Editorial 1 / One world
Editorial 2 / Iron mask
Smiles and handshakes
Fifth Column / Chinese operation on the borders
The many faces of an Indian
Document / Discussion of some precise issues
Letters to the editor

Identity is always an elusive concept. It is impossible to tie it down to one particular thing. In the high noon of nationalism and nation states, identity came to be defined by citizenship, and the document that formalized citizenship was the passport. The system of passports which set one’s identity and allowed mobility created in its turn the system of visas or entry permits. This system is now under threat and scrutiny. The creation of the European Union has made travel within Europe free of nation-wise visas. One visa allows a person to travel through the EU. This is a sign that the notion of borders and boundaries is collapsing, passports are becoming irrelevant and identities are being blurred. India, being a nation to which change comes very slowly, has been resistant to such changes. But here too the winds of change are blowing. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, announced on Tuesday that his government had no objections to providing dual citizenship to Indians settled abroad. This announcement was based on the recommendations of a committee headed by Mr L.M. Singhvi. This committee had identified the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, a large part of Europe and Singapore for implementing dual citizenship.

The dual citizenship proposal will come as a relief to many Indians settled abroad who cling to their Indian passports, and thus suffer immense hardship when they travel. They cling to their passports out of reasons of sentiment because they see in their passports a statement of their Indian identity. As Indian passport holders they are forced to get visas for countries to which they travel. A dual passport will remove these hassles. It will enable non-resident Indians to keep their sentiments and to be mobile. Mr Vajpayee when making the announcement raised the question of loyalty. He said, somewhat wryly, that his government was in favour of dual citizenship but not in favour of dual loyalty. He emphasized that Indians abroad should be loyal to the countries where they lived. He thus freed non-resident Indians of emotional ties to what was once their homeland. Identity, citizenship, loyalty — all very charged issues — have thus become matters of individual choice and preference. In a world that is increasingly becoming smaller, and in which capital is becoming global and mobile, national identities and restrictions on travel are burdensome. Dual citizenship with certain countries will enable Indians resident in those countries to become members of the global village. Mr Vajpayee has shown that his party’s nationalist rhetoric does not always hinder Indians from becoming a part of a modern world in which borders are becoming shadow lines of the past.


Political ideologues also need to be politicians. That might be the very hard lesson that Mr K.N. Govindacharya, the former Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary, is learning. Sidelined quite ruthlessly in the party itself, Mr Govindacharya, once reputed to be close to the core of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has now been relieved of his pracharak status in the outfit. This is rather dramatic, given that he was once a vital link between the RSS and the BJP, and was admired for both his efficiency and his eloquence. Perhaps the eloquence was his downfall. His decline from favour began when he began to articulate his discontent about the nature of the BJP’s understanding with its coalition partners in the National Democratic Alliance. The fact that the BJP had to give up its pet issues — the Ram temple, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, and a uniform civil code — in order to make the coalition work was not something that Mr Govindacharya could easily accept. Surrendering a distinctive political profile for the sake of power did not go with his ideas of political wisdom. This was bad enough. His ultimate transgression was allegedly calling the prime minister a mukhota, which Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not going to take lying down. No amount of protection from Mr L.K. Advani and no denials from Mr Govindacharya himself improved matters. He was unceremoniously stripped of his office-bearing position. The world was politely told he had gone on a “sabbatical”.

Mr Govindacharya must have miscalculated the power and determination of the prime minister. As leader of not only the BJP but also the NDA coalition, Mr Vajpayee wielded far more weight than he would have had he remained a quasi-pracharak of the RSS. The ideologue of a political party should not have underestimated the dynamics of political equations, which did not necessarily follow the dynamics of the hierarchy in a professedly non-political body like the RSS. Now that he has no official connection with the RSS either, he would have enough time to reflect on the reach of the prime minister’s power, and the extent to which the RSS needs the BJP, rather than the other way around. The entire Govindacharya episode is also another reminder of the strongly centrist nature of the BJP itself. The centre here, though, is represented quite unmistakeably by Mr Vajpayee. He took what would be perceived as a strong disciplinary step against Mr Govindacharya, when the latter called him a “mask” of the party. Apparently, the point had to be made clearer. Dropped from the RSS position, Mr Govindacharya is not likely to forget how much substance lies behind the “mask”.


