Editorial 1 / Middle path
Editorial 2 / Not Trustworthy
Reading the new scenario
Fifth Column / More violence for more money
Mani talk / Will we see 2003?
Document / Consenting to world safety
Letters to the editor

The quest for the middle ground in politics is invariably mediated by the logic and responsibility of office. This is best illustrated by two examples drawn from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. The Bharatiya Janata Party won its colours in Indian politics with an agitation carried out in the name of Ram which was led by Mr L.K. Advani. The party also won notoriety because it was seen as being associated with Hindu fundamentalism and with the violence that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. This background raised the hope — among its more extreme supporters — and fear — among its critics — that the BJP’s accession to power would result in a pushing through of the Hindutva agenda and a rise in communal passions. None of these fears and hopes have come true. Being in government has acted as a great leveller. The BJP under the leadership of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been more active in promoting governance than in the advocacy of a particular ideology. Even Mr Advani speaks this language rather than what he spouted during his rathyatra. What is equally noticeable is the gradual but effective marginalization of the extreme and militant sections of the sangh parivar from the decision-making of the government.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal has gone through a similar experience. It came to power first in the late Sixties and then in the Seventies on the trail of an agitation based on violence and disruption. After more than two decades in power, it no longer promotes violence as the agency of change. On the contrary, it sees itself as the proponent of government-sponsored economic reform. This change like the one undergone by the BJP is the product of the realization that it is impossible to remain in governance as the advocate of any kind of extreme position in politics. Responsibility tempers extremism. Mr Vajpayee has come to accept that he may be a BJP member but he is the prime minister of India, and thus his prime responsibility is to the people of his country and not to his party. Other important BJP ideologues, like Mr Advani, have come to realize the wisdom of this position. Similarly, the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has accepted and has persuaded his party to accept that West Bengal cannot be ruled on the basis of sectarian party interests. The priorities of governance and economic development must prevail.


The Unit Trust of India made bad news in 2001. The first day of the new year has not brought much cheer either. Without considering additional units under the reinvestment option, the net asset value of US-64 turns out to be Rs 5.94 (5.81 if redemptions are included), considerably below the expected Rs 6 to Rs 7 range. Mr M. Damodaran offers three words of consolation. First, other mutual funds have lower NAVs. Second, NAV dipped because of borrowing due to redemption pressures during April-May 2001 and stricter provisions for debt exposure. Third, exit options with assured returns exist. Individuals hold 71 per cent of US-64 and individual unit-holders with up to 5000 units have the option of exiting at guaranteed administered prices till May 2003. More than 5000 units can only be redeemed at NAV. However, if redemptions (more than 5000 units) are postponed till 2003, there is a guaranteed repurchase price of Rs 10 or NAV, whichever is higher and this clause is designed to postpone redemptions. What is unclear is the expected extent of redemptions (as opposed to postponements) and the resultant magnitude of bailout. While the gap between NAV and Rs 10.5 today might spur redemptions, there can be individual investor expectations that a product worth Rs 10 is now available at a discounted price and will fetch an assured return of Rs 12 in 2003.

The future NAV will not only be a function of stock markets and how they rally, aided by an expected inflow of foreign portfolio investments, but will also depend on how professional the UTI management becomes. There is also the point about the imminent disclosure of the US-64 portfolio. Disclosure, NAV-based returns and professional management should have occurred years ago. If not in 1994, certainly in 1996. Given the lack of information, a fund requirement for redemptions of Rs 5,000 crore is as good a figure as any and this needs to be considered in conjunction with another Rs 5,800 crore of expected redemptions in 2002, thanks to maturing of ten close-ended schemes. These schemes brought in the money and thanks to UTI’s losing market share to private sector funds, new schemes have failed to compensate. This implies loss of asset base, liquidation of assets to raise cash (other than further bailouts) and an adverse impact on remaining schemes. By April-June, UTI expects to complete strategic sales in five entities (yet undisclosed) to raise money and more such moves are in the offing. Ipso facto, the government bailout is unlikely to be more than Rs 1,000 crore. Since the government indirectly encouraged the myth of assured risk-free returns, a government bailout is a moral requirement, as long as it is the last one. To reform UTI, the government next needs to amend the UTI Act to ensure information dissemination and reduction in government intervention. Otherwise, suggested milestones in UTI reform will continue to remain millstones.


