Editorial 1 / Populism pays
Editorial 2 / Enough is enough
Pains of transition
Fifth Column / The right way to get into the club
Politics versus providence
Keep an open eye on public affairs
Letters to the editor

It is difficult to explain Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Santa Claus-like largesse, even though it might have been his birthday and there is no logical reason why popular or populist schemes should be launched only on the prime minister’s birthday. Present populism is clearly directed towards Uttar Pradesh elections sometime next year. Depending on how the Bharatiya Janata Party fares there and depending on how the National Democratic Alliance reactions to Ayodhya pan out, there could be a fresh round of general elections. Two schemes have been proposed. The first, the Antyodaya scheme, proposes that one crore families will be given 25 kilograms of subsidized rice and wheat at Rs 3 and Rs 2 per kg respectively. With an average of five persons per household, this is a vote bank of 50 million, even if it means an additional expenditure of Rs 2,300 crore, which the finance minister will find difficult to find at a time when the fiscal deficit is under pressure and a Fiscal Responsibility Act is being mooted. This is not to deny that 40 million tonnes of foodgrain stocks are excessive or that carrying costs, given the Food Corporation of India’s inefficiency, are high. It is better to distribute surplus food to the poor than to feed it to rats or export it at a loss. However, if this is the logic, such an exercise should have been attempted months earlier and the transitory problem of a food mountain should not be confused with the long run problem of mishandling the food subsidy burden.

Procurement prices and the public distribution system are both part of the problem. There was no rationale for hiking procurement prices other than a desire to satisfy NDA allies. Nor do such hikes benefit small farmers. In the recent instance, hikes have also benefited mill owners in Punjab, rather than large farmers. This is also true of the PDS. Any number of studies have demonstrated that the PDS has a pro-urban bias and that the truly poor do not obtain more than 20 per cent of their foodgrains through the system. Nor have attempts to retarget the PDS succeeded and the Antyodaya scheme will be no exception. Clearly, the answer is to introduce a system of food stamps.

The second scheme that the prime minister’s strategic management group has cooked up is a Rs 60,000 crore fund that will connect all villages with all-weather roads over the next seven years. This is no doubt a laudatory objective and surely the question to ask is why this objective has not been attained over the last fifty years. Inevitably, the answer will hinge around the inefficacy of Centrally sponsored schemes. Rather paradoxically, the present government has itself argued against Centrally sponsored schemes and there have been recommendations that these should be terminated. Instead of rural roads being built by local bodies and state governments, the Centre now expects the finance minister to find Rs 8,500 crore annually for projects that have not yet been identified. Land acquisition itself is likely to take more than seven years. So what is the prime minister up to, other than talking through his mask? Prior to 1991, the Congress legacy was one of doing something in the name of the poor, irrespective of whether such schemes actually benefited the poor. The BJP has now appropriated this legacy, as it had temporarily appropriated the mantle of reforms. The consensus across the political spectrum is that populism pays. If not through gross domestic product growth, certainly through votes. Political parties will not change unless voters prove otherwise.


Perhaps it’s time to call it a day. The women’s bill has caused enough disruption in Parliament, wasted enough time and money and brought out the worst from either side of the divide. This deeply indecorous wastefulness — steadily eroding the credibility of Parliament as a forum for serious debate and decision-making — should not be allowed to go on for ever. This it easily could, by all indications from when the bill was first introduced in 1996. The situation has reached such an absurd pass that clear thinking from first principles has now become a virtual impossibility.

