Editorial 1 / Uncourteous
Editorial 2 / Extreme action
Deepening saffron
Fifth Column/ Some bad times before the good
Memories of another revolution
Letter/ When a step wrong means death
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / UNCOURTEOUS 
 
 
 
 
At all costs, the fences should always be good; the goodness of neighbours can be assessed thereafter. The Supreme Court’s direction that certain electoral reforms be implemented from a particular date may quite justifiably be seen to have crossed the fence. As the Bharatiya Janata Party president, Mr K. Jana Krishnamurthi, has said, the court cannot direct Parliament to amend or enact a law. Law-making is solely the legislature’s responsibility. Recently, the court has sometimes been perceived as encroaching on turfs under the jurisdiction of other authorities, especially when the authorities concerned seem to have abdicated their responsibility. But a system that demands the strict division of duty is not amenable to the substitution of one form of authority for another. The breaking down of fences is self-defeating. The court’s observations in such a situation are wasted, because they are drowned in debates about intervention.

Predictably, the proposals for reform put forward by the Election Commission and urged on by the court have united politicians in protest. These are not new requirements that the EC wishes to incorporate in the rules for filing nominations, they have been part of the recommendations of earlier election reform committees. But no party is willing to uphold transparency by supporting the three requirements being proposed: that the candidate shall declare his educational qualifications, his assets and his criminal record, if any, during filing of nominations. The politicians’ outburst of indignation at what is being described as the court’s violation of turf is founded not on an upright sense of correctness but on a shamefaced knowledge of and participation in a system that encourages corruption and abuse of power. In this context, the parties’ united insistence that poll reform should come from the legislature is completely meaningless. Legislators who have against them charges ranging from embezzlement of public money and fraud to rape and murder sit on the members’ seats in the Lok Sabha, together with their friends, patrons, beneficiaries and partymen. No party is free of the taint, the moral high ground has become a thing of the past since coalition politics has begun encouraging alliances with the most unlikely bedfellows. Even the left, low on criminally charged members, will only talk about the overstepping of the Supreme Court. The situation is quite absurd. Politics and crime cannot be separated through reform if the composition of the legislature remains the same. And the composition cannot change unless reforms are introduced. Therefore recommendations for reform seem to be fated to float round in a pointless circle in the grey area between the respective jurisdictions of the court and the legislature.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / EXTREME ACTION 
 
 
 
 
Toughness — necessarily unpleasant — is the only logical answer to extremist violence. And this must be founded on clear thinking and systemic efficiency. It was possible for West Bengal to deal with an almost two-decades-long phase of disruptive extremism in the Seventies. It should therefore be possible again for Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government to root out the sproutings of extremism in the state before it all gets out of hand again. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) or People’s War and the Maoist Communist Centre are making their presence felt in the state. Following the recent arrests in Calcutta of persons with alleged extremist links, there have been two murders, together with campaigns against the state government and its law and order machinery. The situation has been complicated by the suicide of a suspected mediator following police interrogation. The arrest of a suburban academic has also sparked off protest from various quarters. In a communist state where the popular attitudes to left-wing extremism have been marked by ambivalence, such developments could hinder the government’s straightforwardness in dealing with the matter. This is where clear thinking will have to step in to counter ideological obfuscation.

To subject the extirpation of neo-Naxalitism to the high-minded discourses of human rights or democracy, or to glorify it as transformative radicalism, is to indulge in a particularly harmful sort of muddle. Extremist violence undermines the foundations of reason and democracy. It is socially, economically and politically oppressive and regressive. To curb it with a firm hand is not to tarnish the state’s human rights record, but to protect the rule of law which is the only basis on which a democracy could function. Losing sight of this in the name of fighting oppression could only amount to the worst obstructions of justice. The role of the police is crucial here. Any up-to-date police force will have to be mindful of human rights. But this should not waylay the police from the essential simplicity of their objective. This is, of course, at another level, far from a simple task. Neo-Naxalitism is more extensive and complex than its original form, taking in a network of states and spreading across the borders into countries like Nepal and Bangladesh. Within Bengal, its character is changing from a predominantly rural to a more urban and terrorist orientation. Networking, arms supply, international funding and internal organization have all become more sophisticated, and therefore that much more challenging for the police to tackle. Mr Bhattacharjee will have to meet this challenge clear-headedly in order to forestall a second instalment of chaos in his state.

