Editorial 1 / Man of reliance
Editorial 2 / Beyond reserve
The president’s command
Fifth Column / No need to strive for the better
Rotten to the core
Document / That’s no way to treat the “other”
Letters to the editor

Dhirubhai Ambani, who died on Saturday night, could be faulted on many counts but not for lack of vision. He dreamt big and he was among the fortunate few who achieved his dreams in his own lifetime. It was his vision that powered his rise from a petrol pump attendant in Aden to India’s number one industrialist. Dhirubhai Ambani lived out in his life the rags-to-riches story which is the stuff of legends. When he stormed the citadel of Indian industry, he was considered an arriviste. The principal occupants of that citadel then were the Tatas and the Birlas, and the citadel was heavily guarded by the government of India. The Indian state laid down the rules and terms of entry and operation in the world of Indian industrialization. Licences and permits, gifts of the government, determined the content and direction of Indian industries. Dhirubhai Ambani, with his flagship, Reliance, played the system to his own advantage and even changed some of the rules. It is easy to decry some of the methods he used but what should be emphasized is that in the Seventies and Eighties — the high noon of state regulation of industries and markets — the laws were bizarre and antiquated. Time was out of joint for Indian business and businessmen. It is a measure of Dhirubhai Ambani’s achievement that he won against the odds and set the time to suit entrepreneurship.

The scale of Dhirubhai Ambani’s achievements has radically altered the landscape of Indian industries. Karl Marx — not perhaps the most apt name to cite in the context of a capitalist’s career — wrote about the unleashing of the forces of production in the age of capital. In India, Dhirubhai Ambani epitomized this sense of unleashing and liberation. Under his aegis, the annual general meeting of Reliance moved from its usual site, a hall, to a stadium. This apparently trivial fact marks the distance that Reliance — and perhaps the nature of Indian business — travelled under Dhirubhai Ambani. He presided over an empire worth Rs 65,000 crore which has 35,000 employees. But he never forgot his humble beginnings. He remained essentially a simple man. He was loyal to his business and rewarded those who were loyal to him. The shareholders of Reliance, often ordinary middle-class people, knew that Dhirubhai Ambani put their money where the profits were. His attitudes were in sharp contrast to the attitudes of those who want to restrict man’s enormous productive capacity by petty regulations. Dhirubhai Ambani visualized a free economy in an era of socialist planning. When the Indian economy began to be freed from its regulatory shackles in the Nineties, Dhirubhai Ambani and his two sons, Mukesh and Anil, were ready for it, and they expanded and diversified their ventures. Dhirubhai Ambani released energies of entrepreneurship and investment, the impact of which was overpowering and profound. He was the unbound Prometheus of Indian industry.


The Vishwa Hindu Parishad seems hellbent on striking at India’s secular polity. Its sabre-rattling at other communities shows no signs of stopping even after the Gujarat tragedy. Its central committee meeting at Ranchi has come up with ideas which could be fresh recipes for social and political disasters. Its thinly veiled threat to disrupt parliamentary proceedings if its demand for construction of a Ram temple on the disputed site at Ayodhya is not accepted can only add to the worries about its activities. Its earlier threat to not accept an unfavourable judicial verdict on the issue was clearly an affront to the rule of law. The conclave’s other call to end job reservations and other benefits to Christian tribals is equally ominous. The constitutional provision for these is based on a community’s social and economic backwardness. Any attempt to rob a backward people of these privileges because of their religion would violate the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. The VHP leaders have obviously floated the idea to coerce tribals who converted to Christianity and to stop others from doing so. It smacks of the same divisive politics that was behind its dangerous slogan — “Pahley kasai, picchey ishai” [Muslims first, then Christians] — that set the stage for the Gujarat tragedy.