Pervez Musharraf is as smart at staging public relations coups as at masterminding seizure of power from an elected government in his country. What his martial mindset prevents him from grasping are the limitations of his strategy of using every opportunity to capture headlines. A mere handshake, howsoever warm, cannot create a thaw in the relations between two estranged neighbours, particularly at a time when the turn of events has pushed them into a war-like situation. If the Kathmandu summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation failed to create a propitious climate for a meaningful dialogue between the heads of government of the two countries, it was because the impulse which made the Pakistani general hijack the Agra summit and turn it into a fiasco was still very much at work in the Nepalese capital.

Thus the handshakes, the wan smiles, the all too brief meetings between the two heads of government, the exchange of some papers and the flurry of speculation in the media turned out to be much ado about nothing. The general did not realize that the December 13 attack on Parliament in New Delhi by men belonging to terrorist organizations operating from bases in his country had traumatized India much as the September 11 events had done in the case of the United States of America. Once again it had brought home to everyone the identity of the main enemy of peace. It is no accident after this that almost half the countries of the world have acquired a big stake in the success of the current war on international terrorism.

Nothing is farther from India’s intention than getting drawn into another armed conflict with Pakistan. But after the terrorist attacks on the Kashmir state assembly in Srinagar and on Parliament in New Delhi, which could have easily led to a massacre of the country’s elected representatives, how can anyone buy Musharraf’s proposition of equating terrorists with freedom fighters. That most of the jihadi outfits operating from bases in Pakistan, with the full knowledge of the government in Islamabad and active support of the Inter-Services Intelligence, have had close links with the taliban and al Qaida is no secret. How can those leading the war against international terrorism draw a distinction between the two?

Even the US president has at last been forced to shed his inhibition in speaking as bluntly to Musharraf in public as he has been probably doing in private for some time. But the latter has left no room for doubt that he joined the war coalition against international terrorism only under duress. No one knows better about al Qaida activities than the Pakistani establishment. And no one had a greater stake in sustaining the taliban regime in Afghanistan than the government in Islamabad, which used the training camps in that country to replenish the terrorist bases in its own territory and the jihadi militants they turned out as instruments of its policy. India has put up with cross-border terrorism for too long. It cannot afford to do so any longer. A dialogue, after all that has happened, makes no sense if it is conducted in the midst of a proxy war being waged by Pakistan against its big neighbour.

Treating international relations as a bargain sales counter, the Musharraf regime has been trying to convince the US that even antagonizing the taliban and the al Qaida has been a risky venture for it insofar as it has earned it the hostility of powerful jihadi groups, and that giving up “moral support” to those fighting for “self-determination” in the Indian part of Kashmir will put its own survival at stake. Whether anyone genuinely believes this story is quite doubtful, coming as it does from a man who had no compunction in seizing power from an elected government with a two-thirds majority in the Pakistan national assembly.

Before Musharraf talks of a referendum in Kashmir, he should ask himself whether he is prepared for a similar assessment of popular opinion in Baluchistan, where a people’s movement for autonomy was put down with extreme brutality; or in Karachi, where the Mohajir majority has got an extremely raw deal even though it was in the forefront of the struggle for Pakistan? And was his own coup an exercise in self-determination?

Musharraf’s apologists have said time and again that while he does not mind being seen bending to America’s will because of its dependence on that country, he cannot afford to suffer the loss of face involved in succumbing to any pressure from India. The pertinent question, however, is not of surrendering to this or that power, but of coming to terms with the radical change in people’s perception everywhere of what the spread of international terrorism means to their security and national integrity. This calls for a radical reassessment in the policies of states which have so far got away with sponsoring cross-border terrorism, however painful it may be to them. It is not the US alone but the international community as a whole, apart from the jihadis, which will not tolerate any longer the use of terrorism as a tool of policy, whatever the motive which inspires it or the cause it is supposed to serve. Tony Blair, too, has been frank enough to tell this to Musharraf in so many words.

