Editorial 1/ Reporting failure
Editorial 2/ Beauty in distress
Yes, prime minister
Fifth Column/ The thin end of the wedge
Spinning away from the old block
Letters to the editor

The first volume of the civil audit report by the comptroller and auditor general has been tabled in West Bengal’s legislative assembly and the performance of the West Bengal government in 2000-01 makes for devastating reading. That all states are in a fiscal mess is known and it is not surprising that revenue expenditure should account for 87 per cent of total expenditure or that interest payments should account for 24 per cent of revenue expenditure. West Bengal also has a point when it argues that decline in tax to state domestic product ratio is partly due to reduced tax buoyancy in the Central pool, or that interest rates charged by the Centre are too high. What is inexcusable is financial mismanagement, sleight of hand and misgovernance, documented in test audits carried out by the CAG for the civil and works department. For instance, the lower revenue deficit in 2000-01 was due to increased Central transfers and not because revenue expenditure was slashed. Non-tax revenue was increased by adjusting interest receipts from the West Bengal state electricity board, without any accompanying cash inflow. Loans raised for infrastructure were parked in the state’s deposit accounts to improve the ways and means position. Ways and means advances were resorted to in 360 days out of 365. Excess expenditure was not regularized because explanatory notes required for regularization were not submitted by the finance department. Departmental expenditure figures were not reconciled and there was no system to monitor expenditure against budgetary estimates or allocations. If financial mismanagement were not bad enough, money meant for social sector schemes was not spent, or did not lead to any tangible improvement.

What is appalling is that this is true of schemes where resources are not a constraint. Schemes for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are a case in point. Why should Rs 253 crore remain in deposit accounts and why should the government not release funds on time? The Environment Act and rules on air pollution and solid waste management were flouted. Targets were missed on programmes for control of tuberculosis, blindness, leprosy and AIDS. The story was no different for irrigation and waterways, accelerated rural water supply, arsenic pollution in drinking water, the development of the state health system and fire protection and control. Even when funds are available, they are not released. If released, expenditure is not monitored. There is leakage. Sub-standard equipment is bought. Targets are missed. Alternatively, attainment of targets is mis-stated.

The word governance has become a buzzword and encompasses a variety of different things. Whatever the definition of governance, it does include appropriate state intervention, especially in social and physical infrastructure. The planning commission’s National Human Development Report 2001 has already documented deteriorating education and health indicators for West Bengal. The CAG’s report partly tells us why these indicators are deteriorating. There is near unanimity on the worst governed state in India. Now it is clear that West Bengal is not too different from Bihar and it is remarkable that 25 years of uninterrupted Left Front rule should have led to such a collapse. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) may celebrate, but there is not much for the citizen to crow about.


It is not good enough when researchers say it, but a role model with the same message might make a dent. For quite some time, studies all over the world have been expressing alarm over the effect the media image of the beautiful woman is having on young girls. The thinner the better, irrespective of ethnic type. Dissatisfaction with their bodies and anorexia have become youthful female ailments. India has caught up, with its sudden crop of international beauty queens, overload of media images, the flood of beauty products and the constantly dangled bait of a dazzling career as the face or body of the year. For a large number of teenage Indian girls, a Ms World or a Ms Universe is the icon to emulate. There would normally be no harm in all this, all growing young men and women would like to make heads turn. But the situation is no longer confined to the region of normal adolescent dreams. The dream has been turned into hard reality by big money and huge business interests that make sure that living rooms the world over are flooded with the images of beauty they find most lucrative for the sale of their products and techniques. Beauty, or the achievement of it, becomes a way of life: normal development is warped by abnormal regimes.

The warning of the former Ms World, Ms Yukta Mookhey, may be more meaningful than those of the old fuddy-duddies poring over research findings, whom no one wants to look like anyway. Ms Mookhey’s self-realization — partly the result of a fracture and a reminder of the lack of calcium in her crash diet — points up the old relationship between health and well-being, while criticizing the use of television images of the impossibly attenuated woman. Rather more specifically, she asks the Indian girl to discard the Western ideal of beauty. Sadly, India is yet to acquire the heavily vested material interests to evolve a packaged beauty ideal that suits all its regions. As for the hope that all women will be confident enough to ignore how they look, the world has still some way to go before “Big is beautiful” becomes the buzzword among hopeful teenagers.


