Editorial 1 / China is near
Editorial 2 / All aflutter
For a harder state
Fifth Column / Still serving the people
Those who played ball
Document / To save children from violence
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CHINA IS NEAR 
 
 
 
 
The visit to India of the Chinese premier, Mr Zhu Rongji, has undoubtedly given a fillip to bilateral relations. Although somewhat overshadowed by the India-Pakistan crisis, the Chinese leader’s visit has so far been an unqualified success. There is a growing warmth in Sino-Indian relations, and the dip that the relations took after India conducted its nuclear tests in 1998 seems to have been largely overcome. Mr Rongji’s visit comes almost exactly a year after the visit of Mr Li Peng, the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress. While Mr Li Peng had cleared the air during his trip, Mr Zhu Rongji’s visit has pushed the two countries further down the path of cooperation, especially on economic issues. It is equally significant that right at the start of the visit, the Chinese leader made it clear that China had no intention to mediate between India and Pakistan, nor did New Delhi need to feel threatened in any way from Beijing.

The most significant factor which is driving Chinese policy, as far as New Delhi is concerned, is apprehensions about the presence of the United States of America in the region. Reports of a permanent US base in Afghanistan and the possibility of the US expanding its influence in central Asia are causing grave concern to China. Not only does it not want US influence to expand to India, but it also sees in New Delhi a potential partner in its quest for a multipolar world order. Although India may not feel threatened by US hegemony, it is clear that New Delhi also seeks a greater balance in the international system. It is also obvious that China and India face a common threat from international terrorism, especially of the kind being spread by radical Islamic groups. While Beijing has in the past been hesitant about naming Pakistan, a longstanding ally, yet Mr Zhu Rongji went further than other Chinese leaders, including Mr Li Peng, in condemning terrorism on Indian soil. India and China have also agreed to hold a regular dialogue on terrorism and expand cooperation in countering this common menace. The warming of bilateral ties cannot, however, hide the differences over a number of critical issues and should not prevent a frank dialogue on these contentious areas. New Delhi’s most serious concern remains Beijing’s disturbing record of transfer of arms and nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan. A healthier and firmer Sino-Indian relationship, it is clear, can only be built if both countries do not shy away from addressing the issues that have derailed ties time and again. Fortunately, Mr Zhu Rongji’s visit indicates that China has introspected and come to an understanding that it is vital to forge closer ties with New Delhi. The time has now come to translate that understanding into a stronger bond.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / ALL AFLUTTER 
 
 
 
 
A mature democracy can afford to dispense with certain forms of patriotism. And India is yet to come to such maturity. The fuss created from time to time about the uses and abuses of the national flag in India seems determined to keep the country confined to an archaic, and often absurd, nationalism. The cabinet now seems to think that allowing every Indian to fly the tricolour atop a private building throughout the year would lead to a profound change of heart. Earnestly high-minded concepts like empowerment, commitment, liberalization and fundamental rights are being invoked in relation to the flag. It is expected that this will create a nation of self-consciously righteous patriots, leading to a mass rejuvenation of national sentiment. This would be, of course, yet another wonderful affirmation of democracy, which has Mr Navin Jindal and Ms Malini Ramani at opposite ends of the patriotic spectrum. Mr Jindal, the “good” Indian, has been litigating for his rights to fly the national flag at his office; Ms Ramani, the “bad” Indian, has been pulled up for wearing the tricolour as a cocktail dress in the capital. The cabinet now sees Mr Jindal’s point, and continues to define Ms Ramani’s sartorial frivolity as a culpable insult to nothing less than “national honour”.