   

 
 
DEEPENING SAFFRON 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
The shake-up in both the ruling party and the government point to a shift of gear in the Bharatiya Janata Party. This goes well beyond the important shifts in key functionaries. The emphasis will now be on ideologically charged issues as opposed to the record in governance. This transition is not a one-shot pro- cess, but there are now clear signs of change. There is a desire to address the decline in the popular vote in key bastions in the Gangetic plains and in older strongholds like Delhi. The induction of fresh blood into a party organization which was virtually moribund over the last few years also aims to put the party in shape for crucial assembly elections and for the general elections of 2004.

No commentator has missed out on the way in which the allies were lined up to endorse the appointment of L.K. Advani as deputy prime minister. Read along with the changes in the party, it indicates a serious re-appraisal of the strategies of the party towards not only its allies but also towards the larger issues facing the country.

The roots of the present phase of coalition politics based on a common minimum programme rather than the BJP’s own distinctive agenda can be traced back to around the middle of 1993. Electoral reverses in the Hindi belt that winter only reinforced such an emphasis on providing better governance rather than on the mere peddling of Hindutva. The party came to the conclusion that the appeal of symbols such as the mandir and Kashmir, though proven vote-catchers, could become obstacles in the search for power. By the Lok Sabha elections of 1999, the BJP even decided not to issue a party manifesto, for fear that its differences with its 23 allies would be out in the open. Instead, such issues were kept in abeyance. They were not renounced, but only set aside for a time.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s own emergence as the undisputed and sole candidate for leadership of the country took place against such a backdrop. The P.V. Narasimha Rao regime was losing ground, but the BJP was unable to capitalize on this to displace it with a regime of its own. The compulsions of coalition politics required the party to project the only figure in its history to attain the status of a public icon.

This raised doubts regarding where Advani would fit in. But the timing of the hawala diaries was such that it kept him out of the two-week-long government of May 1996. That the party has had a system of dual kingship is an open secret. From 1968, till the formation of its first stable government in 1998, one or the other has served as president. The only exceptions were the brief Joshi period and the Janata interregnum, which total less than five years out of thirty.

Advani’s central handicap initially was his lack of mass appeal. This was obliterated in the wake of his 10,000- kilometre rath yatra in 1990, but this in turn made him too divisive an image for non-Hindutva formations. Personality-oriented campaigns are nothing new to India, but the BJP found in Vajpayee a figure that could straddle the various divisions in its ranks while reaching out to uncommitted voters outside the fold. But the level and degree of the partnership of the two men is without parallel in any major political party in independent India. Each was and is a foil to the other. Yet, as Advani himself admitted in a television interview, there are nuances and differences of image even if these are reconciled by a common basic approach.

This was evident in the way they united in 1993 to deny a second term as party president to Murli Manohar Joshi. It has also been clear in the emasculation of the organizational leadership at its apex in the last four years, when leaders with virtually no popular base have been chosen to head the party.

But deeper down, the reality is that the BJP has a paucity of trained and capable personnel of an all-India stature who can win a popular election as well as command the confidence of the party-workers. It does, however, have a range of younger men and women all of whom rose to prominence in the Nineties, the classical Advani period of explicit Hindutva.

It is the ascendancy of the younger members, like M. Venkaiah Naidu, that signals a shift of gear. The most crucial insight will perhaps lie in the choice of party secretaries. In 1985, following the rejection by the electorate of the “Gandhian socialist” plank of the party, it was Advani’s appointment as general secretary that marked the beginnings of the shift to openly Hindutva platforms. The difference in 2002 is that the party now forms the core of the ruling alliance at the Centre. It also rules four states. Back in 1985, it had only two seats in the Lok Sabha and ruled only a handful of municipalities.

