Editorial 1 / Stoops to folly
Editorial 2 / Criminal Ease
Tread softly round the NMD
Fifth Column / Some thoughts spared over
Siege in Laloo�s Camelot
What the numbers have to show
Letters to the editor

Ms Mamata Banerjee is her own worst enemy. This is clear from the results of the elections and from her reactions to the results. The verdict that has emerged out of the popular mandate will go down as one of the great anti-climaxes in the history of West Bengal politics. The assembly elections of 2001 in West Bengal were billed as the big fight in which David would slay Goliath. In the event, Goliath remains as strong as ever and the young challenger turned out to be no more than a worthless pretender. The numbers tell an obvious and pathetic story. Ms Banerjee has a simple and a somewhat predictable explanation for her defeat. She has alleged that the elections were totally unfair: the state government, the Central government and the Election Commission colluded with the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to rig the elections. It may well be, though the jury is out on this one, that Ms Banerjee has a case. The high turnout and the pattern of voting in some areas suggest that voting there may not have been free. But these would probably not have altered the overall picture. Even without the rigging, Ms Banerjee would have ended up as the loser. But the very fact that the elections were in some pockets unfair is cause for alarm and complaint. Ms Banerjee would have served her cause well if she had logically argued her case. Instead, she chose to scream and shout and cast unfounded aspersions on the EC. In behaving thus, she won no friends and convinced nobody. In fact, she muffed her chances of making a political issue out of an election complaint.

It is important to remember that even on Saturday, the day before the results were announced, Ms Banerjee was confident of winning and had not made too much of a hue and cry over rigging. This makes her act on Monday all the more unconvincing. Her reaction makes obvious the fact that she was completely unprepared for defeat. This is also evident from her decision to stay by herself, locked in a room, when the adverse election results were being announced. The real test of a leader is her response to adversity. Leadership is easy when the going is good. Ms Banerjee failed this test. She chose to nurse her own sense of hurt and disappointment precisely at the time when her party workers and supporters needed her to be at their side. The slight on her own ego appeared to her to be more important than the morale of her cadre.

This egocentric behaviour may be at the root of the debacle the Trinamool Congress has suffered. The party revolves around the personality and the decisions of Ms Banerjee. She is the party. Unfortunately for Ms Banerjee, such a base is not enough to take on a formidable and entrenched political formation like the Left Front in West Bengal. Success in elections is determined by the strength of organization rather than by the strength of personality. Ms Banerjee perhaps expected that the accumulated grievances of 24 years would coast her to victory. She neglected the fact that for her to win, this disaffection would need to translate into votes on a given day. Only an efficient organization can carry out this act of translation. Unless Ms Banerjee recognizes this, she will reduce herself to a powerful but ineffective individual.


It is not surprising that Mr Laloo Prasad Yadav was one of the first among politicians to congratulate Ms J. Jayalalitha on her renewed chief ministership. Her legitimacy in that chair could one fine day lead to his. And to the holding of high office by numerous other politicians convicted of thievery and of robbing the people. Her speed in getting into the coveted seat may show some uncertainty about allowing the courts, commissions and legislators time to think. But that is about all the uncertainty she has shown. Evidently she is confident that the people�s mandate will overcome the slow-moving machinery of the law. This dismissiveness towards political morality has its roots in something deeper than mere cynicism. The judicial system has repeatedly let the people down by its dilatoriness. It is not possible to nurture anger for years at a time, when there are more immediate causes for anger given by the government in power. Neither is it possible for the popular sense of justice to take convictions seriously while known criminals walk the streets. Although speeding up the disposal of cases would help popular understanding and memory, far more needs to be done.

What is needed first is a tightening up of the entire system and a leaner set of laws and procedures dealing with corruption, so that verdicts are quick and clear, leaving no loopholes for evasion and short terms in prettified prisons. There is also a need for greater coordination among the law-making, law dispensing, and monitoring bodies. It is absurd that a politician barred from contesting elections should become the chief minister of a state the day after the results are out. One way to stop such cartwheels with regulations is to eliminate the rigmarole of the six-month gap between assuming office and election. Put in place precisely in order to allow important leaders to take office in case they have not been elected, this regulation does far more harm than good. After six months as chief minister, Ms Jayalalitha will be able to make sure that she is elected. Meanwhile, she � and anyone in her place � would do their utmost to blunt or avert the cases against them, and use their political bargaining power to exert pressure on the Election Commission in case it shows a tendency to be consistent. If election were a precondition for Ms Jayalalitha�s chief ministership, she could not have had the chair because of the EC bar. The makers of the Constitution did not wish to make a joke of governance. There is no reason why looseness in regulations should help to make it so.


