Burnt out case
Sound of emptiness
An island in context
Letters to the Editor

No one should raise an eyebrow that four out of six public sector companies cleared by the Union cabinet for closure are in West Bengal. Every list of ailing firms deserving the axe that New Delhi has drawn up the past several months has included a disproportionate number of plants in eastern India. The four companies marked for death have only a couple of thousand workers between them. For all practical purposes, they exist only on paper. Yet the Left Front will raise the cry of New Delhi�s bias. Ms Mamata Banerjee will match them, decibel for denunciation, to ensure she is not outdone in populism. Unfortunately, neither will give any serious thought as to why so many sick public sector units are concentrated in West Bengal and what this means for the state. The truth is that closing down the ailing industrial units that litter West Bengal�s bleak economic landscape could be a badly needed jolt for the state. First, these units soak up scarce land, skilled workers and capital from the healthy bits of the economy. They also bleed the state government of money needed for infrastructure development. Second, they spread a negative work ethic. Too many businesses believe competitiveness is irrelevant because some government will always bail them out. The result: unproductive workers and comatose managements. Third, West Bengal�s political leaders spend an inordinate amount of energy propping up these dying industries, energy that could be better spent attracting new firms.

The net result of West Bengal�s agonizing over the terminally ill is an economy that needs to be checked in into an intensive care unit. The state has an estimated 55,000 sick or shuttered plants. The number of small scale factories has fallen by a third since 1985. Total employment in this sector has shrunk by about 40 per cent. The Left Front and the Trinamool Congress fret about workers who are among the least productive in the country. Per capita industrial output in West Bengal is less than one fourth that of Maharashtra and one third that of Tamil Nadu. Per capita industrial value addition is three times higher in Haryana and five times greater in Gujarat. Understandably, few are willing to invest in the state. Those already in West Bengal are packing their bags to leave. States like Maharashtra have felt the pain of deindustrialization as well. They responded by aggressively investing in infrastructure, attracting private investors and encouraging knowledge based industries. In shutting down four units in West Bengal, New Delhi is only continuing a decades old process initiated by the faulty policies of the Writers� Buildings. So long as West Bengal�s leaders remain wedded to the obsolete belief that government is the source of economic good, the future industrial picture of the state will remain one of lockouts and closures.    

Promises are meant merely to be made, not to be kept or enacted. This is the only inference that can be drawn from the behaviour of the candidates running for the honour of improving the civic life of Calcutta and Salt Lake. They and their supporters have decided to enter incisively into the minds and hearts of their potential voters by the shortest route available: sound. The city is ringing with blaring microphones at every other street corner, trembling with earthshaking rhetoric and drowning in floods of promises. There are obstructions for street corner meetings, traffic hold-ups to accommodate fist-wielding processions and a general ugliness in the name of election graffiti spilled on every convenient wall. This is the most telling � and damning � commentary on the city, the more pathetic because some of these evils, especially sound pollution, had been brought under control over the last three years.

It is difficult to explain this shameless abdication of responsibility on the part of the political parties. The possibility of an unusually sharp contest, even a make or break one, is no excuse for losing control over the normal decencies of civic life. Each party in the fray, the Trinamool Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Congress, feels the necessity to drown the voices of the others. The voter can legitimately ask what such leaders might do to the city once in the desired chairs. The fight against noise pollution, especially during the festive season, had been more or less won. Even the 1998 Lok Sabha election campaigns were muted. Decibel levels were taken seriously and the threat of penalty for violation was perceived as real. There is sudden silence from the courts and total inaction on the part of the police. This would imply that guidelines laid down for the containment of any evil have an unwritten shelf life, only legible to privileged people like civic polls contestants. After this kind of blatant violation by political parties, it is surely not expected that the people will either take their leaders seriously or bother to follow the rules when these appear inconvenient. What is contempt of court on the part of one is surely contempt of court on the part of another. But political leaders this time have really outdone themselves. They seem to feel that, since nobody�s going about enforcing the law, the law need not be followed. They might ask themselves what this attitude makes them. As for the police, its members are either too politicized or too apathetic. No member of the public has bothered to complain to the court or the police. And that is a measure of their apathy. Some good could have been achieved had the Election Commission taken an interest. Even the EC is indifferent this time. Perhaps it is felt that Calcutta is too far gone for anything to be done. Now it is up to the residents to improve the quality of civic life. No one else is concerned, not even the would-be councillors.    

