Editorial 1/ Play it again sam
Editorial 2/ Stop in the hills
If it�s April it must be exim
Fifth Column/ Watch out for the new triangle
When anarchy goes to the polls
A new way to reach old objectives
Letters to the editor

If the initial reports of the visit of the external affairs and defence minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, to the United States are anything to go by, the trip has achieved more than most had expected. Although the visit coincided with the worst domestic and foreign policy crisis faced so far by the new Republican administration, Mr Singh seems to have been able to establish a rapport with the new president and key officials of his administration. Consider first the challenges that were faced by the Bush administration during the Jaswant Singh visit. Do- mestically, there was a furore in the US senate caused by Mr George W. Bush�s plans to cut taxes. And in the realm of foreign policy, there was a continuing stand off with China over the collision of a US spy plane with a Chinese aircraft and the fate of the American crewmen who were in Chinese custody. Unless amicably resolved, the crises with China could signal the beginning of a new Cold War. Therefore, there was only limited attention that the new administration was expected to give to relations with India. However, this was clearly not the case.

Mr Singh was able to hold meetings with the secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, the national security advisor, Condoleeza Rice, and defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, during which a range of global, regional and bilateral issues of common concern were addressed. The highlight of the visit was, of course, the unscheduled meeting with President Bush. While it is not common for American presidents to make brief visits while foreign dignitaries are having meetings with senior officials in the White House, President Bush actually invited the Indian delegation back to the Oval office after their meeting with the national security advisor. What followed was a detailed discussion between President Bush and Mr Singh, the significance of which can be gauged by the fact that in the last three decades at least, no Indian foreign minister has met with an American president so early on in his term. Moreover, President Bush had made the gesture earlier only for the visiting Israeli foreign minister. It is clear now that the Republican administration, like the Clinton administration during its last three years, recognizes the importance of engaging India and building a strategic partnership with it. As Mr Singh put it, �It is evident from the meeting with President Bush in the Oval office that he places the highest importance on India in the region. The momentum that was imparted to Indo-US relations is not simply fully endorsed by the Bush administration, but in fact, it is given considerably greater importance.� Ironically, the crisis with China may have come as a reminder of the urgent need for stabilizing the Asia-Pacific region and the role that India can play in providing a sense of balance. The gains of the Jaswant Singh visit need now to be translated into a stronger and more stable bilateral relationship.


Mr Subash Ghising has done it again. The Gorkha National Liberation Front�s decision to impose an indefinite bandh on the Darjeeling hills from Monday proves yet again that the wily Gorkha leader remains an agitationist at heart. More than 12 years as chairman of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council has done little to change his political style. This is not the first time that he is riding roughshod over public sentiments to suit his own agenda. He obviously thought nothing of the misery that the bandh inflicted on the people, forcing the closure of 72 tea gardens, all educational institutions and commercial establishments. The GNLF threat that the bandh may continue till May 10, when West Bengal goes to the polls, may result in yet another season of sorrow for tourists and the hotel industry in the region.

The GNLF has good reason to be rattled by the �failure� of the state police to bring to book those responsible for the February 10 attack on Mr Ghising. The arrest of Chhattray Subba and some other former comrades-in-arms did not satisfy Mr Ghising or his party. In fact, the GNLF dismissed the arrests of Subba, N.T. Moktan and two others in Nepal as �stage-managed�. The police, the GNLF held, needed to act faster and cast the net wider to catch the culprits. Given the newfound love that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has for Mr Ghising and also the personal equation that Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief minister, has with him, it would be safe to assume that the West Bengal government will try and do all it can to placate the mercurial leader and have peace in the hills. One would expect Mr Bhattacharjee to use his influence on Mr Ghising to call off the bandh. The GNLF seems to have compulsions other than its stated reason for the bandh call. Recent developments in the hills suggest that Mr Ghising�s party is a divided house and his own popularity a shadow of the past. There have been rumblings of dissent against his style of functioning. It has even been alleged that some disgruntled members of the GNLF had been involved in the February ambush on him. His decision last week to disband the Kalimpong unit of the party exposed the turmoil within the party. The suspicion that the bandh call is a tactic to divert attention from these problems my not be altogether unfounded. The suspicion of ulterior motives is strengthened by the party�s threat to continue the bandh till election time. The bandh call may be followed by a poll boycott call. As in the past, this could well be a ploy to scare away others and clear the poll decks for a smooth passage for the CPI(M) in the hills. If the Marxists fail to move fast to clear the air, their intentions too will be questioned. They too will have to take the blame for Darjeeling�s sufferings.