December 1998. The Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters on New Delhi�s Ashoka Road was still reeling from the results of assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi in the previous month, which saw the dominant party in the ruling coalition at the Centre lose power in its two strongholds and the Congress regain yet another five year-term in power in Bhopal. Gone was the euphoria of the nuclear tests six months earlier and the tenuous alliance which was ruling from Raisina Hill was threatening to come apart. The Congress under Sonia Gandhi, it seemed, was only steps away from regaining power after just two and half years in the opposition.

George Fernandes, the defence minister, approached the BJP�s leadership in the government and proposed that India should call off the security and non-proliferation talks with the United States, which had been set in motion after the Pokhran tests.

It was vintage Fernandes, the veteran of many radical socialist battles in Mumbai in the Seventies, who still knew the potential of anti-Americanism in the third world in a streetwise struggle for political power. The BJP leaders whom Fernandes talked to conceded that a gesture of grand defiance against Washington could be translated into a political asset at a time when the ruling alliance which it led needed every straw to clutch at to prevent being swept away from power. Nepal, Bangladesh and Islamic fundamentalists at home had not yet reduced the BJP to a ghost of its former self.

But after considerable soul-searching, the dominant ruling party decided to put national interests above political expediency. The talks between Jaswant Singh, who had just become external affairs minister, and Strobe Talbott, then deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, would go on notwithstanding any political mileage which may accrue for the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government by accepting the Fernandes proposal.

In retrospect, it was one of the wisest and most statesman-like decisions on external affairs taken by any government in New Delhi since independence. The 10 rounds of Singh-Talbott talks laid the foundations of a vision in Indo-US relations which Vajpayee and the then American president, Bill Clinton, articulated in New Delhi last year, a vision to which President George Bush is committed, never mind the Bush family�s desire to break with virtually everything Clinton did in the last eight years.

Two and half years after making that decision, the Vajpayee government once again stands at a crossroads in its dealings with Washington after the telephone conversation of the US national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, with Singh on May 1. Common sense dictates that there is much in the Bush defence plan, unveiled in the president�s speech in Washington on May 1, that suits India. By initiating a policy which will unravel arms control treaties negotiated between the US and the former Soviet Union, the new Republican president is laying the ground for the elimination of a non-proliferation regime, which India has been opposed to because it discriminates between the monopoly of five nuclear powers and the majority of nuclear have-nots.

Second, few other countries have been direct victims of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in its neighbourhood as India because of the clandestine acquisition of nuclear and missile technology by Pakistan. China�s violation of global arms control and non-proliferation norms have made a mockery of these very arrangements. These have been holy cows for successive administrations in Washington, but Bush now formally wants to jettison them.

But common sense and logic are not necessarily what determine foreign policy. The obverse of this logic is a moral question confronting South Block. The essence of what Bush proposed on May 1 as a road map for America�s future defence goes against the grain of what India has stood for in terms of disarmament since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru.

It would be wishful thinking on New Delhi�s part to suggest that cuts in the US�s nuclear forces announced by the president are steps towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, a dream cherished by Indian leaders ever since independence. On the contrary, Bush has said time and again that nuclear weapons will continue to have a key role in maintaining the security of not only the US but also its allies in what it calls the �free world�.

So far, India is the only country in the whole wide world to have shown even a semblance of enthusiasm for anything that Bush said on May 1. American commentators have stopped short of calling Tony Blair �et tu Brute� for his failure to endorse the Bush missile plan in toto the way British governments have always commended anything that comes out of the White House.

South Korea � yes, South Korea � doggedly refused to say that it had shown any understanding of what Bush was up to even after the White House agreed to eat its own words on North Korea, signifying a paradigm shift in attitude which has called the Bush administration�s commitment to stated policies into question. Yet, it would be incorrect to suggest � as the media and opposition parties have done � that India has welcomed the Bush plans for National Missile Defence. To be fair to the Vajpayee government, it has not said a word in support of NMD, not now, not at any time since the new �Star Wars� project has been under discussion.

