Editorial 1 / Foreign hand
Editorial 2 / Bloody mayhem
The states in crisis
Fifth Column / Not a drop will be left to drink
It takes two to puzzle
Document / Shortchanged in the job market
Letters to the editor

Nurturing greater and keener competition among players in a particular field is one of the aims of liberalization. The latest guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India for foreign direct investment in private banks aim to do just that. The new norms clarify an ambiguity that existed in the guidelines announced in May 2001. Then the government had laid down that foreign investment from all sources in banks could go up to 49 per cent. In the absence of further clarification it was assumed that this included foreign portfolio investment and that the 20 per cent cap on FDI remained in force. These rules were put to the test by Bank Brussels Lambert. This wholly-owned subsidiary of ING Bank declared its intention of acquiring management control over Vysya Bank. The RBI ruling in the matter clarified that FDI in private banks was allowed up to 49 per cent and this had automatic approval. The RBI has also issued a list of what it includes within the FDI category. It has also permitted foreign banks with branches in India to acquire 49 per cent FDI stake in private sector banks. Already, some of the major foreign banks operating in India have expressed their desire to buy out local banks. This will lead to an immediate increase in competition as foreign banks, secure that they will be able to exercise management control, will be keen to acquire private banks. This might also solve the problems faced by under-capitalized banks and/or of banks with impaired asset portfolios.

Domestic banks will now have to face the challenge of foreign banks, their superior technology and access to bigger capital resources. To survive and make profits, domestic banks will have to get their act together instead of languishing in a non-competitive ambience. What is important is that many private banks, on the brink of bankruptcy, will have the opportunity to receive blood transfusion. As has become the wont in India in the implementation of the economic reform agenda, the RBI has stopped one step short. It has not opened up the public sector banks to FDI. It can be argued that the need for foreign capital was greater in public sector banks than in private banks. In the changed banking scenario, the weak public sector banks with assets only in name will be the worst hit. It is difficult to comprehend what stopped the RBI and the government from offering stakes in the weak public sector banks rather than in private banks. Or more importantly, what stopped them from completely privatizing state-owned banks. One answer to the conundrum is failure of political courage. But this can only be part of the answer. There are at least two other factors. Economic reforms in India suffer still from a socialist hangover and its love for the public sector. Above all, there is fear of the foreign hand.


Politics of blood is essentially evil. It may beget blood, but not a democratic state or a civil society. Yet the Maoists of Nepal cynically justify their bloodbath in the name of a “people’s democratic revolution”. Their latest offensive in the remote Achham district has sent out shock waves far and wide primarily because it has been the biggest such action since the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) began their “people’s war” in February, 1996. That the chief executive of the district, nearly 50 policemen and dozens of armymen were among the victims once again betrayed the pathetic inadequacy of the government in dealing with the Maoist menace. One of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal always had a rather small army with very little of modern weaponry. Even the police force is poorly equipped. The Maoists have obviously taken advantage of the government’s lack of resources. They have also exploited the lack of governance in the inaccessible western districts where Kathmandu’s writ rarely runs and development funds rarely reach. This is why most of the CPN(M)’s “guerrilla zones” and “people’s governments” are based in western districts. There the poorest of the people rough it out in hostile weather, inhospitable terrain and a primitive economy, easy prey to the Maoists’ heady cocktail of firearms and a fiery ideology.

The government’s inadequacies are compounded, however, by a lack of political will and consensus about how to fight the Maoist insurgency. The fissures within the ruling Nepali Congress on the Maoist question are well known. Factional leaders of the party have brazenly used it to settle personal scores and unseat its own prime ministers. The ruling party’s problems have also been complicated by dubious stands taken by the main opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), some of whose leaders are known to have lurking sympathies for the Maoists. For some others in the CPN(UML) the Maoists are a stick to beat the Nepali Congress with. All this corruption has also largely eroded the people’s faith in the multi-party democracy, established 11 years ago after a decade of popular movements against absolute monarchy. Such was the climate of distrust that two years ago, the Royal Nepalese Army refused to join the anti-Maoist operation unless the political parties formed a “national consensus” on the issue. All these enabled the Maoists to walk out of talks with the government last year. Not only should the parties now support the proposal of the prime minister, Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba, to extend the three-month emergency, but they should also close ranks to save the country’s democracy from collapsing to Maoist mayhem.


