Editorial 1/ Sugared pill
Editorial 2/ Marketing MK
The buck stops here
Fifth Column/ Off with barriers to free trade
Playing to be whitewashed
Letters to the editor

Among other things, the finance minister promised agricultural reforms in the budget for 2001-02. This involved a revamping of the public distribution system, as well as a review of the Essential Commodities Act of 1955. The PDS revamp got stuck because of states. Major allies like Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh are unwilling to scrap the Food Corporation of India procurement and the comfort of artificially high procurement prices, while states across the board are unwilling to accept the fiscal and administrative responsibility of retargeting the PDS to below poverty line and poorest of the poor households. Meanwhile, the food mountain grows, and either rots or is eaten by rats, with further accretion expected in the course of the next procurement season. Pakistan is not entirely wrong when it argues that these foodgrains are not fit for exporting. Consequently, the recent cabinet decision to remove quantitative restrictions on exports of wheat, non-Basmati rice, coarse foodgrains (and butter) may not lead to an explosion in exports.

But the food mountain was partly a trigger for the overdue cabinet decision to review the ECA. Section 2 of the ECA defines certain commodities as essential. The origins of the ECA go back to shortages during World War II. Temporary provisions introduced in 1946 became permanent in 1955. Licensing perpetuated the myth of shortages and led to more commodities being listed as essential. With licensing gone, there is no reason why items like automobile parts or lighting appliances should continue to be deemed essential. And agricultural reforms, once introduced, will mean that food shortage will disappear. Hence, definitions of essential in Section 2 need scrapping. However, Section 3 of the ECA also provides an enabling clause and allows the Centre or state governments to declare various commodities as essential through notifications. While the enabling provision probably needs to be retained, in the eventuality of future shortages, items listed in the notification are no longer essential.

The Centre has approved the decontrol of sugar from April 1, 2002, after futures trading is introduced. This was promised in the budget speech and the levy price system of compulsory sales of 15 per cent of sugar output to the government at subsidized rates has also been scrapped. PDS sugar will now have to be bought by the government from the market. The movement and storage of wheat, paddy and edible oils has been freed and 12 more commodities will be de-notified. But since state governments can also issue notifications under Section 3, in the absence of reforms by states, the cabinet decision will be no more than a signal, except in the case of sugar. The ECA also inhibits interstate movements of agricultural products, and a common market for agriculture does not exist in India. In 1992-93, the government decided that interstate restrictions under the ECA should be done away with. Almost 10 years later, the first steps to implement this promise are being made, but are contingent on states giving up the control mindset. Arguably, the most important reform promise made by Mr Yashwant Sinha in 2001-02 was about agricultural reforms. Hopefully, review of the ECA will be the beginning and not the end of agricultural reform.


Cole Porter had rhymed Mahatma Gandhi with Napoleon brandy in a delightful love song. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has not always inspired solemnity in hearts, Indian and foreign. But patriotism continues to inspire virtuous indignation in a cross-section of the Indian community in England. A software company has used Gandhi’s image in its advertising campaign, and many Indian expatriates have found this offensive. Their main objection is to the use of the “Father of the Nation” for commercial purposes. This is the wrong sort of use, as opposed to, say, having a London auditorium in Gandhi’s name, where his “big” portrait is garlanded every year on January 30. The making of an icon is fostered here through a combination of archaic attitudes — a certain kind of memorial reverence, a puritanical disdain for lucre and an earnestly upheld idea of nationhood. In India, this is enshrined in the Emblems and Names Act, which prevents Gandhi’s name and image from being registered as a trademark, without entirely disallowing commercial use.

The opposite of this reverence would be the attitude of the American licensing agency which markets the rights to Gandhi’s name and image, with the approval of a surviving member of his family. This agency, amusingly enough, is both a leveller and a preserver. It puts Gandhi in a pantheon of icons which includes Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Rock Hudson and Oscar Wilde. But it also makes sure that the Gandhi name only promotes “classy, well-put-together things”. His family member definitely vetoes meat products and lingerie. But Johnny Walker and Apple have already used his image. The market is a curious medium, merging icon and fetish, nationalism and consumerism, to produce its own mythologies. Here, Greta Garbo’s face, Albert Einstein’s brain, Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers, Mona Lisa’s smile and the Mahatma’s loincloth would be quite at par with one another. To bring to this entirely natural phenomenon the exalted sentiments which Indians usually associate with everything from the tricolour to sundry rivers would be, perhaps, a waste of time and energy.