The role of the deputy prime minister is perhaps the most ambiguous in the country. The lack of clarity arises both from the silence of the Constitution, though it is the longest written framework for governance in the world. It also arises from the fact that the two men who held it for significant lengths of time in each gave to it a distinct flavour. Its salience hinges on the relationship of the incumbent with the rest of the cabinet, the ruling party and most of all with the prime minister.

L.K. Advani has gone on record that one feature distinguishes the present set-up from many past ones, the absence of faction-based bargains. There is a grain of truth in this. In 1978, it was under a patch-up job that Charan Singh returned to government, sharing the title with his rival, Jagjivan Ram. Devi Lal’s case in 1989 and again in 1990 is also well-known. But for serious precedents one has to look at the Congress’s record in office. Until the present Vajpayee ministry of 1999, no non-Congress regime has really looked like it will complete a full term in office.

The first holder of the office, Vallabhbhai Patel, had no qualms or illusions about his relationship with the prime minister. In 1946, just under a year before independence both served in the interim government but it was Jawaharlal Nehru who was the dominant partner. As deputy prime minister, Patel derived much from his control of key ministries: home, information and broadcasting and most famously, states, at a time when the princes had to be brought under the ambit of the newly forming Union.

There was no question of a succession struggle. This arose not only because of health problems on the part of Patel who suffered a heart attack in March 1948, but also from the order of precedence laid down by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The “duumvirate” involved power-sharing between two men different in outlook and temperament. But their roles were complimentary. In Michael Brecher’s words, “Nehru was the voice of the Congress, Patel its organizer, and Gandhi its inspiration.” Gandhi’s assassination in January 1948 only sealed their unity.

The succession issue had long been settled, with Gandhi intervening decisively in 1929, 1936 and again in 1946 on the same side in the choice of Congress president. But the two men were contemporaries, each having served as general secretary of the Congress while the other was president of the party. The differences in style and emphasis on a host of issues, from the princes to the economic policy, are well-known and tussles over differences continued till Patel’s death at the end of 1950. His hold on the party machine was to be a great asset as in the choice of the first president of the republic, the collegiate system of the party being strong enough to override a determined prime ministerial bid to push for C. Rajagopalachari.

At the same time, Nehru made it clear in the first of many clashes that the prime minister was the captain of his ship. His will would prevail in the event of differences, even though he did not meddle in Patel’s home turf. But the prime ministerial power was not merely one of delegation and supervision: he was the one who set the course for the ship of state. Patel himself set all doubts at rest himself. A few weeks prior to his demise, he said, “I have been referred to as deputy prime minister. I never think of myself in such terms. Jawaharlal is my leader.”

No such graces were evident in the second spell of the deputy prime ministership, with the incumbent being a great admirer of the Iron Man, Morarji Desai. Having lost out in two succession bids after Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri, he was a powerful figure in the Congress led by Indira Gandhi. In 1967, the latter was in the early stages of her confrontation with the syndicate, which more or less forced her to cede the two posts of deputy prime minister and finance to Desai.

Significantly, he had originally demanded, but not got, the home portfolio. Despite protestation of his “full and unqualified support”, his relations with her were strained and tense. In a planning commission meeting, he famously interrupted her comments, with a terse assertion that, “You don’t understand these matters. Let me deal with it.”

His public claim that there was no “dual centre of authority” was a façade meant to be seen through. Eventually in 1969, he was stripped of the finance ministry and opted to resign from the ministry, a signpost on the way to the split in the party.

There is little from the past that can serve as guide to today’s situation. Unlike Nehru and Patel, Advani and Vajpayee are of the same generation. The former duo had been through “many storms and troubles” and shared the excitement of running a newly free country together. Further, the Congress was a far more dominant force in national affairs compared to the Bharatiya Janata Party of the present.

The Indira Gandhi-Morarji Desai relationship was of a different texture altogether, with a rivalry etched deep from the start. There is little doubt that the Vajpayee-Advani equation is deeper, more enduring and stable. The common roots in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and their near total dominance in the party since the late Sixties make talk of a split meaningless.

