Editorial 1 / Growing terror
Editorial 2 / On home turf
Wickedness about
Fifth Column / Towards a bigger divide in Kashmir
Mani Talk / Electoral spring-cleaning
Document / When harm comes the healer’s way
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / GROWING TERROR 
 
 
 
 
The ghastly terrorist attack in Jammu suggests that there is likely to be a further escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir in the weeks to come. But even while the state and the Central governments carefully investigate the incident, New Delhi must not be diverted from the critical task of ensuring that the forthcoming assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir are as inclusive and credible as is possible under the circumstances. The terrorist attack was one of the worst in recent months in the state. Reports indicate that a group of terrorists lobbed grenades and opened fire on civilians inhabiting a slum colony in Jammu city. More than 25 people, including many women and children, were killed in the attack. Most of the people in the colony were migrant labourers, who had come to the city from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

The last major attack, it may be recalled, was in May when a three-member suicide squad attacked an army camp at Kaluchak on the Pathankot-Jammu highway. The two-month period of relative calm is now over, and there are signs that the violence could escalate. The motive behind the terrorist incidents seems to be to subvert the incipient political process in the state and to ensure that there is little participation in the forthcoming elections. While it does seem that groups in Pakistan are behind the incident, New Delhi must assess whether elements within Islamabad’s military regime or rogue outfits acting on their own are responsible for the attack. Unless India responds with determination, there is little chance that New Delhi will succeed in holding assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir in an atmosphere free of violence. For far too long, India’s responses have been reactive and ad hocist. It is time New Delhi adopted policies that are proactive, anticipatory and integrated to ensure that no one is left in any doubt about the nation’s firm resolve to fight terrorism and states that back terrorists.

Three steps are particularly necessary. First, it is vital to have a more efficient unified intelligence network throughout the country and in the region that can use human and electronic means to tap communication between terrorists and attempt to infiltrate terrorist organizations. Only through systematic intelligence gathering can terrorist missions be anticipated and aborted before the event. Second, it is equally vital that the response to a terrorist attack must have a deterrent effect on the more rational members of the terrorist organization and its backers, particularly if it is a government. Finally, it is critical that India sustain the high-level contact with powers that have influence and leverage within Pakistan, particularly the United States of America. The battle against terrorism may have to be fought alone, but the international community should be made constantly aware of India’s concerns and compulsions. What is equally needed is an imaginative political initiative towards the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is likely to visit the state within the next few weeks. It is critical that he use the opportunity to reach out to the people during the visit. Without gaining the trust of the people, the elections could turn out to be a fiasco even without heightened violence.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / ON HOME TURF 
 
 
 
 
This may well be the best news for troubled Nagaland in decades. By agreeing to come to India for discussions to end the Naga insurgency, Mr Thuingelang Muivah has raised great expectations for the peace process. Sixteen years ago, the Mizo insurgent leader, Laldenga, returned home to Aizawl after 20 years in exile to bring the curtain down on another decades-long ethnic rebellion in India’s Northeast. Mr Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, and Mr Isak Swu, its president, had returned to Nagaland briefly in 1998 on an agreement of “safe passage” with the Indian government. But Mr Muivah’s latest decision has more than symbolic value. It suggests a welcome shift from the NSCN(I-M)’s earlier insistence that the talks must be held only in a “third country”. He seems to have now reciprocated gestures by New Delhi, which held several rounds of talks in Geneva and Bangkok in deference to his wishes. The discussions and the success of the ceasefire agreement between the two sides have obviously created the right atmosphere for Mr Muivah’s long-awaited passage to India. The Centre’s keenness to clear legal hurdles on his passage was evident in its decision to withdraw criminal cases pending against him in Nagaland and Manipur.