The economic and political crisis faced by many Indian states was brought home dramatically last week. On the one hand, elections in Uttar Pradesh, despite all their undoubted suspense and drama, once again reminded many of the vacuity of politics in India’s largest state. The three main contenders, the Samajwadi Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party seem unable to break out of the confines of their entrenched social bases, and most of the lines of political contention during the campaign had little to do with the well being of UP’s citizens.

On the other hand, state after state, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, are tottering on the verge of bankruptcy. In a sense there is a close connection between the political crisis in UP and the financial crisis of Indian states in general. Simply put, most Indian states, with a few exceptions, are in the unenviable position that they can neither endure their condition, nor the means of changing it. Consequently, politics in these states avoid facing fundamental economic challenges.

In states like UP and Bihar, the total amount of state government expenditure left for development projects is just in the vicinity of 10 per cent. The rest goes in interest payments on debt and government salaries. If politics in these states appears to be about nothing, it is because there is little in the state coffers to fight over. Some states like West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh are fortunate to coalesce around distributional coalitions that give them enough stability to think about some long-term changes, even in the midst of financial crises. But the planning horizon in most states cannot extend beyond avoiding the next budget crisis.

To be sure, a serious fiscal crisis threatens almost all Indian states: higher growers, slow movers, better governed or administrative disasters. The causes of this crisis are complex. The proportion of the expenditure of the states financed by their own revenue as opposed to Central grants has been consistently falling during the last decade. This is because the capacity of the states to raise revenues under present dispensations is limited. The assignment of tax powers in India is based on a principle of separation where certain tax categories are assigned exclusively to the Centre or to the states. Most broad based taxes, like income tax, tax on wealth from non-agricultural sources, corporation tax and so on, are assigned to the Centre. The states also have a long list of jurisdictions, but of these only tax on sale and purchase of goods has been significant for state revenues. As a result of this assignment, it follows that the Centre’s revenue base has more elasticity. The simple fact that states are allowed to levy taxes on the sale and purchase of goods but not on services has had the consequence that their revenue generation capacity has not gone up in proportion to growth as the Centre’s has. The introduction of a comprehensive value added tax was meant to overcome some of these shortcomings, but its implementation has been delayed.

The net result is that most states are stuck. They can improve their financial situation by either producing more growth, or expanding their tax base by including items like agriculture, or by getting more grants from the Centre or some combination of these. The difficulty is that none of these strategies is easy. The first strategy has paradoxical effects: the worse a state’s current situation on a variety of indicators, the less likely it is that it will be able to grow itself out of its impasse. UP and Bihar are in such a situation. Taxing agricultural incomes are politically not even on the agenda in most states and it is difficult to imagine a political coalition that will provide enough momentum for this measure. Faced with bankruptcy, states like Maharashtra are beginning to talk about the idea, but it still is a long way from implementation.

States can rely on the Centre to bail them out, but this strategy also has its limitations. First, the Centre’s financial generosity will be limited by the size of its own deficits. Second, much of what a state can extract in addition to its regular entitlements will depend upon the political clout it enjoys. In other words, the ability to extract from the Centre will be limited by the vagaries of politics. Frequent bailouts by the Centre set up a system of perverse incentives and that arguably eases pressure on the states to perform better.

In fact the Centre is facing an acute dilemma in dealing with state finances. On the one hand, the idea behind using the Centre as a mechanism of reallocation amongst the states was to produce a regional balance amongst the states. On the other hand, the Centre is also expected to act as a disciplining mechanism for states running financially amok. At the present juncture there is a great tension between these two roles. The worst performing states are in the need of most assistance; yet providing more assistance is often the surest way of ensuring that the states do not reform. Many have proposed that Central grants to the states come attached with conditionalities that improve the performance of state governments. The history of the Centre’s interventions, and the imperatives of coalition politics suggest that the Centre will find it very difficult to exercise fiscal discipline.

One of the ironies of Indian federalism is that despite having the constitutional powers to do so, the Centre has almost never taken. action against state governments for rampant fiscal indiscipline. By contrast, the slightest whiff of political insubordination used to invite Central intervention. One of the biggest challenges of fiscal federalism in India will be to devise mechanisms to discipline states towards reform. It is possible that if allocations to the states are made through the council of chief ministers rather than the Centre, it will be easier to provide the right combination of carrots and sticks to make the states fall in line.

The voters, to whom state governments are ultimately accountable, are in many states not well-placed to sanction their governments. Elections are at best a blunt instrument of accountability. Our governing structures are ill-suited to eliciting citizens’ participation in the formulation of important policies. But there is a real sense in which our states are the victims of representation without taxation. While most voters are not in any position to pay taxes, many powerful and influential groups, such as wealthy farmers, simply do not.

