Editorial 1/ Inflation bogey
Editorial 2/ Change of heart
A christening in blood
Fifth Column/ Autonomy as a spiritual necessity
This is the way an unmillennial year ends
Letters to the editor

A forecast made by the Institute of Economic Growth argues that inflation rate, measured by wholesale price index, might increase to 9 per cent by the end of the financial year. Inflation means increase in prices and contrary to popular impression, decline in the inflation rate does not mean decline in prices. Prices still increase, but the rate of increase slows down. Because prices of different items increase at different rates, some process of aggregation is needed. This requires construction of indices and two broad indicators are used, with varying baskets of commodities and weights. The first is the WPI. The second is a family rather than a single index and is the consumer price index — with separate indices for industrial workers, urban non-manual employees and agricultural labourers. There have been complaints that baskets and weights of both indices are outdated and questions have also been raised about the reliability of price data. There is also the issue of a time lag. While CPI is relevant for consumers, CPI data are available with a lag of around three months. WPI data are available almost instantaneously and hence most reports about inflation use WPI. However, these are not annualized figures, which only become available at the end of the year. Instead, these are point to point figures, that is, they reflect a change in the index as compared to the value of the index at that precise point in time exactly one year ago. Hence generalizations about inflation on the basis of point to point figures are difficult, since the answer becomes a function of what the price level was one year ago.

For example, throughout 1999-2000, WPI measured inflation was low, between 3.5 and 4 per cent. In contrast, in 2000-2001, point to point WPI inflation has been around 6.5 per cent, increasing to 7.5 per cent in September and inching up to almost 8 per cent later. Since 1991, as a trend, WPI inflation has been around 6.5 per cent. The first question to ask is whether this increase to 8 per cent, or even 9 per cent as IEG argues, is likely as a trend as opposed to point to point variations. The second question is — what does this mean for CPI inflation? Historically, CPI inflation has often been higher than WPI inflation by 2 or 3 percentage points. Extrapolated, CPI inflation might thus cross 10 per cent and double-digit consumer inflation becomes an election issue, as had happened in 1998.

With imminent elections in Uttar Pradesh and an imminent budget, the government might press panic buttons, despite the fiscal responsibility act delinking fiscal policy from monetary policy. That would be a mistake. The Indian economic crisis today is one of growth, not inflation. The gap between CPI and WPI has narrowed since 1997 and there were periods towards the end of 1999 when CPI inflation was actually lower than WPI inflation. An analysis of inflation shows that post-1991, manufactured prices have increased very little, thanks to excess capacity and competition. Inflation has been due to increases in prices of agro products, petroleum products and hikes in power tariffs. It is possible to argue that IEG has over-estimated a sustained increase in global oil prices, which show signs of softening. There are indeed questions about agricultural performance and with news of a drought, some possibility of food prices increasing next year. With inflation, unless the rupee continues to depreciate, exports might also suffer. The government needs to concentrate on imparting a growth stimulus through further reforms and not shackle growth, as was done in 1995-96.


Help from across the border to tackle insurgency in the Northeast is turning out to be more complicated than expected. Bhutan has now declared its unwillingness to use military action against the extremists who have set up camp within its borders. These are mainly training camps and hideouts run by the United Liberation Front of Asom and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. This is a serious breach of trust that will have alarming repercussions on the crisis in Assam and the neighbouring states. Bhutan has been making vaguely collaborative noises for some time now, even as insinuations have been made on this side of the border about Bhutan’s ambivalent relations with extremist groups. The last session of its national assembly had resolved to move towards military intervention as part of a larger strategy to deal with the terrorist presence. This latest backtracking comes with an official rationale from Bhutan’s home secretary, Mr Dasho Prema Wangchuk. Using military force against the Assamese — for that is how these rebels must be regarded by a foreign country — would be unfair, and might spark off a severe backlash against the Bhutanese. Therefore, only peaceful talks may be conducted. Further, the NDFB rebels in Bhutan do not seem to be doing much harm to the Bhutanese. Only the Bodo Liberation Tigers, according to Mr Wangchuk, are attacking his people and deserve to be confronted with any firmness. But this outfit does not have camps in Bhutan.

