Editorial 1/ Changing allies
Editorial 2/ Grassroots power
As the paint begins to peel
Fifth Column/ Secret of the right word
Working on the relationship
The respective shares in the making of a crisis
Letters to the editor

Only the other day it all seemed very different. But then elections, in the time of coalition politics, make or break alliances and create new renegades, rebels and castaways. If the Bharatiya Janata Party has lost the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal or the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, it has gained a new ally in Asom Gana Parishad in Assam. Like Ms Mamata Banerjee�s volte face regarding the Congress, the AGP-BJP alliance in Assam confirms that there is nothing in it but the lure of office. Just as Ms Banerjee was fulminating against the Congress until a month back, the AGP and the BJP were calling each other names not so long ago. At its annual conclave at Nagaon in the end of January, the AGP branded the BJP a communal party. The Assam unit of the BJP was actually competing with the Congress in running a campaign against the �corrupt regime� of Mr Prafulla Kumar Mahanta. While the letter of credit �scandal� remains the biggest one, charges of financial irregularities in the Rs 230 crore shallow tubewell scheme have now resurfaced. Both the Congress and the BJP had also charged the AGP government with failure in curbing insurgency in the state.

The forthcoming assembly polls have changed all this for the new partners, as they have combined � some say, conspired � to sweep past hostilities under the carpet in order to stymie the Congress bid for power. The AGP has left 33 of the 126 seats to the BJP, but, with the latter unhappy with the deal, the allies have also decided to have �friendly� fights in 10 others. But, like the simmering revolt against the alliance by some Congress leaders in West Bengal, the Assam marriage of convenience too has come with a price tag. Mr Mahanta has barely managed to rein in dissenters in his party primarily because the AGP did not seem to have a ghost of a chance to win the polls on its own. The state BJP was not sure it needed the AGP that desperately, but it had to fall in line with the central leadership�s argument that this was the best bet to keep the Congress out. Large sections of the state BJP leaders and activists, however, remain unconvinced. Hence, the resignations by office-bearers of about a dozen district units and even a veiled threat by the state BJP president, Mr Rajen Gohain, to quit. The Communist Party of India, formerly part of the Mahanta government, and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had supported it, have broken away from the BJP-tainted AGP. The CPI now wants some kind of adjustment with the Congress to beat the AGP-BJP combine, but the CPI(M), stung by the West Bengal episode, will have none of that. The Congress may not have much of a choice other than to plough a lonely furrow and may actually reap better harvests that way.


Empowerment is almost a magic word these days. It becomes even more magical when people in power start getting down to the serious business of people�s empowerment. There might be secret ironies residing in the exercise as well. It is a little startling to have the chief minister of Bihar, Ms Rabri Devi, promising to introduce a perfectly workable system of accountability at the gram panchayat level. Once the new panchayats start working, a hitherto unused provision of the Bihar Panchayat Act will become functional. By this, a mukhia can be recalled after two years if he fails to do his job. The procedures for this are already in place. So are the crucial tests: competence and honesty. On the face of it, this is nothing short of plain funny, taking place in a state once rocked by the fodder scandal and introduced by the wife of the man alleged to have been one of its kingpins while still in office as chief minister. Barefaced as it seems, the move is not inexplicable. The Rashtriya Janata Dal no longer has the following it once had, and a depleted vote bank is ever the spur for eye-catching measures. But perhaps it is not fair to end the story there. As chief minister, Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav had initially done the state some service, and a certain degree of betterment in the lives of selected sections of backward groups did take place. Ms Rabri Devi�s move could be projected, at a pinch, as an extension of such empowerment measures. What is good � and different � about it, of course, is that the present chief minister has promised to introduce empowerment through the system, which, ideally, should protect it from arbitrariness. The normal culture of intimidation and murder in Bihar could make the procedures almost impossible to carry out. But even then, once the provision is in the system, some good might still come of it. Power in people�s hands might have unexpected consequences.

