Editorial 1 / Image worship
Editorial 2 / Only popcorn
Trial by sensation
Fifth Column / It�s always good to talk
Return to serendipity
A heady involvement in the transaction
Letters to the editor

How West Bengal and its political climate are seen by potential investors is crucial for the state�s industrial development. A positive evaluation will lead to investments and a negative one to stagnation. The new chief minister of West Bengal, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has been honest enough to admit that the projection of West Bengal�s image in the past has not been too good. He seems to be of the opinion that because of this, capital has been shy of coming to the state. The assumption is that the objective conditions that prevail in West Bengal are conducive to investment, but these conditions are not adequately projected. Thus West Bengal suffers. Not surprisingly, Mr Bhattacharjee is roving in the dodgy world of half-truths. There is no denying that West Bengal does have an image problem. But this does not pertain to the objective conditions which are supposedly suitable for investment. If, indeed, the objective conditions are favourable, investment would be forthcoming, since investors are not fools and are as capable as West Bengal�s economist finance minister of reading and interpreting economic indicators and then taking investment decisions. The fact of the matter is that politicians and their attitudes and utterances also influence investment decisions and cannot be divorced from the so-called objective conditions. Thus, businessmen listen very carefully to what leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) say in Parliament and in other fora about liberalization, labour laws and so on.

The speeches and the rhetoric of the comrades are enough to convince anybody that the CPI(M) has not changed and remains as anti-capitalist as it ever was. Thus a state ruled by the CPI(M) cannot bolster investor confidence. This is how the image of West Bengal takes a beating. The rhetoric of CPI(M) legislators and spokesmen display a strange paradox: foreign investment, privatization, new labour laws and other features of liberalization are disastrous for India, but they are welcome in West Bengal. There is no reason why investors should waste their time unravelling the meaning of such a contradiction. They would rather see the attempt to woo capital back to West Bengal as an act of bad faith and put their money elsewhere. If Mr Bhattacharjee is sincere about improving West Bengal�s image, he should try and stop his comrades both in Alimuddin Street and in A.K. Gopalan Bhavan in New Delhi from spouting a brand of rhetoric that went out with the communist tide.

Mr Bhattacharjee himself is not entirely free from this malady of anachronism. Immediately after assuming office, Mr Bhattacharjee attacked Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s government for proposing to close down sick units in the state and for suggesting that the public distribution system should be withdrawn. In other words, Mr Bhattacharjee, in the euphoria of a massive election victory, peddled the left�s stock-in-trade: attack on the economic reform agenda. This was in sharp contrast to the Mr Bhattacharjee who is vocal and passionate about fashioning a new and resurgent West Bengal. Schizophrenia can inspire pity and concern, but not faith. Investors will continue to shy away from a state whose chief minister is a communist one day and capital-friendly the next. Mr Bhattacharjee cannot forget, so far dealing with industrialists are concerned, he is saddled with an initial handicap: the very name of his party. He has to work overtime to establish an image that overrides the impression created by that name and the rhetoric associated with it.


Cinema, in Bengal, is beginning to look like a dying industry. Its public vitality is being severely drained by the shutting down of most of Calcutta�s cinemas for what is beginning to look like an interminable period of time. Nearly 700 halls have been shut down, with only about 17 managing to remain open in the city. The talks between The Eastern India Motion Pictures Association and the Bengal Motion Pictures Employees Union are stuck in a groove. The ministry of information and culture has not shown signs of wanting to expedite matters. The employees� union is demanding a pay hike and the hall-owners claim that they cannot afford this unless the government grants them some more relief. This has been going on since the end of March.