The VHP’s threats could be dismissed as rantings of the lunatic fringe of a society if it were not part of the saffron parivar that leads the ruling coalition in New Delhi. Even if it cannot directly influence the government’s policy, its pulls and pressures tear apart an already fragmented social fabric. Jharkhand’s chief minister, Mr Babulal Marandi, who had been a VHP functionary before joining the Bharatiya Janata Party, has only fuelled speculations about the organization’s plans for the tribal-majority state. Little wonder that the opposition parties have accused the saffron group of planning to turn Jharkhand into another Nagpur, the cradle of Hindutva politics, in order to reclaim the tribals to Hindutva. It would be disastrous for the new state if its social and communal harmony is sacrificed to the cynical politics of religion. Mr Marandi must assure the people immediately that his government will not allow any outfit to tamper with either their religion or their constitutional privileges. The Union government too has to unambiguously declare that it will not allow any subversion of law, even if it is by friendly outfits.


Much has been written and debated in the recent past on the issue of the election of the next president. Political parties and their spokespersons, media and constitutional experts have all added their voice to an episode that can only be described as yet another blow to our decaying national institutions. The debate has highlighted two issues. One, the political moves and counter-moves towards identifying candidates and their underlying motives; and second, presidential powers and their bearing on the unfolding political scenario where coalition politics presently holds sway.

Strangely enough, totally absent from this debate has been the other constitutional authority of the president, namely that of the supreme commander of the armed forces. One terms it strange because today our armed forces are locked in a posture that could mean instant war at the slightest provocation. They have been in this state for well over six months during which not only do they continue to bear the brunt of a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir, but their innocent families back home too have to face hardship. They continue to display tenacity, courage and patience in the finest traditions of the Indian armed forces. Should hostilities break out, the nation expects them to perform their duty even at the cost of their lives, to preserve the honour and integrity of the country.

Yet at this historical juncture, no quarter has thought it fit to ponder over what impact the present controversy could have on the morale of these very people, when not only the institution of their supreme commander but the personalities of the present and would-be incumbent, are propelled to the centrestage of an unseemly politico-personal electoral controversy.

Walk into the office of a chief of staff and you will see the portrait of the president of India looking down at you duly flanked by the national tricolour and the standard of the service. Do the same into the headquarters of any service command or field formation and a similar picture awaits you. If one were to crawl breathlessly into the high altitude bunker that makes for a headquarters in Siachen, it is a safe bet that the supreme commander’s benign and watchful eye graced by the national flag would still look at you. Not with standing his position as the highest constitutional authority of the republic and the guardian of the Constitution, to a uniformed person the president is the supreme commander. Lest this appear mere symbolism, it is worth recalling some facts of routine military life.

The ultimate honour that an operational unit can ever aspire to is to be bestowed with the president’s colours. Since this is a rarity, only units that have repeatedly excelled in campaigns or other meritorious service to the country are so rewarded by the president. These colours are given pride of place in the unit and are displayed ceremonially only on special occasions, when even the seniormost amongst those present must pay respect. In a similar vein, presidential awards for gallantry in the face of the enemy or in peacetime are viewed by those so honoured, or in many cases their next of kin as the ultimate in recognition of acts beyond the call of duty.

The chiefs of staff and selected senior commanders-in-chief of each service are privileged to be appointed honorary aide-de-camps by the president of India, and for this honour they proudly add ADC to their name and decorations. Units tasked for duties at the president’s estate consider it a singular honour to be assigned to these, otherwise ceremonial, duties in the service of the supreme commander.

One has laboured some of the preceding facts only because to those who may not be well-versed with the ethos of the armed forces, the entire concept of the supreme commander may on the surface appear no more than tokenism and part of the pomp and pageantry of the institution of the military, as this is the part most of us see on our television screens. But to those who live by the code of the profession of arms, the president represents far more than the highest office in the land, the upholder of the Constitution and the conscience-keeper of the nation. He is the supreme commander of every man and woman in uniform and in this avatar their protector. That is why to this day, formal dining-in procedures in officer’s messes conclude with a toast to the president.

It is not this writer’s intention to reflect on what has actually happened on the political stage or indeed in its manipulative dressing rooms, as this is the domain of political commentators, only to reflect on the perception that has been created by this needless and somewhat unfortunate episode. And shorn of any camouflage and verbiage, what we seem to have witnessed on the part of all players is political manoeuvring leveraged on religious sentiments on a wider national electoral chessboard. Today it matters little whether or not these perceptions are true. To the general public, of which the armed forces are an integral part, these perceptions are there to stay.