In fact, there were signs of a shift in gear even prior to the reshuffle. Narendra Modi survived a determined bid to oust him at the Goa meeting of the national executive committee, and looks set to be a powerful voice for the Hindutva plank. Advani’s appointment as deputy prime minister marks a more assertive mood of the BJP vis-ŕ-vis its allies. The governments at the Centre and in the states gave the lead for the party.

This is similar to the mid-Eighties, when the party was also at a crossroads. This time, it is a major force to reckon with, looking set to finish five unbroken years at the helm in New Delhi in April 2003 and a full five-year term in October 2004. But its armies of supporters have shrunk, with no major Hindi-belt state under its direct control. More seriously, its record in power has not shown much to write home about. It seems to have drawn a major lesson from Gujarat — namely, that Hindutva will be a vote-winner. As with the Congress in 1984, the party hopes to polarize the voters on communal lines and romp home to power.

In that sense, the Gujarat assembly polls will be the first testing ground of the BJP’s explicit plank since it came to power at the Centre. The symbols of Hindutva may change: it may be the mandir, the issue of terrorism, or Kashmir. But there is little doubt that the party is set to test the platform in states where it is in a one-on-one fight with the Congress. Such emotively charged campaigns may deepen differences, give pan-Indian politics an ethnic colour it does not now possess and render the social fabric deeply fissured. Given its status as a ruling party, this process of mobilization may place fresh strains on institutions of governance.

There are clear limits to the BJP’s capacity in terms of its ability to become an umbrella organization or formation. The fact that it is in power or in partnership with several allies had acted as a restraint, but this has eroded severely. More than at any time in its past, the changing balance of power in the BJP will hold a key to which way the Indian polity moves in the coming months. Like all cadre-based entities with a clear ideological orientation, the BJP hopes to emerge stronger in the process, with a majority or near-majority of its own. It will also call for much clearer responses than have been forthcoming from its opponents, who are today a divided lot.

The author is an independent researcher and political analyst

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ SOME BAD TIMES BEFORE THE GOOD 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
Back in South Africa, looking for signs of hope again, and having to work even harder than usual.

In the province of KwaZulu, employers have begun limiting the number of times their workers can take time off their jobs for funerals: the enormous HIV infection rate is beginning to translate into large numbers of actual AIDS deaths. More factories are relocating from South Africa to places where the labour laws do not resemble those of pre-Thatcher Britain. Politics at every level is infested with crooks, and the avalanche of illegal immigrants from all over Africa continues.

The worst news is that the economy has averaged less than two per cent annual growth since the end of apartheid. That’s slower than most developed countries, and disastrously bad for a developing country. South Africa’s post-apartheid economy is not even creating new jobs fast enough to keep the horrendous unemployment from getting worse.

Disheartening stuff, but on the day I arrived here, a local paper ran a story about the Russian duma, which had finally passed a law allowing the private ownership and sale of farmland in Russia — a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it suddenly occurred to me: maybe that’s how long it takes.

Russian example

The immediate aftermath of democratization in Russia was deeply disappointing. Living standards dropped and unemployment soared. The average annual growth rate for the first post-communist decade in Russia, even taking into account the recent improvement in the country’s fortunes, is just about one per cent. Clowns and crooks took over politics at every level, and violent crime grew so bad that Russia’s murder rate is now exceeded by only one country on earth — South Africa.

But maybe there is some very painful but unavoidable transitional period after the fall of any long-ruling totalitarian regime. It’s starting to look like that in Russia, where the mere replacement of Boris Yeltsin by a sober and serious man like Vladimir Putin has already begun to turn the country’s fortunes around.

Things never got as crazy in South Africa as in Russia. Both post-apartheid leaders, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, are serious and competent men. There has been no South African equivalent to Russia’s disgraceful wars in Chechnya, and the economy has just plodded patiently along rather than going through soaring booms and spectacular crashes. Nevertheless, the basic patterns of this transitional phase (if that is what it is) do seem to resemble each other. Why?

