Editorial 1 / Frost in almaty
Editorial 2 / Price of power
Taming the general
Fifth Column / Deeper into the troubled waters
Rethink on the fundamentals
Document / How to make all roads lead to India
Letters to the editor

It is still too early to assert that India’s relations with Pakistan have moved beyond the crisis. There are, however, signs that behind the rhetoric, Islamabad may be in the process of clamping down on terrorist groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir and prevent their infiltration into India. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Pervez Musharraf may have avoided all contact at Almaty, but the conditions may be in the process of being created which could lead to the gradual de-escalation of tension between the two countries. It had become clear even before the Almaty conference that Mr Musharraf was under a great deal of international pressure to act against terrorist groups. Leaders from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and especially the United States of America had communicated to him, in no uncertain terms, that they held Pakistan primarily responsible for the heightened tensions in south Asia.

Most of these countries had determined that Pakistan’s military regime was doing little to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir. Moreover, they had also concluded that Mr Musharraf was not acting decisively enough against terrorist groups, despite a clear earlier commitment to do so. Many of these terrorist groups may presently be targeting only India, but they view the West as their real enemy and they have had close links with the taliban and al Qaida. India had made it clear that its patience has run out, and that it may be forced to take military action if Mr Musharraf did not translate his private assurances and public promises into action on the ground. The deep public outrage articulated in India after the Kaluchak massacre and Mr Vajpayee’s tour of the line of the control seemed to have convinced the international community that this was not merely an exercise in coercive diplomacy. Any military engagement between India and Pakistan would have complicated, if not jeopardized, American operations against the taliban and al Qaida within Pakistan. Over the last few days, however, Indian intelligence agencies have signalled that they have intercepted reports of terrorist groups in Kashmir being directed by their sponsors in Pakistan to halt action. Whether this is a temporary suspension or an end of the use of terror as an instrument of its policy in Kashmir remains to be seen.

Despite the apparent frostiness at Almaty and the predictably belligerent tone of Mr Musharraf’s speech, there were other notable developments. For one, India’s national security advisor, Mr Brajesh Mishra, indicated that India was ready to take appropriate steps if Mr Musharraf kept his word and took action against terrorists. India has suggested that it is willing to resume the bilateral dialogue once a conducive atmosphere free of violence has been created. For another, Mr Vajpayee signalled a new flexibility in India’s position by suggesting joint India-Pakistan patrolling of the LoC. It now remains to be seen if Mr Musharraf will finally deliver on the commitments he made in his speech on January 12, and on those which now find expression in the Almaty declaration against terrorism and separatism that Pakistan has so enthusiastically signed.


As if Goa was not bad enough, the Congress is again in trouble. The chief minister of Maharashtra, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, has 10 days’ grace after which he will have to prove the majority of his Democratic Front government on the floor of the house. With 21 desertions, Mr Deshmukh’s government has suddenly lost majority. The erosion began a few days ago, when members of the Peasants and Workers Party decided to withdraw support to the Democratic Front in protest against the return of Mr Sunil Tatkare into the cabinet. Mr Tatkare of the Nationalist Congress Party had resigned in March at the insistence of the PWP, because he had been accused of conniving with the Shiv Sena in Raigad to defeat the PWP on its home turf in the zilla parishad elections. The NCP had objected at the time. Torn between two partners, either of whose departure could endanger his government, Mr Deshmukh had first let Mr Tatkare go, and then re-inducted him. The rot had begun. Members, not only of the PWP, but of the Janata Dal (Secular), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the NCP and nine independents have withdrawn support. The tiff is no longer limited to the Tatkare episode; there is obviously something else at work. The Raigad elections had been enough to drive a wedge between allies of the 30-month-old Democratic Front. Waiting quietly had been willing hands to help widen the cracks.