What it has done is to balance India�s national interest against anything the Americans may do in terms of its defence policies in the new millennium. It is a clich� to say that such seemingly difficult diplomatic exercises are easier said that done. But in the case of the Vajpayee government�s interface with Washington on NMD, it is the other way round: it is easier done than said.

Because, quite frankly, it really does not matter in Washington what India thinks about NMD in the long run. In any case, New Delhi is in no position to do anything at all about NMD should it decide to come out openly against the weaponization of space by Bush. So the bonhomie which the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, and the Indian leadership displayed in Hyderabad House last week suited each other. Armitage alone, among the Bush envoys who travelled around the world last week, received a warm welcome. India, on the other hand, acquired valuable IOUs by seeming to support NMD without actually giving away anything.

For the Vajpayee government, the next stage of this balancing act is going to be more difficult. Should the Bush White House recklessly pursue the 21st century version of Star Wars, it will have to face considerable opposition not only from Russia and China, but also from its own allies in Europe and Asia.

India cannot support such an American policy without alienating some of its friends in Europe who have stood by the Vajpayee government during the trying months which followed Pokhran II and lasted through the Kargil invasion.

Much was made of the fact that Armitage was in New Delhi on the anniversary of the Pokhran tests in 1998. Few Indians remember now that the only foreign delegation which was in the capital on the day of the Pokhran tests was a French team led by the head of that country�s foreign office. While several Western countries recalled their ambassadors in India for �consultations� after the nuclear tests, the French delegation stayed on and talked to their counterparts. And in the months that followed, it was the French and Russians � both nuclear powers and permanent members of the United Nations security council � who helped break the P-5 unity in the UN in favour of India.

Had France and Russia not created discord among the P-5 and threatened the very legitimacy of their nuclear hegemony in 1998, the course of the Singh-Talbott dialogue may have been altogether different. Talbott came for the first meeting with Singh with a demand that India should stop, roll back and eliminate its nuclear programme. The cosy private dinners between Singh and Talbott came many, many meetings later and were a concession to the fait accompli of India�s nuclear status, a factor recognized by many countries well before the Americans.

There is a strong case in this experience not to blindly support anything that the US does. This experience is a reminder that the Americans are anything but India�s �natural allies�, Vajpayee-Clinton niceties of year 2000 notwithstanding. So far India has managed to deal with the Bush administration deftly. But it is a diplomatic game which calls for extreme caution and deep deliberation: the opportunity cost of one mistake can be debilitating for India�s external affairs.


It took Atal Bihari Vajpayee the task of inviting himself to lunch at the household of L.K. Advani to put a lid on the persistent talk of differences between the two most important members of the Bharatiya Janata Party. That the host rushed from North Block to receive his guest showed that speculations about a rift between them must have been troubling him as well. That a lunch had to be decided on to discourage rumours shows that these must have been doing both much harm.

Yet, there were no obvious indications of this bitterness. Advani spoke of Vajpayee with much respect, and so did Vajpayee of his friend. Early in his prime ministership, Vajpayee had even referred to stories of their rift in Parliament itself and vehemently denied these. There have been differences on policy decisions � Pakistan for one. That Pervez Musharraf referred to Vajpayee as the only dove in India, should not have surprised Advani. Kashmir must have been an equally sore point. Farooq Abdullah is supposed to get along better with Advani than with Vajpayee. There must be other issues as well.

However, these were not ones that could not be resolved in cabinet meetings or other high level committees. The situation could not become irreconcilable unless, for example, the sangh parivar made it clear that it wanted one and not the other. Or if either Vajpayee or Advani had actually made an explicit effort to bring the other down, as former defence minister, V.P. Singh, had done to the former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi.

Number twos

There have always been rumours of differences between the number one and number two in most governments. Perhaps Jawaharlal Nehru was the only one who, after the death of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, did not have a rival to contend with. But there were other members in the Congress who spoke Patel�s language, like Purushottamdas Tandon.