The beginning of April is an important period for Indian industrialists because this is when the Union commerce minister announces the country�s export-import policy for the year. This year was particularly significant because India�s obligations to the World Trade Organization meant that we would have to dispense with the use of quantitative restrictions on imports. QRs have been an integral component of the country�s economic policy regime, and everyone has been speculating about the impact of their removal on domestic industry. Would Indian industry cave in completely under unrestricted foreign competition or would the commerce minister find some way of continuing to protect domestic industry?

Most domestic producers will probably be vastly relieved after hearing Murasoli Maran�s new exim policy. To a large extent, Maran has exploited every possible legal provision under the WTO rules to ensure that the economy will not be subjected to a flood of imports. So, while he has been forced to remove the explicit QRs, he has cleverly introduced a variety of tariff and non-tariff measures to protect an overwhelmingly large section of Indian industry.

For instance, many items have still not been placed on the open general license. Canalization continues for foodgrains and petroleum products. The budget had hiked the duty on many agricultural products, and Maran has promised to raise the tariff barriers even higher if necessary. A typical example of industry-specific barriers is the number of obstacles imposed on the import of secondhand cars. They can be at most three years old, cannot be left-hand drives and the photometry of the headlamps must suit �keep left� traffic. These obviously rule out imports from all but a few countries. But just in case these restrictions are not enough, there will also be hefty tariff barriers. To the extent that the automobile sector is quite representative in so far as the government�s external policy is concerned, India still remains one of the more protected countries in the world.

Of course, a large number of imported consumer products are clearly visible in most upmarket retail outlets. But their quantitative significance is not very large. Also, in several cases these are products which are already being produced by multinationals in the country � various fruit juices being an obvious example. Obviously, not much sleep should be lost if Tropicana is forced to lower its prices (and indeed it has) because of competition from other multinationals based abroad.

Perhaps the most welcome feature of the exim policy is the number of measures designed to increase exports. For the first time, there will be a concerted effort to increase agricultural exports. Maran has announced the government�s intention to set up agricultural export zones along the lines of the special economic zones which enjoy additional export incentives such as permission to retain 100 per cent of export proceeds in the export earners foreign currency accounts. Several new SEZs will also be set up in some states, and all state governments will now be encouraged to boost exports.

Maran has set a target of increasing the country� s share of world trade from a meagre 0.72 per cent to one per cent by 2004. He has also specified a rather ambitious target of 18 per cent growth rate in dollars for the export sector during the current year. The latter target seems unattainable particularly because of the slowdown in the United States. But, what is extremely welcome is the qualitative change in government priorities. After several decades, the government finally and openly seems to have shifted emphasis from import substitution to export promotion.

The Nehru-Mahalonobis fascination with heavy industries and import substitution was mainly responsible for the establishment of a high-cost and relatively capital intensive economy. Of course, the strategy of import substitution also required extensive protection to Indian industry. The protected industries had neither any incentive to practise economy or to improve the quality of goods. They could sell their products in the domestic market since Indian consumers had no other option. However, foreign markets were practically non-existent since foreigners were more discriminatory. Perhaps the best example of this is the Indian automobile industry � Indians continued to buy Ambassadors simply because they had no other options. Of course, Indian cars of that vintage had no export market.