Fundamentally, the situation is even more dismal, because most hall-owners have begun to find the strike financially less disastrous than continually running a cinema at a loss. This sounds very definitely like a death- knell. Most cinema halls in the city have let the decline hit them with a paralysing fatalism, and the recent lifting of the ticket-price sealing has not made any difference. In New Delhi or in Mumbai, cinema halls are becoming attractive entertainment complexes, providing an entire range of fun and varying their ticket prices competitively according to the popularity of the film and of the day or time-slot in which it is being shown. The absence of pervasive dilapidation is noticeable in these cities. In Bengal, the film industry has long failed to bring in profits to hall-owners, resulting in their losing motivation to make the halls more attractive. Moreover, there is a thriving piracy market that siphons out a huge chunk of the revenue. The government has done little in checking illegal video parlours, losing millions of rupees of amusement tax. There is, of course, the great Bengali malaise, trade unionism, sustained by a grossly overstaffed sector. Perhaps this impasse is an indication of the moribund state of cinema as a commercial art form in the state. Perhaps the answer lies in vast quantities of popcorn, that essential ingredient of cinematic consumerism which seems to have kept transatlantic movie theatres from going the sad Calcutta way.


It was probably V.P. Singh who, as finance minister, initiated the regime of �inspector raid raj�, with concurrent leaks to the newspapers. The raids led to no trials or punishments, but the people concerned were humiliated by having unsupported accusations made freely against them. It probably started the present attitude of our political leaders of just ignoring charges made against them in the media.

During the Emergency, it was the turn of senior administrators and corporate managers to be hauled off to jail. It became a badge of achievement and courage after the Emergency was over. It paid off for many. But it did start the trend of going after such professionals. During the P.V. Narasimha Rao years, there were many instances of managers being arrested.

The most famous of them was V. Krishnamurthy. He was an outstanding manager who had built Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited into an efficient and profitable public sector company. The professional management community in the private sector honoured him in 1981 with an award for leadership in professional management. He went on to rebuild Steel Authority of India Limited, and then to create Maruti as the first large automobile company in India to produce world-class cars.

As a member of the planning commission, he was a minister of state in the Central government. His home and offices were raided and searched. Allegations of corruption were released to the press against him and his sons and associates. If my recollection is right, he was also jailed for a while. He suffered the humiliation of being pulled off an international flight that he was about to board. And yet today, many years later, the allegations remain in the public memory, although nothing has been proven against him. He is assumed to have been guilty.

In the private sector, there was the hounding of ITC, its then and former chairpersons (Jagdish Sapru and K.L. Chugh) and other directors, for alleged foreign exchange violations by the company. The newspapers published photographs of their being loaded on to police vans and taken to jail. Apparently the investigating officers would brief the reporters every hour while interrogations were going on. Sensational stories were written which dominated the front pages. These top managers were thus tried and found guilty in the press without any judicial trial.

If judicial trials have since taken place, they were not reported, certainly not with similar prominence. Nor is it known whether the court has found the allegations to be true, and imposed any punishment. In all probability, the matter rests where it was. Their names have been tarnished.

There have been many other such instances. Kalpanath Rai was sent to jail to await trial. Headline stories were planted in the press by the investigating agencies which tarnished his reputation. But the electorate did not accept the verdict of investigating agencies and voted him to Parliament with a larger majority. He was not found guilty by the court. There is also the story of Sukh Ram. We have all read of the crores in cash in his puja room. And about one of his senior women officers who was also arrested and jailed. But the outcome is unknown, except that Sukh Ram subsequently became a kingmaker in Himachal Pradesh. The newspapers avidly covered the woman officer�s alleged misdeeds on behalf of Sukh Ram. They have not since reported on what has happened to her career.

Is it surprising that the electorate many times ignores such charges and accepts the leadership of the accused person, as in the case of Jayalalitha? There is a growing suspicion that the accusations are politically motivated and that the party in power is able to use the investigating agencies, and sometimes even the judiciary, to hound its opponents. No party seems to have learnt a lesson from the experience of Charan Singh as home minister in the first Janata government. He arrested Indira Gandhi, raided her home, and dug all over her farm in Mehrauli for hidden treasure. Nothing was ever found. But it helped Indira Gandhi to rise from the ashes of electoral defeat. So has Jayalalitha who, along with her woman friend, was even more badly treated.

