Editorial 1 / Two steps back
Editorial 2 /Killing hope
The Chinese invasion
Book Review /History and its many causes
Book Review/ Apocalypse postponed by shortsight
Book Review / Blurred lines between empire and knowledge
Bookwise / How to sell good scholarship
Book Review / A lot to pay for bad art in the wilderness
Paperback pickings / Forging a way through the diaspora
Letters to the editor

The biggest obstacle to a new and rejuvenated West Bengal is old political habits of showing protest. Today�s bandh called by the Trinamool Congress is one in a long series of protests called by various political parties designed to disrupt daily life and production in West Bengal. The state, if it is to have any future, cannot afford to have any more bandhs. No sensible person in West Bengal believes that only one political party is responsible for the violence that affected some districts of West Bengal in the recent past and again reared its head in Keshpur in Midnapore two days ago. Whatever may have been the nature of that violent encounter, it does not justify the calling of a bandh. Under the leadership of the new chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, West Bengal and its people were coming to accept a new mood in which work and enterprise had priority over all other things. A bandh will only serve to dampen this mood. Mr Bhattacharjee has initiated a new momentum of activity and adherence to schedule in the government offices. Today�s bandh and the weekend that comes on its heels will upset the work culture that was just beginning to fall into place. The Trinamool Congress, if it is sincere about its commitment to the future of West Bengal, could not have called the bandh at a worse time. Ms Mamata Banerjee may earn for herself a few political points but her bandh call is a setback for the state of West Bengal.

Ms Banerjee can, of course, argue that as someone opposed to the Left Front, it is her job to disrupt and embarrass the Left Front government. Her job, she can say with some justification, is not to add to the greater glory of Mr Bhattacharjee. But Ms Banerjee fancies herself and is fancied by many of her supporters as the future chief minister of West Bengal. Therefore she owes it to herself and to the people of the state to show a little more responsibility to the future of the state. There is more at stake here than the scoring of political points and even a chief ministership. It would, however, be a distortion of perspective to blame Ms Banerjee alone for propagating the culture of bandhs. The art of bandhs has been mastered and overused by left parties: they have used it when they were in opposition and are using it now that they are in power. There are no reasons to doubt that if the political tables were to be turned, the left would resort to calling bandhs to protest against real and imaginary grievances. Whatever be their other differences, when it comes to articulating protest there is little to choose between Ms Banerjee and the comrades of Alimuddin Street. So while West Bengal enjoys another undeserved holiday, investors who were chuffed by Mr Bhattacharjee�s new pro-industry rhetoric will have second thoughts about bringing their capital to this benighted state.


Nalbari, in lower Assam, had seen the sproutings of peace in the midst of general devastation in the state. But the recent killing of three surrendered militants by their former comrades in the United Liberation Front of Asom could be a serious setback for this valuable process of recovery and rehabilitation. For the first time, in its shadowy but relentless career of insurgency, the ULFA has claimed responsibility for the killing of Abinash Bordoloi and two other former militants. Mr Paresh Barua, the ULFA �commander in chief�, has directly confronted the surrendered ULFA men, the state government and the Centre with his outfit�s uncompromising demand for Assam�s �independence�. The way to a solution would lie not through �peace talks�, but through what Mr Barua calls �scientific dialogue� and �negotiation�. Several aspects of this new stance deserve notice.

First, the ULFA is clearly unnerved by what has been happening in Nalbari. The surrender of at least 2,000 militants since 1998 and their active efforts at returning to a peaceful individual and collective existence have led to a steady erosion of the ULFA�s support base in Nalbari, which used to be an ULFA stronghold. Second, Abinash Bordoloi had been one of the founders of a multi-purpose co-operative society � aided by the state � that had engaged a number of former terrorists in various kinds of farming and development work. This �Udayan� project was the nucleus around which the Nalbari community had begun building its hopes for a constructive alternative to violence. Killing Bordoloi is the ULFA�s way of using terror to disrupt this process of social reconstruction and thereby regain ground in the area. This would also actively terrorize those who have been thinking of surrendering into remaining with the outfit. Mr Baruah has also alleged that the surrendered ULFA men have been informers against the outfit, and were responsible for the �secret killings� of some important militants. Third, it is significant that Mr Baruah has dissociated himself from the Naga situation. He wants to initiate talks with the Centre, the mode and contents of which would have to be radically different from the ineffectual �eyewash� of the Naga peace-talks. This could imply a rift between the ULFA and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). It also shows the single-minded focus on sovereignty that now determines the ULFA agenda. There can, it seems, be no middle ground for talking about peace. This is also a lesson for the state and Central governments. They cannot now afford to repeat the inept delays and equivocations which have characterized the non-achievements of that interminable saga. Assam�s journey up that path of irresolution is likely to be a very bloody affair.


