Editorial 1 / Blood feud
Editorial 2 / Red terror
Depths and surfaces
Mani Talk / Northeast muddle
Document / Take full account of each other’s needs
Letters to the editor

The latest acts of terror in Israel have deeply damaged any prospects of a revival of the West Asia peace process. Relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government have touched a new nadir. Given the international, and particularly the United States of America’s, preoccupation with events in Afghanistan, it is imperative that necessary diplomatic resources are mustered to ensure that the growing tension is diffused at the earliest. It is clear that Mr Yasser Arafat must bear a major part of the responsibility for the latest terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa. While the extremist group, Hamas, has claimed responsibility for the attacks, it is clear that the Palestinian Authority has simply not done enough to restrain the terrorist group or its sister organization, the Islamic Jihad. Indeed, both groups had publicly vowed to take revenge against Israel’s killing of a top Hamas militant a few weeks ago. Nor has decisive action been taken against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that assassinated Mr Rehavam Zeevi, an Israeli minister, on October 17.

But the Israeli prime minister, Mr Ariel Sharon, cannot escape blame either. Israeli punitive action in Palestinian areas over the last month has witnessed tanks move into Bethlehem and Ramallah, and scores of Palestinians have been killed. Indeed, Israeli action has not just increased support for extremist groups, but has also eroded the legitimacy of Mr Arafat, who remains Israel’s best hope even now. The current cycle of violence began fourteen months ago, following the Israeli government’s reckless decision to allow Mr Sharon, then opposition leader, to visit Muslim religious sites in East Jerusalem. As was clear even then, only one motive could have inspired Mr Sharon, a known hardliner who tacitly supported the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the early Eighties, to make this provocative gesture: to demonstrate Israel’s continued sovereignty over the Muslim sites in East Jerusalem. Palestinian protests erupted as a direct consequence of Mr Sharon’s visit. If the violence snowballs, there can be no hope for peace. While it is imperative that Mr Arafat demonstrates his resolve to fight Palestinian terrorism, and bring to book all those responsible for the recent terrorist attacks, Israel too must exercise restraint. Use of force will only exacerbate the situation, and provoke further violence. It is critical, therefore, for all those who have influence and leverage over the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership, especially the US, to exercise maximum pressure to ensure a return to the negotiating table. The US peace envoy, Mr Anthony Zinni, currently in Israel, must communicate this message to the Israeli and the Palestinian leadership in no uncertain terms.


In the land of its origin, Maoism today is not only discredited but also discarded by the Chinese Communist party. But the myth of the “great helmsman” continues to incite mindless mutinies elsewhere . There is thus cause for concern in the latest depradations by the People’s War Group of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Maoist Communist Centre in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. The extremist groups which have turned isolated pockets in these states into their killing fields are desperate to step up their activity. This stems from the Maoists’ inability to garner larger public support despite decades of guerrilla warfare, and to influence mainstream politics. Also, the actions are largely aimed at boosting their cadre’s morale in the face of an unending cycle of splits in underground communist parties, internecine killings and bloody encounters with the police. This has been the story of the communist rebels operating in their strongholds in the Rayalseema and Telengana areas of Andhra Pradesh for over two decades. But the rebels delude themselves with rhetoric, not admitting that their “people” are no better than marauders, and that their stray ambushes do not add up to a “war”. The timing of the sudden spurt in extremist violence, however, may be due to the PWG’s plans to increase the strike rate. Coming in quick succession, the attacks could also be the ultras’ way of celebrating the first anniversary of the formation of a “people’s guerrilla army” last December.

The Centre’s anxiety to tackle the Maoist menace was evident from the Union home minister, Mr L K Advani’s, suggestion that the the PWG could be banned all over the country, and that the prevention of terrorism ordinance could be used to this end. Most political parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) agree that the Maoists’ acts are illegitimate and undemocratic. They now need to sink their other differences to put up an united fight against the rebels. The Centre and the state governments should coordinate plans to counter the threat because the rebel strikes are often orchestrated across state boundaries. The Marxists in West Bengal, who have opposed POTO on political arguments may find it an useful tool in their new battle against the PWG in some districts in the state. Even the new act that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had proposed to prevent organized crime could help. At the same time, both the Centre and the state governments must reach out to the remote areas where the Maoists have set up their bases. Weak governance and economic deprivations often leave the people in these areas at the extremists’ mercy.