Certain crucial distinctions and clarities need to be brought back into the picture, instead of adopting the passionate or the evasive mode. It would be facile to conflate a principled stand against reservation with a sexist stand against women. The gruesome lessons learnt from the Mandal recommendations and their aftermath cannot be wished away. Comparisons between caste and gender are not odious in this context. It is a measure of the confused thinking generated by the bill that those who agitated against the Mandal recommendations are now in favour of quotas for women in politics. Reservation, in any form, remains a fundamentally undemocratic measure that obscures the need for larger changes in society. It fosters a corrupt and socially destructive culture of dependency that overrides fairness and merit. Besides, with the demand for a caste-based sub-quota within the women’s quota doing the rounds, the two issues have now become inseparable. This makes the situation altogether more complicated. There is nothing unacceptably chauvinistic in opposing reservation on these grounds, provided this stance is clearly and fearlessly expressed. Endless deferral and non-committal hedging about, or referring the matter to the Election Commission, could look suspiciously reactionary. The prime minister needs to oversee not only the building of a consensus, but also the return of courageous and dispassionate thinking. The real business of tackling gender discrimination could be addressed far more effectively once Parliament sees the end of this unseemly palaver.


N o one expects the prime minister to exude good cheer at a time when the country has seen disruption of communications, banking and postal services in one bid after another by government employees to hold the country to ransom and make those in power accept their demands under duress. The message has been loud and clear. There is no easy way to speed up the transition to a market economy. It will be tough going all along.

When the prime minister voiced his concern over the growing resistance to the new phase of the reform process to the business tycoons present at the world economic forum, hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry, some days ago, they expressed a feeling of déjŕ vu. It was the same story in every country where the government was trying to dismantle overmanned public sector units permanently in the red.

The collapse of all Soviet-style economies by 1990 was, of course, a dire warning to governments in countries like India that they, too, would have to abandon some of the commanding height of the economy to ensure their own survival. The much smaller public sector has come into bad odour even in the affluent European societies which are going through a recession that no longer responds to Keynesian remedies. This has forced many of them not only to chip away at the welfare state but put up with the highest rates of unemployment since World War II.

In India, the very size of the population, which exceeds that of the United States, Japan, Russia and western Europe combined, every problem tends to become almost insoluble. Despite the success of the reform process in taking the country out of the vicious circle, which kept its annual rate of economic growth down to a miserable 3.5 per cent, the dilemmas that beset it have become harder to resolve. The available policy choices are often between equally cruel options.

Take the future of the public sector where many units have, for long, been an intolerable drag on the country. Even Karl Marx never took into account the possibility of the proletariat getting away with producing negative value on so scary a scale. On the other hand, the government cannot incur heavy losses year after year and yet hope to put its finances in order. On the other hand, it knows too well that privatization means loss of job for many, at least in the short run, while the trickle-down effect of high growth-rates will take a very long time to materialize.

The ironies of the situation acquire a sharper edge when seen in two contexts. First, a well-organized set of public sector unions whose members are well paid, enjoy security of service as well as protection against inflation and are strong enough to force the government to concede their demands; and second, the unorganized small-scale sector, where workers have to be content with modest wages, an unhealthy environment and a gnawing sense of insecurity. The potential of mass discontent implicit in the vast disparity between the two sectors is too glaring to be wished away.

An even more grotesque irony is that part of the stiff resistance to so overdue a reform as privatization of power distribution is the result of the cynicism of state governments which have done nothing to stop large-scale thefts of power which have made most state electricity boards bankrupt, often leaving the Centre no choice but to write off their accumulated debts. So numerous are the men who have acquired a vested interest in large-scale thefts of electricity, which means thousands of crores going into the pockets of corrupt workers and officials, that they have managed to stall the reform in many states including Delhi.

The government is allowing itself to be intimidated by the more well-to-do among both white and blue collar workers and by those who systematically defraud the exchequer of vast sums of public money. It also lets itself be bullied by some of its allies into expending huge amounts on nursing their regional constituencies at the Centre’s expense. All that can be said in extenuation of the government’s pusillanimity is that most of the problems are by no means its own creation. They are an accumulated inheritance from past regimes. But many of these regimes, unlike the present ruling hierarchy, did not have the nerve to tell the public that corruption was no problem.

Unfortunately, the government has to contend not only with powerful regional and caste lobbies, muscle-bound vested interests in corruption and compulsions of coalition politics, but also with the dread logic of globalization, which promotes a more insidious form of neo-colonialism through erosion of the nation-state, difficulties of access to new technologies and the new mobility of capital. What is more, cheaper imports of a wide variety of consumer goods under a new international trade regime puts the very survival of many small industrial units at risk.

