Editorial 1 / Test by fire
Editorial 2 / Soul cause
When peace takes the lead
Fifth Column / Private joys and public woe
Changing expressions
How to sweeten the electricity shortfall
Letters to the editor

The political atmosphere in West Bengal has undergone a sudden transformation over the last week. From November last year, when Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee assumed office, it had been obvious that the concerns of the political class in the state had shifted from bickering to issues relating to development. The process had been initiated by the new chief minister himself. He had announced, on becoming chief minister, that his priority would be industrialization of West Bengal. This declaration of intent had been followed up by a series of actions which bolstered the belief that Mr Bhattacharjee meant business. He took steps to improve work culture and decisions were taken quickly. Mr Bhattacharjee seemed to be talking the language that industrialists and investors understood and appreciated. But what was necessary for the success of the agenda that Mr Bhattacharjee had set himself was unbroken peace. This was shattered by the outbreak of violence in Keshpur in Midnapore and the bandh that followed. West Bengal, it appears, is back to the vicious cycle of protests � violence � bandhs.

It is true, of course, that the political party in power and the administration always makes a pitch for peace and stability. Those in opposition make disruption their instrument to embarrass, and if possible to dislodge, the government. The Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, has chosen the path of violence and provocation to put Mr Bhattacharjee in a spot. Her tactics carry on them the burden of irresponsibility and recklessness but this has never deterred Ms Banerjee. Mr Bhattacharjee�s plea for peace rings a trifle hollow because his own party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has not been above the use of violence and muscle power to secure political ends. There are parts of West Bengal which bear the pug marks of CPI(M) cadre who have gone around systematically obliterating all signs of opposition to the CPI(M). Ms Banerjee�s provocation to violence now has the CPI(M)�s use of force as its pre-history. It takes two to tango and two to fight. It is not at all clear that Mr Bhattacharjee has the political wherewithal to discipline CPI(M) cadre. That decision will come not from the chief minister�s office but from the party headquarters in Alimuddin Street.

It is thus clear that Mr Bhattacharjee, if he wants to focus on his priorities, will have to make a choice: to act as the chief minister or to act as the loyal party man. If he chooses to be the former then he will have to combat the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) since both are implicated in violence. He can fight both by allowing the law and order machinery of the state and the district administration to act properly. The word properly needs elaboration in the context of West Bengal. It means that police officers and bureaucrats will have neither friends nor enemies, that in their eyes everyone, irrespective of their party affiliations, will be open to protection and punishment. Administrators and police officers will be free of all political interference. To achieve this Mr Bhattacharjee will have to undo the history of the last 24 years. The CPI(M) has broken down the barriers between the party and the state, between Alimuddin Street and the Writers� Buildings. Mr Bhattacharjee has to re-establish the dominance of the latter if he is to be a successful chief minister with the ability to transform West Bengal. On his choice depends the future of the state.


The beauty business will go on. This is a simple fact, and the sooner the moral brigade gets used to the idea the better. The fashion show-cum-beauty contest continued uninterrupted inside Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta on Sunday while members of the left-affiliated Bhasha o Chetana Samity shouted slogans and burnt an effigy outside the hotel. The objections of the samity to the contest were old ones, and its paranoia as ancient. Competing on the basis of looks and anatomy is immoral � and a Western fashion. One of the characteristics of moralists is their reliance on clich�s. So blind was their belief in the clich�, �Beauty is but skin deep� in this case, that the secretary of the samity thought he had made his point by saying that Mother Teresa was not beautiful. Enlightening as this was, it could not compete with the secretary�s emphatically expressed conviction that pageants such as the one they were protesting against were glittering traps to lure women into the �flesh trade�. Innocence is refreshing, but the refusal to acknowledge modelling as a profession is just old-fashioned provincialism.