One may debate that even in his being as supreme commander, the president is a figurehead and that he still exercises no authority and to this extent his position as the supreme commander remains purely ceremonial. While legally this formulation is valid, there is a singular difference in respect of the armed forces, which rarely finds mention. While the armed forces are governed by their respective acts which carry legal weight, the code that guides the men and women in uniform in their daily lives and work, surprisingly is not of legal making, but about moral fibre.

This code commands unquestioned faith in duty, honour and country. It is in support of this faith that young officers and jawans scaled the peaks of Kargil knowing full well that death awaited them and it is this faith that drives their fellow soldier’s morale on the borders today. Inherent in this abstract code is another sacred mantra, that of loyalty to command right up the ladder. Thus when the very institution of the supreme commander is brought into divisive debate and conflict then the message percolating through many layers of command is that somehow the national ethos is out of synchronization with the armed forces. Suddenly duty, honour and country begin to lose their meaning. Without this emotional backdrop, sacrifice loses its relevance. In short, morale evaporates.

In no legal book is one likely to find laws defining morale, duty, honour and country, as they reside on a moral rather than a legal plane. That is why it is so important for our democratic institutions to understand and respect the abstract foundations that keep our armed forces apolitical, secular, strong, loyal to the Constitution and ever ready for sacrifice.

In these most testing of times what our armed forces did not expect, least of all deserve, is the institution of their supreme commander being mired in divisive controversy. If the izzat of the institution of supreme commander is thrown open to the vagaries of our electoral politics, then it follows that the very izzat of the institution of our armed forces is mortally wounded. Such indifference and insensitivity to the men and women in uniform on battle stations at this juncture, deserve deep introspection by institutions of our democracy.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force


During the 25 years of Left Front rule in West Bengal, there has been some improvement in the area of education. The number of candidates appearing for the Madhyamik examination has shot up from approximately two lakh in 1976-77 to around 10 lakh in 2001-02. The number of enrolled students at the primary level has increased from around 36 lakh in 1976-77 to nearly 91 lakh in 2001-02.

These figures can make one proud, but they can also make one sceptical. A fallout of the expansion of education has been a compromise with quality. Modern school and college education in India, especially in West Bengal, was initiated, structured and organized by the British. However, after independence, education underwent a nationalistic reorientation although its structure and depth remained comparable to the standards and levels in the West.

Unlike China, India invested more in higher education and less in primary education. The result was a situation where more than half of the country’s population remained illiterate and only a small urban minority went on to excel in different fields.

Dark classrooms

Education, like all other constructive endeavours, succeeds because of a quest for excellence. Routine examinations are one such time-tested mode of inducing a quest for excellence among both teachers and students. The removal of routine examinations up to the primary school level has increased attendance in primary schools in West Bengal, since students no longer suffer from examination-related fears. But, at the same time, the quest for excellence and the motivation to succeed has also decreased.

This has had a far-reaching effect, leading to a lack of seriousness among teachers and students. In Habibpur recently, a schoolteacher was beaten up by guardians who were tired of his irregular attendance. In another incident at Nabadweep, irate parents beat up a teacher for refusing to promote certain students.

These incidents can not be seen in isolation. They reflect, both separately and when taken together, a harmful lack of seriousness. One comes across reports about primary schools with teachers in place, but no classrooms or students. There are regular disbursements of grants-in-aid to schools that do not exist, teaching staff who draw salaries without attending their schools except on the salary date and so on. It is not surprising that the department of education has repeatedly been hauled up for gross financial irregularities and for the loopholes in its administrative structure.

Think again

The financial irregularities are probably the result of the swindling of funds by party cadre, village or zilla level powerbrokers, the pandemonium is the fallout of a system that has expanded much too quickly. It would be difficult to rectify the situation even if drastic steps were taken.