The biggest success story of transition to a market economy for a long time has been that of China. But those who speak ecstatically of the celerity with which it has managed to sustain high growth rates for two decades and achieved a surplus of 50 billion dollars in its annual trade with the US never pause to answer a pertinent question. If the Chinese economy has done so well and the people are so much better off than before, why is the ruling party so anxious to retain its monopoly of power and choke every voice of dissent?

The answer is that a transition to a more liberal economic order — for all its promise of a better life for all — has a pathological side to it. The symptoms of the disease, however deftly the change is managed, are wider disparities of income and wealth between regions as well as between individuals. This creates a class of super-rich entrepreneurial, managerial and professional groups at one end of he economic spectrum and derelict areas and a mass of destitutes without work, shelter or hope at the other. The latter are the outcasts of the global village and most of them are confined to the third world.

It is poor comfort to the victims of the globalization process, a large proportion of whom happens to live in India, to be told by the prime minister that their number has been reduced during the two and a half years of his stewardship. For even at 30 per cent, they add up to a staggering total of 300 million. What does the information revolution, the new fashion houses, the beauty parlours, the places where you can eat the best Chinese or Thai food, the faces of Miss World or Miss Universe which peep out of front pages of newspapers and the turbulence in the stock exchanges mean to these people?

Another irony of the present dispensation is the way a large part of the meagre funds earmarked for poor relief is misappropriated by corrupt politicians and officials. Many poor families which are supposed to get their modest quota of subsidized kerosene have often to buy it in the black market. As for public discourse, it seems to have lost all sense of proportion or priorities. How else can one explain the generation of so much heat over the siting of a temple and a mosque in the midst of a dozen insurgencies, a fast rising crime graph and the wretched mess the Centre and the states have made of their finances?

The leaders of newly independent countries were once good at keeping up appearances. But the pretence that they would be able to adapt the encounter between modernity and tradition to their own cultural background and material and moral resources could not be kept up for long. The encounter has only widened the gulf between the elite groups and the common people, and between the Westernized hi-tech professionals and those engaged in labour-intensive work.

It is a pity that what Pico Iyer sneeringly calls “the new aesthetic of the catchy rapid-fire flash of images” and “the language of the quick cut and the zap” have become part of the cultural baggage of those in the swim even in poor societies. The Westernized professionals have become aliens in their own society. This is one more reminder of how modernity cannot, by itself, numb the pains of transition, for not only the upper crust but also for the middle classes, with their yen for the products of new technology, and for millions of the poor whose only escape from the drudgery of the struggle for bare existence often lies in watching a make-believe world of images on the telescreen.

The prime minister implored the business tycoons to do something to relieve the government of a part of its burden, and take responsibility for some of the social services now strapped for cash. They promised to take care of just 400 schools. But this would do very little to ease the pains of transition. A hundred thousand free television sets donated to poor villages with electricity would at least provide ten million outcasts of the global village with a lot of circus — though with no bread.


The European Union summit, recently concluded at Nice, holds out significant implications for both EU members and Turkey. The larger states of the union have acquired a voice stronger than the smaller members, and this includes prospective members as well. The reorganization of the union also took a decisive turn by the addition of 12 more states to the 15-member union.

The enlargement process began with the approval of new states to enter the organization. The thrust for a broader regional unity, together with the emphasis on European security and defence identity, signal the emergence of a more liberal European regional organization.

The Nice summit did not mention Turkey as it is yet to follow the “Copenhagen criteria” and thereby qualify for full accession. Under these criteria, members are obliged to adhere to democracy and to human rights. Most members have objected to the rightist political forces in Turkey and the treatment of Kurds. Despite the emergence of a multi-party system in the Sixties, the influence of Turkish generals has been increasing.