Equally enlightening was the objection that the beauty contest was taking place in a government-run hotel. In other words, the Left Front would be tainted by its association with a beauty contest. So these guardians were not only concerned about the morals and souls of the women who would like to become professional models, but also with the image and purity of the state government. It is no wonder, therefore, that the samity secretary invoked the �saffron brigade� during his gallant fight against apasanshkriti. Moralists are always kin, political ideology is no bar. The leftist moral guardians had hoped the saffrons would emancipate the country from evil Western influences manifested in beauty pageants and contests. Disappointed in the failure of the elder brother, perhaps, the leftists have taken to the streets. The hotel authorities could not understand why such protests were being made all of a sudden, because the pageant was being held for the last six years. Next time, the apasanshkriti fighters might think of breaking up the furniture and setting fire to the stage, like their Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal brethren elsewhere in the country. They might actually make an impression.


The emotional seesaw of 1999 continued throughout 2000. But the major difference was that 2000 ended on a far more positive note than it had begun on. The highs and lows of 1999, chiefly the Lahore bus visit of the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the shock of the Pakistan army�s intrusion in Kargil, and the end of the year hijacking of IC-814 to Kandahar, have given way to mostly highs on the security screen. The relief sweeping across the country on the first day of 2000 was audible even to the hardest of hearing. And to mark the stark contrast with a year ago, on the first day of 2001, there is optimism in the air, palpable even to the most cynical. The gloom of Kandahar has given way to a hope on Kashmir. And in that respect the year couldn�t have been more different than the one before, and god willing, the one that is to follow. If all goes well, 2001 could well be on the same frequency as was 2000.

A Pakistani columnist, contrasting the year in both countries, compared the two visitors� books. He obviously found more foreign dignitaries visiting Pakistan, and to rub the point in deeper, said that Myanmar received as much in foreign direct investment as the outflow of capital from Pakistan. The figure he gave is so high that it is unquotable, too fantastic. Even if half that figure were true, that in itself says a lot about the conditions in the largest exporter of small arms, trained terrorists, explosives and narcotics to India.

New Delhi�s western neighbour, and its principal security snag, is in major financial, political and regional dilemmas. Even as Pakistan has gone off the Indian radar screen, having lost its long time hold on the front page of all newspapers to computing and software, it remains the most important partner for peace as far as New Delhi is concerned. Let there be no doubts about that, for Islamabad still holds certain cards that can create mayhem, even if they are unable, or unwilling, to deliver peace.

Kandahar was followed in a matter of months by the visit of the United States president, Bill Clinton. And if ever there was evidence required as to how far apart two countries separated at birth can grow, then it was the ambience around Clinton�s visit, the pulse he emitted and the language he used, that proved it. It was said even at that time, that the five days spent in India paled in comparison to the five hours transit through Pakistan. Those five hours will prove to be more consequential than the five days, because of the ambience that was created, the pulse that ran amok, and the language spoken to the people of Pakistan.

If ever a state forfeited its sovereignty towards it populace, then Pakistan did so on that March day when the US president used an Islamabad television studio to issue a barely veiled warning to the people as to the direction their country was taking. At the end of the year that forfeiture was repeated, but this time in an even more bizarre context. More of that later, for a lot of water flowed down the Jhelum before that.

The Jhelum, it seemed, had stood still that day. Just as every face in Kashmir displayed disbelief, there was dismay writ large across portions of Islamabad-Rawalpindi. For that was the July day when the field commanders of the Hizbul Mujahedin announced a unilateral ceasefire. As far as militancy in the valley is concerned, the Hizbul announcement was akin to Courtney Walsh refusing to go in and bowl. Without the Hizbul there was no chance that militancy would last in the valley. Naturally, there was surprise in New Delhi, so much so that valuable moments were lost in cementing that gesture. A gesture of that magnitude is normally possible only in the realms of imagination and dream.

An opportunity was lost, defeated by the vilest of terrorist actions in the slaying of scores of pilgrims in Pahalgam. This time the dismay was in New Delhi and Srinagar. But it was not the end of the efforts, not for the government of India, nor for the Kashmiris desirous of peace. And this message was read across the world.