This peculiar and sinister logic could end up aiding the ULFA in making the situation in Assam worse than it is already. Their terrorism against “immigrants” — especially the killings in the Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, where the ULFA works with the United People’s Democratic Solidarity — could become impossible to control with the withdrawal of this sort of cooperation. With the assembly polls coming up in Assam, the various militant outfits would want to push the state into a corner from which the president’s rule option would have to be agitated over yet again.


Seldom am I at a loss for words. The reaction of our chief minister and the order to kill that he has given to the police are the most despicable examples of state-sponsored barbarism that I have ever heard of. The public’s support as reported in the press is even more devastating.

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s order to kill the young fools who had climbed the Babri Masjid was shown on Newstrack and horrified everyone. This was several weeks before the demolition. Watching unarmed teenagers waving saffron flags euphorically from the top of the masjid being shot like sitting ducks and their lifeless bodies tumbling to the ground, said nothing for a civilization that I am tired of being called ancient and invulnerable. The degeneration and politically motivated breakdown of our cultural heritage of peace, understanding and philosophical liberality stares us in the face every day of our lives. Today, most sadly, in Bengal.

Did no one see the mangled and bloodied bodies and corpses of young boys being dragged off the street while bleeding to death from police firings in Delhi during the Mandal commission riots? Raja V.P. Singh was fiddling, as Nero never did in Rome, from his calloused and cold chair in the prime minister’s residence.

My dear Mr Bhattacharjee, with all undue respect, being elected to office means you have been selected by us, as one of us, to govern. It gives you no right to take our children’s lives. Just because you were embarrassed by a few murders in your own backyard, you chose to criticize and tear apart the very machinery, our police force, of which you were the head for almost a decade on your gaddi in the Writers’ Buildings. But then your eyes were focussed on grabbing a seat you had coveted for years and which at times seemed to be slipping out of your grasp.

Now, finally ensconced as chief minister, is this how the nephew of Sukanta wishes to be remembered? As a killer of misdirected youth who wander aimlessly and indulge in crime because of the stupid ideologies you have brainwashed them with and because they, after a quarter of a century of sloganeering and destroying our socio-economic fabric, haven’t the means to get a job or look after their families?

A shame on you, sir. You boast of a state, where you are the long seated home minister, where the law and order is better than anywhere else in India. Can you name a state, my dear sir, where more young children are mutilated, killed or hacked to death because of simple political differences that your chaps have turned into a form of religious blasphemy and a jehad against detractors? It is you, sir, and your party, along with the youth Congress of yesteryear who began an era of political hooliganism and mindless violence.

I am ashamed to admit that even Miss Mamata Banerjee, the new hope for a revival in Bengal, has resorted to fighting violence with violence. It might have taken her another term before she garnered the following she has if she had reintroduced the intellectualism and non-violence that we bheto-bangalis prefer; but she has succumbed to the temptation of fighting back at the cost of innocent lives: young dreamers of a better tomorrow who have died for stupid partisan politics.

Lastly, Mr Dinesh Vajpai has done more than any other commissioner to bring the police force closer to the community. His blood donation programme organized by several thanas in the city and his enormously successful education programme, “Disha”, for street children, are things that make him deserving of the highest national civil commendations that the state can recommend. He has set an example that officers throughout the country will one day emulate. You are now asking this outstanding officer to ask his people to turn their guns on civilians with total disregard to the rules of law and the fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution. Do you now want him to run orphanages and old-age homes as well?

No one is above the law, Mr Chief Mi- nister, sir, and we depend upon our leaders to uphold it no matter what the odds. We expend tons of energy demonstrating in the streets demanding the resignation of ministers when we know that such attempts are nothing but political exercises that display an opposition’s muscle and hired crowds come to the ci- ty in pirated buses to visit the jadu ghar, bhiktoria and joo and then get run over by a minibus operated by party sympathizers. Today, sir, I can demand your resignation as someone unfit to rule a civilized society that does not condone killing as a means of achieving any end. Two wrongs will never make a right.

It is time we woke up and made amends for the past in a civilized democratic and humane way. We must usher in non-violence by re-educating our youth and instilling the right social values that are not based on political beliefs or leanings and nothing else. You want to get constructive, Mr Chief Minister? Here are a few suggestions.

One. Catch the hoodlums in your party and in other parties. Lock them up and do not bail them out through the back door. You have an election coming up. For the first time, let us see a party win a majority without resorting to threats and violence. It will do us all proud.

Two. Get political parties out of colleges and universities. Let college unions be non-partisan and let students simply strive to improve their institutions, be proud of them and learn to live in fun and harmony with their peers.

