Editorial 1/ Colonel bogey
Editorial 2/ Caste up
Listen to those alarm bells
Fifth Column/ Politics walks on the wild side
Brotherhood of guns
Close encounters of the classroom kind
Letters to the editor

The saying that India is a land of paradoxes is a clich�. But like most clich�s it is true. Consider the fact that foreign owned television channels telecasting from foreign countries are allowed in India but foreigners are not allowed to own newspapers in India. Add to this the fact that foreign newspapers are on sale in India, albeit at a price, and the dimensions of the paradox will be complete. The objections to the entry of foreign investment in print media hinges on a cabinet decision to this effect which was passed in 1955. The year is significant. It was near the high noon of Nehruvian socialism, when the dominant doctrine was state ownership of and state regulation in as many sectors as possible. That ideology is now a blur in the past. But even in the Nineties, at the height of economic reforms and the opening up of the Indian economy, the cabinet decision could not be reversed. The recent initiative by Ms Sushma Swaraj, the Union minister for information and broadcasting, to reopen the subject is to be welcomed. Ms Swaraj has backed up her statement with strong and irrefutable logic. She argued that in an age of change and removal of antiquated barriers, it would be petty � she could even have said impossible � to keep the Indian press cocooned from new technology and from fresh and dynamic doses of capital. Ms Swaraj has articulated the voice of reason against the dominance of bureaucratic controls.

One thing is obvious to all save those who think that there is no truth outside the party�s book of revelations. The battle to keep the Indian economy and Indian markets closed and controlled has been lost. Every sector is feeling the impact of new technology and new capital. The reason for keeping the Indian print media away from these influences is that it represents a very �sensitive� arena. The assumption is that the print media moulds public opinion. This line of reasoning has no basis in fact. It cannot be argued that newspapers and periodicals influence popular opinion any more than television does. Moreover, given India�s literacy levels, the reach of newspapers is, by definition, very limited. This is even more true for that part of print media, English newspapers and magazines, in which foreign capital will be principally interested. Also, the Indian public is already exposed, through cable television, internet and foreign newspapers, to what foreign media have to say on so-called �sensitive�� issues. Thus, the objections to the entry of foreign investments in print media do not spring from either logic or fact. At worst, the objections reveal an inexplicable loyalty to an irrelevant regulation; at best, they are the outgrowths of a mindset that has lost its way. Indian civilization, from time immemorial, has lived with foreign elements of various kinds and has been enriched by it. A dose of foreign capital can do no harm to either public opinion or the newspaper industry. Foreign capital should be welcomed.    

Damocles�s sword has fallen at last, after hanging ominously for 11 long months, almost from the moment of Mr Ram Prakash Gupta�s induction as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. If his induction had been meant, at least partly, to skirt the simmering succession tussle among Messrs Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra, Lalji Tandon and Om Prakash Singh after the exit of Mr Kalyan Singh, the present decision looks like an admission of error. But they are all good soldiers. Besides, the anointing of Mr Rajnath Singh as the next chief minister at a time the Bharatiya Janata Party is in serious trouble in UP may not look like roses all the way. It could have happened before. The prime minister had saved Mr Gupta�s chair for him twice this year, in May and in July. But Mr Gupta�s ineffectuality, his inability to handle either difficult allies or the shrinking upper caste base, his surrender in the face of declining law and order had pushed partymen to a point of exasperation which even the prime minister cannot risk.