That Pakistan cannot, for long, go through the motions of fighting al Qaida and the taliban while allowing the ISI to be fully implicated in training and arming terrorist outfits closely linked to these two organizations has already put it in a jam. Considering the ISI’s closeness to both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, it is indeed hard to believe that the two men, with all their senior aides, could have escaped into the wild tribal belt along long stretches of the Pak-Afghan border without surreptitious aid from sections sympathetic to them in both Pakistan’s army and intelligence network. Nor could it have been possible for so many Pakistani troops to have fought on the taliban side without the collusion, and at the instigation, of their superiors. In any case, Musharraf himself made no secret of his sympathy with the taliban at the start of the war in Afghanistan and, in an act approaching blasphemy, compared his succumbing to US pressure with the prophet’s expedient compromise with the Jews in Medina. Indeed, as the endgame in Afghanistan unfolds itself, and the search for the most wanted men intensifies, it will be hard to conceal the duplicity of his armed forces.

The Pakistani papers are fully aware of the harder times ahead for their nation. Has not the Washington Post already said that the war has now moved on to that country, the most likely new home for senior leaders of the al Qaida and the taliban, and that the US would watch closely how aggressively the Musharraf regime “moves to kill or arrest” the leading men among its former proteges, and acts against the organizations behind the attacks on the Kashmir assembly and the Indian Parliament? The mere banning of these outfits deceives no one, since more often than not those concerned are warned in advance to withdraw their funds from the banks leaving little to freeze. What is more, they adopt new labels to legitimize themselves and persist in their murderous business. If New Delhi dismisses Pakistan’s actions so far as “cosmetic”, this is because they do not answer its security concerns.

A prominent Pakistani columnist, Ejaz Haider, has summed up neatly the two messages, coming loud and clear from the US after the events of September and the resulting war in Afghanistan. The first, according to him, “relates to the position of the state vis-a-vis non-state actors and subnational groups”, putting the state “on a stronger wicket”. The second is that non-state actors and subnational groups with “Islamist leanings and ideologies” — the reference is clearly to the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists operating in Kashmir — “are discredited”. The discrediting becomes all the more pronounced when these groups have not only strong international linkages but are often manned by foreign mercenaries.

It will, of course, take a long time, perhaps years, for the logic of these changes to work itself out. The ease with which all the big shots in al Qaida as well as the taliban leadership have escaped the US net so far is a stern warning that nothing can be taken for granted. That is why policy-makers in New Delhi have to learn to be more patient and move with great caution. However hurtful their sense of outrage over the attack on Parliament and the tale of repeated betrayals of trust, neither the mobilization of troops along the line of control nor the escalation of tension should be allowed to get out of control and put out of focus the core issue of international terrorism, whatever the national, subnational, regional or ideological flag under which it sails.


During the American air strikes in Afghanistan, China which projects itself as a future superpower, watched helplessly. Although the Chinese government expressed its sympathy after September 11, Beijing seemed to have its own selfish agenda in supporting the operations of the United States of America in Afghanistan.

China, in fact, wanted to see a measured use of force by the US against the taliban although its own central Asian province has long been affected by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Beijing was also not particularly happy over the manner in which Pakistan extended support to the US. Long-term stationing of US-led coalition forces in the region could affect Beijing’s covert operations in the south of the Himalayas.

China seems to have had some dealings with the taliban administration, despite knowing that the taliban and al Qaida were providing support for Islamic militants in Xinjiang. In July last, the then Afghan ambassador to Pakistan had guaranteed a Chinese delegation that no group would be allowed to operate against China from Afghanistan. Now it has become known that a Chinese software company operating from Bangalore may have helped the taliban upgrade its telecommunication network.

