Editorial 1 / No takers
Editorial 2 / Teach more
Diplomacy / Dividing the booty
Fifth Column / In a sea of financial trouble
Strike the proper balance
Document / What India wants clarified
Letters to the editor

Rather paradoxically, the Tatas dropping out of the Air India bid is good news for the government. After the Hindujas were excluded, only one bidder was left for Air India and with a single bidder, allegations of under-valuation and non-transparency would have surfaced. Given the aftermath of September 11, failure to push through any airline privatization is understandable. But in a more general vein, the credibility of the government�s reform package is under question, since none of the three main planks (agriculture, labour market, disinvestments) is materializing. This year, there was a target of Rs 12,000 crore for disinvestments, with the draft tenth five year plan upping the target to Rs 16,000 crore. Since 1991-92, disinvestments have apparently taken place in 42 central public sector undertakings, or so the government proclaims. But of the Rs 20,261 crore raised through disinvestments till 2000-01, a large chunk is minority sales, with the left hand of the government buying what the right hand sells.

There have been only five exceptions to this general principle � Lagan Jute Machinery Company, Modern Food Industries, Bharat Aluminuim Company, CMC and Hindustan Teleprinters Limited. Exactly 1.72 per cent of this year�s target has been realized so far. In February 2001, Messrs Shourie and Baijal promised 13 sales this year. Barring one, none of the others has materialized. The government may still hope for Hindustan Copper, Hindustan Zinc, National Fertilisers, Mecon and the Indian Tourism Development Corporation. But several ITDC hotels are stuck in litigation and often titles, completion plans, property tax papers and fire clearances are missing, not to speak of unauthorized constructions. The big-ticket disinvestments (Air India, Indian Airlines, Maruti, Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited) have all but disappeared. Mr Shourie and Mr Baijal can legitimately cite the political economy as a constraint, especially since the party that started disinvestments has now changed stance by virtue of being in the opposition. But this does not absolve the government of criticism on several counts.

First, an inability to handle the political economy within the government, particularly among allies. Second, decisions to exclude Indian companies on mere technicalities. For all 240-odd central PSUs to be privatized, the Indian corporate sector simply does not have requisite resources and those in it who do, are being excluded. Third, dysfunctional equity caps on foreign direct investment are constraints to disinvestments in the services sector. Hence the unnecessary requirement that foreign companies have to bid in tandem with Indian companies. Fourth, an exclusive reliance on the strategic sales route. Initial public offers and equity to workers would have reduced some of the flak, even if that meant lower overall valuation. While constraints exist, successful governance requires optimization within these constraints. Pointing to constraints will not enable the country to attain the 7 per cent growth rate that the finance minister highlighted at the India Economic Summit.


Truant teachers make an interesting paradox. But West Bengal seems to have fostered such a phenomenon. Teachers in the state have 85 holidays per year, and the government had found nothing unnatural in this. In fact, this had become quite comfortably a part of the general sabbatical tendency in Bengal, where government officials had also enjoyed inordinately long stretches of festive, or commemorative, inaction. But things seem to be changing now, and very much in the right direction, although nothing concrete has been implemented yet. Government officials are moving towards a six-day week and curtailed annual holidays. And now, a cut in the number of holidays for teachers is being contemplated by the government. This is, of course, an excellent idea and ought to be implemented, together with all the other work-ethic-related changes being pondered in Writers� Buildings. But the love of inaction in Bengal comes with an equally automatic instinct for politicized protest. And in every such case of contemplated change, the related trade unions and workers� bodies have promptly set in motion a hindering machinery that has become the bane of the chief minister�s political existence.

In the case of teachers, the government seems to have anticipated this, and is proceeding in its projected reforms with what looks like excessive caution. It is, of course, perfectly in form to consult teachers� bodies over this. But to talk prospectively about these changes being �anti-teacher�, and therefore to go about anxiously talking to teachers to make them see sense, seems to be carrying auto-suggestion a bit too far. This has already led to teachers� associations affiliated to the Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India and the Bengal Primary Teachers� Associations voicing their opposition to the idea and planning protests. Teachers are a disgruntled lot in West Bengal, and for understandable reasons. This could feed into the government�s fears, born out of a troubled conscience, of the move being perceived as �anti-teacher�. Hence, this highly necessary change should come with the state showing concrete signs of changing its attitude to teachers. But this should not slacken the resolve to push through and implement the curtailment of holidays. Firmness and respect need not be mutually exclusive.


