Editorial 1 / Gloom minus doom
Editorial 2 / Stink of fuel
Wages of venality
Fifth Column / What the siwan killings foretell
Will the whip crack hard enough?
Easy to find in the cyber-wilderness
Letters to the editor

The budget planned for a 12.7 per cent nominal gross domestic product growth. The inflation and real growth breakup is never given in budget papers, perhaps to avoid criticisms that government projections are hopelessly off target. Following the budget, the chief economic adviser offered a real GDP growth target of 6.5 per cent, revised upwards by the finance minister to 7 per cent. This growth now looks increasingly unlikely. The issue is only partially the Tehelka expose and its political fallout. Two other factors are economically more important � the stock market scam and the global slowdown, especially in the United States. Exports in 2000-2001 have grown by 20 per cent in dollar terms, although there are signs of slowing down in February, the last month for which figures are available. Since no major supply-side improvements have taken place and nor has the exchange rate depreciated appreciably, the explanation for this export growth must be global demand. Ipso facto, a global slowdown should hurt and Mr Murasoli Maran�s dollar growth target of 18 per cent for 2001-02 seems implausible. Exports account for roughly 10 per cent of GDP and a halving of export growth from 20 per cent to 10 per cent implies one percentage drop in GDP growth. These export figures are only for merchandise exports, they exclude software and related services, which have taken a beating because of the information, communication and entertainment meltdown. The shakeout in the domestic software segment has clearly not happened and in the interim, transition pains will inevitably lead to a wealth effect through reduced consumer spending. The ramifications of the stock market scam will continue to play out, but there is an adverse wealth effect there as well.

The budget identified industrial growth and lack of investments as problems requiring solution. Whether interest cuts alone would have sufficed is debatable, since the basic problem is not one of liquidity alone. After the stock market scam, there is some prospect of the interest rate cut on small savings being rolled back. One implication of the stock market scam is that banks will be unwilling to lend and the equity market will also not have many takers. Both consumption and investment expenditure will thus be depressed. This leaves the government, but the present state of government finances does not offer scope for a Keynesian thrust, independent of whether such a thrust makes economic sense.

Since the reforms of 1991, barring the exception of 1991-92, real GDP growth rates have been stuck in a band of between 5 per cent and 7.5 per cent, the high growth rates in 1995-96 and 1996-97 were fuelled by the effects of the pay commission. Despite the prime minister�s vaunted 9 per cent target, the economy has not been able to cross this new Hindu growth rate band, because of lack of substantive reforms. Substantive reforms like privatization now seem somewhat unlikely because of political uncertainty. Industry is chugging along at less than 4 per cent and a growth rate of around 5 per cent seems likely this year. It is unlikely that services will grow by more than 7 per cent. Agriculture is the most difficult to predict, since it is still susceptible to the monsoon. But given the spectre of drought, agriculture growth will probably be capped at 2 per cent. With present sectoral shares, this adds up to real GDP growth rate of 5 per cent, the lower end of the band. It is perhaps inevitable that globalization should make the Indian economy susceptible to cyclical shocks. Gloom need not be equated with doom.


It is not a question of incitement or spontaneity. The violence unleashed in the city of New Delhi by helpless commuters is a measure of the total failure of the administration to give them an adequate number of buses to use. That the people should experience such misery is inexcusable; the pros and cons of the Supreme Court directive to convert all buses into users of compressed natural gas or other �clean fuels� should have been dealt with earlier. The Supreme Court ruling was made in July 1998, in view of the dangerous rise in pollution in the city. The government of Delhi was instructed to convert all buses more than eight years old to CNG vehicles by April 1, 2000 and the entire fleet by April 1, 2001. The court�s decision to specify the fuels may have been questioned. Instead, a bewildering array of alternative plans from various bureaucratic sources seemed to have been thrown from table to table. It would appear from reports that the government was convinced from the beginning that implementing the Supreme Court�s instructions was unfeasible. A shortage of money for a sufficient number of conversion kits was one reason given. Yet suggested alternatives included conversion to propane gas, which raises doubts about the seriousness of the government�s concern about pollution. Another suggestion brought up the possibility of changing to improved diesel according to Euro I compliant standards for the time being. This would mean finer particulate matter in the air, and an easier passage into the lungs.

