would be built. Why did nothing happen? Because the project would have cost Rs 14 to15 lakh and because 1.5 to 2 hectares of the reserve forest would be submerged.

Nothing happened till 1997. The vice- president of the zilla parishad was then Ashalata Pradhan, who persuaded the district collector and other government officials to take up the matter again. The zilla parishad sanctioned Rs 50,000 for a canal, although without the check dam, there was no water that would feed into the canal. Anyway, a contract was awarded for building the canal and there were allegations of misappropriation of funds. Incidentally, the canal was supposed to circumvent any reserve forest area.

In 1999, the villagers decided to do something on their own. They pooled labour and collected their own money (Rs 45,000) to build the check dam on their own. Not only was the check dam going to be built, there would also be a canal and one-fourth of the canal had to be inside the Kholagarh reserve forest area, although no trees were cut. The government did react. The forest department reacted by filing a complaint against 12 villagers from Goudpali. Their crime was that they had built part of the canal inside the reserve forest boundary and while the case drags on, the partially built check dam is of no use.

The same issue of Down to Earth reports another instance from villages in Muzaffarpur and Meerut, threatened by floods from the Ganga. The irrigation department did nothing. So the villagers combined to build a 11.5 kilometre long bund through the villages of Ahmedwala, Sherpur, Shujapur, Ramawala, Jeevanpuri, Hassanpuri and Kheda. Voluntary labour was provided and funds collected. Those who benefited positively contributed Rs 500 per year per acre of land. They also contributed a bag of paddy each as compensation (per acre) to those who were adversely affected. Sugar mills have also put in money.

The government had estimated the bund would cost Rs 32 crore. The villagers did it for Rs 42 lakh, even though the technical standards of the two types of bunds might not be quite comparable. There seems to have been some violation (not very clear in what form) of the Irrigation Act. But unlike in Orissa, the government has not filed complaints against the villagers and there is a proposal, with government support, that the bund will now be extended for 25 kilometres, all the way up to Hastinapur.

Tarun Bharat Sangh’s experience in Rajasthan is not very different and now everyone knows about this, thanks to the Magsaysay Award. Alwar district used to be an arid area, with only 60 centimetres of rainfall a year. Thanks to Rajendra Singh and Tarun Bharat Sangh, villagers were mobilized and traditional water harvesting techniques revived. Johads or dams were built and rainwater tapped, instead of running off the surface. Water tables rose, dried up rivers accumulated water and revived and Alwar is no longer arid. Migrants have started to return.

Did the government system help this process of revival? Not quite. When Tarun Bharat Sangh began to plant trees in Sariska National Park, it was prosecuted on charges of digging on reserved land. Now that the rivers have fish in them, the government wishes to auction out fishing licences.

In Delhi, the non-governmental organization, Manushi, has championed the cause of rickshaw pullers and vendors through public hearings. A licensing system exists for both. The issue is not one of urban planning. Had that been the case, designated hawking zones could have been carved out, as was indicated by a 1987 Supreme Court order.

But the Supreme Court proposes and the administration disposes. So this has not been done. At least, not in Delhi. And a general licensing system continues to operate for hawkers. Apparently, there are 5 lakh hawkers in Delhi and only 5,000 have been granted licences. That makes the remainder technically illegal. And hence the system of bribes, paid to local goondas, the cops and staff of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. At the hearing, hawkers narrated how much they pay as bribes. In an ordinary market, the rate is between Rs 500 and Rs 3,000 a month. At desired locations like Connaught Place, the rate shoots up to Rs 500 a day. Rough calculations yield a figure of Rs 500 crore being annually paid as bribes. And the imputed costs of loss of income as a result of harassment or actual impounding of goods amounts to another Rs 100 crore a year. These are substantial sums of money. Subject to the hawking zone issue, why shouldn’t all hawkers become legitimate? If necessary, levy a small fee as registration. That brings in revenue to local bodies, rather than money being siphoned off into the pockets of petty functionaries.