Hope floats

Maybe it has to do with post-revolutionary power vacuums, and who’s most prepared to step in. In Russia, the nimbler members of the old communist elite simply took over the leading roles in the new democratic system. There was no rival elite, because the communist system had successfully suppressed organized opposition until very near the end, so loose alliances of ex-communist cronies, combining traditional ruthlessness with capitalist greed, were free to loot the country over the next decade.

In South Africa, there was an organized opposition ready to fill the vacuum: the African National Congress. But most of its leaders had spent half their lives in exile or in jail, and their ideology and loyalties were decisively shaped by those decades of struggle.

So the South African government’s policies towards business and labour continue to be dominated by the socialist principles of their youth, no matter what that does to the growth and unemployment rates. The borders remain open to a flood of illegal immigrants because the veterans of “the struggle” find it unthinkable to close them to “fellow Africans”. They can’t even bring themselves to take the AIDS plague seriously.

However, they won’t be there forever. They are a “transitional” political generation, and as in Russia their time in power will come to an end.

That will open up new possibilities for change — and the country’s human and natural resources are still there. It may take some time, but the decade after the French Revolution was not exactly a success story either.

   

 
 
MEMORIES OF ANOTHER REVOLUTION 
 
 
BY ASHIS CHAKRABARTI
 
 
The recent spate of political killings in West Bengal by “armed squads” of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist-People’s War) has thrown up a new challenge to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Left Front government of the state. Three decades after the Naxalite uprising, posters are back on the Presidency College campus and elsewhere in Calcutta calling for the release of people arrested by the police for their alleged links to the People’s War Group, as the outfit is popularly known, and an end to police “atrocities” on them.

The people have begun wondering if these forebode a return to the anarchic days of the Sixties and the early Seventies, when the Chinese radio announced to the world the Naxalite claim that large parts of West Bengal — from Naxalbari in the north to Midnapore’s Debra-Gopiballavpur in the south and College Street in the east — had become “liberated zones”. To the believers, Marx’s prediction about the “the road to revolution” running through Calcutta seemed to have finally come true.

Are we then about to witness a second coming of Naxalism in West Bengal? Is the “people’s war”, that had been raging in parts of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh for decades, finally set to break new ground in West Bengal, where it has to take on, unlike in its traditional battegrounds, a Marxist government?

Not really a new ground, one might argue, because the Naxalites began their battles in West Bengal when the Marxists first came to power in 1967 as leaders of the United Front. As in those early years, this time too, disaffected CPI(M) activists are joining the ranks of the PWG in Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly districts. Like the previous time, the first assaults now are on the CPI(M) which has lost scores of local leaders in these districts over the past few months. Like Naxalbari , the Salboni-Garbeta forest belt of Midnapore is the breeding ground of this new Naxalism.

By sending policemen to Midnapore to tackle the PWG, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has revived memories of Jyoti Basu, then deputy chief minister, sending out Eastern Frontier Rifles men to Naxalbari in 1967. The CPI(M)’s allegation of a PWG-Trinamool Congress nexus in Midnapore is also similar to the party’s campaign in the Seventies against a Naxalite-Congress deal struck by Siddhartha Shankar Ray and his men to destroy it.

But that is where the similarities end. In fact, the PWG phenomenon in Bengal is strikingly dissimilar to the Naxalite movement that swept Bengal that time. It is also very different in character from what it is in Karimnagar, Adilabad or Warrangal districts of Andhra Pradesh, where it has been carrying on the guerrilla warfare that began in the Telengana uprising two decades before Naxalbari.

The biggest difference is that the PWG in Bengal is neither the creator nor the inheritor of a peasant movement , as it has been in other states. Land reforms in Bengal may not have created heavens of progress and equality in the villages. But, with 75 per cent of the land now held by small and marginal farmers, who also control social and political power because of the panchayats, a peasant revolt is unlikely to be the PWG’s source of power in Bengal.