Yet, Tandon, the then Congress president, did in no way threaten the position of Nehru. Even after Nehru�s death, S.K. Patil and Morarji Desai, who espoused the views of Patel, served Indira Gandhi. In fact, Desai, who on two occasions contested against Indira Gan- dhi, joined her as her deputy. There were other rivals Indira Gandhi had to put up with � Jagjivan Ram and Y.B. Chavan are examples. Ram ultimately defected from the Congress and Chavan actively fought the leader from inside the party.

The situation was the same with Desai, who had Ram and Charan Singh, both his ministers, challenging him. Charan Singh finally became prime minister. Rajiv Gandhi�s experience is known too. His friends and party workers, V.P. Singh, Arun Singh and Arun Nehru, turned against him. Their opposition was even partly responsible for his political defeat.

Working together

Considering this political history, the differences between Advani and Vajpayee do not seem to have been so overwhelming as to threaten the government. Both the leaders in fact have tried hard to maintain a working relationship. Vajpayee is the liberal, moderate face of the party and the reason why the coalition is functioning, although there is no doubt that the Tehelka expos� has caused a lot of damage to his image.

Advani is of a different mettle. The rathyatra established his political identity. He is closer to the sangh parivar than Vajpayee and it is he who maintains the government�s connections with the parivar. Both the men know and understand these facts. If the relation between the two suddenly reach a stalemate, it will be largely because that is presumably how the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the citadel of the sangh, would want it. However, it is questionable if the RSS will ever want that.

Long before the BJP gained prominence, the then party president, Balraj Madhok, who campared himself with Patel and Vajpayee with Nehru, reportedly said that the Patel cult will prevail. Madhok has gone into political oblivion since then. Advani seems to have taken over as the reincarnation of Patel. But it cannot be said for certain if it is he who will ultimately prevail.

Advani and Vajpayee have taken a positive step to make it known that the two are close to each other. However, the political world also knows that differences are not resolved at luncheons. The story, if any, cannot end with a lunch.


They invaded the city like an army of phantoms and marched down the thoroughfare in a silent show of defiance. Hordes of them, swathed in dark robes of terror, wielded their Kalashnikovs � chilling the asphalt with their footprints of death. The helpless �defenders� of law stood by, watching the spectacle unfold in all its �macabre glory�.

The hypothesis generated by the chain of events is the worst nightmare of the Bihar chief minister, Rabri Devi. The sequence haunts her like a doomsayer�s tale � it is an uneasy peek into her �Laloo-less� future.

Laloo Prasad Yadav may have been granted a temporary reprieve but all�s not well at 1, Anne Marg. There is a sense of disquiet as Rabri�s saheb braces for a summer of discontent while Patna heaves with nuances of the �unknown�. The fodder battle is expected to peak when court resumes next month after the summer break. A jail term for the �showman� cannot be ruled out.

Barely a stone�s throw from the chief minister�s posh bungalow, a cramped room in an adjacent neighbourhood recently bustled with activity � of a slightly different kind. Gun-toting militia cordoned off a single-storeyed government quarter on the periphery of a dense green scrub. Entry was restricted and visitors frisked. The high-security hideout was the venue of a media conference hosted by the chief of the Ranbir Sena, Brahmeshwar Singh, last week.

This is the first time Singh has surfaced in public since he went underground six years ago after the bloody mayhem in Kophira village in Bhojpur district. The Patna police, reportedly hot on Singh�s trail, does not even have a file picture of Bihar�s �most wanted�.

Official circles in Patna dubbed the event �epochal� because of the Brahmin ganglord�s temerity in holding court in the heart of Laloo�s fiefdom, throwing caution to the winds. It was a blow to the police and an open challenge to the ruling Rashtriya Janata Dal, whose �covert� sympathy for the left � and all its variants � is an open secret.

For the past six years, Singh has been an enigma. Some call him the �thakur with the golden gun�, the guardian angel of the upper caste Bihari landlords, while others brand him a brigand, a khooni (murderer). Bloodthirsty and ruthless, he is every Dalit peasant�s nightmare and the Achilles heel of the Bihar police.