Mr Muivah cannot be unaware of the two basic problems that still cast their shadows on the peace process — the NSCN(I-M)’s old demand for “sovereignty” for the Naga “nation” and its insistence on a “Greater Nagaland” that would include Naga-inhabited parts of Manipur. He should know that the sovereignty of the Indian Constitution and government is indivisible. He cannot have forgotten the tragic fallout in Imphal of New Delhi’s decision last year to extend the ceasefire to Naga areas in Manipur. It does not take uncommon political insight to predict that any move to create a “Greater Nagaland” would plunge Manipur into another bloodbath. Neither Mr Muivah nor the Indian government can ask for a peace in Nagaland that would ignite fresh ethnic wars in neighbouring Manipur. The NSCN(I-M)’s positive approaches to the talks suggest, however, that Mr Muivah and Mr Swu would see reason. The Naga people, tired of the five- decades-long insurrection, fervently hope that they do.

   

 
 
WICKEDNESS ABOUT 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
“There was a young lady from Spain, Who was exceedingly sick on a train, Not once, but again, and again, and again, And again, and again and again.” The Central Bureau of Investigation has from time to time provided impressive lists of senior government officers they have either arrested or raided for offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act — recently a whole lot of income tax officials, including some commissioners, who rank fairly high, and all of them have, we have been informed, large amounts of cash, houses, flats, bonds, and several bank accounts. Now, we’ve been here before, you might well say; we’ve flagellated ourselves over our collective shortcomings, again and again. Need we go through it once more, like the young Spanish lady? And what is the use of it all?

These are valid questions, questions raised in despair, if you like, but not less valid for that. But then the CBI keeps producing these lists, with due respect to the aforesaid young lady, again and again; and every time they do, the same questions have to be addressed, unless of course we want to look the other way for whatever reason. Presently we have before us the list of senior income tax officers; previously it was a list of senior excise and customs officials, and prior to that a list of Indian police service and Indian administrative service officers. From all of them, we were told, large amounts of cash were recovered, and papers relating to the ownership of flats, houses, farms — you name it, they seem to have it.

But then, take a look at the complexity that clouds the issue when the organizations available to cleanse the system are themselves called into question. In 1998, the CBI raided the house of an IAS officer called Virender Singh, and filed a case against him for having wealth disproportionate to his known means of income. He was then suspended from the IAS, but just a few days ago it’s been reported that he is back in service because the CBI now says it has “insufficient evidence” against him. Not only is he back, he is also chief secretary to the government of Pondicherry.

This has many disturbing features. Pause for a moment and consider: When you decide to raid the house of a senior and presumably responsible officer who is holding a responsible post, then you do it only with very good evidence, because every raid of this kind diminishes not just the bureaucracy but the government itself by exposing the allegedly corrupt nature of its senior functionaries. Very good evidence it must be; evidence which will stand up to the most fierce scrutiny in a court of law. If the raid is done with less, on the basis of some odd complaint, on unverified information, then it is nothing less than a witch hunt; the kind of raid the Nazi SS carried out on frightened Jews.

So is the government conniving in or encouraging such fascist raids, which end up soiling the government’s own image, or is it all something else — a genuine raid based on good evidence, which powerful interests persuaded the CBI to term “insufficient”, and thereby allowed a corrupt man to get to where he can start thieving once again?

It all makes you fear for the nature of the society of which we form a part. Are we an innately dishonest people? If we are not, then why are so many very senior officers entrusted with major responsibilities being raided, arrested, charged with corruption, and said to have immense amounts of wealth squirrelled away? An R.P.S. Sidhu, the now notorious ex-chairman of the Punjab public service commission, is a different kind of animal; he is a creature of political leaders. We are talking of people who entered government service on merit, were trained to observe the strictest principles of integrity, who had it drilled into them that they were public servants, serving the interest of the public, not their own.

If a disturbingly large number of such people turn out to be thieves and bribe-takers, where must we go to get men and women who are honest and dedicated, who will not trade their integrity for advancement in their careers? These despairing queries are, however, not the end; there are other icons which are very familiar — the impoverished, but inflexibly upright school teacher, the dedicated incorruptible young district officer, and others of the same kind. They cannot be characters out of legends. Somewhere these had a basis in reality. There were such people; and if there were, then surely there are, still.

