Editorial/ Hire education
In an imperfect world
This above all / Sin, and you will prosper
People/ Vinay Katiyar
Letters to the editor

West Bengal cannot afford to have modernity passing it by. Higher education must therefore ring out the old and ring in the new. So thinks the state’s higher education council. The old, in this case, means “conventional” subjects like history, political science and the other traditional humanities disciplines. The new or “modern” subjects — or courses, as they are called — are computer science, micro- and molecular biology, and business administration. This change will radically alter the nature, focus and funding of Bengal’s undergraduate colleges. Cutting out the council’s inflated clichés on sweeping scientific and technological change, the point of all this is to tailor undergraduate studies to the job market.

This is “new generation” policy-speak at its most confused. Endorsed by the government and working largely through the regulation of funding, it could have a profoundly damaging effect on the notion and standards of academic excellence in the state. The confusion exists at two levels. First, there is a gross and misguided levelling of undergraduate education to suit a hardboiled utilitarianism. This is founded on the idea that modernity renders the humanities and social sciences quite useless in the face of inexorable scientific and technological progress. Second, the council seems to have confused centres of academic excellence with colleges offering practical or vocational courses for the job market. It imagines the state’s undergraduate colleges to be somehow combining both functions, thereby ensuring support for the one at the expense of the other.

Colleges will be encouraged to increase the fees of their useful courses, making them self-financing to relieve the burden on the government. But the conventional subjects will have to charge the usual lower fees. This will, of course, create a disparity between the quality of teaching in the humanities and social sciences, and that of the other subjects. No centre of excellence could hope to describe itself as such if it actively fosters the rapid decline of the humanities. There is also the larger, and more alarming, question of what kind of modernity Bengal would be nurturing if it endorses this facile distinction between the useful and the useless.

By enforcing this change of outlook in the colleges, the government hopes to lose fewer promising young computer scientists, biologists and business administrators to the more progressive states. Yet Bengal drives out some of its best minds to centres of excellence in the humanities and social sciences elsewhere in the country or the world. Historians, economists, anthropologists and literary critics also have a vital role to play in any modern and progressive society, and much of Bengal’s intellectual dreariness could be attributed to the state being increasingly unable to provide sustenance to these disciplines in its institutions of higher education. But the state government is not the only culprit in this. The university grants commission must have been inspired by a particularly crass vision of modernity when it suggested recently that West Bengal’s universities should teach history “as a tourism product” in order to draw more tourists to the state.


The Left Front government in West Bengal has decided to crack down on the practice of private tuition by teachers in government and government-aided schools. Even if we ignore the thorny problem of implementing such a measure, is it likely to improve the quality of education which is the declared goal of this policy?

There are several aspects of the practice of private tuition by teachers that one should indeed be concerned about. For example, it is quite reasonable to require that a teacher, whether in a government school or in a private school, should not offer private tuition to students from the same school because if he is also going to evaluate the students, a conflict of interest will naturally arise. Also, at a more basic level, to the extent that teachers do not pay tax on the income generated through private tuition, they are already indulging in an illegal activity. These practices are known to exist and are rightly condemned. But rather than addressing these specific problems, what will a blanket ban on private tuition by teachers in government and government-aided schools achieve?

Let us think of a typical teacher who faces such a ban and decides to comply. Suppose Mr X is a conscientious school-teacher who religiously fulfils his duties at school and earns a monthly salary of Rs 10,000. He also earns the same amount from a tutorial by teaching 20 students, each of whom pays Rs 500. The ban is announced, and Mr X stops offering private tuition. What is he going to do with his spare time? If he was using the evenings to teach in the tutorial, he cannot shift those hours to school. But even if he was able to shift some of his spare time to teaching at school he would not do it as it would not result in any rewards, material or otherwise.

Now think of Mr Y whose situation is identical to Mr X’s in all respects except that he does not seriously teach at the school and actively encourages his school students to join his tutorial in the evening. If private tuition is banned, and he agrees to comply with it, there is no reason to expect that he would become a model teacher in the school overnight. If he could not be punished earlier for neglecting his duties, he cannot be punished now. Hence, both teachers will spend their spare time doing something else. Even if one takes the extreme view that private tuition has no value, as a result of this policy teachers will lose and students will be no better off.

The crux of the problem is how to motivate teachers to perform their teaching duties at school well. Private tuition may be a distraction, but without addressing this issue, outlawing it would merely channel the energy and time of teachers released from this activity to some other activity and not to improving their performance at school. They have no incentives to do so. The evaluation and incentive systems in our education system are abysmally poor with no scope for rewarding the good and punishing the bad. In contrast, the private tuition market provides a scope for distinguishing the talented and rewarding them appropriately. If the ban is successful, perhaps no one will have any incentive to establish his reputation as a good schoolteacher since that will not fetch that extra return from the private tuition market.

