Editorial 1/ Foot and mouth
Editorial 2/ Sectioned off
As the prime minister waits
Fifth Column/ Distant dream of minimum support
Tyrants in their backyard
Document/ The method in the madness
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ FOOT AND MOUTH 
 
 
 
 
Doublespeak is a part of foreign policy but India’s ministry of external affairs sometimes takes one’s breath away with the double standards it so gratuitously deploys. Its latest pronouncements are evidence of this. The MEA has righteously declared that India does not appreciate interference in its internal affairs. This was in response to comments made by some foreign diplomats on the events in Gujarat. India, of course, has the right to pass comments on what is happening inside other countries. It does not strike the mandarins in South Block that if India’s diplomats and politicians can make comments on what is happening elsewhere, so can others. The silliness of such comments is grounded in a complete ignorance of the realities of the modern world. In the age of electronic media and television, where the world has been reduced to a global village, the distinction between “external” and “internal” has become largely irrelevant. Anything of consequence happening anywhere in the world gets across to the rest of the world in a matter of hours and it is no longer possible to cover up with official verbiage the real nature of events. Bluffing is no longer easy. This may have made the job of MEA spokesmen across the world more difficult but it has led to greater awareness among people who previously were misled by misinformation emanating from the chanceries of the world.

The violence in Gujarat, which has been continuing for over one month, began as a pogrom directed against the Muslims of Ahmedabad and other towns of Gujarat. The perpetrators were Hindu fundamentalists. The state administration, for the first two or three days, stood by and did nothing. There are allegations that the chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi, not only failed to carry out his responsibility but, in fact, had also encouraged the violence. The killings and the role of the state government; the refusal of the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to dismiss Mr Modi and the endorsement of Mr Modi by the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party are all reprehensible and indefensible. All these have adversely affected India’s image in the world and might even sour India’s relations with some of the key powers in world politics. The scale of the violence allows all who are concerned with the future of humanity to express their horror and their fear at the proximity of Hindu fundamentalism to state power in India. This is a time when officials in the MEA should get down to some serious damage limitation. Instead they, at the bidding of their political masters, spend their time making meaningless statements which make them look somewhat ridiculous. Morality may have no place in diplomacy but surely shame does.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ SECTIONED OFF 
 
 
 
 
It is always difficult to explain a delayed reaction. The deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha, Mr P.M. Sayeed, has at last decided to go ahead with the discussion on Gujarat in the house under Section 184, that is, with voting. This has been the opposition’s demand from the beginning of this session of Parliament and all business in the house had been stalled until the deputy speaker gave his ruling. Since Mr Sayeed clearly had a whole arsenal of reasons to decide on discussion with voting, it is quite inexplicable that he should have allowed order in the house to go haywire for so many days. He was evidently trying to achieve consensus in the house before giving his ruling. The Bharatiya Janata Party had no objection to discussion on Gujarat under Section 193, that is, without voting. That would have entirely defeated the opposition’s purpose. So the hope for consensus was always an impossible one. But most important, it is surely not the deputy speaker’s task to achieve consensus. In the absence of the speaker, he has to make decisions in exactly this kind of a situation when the house is divided.

It would seem that almost everyone in the precincts of Parliament House is affected by the ailment of either indecision or some degree of irresponsibility. The wasted days of the session cost the exchequer an inordinate amount of public money. It is a very good thing that Mr Sayeed has at last made up his mind. But it is rather doubtful whether the outcome will help either Gujarat or the confusion on the political scene. Losing in the vote count would mean a terrible loss of face for the BJP, it would be a moral indictment which the government may not survive. So far, however, the BJP seems in no immediate danger. The party has seen to it that the teeth of the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamool Congress are drawn, and is also seeing to it that the Bahujan Samaj Party brings its numbers to weigh on its side. The BJP is unlikely to lose its majority even if Gujarat is discussed under Section 184, unless its partners take a firm decision on the other side. The BJP is repeatedly declaring its confidence on this score. So it remains rather puzzling that the prime minister reportedly called Mr Sayeed’s ruling “unfortunate”. After that, however, the prime minister’s office went into the exercise of clarification, by now routine, saying that Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that “the wording of the ruling was unfortunate”. The BJP’s evident resentment is strange, since when it was in opposition it had invoked the same section more than once. Accusing the deputy speaker of pushing party interests is not very becoming either. But it is not the BJP alone which is specializing in doublespeak. If it does nothing else, the voting under Section 184 will expose the doublespeak of every party.