Self-righteous patriotism could certainly afford to take itself much less seriously. Indeed, a sense of humour might well be the most welcome antidote to such earnestness. But the situation stops being funny when the revival of such tokenism is pegged on events like September 11 and the attack on Parliament in December last year. There is a not altogether pleasant aspect to the resurgence of American nationalism after September 11. The stars and stripes could be seen as embodying now a kind of zeal that marks a regress, rather than a progress, in civilization. The United States of America is perhaps a less sophisticated and inclusive democracy, in this sense, than it used to be before such emotions had to be exhibited so stridently. The misguided symbolism which fixed on the Indian parliament as an appropriate target of attack would only be endorsed further if the Centre continues to link its flag-related reforms with this act of terror. The history of the subcontinent does not provide much assurance that passions regarding nationhood necessarily rise above religious and political affiliations. It is time India outgrew a certain idea of the nation-state, built around passionately upheld tokens and symbols. The national flag could either be a purely official symbol in the domain of the state, or it could be a truly democratic vehicle of a wide, and unpoliced, range of attitudes and sentiments — from zealous patriotism to frivolous irreverence.

   

 
 
FOR A HARDER STATE 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
The year 2001 will go down in history as a momentous one for two democracies, the most powerful one and the most populous. As they grapple with the fallout of September 11 and December 13 respectively, tactically they appear in conflict while professing to be strategic partners in the war against terrorism. Both subscribe to the ideology of a pluralistic, secular and democratic society. Yet when fundamentalist forces opposed to these very ideologies threaten them they appear to be disunited in their approach. There are lessons to be learnt by both if the ideological foundations of their democracies are to survive the evolving asymmetric threats to international peace and civilized order.

To begin with let us look at the United States of America. The end of the Cold War heralded the new age in American diplomatic parlance. Democracy, human rights and non-proliferation became the new guiding principles of this age and the US consistently admonished those countries that were seen to be on the wrong side. Being elevated to the sole superpower status it believed that contradictions and morality were subservient to national interests. Hence as an ally, Saudi Arabia’s anti-democratic policies and funding of madrasas in Pakistan were ignored. India and Pakistan’s nuclear tests drew sanctions while Israel’s arsenal drew a blank. Years of clandestine transfer of missiles from China to Pakistan were willfully glossed over. Twelve years of cross-border terrorism within India sponsored by Pakistan did not draw criticism. Alas, the irony of double standards is their fragility, which was poignantly demonstrated on September 11.

Had the “dead or alive” siege not taken over control in the immediate aftermath of the September attacks, it would perhaps have been a golden opportunity for the American administration to introspect and look at its record of double standards — driven no doubt by the arrogance of power — before embarking on a strategic plan to eliminate the threat of international terrorism. A plan that should logically have involved coalition partners with credible anti-terrorism credentials and like-minded ideological and strategic goals. Instead the US coerced an unwilling Pakistan to join its moral crusade, a country ideologically across the divide and one which for good measure created and supported the taliban regime in the first place, the very regime that was the target of the US’s initial ire.

The US president has spoken of war against “terrorism with a global reach”. Yet terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir are not on his radar screen. Nor for that matter are the Irish Republican Army, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or Hamas, to name a few. He counts on Pakistan to be an important coalition partner in this war even as there are reports that Inter-Services Intelligence sympathizers are shielding taliban and al Qaida operatives, who are being hunted by US forces. When the US was struck, it chose to unilaterally identify the perpetrators and to act. When the Indian Parliament is targeted, the US first wants proof and then counsels restraint upon India and wants India to understand the compulsions under which Pervez Musharraf is working.

When Musharraf addressed his nation giving reasons for joining the US-led global alliance against terrorism, he mentioned safeguarding Pakistan’s sovereignty, economy, strategic assets and its Kashmir policy — itself based on state-sponsored terrorism to bleed India. The US administration chose to ignore the underlying contradiction. Today many of the taliban and al Qaida operatives have melted away — reportedly helped by sympathizers in the Pakistani ISI. They will soon surface in Jammu and Kashmir in furtherance of Pakistan’s own policy of bleeding India through a proxy war.

How the US handles the unfolding contradictions remains to be seen. Already its so-called war on evil has cast morality to the winds. It believes national interest overshadows morality. A mindset that the likes of Osama bin Laden and the taliban also appear to display, driven by their own distorted belief of ideology.

The one silver lining amidst contradictions, carnage and confusion is the collective outrage of the Indian people at the attempted terrorist attack on Parliament by Pakistan based terrorist groups. Undoubtedly it is this democratic outrage that has spurred the Indian government to initiate strong diplomatic and military measures to put Pakistan on notice and for our fractured polity to unite in this endeavour. Actions that the US, the international community and indeed Pakistan had begun to believe, India was incapable of.