The result is a strangely schizophrenic politics. On the one hand, anti-incumbency sentiment suggests that we are deeply dissatisfied with our modes of governance. On the other hand, we judge governments, not by the overall soundness of their fiscal and economic policies, but by the benefits that they directly give to our particular group or us. Our politics is about competing for benefits from that state, not about allocating responsibility. Most of us are not serious about better government, because we are not paying for it. Most states, and many powerful voting blocks, have long harboured the illusion that in economics there is such a thing as a free lunch. But when the party is over, as it is in most states, politics will be about nothing but the scraps.

The author is professor of philosophy, law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi


Although it is believed that underground water cannot be contaminated, it is actually more vulnerable to contamination than water above. Groundwater has become unfit for drinking in many countries.

Expansion of irrigation has led to reckless exploitation of groundwater since the Fifties. The United States of America, which has the third largest irrigated area in the world, uses groundwater for 43 per cent of its irrigated farmland. India, the world’s third highest foodgrains producer, irrigates more than 50 per cent of its agricultural land with groundwater.

In almost every continent, major aquifers are tapped regularly, and sometimes at a rate faster than that at which aquifers are recharged. Consequently, water tables are falling at an alarming rate — one to three metres annually — and rivers are drying up. Groundwater depletion seems to be especially severe in parts of India, China, the US, North Africa and south Asia and has led to a global water deficit of an estimated 200 billion cubic metres annually. In a world where 30 to 40 per cent of the food comes from irrigated land, it seems to be a critical issue for food security.

A national assessment in 1996 revealed that water tables in farming regions in India were dropping at an alarming rate, jeopardizing around one fourth of the country’s grain harvest.

Stop misuse

More important, available groundwater is being pumped out and wasted by farmers who do not require so much water. Naturally, other farmers suffer as aquifer levels remain beyond the reach of traditional wells.

The excessive extraction of groundwater to meet growing demands has created its own set of problems. Normally, water in coastal aquifers empties into the sea. But seawater penetrates the aquifer and salinizes it when too much groundwater is withdrawn. Once salinized, a freshwater aquifer remains so for a long time. This has happened in Gujarat and Madras. The problem is also serious in coastal Turkey, China, the Maldives and Cyprus.

Instead of being flushed out to the sea by its dilution with fresh water, pollutants in aquifers accumulate. Groundwater in closed spaces contains low levels of minerals microbes and dissolved oxygen, substances which help in the breakdown of pollutants.

Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water for 1.5 billion people in the world today. Around 80 per cent of rural India and 90 per cent of rural America depend on groundwater for drinking purposes. But the natural source of potable water is regularly being polluted.


In India, wells tested in the early Nineties in Punjab and Haryana were found to contain nitrates at levels which were 5 to 15 times higher than the safe limit. After surveying 22 major industrial zones, the Central Pollution Control Board in India came to the conclusion that groundwater in all zones was unfit for drinking.

Natural contaminants in groundwater also pose severe environmental hazards. Arsenic pollution in groundwater has emerged as a major health threat in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Arsenic contamination has also been reported in Taiwan, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Argentina. Although the exact cause of arsenic contamination is not yet known, it is widely accepted that over-withdrawal of groundwater has resulted in erosion and the consequent exposure of arsenic-contaminated soil to oxygen.

Fluoride is another menace to groundwater and has put people in several countries, including the US, Canada and Germany, at risk. In India, an estimated 62 million people, including 6 million children, are suffering from endemic fluorosis. The World Health Organization estimates that 70 million people in northern China are drinking water with excessive and dangerous levels of fluoride.

Some aquifers have been damaged irreversibly. Despite this most of our natural resources remain unharmed. To maintain and protect these natural resources we urgently need rules to regulate groundwater use. Else, we will have no choice but to abandon using groundwater completely.


A report in The Guardian described the recent controversy involving a pair of unborn twins, Courtney and Natasha, their parents, doctors and the English courts. Courtney and Natasha are physically conjoined and share a single heart. The routine practice in cases of conjoined twins is to separate them by operation. But, in this case, the separation would lead to the death of the weaker twin. The twin’s parents would like to have them separated as they would prefer giving the stronger twin a chance to have an independent life rather than diminish her chances of a healthy life by not separating her from her weaker twin. The English courts meanwhile have stated that they might challenge this sacrifice of one twin in an attempt to save the other.

