Editorial 1 / At long last
Editorial 2 / Highly charged
Sporting monopolies
Fifth Column / Future of the maratha land
How to carry on a sideshow
Document / Where will the money come from?
Letters to the editor

The passing of an irrelevant anachronism is mourned only by the deranged and by the pedlar of historical curiosity. The 1955 cabinet resolution prohibiting foreign investment in print media, which was reversed by the cabinet on Tuesday, was nothing more than a historical curiosity. It was a relic of the Cold War and non-alignment which pupated into a socialist and patriotic orthodoxy. The present government must be applauded for getting rid of this accumulated baggage and for opening up a window of opportunity before the print media of the country. It can be argued that the present resolution permitting 26 per cent foreign investment in print media is a limited one or that it is too little too late. But that would be too cynical and ungracious. The Union cabinet took this decision to lift restrictions in the teeth of enormous opposition within and without the government. The cabinet could have dawdled without paying any obvious price. That it did not do so speaks of its courage and of the commitment of a number of ministers to the spirit and the letter of the reforms agenda. The minister of information and broadcasting, Ms Sushma Swaraj, piloted the proposal but she was supported by a number of very articulate and persuasive colleagues. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the cabinet decision inaugurates a new era in the history of the Indian print media.

The advantages that would flow from the decision are not difficult to pinpoint. Indian newspapers and magazines will have access to international capital and therefore to more advanced technology. The market for Indian publications will become more competitive. This will automatically raise standards and thus benefit readers. At a more theoretical level, the decision clarifies a glaring anomaly by which the print media was kept out from the changes that benefited the Indian economy once liberalization began. At another level, the decision reflects the growing official confidence in Indian journalists and editors. The standards of editing, reporting and leader-writing in large sections of the Indian press have been informed by a great deal of maturity and sophistication. Indian newspapers can no longer be treated with contempt in the manner of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. This confidence is reflected in the Union cabinet’s insistence that ownership and editorial control should remain in Indian hands. The Indian newspaper industry has waited 47 years to move from zero to 26 per cent in foreign investment, and to emerge from a cocoon into a globalized world. The length of the gestation should not be taken as a pattern for future development. The next jump will, in all probability, be bigger and quicker. A good idea in a favourable time moves faster than governments imagine. Pioneers seldom make a virtue of patience.


It is good to look as menacing as possible where criminals are concerned, but the menace must be perceived by all as a real one. Certainly the Indian Electricity (West Bengal Amendment) Act, 2001, which has been passed by the state assembly, spells doom for those who steal electricity or make illegal connections. It is high time something definite was done about this particular form of thievery, since West Bengal has begun to lose more than a thousand crore rupees on this count alone. Further losses can be expected, now that the rise in electricity charges has made illegal tapping more tempting. Stealing on a large scale hinders the efficiency of transmission and distribution, making West Bengal’s pride in producing more than enough electricity look very foolish indeed. There is every reason for strict penalties and for ensuring deterrence, also because the present situation is enough to put off potential private investors.

But the new law raises a couple of questions. The first has to do with a provision of the legislation. Anyone charged with stealing electricity will have to prove his innocence. This neatly turns on its head the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Indian law in the main has been based on this principle, which derives from British practice. It is true that the escalation of terrorist and extremist activity has encouraged the formulation of laws which tend to put the onus of proof more on the accused than on the accuser. But such provisions evolve under special circumstances. They do not have an easy passage through Parliament, and often are not let through at all. The stealing of electricity is a crime no doubt, but it is not clear why it can be checked only if the state is empowered beyond the normal limit. The second question is allied to the first. Illegal tapping of electricity has not suddenly burst onto the awareness of a wondering government. It is an old malpractice which has had time to burgeon, and the state has not done very much beyond rumble threateningly from time to time. It is never too late to mend, and a crackdown is welcome. But the threat to the accused is somewhat excessive and suggests a hasty cover-up for earlier laxity. Penalties should be strict, but they should be arrived at in the expected way. To compel the accused to prove his innocence is to open the door to misuse on the one hand, and to make the law more difficult to implement on the other. Neither will help stop the crime. What will stop such stealing is the administration’s impartial attitude towards all thieves, be they powerful in funds or friends, and the people’s cooperation. Otherwise the new law will just add to the dusty paper on the shelves.