While the nation has now embarked on a road to fight till the evil of terrorism is eradicated within our borders, it too needs to introspect on why it has reached a stage when it is conceived to be a soft state, a perception that in itself has encouraged Pakistan to tinker with its integrity, these many years. The essential ingredients of India’s national security are safeguarding of national borders and of the ideology of a multicultural, secular and democratic way of life. India’s record in both has been indifferent.

China today occupies tens of thousands of kilometres of our territory in the Northeast, lays claim to Arunachal Pradesh and does not recognize our sovereignty over Sikkim. Pakistan sits in parts of Jammu and Kashmir and has gifted part of Indian territory to China. The Indian Parliament has resolved to throw the Chinese out and reaffirmed that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. Yet successive governments and parliaments have done nothing to translate these parliamentary resolves into action, so much so that these do not even feature in national election debates.

India’s record on the ideological front is no better. Pakistan continues to believe in the two-nation theory, notwithstanding the birth of Bangladesh. It is this mistaken ideology that convinces it that Kashmir must be a part of itself. While the Pakistani government itself is unelected and non-representative, it has no qualms in demanding self-determination for the people of Kashmir. For well over 12 years Pakistan has implemented a policy of state-sponsored terrorism in the form of a proxy war and for all these long years India has failed to act with resolve. When Pakistan breached the line of control in Kargil, India responded with self-restraint and without crossing the LoC.

To a security observer, India has consistently displayed weak resolve even when its vital national security interests are threatened or breached. Already, within the country, voices of moderation counsel restraint. While the profound logic of a cautious approach at times such as these is unquestionable, sane voices must also qualify if this implies limitless tolerance. Yesterday it was the Srinagar legislature, today it is the Parliament and tomorrow it could be the Rashtrapati Bhawan with a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon. Far fetched? That’s what the Americans thought before September 11.

It is this image of India that makes the world take India for granted, that makes neighbours take liberties with our people and our territories and that makes even the champion of democracies advise restraint when the very citadel of our democracy is attacked. Unlike the US, Indian contradictions appear to be based on weakness of resolve.

Today India must tread its lonely furrow in furtherance of its supreme national interests. First and foremost it must let the world know, by actions and not words, that our resolve to eliminate terrorism is not empty rhetoric. That as the threshold of our tolerance stands breached, India reserves the moral and legal right to use all options under its command including military force. It follows that full military preparations must not only be made, but be seen to be made, such that diplomacy and other means are approached with a meaningful and steely resolve.

In this age of instant electronic media analysis and debate, it needs cautioning that an essential ingredient of such military preparations is clear definition of military aims towards achieving strategic goals, not for the public but for the armed forces. Next, as a responsible nation, explore all diplomatic, economic and political means to bring the menace of terrorism to a halt and to bring the perpetrators of all past terrorist crimes to justice. And finally be prepared to use force if all such peaceful approaches fail. Only then can India ever hope to deter potential adversaries, overt or covert, safeguard its national interests and be respected by the international community.

If this obvious plan of action tends to show up tactical differences between two great democracies, no tears need be shed. In the ultimate analysis, the long road to our strategic vision of a multicultural and civilized society will sooner rather than later make our path merge with that of the US and other like-minded countries. Who knows we may even meet a bruised yet mellowed Pakistan along the way.

The author is retired air marshal of the Indian air force

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / STILL SERVING THE PEOPLE 
 
 
BY NAVIN CHANDRA JOSHI
 
 
The Centre is considering the Reserve Bank of India’s suggestion of a mechanism for monitoring and professionally managing all types of urban cooperative banks in the country to prevent fraud and mismanagement. In December 1999, the RBI committee on UCBs had suggested bringing banks under prudential norms. It wanted to apply the capital to risk assets ratio discipline in a phased manner, with low CRAR norms for non-scheduled UCBs. A strong capital base and requisite norms for promoters were also stressed on. Operational efficiency, limits of non-performing assets and CRAR would be the new requisites. It was also recommended that the RBI should extend to UCBs the same freedom and discipline that is applicable to commercial banks.