Cycle-rickshaws are no different and also confront licensing. Owning more than one rickshaw is illegal and such illegal rickshaws can be impounded. When such an illegal rickshaw is impounded, a fine of Rs 300 is imposed, plus a storeroom charge of Rs 25 per day. Rickshaws can also only be driven by their owners. Hiring someone to drive a rickshaw is illegal and a rickshaw can be impounded if this crime is committed.

On top of this, there is licensing. There are anything between 500,000 and 600,000 cycle rickshaws in Delhi. But the government has provided for 99,000 licences and only 73,000 rickshaws have actually been issued licences. The remainder are illegal and survive through bribes. Manushi’s rough figures suggest annual bribes of Rs 60 crore that are paid. Apparently, in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru had committed to the rickshaw pullers cooperative that the number of licences would be increased. But nothing significantly changed in 37 years. The number of licences did increase. However, bye-laws were not changed. So licences continued to be issued to individuals, not to cooperatives.

The public hearings had some effect, because the present prime minister got interested. He wrote to the lieutenant governor of Delhi, instructing that Delhi be divided into green (free access), amber (fee-based access) and red (prohibited access) zones, with the same geographical area becoming a part of different zones depending on the time of the day. Subject to this zoning, rickshaws should be registered after paying nominal fees. There would be no impounding and non-registration would simply mean higher subsequent fees.

A similar policy would be followed for vendors. This was a “pay and ply or hawk” scheme. So far so good. But what the prime minister proposes, lesser minions dispose. The traffic police have therefore issued a notification stating that most of Delhi is red between eight in the morning and ten in the night. These parts become amber between ten in the night and eight in the morning, when of course the services of cycle-rickshaws and vendors are extremely necessary. To make matters worse, the police now have independent powers to evict rickshaw-pullers and vendors from red zones. Earlier, they came into the picture only if municipal authorities asked them to. Manushi now reports that bribe rates have gone up.

Reforms are pro-rich and anti-poor. So runs the popular impression. Reforms don’t fetch votes. So runs the popular impression. But that is because reforms that truly benefit the poor haven’t yet happened. Therein lies the problem. Industrial licensing is dead. That is what we are told by the government. And this is indeed true, barring a small negative list. But this dismantling of industrial licensing has only benefited the large-scale sector. For the rest, licensing and the inspector raj are alive and kicking.

And this licensing is not just through statutory law. More commonly, it happens through administrative law (orders, rules and regulations), usually referred to as subordinate legislation. Reforms are about reduced state intervention. But reduced government intervention through reductions in the inspector raj are much more important than whether the government makes bread and aluminium.

The author is director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi


In a momentous judgment, the Supreme Court has recently shown that it is duty-bound to take sides with the poor people and it can rigorously direct the ruling authorities to take proper measures in the interests of the underprivileged. It has given the chief secretaries of thirteen states and Union territories three weeks to find out the number of people living below the poverty line so that the foodgrains rotting in government godowns can be properly distributed among them. The order actually came during the hearing on a petition which contended that while foodgrains are rotting in the Central granaries, people are dying of starvation in different provinces and Union territories.

Obviously, the new verdict has twofold implications. First, it indicates that about half of the provinces and Union territories have failed to serve the interests of the people whom they claim to represent. So the Supreme Court has ordered them to forthwith lift their entire allotment and distribute it under various schemes of the Union government. Interestingly, West Bengal and Tripura are two such provinces, although their governments always pose as protectors of poor people. Others have been similarly asked to respond to the court notice in this respect.

Poverty of effort

It is now known that 60 lakh tons of foodgrains are rotting in the Food Corporation of India granaries. The court has noticed that nine schemes under the Union government have not worked well. This is why it has said that the reports must spell out the status of projects like Sampurna Gramin Jojna, the midday meals scheme, the national maternity scheme for the below poverty-line, the national old age pension scheme. The Union allotted foodgrains of 24 lakh ton to the 11 poverty and famine-stricken states, but they, in total, lifted only 14 lakh tons from the Central granaries.