One could take the issue of private tuition. There is nothing wrong with a sincere student trying to learn more through private tuition. The important question is whether teachers giving private tuition are deliberately not putting in their best in class to lure students into taking tuition. Or whether a teacher is deliberately leaking out examination questions to students for a price. This would justify the government’s decision to ban private tuition.

Questions have also been raised about the legal validity of the government’s demand for a no-tuition bond from teachers. While this would be nothing more than a cosmetic measure, the government is within its rights to demand such a bond since all professional appointments are in the form of service contracts. The government reserves the right to incorporate any additional clause or service condition if it so desires.

Unfortunately, it is not a question of legality but one of moral incorrectness that has provoked several teacher’s associations to urge their members not to submit the demanded declarations. This, despite the fact that they are aware of the money made by teachers from private tuition. The only way that the government can stem the rot is by re-evaluating its educational policy.


The Enron-Arthur Andersen episode was initially regarded as an exception to the much vaunted corporate governance system in the United States of America. Not anymore. Almost every week, new stories of corporate scandals are coming out. The latest in the series is WorldCom, the second largest long-distance carrier of internet data in the US, after AT&T. The company overstated its cash-flow by $ 3.8 billion. Remember Enron was the largest private sector energy company in the world.

India is not immune to what is happening in the US either. Just as the collapse of Enron affected the financial position of some Indian financial institutions, the WorldCom debacle may cause a big hole of nearly Rs 5,000 crore in the balance sheet of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited. It has become doubtful whether Worldcom would be able to pay this amount due to VSNL. Interestingly, the auditing firm in charge of WorldCom was also Arthur Andersen, the same firm indicted in the Enron scandal.

Predictably, the unfolding series of scandals has created varying reactions. Some see in it the vindication of the Marxian law of falling rate of profits in a capitalist system which has been kept under wraps by a false declaration of profits. It is only by chance that the cover has now been partially opened. Some others detect in it the widespread lack of morality in the corporate world, a nexus between greedy company officials, auditors and politicians. Yet others consider changed incentive structures to be primarily responsible. According to this theory, the nature of American business corporations (and in a globalized world, business in other countries also) has undergone a big change in recent times.

Earlier, companies had multiple goals. They used to look after the interests of shareholders, as also of the employees and executives and even consumers. But from the late Eighties, share value became almost the sole concern of American corporations. The compensation package of top company executives came to have strong links with the price of company stocks. On top of bonuses being linked to stock prices, company executives were also given huge stock options in the company. The pay packets of executives who successfully pursued the exclusive goal of increasing the share price reached astronomical heights. The top 10 highly paid executives in the US, on an average, received $ 3.5 million in 1981, $ 19.3 million in 1988 and $ 154 million in 2000. While the wages of ordinary workers in the US doubled, the compensation of top executives multiplied 44 times over this 20 year period.

Apart from leading to inequalities in income, this trend also created the incentive for some company bosses to inflate profit figures by “innovative” (read fraudulent) accounting tricks. In this, they were helped by reputed accounting firms. The auditors often did not ask unpleasant questions or probe them properly because they got lucrative consultancy assignments in the company or related companies. As stock prices zoomed, so did the wealth of the company bosses.

Many of these bosses sold the stocks when they were at the peak and pocketed the gains. Even if in a few cases, the truth eventually came out, the bosses had already increased their personal wealth enormously. At worst, they would have to resign. Their wealth would not be confiscated. Nor would they go to jail. They kept the political bosses in good humour by campaign contributions to political parties and even personal favours to men in the corridors of power. Thus, the company bosses have everything to gain and little to lose, except for their reputation. And since a lot of them used the same means, their estimation in the eyes of their peers would not be affected either.

Ordinary shareholders and employees were usually kept in the dark about the questionable methods used to push up stock prices and the impending bankruptcy. The people with insider information — the company bosses, influential politicians and members of regulatory bodies who had prior information — got the time to sell off their stocks before the news broke. Ordinary shareholders and employees who had exercised their stock options were just left stranded with junk stocks.

What are the fallouts?