Three. Bring back the respect our children had for teachers by employing good people and stop hiring or firing teachers on the basis of their political persuasion.

Four. Teach children right from school level to have respect for public property and public officials. Let us stop burning buses, trams and destroying everything around us every time we have a grievance to air. Let us stop hurling stones at the police and intimidating district officials with political backing.

Five. Enliven our sports fields with the noble spirit of sportsmanship and encourage our children to return to athletics, swimming, playing football and hockey instead of merely pursuing a glamorous future in cricket. Bengal was famous for its Maidan clubs until violence spread into the playing fields as well. Let us see more ministers come out in support of their clubs, like ordinary citizens.

Six. Communism does not mean taking to the streets. It means getting out of your ivory towers at the Writers’ Buildings and mingling with the people you represent, without police protection and a convoy of useless lackeys. You all must come across as ordinary as all of us: supporters of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting or Bhratri Sangha.

Seven. Create opportunities for our senior citizens so they can have easier and cheaper access to health plans and medical facilities. Give them half-priced entry to Nandan and state-sponsored shows. Don’t be put off by the misuse of such facilities. Once you bestow trust on the people, they will quickly learn not to betray it.

Eight. Attach an ambulance car to every suburban and local train (at state cost) so the sick can be transported quickly from the districts. Arrange for an infrastructure to deal with such emergencies at the railway stations. Too many die on grid-locked roads, trying to get to Calcutta hospitals, because the state has not created adequate medical facilities anywhere else.

Nine. Give senior citizens a free ride on the metro during off-peak hours. They helped us build this city, state and country and deserve a tangible demonstration of our respect, love and affection.

Ten. Aid the police to become part of the community so we can learn to trust them and respect them. If political parties hurl insults at the police and transfer them whenever it suits their political needs, what do you expect ordinary citizens to think? What is more, what good is it for a police officer to be upright and honest if politicians call the shots and defy the rules?

Mr Chief Minister, I have no axe to grind except that I am a proud Bengali whose pride has taken more bashing than it can any longer stomach. We are living in an IT age when you can neither curb intellectual enterprise nor declare strikes and go-slows on Pentium processors. No one, and no political party, shall be able to retard the inevitable progress that I see in Bengal’s near future.

Let us work to make our citizens proud children of Tagore, Vivekananda, Ramkrishna, Teresa and that great revolutionary, Aurobindo. It was we who created the slogan “Bande Mataram” — anything else aar cholbe na! Let the lines from Sukanta that are plastered in hoardings around the city be remembered and practised so we can leave our children a legacy and a country that they too can be proud of. Let not the re-christening of Calcutta into Kolkata, that your party pioneered, be done with the blood of our youth.


There have been two conflicting news reports on Tibet recently. The first — from the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala — appeared to show a little light at the end of the tunnel. The Chinese had reportedly displayed enthusiasm about meeting the dalai lama’s brother, Gyalo Thondup, for a resumption of dialogue. The second, from Beijing, was a chill reminder of the communist rulers’ obduracy on the Tibetan question. The Chinese accused the Tibetan spiritual leader of being insincere and of misleading international opinion, dampening hopes for talks between the two sides.

The dalai lama is justifiably a worried person. He is not very sure whether he, along with thousands of his displaced subjects residing in various refugee camps in India, will be able to return to Shangri-La during his lifetime. Meanwhile, Tibetan culture, according to some, is being systematically decimated by authoritarian Chinese rule.

Most other leaders would have abandoned any hopes of returning. But the winner of the Nobel peace prize has not yet relinquished his optimism. He believes that China will change its attitude. He has made it known several times in the past that he would not play any political role in a future Tibet if Chinese rulers allow him to return to a genuinely autonomous territory. The Chinese may grant a political status to Tibet like the one granted to Hong Kong. They can retain essential elements of sovereignty while granting a sort of autonomy.

Tao of communism

That the communists have discarded their outdated ideology by changing over to a form of capitalism, proves that there is a desire to incorporate liberal democratic strains within their political leadership. This does not augur well for communism in China.

There is a palpable transformation not only in the lifestyle of the average man on the street, but also in religious practices. Nowadays, Buddhist, Taoist and Christian groups enjoy the freedom to worship. Meanwhile, the rapid spread of Falungong — which mixes Taoist and Buddhist teachings and includes a form of exercise drawing on inner energy — is worrying the communist leadership. The authorities consider the spiritual movement to be detrimental to the socialist system and a challenge to the leadership of the party.