Writing to his brother, Theo, in the early 1880s, Vincent Van Gogh describes himself as “very hard at work” on a series of heads of “the people”. He even includes in the letter “a scribble” of the latest head, and goes on to provide a vivid account of the importance of such scribbling for a painter. He made these sketches “from memory on a little scrap of paper in the evening”. He is still unsure about what he wants to do with these heads. But sitting down regularly with these scraps of paper becomes like keeping a journal for him, helping him formulate “what in general I have in mind”. These are “trials” in a sort of preparatory realism — “I want to extract the motif from the characters themselves” — before the heads are taken up into the painter’s transforming imagination. While making these sketches in his sketchbook and in the letters to Theo, Van Gogh thinks of “doing” these heads in watercolour and lithograph as well. But the transformation does happen eventually, five years before his death in 1890. The scribbled heads became a great painting — The Potato Eaters.

The Works on Paper exhibition at CIMA gallery — showing a wide range of Indian artists, from the Early Bengal school to the absolutely contemporary — explores the ideas and processes outlined in Vincent’s matter-of-fact words to Theo. Some of the artists and pictures had been shown in CIMA’s Art of Bengal exhibition. But this show makes us look at them differently, by shifting focus from the contents and regional character of the pictures to the materials and processes they employ. This is a shift from motif to medium, from product to process, from history to craft. Running through the show is the artists’ sense of what it means to work on, or with, paper — not only from the point of view of technique, but also in terms of how technique relates to larger, and more fundamental, preoccupations with visual representation itself.

What is the difference between working on paper and working on canvas? Is watercolour or ink or pastel on paper different in stature, in the weight of its achievement, from oil on canvas, or from marble or bronze? Does paper impose its own character on the work, compelling an artist to confront certain problems in a manner and tone distinct from his way with other media?

In its spare and light-filled spaces, interspersed with real windows opening onto early winter cityscapes, Works on Paper is much less demanding than Art of Bengal, with its impressive weight of traditions. But Works on Paper is a curiously cerebral show that makes one play about with some of these questions. In Art of Bengal, artists like Ramkinkar Baij, Ganesh Pyne and Samir Aich — with their large, finished pieces — demanded graver contemplation from the viewer. But here, they invite us to pause, scrutinize and then wonder about the diverse craft of using line and colour, revealing the hand of the artist in a different, more intimate, scale. And this, one feels, has something to do with the medium of paper.

It is an intimacy similar to what one enjoys while listening to a composer’s chamber works after being overwhelmed by his symphonic music. One feels a different kind of closeness to Bach in the cello suites or The Well-Tempered Clavier compared to the massive choral works; or to Beethoven in the six bagatelles for the piano, so effortlessly profound, compared to the sublime Missa Solemnis. The musical analogy helps in looking at the works on paper not as the initial and cursory sketches for proper paintings, but as expressions in their own right, although in a different medium, register, scale or tone, presenting a different set of preoccupations and solutions.

In Johannes van der Wolk’s wonderful reconstruction of Van Gogh’s seven sketchbooks, the studies of heads and hands afford pleasures and insights independent of the greatness of The Potato Eaters. And the same could be said of the sketches and drawings of such masters as Leonardo and Rembrandt, for whom working on paper remained crucial to artistic and intellectual self-discovery.

This self-discovery is inseparable from a continuous engagement with the particular problems of the painter’s craft. Works on Paper repeatedly shows how such engagements start from what E.H. Gombrich calls the “age-old puzzle of painting” — the problem of representing depth on a surface. Perhaps puzzling out this paradox on paper takes most artists close to the experience of that other activity done on paper, writing. This gives to the exhibition its peculiarly cerebral character, as if working with lines created by ink on paper makes looking, thinking, writing and drawing part of the same spectrum of activities. This could have something to do with the resistance of paper-on-board to pen, charcoal or brush (so different from the yield of framed canvas); or the rapidness of “catching things in the act”, as Van Gogh would say, like the quickness of thought itself; or the sureness of touch and sheer luck needed in the irreversible process of using transparent colours on paper.