Amidst the euphoria over Hamid Karzai�s Himachal connections and the visits by the interior and foreign ministers-designate, Yunis Qanuni and Abdullah Abdullah, to New Delhi, Indians have overlooked one major development in Afghanistan: Pervez Musharraf is getting a taste of his own medicine. When George W. Bush was putting together his coalition against terrorism in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Musharraf successfully ingratiated himself into the American president�s favour by throwing overboard Pakistan�s progeny, the taliban.

Whenever the Indians tried to bring to the notice of the White House and the United States state department that their new friend from Islamabad was not only a patron of terrorism, but also a murderer of democracy until the other day, the Americans had an excuse. We need Musharraf for the time being, India was told time and again by officials of the Bush team. We will set him right once our immediate objectives are achieved. Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s top advisers who visited Washington took recourse to the sensible and practical line that they did not want to burden the Bush administration�s agenda by pushing for the immediate consideration of India�s problem of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

Now these advisers can have the last laugh. During the last fortnight, aides to the US president have been repeating to the Pakistanis exactly what they were telling the Indians since September 11. At issue is the composition of the interim administration in Kabul. Everyone knows that Musharraf is unhappy that Pashtuns, on whom he has been counting, are not adequately represented in the new set up which will take charge on December 22. But what is not so well known is that the Pakistani strongman is more miffed that the three key portfolios of defence, foreign affairs and interior will all vest with Tajiks in the successor administration to the taliban.

This is something that many Pakistanis, especially those in the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence will find most difficult to swallow. They have spent the last 12 years since the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul plotting the defeat and humiliation of Tajiks led by the legendary commander, Ahmed Shah Masood.

To be sure, the Pakistanis bitterly complained to the Americans in Bonn, in Washington, in Islamabad and wherever else possible about the Tajiks getting an unfair share of the Afghan cake. Pakistan even had unexpected backing in this effort from the Northern Alliance: separately, the non-Tajik components of the alliance protested that Tajiks were walking away with more than they deserved. But Washington�s answer to such criticism was precisely what the Indians were repeatedly told after September 11 whenever Musharraf�s duplicity was discussed. We need the Tajiks now, Bush administration officials told the Pakistanis and the dissenters in the Northern Alliance.

The Tajiks are the ones who will find Osama bin Laden for us, if at all. They are the ones who will bring Mullah Moahamed Omar to justice. Once that is done, we will deal with the Tajiks.

This is easier said than done. When relative calm returns to Afghanistan after the current war, the Americans may well find that it is easier to deal with Musharraf in Islamabad than with the Tajiks in Kabul, who would doubtless have, by then, consolidated their position in the power structure.

This is so because, as with many things in Afghanistan, history is the guide. And history tells us that even when Zahir Shah was ruling Afghanistan, the Tajiks wielded power in his durbar which was disproportionate to their numerical strength. There were more Tajiks than Pashtuns among the king�s ministers during most of his reign. And after the king�s cousin and one-time prime minister, Muhammad Daud, staged a coup in 1973 and proclaimed Afghanistan a republic, his cabinet too had more Tajiks than Pashtuns. To be fair, the Bonn agreement is true to history in many ways. During much of the monarchy, when Tajiks held power disproportionate to their numbers, the trappings of power were still with the Pashtuns. In the Bonn accord too, Karzai, the head of the interim administration, is a Pashtun..

The compromises hammered out in Bonn to produce an accord does not, however, give Karzai much authority beyond the power to summon cabinet meetings. He cannot hold any portfolios in the cabinet: nor can he change the portfolios of any minister. If he is to have any authority beyond the titular ones envisaged in the four-party accord in Bonn, he has to create it. If the way Karzai negotiated the surrender on Kandahar � and later bought order, if not peace � is any guide, he ought to be able to put his imprint on the new government.

