Battle on home turf
Sir — Not satisfied with fighting the political war in Parliament and in the polling booths, the two largest parties of the country have taken the war to their respective party offices (“Muscle takes over from muck”, Aug 30).The question that should be asked in this regard is not how security in these two highly guarded places was breached by marauding party workers, but why such pitched battles needed to be fought at all' It is quite obvious from the event that the Bharatiya Janata Party is getting a bit desperate about the way things are working out in favour of the Congress, particularly its leader. Comfortably in power in 14 states, the Congress is suspected to have been behind all scandals that have rocked the alliance boat at the Centre. The unkindest cut of all has been the Election Commission’s verdict on Gujarat, which the BJP interprets as clearly Congress-sponsored. Which is why the BJP leaped at J. Jayalalithaa’s barbs at 10, Janpath. But will street fights solve the problem, L.K. Advani'
N. Sen, Calcutta
To set right the score
Sir — Dipankar Dasgupta’s conclusions about the general decline in the academic standards of Presidency College, the economics department in particular, are not only unwarranted, but some of his facts are also inaccurate (“Bright past, bleak present”, Aug 24). Dasgupta describes the Master of Science in quantitative economics course at the Indian Statistical Institute as “a programme that attracts some of the best economics students in the country” and says that Presidency College, despite its reputation, has not managed to secure its expected share in the cake when it came to successful entrants into this sought after, but limited entry, programme.
As a student of the ISI, New Delhi, and currently in the second year of the prestigious MS (QE) course, I should point out that 4 out of the 8 students in my class are from Presidency College, Calcutta. At the Calcutta centre, the figure is 3 out of 12. This is not an anomalous year either. Presidency College has had the largest contingent of students sent to the ISI from any one college every year since the inception of the MS (QE) course. The same story is repeated in the Master of Statistics course too. Today, out of a total student strength of 34 at the ISI, Delhi, 13 are from Presidency College. The next best is Ashutosh College of Calcutta with 5, and St Xavier’s, Calcutta, with 3. There are 2 students each from Delhi’s St Stephen’s and Lady Shriram College . By Dasgupta’s own method of estimation, Presidency College, Calcutta, is not just alive but kicking vigorously.
Aniruddha Gupta, New Delhi
Sir — It was in the mid-Fifties that I was admitted to Hare School as a student of class III. Presidency College was the building adjacent to ours and situated within the same compound. Dipankar Dasgupta’s “Bright past, bleak present”, suddenly brought back those days. As very young children, and even when we completed our schooling, we never came across any disturbance in the college next door. There were no bandhs, agitation or gheraos. In fact, the calm atmosphere of the college, apart from its high educational standards, was what attracted the student community. Not only the students of Hare School, but the entire student body all over the state, were in awe of the standards Presidency College had set. Those days of glory seem to have been lost forever. Political parties have entered the college and ruined it academically.
Dasgupta rightly assumes that a college is better known by the performance of its students, and in this, teachers’ efforts are instrumental. Presidency College has had the distinction of producing many eminent personalities, a record it will find hard to match now. For the college to return to its pristine state, politics has to be banned from its portals. The idea of profit or the question of financial stability of government educational institutions should not interfere with the college routine.
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta
Sir — What many of us find incomprehensible is how the sorry state of Presidency College came about. How did an institution that once dominated the scholastic world move so inexorably towards its decline' How could a college that produced so many luminaries be wrecked by appalling mediocrity' Dipankar Dasgupta’s diagnosis, that this decline reflects the internal decay of a quasi-communist regime and its hidden bias towards a market economy, seems correct. But his pinning some of the blame on Presidency College’s faculty cannot be justified since most of its members often find themselves in a situation over which they have little or no control. However, Dasgupta’s suggestion of strengthening its academic resources by way of inviting teachers from other institutions of repute is anodyne. What is unfortunate is that those who are expected to implement the cure do not have the political or moral conviction to do so.
Surajit Basak, Calcutta
Sir — The editorial, “Rushing in” (Aug 13), says that the president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has harmed the presidency by visiting the riot-affected places and relief camps in Gujarat. The issue is undoubtedly sensitive and it is also a fact that no other president before Kalam has undertaken such a trip into a political “cauldron”.
It is constitutional practice for the president to be apprised of every development by the prime minister. But this is akin to spoon-feeding. As head of state, the president can make an individual query on any matter and is also entitled to any information that he pleases to have. He has the right to see things for himself as and when he chooses to do so. There is no constitutional bar for the president to make such a trip. Kalam has neither done anything ultra vires nor has he harmed the presidency.
M.M. Basu, Sambalpur
Sir — The report, “Party with president in your jeans” (Aug 15), was shocking. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam seems to have gone out of his way to discard the dress code for guests at the Independence Day party at Rashtrapati Bhavan. He has broken protocol. I wonder whether Kalam is justified in doing so to establish a lifestyle he used to have in his village with an aim to gain cheap popularity. Nobody can object to his enjoying sambar, rasam or idli in his private drawing room at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, nor his choice of attire — blue shirts and grey trousers in public. But as president of the country he has to learn to obey the conventions that go with his exalted position.
Santipada Banerjee, Calcutta
Sir — It is a matter of great honour that a person like A.P.J. Abdul Kalam now adorns the highest office in India. However, the one thing that does not match the image of the president of India is his hairstyle. As the first citizen of the country, he has to be a perfect example for the people of India. The president is also the supreme commander of the army. All this means that India sets great store by the physical appearance of the president. Shouldn’t Kalam give the matter a thought'
Atul Joshi, Jalpaiguri