Editorial 1/ Not for the poor
Editorial 2/ Women below
Quite a lot behind the smoke
Interlude in Bangladesh
India�s dynamic diaspora network
Fifth Column/ Plans out of place and out of date
Letters to the editor

The public distribution system is ostensibly for the poor, even though empirical studies have established that the poor obtain very little of their foodgrain requirements through the PDS. The PDS shops do not exist in truly poor and backward areas. Instead, the PDS caters to rich urban consumers. The country needs a buffer stock for food security purposes and 16 million tonnes is enough. Not only is this procured through the Food Corporation of India, procurement for operating the PDS is also through FCI. FCI inefficiencies thus feed into cost of grain acquired. Meanwhile, PDS foodgrains are allocated by the Centre to the states at a central issue price. This is not necessarily the price at which the states sell grain through the PDS, since states can fund an additional subsidy through their own budgets. Logically, food subsidies should only exist for the poor, provided they are identified and targeted properly. As an economic argument, it is more efficient to subsidize the poor through direct cash payments. For the non-poor, the reform process should have junked the PDS. This was politically unacceptable by the Centre and the states. The PDS was retained, but the central issue price was hiked. Depending on whether states could absorb an enhanced subsidy burden through their own budgets, sometimes central issue price increases were passed on as hikes in retail prices. Sometimes they were not. However, the net result was reduced demand and reduced offtake for PDS grain.

In an attempt to target the poor better, reforms started a revamped PDS for those below the poverty line. This offers foodgrains roughly at 60 per cent of market price. However, not many states have so far been able to identify BPL households or issue them special ration cards; there are states like Andhra Pradesh and Bihar that would like, for populist reasons, the entire state to be classified as BPL, regardless of what National Sample Survey data show. A third rung, the Antyodaya scheme, has run into similar identification problems. Through this, foodgrains are offered virtually free, since only carrying and transportation costs are recovered. While demand for the PDS grain in FCI godowns has declined, supply has increased, thanks to hikes in procurement prices necessary to assuage allies in Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh. The result is 60 million tonnes of foodgrains, eaten by rats or rotting in the open, since there aren�t enough godowns. An additional 22 million tonnes are expected through procurement this year. Attempts to export have also been unsatisfactory, since consignments have been rejected as being sub-standard.

The obvious long-term solution is to scrap the PDS as it stands today, reform both procurement and distribution and remove FCI�s monopoly on procurement. This was promised in the budget speech, but states have expressed their unwillingness to push this reform through. So the government has now come up with a bizarre solution. Till March 2002, above the poverty line households will be offered foodgrains at market prices, now 30 per cent below PDS prices. BPL or Antyodaya prices will not change, but monthly BPL quotas will be hiked from 20 to 25 kilos. Two million tonnes will also be exported. Even if the long-term solution cannot immediately be implemented, a short-term solution that again panders to urban middle classes was hardly the answer. Foodgrains could have been distributed through food for work schemes. Export proceeds could have been given to the poor as direct cash transfers. But clearly, politicians want schemes in the name of the poor, not those that benefit the poor.


It is ironic that the south Asia and the Pacific region should abound in controversial women political leaders � Ms J. Jayalalitha�s latest venture caused quite a storm � while lower down, few women have access to positions of power in local government. This last is the finding of a paper entitled �Women in local government in Asia and the Pacific: a comparative analysis of 13 countries�, presented at the United Nations economic and social commission for Asia and the Pacific summit for women mayors and councillors in Thailand. It is true that women are under-represented in politics worldwide, but Britain and many countries in Europe are seeing an increasing number of women politicians in crucial positions in government and opposition. The paper, however, focussed on local level government, and found that women in India and Bangladesh came out best, occupying 33 per cent of the decisionmaking positions. The percentage also coincides with the percentage of seats reserved for women in both countries and the paper made no bones about identifying reservations as the cause of this triumph. Read against the grain, therefore, it is possible to say, that this is simply not good enough. Australia, without reservations, has 26.3 per cent, even Japan has 6.2 per cent, and, Sri Lanka, with Ms Chandrika Kumaratunga at its head has two per cent. In other words, even two per cent over the mandatory 33 would have meant that women were braving violence and political, social and domestic opposition to fight for a place in decisionmaking bodies in India and Bangladesh.

