Editorial 1 / Necessary evil
Editorial 2 / Extreme measures
Air war and ground reality
Fifth Column / Their Love Affair with Death
Getting out of the crunch
Document / All for healthy trade relations
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / NECESSARY EVIL 
 
 
 
 
Other than policy changes, budgets are about Central government revenue and expenditure, with taxation as a major component of the former. Since the big bang policy changes of Mr Yashwant Sinha in 2001-02 amounted to naught, perhaps 2002-03 will concentrate on the limited agenda of tax reform. The message since 1991 has been clear. The overall tax/gross domestic product ratio must be increased, with a switch from indirect taxes to direct taxes. Indirect taxation must become more efficient and there must be value added tax. The Govinda Rao and the Parthasarathy Shome committees have submitted their reports, and the 2002-03 budget speech is likely to incorporate elements from both. The former committee is on taxing services, while the latter is indirectly about VAT. With services accounting for half of the national income, it is not surprising that a finance minister should salivate at the prospect of taxing services, especially when revenues are under pressure.

Indeed, services have been taxed since 1994, with the number of service sectors having now increased from three to 40. More increments in 2002-03 are inevitable, and services should contribute to the tax effort. An increase in the rate from the present 5 per cent to 10 per cent is also defensible, although that is unlikely to materialize. However, two questions arise about the mode of taxing services. First, the services sector is admittedly elusive, but surely the reform direction would have been to bring it into the direct tax net. Instead, it has been brought into the indirect tax net. More important, the form of indirect tax levied on services (tax on turnover) is retrograde and represents a retreat from VAT principles. The government can legitimately argue that the indirect tax/GDP ratio has declined in the post-reform period and this needs reversal. Part of the decline is because of the customs revenue trend and the adverse impact of downturn on excise revenue. However, post-1991, excise exemption thresholds have also increased and such exemptions need scrapping. But politics stands in the way, and the Govinda Rao committee also encourages exemptions, although by 2004-05, it proposes an integration of service sector taxation with Central VAT. The transition to VAT in April 2002 is the second element of reform. A proper VAT requires revamping of Central excise, Central sales tax and state-level sales tax, with the Shome committee recommending the abolition of CST. But since the states objected on grounds of revenue loss, an interim two-phase reduction to 1 per cent by 2003 was proposed. If compensation to the states could be worked out, a reduction in CST to 3 per cent in 2002-03 is possible. On state-level sales tax, now that the floor rates have been harmonized, one expects harmonization of maximum rates, and unified classification and coding.

This is, however, a long way off from a proper VAT, which also requires the elimination of local body taxes. Mr Sinha may have brandished the conversion of Central excise to Cenvat as a step towards VAT, but Cenvat rates are still not unified. And introduction of special excise is against all VAT principles. Required amendments to the Constitution are indeed a constraint. However, revenue compulsions have also led Mr Sinha to deviate from tax reform principles. Necessary, but not desirable.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / EXTREME MEASURES 
 
 
 
 
It is always good policy to face up to a challenge rather than pretend it does not exist. Until recently, the Marxist rulers of West Bengal would wish away any threat of a Naxalite resurgence in the state. The government’s recent decision to launch a two-pronged strategy to stop the extremists’ inroads into some districts therefore reflects a welcome rethink. It now intends to intensify combing operations to flush out the extremists, while introducing new welfare programmes to keep the poor from joining their ranks. The decision implies an admission of two things — that the new Naxalite threat, however limited, is a reality, and that not enough has been done for the uplift of large sections of tribals and other economically backward people whom the rebels are luring into their fold with food and money. Although the left regime has reduced the number of people living below the poverty line to 26 per cent of the state’s population, there still remain vast hinterlands of acute economic deprivation. Poor people in many areas are still without basic amenities like safe drinking water, primary healthcare and seasonal employment under various rural development schemes. Apparently, both land reforms and the panchayati raj have passed these people by.