The quick cut is indicative of the BJP�s own perception of its crisis in UP. The formation of Uttaranchal will leave the BJP with barely a two member majority in the UP assembly and the state goes to the assembly polls next year. Its allies in government, especially the Loktantrik Congress Party, have very definite minds of their own. The LCP�s decision to contest the forthcoming municipal elections is being seen by the BJP as the first gentle snip at the apron strings. Mr Rajnath Singh is supposed to be rather good with the allies. Maybe he will stem the rot. This is just the simpler part of the pragmatics of holding on. Far more alarming for the BJP is the thinning of its vote bank. With Mr Kalyan Singh�s Rashtriya Kranti Party drawing away the Lodhs and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ms Mayavati sharing the Yadavs and the Dalits, the BJP has had to give up on the idea of backward caste votes. On top of that, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan has appeared with his Dalit Sena and the Kurmis are looking to the Apna Dal. All the BJP has to bank on is the Brahmin-Rajput vote which, in UP, is considerable enough to take any party through. Even here Mr Mulayam Yadav has not left the BJP in peace. He has been playing about with the discontented Rajputs and Brahmins. With Mr Rajnath Singh as chief minister and Mr Kalraj Mishra as state unit leader, the BJP hopes to retrieve the upper caste base. Many BJP leaders in UP, including Mr Om Prakash Singh, feel an upper caste chief minister is a mistake. At the moment, though, the BJP appears to have little choice. Mr Rajnath�s Singh�s leadership will have to prove its mettle in a very hard world in the run up to the assembly elections.    

Those who manage news coverage on behalf of the government have had a tough time of late. The harder they try to convince the public that the common ground the allies in the ruling coalition share is no quicksand, the more glaring become the faultlines in the alliance. How could it be otherwise in a situation where the very language of public discourse is designed to keep both thought and reality at bay?

The irony of this sad business is that the government finds itself under siege all too often from its own employees or allies. The first hold the nation to ransom every now and then by bringing one essential service or another to a standstill to extort concessions it can ill afford. And the allies force it to roll back increases in the prices of public goods and services, pushing it deeper into the morass of indebtedness.

Such little dramas have been staged so frequently in recent months that it has set alarm bells ringing in all the places where big decisions are made. Now that the prime minister has returned to Delhi with a brand new knee and begun attending to the pending files at home, he will have a clearer idea of what he is up against. While he is well on the road to recovery, national politics is getting more sick. This is not only because members of the ruling coalition, each out to nurse his constituency, are unable to view national issues outside the context of their regional or caste interests. The sangh parivar, to which the prime minister�s party belongs, has also turned more belligerent, with both the hawks and the doves preparing for a showdown.

There was a time not long ago when the prime minister�s image as a dove was considered as a big asset by all those impatient to see the Bharatiya Janata Party in power at the Centre. That is why they projected him as their choice for the prime minister�s post. When the BJP at last emerged as the leading partner in a 25-party ruling coalition in 1999, there was naturally a concerted drive to build up his image as the only person who could possibly manage so mixed-up and unwieldy an alliance.

This was no empty boast. Paradoxically, the prime minister�s very vulnerability to pressure from difficult allies and authority to prevent hawks in the extended ideological family from putting spanners in the works of the coalition, many of the constituents of which would have no truck either with the Hindutva ideology or the swadeshi slogan, was his main strength.

Not many front organizations of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were happy at the concessions the BJP-led government had to make to its allies under duress and to the contingencies resulting from the desperate shortage of investment capital at home, the need for access to new technologies and the dynamics of closer integration of the national economy with the world market. What is more, with the end of the Cold War, the government had to come to terms with both the new reality of the United States as the only superpower and the logic of the globalization process which made deep inroads into the sovereignty of nation-states.

The alarm bells set in motion by the new changes in the political scene and the new phase of the economic reform process are genuine warnings of dangers which can one day make the government lose control over events at home for lack of timely corrective action. Every concession that the prime minister makes to a headstrong ally who throws a tantrum, or says something carrying a veiled threat of defection, means one more large entry on the debit side of the government�s ledger. The handouts of an additional Rs 300 crore to the Parkash Singh Badal government in Punjab and Rs 60 crore to the Om Prakash Chautala regime in Haryana for poor quality paddy are the latest of such entries. The result is bidding goodbye to any kind of fiscal discipline.

Even more serious than the howls of protest from allies is that it is not clear whether Mamata Banerjee will be satisfied with a mere symbolic rollback of the hikes in diesel, kerosene and cooking gas prices. That this itself may mean a loss of hundreds of crores to the exchequer is the implication of the cold war in the sangh parivar which, if the recent public speeches of K.S. Sudarshan are anything to go by, threatens to turn into a hot war.

