Editorial 1 / Talking point
Editorial 2 / Move in step
The most basic instinct
Fifth Column / Should he get the chief’s ticket?
Man behind the iron bars
Document / A pledge for the sake of a better future
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / TALKING POINT 
 
 
 
 
There can be no meaningful dialogue without an atmosphere of trust. The latest offer by the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom for talks with the Indian government seems flawed on this count. The offer cannot inspire much confidence in the outfit’s sincerity of purpose as it comes with “preconditions” the government will find difficult to accept. Although the ULFA chairman, Mr Arabinda Rajkhowa, did not spell these out while making the offer, he was obviously referring to the organization’s old demands that the talks be held in a third country under the supervision of a United Nations observer, and that Assam’s “sovereignty” be recognized. Since he knows that the government has repeatedly rejected these “conditions”, his offer looks more like a publicity stunt than anything else. Coming on the eve of its “protest day” to mark the 11th anniversary of the banning of the outfit, it seems a thinly veiled attempt to boost its cadre’s morale. Nobody can quarrel with Mr Rajkhowa’s argument that only a purposeful dialogue can end the two-decade-old insurgency in Assam. But the tone and substance of his statement do not lend it enough seriousness. In fact, the statement makes a mockery of the spirit of accommodation that the government had earlier shown to talk to the group without any preconditions. Assam’s new chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, who has been keen for peace talks with the ULFA, will doubtless be as disappointed with Mr Rajkhowa’s loaded offer as negotiators in New Delhi.

Even if his offer is half-hearted, Mr Rajkhowa must have made it under pressure of some recent developments. The outfit may still have enough committed cadre and weapons to carry out occasional ambushes against police and security personnel. But its dwindling popularity was evident once again in the state assembly elections last May when the overwhelming majority of the Assamese decisively voted for peace in the face of the ULFA’s call for a poll boycott. Second, the outfit has been in disarray after Bhutan forced it to close some of its training camps in its southern jungles bordering India. Whatever his compulsions, Mr Rajkhowa has to do two things first to prepare the ground for talks. He must withdraw his “preconditions” for the talks to start at any level. And, he must ensure a cessation of violent activity by the group’s militants, thereby paving the way for a surrender of arms. That the authorities are prepared to give this a chance was demonstrated recently when the unified command of police and security forces unilaterally declared a ceasefire during the Bihu festivities in the state. Also, since the ULFA has a history of bitter divisions within its ranks over the question of talking to the government, Mr Rajkhowa has to signal to New Delhi that his writ runs in the entire organization, including the armed wing headed by Mr Paresh Barua.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / MOVE IN STEP 
 
 
 
 
Uncertain futures prompt uncertain noises of friendliness. Only time will show whether the exchanges among Ms Sonia Gandhi, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mr Chandra Shekhar at the initiative of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) parliamentary leader, Mr Somnath Chatterjee, will amount to anything more than that. The “third” or “alternative” front idea is mouldy hat; there is little point in rehashing it and pretending it will work under electoral strains. Neither is it relevant now, since what is needed is simply a united opposition, not a “front” with fancy nomenclature. Ostensibly, this was the reason for the little get-together. The idea was to establish enough politeness among the different groups and personalities so as to be able to stick together in Parliament when policies and bills of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government appear to be unacceptable. There is some sense in that. The BJP has repeatedly gifted the opposition with gigantic sticks with which it could be beaten, and the opposition has always lost the sticks in its vague, disunited scramble. A united opposition would have found the Unit Trust scandal, the Tehelka scandal, and the return of Mr George Fernandes marvellous weapons of destruction. The BJP has got away with it all. And, as if that were not enough, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has established himself quite firmly in the captain’s seat, both within and without his party.