If we drew a balance sheet for the present government, the best feature would be that despite a disparate coalition of 28 (one can never be sure of the number) parties, it has survived without much public discord. Another major achievement has been that it has charted an entirely new direction for India’s security, defence and foreign policies. Successor governments will find it very difficult to change them, so well have they won popular acceptance.

The Pokhran nuclear blasts were not merely demonstrative of India’s indigenous nuclear expertise and capability. They were a giant step in changing India’s position in the unipolar world dominated by the United States of America in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire and the conversion of China into a quasi-capitalist state. Pokhran enabled India for the first time in its independent history to be engaged in a frank dialogue with the US and to begin the process of a change in its relationship with it. It probably brought greater respect from China. There can be little doubt that the reaction of Pakistan and the use of Pakistan by China to tie up India’s economy and defence must have been factored into the calculation.

The Lahore initiative was an obvious part of the gameplan to arrive at a rapprochement with Pakistan in the new scenario. Obviously the sabotage of that initiative by Pervez Musharraf by the infiltration into Kargil was not expected. It has taken the government much time to develop a strategy and September 11 was in that sense helpful in speeding up the strategy. It certainly accelerated the improvement that had commenced at the end of the Clinton administration. This government was greatly helped in these initiatives by the worldwide perception of India as one of the fastest growing economies and Indian markets as having almost unlimited potential. Without that perception, Pokhran might not have given the results it did.

Hence the continuing slowdown in the Indian economy must be of extremely high concern. It is no longer just an economic issue but one that will affect our national security. It strikes at the root of the successes that this government can take credit for.

On the economic front this government, more than its predecessors, has been better on promises than on performance. It has taken some steps that in contrast to earlier governments must be commended. It made a strong start that is at last producing results, on public enterprise disinvestments. It has charted a course for doing so that appears irreversible. It has embarked on a major national highway and rural roads programme which, though slow and spasmodic in implementation, will make a major difference to the economy.

But on most other aspects of the economy, this government has shown little consistency or determination. It has not reduced subsidies nor brought in user charges closer to costs of supply. It has left agricultural investments, procurement and pricing to follow the earlier course of declining investments, unlimited procurement at unnecessarily rising prices, rising ration prices and declining offtake, resulting in a mountain of over 60 million tonnes of foodgrains in stock. It has not been able to reform the banks and financial institutions that now have such high non-performing assets, that they are reluctant to risk lending for corporate investment.

Industrial growth has declined and substantial unused capacity exists, with little new industrial capacity being created. The software of our industrial economy — merchant banks, auditing firms, mutual funds, stock markets and brokers and others — exists but its reliability is questionable. Small investors have lost confidence in financial markets and companies find it difficult to raise fresh funds in the markets.

The caste system in our industrial typology, with small-scale as a separate caste from the organized sector, is beginning to hurt our competitiveness as the economy opens up. Yet, it is Chinese labour intensive products (like garments, toys and leather goods, all reserved for long for small scale industries in India) that dominate world markets, not Indian.

Courageous policies were prevented by the disparate coalition, with some economically illiterate members holding charge of key ministries. The lack of consensus about the economy is a disease among Indian political parties and the instant opposition even to the most obvious initiatives, led to many not being pushed or implemented.

The poorly functioning finance ministry, with a new cast of officers every year, compounded the problem. The absence of much interest in the economy within the prime minister’s office for most of the life of this government, except for a short period, prevented the follow-up and coordination that was necessary. This is unlike the practice the world over where heads of large organizations and governments have found it essential to have their own expert secretariats to coordinate policies and push implementation.

Matters are too complex to be left entirely to individual ministers of varying degrees of competence. In foreign and security policies, this government has been well served by the PMO, though intelligence coordination has been a major weakness. But in economic policy, the PMO does not have the interest or the ability, perhaps reflecting the predilections of the prime minister himself.

The essentials of the treatment for our sick economy are well known. Reduce deficits by cutting current expenditures. Not just announce a voluntary retirement scheme but also enforce a sharp reduction in government staff. Amalgamate ministries handling closely related subjects. Raise user charges for government provided services so that the providing enterprises on the whole cover their expenditures. Enforce the rule that subsidies must be a charge on budgets, not on the provider of the services. Let good grains procurement be confined to a limited quantity and at prices to be determined by independent experts. Abolish the physical procurement, handling and distribution of foodgrains for the poor and replace it with a simpler system like food stamps. Increase public investments in agriculture. Make social services delivery the purview of local authorities, not state and central governments.