The RBI had also decided to bring scheduled UCBs under the ambit of the board of financial supervision. The objective was to strengthen supervision and enable the RBI to impose penalties whenever directives are violated. The RBI has also set up market intelligence cells at regional offices of the Central bank to detect early signs of sickness and deterioration of UCBs.

Widespread

However, the much-needed changes and improvements in UCBs have so far been shelved because of the apathy with which UCBs are looked at. They are not considered to be of any consequence to the banking system. This attitude needs to change.

The UCBs are well developed in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, although their growth has been a bit lopsided in the north and the Northeast. There are again pockets where UCBs have not developed at all. Out of more than 464 districts in the country, 212 districts have not been covered. Moreover, despite the recommendations of the Marathe committee on the licencing of UCBs, these banks are not allowed to cover peripheral rural areas and finance non-agricultural activities. It is time viability norms are relaxed to give UCBs an entry into the less-developed states and tribal areas.

Consumer financing has been the mainstay of UCBs and the banking giants are now poaching on this territory. Instead of doing that, the handicaps of UCBs must be looked into. For example, they are hamstrung in lending operations. Again, UCBs have so long been opposed to the strict application of the RBI’s prudential norms which do not relate to their operations.

Single control

Moreover, they are yet to be freed from the dual control of the RBI, which supervises their functioning under the Banking Regulation Act, 1949 and the office of the registrar of cooperative societies with regard to appointments, promotions, dismissal and so on. The last is under the state governments and thus lets in political control. The dual control has added to the banks’ problems. What is worse is that the two controls have not been demarcated.

In order to strengthen UCBs, it is necessary that some amendments are made in the Banking Regulation Act so that these banks are permitted to diversify their activities into areas like merchant banking, leasing finance and so on. These activities will help UCBs improve their earnings. UCBs are not permitted to trade in equities and debentures. This should change. The RBI also needs to consider the merger of some UCBs.

It would also be worthwhile to restructure the present three-tier system. Elimination of one of the tiers would result in lowering the cost of credit even to the ultimate borrower. The base level institutions cannot obviously be dispensed with. Therefore, it is the central cooperative banks which can be eliminated and replaced by branches of state cooperative banks.

A few things should be kept in mind. The primary duty of UCBs is not merely to cater to the needs of small depositors and small-scale industries. Also, no amount of regulation or inspection could substitute for self-regulations. Inefficiency, frauds and irregularities should not erode faith in the cooperative banking sector. The UCBs should, therefore, welcome the new regulatory system for their own progress.

   

 
 
THOSE WHO PLAYED BALL 
 
 
BY RAJU MUKHERJEE
 
 
Strange though it might appear, the best of cricketing innovations did not come from the cricket players themselves. Cricket players, particularly the top performers, have rarely made any positive contribution to the game. In fact, cricketers have not contributed to cricket as much as non-cricketers have. Ironically, cricket owes an eternal debt to non-cricketers as well as to women for its survival and development.

The most significant factor to revolutionize the rural English pastime of cricket into a skill of international renown was overarm bowling. No male can take credit for this innovation. It required a lady — Christina Willes — to give cricket its most influential factor. The introduction of overarm bowling in place of underarm delivery transformed cricket from a slow, dreary frolic into a battle that involves skill, speed and risk.

Cricket today is a sport that attracts sponsorship on a worldwide scale. The phenomenal amount of fund from sponsors enables cricket to have a healthy financial base. No cricketer ever was responsible for bringing sponsors to cricket. The first sponsors of cricket are not the contemporary multinational commercial giants, but an Australian company named Spiers and Pond, which had sponsored the first group of English professional cricketers to play in Australia in 1861. Those pioneering sponsors had no link with cricket but had the vision and the will to execute an unusual sports adventure and in the process, they laid the foundation of international cricket tours.