The picture, therefore, remains discouraging at the local level. The paper�s findings can be contrasted with the number of powerful women at the top of the political pyramid, whether Ms Jayalalitha or Ms Kumaratunga or Sheikh Hasina. Obviously, two different kinds of politics are under consideration here. Women on top are not positive indicators of women�s status and value in a society. Only women in local bodies represent that.


I have been a proponent of competition and open markets except twice: when ICI with around 12 per cent market share tried a hostile takeover of Asian Paints with a 40 per cent market share; and earlier, when BAT tried to impose itself on the well-managed Indian company � ITC. However, I took it for granted that companies, and especially large multinational ones, would always follow the laws of the country in which they were manufacturing or trading. Documents made available by websites dent this belief, at least as far as cigarettes are concerned.

Even more interesting is how the attempt to maximize profits irrespective of the legality or otherwise of the sales, can circumstantially be linked to the corporate battles over almost all of the Nineties between ITC, its largest single shareholder � BAT, and a smaller Indian cigarette company, VST, in which also BAT is the largest single shareholder. BAT owns 31 per cent of ITC shares and has two out of 14 directors while public financial institutions with 34 per cent have five directors. With 32 per cent of VST shares BAT has five (one so-called independent) out of seven directors, public financial institutions with 23 per cent have two. ITC�s cigarette business is far more profitable than that of VST. Until a few years ago, VST top management was largely seconded from ITC, and most returned to ITC. This changed during the Nineties when, I am told by ITC sources, the loyalties of at least some of the seconded managers switched to BAT.

After the government relaxed the rules for foreign direct investment, they clarified in 1998 that foreign financial/ technical collaborators with previous joint venture or technology transfer or trademark agreement in the same or allied field in India, would have to give detailed justification to the government for a new venture. They would have to prove that the new proposal would not jeopardize the interests of the existing partners. However, the manufacture of cigarettes was still subject to industrial licensing, as was any expansion of capacity. The government also clarified that 100 per cent FDI would be considered, subject to the other conditions.

If BAT wanted independent production facilities, they needed ITC�s agreement because of the other existing trademark agreements with ITC for the manufacture of top premium brands. At present it has the excellent distribution and manufacturing capacity of ITC for the purpose. However, Indian excise duties, sales and entry taxes on such premium cigarettes, which are �king-size�, vary on average between 60 and 70 per cent. This makes such cigarettes very expensive and so limits their sales, erodes profit margins of manufacturers who must try to keep prices down in order to achieve volumes, and denies the retailer the extra margins he would make if there were no taxes. This was a situation that most multinational companies in markets like India faced when there were quantitative restrictions and high duties on imports.

Some companies may have tried to beat the import ban by encouraging their distributors in neighbouring markets like Dubai and Singapore, to use �unofficial�or illegal routes to send their products to India. They also went all out to encourage duty-free sales, in duty-free shops, to returning Indian workers from west Asia and to naval personnel who are entitled to duty-free cigarettes. These would be resold at low prices in India. In the Seventies and during much of the Eighties, some companies and distributors were so well-organized that one saw their salesmen in major wholesale markets, booking orders from dealers for such imported goods, which were delivered within a given time schedule. Many such products were also advertised in programmes beamed into India from outside, like Radio Ceylon. There was advertising, supply and a distribution chain for such products.

Internal company documents filed by cigarette companies in the United Kingdom and the United States were deposited in courts in the US and UK. Some have been published on websites. They suggest that the largest cigarette companies in the world were actively involved in promoting such �duty-not-paid� sales. A UK parliament inquiry in 1999-2000 quotes a witness that �a majority of the present management board of the company [BAT] can be shown to have been complicit in the commission of criminal offences overseas.� In one company document, there is concern about reconciling the image of the company as �clean and ethical� while engaging in such operations. This �ethical correctness� was sought to be achieved via �letters to government, presentations to them, papers prepared for excise departments�, and so on. The main issue for the company was to achieve the highest market share in the �duty-not-paid� business.