But there is still room for variations and nuances. The most striking shift in Advani in his initial forays as deputy prime minister was the moderation in his tone. In Gandhinagar, he urged the Narendra Modi government to restore public confidence. Mumbai saw him pay tribute to an icon of the Indian industry, Dhirubhai Ambani, whose Reliance group was the target of opposition-party ire in the Eighties. And most important of all, he put in a restrained performance in the Lok Sabha on the issue of terrorism, calling for measured and self-reliant responses.

India is closer to a duumvirate than at any time since the death of Patel. But much water has flown under the bridge since then. The formal sources of power still flow through the prime minister’s office: it is there that personnel are picked and the last call made. On a host of issues, such as Jammu and Kashmir and the Naga talks, the prime minister’s office is never out of the picture. There may be a clear “number two” but there is even less doubt now than in the past on who holds the first place. And as in the case of previous heads of government, the prime minister’s hand in foreign policy is more than visible at every turn.

But there is no doubt that the office of the deputy invests its holder with a great prestige and position. In Advani’s case, his influence is magnified by the rapid promotion of key figures in the party apparatus, many of whom were his juniors when he rebuilt and expanded the party in the late Eighties. As with the Congress, these informal levers of control may turn out to be crucial in the nitty-gritty. Conversely, if the party stumbles, he will not be able to wash his hands of the failure. This will be all the more so if the present course of more explicit Hindutva does not yield a rich harvest of votes.

One new and unprecedented aspect of the present ruling dispensation has gone unnoticed. No party has gone into election mode under a system of dual leadership: Patel died before the first general elections and Desai parted ways with Indira Gandhi. This is what deepens suspicions that what we witnessed in Advani’s case was the anointing of an heir apparent for the future rather than a cession of power in the present.

The author is an independent researcher and political analyst


“It’s moving further towards decriminalization than any other country in the world,” warned Keith Hellawell, the ex-policeman who was the British “drugs tsar” until the Labour government belatedly realized that his job was as ridiculous as his title. He was responding to the July 10 announcement of the British home secretary, David Blunkett, that being caught with cannabis will in future be treated no more seriously than illegally possessing other class “C” controlled drugs like sleeping pills and steroids. He was technically wrong, but in terms of its political impact he was right.

Many smaller European countries have already decriminalized various drugs, but what the Portuguese or the Dutch do will never have an impact on the United States of America. Britain is one of the few countries whose example will ever be seen as relevant in the real home of the “drug war”. Britain’s decriminalization of cannabis, and more important, its partial return to the old policy of prescribing free heroin for addicts, could finally open the door to a real debate in the US.

The actual changes in British law are rather timid. In future, British police will generally confiscate cannabis and issue warnings to users, instead of arresting them. Moreover, only a small fraction of Britain’s 200,000 heroin users will get free prescriptions. Nevertheless, this is by far the biggest crack that has yet appeared in the prohibitionist dam.

Prohibition song

Until the late 19th century, all kinds of recreational drugs were legal throughout the West. Florence Nightingale used opium, Queen Victoria used cannabis, and Arthur Conan Doyle writes in a matter-of-fact way about Sherlock Holmes injecting drugs with a syringe. Then came the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, most powerful in the deeply religious US, which succeeded in banning one drug after another (mainly on the grounds that they were associated with Chinese, blacks and other racially “inferior” groups), until by the early 20th century only the mainstream Western drugs, alcohol and tobacco were legal in the US.

In the Twenties and Thirties, the WCTU even succeeded in prohibiting alcohol in the US. Organized crime rose as a result of this newly illegal demand for alcohol — Al Capone was as much the creation of the prohibition as Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was of the US’s “war on drugs”. But eventually there was a retreat to sanity on alcohol. The same will happen for drugs too, but Britain’s decriminalization of cannabis is only a very tentative first step.

The “war on drugs” is one of the most spectacularly counter-productive activities human beings have ever engaged in. “We have turned the corner on drug addiction,” said Richard Nixon in 1973, and predictions of imminent victory continue to be issued at frequent intervals, but the quality of the drugs gets better and the street price continues to drop.