In contrast, most of the fast-growing Asian countries exploited their comparative advantage in cheap labour and actively promoted the growth of a labour intensive export sector. This has meant that their industrial sector, at least in the early years of industrialization, has been relatively labour intensive. Thus, the strategy of export promotion, apart from generating a healthy balance of payments, has also enabled these countries to increase employment at much higher rates than India.

Despite all the incentives announced from time to time, Indian exporters have not always been successful in foreign markets. Although the Indian export basket today is more diversified than it was some time ago, there has not been any significant and sustained increase in volumes � we should not be fooled by the export growth figure witnessed last year. Even a cursory comparison of the average growth rate of the export sector in India with those in, say, South Korea or China establishes this point quite starkly. So, we need to examine why the Indian export sector has not been able to grow at desired rates despite several different packages.

An important problem with the Indian strategy of export promotion has been its concentration on improving profitability in foreign markets. While it is essential to increase the competitiveness of Indian products relative to that of our foreign rivals, this by itself cannot promote the volume increases which are projected. Even if Indian exporters can sell in foreign markets, they may not want to simply because the domestic market may be a more attractive option.

In other words, even if exports are profitable, Indian producers may want to sell in the domestic market because of higher domestic profitability. Domestic markets are much less competitive than foreign ones. In order to be successful in foreign markets, producers have to provide a guarantee about reasonable quality, maintain strict punctuality in delivery schedules and so on. All these increase direct and indirect costs if production is for exports. Moreover, some of the export incentives are illusory. One software exporter tells me that the paperwork and running around required to reap the benefits of some of these incentives is not worth the effort. Time is costly after all.

The moral of all this is that policymakers need to look beyond measures such as tax concessions for exporters. Simplified procedures, the removal of unnecessary quantitative restrictions and the opening up of domestic markets � all of them can promote the growth of exports. Perhaps, Maran�s enthusiasm for export promotion will ensure a new age for Indian exporters. But, he has to keep in mind that unduly protected domestic markets may hinder the growth of the export sector as well.

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


While the United States tries to establish a missile defence system to consolidate its hegemony over the world, another parallel development is taking place � the shaping of a triangle consisting of India-Russia, China-Russia and China-India. The political implication of the formation is significant. For one, the world�s two most populous countries, China and India, are striving to come together. Then, Russia and China have created a new model of bilateral relations. If the relations deepen, it will radically change the situation in the Asia-Pacific region, besides becoming a key factor in international relations.

India�s relations with the former Soviet Union matured under entirely different historical conditions. But it is pertinent to remember the long complementarity of Indo-Russian national interests.

The concept of strategic partnership has put Indo-Russian bilateral relations qualitatively on a higher plane. Although Russia wants India to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty and is still to recognize India as a nuclear power, it clearly wishes to assist India to meet its requirement of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Moreover, the countries have decided to work jointly on international terrorism. The inter-governmental commission on defence and technology will lead to more cooperation in these sectors.

Borders of cooperation There is something more to it. Today, Russian defence companies are lining up to supply India highly sophisticated weapons. The export controls, nonproliferation policies, unreliability of supplies and denial of key military technology to India by the West make Indo-Russian defence cooperation a long term option. There is also an upward swing in Indo-Russian economic cooperation. Petrochemicals, telecommunications and development of port facilities are areas on which the countries can concentrate.

The positive signs are also evident in Sino-Russian ties. Over the past decade, relations between the two countries have become normal and evolved from a constructive partnership to a strategic cooperative partnership. Most of the border disputes have been sorted out with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. At the Shanghai summit in 1996, an important five-nation consultation mechanism was established to resolve regional and international disputes.

China and Russia, both permanent members of the United Nations security council, cooperate in defending the anti-missile treaty and preventing the US from deploying nuclear missile defence on grounds that it will destroy the world�s strategic balance. The partnership will also maintain the stability of southeastern Russia, which shares a long borderline with China.

Map for the future The most significant development is in the economic front. The trade volume between the countries has reached an average of six million dollars annually from 1992 to 1999. This is substantially higher than the trade figures between Russia and the US in the corresponding period. The Sino-Russian relationship is emerging as a major factor in creating a multipolar world.