It would be wrong, however, to assume that such failures have occurred only in parts of Midnapore, Bankura, Burdwan and Purulia districts where the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre have recruited more cadre than elsewhere. There could be potential rebel recruits in other poverty-stricken areas. But the lack of development is not the only reason for the rebels’ attraction. Parts of north Bengal have long been used by PWG activists as a transit and supply route for rebel groups in Bihar, Assam and even Nepal. The state’s experience with Naxalite politics showed that unless checked in time, the threat could also reach urban centres.While development politics could be an important tool in the fight, it should not be allowed to soften the agenda of the law-enforcing agencies. Wrapped in ideological rhetoric, the rebels’ activities are often criminal in nature and need to be dealt with as such. Strong and focussed police action succeeded against a bigger Naxalite menace in the Seventies. There is no reason why it should not succeed now if the Marxists give the police a free hand.

   

 
 
AIR WAR AND GROUND REALITY 
 
 
BY V.R. RAGHAVAN
 
 
The ground offensive of the Northern Alliance has quickly cleared most of Afghanistan from the control of the taliban. The powerful air attacks could not by themselves force the taliban out of their strongholds. They softened the taliban defences, knocked out the command and control facilities, destroyed tanks, guns and helicopters and prepared the ground for a Northern Alliance offensive to start. The taliban had apparently had enough punishment and pulled out as soon as the offensive started. This was proof once again of the adage that a ground war cannot be won by air attacks alone.

Wars are meant to bring peace but they usually don’t. Military victories often plant the seeds for other conflicts to come in the future. In the last three decades of the 20th century, military victories have in fact continued the conflict they were meant to put an end to. Israeli victories against the Arabs have not brought peace. A spectacular military victory in the Kuwait war against Iraq has only extended the conflict from the battlefields to the political arena. Iraq is still being viewed as requiring more military punishment after the September attacks in the United States of America. Military victories in former Yugoslavia did not end conflict in its ethnic or inter-state form. There is every probability that Afghanistan will follow the same trend.

The taliban has lost control of Afghanistan territory. They, however, retain the capability to continue a military conflict of the hit-and-run kind for some time. There is no dearth of small arms, explosives and volunteers to continue an asymmetric war. They can make governance from Kabul difficult, which in turn will make peace the major casualty. The end of the military campaign will see the beginning of a politico-military campaign. The campaign will consist of a series of political gains and failures combined with military successes and setbacks for both the Northern Alliance and the taliban.

The military capability of the Northern Alliance will be severely curtailed if the US air support is withdrawn. The nature of the tussle over Kunduz, for example, sums up the nature of military conflict likely to be seen in Afghanistan in the future. The Afghan prefers to fight with the winning side and pledges his loyalty accordingly. There is likely to be a series of defections and re-defections in the weeks and months to come. Battlelines will change and new battlelines can emerge depending on who wins more numbers to his side.

There is another war underway in Afghanistan. That is the US campaign to smoke out Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. These operations will also target al Qaida leadership and cells in Afghanistan. This private war is being fought with US special forces operating with Afghan informers and guides. High technology surveillance, electronic eavesdropping, quick response teams which can be moved by helicopters or dropped by parachute, and all supported by massive air attacks form the core of this force. This war is being conducted with Northern Alliance cooperation but is not going to be governed by their desires.

As it is, the Northern Alliance has protested against British special forces operating from the Bagram airport. It has also declared its opposition to foreign forces operating in Afghanistan. It is not clear what the Northern Alliance position would be once it has taken control of the major towns of the country. Will it ask US bombing to stop or would it watch from the sidelines as the US continues to bomb and launch operations to get to bin Laden?

There is another war on the cards, by which the taliban will seek to eliminate Pashtun leaders who had fought with the taliban and who may emerge as the reformed or moderate taliban. These would have links with Pakistan and its Inter-State Intelligence which would be unacceptable to the Northern Alliance. There is no clarity on who would be the central authority controlling these multiple campaigns. There is therefore every possibility of armed conflict continuing even as negotiations take place to find a provisional government for Kabul. Jockeying for advantage and for having a greater say in governance can also bring about rifts amongst the Northern Alliance.