So far we talked about the effect of this policy on the decision of an individual teacher. What will be the effect of it on the tuition market as a whole?

Suppose the government is able to enforce the ban perfectly. In the private tuition market, there is going to be a reduction in supply and hence an increase in the price of tuition. This is because a ban on tuition by the teachers employed in government or government-aided institutions, does not shut down the entire tuition market even if the banned teachers fully comply with the government stricture. There will be private schools which are not subject to the ban. It has been argued that if there is a vacuum for teachers in the tuition market, particularly in rural areas where private schools are rare, this can be filled up by the educated unemployed. However, they would at best be imperfect substitutes for experienced school-teachers, which means there will still be a shortage of supply. As a result, tuition will become more expensive after the ban and private school-teachers and possibly others will reap the benefit. Personal encounters with some guardians in Murshidabad suggest that in some places non-teaching staff of government schools are having such windfall gains. The students will lose, and of course the government school-teachers.

Now consider the case where enforcement is imperfect in the sense that it is possible for government school teachers to continue offering private tuition, but they run the risk of getting caught and punished with some probability. Because of this risk, providing private tuition will be more costly for the teachers. The tuition market will now be segmented into the legal and the illegal. In the illegal segment costs for providing tuition will be higher, cutting back the supply, and this will be reflected in the higher tuition fees of teachers. Even if the price of tuition in the legal market stays the same, the average price in both markets taken together, will rise.

It can be argued that supply and demand in the private tuition market differ from those in other markets. The demand for private tuition partly arises from the poor teaching quality in schools. If the supply of private tuition from teachers at government and government-aided schools falls, the demand for private tuition might fall as well because teachers would spend more time and energy to teach students in the school. This would cause demand to fall as well and so the price of private tuition may not go up. However, the presumption is that the teachers will automatically transfer the time and energy they devote to the private tuition market to their schools after this policy is implemented. As we said earlier, there is no reason to expect that this is going to happen.

The reality is that private tuition is really a symptom of a much deeper problem. It is important not to confuse the symptom with the cause. West Bengal has one of the lowest teacher-student ratios among Indian states. Among the major states, West Bengal spends the lowest amount on education on a per-student basis and Kerala spends the most. Given the nature of the syllabus and the average teaching time per period, even if a teacher puts in all his time and energy in school, the teaching quality will still be grossly inadequate and that would naturally push the students to private tutorials run by good teachers.

Indeed, West Bengal is also the state that reports the highest fraction of students receiving private tuition. This calls for a thorough review of the syllabus as well as stimulating public investment in schools, so that we have more schools and more teachers. These are very serious problems which cannot be tackled just by banning private tuition. Even if one accepts that in an ideal world private tuition would be unnecessary or even undesirable, we do not live in one. Moreover, it is well known from economic theory that in an imperfect world, fixing one problem and ignoring others may in fact make matters worse.

Before concluding, we would like to draw attention to a potentially interesting political angle to the problem. Since it came to power, teachers have become one of the core support groups of the Left Front in West Bengal. They have also become affluent over time, and in rural areas, politically quite powerful. At the same time, the quality of education in the state has declined both absolutely and relative to other states. Whatever little money the government spends on education is mostly spent on paying the salaries of teachers.

There are many reasons behind these phenomena and teachers are certainly not responsible for all of them. But the general public has no patience with complex explanations. The story that has emerged is simple — a group of delinquent school-teachers who get hired because of political connections and then neglect discharging their regular duties in the schools in order to pursue private tuition or other lucrative activities is responsible for the sorry state of affairs.

It is unwise for any political party to ignore widespread popular resentment against a group that is perceived as a core constituency and no one can accuse the Left Front of being insensitive to electoral arithmetic. The campaign against private tuition, or in a different context, exhorting government employees to “do it now”, possibly indicates such political compulsions.

Maitreesh Ghatak teaches economics at the University of Chicago and is a fellow of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

Sugata Marjit is an economist with the CSSSC


One of the most cherished myths that mankind has clung to from ages immemorial is that everyone pays for his misdeeds: as you sow, so shall you reap. People cite instances of individuals, who acquired wealth by corrupt means, were later brought to book, or were afflicted with some incurable disease or their progeny turned out to be bad. For every such instances of an evil person paying for his sins, I could adduce 20 where they went unpunished. They did not suffer from pangs of guilt, remained in good health, ate well, lived well, enjoyed life and esteem of their fellow citizens, sent their children to the best schools and colleges and saw them fixed in plum jobs, married into rich families which ensured their future prospects. “There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness,” says the Bible.

