Editorial 1/ Wives’ tale
Editorial 2/ Humbled veteran
Disrupt and prevent
In small leaps forward
Document/ To kep home fires burning
Fifth Column/. Consume less, recycle more
Lettrrs to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ WIVES’ TALE 
 
 
 
 
Rivalries between sisters-in-law make for juicy copy but are not the stuff on which political agenda can be scripted. Ms Maneka Gandhi is ascribing her removal from the post of minister of state for culture to the behind-the-scene machinations of Ms Sonia Gandhi. The junior Ms Gandhi claims that she was victimized because she was cutting through the network of patronage that her sister-in-law had set up. It should be recalled here that Ms Maneka Gandhi is not known for her tact. On the contrary, her acerbic tongue is notorious as is her capacity to stir up trouble wherever she is. Very recently, she had provoked strong reactions among artists by announcing that the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi should sell some of its holdings of Nandalal Bose. She had more than a point to make in such a statement but her way of saying it and the abruptness of it shocked a lot of people. Similarly, nobody in his right mind disputes the premise that government-aided cultural institutions should not be backed by a coterie. But there is a way, in a democratic society, of going around dismantling institutionalized processes of patronage and nepotism. In India, past experience shows that critics of a coterie culture end up by setting up their own coterie when they control the levers of patronage. Ms Maneka Gandhi has somewhat queered her own pitch by mixing up administration with a family vendetta. Her reactions to the decision to take away the culture portfolio from her only testify that she cannot think beyond family squabbles. The decision to remove Ms Maneka Gandhi may have become unavoidable for the prime minister,Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at a time when, for a number of reasons, he is trying to paper over differences within and without the National Democratic Alliance. But this circumvents a different kind of question.What prompted Mr Vajpayee to give to Ms Maneka Gandhi as sensitive a portfolio as culture? Her volatile temperament, her tactlessness and her uncontrollable hostility to her sister-in-law are too well known to have escaped the prime minister’s attention.Mr Vajpayee could not have been unaware that these aspects of Ms Gandhi’s personality and behaviour were not going to be her strengths while handling the culture portfolio.

Behind the issue lurks perhaps a more far-reaching query. Is there any need for a separate ministry for culture? The very existence of such a ministry, like the existence of a ministry for industries, assumes that it is the government’s business to be involved in culture and industrial enterprises. Both business and culture thrive best when they are left alone, especially by the state and the government. One of the first countries to have a minister of culture was France, but there the appointment of André Malraux as the first minister of culture, lent a certain dignity to what was otherwise an odd decision. In India, politicians have always been ministers of culture. This has introduced a certain culture in the handling of cultural affairs that has nothing to do with the arts and learning. Indian political leaders, unlike the despicable Joseph Goebbels, do not reach for their gun when they hear the word culture, but they seek other means to kill culture. The decision to remove Ms Gandhi should be complemented by the far more radical step of abolishing the culture ministry altogether.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ HUMBLED VETERAN 
 
 
 
 
It is futile to expect political morality from coalitions of convenience. The latest farce in Meghalaya once again demonstrates how partners in a shaky ruling coalition can make a mockery of the system to get their pounds of flesh. No one will, therefore, be fooled by the claim by defecting members of the Nationalist Congress Party that they had to revolt against the party .high command’s dictatorial directive. to withdraw support to Mr E.K. Mawlong’s ministry because .the people wanted this government to continue.. Clearly, the loaves and fishes of office proved a stronger attraction for the rebels than party loyalty. But the NCP leader and former Lok Sabha speaker,Mr Purno A. Sangma, has also to blame himself for pushing his party legislators over the fence. The current crisis of Mr Mawlong’s ministry started with the demand by several constituents of the ruling coalition that the controversial decision to sell Meghalaya House in Calcutta be scrapped. Mr Sangma, who made the demand along with others, including some within Mr Mawlong’s United Democratic Party, also wanted that some senior state officials allegedly involved in the .deal. be punished. While the government cancelled the Meghalaya House proposal, the chief minister refused to punish the officials, thereby prompting Mr Sangma to ask his party legislators to withdraw support to the government.