As the state administration napped, Singh waxed eloquent about his future plans in the full glare of the media spotlight. The don, who carries a reward of five lakh rupees on his head for his �direct involvement� in 12 carnages, justified his crimes, imbuing them with moralistic overtones: �Arms and scriptures have an age-old affinity. Vishwamitra could not have completed his yajna without Lord Rama�s protection.� The wiry, bespectabled �fifty-plus� Brahmin mukhya, clad in a crumpled kurta-pyjama, quoted extensively from the Bhagwad Gita and other holy books. He likened the Sena�s struggle against the Naxalites to Arjun�s �mahayudh (holy war)� against the Kauravas.

The Sena, he claimed, had retreived 35,000 acres of farmland from the Naxalites in central Bihar and pledged to rid the state of the �red vermin�. �We have stockpiled arms over the past six years and have skilled manpower,� Singh flaunted. The Sena, comprising mostly Bhumihar landlords, is controlled by ex-servicemen from central Bihar who often lend their expertise in lieu of security for their land.

Denying reports of political patronage, Singh hit out at the Rabri Devi government, describing it as an �unholy amalgam of thugs and killers�. �We have an equally inept government at the Centre,�� he adds in the same breath to allay �notions� about Sena�s upper-caste political support base.

As reporters scrambled for their notepads and television cameras for their �coveted footage��� no profile, only side faces and back of the head � Singh wove his manic charm across two states.

He swung with ease from the flaming fields of central Bihar to the pristine slopes of Jharkhand, where a fledgling Sena unit is gearing up to take on the Naxalites in the forests of Gumla and Lohardaga. �Most of them have fled Bihar after bifurcation and we intend to flush them out,� declared Singh.

The task may not be tough keeping in mind that a particuar �constituent� of the National Democratic Alliance government in Jharkhand has been overt in its support to the Sena. The Aamir Das commission, which is probing the outfit�s political links, has come out with damning evidence.

Singh also plans an �ideological rehaul�� almost on the lines of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. �No sex, no sleaze, no corruption,� is the new Ranbir Sena motto. Any deviation would entail swift �retribution� in the form of death, warns the militia chief.

The hour-long briefing was a public affair. Curious faces thronged the windows and people gathered on rooftops to get a glimpse of the elusive hero. Singh was a celebrity in the Yadav capital. Elected the mukhya of Kophira at the age of 26, Singh went underground in 1995 following a clash with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation at Belaur in Bhojpur.

The CPI(M-L)Liberation, which was redistributing surplus Bhumihar land in adjoining Saher and Sandesh villages in Bhojpur, was repulsed by Singh and his select group of fighters when it tried to wrest their land and distribute it among the Dalits in a jan adalat. Singh, a university graduate, was perhaps the most qualified man to take up the challenge.

His ratings soared and he was placed next to the legendary Ranbir Baba, alias Captain Ranbir Chowdhury, an ex-armyman of Belaur who had fought the Rajputs in 1971. The Ranbir Sena, named after the �local legend� was formed in 1995 after the Bhumihars realized that their land required protection.

Singh, who was picked up twice by the Patna and Dhanbad police, had to be released following political intervention. Since then, the outfit has been involved in 14 carnages, including those in Laxmanpur Bathe, Bathani Tola, Sankarbigha and Narayanpur. To further political ends, the Sena also floated an overground front � the Rashtriya Kisan Sabha � which fielded candidates in the recent panchayat polls.

Singh�s entry into the capital was well-timed, designed to send ominous signals to the vulnerable Rabri Devi government. Though her �high-profile� husband maintains that the crisis has blown over, indications do not suggest that. The stay on Laloo�s arrest warrant is likely to be challenged next month.

Patna is seething with intrigue. The dissident RJD leader, Ranjan Yadav, flew in from New Delhi with all the six members of parliament in tow just a couple of days after Singh�s publicity blitz. His ranks seem to have swelled considerably since his departure last month. The �welfare man�, as he is being referred to these days, oozed confidence. The whistle-stop visit of the Samata Party chief, George Fernandes, also added to the �nuances�, with which the city resonates. The party, which according to the grapevine, is a Sena well-wisher, sharpened its knives at a press conference yesterday.

Where does all this place Rabri Devi, already beleaguered by an eroding support base among the minorities and certain backward caste groups?