Cigarettes are a dying business in developed countries, especially in the West. But markets like India have enormous potential for growth, given that over 80 per cent of smoking is of bidis, and these smokers will, with prosperity, graduate to cigarettes. The premium market is at present small, but could be much larger if the prices were not so high because of taxes. Hence the strategy to stimulate DNP cigarettes. The packets may not meet the requirements of the Indian laws, but this is a small problem that can be tackled in the notoriously lax Indian system.

The lowering of import duties in Bangladesh and Nepal, and the import duty concessions by India to these countries, now make DNP sales much easier. The long and porous borders enable the DNP (smuggled) entry not only of premium cigarettes, but also of lower priced ones, since the price in many cases is lower even than the taxes charged per cigarette in India. A recent survey by the Indian Market Research Bureau estimates that around 50 per cent of king-size cigarettes now sold are DNP, valued at consumer prices at around Rs 70 crore a month.

A DNP business with a legitimate manufacturing front in India ensures that any sales can be said to be part of the same production. This may be the case today with many other consumer products flooding in from other countries where they are cheaper and which are also made in India. Some duty-paid import, some local manufacture, and a large quantity of no-duty imports can maximize the profit for the multinational corporation. The Indian manufacturing might be hurt but money is made in countries whose exchange rates are favourable for the MNC.

As far as BAT is concerned, BAT�s shareholdings in both ITC and VST do not give it a majority. ITC has a management that does not depend on BAT, while VST is almost a one-product company without any great strengths of its own, in which also BAT is not the majority shareholder. To be able to make premium cigarettes for BAT it needs money. BAT can finance it if it had majority control. This may explain the suspicion that the recent attempts to buy almost 20 per cent of VST shares could be because it is BAT that is the buyer.

Any shareholder including the institutional shareholders should be free to sell and get maximum value. But the government should stop any �fronting�, or back-door acquisition. All imports of cigarettes as of other consumer products should be duty paid and there must be strong penalties for violations including of packaging laws.

The penalties must be on the stocking retailer, but the local manufacturer of the same brand whose company overseas has allowed the product to enter India without following our laws, must show cause why he should also not be penalized.

Our indirect tax rates must have parity with neighbouring countries to prevent smuggling. The laxity in implementation of our laws, and the ease with which people can buy their way to violating them are also to blame for such violations. Cigarettes may be the foremost instance of collaboration between respected MNCs and the mafia, but there may be others.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research rao_l@vsnl.net


At the stroke of midnight last Thursday, the Jatiya Sansad (parliament) of Bangladesh was to conclude a session that would ring the curtain down on the five-year reign of Sheikh Hasina�s Awami League government, leaving it to the caretaker government of President Shahabuddin Ahmed to take over till the next government came in. It was to be followed by a midnight celebration of the event. The parliament session ended earlier and the festivity was cancelled. Some reports said the celebration had been cancelled owing to the sudden death of the parliament speaker, Humayun Rashid Choudhury, while others indicated that Sheikh Hasina called it off fearing trouble. But Dhaka was stirred by sounds of gunshots and bomb explosions at several places where Begum Khaleda Zia�s Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists came out on to the streets to mark the end of Hasina�s rule and got into skirmishes with League supporters.

Hasina�s fears proved correct, but it seemed a pity she was denied the cheers . For it was no mean achievement for her to have completed five years in office in the face of the BNP�s obstructionist politics, inside and outside parliament, and the openly disruptive activities of some fundamentalist groups hellbent on pulling down the government. It was tit-for-tat politics; the League had been as acrimoniously agitationist during the previous BNP rule.