   

 
 
AS THE PRIME MINISTER WAITS 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
Pressure continues to mount on the prime minister to dismiss Narendra Modi. Pressure from his National Democratic Alliance allies, the opposition parties, and from more and more forums of public opinion throughout the country. Gujarat, once seen as the cradle of entrepreneurship and enterprise, is now perceived as another name for the land of murderers and bigoted goons. Many have been painfully surprised at the propensity that some in that state have shown for savagery of a kind that would have filled the Nazis with horror and disgust. True, many people there are not cast in this mould, and many are trying desperately to help the victims of the cruelty of the self-confessed devotees of Rama. But today the image of the inhabitant of the state is not theirs; it is of the red-eyed, hate-filled, slavering fiends with spears and knives in their hands. They probably take the name of the lord Rama as they dash the brains out of a child or disembowel a woman; they worship in the only way they know, with blood and flesh streaming from their hands as they invoke the name of the lord.

Pressure of another kind is also being exerted on the hapless prime minister. It is from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party, to keep Narendra Modi the “hero of Hindus” — a salutation only those as stupidly bigoted as the VHP could have coined — and their pressure is a combination of strident jingoism. Everyone is a Hindu because they live in Hindustan, one of them is supposed to have declared with porcine eyes gleaming. This, when we live in India, or Bharat, the only other name of the country recognized by the Constitution. Hindustan, as even the VHP knows, is what Pakistan calls this country.

It’s obvious that the prime minister is waiting for a time when one of three things happen: the pressure to dismiss Modi lessens; or the pressure to retain him lessens; or Modi himself gets his act together, restores order (which can be done in 24 hours) and ensures the effective rehabilitation of victims and their families irrespective of their religion.

The last alternative is so unlikely as to be laughable, so it can be ruled out at once. Modi and order? Modi and rehabilitation? The concepts seem grotesquely unreal. The terrible fact is that he knows exactly what he is doing and he is doing it in a systematic, calculated manner. And what he is doing seems to have nothing to do with either the restoration of order or the rehabilitation of victims of the carnage in his state.

The second is almost equally unlikely, although there is a faint possibility that, in the context of the beating the BJP has been given in recent elections, and more so if the pressure to remove Modi grows, there may be some in the highest levels of the BJP who may be uncertain of the wisdom of continuing with a chief minister so widely seen as a supporter of killers, of rioting and looting. But it’s a long shot; the chances are that the BJP will persist in its present irresistible urge to press the self-destruct button.

The third is, sadly, the most likely to happen. There are many very evident reasons for this; the reported survey by the Congress of its chances is one of the most formidable, and we can expect to see the Congress begin to waffle and bluster but not actually demand Modi’s removal. And then we have the likes of N. Chandrababu Naidu, once acclaimed by your columnist as the finest chief minister in the country but now revealed as being little more than a bahurupiya, a quick change artist, who says, treading skilfully through political land mines, that changing Modi will make no difference. Add to these the power of money, which will make loudly vocal politicians suddenly look the other way, be discreetly absent when they are needed, and you can see why the possibility of a full-throated united demand to remove Modi begins to look less and less likely.

While the prime minister waits, as he so obviously is doing, what of the hundreds who have been butchered, their families, and those who have been pauperized by thugs? Nothing. When have deaths meant anything to power-brokers in today’s democracy? The days of Jawaharlal Nehru are over; he may have been a dreamer, an idealist, not really a part of the people even though he tried to be, but with him true democracy died. All we have left are empty rituals and conventions which are abused as openly and repeatedly as the thugs in Gujarat violated helpless women and girls. All we have left are some little people, who strut and fret their hour upon the stage and then are heard no more. The deaths in Gujarat are, collectively, an instrument to be used for political manoeuvring, part lever, part tactic.