Introduce competitive markets at least for bulk consumers of electricity. Change the orientation of the higher levels of the bureaucracy from generalists to specialists. Allow frequent movement between governmental and non-governmental employment. Plan carefully for succession in all government controlled jobs and ensure that no position is left unfilled or filled by people with short tenures. Become demanding of performance from government employees everywhere. Make the Central vigilance commission powerful and not just independent, so that those corrupt government employees are identified and punished in salutary ways. Open government files for public scrutiny and information. Ensure that Parliament and legislatures actually function and devote ample time to debating issues. Expand the judiciary so that there are enough judges and give them the necessary facilities. Use independent regulatory commissions to decide in an open and consultative way on matters that have major financial costs or benefits to private parties. The list is long and known to all. It has to be implemented.

Only the prime minister can make these things happen. If he is to earn his place in history, nuclear explosions and visits by high US government officials will not give it to him. He has to make India economically powerful. That will not come by announcements of easy decisions like sugar de-control. He has unpopular decisions to make before the vast reservoir of talent in our human resources can achieve its potential. The buck cannot be passed to anybody else. It rests with the prime minister.

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


The south Asian association for regional cooperation summit in Kathmandu ended with the declaration that the SAARC member governments would work to establish a south Asian free trade area and finalize the draft treaty framework for the same by 2002. They agreed to accelerate economic cooperation in the areas of trade, finance and investment and remove tariff barriers and structural impediments to free trade. But the general consensus on SAFTA was not translated by the SAARC members into a specific outline of the ways and means to accomplish this goal.

SAFTA envisages the initial introduction of trade concessions on a product by product basis. There are also provisions for across the board tariff cuts as well as a sectoral approach to reduce tariffs. But, product by product, negotiations tend to be tedious. Thus the best course is to work for appreciable tariff cuts covering a large number of products.

To bring down the high rates of import cess prevailing in south Asia, India has offered to free 25 per cent of a total of 5,500 products from tariff barriers every year. But if the other countries do not offer similar concessions, trade liberalization is bound to be discriminatory, and all such regional arrangements to improve markets will not yield results.

India looms large

SAARC has become less active, especially in the last three years. A decision was taken in 1997 to have SAFTA in place by 2001. But nothing came of it. Intra-SAARC trade accounts for as little as four per cent of SAARC’s global trade. The tariff concessions on offer under SAFTA until now have largely been on minor items and account for not more than two per cent of the regional trade.

One factor affecting SAARC’s functioning is the asymmetry between India and its other neighbours in terms of size, economy, technological capacity and military strength. Smaller SAARC countries are more inclined to establish links with other regional powers to balance the overarching influence of India. This fear has also made them more inward looking and has led them to adopt import substitution policies.

Also, many sectors in India oppose free trade. The slow implementation of the India-Sri Lanka free trade agreement, because the textiles and tea sectors in India felt threatened by import competition, is an example of this. Indeed, all the larger economies in the SAARC region have survived on a diet of high import tariffs and hence fear trade liberalization.

SAARC countries have pledged to sort out all these problems when the inter-governmental groups on trade liberalization meet for the fourth round of trade negotiations under SAFTA.

Political economics

The main obstacle to SAFTA is the differences between India and Pakistan on what should be the priorities and objectives of SAARC. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in his inaugural address, was optimistic about an integrated south Asia and SAARC as an “economic power house”. Pervez Musharraf, on the other hand, felt that, “The SAFTA process remains incomplete because of mutual mistrust and the absence of a level playing field.” He wants SAARC to devise a “mechanism” enabling member states to hold informal political consultations to promote mutual understanding and reinforce confidence building measures.

SAFTA is a broad arrangement to advance a flexible and liberal trade regime in south Asia. It cannot be isolated from the broader economic policies of the region. Much depends on the commitment to free trade of governments in the region, macro economic stability and, lastly, political will. Depoliticizing economic relations between south Asian nations is the most important precondition for a successful SAFTA.

As the former prime minister of Nepal, K.P. Bhattarai, reminded at the Kathmandu summit, “It is essential not to bring about changes in the SAARC charter. What is important is to bring changes in the thinking of the region’s leaders.” SAARC’s objective should be to work towards a free market in south Asia and integrate the economies of its member states to enhance their range, dynamism and collective strength in the global trading community.