The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr Digvijay Singh, however, has made almost a habit of introducing small changes constantly over the years, with the aim of devolving power. So he provides less occasion for wry comment. His introduction of the fourth tier in the panchayat system has meant, theoretically, a direct involvement of all the people in governance. He is now introducing village courts, which will take some of the load off district courts by dealing with a limited list of offences, with powers to fine the offender upto a fixed amount. There are loopholes in the programme, and these will need to be ironed out. With political will and people�s involvement, there is no reason why such glitches cannot be dealt with through usage, even with a few initial hiccups. In the business of people�s empowerment, Mr Singh is more than a few steps ahead of Ms Rabri Devi.


The entry of the Asom Gana Parishad into the ranks of the ruling alliance will bring little cheer to its embattled ranks. The northeastern state is an exception to a general trend of loosening of the bonds between the premier ruling party and its regionally rooted allies and partners. More than a sign of their divergent goals, it is also a reflection of the vulnerability of the saffron party as it begins to pay the price of being in power.

Five years ago, the birthday of Atal Bihari Vajpayee brought forth encomiums in a paid-up supplement to a leading daily. The fashion designer, Ritu Beri, said she wanted to �dress him up�. The film actor, Nana Patekar, hoped he would govern the country for �at least twenty five years�. Vajpayee was dubbed as the man all India was awaiting, a Nehru-like figure who would stand above divisions and schisms.

All that seems light years ago. Until 1998, it was easy to bring together a combination because a party out of power could be all things to all persons. Once in office and the 1999 general elections were a mere blip on the screen, the party�s own social base began to show strains. As the fissures come into the open, the costs will begin to mount.

Many commentators have rightly linked the ascendancy of the saffron camp in Indian politics to its ability to become the most preferred option of the small but growing ranks of the articulate middle classes. A mix of nationalism and anti-statism went down well with those who were tired of the Congress�s old ways. An expanding base of shareholders and fears of social unrest due to the newly politicized groups from the rural hinterland both helped the Bharatiya Janata Party swell its own vote bank.

By the middle of the Nineties, the formula had reached its peak. It became evident that without reaching out to other, larger social groups, the party would remain locked out of office. Hence, the courtship of agrarian groups, both those of dominant peasant communities and the Mandal classes. The former included the likes of the Jat-centred parties of Haryana and Punjab; the latter took a bewildering variety of forms.

Traditional anti-Congress sentiment made it easy to tie up with the saffron party once it muted calls for Hindutva. It could be a Kurmi leader in Bihar and a Vanniyar in Tamil Nadu. Many regional parties, especially south of the Vindhyas, also represent the social aspirations of backward class groups.

In order to bring them on board, the BJP has often had to take aboard the kind of social engineering it once dubbed �casteist�. Among the most significant milestones was its acceptance in late 1999 of constitutional changes to permit reservations beyond the ceiling of 50 per cent.

All this hardly mattered when it was not in power, but the contradictions between the interests of these various players have now ripened. For instance, wheat and rice cultivators faced with rising production costs lobby successfully for higher procurement prices. This comes at the cost of the kind of modernization favoured by the urban middle class.

The contrast is even starker on issues like reservations. The same Arun Shourie who breathed fire and brimstone in 1989-1990 sits mum when the Jats of Rajasthan get included among the beneficiaries of affirmative action. A large phalanx of 46 members of parliament from the Dalit communities within the BJP is also vocal about the very questions that have formed the plank of the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Whether on economic or social questions, the party is having to bend over backwards to accommodate special interest groups. Hindutva does not work as a unifying force and is coming unstuck even where it once worked wonders. Nor is the cake growing fast enough to tide over difficulties.

In fact, what will cause the most anxiety to party strategists is the growing alienation of their cause among the groups that form their core constituency. More than Tehelka and the scandals, it is the economy that may well be the bugbear. Let alone the rural sector, small businesses and middle class groups are feeling hard-pressed in a manner unknown in the past.

The cut in small savings rates has even been noted by the new president of the BJP as a matter of concern, especially vis � vis pensioners and senior citizens. The elimination and downsizing of the public distribution system hits the lower middle class. The collapse of glass works, lock-making, leather units and sports goods is also bound to take a toll across small-town India. Small businesses are not only critical to the economy, but also to the self-image of the old Jana Sangh as the voice of such men of thrift and enterprise. It cannot therefore remain unaffected by the adversities they now face.