So the defiant statement of the chief minister, Ms Sheila Dixit, that she was willing to face contempt charges for the good of the people sounds rather hollow. She has, unfortunately, now been served with a contempt notice together with her transport minister. The only respite Delhiites can hope for may come from the fact that the court has allowed vehicles with provisional permits to ply for a few more days on a last minute petition by the government. But unless the government gets going either on the legal front or on the environmental, even this respite may be shortlived.


India has risen a notch higher in the hierarchy of corrupt societies where it already occupied a top slot, according to a survey conducted by businessmen with worldwide experience of dealing with different countries. Such dubious distinction is not earned easily. A lot of hard work goes into it. Freud never thought that a nation, like the individual, could also suffer from the Oedipus complex. This country nonetheless has repeatedly enacted a symbolic murder of the man it regards as the father of the nation not only by a surfeit of violence but also by an excess of venality in public life at the cost of compromising both national security and economic nationality. The very amount of sleaze covering the face of national politics would have been enough to kill the Mahatma who almost made his wife cry when she was unable to account for an expenditure of a few annas.

The governance of the country has in fact made this sacrificial ritual a routine business in almost every branch of the administration. This is by no means the work of any particular individual, party or ministry. It is the result of a collective enterprise in which all those who make the laws or enforce them, keep a watch on leakages of government funds earmarked for poor relief, and negotiate big deals running into thousands of crores of rupees, have played crucial roles in spreading the rot.

Few countries have incurred such expense of money, time and spirit in building a labyrinth of laws, a thousand times as large and perhaps with ten thousand times as many turns and twists as the one in which Abhimanyu lost his way and life during the great Mahabharata war. Which ordinary citizen can come out unscathed once he enters this intimidating edifice? The innumerable rules and regulations in small print enable every petty clerk to harass to no end any citizen who has the misfortune to deal with a municipal or government department until he shells out the stipulated sum of speed money. The laws themselves are full of loopholes, grey areas and ambiguities which are the despair of the litigant and a source of comfort for lawyers.

The law-making process itself is so designed that even before a new bill finds a place in the statute book, those with a vested interest in dodging or defeating its harsh provisions locate the gaps, with the help of legal experts, to drive a coach and four through it. Where this is not considered safe, it is possible in nine cases out of ten to find the right contacts in the right places or among the ranks of the vigilance men to see that the law is duly turned around to serve the needs of the client who shows his gratitude in the manner agreed between the parties concerned.

A poet wrote long ago, cynically improving on the Gospel�s exhortation: �You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.� The current adage in political and bureaucratic circles, where favours are sought and dispensed at a price, is: �You shall serve your crooked client with your crooked knowhow.� People talk of the sensational way the media handles a story when some green and callow politician or bureaucrat is caught by a hidden camera while accepting a bribe. The sensation, the critics forget, lies in the fact of someone in a high position being so gauche as to fail to cover up the shady deal.

One politician caustically told a television audience the other day that parties did not run on oxygen drawn from the air. He was right. The only oil which keeps the party machines going is money, a large part of which comes from the black economy and therefore cannot risk exposing itself to the gaze of the Election Commission. Whatever the differences between the national, regional, caste and ethnic agenda or their approaches to economic reforms, all parties, big or small, share the same political culture in which what matters is not the corrupt source of the money a group collects but the failure in covering up the sleazy operation.

In dismissing the rampant corruption in the developing societies, first world nations have no right to occupy the high moral ground. Everyone knows how Switzerland, one of the most affluent societies in the world, is a main beneficiary of the large-scale defrauding of public funds in poor countries. Are the Swiss banks so daft as not to know that the billions of dollars which persons like Mobuto or Marcos deposit in numbered accounts are what they have looted from their own people, and that the large sums businessmen from abroad entrust to them, often earning no interest, have a black complexion, the result of tax evasion or other illegitimate means?