Could Atal Bihari Vajpayee have not told his party that Modi had to go, and if they didn’t like it he would drive up to Rastrapati Bhavan and give in his resignation? He might argue that had he done so the country would have been plunged into catastrophic instability. Really? Is the process of governance so frail here, is Vajpayee so indispensable to the democratic system that were he to go the deluge would follow? He, more than anyone else, knows the answer to these questions and so that argument does not hold. What does is the fear of losing power. Any number of deaths are worth it.

Death and the democratic system have had a curious relationship, not just here but in other places seen as democratic. Look at the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and, before him, of Abraham Lincoln. Look at the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. It is said that after Gandhi was killed, although the leaders wept publicly, many were secretly glad he had died, so that the political process became less complex, more amenable to control — their control.

That is, finally, the measure of our democratic system of government, which we exhibit so proudly to the world. It’s beginning to look more like what flashers do to women, an offence that warrants punishment. The professed concern for justice, equality, freedom of expression now stands revealed for what it really is; they are political instruments, like the deaths in Gujarat, to be used to further specific political agendas. Poor Rabindranath Tagore, he dreamt of a heaven of freedom where the mind is without fear, and every citizen holds his head high, and he prayed that his country would awake in that heaven. The key word is, obviously, “awake”. That state has yet to come; we live in a comatose state, kept that way because of our indifference.

It may take more than the likes of Modi to awaken us; as evidence of that, observe how the prime minister, who knows only too well what horrors were perpetrated by citizens on fellow citizens in Gujarat, prefers to wait. Waiting to wake up in that heaven of freedom Tagore spoke of? That requires action, Mr Prime Minister, not inaction.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ DISTANT DREAM OF MINIMUM SUPPORT 
 
 
BY JAYDEV JANA
 
 
There is no dearth of reform proposals for revamping India’s food and agriculture policies, but they are often hostage to vested interest. The consistent ratcheting up of minimum support prices for agricultural commodities has distorted relative prices between alternate agricultural activities, land-use patterns as well as the consumption of inputs. But attempts to freeze them get frustrated by political manoeuvres. The National Democratic Alliance government has dumped the reform agenda and raised MSP for rabi wheat by Rs 10 per quintal for the marketing season of 2002-2003, despite the recommendations of the commission for agricultural cost and prices to the contrary.

Policies of food procurement and MSP for agricultural commodities in India have never been meant to help farmers. In the last rabi season (April-August, 2001), traders of Uttar Pradesh bought around one lakh tonne of wheat at prices ranging from Rs 450 to Rs 550 from poor and marginal farmers and sold the stocks to procuring agencies in Punjab at MSP of Rs 610 per quintal. This is not an isolated case. While traders and rich farmers profit from MSP, poor and marginal farmers are victimized by exploitative prices.

The rise in MSP since the mid- Nineties has been sharper than the rise in the consumer price index or the wholesale price index. The prices offered by the government are always higher than the prevailing market prices.

Behind the rot

As a result, farmers dump their surplus grains in the government’s rotting stockpile instead of selling them to the procurement agencies, which have the infrastructure to store them.

Buffer stocks thus continue to swell. Already, more than 58 million tonnes of rice and wheat are in the godowns as buffer stock, while the minimum annual requirement is 25 million tonnes. It is expected that at the new MSP, an additional 20 million tonnes of wheat will be stocked, resulting in the procurement of around one-third of the world’s total wheat stocks. In case of rice, stocks are expected to reach an all-time high of 30 million tonnes by October this year. The government has become the biggest hoarder of food in Indian history, thanks to annual ratcheting up of MSP. The rise in stocks means rise in storage cost, loss due to deterioration in quality and rise in food subsidy.

How stocks of foodgrains are deteriorating is revealed from a World Bank report which states that half the stock of the Food Corporation of India is at least two years old, 30 per cent two to four years old, and some grains as old as 16 years. No wonder exported supplies are rejected and stocks released by the FCI at prices below its economic costs are mostly used for animal feed.