The birth of conjoined twins is rare. It occurs as often as once in every 200 deliveries of identical twins. As in the case of Courtney and Natasha, the twins can sometimes be parasitic, where the weaker twin is dependent on the other. This is when the question of separation appears. Should parents risk separating them, thereby killing the weaker twin, in the hope of giving the stronger one an opportunity to live a healthy life? And if a separation is to take place, who takes the decision to operate? The parents? The courts? Or the doctors?

Courtney and Natasha are not the first case of conjoined twins who have tested the legal and ethical barriers of separation. A few years ago, a couple from Malta gave birth to a pair of conjoined twins, Mary and Jodie. The twins had a fused spine and were joined at the lower abdomen. Without separation their life expectancy was less than six months. The parents, who had come to England to seek medical help, soon found themselves enmeshed in an unprecedented legal battle.

The parents did not want to operate on the twins as this would mean the immediate death of the weaker twin. They believed that this premeditated killing of the weaker child was wrong as it was against their Catholic faith, and they opposed the operation. But their doctors did not agree. They moved the British courts to allow the separation of the twins and the courts honoured the request of the doctors by ordering the operation on the twins. The parents, who had taken the case to both the high court and the appeals court, decided not to challenge the decision any further. The twins were operated on and the weaker twin was allowed to die.

The situation in the case of Natasha and Courtney is slightly different. Here, the parents would like them to be separated, but the courts claim that the parents cannot take the decision on their own and that they should not view the earlier court ruling as the setting of a precedent.

The legal and ethical barriers of such separations are rarely questioned. How is it that the courts can rule on whether a newborn, and in some cases an unborn, child should live or not, but the parents of that child have no say in the matter? Is separation really necessary? Are the parent’s wishes completely insignificant?

Both the doctors and the courts had come up with their own reasons for demanding the operation on the twins from Malta. The British court of appeal had claimed that the court’s paramount consideration was the best interest of the conjoined twins. The court also stated that the doctors were merely “coming to Jodie’s defence and removing the threat of fatal harm to her presented by Mary’s draining her life blood”.

The medical profession had its own reasons for overruling the parents’ views and appealing to the courts to allow the doctors to operate. It claimed that the case was similar in nature to a Jehovah’s Witness patient refusing a blood transfusion. The doctors would overrule the patient’s wish and carry out the transfusion as this would be in the best interests of the patient and would save his life. Similarly, if operating on the twins meant that the doctors could ensure a healthy life for at least one twin, even though the other would die, then the doctors would prefer to do so. In both cases, the parents’ views on what was best for their child were disregarded.

But here, the medical reasoning is flawed. The operation was not foolproof and did not guarantee a healthy life for the surviving twin. The last case in which conjoined sisters, Amy and Angela Lakeberg, who shared a heart, were operated on should have acted as a lesson to doctors. The operation resulted in the immediate death of Amy. Angela, the surviving twin, died less than a year later. At best, such an operation is an experimental one. While the separation of twins can be offered as an option to parents, it cannot be considered standard therapy or imposed on parents against their will.

Although the state has an obligation to protect the children in its domain, such protection should guarantee improvement of the child’s life. As long as such intervention remains in its experimental stage, it might lead to newer problems. What if certain parents are willing to risk such highly experimental operations? Will the state and the medical industry allow such experimental procedures? And if not, how can the courts and doctors demand experimental procedures for one patient while denying them to another? This is the quandary which the courts are now finding themselves in with regard to the Natasha-Courtney case.

In the case of Mary and Jodie, the parents had stated that they would prefer both children to lead healthy lives for a short period of time rather than look after the surviving twin after the operation. The latter would require therapy, medication and constant care to help her adjust to a normal life. The parents stated that they would be unable to afford such medical treatment and support. The court chose to ignore their views and went ahead and burdened them with a child who they would most probably not be able to support or look after.

Doctors have also come up with other reasons why courts will most probably overrule the demand of the parents of Natasha and Courtney to operate on the twins. According to them, unlike the case of the Maltese twins, the stronger twin’s life in this case is not threatened by the weaker. Therefore, the separation cannot be justified on the ground that it is necessary to save the life of at least one twin. If they do not die during childbirth, which is the most likely outcome, both twins will most probably be able to lead normal lives.

In both cases, the people who have to live with the decision are the ones who seem to have been left out in the cold. The parents are obviously considered inconsequential by both the courts and the doctors. That physicians can move a court in such cases against the will of the parents undermines the very basis of the doctor-patient relationship, and the trust that patients might have in their doctor. That the family is not taken into consideration while deciding whether or not to operate is the biggest catch in this dilemma. To impose an experimental operation on a child against the parents’ will is placing both the child and the parents in significant danger.