Though the recent revelations have not come as surprises to people familiar with the ways of the corporate world, the popular image of corporate America has taken a severe beating. Ordinary investors have become wary of investing in the US since they cannot trust the profit-and-loss figures of the companies. There is apprehension that the loss of investor confidence may adversely affect chances of an economic recovery in the US.

International institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and Western experts used to recommend that developing countries should adopt American institutions and accounting standards to get rid of corrupt business practices. Now the unending stories of a nexus between big business, auditors, banks and politicians, and the acknowledged role of industry lobbyists in influencing government policy-making in the US suggest a world not vastly different from the “crony capitalism” of east Asia.

Regulation by government agencies or bodies staffed with people chosen by the politicians has not checked such corrupt corporate practices. Laying down standards means little unless it is ensured that these will be followed scrupulously and that those who do not follow will be severely punished.

The suggested reforms include curtailing the dual role of auditors as consultants, mandating that auditors of a company be selected by an independent agency like the New York stock exchange (which would be akin to letting a soccer team select its own referee), large corporations be made to rotate auditors every five years. There could also be guidelines imposing tighter conflict of interest restrictions on bankers, stock analysts and credit rating agencies, putting a limit on the amount of employee retirement funds that can be invested in stock options and so on. When a company goes bust, employees lose a large part of their retirement money which had been invested in stocks. However, industry associations and their lobbyists are working hard in Washington to dilute these proposed reforms.

Some believe stringent regulations are not needed. The market will largely take care of the problem since investors will flee those companies whose accounting or governance standards are below the expected levels. This would, in turn, force the companies to improve. Dishonesty, in other words, wouldn’t pay in the long run. The problem with this theory is that investors won’t know better until the scandal comes out in the open, if at all it does. So long as the errant management doesn’t suffer any serious penalty (like being put behind bars or confiscation of all ill-gotten personal wealth), the current practices would continue.

Moreover, these corporate conmen have a variety of tricks in their kitty. WorldCom, for example, classified operating expenses (which must be charged in the same year) as capital expenditure (which is spread over several years), thereby artificially inflating current profits and stock prices. Enron entered into contracts with buyers of electricity by underestimating the cost of production and then entering all the projected overestimated profits on future sales as current profits. Other companies used other tricks. In fact, one management practitioner recently compiled a list of some 20 tricks that can be used to make the sales or profits look better than they were. So, it is not always easy even for experts to unravel the truth.

The bottom line is: if somebody in the corporate world wants to be a crook, it is not difficult under the present system not only in the US but in the other countries as well. The existing system provides strong incentives for bending the rules and little penalty for the people caught in the act.


Provision of medical services to the survivors by public hospitals: hospitals have an indispensable role in providing medical care to those with more serious or special health problems. The team gathered information primarily in Ahmedabad city, focussing attention on the role of public hospitals. It obtained various kinds of information through discussions with camp inmates who had accessed hospital services, interviews of staff and patients in hospitals, and discussions with doctors working in various hospitals.

Ahmedabad is characterized by a fairly large number of government hospitals, run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (L.G. Hospital, V.S. Hospital, and Shardaben Hospital) and two civil hospitals run by the state government.

Public hospitals have been working under a constant threat of violence against Muslim patients within the precincts of the hospital. There have been instances of mobs attacking hospitals, preventing injured persons from entering, and even moving around in the wards, terrorizing and even attacking patients and relatives. There is no indication that the government has made serious efforts to protect the health services, and maintain people’s access to them. Despite this pressure, health professionals...have functioned neutrally, providing treatment without discrimination on the basis of community. This is commendable.

On the whole, comments from almost all sources, including the camp inmates, indicated that individual doctors working in hospitals have worked strenuously, often around the clock, to deal with the large number of victims. This needs to be placed on record, and the efforts of many committed doctors, nurses and hospital staff to provide care to victims in a demanding situation needs to be appreciated.

However, there have been many larger forces at work, which have been responsible for restricting the effectiveness of hospitals in providing care, especially to the minority community. The sanctity of hospitals as humanitarian spaces, where everyone should be able to receive treatment without fear, has been violated. In some situations, doctors are even pressurized or threatened for making efforts to treat minority patients...The team identified the following issues concerning public hospitals during this crisis.