But his problem is also Musharraf�s worry, though this is not to say that the two men are working in concert. The difficulty facing the two men is that right now, the Americans are absolutely unwilling to trust the Pashtuns with any real authority in Afghanistan. It may be unfair to paint an entire ethnic group with one brush. But the fact remains that all Pashtuns, at least in the short run, have been tainted by their close identification with the taliban.

In marked contrast, the Tajiks are trusted in Washington, for the present, in any case. For the Bush administration, they are respectable by today�s standards of political correctness in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Tajik leadership is the only one which enjoys this privilege in Washington. The Americans reluctantly put up with the Uzbek, General Rashid Dostum: his hands are still bloody from the inhuman excesses attributed to him when the warlord was very much a part of the Soviet set up in Afghanistan. Nor are the Hazaras trusted in the White House. They are considered to be Iran�s fifth column in Kabul.

Since the Indians, the Russians and some others are more comfortable with the followers of the late Tajik commander, Ahmed Shah Masood, they went along with the American strategy in Bonn of tilting the balance of power in Kabul in favour of the Tajiks. This settlement is an ominous headache for Pakistan today. It has the potential to undercut Islamabad�s long-term objectives in Afghanistan if the UN legitimizes this arrangement on the basis of the ethnic composition by which it reached the accord in Bonn.

The yardstick for the agreement that created Afghanistan�s interim government was a United Nations population survey 27 years ago. This put the Pashtun population of the country at 38 per cent and the Tajiks at 25 per cent. The Pashtuns have been given eleven ministries and the Tajiks eight, notwithstanding the fact that three of these eight ministries control the levers of state power. The Pashtuns maintain that they are in excess of 50 per cent of Afghanistan�s population while the Tajiks are just under 20 per cent. Pakistan vociferously endorses these figures.

Afghanistan may be chaotic, but chaos is not the reason why there are no reliable or up-to-date population statistics for Afghanistan. Every effort in the last three decades to conduct an orderly census in Afghanistan has been deafeated: not because it was impossible to undertake a head count, but because it was politically unwise to do so. Any credible census would have shown a drastic decline in the Pashtun population commensurate with an increase in the number of Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and others. Those opposed to Pashtun dominance in post-conflict Afghanistan � be it the Indians, the Americans or the Russians � played the population card cleverly in Bonn. That may yet prevent the history of the taliban�s birth from being repeated in Afghanistan. The Americans, with the support of their wealthy Japanese friends, are now seeking to mollify the Pashtuns and the Pakistanis with the offer of greenbacks.

The most lucrative portfolios are with non-Tajiks, they keep telling those who complain of unfair distribution of political booty. The portfolio of post-war reconstruction is with Muhammad Farhang of the king�s Rome group, finance with Hedayat Amin Arsala, also of the Rome group and irrigation with Mangal Hussein of the Peshawar group of Pashtuns. These, indeed, are the portfolios which bring in money. Whether money can be a substitute for the Afghan staple political diet of warlordism will determine the durability of peace arrived at in Bonn this month.


The acquisition of another aircraft carrier for the Indian navy and the controversy over �White or Black� Gorshkov couldn�t have been better timed. The Navy Day fell on December 4, a day which marks the daring 1971 missile attack on Karachi. That action by our missile boats � a role that even their Moscow designers had not envisioned � earned for them a permanent place in the Indian navy.

Naval forces are undoubtedly �instruments of state policy� and have played a significant role in the implementation of foreign policies of nations. This was so when empires were being built. It held true in the two World Wars which saw the Allied powers emerge victorious because of their sea prowess. In the Seventies and the Eighties, the superpowers held sway because of their fleets spearheaded by long-range nuclear submarines. This was abundantly proved during the conflicts in the Falklands, the Balkans and the Gulf.

Even in their war against terrorism, the Americans made extensive use of sea-borne aircraft operating from some 400 miles out in the Arabian Sea. This is evidence enough of the fact that versatility of sea power becomes important whenever there is instability and uncertainty in the world order. The dominance of the maritime powers is still evident, based on a three dimensional force and centred on aircraft carriers. Interestingly, navies are extending their traditional reach to the land battle. Take the sea-launched cruise missiles fired over Iraq.

Should we build?