Against terror

Chinese diplomatic duplicity is somewhat confounding. The communist regime in the past few years has worked hard to build up the Shanghai Cooperative Forum comprising China, Russia and four other central Asian states. The forum’s anti-terrorist centre in Bishkek, the Kyrgyzstan capital, is reported to be busy developing an institutional mechanism against terror for the central Asian region. Yet on the other hand, China has assiduously provided military, political and diplomatic assistance to Pakistan in an attempt to weaken India’s territorial integrity since the Sino-Indian war in 1962.

China’s involvement in Pakistan has been displayed on many occasions. In the aftermath of the nuclear tests in India, the Pakistan president, Nawaz Sharif, visited Beijing before conducting tests in Pakistan a fortnight later. The act was repeated in 1999 when India launched an aggressive military offensive in Kargil. General Pervez Musharraf has made two visits to China within a fortnight of the attacks on the Indian Parliament.

By describing Kashmir as the “core issue” in Indo-Pak relations, China seems to have departed from its policy of treating Kashmir as a bilateral problem between the two countries. To bolster its stand, China has apparently provided a loan package exclusively for Pakistan Occupied Kashmir for development.

Making inroads

The recent visit of the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, to Myanmar has gone almost unnoticed by the Indian media. Among other agreements signed between the two was a border security pact. China already has several strategic inroads into Myanmar and the pact is likely to further the process. It is interested in linking Yunnan to a Myanmar port, thereby giving Chinese goods access to the Indian Ocean. This gives rise to fears that China may try to convert the Bay of Bengal into a zone of influence.

Jiang’s visit to Myanmar is bound to create mistrust in India. There is already suspicion that China may be arming insurgents in the Northeast. This fact may have ominous ramifications for New Delhi as most of its security forces are engaged in battling terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

During his forthcoming visit to India, the Chinese prime minister, Zhu Rongji, needs to clarify why his government is pursuing a double-edged foreign policy in its relations with India. Despite the numerous rounds of talks held between Beijing and New Delhi to solve the problems created by the line of control between Chinese ruled Tibet and India, China has ensured that the issue remains a problem. China’s silence during the US air strikes proves that power is synonymous with military strength. Perhaps when India possesses that kind of military strength, it may be able to deter China.


Rewriting history textbooks for schools is part of a grand design. Based on the belief that the available National Council for Educational Research and Training books are distortions of the “Hindu” past, arguments are marshalled to defend the project. As schools play a significant role in the early socialization of future citizens, it is not difficult to understand why the school textbooks were meant to be revised in a particular way. What is central to the project is the creation of a specific type of individual endorsing values, ideas and beliefs fulfilling a specific political agenda. Thus the design, articulated in the revision of textbooks, is a powerful mode to objectify the individuals into certain identities and also define their environment.

It works on two levels. At one level, the schoolgoers constituting the target group are likely to be influenced by what is taught in schools. Stories narrated in classrooms generally remain significant reference points for most, even after their exposure to alternative perspectives and viewpoints. By creating an environment and simultaneously providing the foundational training in schools, those supporting the venture significantly influence, at a rather higher level, the social engineering and consequently the articulation of identities in a particular fashion. In this sense, the deletion of sections from the NCERT textbooks is an agenda with crucial historical consequences.

The “creation” of nation hinges on the dissemination of the “invented” national narrative among the populace. The role of schools in this process has been immensely significant — both when used by the state to forge the nation and by the nation’s enthusiasts to spread the idea of nationhood, which, in turn, led to state building. Eric Hobsbawm described the importance of primary education in relation to nationhood by calling it “a secular equivalent of the church”.

Embarking on the nation-building project, the state tends to spread the image and heritage of the “nation” to inculcate attachment to it and attach all “to country and flag”. The creation of nationals in the United States of America, Hobsbawn has shown, was the outcome of a process in which school content and school rituals, such as worship of the American flag, played decisive roles.

What is being zealously pursued in India had a parallel in the Kosovo of the former Yugoslavia where the ruling authority sought to radically transform school education, and not merely the curriculum, to exclusively project and strengthen the Albanian identity at the cost of the Serbs. This has created a peculiar kind of tension in Kosovo where Albanians constituted a majority and the Serbs a significant minority. But in former communist Yugoslavia, the Albanian distinctive identity never became overwhelming probably because of hegemonic state power.