Bangladesh looked like a country under siege, with the opposition-sponsored hartals shutting down life and crippling the economy every other month. Worse still, a series of terrorist attacks , the latest and the most vicious of them on a League meeting in Narayangunj near Dhaka last month, left a bloody trail of death and fear. It looked as if Hasina was losing control of the situation, as her father and first prime minister of the new nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, had in 1974-75 before his assassination, and was getting inexorably drawn into a vortex of revenge politics to match her b�te noire Khaleda Zia�s game of brinkmanship.

Yet, there was much to cheer about in Hasina�s five-year tenure. One of the first goals she set herself after taking over as prime minister in June, 1996 was to end the two-decade-old insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. After protracted negotiations, her government signed a peace treaty with the rebel group, Parbatya Chattogram Janasanghati Samiti, in December, 1997, leading to the surrender of arms and the formation of the three autonomous hill district councils. The treaty earned her a UNESCO award; more important, it freed Bangladesh from an old, internationalized charge of human rights violations.

BNP leaders, however, had always alleged that India had funded and armed the CHT militants to put pressure on successive governments in Dhaka. With a friendly Hasina in charge, there was no further need for the irritant, they argued.

For Hasina, of course, the pro-India tag stuck there no matter what she did. She decided to take advantage of it, rather than being cowed down by it. She moved quickly to finalize the treaty on the sharing of Ganga water that had long been a casualty to partisan politics in Bangladesh. When it came, Khaleda Zia must have realized that she could have got it too, as she got the right of passage through the contentious Tin Bigha corridor, because the Indian offer of release of water from the Farakka barrage was not very different from what had been suggested to Khaleda during her prime ministership.

Instead, politicial compulsions made her debunk the treaty, signed in December, 1996, as a �total surrender� to India . Interestingly, the Bharatiya Janata Party in India condemned the treaty, alleging that the United Front government was jettisoning �national interests� by committing more water to Bangladesh during the dry season. The saffronites had earlier sought to arouse similar passions in West Bengal about the Tin Bigha agreement.

The Indian help also came by way of clearing the decks for the road links between the two countries. The bus services between Dhaka and Calcutta came as a big boon for people of both countries who could not afford air travel. Days before laying down office, Hasina made the final moves for a similar service between Dhaka and Agartala as well as introducing the rail link between the two countries.

She, however, could not push through the issue of giving transit to India for carrying goods to the Northeast, despite India�s keenness to have the facility. Opposition parties have long seen this as the ultimate assault on Bangladesh�s sovereignty and warned Hasina of a �civil war� if India is granted the transit facility. Although trade and industry circles in Dhaka estimate that the country could have raised at least Taka 300 crore worth of duty by giving Indian transporters the facility, Hasina backed out from the confrontation. In any event, the issue would become largely irrelevant once the Asian Highway stretching to Myanmar is completed.

Inside the country, though, her government took major steps to spread and upgrade the road network in order to give a much-needed push to the sluggish economy. The completion of the 4.8 kilometre Bangabandhu Bridge over the Jamuna river, at a total cost of Taka 39.5 billion, provided mostly by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, was a milestone. The single biggest project since the nation�s birth, this longest river bridge in south Asia has provisions for railway, gas pipeline, electricity transmission and telecommunication network. It has made possible direct and fast road links to the northern parts of the country.

Six other major river bridge projects are underway and once completed, these, along with the upgradation of the highways, are expected to give the country a rare mobility. Hasina�s years have seen the gross domestic product averaging between five and six per cent, but she failed to adequately open up the economy.

With all these achievements, Hasina should have sat pretty and hoped to return to a second term in office. She cannot afford to do that. She had opened a Pandora�s box by beginning the trial of her father�s assassins, as she had promised to do in her election manifesto in 1996. The trial has opened old wounds and has swelled the ranks of her opponents. Over the past one and a half years, she has faced allegations of corruption involving Awami League leaders. Even her image has been sullied by appointments of some of her relatives to important government posts.