The active waiting might be fruitful. No doubt that is what Shiv Sena’s Mr Narayan Rane, the leader of the opposition, and Mr Gopinath Munde of the Bharatiya Janata Party feel, since they have called on the governor to set matters rolling. The goal would be the toppling of Mr Deshmukh’s government, something that Mr Rane had promised his leader, Mr Bal Thackeray, two and a half years ago. That things took so long may be because the opposition is having trouble within its own ranks. But so far the dissenting NCP, PWP and CPI(M) members have not said they will join the Shiv Sena-BJP combine either. They have time to play around for a while. Mr Deshmukh meanwhile has already inducted three independents into his ministry in a damage control exercise. With another ten days in hand, this ugly tug of war is likely to continue, with the stakes rising every day.


If the sky were clear, as the Indian prime minister claimed, there would have been no war scare in the subcontinent and no mass exit of diplomats’ families. The irony of it is that the very fear of an armed conflict between two hostile neighbours has brought home to the big powers the dangers of a wait-and-see stance. It has also made the United States of America, Britain, Japan and the European Union realize that the first necessary step in easing tension is to pressure Pakistan, which has been cheating on the promise it made in January, into stopping all terrorist infiltrations in Kashmir from bases in its territory.

Pervez Musharraf may not have bargained for the way the leaders of the coalition waging war against international terrorism have hastened to pin down the brazen lie he told in his televised broadcast by claiming that there was nothing happening on the Indian side of the line of control. He forgot that they had their own means of getting at the truth and, in the face of continuing terrorist raids, would not be able to swallow this falsehood, despite their over-indulgence in dealing with a frontline ally.

The sheer gall of the general in trying to pull a fast one on the big powers when there had been, in fact, 300 terrorist raids in Jammu and Kashmir in the last three months, was provocative enough. What outraged them all the more was the nonchalance with which he took them for granted and convinced himself that they would let him get away with such chicanery.

It was time, they thought, to do some plainspeaking and make it the general’s moment of truth. This explains the note of menace in their voice. It was no routine counsel of restraint this time. What George W. Bush said sounded more like a directive. “He (Musharraf) must stop all incursions. He must do so.” The others echoed both the spirit and substance of the message. Colin Powell went even further and told the general that a temporary halt to cross-border terrorism would not do any longer. There must be a permanent end to militant infiltrations.

This demand is an endorsement of the Indian position that there could be no meaningful dialogue or understanding with its neighbour in the midst of a proxy war successive governments in Islamabad have been waging for a decade through a host of jihadi groups identified by the Pakistani media. The people of the state cannot even speak freely in an atmosphere thick with fear and anxiety and vitiated by an economy in disarray and an all too frequent disruption of daily life. A half-traumatized population needs a year or two of complete peace before it can even consider coolly issues bearing on its future.

Even making due allowance for conflicting interests in a war coalition like the one put together in the weeks following September 11 last year, there is no place in it for a country which is itself a centre of the very evil which the rest of the partners are fighting against. It is an accident of geography and political expediency which have made Pakistan a front-line, though reluctant, ally of the US.

The US knew how close were the links between al Qaida, Islamabad, and its protégé taliban regime in Kabul, and how many Pakistani terrorist cadre had their training as well as brainwashing in Afghanistan. It was the painful awareness of the widespread anti-American feelings in Pakistan which made Washington overlook Musharraf’s infractions of the norms of conduct expected of an ally.

The US has also maintained a discreet silence about its suspicion that al Qaida and the taliban leaders including Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar could not have found safe refuge even in the wild tribal belt along the Pak-Afghan border without the collusion of top men in the Inter-Services Intelligence. How can the Pakistan army cooperate fully with the Americans in the search for the most wanted men on their list in these circumstances?

Even so, as many Pakistani mediamen have pointed out, Musharraf gravely misjudged the post-September 11 situation by convincing himself that the issue of the al Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan would be separated by the coalition leaders from that of other countries playing host to jihadi terrorist outfits. Pakistan’s terrorist cadre have the same mindset as the Saudi master-terrorists and the taliban. How can the Americans afford to leave them alone?