Many in Turkey argue that the Copenhagen criteria are antithetical to the hegemonic Turkish establishment. The Turkish scholar, Dogu Ergil, says Turkey’s system aims at creating “a fixed national identity which the state attempts to protect from outside influences.” This extends the state’s control to the social spheres and tries to shape society around the state.

Postmodern coup

The imposition of this hegemony is being strongly thwarted by Kurdish nationalists and pro-Islamic Turks, who want a united Turkey but do not want Turkish nationalism thrust on the Kurds. The idea of a grand Turkish nationalism is supported by pro-Western Turks and the Turkish armed forces.

When the Welfare Party headed by Necmettin Erbakan formed the coalition government in Turkey in 1996, the Turkish armed forces and the Westernized elite perceived this as an Islamic coup against the Kemalist order. As a result, Erbakan was forced to step down in 1997. This is also been called a “postmodern coup” by the National Security Council, which is controlled and supervised by Turkish generals.

The constitutional court ultimately closed down the Welfare Party and banned some of its key leaders from political life. Its successor, the Virtue Party, is also similarly threatened. The Turkish court announced a death penalty for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party chief, Abdullah Ocalan.

EU members have perceived these as harmful for the Turkish democracy. On December 21, the EU expressed serious concern over the behaviour of the Turkish police towards some 800 prisoners, on hungerstrike for two months, protesting against the intolerable condition in jails. About two dozen prisoners were killed in police action. This event has further strengthened the EU’s insistence on the Copenhagen criteria for Turkey.

Double standards

Earlier in July, Günter Verheugen, an EU commissioner, had criticized Ankara for the lack of improvement in human rights since the Helsinki summit in 1999. Last May, the Finnish minister of foreign trade and European affairs had underlined that Turkey should abide by the criteria. The German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, had categorically said in December 1999 that Turkey had “to comply with the Copenhagen criteria, respect for human rights, respect and protect minority rights, observe the 6th supplemental protocol (of the European convention on human rights), which includes topics related to a stable state of law. No concession can be given on this.”

Many argue, and with some justification, that the issues are being used as mere excuses to deny full membership to Turkey. Till 1990, most of the prospective states invited for full membership had authoritarian regimes. There are some where minority rights are being violated. Even permanent members such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Greece and Spain violated human rights and democratic values. Doubts over the EU’s intentions became stronger when it overlooked the oppression of Greek-Cypriots in Cyprus. When former eastern European communist states and conflict-ridden Cyprus can be considered as qualified candidates for the EU, there is no reason for the EU to deny Turkey full membership.


P. Sainath in Everybody Loves a Good Drought, showed how droughts served vested interests. The floods in Malda and Midnapore, which prompted a new bout of slogan shouting against the Centre for providing inadequate funds, and which in turn led to a recent bandh call, were no different. Each year, both these districts of West Bengal are pounded by floods and a callous administration ensures that the experience is no different every time. Malda has witnessed the havoc of floods in 1987, 1988, 1991 and in every year since 1995. Scores are now refugees in their own land.

The worst catastrophe to hit Malda in three decades was in 1998. The entire district, including the town, was inundated for months. The disaster was so great that the central industrial security personnel had to be asked to clear the corpses, believed to be of those washed away, which stuck at the Farakka Barrage. Communication was totally cut off as the national highway, state highway and all other roads were submerged in many places.

The town was without electricity continuously for almost 10 days, accompanied by an acute shortage of drinking water and cooking gas. Tubewells gushed turbid water and an intolerable stench rose from the stagnant water that could not be pumped out. Over 14,000 people in the entire district were affected by enteric diseases and more than a hundred perished in the process.

Officially, the agricultural loss was estimated at Rs 262 crore, while the total loss worked out to Rs 900 crore. Under the weight of the calamity, normal medical services at government hospitals collapsed. Doctors and health officials were scarce. Hospitals became garbage dumps with medical waste strewn all around as the class IV staff went on leave for weeks. Quacks had a free hand fleecing patients and selling saline at Rs 100 a bottle.