When faced with hard evidence that more often evil persons get a better deal in life than good people, upholders of the myth resort to inane explanations like honesty is its own reward, in the end, truth always triumphs. They have even more devious explanations when confronted with cases of suffering inflicted on the good and the god-loving such as their children born blind, mentally deficient or spastic. “It is karma they are paying for sins they committed in their past lives” — and explain the prosperity of evil-doers — “they will surely pay for their sins in their lives to come: be they reborn as snakes, pigs or vermin.” Such explanations are offered in the assurance that no one knows anything about past lives or lives to come. As Ghalib said about paradise, I say about past and future lives: Dil kay behallaney ko yeh khayaal accha hai.

My friends don’t suffer from the delusions that people suffer from for their misdeeds. How many paid the penalty of the crimes they had committed in November 1984? How many were punished for the destruction of the Babri Masjid? Far from being punished, three of them are members of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet,and the man who soured the wind by his mischievously conceived rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya and spread the whirlwind of communal violence, which has not abated to this day, is the man-in-waiting to be the next prime minister. Do J. Jayalalithaa and Laloo Prasad Yadav feel guilty for squandering public money on weddings in their families? Do stockbrokers who fiddled with public money to the tune of thousands of crores, Pandit Sukh Ram or Ravi Sidhu, have sleepless nights for what they did? I don’t think so. They must have explanations which give them peace. No my friends there is no justice in the world. To succeed in life you have three Cs (or chalakis in Hindi): chaalak (cunning), chaaploos (sycophant) and a chaar-sau-bees (a cheat as defined under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code.)

Nothing Indian about him

When I was first introduced to Shakespeare’s plays in college, a common joke was to say that Shakespeare was not an Englishman but an Indian named Sheikh Peer who the English had abducted from India and given another name. However, when I read some of his plays, I could discern nothing Indian in them. They also seemed to be beyond the reach of translation into Indian languages. Nevertheless, Imtiaz Ali Taj and Ahmed Shah Bokhari translated A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Urdu. It was staged in Government College, Lahore. It was so well-rendered with necessary adaptations that I enjoyed the Urdu version more than the English original. Since then I have been curious to know if Shakespeare has been translated in other Indian languages and his plays put on the stage. I have little doubt that as in matters of literature or art, the Bengalis must have been the first. But I have never heard of any being put on the Calcutta stage. I may be wrong.

A few Hindi writers, notably Harvansh Rai Bachchan, translated some plays and read them out to a small audience in the home of the then head of the British Council, Henry Croome-Johnson. I don’t think any of them were acted on the stage. Now my mentor in matters concerning Hindi literature, Pramilla Sharma, tells me that probably the first man to try his hand at translating Shakespeare into Hindi was Gopinath Purohit of Jaipur. He was born in 1863, educated at Maharajah’s College,Jaipur, took a diploma in Sanskrit from the Vishwa Vidyalaya, Agra, did his MA in English literature (the first to do so) and was appointed lecturer in Maharajah’s College. The governor appointed him advisor to the ruler and in 1905 nominated him to the state council and made him rai bahadur. Purohit first translated The Merchant of Venice (Venis ka Vyapaaree), followed by As You Like It (Man Bhaavan) and Romeo and Juliet (Prem Leela). All these translations were done before 1900. Purohit also wrote some novels and was in his time regarded as the doyen of Hindi literature. He died in 1935. I am not sure if any of his translated plays were put on the stage. Pramilla Sharma has given me a photostat copy of Prem Leela. My Hindi is not good enough to judge whether or not he did justice to Romeo and Juliet.

For old time’s sake

What does one do when lovers
Become, husband and wife
Without the bondage of marriage?
When passions refuse to ignite
Like an aging car on winter morns
When emotions flow sluggishly
In time hardened arteries.
When the cataract of proximity
Obscures clarity of vision.
When boredom seeps in like
Damp under the carpet.
And quarrels become as predictable
And repetitive as night and day;
When Love has come and gone
Like a virulent attack of small pox,
Leaving indelible scars behind;

What does one do?