Musharraf has no room for any make-believe on how his major allies feel about this menace. The US administration, despite its initial sympathy for him, has come to realize that he cannot be trusted. It also knows that there will be no durable gain from dismantling the al Qaida network, which in any case is still an unfinished job, if similar organizations with the same outlook and the same goals, are allowed to stay in their murderous business. If they are not eliminated soon they will acquire a potential for terror in al Qaida’s scale.

This brings into sharp focus the demand made on the Pakistani president by Western leaders, with Bush leading the pack. Richard Armitage and Donald Rumsfeld will be soon explaining to Musharraf the rationale behind the US’s hard line, particularly in the light of the dangerous situation all along the Indo-Pak border where the armies of the two hostile neighbours have been confronting each other for months. They will also spell out for his benefit the do’s and don’ts of what they expect of him.

If there is to be a permanent end to cross-border terrorism in the subcontinent, Musharraf will have to dismantle networks of not only the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad but also of other jihadi organizations, seize their arms and assets, arrest their ring leaders and rescue a brainwashed society from the evil that has made a shambles of its politics, its economy, as well as its civil society.

Can the general comply with these demands? The answer is that the only instruments available to him to do this job are the army and the police, and they are both teeming with jihadi elements. Its psychopathic hatred of India and determination to have the final say in all crucial policy matters have warped the army’s outlook. A thorough purge of it from top to bottom is the last thing Musharraf will undertake willingly. Though he has often taken highly distasteful and even risky decisions in the past under duress, there is no evidence from Almaty that he will do what the US expects him to.

Sections of both the Pakistani and the Western media are trying to sell the story that Musharraf is by no means in control and certainly in no position to dismantle the networks of the terrorist groups. But a man who can stage a coup from a passenger plane, sack the president, force the apex court judges to take a vow of loyalty to him, and hold a referendum for which there is no provision in Pakistan’s constitution, to secure a five-year tenure as head of state, cannot cite his helplessness as an excuse for not dealing more effectively with a few thousand bigots and fanatics dependent on the government’s patronage in many secret and dubious forms.

The question is whether he is a genuine modernizer or a person with one foot in the jihadi camp, a democrat or, as his track record shows, a new military dictator in the making, in fact a more garrulous clone of Zia ul-Haq. After all, it was a US ultimatum which made him ditch the taliban regime. He has no reason to doubt that the new messages coming from Washington presage another exercise in arm-twisting by the US to bring him round to its new approach to the Kashmir tangle and to the war-like situation in the subcontinent. Perhaps he still hopes against hope that he may be able to resist the new pressure by raising the spectre of a nuclear holocaust.

India has no reason to gloat over what has happened. Though there are new voices in Pakistan today warning the general that his Kashmir policy has failed, and a refusal to come to terms with the post-September 11 ground realities will lead to the country’s economic ruination and political disruption, the mindset of the ruling class developed over decades will take a long time to change. Even the US has not been able to break the back of al Qaida. It remains to be seen whether it can tame the general.

That the US has got its priorities right for the time being may be a good augury. Even so, the dread logic of its squeeze on Pakistan also makes it the key player in Kashmir, and New Delhi should not be surprised if sooner or later US pressure on India to do something against its better judgment also acquires an intimidating edge. The south Asian sky may be clear or cloudy. But on the ground in the region the figure of Uncle Sam looms larger than those of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Musharraf.


The Rs 1,800 crore World Bank-assisted Rajasthan Water Sector Restructuring Project might be the solution to the water crisis in Rajasthan. Initially proposed in 1994, the project envisages in its first phase the rehabilitation of 91 canal irrigation works in the state’s 24 districts which will generate irrigation facilities ensuring equitable distribution of water among farmers and the delivery of water. Through 1,700 water consumer committees, the scheme also hopes for grassroots participation in irrigation management and conservation of ground water. While agricultural production is expected to increase by 3.61 lakh tons a year, water saved from rehabilitation measures will in turn generate additional irrigation in an area of about 1.0 lakh hectares.