Policies that kill

Food subsidy has increased from Rs 6,066 crore in 1996-97 to Rs 12,042 crore in 2000-01 and is expected to rise to Rs 20,200 crore in 2001-02. Ironically, the share of consumer subsidy in food has been declining over these years, indicating that the increase in food subsidy is mainly because of the rising carrying costs. There remain a misalignment between MSP, the acquisition costs of the FCI and the public distribution system issue price. To stem the drain on the exchequer, PDS issue prices have to be increased. That ultimately leads to increase in open market prices.

At the initial stage of the green revolution, the main objective of government intervention in agricultural market, buying foodgrains at MSP and so on was maximization of food production to make the country self-sufficient and building up of buffer stocks of foodgrains. But continuing such intervention, specially by incrementing MSP every year, serves the interests of a few groups rather than the society.

Intervention policy here is determined by the interest of farming groups which ultimately decide the fate of political parties in our country. They push for price support for their products and other subsidies, but they are less enthusiastic about encouraging the government to sponsor productivity by facilitating projects like irrigation and agricultural researches. The government now needs to rise above its political compulsions and pressures to lighten its economic burden posed by MSP for rice and wheat.

   

 
 
TYRANTS IN THEIR BACKYARD 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
Far away from Gujarat, in Dum Dum, on the northern suburbs of Calcutta, people are living in constant fear of a handful of goons. The colour of these goons’ badge of courage is not saffron, but red. They are the stormtroopers not of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, but of the ruling Marxists of Bengal. Although any comparison with Gujarat is preposterous, there is good reason to raise an alarm over the Dum Dum outrage, which the political opponents of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have failed to do.

It is for the police and the courts to prove if Dulal Banerjee, the CPI(M) strongman of Dum Dum who has been arrested for masterminding the murder of two former party activists, also with criminal antecedents, was actually responsible for the crime. Even if he is proved guilty, one could say there is nothing new about party-backed criminals holding common people to ransom. Worthies like him are everywhere adding firepower to politicians’ race for power.

What is new, however, is the way the CPI(M) leadership has reacted to the events leading to Banerjee’s arrest. One has to be exceptionally gullible to be taken in by the party leadership’s playacting. We are told the party is planning disciplinary action against Banerjee and his gang members, that it has censured the veteran leader of the Calcutta district committee, Rajdeo Goala, for publicly supporting Banerjee even after his arrest and that a two-member party inquiry committee has been set up to find out how the musclemen struck such deep roots in the Dum Dum unit.

The party leadership must be extraordinarily cynical to believe that the show of disciplinary action can wash off its guilt in the public eye. Anil Biswas and his colleagues among the party top brass know that the party unit in the North 24 Paraganas, to which Dum Dum belongs, has long been festering with factional rivalries, muscle and money power and many other ailments. It was the first district unit of the CPI(M) that witnessed revolts and desertions way back in 1978. The murky affairs of the unit came to light once again in two recent incidents — the arrest of some criminals wanted by the police at the Salt Lake stadium complex, where they were allegedly sheltered by the state transport minister, Subhas Chakraborty, who is an influential faction leader of the district, and the murder of Sailen Das, a respected party leader who was also the chairman of the Dum Dum municipality.

It is difficult to believe, therefore, that Biswas — or even the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — knew nothing about the criminal activities of partymen like Banerjee before the murders in which he has been implicated. One wonders what stopped the leadership from taking action against the erring members before the murders. And this is not the first time that one has heard complaints about Banerjee and his group being involved in extortion rackets, illegal property deals and such other activities.

Obviously, party leaders looked the other way because they did not want more trouble in a troublesome unit. Or, they were powerless to stem the rot. If they are now putting up even a pretence of acting tough, it must be because the murders have brought the inner-party squabbles out in the open.

The problem is that these murderous wranglings are not just matters of party discipline. Criminals may serve party interests but they also work against public interest and threaten public peace. The people in Dum Dum or elsewhere in the North 24 Paraganas are not really bothered about which faction controls the party’s district leadership. But they cannot live in peace if the battle for party supremacy gives them a sense of insecurity.