It is a mystery why the RSS chief has chosen this moment when the government is already in deep trouble, with a slidedown in the economy, an increase in the number of terrorist infiltrators from across the border in Kashmir, and a shrinking of the BJP base in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, two of its strongholds, to create new strains in the ruling coalition as well as in the BJP.

Was it the wooing of Muslim and Christian voters by a hard-pressed BJP which provoked the RSS chief into redefining Indian nationalism in strictly Hindutva terms and imploring Muslims to Indianize themselves and Christians to set up a national church on the Chinese model? Surely, he could not be oblivious of the likely effect of questioning the patriotic credentials of the minorities in this manner?

No organization has talked more loudly of national integration than the RSS and yet it refuses to see that expecting Muslims and Christians to redesign their ways of life in a way which conform to those of the majority community cannot but create a new miasma of fear and suspicion and deepen the fissures in Indian society.

Despite the angry noises made by the more militant organizations of the sangh parivar against several aspects of official policy, most people assumed that, for all the glitches in the ruling coalition machinery, the experience of having to discard some of the main badges of their identity would have a sobering effect on the thinking processes of militant Hindu nationalists. Indeed when during his recent visit to the US, the prime minister once described himself as a swayamsevak, he hastened to explain that what he meant by the label was a mere sevak (servant) of the nation. Did that interpretation make the RSS chief go red in the face?

Whatever the provocation, Sudarshan�s utterances have added to the murkiness of national polity and made it more difficult for Vajpayee to keep intact the common ground not only between the coalition partners but also between the BJP members of his ministerial team. The differences between the BJP and the RSS, which have now erupted in public with greater force than ever before, have further widened the room for manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres for both hardliners and moderates in the sangh parivar as well as for coalition allies who wish to fish in the troubled waters of RSS-BJP politics.

Even when the alarm bells in the political establishment stop ringing, their echoes will continue to influence the course of events for a long time to come, making the management of change all the more problematic. As for the warnings of dangers facing the economy, the noise coming from the alarm bells will never cease. No amount of good cheer oozing from the words of Yashwant Sinha, the finance minister, can conjure away the ominous signals sent by the stock exchange, with a whopping 40 per cent decline in prices in less than a year, the decline in the rate of growth of the manufacturing sector, the poor state of the infrastructure growing at a snail�s pace, the alarming rate at which small sector units are being forced to close down, leaving behind a trail of unemployment and destitution, and the conspicuous lack of an incomes policy which is creating inequalities which would have scandalized not only the leaders of the freedom struggle but even the colonial regime.

It will be, of course, highly unfair to blame the present government, which has been in power for just over a year, for the malign turn events have taken. A political culture worm-eaten by corruption, an oversized and slovenly bureaucracy, a recklessly overmanned and inefficient public sector, with numerous units permanently in the red, are by no means its creation but parts of its inheritance. One job that is proving extremely ticklish is indeed how to get rid of the more burdensome part of this legacy. An even more sticky problem is the fast changing international environment, with the globalization process releasing forces which are often beyond the control of national governments.

Inherited or otherwise, the government has to cope with these problems as best as it can. It should not add to these by its internal squabbles, concessions it cannot afford and its refusal to listen to the voice of reason and heed the dangers to which the alarm bells are drawing its attention. Its leaders ought to pause and wonder, in the words of a contemporary playwright, What was that sound that came in the dark?/ What is this maze of light it leaves us in?/ What is this stance we take,/ To turn away and then turn back?/ What did we hear?    

With two special courts convicting two major politicians � one a former prime minister and the other a former chief minister, and the kowtowing by two state governments to the outlaw Veerappan � the debate on the criminalization of politics has intensified. While the Vohra committee report on the criminalization of politics is still quoted, the committee has not indicated whether the criminals listed by it were already convicted or whether they were being prosecuted in courts of law for certain crimes.

This issue assumes relevance because some time back the Election Commission was considering banning all those politicians who were being prosecuted, but had not been convicted earlier, from contesting elections. Another problem with the report is that one does not know what kind of crimes had been taken into consideration.

Those people who have committed economic and financial crimes of the highest order generally belong to the more affluent sections of society. Politicians and bureaucrats who are accessories or accomplices in such crimes are similarly high placed. The collusion among them is an accepted feature of our corrupt democratic polity.