All this does not, however, detract from the venality of the local politicians and businessmen who fatten themselves by undermining the integrity of public life as well as the health of the national economy. The nihilism of the rich countries is indeed matched by the immorality of corrupt politicians and businessmen in the poorer parts of the world not only in the matter of numbered accounts. The multinational organizations, which are the main source of investment capital and new technology in the third world, constitute an even more vicious factor in spreading the cult of sleaze through huge payoffs and kickbacks to those responsible for awarding large contracts, negotiating big projects, and buying hi-tech weaponry. Out of a hundred deals involving large-scale bribes not even one comes to the notice of the media and, if and when there is a leak, the collection of sufficient evidence to make the charge stick in a court of law is an extremely difficult job.

It is quixotic to imagine that all these potent sources of corruption will dry up amidst the frenzy of the globalization process, the much freer flow of capital across national borders, and the increasingly efficient technical means of storing secret data and hiding the truth from the gaze of intelligence agencies, whose vaunted independence is partly fictional at the best of times. The speed with which corruption has grown in China in recent years, according to official sources, despite the dire punishment meted out to high ranking guilty party officials, is a warning that the evil can only increase under the liberal economic dispensation, with new opportunities of making a fast buck opening out every year.

The significance of the Tehelka disclosure lies not so much in the disclosure of the willingness of the former heads of two parties in the ruling coalition to act as influence peddlers in lieu of petty bribes or donations but in the easy access a stranger posing as an agent of a firm dealing in arms could have to top men in the political establishment without anyone caring to make the most cursory inquiry about his identity or the credentials of the firm he was supposed to represent.

Even more shocking was the revelation about the celerity with which strangers could penetrate several layers of the defence establishment, make contact with officers up to the level of a major-general. The question, what prevents Pakistan�s Inter-Services Intelligence agents from walking into what is presumably a fortified area, is not half as impudent in this context as some think.

After every sensational revelation which shows how easy it is for the enemy to breach the country�s defences � for months Pakistani troops were busy occupying strategic heights in Kargil from where they could cut off the nation�s lifeline to Leh without anybody in India noticing it � every new warning seems to go unheeded. Yet, those responsible for allowing such breaches are seldom brought to book and such new safeguards as are said to have been devised are later found to exist only on paper or in oral assurances by the guardians of national security.

If the Kargil war has not yet alerted the government fully to the dangers it faces in matters of national security, the fresh disclosure about large-scale use of public deposits in the nationalized as well as cooperative banks, which led to wild speculation in stocks by unscrupulous brokers, shows how tardy the watchdogs of public interest on the economic front have been in digesting the lessons of a similar scandal which shook the country nearly ten years ago.

The present lull in political life is but a temporary affair. It will turn into another storm once Parliament resumes its session to debate the budget proposals and campaigning in the pending elections to some state assemblies gets into full swing. The alarm bells set off by the Tehelka tape disclosures and the large-scale defrauding of public money in the new securities scandal will then begin ringing much louder. The all-important question is who or what is to blame. Is it the new liberal order that is now under construction? Or is it the general slovenliness which affects every state institution and every aspect of national life where termites have been at work for long years?


The violent clash between an unruly police force and the supporters of the ill-famed Rashtriya Janata Dal member of parliament, Mohammed Shahabuddin, on March 16, at Siwan in north Bihar that left more than 10 persons dead has aggravated the dissension within the Laloo Yadav-Rabri Devi regime in Bihar. The dissident RJD leaders accuse their own party�s government of taking an anti-minority stand and demand immediate prosecution of the �guilty police officials�. Among the dead are nine Shahabuddin supporters who belong to the minority community and two policemen.

Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Samata Party combine, the main opposition party in Bihar which has often dubbed Shahabuddin a �mafia don�, also re frains from condemning the RJD strongman of Siwan. Under pressure from her own partymen, the chief minister, Rabri Devi, has transferred the Siwan superintendent of police, B.S. Meena, who reportedly led the police attack at Pratappur village near Siwan town. The Bihar government has also ordered a probe into the incident to be conducted by a senior Indian administrative service officer.

According to the state police headquarters at Patna, the encounter took place when a force led by Meena to arrest the RJD MP was attacked by his armed henchmen. The police also recovered a large quantity of arms and ammunition from the place of the encounter.

Spot the cheat

The RJD leaders and ministers close to Shahabuddin, however, claim that police killed innocent villagers at Pratappur coldbloodedly and concocted the fake encounter story. According to their version, the two policemen were killed in a separate incident when irate Shahabuddin followers attacked them in retaliation for the Pratappur massacre.