In Laloo Yadav�s absence, she will have to fall back on a rickety triumvirate � Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, a Rajput, Shivanand Tiwary, an articulate and wily Brahmin and Ramchandra Purve, a self-effacing backward caste man.

Tiwary, a former Samata Party defector who had spilled the fodder beans, will waste no time in switching sides despite all his show of loyalty if Rabri totters. The same goes for Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, while Purve may buckle under extreme pressure. An aloof Mohammed Shahabuddin, the maverick MP from Siwan, adds to the Yadav couple�s woes. Laloo Yadav is desperately short of troubleshooters now that his Camelot is under siege. There is no Launcelot in shining armour to �protect his fair princess�.


The preliminary results of Census 2001 are not very encouraging for women in India. They reveal that women still remain a minority in this country in more ways than one. The status of the female child is dismal. Though the gender ratio seems to be marginally better than that of 1991, the gender ratio in the 0-6 year age group has declined sharply. This is an indicator of several deep-rooted prejudices that exist in our society and the inferior position of women in our socioeconomic setup.

The female child is doomed to a life of abuse and neglect. The bias against her raises its head even before she is born. Modern diagnostic techniques like amniocentesis have made it possible to determine the sex of the foetus. As a result, female foetuses are aborted frequently. A recent survey conducted by a Mumbai based organization revealed that in a particular year, 7,999 foetuses out of the 8,000 aborted were female. Moreover, female infanticide is still common in India and the culprits of this heinous act almost always go scotfree.

Uncared for

Discrimination against the girl continues in other areas � nutrition, education and healthcare. The female child in innumerable Indian families is found to be malnourished. A recent conference on childcare and survival conducted by the United Nations has shown that Indian girls are underfed compared to Indian boys. Findings of the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau have revealed that girls between 13 and 15 years consume less than two-thirds of the recommended calorie intake.

Girls are often denied the opportunity to attend school. The gross enrolment ratio of boys at the primary school level is much higher than that of girls. While approximately 110.9 million boys in the age group of 6 to 14 years are enrolled in schools, the figure is only 40.3 million for girls. Girls are initiated into domestic chores from a very early age.

Research also reveals that female children are breast-fed for shorter durations and are scarcely given proper medical attention. Malnutrition, coupled with inadequate healthcare, leads to a vicious cycle of early marriages and early pregnancies, which in turn leads to a higher mortality rate.

Extending her misery

A UN Population Fund report has revealed an increase in the death of teenage mothers. About 55 per cent of the teenagers who become mothers tend to suffer from anaemia and bear under-nourished children. Even though the law stipulates that no girl should be married before she is 18 years of age, statistics reveal that 26 per cent women are married by the time they are 15 and 54 per cent by the time they are 18.

Census 2001 only attests to this discouraging scenario. It has revealed that the sex ratio is declining in so-called �forward states� like Punjab (793 girls per 1,000 boys in the 0-6 age group), followed closely by Haryana (879 in 1991, 820 in 2001), Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh. However, discrimination and gender equality varies from state to state. In Punjab for example, despite the gender bias, more women take decisions on their healthcare, than in Kerala, which has a high female literacy. Statistics also reveal that despite their backwardness, the BIMARU states are more sympathetic to the fate of the female child, than the more prosperous regions of the country.

The census figures show that despite India�s economic liberalism and advancement, nothing much has changed for its hapless women.



Westward bound

Sir � The news report, �Goans chase Canadian dream� (May 13), perhaps unintentionally, makes a couple of interesting points about migration into and out of India. First, the number of Goan Catholics emigrating to Canada indicates that more and more Christian people want to leave the country. This is, of course, true for most people, given the quality of life here � but that Christians in particular are applying for emigration is a sign that many of them feel alienated in this country. The persecution of Christians in recent times has aggravated this feeling. Again, although Canada is even larger than the United States, and has a meagre population of about 29 million (less than three per cent of the Indian populace), it remains strict about allowing entry. In fact, it allows only a fifth of the applicants to enter the country as immigrants every year. We should learn a lesson from this. We do not exactly have to allow anybody and everybody to enter our country and we should discourage our residents from leaving.