Former prominent cricketers have been at the helm of the International Cricket Council for years ever since it was known as the Imperial Cricket Conference. So inefficiently have they handled issues that the very existence of the ICC was in doubt. The coffers were almost empty. They had no teeth to enforce their own rules. They made themselves a laughing stock when they confronted Kerry Packer. The ineptitude of the former test cricketers at the ICC became more and more apparent with the advent of a non-cricketer in the ICC president’s chair in 1997.

Almost overnight, as it were, funds came flooding in from sponsors. The game began to be promoted in various parts of the world. Innovative ideas filtered through and the game looked healthy, happy and wealthy. Amazing indeed! In just three years, a non-cricketer accomplished far, far more than what cricketers at the helm of the ICC had achieved over the decades.

The most illuminating of cricket writing did not come from the players themselves. Neville Cardus’ lyrical prose captivated cricket lovers, converted others and ultimately gave the game a respectability and acceptability beyond the realm of any other sport. The importance of Cardus’ contribution towards the promotion of the game is best gauged from the fact that the saying, “It’s not cricket”, came to be associated with everything that was pure and refined. No cricket player has been able to promote cricket among the top echelons of society as Cardus has.

The most prolific of cricket coaches have not been former test cricketers. Two marvellous ladies will have to be credited on this score, Martha Grace and Begum Mohammed. Martha Grace’s three sons went on to represent England in test cricket. She coached them personally in her own backyard during their vital, formative years. The most prominent of them was of course “The Champion”, W.G. Grace, the man who laid the foundation of modern batsmanship. Obviously, W.G. was the exponent of his mother’s ideas.

Begum Mohammed, too, coached her first three sons into test cricket — Wazir, Hanif and Mushtaq. Her fourth son, Sadiq, also played test cricket but by then he had his brothers to help him out. I wonder how many of our test-cricketers-turned-coaches would be able to match the record of these ladies? Test-cricketers-turned-coaches have hardly ever coached a young man from day one to the test status. Generally, they take the credit for merely fine- tuning an already established cricket prodigy.

The Australian media tycoon, Kerry Packer, was vilified by critics, experts and what-have-you. Former cricketers stopped just short of literally crucifying him for his ideas of bringing in innovations to the game. Yet, almost every innovation in modern cricket can be traced back to Kerry Packer and his public relations personnel. These non-cricketers brought about day-night matches for public convenience, coloured clothes for easier identification. Ironically, it needed a media baron and his band of marketing men to supply cricket with the much-needed oxygen at a time when the game was actually gasping for breath. Thus the contribution of non-cricketers towards the development of cricket stands confirmed once again.

When cricket was being handled by the ICC exclusively with its host of former cricketers in power, the financial status of both cricket as well as that of the players were at a low ebb. Packer fought them in a British court, where the judge, Paul Slade, ruled in his favour and declared that the ICC was resorting to restraint of trade by banning professional players from earning their livelihood. Today, Packer’s views have improved the financial position of players and men like Jagmohan Dalmiya have helped make the game secure from all angles. No cricket player has ever matched these non-cricketers in improving the prospects of the game.

On the other extreme, prominent players have done great harm to the game. They have resorted to accepting bribes. They have placed bets against themselves to lose matches. They have been caught using drugs. They have been penalized for stealing.They have kicked and punched each other on the field in full view of spectators. They are known to use the foulest of words. Which of these qualities have served the game of cricket?

Unfortunately, the achievements of selfless cricketers too never received its due recognition. Traditionally, cricket has always attracted the baser instincts and these instincts have utilized the game to reap advantages in the form of money and publicity. Men who have done the least for cricket or for other cricketers are the ones who shout the loudest and, consequently, are perpetually in the limelight. This seems to be the tradition of this great game. In cricket, selfless players like Charles Studd, Bernard Bosanquet, Frank Worrell, John King, John Mullagh, Gundappa Vishwanath among others have not received their due recognition.