The chief minister and his party colleagues must therefore understand that bringing a party-backed criminal to book cannot be merely a matter of party discipline; the objective should be to assure the people that their interests, and not the party’s, are of utmost importance. It is not enough that the party did not stand in the way of Banerjee’s arrest this time; it must take the blame that it wants the inquiry committee to fix on its Dum Dum members.

The evidence of the party’s past actions in similar cases does not inspire much confidence about its honesty of purpose. Subhas Chakraborty did not even get a reprimand from the leadership over the Salt Lake stadium episode. Although the police arrested the prime accused in the Sailen Das murder case, the party’s promised purge of criminal elements in the area did not come about. In a more glaring example of cynical disregard of public opinion, Lakshmi Dey, who was suspended from the party for his association with the main accused in the Bowbazar blast of 1993, was rehabilitated not only as a member of the state assembly, but to his former position as chief whip of the Left Front legislature party.

Few know and understand this record of so-called disciplinary actions better than the hardened, party-propped criminals. No wonder the associates of Dum Dum’s Banerjee are openly threatening rivals with retaliatory strikes once the media noise over the incident dies down and they can get back to business as usual. Actually, the CPI(M) leadership too would hope that, despite the inquiry committee and little party shake-ups, the Dum Dum shame would fade from public memory like so many others before it.

The Dum Dum saga is disturbing for yet another reason. The police are said to have arrested Banerjee after the chief minister gave them the go-ahead. But why should the police need the green signal from the state’s chief executive if they have enough evidence about somebody’s involvement in a crime? The answer obviously points to the party’s shadow over the police. And, even the chief minister’s writ does not always run at lower levels, where the police station and the party’s local committee operate in tandem for each other’s benefit. Although Bhattacharjee keeps promising to change things, Dum Dum shows he has an uphill task ahead.

There is something sinister about taking the high moral ground in public — on Gujarat or some other national issue — and being little tyrants in your own backyard. If the police in Ahmedabad are to be blamed for acting like VHP members, the police in Dum Dum cannot be hailed as angels for singing the Marxist tunes. The CPI(M) members subverting the law and committing crimes cannot be any better than others who do the same in the name of some other ideology. The crimes in Dum Dum — and the partymen’s involvement in them — cannot be any less condemnable just because they are not communal or because they are nothing compared to the scale of the Gujarat mayhem.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ THE METHOD IN THE MADNESS 
 
 
 
 
Voices from Pandarava village, Panchmahal district: one of the worst atrocities reported is from the village of Pandarava, where according to some reports 100 people were killed. The official figure is 21. There was no way to confirm the number. But the delegation met the survivors... in the Civil Hospital, Godhra. From their accounts it would appear that a mob of adivasis were trucked in by the sarpanch of the village. They surrounded Muslim houses, burnt and attacked the inhabitants. There was Sakina Bibi Sayyad, who looked about 65... She had sword wounds on her breasts, both hands and neck. She was cut up by the attackers when she was trying to save her sons... She knew nothing of the fate of her five sons and three daughters whom others fear dead .

Yusufbhai from the same village was lying on his hospital bed with his small children, unable to speak. The mob that attacked their houses pushed an iron rod into his mouth.... His wound is still bleeding...

Fatima Bibi Shaikh and Fatima Bibi, wife of Irshad, also from the same village are both in the hospital with severe injuries caused by cuts from swords. They too were trying to save their husbands. The latter’s husband was killed. Zohra saw her husband Ayub and mother-in-law Amina killed before her eyes. I tried to save them, she cries, holding out her arm broken in several places by Thakeras and the sarpanch, Jaswant Patel. A child Moin, just 5 years old, barely escaped being killed lies injured in the hospital. The people from the village who were in the hospital, looking after their injured family members, told us that they were attacked in their homes by many villagers, including Thakeras. Some of them escaped and spent the night in the fields. They returned to the village in the morning and found more than a hundred homes had been burnt and they fear that nearly a hundred people may have been killed...