Let us begin with that premise: that there are honest officials from the juniormost levels to the top. Had there not been, logically everyone would be dishonest, there would be no CBI, because only an outright idiot would be honest. Given this, it would mean that the issue is not one of altering a mindset so much as getting one that exists to prevail. And that will depend on these dedicated, upright officers.

Let us also accept that it does not matter if the political executive is essentially dishonest, or pretends all is well, or that it’s doing something to end corruption, all of which is the same thing. We have spent too much time hoping that the political executive will at some time or the other stop compromising with dishonesty and corruption. They never have; and in a democracy they never will. If we want a change it will have to be in spite of political leaders, both in the government and in the opposition, at the Centre and in the states.

This leads to the other very crucial premise. As other societies have realized after many painful events, it is essential that we underscore the vital question of how vigilant the media is, and with what resolution it exposes not only what agencies like the CBI — not to mention the prime minister’s office — feed it, but also what is really going on, which will include the activities of these agencies as well. The media have a great responsibility in a democracy, one which is not deliberately cast on them but accrues to them as an attribute to their very existence. They are the watchdogs, the surveillance system, if you will, which society has.

Consider what Woodward and Bernstein did to the office of the president of the United States of America, not because they disliked Richard Nixon, but they wanted to get to and expose the truth behind the enormous facade of lies and deceit that the White House had erected around itself. Or what Walter Cronkite’s television reports on what was actually happening in Vietnam did to Lyndon Johnson’s career. The role of the media then becomes clear.

If the two elements — the honest, principled officials in the system and the media — work with firmness and dedication to expose dishonesty, name names, expose nepotism, favouritism and anything that is less than open and upright, face bluster about being taken to court, even threats of physical violence, then there is a chance that the wicked will slowly be excluded from the system, or reduced to a small, hate-filled but relatively helpless minority. The process has to go on, perhaps endlessly, but it has to go on. Given our political leaders, we will always have to live with dishonesty; but we needn’t therefore live dishonestly. We can try not to; the trying is within the realm of the possible.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / TOWARDS A BIGGER DIVIDE IN KASHMIR 
 
 
BY A.N. DAR
 
 
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is responsible for determining the policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has little understanding of the Kashmir situation. Otherwise, it would not have suggested the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir at the June meeting of its executive council, the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Manch, in Kurukshetra where it said that Jammu and Kashmir should be divided into three parts — the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh. The first two were to become states and Ladakh would be a Union territory, which, it was argued, would ensure its safety from the political powers in Srinagar and Jammu. The RSS perhaps does not even realize that its policy may backfire. Kashmir valley as a separate state can be easily be parcelled out to Pakistan. Would it like this to happen?

It is unfortunate that the RSS sees in the situation an opportunity to carve out a Hindu majority state in order to meet the demands of its sympathizers in Jammu. Is that all that needs to be considered while determining the future of Jammu and Kashmir? The RSS should also have kept in mind that Pakistani propaganda, together with material support from across the border, was responsible for creating the present situation. Before passing the resolution, the RSS should have debated whether such a move would actually bring the valley closer to Pakistan.

Disunited we stand

It is indeed ironic that the RSS, which has always maintained its commitment to upholding the unity of the country, is silent about territories that have been usurped by Pakistan — Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Baltistan and Gurez. Besides, what about the territory still in China’s possession? If Kashmir is made into a separate state, it would destroy the territorial integrity of Jammu and Kashmir. Nothing could be more communal than that.

Why has the RSS taken this unpatriotic and anti-national stand? It is obvious that in taking the decision, the RSS has gone by the complaints of its members in Jammu of their not getting full representation in the Muslim-dominated province. If Jammu becomes a separate state, it will have an assembly of its own as well as a state government. This will help local BJP leaders to fulfil their ambitions.But the interests of Jammu and Kashmir would be best served if there is no division. Further, this is not the solution to the cultural and linguistic differences between the people of the region.

Buying peace

It is a pity that the resolution was put together by a three-member committee presided over by Jitendra Veer Gupta, a former high court judge. Unfortunately, it decided to base its recommendations only on the grievances of the local people of Jammu and Kashmir. The committee should have considered the fact that the division of the state would give an added fillip to separatists who would step up their recruitment drive in the valley. Thankfully, the National Democratic Alliance has not endorsed the RSS resolution.