Sensible though the idea is, it is difficult to believe that this alone could have brought foes such as Mr Yadav and Ms Gandhi together. There are more immediate and material issues at stake: the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh being one. Mr Rajnath Singh has recovered some of the BJP’s goodwill in the state, and it would be a poor politician who confidently predicted a BJP disaster in the assembly polls. Mr Yadav is not a poor politician. Ms Gandhi, whose prime ministership he blocked in 1999, would be a good ally for the Samajwadi Party since the Congress and Mr Yadav’s party would both be gunning for essentially the same vote bank. Anything is possible, from a seat-adjustment to a pre-poll alliance. And Mr Sharad Pawar, whose NCP is already sharing power with the Congress in Maharashtra, is said to be wondering whether it would not be wiser to return to the fold. And the left is there, to lend weight to anything supposedly “secular”. An opposition closing ranks would be a healthy thing, but so far it is just so much sweet talk and hot air. Perhaps direct understandings without the underpinning of “secular” and “alternative” would achieve the object faster. An ideological vacuum cannot be filled in with rhetoric. It is better to identify the source of insecurity and tackle it together without wasting words.

   

 
 
THE MOST BASIC INSTINCT 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Theatre is one of those forms of expression and communication that have fascinated and intrigued people all over the world for centuries; it has also left many baffled by its nature — the way it takes you by the hand into a magic world which can be quite unlike, and also very like, your own. I’m one of those who’ve been caught up with it for many years now, but many plays later, plays that I have acted in, or directed, one is not very much wiser; the more one thinks one knows about it, the more one realizes how much more there is to know, and how pathetically poor one’s knowledge of it really is.

But let’s leave all that aside for now. I’m involved in a play right now, Hippolytos, one of Euripides’s tragedies, translated into a brilliant contemporary script by David Lan. Going through the rehearsals, one is, inevitably, awed by the emergence of the tragic dignity of Phaedra, the queen obsessed by her love for her stepson, Hippolytos, the passionate idealism of young Hippolytos, and the grief and blind rage of Theseus, Phaidra’s husband and Hippplytos’s father. But awesome as these features of the play are, the one element that is to me the most fascinating is the chorus, presented in this version as two women.

This is no set of wailing women, invoking the gods, bemoaning their state, and generally doing all they can to send the audience either to sleep or out of the theatre. These are two impressionable young women who do two things that we’re doing all the time; commenting on what they see happening to the great and the tragic, and, more importantly, always wanting to know more. “He’s innocent,” one of them cries to the goddess Aphrodite, “why are you punishing him? Tell me why ?” Earlier, their intense curiosity takes them to the queen’s nurse whom they question eagerly; what’s happened to her, why is she sick, is she — said in a roundabout way — pregnant?

And they’re by no means ignored. All the protagonists in the tragedy, Hippolytos, Phaedra, Theseus, speak to them, seek their support, explain to them what they think is happening. So they’re informed, directly, by word of mouth, and have their own analyses of the situation developing around them.

It’s an almost perfect copy of what we see going on in the media-shaped world we inhabit, what we’ve seen, in fact, for some years. The great and the good — and not so good — hold press conferences, give one-on-one interviews, issue press statements; no different from what Hippolytos and Phaedra do. The members of the chorus report what each has heard to the other; classic reportage, except that they don’t have a dateline. And of course there are editorial analyses from time to time; like editorial comment sometimes right, and sometimes wide off the mark.

The much valued “enduring” quality of these plays has, in fact, much to do with their being a reflection of the fact that social responses and curiosity are just as intense as they were a thousand years ago. Working on this play made me realize that the myths of ancient peoples going about their ancient ways, anciently tilling the soil, occasionally bursting into ancient song and dance are just that: myths.

Over the years people have been intensely curious, and the hunger for information, which has often not been fed adequately, has led to the creation of fictitious worlds where life was so ordered that information on everything was available to everyone. The audience, as part of that society, knew everything, their curiosity was fully satisfied, they were fed with all the information they wanted.

It is not really that far-fetched an argument that one of the sustaining features of society through the ages has been curiosity, and, arising from that, the desire to know what was going on, mainly about the high and mighty in the land. Subaltern studies, to use that very politically correct term, came in only later, as a sort of development to, or a dimension of, the fashionably socialist inquiries into the condition of the people. The people who have, for centuries, been fascinated by what the big noises did or did not do.

Reality has always been much more disorganized, unstructured and episodic; this has meant that the unquenchable curiosity of people has had to feed on snippets off and on, and snatches of information, all of which have given rise to gossip and rumours to an extent that sorting the rumours out from the facts has at times been a major problem. And it was, of course, so much easier to create a whole world and people it with characters who spoke as the people wanted them to, in asides, eloquent soliloquies which were actually press releases done up by the PR instincts of the playwright.