The primary aim of the NCERT project seems to be to articulate a specific Indian identity drawing upon a specific construction of the past. But Indian identity is hardly monolithic. Who is an Indian, is the fundamental question. The answer to this query is simple though its implications are likely to be far-reaching, especially in the context of the so-called pan-Indian “soul searching” agenda. For instance, I am an Indian, which does not clash with my being a Bengali and a Hindu. So is my friend Haroon-Or-Rashid from Kerala who speaks a different language and goes to mosque for prayer. So is Sabari Naomi Hembram of Ranchi who is a devout Christian and goes regularly to church for prayer.

Although our perceptions of what makes us Indian are different none of us would deny our Indianness. We will probably fight tooth and nail over the nature of democracy or secularism but will never deny our being an integral part of a rich and old civilization, which prospered by way of inter-cultural communication. Hence, it is difficult, if not impossible, to define our “identity” as Indians in strictly categorical terms.

In a changed socio-economic and political environment, national identity is a subject of agonized debate. The debate revolves around concerns in two directions: first, as Indians, we “lack”, or have lost, the sense of identity or that it has become diluted, eroded, corrupted, or confused; as a corollary to the first, the obvious concern is, therefore, how to retain, preserve or strengthen the sense of identity. What is thus emphasized are the beliefs that national identity consists of being different from others and is invariably diluted by inter-cultural borrowing, that it is historically fixed, that it is the sole source of political legitimacy, that the state’s primary task is to maintain it and that national identity defines the limits of permissible diversity.

This argument does not hold water since national identity is not a substance but a cluster of tendencies and values that is neither fixed nor alterable at will, and that it needs to be periodically redefined in the light of historically inherited characteristics, present needs and future aspirations. Identity is not something that we have, rather it is what we are; it is not a property, but a mode of being. So, to talk of preserving or losing one’s identity is to use misleading metaphors.

The dominant political imagination of the Indian national movement was primarily in favour of a constructed modern Indian nation, in which both the principle and its symbolic markers were modern. But historically speaking, Indian nationalism consisted of a number of competing, jostling constructs of political imagination: one of these was secular-modern, but it was surrounded by others which had much more ambiguous attitudes towards democracy, secularism, social justice and the entire programme of modernity.

The trajectory of European nationalism could not be replicated under Indian conditions. If the nation-state had to be culturally homogeneous by definition, this did not fit the cultural reality of the Indian subcontinent. The Indian state after 1947 created institutions with several parallel and mutually reinforcing principles of pluralism: secularism provided for a pluralism of religious practices; federalism encompassed the pluralism of regional cultures and democracy allowed the expression of plural political ideals.

The constitutional form of this nationalism is civic, based on a secular-republican citizenship rather than belongingness to any mystical, cultural or ethnic essence. Being a Bengali or Tamil or Punjabi or Hindu or Muslim or agnostic is not therefore contradictory to being an Indian. Translating the humanistic complex imagination of a political community into legal rules was a difficult task especially when the nation was asked to articulate its plural character.

The Constitution therefore tried to mediate between different partially conflicting pictures of justice. Underlying this lies a strong justification for not having argued for a uniform civil code in India. The analogy of Britain is probably most apt here. Though nurtured in the tradition of enlightenment, Britain is not a nation state strictly in terms of the established criteria of nationhood. For instance, Scotland has its legal and educational system in which the British parliament does not interfere. Wales and Northern Ireland too enjoy many privileges and three island dependencies — the Isle of Man, Jersy and Guernsey.

Why didn’t the Indian political leaders approve of nationalism as constructed in Europe? Most Indian leaders instinctively knew that the language of nationalism not only did not make sense in India but also was bound to have disastrous consequences. They were acutely aware of the fact that the Hindus’ flirtation with nationalism during the first two decades of this century frightened away not only the Muslims and other minorities but also some of their own lower castes. Similarly, the national anthem of independent India excludes several regions, but no one is the least exercised about it.