Yours faithfully,
Anthony Rodrigues, via email

Surrounded by darkness

Sir � The defeat of the Trinamool Congress in the West Bengal elections has proved that gimmicks and sentimental rhetoric are not enough to bring about a change in the government here (�1977, 82, 87, 91, 96, 2001...�, May 14). Mamata Banerjee went into the elections with the sole motive of ousting the left from power. But, to the people of West Bengal, a change in the government just for the sake of change did not seem a rational enough motive to oust the Left Front. Instead of employing their negative campaigning tactics, the Congress-Trinamool Congress coalition should have had a substantial justification for their demands for change. This would have tilted the people�s mandate in their favour.

The last minute swapping of allies and the great confusion over seat allotment between the partners did no good to their cause. There should have been a coherent structure in the combine�s efforts to prevent the left from an unprecedented sixth straight assembly poll victory. This is the first time that the Left Front was truly tested by the opposition, even though the numbers in the assembly show otherwise. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will have to be much more practical and perceptive than his predecessors if he has to maintain the strong grip of the left over West Bengal.

Yours faithfully,
Avin Sharma, Calcutta

Sir � The recent poll results have once again shown the maturity of voters in West Bengal. It has shown that people cannot be swayed by the hysterical war cries of Mamata Banerjee. She has failed to present a credible road map for the development of the state. People have punished her for aligning with the same people she branded as the B team of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Voters have not forgotten the terror of the Emergency. They also remember that despite 60 years of independence and the slogans of �garibi hatao�, most in the country are still impoverished. The rule of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is finally being rejected by the voters.

Yours faithfully,
Manish Chowdhary, Moscow

Sir � Politics, it is said, is the art of the possible. The sheer opportunism that Mamata Banerjee displayed by dumping the Bharatiya Janata Party and aligning with her former mates � the Congress � has not brought her the expected returns. Banerjee�s single-minded agenda has been to occupy the hot seat in the Writers� Buildings. In order to achieve this end, she does not mind dumping parties left, right and centre. The latest casualty has been the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance. It is time Banerjee took stock of the policies she pursues so that her ambition is fulfilled by the time the next assembly elections become due in 2006.

Didi ought to remember that Bengalis are no fools. She can scream herself hoarse, but the democractic choice of the people is unambiguous.

Yours faithfully,
Sourik Saha, Gangtok

Sir � What are these elections for in any case? According to conventional wisdom, these assembly polls enable us to choose the best possible chief minister and ruling party in the state. But ordinary people have grown tired of listening to the same slogans year after year; and in real terms, nothing about their everyday life has changed. I am 17 years old and have not yet had to tackle the unenviable task of having to vote in this scenario. But, from what I read and hear on television, I feel that these elections are merely a symbolic gesture aimed at proving that the country is still a democracy.

Leaders claim that they want the �majority vote� from the public. But neither they nor we are unaware of the way this majority is achieved. However brave a person may be, the fear of death and torture ultimately swings the balance.

The chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, claims that the victory of his party proves that they have been on the right track for the last 24 years. One would want to ask him if this is why West Bengal is still lagging behind in education, technology, industry and employment. If this were to be the �right track�, and perhaps it is � it is the track into utter darkness.

Yours faithfully,
Sudipta Sengupta, Asansol


Sir � There is no direct passenger train from Haldia to Kharagpur and beyond via Bankura. Those passengers who desire to travel from Haldia/Tamluk to the Bankura/Adra area naturally face a lot of difficulty. Many commuters will be helped even if a single-minute-stop of the following trains are ensured at Mecheda or Panskura Junction; it would also mean higher revenues for the railways: Shalimar-Bankura Aranyak Express, Howrah-Purulia Rupasi Bangla Express.

Yours faithfully,
Gurudas Bandyopadhyay, Midnapore

Sir � I recently went to Bangalore to meet my son who is studying there. The trip turned out to be quite troublesome. There is hardly any direct train from Howrah to Bangalore. The only direct train is the Guwahati-Bangalore-biweekly which reaches Banglore via Chennai.

There are many students from Calcutta who are studying there and almost all of them have the same problems. The authorities need to understand that Bangalore has become an important place of learning. They should start an express train from Howrah to Bangalore daily with limited stops. It would also help to start a Guwahati-Bangalore express daily instead of biweekly.

Yours faithfully,
Shahid Zaman, via email

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