The problem, of course, is that the BJP is not and never has been a reformer�s party in the Reagan or Thatcher mould. Its nationalism was and is of a cultural rather than of an economic variety. But hamstrung by allies, the party can do little to move ahead with its core agenda.

The temple cannot but endanger the government in New Delhi. In Kashmir, it has extended the olive branch to the most extremist of Islamist groups. Even in the Northeast, there are offers of a dialogue with secessionist groups. The compulsions of power are taking it further away from its core philosophy than its detractors or supporters expected.

But all of these changes are of a halting and ad hoc nature. For each step forward there are many steps backward. Had the dream budget worked, it would have given the government more leeway. But the result of the recent scandals and of the continuing slowdown in the economy has been to deprive Vajpayee of room to manoeuvre.

The party seems more out of tune with the popular mood than at any time in its two-decade-long history. At the pinnacle of power, its promises seem more like empty slogans. Far from mastering the situation, it is succumbing to it and faster than expected.

Its only consolation is the inability of the Congress to get its act together. But the past has shown that when governments falter, their rivals do respond to the yearning for change. The instruments of that transition may vary in different parts of the country. The coming assembly elections will be a pointer for the allies of the ruling party and equally so for the Congress and the third front groups.

The BJP�s problems are of a more serious, long-term nature. Elected on a minimum common programme, it has to demonstrate that it can be at the head of a broad-based coalition while in power. This it has singularly failed to do. The option of returning to its roots and going all out for ideologically charged campaigns does not exist as long as it holds the reins of power.

If it does not come to grips with the problems of governance, it will lose steam. This is what happened to P.V. Narasimha Rao�s regime after December 1994. Inner contradictions moved to the fore, reforms fell by the wayside and the forces hostile to the government gathered force and strength. The Congress is yet to recover. The way things are going, the BJP may be heading for a similar fall from grace.

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library


All it needs to get the United States servicemen released from Chinese custody is an American apology to China. The US administration is unwilling to apologize. It is however sorry about the loss of life of the Chinese pilot. It regrets the accident. The Chinese defence minister has used the strongest language and demanded that the incident should be used to show up the US as a hegemon and to raise the morale of the Chinese armed forces.

These are amazing value added requirements in an apology. The Bush administration is on the horns of a dilemma. Forty-one per cent of the voters on a widely viewed television channel in the US feels that an apology be given to get the 24 servicemen out of China. The Chinese do not know how to retreat from the apology demand.

The US surveillance aircraft was tailing Chinese ships on international waters when the accident occurred. US surveillance over Chinese ships is a four decade old practice. The Chinese did not like it but could do little about it. Recently, Chinese aircraft have taken to contesting the US in this game and have aggressively responded with combat aircraft flying threateningly close to the American craft. This time, there was, by all accounts, pilot error in the close encounter, which resulted in both the Chinese and the US aircraft being damaged. One crashed while the other landed in Chinese territory.

Sentiments hurt

The Chinese have a dead pilot and a lost aircraft. The Americans have 24 men and women in Chinese custody. Chinese TV channels in the US have berated the Bush administration for presenting a one-sided view of the incident. The yellow ribbons tied to trees to show sympathy with the service personnel are growing in number in US cities.

The Bush administration feels its military people are in uniform and on duty. They are not spies and should not be treated as such. The Chinese are acting from a sense of hurt at being pushed about by the US Their embassy was bombed in the Kosovo bombings and in the US responses after the Tiananmen rankle. The US is now raising the issue of China�s entry into the World Trade Organization and Beijing�s claims to host the Olympic games, which would be affected if the hostage drama continues.

An apology will be an admission of full responsibility, which the US quite clearly feels is not justified. The outcome is likely to be resolved by a commonly agreed interpretation of what actually happened. That interpretation will leave both countries looking innocent. The pilots may become the national scapegoats.

It may be that the language of apology might be both the problem and the solution. Will an apology in English be sufficiently apologetic in Chinese? China has demanded a �dao qian�. This amounts to a formal kowtow, which is part of China�s imperial heritage.


The English word, �regret�, used by the secretary of state, Colin Powell, and the president, George W. Bush, is translated into Chinese as �yihan�, which does not convey guilt. Perhaps the Chinese word �chengren� � to recognize or acknowledge � would save the day for both governments.