Last year, thousands of cult followers tried to enter Beijing and staged a daring protest in the capital city. Despite the government’s ban on this newly emerging spiritual way of life, the movement is gaining momentum and the chan- ces are that communist rule may one day cave in under its pressure.

Once and for all

Moreover, Islamic terrorism originating from the Pakistan-Afghanistan axis is spreading its tentacles into central Asia and the Chinese province of Xinjiang, where Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic groups have been growing increasingly restive about the oppressive Chinese rule. The Islamic separatists are using terrorist tactics such as murder, arson and bomb blasts to fight against the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang. The Karakoram highway is increasingly being used as a conduit for drug-peddling and arms trafficking.

China now regards the threat of Islamic terrorism more serious than the comparatively peaceful demonstrations for independence in neighbouring Tibet. This factor and pressure from the world’s leading democratic nations may bring about a change of heart in Beijing ending the existing hostility to the dalai lama.

The communist leadership should have realized by now that Tibetans are innately docile and peace-loving people. Beijing should put a stop to its repressive measures in Tibet and make reconciliatory moves towards the dalai lama. He acknowledges China’s sovereignty over Tibet and seeks internal autonomy in order to safeguard the social, religious and cultural identity of his people. There is nothing objectionable about this. He also thinks that better Sino-Indian ties would be beneficial in advancing the Tibetan cause.

India has, for the last 40 years, been home to nearly 2,00,000 Tibetan refugees. The time has come for New Delhi to take up the issue with China from a purely humanitarian perspective. Beijing, with enough problems of its own, will feel relieved to settle the Tibetan issue once and for all.


The most notable thing about the year 2000 was how unmillennial it was: any sense that it was a special year faded away with the fireworks displays of New Year’s Eve. The survivalists who crept out of the woods in the spring, leaving behind a lifetime supply of ammunition and canned food, felt as embarrassed by the absence of apocalypse as the computer experts who first predicted and then fixed the “Y2K problem” should have felt. (But the latter were too busy counting their money.)

The determinedly low-key tone continued throughout the year, with no really big natural or human disasters: no genocides like Bosnia or Rwanda in the mid-Nineties, no wars involving major powers like Kosovo in 1999 or the Kuwait War in 1991, no great financial crisis like the meltdown of the Asian markets in 1997-98. The biggest “international” news story, in fact, was the farce of the American presidential election.

The American mess was in startling contrast to the transparent and efficient elections in the country’s two neighbours, Canada and Mexico. In late November, the Canadian prime minister, Jean Chretien, won a third consecutive term in federal elections that also saw a relative drop in support for the separatist Bloc Quebecois party in Quebec. And in Mexico — where the strongman, Porfirio Diaz, used to boast a century ago that “he who counts the votes wins the election” — the opposition candidate, Vicente Fox, won the July presidential election and ended 71 years of political monopoly at the centre by the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

The “perfect dictatorship” — as the Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, once characterized the PRI regime, died without a bang, or even a whimper. With Fox’s inauguration on December 1, 100 million Mexicans entered the unfamiliar terrain of open democratic government, but there is a high level of confidence both at home and abroad that they will know how to cope with it. Even the six-year confrontation with the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas state is moving towards a negotiated settlement.

The news in the rest of Latin America was more mixed. The Chilean courts finally began moving to hold the former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, responsible for his crimes, continuing a process that started with Pinochet’s arrest in Britain two years ago. In Colombia, however, all president Andres Pastrana’s efforts to negotiate an end to the four-decade guerrilla insurgency that has grown into a virtual civil war ended in failure, while the “drug war” crusaders in Washington pushed through a “Plan Colombia” that may prefigure direct United States military intervention in the war.

Early in the year it looked as if the Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, would get away with awarding himself an illegal third term in a rigged election, but it all fell apart after his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was video-taped bribing a member of Congress. At year’s end, Peru was heading for new elections, while Fujimori had gone into exile and taken Japanese citizenship.

The year 2000 may have marked a turning point for the United Nations, whose distinctly spotty post-Cold War record in military interventions finally came under serious scrutiny. Just a month after the total humiliation of an ill-prepared UN force in Sierra Leone, 500 of whose peacekeepers were taken hostage by drug-and drink-sodden insurgents, the UN se- cretary general, Kofi Annan, released a brutally frank report on peacekeeping in August.