The evolution of Sino-Indian relations is equally important. The former prime minister, Indira Gandhi, took a major step in normalizing relations when she decided to post a permanent Indian ambassador in China. Later, Rajiv Gandhi too visited China. This was a turning point in bilateral relations. India has its longest land border with China. The India-China negotiations have therefore begun with border disputes. To resolve these, the countries have decided to conduct negotiations among expert groups and exchange maps. The visit of the Chinese leader, Li Peng, was another milestone in the development of relations. Peng emphasized that China did not perceive India as a security threat and that India too should not consider China as one. The policy declarations and growing economic exchange are signs of change. Although they differed on some key issues like China�s transfer of missile technology to Pakistan, the pragmatic nations have decided to broaden their engagements through institutional contacts.

Although these three countries have their own models of relations with the developed nations, the US in particular, their bilateral and trilateral relations are creating new catalysts of change.


Transition always brings disquiet in its wake. And when this transition is in Bihar, anarchy must precede any new order. The core of Bihar�s red underground is changing hue. Simmering red is trying to blend with the grey-and-black of mainstream politics as it finds its ranks besieged. Over 200 Naxalites are in the fray for the panchayat polls being held in Bihar after 22 years. The first of the six-phased election begins from April 11.

Though the long-pending elections are a feat in itself, the fact that this has been able to breach the insulated red bastion is even more amazing. For the first time, hardcore ultra-left groups have forsaken the path of armed insurrection and time-tested tools of counter-propaganda, like �poll boycott whips�, to take part in the democratic process.

At least 100 �listed� People�s War and Maoist Communist Centre activists are contesting the panchayat polls from Jehanabad alone. The radicals, who till a few months ago, were seen wielding carbines and plotting mayhem, canvassed actively in the villages to garner support. Though the outfits officially denied �participation in the poll process,� central Bihar villages resounded with discreet cries of �Mein aapka ummidwar hoon, aap mujhe vijayee banaye (I am your candidate, please ensure my victory)�� by neo-left candidates waving the all-too-familiar red banner.

This is a reversal of roles. For once, the �victims� were at the helm, pampered and wooed by a bunch of �mellowed zealots�. In the Masurhi block of Jehanabad district, the hub of People�s War activities, villagers were dumbstruck when a �dreaded� dalam leader approached them with �folded hands�� for votes.

�It was twilight and I thought they had come to kill me and my family,�� recalls Ram Jatan Yadav, farmer, with a smirk. A terror-stricken Yadav initially tried to flee thinking it was yet another People�s War ruse to entrap the farmers into a gory dance of death. �But they meant business�, says a sympathetic Yadav.

Some of the �known� People�s War activists, who are officially in the race, include Charitar Ranjbongshi, Somar Singh, Dharmendra Ram, Mahendra Bind, Baijnath Yadav from the Karpi, Suresh Das and Ramashish Paswan from the Kako blocks in Jehanabad.

The Maoists, too, are in a defiant mood. A large number of MCC activists, including two Gaya-based leaders, Nandlal Singh and Gupta Yadav, have ignored the high command�s �poll boycott fiat�� to sweat it out at the hustings. This shift from �aggression�� to �politics� has considerably weakened the organizational set-up and the outfit is now poised on the threshold of a split.

Riven with dissension and factionalism, the gradual �politicization� of the Maoist movement in central Bihar was inevitable. Over the past two years, regular desertions and arrests of key leaders, who had deviated from the ideology, shattered the movement�s backbone. A large number of disgruntled members revolted against the �stringent�� hierarchy, clamouring for a change in polity. Most of them advocated more political participation to make their �presence�� felt at the grassroots level, the outfit�s traditional base of operation. �Violence had alienated us from the masses�, regretted a former Maoist leader, now an aspiring politician.