Irrespective of the propriety of their action, 13 of the 15 party legislators who defied the directive and formed a new party to continue their support to the government, have humbled the irrepressible Mr Sangma on his home turf. A veteran of many battles in his days with the Congress and afterwards,Mr Sangma should have judged the mood of the party legislators better before issuing what they considered a peremptory order. But the developments have a warning for Mr Mawlong too. His government may have got a breather with the defection of the NCP legislators, but he can hardly feel good about the survival. The Meghalaya House episode has also alienated his other erstwhile partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and even some within his own party. Mr Mawlong will serve his own . and the state’s . interest if he uses the opportunity to clean up his government’s act.

   

 
 
DISRUPT AND PREVENT 
 
 
MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
There is deep irony in the fact that the parliamentary session which considered the new anti-terrorism ordinance was convened on the birthday of the late prime minister, Indira Gandhi. It is even more ironic that some of those most prominent in their opposition to her using terrorism to polarize the polity are busy trying to play her own game. And to cap it all, the Congress is set to oppose the bill tooth and nail.

History is more than a mere backdrop to the present denouement. In the aftermath of her assassination, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was passed easily in both houses of Parliament. At the time of its launch, the People’s Union for Democratic Rights issued a pamphlet titled, .Are you a terrorist?., in which it warned against the provisions of the law. Not only were they open to abuse and misuse, they would be used to stifle legitimate dissent and persecute political opponents.

A decade later, it died an unlamented death. Hardly anyone spoke up in its defence. True, terror in Punjab had meanwhile been routed but there were many reasons that had turned the tide. The institution of elected representatives and the role of the state police in combating militancy cannot be ignored. Elsewhere, it was remarkable that a relatively peaceful state like Gujarat had the maximum number of detainees under the law. And in a true twist of fate, it was the members of the farmers. front of the Bharatiya Janata Party that were the main victims of the law.

But the Hindutva party has decided to play the card and hopes to reap a harvest of votes. The ruling party’s behaviour indicates that its target is the voter rather than the terrorist. Faced with a lacklustre record in office and no forward movement on the Ram temple, the BJP has decided to play the patriotic card. And do so with a vengeance.

The Union home minister, L.K. Advani has even gone so far as to charge opponents of the prevention of terrorism ordinance with indirectly aiding terror. His two most well briefed colleagues, Arun Shourie and Arun Jaitley, have gone to town armed with facts and figures to convince doubters of their bona fides and intentions. From the outset, they have emphasized how the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case made rapid progress, mainly because of the provisions of the TADA.

Even here, there is a marked difference in emphasis among different leaders holding office. The inter-state council revealed once again how Atal Bihari Vajpayee is more finely in tune with coalition politics than his articulate colleagues. He called for consensus on the issue, not confrontation. There was no questioning the bona fides of critics. He even showed a willingness to take note of criticisms.

But even the prime minister’s keenly honed instincts can only go so far and no further. Unless he brings around the Congress, he cannot secure legislative approval of the POTO. There was little sign of this as the opposition hardened its own stance. Divisions within the National Democratic Alliance also surfaced. The Shiromani Akali Dal, for instance, is aware of the negative connotations of such a measure in Punjab. Its core agenda is the reverse of the BJP’s. One wants a more sensitive policing regime; the other prefers firmness to counter secession.

Another regional formation has a different set of concerns. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, still smarting from the crackdown last summer by its rival, is unwilling to support the legislation in public. It is also signalling its own distinctive agenda as opposed to the one merging from New Delhi. In this, it realizes that long-term survival requires it to stay on the right side of the minorities in the state. Three years ago, M. Karunanidhi had first proposed and then withdrawn a bill modelled on similar lines.

The divisions in the NDA indicate a lack of common purpose which the opposition is bound to exploit fully. They also show that when it comes to critical issues, it is the largest party that sets the pace. The others have to follow. It is here that differences of approach are manifest. N. Chandrababu Naidu shared many libertarian concerns about the threats to press freedom, and openly called for more safeguards. His anxieties relate more to Naxalism in Telengana than to cross-border attacks.

Nor are the divisions in the ruling alliance the only ones that mattered. Law and order is a state subject and chief ministers are alert to the threat of a strong Union encroaching on their domains. Once the ball was tossed from the Centre’s court to that of the states, the ruling alliance lost initiative. In a head count of the state chief ministers, the Congress has an edge. It rules ten states, and the Left two more. Opinions vary from one state to another. Assam, though under Congress rule, is a state that has suffered because of both the United Liberation Front of Asom and Bodo insurgencies, but was unwilling to back a bill. In contrast, Jammu and Kashmir has a long tradition of having preventive detention laws in the statute book. The late Sheikh Abdullah enacted such a law after his return to power in 1975. In West Bengal and Maharashtra, the older tradition of having such laws in the book appeals to parties in power. This is the case even as they denounce the NDA’s steps in the same direction.