The Indian navy is a balanced force and must continue to remain so by maintaining the conventional deterrence through maritime diplomacy, keeping an active vigil, and by mustering a force when necessary. A former vice-chief of the navy has plumbed for an integral air component. Whereas a former navy chief, while not questioning the wisdom of possessing aircraft carriers, has cautioned against the cost effectiveness of getting aircraft carriers such as Admiral Gorshkov from Russia.

The crux of the matter is that there must be greater transparency in defence purchases. But how is that going to be feasible with the ghosts of Bofors and even Tehelka still haunting us? Jawaharlal Nehru�s vision of self-sufficiency in defence production was brought to fruition when our shipyards rolled out several types of ships, including 7,000 ton cruisers and even submarines. It is a disgrace that irresponsible and thoughtless opposition to foreign collaboration ended our programme of building submarines. Had it been otherwise, we would have been exporting them by now.

Second strike ability

In the last decades of the 20th century, especially during the Cold War, submarines certainly served as the optimum multi-mission platform. However, since the task of the navy is to prosecute the war in such a manner that it brings victory in the land battle, submarines alone cannot suffice its needs. Even the Chinese have decided to join the �carrier club� with the purchase of the Kuznitov class ship, Varyag. We may recall that the United Kingdom had once toyed with the idea of scrapping carriers. The Royal Navy eventually retained its carrier capability and was happier for it in the Falklands war.

Let us also not lose sight of the fact that a �second strike� with an element of surprise will only emanate from submarines and carrier aircraft. Hence, possession of aircraft carriers becomes inevitable, albeit, at a cost over which Raisina Hill has to ponder. Looming large is the problem of the escalating prices of military hardware. An anti-submarine ship from the former Soviet Union had cost around Rs 7 crore. A single submarine today could absorb a third or more of the total naval budget. And, according to one estimate, Admiral Gorshkov with its aircraft could cost a whopping Rs 10,000 crore.

What is the solution then? Just get on with it and build our own aircraft carrier, a smaller, 20,000 ton desi air defence/control ship? That thought for swadeshi production goes also for weapons needed in the army and air force. But is anybody in Parliament and the ministry of defence listening?


As Afghanistan starts its reconstruction from its very own Ground Zero, there is much it could learn from the experience of India. One of the principal lessons would be how NOT to construct a representative government and the basis for good governance.

As the taliban era drew to a close in the fog of destruction unleashed by American rage, a frantic search ensued for a credible alternative. Given the experience of fratricidal feuding of the early Nineties which paved the way for talibanization in the first place, the need of the hour was not only representative government for the sake of democratic niceties, but a credible structure of power-sharing that would be sustainable in the long run.

While bombs rained on this historic arena of Great Games played out by all manner of imperial ambition, including the Islamist imperialists of today, Afghan resistance fighters and opposition groups were busily classified into their myriad ethnic and tribal categories. The Northern Alliance was �primarily� composed of the ethnic minorities of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and so on, the world was informed. The implication was that therefore this motley band was not representative of the largest minority of them all, the Pashtuns. Behind the name of every Northern Alliance leader a parenthetical categorization appeared � Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, or sometimes blank when one was not too sure. Similarly, the taliban was described as being drawn mostly from among the Pashtuns, a statement of fact often coupled with the suggestion that some �moderate talibans� be found so that Pashtuns remained represented in the new dispensation.

The cryptic comment of the Indian foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, that the term �moderate taliban� was an oxymoron dealt an effective blow to that particular line of thought. Mercifully, the United Nations mediator, Francesc Vendrell, also had the good sense to point out early in the negotiations that the suggestion that the Pashtuns needed to depend on the taliban for representation was a gross disservice to the Pashtun people.

It was noteworthy that while the question of Pashtun representation quickly became a preoccupation, a similar hunt was not on for, say, the Uzbeks. General Rashid Dostum, most recently of the Northern Alliance, is an Uzbek. In an extraordinary distortion of the true needs of representation and governance, that seemed to suffice for most. As the negotiations at Bonn and its aftermath have shown, if anything the Pashtuns suffer from a plentitude of claimants to represent them. Those looking for ethnic representation surely should instead have worried about the Uzbeks, because to presume that Dostum, a serial turncoat with an appalling record of rape and pillage, was representative of the Uzbeks was an equally gross disservice to the Uzbek people.