Insiders attribute the spate of recent arrests of top MCC leaders to this new-found �glasnost�� in the rank and file. The arrest of Vyas Kahar, the organization�s �leading light� in the turbulent Magadh region, has dealt a crippling blow to the group. Kahar was arrested from the house of his mistress under Chandauti police station in Gaya district last week. Police officials say Kahar�s interrogation will throw �valuable insight�� into the party�s organization and firepower.

Like the People�s War, which, of late, has become rather low-key in Jehanabad and Gaya because of an eroding support base, the MCC, too, earned a bad name because of the �promiscuous�� lifestyle of a section of its leadership. This was perhaps one of the reasons why the Maoists were unable to counter the Ranbir Sena, the upper caste landlords� militia, in recent times. The MCC, which lost a sizeable number of its cadres in Mianpur last year to the sena, is yet to retaliate with a �befitting vendetta strike.��

The decline in MCC fortunes can be traced to the 1996 Tekari police station raid, following which the outfit lost one of its most dynamic leaders, Sagar Chatterjee. It resulted in an ideological polarization among the cadre and Chatterjee�s widow deserted the outfit with a select band of supporters. Mainstream political parties, specially those with a strong support base among the backwards and the Muslims, cashed in on the divide, sowing the seeds of liberalization.

The bifurcation of Bihar seems to have brought matters to a head. The ultra-left groups in the state, which have lost the bulk of their hunting ground to Jharkhand, have virtually no options other than switching to politics for the sake of continuity. It is almost a do-or-die dilemma, which the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) faced six years ago when it shunned violence to join the mainstream, albeit with little success. But the fact that the hardliners are treading the same path only serves to highlight that there can be no viable alternative to democracy.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, the MCC resorted to largescale violence to impose its poll boycott call and in the subsequent issue of its mouthpiece, Lal Chingari, it waxed eloquent about the success of its mission. The outfit published a district-wise break-up of the �meagre� votes cast in the districts, where it had clamped down on the electoral process. According to statistics, not a single vote was polled in at least 70 booths in Giridih, 16 in Hazaribagh, 10 in Chattra, 8 in Dumka and 15 in Gaya. But the boycott failed to make any dent as �mainstream� candidates won by substantial margins in all these districts.

Records cite that in Naxalite-ravaged Jehanabad and Gaya, polling percentage has been maximum despite boycott calls by the extremist groups. Ironically, Naxalite supporters also voted overwhelmingly for those they opposed ideologically. The leadership�s decision to allow activists to take part in the democratic process is perhaps a desperate bid to cling on to the last vestiges of public support. A senior Rashtriya Janata Dal politician in Patna describes it as a populist move aimed at keeping the disgruntled cadre happy for �who would not like a share of the rural development pie?�

The left volte face has caught many unawares, especially the RJD-backed candidates in central Bihar who perceive the Naxalites as a threat to their hegemony. The battle between political thugs and ideological goons portends ill for the state. The spectre of bloodshed looms large and over 25 people have already been killed in the pre-poll violence.

Many feel that the change is the last lap of a bloody order in central Bihar, sounding the death-knell of a vibrant left struggle. But is this true? A story, which was scripted way back in 1968 in Muzaffarpur�s Mushahary block on the lines of Naxalbari, has refused to say die over the years. It was crushed in the early Seventies only to rise like a phoenix from the ashes and embers of caste conflict in the mid-Eighties. Bihar�s new left manifested itself in three forms: the CPI(M-L) Liberation or anti-Lin Biao, the Party Unity and the MCC.

The second coming proved more enduring, surviving two decades of police �repression� and organizational upheavals. This time, too, the left is just re-packaging priorities to meet the requirements of time. The content remains the same.


The provisional population results of Census 2001 have been released on March 26 in New Delhi by the registrar-general and census commissioner. The provisional results state that India�s population had crossed the 1.02 billion mark. At the midnight of March 1, 2001, the country�s population stood at 1027,015,247, of which 531,277,078 are men and 495,738,169 women.