In this exhibition, the vital interaction of paper with line and colour is most consummately shown in the works of Gopal Ghosh, Baij and Pyne. In the Baij sketches, the drawings as well as the titles, dates and signature are all composed of the same strokes of the pen, the images indistinguishable from the writing. He uses both sides of the paper, so that lines on both sides of the paper interact within a single sketch. The brisk urgency of the sketching sometimes cuts the paper along the movement of the nib, turning line into shape in a peculiar cut-out effect, reminiscent of late Matisse.

The use of writing and this cut-out effect, both inadvertent here, are consciously employed by artists like Jogen Chowdhury and V.S. Gaitonde. Chowdhury’s stylized signatures are integral to his drawings; Gaitonde’s nonsense scribbles on cut-out paper, with singed edges, use paper simultaneously as something to write on and to extract pure shapes from. Images aspire here to the condition of writing even while turning writing itself into something illegible, to be looked at rather than read, working as purely visual signs emptied of verbal meaning. N.S. Harsha’s whimsical series turns English phrases, like “Sleeping on Quotes”, into bannered icons providing intriguing commentary on the delicate images of a young man sleeping. Harsha even retains the serrated edges of the paper, which seems to have been torn out of a spiral notebook. The artist is like a supremely inattentive student, doodling beautifully during a lecture, marginal to the world of words yet somehow holding on to it.

This whimsy erupts into the manuscripts of some of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems. The poet’s deletions converge to form fantastical images and grotesque faces which are strangely discordant with the earnest romanticism of the poems they inhabit. It could even be said that these images are somehow more “modern” than the poems.

Working on paper could also result in the deliberate cultivation of flatness, as in Lalu Prosad Shaw’s She I and II. His women in profile are impeccably two-dimensional. The butterflies that surround one of them embody this spirit of papery lightness, and the moon behind this woman is a cut-out, leaving a moon-shaped hole in the rectangle of colour that forms her immediate background. On the other hand, there could be, equally, an attempt to transform the flatness of paper as a writing surface into a different kind of material altogether. The use of paper pulp in Somenath Hore’s Wounds 56 and 49 and in Anupam Chakravorty’s Creche, a row of mattresses with plump little pink paper-pulp pillows, attempts to give paper a solidness which is contrary to its essence as a medium.

The use of the natural white of paper is crucial to Gopal Ghosh’s watercolours and Ganesh Pyne’s two little pictures, Dusk and The Acrobat. Paper- white either suggests distance or becomes the source of illumination in Ghosh’s landscapes of washed colours, peering out as the full moon from behind two palm trees. In Pyne, the glimmering of light on human and animal faces and forms is modulated entirely through varying the density of the criss-crossed lines in ink. This variation controls the extent to which the paper is allowed to show through, shaded lightly with dry pastel. Worked over intricately with lines everywhere, it is only in the face of the woman in Dusk and of the monkey in The Acrobat that the white of the paper is fully revealed. The colour and texture of paper break through the lines of ink to create the luminous melancholy of the performing monkey. It is an image that belongs as much to the world of Picasso’s blue harlequins, masters of weightless artistry in Rilke’s fifth Duino elegy, as to the magically sad world of the monkey-prince, Budhhu, in Thakurmar Jhuli.

Pyne’s faces emerging from the dark networks of ink could make us look again at some of the sketched frames in Satyajit Ray’s screenplays, another example of how sketching could be a means of thinking through stages of creativity. The interplay of lines and paper-white becomes the most dramatic expression of psychological depth in the images of the insane Daya sketched by Ray while writing the screenplay of Devi. The use of light and darkness in the film, as a vehicle for psychological exploration, could be traced directly back to these initial sketches on paper.