But businessmen and managers do not have an electorate to forgive them and return them to power and position. They have to wait for years to be tried and acquitted. Rarely, however, do we hear of the trials and their outcomes. Their careers are finished, whether because they have been removed from employment, or they are too old to be taken back. Or they remain in employment but are �sent to Coventry�. They are frozen in service, with little responsibility, no promotions, and waiting for retirement. What we remember of them are the charges that the investigating agencies have leaked in detail to the press.

Is it possible that the offences, even if they were committed, were in collusion with powerful public figures who are able to ensure that there is no punishment? This has been said to be the case with offences in the financial markets. Harshad Mehta is yet to be punished. Apart from having to lower his public profile, and having some of his assets frozen to repay much larger liabilities, nothing else in the way of penalty seems to have happened even after five or six years. A few weeks ago he was suspended from trading in the stock markets. That is not a big deal since he can trade through others.

The other route followed by those who may have, in fact, committed criminal acts, is to buy up the witnesses so that the trial becomes a farce. Many instances of this have occurred in Delhi in the case of criminal offences. People who were said in the newspapers to have been seen committing the criminal acts, were able, during trial, to get away scot-free because the witnesses denied having seen anything. It might be that they had second thoughts in good faith, or in return for inducements, or because of threats. We might see this happening in the future with white-collar crimes as well. In India, it is a punishment to be a witness. Trials go on for far too long, disrupting one�s normal life. It is much easier to withdraw and earn an incentive for doing so.

What are the remedies? Investigating agencies should not be allowed under pain of the severest punishment, to leak untested information to the press and the public. Indeed, evidence should be presented only in court, and after the defendant has had a chance to study it. It should be enough to state that a person has been charged, but with no details as to the various misdeeds that he might have committed.

The media should exercise much greater restraint. It should not allow itself to be used to plant selectively leaked stories from investigating agencies or others. If it does, it should afford equal space to the accused person to rebut the allegations. In the competitive media of today, when every correspondent is trying to push his byline, it may not be possible to ask them not to use such leaks. But certainly they can be asked to be more thorough, and to print the version of the accused as well.

There is a responsibility not to tarnish reputations and destroy characters. For ordinary people not in politics, it is almost impossible to wash away mud thrown by the media. Investigators cannot be the judges. We must have a faster judicial process than we do.

The author is former chairman, National Council for Applied Economic Research


Following Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s invitation to General Pervez Musharraf, the meeting of the two heads of state is likely to be held in July. If the summit meeting comes through, July will assume special significance for Indo-Pakistani relations, since the Simla summit was held in July. But will this mark a new beginning for Kashmir?

Whatever the results of the meeting, General Musharraf will want to host another one in Pakistan. Vajpayee�s call for a meeting has been generally welcomed in Pakistan, primarily because it spells a new recognition for the country�s military dictator. Pakistan is also aware that this recognition has not come from its own diplomacy, but from the blood spilled by the jehadis of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They are the ones who kept the Kashmir issue alive. Pakistan, through its covert and overt support, has kept them alive and kicking.

Can the Pakistani ruler, then, afford to antagonize them by reaching an agreement with India which will surely dissatisfy them? This will be the first obstacle to surpass. The scheduled meeting cannot be compared to the Simla summit between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Pakistan was, at that time, a defeated country, with a lakh prisoners of war in India and 5,000 square miles under Indian occupation. Bhutto had recently come to power. Being perceived as the one responsible for the defeat, he was weak. But he proved to be clever in dealing with Indira Gandhi. He assured her that the line of control would be made into a permanent border. Indira Gandhi gave in too because she did not want to send back a failed Bhutto.

Handle with care

Vajpayee will have to be more careful. He should begin with the expectation that little would come out of the meeting. What can he offer Musharraf that will satisfy the military ruler? Pakistan�s spokesmen have so far not shown any significant change of attitude, and it is obvious that Pakistan is not going to make a radical departure from its usual demands. And India cannot give concessions just to please Pakistan. Musharraf would like to assure the people of Pakistan that he not only resolved the Kashmir dispute, but also acquired a part of it for Pakistan, whether through diplomacy or by violence.