One of the most famous and colourful streets in Delhi is Chandni Chowk. This 350-year old street was once a favourite hunting ground of Emperor Shah Jahan, and renowned all over the world for the wide array of merchandise available in the shops lining the street. For quite some time, it has lost its position as the pre-eminent shopping arcade of Delhi. Tacky warehouses have now replaced the glittering shops, and stately carriages have been replaced by run-down rickshaws. It is now better known for its numerous by-lanes which still sell various mouth-watering delicacies.

Chandni Chowk is suddenly in the news once again. It is now the main centre for Chinese goods of all kinds, ranging from electric fans to cheap batteries. The scale of activity is so large that one newspaper in the capital claims, tongue in cheek, that it will soon be renamed China Chowk. The flood of Chinese imports has raised temperatures all around, questions have been asked in Parliament, and the many chambers of commerce have beseeched the government to protect Indian domestic industry from the new Chinese invasion.

Quite naturally, Indian producers claim that the Chinese are �dumping� their products in Indian markets. Dumping refers to the practice of selling products abroad at artificially low prices. In other words, the export price is significantly lower than the price at which the good is sold domestically, and is typically made possible by camouflaged export subsidies. Under the new world trading regime introduced by the World Trade Organization, the recipient country can levy anti-dumping duties in order to protect domestic industry. In fact, this is one of the few contingencies under which protective duties are permissible under the new trade regime.

Indian governments are often disposed to knee-jerk reactions. That is why it is so important to consider all aspects of the situation before taking any policy decisions. Some of the factors are easy to jot down. First, there is no doubt that there has been a quantum increase in the volume of Chinese imports into the country. Unofficial sources quote a 33 per cent increase in the volume of imports from China during April-August this year over the corresponding period last year. Since a sizeable fraction of the total volume of Chinese goods in Indian markets is smuggled, this may well be an underestimate.

Second, it is also true that most Chinese goods are sold at dirt-cheap prices. For instance, a Chinese fan with a built-in invertor is available for Rs 800-900, whereas Indian fans cost about Rs 1150. Bicycles are about Rs 500 cheaper than Indian ones. Similarly, most electronic goods are significantly cheaper than products of comparable quality available in India. Third, it is also undeniably true that the sheer volume of Chinese imports will soon have an adverse effect on Indian manufacturing industries. A newspaper report mentions that Bajaj Electricals has started importing items like Chinese toasters and fans into India, and providing brand support and after-sales service. While this is good news for the Indian consumer, this can only be disastrous for the Indian worker.

Of course, the difference in price is not a sufficient proof of dumping. Chinese labour is certainly cheaper than in countries such as Korea, from where we import significant volumes of electronic items. China also has a much lower rate of indirect taxes on inputs. These could well account for a large part of the difference in prices. Another contributory factor underlying the price differential is the general inefficiency of Indian manufacturing. A recent Confederation of Indian Industry seminar in Calcutta focussed on the large distance which Indian manufacturing industries have to traverse in order to catch up with international norms in prices and quality. India has a rather dismal rating in competitiveness. It ranks a low 53 out of 59 countries ranked by the World Economic Forum and 40 out of 46 countries ranked by the World Bank.

Our success in the software industry should not blind us to the weaknesses plaguing other Indian industries. Perhaps years of selling in domestic markets which were protected from all forms of international competition has made Indian industry �soft�. A good example is provided by a company such as Hindustan Motors. They had no problem selling Ambassadors in India until the entry of the new pack of automobile manufacturers. But, today, they have a pitifully small market share. Hindustan Motors refused to see the writing on the wall, failed to modernize and are now paying the price for their negligence.

Of course, not all the blame rests with Indian industry. Many industrialists will rightly claim that they do not have a level playing field. There are at least two reasons why Indian manufacturers are at a disadvantage compared to their brethren in countries such as China. First, the general level of duties is significantly higher in India. The higher level of taxes pushes up the costs of production since manufacturers have to pay higher prices for their inputs. Second, Indian manufacturers also have to contend with very poor infrastructure. This too raises their cost of production.