They might be more willing to acknowledge that the incident was avoidable and that both sides will do their best to avoid a recurrence. Bush has replied kindly to a rudely-worded letter from the wife of the missing pilot. He might go further and offer a compensation in return for the Chinese acceptance that the missing pilot�s overzealousness might have caused the accident.

Bush is under pressure to get the American men and women home. He was initially criticized for having dealt with the incident casually. Chinese recalcitrance in accepting the president�s regrets is making Bush look better. This may change once the anti-China lobby in the congress and the Republican Party gets going.

But the stakes for the Chinese are high and its image as an irrational international player is growing as the dispute over a word continues. Apology expresses both regret as also sorrow. Both have been covered by the US administration at the highest level. The next meaning in line is repentance. It is to be hoped that neither China nor the US would have to repent their inability to quickly resolve the semantic war.

The author is director, Delhi Policy Group and former director-general military operations


The proposed bill against domestic violence has to be seen in the context of the sweeping changes in the Indian economy and concomitant shifts in conventional moral standards governing social life and institutions. Recognition of this change is implicit in the proposal which also brings live-in relationships within its scope. A revolution in sexual mores and marital relations has always been coeval with and an outcome of changes in the economic structure, and the new role women get to play in the productive activity. The trend towards an assertion of individuality among women in the West, conspicuously noticeable in the Fifties, was a direct outcome of the growing absorption of women in the workforce and their resultant economic independence.

In the Indian context, given that an increasing number of women are entering the job market on equal terms with men, the question of gender identity and discrimination needs to be redefined. Liberalization has led to growing stratification of the Indian society into distinct social groups characterized by widely diverse sets of social and cultural ethos. This is primarily the result of the emergence of a sizable section of upwardly mobile, professionally qualified, liberalized urban population with a substantial disposable income which has little in common with the vast majority of the rural and semi-rural populace steeped in poverty, illiteracy and superstition.

Among this neo-elite, morality and gender relations have acquired a new meaning. Marriage, as a form of a dependent relationship, where the role of the male partner was paramount, has lost much of its meaning. The economic independence of the female partner in almost all such cases has necessitated a shift in perspective. Marriage is now seen as a more equitable form of partnership. Although such changes in the West were believed to have resulted in the �masculinization of women�, it would be more appropriate to view the process as one leading towards the convergence of sexual identities of both men and women.

The relevance of monogamous, heterosexual marriage as the dominant pattern and norm is also gradually on the wane among many in this group. For these young men and women, marriage is much more than a socially imposed moral obligation. It should, to them, create a natural bond of mutual understanding and respect.

Any intended legislation to be meaningful in the changed social context should, therefore, also seek to relate to the needs and expectations of the liberalized generation of the 21st century. It also follows that the changed perception of gender relations can only be compatible with a regime of laws which admits and accords sanctity to the concept of equality of status of both the sexes.

Against this backdrop, the incongruities in the entire gamut of Indian legislation, particularly the bias in favour of the fairer sex, becomes evident. This is manifest in the tacit legal assumption of certain behavioural traits as peculiar to males. For example, it seems entirely unable to imagine that a woman in a position of authority can indulge in sexual misconduct with, say, a male subordinate at the workplace. The likelihood of such a thing happening, however, cannot be discounted. It is power, authority and economic status which largely determine a person�s responses to different situations, irrespective of sex. It can then be asked why no provision to ensure appropriate legal remedy for the victimized male has been incorporated in the Indian law?

Similarly, it is strange that while adultery continues to remain a punishable criminal offence for men under section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, women who indulge in the same act in a marriage do not attract any punitive action. Little wonder then that the virtuosity of the wife of the adulteror gets extolled in teleserials like Hazratein, Saans and Kora Kagaz.

Provisions such as section 498A of the IPC put the onus of establishing innocence on the male if a complaint of mental or physical torture is lodged against him or his parents by his wife. Assumed to be automatically guilty on the basis of the complaint, the law provides for immediate incarceration of the man without bail. In spite of being grossly misused by many women who wish to settle personal scores with their husbands or in-laws, the provisions continue to glorify our statutes. There is no corresponding remedy available to a man who is similarly tormented by his wife or in-laws.