Such depictions of human faces glimmering in the dark also go back to some of Tagore’s paintings, in which the surrounding darkness, if studied closely, often reveals dense reticulations in ink, like a secret layer of inchoate writing around and beneath the human forms. Tagore, Ray and Pyne could form a distinct tradition of inwardness and portraiture. Born out of the marriage of writing and drawing, the modernity of this tradition is inseparable from the stuff of paper and ink. It is significant that the Bengal school was fascinated with Chinese painting and calligraphy, perhaps the most sophisticated conjunction of writing and drawing ever to be achieved. In Ray’s work, writing and drawing remain intimately linked. It is interesting how his Bengali handwriting has now become a reproducible script, and the bold, crisp penstrokes of this script are essentially the same as the strokes with which he illustrated his own stories.

If one of the themes of Works on Paper is the uses of cross-hatching to create diverse spatial effects on paper, then the collage of postcard-sized works by Partha Pratim Deb covering an entire wall of the gallery is the most striking form taken by this technique. Instead of using a pen, Deb uses a blade to make intricate patterns of straight lines on printed paper. There is something almost neurotically dissonant about this method, and disturbing about the thought of someone meticulously using a blade on paper. In this, Deb is as much the creator of patterns as of textures of obsessiveness.

This is a peculiarly modern and distressed art, not without its own wit and lightness. The inner white of printed paper is here brought out through a repeated damaging of its surface, and Pyne’s technique of letting paper-white glimmer through an absence, or thinning out, of lines seems to have been turned inside out with a degree of violence. Deb’s postcards are stuck on the wall without any framing, the paper risking the exposure of its own fragility with a sort of brittle daring.

Thinness, flatness, brittleness, lightness and fragility. These are the qualities that paper as a medium brings to the artist. But it also faces the artist with a void which seems to be inexhaustibly receptive to the marks of his consciousness. In his notebooks, Leonardo charts out this void for the aspiring artist: “A surface is an extension made by the transversal movement of a line, and its extremities are lines. A surface has no depth…Every surface is full of infinite points. Every point makes a ray. The ray is made up of infinite separating lines.” For Leonardo, this “surface” is a space of infinite possibilities, but it also brings its own immutable limits. Works on Paper is a tribute to what artists could do with such limits and possibilities.


G eorge Fernandes’ re-induction into the cabinet have implications beyond the Tehelka tapes, extending to the future of the Northeast. He is the man who manufactured a Samata Party government out of an assembly that had no Samata members in Manipur earlier this year.

The cabinet itself is presided over by a prime minister who misled the chief ministers of the Northeast into believing that the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) had agreed to the deletion of the words “without territorial limits” from the Bangkok accord so solemnly signed by the government of India and the NSCN(I-M) on June 14, 2001. Till today, the government has failed to produce even an initial, let alone a signature, of any NSCN(I-M) representative who has agreed to the words being deleted. Quite to the contrary, authorized representatives of the NSCN(I-M) have repeatedly affirmed that they have not agreed to any such deletion.

The home minister, for his part, has been unable for the past six months to produce an alternative to former home secretary, K. Padmanabhiah, to take the negotiations with the different factions of the NSCN to the political plane. P.A. Sangma was sounded out, but after the howl of protest at this partisan leader of the Northeast being entrusted with such a responsibility, that proposal was quietly dropped. None other has come up in its place. It is truly extraordinary that the National Democratic Alliance cannot conjure the name of a single politically-empowered interlocutor all of six months after Padmanabhiah’s incompetence set the Northeast on fire.

The fire was, of course, not of Padmanabhiah’s sole making. The chief arsonist, in fact, was the home minister who prised out of the Asom Gana Parishad its agreement to the inclusion of the three offending words in return for the Bharatiya Janata Party concluding an electoral alliance with the AGP in a last desperate (and, as it turned out, failed) attempt to bail out the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government. Moreover, the Northeast will never forgive Lal Krishna Advani for his deception of them in claiming that Mahanta’s acceptance of the three words bound the hands of the successor Congress government of Tarun Gogoi, who was never consulted on this key issue.

It is chicanery of this order that renders the home minister suspect in the eyes of all thinking northeasterners. The Northeast also continues to wonder why the self-same Advani is unable to produce any evidence of this assertion in Parliament last July of NSCN(I-M) agreement to the deletion of the three words even after a privilege motion has been moved against him (by me) for having contradicted my reading of press reports of the NSCN(I-M) denying they had accepted the deletion. Advani told the house not to get misled by press reports. The fact is that the press reports were accurate; it was Advani who was tampering with the ball.