Particularly, Orissa has drawn less than one and a half tons of foodgrains out of its total allotment, and Bihar has lifted not even a single grain from its allotment. Moreover, the way in which some state governments have determined the number of persons living under the poverty line has also shocked the Supreme Court.

But the more significant point is that in order to offset the executive callousness, the judiciary has come forward with unprecedented zeal. On many previous occasions, however, the courts sought to make up the deficiencies of the political system and particularly the Supreme Court has often come forward.

This is nothing new, of course, since the judges’ understanding has always shown this characteristic. For example, the court pronounced its verdict during the Asiad games in 1982 in favour of the stadium labourers.

President’s deal

In fact, it has often become difficult to decide who serves the people better. Rulers generally claim that they alone look into the matter and the judges only act as a stumbling block in such matters.

But the issue was conclusively decided in the United States of America on the “New Deal”-affair. In order to fight out the great depression of 1929, the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, initiated the “New Deal” and, accordingly, the congress passed a number of bills in order to save people from the economic crisis. But twelve of them were invalidated by the supreme court and, as a result, the judges cursed by the people as the epitome of conservatism and enemies of the poor.

Taking advantage of the favourable situation, the president raised, in 1937, the court reorganization bill by which he was empowered to appoint an additional judge for every sitting judge who was above 70 in age. Only three judges were below 70 and hence the president had the opportunity to induct six new judges to the bench. But the public reaction soon changed completely.

It may be a valuable lesson for us as well. The judiciary may be cried down by the leftist ideologies, but it is often overlooked that it is really the custodian of democracy and freedom and also a saviour of the poor people.

The inefficient rulers label such endeavour “judicial activism”. But there can be no iota of doubt that such activism alone can fill up a big gap in our political system and help the poor people to live with necessary food and shelter.


Among the many failures of the left’s long rule in West Bengal, those in education and healthcare have been the most glaring. Even if they try to defend, however unconvincingly, their record in reaching education to the masses and democratizing academic administration, most Left Front leaders privately admit that the state’s public healthcare system is simply stinking. Not only has the existing infrastructure nearly collapsed, but the morale of the healthcare administrators and workers has been abysmally low also. No wonder that whoever could afford it would avoid government hospitals like the plague. So low is the public confidence in the state system — and by extension, also in most of the private infrastructure — that even ministers would go over to Chennai, Banglaore, Hyderabad or Mumbai for medical treatment. Bengal’s health does not seem to have a hope in hell.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) cannot blame any of its front partners for the rotten health because, except for one term when Nani Bhattacharyya of the Revolutionary Socialist Party was the health minister, the department has always been held by the Marxists. But CPI(M) health ministers — Prasanta Sur and Ambarish Mukherjee — failed to stem the rot. Worried Alimuddin Street bosses, therefore, put one of the party stalwarts, Surya Kanta Mishra, in charge of health as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee began the rule of the “New Left” after the last elections.

Bhattacharjee, commerce and industry minister, Nirupam Sen, and Mishra form the new triumvirate at the Writers’ Buildings. Together with state party secretary, Anil Biswas, and politburo member, Biman Bose, these three make up the new face of the party in Bengal. With Bhattacharjee singing the “Do-It-Now” mantra for government employees, Mishra has his chance to clean the Augean stables in health. A soft-spoken, no-nonsense man who made his mark earlier as panchayat and land reforms minister, Mishra set about his task in a quiet but determined fashion.

The beginning looks promising, not because of any substantive results it has already shown, but because of the freewheeling approach to old, seemingly insurmountable problems. Mishra decided that before he started cleaning the house, it was necessary to clean up the surroundings. He gave the police a free hand in dismantling unauthorized structures and removing illegal occupants of quarters on hospital premises. This should have been an easy enough job for the government, but for the intervention of petty local party satraps who had created their little oligarchies at these places at the cost of patients, people and health administrators. The controversy involving the CPI(M) leader, Lakshmi Dey, during the clean-up at the Calcutta Medical College Hospital is an example of the old order; that the demolitions, including that of a union office affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, took place despite CPI(M) protests signals the new order.