Even in the matter of income tax, preferential treatment has been accorded to women. With effect from the financial year 2001-02, a special deduction of Rs 5,000 has been allowed to working women from the tax payable by them under section 88c of the Income Tax Act, irrespective of their economic and marital status. As government employees, they get preferential posting and out of turn allotment of quarters. And now it is being proposed that a third of the seats in Parliament be reserved for women , despite the fact that practically all political parties in the country have a substantial number of female members.

So long the socio-legal framework in the country remains predicated on the ideal of female infallibility and an unfounded notion of female vulnerability, a gross gender discrimination and institutionalized prejudice against the male would follow as a corollary. If stereotypical concepts of masculinity and femininity are allowed to organize experience and behaviour, and influence legislation, the emerging notions of gender identity will be threatened.

Efforts to ensure immunity from mental and physical torture at the hands of the male partner should not exempt the woman from punishment when the same acts are perpetrated by her against the opposite sex. The halo of purity surrounding women can become a self-perpetuating delusion that will cause great harm to the causes of both gender equality and female empowerment.

Legislative action to uphold the cause of women should be tempered with a mature appreciation of the changing role of the sexes. The manner in which certain valid objections to the proposed legislation was brushed aside reveals the obduracy of the axioms which govern law-making in this country. How long would everything continue to be considered absolutely fair for the �fairer sex�? Unless that is done soon one would be free to accept without qualms Oscar Wilde�s famous observation on the sexes: �Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals�. The feminist bias of an effeminate �male� society should come to an end.

Apart from the definite bias, there are other facets of the proposed bill on domestic violence which are jarring. Take for example, the suggestion to extend the application of the legislation to live-in relationships seem to make little sense. For one thing, the partners in such relationships are highly individualistic apart from being economically self-sufficient as well. Why any of them should put up with either �physical, sexual, verbal, economic or mental torture� from the other and continue to �live together� defies comprehension.

What our law-makers need to realize is that any of the partners in such a relationship, in the absence of institutional bonding, would walk out of it the moment it turns out to be uncomfortable rather than lodge a complaint against the other with the �protection officer� while continuing to stay together as before. Should any of them be abused or tortured, he/she can seek legal remedies and initiate necessary action against the other under extant legal provisions which are more than adequate for the purpose.

If such relationships are to be treated as �domestic units� for the purpose of legislation and bestowed, thereby, a degree of acceptability and legal sanction, then other resultant rights and benefits which accrue in an institutional bonding should also be logically extended to them.

The working partners in such relationships should, in that case, be extended the benefit of maternity and paternity leaves as well, wherever applicable, if they intend to have a child of their own. They should also be allowed to adopt a child like any other married couple under the Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, after ensuring that the future interests of such a child are duly fortified.

If any of the partners deserts the other, as can surely happen in such relationships, then the aggrieved partner should be allowed to file a suit of desertion and restitution of conjugal rights. Entitlement for married quarters, wherever they exist, should be extended to such couples. In the government sector every effort should be made to place them at the same station as in case of married government employees. They should also be allowed the benefit of advance increments if any of them undergoes a family planning operation.

The extension of only protective provisions of the law in respect of verbal and physical abuse to the female partner in such relationships while denying both the female and male partners all other benefits that accrue to married couples would make a mockery of the principle of natural justice. It would also be typical of the contradictions and anomalies that characterize our legal system.

Only a concerned appreciation of the various possibilities can shed new light on the shifts in the balance of economic power between women and men and the emerging social realities of our time. The bill on domestic violence has to be more pragmatic than what it appears to be.


The current crisis in the share markets could have been averted if the Union finance ministry had exercised proper vigilance over the working of the stock exchanges, the banking sector and financial institutions. It is the responsibility of the investment division of the ministry to look after the capital market issues, foreign investment policy, stock exchanges and the Unit Trust of India.

Unfortunately, the ministry has remained indifferent to this aspect of its responsibility. This had became evident when it failed to prevent the securities scandal involving Harshad Mehta in the Nineties.