What these characters did within the context of the play itself, the chorus does openly, without any pretences, much as the sutradhars do. Except that the chorus does a little more; they are really what Shakespeare was referring to as the abstracts and chroniclers of our time. They do what the media are doing today; interpreting events, reporting them, and sitting in on their unfolding, which they then report in different ways to the rapt audience.

In that sense they are wholly contemporary, and no present day audience need have any more trouble with them than they would with their morning newspaper or the news bulletins on radio and television. Both fulfil, in their own way, the same function.

The chorus wants to know why Phaedra is dying, and are appropriately horrified when they learn that she is hopelessly in love with her stepson, Hippolytos; the media were equally frantic to know what was going on in Afghanistan when the Americans attacked. The equivalent of the chorus even tried to enter the country in drag. The plans of Aphrodite to get even with Hippolytos are no less fearful than that of a vengeful terrorist organization. She says, and mark the far-sightedness of the clever Mr. Euripides, that death’s too simple — “I engineer more adult endings for my enemies.” Indeed. Such as September 11 in New York, such as disease carrying letters to unsuspecting and innocent, undefended people.

Knowledge is not only power; it is also security, and reassurance. There are those who seek it through astrology, the apophthegms of philosophers and holy men, tarot cards and other such means. Others, many others, have harnessed technology and human ingenuity to bring people information, comment, analysis and plain gossip — like the chorus in Hippolytos — through television, radio, newspapers and journals. All of them say exactly what the women in the chorus say. There is one familiar voice: “What should a person ask for in this life? To be healthy, to have as much money as you need.” And the other voice, equally familiar: “He’s innocent. You know it! But you watch as he’s flung away…Why? Answer me!” Resignation, and, again and again, the questionings of curiosity, the insatiable need to know.

Some would argue that it is a primal desire to approximate an aspect of divinity, to strive to become all-knowing, all-seeing. The desire for security ultimately translates into that. All knowing, all seeing, perhaps. But having attained knowledge, what about comprehension? We may know a great deal of what’s going on in the world but do we comprehend any of it? That, as has been said before, is another story.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / SHOULD HE GET THE CHIEF’S TICKET? 
 
 
BY DEBAKI NANDAN MANDAL
 
 
In the major reshuffle of secretaries to the new Left Front government that came to power last July, the chief secretary and the home secretary were left out. This intrigued many, especially since it is common knowledge that at the top levels of the civil service, merit and seniority are not the only determining factors. In many cases political patronage can make a civil servant rise high up on the bureaucratic ladder and even reach the top slot. Was the decision with regard to the two secretaries being guided by the same pattern?

It is well known that in West Bengal, as in other states, a coterie of ministers and members of the ruling party have tremendous influence over the appointment and transfers in crucial posts of the police and the bureaucracy. The idea behind this manipulation is perhaps to ensure the political loyalty of top bureaucrats so that they become active collaborators in bending rules and dwarfing opponents. The rest of the bureaucracy is expected to follow, automatically.

The diminishing importance of the chief secretary as the principal coordinator in state administration is the corolloary of this trend. Policies are decided at the political level and merely thrust upon the bureaucracy. Even inputs are not sought from the civil servants, whose advisory role is ignored.

Unchecked invasion

Secretaries to the administrative departments are aware of the planned weakening of the top rungs of the bureaucratic ladder. So they cannot be blamed for playing it safe and paying lip service to their political bosses. Ministers are often known to have bypassed the chief secretary and taken files on important issues directly to the chief minister for approval.

The traditional image of the chief secretary as the father figure of the bureaucracy has been tarnished long ago. When he is too busy protecting his own chair, he cannot be expected to protect the interests of his subordinates. Development and planning have consequently disappeared from the priority list of the chief secretary. The state finance minister calls the shots on all important issues pertaining to the size of the state’s annual plan, allocation of departmental outlays, monitoring of performance and so on.

Till the Eighties, a senior secretary of the rank of the additional chief secretary used to head the development and planning department. The practice has been done away with and junior officers have been appointed to the post. The finance department has successfully usurped the functions of the nodal agency flouting the norms. What is important is that there has been no attempt to stem the aberration.