It is again the time of the year when economists, labour leaders, captains of industry, farmer leaders and many representatives of lobbies and interest groups will troop in to “advise” the government and its finance minister about what he should be doing in the forthcoming budget. The economy has fared poorly under this government. No doubt, budgets cannot foresee wars, floods, droughts, earthquakes and terrorist attacks, or the vagaries of coalition partners in the omnibus coalition that is this government. But the fact is that the average annual gross domestic product growth from 1994-95 to 1996-97 was 7.08 per cent, and from 1997-98 to 2000-01 was 5.72 per cent. Only services increased their contribution to GDP growth, and the biggest contribution in it came from public administration. Contributions from industry and agriculture to overall GDP growth declined by 3.08 per cent.

The economic “slowdown” is now in its fifth year. It could be said that the “slowdown” was inherent in the policies of earlier years and previous governments. Capital formation was unsatisfactory chiefly because governments reduced public investment to control deficits. Private capital investment after 1995 was adversely affected by the weaknesses in the regulation of financial markets that led to a sharp reduction in the raising of primary equity. Agriculture suffered a decline in public investment in nominal and not merely in real terms.

Disinvestments in public enterprises and their privatization were promised but did not happen. Infrastructure investments especially in rail, roads and power were poor, chiefly because of user charges that were below cost to many, with heavy cross-subsidies charged to some, and growing financial unviability of projects. Foreign investment was much more in financial instruments than in new plant and equipment. The list of sins in economic policies in the first half of the decade of the Nineties is long.

But the present government has been in power long enough to take corrective actions to restore the economy to a sustainable growth path. It has not done so. Many of the reasons are outside its control. For example, there is a lack of political morality. Parties oppose policies that they supported when in power, or in the state governments run by them. The coalition is together only for power. Members do not share a common vision for India or an ideology to achieve it.

The “socialist” mindset is deeply ingrained among most politicians. This leads them to support a large role for the government in the economy, populist policies of giveaways and subsidies, support to jobs above productivity and to the small-scale sector almost as a deprived caste, at the expense of economic efficiency. These sacred cows of most Indian politicians show little sign of disappearing.

There are things that they could have done. These are not the things that will be suggested to the finance minister in his pre-budget meetings. Those suggestions will relate to reduction in tax rates, incentives for savings and investment, more protection, increased public investment, lower power and telecommunication costs, and so on. These are tired old palliatives and will have as little effect in stimulating the economy as has the repeated reduction in interest rates in the last two years.

The Indian economy is seriously ill. Its recovery requires major alterations in its systems of governance. Unfortunately, little thought has been given to what these alterations must be. The planning commission employs around 1600 “experts” and is budgeted to spend over Rs 80 crore this year. This body has had little to do with the most significant changes in economic policies that took place in 1986 and then from 1991. It is not involved in looking at economic security as part of national security. It does not speculate on alternative scenarios, how they might affect India and what policy options might be able to deal with them.

But the planning commission and the planning process of the last fifty years are shibboleths, and no Indian politician dares to speak against them or even of reforming them. We should abolish the planning commission, composed as it is of temporarily unwanted bureaucrats and politicians, as well as a few “experts” and many low level staff. Instead we should have a scenario group that is part of a national security council and whose scenarios and alternative policies are presented to the prime minister. These scenarios should take a holistic view of the nation and the world, should weigh the probabilities of one or the other event happening and what our reactions could be. The budget for any year should pick the scenario that the government considers most likely and develop its financial proposals based on it.

The budget itself should be a rolling budget that is corrected every quarter, and the surrender of unspent balances at the end of the year should be stopped. Instead, unspent balances should be added to the next budget if there is adequate justification for the non-spending and that they can be spent in the next budget period.