As for the Union finance minister, his stepmotherly treatment of Assam continues unashamed and unabated. It was the AGP government which was the NDA’s partner in crime in so bankrupting the treasury that the payment of salaries has become for Gogoi’s government a monthly task of Herculean proportions. That was the AGP which the BJP embraced. And it was that AGP-BJP alliance which the Assamese electorate so rightly rejected. But for exercising that democratic right the people of Assam are being compelled by the finance minister to run from pillar to post begging resources for sustenance, let alone any development.

The finance minister also has direct responsibility for the finances of Manipur since Manipur has been put under president’s rule. He was warned in Parliament during the passage of the Manipur budget that the funds he was seeking were phantom funds, conditions in Manipur, thanks to the machinations of the home minister, being such as to foreclose any possibility of plan outlays being spent sensibly. Administrative chaos has persisted, virtually all funds, plan and non-plan, being squandered on salaries. What little remains for development lies uselessly in the treasury because there is simply no delivery mechanism in place to deliver development.

Not even the external affairs minister is exempt from culpability. The NSCN and its factions are banned in India as declared terrorist organizations. While falling at the feet of the Americans to prove himself more loyal than Pervez Musharraf, Jaswant Singh seems to have overlooked the tiny fact that we in India are much more victims of terrorism than the United States of America has ever been, not only over a much longer period of time but also in terms of human losses, many times more than those killed in the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. It is only because the US and its allies do not similarly regard the NSCN as a terrorist organization that talks with NSCN are being held in a Western city, Amsterdam, which is chock-a-block full of North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops and located but a few hundred kilometers from the NATO headquarters at Mons in Belgium. Is it a friendly act for the West, which is targeting Osama bin Laden, to be offering refuge (and all the other delights of Amsterdam) to those engaged in a war of secession against India? Is Jaswant Singh’s office located in South Block or Foggy Bottom, Washington DC?

Now to add to their woes comes the extraordinary appointment of Arun Shourie as minister for the Northeast. Given his pick of the lilies of the valley, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has chosen the already over-burdened (and under-performing) Shourie whose only connection to the Northeast is that he was hand-in-glove with the agitation which not only spawned the wholly discredited governments of Mahanta but also spawned the United Liberation Front of Asom and a host of other terrorist and disruptive organizations. Shourie is on record as having descri- bed these goons and psychopaths as Gandhians.

Sceptics are referred to his compilation of articles, Mrs Gandhi’s Second Reign, published back in 1984 but still available at any mortuary for the ghoulish. Gandhians is what Shourie described them as, clubbing their agitation with the satyagrahas of the great Mahatma and the JP movement of the Seventies. And for his propaganda in their favour, Shourie received the most tumultuous receptions at Guwahati University when he went there at the time Mahanta and his companions had laid siege on that erstwhile seat of learning. Shourie was then an independent journalist and, therefore, had the right to individual stupidity. He is now a member of a BJP-led government which proved its collective stupidity by aligning with Mahanta in the last state assembly elections. Shourie’s sins of the late Seventies and early Eighties are still being visited on the heads of totally innocent people in Assam and elsewhere in the Northeast. Every drop of blameless blood shed has Shourie’s name inscribed on it.

And such a man, of all the men (and women) available, is the guilty party Vajpayee has chosen for the Northeast. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but apparently Shourie can fool the prime minister all the time!


In the period until the fifth session, further work in the working group on the relationship between trade and investment will focus on the clarification of scope and definition; transparency; non-discrimination; modalities for pre-establishment commitments based on a General Agreement on Trade in Services type, positive list approach; development provisions; exceptions and balance of payments safeguards; consultation and settlement of disputes between members. Any framework should reflect in a balanced manner the interests of home and host countries, and take due account of the... objectives of host governments as well as their right to regulate in the public interest. The special development, trade and financial needs of developing and least-developed countries should be taken into account as an integral part of any framework... Due regard should be paid to other relevant World Trade Organization provisions. Account should be taken, as appropriate, of existing bilateral and regional arrangements on investment.