In the confused situation, Pakistan will make every effort to salvage its lost control over the Afghan situation. Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan is a seething mass of displaced and defeated Pashtuns. They are angry with the US for having targeted the taliban and with Pakistan for having let them down by siding with the US. This mass of people can be a potentially destabilizing element in the peace initiatives which are underway now. Pakistan can be expected to be active in using this large and restive bit of population to minimize the advantage to the Northern Alliance. All in all, there are unsettled times ahead in Afghanistan.

If however bin Laden is eliminated, there is no guarantee that the US will continue to retain its major military presence or continue to operate in Afghanistan. If it pulls out its air support to the Northern Alliance, the taliban can regroup and attempt to regain some of the lost territory. In that eventuality, a civil war condition will take root where all possibility of a responsible and accountable government will vanish. War lords will then rule over the country.

If the US is unwilling to play a major role in future in Afghanistan, partition of the country amidst many contenders will become a distinct possibility. Whether that becomes the harbinger of peace or decades of internecine wars is an open question. The worst sufferer from that situation would be Pakistan whose already fragile polity would be further buffeted. Instability in Pakistan cannot but have an impact on India.

We come back to the question of whether wars or armed conflicts lead to peace. Since absence of wars is not peace, and local armed conflict can be continued indefinitely, peace is not feasible without a political solution. Afghanistan is not given to political settlements. Its history, its ancient animosities, the foreign interference inevitable in such confused circumstances, all make for a volatile cocktail in the country. The only way out would be for three or four major groups, each with military clout, to rule over the different regions of Afghanistan. Much therefore depends on the outcome of the negotiations about to begin, and the ability of the US and United Nations to knock together a coalition for peace in Afghanistan.

The author is director, Delhi Policy Group, and former director general (military operations)

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / THEIR LOVE AFFAIR WITH DEATH 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“I love death more than you love life,” said al Qaida leader, Osama bin Laden, in a recent interview, clearly convinced that this gave him moral superiority over the whole of Western civilization. There are plenty of young men in the refugee camps that litter the Muslim world who would make the same assertion. It creates the impression among non-Muslims that Islam is a very different faith, and perhaps a very dangerous one.

Then there is the tongue-tied response of Muslim leaders to the hideous events of September 11. Many individual Muslims are revolted by what was done in their name by the Arab suicide-hijackers who slaughtered over 4,000 Americans, but there have been remarkably few unequivocal condemnations of their motives and tactics by Islamic religious authorities.

This strained reticence, at the leadership level, of Muslim societies conceals widespread resentment and contempt for the West at the popular level. Western leaders go about proclaiming that Islam is a religion of love and tolerance, as they must do in order to ward off reprisals against innocent Muslim citizens of their own countries. But across broad swathes of the Muslim world there is a deep hatred of the West, and of the United States of America in particular.

Clash by night

At first glance, this fact seems to confirm the arguments of the Harvard political scientist, Samuel Huntington, who insists that the problem is not Islamic fundamentalism but Islam itself. It is, says Huntington, “a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power”.

The American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, whose optimistic speculations about the global triumph of liberal democracy and the “end of history” were the main target of Huntington’s book, The Clash of Civilisations, recently attacked this issue head-on. Conceding that the Muslim countries include very few democracies and almost no countries that have made a successful transition to developed status, he asked the key question: is there something that makes Muslim societies particularly resistant to modernity?

“Islam...is the only cultural system that seems regularly to produce people like Osama bin Laden or the taliban who reject modernity lock, stock and barrel. This raises the question of...whether this rejection is somehow inherent in Islam. For if the rejectionists are more than a lunatic fringe, then Huntington is right and we are in for a protracted conflict.”

Just one ahead

Fukuyama fears that they are. “Certainly the group of people willing to go on suicide missions against the US is tiny. But...sympathy for the terrorists is characteristic of much more than a “tiny minority” of Muslims, extending from the middle classes in countries like Egypt to immigrants in the West”. He still believes that the ultimate destiny of Muslim societies is to modernize, but now thinks that there may be a long and painful “rear-guard action” first.