Small change

Making drugs illegal creates enormous profit margins and huge incentives to expand the market by pyramid selling. When cocaine was still legal, annual global production was ten tonnes. Now it is seven hundred tonnes.

Drug prohibition greatly increases the number of users, fills jails with harmless people, channels vast sums into the hands of wicked people, and causes a huge wave of petty crimes. It is estimated that between half and two-thirds of the muggings and property crimes in both Britain and the US are committed by cocaine and heroin addicts, desperate to buy more of the drugs.

Decriminalizing cannabis only nibbles at the fringes of this problem, for cannabis users are mostly neither addicts nor criminals. The more significant part of Blunkett’s initiative is his willingness to revive the old policy of prescribing heroin to addicts (now around 200,000 in Britain, compared to around 500 when that policy was dropped at Washington’s behest in 1963). He is only willing to let a small proportion of them have it on prescription for now, but since those will be the only heroin addicts who stay alive and for the most part clear of crime, the rest will also be back on prescription sooner or later.

It will be many years yet before American politicians gain the political courage to take on the prohibitionist lobby, but the external environment is changing.


It was, as a point of statistical fact, the second highest successful run-chase ever conducted in one-day internationals. As a matter of opinion, a lot of spectators at Lord’s on Saturday, July 13, would go further and say that the NatWest Cup final between England and India was the best one-day game they had ever seen: the former England captain, Mike Atherton, now a commentator, thought so for one. The pitch, the weather, the setting, the crowd and the climax were all as near to perfect as could be.

Better perhaps than all of that, however, for the Indian supporters, who made up the most vocal, if not the largest, element of the capacity 30,000 crowd, was the discovery of a new tenacity in India’s one-day team. They had failed to win their nine previous cup finals, mostly in tri-nation tournaments such as these. On this occasion, and indeed throughout the NatWest tournament, save perhaps their one defeat in a qualifying match by England, they demonstrated a tenacious resilience that was quite Australian.

India’s coach, John Wright, had already identified the two young middle-order batsmen, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, as the key components in this new quality. An observer of England’s one-day series in India in January, however, would add that the return of Rahul Dravid to the middle-order after injury has been a vital ingredient too. In several qualifying games of the tournament, if not the final, Dravid brought his coolness and seniority to the crease for the younger players to bat around.

On Saturday, though, all the work was done by — and all the credit went to — Yuvraj and Kaif, who came together at 146 for 5 in the 24th over as India’s last pair of specialist batsmen. Given a total of 326 to win, you would have expected the batting side to lose 19 times out of 20, even 49 out of 50. But the young left-hander and young right-hander rose to the occasion instead of sinking under pressure, and put on a century stand which set up the astounding victory.

Their batting, naturally, won all the plaudits. Yet two minor incidents earlier in the match gave an insight into the character of these two new players and made their later match-winning contributions less of a surprise. Marcus Trescothick made a brilliant hundred at faster than a run a ball, and in a losing cause, as seems to be his custom. The power-packed lefthanded opening batsman gave two chances — slight, theoretical chances — in the course of his innings, one of which said a lot about Yuvraj and the other a lot about Kaif.

The first chance came when Trescothick top-edged a square-cut and the ball flew behind point. In other words, it went to Yuvraj’s right-hand side, and he is a natural left-hander. He took off to his right, and just got his hands to it while airborne, before the ball’s momentum took it on to third man.

The second chance came when Trescothick came down the wicket to an offbreak and chipped it just short of mid-wicket where Kaif was fielding. Kaif dived forward, as far as he could go, and just got his hands beneath the ball. He did not have the opportunity to let his hands “give” as he reached the ball because he was — and had to be — at full stretch. The ball bounced out, trickled away, and Trescothick was reprieved again.

There is reason why these two incidents said a great deal about the character and calibre of these two Indian players. The chance was there and they went for it, in spite of the risk — the high risk — of failure. Older, more experienced, and shall we say more cynical, players would have held back and not dared to go for glory and the team’s benefit. They would not have wanted pedantic correspondents in the press box writing down that they dropped catches off Trescothick. Yuvraj and Kaif dared and, on these occasions in the field, failed. But later in the day they had the spirit to dare again, and won.