Floods in 1999 were no less severe. Fifteen blocks and two municipalities inhabited by 10.5 lakh people were affected by floods. The total loss stood at Rs 270 crore.

It was not so much the torrential rain in northern and western India that caused the devastating floods in 1998. The blame lies with the state government and the Farakka Barrage authorities who failed to take proper preventive measures. There were breaches in the 1.5 kilometre embankment along the Farakka Barrage, which was weakened by the theft of mud from its walls. The failure to erect spurs along the Ganges at Manikchak and a total disregard for the urgency of mid-stream dredging in the river hastened the floods.

The recommendations of the Pritam Singh committee, that proposed preventive measures, were ignored. Politicians who overruled experts’ suggestions on flood management and local bodies which ducked responsibility by building flimsy embankments came in for severe criticism from the chief engineer of the irrigation and waterways department. He added that no state government, except for Manipur, had implemented the Centre’s mandatory 25 point flood control policy.

Keeping in mind the annual bank erosion of around 700 metres by the Ganges, the chief engineers’ committee had suggested in 1999 that the construction of the 6th retired embankment be aligned between 1.2 and 1.3 kms. from the then existing river bank. The logic was that the Ganges would invariably clean out another 700 metres that year and so any construction within that range would be washed out or severely damaged.

The alignment proposed by the chief engineers meant that even if the river ate up another 700 metres in the 1999 flood season, the water would still not reach Malda. This in turn would buy the IWD at least 18 to 20 months within which solid and permanent work could be done on various sections of the river bank.

Hearing the pros and cons, then chief minister of the state, Jyoti Basu, who was also the chairman of the West Bengal flood control board, opined that a calculated risk of shifting the alignment towards the river — so that the embankment would be 700 to 750 metres away from the bank — might have to be accepted. The people of Jahirtola, Jamutola, Khaskol, which lie 500 metres inland, were politically important and thereby “need protection”, as the chief minister insisted. These are reportedly the bastions of the ruling party. However, the sectarian concerns of Basu and his successors might just lead Malda down the Harappan road to disappearance.

Midnapore, the largest district in the state as also the most populated one in the country, was struck by floods twice in the year 1999. In the first phase around early August, 1,283 mouzas in 81 gram panchayats, with a population of 5.5 lakhs, were punished by the deluge.

Damages were to the tune of around Rs 259 crore. Even before the people had a chance to recover from their trauma, swirling waters wrought ravage in September-October in 1,190 mouzas in 130 gram panchayats with a population of 4.5 lakh people. This time round, about Rs 182 crore went down the drain.

The district administration is convinced that the 215 millimetre of rainfall received in a 22 hour spell on August 6 and 7 caused the first phase of doom. What they conveniently overlook is the requirement of two critical tasks — that of dredging or river reclamation and upkeep of embankments.

There is something else they would not talk about — the Rs 4.67 crore loan the irrigation department took from the national bank for agriculture and rural development with the objective of dredging the Kapaleshwari and Keleghai rivers. What was actually done was from an 18 km stretch of the dry riverbed between Langalbhanga and Dheubhanga, a mere 2.5 feet wide portion was dredged and the mud then thrown back into the river.

Former Congress member of the legislative assembly from Sabong, Manas Bhuinya, alleged that the same mud filled the dredged portion following the rains. As the rivers do not have the capacity to carry the rising rain-waters, they swelled up after breaching the embankments at Alpar-Manoharpur and Mokhkhol.

Leave alone rehabilitation, even basic relief was hard to come by in both the districts. Ruling party cadres lorded over the distribution of relief. Reports that genuine beneficiaries were being given less than the stipulated amount by the local bodies abounded.

The district magistrate of Malda accused political parties of lack of cooperation and disruption in relief work. He conceded that relief material had not reached even 20 per cent of the flood-affected people in Malda.

The year 2000 saw Nadia, North 24 Parganas and Murshidabad ravaged by floods. Malda and Midnapore were probably given a breather by providence. But how long can the districts endure the machinations and corruption of the administration?