We have a love-hate relationship with our cable operator. Usually, it is more hate than love. He offers us 70-odd channels. Most of these are channels we don’t want. And he doesn’t offer us channels we want. For example, we will get Discovery or National Geographic in the Hindi version. Not in the English version, which is what we want. If there is a power cut, the transmission will disappear. Understandable. But once the power is back, if it is after eight in the night, the transmission will not be restored until the next morning. No one is around in the cable operator’s office in the night. Yet, he is unfailingly there early every month to collect his pound of flesh. That is the time we voice our complaints. And his representative listens, with every intention of forgetting about our complaints the moment he leaves our doorstep. After all, we have no choice. He is the only cable operator around. There is a monopoly. Apparently, he has strong links with the local mafia, which is the real estate lot. More accurately, he is the local mafia. There was some talk about an alternative cable operator surfacing. But that guy was beaten up.

So there we are, stuck in this hate relationship. Of late, thanks to the football world cup, this relationship has turned to love. Temporarily. As everyone in Calcutta knows, Ten Sports has exclusive rights on transmission. As everyone in India knows, Doordarshan has made a hash of obtaining these rights. As everyone in Delhi knows, Siti Cable controls the bulk of distribution in Delhi. Siti Cable didn’t have a satisfactory negotiation with Ten Sports. Hence, no world cup for residents who happen to reside under the Siti Cable umbrella. After the world cup started, I travelled to London and found that both BBC and ITV were showing it. I travelled to Brussels, where it was most bizarre. You could watch live telecasts in six different languages from seven different countries - Britain, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, France, Italy and Spain.

But in Delhi, or the part of Delhi where we live, there was nothing. We rung up our local cable operator and badgered him. As most television watchers know, there is a three-tier hierarchy beginning with the broadcaster, passing through the multi-service operator who is a bit like a wholesaler and ending with the LCO, who is a bit like a retailer. We badgered our LCO and other people must have also been badgering him. The LCO always has a free channel, on which he shows us pirated video films. Perhaps he also shows us blue films late in the night, but I have never bothered to check that. Anyway, thanks to our badgering, we now get Ten Sports on this video channel. The MSO was a common enemy and the LCO and we have together torpedoed this common enemy’s evil intent. We are happy and so, I presume, is the LCO. There was some newspaper report about Ten Sports trying to prosecute some other LCO. But who cares?

What do we want as viewers? We want a choice of channels. We want to pay for channels we want to watch. We don’t want to pay for channels we don’t want to watch. We don’t want to be bombarded with 70-odd channels in strange languages. If we are allowed direct links with broadcasters through direct to home telecasts, this becomes possible. But in India, whatever the sector, we are fond of middlemen. We don’t want dis-intermediation. Middlemen have links with the mafia and the political classes. They provide money and muscle. Therefore, whether it is agriculture or television, we will have these long distribution channels.

The government is clearly in a desperate hurry. A convergence bill that will cover information, communications and media has been pending for some time. Reportedly, this will have a convergence commission of India with a regulatory role. The regulatory role will include unfair and restrictive business practices and pricing. And remember, there is also the parallel competition commission of India. So what was the desperate hurry for the Lok Sabha to push through an amendment to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 at the end of the budget session? True, the amendment has not yet been cleared by the Rajya Sabha. Pending this, there are reports that the government will try to introduce the changes through an ordinance. All for the benefit of the poor consumer.