Vajpayee is caught in the trap of his own party’s making. Its yearning for a praetorian state, with a full-fledged national security apparatus at its beck and call has run into choppy waters. In a plural polity with many regionally rooted leaders, the Centre cannot move a step without taking several players into confidence. The basic instincts of the BJP are at variance not only with those of many allies or rivals but also with the drift of the political system towards more diffuse centres of power. Militancy and terror are threats to democracy, but no one party or person can claim monopoly of patriotism. The net result is significant. The rumpus over the ordinance polarizes opinion, but the BJP has so far been unable to use it to rally together all its allies. Its saffron fraternity is happy with the turn of events.

No less than Indira Gandhi, Vajpayee’s party is ready to drape itself in the tricolour when its own fortunes look like taking a turn for the worse. The snag is that he does not command a majority in the Lok Sabha without his allies. And in the Rajya Sabha, the NDA lacks the numbers. Unlike in the mid-Eighties, there is no fever-pitch fear of terror today. Not that the issue has gone away, but just as Punjab was turned around, there is more hope on Kashmir today than despair. Even the present government, reversing its own previous heritage, if haltingly, has attempted a dialogue in Kashmir. Assam is not free of the ULFA, but it is a far cry from the late Eighties when it was a stronger force than it is now.

This is not how the rulers in New Delhi see the situation. Cut to the assembly elections due by March next year.The BJP will go to town in Lucknow and Dehra Dun to say partisan rivals hampered it in the struggle against terrorism. It is still doubtful if such a strategy will work. It will unify the ruling party and deepen communal divisions, but may still not work wonders with the electorate. History offers a salutary lesson in this respect. The last person who played on terrorist threats to great political advantage was the late Rajiv Gandhi. But even he yielded to the law of diminishing returns. The strategy worked wonders in the winter of 1984. But a few months later, his party’s vote share and seats dropped in the assembly elections. The moral of the story was simple: state assembly elections cannot be fought and won on an allIndia plank.

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

   

 
 
IN SMALL LEAPS FORWARD 
 
 
ALOK RAY
 
 
Chinese goods are posing a big challenge to many economies, including India’s. So it is important to understand why China has done so well while countries like India are lagging behind.

The Chinese economic performance since 1978,when reforms officially started under Deng Xiaoping, is regarded as a bigger miracle than the earlier .east Asian miracle. in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea, the so called .gang of four.. In terms of size, both land area and population, and complexity of inherited problems, none of these countries comes anywhere near China. China’s performance is considered even more impressive than that of Japan. China had the highest growth rate in the world for over two decades and now has the third largest gross domestic product (in terms of purchasing power parity measure in the world). This has been accompanied by a sharp decline in absolute poverty, though income inequality has also increased significantly after reforms. The strategy of economic development in China is also quite distinct from that pursued by Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Until recently, these countries had restricted foreign direct investment while China has actively encouraged it.

The uniqueness of China’s performance becomes more evident when compared to other .transitional economies. in former Soviet Union and east Europe which also tried to improve economic performance through massive structural reforms. Most of these countries had to go through, and some are still going through, a prolonged period of declining production, high inflation, growing unemployment, rising poverty, acute foreign exchange and debt servicing problems and swelling discontent over reforms. But the Chinese, at least so far, have managed the transition to a market economy with minimum social and political cost of adjustment and a broad-based support for reforms. The 21st century is widely projected to be .China’s century. just as the 20th century was Japan’s.

There are innumerable explanations for China’s success. Let us focus on a few of the most important ones.

First, the role of the non-resident Chinese. China started its reforms more than a decade earlier than India. China, from the very beginning, could get substantial help from the Chinese overseas, specially from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The capital, technology, entrepreneurship, marketing skills and international trading experience of the Chinese living abroad made a formidable combination with the advantages of cheap land and abundant supply of low-priced disciplined labour in the mainland.