Actually, as India�s experience demonstrates, the very focus on ethnicity as the basis for representative government is fundamentally flawed. India has travelled far down this slippery slope and obtained neither true representation nor good governance. India�s politics of religious and caste divisions is an example to the world of how not to structure political representation. It has led to the perpetuation, elaboration and solidification of religious, caste and sub-caste categorization to the extent that people have been re-inventing themselves as members of castes or tribes, solely motivated by the economic benefits or political opportunities on offer on that basis. It has buried the dream of progressing towards a society free of caste and communal divisions and it has produced political manoeuvres unconcerned about governance or even the interests of the group they allegedly represent.

In multi-ethnic societies like India and Afghanistan, it is imperative to ensure that no social group remains entirely excluded. However, the idea that only a person of the scheduled castes can truly represent the interests of those castes, or that none other than a Muslim understands the political needs of Muslims, or that women are best represented by women, totally subverts the concept of merit, without which there is no hope of good governance. Besides, why persist with ethnic pigeon-holing in an allegedly global �multi-cultural� world?

The Northern Alliance foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, oscillated between �Tajik� and �blank� in media categorizations before the discovery that he was half-Pashtun and half-Tajik. Thereafter, one analysis concluded that it was his Pashtun lineage that would ensure him a place in any future administration � pardon me for thinking that he ought to have secured that by merely doing a remarkably good job in the last three months! The Western world in particular has awakened to the possibility of �another� Afghanistan � dissociated from mad mullahs and fanatic jihadis wedded to the stone age � due in no small part to the daily dose of the good doctor, his soothing reasonableness delivered in clearly enunciated, complete sentences in grammatical English. Given that the world�s most powerful president can barely string a few words together in his own language, this was no mean feat in itself!

The tension between fair representation and good governance needs to be addressed in the early years of representative government by consciously balancing varied religious and ethnic groups on the basis of both ethnicity and merit. This appears to be the basis of the interim arrangement in Afghanistan as per the Bonn agreement. However, the danger is that this �quota-ism� becomes set in stone and is extended to every social and political activity. In the long run, only the practice of good governance ensures that all citizens have a fair chance in terms of education, means of prosperity and political opportunity, which in turn ensures fair representation. And good governance, whether in India or Afghanistan, is only achieved by those who govern by merit, rather than the accident of parentage.

The mechanism for achieving representative government is also far from obvious. As Afghanistan moves from the Great Game to the Great Experimentation with nation-building, it has a wide array to choose from, from its own �traditional� �loya jirga� to Western electoral democracy. None is perfect, but Afghans are in a position to avoid the known pitfalls of each.

The Afghan Ambassador to India, Masood Khalili, was grievously injured by the same suicide blast that killed the charismatic Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. Khalili, too, is a reminder of �another� Afghanistan, not least for the Sufi poetic tradition of which his father, Khalilullah Khalili, was one of the most famed exponents. Still recovering in Delhi, Khalili emphasized to me the usefulness of the loya jirga as it has long been an emergency mechanism of representative consultation and has been accepted by all. In response to my deep suspicion that anything �traditional� is usually a means to shut out women, he expressed confidence that the new loya jirga would move with the times and include women representatives. In a meritocracy, however, women would be natural participants, not token concessions dependent on the reluctant generosity of men.

As for elections, Khalili recalled the precedent of the few that had been held before the country sank into war and chaos. It is unclear what form of �free and fair� elections will be held in two and a half years� time, but India serves as both encouragement and discouragement for Western electoral democracy super-imposed on a poor, volatile, multi-ethnic Asian society.

In a recent discussion on the shura, or Islamic provision of consultation, an Islamic cleric described Western democracy as �collecting the rubbish from around the town and depositing it in the centre�. Many in India would be tempted to agree with his judgment. The super-imposition of British parliamentary democracy combined with every form of Indian contamination has resulted in abysmally poor governance and a political class shot through with incompetence, corruption, prejudice and criminality. India�s message to her Afghan neighbours in their moment of history may well be, �Do as we profess, not as we do.�


Obviously, we are not yet clear as to whether these three expectations would be realized; however, we do hope we can realize these expectations. We note that the draft mandate suggested by you specifically includes �reduction or elimination of tariff peaks and tariff escalations�. Our suggestion is to make the reduction or elimination of tariff peaks, tariff escalations and the application of specific and mixed and compound duties on products of export interest to developing countries, the specific objective of the proposed negotiations. We are proceeding on the basis that your draft does not imply that the developing countries including least developed countries will not have the freedom not to bind their tariffs in respect of certain sensitive items. A confirmation in this regard will be helpful. Equally, we have made it clear that bound rates should be the basis for negotiations.