Courage of conviction

None of our senior plutocrats, bureaucrats or politicians had been convicted until recently. Cases against the former Union ministers, Sheila Kaul and Sukh Ram, are still pending, as are those against Laloo Prasad Yadav and Jagannath Sharma, two former chief ministers of Bihar, Union ministers for home affairs and human resources development respectively, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. The former bureaucrat, Krishna Murthy, was jailed but there are others who have escaped punishment.

Whether the Vohra committee would have considered these and others as criminals is difficult to say. The former prime minister, V.P. Singh, once described how there was a prison line dividing the rich from the poor so that not many of the former stayed in jail for a very long time. The poor, however, had no means of getting out as they could not arrange for lawyers, produce bailers or offer bribes.

That is, the criminals are not defined only by their criminal acts but by their places in the social structure. In politics, too, those involved in high level financial corruption amass wealth with impunity, and know their way out of trouble with the law. Other criminals supposed to have criminalized politics can only be described as the cohorts of the wizards of the world of finance and industry.

It is the social group in a position of power and affluence which is able to call the shots. With the growing process of economic reforms, this small social section has prospered even more. Privatization has helped it a great deal. Since it cannot secure the votes of the intermediate castes, religious minorities and the scheduled tribes or castes, which generally have got identified leaders of their respective social base, they recruit candidates from these sections.

Elite nexus

As the elections have become extremely expensive, the affluent elite has also become crucial for every candidate and for every party. Parties have also changed their character as caste or community groups have got polarized behind particular leaders. Hence the leader selects the candidates, tries to make sure they get the adequate votes required, and also provides financial assistance. Obviously, this support has its price, which the leader has to pay by using his influence in distorting the rules to help the benefactor.

In the battle for securing the votes of certain communities, the rules of the game relate directly to the use of force or intimidation. The stronger the candidate, the greater the chances of success of the party. The colluding elite group could not care less who the candidate is or how he manages to win.

However, these parties disagree on various issues in spite of some commonalities in their economic programme. There are stances of interest-based politics in certain sections in these regions. However, the interests of the elite are protected at all costs. The situation will change only if the peasantry were to realize that the new policy of commercializing agriculture, and creating small farms would displace them from their holdings and leave them without any alternate means of livelihood.    

The stretch of the river between Munger and Mughalsarai is rather flaccid. Swathes of sandflats break the shallow flow for uninterrupted miles, simmering under the relentless blaze of the mid-morning sun. A fleet of rickety old countryboats lies anchored on one of the �flats�. Jabbar and his renegade crew stretch out on its uneven surface, soaking in the morning sun after a difficult night. Their sweat-streaked torsos glisten in the heat, almost like the shining barrels of the guns they carve with their nimble fingers.

Life on Munger�s treacherous waterfront is primarily nocturnal, gathering momentum as the sun begins its westward glide. Mornings are marked by a peculiar stillness that sets Bihar�s �self-styled� Bronx apart from its wilder cousins down south. This hub of the clandestine trade in arms and explosives caters to a thriving market spanning three states � West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Barely an hour ago, Jabbar was haggling with a buyer from neighbouring West Bengal over the price of �US army colts�� manufactured indigenously. The buyer represented a mainstream party, which has been arming its cadres to take on a political rival in a turf war on the eve of assembly elections early next year.

The gun-makers are euphoric, for orders are pouring in like �water from a tap� and the arms suppliers in Patna are raking in hefty profits. Munger is flush with funds, thanks to the Bengal upheaval and any �Bengali� is now a potential buyer.

The change in the buying pattern reflects an ominous trend in the political scenario of Bengal. Politics, so far arraigned on lines of ideology and cadre-based intimidation at a micro-level, is fast acquiring overtones of violence, like that of Bihar.

The ongoing conflict between the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the backwaters of Bengal and the consequent proliferation of arms throws up an obvious poser: is Bengal going the Bihar way? If the Union defence minister, George Fernandes, is to be believed, it definitely is. But only a careful study in contrasts and circumstantial similarities between the two can uphold the motion.