Sri Lanka is in crisis again. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in a major military offensive, has expelled the Sri Lankan army from the Elephant Pass and Iyakachchi, the main points in land approaches from the rest of Sri Lanka to Jaffna peninsula. Before analysing the implications of this crisis, it would be pertinent to see the background in which Sri Lanka�s territorial unity stands threatened again, perhaps more seriously than ever before.

First, the �Sinhala only� policy and the Buddhist religion being given the supreme position in the Sri Lankan constitution in 1958 initiated a process of systematic and drastic discrimination against the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, which constitutes nearly 15 per cent of the country�s population.

Second, from Sri Lanka�s independence in 1948 to the late Eighties, a number of agreements were signed between Sinhalese leaders and the Sri Lankan government and the leaders of the Sri Lankan Tamils to ensure justice and equality for the Tamils. Each and everyone of these agreements was scuttled and betrayed despite the solemn assurances given to the Tamils.

Third, the attempts at genuine mediation made by India between 1983 and 1990 were sabotaged primarily by members of the Sri Lankan government. This included its hobnobbing with the LTTE while requesting the Indian troops to contain them. All the negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE between 1990 and 1999 remain cosmetic efforts without a purposive move forward.

The Sri Lankan government was expected to negotiate with the LTTE representatives somewhere in Europe through Norwegian mediation. An amount of background information and historical memory should however have made all concerned anticipate a significant military initiative from the LTTE before the negotiations commenced.

First of all, instead of agreeing to commence the dialogue immediately, both the Chandrika Kumaratunga government and the LTTE stipulated parallel preconditions. The Sri Lankan government demanded a complete cessation of the LTTE�s operations, whereas the LTTE demanded the cessation of the Sri Lankan military offensive and the withdrawal of Sri Lankan forces south of the Elephant Pass. Given the political and military orientations of both sides, it was obvious that these demands would not be met.

The military objective now of the LTTE is to consolidate its domination of the Jaffna peninsula and the political objective to enter the negotiations sponsored by the Norwegians from a position of strength and credibility based on territorial control of the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. While the LTTE is incrementally dominating the peninsula, it is also effective in questioning the government�s jurisdiction in Trincomalee, Batticoloa and Amperai.

The development since the second fortnight of April was a culmination of the critical predicament faced by the Sri Lankan government. Kumaratunga was subjected to a suicide bomb attack in December 1999. The LTTE�s military pressure in Jaffna increased between January and March when Kumaratunga ordered her three service chiefs to locate themselves in Jaffna to personally command the operations against the LTTE.

But this initiative did not serve the purpose of boosting the morale and determination of the Sri Lankan forces for which it was envisaged. The fall of the Elephant Pass and Iyakachchi to the LTTE means that the LTTE is now in control of the mainland route from the rest of Sri Lanka to the Jaffna peninsula. Parallel to this, the LTTE�s capacity to disrupt the land and sea communications as well as the administration in the eastern provinces of Sri Lanka remains unabated.

The emerging situation in Sri Lanka now is that of a brief military stand-off between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lankan authorities have sent 4,000 additional troops into Jaffna peninsula. It has obtained aircraft, patrol boats and ships from Israel, and multi-barrel rocket firing mobile artillery and other sophisticated infantry weapons from Pakistan on an emergency basis. The LTTE�s assertive military posture seems to have been blunted for the time being. In the meanwhile, the LTTE has again shown its capacity to perpetrate violence in the Sinhalese areas of Sri Lanka by killing nearly 30 people, including the minister of industries of Sri Lanka, C.V. Gooneratne, and his wife at Ratmalana near Colombo on June 7.

Given the military stand-off and the LTTE�s violent posture, the Norwegian initiative will go into a limbo in the short term. Kumaratunga has undertaken consultations with the opposition parties, and more importantly, with the Buddhist monks about the stances to be adopted by the government in the negotiations being launched by Norway. These consultations have not been encouraging. The main opposition party, the United Nationalist Party, is critical of the fact that the Kumaratunga government did not have any detailed discussions with the opposition parties before formally accepting the Norwegian initiative.