The poor consumer will no longer be fleeced by the LCO. Television channels will now be divided into a basic and a value-added category. Basic doesn’t quite mean free channels. Nor does value-added quite mean pay channels. The government will decide what constitutes a basic channel bouquet and what constitutes a value-added channel bouquet. After all, joint secretaries need to have some work to do. What is basic in Calcutta may be value-added in Delhi and the other way around. What is basic may also vary from one part of Delhi to another. For instance, Pakistan TV may not be acceptable everywhere in Delhi as part of the basic bouquet. Read the fine print in the bill if you don’t believe me.

After having performed this great act of identifying and segmenting India, the government will decree rates for the basic bouquet and LCOs cannot overcharge. We now move on to the value-added bouquet and this is somewhat more complicated. You need a set-top box to decode these pay channels. Set-top boxes can be digital. With digital boxes, you can pay according to the channel you view. But digital boxes are expensive, they cost upwards of Rs 7,000. That technology is not readily available and will take years to come to India. So meanwhile, we will be saddled with analog boxes, which don’t permit paying according to watching. Instead, you have to pay for the entire bouquet. You end up paying for channels you don’t want.

But analog boxes are cheap. They only cost Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 and prices will drop further. And the technology can be introduced within six months. And to help you along, the government will also decree rates LCOs can charge for the value-added analog bouquet.

Before you rejoice, all this new-fangled stuff requires investments. You need to invest in the set-top box. Broadcasters need scrambling and encryption equipment. However, they can fend for themselves. LCOs need computerization for billing and unscrambling equipment. Unfortunately, LCOs are poor. They don’t have resources. The real estate market hasn’t been doing that well. Besides, LCOs have to fork out money for the political system to work. Hence, charges need to be hiked. With government approval of course. The present monthly rate varies between Rs 150 and Rs 350 a month, depending on where you are. To help LCOs along, a hike of between Rs 100 and Rs 150 a month will be necessary.

Whatever the government might say, the battle over the cable television bill has been won by MSOs and LCOs, not by broadcasters and consumers. There was this great big debate between broadcasters and operators, about the number of viewers who watch various channels. Where are the 40 million cable television households? They don’t show up in payments made by operators to broadcasters. Operators argue that broadcasters inflate viewer figures to garner advertisement revenue. Broadcasters argue that operators understate subscriber bases to avoid paying broadcasters. There can’t be a better adjudicator than the government. So thanks to the government and this newly amended bill, everyone (including operators) will have to maintain proper records and databases. No fudging.

In our colony, the Delhi Development Authority has plenty of rules about building. No one bothers. You go ahead and build what you want in any case and there are fixed rates of bribes to be paid to DDA inspectors. I can’t for the life of me imagine this clause being observed by our LCO. Nor can I imagine his being actually prosecuted and convicted under this new provision.

However, until the world cup is over, we are stuck in the love groove. Not that there will be any substantial changes afterwards. The LCO will still be a monopoly. Contrary to what you might think, the government actually likes monopolies. As long as those monopolies are sanctioned by the government. Such monopolies are in the public interest. And make no mistake, public interest is not the same as consumer interest. Therefore, we will go back to our hate relationship with our local monopoly. We will probably pay a bit more. We will probably crib a bit more. But nothing else will change. We will continue to have no choice.

The author is director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi


After weeks of uncertainty, the Vilasrao Deshmukh led-Democratic Front government in Maharashtra narrowly survived the vote of confidence by a slender margin of 10 votes. The victory was possible partly because the speaker disqualified seven members of the legislative assembly under the anti-defection law and partly because a former ally, the Peasants and Workers’ Party, chose to abstain rather than vote against the government.

While these events highlight the faultlines underneath the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party led-coalition, surviving a no-confidence motion will have its advantages in the future. The coalition suddenly seems destined to complete its full term now. One reason is the blow this has dealt to the credibility of the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine, the only opposition in the state. The failure to get its arithmetic right has weakened the image of the combine, especially among “potential friends” in the ruling camp. The two high profile leaders who gave the alliance its public face — Narayan Rane and Gopinath Munde — have suffered a personal setback. This will discourage immediate attempts at toppling the government.