To deny the separation of Natasha and Courtney while forcing the separation of Jodie and Mary is a blatant sign of inconsistency in justice as well as an infiltration of the rights of the individual. While such cases are rare, they should not be used as an opportunity for doctors to experiment on patients. Parents of a child who will require years of successive surgery, that too on an experimental basis, with only a small likelihood of success should be allowed to make their own choice. Although parental choice is obviously not paramount when it comes to taking such decisions, the courts cannot neglect it totally. They should realize that while such separations are ethically permissible, they are under no circumstances ethically obligatory.


As per the National Sample Survey of 1991, there are 7 million disabled persons in need of jobs. Though about 65.55 per cent of the organizations covered under this research study provide placement services, the average annual rate of employment seems to be only 30.85 per cent. The task ahead is enormous. Non-government organizations need to review their placement and vocational training services. In our society an individual’s worth is often judged by his or her contribution to society, and employment has evolved to become a major factor in evaluating this worth. Many surveys conducted to find the needs of disabled people show that work and income are their most priority needs. A job gets them respect not only from others, but also from their own family members.

The data collected from these 119 NGOs reflects that 51.85 per cent of disabled people said to have been “placed” in jobs are actually self-employed. The job market does not seem to be prepared in terms of attitudes, finance and infrastructure to include disabled people in the workforce of our country. It could also be that the kind of education and training received by disabled people is unable to prepare them for employment. Placement and training in regular jobs would probably cost less than training in non-vocational programmes, work adjustments or long-term sheltered employment, which usually does not result in regular paid employment.

Out of all disabled people placed in jobs in the last two years by 115 NGOs, only one-fourth (25.04 per cent) were women with disabilities. Disabled women who are also financially dependent form probably the most vulnerable group in the world.

…The data revealed that 88.27 per cent of disabled people placed by 119 participating organizations get an income of less than Rs 2,000 per month and only 11.73 per cent earn above Rs 2,000 per month. It seems that either the disabled people are in very low posts or that even in a higher post they are being discriminated against and are getting lower wages compared to their “able-bodied” counterparts. Probably the limitations of the educational services and vocational/professional training restrict them to low-paying jobs. Disabled people are forced to accept the situation because “some job and some money is better than no job and no money”. About 51.85 per cent of the people are self-employed. As is obvious, the self-employment schemes or efforts seem to provide little profit for the disabled persons. An income of Rs 1,000 per month is insufficient to provide even the basic necessities of life.

…A total of 163 placement staff has been able to place 4,812 disabled people in the last two years. The ratio of staff and disabled people thus works out to 1:15. We are aware that more than 7 million disabled people need jobs. Keeping in mind the trends revealed by this research study, not only does the number of staff involved in placement services need to be increased significantly but also their method of working must be reviewed to increase their efficiency.

Many of the participating organizations mentioned that they do not have a placement unit but have been able to get placements for quite a number of their beneficiaries. This is done on the basis of personal contacts of the heads of these organizations and the staff. Such placement services are thus ad hoc. A long-term sustainable solution to the problem is yet to be discovered.

…Though 1,628 private sector companies were approached in the last two years by the 115 respondent organizations only 1,157 disabled people could find jobs in this sector. While 804 public sector companies were approached, the data indicates that only 220 disabled people got jobs. The contrast between the efforts and the impact is only too evident, in spite of the passage of the Disability Act 1995.

To be concluded



A difficult path to tread

Sir — The recent assasination of the Afghan minister for air transport and tourism, Abdul Rahman, clearly shows that the new interim government of Hamid Karzai has tough times ahead (“Minister murdered, not lynched: Karzai”, Feb 16). The Karzai government’s efforts to maintain law and order face insurmountable obstacles from the Afghans, who have lived through decades of war and thus have a natural propensity to take the law into their own hands. Reports of trouble during a soccer match between an Afghan team and the foreign troops is evidence of this (“Off-pitch trouble at Kabul game of unity”, Feb 16). Rahman’s murder highlights the problems confronting the United States of America-backed regime which is struggling to come to terms with the squabbling rival ethnic groups, even as it tries to rebuild the country’s war ravaged economy. The least Karzai can demand is greater cooperation from the people of his country to work together for a better future.