Violence in Bihar is a fallout of a social equity movement gone awry. Although it may sound simplistic, the truth is that the left, unlike in Bengal, remained confined to rural pocket boroughs since its entry into the state�s largely feudal politics in the early Seventies. The radical ultra-left outfits, which converged on Bihar�s political terrain seeking greener pastures following the premature demise of the Naxalbari uprising in 1967, could only strike base in a few districts where the presence of inimical classes was more pronounced.

In the rest of the state, poverty was the overriding factor shadowing all other considerations. Periods of passivity, often dubbed as �peace�� in the politically placid north Bihar districts, proved to be the undoing of reactionary left forces.

But in Bengal, the left emerged as a catalyst for change, distancing itself from the militant line of the insurrectionists. The CPI(M) central committee, which met in Madurai after the Naxalbari conflagration in August 1967, accused the radicals of neglecting the �immediate task of mobilizing the class against the enemy and relying on spontaneity instead�. It derided this as an �ideological disease by frustrated individuals� and discarded the Naxalbari school as �anti-Marxist-Leninist�. Left out in the cold by the CPI(M), the dividing lines between the reactionaries and �anti-socials� blurred and the movement withered away in due course.

The moderates cashed in where Naxalbari floundered. They launched an aggressive campaign to replace the ultra-left�s attitude towards land reforms with the more human �Operation Barga��. The task was made easy by the fact that the jotedars were not organized under any political banner. So, as the kisans and bargadars went on rampage seizing surplus and benami land from the landlords for redistribution among the landless, the left parties firmly ensconced themselves in the rural hinterland. It was a natural consolidation of base on the strength of a changing land distribution pattern.

In Bihar, the situation was slightly different. Polarized along caste lines, the upper caste landlords were �historically entrenched� and ruled the state as a matter of birthright. They not only exerted control over the economic surplus but also influenced local politics, thus cementing their influence at the state level. The landlords even used the local power structure � the police constable, village guards and revenue officials � to garner the indirect support of the state.

As the ultra-left outfits forged a semblance of unity among the disparate peasant groups, the landlords hit back with selective retaliation. The skirmishes soon escalated into more �purposeful� strikes and class violence was a foregone conclusion. Purnea witnessed the first massacre in 1967 when henchmen of the former Bihar speaker, L.N. Sudhanshu, gunned down militant tribal peasants.

Though many feel that violence has always accompanied Bengal politics, it is more of an offshoot of the ruling Left Front�s �patronage policy�. The party which ensured equitable distribution of land and rise in minimum wages during 1970-1980, failed to address basic issues like educating the masses on political lines and creating room for all in its proletariat fold. Its cadre-based hierarchy fostered insularity, which left a section disgruntled. Largesse in the form of favours and funds percolated down the hierarchy, eluding those outside its purview.

Moreover, the beneficiaries, who were once content with a few acres of cultivable land, matured into the rural bourgeoisie over the years and as aspirations soared, they fought pitched battles for the lion�s share of the �depleting pie�, be it development funds, excess land or pelf. Those who fell back in the race hitched their wagon to Mamata Banerjee�s Trinamool Congress and a lethargic left soon faced the prospect of rout in those very areas where it had reaped the maximum gains.

The recent clashes in Midnapore and Birbhum typify the malaise. Nanoor village in Birbhum erupted over a land dispute between CPI(M) tillers and Trinamool men backed by the local landlords. The incident was a pointer to a disturbing trend: landlords who had been dispossessed in Operation Barga were rallying behind an emerging power to regain lost clout. But the Trinamool has also managed to build a support base among farmers, disillusioned with left complacence.

Similarly, in Midnapore�s Keshpur village, Trinamool farmers and left sellers of crops crossed swords over cultivation rights of disputed land. While the fields were owned by Trinamool farmers, the crops grown on them were controlled by CPI(M) middlemen. This resulted in a clash of interest as each group tried to establish sway over land. The problem was compounded by the fact that the myopic left failed to nurture the rural have-nots after �empowering them with land�.