Successful crisis management by the Deshmukh-Sharad Pawar-Chhagan Bhujbal team, through a combination of inducements and threats, has sent out a warning to dissidents within the party. The seven MLAs, mostly from the NCP, who switched sides are now out on a limb and have already begun making apologetic noises. Other dissenters are likely to follow the footsteps of Padmakar Walvi, who finally made peace with the Congress bigwigs.

Look ahead

What impact the victory will have on the motley group of independents remains to be seen. As for the small number of MLAs who constitute the “left and democratic” forces within the state, the present crisis has only underscored their precarious position. They can distance themselves from the Congress-NCP only at the cost of helping the Hindutva brigade.

The plight of the PWP, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) highlights this. Barely days after withdrawing support from the government, they were forced, directly or indirectly, to come to its rescue once again. Though the last two groupings are small, the arithmetic of the state assembly gives them a status that does not relate to their numerical strength.

The Shiv Sena has already launched its damage control exercise. Bal Thackeray had asserted, ever since the present government came to power, that it would not last its full term. The claims remain on paper. The BJP too is lying low for the moment, and its managers are sure to work out some new strategies to refurbish its image.

Promises to keep

Within the ruling alliance, however, the temporary unity forced by the external threat may evaporate pretty quickly. It is believed that promises of plum positions and funds for projects have been made to different lobbies to strengthen their loyalty. But the Deshmukh government already has a large cabinet and the scope for increasing its size is limited. Thus a reshuffle may bring new friends and create new enemies as well. So far as the promise of money is concerned, the government is already on the verge of bankruptcy and may find it difficult to deliver in hard cash.

The NCP finds itself in a particularly uncomfortable position. While it is a force to reckon with at the state level, a factor confirmed by its recent success in the zilla parishad polls, it has failed to draw up a credible road map to guide its progress at the national level. Pawar does not have the requisite numbers to wield the clout that regional satraps like a N. Chandrababu Naidu or a J. Jayalalithaa have in the National Democratic Alliance coalition. Pawar will have to move beyond crisis management if he wants to prevent a repeat of the situation.

Having resorted to the most dubious means both for toppling and saving the government, the overall credibility of the political class has taken a beating in Maharashtra. In the final analysis, fear of the voter may prove to be the biggest stabilizing factor in the state in the days to come.


Not everybody has it in them to be able to turn a trend on its head. So, when Bihar’s new glamour boy — though slightly overgrown — showed that politics and showbiz could make a heady cocktail, it prised open a path for others to follow. Laloo Prasad Yadav has built a rainbow, connecting the dirt tracks of Bihar to the starry cosmos beyond.

There have been others before him — M.G. Ramachandran of Tamil Nadu and N.T. Rama Rao of Andhra Pradesh — who lit up the corridors of power with their celluloid charisma. MGR’s status was almost iconic. There was a time in the late Seventies and the early Eighties, when giant cutouts of the superstar-turned-politician peered down every thoroughfare in Chennai. The star-struck electorate followed the actor as he stepped out of tear-jerker family dramas and opulent epics to weave his spell on ballot boxes.

The ruse worked. For at least two decades, Tamil Nadu was lulled by MGR’s magic until J. Jayalalithaa happened. Never had showbiz cast such an enduring spell over politics as it did in MGR’s “billboard country”. There was ample scope for star appeal to intrude into politics since the cut-and-dried political scenario of the post-Sixties was in dire need of some glamour. The Nehruvian model of development was beginning to weigh heavy on the electorate.

The legacy was carried down the decades till the Nineties, when legions of fading supernovas from Mumbai and elsewhere tried their hands at politics — Sunil Dutt, Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha, Shabana Azmi, Raj Babbar, Vyjayanthimala Bali, Jaya Prada, Vinod Khanna and so on. Almost every actor of reckoning sought refuge in the rough and tumble of democracy when their box office ratings plummeted. If nothing else, politics at least offered a measure of publicity, perpetuating their lifelong affairs with the arclights and public adulation.