Naxalbari rose from the womb of the violent struggle for land that the CPI(M) initiated in Bengal. The CPI(M-L) that Charu Mazumdar founded in 1967 began as a breakaway group of the CPI(M), which itself was born of the 1964 split with the Communist Party of India. The peasant uprising in Naxalbari, which only differed in degree from the CPI(M)’s earlier policy of forcible seizure of land and killing of landlords, changed dramatically with its first killing of a policeman, Sonam Wangdi.

It was also the time when Leftists dominated the political stage in half the world. Even capitalist America reeled under the weight of the protests against the Vietnam War and Europe was rocked by campus revolts by leftist students. In India, the Congress stood discredited and dethroned from power in state after state. Everything seemed right for other forces to rise and seize power.

Naxalbari too was no mere local uprising over land rights; this was an armed revolution for the seizure of state power. Its appeal soon spread to villages and cities and among peasants, workers and the middle classes. Even bright young men and women from affluent urban families rose to the call, left studies and careers behind and joined the simple village cadre to kill and be killed for the sake of their revolution. In a spirit of self-sacrifice that even non-believers compared to the dedication of the best of the freedom fighters, they captured the people’s imagination far and wide. In an amazing surrender of political reason and a sense of history, they accepted the path of the Chinese revolution as “our path” and China’s chairman as “our chairman”.

Even before Mazumdar died in police custody in Calcutta on July 28, 1972, six of the seniormost leaders addressed an “open letter” to partymen from their prison at Vishakhapatnam denouncing him for “left adventurism”. They disowned almost everything they had thousands of young people committed to and die for — Mazumdar’s leadership, the blind adherence to China and Maoism, the theory of “annihilation” of the class enemy, the distrust of open, mass politics and even Lin Biao’s theory of “people’s war”, which he had propounded during China’s resistance against the Japanese aggression.

The other major difference of the PWG assault in Bengal is that, unlike the Naxalite movement that had a wider range of “class enemies”, it is almost exclusively targeted at the CPI(M). Understandably, ultra-Left groups find the CPI(M) and its adherence to the parliamentary path a major stumbling block for a “revolutionary communist consolidation”. The Marxists’ arrogance of power has also alienated sections of the poor for whom the long reign of the left has changed too little.

But PWG activists are known to have made common cause with the Trinamool Congress, the Jharkhandis and even the Bharatiya Janata Party in some areas of Midnapore, Bankura and Hooghly in their fight against the Marxists. It is no secret that the PWG and the Trinamool Congress joined forces — and resources — to “liberate” Keshpur from the CPI(M) for nearly a year before the last assembly elections. It is no coincidence that the PWG appeared on Bengal’s political horizon in the run-up to those polls. A strategic partnership with the enemy’s enemy is not unknown in politics; but it cannot be the raison d’etre of a political party or a “people’s war”.

There is one theory that suggests that the PWG needed a base in Bengal to connect to its bases in other states and to fraternal parties like the Maoist Communist Centre in Bihar and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists). It may not be too difficult for it to attract victims of the CPI(M) hegemony, whose hopes of an anti-Marxist platform were dashed by the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine’s defeat in the last elections.

There will always be some reasons, however, for some people to wage their wars against the status quo. But no government worth the name has any option but to deal with it firmly if it is an armed war. West Bengal cannot afford to suffer another interregnum because another band of zealots have decided to stage a fake Naxalbari.