Call it a coincidence, or call it anything else. On the day that Pakistan was marking the first anniversary of the current dispensation in power, terror struck again from the fountainhead of international terrorism. This time in Aden harbour, and in the form of a suicide attack on USS Cole, a US navy warship. The stamp of Osama bin Laden was apparent from the first day, and after meticulous investigations, the Yemeni authorities confirmed the worldwide suspicions.

The partnership of terror perfected by bin Laden and the i>taliban was at work. It wasn�t for nothing that India had been unequivocal against this association of terror. And it wasn�t long before New Delhi was being consulted regarding this particular school for the fanatic. India�s experience with this terrorist partnership is as old as is this association of violence. For long the recipient of bin Laden�s malevolent attention, India has been consistent in its policies towards both him and the taliban, each indispensable for the other.

The joint working groups on terrorism put together by India with other countries, principally the US and Russia, now began to demonstrate what they were really all about. In a series of stories for a Pakistani newspaper, Ahmed Rashid, the author of the most authoritative book on the taliban, changed speculation to certainty and the sanctions on portions of that war-torn country coming under the title of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan were enhanced.

In a historical first, Russia and the US moved the resolution adopted by a 13-0 vote. And in another first, India was one of the sponsors of the resolution, a remarkable achievement for New Delhi, and best summed up by a well-placed government official, who declared, �What we have been telling them for the last five years has come true. Both the Americans and the Russians didn�t want to deal with the problem when it first began, and even at that time we told them that these aren�t reliable people you are dealing with. If nothing else, there is a satisfaction in knowing that ours has been the only consistent policy, and it has now been vindicated.�

These are timebound sanctions, as is the current span of the Ramadan ceasefire in Kashmir announced by the prime minister. For both initiatives to last, and deliver peace at the end, there is an unnamed player in the field called Pakistan. The efficacy of the sanctions, and the durability of the ceasefire depend to a large degree on the willingness of Islamabad to be a party to peace.

Having forfeited its sovereignty a second time by sending an arrested Nawaz Sharif into exile with family and servants, Pakistan has left open-ended queries about the direction the decisionmaking apparatus there is tending towards. Small actions by the Lashkar-e Toiba and the Jaish-e Mohammad may make the lead news, but there is no military or psychological value in these incidents. A year ago there would have been, but a lot of water has flown down the Jhelum since then, and India has moved a lot further ahead. However, this time it is not just economically, but toward peace.


The Centre is keen to privatize 20 nationalized banks on grounds of �sickness� and inefficiency. Not surprisingly, protests against the denationalization of commercial banks have been mounting.

Is the privatization of banks justified? How did the banks perform after they were nationalized? Will private banks be catalysts for economic development?

Indira Gandhi had to fight leaders like the then finance minister, Morarji Desai, for the nationalization of banks. She used her prerogative as the prime minister of the country and usurped the charge of the finance portfolio and nationalized 14 commercial banks � mainly those which mobilized Rs 50 crore or more. Desai resigned from the cabinet. Several senior Congressmen sided with Desai. But that did not deter Indira Gandhi from her decision. The Congress was finally divided on this issue.

There were some major arguments against private banks. It was said that their activities were mainly concentrated in urban areas. Only 22 per cent of their branches were in the rural areas. They did not provide credit to agriculture, although 60 per cent of the national income originated in agriculture at the time banks were nationalized for the first time in 1969.

Private banks hardly made any contribution to the implementation of five year plans. These banks failed to mobilize rural savings for capital formation. Most of the beneficiaries of bank loans were relatives, friends and associates of bank owners and directors. They did not sanction credit to self-employment schemes.

Which way profit?

Private banks could not guarantee security of deposits to their clients and on several occasions private banks, especially in the southern states, closed their doors all of a sudden and abandoned their depositors. When it all began, 188 directors of 20 private banks were directors of 1,452 companies. Directors of five big banks were also directors of 33 insurance companies, 25 investment banks, six financial institutions and 584 production units.

This was sufficient proof that liquid assets of private commercial banks (some of which were later nationalized) were directed towards the set of companies with which their directors were associated. Nationalization of banks has corrected this imbalance. Also, the number of branches in the rural areas has gone up more than six and a half times.