Misguided government policy has also contributed to the lack of competitiveness of Indian products in some sectors. This is particularly true in the case of those sectors, such as the toy industry, which are reserved for the small-scale sector. Small-scale enterprises often do not have access to sufficient capital to modernize. Moreover, the very act of reservation means that they cannot take advantage of the economies of large- scale production � they have to stay small in order to remain in the reserved sector.

It will be very difficult for the government to prove that all Chinese products are �dumped� on Indian markets. But, it can probably levy an anti-dumping duty on some Chinese products. Will this provide adequate protection to Indian manufacturers? There are reasons to doubt this. First, a significant volume of Chinese imports is almost certainly smuggled into the country through Nepal. An anti-dumping duty will make smuggling even more attractive. It will be extremely difficult for India to check the smuggling of Chinese goods. Since Nepal is a land-locked country, India has to provide transit routes for goods supposedly destined for Nepal. But, once the goods have entered Indian soil, it is rather easy to offload these goods to India, although they may be marked for Nepal.

The problem is that China is just one of the competitors with whom Indian manufacturers will have to contend with. If the domestic producers cannot bring down their costs of production and raise the levels of quality, then they will lose out to foreign competitors even if the latter do not indulge in unfair practices such as dumping. This will probably generate tirades against the WTO and demands for greater protection on some pretext or another. One can only hope that the government will resist these demands because the raising of tariff barriers would be a retrogressive measure.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    

Edited By K.N. Panikkar, T.J. Byres and Utsa Patnaik,
Tulika, Rs 900

If one were to be asked to name the three most influential books on Indian history to be published in the second half of the 20th century, the answer would include The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1556-1707 by Irfan Habib which was published in 1963 and revised in 1999. Irfan Habib, even his critics admit � and it is a delight to see two of his critics, Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, writing in this Festschrift � is an outstanding historian and formidable scholar who has never wavered from his Marxist commitments.

This is a volume of essays presented to Habib on his 68th birthday. It is edited by two economists and a historian, all of whom are subscribers to the political ideology that Habib advocates and to which he has shown lifelong commitment. The tone of the volume is adulatory which is as it should be perhaps in a Festschrift. One of the editors once described Irfan Habib as �a national treasure� who should be cherished. Most students and teachers who came to Agrarian System and Habib�s numerous essays from the dry-as-dust political history which was the staple of an earlier generation of historians were refreshed by Habib�s mastery over sources and facts and the analytical rigour that he brought to medieval economic history. For students of history, irrespective of ideology, this was what was inspiring about Habib. For those, like the economist, Prabhat Patnaik, who shares many of Habib�s political and ideological commitments, there is more to Habib than his contributions to Indian historiography.

In an opening essay, Patnaik traces Habib�s intellectual path and also his career in the field of political activity. Habib came to the undivided Communist Party of India via the Students� Federation of India; after the split he came to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) with which he has remained. He was active in organizing the Class IV employees of Aligarh Muslim University and more famously has been at the forefront of the battle against communalism, both minority and majoritarian.

Only some of Habib�s admirers and friends have written in this volume which like all books of this genre is uneven in quality and covers a wide range of themes. Not surprisingly, one of the best essays here is by Romila Thapar who writes on �The Rig Veda: Encapsulating Social Change�. She shows that Aryanism cannot be viewed as the triumph of one social group or as the easy imposition of one culture on another. It evolved and in the process appropriated elements from the pre-Aryan past. The process was problematic and cries out for more analysis.

Alam and Subrahmanyam write on the views on the end of the Akbari dispensation. They show that the transition from Akbar and Jahangir emphasize that Mughal rule was less based on personal charisma and royal aura than say the Ottomans. Political institutions were already in place and Mughal rule appeared less despotic.

It is invidious, of course, to pick out two essays like this but this is unavoidable for a book of this size and variety. Readers will have to pick their own favourites. But there are reasons to ponder how an essay by a non-historian on the battle of Plassey found its way here.

More worthy of note is the essay by Prabhat Patnaik entitled �A Simple Model of an Imaginary Socialist Economy��. It is understandable that after the fall of the Soviet Union anything to do with socialism has to be in the realm of the imaginary. But surely that should not give license to one of India�s leading Marxist economists to describe the Soviet Union as an �economic miracle� or to argue that the dictatorship of the party had little or nothing to do with the economic arrangements of the Soviet Union which made it a chronic shortage economy. India�s best known Marxist historian deserved a little better from his peer in the discipline of economics.


By Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson,
Frank Cass, � 39.50

At the break of dawn on July 5, 1943, Hitler launched Operation Zitadelle, which resulted in the greatest tank battle of the world. About 2,700 German tanks and self-propelled guns clashed with 5,100 Russian tanks and 7,000 assault guns around the towns of Kursk, Orel and Belgorod.

Niklas Zetterling, a Swedish researcher and Anders Frankson, an expert on the Soviet military, in the book under review, Kursk 1943: A Statistical Analysis, attempt to analyse this battle with the aid of recently released German and Russian archival documents.

Scholars now accept that Russia was the decisive theatre of World War II. The Wehrmacht documents show that 80 per cent of the German army including 90 per cent of the panzers were always in Russia. When exactly the tide turned against the Germans in Russia is the question that puzzles historians even today.

Hitler�s strategy in the summer of 1943, write Zetterling and Frankson, was to concentrate all the available panzers in the industrial region of Ukraine in order to eliminate the Russians. Stalin also knew that unless the German tanks were destroyed, Russia would be unable to recover Ukraine.

So, all possible Soviet armoury was assembled to combat the Germans. This suited the Germans, who, being masters of mobile warfare, were able to inflict far greater losses on the Red Army.

Zetterling and Frankson calculate from the casualty reports that for the loss of every thousand tanks, the Germans were able to destroy eight thousand Russian tanks and assault guns.

Both the Germans and the Russians assembled their elite units in Kursk. The German panther and the mammoth tiger tanks were easily able to outgun and outmanoeuvre the Russian T-34s.

Here was the chance to eliminate the Russian armoury once and for all. Zetterling and Frankson agree with Manstein who claimed that the decisive moment of the battle was July 13. At that time, the Russian armour reserve was seriously depleted but the Germans still had panther reserves.

At that crucial juncture, Hitler intervened. Instead of continuing the offensive, Hitler sent the panzer divisions to Italy and the Balkans � countries which were unsuited for panzer operations. Thus Germany lost the chance to destroy the Soviet juggernaut before the amphibious landing of the Allied forces in Europe.

Zetterling and Frankson deserve praise for bringing to light hitherto unpublished data. Their efforts have put the titanic Russo-German struggle in a new perspective.

The methodology they have used to analyse the battle in Kursk incorporates various themes such as tactics, military hardware and so on. They have not attempted to construct a chronological narrative and have successfully created an interesting document, rather than a list of events. This just goes to show what academic rigour can achieve in the field of military history.


By Matthew H. Edney,
Oxford, Rs 595

�Maps,� the historian Jack Gallagher once famously, and perhaps apocryphally, remarked, �is supposed to make men mad.� Yet it would be a foolhardy historian who would disregard maps altogether. But more than the historian the administrator and the state-maker needs maps and surveys that precede the drawing up of maps.

Matthew Edney�s detailed study is concerned with the first surveys the British rulers made of India. His study stretches from James Rennel�s survey of Bengal (1765-71) to George Everest�s retirement as surveyor-general of India. At the heart of his book lies the Great Trigonometrical Survey that was undertaken by the English East India Company.

�Imperialism and mapmaking,� Edney says in his opening statement, �intersect in the most basic manner. Both are fundamentally concerned with territory and knowledge.�� Not surprisingly, he invokes Jorge Luis Borges�s famous story about an empire that was so addicted to cartography that its cartographers made a map of the empire which was as big as the empire itself and coincided with it point by point. Borges in his inimitable way was pushing his readers to the realization that knowledge of a territory is determined by its representation by a map. In a world of scholarship that is familiar with the writings of Michel Foucault, it goes without saying that �to govern territories, one must know them�� and surveying and mapping them is one important way of acquiring knowledge about them.

British mapping of India was imbued with subtleties and Edney does not gloss over the nuances. But his conclusions are broad: mapmaking was integral to British imperialism in India in more ways than one. It was an effective �informational weapon� which was used strategically and tactically by governors, military commanders and such like. It was also used as an instrument of legitimation: it justified British imperialism and its civilizing mission in India. The maps transformed India from an unknown and exotic area to a well-defined geographical entity. This transformation was represented as a part of Britain�s work in India. The maps inscribed an imperial space. It is difficult to improve upon Edney�s summing up line: �The empire might have defined the map�s extent, but mapping defined the empire�s nature.�



How can some types of literature like poetry, literary criticism or simply an anthology of literary essays be made economically viable in an economy of mass production? Are there any methods which will secure the publication of, and adequate reward for, these categories of literature?