This is a challenge for Vajpayee. His limitations are many. He cannot afford to grant drastic concessions to Pakistan, especially since the opposition has supported his decision to invite Musharraf for talks to India? Would broaching the question of Kashmir�s economic recovery help? Not likely, since Pakistan would long have solved the problem if it had worried about the wellbeing of the people in the valley.

There can be no question that the summit was well-timed. But how disastrous would be its failure? What can India offer that Musharraf will be able to accept? Shorn of the pelf and pomp of protocol, Vajpayee has little to offer beyond the atmospherics.

What�s on the menu

The ending of the ceasefire also came at the right time. Since India did not find an answer to Pakistan-backed militants� continuous killing of the Indian securitymen and civilians, the ceasefire had slowly lost its meaning. Where it suited Pakistan�s interests, it kept up its end of the ceasefire, for instance, along the LoC. But in the valley itself, the jehadis went on with their agenda of killing. The end of the ceasefire might initially mean more bloodshed, but with the Indian security forces replying for every bullet fired, it is sure to come down. Vajpayee could still make a gesture by holding out the offer of ceasefire while the talks are on.

Given that both Kargil and the failure of the Lahore bus yatra have not endeared Musharraf to the Indian masses, he would want to make a good impression too. Besides, he is not at the helm of a sound and stable economy. The line to take during the summit for India would be to convey with firmness that the continuous confrontation will not help anyone. At the same time, earnest overtures have to be made of strengthening the friendship with Pakistan, even if it might have no greater effect than lessen the tension between the two sides across the table. The tension and violence is at the root of the Kashmir trouble, more than the territorial squabble. Without the bloodshed, Kashmir would no more be a festering sore. If the summit can go a small way in curbing the violence and bloodshed, Vajpayee�s initiative will have been worthwhile.


Back in Sri Lanka last week after a gap of four years, I thought I espied, for the first time in two decades, the tiniest ray of hope lighting the end of the tunnel. When I was last there in April 1997, and again in July that year, the Sri Lankan government was preparing for Operation Jayasuriya, which they believed would drive a clear path through the jungles of the Vanni, linking Colombo to Jaffna, ensuring a land-based supply route to their garrison at Palaly in the far reaches of the peninsula, thus putting paid to any prospect of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam securing a military victory.

While pressing ahead with her proposals for constitutional reform, the president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, at the time, was relying primarily on a military option � Operation Jayasuriya � to drag the LTTE kicking and screaming to the negotiating table, with diplomatic back-up from a British mediating initiative spearheaded by the Tory minister, Liam Fox.

I wrote up my pessimistic assessment of this strategy in a four-part series titled �The Lion, the Tiger and the Fox� for a Chennai newspaper. Fox was the first to disappear into history, defeated, with most of his party colleagues, in the British elections of May 1997. The Lion � symbol of Sri Lanka � scored some initial military advances, but got stranded in the jungle. The Tiger then made a dramatic break through the Elephant Pass early last year, investing Jaffna town and threatening to overrun the Palaly base and capture Kankesanturai port.

As the worst seemed imminent, I had a most welcome visit from Major-General A.S. Kalkat, who had commanded the Indian peace-keeping force. He was positive there was no way the LTTE could overwhelm the 40,000-strong Sri Lankan army holed up in Palaly. His argument was simplicity itself.

With little prospect of their being evacuated, the Sri Lankan soldiers would either have to drown like lemmings driven into the sea, or stand up and fight. Since the most effective weapon in the hands of the LTTE is the low morale of the Sri Lankan troops, caught between a rock and a hard place the Sri Lankan jawan would be left with no alternative but to jack up his morale and battle for life. Then, said General Kalkat, as neither in numbers nor in weapon power could the LTTE match the Sri Lankan army, the LTTE offensive would peter out at the gates of Jaffna town and it would eventually be driven back over the Elephant Pass to its jungle hideouts in the Vanni.

Every word of General Kalkat�s prediction has been vindicated. The Tiger is back in his den. The Lion knows there is no way it can become Lord of the Jungle. And the Fox has given way to the Norwegians, whose low profile, infinite patience, impartiality and selflessness have made them a welcome facilitator both to the Tiger and the Lion.