Not all the stars survived the difficult life, though. Either the vocation proved too taxing or the screen magic failed to work at the hustings. Barring a handful, almost all the pin-up boys and girls retired either to their sprawling farmhouses or behind production desks and telly screens.

But everyone is not Laloo Yadav. The man who had almost been written off for his frivolity after the fairytale wedding of his second daughter, Rohini, and his tryst with the idiot box, is suddenly back with a bang right at the centre of Bihar’s politics. With the split in the Bahujan Samaj Party, Laloo Yadav has proved once again that he is still the master of coups.

For one, the divide in the BSP, one of the most vulnerable parties in Bihar, has strengthened the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Dalit base. The social justice bubble, which was almost on the verge of bursting, still finds itself afloat. The four BSP legislators, whom Laloo Yadav had weaned away from Kanshi Ram’s bratpack, were recognized as RJD legislature party members on Tuesday in the Bihar assembly. Speaker Sadanand Singh announced that since the BSP men had “completed the formalities of splitting the BSP legislature party and were ready to cross over to the RJD, they are being officially accommodated into the fold”. The chief minister, Rabri Devi, has already inducted the four BSP defectors in her council of ministers.

The split, engineered by Laloo Yadav, has nipped in the bud a possibility that could have upstaged his backward class applecart. Ram Vilas Paswan has become increasingly active in the state after his resignation from the National Democratic Alliance and the Samata Party is making inroads through the “railway looplines”. Laloo Yadav needed to break into a smaller Dalit grouping to swell RJD numbers in the event of a Paswan or a Kurmi-Koeri backlash.

The BSP was a soft target and, in the words of an insider, “easy to split”. Kumar’s recent creation of two new railway divisions in Bihar by slicing the Eastern Railways had become a thorn in the RJD flesh and would have eventually created serious problems for the party had it not split the BSP. For in central and north Bihar, where economic and job statistics are abysmal, Kumar is now a “hero of sorts”. His railways will provide voters what they pine for — new jobs. It was imperative for Laloo Yadav to act, pit his wits against Kumar’s.

With the BSP split, the RJD now has on its side five Dalit leaders with their individual support base that will prove crucial for the party to fend off both Paswan and Kumar. This is a Laloo Yadav masterstroke which shows that, notwithstanding the speculations, the man hasn’t yet lost his grip on Bihar’s politics.

Which in fact brings us back to an important argument. Is glamour politics more effective than the banal gimmicks one associates with Indian democracy? In the case of Laloo Yadav, the two have proved to be a rather potent mix. He is the only politician who has travelled the opposite road — the one from politics to showbiz, and with considerable hype. As the situation in Bihar makes clear, this journey has only served to consolidate his base in a Dalit heartland starved of glamour.

However, the Bihar strongman has always exuded star-quality. Market-trends, or to be more precise, the changing mores of realpolitik, have of late forced him to “re-invent” himself. Laloo Yadav’s metamorphosis from the firebrand “Gopalgunj ka lal” to a television lifestyle figure is part of a politically well-planned marketing strategy. Not long ago, he was apparently negotiating with the Sahara Television to anchor a show inspired by the KBC blitz and a news network’s “big Friday night fight”.

So what makes Laloo Yadav tick? If actor Sunil Shetty is to be believed, “He is a natural actor, he does not have to pretend.” Concurs southern heart-throb Nagma, “He fits into any role with ease. I simply adore him.” The actress, who was in Patna last month for a fashion show, took time out to visit Laloo Yadav’s Camelot on Anne Marg. She was reportedly bowled over by its swadeshi glamour. According to TV star, Sekhar Suman, a Bihari himself, “The clincher is his ability to adapt and laugh at himself and others.”

“He is confident and fields bouncers with elan. There is not a shade of nervousness,” analyses actor Farooq Sheikh, who interviewed him on television for a lifestyle show and catapulted him to official stardom. Writer-director Mahesh Bhatt and his daughter, Pooja, sum it up: “Laloo Yadav is a survivor. And in order to survive, one needs to put on an act. It comes to him naturally. He is a star and politician — rolled in one.”