The report of the joint parliamentary committee which conducted a detailed inquiry into the scandal, regretted that though the Bombay stock exchange was systematically and deliberately violating all rules and regulations, the finance ministry did not intervene at the right time. The irregular practices included non-payment of margin money, violation of carry-forward limits and trading restrictions, overtrading by members, kerb-trading, reluctance to release data on prices and value of trading and insider trading.


The committee observed that decade-old malpractices still governed the stock markets. �The Bombay stock exchange is functioning as a private club of member-brokers and is characterized by a lack of financial management, non-enforcement of market regulations, chaotic market operations, and absence of proper market control.� In 1988-89, out of 28 meetings of the BSE governing board, finance ministry officials attended only six. In 1989-90, out of the total of 36 meetings, the officers attended only three. The finance ministry took three and a half years to give the required statutory backing to the securities and exchange board of India.

The committee also criticized the working of the Reserve Bank of India, saying that �even the high office of the governor, RBI, did not remain unaffected by the all-pervasive malaise�. It added that �the RBI has signally failed as a regulatory and supervisory agency�. The committee particularly chided the RBI for not checking the misuse of portfolio management schemes. This practice began in the mid-Eighties and progressively increased to cataclysmic proportions in 1991-92 largely due to the �gross negligence and persistent failure� of the RBI to comply with guidelines. Despite the publicity which the irregularities got, the RBI did not act.

Careless watch

Against this background, it seems unrealistic to assume that the code of ethics adopted by the Sebi in March this year will be followed. The Economic Survey for 2000-2001 has revealed that during the last financial year, Sebi introduced several reforms for moving towards a globalized market. But the developments in the share market after the current budget clearly show that Sebi and the other authorities concerned have been unable and unwilling to take timely and effective action to prevent malpractices.

The failure of Parliament to keep a careful watch over the working of the finance ministry, the RBI and other financial institutions has also been responsible for the persistence of various forms of malpractices in the share market. Year after year, Parliament has been sanctioning without scrutiny the grants demanded by various ministries, including those of crucial importance, like defence, finance, commerce and railways. This trend is expected to persist in the coming months. It will not be surprising therefore if scandals continue to take place.

Meanwhile, the middle class investors will do well to follow the advice of Mark Twain: �There are two occasions when a person should not speculate: when he cannot afford and when he can.�



Royal mess

Sir � The news report, �The Queen unlucky for the third time, too� (April 9), was funny. The repeated indiscretions of the royal family are quite incredible. It is almost as if Sarah Ferguson and Sophie Rhys-Jones have taken it upon themselves to embarrass Buckingham Palace. Diana, princess of Wales, can at least be forgiven for her contribution to this embarrassment. She, after all, had genuine marital problems. But these two other ladies have put their feet right into their mouths without so much as a moment of hesitation. Rhys-Jones, if indeed she was working in a public relations firm, should have known better than to make personal comments about the opposition leader, William Hague, and about the private lives of Charles, prince of Wales, and Camilla Parker-Bowles. And after having made these obnoxious statements, she even had the brazenness to call the whole thing media �entrapment� and �subterfuge�. She is either shameless or unintelligent. The ideal reaction would be to come clean and apologize.
Yours faithfully,
Anirban Mitter, via email

Arresting facts

Sir � It was pathetic to hear the secretary of the Indian revenue service association protest against the Central Bureau of Investigation for having proceeded in a corruption case against B.P. Verma, the former chairman of the Central board of excise and customs, as also against the Central vigilance commissioner for having commented on the existence of corruption in the customs department. People who have or had dealings with that department would perhaps concur with the CVC�s observation.

It is perfectly understandable that people in a democracy are free to form their associations to protect their legitimate rights and seek redressal of their legitimate grievances. But coming out in support of a government official who has been charged with corruption cannot be accepted by the public as a legitimate action on part of a representative of a service association. The assertion that there are many honest officers in the service is an admission that there are many others who are dishonest.

If members of the IRS association are indeed upset, let them take concrete steps to refurbish their image. They can ensure that all members work with honesty and integrity. This would show soon in the increase in revenue collection, quick disposal of work and so on. People coming from abroad will no longer complain about the harassment by customs officials, or the snatching away of gifts.