The problem is that Huntington and Fukuyama both believe that “modernity” and “Western civilization” are synonymous. It’s an assumption they share with bin Laden, but it is nonsense. The West just happened to be the first large civilization to go through the process of modernization.

It took centuries of upheaval and internal conflict for the West to make the transition to modernity, but the process has gone faster for everybody else since the trail was already blazed. Occasionally, some culture runs into a difficult patch.

Seventy years ago it was the Japanese, whose project for high-speed modernization stalled with the onset of the Great Depression. What followed was very similar to the current “Islamic” reaction: authoritarian rule, an obsession with cultural purity, a hatred of the West and eventually even a death cult epitomized by the kamikaze pilots.

And then it all went away: Japan is now indisputably both modern and successful, though it has remained utterly Japanese. God forbid that it should take a cataclysm like 1945 to break the west Asian societies out of their current politics of hatred and despair (Asian Muslim societies are modernizing more successfully, and so are less vulnerable to this sort of thing), but even west Asia will get there sooner or later.

   

 
 
GETTING OUT OF THE CRUNCH 
 
 
BY S. VENKITARAMANAN
 
 
The future of the development financial institutions is a subject of intense debate. One of the DFIs, the Industrial Finance Corporation of India, is reportedly facing a liquidity problem consequent to the accumulation of non-profitable assets and the burden of meeting existing liabilities. IFCI is the oldest of the term lending institutions and has suffered, in particular, from its lending out mainly to traditional industries like textiles and sugar which have gone through a bad patch.

DFIs, in general, have a problem in accessing resources, especially of a long-term nature. These institutions were established primarily for the purpose of meeting term lending needs of corporates. Both the Narasimham committee and the working group under the chairmanship of S.H. Khan set up in 1997, studied the problems of DFIs. The Khan working group recommended a progressive move towards universal banking, in the sense that DFIs will not confine themselves to only term lending but also take up various functions which are today discharged by commercial banks.The Narasimham committee recommended that there should be only two categories of institutions in the financial sector — commercial banks and non-bank finance companies, DFIs being given the option to convert themselves to NBFCs.

The Reserve Bank of India produced a discussion paper on the various options before the DFIs.The RBI has asked DFIs to submit their plans for transition to universal banks for consideration and further discussion.

It is accepted by most that DFIs, with all their defects, have fulfilled a significant role in providing term finance to corporate India. In this process, India has drawn on the experience of other late industrializing countries like Japan and Germany, which did not have the benefit of deep capital markets like the United States of America or the United Kingdom, where corporates could access markets themselves for their long term needs. Germany and Japan adopted a state sponsored route in which state-owned banks provided long term capital. This paradigm was followed by other east Asian countries like Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, with varying degrees of success.

In India also, the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India Limited developed as a cooperative venture between the government of India and global multilateral financial institutions. The Industrial Development Bank of India was set up in the Sixties as a government-owned financial institution. All of them had access to long term funds provided by the RBI through long term operations fund. These funds were lent to financial institutions at relatively low rates of interest. IDBI also refinanced state finance corporations for helping small industries. Subsequently, IDBI delegated this role to its newly-formed subsidiary, Small Industries Development Bank of India.

The suggestion of the Khan group for conversion of DFIs to universal banks was made with a view to increasing access of the DFIs to a larger resource base. In the aftermath of the reform, the LTO funds facility was shut off by the RBI. The Khan group’s expectation is that once IDBI and ICICI were converted to universal banks, they would be able to garner deposits over a larger base. In effect, the proposal amounts to DFIs being given a banking licence under the Banking Regulations Act.

The RBI has been cautious in its approach to this proposal. It has sensibly taken the view that such conversion is neither necessary nor a sufficient solution to the problems faced by DFIs. Their major problem is their balance sheets, mainly because of the high volume of NPAs.

The problem of DFIs will not be solved merely by conversion to universal banks. For one thing, universal banks require that the institutions have to provide for statutory liquidity ratio at 25 per cent of their liability. One calculation has it that between IDBI and ICICI, the total SLR requirements alone will be Rs 30,000 crore , a sum which will have to be raised by the institutions to invest on government paper. This is in addition to their resources for legitimate loans to corporates. While the government of India’s extra needs for debt will ensure the availability of debt paper to absorb these contributions, it is certain that such large funding of government debt by DFIs will further adversely affect their bottomline.