Perhaps one could see it this way. After nearly four decades of battling it out on the Mandal terrain, the veteran Bihari is keen on changing his USP. The rustic charm is no doubt paling. With the television making forays even into the most remote corners of the Gangetic diaras (sandflats) and north Bihar’s badlands, Laloo Yadav is merely catering to a people who want to see their messiah in a new avatar. What can better than rubbing shoulders with the “glitterati” to shore up a sagging persona?

And for the electorate, bred on a staple of Bhojpuri tamasha, the experience is exhilarating. Star-struck Bihar is lapping up every bit of it — the star-studded bashes and the shameless show of wealth. The RJD chief is providing all that on a platter and yet proving that he still retains an uncanny feel of the pulse of backward politics. Who says politics and glamour make strange bedfellows?


Enhance the absorptive capacity and financial management of recipient countries to utilize aid in order to promote the use of the most suitable aid delivery instruments that are responsive to the needs of developing countries... in a fully consultative manner;

Use development frameworks owned and driven by developing countries, that embody poverty reduction strategies...as vehicles for aid delivery; enhance recipient countries’ input into and ownership of the design, including procurement of technical assistance programmes and increase the effective use of local technical assistance resources; promote the use of official development assistance to leverage additional financing for development...; strengthen triangular cooperation, including countries with economies in transition, and South-South cooperation, as delivery tools for assistance;

Improve ODA targeting to the poor, coordination of aid and measurement of results. We invite donors to take steps to apply the above measures in support of all developing countries, including...the comprehensive strategy that is embodied in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and similar efforts in other regions, as well as in support of least developed countries, small island developing states and landlocked developing countries.

We acknowledge and appreciate the discussions taking place in other forums on proposals to increase the concessionality of development financing, including greater use of grants.

We recognize the value of exploring innovative sources of finance provided that those sources do not unduly burden developing countries. In that regard, we agree to study, in the appropriate forums, the results of the analysis requested from the secretary-general on possible innovative sources of finance, noting the proposal to use special drawing rights allocations for development purposes. We consider that any assessment of special drawing rights allocations must respect the International Monetary Fund’s articles of agreement and the established rules of procedure of the Fund, which requires taking into account the global need for liquidity...

Multilateral and regional development banks continue to play a vital role in serving the needs of developing countries and countries with economies in transition. They should contribute to providing an adequate supply of finance to countries that are challenged by poverty, follow sound economic policies and may lack adequate access to capital markets. They should also mitigate the impact of the excessive volatility of financial markets. Strengthened regional development banks and sub-regional financial institutions add flexible financial support to national and regional development efforts, enhancing ownership and overall efficiency. They also serve as a vital source of knowledge and expertise on economic growth and development for their member countries.

We will ensure that the long-term resources at the disposal of the international financial system, including regional and sub-regional institutions and funds, allow them to support sustained economic and social development, technical assistance for capacity-building and social and environmental protection schemes. We will also continue to enhance their overall lending effectiveness through increased country ownership, operations that raise productivity and yield measurable results in reducing poverty, and closer coordination with donors and the private sector.

To be concluded



The hero has feet of clay

Sir — It is annoying to see the media going ga-ga over the English captain, David Beckham, about his latest hairdo or his loud protestations of love for his family (“10 reasons why Beckham is still a hero”, June 23). The only dispassionate defence of Beckham’s weak performance in World Cup 2002, is the rather wet excuse that he was unfit on the day of the match against the mighty Brazilians. The paparazzi’s love for the soccer star is understandable, given the saleability of the Beckham myth. But what is outrageous is the English skipper’s lack of sportsmanship and respect for other players. This came through in Becks’s dismissal of Ronaldinho’s marvellous free kick goal — it was a “fluke”, he said. This is completely unacceptable in a senior player and the captain of the opposite team. Instead of engaging in self-introspection after their defeat, the English seem to be busy wallowing in self-pity. One fails to see why there should be a problem in calling a spade a spade.