Yet, there are fears that the proposed scheme may run into opposition with farmers and government employees, as the project mandates a tripling of water charges over the next five years and also stipulates staff reduction by 30 per cent in all water departments of the state. Since the mid-Nineties, the state has been in dire financial straits. The drought in 26 of the state’s 32 districts is now in its fourth year, plunging Rajasthan into a crisis.

A state in crisis

Successive state governments have always demanded a greater share of Central revenues to deal with the adverse climatic conditions in the state. But they themselves have been a catalyst in accelerating the depletion of water resources by giving farmers cheap or free electricity to pump water out of underground resources faster than the rains can replenish. Irregular land acquisition has also seen unregulated and unauthorized sinking of borewells, leading to the further depletion of the water table.

The new taxes proposed by the state include a 100 per cent increase in the rate of electricity duty and a doubling of the rate of duty for metered supply of water. But in nine years of Bharatiya Janata Party rule, Rajasthan’s debt burden has risen nearly four times, and half the tax revenue goes towards the payment of interest.

The Congress regime had proposed a series of measures to mobilize an additional Rs 762 crore during 1999-2000. But the Ashok Gehlot cabinet dithered in actually implementing these steps, plunging the state into deeper fiscal crisis. By 2000, the state already had financial liabilities of Rs 23,000 crore. This fiscal crisis has left the state inadequately prepared to implement relief measures and programmes for the drought affected.

Relief issues

The issue of famine relief has assumed a political context — with the ruling Congress blaming the Centre for providing inadequate famine relief, and the BJP alleging that the state Congress had not utilized funds properly — the number of people employed in food for work programmes were also restricted in direct violation of the Rajasthan famine code.

Various schemes introduced by the government have also not worked. The Jeevan Dhara scheme, providing open irrigation wells to small farmers cost Rs 74.68 lakhs. But the wells were soon abandoned because the rural development agency failed to conduct a proper survey of the terrain before starting work. A forestry development project was initiated, but nothing has come of it till today.

By the end of 2001, three-quarters of kharif and rabi crops were lost while the lack of drinking water remains the most immediate and pressing problem.

While the government continues to claim that it is focussing on reviving traditional sources of water — community wells, village ponds, and anicuts — to recharge the ground water level, there are signs that this level will only decrease critically in the next few years. The two major sources of ground water in western Rajasthan — the Lathi acquifer in Jaisalmer and the Palana-Nagaur acquifer — need to be conserved urgently. The present water crisis, which has left the government with little option but to meet the World Bank’s stringent conditions, will hopefully result in the adoption of alternative development strategies better suited to local requirements.


A “reformed Left Front” was what Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee meant when he asked for votes for an “improved Left Front” in last year’s assembly election campaign in West Bengal. Small sections of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leadership are still resistant to the word “reform”, with which they assail the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. But Bhattacharjee knew he was seeking a mandate for reform, no matter what the party did or said to make it sound different. Before and immediately after the elections, therefore, he identified three areas for major policy reforms — education, health and industry. Education, however, posed a tougher challenge than the other two .

With ministers like Nirupam Sen and Suryakanta Mishra, two dynamic members of his new cabinet who are also key leaders of the party, reforms in industry and health had better chances of initiation, if not early success. In education, he had a problem with the two ministers — Kanti Biswas and Satya Sadhan Chakraborty — the former known for his stubborn resistance to change and the latter a non-performer who usually busied himself with teachers’ association politics rather than with policy perspectives. Moreover, between them, the state CPI(M) secretary, Anil Biswas, and politburo member, Biman Bose, kept a tighter party control on education than on any other sphere. Bhattacharjee had no hope in hell of reforming education without reforming the two ministers and, more importantly, the party’s attitude to education policies.

The recent decision of the government to relent on the Ramakrishna Mission’s demand — that it be allowed to recruit teachers not from the panel of the school service commission but of its own choice — is a welcome indication of a change of heart and policy. The government’s decision has not been formally announced yet, but both Bhattacharjee and Biswas have suggested that it is a matter of time before the Mission is finally allowed freedom to run its own institutions the way it thought best.