The two main Buddhist religious leaders of Sri Lanka, the Mahanayakas of the Asgariya and Malwatte orders of monks, indicated to Kumaratunga that they have reservations about the Norwegian initiative in the context of developments over the last one year. While the LTTE has indicated a willingness to participate in negotiations through Norwegian mediation, their objective remains to see that all their fundamental demands are fully met by the Sri Lankan government. If negotiations do not achieve this purpose, the LTTE may dissociate itself from the process. More so now when they seem to have the upper hand.

Apart from the critical military situation that the Sri Lankan government faces, its ramification in terms of the internal politics of Sri Lanka creates additional problems for the stability of the country. The Sri Lankan armed forces have been under continuous military pressure for the last five years, which they have not been able to cope with despite some interim military successes. There are reports of desertions and low morale, in contrast with the LTTE cadre�s commitment and battle-hardened determination regarding their cause. They seem to have grown in strength and organizational capacities, specially from 1993-94 onwards.

A critical dimension affecting India in this whole situation is the fact that despite being an organization banned by the government of India, the LTTE retains its extensive political and logistical connections in Tamil Nadu and along the coast, including the ports of Rameswaram and Vedaranyam. The most recent media reports indicate that areas in Tamil Nadu still serve as bases for supplies and logistical support to the LTTE.

The LTTE�s political links with some political parties and groups in Tamil Nadu remain strong, indicating that segments of the public in Tamil Nadu remain supportive of the LTTE. The access and support which the LTTE enjoys in Tamil Nadu could not have been achieved unless sections administration and security forces connived at the LTTE�s continuing covert activities in Tamil Nadu.

An example of such general support is the confusion created by a statement of the chief minister of Tamil Nadu on his 77th birth anniversary, that, given the intractability of the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, a solution could be for the Sri Lankan government to agree to the separation of the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka into another state as Czechoslovakia bifurcated itself peacefully allowing Slovakia to become a separate state. Though attempts have been made to project this view as a personal view and party view of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, and not of the Tamil Nadu government and the government of India, it nevertheless indicates a deep undercurrent in Tamil politics which has critical implications for India�s Sri Lanka policies.

India has to cope with three problems in its Sri Lankan policy at this stage. First, to deal with the LTTE connections with Tamil Nadu which affects the security of that state. Second, there is a continuous trickle of refugees from Sri Lanka to India. And the third, to respond to Sri Lankan concern about the first factor and sustain stability in Indo-Sri Lankan relations.

Despite suggestions from some quarters, it is obvious that India should not get involved in any direct military efforts in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the LTTE�s military successes leading to the dismemberment of Sri Lanka, has serious political implications not only for Sri Lanka but also for India. Given our past experience with Sri Lanka, it would be both impracticable and illogical for us to venture into any qualitative shift in our present Sri Lankan policy. However, we can certainly suggest that Sri Lanka seriously considers responding to Tamil aspirations short of accepting the division of the country, if that is possible.

The author is former foreign secretary of India    


Secular fallacy

Sir � Mani Shankar Aiyar says loud and clear in �No ground beneath his feet� (June 20) that he is vehemently opposed to the ruling government�s decision to grant a visa to Salman Rushdie, the author of the �blasphemous� work, The Satanic Verses. Aiyar should be pleased that at least the book continues to be banned in secular India. But why bar its writer from visiting the country of his birth? Going by Aiyar�s logic, the painter, M.F. Husain, should not be allowed to live in India because he had painted nude pictures of Hindu goddesses. Also, the government was right not to allow Deepa Mehta to shoot Water, the script of which allegedly contained several derogatory references to Hinduism. But Aiyar will dismiss the latter argument as Hindu fundamentalist. So called secularists should realize that this is nothing but applying double standards. How long will they continue to preach that minority sentiments are sacrosanct but attacking those of the majority community is an act of liberalism?