The RSS committee should also have realized that even if the allegations of discrimination against its Jammu members were true, they do not merit the breaking up of a state. Instead of destroying the unity of Jammu and Kashmir, the RSS should prevail upon the NDA to take steps against the present government in the state. And this should not end with blaming the Farooq Abdullah government for being “discriminatory” against the Hindu community, as the resolution mentioned. The dealings between the BJP and the National Conference in fact come as a shock. Although the two are united while sharing the spoils of office, the saffronites and National Conference members disagree on everything else.

Pressures from the international community, together with the direct intervention of Pakistan make Kashmir a rather thorny issue for India. However, making Kashmir a separate state will only make it more vulnerable to Pakistan. Many years ago, a Kashmiri Muslim leader had remarked that he would not be surprised if some day the BJP gets tired of fighting Pakistan and tries to buy peace by handing over Kashmir to it. Is that what is happening now?

   

 
 
MANI TALK / ELECTORAL SPRING-CLEANING 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
Every newspaper has frowned on the “rare unanimity” of the political parties in rejecting the Election Commission’s attempt at translating into nomination requirements the Supreme Court’s disclosure norms for candidates contesting elections. But as a practitioner of the impugned art of politics, I, for one, would like to frown on the “rare unanimity” of all editorialists joining together to berate the political class for doing so.

With the entirely laudable aim of ensuring that electors know all they need to know about the candidates who are seeking their vote, the EC, honouring the directions of the highest court in the land, has honed in on two areas of information which it believes must be in the public domain for voters to make an informed choice: one, any brush the candidate might have had with the stern arm of the law; and, two, the candidate’s educational qualifications.

Now let me make it perfectly clear that I am all for as much laundering of dirty linen as might make for a cleaner polity (and a bit of a giggle at election time). But in today’s wicked, wicked world a candidate’s criminal background is hardly a carefully guarded secret, hidden from the injured eye of the innocent, beguiled voter. For any candidate worth his salt, his second most important task is to ferret out all the filth he can find about his rival (the more important number one task being to rebut the filth the rival candidate is pouring on his fair name). In the real world, candidates hardly wait for their rivals to confess they are crooks; red-blooded candidates do their own digging (and where that yields little hidden treasure, resort to creative thinking) to portray their rivals as such.

The problem is not one of informing the electorate of the worst in the antecedents of the candidates; the problem is to get the electorate to care two hoots. Phoolan Devi made no bones about telling whoever cared to ask, in language that would make the bhadralok readers of The Telegraph blush to the bones of their hilsa, exactly what her background was. Had she not been a Bandit Queen, she would never have won. And that goes for an army of other legislators whom I cannot name because they have not been shot dead and are, therefore, in a position to sue me. Mirzapur was so proud of its Bandit Queen that Mulayam Singh Yadav and his odious advisers thought they could win Uttar Pradesh by over-ruling her family’s wishes of a quiet cremation in Delhi and organizing a splendiferous funeral in her constituency. In the event, UP preferred a real bandit to the ersatz thing!

One of my treasured dining-out stories is of disconsolately wandering into Parliament’s Central Hall soon after I was soundly thrashed in the Lok Sabha elections of 1996 and meeting up with a BJP colleague from the previous Lok Sabha. He kindly enquired how I was and I miserably replied that I had lost, adding, quite gratuitously, that he was so lucky, yaar, he had won. “No,” he said with infinite sadness, “I too have lost.” “To whom?” I cried, incredulous. He cast his eyes furtively around and whispered, “Phoolan Devi!”

Alternatively, take the case of Vikas Yadav, now facing trial for allegedly murdering a young man who, it is said, was keen on Yadav’s sister. This Vikas Yadav was a candidate in the UP state assembly elections which preceded the murder by a few weeks. His father, D.P. Yadav, is also a favourite target of those who want the electoral system cleansed. Yadav junior was a media favourite through the election. Not because he had any pretensions to being a serious politician whose election or defeat would make the least difference to the epic battle between saffron and secularism in the country’s largest state but because of his family background and personal predilections. There was not a voter in the constituency who did not know all that the Supreme Court and the EC want the voter to know even though he had not filled out a 15-page form, stamped with authenticity by a sworn affidavit, when filing his nomination. He lost. Phoolan won.