The government should be seen as earnest in its attempt to improve the quality of governance through improvements in the system. At the same time, a vigorous effort is needed to change the mindset of officials in accordance with the new system.

Yours faithfully
D.N. Bhargava, via email

Sir � One of the seniormost government officials is found enmeshed in corruption and sleaze, yet the government seems unruffled. While the chief election commissioner blames the government for having knowingly promoted B.P. Verma, Yashwant Sinha blames the CVC for having cleared Verma of all corruption charges. It is also evident from all the buck-passing that the prime minister�s office is deeply involved in procedures that saw a tainted man bag one of the most prestigious administrative posts.

This is Tehelka revisited. The PMO seems to have a finger in every pie. Anti-corruption measures, if ever implemented, should start from here. And no matter how much the prime minister may be fond of his ace officers, the corrupt should be made to go. As for Verma and his associates, the punishment should be exemplary so that any officer indulging in nefarious practices thinks twice before taking the leap.

Yours faithfully,
S. Pahari, Calcutta

Sir � How should we interpret B.P. Verma�s arrest? The first signs of the government trying hard to initiate a clean-up or is it an attempt to deflect attention from the crucial hub of corruption, the PMO? It must be kept in mind that the CBI works under the express, if discreet, orders that emanate from the PMO. That the CBI�s sudden spurt of action � although it had reportedly been sitting on the evidence for the past two months � against an important bureaucrat only days after Tehelka had discredited the political leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party as also the government seems more than a coincidence.

We all know that the political leadership of the country is as corrupt as its bureaucracy. Yet, strangely, while leaders like J. Jayalalitha, who has taken corruption to exalted heights, remain untouched and can even dare to go to the people to seek another mandate, it is the bureaucrats who have to face the music. This is not to excuse Verma�s misdoings. But if venality and corruption are crimes, all who indulge in them must be equally punished. So if N.K. Singh is made to leave the PMO, Brajesh Mishra should also follow him.

Yours faithfully,
P. Paranjape, Calcutta

Rails of progress

Sir � Nitish Kumar has once again been put in charge of the railways. In August 1999, he had abruptly resigned as railway minister on account of the major railway accident at Gaisal in north Dinajpur, accepting his responsibility as a minister, but leaving the victims, their kin and the entire relief work in a mess. This was done not because of any repentance on part of the minister, but because he had an eye on the then forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. This was sheer opportunism. It is shameful that this self-seeking politician has again accepted the job without any qualms. Could Indians expect much from him?
Yours faithfully,
S.K. Kundu, Calcutta

Sir � With the departure of Mamata Banerjee from the railway ministry, it will be easy for the government to push up the fares. With the bad blood Banerjee has created with the National Democratic Alliance, some of her plans are going to be thrown out when the railway budget is put up in Parliament. Which as usual leaves the rail traveller in peril. There is some truth in the allegations against Banerjee. The parochial concerns of West Bengal � and her own � dominated her budget as it does her political moves now.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Maity, Calcutta

Sir � It will be helpful if the railways minister or the railway board were to provide concessional railway fare to candidates who are selected to appear for railway recruitment examinations. Candidates who do not fall in the scheduled caste or scheduled tribe category are often poor and can scarcely afford to travel by rail. The move would immensely benefit this section.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Peaceful greens

Sir � It might be the fear of diseases which is driving people to become vegetarians, but this is a welcome change nevertheless. One strong misconception which needs to be dispelled is that meat is superior to vegetarian food in nutritional value. Research has proved that vegetarianism is not only ethical and environment-friendly, it is also healthy and fulfils the body�s nutritional requirements. The trend towards vegetarianism is most discernible in the West. According to a survey, 2,000 people in the United Kingdom turn vegetarian every week.

Non-vegetarianism releases an excess of toxins in the body. This thickens arteries with cholesterol and results in high blood pressure, heart diseases or kidney failure. Eggs and meat contain a lot of protein. But the human body does not require so much concentrated protein. Further, the absence of fibre in non-vegetarian food makes it difficult to digest. Researchers have found that stomach, liver and other forms of cancer are more common among non-vegetarians. Refined sugar, ghee, hydrogenated oils in vegetarian food is the most balanced diet one can have.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Kumar Sharma, Kharagpur

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