It is a significant decision that underlies a reformist agenda to correct past mistakes. There were signs of it earlier in the government’s decision to re-introduce English in the primary school curriculum, in the decision to set up quality educational institutions like the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences and the Indian Institute of Information Technology and in allowing an increasingly larger role for the private sector in education. The ban on private tuition by school teachers, still rather unstructured in implementation, is prompted by the same impulse to stem the rot in mass education.

There is also a growing acceptance of the fact that one has to pay more for certain kinds of education. It would have been unthinkable in the old Left Front regime, but the newly-introduced bachelor of business administration course of the Calcutta University charges a monthly fee of Rs 4,500. The application form itself costs Rs 1,000!

But the most important change seems to be the admission that there is no necessary conflict between democracy and excellence. The average party functionary may still deny that the populist race for equality doomed the state’s education to a pervasive mediocrity. But Bhattacharjee seems convinced that there is no alternative to a search for excellence if West Bengal has to regain past heights. Without some measure of excellence regained in education, the search for it in health, industry or any other sphere would be futile. But he has to reckon with unreformed party comrades who know that this reform agenda actually mean a wholesale reversal of the left’s two decades-old legacy in education.

It is fundamentally the legacy of the late Promode Dasgupta, the party strongman who reigned supreme over party and government policies in the early years of the Left Front regime. Its motto, in short, was the demolition of the old order in education and building of a new order on the principles of mass politics. The demolition drives were symbolized in the government’s — and the party’s — sustained attempts to squeeze the Ramakrishna Mission institutions and Presidency College into the “democratic” mould. The assaults on Presidency College were easier and more successful because it is a government college. The Mission gave the government harder battles.

In Dasgupta’s view of things, centres of academic excellence militated against ideas of democratic, “progressive education” and of social promotion. Even if some people unimaginatively used Presidency College or some other educational icon for credentialism, the government could not take this as an excuse for running it down. But in their zeal to extend the logic of mass politics to education, Dasgupta’s demolition boys in the party suspected all that smacked of “elitism” or “exclusivism”. They dropped English from the primary school syllabus because they decided that it was a hindrance to the spread of mass education. There was also the lurking suspicion that the language of the colonial rulers was still a cause — and a tool — of inequality. If the poor and the underprivileged cannot learn the language well enough, the party logic went, it is better to shut the door on everyone. The political rhetoric caused not just a lowering of standards but a debilitating confusion of concerns at all levels of education.

The same policy of so-called democratization of education led the Marxists to change statutes and pack university senates and college governing bodies with their representatives from other walks of life. The result was more partisan control masquerading as egalitarianism and less education. And while state-controlled education declined in quality, the old socialist distrust of the private initiative prevented new institutions of worth from coming up. This resulted in students fleeing the state in droves to seek admission in private engineering, medical and management institutes in other states, although most of them have little claim to excellence.

Although late in coming, the realization seems to be finally here that some people are better equipped, better suited than others for certain competence tests, that it is ridiculous to create standards so low that everybody can qualify and that there is no escape from a renewal based on the best standards. If it is true of the market, it is true of education as well. “Market” may be another dirty word for the Marxists, but there is no alternative to quality education which alone can impart the knowledge, the skills and the services one buys and sells in the market.

In his last term as chief minister, Jyoti Basu realized the enormity of the damage that long years of populist education policies had wrecked on West Bengal. He hurried to open education to the private sector and create new institutions that would signal the change. Bhattacharjee seems more committed than Basu to demolishing the Dasgupta edifice of controlled education.

The Ramakrishna Mission story suggests he has been able to take the party leadership along with him in pushing educational reforms. But his litmus test remains the old question of granting autonomy to Presidency College and some other colleges, which the government-appointed Bhabatosh Datta commission on higher education recommended way back in 1984. It will be the final proof that he and his party have accepted excellence and freedom as cornerstones, not only in the education policy, but in all matters of public policy.