The export boom in China was facilitated by the relocation of labour-intensive parts of the production process from Hong Kong and Taiwan to the adjacent special economic zones in the Chinese coastal provinces. Over 80 per cent of FDI into China has come from these Chinese. By contrast, non-resident Indians are mostly professional people with less involvement in trading and entrepreneurial activities. They also have less money to invest. They prefer safe investment in dollar-denominated fixed deposit schemes offered by Indian banks at higher interest rates to investing in the more risky equity markets.

Second, the labour market conditions. Contrary to popular perception, China pursued .raw capitalism. in the coastal provinces. Labour unions, though allowed in China, mostly played a cooperative role with the management, instead of the collective bargaining practised in countries like India. Managers in export-oriented factories in the SEZs were given unhindered right to hire and fire workers. Many of the workers, often female, were temporary migrants coming from the rural areas and did not receive the benefits given to employees in state-owned enterprises. This kept the labour cost of export production low. The situation provided important incentives for FDI flow to China, rather than to countries like India which had even lower wages but where the advantage was offset by labour indiscipline and militant trade unionism.

Third, the role of the administration and the political system. Between 1995-2000, China received nearly $210 billion of FDI while India got less than $14 billion. Apart from other advantages, China is generally perceived to offer a better business environment in terms of infrastructure, policy implementation, political stability and commitment to economic reforms. Corruption also exists in China but its one major difference with Indian style corruption is that things get done quickly in China after the .consideration. is paid. Single-party authoritarian political system ensures continuity of policy, lessens the chance of negotiating with the wrong people (recall the Enron episode in India) and promotes speedy implementation of policy.

One should remember, however, that China also used to have many adverse conditions which put it at a relative disadvantage. For example, the area under cultivation per worker in China was only 40 per cent of that in India and only 20 per cent of that in Brazil. Moreover, China had to go through dislocation arising out of the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong. These eventually proved a blessing in disguise since China’s subsequent reforms weakened central control and the power of the bureaucracy. Chinese leaders also learnt from past mistakes. They realized the dangers of nationwide experiments, the need for material incentives (which Mao ignored), that local programmes had to suit local conditions, that regional autonomy could not be threatened, that reforms had to be gradual, that pragmatism was more important than dogmas and the importance of the rule of law (remember Deng was publicly humiliated twice during the lawless days of the Cultural Revolution).

Chinese reforms followed a gradual evolutionary path based on localized experiments in select sectors and these were extended to other areas only when the local experiments turned out successful. Instead of the .big bang. reforms of the former Soviet Union and east Europe in the Nineties, Chinese reforms have been described as .a series of small controlled explosions..

China, in fact, followed a sequence. Reforms were first introduced in agriculture and foreign trade and foreign investment sectors, that too in limited coastal regions, and later extended to industry. The gradual introduction of private initiatives and market-determined prices in agriculture, which replaced collectivized agriculture, brought prosperity to a vast number of poor people. Earlier land reforms had ensured a fairly equitable mass redistribution of land.

This created conditions for the subsequent phenomenal growth in rural industries by generating local investible funds from rising rural incomes, by freeing surplus labour from collective farms for industrial employment at low wages and by providing a growing market for industrial consumer goods. In the process, the initial reforms built up a big political support base for more reforms. Similarly, the infusion of foreign capital and the growth of production for the competitive world market exposed China to new ideas and technologies, and changed the closed mindset. Even a casual visitor to a department store abroad would be struck by the bewildering variety of innovative Chinese goods, in sharp contrast to the limited range of traditional export products from India.

In the first stage, China did not try to reform state owned enterprises by privatizing existing units, unlike the former Soviet Union and east Europe. The Chinese relied more on introducing competition.The rapid growth of new enterprises, mostly collectively owned firms and some private firms, created competitive pressure on state-owned units which forced them to improve efficiency. China is now going for privatization of large-scale state enterprises, but that is only after non-state enterprises have developed the potential to absorb the redundant workers from state enterprises.

Reforming the government at different levels was another important feature of the Chinese reforms. China is the first country where the ruling communist party voluntarily altered its original dogmatic ideology and oriented it to markets and private property rights without any political revolution. This does not mean that all is well with the Chinese economy. In fact, many serious researchers think that the Chinese economic miracle may come to an end soon. But that is a different question.