The recently concluded one-day series with England was yet another confirmation of our lack of prowess in a sport we are obsessive about. The sahibs may have been vanquished in the movies, but in real life, the Indians found it impossible to beat a mediocre English team at home. Rahul, the character played by Shahrukh Khan in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham..., shows a more realistic appraisal of India’s cricketing abilities than the makers of Lagaan. You can’t depend on India, he repeatedly says, keeping in mind no doubt India’s frequent batting collapses, docile pace bowling and inept fielding. More than a 100 years after its inception, Indian cricket’s path to maturity remains asymptotic, it never quite comes of age.

Explanations of our shortcomings are as unchanging as the ill they seek to redress. The average Indian’s physique is often cited as a handicap. It is even contended that one cannot bowl fast without eating beef. These, however, cannot be taken very seriously. A more plausible set of explanations relate to the Indian’s psychology: Indians are undisciplined, lack team spirit and killer instinct, tend to choke, and so on. There have been little or no attempts to interrogate these shortcomings, only suggestions of quick-fix remedies like the need for foreign (mainly white) coaches, psychiatrists versed in sports psychology, and the use of computer algorithms — a matrix of solutions which reveal a blind faith in what may be termed the “occidental occult”.

It is by now a truism that social phenomena require explanations based at the level of the social. To analyse why a team performs well or badly in a particular sport, one must explore the specific uses and meanings the sport has in that particular culture. Talent alone will not enable a man to hit a ball all day long or run up and down a field for 90 minutes, excellence in such focussed activities requires an impetus from without. This impetus usually has two sources: professionalization, or the force of group ideology. It is an accepted fact that England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are consistently successful because of their professional approach.

The nature of this professionalization has little to do with money and with the much-lamented replacement of “gentlemen” by “players”. In fact, the “glorious amateur” was no less professional than his paid counterpart. W.G. Grace was as motivated and cut-throat as Steve Waugh, Jack Hobbs as focussed and disciplined as Len Hutton. The professionalization of cricketing attitude and behaviour was the consequence of introducing the northern European Protestant ethic into the domain of play: rigorous training, a focus on method and rule rather than intuition or impulse, coordinated teamwork, composure under stress, a deep sense of duty, and the belief that playing the game well was its own reward. This system of practical reasoning was evident in all of Europe’s pursuits from war and science, to education and sports, and was crucial in establishing European hegemony all over the globe.

Neither India, nor the other non-white colonies, underwent a thorough professionalization of social life. While certain sections of the Indian population — Marwaris, Gujaratis, Sindhis for example — display a work ethic even more driven than the Protestant one, they are so narrow in focus and so sectarian in spirit that their specific ethos cannot be generalized into a national culture. The hiring of white coaches like John Wright (India), Trevor Chappell (Bangladesh), Dav Whatmore (Sri Lanka) and Richard Pybus (till recently Pakistan’s coach) is a tacit admission that professionalism, like capital goods, is something we need to import.

The drive for excellence can also come from identification with a larger whole. Teams in the English football league, based on loyalty to place, set the highest standards of competitiveness. The same spirit can be found in European soccer and in college sports in the United States of America. While the professional game in the US lacks such an ideological component, the excellence of its athletes can be explained by a special sociological fact: in contemporary America, more than anywhere else, the social has shrunk to the individual, and social life is run by an “ideology-for-one” (this is also what makes America a paradise for immigrants). It is not at all surprising that killer instinct in tennis was introduced by two Americans — Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe — in the decade known as that of the “Me” generation. Curiously enough, sports in the ex-communist nations was at its core very American. Under the guise of a socialistic ideology which no one believed in, it concealed an economistic ideology-for-one, rewarding individual athletes for individual performances. That explains why Eastern Bloc athletes excelled in individual sports like gymnastics or track and field but not in team sports.

Given the fanatical support that cricket enjoys in the subcontinent, it would seem that nationalism would provide the ideological impetus required for great performances. Nationalism proves to be inadequate because of the nature of international cricket. Cricket, from its very early days, was the colonial sport par excellence. Not only was the ideology of the sport consciously linked to that of Empire, cricket was also designated as the sport which travelled as far as colonialism. If cricket was the cultural arm of colonialism, in the postcolonial world it continues to be a dialogue about colonialism. For all the noise about bodyline, Anglo-Australian cricket has always been a chummy affair, reflecting the amicable relationship between settler colonies and the home country. The truth about cricket emerges when whites play non-whites. If talk of racism continues to plague cricket like in no other sport — the recent controversy in South Africa is a case in point — it is because cricket is still constituted by its colonial heritage. The makers of Lagaan understood that the ultimate cricket match is the one that is still going on, between the colonizer and the colonized. One cannot conceive of making a gripping cricket movie centred around a match between, say, Indians and West Indians.