One simple method would be to encourage universities to do more for scholarship. After all, if Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Chicago, California and others can do it, why can�t we? There is no reason why every university in the country should not have its own press, subsidized from its normal funds. These university presses could publish works of extramural scholarship.

It is not that there have not been university presses in this country. Every major university � Delhi, Aligarh, Calcutta, Madras, Benares Hindu, Viswa-Bharati, to mention just a few � has had its own publication bureau with its own printing press. Specialized monographs on some esoteric subject or the other were often published by them till the late Fifties and early Sixties.

But since the Eighties, nearly all the university presses fell into disuse.

What happened to them? Obviously, they were not economically viable, or at least the grants were not adequate to cover the increased costs of production and overheads.

Two factors accelerated the disintegration of university presses. First, a total absence of a marketing apparatus. Second, a belief that the lower the price of the book the easier it would be to sell. To go back to the basics, a book sells because it is needed, which means that it serves a specific purpose. And it would sell if it is readily available in bookshops where it could be seen and gone through. This is a crucial factor because Indians rarely buy out of catalogues or advertisements in literary journals.

How can this availability be ensured? Apart from publicity and the usual hype that would make the book talked about, the key factor is the incentives to the traders to stock the title. Specifically, this means the discount and credit terms: the higher the discount and the more liberal the credit, the greater the chances that the book would be stocked. Higher discounts and liberal credits can only be offered if the cost-price ratio is such that the price of the book is at least four times the unit cost of production.

What this means is that lower prices do not determine whether the book would be stocked by the traders. In fact, low prices are a disincentive because the gross amount the booksellers make at the end of the day is very little. What the trade wants is higher prices and higher discounts, not lower prices and lower discounts. Let us take two cases. National Council for Educational Research and Training school textbooks and National Book Trust prices are very low (compared to those of commercial publishers) but they are not easily available even in large cities.

Therefore, assuming that some organization or the University Grants Commission provides contingency funds, university presses would need to change their pricing formulae and marketing techniques. A degree of commercialization would do them no harm.


By Satish Gupta
(Mapin, Rs 7, 000)

Satish Gupta�s The Eyes Of The Thar is a set of colossal prints done by a contemporary print-maker who is described in the breathlessly adulatory foreword as �our meditative Indian Zenophile (sic)�. The vast desert landscapes, Marwari haveli architecture and the seductive come-hither of obliging locals � Satish, Kasim, Jasma and Durga � combine in huge frames to create very bad and shockingly expensive art. This is the lowest form of calendar art, elevated � by opulent packaging and the self-congratulatory patronage of the maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur � to coffee-table sublimities. The images are accompanied by an endless dribble of inanities in verse about �the irresistible allure of the unstitched garment�. Some of Gupta�s early work in the catalogue looks marginally more interesting and original. Mapin, and the maharajah, ought to recognize ugliness when they see it.


By Amitava Kumar
(Penguin, Rs 250)

Amitava Kumar�s Passport photos took shape �while the author, holding an Indian passport, was in the United States as a �foreign worker� in the H-1B category�. This is Kumar�s attempt to �understand and speak about the immigrant condition in an undeniably personal and political way�. The format is postmodern in the John Berger mode: a self-conscious collage of photographs and every contemporary genre of writing, spiced up with Pico Iyer, Hanif Kureishi, Edward Said, Trinh T. Minh-ha and, of course, the grande dame of �diaspora studies�, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Following the format of a passport, with chapter headings like �Place of birth�, �Sex� and �Identifying Marks�, Kumar writes �against the fatal virulence of the right, against some of the solemn pieties of the left�.