   

 
 
LETTER/ WHEN A STEP WRONG MEANS DEATH 
 
 
 
 
My son, Abhik Taraphdar, a second-year student of computer science and technology at the B.E. College (deemed university), Shibpur, died in a tragic accident on June 17. He fell off the platform of the Metro Railway station at Rabindra Sadan and was crushed by the wheels of an incoming train. This happened while a match of this year’s World Cup was being telecast on the television sets placed along the platform. Abhik might have missed a step and fallen on to the tracks while trying to catch a glimpse of the match, or the fall may have been the result of a jostle with the people trying to get a better view of the match. Whatever it was, Abhik did try to rise on his feet and spread his hands for help as a last resort. But it proved to be a futile attempt. Who is responsible for his untimely death? P.K. Chatterjee, the chief operational manager of Metro Railways, initially tried to deny the responsibility of the Metro Railways authorities, saying, “It was a clear case of a deliberate attempt to kill himself.” The authorities have later changed their version and admitted that it was an accident. The original statement was probably intended to shift the people’s attention away from the real reason behind the accident: the presence of television sets on the platform. But it was downright callous of the authorities to summarily dismiss the death as a suicide without bothering to go into the details.

Since the death of my son, many have raised questions about the justification of placing TV sets on the platforms without thinking of the consequences and arranging for proper precautions. It is well-known that during the last month, several people bought tickets of the minimum denomination just so they would be able to enter the platform and watch the football match. Regular commuters will testify to the fact that the crowds in front of the TV sets on match days exceeded by far the average crowd at any given point of time on the platform.

The Metro Railways authorities should immediately adopt safety measures after scrutinizing the loopholes in the present system. This will help prevent similar accidental deaths in future.

First, the TV sets should be placed, if at all, in such a way that a safe distance can be maintained from the edge of the platform and the tracks in cases of large crowds gathering for a look at the TV. There should be no risk of people falling on the tracks while their eyes are on the screen. If this is not possible, then TV sets should be removed from the platforms. Instead, some other part of the station should be chosen.

The earlier system of only music playing on the platform was a much better idea than the present one, for it allowed the passengers to take in the music while keeping an eye on the tracks.

The relevant authorities must devise a way to leave some space as a margin of safety between the tracks and the edge of the platform, so that a person who falls while a train is coming in may not be crushed under its wheels.

Finally, passengers must be made more aware of the dangers of the journey by the authorities’ frequently airing cautionary messages on the public address system.

J.C. Taraphdar

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Officially speaking

Sir — We common citizens endure endless harassment by the government machinery while getting even simple tasks done and no one cares. But if it is a celebrity who is treated to such behaviour it becomes news. Perhaps that is the way of the world. Thus, it has taken Jawagal Srinath’s being kept waiting for half an hour by the officer of the police station where he went to report the loss of his car’s registration certificate, to bring home to the media and the Bangalore assembly something that is part of everyday life for us common citizens (“Srinath storm rocks House”, July 10). A departmental enquiry into what actually happened inside the police station is apparently in the pipeline. But instead of trying to improve the behaviour of policemen towards the general public, ministers in the assembly want the police to apologize to Srinath. One can understand the politicians missing the trees for the forest, but why must the media behave as irresponsibly?

Yours faithfully,
Tarun Gupta, Calcutta

Divide and rue

Sir — It is not surprising that Mamata Banerjee has raised such a hue and cry over a non-issue like the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. But what amazes me is that the left parties in the state have also jumped onto the Mamata bandwagon. Why are these parties supporting her, since for her it is nothing but a last ditch attempt at political survival? Neither Banerjee nor these parties have spelt out what problems will befall West Bengal if a new railway zone is created in Bihar, and thus it is difficult to understand their opposition to this move.

There is no reason why these parties should oppose the bifurcation of Eastern Railway. First, no share of the profits of the railways is given to any individual state. Such profits are placed in a consolidated fund of the government of India and are distributed on the basis of the recommendations of the finance commission. Thus there is no truth in the argument that Bengal will become poorer if the bifurcation takes place.

Second, there will be no industrial setback in the state — bifurcation does not mean the curtailing of any facilities or a reduction in its services. Bifurcation and the creation of additional zones will actually help provide more employment opportunities. By opposing this move, political parties in West Bengal are only wasting taxpayers’ money because now ministers will travel in air-conditioned comfort to New Delhi and stay in Banga Bhaban to carry out aimless talks with the Centre. Not that these politicians care what becomes of the state — all they desire is to gain the support of the electorate.