The major programmes to promote sustainable tourism include: preparation of master plans for tourism development, tourism awareness, integrated development of destinations, implementation of eco- tourism policies and programmes. Examples of the ways in which eco-tourism and nature-based tourism are being promoted include: eco-tourism projects in Kerala—Coconut Grove and Spice Village resorts, the Bangaram island resorts, Bekal resorts, Kerala, jungle lodges and resorts, Karnataka, the sustainable development project of the Andamans.

Tourism is the second largest earner of foreign exchange, generating about $3 billion. Tourism generates larger employment opportunities per tourist. The direct employment in the sector during 1997-98 is estimated to be about 9.8 million and total employment due to tourism is 23.1 million.

The foreign tourism arrivals during 1998 were 1.59 million. It has grown up to 2.37 million during 1997. The tourism arrivals growth is expected to be about 8 per cent for the period up to 2000. The present level of tourist traffic has not impacted any serious problem on sustainable development. However, there is a large movement of domestic tourism within the country. Hotels and other tourist establishments follow the guidelines framed by the ministry of tourism.

The main strength of Indian tourism at present is its cultural attractions, particularly monuments and archeological remains, fairs and festivals, wild life and beaches. The aim of the tourism policy now is to diversify the tourism product in such a way that the development of eco-tourism and nature-based tourism is promoted to attract environmentally conscious tourists.

The ministry of tourism is making vigorous effort for the sustained growth of tourism through synergy programmes and establishing effective coordination with state governments and other agencies to develop infrastructure for sustainable tourism. There are no serious constraints on pursuing sustainable tourism...

The Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management organize periodical training programmes on various aspects of sustainable tourism. They also organize separate programmes for policy-makers and the administration. The ministry has launched tourism awareness programmes in collaboration with Pacific Asia Tourism Association’s India chapter...

Information is disseminated through brochures, computer media, workshops for tour operators, travel agents and so on. Mapping and inventorying of natural resources and ecosystem characteristics in tourist areas is an ongoing activity of the government. Information is also available on the World Wide Web.

Technology-related issues are already incorporated in the ecotourism and environment policies of the government. Financing is through the national budget and private sector partnership.

The ministry of tourism is promoting India as a major tourist destination through its tourist offices abroad. The ministry is also participating in international meetings/exhibitions, fairs and festivals, seminars, and so on. Recently, the ministry of tourism has launched a multimedia CD-ROM on Indian tourism. Sustainable tourism is promoted through all these efforts. The environmental pledge is printed in every brochure produced by the ministry.

Bangaram Island in the Lakshadweep group of islands is a model sustainable tourism destination. Cooperation is generally provided through guidance and financial assistance. Examples of cooperation in this area include the conservation project of Ajanta and Ellora, which has been taken up with the assistance of overseas economic cooperation fund of Japan.

A study for the development of a strategy for environmentally sustainable tourism in the Andamans has been completed with the assistance of World Tourism Organization and United Nations Development Programme.




Which side of the fence?

Sir — Playing the big brother has always come naturally to the United States of America. The US has assumed a similar role in the event of the escalating tension between India and Pakistan. Only days back, it issued orders recalling its diplomats and non-essential staff from India (“Diplomat departures take off”, June 2). Other countries, following the leader, have issued similar orders to their personnel in India. The interesting point is that the US has not issued such orders to its staff in Pakistan. If it is indeed worried about the possibility of a war between India and Pakistan, and considers both countries unsafe for its nationals, why has only India been targeted for this mass exodus? It is obvious that this order has been given to put pressure on India to de-escalate tension, and to show Pakistan that the US does not consider it to be the aggressor in the situation. If the US must interfere in the affairs of other countries it could at least try and pretend that it isn’t taking sides.