The stumbling block to peace in the island was never the LTTE. It was always the inability of the two main political parties, the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, lead party of the ruling alliance, the People�s Alliance, to sink their petty partisan rivalries in the larger cause of peace and reconciliation. At the time I was last in Sri Lanka, there was no hope at all of the leaders of the two parties, Ranil Wickramasinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga respectively, working out a common strategy to meet Tamil aspirations and confront the LTTE.

There still is not. But a most significant set of elections has since intervened. The clear winner in the presidential race was Chandrika, even though she almost lost her life in the endeavour. In the parliamentary elections that followed, her People�s Alliance has won a decisive edge in the house, not quite enough to ensure the two-thirds majority required to pass the required constitution amendments, but large enough to place the political initiative decisively in her hands. In that sense, the blocking power of the UNP is not as effective as it once was.

Chandrika herself was categorical in a brief speech she made at a reception for participants in the international conference I attended. She said she would push through her constitutional reforms within the framework of all the hurdles placed in her way by the constitution imposed by the Jayawardene regime, but if that proved impossible she would find some way or other of ramming through her reforms.

It is that determination of spirit, the grit and persistence with which Chandrika is proceeding, the consistency and clarity she reveals in all conversations � private and public � that is Sri Lanka�s best hope for peace and reconciliation. The limits and limitations of military action have been explored and are now well recognized. The proposed constitution reforms would deliver to the Tamils what should have been theirs of right and which were denied them � largely because of her father and his association with chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhist elements.

The able diplomacy of Lakshman Kadirgamar, Chandrika�s Tamil foreign minister, has isolated the LTTE from its main sources of supply in the Western world. Success for everyone � for the Sinhalas a united Sri Lanka, for the Tamils the guarantee of civic and political rights and devolution to the provinces, for the LTTE much of what it has sought short of unattainable eelam, and for the Norwegians a Nobel prize they will not have to export � all this is at hand.

The intelligent thing for India to do is to benevolently keep off, neither mediating nor even facilitating, but letting it be gently known that when the LTTE, the other Tamil parties, the UNP and the SLFP-led People�s Alliance come to a settlement among themselves, if any of these parties feels the need of an outside guarantor, and if the rest are of like mind, India would be willing, if asked, to carry the burden. But not unless asked � and not unless everyone there wants it.

The lesson for us Indians to draw is that the tragedy which has engulfed Sri Lanka � the island of Serendip, as the Arabs called it, from which emerges the synonym for tranquillity, serendipity � is the consequence of the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Bharatiya Janata Party having come to absolute power within a decade of Sri Lanka�s independence. The platform of exclusivism and narrow-minded sectarianism on which �Sword� Bandaranaike � Chandrika�s father � rode to power in 1956 led to the betrayal of the Tamils through the repudiation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact, then took Sword�s life in his assassination by a Buddhist monk when Chandrika was a mere 12 years old, went on to the chauvinist card being stolen by the opposition UNP, and finally to the Tamil revolt which for two decades has disrupted every kind of progress in this lovely island.

Sword�s daughter has prepared the ground to return Sri Lanka to its pre-BJP serendipity. Fortunately, our BJP is so preoccupied with its last fortress in Uttar Pradesh that it has neither the time nor the inclination to get involved with unpronounceable problems in the far south.

Yet when Sri Lanka wins through, as it is bound to do, and sooner rather than later at that, a friendly and cooperative India would be the least Chandrika must know she will secure as the Indian present for giving the Tamils of her land their due and, thus, Sri Lanka a fresh lease of life. Can the Indian clones of the forces which landed Sri Lanka in its present mess hold out any such promise? Only if they forswear not to do in India what the denial of a composite nationhood has inflicted on Sri Lanka.


Nothwithstanding government orders that the desi Viagra should not be sold without prescription, sildenafil citrate, the wonder drug for male impotence, is being marketed by various Indian companies and can be bought across the counter without too many hassles. Thanks to the easy availability of the drug, life is easy for a number of Indians who suffer from sexual dysfunction.