Advancement of credit to priority sectors like agriculture, smallscale industries, road and water transport operators, retail traders, small businessmen, self-employed people, housing and so on increased with the nationalization of banks. The employment aspects of nationalization also cannot be overlooked. Nearly 14 lakh people are employed by nationalized banks. Nationalization brought confidence to depositors, especially individual, small income group savers. In the 17 years that preceded nationalization, 477 private banks were liquidated.

Hold on to the old

And, even in the last 10 years, several private banks have been reported to have closed down or merged with larger banks and financial institutions.It is true that some public sector banks have been rendered �sick�. But in most of these cases, political interference has been the cause. Successive governments in India have directed banks to sanction loans to particular categories of people. Nationalized banks have often been forced to extend loans to insincere debtors. Loan recovery has been difficult for these banks. It is unfair to label these banks �sick� on the basis of this criterion.

It is true that efficiency in banks has deteriorated after they were nationalized, but this is chiefly because there is no threat of punishment to insincere and lackadaisical employees. But this is not an irredeemable situation and is certainly better than having private banks.

By encouraging privatization of banks, the government is calling up a situation akin to pre-nationalization days. This means only a few people will be helped by the banking sector. In Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf has taken stringent steps against defaulters in order to realize bank advances and the results have been remarkable.

Cannot the Indian government revive public sector banks instead of encouraging private banks? Social security and benefit should be prioritized over private gains.


Prince Metternich, Austrian chancellor in mid-19th century, and no friend of Italy�s, once said that Italy was nothing more than a geographical expression. Despite Metternich�s sarcasm and in spite of being the cockpit of Europe, Italy was unified in the 1860s. About 3,000 kilometres away from Italy and almost a century later, Metternich�s description was borrowed by Obafemi Awolowo, a towering leader of western Nigeria. In 1947, Awolowo said that Nigeria was not a nation, but only a geographical expression.

There are innumerable instances in history when such �geographical expressions� have emerged into viable political entities. Some of them have even become nation-states through social engineering. Now, four decades after independence, Nigeria, Africa�s most populous country with 120 million people, suitably illustrates the scope as well as the limits of such social engineering.

The country was formed by a stroke of the bureaucratic pen in 1914 when the British colonial administration added to the colonies in and around the Niger Delta the protectorate of the north to create what now bears the name of Nigeria. The event was so contrived that it engendered a debate about the choice of an appropriate label for the new political entity. In the end the view that it should be named after the river �Niger� prevailed.

At the time of its independence in 1960, the country had three provinces: Northern, Western and Eastern. The one in the north was predominantly Muslim, while the Western and Eastern provinces in the south were inhabited by the Yoruba and the Ibo ethnic groups respectively. The Ibos were predominantly Christian, whereas the Yoruba�s loyalty was divided between Christianity and Islam.

Following Ibo attempts to secede and form the independent state of Biafra, which also led to the Biafra civil war, several more constituent states were formed. In 1976 the number of states increased to 19, in 1987 to 21, and in 1991 to 30. At present, even though the country has 36 states, there are demands for new ones, for example, by the Ogoni of Rivers State, whose leader, the well known writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed by the military regime some years ago.

Overriding the multiplicity of states, some broad configurations can be identified. Muslims dominate 19 of the 36 states, all in the north. Today, the largely Muslim combination, the AREWA Consultative Forum is campaigning against what they call �the marginalization of the north�. This body is opposed by AFENIFIRE, a Yoruba socio-cultural platform, fighting the current president, Olusegun Obasanjo. The third group has been christened as Ohaneze, a representative body of the Ibo, voicing their grievances, real or imagined.

The current inter-ethnic conflagration in the country started when Muslims pressed for the introduction of the shariah in the northern states which led to violent protests from Christians. The shariah has for long governed the community in matters of inheritance and marriage. But recently, a Muslim dominated state in the north, Zamfara, opted for the extended use of the shariah. Eight other Muslim dominated states followed the lead, including Kano, Nigeria�s most populous northern state.