We must have super-ministries perhaps under vice-premiers, for energy (power, petroleum, gas, coal); for industry (industries, heavy industry, textiles, chemicals and fertilizers); for foreign relations (external affairs, international trade, shipping, civil aviation), and so on, to ensure that there is a holistic consideration and decision about related matters. Such matters should not get lost in the ministerial infighting that is the norm in Indian governments and which requires each issue to be examined afresh by every ministry that is involved in some way with it.

Parliament should function through committees whose recommendations must be accepted by the house, except under specified unusual circumstances, as is the case in the United States of America. Committees should have full access to any information that they need and must have adequate budgets to undertake their own research and to employ staff and consultants. At the same time, government accounting should shift to accrual accounting and follow commercial accounting principles.

The expenditure reforms committee has suggested ways to reduce the current expenditures of the government. These suggestions should be implemented and not merely sent to the customary graveyard of inconvenient proposals, namely, reference to a committee of secretaries. The government should do what it has threatened for long, offer a voluntary retirement scheme to all government employees, while permitting its officers to take off for five years to work outside the government, with the option of returning. Disinvestments and privatization must be a cardinal principle and no minister or secretary allowed to speak or act against it. The file noting system, which is designed to diffuse responsibility in the bureaucracy, must be replaced by a “desk officer” system that pinpoints individual responsibility.

The direction for our reforms is clear. It is the reform of all our institutions, systems and procedures, not a tinkering with taxes and suchlike economic instruments. We must shed the baggage of the last fifty years and the futile controversy as to whether past institutions were right at any time or not, and look forward to the new situation in which we are placed in the world. Reforms must be in behaviour and it is institutional reforms that will bring about the necessary changes.

Our economy performs well when it is away from government — witness the success of information technology, telecom, after the government learnt at least a part of this lesson, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Also witness the success of the illegal economy, black whether engaged in crime or in production with tax evasion. We have forgotten that the government is composed of individuals. These individuals do not become saints when they join government. They are as materialist, venal, envious and opportunist as the rest of the population. Giving them vast powers has ruined the value system of a people who were good citizens, respectful of the law and of learning over lucre.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]


Extortion by insurgent outfits in several parts of the Northeast is a common occurrence. This extortion is carried out in a systematic manner — complete with formal demand notices and money receipts. Insurgent outfits appear to have access to data on the properties and incomes of individuals and decide the extortion amount on this data. Surprisingly, the public outrage against extortion is unusually subdued.

Since there is an electoral democracy in the Northeast, one expects that such outrage would find reflection in the democratic process. The reality is far from this. In order to ensure that only those less powerful than themselves are elected, insurgents back chosen political personalities and groups. This severely vitiates the democratic milieu, and the public choice does not find any representation.

In the Northeast, extortion, insurgency and underdevelopment form a vicious circle. Extortion strengthens the financial might of the insurgent outfits, which enables them to recruit more cadre and procure sophisticated weapons. The hostile environment created in the region has led to an absence of adequate private investments from entrepreneurs, and the improper implementation of government projects. The resulting underdevelopment necessitates more government investments, which only act as more fodder for those indulging in extortion.

Popular pressure

Government expenditure is the main driving force of the economy in most parts of the Northeast, and poverty levels have been kept artificially low with liberal government investments. In the absence of adequate checks and balances, investments may inadvertently contribute to the subdued response to extortion.

Compared to the size of the governments, the region has a very small private sector. The taxes generated through this sector sustain the governments. Many tribal communities are exempt from paying personal income tax, and the taxes collected in the region constitute only a minuscule fraction of the receipt of the state governments, as the major portion comes from outside the region in the form of Central assistance or share of taxes.

The absence of the taxpayers as a strong pressure group leads to a lack of improvement in the quality of government expenditures. This may be overcome only by strengthening the checks and balances through audit and monitoring by the Central government.