Ashis Nandy has argued that cricket is an Indian game accidently discovered by the English. If so, we must infer that the Ashes have been a century-long project in reverse mimicry. Nandy’s thesis has the virtue of being completely mistaken, thus directing us to more fruitful lines of inquiry. A sport properly belongs to a nation or ethnicity if it can be played within the internal boundaries of that group. We speak of English football, not because of the achievements of the 1966 World Cup team, but because of the dynamics that arise out of a Liverpool-Manchester United encounter. American basketball is a great sport not because of the Olympic golds won by the US, but the great rivalries like those between the Lakers and the Celtics or the Knicks and the Bulls. By this internalist criterion, Indian cricket is not Indian at all. The utter vacuity surrounding the Ranji and Duleep trophies suggests that Indians would rather not watch Indians playing other Indians at cricket.

It is precisely this lack of interest in the domestic version of the sport which accounts for our lack of proficiency at the game. Winning habits emerge only when something is at stake in the day-to-day playing of the game. Domestic cricket in India has only one function — producing players for the test team. Nationalism fails as an incentive because each player plays only for himself, in order to get selected. Given that only a finite number of cricketers have the talent to play at the test level, players pay very little for bad performances. Indeed, the collective failure of the team has little impact on either players or fans. If, as has been argued here, cricket is merely a conversation about colonialism, then winning is an impossibility. As long as Indians seek visas to emigrate to Britain or Australia, the winning run will always come from a white man’s bat. Within the colonial and postcolonial matrix, we are bound to lose, whether at Plassey or at Eden Gardens.

To be good at cricket, we need a system where a game between two Indian teams becomes significant. Football can teach us some lessons here. Although almost every Bengali has a passionate stake in an East Bengal versus Mohun Bagan match, no one cares at all about Bengal’s performance in the Santosh Trophy. The healthy antagonism between two sections of Bengali society — bangals and ghotis — imbues the local game with extraordinary meaning. No such contradiction surfaces when Bengal plays Kerala.

This is partly because the linguistic division of India was too comprehensive and complete and produced entities which have little interest in each other. In the case of Indian cricket, all match-ups generate indifference. A game between East Zone and South Zone is ludicrous for all except administrators, the Ranji Trophy is dull for the same reasons as the Santosh Trophy. It is initially puzzling as to why Bengalis are riven when East Bengal plays Mohun Bagan at football, but remain cool when the same teams meet on the cricket field. The answer lies in the fact that cricket has always been seen as a purely colonial and international sport. Indifferent about cricket at the club level, the fan becomes a fanatic when India, or even East Zone or Bengal, plays England.

What can be done to improve the state of things? A subaltern solution, which opens the doors of the game to the disadvantaged, will not work. A team comprising eleven Dalits will perform no better than our current team as long as cricket continues to be our answer to colonialism. Paradoxically then, we have to “de-Lagaanize” before we can beat the colonial masters. That means a reorganization of the game so that it becomes truly Indian, in the sense that every game played in the country arouses interest and passion among Indians.

This is easier said than done. Indian cricket cannot obviously go back to the days of the Quadrangular, when teams — Parsis, Muslims, Hindus, Englishmen — were organized along communal lines. Unfortunately, the antagonisms in the current Indian polity are divisive and retrogressive. The challenge for us is to develop categories of identity and sportsmanship which are both benign and competitive. Only then will Indian cricket truly come into being.



Marriage and the motherland

Sir — If the suggestion of the British home secretary, David Blunkett, is taken up by the Asian community in the United Kingdom, it will signal the end of NRI dreams for several families in India. Also of the increasingly popular genre of Indian films revolving around the theme of diaspora-mainland marriage ties (“No imported spouse, we’re British”, Feb 9). After the World Trade Center attacks, the UK has replaced the United States of America as the most favoured destination for people from the subcontinent. What Blunkett’s remark focusses on is the economy of such marital transactions. For the Indian half, such weddings are as much about trying to achieve a life of greater material comfort as they are about the coming together of two individuals. For the NRI half, it provides an opportunity to atone for forsaking the motherland. Till these two aspects are addressed, Blunkett will find few takers for his suggestion. And Indian filmmakers will find it difficult to convince audiences that an Indian bride can reject an NRI groom for a home-bred one.
Yours faithfully,
Sadhana Singh, via email

UP there

Sir — The news report, “Police primer on UP poll nominees” (Feb 7), on who are contesting the coming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, was simply astounding. Indian politics now would make us believe that only goons have leadership qualities. Soon things may come to such a pass that unless an individual has a minimum number of criminal cases against his name, he will not be allowed to contest the elections.