Again, the phrase �less than full reciprocity� needs clarification. There should be a clear commitment that the reduction for elimination of tariff peaks, tariff escalation and specific and mixed and compound duties in the developed countries will not be conditional on concessions from the developing countries. Furthermore, it should be clearly stipulated that developing countries shall not be required to offer reciprocal concessions. My delegation is also attracted by the suggestions of some delegations that before starting any negotiations on industrial tariffs, there should be a study process to determine the effects of reduction of tariffs on the domestic industries of developing countries. I understand that in the seminar conducted by the WTO secretariat on industrial tariffs sometime back, this thought came out quite prominently.

We are looking forward to separate meaningful declaration on the relationship between intellectual property and public health as foreshadowed in the footnote. Regarding paragraph 15, a group of countries including my own had submitted a draft to you providing for negotiations to extend the additional protection of GIs to products other than wines and spirits. We would like the option to negotiate to be strengthened and made clearer. In this regard, I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by the distinguished ambassador of Switzerland. In paragraph 16, we need strengthening of the language; the TRIPS council just �giving due attention� to the issues of importance raised by developing countries is not enough. The language relating to TRIPS gives the uncomfortable impression that there is no serious attempt to bring issues of importance to developing countries into the mainstream of work programme...

We have been clearly pointing out that we are not in a position to commence negotiations with a view to make binding rules in any one of these four areas. We have spoken often and extensively on these four subjects and I do not feel any need to repeat myself. For us, these four subjects have to be dealt with in the framework of the Singapore Ministerial Declaration. A solemn commitment was given by our major trading partners, to my minister at Singapore that there will be no pressure on us to negotiate rules in these areas and as a compromise, my minister was asked to accept a non-prejudicial study programme with a clear stipulation that negotiations will commence in these areas only when there is �explicit consensus�. While I respect and understand the wishes of some of my colleagues for launching of negotiations in these four areas, I am sure they will acknowledge that even in the meetings convened by the proponents themselves, it became absolutely clear that there was no consensus in favour of changing the study mode into negotiation mode in respect of any one of these subjects. Therefore, I am a bit surprised that in respect of government procurement and trade facilitation, your draft provides commencement of negotiations as the only option in these two areas.

The option that was proposed by a large number of delegations, namely continuation of study process has not even been included in draft, which is a bit regrettable. Again, in respect of these two areas, the draft keeps the issue of coverage of DSU open, while even many of those delegations who were willing to contemplate negotiation in these two areas clearly indicated that what should be negotiated are voluntary guidelines and not binding enforceable rules.

As regards investment and competition policy, we recognize that you had tried to take on board serious concerns of a large number of delegations by providing for two options. However, we are surprised that the option suggested by a large number of delegations that the study process should continue on the basis of Singapore mandate is not even indicated as an option. Our inability to accept a negotiation option in these two areas is well known, and I do not have to say anything more on this. The second option provided also raises a lot of concerns. There is a phrase �based on proposals by Members�. It is not clear whether it is a reference to the papers already tabled over the last few years or it is an invitation to the members to submit proposals in future.

To be concluded



The war against poverty

Sir � The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, has touched upon certain vital issues in his acceptance speech in Oslo (�Annan holds up Afghan girl before the world�, Dec 11). The winner of this year�s Nobel peace prize, Annan stressed the need to �focus more on the plight of individuals in a quest to end poverty, conflicts and promote democracy�. His words assume significance as they signal the beginning of a new role for the UN, in which it will devote more time to other issues like racism, women�s rights, AIDS and so on. By buttressing his point with his reference to the Afghan children who would grow up in poverty, Annan has reitereated an important fact � there are other issues besides terrorism that need the UN�s attention. It is also interesting that in an interview with CNN later in the day, Annan cautioned the United States of America against extending its war against terrorism beyond Afganistan. One wonders how the US policymakers would respond to that.