Sharp watch

In the mainland states, there is opposition from taxpayers to the reckless expansion of government bureaucracy, as expansion not only means more jobs, it also means more taxes to bear the salary burden of the bloated bureaucracy. Pressure from the taxpayers and the masses is required to improve the quality of government expenditure. But a certain institutional mechanism, which does not exist, is required to ensure this.

The demand for more funds by the backward states to finance developmental projects is very reasonable. But higher investment alone will not result in the desired outcome, unless the problems of poor governance and weak implementation are addressed. The latter can only aggravate the problem with the substantial leakage of resources to insurgent outfits. Evidently, stringent design, monitoring and evaluation of projects and ensuring quality expenditure are essential to achieve development. The liberal government assistance should be modelled in such a manner that it promotes peace, stability and development in the region, and discourages extortion and insurgency.

Insurgency cannot be uprooted unless the factors that sustain it are dealt with. Occasionally, governments have attempted to buy peace by facilitating the surrender of a few insurgents. However, this only results in the replacement of one group by another. Experience also shows that despite security operations, ultimately, it is only public opinion that can uproot insurgency. With strong public outrage against extortion, those who sponsor insurgency will eventually give up.

In the aftermath of the attack on Parliament, state governments are under pressure to eliminate insurgency. Extortion is the backbone of insurgency and unless extortion is brought under control, insurgency will remain a lucrative and self-sustaining activity to the detriment of the socio-economic development of the region.


The one hundred volumes of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi must rank among the least read books in India post-December 13. Yet, surely it is at times like these that we should be asking ourselves what the Mahatma might have done. December 13 starkly revealed the terrorist threat. We are told that Pakistan is behind it. We are also told that the key to ending terrorism lies in Pakistan. And that even if our word is not sterling yet in Islamabad, the “international community”, read the United States of America, is readying to come to the aid of the injured party. And to make sure the world knows who is the injured party — we, not Pakistan — we have put our distress and dismay on diplomatic display and moved our forces to the front. The idea is not to go to war, but to make our anger plain.

That the world does not appear to be convinced by our convictions is discounted. Swarms of Indian parliamentarians descending on the capitals of the sceptics will, we are given to understand, take care of that. We are moreover informed that statecraft is secret and, therefore, there is much we do not know and cannot be revealed. Missives, it is hinted, have been received in South Block, and calls on secrophones, bringing comfort to our anguished souls and promise of assistance. Certainly, young Omar Abdullah, to the plaudits of the prime minister who appointed him, drew considerable comfort on the floor of the house from the US president having promptly called the prime minister to convey his condolences and concern. That defining moment constitutes, apparently, the commencement of phase II of the global war against global terrorism.

India stands by its government, persuaded that we must act as the Americans acted after September 11 — united for now in retribution, leaving to later inconvenient questions and internecine controversy. That America went to war on September 11 while we have neither gone to war nor intend to, is not regarded as quite germane to the issue. The point is that national solidarity is needed to lean on the “international community” to lean on Pakistan. There must be no “tilt”, as in 1971 when the US needed Pakistan for its opening to China, even as now the US needs Pakistan for its opening into Afghanistan. The US then closed its eyes to the genocide in east Pakistan and helpfully moved its aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, into the Bay of Bengal as our troops parachuted in behind enemy lines. We are now urging the US to not close its eyes to cross-border terrorism sponsored from Pakistan even if Pakistan, after the bombing out of Afghanistan, still remains the US’s principal ally, what with Osama bin Laden at large, Mullah Omar and all his ministers missing, and the warlords of Afghanistan using the winter break to sharpen their claws for their spring offensive — against each other.

One can but wish the government the best of luck. After all, the action so far taken has set us rather further back than the Pakistanis. For instance, our planes fly in far greater numbers over Pakistani territory. Frequent flyers would recall that the first announcement by the captain on all West-bound flights — and the last on all return flights — is that we have just crossed Rahim Yar Khan. Now the costs of two hours additional flying time from Delhi and Mumbai have to be added to Air India’s losses. The cost to Pakistan is much less. As with us, Pakistan International Airlines’ flights are mostly Westwards and, therefore, untouched by our sanctions. In the opposite direction, they used to fly east over India before descending south to Bangkok, Singapore or Manila. Now they can fly south to Colombo before straightening out to fly east to Bangkok, Singapore or Manila. They need our airspace primarily to get to Kathmandu. We are letting President Pervez Musharraf get away with that, but not PIA. The loss is less to the account of the jihadis than to the only Hindu kingdom.