One was under the impression that to contest the elections, a candidate needed to be reasonably well-known and acceptable to the people of his constituency. Now, it seems that he must also be well-known in the various police stations in and around his constituency.

The Election Commission must take the alarming trend into consideration. If they are elected, as surely some will be, what will happen to the constituency? It is difficult to imagine that a police officer who has put a criminal-turned-legislator in jail, may later have to serve him as his personal bodyguard.

The EC, which claims to be sparing no effort to conduct free and fair elections, is making a fundamental mistake by allowing people with criminal records to contest elections. Once such people are given an inch, they easily find ways to grab a mile.

It is time for certain modifications in electoral rules and regulations. Or else, what seems a bad dream now will become a reality.

Yours faithfully
N.R. Venkateswaran, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Divided fight” (Feb 4), is not objective enough in branding certain parties contesting the Uttar Pradesh elections as secular and certain others as not secular. If the Bharatiya Janata Party supports the construction of a Ramjanmabhoomi temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, does it make the other political parties secular by default? Did not many political parties, included in the list of secular parties, also take sides, and openly claim that they would construct a mosque at the disputed site? Proposing the construction of a mosque at the disputed site cannot possibly be a more secular act than advocating the construction of a temple, especially when both camps have only one end in sight: reaping electoral dividends? If political parties are branded secular irrespective of what they do and what they fail to do, then one will end up blurring the distinction between secularism and blind faith.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Among the states that are going to polls on February 13, Uttar Pradesh is clearly being given top priority by most political parties. Perhaps because the results of the assembly elections in UP usually have direct bearing on the government at the Centre.

The state had been a Congress stronghold for a long time. Now, the political scenario has changed. The Congress has been reduced to almost a nonentity. And yet, the campaign of the party president, Sonia Gandhi, in the state is enjoying more media attention than that of leaders like Mayavati and Mulayam Singh Yadav. Surprisingly, no newspaper has tried to highlight as a shortcoming the fact that she normally reads out written speeches.

Sonia Gandhi would prefer it if the BJP did not bring up the subject of terrorism at all, because it invokes a sense of patriotism among voters and makes them forget their caste loyalties, and the BJP will be able to gain the greatest advantage from it. The Congress president remembers, of course, how the Ram wave made the voters forget their caste affiliations.

The Congress is also making a bigger issue out of the coffin scandal than is warranted. But it is forgetting that the defence sector should not be dragged into petty electoral politics. With such misguided electoral strategies, the Congress might end up finding its dreams of ruling UP shortlived.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Crime today

Sir — Sunanda K. Datta-Ray deserves thanks for reasoning more wisely than others in the face of the anti-Muslim tirade following the terrorist attack on Parliament and on the American Center in Calcutta (“Scapegoats and bhadraloks”, Feb 2). If one of the policemen killed in the attack had been Muslim by faith, would so many fingers have pointed at the Muslim community? It is time for Muslim legislators, intellectuals and professionals to come forward and attempt to bridge the gap between the majority and minority segments in society. For, as Datta-Ray said, “The problem in most cases is alienation and not treachery.”
Yours faithfully,
Afzal Hussain, Calcutta

Sir — It is true that a large number of criminals in India are Muslim. They have been implicated in several of the recent terrorist attacks. However, this in no way proves that Muslims as a community are neck-deep in crime. If the Indian Muslims lag behind their Hindu brethren in terms of economic strength and education, as is the case, then it must be asked whether it is the state’s policies which are responsible for this. It is only natural that, in the absence of proper opportunities, some of them would turn to crime. That is one vocation that offers quick money as it gives a chance to avenge wrongs. It is a relief that Sunanda K. Datta-Ray has not fallen in the Muslim-baiting trap.

While the most recent subversive acts, from the attack on the World Trade Center to that on the Indian Parliament, have been linked in one way or another to Islam, Christianity or Hinduism have never been similarly linked to the activities of the Irish ultras or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

In the midst of countrywide secessionist politics, India cannot afford to nurture religious chauvinism. The stress should be on lessening the misunderstanding and hatred among communities.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

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