Shed excess baggage

The former chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, complained in public before the last assembly elections that he was not posted with developments on the law and order front in the Midnapore-Hooghly-Bankura belt at an appropriate time. This speaks volumes of the role played by the chief secretary who is functionally duty-bound to advice as well as apprise the chief minister periodically about important matters of law and order. However, the chief secretary’s wings are clipped by the fact that the district administration, which comes under his direct supervision, has little or no control over the police which toes the line recommended by the ruling party or coalition in the state. As a result, the law and order scenario becomes bleak, and the onus falls on the chief secretary.

It is therefore time to ask if the state really needs a chief secretary, a post which has been devalued so much that the holder of it has been reduced to being an ornamental head. It is true that politicians need bureaucrats to further their political interests. Hence, the political pressure on the bureaucracy will not disappear overnight. But that is no reason for civil servants to throw away the values and ideals that the civil service stands for. They must not allow themselves to be used as pawns, especially since they are well-protected by constitutional guarantees. Greed for power and pelf might explain this degeneration, but only partly. Moreover, if the higher bureaucracy of the country is so susceptible to such human frailties, let the posts be scrapped altogether. If nothing else, the process of downsizing will immediately receive a fillip and the administration be relieved of some excess baggage.

   

 
 
MAN BEHIND THE IRON BARS 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
 
Barely two days before Laloo Prasad Yadav’s ill-fated journey to Jharkhand, a soothsayer near the Patna bus-stand predicted doom. “Is baar to jail ki chakki pisna hi hai (this time, he has to go to jail),’’ the quaint old man prophesied with a smirk. He foresaw destiny in a cluster of tamarind seeds scattered over rough squares drawn with chalk on the asphalt. The crowd gawked and then tittered in disbelief.

But his prophecy came within striking distance of the truth as Laloo’s motorcade crossed the Bihar-Jharkhand border at Koderma. The milling crowds thinned as the convoy looped its way around a hill and rolled along the steep incline, cutting through dense forests, towards Hazaribagh.

If public response was anything to go by, the fabled Laloo magic was definitely losing its sheen. Jharkhand appeared immune to the showman’s charisma despite his gimmicks and roadside rallies.

“I am the king of both Bihar and Jharkhand. Who can gag me?” roared Laloo Yadav at a roadside rally in Koderma. The motley audience — a curious mix of local tribals, illegal coal miners and a smatter of Yadavs — required some prodding by vigilant Rashtriya Janata Dal supporters to cheer. “Laloo Yadav salamat rahe (May Laloo be in good health and spirits),” went the feeble refrain. The legislators from Patna in mud-splattered white ambassadors nudged each other in dismay as the “Garib Chetana” juggernaut rolled into alien territory.

Although Laloo’s legal eagles are busy plotting escape routes from the Bacon Factory camp jail in Ranchi, the fact that the “lion of Bihar”— “sher”, as he prefers to describe himself — was hauled out of his lair to face trial in a state carved out from his own hunting ground, has an ironic twist to it. It also proves that no politician, however powerful, is above the rule of law and offers a measure of hope for the “righteous” at a time when corruption is all pervasive.

Politically, Laloo’s confinement in Jharkhand has mixed implications. Rabri Devi’s government in Patna is under no apparent strain as the threat perceptions are still nebulous. The RJD dissidents led by Ranjan Yadav have reportedly sounded out the local National Democratic Alliance leadership about a possible realignment of forces. Ranjan Yadav met Sushil Modi, the leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly, informally a day after Laloo Yadav left for Ranchi.

But the move is unlikely to yield fruit as the NDA is not equipped to take on the “mighty Yadavs” at this juncture. Modi, known to be an astute politician, has been busy lobbing legal posers at Laloo in connection with the multi-crore fodder scandal, much to the delight of the media. The lengthy verbal salvos have left Modi with little time for political machinations.

Moreover, caste cracks have surfaced in the Patna unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party over a function organized by dissident member of parliament, Madan Prasad Jaiswal. The show — a mahasabha for Vaishya community members — was attended by another high-profile dissident, Shatrughan Sinha, who shared the dais with none other than Laloo Prasad Yadav. The consequent outcry almost split the party.

The saffron brigade in Bihar seems to shedding its inhibitions regarding Laloo Prasad Yadav, once considered absolute taboo in the BJP rank and file. Another disgruntled MP from Darbhanga, Kirti Azad, a former cricketer, turned a “good sport” by inviting Laloo to the inauguration of a cricket match in his constituency.