The fact is criminals who are nothing but criminals are unelectable. It is those with a Robin Hood image who are. And that is why the EC would have needed to add in its revised nomination form: “You are a criminal yes, but a bad guy or a good ‘un?” The other fact is that criminals cannot run in elections — for criminals, as defined in the law, are disqualified from even filing their nominations for six years after completing a sentence that runs for more than two years. If you don’t believe me, ask Jayalalithaa. I was almost alone in the media in predicting to within four seats of her actual tally the overwhelming majority by which she won. Every editor and columnist, bar me, persuaded themselves that a sternly disapproving public, knowing all about the cases pending against her, would have none of her. In fact, they wanted all of her. Would democracy have been served by asking her returning officer to decide in the few hours between scrutiny of nominations and declaration of the list of candidates what the judicial system had been unable to determine over the five years the cases had been in court, and the conflicting judgments that have since followed?

As for disclosing one’s educational qualifications, that makes me (BA Hons, first class first, MA Cantab.) want to laugh. When Lal Bahadur Shastri became prime minister, I remember Time magazine helpfully telling its readers that Shastri was not really his surname but his educational qualifications. His name, said Time, meant “Darling, brave BA!” I am not sure what Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s educational qualifications are — I presume they include some sort of degree from some sort of university — but does that mean Indira Gandhi, who went to both Santiniketan and Oxford without getting a degree, was not really the stuff of which prime ministers ought to be made? I always recall with delight the incredulity on Dhiren Bhagat’s face when, in that superior way of his, he asked Rajiv Gandhi during a formal interview, “What sort of degree did you get at Cambridge?” and Rajiv promptly replied, “I plugged.” Does that mean we should rather have Lal Krishna Advani as PM (who, I also presume, has some sort of degree from some sort of university)?

But to return to why I want to laugh. Readers would recall a recent controversy over the age of a gentleman appointed the chief justice of the Supreme Court of India. The controversy centred around the date of birth declared on his matriculation certificate. What was not a matter of controversy was that the same certificate stated that the gentleman in question had passed his matric in the third class. Those who live in glass houses….

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / WHEN HARM COMES THE HEALER’S WAY 
 
 
 
 
There have been several documented attacks on health professionals and their homes, property and establishments in the early part of the violence. Of these, only one attack, on Dr Amit Mehta, in the Juhapura area of Ahmedabad, received publicity in the national press. The team received a press note prepared by the Medicos Welfare Society, which condemned attacks on doctors on behalf of doctors of the minority community.

It mentioned the following attacks: Lala Hospital, Modasa, which was burnt down; Dr Chandniwala hospital, Modasa, which was ransacked and burnt; Dr Haradwala Pathology Laboratory, Himmatnagar, which was looted; Dr Rafiq Vasiwala, Himmatnagar, whose property was damaged; Dr Rangwala hospital, Paldi, which was damaged; lethal attack on Dr Sadiq Kazi and destruction of his car; lethal attack on Dr Bhavnagari and damage to his residence; lethal attack on Dr Amit Mehta by unknown persons.

The team was able to interview Dr Amit Mehta and Dr Sadiq Kazi. While Dr Mehta was stabbed by an unidentified person in his dispensary, Dr Kazi’s car was destroyed by persons well known to him. He also had a narrow escape from a mob while driving to A1 Amin Hospital. The mob set fire to a couple riding on a two-wheeler just in front of him.

Both doctors blame individuals and not entire communities for the attacks on them. Dr Kazi categorically blamed the authorities for letting the violence continue by not taking action against troublemakers from both communities. Dr Kazi continues to attend the nursing home outside which his car was attacked, while taking many precautions. Dr Mehta does not want to move his clinic from the area where he has been practicing for many years, but he is too afraid to go back there because he may become the target of attacks by fundamentalists from either side. The danger to medical practitioners is real. However, there is no evidence that entire communities have turned against them and would like to drive them out.