Cling together for old time’s sake

Or go, while the going is good?
(Contributed by Amarinder Bajaj, New Delhi)

To a game of football

The Devil challenged God to a football game. “How can you win?” God asked.
“All the famous football players are up here.”
“How can I lose?” retorted the Devil.
“All the referees are down here.”
(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)


As good as it gets

Ever since Mandal and mandir became a part of every Indian’s lexicon in the late Eighties and early Nineties, politics in Uttar Pradesh has never been the same. Social plates shifted radically. Irrefutable and time-tested caste combinations, the key to many a resounding electoral triumph, were blown to smithereens. And all parties struggled to readjust their caste and communal arithmetic to meet the emerging demands of the new fractured political order.

For the Bharatiya Janata Party that struggle continues even a decade later. Finding a leader who could harmonise the contrasting currents of mandir and Mandal, of religion and caste politics, is no simple task. With the recent elevation of Vinay Katiyar — the bellicose former Bajrang Dal boss — as the president of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit, the party is planning in advance for the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. “The BJP is the number three party in Uttar Pradesh now. My job is to make it number one,” says the 49-year-old Lok Sabha MP from Faizabad, also an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case.

It all boils down to electoral arithmetic. Katiyar is a kurmi, an Other Backward Caste. For a party that has been searching for an OBC leader of substance in the make-or-break northern Indian state ever since former chief minister and OBC leader Kalyan Singh’s acrimonious exit, this is another attempt to get the caste combination right. Kurmis form about 3.5 per cent of UP’s population. Post-poll analysts attribute the BJP’s rout in the state assembly elections earlier this year to the fact that the party was unable to get even a decent percentage of either the non-yadav OBC or the Most Backward Caste votes. This is a step which, the BJP hopes, would bring them over to their side of the fence.

Dalit intellectual Chandrabhan Prasad points out that the move was also prompted by the fact that Mulayam Singh, Kalyan Singh and kurmi leader Sonelal Patel are coming together in a move billed as the mahasangam. “This step could place the yadavs, the Muslims, the lodhs and the kurmis on one platform. Together they would be a formidable political combination by any standards. This is BJP’s way of facing the challenge,” he says.

That apart, Katiyar is also the pugnacious face of the Ayodhya movement. With the BJP increasingly falling back on its Hindutva agenda in recent times as is evident in Gujarat, the former RSS pracharak, who first made his mark as a karsevak and an organiser in the movement leading to the Babri Masjid demolition, seems to be the right man for the job.

But organising a party where factionalism is rampant is a far more unenviable task than handling a bunch of motivated karsevaks. In a party where leaders such as Kalraj Mishra and Rajnath Singh can hardly see eye to eye, their public posturing apart, it is no simple task to bring the thakurs, the brahmins, the kurmis and other non-yadav OBCs under the Hindutva umbrella. That too in a regime headed by dalits. “There is no factionalism in the party,” insists Katiyar. But his words ring hollow in the cold light of facts.

There is no denying that Katiyar is being tactful, a virtue seldom associated with the former Bajrang Dal chief. The man who gave muscle to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement provoked widespread protests in Kashmir in March following a statement that the historic Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar was once a temple founded by an obscure Hindu saint and that he wanted to move the court to reclaim it. His personal staff later denied that he had ever made the remark. But, interestingly, Katiyar is unwilling to come clean on the affair. “Why are you asking me an old question? My answer is: no comments,” he says, when asked if he had ever made the remark.

That is not the only controversy associated with him. In the early Nineties, Uttar Pradesh was rocked by a sensational case when Kusum Mishra, the daughter of a small-time government official, accused Katiyar and his henchman of keeping her forcibly in confinement and raping her. The story made newspaper headlines. But eventually the girl withdrew the case. That apart, Katiyar has also been accused of land grabbing, making money from the lucrative business of ghats and using strong-arm tactics to get things done.

In Parliament too, Katiyar came to notice for the wrong reasons when he came to near fistcuffs with Janata Dal (U) leader Devendra Prasad Yadav. Also, he hardly endeared himself to the more liberal members of the BJP when he dubbed the Vajpayee regime “Raavan raj” in Lok Sabha. The new job means that the former Bajrang Dal boss has to stop shooting off his mouth. Just as he has stopped eating kheer, his favourite dish, after he was diagnosed with diabetes.

Katiyar’s roots with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh run deep although his farmer father was a Congressman. Way back in 1964, at the age of 11, he started going to the shakhas and became a full-timer in 1974. The BJP leader later earned his Master’s in sociology from Kanpur University. However, by his own admission, his inspiration and guide is none other than Hanumanji.