Some suggest that a way out will be a reverse merger between DFIs and their banking subsidiaries where they exist. This suggestion will, however, bring down the viability of not only DFIs, but also of the offspring commercial banks. On conversion to commercial banks, DFIs will also have to reckon with the liabilities of priority sector credit. The RBI will hopefully continue to be cautious about the question.

A more holistic approach to the question will have to involve setting up of an asset reconstruction company as recommended by the M.S. Verma working group for weak commercial banks. The NPAs of DFIs should be transferred to the ARCs set up for each DFI, with capital contributed by the government of India. ARCs should be empowered to dispose off the impaired NPAs to the highest bidder. The doors should be kept open even for foreign banks and financial groups to acquire the NPAs. This will help DFIs to clean up balance sheets and get rid of their liquidity crisis.

The government of India cannot escape from its obligation to bail out the sick DFIs. As long as the present legal structure makes it difficult to force delinquent borrowers to pay up, DFIs may have no option but to look up to the government. It can be argued that the current problem of NPAs of DFIs is itself partly the result of the acts of omission and commission of the government. It is natural that before the conversion to universal banks is thought of, the government of India follows up the suggestions for clearing off the NPAs.

Equally important is the question of the governance of DFIs. If ICICI has been successful in combatting the problem of NPA, it is primarily because of the greater degree of freedom it enjoys as a fully private institution. The other DFIs have also to be given the same degree of freedom.

Last but not the least, is the question of regulation and supervision. Once DFIs become universal banks, the responsibility of the regulator and supervisor, that the RBI will be through its board of financial supervision, will be great. The RBI would need to sensitize its supervisory personnel to the modalities of term lending institutions. The skills the term lending institutions require are definitely of a different class from those for commercial banks. With all their faults, DFIs have admittedly generated a pool of valuable skills in assessing and appraising a project of complex nature. These skills do have an important role in India’s financial sector.

In these days of reform, the term “bailout” has an unsavoury association, but it is a natural consequence of the complexity of the financial sector as it confronts new challenges. The current dilemma of DFIs is in part due to the weak policies implemented by the government, which has to recognize that it is also responsible for the plight of the DFIs. If DFIs need an infusion of capital and access to long term debt funds, both have to be found and provided by the government.

In the earlier dispensation, the RBI contributed from its surpluses to the LTO fund, which enabled low cost resources to be provided to DFIs. It is time to revisit this concept. The RBI profits are high today, mainly because of the deficit financing indulged in by the government. These profits are mostly transferred to the revenues of the government. It seems reasonable to suggest a direct funding of the LTO, which can then be used to reimburse the fragile structure of the DFIs in distress. The difficult situation which DFIs face calls for innovative solutions, and revival of the LTO is a justifiable response to it.

It goes without saying that the long term remedy to the DFIs’ problem lies in the development of the debt market. This calls for strengthening of the institutions for insurance and pension funds. Some of the DFIs have ventured into an arrangement to enter insurance. This, of course, calls for special skills. A well-developed debt market will, however, enable blue chip companies to access the debt market more directly than the DFIs. But, these are paradoxes inherent in the logic of the financial system. In the context of the rising needs of long term finance, DFIs can well co-exist with a well-developed debt market.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / ALL FOR HEALTHY TRADE RELATIONS 
 
 
 
 
The multilateral trading system embodied in the World Trade Organization has contributed significantly to economic growth, development and employment throughout the past 50 years. We are determined, particularly in the light of the global economic slowdown, to maintain the process of reform and liberalization of trade policies, thus ensuring that the system plays its full part in promoting recovery, growth and development. We therefore strongly reaffirm the principles and objectives set out in the Marrakesh agreement establishing the WTO, and pledge to reject the use of protectionism.