The impact of India’s performance in the NatWest final could well last until the test series, even though one of the two young gallants has flown back home with an injury. Saturday’s defeat was a demoralizing one for England. They batted as well as they could have done, with not only Trescothick making a hundred but Nasser Hussain as well, his first one-day hundred in his 72nd international. Andrew Flintoff squirted icing on to England’s cake. By the time England’s batsmen had finished, few people would have given India a chance, however much of a belter the pitch was — except perhaps spectators who had seen another cup final on the same ground ten seasons before.

In 1993, the two counties of Sussex and Warwickshire played a game at Lord’s which has been accepted as the best of all domestic cup finals in England (“widely regarded as the greatest ever played” according to Wisden). And the parallels with Saturday’s final were uncannily similar. Sussex, batting first on the truest of pitches, scored 321 for 6. They too had a burly lefthanded opening batsman, David Smith in this case, who scored a hundred; and after their innings was complete, probably not even a handful of people in the ground thought that Warwickshire had a realistic chance of knocking off those runs. Warwickshire, in reply, lost early wickets and were 164 for 4, almost as “gone” as India. But the wristy Ugandan Asian, Asif Din, and the allrounder, Dermott Reeve, saw Warwickshire home in the final over, indeed off the final ball.

But the impact could go further, beyond the test series against England which starts on Thursday week. Which famous name has not been mentioned so far? Which famous player had almost no part to play in the whole of Saturday’s final? Sachin Tendulkar. In other words, India won without him, and the more that India win without significant contributions from their star player, the more formidable they will be as a team. Already this summer England have seen what a chronic over-dependence on one player can do: in this case, Sri Lanka’s over-dependence on Muttiah Muralitharan, who missed the first of the three tests against England, played the second half-fit (he could not use his left arm to bat, bowl or field) and the third three-quarters so. And when Muralitharan, naturally enough, could not produce his usual magic, Sri Lanka’s captain, Sanath Jayasuriya, had nowhere left to turn.

In those nine previous cup finals which India had failed to win, Tendulkar had not played in almost half of them, through injury, while in the finals which he did play, he did nothing startling. Saturday, therefore, saw a major step forward in the development of India’s team. A major victory, achieved under pressure, when the team was behind almost throughout the game — and without a notable contribution from Tendulkar.

It remains to be seen over the next two months whether this new tenacity in the one-day team can translate into a first test series victory outside Asia since 1986 for India’s test side. The test team can call on four lively pace bowlers, not to mention two spinners who are several cuts above the best that England can offer — and India’s traditional problem in England has always been bowling the home side out twice (in 37 tests in England, India have dismissed England in both innings in only five tests). India therefore have the bowling to back up their in-depth batting.

In the test series in the West Indies recently, India were 1-0 up and blew it. This time, if the example of Yuvraj Singh and Kaif is followed, the outcome could be different.

The author is the cricket correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph, London



Wardrobe of power

Sir — Whatever one may say about Sonia Gandhi, she is without doubt one of the best dressed politicians — of either sex — around. Take her picture on the front page of the July 18 edition of The Telegraph. Compared to the gaudy silks of other women politicians, the Congress president’s rather plain green and grey salwar kameez stood out as a refreshing change. Cynics might dismiss this as the result of Indira Gandhi’s sartorial training, but the daughter-in-law might at least be given credit for being an apt student. Yes, one can justifiably raise eyebrows on the extensive and expensive wardrobe of a leader of such a poor country, but what is money to an Indian politician? Money is never a constraint for Indian politicians as far as clothes are concerned. It’s just poor taste that is responsible for their bad-dressing — the drab colours, the unimaginative cuts, the boring sameness. When will our politicians realize that a good wardrobe is essential political arsenal?
Yours faithfully,
Sarayu Dewan, Raipur

Who’ll police the lawmakers?