Since both the districts are predominantly agrarian, they failed to absorb the �educated unemployed� in the absence of a sustainable development matrix. Left to fend for themselves, the neo-literates started dabbling in petty politics for immediate gains. Armed intervention was a natural corollary to the socio-political unrest. Ironically, Midnapore was one of the early Naxalite hotspots in the late Sixties, when the Santhals of Debra and Gopiballavpur rose in revolt against the landlords.

It would not be totally unwarranted to liken the Midnapore-Birbhum turmoil to the strife in Bihar�s Jehanabad district. But Bengal�s march towards a Bihar-like situation is a retrograde one. The wheel of social justice is unwinding, doing a violent backward turn, whereas Bihar still blunders through frenzied twists and turns to attain it. Social justice is the �end� Bihar uses to justify its violent means, and for Bengal, it is the �tool� with which the ruling Left Front is stamping its violent writ on a collapsing order.    

The recent decision taken by the West Bengal board of secondary education to derecognize and close 1,000 secondary schools in West Bengal is alarming.While accepting that these schools continuously fail to come up with satisfactory results in public examinations in spite of imparting quality education, it is undeniable that many academic and administrative constraints stand in their way. The absence of library and laboratory facilities, of qualified and efficient teachers, the lack of discipline and the paucity of academic and administrative coordination are some of the problems facing these institutions.

In order to provide quality education it is important to check the number of dropouts and truancy among students, and also consider the appalling socio-economic conditions affecting the sincere pursuit of knowledge.

Wrong chemistry

Newer avenues of consolidating the parent-teacher, teacher-pupil, and school-community relationships must be evolved. Introducing regular training and orientation of teachers and administrative personnel will also help. The pre-school and post-school educational programmes should be adjusted with those of Madhyamik schools in order to introduce innovations in education. As education is now a multipolar process, the differences between the rural and urban schools is shown up. It is unfair to expect excellence in education under these circumstances.

Mere closure of vulnerable institutions would simply reveal our inability to negotiate the problems. An educational programme of activities needs an altogether different approach to work ethics. This is an idea few people ascribe to. Incentives for teachers of excellence are few and far between. Moreover, schools are treated as a means to an end by even the most promising teachers.

Way through chaos

It will be very difficult to save the careers of the Madhyamik candidates, who for no fault of their own are the worst sufferers on account of the absence/paucity of teachers. The plans and programmes of the activities of a secondary school, particularly in the rural areas, are jeopardized owing to a continual absence of teachers, thereby resulting in huge chunks of the syllabus remaining untouched.

Prior to shortlisting of schools for closure, the age old system of examinations needs to be overhauled. Also, newer techniques of evaluation need to introduced, specially in rural schools. The chaos that is created almost every year after the publication of the Madhyamik results is indicative of the deep-rooted maladies in our educational system. It is easy to close down a school but not so easy to improve the existing unhealthy academic and administrative climate.    


Mother of all woes

Sir � Bonita Podho is back in the news, months after the story of her struggle to support the family to which she was sold when young was highlighted in The Telegraph. Over a decade and three children later, she has tied the knot with Bidhyadhar Podho, the son of the man she was sold to (�Sold Bonita weds Bidyadhar to buy legitimacy for children�, Oct 22). The happy culmination of Bonita�s lifelong struggle is ironic, once it is revealed that her eldest daughter, the 11 year old Kalabati, is awaiting the same fate as her mother (�Hunger links past, future�, Oct 23). In other words, unable to feed all her children, Bonita might soon be forced to sell Kalabati as she herself was sold. Yet the local legislator and others are known to have spent Rs 35,000 to legalize Bonita�s relationship. Does such legitimacy have any meaning at all in a community stalked by deprivation and starvation? Bonita�s motherhood surely comes before her social obligations. And what mother would seek legitimacy for her children rather than food for them?
Yours faithfully,
Suranjana Mishra, Patna

In the garb of a good friend

Sir � The editorial, �Moscow prospect� (Oct 10), has omitted the real tragedy in Indo-Russian relations, that is, the appropriation of India by Russia as one of its vassals. Under pressure from Moscow, India caved in by getting stuck with the decrepit Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier at a mindboggling cost, much against the wishes of the Indian navy. The truth is that Russia�s economy is in dire straits. Hence the forcible selling of military junk to India helps to overcome a part of its economic deficit. It is also being suspected that our indigenous weapons production programme has been made a lame duck so that India could be armtwisted into buying Russian arms. India is virtually at Russia�s mercy in so far as this matter is concerned.

