Target the rot inside
Sir — That the Tehmina Khatoon case has propelled the West Bengal state government into action, so much so that it has issued a decree forbidding educational institutions from asking candidates to declare their religion in admission forms, is not surprising (“Religion off Bengal education forms”, Aug 31). For some time now, the state government has been embarrassed by several exposés in the media that have revealed the rot in the education system. However, Khatoon’s case had the potential of being the most damaging to the Marxists as it also disproved their claim that the state was a haven for minorities. The case is also significant because of the shadow it casts on the gender issue. Khatoon was repeatedly victimized not only because she belonged to the minority community but also because she refused to conform to conventional and expected notions of behaviour that becomes a woman — such as changing her surname to that of her husband’s or stating her religion. However, unless society changes its ways, the government’s decision or action will not be able to end discrimination.
Mitali Datta, Calcutta
A gesture of protest
Sir — The president might have given his assent to the Representation of People’s Act (Amendment) Ordinance. But the fact that he returned the ordinance to the cabinet, questioning why the Supreme Court’s suggestions were not being implemented, shows that he is determined not to remain a figurehead, manipulable to political parties. In fact, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s six-paragraph note can be seen as a reprimand to the Union government. Surely, Kalam was justified in asking the government why it had not considered provisions which sought to disqualify from the electoral run candidates who had been charged with rape and murder. But instead of clarifying the questions, the Central government chose to return the ordinance unaltered to the president on the grounds that it had been backed by a total political consensus.
The political agreement on this issue is hardly surprising given that politicians in India always agree on matters that further their interests, be it a hike in the salaries of members of parliament, or on increasing an MP’s constituency development fund from Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore. Although the attorney-general, Soli Sorabjee, has reportedly assured the president that the points raised by him could be taken up in Parliament later and that the cabinet has great regard for him, nothing could be further from the truth.
That a politician like Mulayam Singh Yadav, known for his undignified behaviour on the floor of the house, should advise the president to abide by the constitutional convention before acting is a further indication of the lack of ethics among our legislators. Kalam performed his moral and constitutional duty by returning the ordinance without signing it. The government, on the other hand, has resorted to backroom manoeuvring by taking undue advantage of Article 74, which makes it mandatory for the president to sign a bill the second time the cabinet returns it to him, with or without corrections
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur
Sir — The president of India had returned the electoral reforms ordinance on the grounds that it had overlooked the Supreme Court’s suggestions on the matter. The Union cabinet’s decision to return the ordinance to the president without making any changes in it, only proves that both the government and the political parties need criminals to be at the helm of affairs. There is little the president could do after the ordinance had been returned to him the second time without changes. The average citizen of the country shares the president’s concerns about the criminalization of politics. But unless our legislators are willing to give priority to transparency and good governance over the politics of coercion and corruption, there is not much that can be done about it.
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore
Sir — The joint political veto of the parliamentarians against the attempt to clean up the political system is a manifestation of a problem that lies deeply embedded in Indian society (“Second try”, Aug 27). The first question is who are these parliamentarians who stalled the move' They are our representatives who we have ourselves elected. Two earlier governments have similarly rejected attempts at reform. Which means even if we replace this current batch of parliamentarians, the result will not be too different, for their behaviour in and outside Parliament is a reflection of the moral decline of Indian society. Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “Power corrupts”. In the Indian context, it seems to destroy the conscience also. Even a reasonably honest man, when placed in a position of power, is bound to become corrupt in a short while in India. To effect change, we should start laying emphasis on the basic human values like kindness, humility and morality over greed and corruption. India needs a generation of honest, hard-working and sincere citizens, if it is to be saved from further chaos.
Asheem Kapoor, Calcutta
Leading by example
Sir — Sourav Ganguly’s inspiring leadership has ensured India its fifth overseas test victory in recent times (“Winning edge of controversy”, Aug 27). Since India’s cricket debut 68 years ago, it has managed to win only 13 tests abroad. But in just two years since Ganguly took over, the team has managed to win five. Ganguly’s detractors will undoubtedly try to undermine his achievements by pointing out that two of India’s test victories were registered against weak teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. They should keep in mind that under Mohammed Azharuddin’s leadership, India had lost one test against Zimbabwe and drawn another. Also, in most of these victories, Ganguly’s contribution with the bat has been significant. The Indian captain scored 84 runs in Dhaka, remained not out at 98 in Kandy, and came up with a valiant 128 at Leeds.
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur
Sir — Congratulations to the Indian cricket team for their emphatic win over England at Headingley. The victory is significant not only because it was scored overseas, but it also came at a time when Indian cricketers are under tremendous pressure from the Board of Control for Cricket in India to agree to the International Cricket Council’s controversial players’ terms. It was also a reflection of the collective effort of the entire team. Other than the brilliant performance from senior players like Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, one also saw sincere efforts from Harbhajan Singh and Ajit Agarkar. Although Virender Sehwag could not contribute with the bat, he more than made up by taking six catches. Ganguly’s captaincy was brilliant and he managed to instil the right amount of enthusiasm in his teammates. The influence of the coach, John Wright, was also visible from the body language of the players, who displayed a killer instinct. One hopes the Indian team can reproduce the Leeds magic at the Oval, the venue for the final test.
Rajat Bakshi, Dumka
Sir — In a television interview some time back, Bishen Singh Bedi, while commenting on the dismissal of Steve Waugh as the captain of Australia’s one day team and the retention of Sourav Ganguly as captain for both tests and ODIs, had said, “A giant has been dropped while a pygmy has been retained”. One cannot help wondering if Bedi is eating his words now that India has recorded a scintillating victory against England in the third test and Ganguly has excelled in his performance.
Siddhartha Roy, Calcutta
Work at home
Sir — I was saddened by the letters written in response to Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s article, “The colonial cringe”, published on August 17 (“The saint for all seasons”, Aug 25). Kajal Chatterjee puts Mother Teresa on par with social reformers like Rammohun Roy and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. Vidyasagar would have been horrified to know of many of Mother Teresa’s positions on women’s issues. Sonali Dutta is right in saying that her association has proved very expensive for Calcutta, in terms of lost foreign investment and tourism.
Aroup Chatterjee, London
Sir —- I spent 5 months working in Shishu Bhavan in Calcutta, and found the city to be one of the warmest and friendliest I have encountered. Celebrities might want to do charitable work in the city, but I would say that it is very easy to love people and work with people who live far away. It is often a lot harder to put that love into practice at home with one’s own family. I came away from Calcutta knowing that there are lots of people in England, too, who need help.
Verity Worthington, Worcestershire, UK