The application of the shariah has generated some confusion. It is not clear whether the legal system will be applied to non-Muslims. In Kano, for instance, the shariah code took effect from November 26, 2000. But a tour of the Kano city revealed that alcohol, prohibited by the shariah, was openly consumed in the ghetto of southerners. Some already believe that the subjection of one section of the people to shariah while the others get to enjoy �un-Islamic� pleasures will be harmful to the stability of the society.

Yet it is wrong to label the Nigerian crisis simply as a Christian-Muslim conflict. Had it been so, one would have expected a Christian united front in the south pitted against the Muslims, mainly of the north, spearheaded by the Hausa and the Fulani, considered the most militant of the Islamic communities. This has not happened. Also, the north is not entirely Islamic. For instance, the Tiv, an ethnic group that has been conventionally allied with the north, is mainly Christian. Also, there is a deep chasm between the almost entirely Christian Ibo in the southeast and the Yoruba in southwest. In fact, a sizable section of the Yoruba, especially in northern Yorubaland, professes Islam.

The tension between Yoruba identity and Muslim distinctiveness was brought to the fore in 1993 on the occasion of the election of Moshood Abiola as president of Nigeria. A Muslim Yoruba, Abiola was proudly flaunted as one of them by the Yoruba, both Christian and Muslim. On the other hand, Muslim Nigerians belonging to other ethnic groups, the majority of whom are Hausa-Fulani, did not quite identify with him.

Rudolph Okonkwo, a contemporary observer, calls Nigeria a country where �the best is impossible and the worst never happens�. Of course, in history one has to wait eternally for the best to happen to any country since one can�t be sure of the future. But the worst for Nigeria almost happened in the late Sixties with the Biafran war, when millions of lives were lost and the country teetered on the brink of disaster.

Recent happenings and even a cursory look at some of the views expressed on Nigerian chat sites on the internet make it abundantly clear that thoughtless, even reckless, brinkmanship is on the rise again. Irreconcilable sectarian claims, supported by otherwise respected personalities, are also not uncommon.

Ibo leaders have been stressing the need for a confederal set-up for the country in which constituent units will enjoy much greater power. Many prominent Yoruba (among them Wole Soyinka, the Nobel laureate) have been advancing the idea of a sovereign constitutional conference that will have the task of re-negotiating a new constitution.

Some even speak of liberating themselves from the �internal colonialism� supposedly imposed by the Hausa-Fulani on the southerners, especially the Yoruba. Last year, an aggressive Yoruba outfit is said to have organized bloody riots against Hausa-Fulani residents of Lagos. The recent pronouncement of the 19 Northern governors threatening vengeance killing of southerners, if such blood bath is repeated, shows how close the country is to another disaster.

Yet an astute observer will not miss the positive forces in Nigerian society. Four decades of independence have created an upper crust of people � consisting of retired army officers, former heads of state, top bureaucrats, and successful businessmen and entrepreneurs � who have a stake in the stability of the country.

Furthermore, the constitutional system of the country makes it difficult for anyone to win the presidential race with support from a single region. Obasanjo�s victory as president in 1999 illustrates this point. Although a Yoruba and a Christian from the south, much of Obasanjo�s backing originally came from the Muslim north.

Acceptability of leaders like Obasanjo provides some evidence that social engineering in Nigeria through the present constitutional set-up has so far attained some success. But volatility, not predictability, is Nigeria�s forte. Who can foretell what will happen in the next presidential election due in a couple of years� time, or even before?


Although India is generating more power than before, the country is still unable to meet its commercial and domestic needs in both rural and urban areas. At present, 70 per cent of power in India is generated from coal while the rest comes from hydro-electric and nuclear plants.

However, coal as a fossil fuel has certain disadvantages. It not only pollutes the environment but is also very expensive.

India, being the world�s largest producer of sugarcane, has another option available to it. Crushed sugarcane or bagasse, a waste product in the sugar industry, has the potential to cater to five to 10 per cent of India�s power requirements. In 1997-1998, India produced 12.8 million tonnes of sugar, and nearly 70 million tonnes of bagasse.