By A.G. Noorani
(LeftWord, Rs 75)

A.G. Noorani�s The RSS and The BJP: A division of labour is a pithy, historicist critique of modern Indian fascism from an eminent lawyer, political commentator and scholar of the Constitution. This is, above all, a study of �calculated ambiguity�, a mode of propaganda and governance that pervades the sangh parivar. The demolition of the Babri Masjid is the central focus, but Noorani also looks at the origins of Hindutva in the struggle for independence and in the formation of the Jan Sangh. The �division of labour� idea provides the deep structure of this monograph. RSS and BJP, Vajpayee and Advani, communalism and nationalism become the ying and yang of contemporary Indian Realpolitik. For Noorani, �either the sangh parivar will have to be contained and defeated, or Indian secularism, already enfeebled, will have to be abandoned and, with it, democracy as well.�

By C.B. Muthamma and P. Gangamma Bopanna
(Penguin, Rs 250)

C.B. Muthamma and P. Gangamma Bopanna�s The essential kodava cookbook is a collection of about hundred recipes from the Kodagu or Coorg district of Karnataka. It is one of the richest agricultural regions in India, with a surplus in a variety of valuable crops. Famous for its coffee plantations, and for its cardamom and pepper, Kodagu is also the home of a distinctive community, the Kodavas. This was traditionally a hunting and fishing community with wild fowl, pig and fresh-water fish forming an important part of its cuisine. The authors provide a detailed introduction to the Kodavas and their various traditions and practices associated with food and sociability. The dishes range from spicy vegetable curries and lightly flavoured pachadis to a variety of steamed dishes.

(Picador, no price)

Spring into picador 2001 is a selection of highlights from well-known Picador authors published, or to be published, in the first half of 2001. Such lollipops afford their own kind of pleasure, and help to pick one�s way through the prolific and publicity-driven world of contemporary English fiction. Authors like Patrick McCabe, Clive James, Don DeLillo and Sylvia Brownrigg could be sampled here. Oonya Kempadoo�s Tide Running and Manjula Padmanabhan�s Getting There are counted among the promising new novels, although the latter will not be that new to Indian readers.

By Jill Margo
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Jill Margo�s Man Maintenance is an informed and sympathetic guide to men�s health, written with clarity, wit and candour by Australia�s most popular health journalist. It provides concise entries for �on-site maintenance� of the �average four- to six-cylinder adult male� � in bed, in the bathroom, at the table, at the doctor�s, in marriage, in crisis, in mid-life and after. Helpful, but often silly, especially in its extended car metaphors: �Many models of male adults will make serious moaning noises emanating from under their bonnets, because of fairly minor operational difficulties such as a snuffly demister.�

By V. Padmanand and P.C. Jain
(Response, Rs 245)

V. Padmanand and P.C. Jain�s Doing business in India: Street-smart entrepreneurs in an imperfect marketplace explores the perceptions, risks and competencies needed by entrepreneurs to survive the micro-environment within which they have to work, even as the macro-environment undergoes rapid changes through economic reform and bureaucratic streamlining. The actualities of the Indian business scenario are presented through a number of real case studies, mostly confidence-inspiring success stories.



You asked for it

Sir � Uncertainty is the middle name of politics. The events in Nepal over the last few days demonstrated this fact once again. With the fate of the prime minister, G.P. Koirala, hanging in balance, Nepal has been thrown into a political turmoil(�No-trust ghost haunts Koirala�, Jan 3). Koirala was instrumental in ousting his predecessor, K.P. Bhattarai. Nine months later, he faces a similar motion in parliament. Koirala�s removal will also upset the balance of power in the Nepali Congress since he is the party chief. The alleged anti-Nepal comments of Hrithik Roshan seem to have sounded his death knell. But Koirala has only himself to blame for delaying appropriate measures to control the riots and stop the anti-India propaganda. It was only after the intervention of the prime minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, that Koirala issued a statement attempting to control the damage. But did Koirala need the time to realize how badly Nepal�s economy and tourism industry would suffer if the current impasse continued?
Yours faithfully,
Priyanka Chaudhuri, via email

Last of the wild

Sir � In Assam�s districts to the north of the Brahmaputra, like Darrang, Sonitpur, Lakhimpur and Dhemaji, which run along the state�s border with Arunachal Pradesh, there are many forests and sanctuaries. But a visit to these vast tracts may turn out to be a nightmare for naturalists and biotechnologists.

These forests are in danger because of steady encroachment and poaching. Encroachers from neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh as well as from within Assam have destroyed huge portions of these forests. This has affected the ecological balance of the entire area.

The extent of encroachment that is revealed by government statistics is only the tip of the iceberg. According to official statistics, in Gohpur, 13,320 hectares, in Bishwanath, 800 hectares, in Bihali, 3,375 hectares, in Naduar, 2,000 hectares, in Singrijan, 100 hectares and in Panpur, 3,375 hectares have been encroached upon. But according to a study conducted by a non-governmental organization, the figures are much higher in all the areas.