One may have an idea of the problem of illegal occupation of hospital quarters from a recent incident at CMC Hospital. While the government finally struck down the unauthorized structures and drove out the illegal occupants, the hospital’s resident medical officer faced a problem. Although it is mandatory for the RMO to live on the hospital premises, he could not do so for four years because the quarters allotted to him had been illegally occupied by a ward master. The hapless RMO rented a flat at Baguihati and subsequently bought one there. Now the government wants him to stay at his quarters but the RMO does not want to risk letting out his own flat bought with his meagre savings and a loan.

But Mishra’s problems are far greater. He has to set right an administration whose vitals has been deeply eroded by inept and partisan handling. And he has to ensure better quality for both medical education and health administration in line with advances made by some other states. In attempting both, he has to steer clear of pernicious party influence that was largely responsible for this state of affairs.

He began with what he calls four “basic changes in policy” — decentralization, autonomy, accountability and modernization. Before that, however, much of the old policy structures had to be demolished. Within weeks of assuming his new charge, Mishra disbanded the old managing committees that ran seven medical college hospitals. These were replaced by a five-member committee, with the director of medical education as convener.

Gone are the days when the medical college principals were practically lame ducks, with all powers vested in the superintendents who, however, played second fiddle to party bosses in the managing committees. The principals can now build an edifice of autonomous administration under the guidance of the DME and other members of the empowered committee. Even for hospital administration, a beginning has been made at the SSKM Hospital where the superintendent has been given greater autonomy.

In the districts,a broad-based district health committee will now take over many of the functions and responsibilities which earlier saw the administrators there come running to the Writers’ Buildings. These committees now have members of the legislative assembly from each party in the districts, as well as the chief medical officer as member-secretary and the zilla parishad sabhadhipati as the chairman. Significantly, these committees have been given a degree of autonomy in financial and personnel administration also. The two committees for the medical colleges and the district hospitals would be permanent bodies which will not only monitor medical education and health administration but also ensure modernization and accountability at all levels.

Another one-member committee has been set up to advise the government on setting up “centres of excellence”. These will not be new institutions, but new centres for “world-class” facilities in specific treatments and medical investigations. Thus, the School of Tropical Medicine will be developed as a centre of excellence in “laboratory investigations”, the SSKM Hospital in cardiothoracic surgery and the NRS medical college and hospital in haematology.

As the new ideas get off the ground, the health department officials are familiarizing themselves with the new language. Doctors in distant North Bengal Medical College Hospital or the one at Bankura are getting ready to administer tele-medicine to their patients in consultation with experts at the SSKM Hospital. This will be gradually extended to hospitals and specialist clinics outside the state. In doing this, the health department is working in tandem with the new information technology department of the state government. The health department is also using IT for personnel management and for upgrading its drugs and equipment inventory.

Mishra’s battle against archaic attitudes and inept administration in his own department comes at a crucial time. By December 2002, the state government has to complete World Bank projects, worth Rs 700 crores, to upgrade the primary healthcare system in seven districts. Sometime next year, the government has to start work on another major project funded by a British government agency that has recently been cleared by the Centre’s department of economic affairs. The British Health Institute, too, has come up with a proposal to develop some “super-facilities” in select government institutions in the state.

To achieve all this and more, Mishra has to kickstart a campaign for a new work culture. He sometimes complains that even his party and ministerial colleagues often go to other states for treatment, not knowing that the facilities are available at home. As with so many other things in Bengal, the image of its healthcare sometimes looks worse than the reality. Mishra has shown early promise, but he has a long way to go.


Create an enabling environment for women and children to benefit from products and services disseminated under the reproductive and child health programme. Cluster services for women and children at the same place and time. This promotes positive interactions in health benefits and reduces service delivery costs.