News reaching Patna suggests that a rebellious police force in fact forced the superintendent and the deputy inspector general of police, K.R. Kaswan, to issue an order of arrest against the RJD MP after he allegedly assaulted a deputy superintendent of police at an examination centre in Siwan. Police sources say that Shahabuddin beat up the police officer when he objected to the MP�s attempts to help examinees trying to adopt unfair means.

Shahabuddin�s supporters, on the other hand, allege that it was the DSP who was actually aiding one of his close relatives to cheat in the examination.

Although Siwan is now slowly creeping back to normalcy, the Rabri regime is under attack from both the rebel RJD leaders as well as from a disgruntled police force for its handling of the killings. The police associations in the state have urged for the immediate withdrawal of the transfer order of the former Siwan SP.

Police stand

The Pratappur killings have been given a communal colour by some influential Muslim leaders of the ruling party. The fact that all those shot dead by the police happened to be Muslims has lent some substance to their allegations that the minority community was especially targeted.

The majority of Muslim legislators in the RJD still follow Laloo Prasad Yadav�s orders. But the Pratappur killings have created a possibility that some minority members of the legislative assembly will cross over to the rebel camp.

But, by transferring the Siwan SP and by ordering Rs 2.5 lakh as compensation for the next of kin of all the deceased in the police firing, the Rabri government may have managed to appease the minority lobby in the RJD for the time being.

Meanwhile, the dissident RJD leaders are trying to capitalize on the Siwan clash in order to set the important Muslim leaders in the party against the Laloo-Rabri duo. Sensing the danger to its own existence, the Rabri government, even at the risk of provoking a revolt in the police forces, has taken up a pro-Shahabuddin stand.

A delegation of four RJD ministers led by Shivananda Tiwari, after visiting Siwan, has blamed the police for its �brutality� at Pratappur. Although the Rabri regime may manage to survive the present crisis by appeasing Shahabuddin, its suffering image may be further tarnished by the Pratappur killings. Moreover, there is a danger that an undisciplined police force in a rebellious mood may create new problems for the state government.


In a major policy shift, the government of General Pervez Musharraf has finally moved to rein in the jihadi organizations and radical religious groups who have defied the government writ in pursuit of their goals � the liberation of Kashmir through an armed struggle and enforcement of their brand of Islam in the country.

It has been a difficult decision prompted more by compulsions than by choice. The jihadi organizations have certainly given both substance and bite to the movement in Kashmir. It is now largely accepted that it was the ferocity of this movement for freedom that frustrated India�s decision to go for a military solution. India was ultimately forced to look for some kind of a negotiated settlement to the problem which assumed an altogether different dimension after the two arch rivals in south Asia acquired nuclear status in May 1998.

For Pakistan, the political cost of the jihadi activities has been enormous, particularly in terms of loss of image. It earned the country the ignominious distinction of being a supporter of terrorism, something unacceptable to the international community today. Musharraf, in a recent interview with a famous international news magazine, has claimed that 90 per cent Pakistanis are progressive and liberal minded and that his country has been greatly misunderstood. But with gun-toting jihadi activists � commonly knows as the mujahids � surfacing everywhere, the general�s voice was seen to carry little weight.

To act or not to act against the jihadis had become a big dilemma for Islamabad. Alarmingly, in the process, the country was fast running out of options. On the one hand, the International Monetary Fund assistance was Pakistan�s only hope to avoid default and bankruptcy. On the other, breaking the stalemate on Kashmir had become equally important to make the illusive new beginning. Both required repairing the country�s distorted image. In other words, Musharraf�s government had to do some cleansing up operation at home.

This had become necessary for another compelling reason as well. Some of the jihadi and religious organizations had begun to threaten the government and dictate terms to it. The situation had the potential of developing into a civil strife in the coming days.

Initially, the Pakistan government gave the impression that it would not hesitate to crack down on the jihadi organizations. At least this was apparent from the statement of Pakistan�s interior minister, Moinuddin Haider. After a high level meeting in Karachi on February 12, 2001 , Haider announced that no one will be allowed to display arms, whether he belongs to a jihadi or a religious group, or force people to give donations for the purchase of weapons in the name of jihad. He added that the government was thereby giving clear orders to the police to stop people from displaying arms. The police were to first warn these men, and if they did not listen, to shoot them.