In cricket, people who contribute to its growth and development hardly ever seem to capture the headlines. Therein lies the biggest uncertainty of the most uncertain of games.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / TO SAVE CHILDREN FROM VIOLENCE 
 
 
 
 
Views of the National Commission for Women invited. — The Law Commission would also wish to put on record that before finalizing their recommendations, the Law Commission had also sent a letter to the National Commission for Women enclosing the aforementioned draft (prepared by the Law Commission) (Annexure-B) and inviting them to come and have a discussion with the Law Commission on 16.9.99. The National Commission for Women deputed their joint secretary, Ms Leena Mehendale.

One of the members of the Law Commission, Mrs Justice Leila Seth, heard the joint secretary and also asked her to put her ideas/suggestions in writing. Accordingly, the NCW sent a set of suggestions in writing signed by the joint secretary. A copy of the said proposals is appended herewith (Annexure-E).

Changes recommended in the Indian Penal Code, 1860:

3.1. Substitution of definition of “rape” by definition of “sexual assault”.

Not only women but young boys, are being increasingly subjected to forced sexual assaults. Forced sexual assault causes no less trauma and psychological damage to a boy than to a girl subjected to such offence. Boys and girls both are being subjected to oral sexual intercourse too. According to some social activists like Ms Sheela Barse, both young girls and boys are being regularly used for all kinds of sexual acts and sexual perversions in certain tourist centres like Goa — mainly for edification of the foreign tourists.

Sakshi have also recommended for widening the scope of the offence in section 375 and to make it gender neutral. Some of the Western countries have already done this.

It is also necessary to include under this new definition (sexual assault) not only penile penetration but also penetration by any other part of the body (like finger or toe) or by any other object. Explanation to section 375 has also been substituted by us to say that penetration to any extent whatsoever shall be deemed to be penetration for the purpose of this section. This is so provided for the reason that in the case of children, penetration is rarely complete - for physical reasons. So far as the Exception is concerned, we have retained the existing Exception the only change made being in the matter of age; we have raised the age of the “wife” from fifteen to sixteen. The age of the person assaulted sexually referred to...has also been raised to sixteen from fifteen.

3.1.1. We may also mention that in redrafting the section, we have stuck to the existing provision as far as possible. This is for the reason that since these provisions have already been interpreted and elucidated by the decisions of the courts, it is better to stick to them rather than use new expressions and new wording. In drafting clauses (a) to (e) in section 375, we have drawn inspiration from the Criminal Law, Western Australia.

3.1.2. Substitution of existing section 375 of the IPC recommended.— We accordingly recommend that the existing section 375 be substituted by the following: “375. Sexual Assault: Sexual assault means — (a) penetrating the vagina (which term shall include the labia majora), the anus or urethra of any person with — i) any part of the body of another person or ii) an object manipulated by another person except where such penetration is carried out for proper hygienic or medical purposes;

(b) manipulating any part of the body of another person so as to cause penetration of the vagina (which term shall include the labia majora), the anus or the urethra of the offender by any part of the other person’s body; (c) introducing any part of the penis of a person into the mouth of another person; (d) engaging in cunnilingus or fellatio; or (e) continuing sexual assault as defined in clauses (a) to (d) above in circumstances falling under any of the six following descriptions:

First— Against the other person’s will. Secondly— Without the other person’s consent. Thirdly — With the other person’s consent when such consent has been obtained by putting such other person or any person in whom such other person is interested, in fear of death or hurt.

Fourthly — Where the other person is a female, with her consent, when the man knows that he is not the husband of such other person and that her consent is given because she believes that the offender is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married. Fifthly — With the consent of the other person, when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by the offender personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, the other person is unable to understand the nature and consequences of that to which such other person gives consent.

Sixthly — With or without the other person’s consent; when such other person is under sixteen years of age.

Explanation: Penetration to any extent is penetration for the purposes of this section.

Exception: Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under sixteen years of age, is not sexual assault.”

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

And what a fall

Sir — The most powerful man on earth, the president of the mighty United States of America, the sole superpower in a unipolar world — brought to his knees by a mere morsel of biscuit. The sublime ridiculousness of the image — the two presidential poodles peering down in canine concern at the befallen George Bush — is too delicious for words. The absurdity of that picture is only matched by that of the “Bushism”, POTUS, for president of the United States. There’s a lesson in this for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden — it doesn’t really take much more than the “all American” pretzel to bushwhack George Jr. Be that as it may, the only saving grace in the entire asinine episode is Bush’s giving surprising evidence of a sense of humour. Going red in the face over a little bloody nose and threatening to bring down the might of the US military over the poor little pretzel would have been a little too much to stomach.