In this emerging backdrop of political gamesmanship, Ranjan Yadav’s chances of succeeding in his toppling act appear remote — if not bleak. To top it, Yadav has always been the city man, unlike his mentor whose support-base is the village. In Bihar, more than 64 per cent of the population resides in the villages .

The only chinks that the opposition can use to its advantage are slipshod governance and clumsy decisionmaking at the party level. Rabri Devi sans Laloo Yadav is a “dummy’’, almost non-existent on Bihar’s political map. Day-to-day running of the government and party affairs will be difficult for her as she is averse to signing even a scrap of paper without her sahib’s approval. It will not be humanly possible for her to shuttle between Ranchi and Patna every day to discuss the nitty-gritties.

Cell phone jammers at the Ranchi camp jail, installed by the Babulal Marandi government, have also sealed Laloo Yadav’s prospects of remote-controlling party affairs at Patna.

“They can jail me anywhere in the country but it will not affect my government,” asserted Laloo Prasad in Patna, a week before his jail term.

But the assertion rings hollow as Rabri Devi cuts a rather pathetic figure among the legislators, who are used to receiving orders from Laloo. The gender factor also adds to the chaos. A general perception among the RJD legislators in Patna is that a “woman makes an ineffectual leader”. Rabri Devi’s ministry is often ridiculed as a “kitchen cabinet” as she operates from between her pots and pans.

Insiders feel that the Bihar chief secretary, Mukund Prasad, is more than “prepared” to call the shots in Laloo’s absence. But the legislators beg to differ. “Laloo should not have spurned the proposal of a core committee comprising close aides, Raghuvansh Prasad, Ramchandra Purve and Shivanand Tiwary to look after things in his absence. Rabri Devi will find the brood unmanageable,” warned a senior RJD minister.

Even her brothers, Sadhu and Subhash Yadav, who have temporarily closed ranks to pitch in their lot with her, are expected to prise open old family wounds. “They brought a bad name to the party with their wild ways and politics of self-interest,” says a RJD old-timer.

In 1997, when the Central Bureau of Investigation had fired yet another “chargesheet”, Laloo managed to cling on to power by a coup’d’ etat. On the fateful night of April 27, 1997, Laloo Yadav knocked on every United Front door — that of N. Chandrababu Naidu, Jyoti Basu, Indrajit Gupta and Sharad Yadav — for a possible bail-out. But they were unanimous in their verdict: if Laloo Yadav was chargesheeted, he would have to resign. As the clamour for his resignation rose in pitch over the next two months, the master-strategist split the Janata Dal in Bihar to form the RJD. As the head of the new front, he put his seal on dynastic rule at 1, Anne Marg (the chief minister’s residence) by installing his wife as the head of the state. But then, help was readily available at Patna’s Beur jail and the coterie was “faithful”.

This time, however, matters are on a hostile pitch. Physical distance apart, there are political and constitutional barriers separating Rabri and her sahib. Reports from Ranchi indicate that the noose is tightening around Laloo. Though his lawyers are trying to shift him to Patna in connection with another fodder case next week, the CBI and the Marandi government are hellbent on keeping him in Jharkhand. Shaky bigwigs from Patna have been pouring steadily into Ranchi since his confinement. Matters have a taken a turn for the worse with a revolt in the Ranchi wing of the RJD.

The Marandi regime is going to ballast itself with its show-of-strength “schedule”. Jharkhand police wielded the stick on the milling crowd outside the court premises soon after Laloo’s hearing. Two RJD leaders were injured in the melee. The condemnations that followed were somewhat low-key.

One should not read much into the police action, for it does redeem Marandi’s image as an able chief minister. His year-long brush with power is pockmarked with failures on several fronts. But the “lathicharge” does speak volumes about the “power of political gimmickry.” Showbiz succeeds only to a certain extent but it cannot alter the course of history. The poor man’s messiah, who has been riding piggyback on “antics” for the past 12 years, is finally bowing to the writ of destiny.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / A PLEDGE FOR THE SAKE OF A BETTER FUTURE 
 
 
 
 
We reaffirm the right of members under the General Agreement on Trade in Services to regulate, and to introduce new regulations on, the supply of services.