When multinational products are flooding the Indian market, date rape drugs may make their appearance soon in the country�s metropolises. Rohypnol and ketamine, also known as roofies, forget pills, Mexican valium and so on, are a powerful depressant of the central nervous system. Rohypnol is prescribed in Europe as a sleeping pill or a pre-anaesthetic for surgery. It dissolves quickly and within a few minutes induces sleepiness. Users often pass out and wake up hours later with no memory of what happened in between. Since there is enormous scope of it being used on an unwilling partner in sex, its sale is prohibited in the United States. But most users get it from Europe, Mexico and other Latin American countries.

It�s a bargain

But these will be new entrants in the Indian market. India otherwise is already becoming an important drug transit centre for the export of opium and its precious extract, heroin. While a large portion of the opium produced in the country is used for pharmaceutical reasons, a huge quantity of illicit opium and heroin produced in the Golden Triangle (comprising Myanmar, Thailand and Laos) and the Golden Crescent (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) is being exported to the US and other countries through India.

The margin of profit from the Golden Triangle�s heroin trade is so high that even top level functionaries in the countries involved succumb to temptation. In 1990, the US indicted a high level official of the Thai police on four counts of heroin trafficking. In 1992, a prominent leader of the Justice and Unity Party, was refused visa on suspicion of his links with the drug mafia based in Myanmar. In 1996, a former member of parliament, Thanong Siripreechapong, was extradited to the US to face charges of his participation in the Thai-US smuggling racket.

On the border

The Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent together account for 90 per cent of the world�s illicit opium production. The taliban-controlled Afghanistan is the main source of opium in the Golden Crescent. But it is Pakistan which serves as the centre for the extraction of heroin from opium. Those involved in this trade in the country wield enormous clout. It is said that anyone controlling the poppy fields, Karachi and the road that links the two could be rich enough to control the entire country without the help of the army.

This might soon be the case with India. Its porous borders with Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal have already become crucial to the international drug trade. Naturally drug abuse in the country, the Northeast especially, has reached alarming proportions. There is a corresponding rise in the number of hepatitis, tuberculosis and AIDS cases. These eastern states are close to the Myanmar border through which a fairly large load of drugs produced in the Golden Triangle pass through. Unless the Indian authorities sit up and take notice of the menace, drug smuggling will go on adding to the problems of the government.



Under the spotlight

Sir � It is anything but easy to be the offspring of famous parents. And if the father or mother happens to be an influential politician, then the going gets even tougher for the child. The two children of Rajiv Gandhi have been virtually persecuted by the media through their childhood and adolescence even though they had no connection with politics. Sometime back, Tony Blair�s eldest son was held by the London police for throwing up in a public park after having had a few drinks. And now, the United States president�s twin daughters are under probe for trying to buy alcohol illegally (�Bush twins face probe�, June 1). There can be nothing wrong in these young people being brought to book for violating the law. In fact, that is far more preferable than offenders getting away through their political connections. What these children do not deserve is the surfeit of media attention. They cannot be made to pay the price of their parents� popularity or unpopularity. They must be allowed their quota of adolescent foibles.

Yours faithfully,
Soma Sinha, Calcutta

Rule by law

Sir � The Centre has taken the right decision by imposing president�s rule in Manipur, given the political uncertainty in the state following the no-confidence verdict against Radhabinod Koijam�s ministry on the floor of the house (�Central rule in Manipur�, June 3). What followed the fall of Koijam�s cabinet was high political drama where politicians, irrespective of the party they belong to, came out to show their true colours.

Switching over sides or defecting is not new in Manipur politics. Koijam himself is a defector, so are a number of current legislators, including former chief minister, R.K. Dorendra Singh, who now represents the Bharatiya Janata Party.

When in New Delhi, Koijam maintained extremely friendly relations with the BJP, then went back to Imphal to sing a completely different tune upon realizing that he was not going to get much help from the BJP in trying to get back his chief ministership. These politicians are among the most corrupt in the country. The people of Manipur have lost faith in them. Imposition of president�s rule is the best solution, as well as the best form of punishment for the power-hungry politicians.