Bagasse, which is also known as megass, is the fibre that is left over after the extraction of juice from sugarcane. It comes from the French word bagage, which means rubbish.

In fact, bagasse can be used in �cogeneration� power plants wherein both steam and electricity are produced.

Powered by waste

Sugar factories throughout the world burn bagasse in inefficient, low pressure boilers to get rid of it as well as generate small amounts of power. High pressure boilers and turbo generators could produce more power and steam from the same quantity of bagasse and at a much lower cost than the fossil fuel-fired plants.

Indian sugar factories are now storming this field. The Vasantdada Farmers Co-operative Sugar Factory at Sangli, Maharashtra, will be establishing a 12.50 megawatt power plant within 14 months. The actual capacity of the proposed plant is 30 to 32 mw, although only 12.5 mw will be generated in the first phase. Advanced high pressure boilers will be used in order to ensure maximum power generation from bagasse. This project will have an outlay of Rs 40 crore.

After commissioning the project, the sugar factory will be in a position to pay an additional price of Rs 35 to Rs 40 per tonne to the sugarcane-growing farmers. Five years after the plant starts generating power, the factory will be able to offer an additional Rs 166 per tonne to them.

Crushing out the currents

The Jawahar Farmers Co-operative sugar factory at Hupari, near Kolhapur in Maharashtra, has also commissioned its cogeneration power unit which has a daily power generating capacity of 24 mw. These ventures have encouraged a number of cooperative sugar factories in western Maharashtra like the Shirol based Shree Dutta Cooperative Sugar Factory and the Sakharale based Rajarambapu Patil Sugar Factory to embark on such projects.

Factories with cogeneration plants can now sell the excess power to the state electricity board. Bagasse can also be used as a fuel in sugarcane mills or as a source of cellulose for manufacturing animal feed. India, along with other sugar producing countries, produces paper from bagasse.

The ministry of non-conventional energy sources has announced a national programme supporting cogeneration projects which will come into effect in some 220 Indian sugar mills. They will be asked to crush more than 2,500 tonnes of cane a day and thus generate five to 20 mws of surplus power. The sugar mills will be granted permission to extend the crushing season from six to eight months. Research is also being carried out to explore the possibility of using alternative fuels that would cause less pollution.



No respite from terror

Sir � From Kashmir to Assam, terrorism has spread throughout the nation. A victim of the menace for over two decades, India still has neither a policy of resistance, nor a broad outline to combat it � only a series of ad hoc measures. The latest of these is the recent drive of the Delhi Police to carry out a silent census of the inhabitants of the capital (�Delhi police in silent census�, Jan 1). This has obviously come in the wake of the December 22 assault on the Red Fort and the subsequent threat by the Lashkar-e-Toiba to hit the prime minister�s office. But the decision taken by the Delhi Police is not adequate. Does it think that terrorism is confined only to Delhi? It is an open secret that groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba have the support of the Inter-Services Intelligence, which has branched out all over India. To beat terrorism, the Centre and the national security council, along with the police departments of the states, should frame a forthright counter-terrorism policy that will make no concessions to terrorists.
Yours Faithfully,
Kabita Sharma, Kankinara

Historic moment

Sir � The editorial, �Clio�s fair� (Jan 4), raises an extremely important issue. The presence of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu at the inauguration of the 61st session of the Indian History Congress indicates the amount of support the Left Front government gives to the History Congress. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, an overt involvement of a political group in any form of academics can create an unenviable situation for the latter.

No one doubts the competence of the professional historians present at the gathering and those who are members of the History Congress. But if history writing is conducted under the patronage of a political party then there is every possibility that the party�s agenda might sooner or later begin to determine what sort of history will be written in this country. The implications of this should not be too difficult to envisage.

Yours faithfully,
Narayan Pathak, Calcutta

Sir � The history books that are used in schools today have been around since the Fifties. They have never been updated and have become obsolete. Naturally, they do not give us a proper account of our cultural heritage, the role of our forefathers during the struggle for independence or the tortures they suffered at the hands of the invading communities.