Yours faithfully,
Mukti Sengupta, via email

Point of return

Sir � It has been a long and arduous road to power for J. Jayalalithaa. Despite the fact that her party won the assembly elections and she was appointed chief minister of Tamil Nadu by the then governor, Fatima Beevi, the Supreme Court stayed her appointment on grounds that the cases against her had not been dismissed by a court of law. Though Jayalalithaa had to step down for the time being, she reiterated her faith in the people�s mandate and promised to be back. And she is back.

What is most striking about Jayalalithaa is her ability to bounce back after every defeat. But notwithstanding the wily Amma�s survival skills, it is nevertheless surprising that the cases against her were dismissed so easily, despite the fact that the trial court had sentenced her to three years and two years of rigorous imprisonment respectively for the two Tansi land deal cases, and one year for the Pleasant Stay Hotel case. The release of Jayalalithaa will no doubt be followed by that of Laloo Prasad Yadav, who recently went to Ranchi to attend the hearing of cases in which he has been accused. Failure of the administrative machinery coupled with the loopholes in the judicial system have allowed Amma to go scotfree.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

Sir � The editorial, �Clear case� (Dec 6), is right in pointing out that for J. Jayalailthaa the people�s verdict has been further vindicated by that of the Madras high court. That the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief is a survivor and is better equipped to win any political battle than her bete noire and Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader, M. Karunanidhi, is a fact that is acknowledged by all of her political rivals.

Moreover, given that things have not exactly gone her way in the last few months, Jayalalithaa is likely to tread with caution. It is not surprising therefore that her victory in court was followed by a partial rollback in the reforms announced by the chief minister, O. Panneerselvam. In Andipatti, preparations have already begun for Amma�s return to power, with the local member of the legislative assembly relinquishing his seat for her. Things have also changed between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the AIADMK with the latter deciding to support the BJP�s anti-terror ordinance. So Amma seems to be all set to rule.

Yours faithfully,
Arundhati Guha, Nagpur

Sir � Mahesh Rangarajan is right in pointing out that there will be no stopping Jayalalithaa in �her third coming� to power (�Jaya stronger in third coming�, Dec 6). Not only have her recent struggles made Jayalalithaa stronger, her political cunning will prevent her from repeating past mistakes. Once she becomes chief minister, she will find her way through every political crisis. Her recent overtures towards the BJP should send ominous signals to the DMK camp.

However, Jayalalithaa should not be over-confident about public support. She has to concentrate on matters of governance as well. She should also try to attract foreign investors who have forsaken Tamil Nadu for neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, if she has to continue in power.

Yours faithfully,
Raja Bhattacharjee, Mumbai

Keep track

Sir � I would like to appeal to the Indian Railway authorities to provide a stoppage for the Himgiri Express at Durgapur. Not only is Durgapur a major city in eastern India, but almost every train stops here. Moreover, passengers from Durgapur who want to board the Himgiri Express have to travel to Asansol, which is the nearest railway station and is 45 kms away from Durgapur.

When this train was first introduced two decades ago, it had been provided with only nine stoppages between Howrah and Jammu Tawi. Now there are as many as 22 official stoppages � four in Punjab, one in Haryana, eight in Uttar Pradesh, eight in Bihar and one in West Bengal. There ought to be more stoppages in the last.

Yours faithfully,
Vijay Kumar Soi, Calcutta

Sir � In almost all major railway stations in India, the monthly ticket counter remains open round the clock. But in Howrah Station, the counter opens at 8 am. Daily passengers like myself, who have to journey from Howrah to Midnapore twice every day on week days, have to catch a train from Howrah before 8 am. As the counter does not open before eight, I have to go to Midnapore using my daily ticket and then buy a monthly ticket from there. Because of the delay at opening the counter, I have to pay Rs 36 more. I would request the South Eastern Railway authorities to either keep the monthly ticket counter open round the clock or make sure it is open by six in the morning.

Yours faithfully,
Bhaskar Ghosh, Calcutta

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