From the testimonies of the survivors, the violence in the villages seem to have followed the same pattern. Some people in the village, along with outsiders who came in trucks, attacked all Muslim houses. In many of the areas, those trucked in were adivasis. The survivors could not understand the involvement of adivasis. We have never had any tension with them earlier, they said.

In the camp, Mohommad Ishtiaq from Mora village told us that there are 115 Muslim and 500 Hindu houses in his village. He said that on March 1 after the namaaz, a crowd of a hundred or so, of whom about 50 were from the village, attacked them but they were able to offer some resistance and they went away. At 8 pm a much bigger crowd came and burnt 23 houses. An hour later, the deputy superintendent of police came to the village. They begged him for help but he left. Nor did he send the police. As a result the village faced two more attacks; one at 2 in the morning and again the next day. This was when the delegation heard of the use of explosives. “They used something which blew up our houses.” They said, “You should be happy that we are only burning your houses.”

Trucks, shops and agricultural implements belonging to the Muslims were destroyed. About 250 of them took shelter in the masjid and another 116 in Haji Ishaq’s house. Two thirds were women and children. They were all brought to the camp by the Border Security Force. This testimony gave an indication that the attacks were also geared towards wiping out all traces of Muslim property so that it could more easily be occupied.

We also met Ghani Bhai from the same village at the camp. He said that on the evening of March 27, he was in Limkheda where some attacks were made. His motor-cycle was burnt but he was able to go back to his village. At 2 am, about 70 houses in his village were burnt. The next day, the burning started at 8 am and continued all day till 10 pm. All the inhabitants tried to escape. Some found shelter with Bijalbhai Damor. B and her family were also there he said. The taluka panchayat sarpanch, Lallubhai Parmar, sheltered another 80 people who were brought safely to the camp. Clearly, unlike many of the local politicians who either led the mobs or remained silent, these two leaders played an important role in saving the victims.

to be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

They’ve got it all wrong

Sir — It is hardly surprising that the recent judgment of the supreme court of the United States of America, which has struck down the controversial Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996, has invited sharp criticism from American lawmakers and legal experts alike (“Whew! Romeo is safe”, April 18). This is understandable, given the rising incidence of child sexual abuse in the US. But the act which clamped down on any visual depiction of “a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct”, also betrayed an ignorance of the realities of American society. Critics of the judgment also show that ignorance. They overlook the fact that most American teenagers are sexually active, a reality depicted in several Hollywood films. Would it have been fair to ban films like American Beauty where a young Mena Suvari seduces a forty-plus Kevin Spacey? Surely, the law needs to make some distinction between child sexual abuse and the consensual relationship between two people.
Yours faithfully,
Arundhati Dutta Gupta, Calcutta

Why do we read literature?

Sir — May I be allowed the liberty to engage in throwing another metacritical pie that literary critics are wont to throw at each other? Amit Chaudhuri, in “Poets in commerce” (April 7), however, may be exonerated from this crime. His reading concentrates on texts by Toru Dutt and Henry Derozio. But Ananda Lal’s response to Chaudhuri (“The precursors”, March 28) overlooks Chaudhuri’s stress on Dutt’s pioneering aesthetic and highlights the historical importance of the writings of Rammohun Roy and Derozio.

Lal’s appreciation of Roy suits us fine, but in all this historicist hullabaloo where is the aesthetic achievement which would make us proud? Notwithstanding the serious engagement scholars ought to have with the historical, one cannot help agreeing with the categorization of Roy’s writings as the “literature of knowledge” rather than the “literature of power”. Roy assumes special significance in his translations from Bengali and Sanskrit into English (“An Abridgement of the Vedant”, 1816), and of the “Precepts of Jesus” into Sanskrit and Bengali. But their “literary value” is debatable. Being grateful to Roy for being a literary predecessor is almost like thanking one’s primary school teacher for teaching one the English alphabet.