Indian political culture is based on the consensual style of the Gandhian nationalist movement, which tried to base the concept of Indian unity on a non-federal or agglomerative approach to cultures. The Gandhian concept of nation incorporates diversities of various kinds, which are integrally associated with India over ages. Very briefly and crudely, it consists in developing a definitionally plural style of living, which avoids the extremes of the melting pot model.


Several cases of child abuse have all over the world caused grave concern to humanity. Article 34 of the convention on rights of the child (November 20, 1989) ordains the member states to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. For these purposes, state parties are required to take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent: (a) The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; (b) The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; (c) The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.

Article 39(f) of the Constitution of India, one of the directive principles of state policy requires the state to direct its policy, inter alia, towards securing that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and against moral and material abandonment. There is, therefore, great need for tightening the existing provisions relating to child sexual abuse or assault.

...On a consideration of the “precise issues” submitted by the petitioner and in the light of the order of the Hon’ble court and also taking into account the laws in force in certain Western countries on this subject, the Law Commission prepared a draft ...containing the proposed new sections, namely, sections 375, 376, 376A, 376B, 376C, 376D in substitution of the existing sections 375 to 376D and also suggested a new section 376E.

The purport of these new sections is to substitute the offence of “rape” under section 375 with the offence of “sexual assault” by including all kinds of penetration in the vagina, anus or urethra of another, whether by a part of the human body or by an object. Section 376 is, accordingly, modified in the light of the change in section 375. Sections 376A, 376B, 376C and 376D are retained substantially except adapting them to the changes made in the offence under section 375 and a few changes in the matter of punishment. A new offence, namely, section 376E with the title “unlawful sexual contact” is sought to be created. Besides ..., section 377 is proposed to be deleted as unnecessary in the light of the preceding provisions. Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code is also sought to be amended providing higher punishment where the offence set out in the said section is committed with sexual intent.

...A copy of the said draft was forwarded to Sakshi on 27.8.99 and they were invited for a discussion on 13.9.99. It was indicated that the discussion would not only be with respect to the draft prepared by the Law Commission but that they shall be free to put forward their other suggestions and ideas, if any, and further they could also bring representations of other women’s organizations... for discussion. ...Three persons, namely the director of Sakshi, the director, Interventions for Support, Healing and Awareness and the All India Democratic Women’s Association participated in the discussion, on behalf of their respective organizations. All the three organizations have also put forward their suggestions in writing... We may mention that hereafter whenever we speak of or refer to Sakshi, it means not only Sakshi, but also the two other women’s organizations, namely IFSHA and AIDWA as well as the National Commission for Women, who were also heard on the proposals contained herein.

...On the first day of hearing (13.9.99), the said three persons expressed their appreciation of the draft prepared by the Law Commission stating that it was a substantial advance on the subject and met many of their ideas. Even so,...they came forward with the following changes in the said draft: (a) The age of the person assaulted — referred to in clause “sixthly” in section 375 and in explanation (2) to section 375 and in section 376(1)... — should be raised to 16. Raising the said age to 18 may not be appropriate.

(b) A provision must be inserted to the effect that if the person assaulted gives his/her age, the court shall presume it to be so. A provision on the lines of section 114A of the Evidence Act be suggested.

To be concluded



To break the sapling away

Sir — Sonia Gandhi seems to be taking her duties as the Gandhi bahu rather seriously (“Sonia closes door on Vadras”, Jan 8). So much so that she has issued a directive to Congress chief ministers and state party bosses not to have anything to do with the Vadra family, into which her daughter, Priyanka, has married. That the relatives of Robert Vadra have been misusing the Gandhi name to further their business interests is hardly surprising given the fact that this is the predominant trend in India. Even though the report attributes the decision to break off ties with the Vadra family to Robert Vadra, the Congress president has in all probability goaded him to take this drastic step. However, the emphasis on a clean image undoubtedly raises questions about the Vadras’ political ambitions. Could Sonia Gandhi be manipulating her daughter’s grand entry into politics? Given the dearth of young blood in the Congress, such a move would definitely be the right answer in troubled times.