The interior minister is however known for his rhetorics and for being ineffectual. He used similar high sounding words while launching the much publicized deweaponization drive. Pakistan still remains infested with all sorts of sophisticated weapons. The 15-month performance of the present government has in fact been a disappointment in sorting out these problem areas. One instance has been its embarrassing and infamous retreat on the issue of amending the procedure of registration of first information reports in blasphemy cases. This had been initiated with a view to check the misuse of the provision by religious bigots. The incident has prompted speculations on the government�s efficacy in limiting the activities of powerful jihadi and religious groups.

However, according to reports, the interior ministry this time has worked out a comprehensive plan which would prevent jihadis and religious parties from displaying arms, collecting funds, wearing fatigues, distributing literature to propagate the idea of jihad or sectarianism and subject these elements to audits. The interior ministry, it is supposed, will soon call the leaders of the groups and parties to sign this code of conduct and give their word to abide by it.

The jihadis have reacted sharply to some of the provisions of this plan, particularly to those relating to jihad and activities concerning it. They have described the regulations as un-Islamic. A sharp divide between the government and the jihadi leaders was the only outcome of a seminar held in Islamabad recently to find a workable solution to the issue.

Syed Salahuddin, chief of the Hizbul Mujahedin, the biggest jihadi group, asked the government to carry on the freedom struggle till the liberation of Kashmir and reiterated his commitment to continue the jihad till Kashmir was freed. Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Toiba � another major jihadi group whose fighters stormed the Red Fort in Delhi last Republic Day in India � said he believed that the jihad-e-Kashmir is the only guarantee for the security of Pakistan.

Some observers have described these differences between the government and the jihadis as ominous. However, it is generally felt that the Pakistan government does possess the resources and capacity to impose the required discipline on the jihadi groups and religious parties if it remains resolute. However, it is this iron will that has been absent always, until perhaps now.

To begin with, four jihadi groups based in Muzaffarabad have been asked to close their offices. A Pakistani official has described the measure as purely an administrative one, maintaining that there has been no shift in Pakistan�s policy and that �jihad or the struggle of the Kashmiris should and will continue�. It is difficult to believe in the statements or clarifications put forward by government officials as more often than not these are meant for public consumption only.

From the Eighties, there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of jihadi groups and madrassas which have served as nurseries for producing zealots to fight for the Kashmir cause. It is estimated that only 4,350 out of over 40,000 madrassas in Pakistan have been registered with the government. It would require both time and herculean efforts to bring all these institutions under government purview. According to a survey done in 1993, 800 religious students from 700 registered madrassas in the Punjab were wanted by the police on various counts. This gives an idea of the lack of discipline in these institutions.

There are no two opinions on the fact that over the years, the jihadi parties have attained strength and gained acceptability in important quarters. On the very first Friday after the interior minister�s strong warning against collection of jihad funds, several imams during the Friday prayers made an appeal for the same and most of the faithfuls readily came out with donations. Flouting the government writ or directive is nothing new with the jihadis.

The religious parties � which do not have much electoral strength, but have a menacing street power � consider the jihadi groups as one among them. This feelings of fraternity makes things more difficult for the government. To roll back the jihadi groups now is an enormous challenge.

While the Pakistan government treads this tricky path it must keep in mind the situation in Bangladesh. There the opposition has paralysed the country by strikes and violence in protest against a high court verdict which put a ban on certain fatwas or Islamic edicts which could subject women to torture for violating Islamic laws and prevent them from mixing and working with men. The force of religion in any Islamic society can hardly be underestimated. The situation is particularly worrisome in Pakistan as institutions here have lost their utility.

The jihadi groups and religious parties have already succeeded in keeping the Pakistan government on tenterhooks, at times even paralysing it. They have threatened to create a state within the state and given ultimatums to march for the enforcement of the sharia. They have gone on rampage, uprooting cable television wires and warning against the evil of TV, and established their own courts to dispense justice according to Islamic tenets in the tribal belt of the North West Frontier Province. Musharraf should remember that this is only the beginning.