Yours faithfully,
Mohsin Haider, Calcutta

State of the lotus eaters

Sir — It is no use blaming politicians alone for bandhs. The people of West Bengal are as much, if not more, to blame. How else does one explain the empty offices on January 10 when public transport was functioning more or less normally since the bandh was called by the Socialist Unity Centre of India, and “morally supported” by the maverick Trinamool Congress? It is wrong to assume that people reluctantly stay at home on a bandh, for fear of violence and disturbances. If that were true, why are all those who turn roads into playgrounds on bandh day not wary of bombs going off or street clashes?

Dejection at the loss of a workday is nowhere evident. Rather, people are seen socializing and gossiping about which party won the bandh “battle”. Frankly, the people of West Bengal have lost all work culture and look for opportunities to holiday at the cost of work. No wonder people were aggrieved when the curtailed list of holidays for 2002 was published.

Yours faithfully,
Anand Kumar Jhunjhunwala, Calcutta

Sir — The January 10 bandh was an inauspicious start to the year. The loss of a man day created a bad precedent at a time the ruling left parties are making much of a “resurgent work culture”.

When national interest — rather the interest of the powerful — is at stake, why go on with silly banter about the petty interests of the working (and out of work) millions? They do not matter in the national economy. It is in the interest of the nation that the people should together pay crores in hiked CESC bills (however unjustified). If hospitals and educational institutions built with public money have stopped delivering — due to inept management, a disregard for quality and accountability, corruption or nepotism practised by political parties in pursuance of their petty interests — there is no reason to continue with them.

Such unprofitable activities of the “welfare state” should be done away with to make way for more profitable ones.

It is only those who can participate in the brave new free market who count, the rest should be content — dumb, as always, not finding a voice of their own, as the “insignificant” parties who called the bandh would like them to.

Yours faithfully,
Ansuman Mitra, Howrah

Sir — Students were much inconvenienced by Thursday’s bandh. In my opinion, the hike in college fees is quite reasonable. My mother paid Rs 12 in college and I too do the same. Circumstances have changed over the years and the government cannot be blamed for the fee hike.

Also, on bandh day private buses were not running regularly and many students could not go to college. Few classes were held as there were not many students. Such things send out negative signals.

Yours faithfully,
Saprovo Goswami, Haldia

Sir — The January 10 bandh was a flop, since public transport — buses, trains, ferries — functioned normally. But banks remained shut, inexplicably, although they are an absolute essential in daily life nowadays.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Shift the source

Sir — The recent ordinance granting the finance ministry unbridled power to raise excise duties without going though the budgetary process was not a good idea (“Fuel prices slashed, excise hiked”, Jan 12). At a time when the economy is in recession and the domestic industry is moribund, any increase in excise duties will adversely affect the viability and price competitiveness of domestic products. The finance ministry is allowing tax defaulters such as businessmen and corporate houses to go scot-free. If the aim of increasing duties is to mobilize resources then taxes should be levied on those Indian companies that have registered in Mauritius to evade taxes.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Agarwal, New Delhi

Sir — The government has fixed a ceiling of Rs 60,000 on annual public provident fund deposits. Savings in the Indian economy are running low since citizens have been left with few avenues for safe savings. The PPF being a very popular savings scheme, especially for tax benefit, the ceiling must be immediately removed.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kapasi, New Delhi

In fact

Sir — A small mistake has crept into Amit Roy’s write-up, “Bonanza for Bengali babu who runs Britain” (Jan 16), on Sumantra (Suma) Chakrabarti. Roy says that Suma’s father, an academic, returned to India to take his PhD. But this is not true. Suma’s father Hirendranath returned to India only after taking his PhD from Oxford where he had gone with his family on a Commonwealth scholarship.

Yours faithfully,
Sushama Chakravarti, Calcutta

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