India is the first country in the world to officially adopt population control as a state policy. But this policy, like other policies, is not free from ad-hocism. The government of India adopted the new population policy in February last year. In May, the government set up a 100 member national commission for population headed by the prime minister. On the same day, the one-billionth Indian was born in New Delhi enabling India to join China, the founder-member of the one billion plus club.

The silver lining seems to be the present Central government�s awareness of the gravity of the situation. �Population Policy � 2000,� adopted by the cabinet in February last year leaves much to be desired. It is good that the government has wasted no time in initiating a so-called �national debate� on the matter and went ahead with adopting the policy.

Emphasis on motivation

The new policy suggests several promotional and motivational measures for the small family norm and the creation of new authorities at the Central and state levels to review and oversee implementation.

The highlight of the policy lies in aims to stabilize the population by 2045 by encouraging the two-child principle and freezing Lok Sabha seats at the current level. The promotional and motivational measures include a 16-point programme. The programme encourages the use of contraceptives, building and developing proper healthcare infrastructure, training of health personnel and providing comprehensive health services and so on. By implementing the inter-sectoral strategies it seeks to bring down the total fertility rate to the desired level of two children per couple by the year 2010.

By 2045, the policy hopes to achieve a stable population. The programme includes health insurance schemes for couples living below the poverty line, projects for income generating activities by village self-help groups, establishment of more childcare centres, launching of Balika Samriddhi Yojna, giving incentives at the community level, providing facilities for safe abortion, easy loans to run ambulance services and the strict enforcement of the Child Marriage Restraint Act.

Awareness and will

States like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the south and Gujarat and Punjab in the north have performed well in the field of population control over the years.The truth which emerges from their success is that a high literacy rate, higher level of wellbeing , empowerment of women and better health facilities may contribute immensely towards solving the problem.

These states have set the trend and others have to follow suit. Their success story tells us that mass awareness coupled with proper political will can go a long way in achieving the objects which no committees, commissions or stale family planning programmes ever can.

A comprehensive population policy at the national level was much needed since the effect of measures of population control in India has not been identical across the states. The so-called �Hindi-belt�, comprising states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, has failed miserably in the effort to check unwanted population growth. Now that the national commission for population has started functioning much is expected of the performance of these states.



Death of the arts

Sir � Sukanta Chaudhuri�s article, �Whither humanities? (April 8), raises an issue which needs to be reiterated continuously. The demise of the humanities (and also of the social sciences) is a worrisome development. The death of the �generalist� is not a new problem. More and more students are going in for specialized courses in computers, engineering and medicine nowadays. This is encouraged by parents who think that material success and stable careers only come from these professions. The erosion of the pride of place that the arts once enjoyed is tied up with the trajectory of social development in India. In a society which is deeply stratified on the basis of economic classes, and where people are savagely competing with each other for material success, what possible place could subjects like philosophy and history have? Money is the only meaningful indicator of a good life. And if more money can be made through specialized jobs than through cerebral activity, is it surprising that this has happened?
Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Lal, via email

Who�s the taliban?

Sir � Khalid Akhtar hopefully says that the Pakistan government �has finally moved to rein in the jihadi organizations and radical religious groups� (�Will the whip crack hard enough?�, April 5). However, he has studiously avoided any reference to the taliban�s influence over the militants. That is the crux of the problem. With an aggressive backing from its Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan bent over backwards to acknowledge the taliban regime when it took control of Kabul and most of Afghanistan.

But, what we are witnessing now is that several militants in Pakistan are becoming increasingly talibanized. Many retired and serving officers of Pakistan�s defence and civil services are now openly subscribing to the taliban�s fundamentalist views on Islam and cocking a snook at the relatively moderate military regime of Pervez Musharraf. With Pakistan�s economy in a shambles, it might soon happen that a taliban-like regime is imposed there. Fearing this, a number of Pakistan�s educated elite have already left for safer havens in, for instance, the United States, and other places.

What does all this mean for India? Pakistan is now flooded with several thousand Afghan refugees fleeing the oppression of the fundamentalist regime, which has been compounded by famine.