At the release of the “Human Development Report 2000” by the United Nations development programme, Brenda Gael McSweeney, UNDP’s resident representative in India, had said that a decent standard of living, adequate nutrition, healthcare, education, proper work and protection against calamities were not just development goals, they were human rights as well.

If that is true, then the right to be protected against calamities has been grossly neglected by the establishment in Malda and Midnapore. The time is right to initiate a public interest litigation against them so that such supineness and criminal negligence is never repeated.

The people fervently hope that eminent lawyers will take up the issue to shake the state government out of a stupor that has snatched away the dreams of several thousand children like Sajjad and Mafizur Rehman who once studied at the Mahabattola Primary School in Gopalpur, Malda, and who now herd goats and cows.


“Corruption is anti-national, anti-poor and anti-economic development,” says the Central vigilance commissioner in his letter of June 23, 2000 to all government departments. The corruption perception index released by the Berlin-based Transparency International in September 2000 places India in the 69th position in a list of 90 countries. This should serve as a wake-up call for the country. India’s present score of 2.8 in a 10 point scale shows hardly any improvement over its past scores. India’s performance is worse than that of China, Ghana, Mauritius and South Africa.

The United Nations development programme report on human development, 1999, on south Asia avers that if the corruption level in India goes down to that of Scandinavian countries, the gross domestic product will grow by 1.5 per cent and foreign direct investment will go up by 12 per cent.

Fundamental change

The CVC therefore proposes to launch a campaign against corruption and sensitize people about its ill-effects. He has declared that the week beginning from October 31every year would be observed as the vigilance awareness week. He has further suggested to the constitution review committee that the right to corruption-free service from public servants be made a fundamental right. For this he has sought an amendment to Article 14 of the Constitution which deals with fundamental rights.

The approach is however sadly premised on an abstraction — selfless service to the society and nation. Very few join the civil service to serve the people. The aim is to make a decent living and to ascend the high social perch the civil servant enjoys. Add to this the lure of the largesses and perquisites, not to forget that career advancement is assured and this is not always related to the quality of work.

For our information

Given the situation, it is not unreasonable to opt for a minimalist state with state intervention limited to defence, foreign affairs, law and order, home and a few such fields. The government needs to be downsized, besides being made transparent and accountable. But how does one achieve this?

Deterrence through quick exemplary punishment may be effective to begin with. A more potent way would be the promulgation of a carefully amended Right to Information Act. Areas that demand secrecy may be granted immunity from public glare. But scandals over the years have shown the harm caused by a system that apotheosizes secrecy and avowal to the classified documentation of records.

The most important prop for a responsive and honest administration is openness — achieved through a complete overhaul of the existing rules, which deny the public access to official information, although it ought to be the final arbiter of government functioning. More than mere pledges what is needed in today’s India is definitive action.



On family grounds

n Sir — Maneka Gandhi’s race won’t stop with “Sanjay’s house” (“Maneka in race for Sanjay house”, Dec 26). A more seasoned politician than her more privileged sister-in-law, this Nehru-Gandhi bahu has set her sights high. She thinks it time to claim her share of the family fortunes. So while her son, Feroze Varun Gandhi, calls himself the true waris of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy, she lays claim on prime Delhi property on “family” grounds. The Union minister has thought it unnecessary to use the help of the government to wrest her demands. She believes that mere name-dropping will suffice. The present occupant has thus been only tersely reminded of her “rightful” claims over the official bungalow. The Nehru-Gandhis obviously think high of themselves and the people of this country think even higher. The Congress is the the family heirloom. So is Lutyens’ Delhi. Will E. Ponnuswamy please move over?
Yours faithfully,
J. Sen, Calcutta

Fort in assault

Sir — December 22 was the first time militants hit at an army installation — the Red Fort — in the capital, and a fortnight back, in one of the most blatant lapses of security in the capital’s highest risk zone, militants struck at the residence of Indian navy’s Chief Admiral, Sushil Kumar (“Red faces after Red Fort raid”, Dec 24). The two incidents expose the gross incompetence of the Intelligence Bureau and the military’s intelligence wing. How did the militants get easy access to these areas, and more important, how did they manage such a smooth getaway after their mission was accomplished? The power cut just before the assault at the Red Fort is another slip in security alertness.