...To empower women, open more childcare centres in rural areas and in urban slums, where a woman worker may leave her children in responsible hands. This will encourage female participation in paid employment, reduce school drop-out rates, particularly for the girl child, and promote school enrolment...

To empower women, pursue programmes of social afforestation to facilitate access to fuelwood and fodder. Similarly, pursue drinking water schemes for increasing access to potable water. This will reduce long absence from home, and the need for ... children to perform the tasks.

In any reward scheme intended for household levels, priority may be given to energy saving devices such as solar cookers, or provision of sanitation facilities, or extension of telephone lines. This will empower households...

Improve district, sub-district and panchayat-level health management with coordination and collaboration between district health officer, sub-district health officer and the panchayat for planning and implementation activities. There is need to:

Strengthen the referral network between the district health office, district hospital and the community health centres, the primary health centres and the subcentres in management of obstretric and neo-natal complications.

Strengthen community health centres to provide comprehensive emergency obstetric and neo-natal care... Strengthen subcentres to provide a comprehensive range of services, with delivery rooms, counselling for contraception, supplies of free contraceptives, oral rehydration salts and basic medicine, along with facilities for immunization.

Establish rigorous problem identification mechanisms through maternal and peri-natal audit, from village level upwards.

Ensure adequate transportation at village level, subcentre levels, zilla parishads, primary health centres and at community health centres. Identifying women at risk is meaningful only if women with complications can reach emergency care in time.

Improve the accessibility and quality of maternal and child health services through:

Deployment of community mid-wives and additional health providers at village levels; cluster services for women and children at the same place and time, from village level upwards, e.g. ante-natal and post-partum care, monitoring infant growth, availability of contraceptives and medicine kits; and routinized immunizations at subcentre levels...

Involve professional agencies in developing and disseminating training modules for standard procedures in the management of obstetric and neo-natal cases...

Improve supervision by developing guidance and supervision checklists.

Monitor performance of maternal and child health services at each level by using the maternal and child health local area monitoring system, which includes monitoring the incidence and coverage of ante-natal visits, deliveries assisted by trained health care personnel and post-natal visits, among other indicators. The auxiliary nurse midwife at the subcentre should be responsible and accountable for registering every pregnancy and child birth in her jurisdiction, and for providing... ante-natal and post-natal services.

Improve technical skills of maternal and child health care providers by:

Strengthening skills of health personnel and health providers through classroom and on-the-job training in the management of obstetric and neo-natal emergencies. This should include training of birth attendants and community midwives ...in life-saving skills, such as management of asphyxia and hypothermia. Training on integrated management of childhood illnesses for infants....

To Be Concluded



Playing the game

Sir — The decision declaring Sourav Ganguly out in the second one-day international series against South Africa showed the inaccuracy and laxity present in the umpiring of international tournaments. A similar incorrect decision had been made during the last Indian tour of South Africa, when Sachin Tendulkar had been declared caught out at the hands of Jonty Rhodes. The commentator, Geoffrey Boycott, had pointed out that Rhodes had not held the ball “clearly” and touched the ball to the ground and brought out the similarity between the Ganguly and Tendulkar incidents. The International Cricket Council should come up with a solution regarding such apparent incorrect decisions. Both Ganguly and Tendulkar are established cricketers, and such decisions will not make a dent in their career graph. But there are newcomers whose careers would flounder if such decisions went against them. The ICC should look into this matter before some aspiring cricketer falls victim to such faulty umpiring.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Noble achievement

Sir — The Indian and international media coverage of V.S. Naipaul being awarded the Nobel prize has been nothing short of disappointing. The Nobel prize for literature is the highest literary award a writer can receive. Instead of highlighting this achievement, most newspapers, from The Times in London to The Times of India in Mumbai, have chosen to criticize Naipaul for his “anti-Islamic” attitude. A reader who has no prior knowledge of Naipaul’s writing, upon reading Friday morning’s newspapers, would have no inkling of the range of topics Naipaul has written about in his books, nor that he has written more than 30 books.