Yours faithfully,
Dipak Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — The alleged exploitation of the railways for political purposes — an issue that has come to the fore again with the move to bifurcate Eastern Railway — is not a new phenomenon (“Train to nowhere”, July 6). Mamata Banerjee alleges that the railway minister, Nitish Kumar, wants to carve up Eastern Railway for purely political reasons. Even if Banerjee’s allegations were true, Kumar is not the first railway minister to misuse the railways. Earlier railway ministers, Kamalapati Tripathy and A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury, both created unnecessary new divisions in the Seventies and Eighties in order to provide employment to their party cadre. Khan Chowdhury transformed Malda into a bustling commercial centre by creating a new railway division in the then nondescript town. Divisions were also created in Bangalore, Ranchi, Raipur, Varanasi, Sonepur, Sambalpur and elsewhere although there was no operational reason to do so. Ram Vilas Paswan created six new zones in one stroke, in addition to the existing nine, to save the tottering H.D. Deve Gowda government. There are 19 railway recruitment boards in India whose work can well be managed by four or five only.

Yours faithfully,
M. Akhtar, Bhubaneswar

Sir — The only reason Nitish Kumar is so inflexible on the issue of the bifurcation of Eastern Railway and the splitting of Southeastern Railway, is that he hopes this will help him politically in Bihar (“Nitish knife for Mamata again”, July 6). One wonders why the Western, Central or Southern Railways, which have longer route length and cover a larger number of states, are not being considered. All parties in West Bengal should unite to resist this decision.

Yours faithfully,
T.K. Mishra, Mumbai

Pedestrian troubles

Sir — A few days ago, a friend was crossing the road in front of Firpo’s, on his way to Mayo road. There is a gap in the railing dividing the two lanes along this stretch which is used by pedestrians to cross the road. My friend was about to do the same when he was stopped by a policeman for unauthorized crossing. He was put in a police truck along with five to six people guilty of the same misdemeanour.

They were kept waiting for 45 minutes until at least 20 people had gathered in the truck. They were then taken to the Esplanade police station. The policemen demanded that all those who had Rs 85 on them could pay the fine and leave. My friend had only Rs 60 and was asked to sign a paper. He did not receive a ticket for the fine and thus had no proof that he had paid it. When he asked the officers for a receipt, they refused to answer and threatened to put him behind bars if he asked any more questions. I agree that my friend had made a mistake but was it not possible to reprimand him in a more professional manner?

Yours faithfully,
Vikram Bardhan, Calcutta

Sir — There are no permanent bus stops between Howrah station and B.B.D. Bag (tea board). Bus drivers stop at any point on the road to pick up or drop passengers. If they spot a sergeant, they immediately start accelerating in order to avoid paying a fine.

On the evening of July 4, I was waiting for a mini bus on the flyover near the Canning street market. A mini bus on route 107 slowed down and I had climbed on to the foot board when the driver spotted a sergeant and immediately stepped on the accelerator. I lost my balance and fell down on the road, hurting my head and right hand. I could easily have been run over by passing buses. To avoid such accidents, there should be permanent bus stops along this stretch and sergeants stationed to make sure buses do not stop at random.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sivaraman, Calcutta

For the record

Sir — According to Amit Roy’s column, “Eye on England” (July 7), the author, Krishna Dutta, blames the bad press that Calcutta has received over the years on the filmmaker, Louis Malle, and the author, Günter Grass. Dutta is either being pompous or is very naive. Malle is unknown in the West, and Grass is a name not recognized outside esoteric circles, even in Germany. Regarding Calcutta’s absence from travel books, most travel books advice tourists against visiting the city.

Calcutta’s reputation of being a city where poverty and death are common are a consequence of its association with Mother Teresa. The extreme veneration of Mother Teresa and her work has happened at the cost of the city’s image. The book and the film, City of Joy, have also added to this incorrect impression.

Yours faithfully,
Z. Kittler, London, United Kingdom

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