Katiyar won his spurs, as an activist and an organiser, in the build-up leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He is said to have unfurled the saffron flag atop the mosque in 1991. The same year he won the Lok Sabha elections from Faizabad constituency, which includes Ayodhya, by a handsome margin. He won again in 1996 but lost in 1998. Katiyar regained his seat in 1999, forging a near unbeatable combination of kurmis, brahmins and thakurs. It is this combination and more that his party would like him to work out for Uttar Pradesh as a whole.

That’s easier said than done. So far, Katiyar’s work profile has been restricted to activities in and around Ayodhya. Now, he would have to broaden his perspective and take into account the specific needs of the state’s different regions. He doesn’t want to divulge his plan of action, if he has any. “I will walk and the caravan will follow,” is all he says in Hindi. Even on Ramjanmabhoomi, he is reticent. “Everybody knows my views on the issue,” is what he reveals.

It can be safely suggested that though OBC Vinay Katiyar’s rise to the hot seat proves that the BJP doesn’t really want to give up on Mandal, the mandir issue is high on the party’s agenda for the 2004 elections. With a man at the helm who says his home address in Ayodhya is Hindudham, Ramkot, it could be little else. Unless, of course, his guide Hanumanji wants it to be otherwise.



A sight for sore eyes

Sir — Now that the world is getting tired of pretty-face Anna Kournikova, the media has come up with the “babe from Bratislava” (“Babe from Bratislava beats pin-up Anna”, June 26). The new glamour girl of women’s tennis is Daniela Hantuchova — supposedly as beautiful as she is skillful on court. Unfortunately, the media glare on these pin-ups has not done anything to attract serious interest to the game. With the retirement of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, women’s tennis has been starved of high standards and competition. Hopefully, Hantachova will not go the Kournikova way.

Yours faithfully,
Moupali Mitra,Calcutta

Man to the rescue

Sir — The appointment of Vinay Katiyar as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Uttar Pradesh unit shows the party’s belief in offence as the best defence (“Demolition man to rebuild BJP”, June 25). This is the man who had participated in the Babri Masjid demolition and had declared that Muslims should be sent back to Pakistan. Katiyar’s elevation signals the BJP’s desire to revive Hindutva in the next general elections, especially after its setbacks in the recent by-elections.

Thanks to the recent violence in Gujarat, people have become more aware of communal issues. The appointment of a right-winger like Katiyar should thus be a cause of alarm for all parties and people of the state. But BJP hardliners, tired of the moderate stance of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, would be relieved. Let us wait for the outcome of the BJP’s move, and hope good sense prevails upon people in the next polls.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Vinay Katiyar’s appointment as president of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit, is an extremely callous and irresponsible move, since violence continues unabated in Gujarat. By propagating an aggressive Hindutva, the BJP is trying to win back the Hindu vote bank in UP. Will the party ever look beyond the ballot box, to the welfare of the country? The answer is anybody’s guess.

Yours faithfully
Aparajita Dasgupta, Calcutta

Sir — The BJP might think that Vinay Katiyar is its trump card in UP, but it might be inviting more trouble than is worth. A Dalit supremo of its state unit, among all the Brahmin and Rajput contenders, will only fuel dissidence. And surely the Dalits in UP will not be taken in by such a blatantly cynical move. Has the BJP forgotten the Kalyan Singh fiasco?

Yours faithfully,
Rupa Sahay, Calcutta

Trouble in the hills

Sir — Tapas Chakraborty in “Kingdom of anarchy” (June 3) rightly assesses the malaise in the Nepalese body politic. No doubt, Nepal’s decade-old democracy, full of power-mongering politicians who make and unmake governments at the drop of a hat, has failed to cater to the people’s aspirations. For most politicians, power is only a means of self-aggrandizement. This has contributed much to the growth of insurgency.

As Chakraborty points out, military action cannot root out the Maoist problem. The Nepalese government has to improve matters at the grassroots level to ensure that the disaffected people do not turn sympathetic to the Maoists. Perhaps this should serve as a warning to Indian politicians to perform, or risk pushing our society into lawlessness and anarchy.

Yours faithfully,
Rudrasish Datta, Howrah

Sir — Despite having the largest democracy in the world as its neighbour, democracy in Nepal has been in turmoil since its inception. The poverty-stricken Nepalese are obviously disillusioned and the Sher Bahadur Deuba-G.P Koirala feud has not helped matters. The Maoist insurgency has taken a toll of the social infrastructure. The government should seize the initiative from the insurgents by looking into contentious issues like women’s rights, landlessness and environment. It should also start peace negotiations with the Maoists. If steps are not taken now, caste divisions, political dissent and insurgency will rip apart the already fragile Nepalese society.

Yours faithfully,
Karan Ale, Calcutta

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