Russia�s nastiest game was pretending to support India in battling terrorism while inducing New Delhi to release the five convicted Latvians in the Purulia arms drop case. The minute these five criminals changed their nationality to Russian � quite conveniently � Moscow cracked its whip on New Delhi.

India�s leaders continue to be mere puppets in Russia�s hands. This is all the more ironic because India�s president in his Independence Day address sermonized about the country�s administration having been spoiled by the politician-mafia nexus and so on. Will anyone take India seriously on terrorism after the release of the Latvians?

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Kumar Dutt, Calcutta

Sir � It takes a lot of pragmatism in a head of state to declare he is on a business trip. Vladimir Putin, who visited India early this month, made no bones about his intentions, quite unlike the United States president, although the latter was in India for reasons not too different from Putin�s. And it was business concerns entirely that dictated Putin�s dealings with New Delhi.

To start with, the nuclear leeway that Russia seemingly grants India by moving away from the �nuclear suppliers group strategy of blanket noncooperation� seems to be prompted more by India�s maturing as a nuclear nation than Russia�s benevolence. Remember, there were no congratulatory noises from Russia for a post-Pokhran India. Besides, Russia is not the first nation to have mended its attitude towards India. Some other Balkan nations, despite coming down severely on India after Pokhran, have changed tack for business considerations.

As for Russia�s support for India against Pakistan inspired terrorism, this is one interest that directly overlaps with that of India. So no brownie points for Russia for conceding to New Delhi�s stand either on Kashmir or Pakistan. Putin almost seemed too happy to please India.

Yours faithfully,
Jai Singhania, Calcutta

Sir � Thanks to the dynamics of change, history is now in India�s favour. After the United States, it is Russia which has come forward to back India�s claim for permanent membership of the United Nations security council. India�s entry into the council is necessary to create a multipolar world. India should take advantage of the favourable environment to push its claims and have Pakistan declared a terrorist state.

Yours faithfully,
B.L. Tekriwal, Mumbai

Heavily banked upon

Sir � The Indian government needs to be thanked for clearing the voluntary retirement schemes for employees of public sector banks. However, it needs to be said that the employees cannot claim favour from the government on grounds that they have made significant contributions to the development of the country. As the government has rightly pointed out, they were doing their job.

But the role of public sector banks in the economic development of the nation has to be kept in mind and the employees were part of this process. India�s nationalized banks have provided financial assistance to farmers, artisans, small businessmen and to professionals. Today, India is self-sufficient in agriculture and the small sector employs the largest number of employees. This would not have been possible without the public sector banks. Today, this is the only kind of bank which has the largest access to rural areas and where smalltime traders, school teachers and other professionals can still enter without worry. Which is why the government�s recent thinking on lines of denationalizing banks seems to be a step in the wrong direction.

The government�s contention that bank employees are responsible for the health of the public sector banks cannot be denied. But these banks have been returning profits of late. For the financial year ending March 2000, the State Bank of India had headed the list with a profit of Rs 2,051 crore.

Yours faithfully,
Surya Kumar Ghosh, Burdwan

Sir � The unions of bank employees and officers of public sector banks are resisting the voluntary retirement scheme for two reasons (�Bank of India aims to cut 6,000 jobs�, Sept 27). Bank unions have launched signature campaigns to create a fear psychosis that the voluntary retirement scheme will turn out to be a compulsory retirement scheme. What union leaders are afraid of is that they and their compatriots who neglect work will have to face the brunt of the regulation. Second, the downsizing of the workforce will directly hit the unions� coffers because of a reduction in subscription.

The opposition to the scheme thus stems not from the urge to help union members, but to help the union leaders themselves. Such opposition will thwart the hopes of the deserving who are waiting for the opportunity to either start enterprises of their own or retire with a handsome amount.

Yours faithfully,
Abhirup Ghatak, Calcutta

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