Dutt’s aesthetic of memory and anticipation (in the much anthologized “Our Casuarina Tree”) is perhaps the first cry in Indo-Anglian literature (very different from Madhusudan’s) of the typical postcolonial situation of remembering the nation. Her “own loved native clime” is a different nation from Derozio’s “native land”, the former being Rushdie’s imaginary homeland. Dutt’s “Kokila” — undoubtedly very different from Derozio’s “Surya” — was a pioneering cry which allows her successors a hundred years later to use the visual emblem of Lakshmi’s footprint in their work. I am in no way suggesting an anxiety of influence working among Dutt’s successors.

If I have not “misread” Chaudhuri’s telling of this tale, then his reading of Dutt, Derozio or the other “gentlemen poets” was not at all a defensive reading. The argument between Chaudhuri and Lal revives the old debate from the critic’s box: why do we study literature? Or, why do we read the Ramayana and the Mahabharata? To know about the Vedic age? I am not so sure. May be Lal could convince me otherwise. Till then, I will read Chaudhuri’s “St. Cyril road, Bombay” for the pleasure that it gives me, not as a cartography of Mumbai.

Yours faithfully,
Sumana R. Ghosh, Darjeeling

Sir — Prompted by the announcement of literary prizes like the Booker and the Pulitzer, Indian newspapers frequently publish articles these days highlighting the achievements of Indian writers in English. But very few people have heard of Dhan Gopal Mukherji, a non-resident Indian, who was awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal for his contribution to children’s literature in 1928. Mukherji received the prize for his book, Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon. Perhaps he ought to be remembered and respected in India today.

Yours faithfully,
Manojendu Majumdar, Calcutta

Bad timing

Sir — It is good that the deadlock in the Lok Sabha over Gujarat has come to an end and a debate on the matter will be held on April 30 under Rule 184 (“Six-day war verdict lies with Sayeed”, April 23). The Rajya Sabha deadlock however continues. In all probability, the government will win this round with support from key allies like the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamool Congress. But there are bound to be further impasses on this subject in the house. Although it is not unusual for Parliament to be adjourned in a democracy, such repeated deadlocks of late have blocked important bills and cost the exchequer crores of rupees. Had the present impasse continued for a few more days, both the railway and the general budgets would have been passed without discussion. The government would then have registered another moral victory by escaping the criticism that would have come its way during a discussion of the budget. That Atal Bihari Vajpayee had earlier challenged the opposition by daring it to table a no-confidence motion against the government, shows that the Bharatiya Janata Party already knows about the futility of the opposition’s gambit.
Yours faithfully,
Naina Roy, Kanpur

Sir — I fail to understand the point of having Parliament sessions when both houses remain adjourned for six days in a row without the transaction of any business. Despite the fact that no work was done during this time, members of parliament will still draw hefty allowances and perquisites. Anyone who has had the misfortune of watching a live telecast of the proceedings of Parliament will conclude that utter chaos prevails in the world’s largest democracy. It is much better to watch Sachin Tendulkar perform than see our leaders engage in a bull-fight on the floor of the house.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Can India claim to be a civilized nation if the behaviour of its MPs is anything to go by? There is a time and manner for any kind of protest. Given that the finance bill has not been passed as yet, the protests of the opposition seem to have been ill-timed and unfortunate. Instead of disrupting the proceedings of the house on weekdays, MPs could have had demonstrations on the weekends. It is also imperative that the members adhere to the code of conduct formulated by the former speaker, G.M.C. Balayogi.

Yours faithfully,
M. Kumar, New Delhi

Filmdom comes

Sir — It was heartening to read about Shyam Benegal’s decision to make a film on Subhas Chandra Bose (“Benegal hunts for his Bose”, April 19). Even if Benegal does not manage to get a good actor to play Bose, he will be able to draw out a brilliant performance from an average performer. What would be interesting to watch is Benegal’s treatment of the mysterious disappearance of Bose in 1945 or what happened after that. The film is bound to attract a great deal of attention in India, especially in West Bengal. One hopes that the government of West Bengal will cooperate with Benegal in the film production.
Yours faithfully,
S. Poddar, Calcutta

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