The books are better balanced when it comes to slashing staff in Pakistan’s high commission in Delhi; our losses are not greater than theirs but exactly equal, for we are sending back exactly as many Pakistani diplomats as they are repatriating Indians from Islamabad. As for the cancellation of the Samjhauta Express and the Lahore bus, correct me if I am wrong, I thought it was we, not the Pakistani dictatorship, who valued people-to-people contacts. We could, of course, terminate the most favoured nation access for Pakistani goods to the Indian market, but they would take us to the World Trade Organization and that will give them yet another international platform to air their views on Kashmir — thank you very much. The real winner in these moves and counter-moves on the diplomatic chess-board is the US which every day edges closer to its much-coveted and long-sought after role as arbiter of the subcontinent’s destiny.

Which is why I so welcome the forthcoming southeast Asian association for regional cooperation summit at Kathmandu. Two reasons. One, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has promised NOT to talk to Pervez Musharraf. That is a hopeful sign. He is such a disaster when he does. Two, Jaswant Singh has hinted that he might chat with Abdul Sattar, the Pakistan foreign minister. That too is a hopeful sign. Not because Singh is any less a disaster when it comes to talking to Pakistan but because the single biggest mistake made by the National Democratic Alliance government in its dealings with Pakistan has been to overload the top, confusing dialogue with summitry. Dialogue does not mean summitry. Summits must end the process of diplomatic dialogue, not attempt to substitute it. Whether it was the summit with Nawaz Sharif or the Agra fiasco, the summits were programmed to self-destruct because they were meretricious circuses, not serious, well-prepared encounters. Diplomatic results need diplomatic preparation, and one prays Jaswant Singh at Kathmandu will prepare the ground for a long, long haul.

If, on the other hand, Singh decides to imitate his master and send Sattar from Kathmandu, as Musharraf was allegedly sent from Agra, — “khaali haath aur moonh latkaye hue”, in Vajpayee’s dreadful phrase, empty-handed and down-at-the-mouth — then tensions will only rise. The two neighbouring nuclear powers will be placing themselves exactly where Europe was when an obscure Bosnian terrorist took a pot-shot at Archduke Franz Ferdinand, igniting the spark that brought on what no one wanted or expected — the World War I followed by the settling of “unfinished business” through World War II; 50 years of the most unbridled slaughter in world history.

We on this subcontinent missed both fixtures. Which is perhaps why we seem so complaisant about the disaster in the making if Kathmandu goes the way of Lahore and Agra. Neither India nor Pakistan wants nuclear war. Nor did the European powers seek World War I. It happened because the rivals were readying for war even as they refused to talk peace. We must talk peace with the only country in the world with which we are readying for war and who are readying for war with us. Which brings me back to Mahatma Gandhi’s Collected Works, page 298 of volume 90, as quoted by Rajmohan Gandhi in his biography of his grandfather, The Good Boatman (page 419):

“I shall advise Pakistan and India to sit together and decide the matter. If the two are interested in the settlement of the dispute, where is the need for an arbitrator? Let India and Pakistan deliberate over the matter.” Written on December 25, 1947, the 22nd birthday of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But is he listening?

Because no one is listening, I do not know whether we will see 2003. So, at the beginning of the new year, 2002 — which might be our last — let me wish you the most precious gift of all. Aaab-e-hayat, the water of life.


This convention shall be open to accession by any state. The instruments of accession shall be deposited with the secretary-general of the United Nations.

This convention shall enter into force thirty days after twenty-two instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession have been deposited with the secretary-general of the UN.