Recognizing the case for a multilateral framework to enhance the contribution of competition policy to international trade and development, and the need for enhanced technical assistance and capacity-building in this area... we agree that negotiations will take place after the fifth session of the ministerial conference on the basis of a decision to be taken... at that session on modalities of negotiations. We recognize the needs of developing and least-developed countries for enhanced support for technical assistance and capacity-building in this area, including policy analysis and development so that they may better evaluate the implications of closer multilateral cooperation for their development policies and objectives... To this end, we shall work in cooperation with other relevant intergovernmental organizations... and ... private regional and bilateral channels, to provide strengthened and adequately resourced assistance to respond to the needs.

In the period until the fifth session, further work in the working group on the interaction between trade and competition policy will focus on the clarification of core principles, including transparency, non-discrimination and procedural fairness, and provisions on hardcore cartels; modalities for voluntary cooperation; and support for progressive reinforcement of competition institutions in developing countries through capacity-building. Full account shall be taken of the needs of developing and least-developed country participants...

Recognizing the case for a multilateral agreement on transparency in government procurement and the need for enhanced technical assistance and capacity-building in this area, we agree that negotiations will take place after the fifth session of the ministerial conference on the basis of a decision to be taken... at that session on modalities of negotiations. These negotiations will build on the progress made in the working group on transparency in government procurement... and take into account participants’ development priorities... Negotiations shall be limited to the transparency aspects and therefore will not restrict the scope for countries to give preferences to domestic supplies and suppliers...

Recognizing the case for further expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods... and the need for enhanced technical assistance and capacity-building in this area, we agree that negotiations will take place after the fifth session of the ministerial conference on the basis of a decision to be taken... at that session on modalities of negotiations. In the period until the fifth session, the council for trade in goods shall review and...clarify and improve relevant aspects of articles V, VIII and X of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and identify the trade facilitation needs and priorities of members, in particular developing and least-developed countries.

To be concluded



Playing small war games

Sir — Ajit Panja is far from fading out. He has pulled off his latest coup when he was nominated on the panel of the Calcutta metropolitan planning committee (“CPM ‘pat’ for Panja, Nov 23). The Trinamool Congress, which has handed Panja a suspension order, has taken up cudgels against the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s decision. The CPI(M) has defended it. All this is just as one would have expected it to be. The two parties’ delight in picking a fight, and throwing nonsensical allegations against each other have become part of their regular routine. This goes by the name of politics, for want of anything better. It is obvious that Panja was nominated to spite Mamata Banerjee, and for this reason alone. At the same time, the Trinamool Congress could not be more wrong if it thinks that its other members of parliament from Calcutta represent the people of the city any more than Panja does. There remains, however, some unfairness in constituting a committee for Calcutta’s development and including only a suspended member of the party that rules the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. But when was politics in the state known to be fair?

Yours faithfully,
S.P. Samaddar, Calcutta

Law for the lawmakers

Sir — By initiating discussions on the state of discipline and decorum in Parliament and the legislatures, the Lok Sabha speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi, has at least showed his willingness to reintroduce some semblance of order in Indian parliamentary proceedings. But it is still doubtful how far the code of conduct drawn up at this meeting would help in upholding the dignity of Parliament and the legislatures, where the ideals of decorum and discipline have been repeatedly violated.

What is more important than the leaders asking the members of the different parties to behave is the need for parliamentarians and legislators to go in for a bit of introspection. This would make the speaker’s entreaties redundant. The people of the country will soon lose all faith in the workings of the Indian democracy.

Yours faithfully,
Arunava Bose Chowdhury, Barrackpore

Sir — If Indian parliamentarians are really serious about restoring the dignity of Parliament and the legislatures, nothing like it. But it is also important to ask why the quality of parliamentary behaviour has fallen so sharply. Perhaps the reason lies in the disturbing statistics that 40 parliamentarians and around 700 legislators have criminal records against their names. The editorial, “Scenes by the well” (Nov 27), is correct in stating that crimes and scandals of some magnitude have become a matter of regional pride in states like Bihar, even among the legislators.It is not enough for political parties to follow a code of conduct in the house, there must also be one for the elections. The reform must begin before the members reach the Parliament or the legislatures.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir — The gross indiscipline in the legislature made headlines when the Loktantrik Congress Party in Uttar Pradesh staged its coup. Apart from the usual missiles of slippers, stones were freely pelted and legislators crossed the floor and physically assaulted their colleagues. But this was not the first instance of such behaviour. Years ago, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam legislators had felt no compulsion in insulting the only female member of the assembly, J. Jayalalithaa, by tugging at her saree.