Religion-wise segregation of hospitals:

A senior medical consultant from a municipal hospital told the team that, informally, both hospital authorities and the common people have, to some extent, segregated hospitals according to the religion of patients...He said that there was an unwritten guideline that patients of the “other” religion should be transferred to a “safer” hospital.

Such segregation, which has become accentuated during the recent violence, is partly related to the geographical location of hospitals and the ghettoization within the city. This has contributed to the public perception of each hospital as being the preserve of patients of certain communities. Hospitals which are located in Hindu majority areas are not so frequently accessed by Muslim patients and vice versa.

There is an impression among camp inmates that Vadilal Sarabhai hospital is a comparatively “safe” hospital for Muslims. Muslims have not accessed certain other hospitals as frequently during the violence for fear of attack by Hindu mobs. There was a case in L.G. Hospital during the 1992 communal violence, when a Muslim burns patient admitted there was thrown off the roof of the hospital...The memory of that event inhibited many patients from going there.

It is also important to comment that several ad hoc measures that have been taken to deal with emergency situations (segregating hospitals and patients on the basis of community, giving sympathetic leave to staff belonging to the minority community) may threaten the secular character of health institutions and lead to accentuation of polarization within the profession.

However, it must be noted that the responsibility of ensuring safety of patients and staff in the hospitals lies with the agencies such as the police, which have clearly been party to the violence themselves. It is apparent that while the hospitals have largely been non-discriminatory, they have been unable to mobilise support to protect their non-partisan and humanitarian role.

Mobs creating terror and Muslim patients being unable to access hospitals:

Patients, hospital staff and doctors — all told the team about large mobs, usually of the majority community, gathering in front of some hospitals or in the hospital compounds, especially during the initial days after the outbreak of violence. The mobs intimidated Muslims trying to bring new patients to the hospital gates.

After the initial incidents, hospital authorities started providing security staff outside the hospital and even in some of the wards. This is not always sufficient. Lack of access to hospitals was a problem encountered at various levels, even before patients could reach the hospitals.

In an abnormal situation, where there is a threat to people’s safety and movement, the barriers to access to the institution has much worse repercussions. By depending on people to come to them for treatment, the services do not reach those who need them the most.

To be concluded



Travellers in the same boat

Sir — The British prime minister, Tony Blair, deserves the bad press he has been getting for having his sons tutored by masters from the leading Westminster school (“Blairs go private for sons’ tuition”, July 6). Not only is this hypocritical, it is also evidence of Blair’s lack of confidence in his country’s education system. Doesn’t this bring to mind similar experiences faced by the children of our country? And isn’t it ironical that the education system of a developed country like Britain should face the same inadequacies and problems that besets that of a third world country? Given the superior infrastructure in first world countries, there should, in theory, be no need for extra help for students there in the form of private tuition. In Britain, the hue and cry over Blair’s action is essentially a class issue — most parents cannot afford private tuition for their kids. Thus, third world or first world — everywhere it is the rich and privileged who rule the roost.

Yours faithfully,
Arpan Datta, Malda

Spent force

Sir — The result of the recent byelection to the Howrah south assembly constituency shows just how irrelevant the Trinamool Congress has become in West Bengal politics (“Howrah insult to Delhi injury”, July 5). Worse, Mamata Banerjee’s failure to get the railways ministry or even prevent the bifurcation of Eastern Railway shows that even the National Democratic Alliance does not take her seriously any longer. The people of the state have become tired of her indecisiveness and authoritarian style of functioning. The only way she can survive politically is to follow the example of the Tamil Maanila Congress and rejoin the Congress, without any fuss.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Nothing seems to be going right for the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee. After being forced to return empty-handed from New Delhi, her party’s misfortune was compounded by its extremely poor performance in the elections to the Howrah south assembly seat. The people of West Bengal realize that all Banerjee can do is organize protest rallies and call bandhs at the drop of a hat — she can never fulfil their dreams. As for the tussle over the railways ministry, it is clear that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would much rather lose the support of his ally than risk offending his newly appointed deputy, L.K. Advani.