A �domain� name is your identity in the cyberworld. Is it really as much of a big deal as it is made out to be? If Gabbar Singh of Sholay was called by some other name, would his personality still be such a hit? Probably not. Today, choosing a company to buy a domain name from is more difficult than actually choosing the domain name. The price ranges like stock market figures, from Rs 350 to Rs 2,000 per year and some even offer it free. Many companies sell domain names in India. But a consumer should be careful in choosing the right name and the right vendor.

A domain name that resembles the company name should be chosen. A dotcom address is preferable. There are many extensions to choose from � .cc, .in, .shop, .net and so on. But, even today, almost everyone associates companies with dotcom. With an extension like .net, for example, a client will always have to check twice before sending an e-mail, to make sure he has the right extension. And, there is the risk that the client sends it to a �.com� address. Care has to be taken to register a trademarked name. A legislation has been recently passed making �cyber squatting�� illegal. Being ethical in domain name registrations saves legal problems.

No shortcuts to clarity

To have visitors repeat a website, a good domain name helps. People generally do not bookmark sites. Most visitors probably come to a specific site from another, either by clicking on a banner, following a link, or through a search engine. If they like the site, maybe they will bookmark it. Then again, maybe they will not. They are not expected to remember a �let�s-play-a-memory-game�.com.

Instead of puzzling the visitor, a name by which people know the company should be chosen. In practice that means avoiding abbreviations, unless the abbreviation is the company�s trademark. Since many hi-tech companies are better known by their abbreviated names, most of them are forced to register an alternative domain.

A good idea is to ask co-workers what domain name they would expect the company to have, to ask customers, friends and as many people as possible. Domain names can now be 67 characters long, instead of 26 characters. So the company�s full name can be accommodated. Typing a long domain name may seem undesirable, but if the company name requires that extra space, it is worth considering. The easiest way to follow this rule may be to consider how the domain name sounds when read over the phone to a customer. If special characters, abbreviations, or spellings have to be explained, then there is obviously a problem.

Memory game

Dashes should be avoided. With the number of good domain names decreasing, dashes will eventually become common. People simply do not know that domain names can include dashes. Wal-Mart, the big American retailer, learned that lesson the hard way. The company first launched its e-commerce site as �wal-mart.com�, the company�s official name. They lost millions in sales before registering �walmart.com.�� Now both domain names give the same website.

Multiple versions should be registered. It only costs a few hundred rupees to register a domain name, and that is not much of an expense to avoid losing a customer. If the company�s name is hard to spell, the common misspelling of its name should be registered as well.

The domain name should be emphasized. No matter what name is chosen or how many domains registered, the name should be used as much as possible. It can be emphasized by being included into the site�s logo. It should be put on all company material such as business cards and stationery. In the digital age, the company�s web site is its electronic business card.



Opposite polls

Sir � Tony Blair must be praised for boldly deciding to postpone general elections in the country till the foot and mouth crisis is overcome (�Disease derails polls in Britain�, April 2). It is also good to see that his decision has been welcomed by even his political rivals, rather than being called a strategy of buying time. Despite the fact that Indian elections are controlled by a constitutionally provided autonomous body, the Election Commission, any postponement made by it and disapproved of by the opposition parties is most likely to be construed as the commission�s way of paying lip service to the party in power. The editorial, �Rule of five� (April 4), is partly right in thinking that in India, reducing the time between two general elections to four years, instead of five, is called for. But what is absolutely essential for such a move to succeed is the corollary that except for a few special cases, the four year period will have to be served out. If nothing else, it will at least help the national exchequer save a few valuable rupees.
Yours faithfully,
Sukumar Parida, via email

Plane flying

Sir � The Indian air force has lost around 120 aircraft from 1995 till date (�IAF plane crash�, March 13). About 65 per cent of these are Mig-21s. Not only are these aircraft lost, but the lives of their pilots have been lost too. The cost of their training works out to some Rs 50 crore for each person. Also alarming is the fact that the IAF�s rate of accidents continues to be the highest in the world.