“No failure did more to damage the standing and credibility of UN peacekeeping in the Nineties than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor,” Annan wrote, adding that “The secretariat must tell the security council what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear.” And although it will still be a long time before governments stop feeling an urgent desire to hide whenever the UN seeks forces for an intervention somewhere, progress is being made.

Consider the relatively recent UN-authorized interventions that were still continuing through 2000. The Australian-led 9,000-strong mission in East Timor has been successful in stopping a genocide and assuring the country’s independence. The 13,000-strong UN force in Sierra Leone, despite a humiliating start, was making major progress in ending the insurgency by year’s end.

The Kosovo intervention stopped another genocide, and the remaining 4,000 UN troops there are at least holding the ropes while everybody ponders what to do about the Kosovar demand for independence now that Serbia has democratized itself. And a new force, 4,200 strong, is going into the Horn of Africa to supervise the evacuation of occupied territories, after Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace treaty in mid-December ending a two-year war that claimed at least 100,000 lives.

But if the UN is doing better, Africa is definitely not. With only a tenth of the world’s people but almost a third of its countries and easily two-thirds of its wars, Africa is a mess. Some countries, like Liberia, Burundi and Somalia, have gone through a decade of slaughter and chaos; others, like Angola and Sudan, are nearing the two-decade mark. And still the infection spreads, with the biggest and richest countries of west Africa, English-speaking Nigeria and French-speaking Ivory Coast, now both teetering on the brink of civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian south.

Nobody has any explanation for the surfeit of African wars, beyond the fact that Africa has more and smaller ethnic groups than any other comparable part of the world, and nobody has any solutions. Even in African countries still spared by war, moreover, there is a general (though not universal) trend of failing economies, falling educational standards, and collapsing health services — the last being closely connected to the AIDS plague.

The contrast between Africa and Europe, two neighbouring continents with about the same population, has never seemed more acute and shocking. For the first time since the wars among the former Yugoslav republics began in the early Nineties, the entire continent was essentially at peace.

The continent’s biggest country, Russia, was tottering on the edge of a descent into authoritarianism as the president, Vladimir Putin, elected as Boris Yeltsin’s successor in February, tried to consolidate his power. But Putin’s dismal performance during the national psycho-drama over the loss of the submarine, Kursk, in August tarnished his image, and last Wednesday the Russian courts curbed his attempt to cow the media into submission by ruling that the fraud charges brought against the media magnate, Boris Gusinsky, were politically motivated and baseless. The game is not over yet, but Russia is still a democracy — just.

The other big news was that the expansion of the European Union from 15 to 27 members is really going to happen. At a summit conference in Nice this month, the existing members managed to hammer out a deal for streamlining the EU’s institutions to cope with so many new members — and rolled the notion of a joint European “rapid reaction force” a little further down the road. At year’s end, it was even possible to believe that the battered common currency, the Euro, which has been sinking in value ever since its launch, would soon begin a recovery against the US dollar.

Meanwhile, there was the usual small change of national politics, rivetting to locals but largely opaque to outsiders. The former German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and the current French president, Jacques Chirac, are both caught up in huge scandals over political funding. The Italian prime minister, Giuliano Amato, announced his resignation in September on a TV chat show. The Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma, faces murder allegations over the headless body of a critical journalist found near Kiev last month.

Far-right political parties made significant electoral inroads in several small European countries — Austria, Belgium, Denmark — but in no bigger ones. French and then British consumers staged big revolts against high petrol prices in September, but were bought off with some minor concessions.

It was, in other words, business as usual in a continent, not so long ago the trigger for two world wars and the likeliest source of a third, that is now overwhelmingly democratic and at peace. It just happens to contain some 45 countries, each with its own traditions, problems and loonies. This is as good as it gets — and it isn’t all that bad, really.

The same cannot yet be said about Asia, home to half of the human race. China, North Korea, Vietnam, Burma and Pakistan, together with a few minor principalities and sultanates, are still dictatorships. So only half of Asia’s people live in democracies yet. But that is already a huge advance on the past, even if some of the democracies are still a bit shaky.