Rhinos, Pygmy hogs and Hispid hares, which were to be found in plenty in these forests only half a century back are rapidly becoming extinct. Hunters from the neighbouring states kill these animals for their flesh. In fact, markets selling animal flesh have come up in the nearby areas. Rare birds and fish found in these forests are also endangered. The government of India had introduced a legislation for the preservation of wild animals in 1972. Both the Assam and Arunachal Pradesh governments seem to be totally oblivious to this fact.

Yours faithfully,
Ranendra Bijoy Goswami, Tezpur

Sir � It is unfortunate that because of a handful of extremists India is heading towards an acrimonious relationship with a peaceful nation like Bhutan. The recent killing of Bhutanese nationals by ultras inside Assam hold dangerous portents for the future. It is possible that Indian citizens might also be harassed in Bhutan. It is essential for the governments of both Bhutan and India to take immediate steps to contain the extremists and stop the situation from degenerating.

Yours faithfully,
Abhijit Bhattacharyya, Nagaon

Sir � It seems that in India, elections are held to elect representatives to Parliament only to discuss religion. Even the Vatican does not discuss religious issues as much as India. Our politicians should stop discussing the mandir-masjid issue and try solving the complex problems of the country. They must realize that for most of our countrymen, who cannot get two square meals a day, both the mandir and the masjid are irrelevant. However, it should be kept in mind that only a resourceful, educated and developed society can understand the meaning and use of religion, not an impoverished one.

Yours faithfully,
Iftakhar Latif, Guwahati

Sir � Our legislators are our representatives. Therefore, the way they conduct themselves also reflect on us. When they conduct themselves in an indisciplined manner in Parliament, they give the impression that India is an indisciplined nation.

The furore over Ayodhya in the winter session of Parliament only wasted the valuable time of the legislators who should be more conscious of issues like unemployment, overpopulation, poverty and the like. The representatives of the people should pay more attention to issues concerning the development of the nation than heed unreasonable demands.

Yours faithfully,
Siva Lal Mahanta, Singri

Sir �The Union minister for communications, Ram Vilas Paswan, should be congratulated for resolving the stalemate with regard to the postal services, although the threat of enforcing the Essential Services Maintenance Act had to be used in the process. The post is an essential medium of communication among the common people of this poor country. So despite the advance in information technology, India is heavily dependent on the postal services. A strike would mean a total breakdown of this countrywide communication network. Suspension of postal services should thus be banned with immediate effect.

The country�s legislature has all the arms in its arsenal to stop evasion of duty. However, it invariably fails to act in time. Had the minister taken the decision to impose ESMA right at the beginning of the strike, the public would have been saved the harassment. Postal employees should concentrate more on work instead of making a mockery of democracy.

Yours faithfully,
S.N. Bordoloi, Shillong

Sir � The demand for a separate Kamtapur state in north Bengal is justified. The Koch-Rajbongshis here comprise almost 80 per cent of the population. But the ruling party in West Bengal has never accepted this truth. The Left Front has always neglected the community.

In the villages of north Bengal, there is no electricity or proper roads. Communication facilities are poor. Most of the people in the region earn their livelihood by pulling rickshaws or by working as labourers. The government has not laboured to bring the benefits of employment, education or healthcare to this area as it has done for other regions of the state. There is therefore no other way but to demand a separate state.

According to the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattarcharjee, the demand is unjustified and unconsitutional. We would like to request him to visit the villages and see for himself the difficulties people face. Only then should he decide whether the demand is unconstitutional or otherwise.

Yours faithfully,
Joydeep Roy, Guwahati

Sir � Trucks carrying goods to Agartala have a unique feature. In addition to the predominantly Hindu religious symbols, many trucks have the cross painted on them, invariably in red, and these occur on either the bonnet or on the windscreen. There might also be a metallic cross welded to the bonnet. Some trucks bear the picture of Jesus Christ in place of the cross.

This might appear as a rare display of secularism. However, truck syndicates allege that extremists coerce truckers into having such symbols painted. There is no objection to trucks displaying Hindu or Sikh religious photographs or writings as long as they also display the Christian symbols prominently.

Some private jeeps plying in the state also display a big cross sign on the windscreens so as not to be attacked by the National Liberation Front of Tripura insurgents. With the law and order machinery almost non-existent in the state, the extremists obviously rule the roost here.

Yours faithfully,
Robin Kumar, via email

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