Yours faithfully,
Debalina Majumder, Calcutta

Where they don’t come

Sir — The editorial, “Capital punishment” (Jan 6), is unerring in its realistic assessment of left rule in West Bengal. In fact, the decline of West Bengal began during British rule in India, with the partition of the state in 1905. After India gained its independence in 1947, Bengal lost more than half of its area as well as its traders and industrialists to the then East Pakistan. This aggravated existing problems like poverty and unemployment. But under the leadership of Bidhan Chandra Roy, new industries were set up in Durgapur, Kalyani, Asansol and so on. The industrialization of West Bengal which began with Roy could have continued but for the policies of the left.

The actual decline of West Bengal began in the mid-Sixties when the first United Front government came to power. After the Marxists came to power, the management of many companies which were viewed as anti-worker were gheraoed and insulted. As the editorial points out, the destructive politics and policies of the Bengal Marxists, which included a rather violent kind of trade unionism, made most industrialists forsake the state. By the mid-Eighties, the political climate of the state had driven away nearly 90 per cent of the industries in the state.

Calcutta which had been “the second city of the British empire” now began to lag behind Mumbai and New Delhi. Government hospitals became breeding grounds for stray animals as patients were neglected. Prestigious educational institutions like Presidency College lost their reputation as centres of excellence. While the state governments of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh prioritized the development of infrastructure and welcomed foreign investors and those from other states, the Left Front attacked the Centre to cover up its own failures.

It would however be unfair not to praise the present chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who is trying to undo the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, Bhattacharjee appears to be the right man in the wrong party. With the Center for Indian Trade Unions and the coordination committee breathing down his neck, it will be a miracle if Bhattacharjee, like Deng Ziaoping of China, can rebuild West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Capital punishment”, has succinctly pointed out that Bengal did not feature in the itinerary of the British prime minister, Tony Blair, when he visited India recently. Blair chose to attend an investors’ meeting in Bangalore, a city that is now considered a hub of industrial activity. The editorial has also commented on the fact that Bengal cannot consider itself in the race to win the investment cup.

The situation is certainly grim in West Bengal. But a study by the World Bank surveying the creditworthiness of the states shows a silver lining. It seems Karnataka recorded the highest growth between 1995 and 2000, and the second highest was recorded in West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
A. Basu, Burdwan

God in his heaven

Sir — Amit Chaudhuri’s article, “On not being able to pray” (Dec 30), raised some interesting questions. Most of us take our ability to pray for granted. Praying helps us communicate with god and gives us hope in times of adversity. Devotional songs like bhajans and kirtans also help. As Chaudhuri says, those who do not believe in the concept of the divine find it difficult to pray.

One must however disagree with Chaudhuri’s assertion that devotion is sometimes inherited in the blood. It is faith that makes a believer and Chaudhuri’s mother who, despite being a non-believer, is admired for the devotional timbre in her voice, presents an interesting paradox.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — I was intrigued to read Amit Chaudhuri’s article, “On not being able to pray”. The ability to pray to god stems from the individual’s belief in the concept of a higher power. However, prayer can also be secular and does not necessarily have to be associated with faith or belief in god. In some families, prayer is a ritual, almost like a habit. Perhaps Chaudhuri’s mother, though not a believer, is able to communicate a devotion which is not necessarily related to belief in god.

Yours faithfully,
Pradip Chatterjee, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — It is heartening to learn that Hollywood is beginning to represent the realities of society (“Meg Ryan film breaks Hollywood’s sturdiest taboo”, Dec 29). Worldwide, girls have a higher life expectancy at birth than boys. Is it not natural that they would opt for younger men?

Apart from convention, rich men love to display younger females as trophies. This is good for the male ego. In a traditional society like India’s, where the over-age Shiva is the archetypal husband, men with older wives are often frowned upon. The answer to the question, why many women marry older men, may lie in how women assess their own status. A younger wife is less likely to take part in the decisionmaking in the household. Let us hope that the film, Kate & Leopold, is a success, igniting a global trend of men courting older women.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

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