The shakiest by far is Indonesia. It’s only two years since the 210 million Indonesians emerged from a 30-year dictatorship under Suharto, and those who prospered under his protection (including large elements of the armed forces) are still trying to undermine the new democratic order. Whether it’s the sabotage, by the military, of negotiations with separatists in Aceh and West Papua, or the stoking of religious war between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccas, or the 18 bombs that exploded outside Christian churches throughout the archipelago on Christmas Eve, killing 15, the goal is the same: destabilization.

It has got to the point where the president, Abdurrahman Wahid, a frail, virtually blind cleric who is clearly not up to the job, is facing a rising chorus of demands for his resignation, but this doesn’t mean that democracy has been defeated in Indonesia. On the contrary, it means there are still many people determined to save it.

Elsewhere in Asia, the main story this year has been the attempts to end wars, or to prevent them from happening. India’s December truce in Kashmir, intended to promote peace talks with the pro-independence guerrillas there and perhaps later with Pakistan as well, falls into that category, and is clearly driven by the fear that India and Pakistan might one day stumble into a nuclear war over the disputed province.

The Sri Lankan government and the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrillas, after 17 years of war that have killed over 60,000 people, are talking about peace talks more seriously than ever before. Most startling of all, perhaps, the two Koreas have begun to talk to each other about peace and even eventual reunification. The South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung, led the procession of foreign visitors to Pyongyang with his historic visit in June, and there is still a chance that President Bill Clinton will follow in his footsteps before he leaves office on January 20.

On the China front things got ugly from time to time, with ritualistic warnings of war from Beijing if new the Taiwanese president, Chen Shui-bian, elected in March, ever acted on his party’s rhetorical promises to declare Taiwan’s formal independence from China. Cold Warriors in the US tried to make political hay out of this, but the reality of China’s relations with the rest of the world was better demonstrated by the US Congress’s May vote to normalize trading ties with Beijing — and by the secret talks between the Chinese regime and the dalai lama in November on the topic of Tibetan autonomy.

Many problems remain in Asia, from the fragility of the region’s economic recovery from the 1997-98 financial crisis to the unending war in Afghanistan, but there are more reasons for hope than for fear. And perhaps the same is even true for the most recalcitrant region of the globe: west Asia.

As usual, there was less political change here than anywhere else. The Syrian dictator, Hafez al-Assad, died in June after 30 years of absolute power, and was promptly replaced by his son, Bashir. The hopes of greater freedom in Iran that had been created by the election of the president, Mohammed Khatami, in 1997 were systematically crush- ed by the conservative clerics who dominate the regime, using the courts, the secret police and assassination. But at the last moment, the possibility arose for a real peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Three months of the “second intifada” and the death of over 300 Palestinians have given many Israelis the incentive they previously lacked to make real concessions for a real deal. It has become clear that the Palestinians will never quit unless Israel gives them what they are entitled to, even if the kill ratio remains ten or twenty-to-one in Israel’s favour — and already, the strain of constant confrontation is starting to tell on a lot of Israelis. So suddenly we are in a different situation.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, is committed to a new election on February 6 which will take the place of his promised referendum on a peace deal — and at the time of writing we were still waiting to hear if the deal was on. Bill Clinton’s swansong is a proposal, now before both Barak and the Pal- estinian Authority chairman, Yasser Arafat, that would actually give the Palestinians 95 per cent of the West Bank, 100 per cent of the Gaza Strip, the Arab-populated districts of East Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa compound.

In return, the Palestinians would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall (“Wailing Wall”) below Temple Mount, and renounce the right of return of some 3.5 million descendants of Palestinian refugees from what is now Israeli territory. It could actually work — and though today’s opinion polls show a majority of Israelis opposed to it, it could actually win their support by the time of the February election. The alternatives are just too unpleasant.

So that’s the way the year ends. There are other critical issues where no tangible progress is being made, like the question of global warming, which was dodg- ed again at a November conference in the Hague, but more things are going right than anyone would have expected ten years ago. It’s not a bad start to the new millennium.