Yours faithfully,
Sumati Yengkhom, Howrah

Sir � President�s rule has at last been imposed in Manipur. Restoring law and order, which is the most important hurdle to the overall development of the state today, must be the first priority of Central rule. �Rashtrapati sashan aney ke baad, puchhe bina jab chahe kisiko jhaapar mar sakte hai (Once there is president�s rule, we can slap anyone we wish anytime),� said a euphoric Assam Rifles member doing duty on the highway. Such a notion among the armed forces is unfortunate. President�s rule is imposed so that the abnormal conditions in the state can be corrected, and not for facilitating excesses of people in uniform. What is needed now are strong advisors to the governor who can give him fresh ideas about bringing Manipur back on track.

New Delhi�s discrimination against Manipur and the entire Northeast has been noticed by the local people for well over three decades since Manipur gained statehood. The governor should take the matter up with New Delhi.

If the militancy-torn states of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam can have mobile phone services, why can�t Manipur? The government has already prioritized the payment of salaries to government employees regularly in the state. It must also do so for the non-salaried people, who constitute about 97 per cent of the state population. Improvement of power supply, roads and communications, drinking water, irrigation and flood control, healthcare services, revival of some sick industrial units, and undisturbed supply of essential commodities to the state must also be ensured.

The state administration should not be blackmailed by the legislators. The BJP central leadership, in order to salvage its lost credibility as a national party by the political crisis in Manipur, has already put New Delhi before Manipur. A very good relationship between the BJP and the Samata Party in the National Democratic Alliance is indispensable for both the national parties to fare well in the forthcoming elections in the state. The Centre must try to understand the needs of the state in order to bring to it social, political and economic stability. If president�s rule can help it do so, then it will be worthwhile.

Yours faithfully,
Laishram Napoleon and two others, Imphal

Badge of difference

Sir � It is extremely disturbing that Hindus do not have anyone to speak on their behalf when their rights are infringed upon. Any disrespect shown to the members of the Muslim community inevitably creates an outrage. Given that the Indian government is committed to secularism, it will no doubt refrain from voicing its disgust at the latest whim of the taliban rulers (�Taliban decree angers Hindus�, May 24). The taliban onslaught on minorities has already driven most Hindus away. Those who have remained in the country for the last few years have been forced to comply with the wishes of the taliban.

The latest fatwa issued by the taliban is yet another barbaric act that will further tarnish its reputation in the international community. It is difficult to understand why the civilized nations of the world have not protested at the continuous violation of human rights in Afghanistan. The Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, should take the initiative and persuade the United Nations to look into the matter.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir � The editorial, �Standing out� (May 25), has rightly pointed out that the taliban decree against the members of minority communities like Hindus and Sikhs is a throwback to Hitler�s Germany. That any such decree deserves to be condemned does not need to be reiterated. What is particularly interesting about this fatwa is that the taliban has targeted minority communities � a departure from its strictures against women.

By identifying members of minority communities, the taliban is in effect sending out a warning that it will not tolerate any defiance. Such a warning will only increase levels of insecurity and will ultimately force the dwindling minority population to flee the country.

Yours faithfully,
Shinjini Guha, via email

Sir � After destroying the statues of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the taliban is targeting Hindus and Sikhs by asking them to wear a yellow badge outside their homes. The question that India and other civilized countries of the world must answer is whether such acts should be allowed to pass without comment and criticism. The indifferent attitude of countries like the United States has allowed things to get out of hand.

Yours faithfully
Vijay P. Gupta, via email

Chaff from the grain

Sir � Devinder Sharma, in his article, �The politics of procuring food� (June 4), has criticized the International Monetary Fund and the United States for trying to dismantle the food security programme in India. He argues that the US is trying to push its excess grain to India.

India�s productivity in grain farming is much lower than the US�s. It is even lower than China�s. India�s policy should be to improve the productivity so that it can compete internationally and Indians can buy foodgrains at the international market price. Subsidy should be provided only to people below the poverty line. With higher productivity, competing with the US in the global market shouldn�t be a problem.

Yours faithfully,
Shyamal Pain, Edison, US

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