The author is professor of economics Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ TO KEP HOME FIRES BURNING 
 
 
 
 
For the social empowerment of women, equal access to education for women and girls will be ensured. Special measures will be taken to eliminate discrimination, universalize education, eradicate illiteracy, create a gender-sensitive educational system, increase enrolment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education to facilitate life-long learning as well as development of occupation/ vocation/ technical skills by women. Reducing the gender gap in secondary and higher education would be a focus area. Sectoral time targets in existing policies will be achieved, with a special focus on girls and women... Gender sensitive curricula would be developed at all levels of the educational system in order to address sex stereotyping as one of the causes of gender discrimination.

A holistic approach to women’s health which includes both nutrition and health services will be adopted... The reduction of infant mortality and maternal mortality, which are sensitive indicators of human development, is a priority concern. This policy reiterates the national demographic goals for infant mortality rate,maternal mortality rate set out in the National Population Policy 2000. Women should have access to comprehensive, affordable and quality healthcare. Measures will be adopted that take into account the reproductive rights of women to enable them to exercise informed choices, their vulnerability to sexual and health problems together with endemic, infectious and communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and water borne diseases as well as hypertension and cardio-pulmonary diseases. The social, developmental and health consequences of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases will be tackled from a gender perspective.

To effectively meet problems of infant and maternal mortality and early marriage the availability of good and accurate data at the micro-level on deaths, birth and marriages is required. Strict implementation of registration of births and deaths would be ensured and registration of marriages would be made compulsory.

In accordance with the commitment of the National Population Policy 2000 to population stabilization, this policy recognizes the critical need of men and women to have access to safe, effective and affordable methods of family planning of their choice and the need to suitably address the issues of early marriages and spacing of children. Interventions such as spread of education, compulsory registration of marriage and special programmes like Balika Samriddha Yojana should impact on delaying the age of marriage so that by 2010 child marriages are eliminated.

Women’s traditional knowledge about healthcare and nutrition will be recognized through proper documentation and its use will be encouraged. The use of Indian and alternative systems of medicine will be enhanced within the framework of overall health infrastructure available for women.

In view of the high risk of malnutrition and disease that women face at all the three critical stages, that is infancy and childhood, adolescent and reproductive phase, attention would be paid to meet the nutritional needs of women at all stages of the life cycle. This is also important in view of the critical link between the health of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women with the health of infants and young children. Special efforts will be made to tackle the problem of macro and micro nutrient deficiencies especially among pregnant and lactating women as it leads to various diseases and disabilities.

Intra-household discrimination in nutritional matters vis-ŕ-vis girls and women will be brought to an end through appropriate strategies. Widespread use of nutrition education would be made to address the issues of intra-household imbalances in nutrition and the special needs of pregnant and lactating women...

Special attention will be given to the needs of women in the provision of safe drinking water, sewage disposal, toilet facilities and sanitation within accessible reach of households, especially in rural areas and urban slums. Women’s participation will be ensured in the planning, delivery and maintenance of such services. Women’s participation will also be ensured in the planning ... and delivery of the system.

Women’s perspectives will be included in housing policies, planning of housing colonies and provision of shelter both in rural and urban areas. Special attention will be given for providing..’safe housing and accommodation for women...

Women will be involved and their perspectives reflected in the policies and programmes for environment, conservation and restoration. Considering the impact of environmental factors on their livelihoods, women’s participation will be ensured in the conservation of the environment and control of environmental degradation. The vast majority of rural women still depend on the locally available non-commercial sources of energy such as animal dung, crop waste and fuel wood. In order to ensure the efficient use of these energy resources in an environment-friendly manner, the policy will aim at promoting the programmes of nonconventional energy resources. Women will be involved in spreading the use of solar energy, biogas, smokeless chulahs and other rural application so that there is a visible impact of these measures on the ecosystem and in changing the life styles of rural women.

TO BE CONCLUDED

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/. CONSUME LESS, RECYCLE MORE 
 
 
JAYDEV JANA
 
 
High consumption usually results in environmental problems. Of the three variables of the global environmental equation . population growth, technological changes and consumption . the most neglected variable is consumption. There is a growing realization that technological change and population stabilization is not sufficient to save the planet’s resources without a reduction of material wants. For the last 50 years, acquiring more goods has been the overriding goal of more than a fifth of the world population. This increase in demand of consumer goods is causing a depletion of natural resources and enviromental degradation.