Hardly his business

Sir — In a country where politicians unabashedly woo the media, Amar Singh surely takes the cake. Why else would he mastermind a full-fledged media circus over such a trivial event as a filmstar’s repayment of a loan ("Bachchan big show over loan repayment",December 29)? Amar Singh’s socializing prowess has never been in doubt, given that he frequently features in the pages of the glossies in the company of the beautiful people from the film and corporate worlds. But he must realize that certain things are better left unpublicized. The payment of Rs 9.65 crore by Bachchan to the Prasar Bharati chief executive is one such thing. It has only served to remind us of the fact that the Indian film industry’s biggest icon had failed to pay up his dues on time. When the going seems to be good for Bachchan, he could do without reminders of the recent, not-so-pleasant past. Bachchan might consider Amar Singh “a member of my family”, but the Samajwadi Party leader has better prospects as Bachchan’s media manager.
Yours faithfully,
Siddharth Sinha, via email

Talking tough

Sir — The tough talking of the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, against criminals is welcome and long overdue (“People behind Buddha line of fire”, Dec 28). He is right in saying that human rights are for hu- man beings, and not for criminals. These rights are meant only for peace-loving citizens and not for hardened criminals, who disrupt law and order in the city.

Politicians have done their bit in protecting criminals who have been given undue protection by the law. While Bhattacharjee deserves praise for taking the initiative to wipe out crime, only time will determine his success or failure.

Yours faithfully
Vikram Surana, via email

Sir — It is heartening to know that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has started his term as chief minister on a good note. One cannot help wondering if Bhattacharjee would keep up the good work if the Left Front wins the assembly polls. He has been sending out positive signals to the industry and has been firm in his dealings with government officers and the public.

Yours faithfully,
S. Datta, California, US

Sir — Opposition parties should stop criticizing the chief minister. Till now, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has impressed most people with his endeavour to reform the work-culture in government offices. He should also take steps to ensure that pollution control measures are undertaken by the civic authorities in the city. All this will go a long way in ensuring the victory of the Left Front in the assembly elections.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Sengupta, via email

Sir — Every criminal deserves his day in court. However, the chief minister’s orders to the police that they should be merciless in handling criminals and its endorsement by the police commissioner, Dinesh Vajpai, amount to a licence to kill and violate all notions of human rights. A strong police force goes a long way in maintaining law and order and in securing the confidence of the people. The use of brute force will only make the public lose confidence in the police and this will do more harm than good.

It is unbelievable that the chief minister can make such a statement and get away with it. Does he want to encourage the development of a trigger-happy police force which will feel free to kill innocent civilians? He should remember that the state does not have a clean record as far as human rights violations are concerned.

Yours faithfully,
Arundhati Sinha, Calcutta

Sir — In the two months since Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has taken over from Jyoti Basu, he has made all the right decisions, be it his attempts to woo industrialists or his decision to rejuvenate the state’s work culture. The government should extend this toughness to the haw- kers who have once again started opening shop on the footpaths.

Yours faith fully
A. Kumar, Calcutta

Sir — The series of robberies in Calcutta had succeeded in instilling fear in the hearts of its people. An apparently provocative statement from the chief minister has reassured them. Poverty, unemployment and lack of education can no longer be used as excuses for breaking the law and indulging in criminal activities. Only a strong police force will be able to break the nexus between gangsters and corrupt politicians.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Chakraborty, Howrah

The birds and the bees

Sir — The introduction of sex education in schools in six Indian states by the health ministry and the National Aids Control Organization is inadequate (“Aids to pleasure”, Dec 9). It is difficult to understand the rationale behind such a policy. Will educating the children of six states eradicate the problem from the rest of India? The introduction of sex education as part of the school curriculum is an exercise in futility unless the government can follow it up with an effective literacy programme. Poverty and illiteracy are two of the major social ills of Indian society. For the sex education programme to be a success, the government must first educate the people. Such a policy may yield positive results in the urban areas but will hardly make a dent in rural India. It would be quite impossible to impart sex education to people who can neither read nor write.
Yours faithfully
Rajesh Kumar Sharma, Kankinara

Sir — The introduction of sex education in a country where sex is still a taboo can be very problematic. The idea is novel and will require a balanced approach in order to make the project successful. In a society where friendship between the two sexes is still frowned upon, and many preconceived notions of menstruation and female sexuality still exist, it will be difficult to strike a balance between the dissemination of information on the one hand and moral and ethical considerations on the other. A collaborative effort between teachers, parents and students is a must if the programme is to have some effect on its target audience.

Yours faithfully,
Vasudha Maitra, Bhillai

Sir — Someone should ensure that this sex education does not sound like a series of definitions and warnings. It should be handled with sensitiveness and aimed at genuinely educating children about sex and sexual relations.

Yours faithfully,
Arun Chowdhury, via email

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