Yours faithfully,
Malavika Chatterjee, Mumbai

Silver turn

Sir — The 25-year-long tenure of the Left Front government may not be completely free of blemishes, but it has, at least, ensured that West Bengal remains one of the most people-friendly states in India. The state may not be able to boast of well-maintained buses and roads like those in Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu, but the government has ensured that bus and tram fares stay comparatively cheap, well within the reach of most pockets.

West Bengal may be miles behind Karnataka in the technological sector. But it is among the few states where recruitments to government jobs take place regularly, retrenchment is at a minimum and employees continue to benefit from general provident fund advances, house-building loans and other benefits.

At a time the chief minister of one of India’s most “modern” states presides over a pogrom against Muslims, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — chief minister of a “laggard” state — has prevented any communal flare-up here. Despite being infamous as a “god-forsaken state”, West Bengal remains an El Dorado, compared to its neighbouring states and countries.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — Twenty-five years is too long a period, while evaluating the performance of a party that has enjoyed an uninterrupted run in power, to allow for excuses (“25 years on, challenge of aspirations”, June 21). While Jyoti Basu feels that a lot has been achieved and more could have been done but for an unfriendly Centre, the present chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has been busy appeasing people by admitting past mistakes and projecting a bright future. There is nothing wrong with such statements. But given that Bhattacharjee has been at the helm for about two years now, one cannot help wondering whether he is serious and capable, or whether this is part of a strategy to hoodwink the people and cover up non-performance.

Much has been said about the overwhelming public support for the left in successive elections. But if one keeps an ear to the ground, the mandate seems anything but spontaneous and more the handiwork of an “efficient election machinery”. There is a general mistrust and apathy about the electoral process in the state, and unless the ruling combine starts delivering, the latent dissatisfaction could take a dangerous turn.

Yours faithfully,
Pabitra Kumar Das, Calcutta

Sir — The economic turnaround of West Bengal needs to start with a complete revamp of work culture (“Tarnished silver”, June 21). It might seem absurd to the rest of the country, but for four hours in the afternoon from around 1 pm to 5 pm, most local markets and shops remain closed in Calcutta. When everyone is trying to find ways to increase productivity within the stipulated work hours, it is ridiculous that people in the state think nothing of wasting time. If we want to compete globally, this attitude is the first thing that needs to be changed.

The Left Front government also needs to come out of its ideological warp and accept globalization. In today’s world, trade unions and bandhs are an anachronism. Employees must have the right to protest against exploitation but bandhs are no way to do t so. Lessons may be learnt from the way Japanese workers protest — by over-producing.

Yours faithfully,
Asheem Kapoor, Calcutta

Out to settle scores

Sir — The hullabaloo over Alex Perry’s article made me read the original in the Asian edition of Time (“Payback Time for sleep slur”, June 22). I found nothing objectionable, except for some unsavoury personal remarks. In fact, Perry speaks well of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and praises his peace initiatives. Indian politicians should learn to accept valid criticism, especially from the foreign media. In case of misinformation and bias, we should engage in debate and refute it through logical arguments. This will demonstrate our belief in the freedom of press.

Yours faithfully,
V. Srinivas, Nagpur

Sir — The Central government’s persecution of Alex Perry is not only puerile but it is also counterproductive. It will only lead to the suspicion that what he wrote was not far from the truth. Dignity has never marked the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stint in power, so this overreaction was only expected.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong

Sir — The Indian government’s harassment of Alex Perry is shameful. Whether or not Perry’s article was in bad taste is not the issue. Making snide remarks about the personal lives of public figures is an old journalistic tradition. Khushwant Singh made a career out of it. But, is this how a democratic government should retaliate? The Indian government is known for its fondness for banning things that it considers are in bad taste or “against Indian culture”. Incidentally, Perry’s persecution also violates a basic principle of the Indian Constitution — freedom of speech.

Yours faithfully,
Satadru Sen, St Louis, US

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