Sir — The Union law ministry deserves to be congratulated for drafting the representation of the people (amendment) bill, 2002. The bill debars candidates against whom two separate charges of “heinous” crime have been framed not more than six months prior to the date of nomination. Prospective members of parliament or state legislatures are, therefore, permitted to commit at least one heinous crime without forgoing their chances of contesting elections. Lesser crimes like physical assault or inciting communal riots are not to be taken note of. Also, what about more than one heinous crime for which charges have been framed more than six months prior to the date of nomination? Are they to be ignored for the purpose of qualification for elections? Anybody who thinks this piece of legislation will keep criminals out of politics, needs to think again.
Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, Sandur

Sir — One can understand ministers and legislators wanting to be above the law. But why must election candidates be accorded the same “immunity”? Why should they not declare their assets, educational qualifications and criminal record, if any? Even an ordinary citizen has to furnish proof that he does not have a police record while applying for a job. Why should the same rules not apply to election candidates?

Why then the rare display of unity on the part of the ruling coalition and the opposition parties just to whittle down the orders of the Supreme Court and the Election Commission? Most politicians, when faced with a charge, murmur that they have full faith in the judiciary. Now that their interests are at stake they have decided that they cannot let the judiciary tell them what to do. Politicians are never going to have the courage to “come clean”. It is for the media and the electorate to formulate a strong public opinion and force the politicians in this matter.

Yours faithfully,
S.R. Chakravorty, Calcutta

Sir — Citizens of our country are glad that at last there is an initiative to decriminalize Indian politics. But a rare unanimity among politicians and parties of various hues has succeeded in rejecting the court’s initiative. A similar unity could be seen when Parliament passed a bill increasing the salaries and allowances of members, without a discussion. Thus, when it comes to protecting their interests, politicians speak with one voice and are ever ready to sacrifice national interests. But this was only to be expected. Most legislators in our country have something to hide and the few that are honest, are guided by the majority.

It is the right of every citizen and fundamental duty of every politician to provide corruption-free governance which ensures economic growth, better development of the country and citizens, and peace everywhere. This can be ensured only if before voting, citizens have enough information to gauge whether a candidate can serve them and the country honestly. But asking politicians to ensure this is like setting a thief to catch a thief.

Yours faithfully
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore

Sir — It was not surprising that the Central government chose to lock horns with the EC on its “come-clean” order. Most politicians own wealth disproportionate to their “known” sources of income, quite a few have criminal backgrounds and little education. No wonder politicians are afraid to follow the EC’s directives. They pretend to be as pure as driven snow when they come asking for votes at the time of elections. They are lucky that most people in our country are illiterate and get taken in by such blandishments. yet, the common man on the streets has become tired of their antics and has come to believe that clean politics and probity in public life will always be a mirage in the desert. As for the “doctrine of unoccupied field” invoked by K. Jana Krishnamurthi, it does not apply in a country where lawbreakers can well become lawmakers.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Positive ailments

Sir — Nelson Mandela’s speech at the concluding ceremony of the 14th International Conference on AIDS hit just the right note (“Mandela strikes at AIDS apartheid”, July 14). His message about the need to respect AIDS victims was also bang on. However, one wonders why, despite so much being spent on AIDS research, scientists have not come up with a definite cure.

As his fellow crusader, Bill Clinton, rightly pointed out, India, with its huge population, had better watch out. It is time the government came up with a concrete programme to fight the battle against AIDS. Funding for AIDS research should be increased. Also, the cost of medicines to treat AIDS should be reduced to make them affordable for the common man.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — An HIV-positive person could choose to marry someone who is HIV-positive (“Love in the time of a killer disease”, June 25). An HIV-negative person may marry someone who is HIV-positive. If those making the choice of marrying the infected have no problem, why should society? But it is important for the infected to come clean before marriage. An HIV-positive person needs every support to carry on with life, and a caring spouse is the best person to give such support. But the couple should take all precautions not to have an infected child.

Yours faithfully,
Aparajita Dasgupta, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — It was encouraging to see the CESC hoardings stating that the theft of electricity would be punished with imprisonment. Power theft has been carrying on unchecked for a while and the CESC’s decision to take an initiative in the matter was a positive step. But culprits are still going scot-free, since the phone number on the hoardings has been disconnected. Neither has CESC got a new phone number, nor has it removed the old hoardings.
Yours faithfully,
Raka Guhathakurta, Calcutta

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