Meanwhile, the poorest fifth of the population is increasing in number. According to the United Nations Foundation, the number of people subsisting on the equivalent of $2 a day, or less, has increased from 2 billion in 1990 to about 3 billion,which is half the world population, in 2000. The average person in a developed country consumes thrice as much fresh water, ten times as much energy and 20 times as much aluminium as a person in a developing country. The gulf between the rich and the poor is increasing day by day. Since 1950, the richest 20 per cent of the world’s population have increased their per capita consumption of meat and timber twofold, car-ownership fourfold and plastics-use fivefold. One billion people in the developing countries suffer from micro-nutritional deficiency, while the health problems in the developed world have more to do with being overweight than with hunger.

Widening gulf

Every person has an equal right to achieve a high standard of living but the main challenge is to practise sustainable consumption and maintain current living standards without foreclosing the opportunity of the future generations to meet their needs.

The developed world subsists on the very commodities that are most damaging to the earth to produce . energy, chemicals, metals and paper.Automobiles, throwaway goods and packaging, high-fat diets, and air-conditioning are also available at great environmental cost. Fossil fuels burnt by developed countries release around three fourths of the sulphur and nitrogen oxide that cause acid rain; their factories generate most of the world’s radioactive waste; their airconditioners, aerosol sprays and factories emit almost 90 per cent of the chlorofluorocarbons that destroy the ozone layer.

The fallout of affluent consumption is felt most strongly in the developing countries. El Salvador and Costa Rica grow export crops such as bananas, coffee and sugar on more than a fifth of their crop land, and export cattle ranches in Latin America and South Africa have replaced rainforest and wildlife range. For every dollar earned by India through the export of shrimps,more than $10 of India’s own food security is lost.

Learn the three “R”s

In order to achieve sustainable consumption can we do more with less? The answer lies in our growing experience with the three .R’s of consumption shrinkage: reduce, recycle and reuse. Some policy initiatives could also promote the transition to sustainable consumption. Since gross national product does not take into account the issue of sustainability,we could substitute GNP with net national product as an indicator of economic wellbeing. Several alternative indicators are being developed by Canada, Britain, Sweden, Netherlands and Australia. There are hosts of subsidies that promote the overuse of fossil fuels, cars, over-intensive agriculture, wastage of water, depletion of forests, over-harvesting of marine fisheries and so on, which lead to environmental degradation and massive distortion in economies. These subsidies and taxes can be reformed. Although it is tough to change consumption patterns, they may be more reversible than currently supposed.

Close scrutiny of the modern consumption pattern reveals that as income rises, consumption of ecologically less damaging products such as grain rises slowly, while that of more ecologically damaging products such as gasoline, steel, coal and electricity multiply rapidly. If we do not rectify the current rate of consumption we shall soon exhaust the earth’s resources.As Albert Einstein said, .We shall require a new manner of thinking, if mankind is to survive.

   

 
 
LETTRRS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

End of a holiday

Sir . After a long silence, the Trinamool Congress leader,Mamata Banerjee, has decided to do what she does best . paralyze life in Calcutta through her agitation programmes (.Mamata lines up weekend protests., Nov 19). Following the debacle in the last elections, it has become clear that her gimmicks and tall claims will not suffice if she has to regain the confidence of the people. After waiting patiently for a year now, Banerjee has given the signal to launch a series of protest marches. It is not that the people of West Bengal are surprised by this gesture of the firebrand chief. But what Banerjee fails to remember is that her fulminations in such protest marches have borne no results so far. It is true that in a democratic setup valid criticism should be appreciated. But the problem is, Banerjee has not been able to provide a constructive alternative. Moreover, till now, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee seems to have not made any major flaw in governance. Shouldn.t Banerjee try and hold her tongue for a while?
Yours faithfully,
Manoj Singh, Calcutta