The interviews suggested that doctors from both communities do not pay much attention to the religious background of the community among which they set up practice. Their decisions are based largely on their assessment of the client base, and the prospects of a profitable practice. More Hindu doctors are working in Muslim areas because, in general, there are few Muslim doctors. It is largely Muslim doctors who have been involved (voluntarily) in relief work. This fact has been interpreted as a gesture of solidarity with their own community. But it is also true that at present, they are the only doctors available in Muslim-dominated areas. Other doctors, both Muslim and Hindu, live further away and are not able to reach their workplaces or the camps.

This was highlighted by the plight of Al Amin Hospital, which lists 92 doctors as giving voluntary time. Only 14 are Muslim and the rest Hindu. However, after the riots, only four doctors are coming for duty — two Hindu and two Muslim. The others are absent because of insecurity, a feeling that has been actively propagated by the communalists...

The violence has definitely affected the doctors economically. Several doctors working in mixed communities reported that their patient load had decreased substantially after the violence because their patients could not reach them. On the other hand, the few doctors who lived and practiced in Muslim-dominated areas were overworked.

The fact that doctors have been targeted for attack based on their religious identity has changed the framework within which the profession articulates its interests. While the security-related problems of “Hindu” doctors in “Muslim” areas, and of “Muslim” doctors in “Hindu” areas may reflect the actual situation; formulating the issue in this manner also has long-term implications for the profession.

Sentiments of doctors who have been personally affected by the violence are being distorted. It is extremely divisive to portray doctors as either “Hindu doctors” or “Muslim doctors” and then explain their problems, actions and motives according to that definition.

Hospitals’ (unwritten) policy of segregation on the basis of religion “for better management of security” severely damages the secular character of an institution dedicated to healing. Several Muslim doctors and other hospital staff serving in public hospitals were given sympathetic leave immediately after the violence of February 28 — even if they had not asked for it. One lab technician informed the team that when she reported for duty (in a public hospital in a Hindu-dominated area), she was pressurized by her colleagues to take leave. They felt her presence would incite trouble and pose a danger to herself as well as to other staff and patients.

The medical profession has largely stayed away from communal politics — whether for commercial reasons or otherwise. Since communalization now directly affects them, a space has been created for religion-based politics in the profession as well. The profession’s neutrality will be further damaged if communal organizations provide professionals opportunities to expand their business. This splintering process seems inevitable in the absence of a strong counter-force to prevent the co-option of professionals by communal forces.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

For a just cause

Sir — Celebrities have the power to do a world of good to any cause they espouse because the media and, by extension, the people, are interested in everything about them. For example, the presence of Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton at the International Conference on AIDS at Barcelona may well build up opinion in the United States of America, Britain and France, forcing these developed countries to pool in their resources to fight the disease (“Mandela strikes at AIDS apartheid”, July 14). Strangely, celebrities in India rarely champion any “cause”, with the exception of Arundhati Roy and Shabana Azmi. (One remembers the advertisements featuring Azmi with a young AIDS patient, shown on Doordarshan some years ago.) In India however, celebrities would much rather join politics and become ministers — look at Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna — not for what they can do for others, but so they can help themselves.

Yours faithfully,
Neha Sharma, Calcutta

Change tracks

Sir — Mamata Banerjee is making one blunder after another (“Mamata targets Nitish tracks”, July 7). She left the National Democratic Alliance and resigned from the railway ministry after the Tehelka exposé. Then she joined hands with the Congress before last year’s assembly elections, despite being advised not to do so. Her subsequent return to the NDA — after she had been routed at the hustings — annoyed many of the coalition partners who had become tired of her antics.