She therefore has to try and inject fresh blood in the League campaign for the October elections. She has to contend with two stereotypes of election-time opposition politics in Bangladesh � the India bogey and the fundamentalist assault. If she has alienated sections of her earlier sympathizers, that may be as much because of the belligerent BNP as because of a tainted League. Corruption may not be a big issue in Bangladesh elections; but a corrupted League may find the battle that much harder.


In India, annual venture capital investments reached $350 million in 1999, with most investments concentrated in the technology hubs in the country�s south and west. The government has developed policy guidelines to encourage venture capital, and the National Association of Software and Service Companies projects that up to $10 billion of venture capital may be available by 2008.

In both India and Israel the government played an important role in establishing the venture capital industry and stimulating innovation, but a sophisticated financial sector was a precondition for attracting venture capital.

China and India both have more than a million students enrolled in technical subjects. These large enrolments generate a critical mass of skilled personnel.

Rich countries are opening their doors to developing country professionals � at a high cost to the home countries. Annually, about 100,000 Indian professionals are expected to take new visas recently issued by the United States. The cost of providing university education to these professionals represents a resource loss of $2 billion for India .

Diasporas can enhance the reputation of the home country. The success of the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley, for example, appears to be influencing how the world views India, by creating a sort of �branding�. Indian nationality for a software programmer sends a signal of quality just as a �made in Japan� label signals first class consumer electronics. India�s information technology talent is now being courted not just by companies in the United States but by those in other countries.

The worldwide network of Indian professionals has been investing in skill development at home. The network has worked to raise the endowments and bolster the finances of some of India�s institutions of higher education. An effort is under way to establish five global institutes of science and technology.

The Indian diaspora is also having important effects in the information technology sector. Firms increasingly have operations in both the United States � the �front office� � and India � �the manufacturing facility�. At a time that talent in information technology has been scarce, Indian-launched firms in the United States have had a competitive advantage stemming from an unusual factor: they are up and running faster than their rivals simply because they can hire technical people faster, drawing as they do from a large transnational network. This has led to a growing demand for information technology specialists from India and thus to a rapid expansion of information technology training, increasingly by the private sector.

The diaspora�s attitude about returning to the home country is likely to change as the country develops and its prospects improve. Both the Indian and Korean diasporas responded to improving domestic conditions. Timing and chance play a part in this, but diaspora networks can be effective only when countries get their houses in order.

Consider the drain of software professionals from India to the United States. Under new legislation introduced in October 2000, the United States will issue about 200,000 H-1B visas a year over the next three years. These visas are issued to import specific skills, primarily in the computer industry. Almost half are expected to be issued to Indian software professionals. What resource loss will this represent for India?

Consider just the public spending on students graduating from India�s elite institutes of technology. Operating costs per student run about $2,000 a year, or about $8,000 for a four-year programme. Adding in spending on fixed capital, based on the replacement costs of physical facilities, brings the total cost of training each student to $15,000-20,000. Multiply that by 100,000, the number of professionals expected to leave India each year for the next three years. At the high end, it brings the resource loss to $2 billion a year.

How might India begin to recover this loss? The simplest administrative mechanism would be to impose a flat tax-an exit fee paid by the employee or the firm at the time the visa is granted.


The planning commission�s role after the economic reforms can be best summed up by the maxim, �If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.� The planning commission, or the government, must have control over the means of production to direct the economy. But, the government�s non-intervention and the shifting of the �commanding heights� of the public sector to private control and ownership are at the heart of economic liberalism. The five year plans , therefore, only show the wishful thinking of the commission while being unable to ensure the realization of the targets.

In fact, the character of the planning underwent a radical change as an important component of the reforms package. Though not a clandestine exercise, the government overtly stated that the plans would emulate the French model of indicative planning, replacing the Nehru-Mahalanobis (or Soviet model) planning. Therefore, while the plan projections and end-results will never match each other, the objectives in the plan will clash with the means specified to achieve them. The tenth plan (2002-07), particularly after the government�s reaffirmation of deepening and widening the reforms while striving to achieve a national consensus towards the reforms, cannot be much different.