International trade can play a major role in the promotion of economic development and the alleviation of poverty. We recognize the need for all our peoples to benefit from the increased opportunities and welfare gains that the multilateral trading system generates. The majority of WTO members are developing countries. We seek to place their needs and interests at the heart of the work programme adopted in this declaration. Recalling the preamble to the Marrakesh agreement, we shall continue to make positive efforts... to ensure that developing countries, and especially the least-developed among them, secure a share in the growth of world trade commensurate with the needs of their economic development. In this context, enhanced market access, balanced rules, and well targeted, sustainably financed technical assistance and capacity-building programmes have important roles to play.

We recognize the particular vulnerability of the least-developed countries and the special structural difficulties they face in the global economy. We are committed to addressing the marginalization of the least-developed countries in international trade and to improving their effective participation in the multilateral trading system. We recall the commitments made by ministers at our meetings in Marrakesh, Singapore and Geneva, and by the international community at the third United Nations conference on least-developed countries in Brussels, to help least-developed countries secure beneficial and meaningful integration into the multilateral trading system and the global economy. We are determined that the WTO will play its part in building effectively on these commitments under the work programme we are establishing.

We stress our commitment to the WTO as the unique forum for global trade rule-making and liberalization, while also recognizing that regional trade agreements can play an important role in promoting the liberalization and expansion of trade and in fostering development.

We are aware that the challenges members face in a rapidly changing international environment cannot be addressed through measures taken in the trade field alone. We shall continue to work with the Bretton Woods institutions for greater coherence in global economic policy-making.

We strongly reaffirm our commitment to the objective of sustainable development, as stated in the preamble to the Marrakesh agreement. We are convinced that the aims of upholding and safeguarding an open and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system, and acting for the protection of the environment and the promotion of sustainable development can and must be mutually supportive. We take note of the efforts by members to conduct national environmental assessments of trade policies on a voluntary basis. We recognize that under WTO rules no country should be prevented from taking measures for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, or of the environment at the levels it considers appropriate, subject to the requirement that they are not applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade, and are otherwise in accordance with the provisions of the WTO agreements. We welcome the WTO’s continued cooperation with the UN environment programme and other inter-governmental environmental organizations. We encourage efforts to promote cooperation between the WTO and relevant international... developmental organizations, especially in the lead-up to the world summit on sustainable development to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Very empty vessels

Sir — Everyone knows that the travel and tourism industry has been the worst hit industrial sector since the World Trade Center attacks. But the remarks made by the chief executive of British Airways, Rod Eddington, categorizing Hollywood celebrities as “gutless cowards”, for being scared to fly was not only illogical but also in poor taste (“Cowards slur on brave celebs”, Nov 9). Hollywood stars have been doing their bit to raise funds for the victims of the attacks, whether it be through concerts, telethons or donations. Expecting them to instil “customer-confidence” by taking flights on British Airways is stretching their role model image a bit far. Eddington must realize that badmouthing actors for not travelling British Airways can hardly inspire people to start taking flights again. The £ 2 million daily losses incurred by British Airways since the attacks seem to have had a bad effect on the usually market-savvy Eddington. He will soon be expecting Arnold Schwarzerneggar or Brad Pitt to lead covert missions in Afghanistan.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, via email

Not quite bull’s eye

Sir — The editorial, “The CM and the commissars” (Nov 17), speaks poorly of the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who seems to be walking a tightrope between his own progressive views and his party’s parochial outlook. The recent controversy over the screening of the film, Taurus, shows that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has not yet come of age. The party mandarins in Alimuddin Street, in their eagerness to make their presence felt, often act in a manner which defies logic. They place a premium on precepts and perceptions and pay little heed to realism or the demands of society. It is matter for regret that some of them have condemned the film even without watching it.