Friends only

Sir . Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s recent visit to the Russian federation is another milestone in the history of Indo-Soviet cooperation and friendship (.Putin helps Atal fend off Bush pressure., Nov 9). The ties between New Delhi and Moscow have always been strong since the days of the friendship treaty between the two countries in 1971, and Vajpayee’s trip to Moscow affirms that. Despite that there is need to carefully assess the talks. A positive aspect of the meeting is that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Vajpayee have come up with a strong joint statement against international terrorism. This would once again show the world, particularly the United States of America, that Indo-Russian friendship is still intact. The declaration of the Indo-Russian strategic partnership would also help India in defence matters. This, as usual, will prove to be a cause of insecurity for Pakistan. Moreover, Russia’s support for India’s struggle to become a permanent member in an expanded United Nations security council clearly reflects Russia’s desire to establish India as a power to reckon with. On the whole, the understanding between Russia and India is an important factor for world peace.
Yours faithfully,
Asoka Kumar Addya, Puri

Sir . The Bush administration’s intention to force India into a compromise on matters related to Pakistan was successfully foiled by the Russian premiere’s reluctance to repeat what the Americans wanted him to say. By doing so Vladimir Putin has made it clear that if the US wants Russian support in its fight against global terrorism, India should be allowed to bring in the subject of Pakistan induced terrorism in Kashmir. This gesture certainly shows that India still has a dependable ally in this age of power games and doublespeak. The interesting part of this foreign tour of Vajpayee is that the US government has failed to take an upper hand in matters concerning India. Much of this is because of Putin’s help.With Russia’s support, India can expect to make some headway in its battle against Pakistan sponsored terrorism.

Yours faithfully,
Swarup Dey, Calcutta

Sir . There seems little reason to take Vladimir Putin’s reluctance to fall in line with the US in pressurizing India on Pakistan as a sign of Russian resurgence or India’s victory. Putin’s recalcitrance might be part of an old habit, but that does not indicate that he retains any more of the Cold War baggage. Putin knows that the US by its operation in Afghanistan was actually cleaning Russia’s backyard.A fundamentalist Afghanistan has always been a problem for Russia, especially with regard to its satellites which have often shown secessionist tendencies.A tame Afghanistan would lessen Russia’s troubles with rebel states like Chechnya. Moreover, given Russia’s financial condition, Putin really cannot risk courting India at the risk of upsetting the superpower on which it now depends for a lot of assistance. Putin’s efforts to cosy up to the US were quite evident from the recently held meeting of the leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Yours faithfully,
Jaisurya Banerjee, Calcutta

How to save the gods

Sir . The recent thefts from both the Lingaraj temple and Sri Jagannath temple were distressing (‘stolen idol found in temple well., Nov 13). It is peculiar that despite earlier thefts in the temples, adequate precautions were not taken. The second theft in the Sri Jagannath temple occurred within a week of the first. The apathy of the Orissa government towards historical artefacts is clear from these events. The callous attitude of the police can perhaps be explained by the presence of a nexus between some temple protectors and culprits. The Central government should come up with strict measures to protect the jewellery in the temples. The practice of keeping the ornaments,worth hundreds of crores, in the temple strong room should be abolished immediately. There should be more security for them. Interestingly, the chief minister,Naveen Patnaik, has called for an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the matter. The report should come out before another theft occurs in the temples.
Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir . The gods seem to be having a tough time in Orissa. The serial thefts in the state confirm that both the state and the Central government have failed to ensure the safety of the heritage sites. It is surprising that the authority concerned, the Archaeological Survey of India, is indifferent to the situation. It is the responsibility of the ASI to look after the security, maintenance and restoration of heritage sites.Why are ASI officials not being accused of incompetence and neglect of duty?

Yours faithfully,
Malabika Sen, Calcutta

Sir . The Indian administration responsible for preserving our historical sites should take note of the measures adopted by its Western counterparts. Not only do public and private museums have an array of security personnel, almost all the old monuments have the facility of close circuit cameras, burglar alarms and other security arrangements. It is true that a considerable amount of money is required to install these devices. What the Indian government can do is raise the needed amount by increasing entry fees, imposing tourist taxes and selling souvenirs at the heritage spots.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sinha, Calcutta

Bovine indulgence

Sir .I would like to appeal to every household to stop throwing leftovers in plastic bags. Since they are not biodegradable, such bags endanger the environment. But apart from this commonly known fact, there is another aspect to it which needs to be highlighted. The bags pose a serious hazard to stray animals who sometimes rip open the bags to feed on their contents. Animals like cats and dogs can tear these bags. But cows are also sometimes tempted to eat these bags in whole for their contents, leading to the deaths of hundreds of them every year.
Yours faithfully,
Monica Jani, Calcutta

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