Even after the Hunter and Canberra types of aircraft were phased out in 1995, the IAF continues to fly seven different types of aircraft purchased from three different countries � the United Kingdom, France and Russia � with the accompanying logistical headache of acquiring spare parts to keep these aircraft flying. Apart from the British Aerospace Hawk, negotiations about which are yet to conclude, the Dassault-Breguet Alpha Jet was offered in 1995. The opportunity was not taken. The need for an Advanced Jet Trainer was made known as far back as in 1983, and 22 of these would have brought down the accident rate considerably, had they been acquired on time. An order for three times that number has now to be placed at a much higher cost.

Similarly, more than 3,500 Mig-21s remain in service around the world and this presents a golden opportunity for India to provide its knowhow in their maintenance and earn foreign exchange, which can be employed to buy new aircraft.

All this proves that the defence services have to deal with an uninformed and inexperienced ministry of defence, which is, in spite of its ignorance of military affairs, the final arbiter in allocating resources and equipment. The system needs to be revamped completely with professionals replacing bureaucrats wherever necessary.

Yours faithfully,
Philip Elisha, Calcutta

Sir � It no longer surprises the reader when he reads in the newspapers about the crashing of a Mig-21. Has the government or the IAF authorities tried to look into the causes of these repeated accidents and tried to stop them?

It was said a couple of years back that the Mig-21 Terror, used in the 1950 Korean War, had been updated. This did not stop regular crashes from occurring. It is time the government phased out the Mig-21 fleet and replaced it with superior aircraft to ensure safe skies.

Yours faithfully,
R.D. Rai, Darjeeling

The mess up there

Sir � The government investigating agencies are gradually revealing a staggering number of scandals at high levels of the government. The latest one involves top officials of the customs and excise department (�Customs scandal shadow on power hub�, April 3). But bringing these scandals to light is hardly enough � the perpetrators should be dealt with sternly and swiftly and their ill-gotten gains must be confiscated by the government so they can provide a warning to others who may be tempted to err.

The British are said to have stripped the country of its wealth, but the �brown sahibs� seem to have looted far more in a little over 50 years. It is unfortunate that the legal process is awfully slow in trying and punishing the offenders. Persons like Harshad Mehta, Laloo Prasad Yadav, J. Jayalalitha are none the worse off for being caught with their hands in the till. The wealth they have dishonestly amassed will help them to fight court cases for an eternity.

Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, via email

Sir � The punishment of H.M. Ershad, former president of Bangladesh, for indulging in various corrupt practices during his presidential tenure, provides a stark contrast to the Indian scene. Here, matters of corruption are either interminably delayed or are left in cold storage rather than being quickly acted upon. The higher the importance of the accused, the longer the delay and more the chance of the case being abandoned. This is the prime cause of the proliferation of corruption and the total silence of political parties on the issue.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir � The stinging revelation by the news portal, tehelka.com, throws the spotlight on the level of corruption in ministerial ranks. It is also a shattering comment on the ethics of work in India. The greater scope a post offers for private monetary gains, the more coveted it becomes. The dishevelled state of politics has left the Indian public poorer in the choice of a good government.

It is ironic that the citizen is exhorted to make full use of his right to vote. After all, freedom of choice, given that the distinction between political parties ideologically or otherwise, is no longer too great. Political parties have come to be classified into three broad categories � the less corrupt, the more corrupt and the most corrupt. The political scenario holds no promise for the future unless there is a miraculous revolution. Till then the concept of democratic rights will remain undermined.

Yours faithfully,
Sandhya Sreekumar, Calcutta

Sir � Out of the hundreds of politicians and civil servants exposed as corrupt, very few have been successfully prosecuted and punished in India. It does not speak too well of the state of the country, which has come to accept corruption as a way of life.

The notorious cases of Bofors, sugar, fodder, coal import, land deals, have been investigated and the culprits identified; only they will never be brought to book. Contrast this with what happens in the rest of the world. In Philippines, two presidents known to be corrupt have been pulled down simply by popular agitations.

In Indonesia, people have demonstrated against their president, Abdurrahman Wahid, and the parliament of Indonesia has found him guilty. Even in Pakistan, corrupt politicians have been hanged or exiled. It is only in India that corrupt politicians merrily carry on with their business.

Yours faithfully,
P. Parijatha, Hyderabad

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