If Pakistan is talibanized as well, the exodus in swelling numbers will head further east into India because they will have nowhere else to go to. In such an event, the resultant refugee problem could well be of horrendous proportions.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Durham, US

Sir � The Pakistan Cricket Control Board�s threat not to play with India if it withdraws from the Sharjah triangular tournament in April (�3-year ban on Sharjah, Toronto�, April 2) is a step in the right direction. To be fair, it is not clear why the Indian government wishes to cancel the tour.

Is it matchfixing which makes Sharjah so infamous or the failure of Pakistan to rein in militants in Kashmir? Traditionally, Indians have performed dismally against Pakistan in Sharjah. Could this be a consideration? And why is the cricket team not allowed to play with Pakistan when the hockey and junior squash teams are not stopped?

Yours faithfully
Arunava Bose Chowdhury, Barrackpore

Sir � The withdrawal from Sharjah is not a positive step taken by the Central government. The matchfixing scandal is an old incident. Cricket authorities all over the world are trying to globalize the game, but unfortunately the Central government is not much interested in this.

Given this scenario, Pakistan�s decision will not be wrong. The unsporting decision of the Central government will endanger Indo-Pakistan ties. Cricket is a game through which people of both the countries can come closer to each other. The Central government should start thinking in a different and positive way.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir � Why has the government stopped the Indian team from playing Pakistan in Sharjah? Why should cricket invariably be associated with politics? This changes the whole complexion of the sport and ruins the amicable atmosphere in which the game is normally played. On the one hand, the government is brandishing a ceasefire rhetoric. On the other, it is making this symbolic gesture about playing cricket in Sharjah. In doing this, it is killing the enthusiasm with which the whole world watches India-Pakistan matches � reputed to be the most hotly contested cricket matches in the world.

Yours faithfully,
Ansuman Samantray, Sonitpur

States of oppression

Sir � I fully agree with Brinda Karat �s view in �A message from Kanpur� (April 4). Kanpur could have avoided the terrible suffering it went through, if West Bengal had loaned its chief minister to Uttar Pradesh. But what would Karat have said about six members of a minority community who were killed in police firing at Ekbalpore in 1998, when a dispute during a Muharram procession could not be resolved amicably? The party and its government�s sincerity, which cannot be doubted, is not sufficient to tackle a Kanpur-like situation.

The bias in police and military forces aggravates communal tensions. The only solution for such a problem is the proportionate recruitment of minority communities in the police force.

Yours faithfully,
S.A. Rahman Barkati, Calcutta

Sir � In �Double offensive to tackle terror� (March 29), it was declared that West Bengal would join Assam to fight militancy in both the states. This is a strategic �theory� drawn up because the assembly elections are nearing. Although this step can become meaningful, such declarations of �joining hands� have been a regular feature. The police, despite its best efforts to arrest the militants, is regularly rendered ineffective.

Whatever Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Prafulla Mahanta might hope to achieve, some political interference or similar lobbying usually sets the militants free even if they are caught. Besides, the birth of militancy often takes place because of police and political atrocities on young, unemployed people, which leads to disillusion and militancy.

There should be education programmes by which these young people can be rehabilitated. The government must assure them that jobs will be available. And it should have more schools where maximum attention is given to primary education.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

No accident

Sir � The collision between a Chinese fighter and the United States intelligence plane was more than an accident (�China calls US arrogant�, April 5). The Chinese air force has begun to expand its sphere of influence. The US has enhanced its intelligence/surveillance missions in the region as well. This is reminiscent of the Cold War.

The spy plane was in international air space approximately 96 kilometres from the coast. China wants US planes to fly outside the exclusive economic zone. On the basis of the argument that the EEZ is subject to Chinese laws, China behaves as if it is entitled to the control of the South China Sea. So if a plane flies through this territory, it has to respect Chinese laws. This is difficult to accept. There are also rumours that they have put missiles in Tibet which point towards India. These are dangerous signals.

Yours faithfully,
S.M. Singha, via email

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