For each state ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to the convention after the deposit of the twenty-second instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, the convention shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the deposit by such state of its instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

A state may denounce this convention by written notification to the secretary-general of the UN. Denunciation shall take effect one year following the date on which notification is received by the...UN.

The original of this convention, of which the Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish texts are equally authentic, shall be deposited with the secretary-general of the UN, who shall send certified copies thereof to all states...

State parties shall afford one another pursuant to this annex the widest measure of mutual legal assistance in investigations, prosecutions and judicial proceedings in relation to criminal offences...

Mutual legal assistance to be afforded in accordance with this annex may be requested for any of the following purposes;

Taking evidence or statements from persons; effecting service of judicial documents; executing searches and seizures; examining objects and sites; providing information and evidentiary items; providing originals or certified copies of relevant documents and records including bank, financial, corporate or business records; identifying or tracing proceeds, property, instrumentalities or other things for evidentiary purposes.

State parties may afford one another any other form of mutual legal assistance allowed by the domestic or the requested party.

Upon request, state parties shall facilitate or encourage to the extent consistent with the domestic law and practice, the presence or availability of persons, including persons in custody, who consent to assist in investigation or participate in proceedings.

A state shall not decline to render mutual legal assistance under this annex on the ground of bank secrecy.

The provisions of this annex shall not affect the obligations under any other treaty, bilateral or multilateral, which governs or will govern in whole or in part mutual legal assistance in criminal matters... If the state parties are bound by such a treaty, the corresponding provisions of that treaty shall apply unless the state parties agree to apply paragraphs... of this annex in lieu thereof.

State party shall designate an authority or, when necessary authorities, which shall have the responsibility, the power to execute requests for mutual legal assistance or to transmit them to the competent authorities for execution. The authority or authorities designated for this purpose shall be notified to the secretary-general of the UN. Transmission of requests for mutual legal assistance and any communications related ... shall be effected between the authorities designated by the state parties; this requirement shall be without prejudice to the right of a state to require that such requests and communications be addressed to it through the diplomatic channel and in urgent circumstances, where the states agree, through channels of the International Criminal Police Organization — Interpol, if possible.

Requests shall be made in writing in a language acceptable to the requested state... In urgent circumstances, and where agreed by the state parties, requests may be made orally, but shall be confirmed in writing forthwith.

A request for mutual legal assistance shall contain the identity of the authority making the request; the subject matter and nature of the investigation, prosecution or proceedings, to which the request relates; and the name and the functions of the authority, conducting such investigations, prosecution or proceeding; a summary of the relevant facts, except in respect of requests for the purpose of service of judicial documents.

A description of the assistance sought and details of any rticular procedure the requesting party wishes to be followed; where possible, the identity, location and nationality of any person concerned; the purpose for which the evidence, information or action is sought.

The requested state may request additional information when it appears necessary for the execution of the request in accordance with its domestic law or when it facilitates such execution.

The requesting state shall not transmit or use information or evidence furnished by the requested state for investigations, prosecutions or proceedings other than those stated in the request without the prior consent of the requested state.

The requesting state may require that the requested state keep confidential the fact and substance of the request except to the extent necessary to execute the request. If the requested state cannot comply with the requirement of confidentiality, it shall promptly inform the requesting state.

To Be Concluded



Many ways to a summit

Sir — I despair at the diplomatic games that have been employed to bring about the prospective meeting of President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the upcoming summit in Kathmandu (“One step away from summit”, Jan 1). As reported, a briefing by the Indian national security advisor, Brajesh Mishra, to Western ambassadors led to urgent dispatches being sent home, then phone calls from European leaders to George W. Bush and Bush’s talk with Tony Blair before Musharraf could be persuaded to take some measures. It took all this to open the possibility of further talks. The report mentions that the diplomatic activity over the Christmas period was unparalleled since World War II. A more pertinent comparison would be with the machinations of “secret diplomacy” which led to war in 1914. We now have the United Nations to act as a forum for diplomacy. Why is the UN being thoroughly ignored in this latest spate of crisis over terrorism?