We reaffirm our declaration made at the Singapore ministerial conference regarding internationally recognized core labour standards. We take note of work under way in the International Labour Organization on the social dimension of globalization.

We note with particular satisfaction that this conference has completed the World Trade Organization accession procedures for China and Chinese Taipei. We also welcome the accession as new members, since our last session, of Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Jordan, Lithuania, Moldova and Oman, and note the extensive market-access commitments already made by these countries on accession. These accessions will greatly strengthen the multilateral trading system, as will those of the 28 countries now negotiating their accession. We therefore attach great importance to concluding accession proceedings as quickly as possible. In particular, we are committed to accelerating the accession of least-developed countries.

Recognizing the challenges posed by an expanding WTO membership, we confirm our collective responsibility to ensure internal transparency and the effective participation of all members. While emphasizing the intergovernmental character of the organization, we are committed to making the WTO’s operations more transparent, including through more effective and prompt dissemination of information, and to improve dialogue with the public. We shall therefore, at the national and multilateral levels, continue to promote a better public understanding of the WTO and to communicate the benefits of a liberal, rules-based multilateral trading system.

In view of these considerations, we hereby agree to undertake the broad and balanced work programme set out below. This incorporates both an expanded negotiating agenda and other important decisions and activities necessary to address the challenges facing the multilateral trading system.

We attach the utmost importance to the implementation-related issues and concerns raised by members and are determined to find appropriate solutions to them. In this connection, and having regard to the general council decisions of May 3 and December 15, 2000, we further adopt the decision on implementation-related issues and concerns in document WT/MIN(01)/17 to address a number of implementation problems faced by members. We agree that negotiations on outstanding implementation issues shall be an integral part of the work programme we are establishing.... In this regard, we shall proceed as follows: (a) where we provide a specific negotiating mandate in this declaration, the relevant implementation issues shall be addressed under that mandate; (b) the other outstanding implementation issues shall be addressed as a matter of priority by the relevant WTO bodies, which shall report to the trade negotiations committee...by the end of 2002 for appropriate action.

We recognize the work already undertaken in the negotiations initiated in early 2000 under article 20 of the agreement on agriculture, including the large number of negotiating proposals submitted on behalf of a total of 121 members. We recall the long-term objective referred to in the agreement to establish a fair and market-oriented trading system through a programme of fundamental reform, encompassing strengthened rules and specific commitments on support and protection in order to correct and prevent restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets. We reconfirm our commitment to this programme. Building on the work carried out to date and without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations, we commit ourselves to comprehensive negotiations aimed at: substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support.

We agree that special and differential treatment for developing countries shall be an integral part of all elements of the negotiations and shall be embodied in the schedules of concessions and commitments and as appropriate in the rules and disciplines to be negotiated, so as to be operationally effective and to enable developing countries to effectively take account of their development needs, including food security and rural development. We take note of the non-trade concerns reflected in the negotiating proposals submitted by members and confirm that non-trade concerns will be taken into account in the negotiations as provided for in the agreement on agriculture.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Greatness in flannels

Sir — It was interesting to read Allan Donald’s interview (“Confrontation gets me pumped up: Donald”, Nov 28). Both the Indian team and the management could learn a lesson or two from Donald, who is an example of the hard work and professionalism which have been the hallmark of South African cricket for the last ten years. While Indian players are always looking for an excuse to justify their poor performance on the field, South Africans are much more aggressive and prefer to give a fitting reply to their opponents on the field itself. Donald, too, has the same attitude towards the game and will set many more records if he continues to play for the next two or three years. Very few people will forget his debut at the Eden Gardens ten years ago, when he enthralled millions of cricket lovers and soon came to be known as “white lightning”. With already 550 wickets to his name, Donald is the ideal role model for aspiring fast bowlers and especially for Indian youngsters who are eager to don the white flannels.

Yours faithfully,
Madhu Srivastav, via email

Leftover history

Sir — As has been pointed out by the editorial, “A nation and its historians”(Nov 25), political parties in India have often been guilty of trying to interpret history in a manner that would best suit their interests. Since independence, politicians have tried to rewrite history so as to reinforce the secular nature of the Indian polity. It is nevertheless disappointing to realize that the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, seems to fall in this category.