The approach-paper to the tenth plan sets a growth target of 8 per cent, while the prime minister and chairman of the commission would like it to be nine per cent or higher. Whether this high growth rate is practical or achievable must be first examined.

Futile command

In the ninth plan, the growth achieved was estimated to be six per cent against the target of seven per cent, not to speak of the ongoing slowdown in the economy hinting at the difficulty in achieving a 5.2 per cent growth during the current fiscal year. This being the case during the years immediately preceding the tenth plan and without being confident about the investment in various sectors and their source, the higher target of eight per cent cannot but be illusory. This growth target is based on the commission�s presumption of a lower capital-output ratio, higher savings, investments, higher revenue � tax, non-tax and through the disinvestments route. But none of these is likely to heed the commission�s command.

Furthermore, capital-intensive technology and a higher level of employment cannot move hand in hand. Similarly, the goal of lowering of tax rates following the World Trade Organization norms and the liberal doctrine on the one hand, and higher yield from them on the other, do not complement each other. The high growth target is likely to remain so only on paper. The ten years reforms experience itself proves that the notion that growth per se will bring economic and social justice is baseless.

Wishful thinking

Although the economy is on a higher growth trajectory of six per cent, no economic disparities have been wiped out by this growth. The plight and number of poor people continue to get worse. According to the government�s statistics, 250 million people in the country are below the poverty line. The World Development Report, which classifies all those with incomes below a dollar a day to be poor, places the number at 442 million. The human development index of the United Nation�s development programme ranks India at 128 of 174 countries of the world.

Only 120 million of 200 million children between 6 and 18 years are enrolled in school, while only 60 per cent actually attend school, making the actual percentage lower than 36 per cent. The 55th round of the National Sample Survey shows a decline in employment in agriculture and allied sectors, which supports 60 per cent of the work force. The decline in public sector employment can be attributed to the voluntary retirement and other similar employment reduction schemes.

It cannot go unnoticed that there is widespread hunger at a time when the government�s granaries are full, since the Food Corporation of India is holding stocks in excess of its storage capacity. Therefore, the poverty and hunger is more because of the lack of the purchasing power of the people, than tardy growth and low production. This shows that the concerns and solutions expressed by the planning commission will bring no real benefits and will remain, at best, wishful thinking.



Distant dream

Sir � It seems that Laloo Prasad Yadav is eager to jump onto the information technology bandwagon, egged on by the advice of his recently acquired son-in-law (�Laloo lays bridge over digital divide�, July 9). In trying to appear technology savvy, he has chosen to ignore the deplorable state of affairs in Bihar. Ever since the creation of Jharkhand, Bihar has been left with nothing but Yadav himself and the chief minister, his wife. It would be interesting to see whether any IT firm comes forward to invest in the state, given the fact that the education system in the state is in a mess. Not more than a year ago, the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief had admitted that he wouldn�t look favourably towards an IT revolution in his state. What could have made him suddenly change his mind and think that Bihar should be a frontrunner in the IT revolution? Even if this impossible dream were to be realized, would it help the thousands of illiterate poor in the state? Or is it just meant to add to the Yadav family�s already-overflowing coffers?
Yours faithfully,
Devlina Ray, Calcutta

A hike in time

Sir � The state government is totally justified in in its latest decision to hike tuition fees in colleges (�Tuition fees up four to ten times�, July 11). Nowhere else in India do we see students paying a measly amount of Rs 12 to Rs 20 for higher education in reputed colleges. In most instances, students pursuing higher studies can pay between Rs 100 and Rs 150 per month if not more.

The government has also stated that special cases will be considered for financially challenged students. Both parents and students must understand that in no other part of the country are subsidies provided for higher studies. Universities claim that because of the meagre fees they cannot afford to improve their facilities. Now universities and colleges will be able to maintain their buildings and improve their infrastructure. Students will not have to leave the state in search of better facilities and the state will therefore gain as a whole.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir � As a student of a reputed institution of Calcutta, I would like to point out that the government�s decision to raise the fees in government institutions is very welcome. Usually, the explanation given to students by authorities when complaints are made about the condition of the school building or equipment is that the college does not have adequate funds. Also, students will be motivated to perform better and attend classes as they will be paying a substantial amount for their education and not a pittance.