These books also have objectionable uses of words like �great� with reference to Akbar and Alexander. Further, many important figures, like Veer Savarkar, do not even find a place in our history books. It is a matter of shame for us that such text books are still allowed to exist.

Now that the Indian government is taking it upon itself to review this kind of history-writing � although the likes of Amartya Sen are criticizing it (�Amartya sees sectarian threat to history�, Jan 3) � there is some hope. But the communists have already started shouting their heads off.

Yours faithfully,
Vikram Surana, via email

Sir � What is the harm if someone or a group of people tries to dig out the �facts� behind the Ramayana, as has been done in the case of Pompeii, which was lying in the womb of an epic earlier?

The problem with Indian history is that the holders of power take it upon themselves to write the history of the nation with a tilt towards their own ideology. Just as the Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to promote its own version of the history of India, the communists, if ever they come to power, will try to put a Marxist colour on it. This, really, is the sectarian threat that Amartya Sen has been talking about.

Yours faithfully,
B.K. Roy Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir � The nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, has condemned Hindu fundamentalists for rewriting Indian history. He is obviously not very well-informed.

History-writing in India is the product of British imperialism. It is therefore a distorted representation of the past. One of the aims of history should be to encourage younger generations to be more proud of their heritage. This was surely not on the minds of the British.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir � The theory of the Aryan invasion of India may be true or false. Either way, it is not going to improve the lot of more than half the Indian population living below the poverty line. Indians keep singing paeans of praise to their lost past and the glorious days of the Guptas, Mauryas, Cholas and Pandyas. But these are ancient times which have little or no bearing on realities today. A young nation like the United States has forged ahead because it does not have a millstone round its neck in the form of history. If it weren�t for this obsession with history, the Babri Masjid episode would not have taken place. Even in law, some cases become time-barred. Sadly, this does not happen in history.

Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, Sandur

All wired up

Sir � Private telephone companies providing telephone services have appealed to the telecom regulatory authority of India to allow them to supply �limited mobility service� to their subscribers connected over the wireless local loop.

This would enable subscribers to acquire partial mobility through the ordinary telephone connection and despite the fact that they do not have cellular phones. The companies argue that this will benefit the subscribers because the limited mobility service can be supplied at a low charge of Rs 1.20 for every three minutes of a local call.

Meanwhile, TRAI has been contacted by cellular phone operators who are opposed to the introduction of this service. Their argument is that this will encourage unfair competition against them and it will be in violation of the conditions mentioned in their licence.

Although it can be expected that TRAI would be primarily concerned about the interests of its customers, it is demonstrating no such signs. It has been reported that TRAI has recommended that the wireless service be allowed but in lieu of a higher licence fee to the government. This fee of course would have to be accommodated by the service providers and would mean a costlier service for the customers.

There appears to be an anti-customer mindset among some TRAI employees which is evolving such policies. Consumer fora should send a petition to TRAI and members of parliament against these customer-unfriendly recommendations.

Yours faithfully,
P. Parijatha, Hyderabad

Sir � An advertisement was published in The Telegraph (Page 8) on November 15 on behalf of the chief general manager, telecommunications, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, West Bengal telecom circle, Calcutta, for the recruitment of junior engineers (civil/electrical). The date of the examination has been published as February 11, 2001.

Incidentally, this date clashes with the date declared for the graduate aptitude test for engineering. Clearly, candidates wishing to appear for both the examinations will be able to sit for only one. Could the authorities concerned do something about this?

Yours faithfully,
Ashok Kumar Nath, Cooch Behar

Sir � The minister for telecommunications, Ram Vilas Paswan, should be praised for his work in the field of telephones and other allied fields of communication.

That he has slashed the registration fees for telephones is a forward-looking step in the direction of making the country more internet-friendly.

Paswan has transformed Indian telephones in a way that was inconceivable even till a few years back. We now have a situation where complaints about new connections, methods of bill deposition and so on are a fraction of what they used to be.

Yours faithfully,
Vijay Jain, Calcutta

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