By defending the decision of the national council for educational research and training to revise history text books written by eminent historians like Romila Thapar, the prime minister has once again reinforced his government’s communal credentials. That the study of history is subject to interpretations cannot be refuted. However, the government should have tried to develop a consensus instead of justifying its actions. The Congress, too, has failed to play the role of a constructive opposition. Instead of forcing the government to admit its mistake, it has merely accused it of “talibanizing education”.

Yours faithfully,
Ananya Guha Roy, via email

Sir — The editorial, “A nation and its historians” (Nov 25), has pointed out that no self-respecting historian will deny the fact that there is a need to revise history books from time to time. However, it is particularly disconcerting to realize that the decision to do so arises from the sangh parivar’s desire to rewrite history in a manner that would help promote their ideology.

While there is always room for the interpretation of historical events in the light of new research and discoveries, the basic tenets of history cannot change. The decision to revise the school curriculum, however, is always welcome given that newer interpretations not only help students keep pace with the latest theories and research but also make the subject more interesting for the students. The study of history or any other subject is by no means absolute, and in general historians are known to disagree on a particular issue.

Yours faithfully,
Rupa Saha, via email

Sir — It is indeed ironic that the Congress should accuse the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of trying to talibanize education when it was a Congress-led government in Delhi which had decided to delete the controversial chapters on Guru Teg Bahadur from history textbooks. Moreover, the decision to do so was made only after there were strong protests from the members of the Sikh community who objected to the description of Teg Bahadur as a “plunderer and rapist”. It is also understandable that people from these communities do not want children to read the less than complimentary accounts of the exploits of their leaders.

Given that the tradition of history writing in India has always been dominated by the Marxist materialist tradition, it is hardly surprising that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other intellectuals from the left have strongly protested against the move to revise history textbooks. The wrath of the Congress makes sense when one takes into consideration the fact that the NCERT was for a long time dominated by leftist scholars who were in the position to determine the educational policy of successive governments in the post-Nehruvian era.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Wrongs of practice

Sir — It was interesting to read the news report, “Clinic for doctors’ victims” (Nov 10). The failure of consumer protection forums to help those who have been victims of medical malpractice is a well known fact. Every year thousands of people lose their lives owing to the negligence of doctors. The appalling condition of most city hospitals which lack proper equipment and are hence unable to deal with medical emergencies, make matters worse.

Under the circumstances, Kunal Saha’s decision to set up the People for Better Treatment forum would be welcomed by the people of this state. Doctors have to be made to accept responsibility for the death of patients who have been entrusted to their care. Victims of medical malpractice find themselves at a loss when looking for legal and medical advice. One remembers an incident in Calcutta a few weeks back when a cancer patient was denied radiotherapy at the Calcutta Medical College because he had been treated at the Tata Memorial Hospital.

Yours faithfully,
Haridas Chakrabarti, Calcutta

Sir — In spite of the existence of several state and national consumer forums, medical malpractice continues to claim lives at regular intervals. The article, “An appointment with death” (Nov 14), was a shocking reminder of the deterioration of ethics in the medical profession. Doctors today have too many cases on their hands and very little time to attend to the needs of individual patients. Monetary considerations often force doctors to admit a patient for treatment without examining his medical records properly. Moreover, most government hospitals as well as private clinics do not make any effort to maintain the records of patients. It is doubtful whether the parents of eight-year-old Anamitra Modak who died while having corrective surgery, will get justice in a court of law.

While nursing homes charge patients exorbitant amounts of money for an appendectomy, most government hospitals remain out of reach of middle-class pockets. Even though the health ministry is aware of this critical state of affairs, it has not taken any steps to clean up the medical profession.

Yours faithfully,
Pritibhusan Sinha, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — I’m a resident of Gudari village which has a population of 40,000 people. For some time now, the people of my village have become victims of frequent attacks by Naxalites, who have terrorized the people by seizing the land and properties of about 300 families. Most of the families are dependent on their land for sustenance. Even though we have lodged a complaint before the district collector, very little has happened. We have lost our lands and people are now scared to go near their fields. The Naxalites have already threatened to kill anyone who dares to protest or lodge a complaint.

One hopes that the government will take the initiative to help the people of our village by taking adequate steps to deal with the Naxalites.

Yours faithfully,
Majji Gauri, Orissa

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