Yours faithfully,
Salim Ali, Hyderabad

UP country polls

n Sir — The reports, “Press button or face bullet” (Feb 9), and, “Police primer on UP poll nominees” (Feb 7), are a pointer to the malaise plaguing Indian democracy. If criminals like daku samrat Dadua are allowed to get away with canvassing for votes by threatening people at gunpoint, soon it will be impossible for “honest”, “clean” candidates to seek representation in legislatures through free and fair elections. It is shocking that as much as 20 per cent of the candidates in the Uttar Pradesh elections have criminal records. If these criminals do get elected, it will only add to the people’s woes besides threatening the principles on which our democracy is founded.

Corruption, criminalization and communalization have become the principal threats to our democracy, touted as the largest democracy in the world. So long as power and pelf are allowed to dominate, the electoral process can never be free and fair. The Centre, the Election Commission, legal luminaries and the media should intervene to arrest this decline of Indian democracy.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhusan Saha, Balurghat

Sir — Our politicians make tall promises to the gullible electorate in order to win elections. The Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, had promised to reserve jobs for Muslims before the last assembly elections in West Bengal. Since she did not win, her promise lay unfulfilled and has probably been forgotten by now. The Samajwadi Party chief, Mulayam Singh Yadav, hung the same carrot before the Muslim electorate in the run up to the Uttar Pradesh elections. To counter Yadav’s game plan, the Bahujan Samaj Party leader, Mayavati, has given tickets to a large number of Muslim candidates. Muslim leaders know well that reservations for their community are not possible under the present Constitution, which forbids all discrimination on the basis of religion. The SP or the BSP do not at present have the requisite muscle in the Central legislature to change the statute books in order to fulfil their promises to the electorate.

In a bid to attract young voters, Yadav has also promised to repeal the anti-copying act promulgated by the earlier Bharatiya Janata Party government headed by Kalyan Singh and withdraw 14,000 cases pending against students who have cheated. Indeed, dishonesty is the middle name of politicians in our country.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Captain’s burden

Sir — While Sourav Ganguly should consider himself lucky at being retained as the captain of the Indian cricket team, it is unfortunate that Steve Waugh has been dropped from the Australian team which will play the one-day international series against South Africa. The team’s failure to reach the finals of the recently concluded tri-series has alarmed the Australian Cricket Board, which did not take very long to take the decision to sack Waugh.

Is this not bias? Surely Waugh did not deserve such treatment. The Board of Control for Cricket in India should take a lesson from the ACB on how to manage players.

Unlike the Australian team, Ganguly’s men have not been performing well, except for a few players. Ganguly should concentrate on his batting skills, rather than the captaincy. For, if he fails to deliver against Zimbabwe, the hammer is sure to fall on his head. If the BCCI continues with its hamhanded ways, the world cup in South Africa will surely be another disaster.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The selectors of the Indian cricket team seem to think they can change captains at will, from one match to the next, depending on the performance of the incumbent. With the world cup only a year away, Sourav Ganguly has been appointed captain — but only for the home series against Zimbabwe (“Sourav set to stay captain”, Feb 5). Does this mean that if the selectors are dissatisfied, they will replace him, and that if he performs better than they expected, he will be given a further extension?

Compare this to the approach of the Australians. Despite being one of Australia’s most successful captains, the cricket board of that country has dropped Steve Waugh from the one-day international team. And rightly so. Nobody, however successful his past record, should be allowed to rest on his laurels. If India is to come anywhere near winning the next world cup, the Indian selectors must concentrate on evolving a strategy for the team instead of changing skippers on a day-to-day basis.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Lost link

Sir — The editorial, “Language games” (Feb 3), rightly points out the fallacy in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s arguments for Hindi as the “link” language in India. Language is not a political issue that can be decided without regard for public convenience. The best course for the government would be to maintain the status quo without unsettling those who are comfortable with English as a link language.

Why did Vajpayee suddenly plead in favour of Hindi, when the importance of English as a link language has long been established in India? People from the Hindi belt will welcome Vajpayee’s idea, but he will cut a sorry figure if he tries to impose his linguistic fanaticism on other states. Vajpayee’s discomfort with English — the one probable reason for his sudden suggestion — is a personal weakness and should have no bearing on policy decisions.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s suggestion that Hindi should be made the link language in India is absurd (“Atal seeks to connect states with Hindi link”, Feb 2). In this present age of advanced technology and globalization, the importance of English as a means of communication cannot be denied. The idea that Hindi should be India’s link language finds appeal only in north India. Vajpayee should know that the southern and northeastern states will never accept Hindi as a link language. The suggestion seems designed to appease the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the sangh parivar.

Yours faithfully,
Kumarish Chand, Burdwan

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