Yours faithfully,
Soumitra Nandi, Batanagar

Sir — It is not difficult to understand why Mamata Banerjee has not been given the plum railways ministry. During her tenure as railways minister, she did not achieve much. She was responsible for wasting the taxpayers’ money in the unprofitable Tamluk-Digha project which has not seen the light of day yet. In retrospect, Banerjee’s troubles started with her misplaced confidence in the run-up to the 2001 assembly polls, which was based on an over-estimation of her popularity in the state. The sound drubbing she received in those polls is evidence that the electorate in West Bengal is not misled by her gimmicks. If Banerjee wants to be taken seriously by the people of her state and the Central government , she needs to first come up with a constructive plan of action.

Yours faithfully,
Sucharita Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — It was extremely immature on the part of a national leader of the standing of Mamata Banerjee to throw a petulant fit and attempt to armtwist the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, into giving her the railway ministry in the recent cabinet reshuffle (“Mamata and Atal drive hard bargain”, July 1).

Ever since the Trinamool Congress joined the Central coalition government, Banerjee has persisted in blackmailing the NDA until her unreasonable demands were met. Perhaps, Banerjee thinks she is indispensable in the coalition. But to Vajpayee’s credit, he has not given in this time and made it clear to her that her brand of opportunism does not have a place in his scheme of things. Banerjee should know that bargaining and blackmailing do not always work. She had better learn how to be satisfied with whatever she has got instead of hankering for what she has not.

Yours faithfully,
Bijoy Ranjan Dey, Tinsukia

Red light ahead

Sir — It was good that Narendra Modi’s gaurav yatra was stopped before it began, because it could have sparked off fresh violence in Gujarat, ravaged by months of communal riots (“Scared minorities get out of yatra way”, July 6). Gujarat is yet to recover from the nightmares of the post-Godhra carnage and any provocation on the part of Modi, even a so-called “peace” procession, would not have gone down well. Not that Modi has any intention of bringing peace to the state or restoring the confidence of the minorities in Gujarat — or he would not have shut down the relief camps in Ahmedabad. Modi’s loud claims of peace are just empty words. All Modi and his party care about is winning the assembly elections scheduled for early next year.

But, Muslims in the state are right in fearing that the Jagannath rath yatra on July 12 may also lead to trouble in certain sensitive pockets. Thus, it might make sense to curtail the rath yatras too in order to avoid untoward incidents.

Yours faithfully,
Neha Dubey, Calcutta

Sir — By stopping Narendra Modi’s gaurav yatra, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani have probably prevented history from repeating itself (“Stop now”, July 4). Remember that other rath yatra of almost a decade ago, by L.K. Advani, which had set off a series of events that ended in the demolition of the Babri Masjid?

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Premium trouble

Sir — If the Unit Trust of India’s proposal to sell its stake in ITC for a control premium goes through, it will deprive other institutional shareholders of ITC — Life Insurance Corporation, General Insurance Corporation and Industrial Development Bank of India — of a share in the control premium. This will not be in the interests of the millions of LIC policy holders, who are after all small shareholders in ITC. The finance ministry should intervene to ensure that any deal with BAT includes the sale of ITC holdings by all institutions and not just UTI.

Yours faithfully,
Amartya Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — As a small shareholder of ITC, I am upset at the news that UTI is negotiating a deal with BAT for the sale of its stake in ITC, in return for a high control premium. If this deal goes through it will deprive small shareholders of ITC of the opportunity to earn a premium over the current share price. The Securities and Exchange Board of India should ensure that BAT makes an open offer to all shareholders of ITC.

Already, the price of the ITC scrip has shot up and UTI has sold a part of its stake to book short-term profits. Small shareholders who had bought the ITC scrip in the last few days hoping it would go even higher, have been left in the lurch since the ITC price has dipped because of this selling pressure. SEBI should investigate all transactions in the ITC counter to ensure there has been no insider-trading.

Yours faithfully,
Anirban Sen, Calcutta

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