Yours faithfully,
Keya Mitra, New Delhi

Personal account

Sir — The observations about devotion and prayer that Amit Chaudhuri offers as generalizations in “On not being able to pray” (Dec 30), seem to stem entirely from personal experience. Although he claims to belong to a “Brahmo-influenced” family, whatever that may be, I am surprised to note that he finds himself without moorings. Prayer is the only religious expression of the Brahmo community. In fact offering prayers, either in a congregation or personally, is a common practice among Brahmos. It is true that the Brahmo religion is neither bound by church dictates, nor governed by strict religious practices conducted by clerics. Is it this absence of institutionalized vigilance that leaves Chaudhuri confused? It is not necessary that a household without rituals should also be a home without god and religion.

A Brahmo has the freedom to make his “relationship with eternity” a personal matter, but why should that be a “makeshift, experimental affair”? In fact it is the training to communicate with the creator personally, without the mediator in between, that gives a Brahmo the strength to face the truth and reality. That is why in the Brahmo way of praying one says “Lead me from darkness to Light, Lead me from untruth to Reality”. Rabindranath Tagore implored his maker not to shelter him from danger. He prayed for the strength to be able to face it. I believe this is the basic tenet of all religions in the world.

It is strange that Chaudhuri should look into his “background” for an explanation of his “absorption” in devotional songs. Surely, one does not have to be a Vaishnav to appreciate kirtan. Devotion comes naturally to one who has the inclination for it. Praying also stems from the bottom of one’s heart.

Yours faithfully,
Sudakshina Kundu Mookerjee, Calcutta

Sir — Amit Chaudhuri’s belief that devotion and prayer are practices we “inherit in the blood” is alarmingly reactionary. With religious fundamentalism in full sway shouldn’t we expect our leading writers to stress that faith is ultimately a matter of personal choice? The young men, drawn from across the Islamic world, who joined the taliban chose to do so. Of course their education — or lack of it — and upbringing may have limited the range of that choice. But to suggest that religion might in any way be connected to one’s blood inheritance is surely to return the current debate on religious fundamentalism to the racialist terms of the 19th century.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Gupta, Calcutta

Look after them

Sir — Rajat Gupta mentions in “Partial amendment” (Dec 29), that a section of the public is pressing the state to provide free and compulsory education to children in the 0-6 years age group. His comment brings to mind the objection raised in the Lok Sabha recently on the issue of compulsory education for older children and the apprehension for parents who did not send their children to school. The human resources development minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, reminded his audience that the government was not intending to harass or penalize parents for not sending their children to school. As long as the government and the opposition continue to go soft on the issue of education, the dream of full literacy is bound to remain unfulfilled and education of the young between 0-6 may never come up for discussion.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta,

Sir — The news that two Communist Party of India (Marxist) apparatchiks have been appointed to the respective vice-chancellorships of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Open University, and Rabindra Bharati University shows a fact blatantly (“New Left bows to old guard at varsity gates”,Dec 26). It totally nullifies the leftist claim that the government does not interfere in the education policy and the administration of education in West Bengal. The report has pointed to how Anil Biswas is now selecting vice-chancellors. Imagine how the Marxists would have reacted had Atulya Ghosh done similarly during his Congress regime. In Parliament the Marxists lambast the Bharatiya Janata Party for the saffronization of education. But here in backward Bengal, little fuss is raised over how the CPI(M) is affecting education.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — I would like to thank the state government for taking the bold step last year of banning private tuition. Many families, unable to afford a tutor’s fees, have been victims of the system. So have students themselves since their teachers spend so much time giving private tuition that they have little energy to spend in the class room. Let us hope that once the system is uprooted, attention will focus on what goes on inside the classroom.

Yours faithfully,
Prasanta Kumar Pahri, Bankura

Sir — Thousands of retired teachers are languishing on their small pensions. Shouldn’t those on whom we entrust our children be able to trust us in return?

Yours faithfully,
Hemanta Gopal Kumar, Burdwan

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