Yours sincerely,
Kaustav Sinha Ray, Calcutta

You bet it�s ugly

Sir � Whatever mess the politicians might have landed the country in, cricket was always commended for reflecting India�s famed unity in diversity. Unfortunately, this is no longer true. As if the matchfixing allegations weren�t enough, Mohammed Azharuddin has indiscreetly alleged that he is being victimized because he belongs to a minority community. The implications of this allegation are disgusting. Does Azharuddin feel he captained the Indian side for so long only because he was a Muslim? Does he, adapting Henrik Ibsen�s remark in Enemy of the People, believe that the �minority is always right�?

Did he think that by evoking the sympathy of his community and the so called secular forces, he could get away? Is this not communalizing the issue? As a cricketing ambassador for the country, has he always carried only his minority credentials? How does he explain others like Kapil Dev being blamed?

This issue is even more serious than Azharuddin�s alleged involvement in betting. Merely tendering an apology will only serve as a precedence for further impudent behaviour. As a former captain, he is answerable to the country for his unrestrained statements.

Yours sincerely,
Sarita Kejriwal, Calcutta

Sir � Mohammed Azharuddin has been captain of the Indian cricket team for so long that Indians had forgotten that he was from a minority community. Does Azharuddin club Hansie Cronje too with the rabid crowd of communalists since he seems insistent on putting ideas of communal �apartheid� in the minds of Indian people? Or is someone from the minority community in India above all scrutiny? If any of the accusations are true, then Azharuddin has been selling the country off for personal gain. That he has trod on the dreams of so many Indians is besides the point.

A man of Azharuddin�s stature should have walked out even when a finger was pointed at him. It is time responsible cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble took the responsibility of rebuilding the confidence of the Indian supporters. Else they can play for an Azharuddin XI instead of donning Indian colours.

Yours sincerely,
Madhup Thakur, Dhanbad

Sir � Who are we to call Hansie Cronje �greedy�, when we have a bunch of �greedy� players right at our doorsteps (�Greedy Hansie names Azhar�, June 16)? At least Cronje had the guts to own up his folly openly at the cost of his career. Will Kapil Dev or Mohammed Azharuddin ever have the guts to do so?

Yours sincerely,
Sushma Jalan, via email

Sir � The editorial, �Captain who sank the ship� (Sept 17), rightly points out that everyone � from officials in the International Cricket Council and Board of Control for Cricket in India to cricketers � knew of betting and matchfixing in international matches. But no one said a word.

The Indian judiciary�s insistence on proof and admissible evidence has not only perpetuated the existing order but also resulted in the common man losing faith in most institutions of the state. How else can one explain the clean chit given to Indian cricketers by the enquiry conducted by a former chief justice of India.

We have the same judicial system as the South Africans, inherited from the British. How then can they move so fast? Is the cricket scandal headed the same way as the hawala one when the judiciary gave a clean chit, but everyone in the country knew that politicians of every party had their fingers in the till?

Yours sincerely,
Atma Saraogi, Calcutta

Sir � Sunil Gavaskar (�Different Strokes�, June 16) is right in saying that Javed Miandad has had a stabilizing influence as coach of the Pakistan cricket team. While under Kapil Dev, India�s performance has worsened. The current Indian team is rich in talent, but does not have the hunger to win. Kapil Dev has failed to rejuvenate the team by his stature and experience.

Yours sincerely,
Soumick Nag, Serampore

Sir � We live in a corrupt society. Politicians, tax officials, bureaucrats, judges, chartered accountants, doctors, journalists � most are corrupt . In the circumstances, we should not expect cricketers to be saints.

So Mohammed Azharuddin, Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and others � corrupt or not � should be thanked for their performance because Indians deserve only corrupt and �fixed� cricket matches. Cricketers should feel no shame in taking money and underperforming because the loyal servants of the Constitution have been doing the same for the last 50 years. This is only the beginning for them. They have a long way to go.

Yours sincerely,
Vaibhav Chirimar, via email

Sir � Enough has been written about how the public watching matches has been fooled. There is another category of people who have been fooled and are not being talked about. They are the people who put their money on bets. You place a bet when the result is indeterminate and the game is one of chance. When the game has been fixed, the losers are already decided. Therefore the result is decided even before the bet is placed. In this world of treachery, even the illegal game of betting is not being played fairly it seems.

Yours sincerely,
Sriram Bhaiya, Howrah

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