This time too her diatribe against the bifurcation of Eastern Railways has angered the NDA top brass. The Centre has tried to buy time by referring the issue back to the cabinet, but it is unlikely Banerjee will be able to overturn the decision to create new railways zones. She will only create more bad blood if she disrupts the monsoon session of Parliament or embarks on a nation-wide agitation on the issue. It is increasingly clear that Banerjee no longer has the confidence of many of her partymen, and it would be no surprise if her legislators were to walk out of the Trinamool Congress under the rebel leader, Ajit Panja.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — The proposal to create new railway zones has become a political tussle. What is motivating Nitish Kumar is the calculation that the bifurcation of Eastern Railway will help improve the electoral prospects of the party in Bihar. Even his bitterest political rivals are supporting him over this issue since the creation of an east-central zone headquartered at Hajipur will ensure more money for Bihar.

Mamata Banerjee is no different. Despite her repeated statements that she is looking out for West Bengal’s interests, she too is playing a political game. She knows that if she can force a rethink of the proposal it will help her regain credibility after her debacle in the assembly elections last year. One only hopes that the cabinet can resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the bickering politicians.

Yours faithfully,
Asray Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — I wonder why the Union railways minister, Nitish Kumar, is so adamant about creating more railway zones (“Nitish knife for Mamata aga-in”, July 6). The fact that the decision is being referred back to the cabinet shows that it could not have been entirely unanimous, even originally. The people of West Bengal are not opposed to the development of Bihar but feel that it should not be at the expense of their state. The headquarters of Eastern and South-Eastern Railway have always been located in Calcutta. The argument that the headquarters of two railway zones cannot be located in the same city, Calcutta, is untenable since the headquarters of both Western and Central Railway are located in Mumbai. It is true that the Bihar assembly has passed a resolution in support of the decision, just as the West Bengal assembly has passed one against it. But, West Bengal’s interests should be considered since its interests are going to be harmed.

Moreover, the railways is cash-strapped and the creation of so many zones will lead to problems of coordination as well as an increase in administrative expenses.

Yours faithfully,
Kalipada Basu, Chinsurah

Sir — Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee have been warring over the bifurcation of Eastern Railway, but neither has bothered to find out what ordinary rail passengers think on the issue. They do not care whether or not the bifurcation takes place — their only concern is a safe and comfortable journey.

As a sales executive, I travel regularly by rail. I think Bihar does not deserve to have a railway line or trains passing through it. The journey through Bihar is a nightmare even during the day. Most people travel without tickets. It is does not matter whether you have a reservation since you are made to get up to make room for others. Female passengers are frequently molested. Almost every passenger claims to be the relative of some highly-placed railway employee. The government should concentrate on making railway travel safer before thinking of bifurcation.

Yours faithfully,
J.P. Singhi, Calcutta

Teacher trouble

Sir — I know a number of teachers for whom giving private tuition is a hobby and who do not do it for the money (“In an imperfect world”, June 29). Political leaders who want to ban private tuitions perhaps do not realize that it is impossible for a teacher to complete the syllabus within the school term, given numerous holidays and dozens of strikes and bandhs that disrupt school from time to time. Further, a teacher has to deal with all kinds of students, both the meritorious and the academically average ones. It is the latter who require extra attention. While most parents are only too willing to teach their children at home, some may find it difficult to tutor them in subjects like physics, chemistry and so on. As a result, they are forced to hire private tutors for their children.

Yours faithfully,
Provat Kumar Chatterjee, Purulia

Sir — It was shocking to hear both the toppers in the Higher Secondary examinations admit to taking private tuitions in almost every subject (“Girls conquer HS heights”, July 3). This clearly demonstrates the shortcomings of the state government’s educational policy while also reiterating the students’ faith in private tuitions. Curiously, the two candidates who secured the first two positions in the higher secondary examination did not do all that well in the joint entrance examinations.

It is also evident from media reports that most of those who made it to the merit list have either not appeared for the Indian Institute of Technology entrance examinations or the JEE or have not cleared them. This is surprising since these institutes are the top priority of all students who wish to make a career in science and technology.

Moreover, in my experience — first as a student and then as a teacher in a reputable educational institute — private tuitions are for weak students. When we were young, taking private tuition was considered disgraceful not only for the brilliant students but also for moderately good students. The ministry of education must get together with eminent educationists to reform the system.

Yours faithfully,
S. Bhattacharjee, Kharagpur

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