Perhaps this can be attributed partly to the downgrading of the liaising team by the prime minister’s office, namely the abolishing of the Research and Analysis Wing. The ongoing ceasefire in Kashmir also seems to have caught the security in the capital off-guard. A serious strategic rethinking is required to prevent recurrence of the likes of Kargil, the IC-814 hijack and the Red Fort assault.

Yours faithfully
Apsara Naz Kaifee, Barrackpore

Sir — Three major intelligence failures within the span of two years is hardly something a country can be proud of. India, with terrorism ravaging its northwestern border areas, can ill-afford such lapses. The Red Fort incident also smacks of foul play, since senior police officials have revealed that evidence which might have proved crucial were systematically removed from the site. How many more gaffes before the country’s intelligence bureaus finally wake up?

Yours faithfully,
Srimanta Sanyal, Calcutta

Fruits of industry

Sir — The recent decision by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government that Indian Airlines and Air India are going to be handed over to the private sector is preposterous. Since the time it came to power in 1998, the NDA government has been steadfastly following a systematic policy of denationalization of the public sector. In the process they have forgotten that it was the public sector which served as the springboard for India’s industrialization since the time of independence. It was again the public sector which rescued the country from economic ruin in 1973, when the prices of oil became extraordinarily high in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war between the Arabs and the Israelis.

Both Indian Airlines and Air India have performed admirably over the years despite facing trying circumstances at times. The BJP’s motives behind letting these airlines get privatized is inexplicable. Their obsession with disinvestment amounts to mortgaging the country’s economy to the dictates of the market.

The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and his cabinet have obviously not learnt their lessons from the east Asian crisis.

Yours faithfully,
Sanmay Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — The issue of sale of industrial units owned by the state is mired in controversy with public sector employees complaining that they are being left helpless. The government, on the other hand, feels that with the passage of time, some industries have become redundant. Hence, the disinvestment. Both sides are partly correct, but the proceeds from the sale of assets should only be used for capital accounts and not to fund revenue expenditure. This will ensure that we have state-owned units which are relevant, and in the process, some of the current employees, after due retraining, can also be absorbed.

Yours faithfully,
Arabinda Singh, via email

Sir — Every Indian should feel proud of Dhirubhai Ambani, who, with his entrepreneurship, determination and a meagre capital of Rs 150 has built up the Reliance industrial empire worth several thousand crores of rupees within a span of 42 years. Mumbai has offered a tribute to this corporate giant (“Ambani’s reliance on Mumbai”, Dec 17). His frank admission of indebtedness to Mumbai was charming. What is a bit sad is the contrast this scenario offers to Calcutta. The industrialists never express any gratitude at all for this city.

Ambani has made industrialists all over the country proud. He embodies the best business acumen and must be congratulated.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhushan Saha, Balurghat

Bigotry galore

Sir — The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad’s decision to introduce a new code of conduct for Lucknow University is an imposition (“Swadeshi language code for Lucknow varsity”Dec 18). The ABVP’s disapproval of cakes, birthday cards and honeymoons is unacceptable. Society is changing and it is imperative that we change with it. Birthday cards, cakes and honeymoons have now become an integral part of our culture. The ABVP should keep in mind that India is a nation of great diversity and “mom” and “dad” should be as acceptable as any other form of address.
Yours faithfully,
Urmi Das Purkayastha, via email

Sir — The ABVP’s disapproval of students using greetings like “hello”or wearing Western clothes is ridiculous. One’s respect for one’s mother tongue should not prevent one from speaking other languages. Instead of wasting time on such irrelevant matters, the ABVP should concentrate on issues that are more important.

Yours faithfully,
Prashanti Dasgupta, via email

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