Yours faithfully,
Reena Saha, Belur

Without interest

Sir — Even as political leaders in West Bengal continue to talk about improving the state’s pathetic work culture, two bandhs have been announced in successive weeks. The Congress’s withdrawal of its bandh call for June 14 has been prompted either by a realization of its folly or its desire to put the Trinamool Congress in a tight spot (“Bandh off”, June 3). But West Bengal is still left with the Trinamool Congress bandh destined for June 7.

Mamata Banerjee claims that the June 7 strike has been called to protest against the hike in electricity tariff, distress sale of paddy, delay in payment of teachers’ salary, and the state government’s delay in publishing an accurate list of people living below the poverty line. But it is common knowledge that Banerjee had been merely trying to keep up with the Congress in showing her concern for the affected groups. She was obviously the least prepared for the Congress’s next step in the game of oneupmanship. If Banerjee indeed cares for these categories of people, she should swallow humble pie and call off her June 7 gambit.

The most surprising aspect of the recent strike announcements is that despite the Supreme Court having declared forced bandhs as unconstitutional and illegal, the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has refused to take action against the Trinamool Congress. If the government holds the apex court with such disdain, can we blame political parties for trying to further their own cause at public cost?

Yours faithfully,
Ashiwani Kumar Singh, Durgapur

Sir — With the probability of war looming large in the country, the Trinamool Congress could not have chosen a worse time to sponsor a bandh. The bandh is supposed to remind the state of the interests of ordinary people. But if that is what Mamata Banerjee has in mind why is she calling a strike that will inconvenience the average population and cost the labourer his daily wage? The chief minister has already agreed to discuss the issues — hike in electricity tariff, distress sale of paddy, delay in payment of teachers’ salary — with the opposition parties both inside and outside the assembly. That Banerjee insists on the bandh despite the chief minister’s offer shows that she is not serious about resolving the issues. She should first meet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and see whether they can come up with a joint solution to these issues. It would be foolish to go ahead with the bandh and shun the offer for talks.

Yours faithfully,
Saroj Kumar Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — People in West Bengal have come to view bandhs as a welcome break from their daily routine. When I was in school, I too looked forward to these unexpected holidays. That they were acting as an obstacle to the state’s economic growth and creating a nuisance for the common man did not occur to me then. Till one is affected directly by bandhs, one does not realize what a curse such forced strikes are. On June 7, my girlfriend was to come to Calcutta to meet my family and then take a train the next day to Hyderabad. We have had to cancel our plans because of the bandh. This will completely upset my life since my girlfriend will now have to travel directly to Hyderabad and will not be able to make it to Calcutta till sometime next year.

My problem is of a personal nature, but there will be others who will be no less affected — daily labourers, taxi drivers, who will suffer great monetary losses because of the bandh. People should make it a point to go to work on bandhs and display their disapproval of such decisions by politicians. Since the state government is not backing the bandh it should publicly declare that government transport will ply on June 7 and agitators who disrupt normal services will be arrested.

Yours faithfully,
Shane O’Neal, Calcutta

Sir — The bandh on June 7 is actually a blessing in disguise. Many had lamented that they would have to miss their chance to watch the Argentina versus England world cup match on June 7. Now, thanks to Mamata Banerjee, football fans can make best use of the 12 hour bandh. Although Calcuttans know full well that the bandh will create a dent in the state’s economy, it will be enjoyed as an unofficial holiday.

Yours faithfully,
Soumitra Nandi, Batanagar

Free show

Sir — It was shocking to read the recent decision of the government department concerned to screen films for politicians and other VIPs at the Sansadiya Gyanpeeth, a new Parliament library complex (“Now, Bollywood block busters in house library”, May 10). The construction of the library cost the national exchequer Rs 197 crore. Why a new library had to be built to screen films is not understandable, especially when a fully functioning hall, the Mahadev auditorium, is situated a stone’s throw from Parliament. Since so much public money has gone into its building, the library should be opened to students and researchers.

Yours faithfully,
Mohan Lal Sarkar, Budge Budge

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