But what happened to these honourable members of the house? Were they suspended? Did the speaker even think of banning them from the house? No. Surely that was negligence on the speaker’s part.

The first signs of disquiet should have been quelled in both state assemblies and Parliament with iron hands. For indiscipline in the house is as much a denigration of democracy as it is of the speaker himself. Unruly behaviour in the legislature implies that the speaker has been reduced to a nonentity. Yet given that the election of the speaker itself is characterized by such politicking, the role has been devalued. Why have politicians as speakers always been satisfied with being mere figureheads?

Yours faithfully,
Nabin Chakraborty, Calcutta

Tea break tips

Sir — The most frequently heard explanation for a person missing from his seat in government offices and public sector undertakings is, “Chai peenay ko gaya (He has gone to have tea)”. This chai peena may take several hours during which people have nothing to do but wait.

The only people, other than government employees, who are happy with this state of affairs are the owners of the subsidized canteens and the tea-sellers. In India, unlike in other countries, offices seem to be attached to canteens, rather than the other way round. Shops selling paan, paan masala and cigarettes are in the same league.

In the Forties, an American multinational company, the Standard Vacuum Oil Company, set up their most modern office in Mumbai. Knowing the penchant of their Indian employees for chai peena, the management of the company arranged for tea, on the house, to be brought to the table of the employees. Discipline was maintained and the thirst for tea quenched whenever required.

Many offices in the private sector have followed this system, with the help of modern tea and coffee vending machines. One wonders if the government offices and the PSUs will fall in line.

Yours faithfully,
V. Srinivas, Nagpur

Sir — Work in Central government offices is supposed to start at 9.30 am, the closing hour being 6.00 pm. The last pay commission has also made provisions for granting a conveyance allowance to Central government employees. In spite of this, it is routine to find most of the seats vacant in the first hour of any working day. The offices bear a deserted look till around 10.00 am.

Even the officers using govern- ment vehicles arrive late. Although punctuality is preached in the most glorified terms, it is rarely practised, especially when attendance in office is concerned. Isn’t it time now to administer some bitter medicine to cure this old disease?

Yours faithfully,
Sharmistha Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — On November 2, a few days before my chartered accountancy exams, my friend and I were going for our tuitions on my motorcycle. At the Rawdon Street crossing, I was suddenly stopped by a constable, who told me he wanted to do a routine check to see if I had my licence with me. I promptly showed him my licence, after which he demanded my papers.

I showed him my tax token, and then a photocopy of the blue book. I could see his eyes light up when I told him that the original blue-book papers were at home. (These in any case can be handed over within 24 hours of demand.) He took my keys and told me to park my bike.

By this time, I was getting nervous, because we were getting very late for our tuitions. But the constable insisted on calling a sergeant. I thought that would be a good idea, but to my horror, the sergeant turned out to be even worse and spoke to us as if we were suspected terrorists. He threatened me with a fine of Rs 2,500. I pleaded, but it fell on deaf ears. I explained patiently that I was getting late for tuitions but he insisted that I get my papers from home.

I asked my friend to go to my house on Central Avenue and get the blue book. Wading to and fro in rush hour traffic from Rawdon Street to Central Avenue takes nearly two hours. So I began waiting patiently.

After about an hour came another constable, who whispered in my ears, “You have five hundred with you?” I was taken aback and mumbled a “no”. Then he said in a sterner voice, “give me Rs 500 and leave quietly, or this sergeant will seize your bike.”

I didn’t seem to have an option, because I didn’t want to wait longer. I didn’t have the money with me either, so I walked to my ex- school that was nearby, and luckily found someone who would lend me the money. But not before I missed my important tuitions before my CA examinations.

Who exactly is responsible for the people on the roads facing such harassment? Are there no rules or regulations in this land at all?

Yours faithfully,
Murtuza Aly, Calcutta

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