A rise in fees will also lead to more pressure on the universities to maintain themselves as they will no longer have the excuse of lack of funds to fall back on. Students and parents do not mind paying extra if they are guaranteed improved conditions and facilities. The amount we pay as fees is quite laughable when compared to the amount students in other states pay. A trial period of a year�s fee hike should determine whether the number of students enrolling in colleges drops with the fee hike. If not, it will be obvious to the government that the fee hike is a success.

Yours faithfully,
Doyel Sengupta, Calcutta

Sir � I believe that the government should have given a bit more thought to the situation before raising college fees. The students are the scapegoats of this absurd plan. If the steps towards raising fees were taken earlier in a phased manner then the current group of students wouldn�t suffer. A staggered increase over a period of 10 years would have automatically led to the government being able to raise the fees to a comparative amount with universities in other states.Why should students and parents bear the brunt of an ill-planned move by the government?

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta


Sir � Mani Shankar Aiyar seems to have completely glossed over the fact that it is the Congress which has mastered the art of subverting the Constitution (�A Tamilian protests�, July 3). While his criticism of the National Democratic Alliance is very strong, he has chosen to be silent on J. Jayalalitha�s corrupt practices. This is hardly surprising for a man who belongs to the party which deserves the sole credit for institutionalizing corruption. The law has taken its own course as far as M. Karunanidhi is concerned and a constitutional crisis has been averted.

That Jayalalitha became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu despite being convicted in the Tansi land deal case only exposes the loopholes in our Constitution. It is tragic that politicians in India have lost their moral compunctions.

Yours faithfully,
Ritu Mathur, Calcutta

Sir � Mani Shankar Aiyar has gone completely overboard trying to give an Aryan-Dravidian twist to the excesses in Tamil Nadu to justify the actions of J. Jayalalitha. Aiyar and his politician brethren believe in the tenet of tit for tat, and Jayalalitha is no exception. What has shocked the nation is the viciousness with which the vendetta was carried out. One would like to ask Aiyar, if M. Karunanidhi is a hardened criminal, pray what is Jayalalitha?

Yours faithfully,
N.G. Haksi, Ranchi

Sir � According to Mani Shankar Aiyar, all the actions of the NDA government are racist or fascist and unconstitutional, while the excesses committed when Indira Gandhi declared Emergency are lawful. Also, when his party decides to support the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadav or J. Jayalalitha for political gain, considerations of corruption and misrule do not arise. From when did Aiyar and his party assume the exclusive right of talking on behalf of the minority communities?

Yours faithfully,
Mansih Patel, via email

Sir � The language used in the article by Mani Shankar Aiyar was very offensive. So is the theme of Aryans versus non-Aryans. That is entirely irrelevant. Besides, the legalities of the matter are complex and under judicial review.

It is disturbing to see writers like Mani Shankar Aiyar going overboard justifying something which should not be justified under any circumstance. Two wrongs, after all, do not make a right. And if J. Jayalalitha was discharging her duties, as Aiyar would have it, why did she withdraw the cases against the two Union ministers?

Yours faithfully,
Rajiv Sharma, Kharagpur

Necessary evil

Sir � The editorial, �Third degree care� (July 6), is an effective analysis of the endless saga of police atrocities in West Bengal. The police are considered to be a necessary evil even in the West. There it is said that as a regular law-abiding citizen, you have no legal rights until you break the law. Then you have all the rights in the world. Katharine Graham of Washington Post once wrote, �There are certain things the general public does not need to know and shouldn�t if democracy has to flourish.� She could have cited the case of West Bengal as a perfect example.
Yours faithfully,
Naibedya Chattopadhyay, via email

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