Bhattacharjee can succumb to the pressure of his party only at his own peril. Over the years, the people of West Bengal have been witness to the various policies, ranging from the banning of English in primary education to the more recent backtracking on the prevention of crime ordinance, which the CPI(M) introduced. That Bhattacharjee bowed to the wishes of his party comrades does not befit his position as the chief minister of the state.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Sinha, Berhampore

Sir — The chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, seems to have been defeated on his own turf, the cultural arena. The screening of the Russian film, Taurus, directed by Alexander Sokurov, was abruptly stopped at the seventh Calcutta film festival. Intellectuals from the left, the former chief minister, Jyoti Basu, and the CPI(M) politburo member, Biman Bose, have all claimed that V.I. Lenin has been atrociously denigrated in the film. The problems seem to have their source towards the end of the film where Sokurov has shown the last phase of Lenin’s career, with his bouts of amnesia, insecurity and suicidal tendency taking centrestage. The Russians, of course, have never challenged these facts about the latter part of Lenin’s life.

This is not the first time a ruler, dictator or political leader has been portrayed in such a manner. The blinkered existence of our communist leaders will only lead to a suppression of creativity. The communist brigade which objected to the showing of the film should abandon the mantle of culture police which they have so eagerly donned.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — While the CPI(M) has shown its displeasure regarding the screening of the film, Taurus, one wonders why there was no sign of disapproval from them regarding the portrayal of other great leaders on film.

Vallabhbhai Patel, Vinobha Bhave and even Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi have been depicted in a controversial manner in various films. Is it only if the leader concerned had leanings to the left that the culture tsars of the CPI(M) feel the need for an acceptable depiction of him?

Yours faithfully,
Rukmini Patwardhan, New Delhi

Spoken in truth

Sir — The recommendation of the Lok Sabha ethics committee to allow citizens to complain against the unethical conduct of any member of parliament, inside and outside the house, although a welcome step, is completely illogical. Given the current situation of the country, the common man — who has neither muscle nor money power — will not be in a position to take on politicians by submitting related affidavits and following them up through other cumber-some procedures. Moreover, what are the likely actions that are to be taken against the erring parliamentarians if the charges are proved? Perhaps, nothing more than a warning in the Lok Sabha. Such light “punishment” is as good as no punishment and will serve no purpose.

The Lok Sabha ethics committee should empower the speaker to take stringent action against errant MPs. Each time the house is adjourned because of disturbances caused by the MPs it costs the taxpayer about Rs 9.32 lakh. The earlier proposal made by the speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, to fine each MP Rs 2500 for “rushing to the well of the house” should be backed by all political parties and be implemented immediately.

Forcing the frequent adjournment of the house and other such disruptive behaviour should also be taken up by the ethics committee. Writing these recommendations down in a book of rules is hardly the way to implement them. If the political parties are serious about enforcing discipline in the house, they should agree on concrete proposals and pass a bill which will reduce the indiscipline and commotion prevalent in the house.

Sadly, the meeting held by the Lok Sabha speaker on November 25 to find ways and means of disciplining MPs and guaranteeing the smooth functioning of Parliament, has turned out to be a damp squib (“Old code of conduct in new register”, Nov 26). It has ended up like most other meetings where lakhs of rupees have been wasted and no decision been taken.

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — This is not the first time that the speaker of the house has tried to instil a semblance of discipline among MPs. Predecessors of the speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, had also failed at this task and it seems so will Balayogi. The speaker should not lose hope and should take heart from an oft-quoted anecdote regarding his predecessor, P.G. Mavlanker.

Soon after becoming the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru once called up the then speaker, Mavlanker, from the former’s office in Parliament. “Mavlanker, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you,” Nehru said over the telephone. “I am in my chamber, could you please come over for a few minutes.” Mavlanker sent back a note saying, “Mr Prime Minister, the speaker does not go to ministers’ chambers.” Within seconds, Nehru rushed to Mavlanker’s office full of apologies.

If the then prime minister could toe the line that other parliamentarians are supposed to, is it too much to ask our MPs to try and do the same?

Yours faithfully,
B.K. Poddar, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — Although, it is mandatory for manufacturers of packaged goods to print the maximum retail price, inclusive of all taxes, on the packet, this law is seldom followed by most shops. Many packaged goods, mostly medicines, have the MRP printed on them along with the words “local taxes extra”. This allows the retailer to charge more than the printed MRP. The consumer protection forums should take action against such erring firms as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, via email

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