Instead, these readers will most probably perceive Naipaul as part of some provincial “anti-Muslim” fringe. One newspaper even called the Swedish academy’s decision “politically incorrect”. Another had the cheek to say that much like Indian beauties, Indian authors seemed to be the flavour of the season. One more pointed out that most Indian authors had chosen not to comment on his winning the prize.

Will anyone from the media care to tell us why instead of celebrating Naipaul’s achievement, they have chosen to portray it as a run-of-the-mill honour which Naipaul did not deserve in the first place? After all, newspapers and television have given more space to lesser authors and uglier models.

Yours faithfully,
S. Anuradha, Mumbai

Sir — It is wonderful that at long last V.S. Naipaul has been awarded the only literary award that had eluded him, the Nobel prize for literature. I would like to relate an extract from one of the last interviews on India that Naipaul gave (Outlook, Nov 15, 1999). During the interview he provided readers with his opinions on varied topics related to the land to which his ancestors had belonged. Certain answers of his were touched by the wry though cutting humour which one has come to associate with Naipaul.

When asked, “Who would your nominees for the three significant Indians of this century be and why?” he retorted, “The first two are inescapable: Gandhi for awakening the country that had been torpid for centuries, Nehru for being a democrat and a humane man who did not abuse his power. I cannot think of a third figure of this stature and I would like instead in a spirit of mischief to nominate two buffoon figures who might stand as a warning to India of the dangers of mimicry. There is the half-witted Vinoba Bhave, the mimic Mahatma. And there is Mr Basu in Calcutta, the mimic Marxist. I suppose when he goes his followers might want to embalm him like Lenin and put him on show in the Maidan.”

It is this irreverent, straightforward stance and the habit of calling a spade a spade that have made Naipaul stand apart from most other writers from the subcontinent.

Yours faithfully,
Angshu Ray, via email

High noon of terror

Sir — The editorial, “Hit back” (Oct 6 ), expresses a growing sentiment, even among liberal minded Indians, that the only language Pakistan-sponsored terrorists and their sympathizers will understand is that of systematic retaliation. What has been said in the editorial runs parallel to what Omar Abdullah, the minister of state for external affairs, said in an interview on BBC World. He fell short of arguing in favour of an eye for an eye and I agree that such retaliation might result in a full-scale war and India would end up being viewed as a country harbouring counter-terrorists.

By all means, let India be a part of a wider coalition against terrorism, but let us not rely on the lead members of the coalition, such as the United States of America, to fight our cause in Jammu and Kashmir. The US has its own agenda and it does not, and it need not, always coincide with ours. It is not for us to tell the US and its allies what they must do. They must learn for themselves that even if they take out the taliban and Osama bin Laden it will not prevent them from being hit again, by various affiliates of these very sources, including those from Pervez Musharraf’s own coterie of home-bred terrorists.

While India chases and destroys those who will destroy India, we must ensure that the aspirations of the people of Kashmir are not overlooked. The way to eliminate terrorism in our country is to fight it on all fronts, through diplomacy, economics, specific retaliation, intelligence, determination and propaganda without the killing of innocent human beings.

Yours faithfully,
Meher H. Mehta, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Hit back” (Oct 6), which discussed the policy being adopted by the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, against terrorism, advised India to adopt a policy similar to the one followed by Israel regarding terrorist attacks. What makes us different from Israel is the fact that the opposition in Israel supports the ruling party’s policy regarding terrorism. In India, the Central government is taken to task by the opposition for every policy it adopts. India’s toleration of terrorist training camps in neighbouring countries exhibits a weakness absent from Israel’s behaviour. If the government does not change its policy, terrorism could spread to other states. Also, India tops the taliban’s list of enemies. It is only a matter of time before India falls victim to attacks similar to those faced by the US last month.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

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