Editorial 1 / Wide of target
Editorial 2 / Bloody chain
The FM�s best foot
Fifth Column / The artist as vigilante
Good intentions, weak effort
Document / At the heart of conventions
Letters to the editor

When nothing works, nothing will. First, the elections, then the temple, and now the budget. The blips on the radar screen of the economy were loud and clear: an over-optimistic projection of the growth rate, the industry in serious trouble, investments stagnating and consumer expenditure not sufficiently recovered. While the budget is essentially an annual statement of the government�s income and expenditure, the Union finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, could have exhibited some strategy in expenditure, taxes or financial sector reforms to reverse the downturn. He has done nothing of the kind and the result is a lacklustre budget that has bits and pieces with no overall picture. And the bits and pieces are also imperfect. On financial sector reforms, nothing has been promised that was not already known. On expenditure, the finance minister has virtually thrown up his hands. Reports of the expenditure reforms commission highlighted downsizing of government (in addition to revamp of food and fertilizer subsidies) and Mr Sinha now promises us that recommended retrenchment through voluntary retirement schemes and abolition of surplus posts will happen by March 2002. In the 2001-02 budget speech, he promised a deadline of July 2001. That was not adhered to and there is no reason to take the March 2002 deadline seriously.

The Action Taken Report that accompanies the budget paper is not very illuminating. It only tells us what has been spent on various Centrally-sponsored schemes, not what the tangible outcome has been. On taxes, reforms were under his control, but he has not delivered. Restoration of the dividend tax, the additional surcharge and non-reduction in the peak corporate tax rate are instances. While the peak customs duty on industrial goods has been reduced by 5 per cent and the declared 10 per cent and 20 per cent slabs by 2004 are welcome, there was no reason to hike duties on agro products or postpone implementation of the information technology agreement on zero duties. Both excise and customs duty changes reflect arbitrariness and successful lobbying. No one can object to services paying taxes, but the additional sectors included are arbitrary, quite apart from the fact that implementation is close to impossible. Similarly, there is no objection to reducing interest rates on small savings, except that half per cent is completely arbitrary and discretionary, something Mr Sinha is supposedly against. The idea is to evolve a formula that links returns to returns on comparable government securities. Club this with reduction in LPG, kerosene and fertilizer subsidies, and Mr Sinha has succeeded in antagonizing everyone, without having achieved much in the direction of reforms or reviving the economy. The opposition should rejoice.


There is something called the chain reaction of violence. When, on Wednesday morning, a train was attacked in Godhra and 58 people, some of whom were members of a Hindu fundamentalist organization, were burnt alive, it did not need a perspicacious social analyst to predict that reprisals would be immediate and the targets would be Muslims. Angry Hindus in Ahmedabad have not stopped to consider the wider implications of their actions as they set about destroying Muslim property. Neither did those who committed arson on the train in Godhra. Both acts of violence have a certain amount of discrimination and therefore premeditation involved. Those who attacked the train knew that on it were kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. They chose to burn down those bogies of the train in which the kar sevaks were concentrated. This shows planning. It was not an act committed in a fit of absentmindedness. It was a deliberate act carried out to harm a selected group of people. Those who are looting and rioting in Ahmedabad are also selective and discriminating. Their violence is directed against members of a certain community. Their actions are driven by the underlying assumption that Muslims were responsible for the attack on the train. The identity of those who burnt the train is still unknown but their motives and purpose can easily be guessed. Their actions were designed to spark off communal violence and to aggravate tension. By all accounts, they have been eminently successful.

The violence in Ahmedabad contains within it the signs of a wider conflagration. It can spread to other parts of Gujarat, an area with a history of riots. Away from Gujarat, the entire Gangetic plan is like a communal cinder box after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad�s Ides of March deadline for building a Ram mandir in Ayodhya. Activists of the VHP are pouring into the ancient town. The Union government has announced that Ayodhya will be sealed off. This is easier said than done and, moreover, around 30,000 kar sevaks are already camping in Ayodhya. The home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, has said the government will come down very strongly against any attempt to breach the status quo in Ayodhya. The state and Central governments must show similar firmness regarding the situation in Ahmedabad. They must suppress the violence immediately and convey the message to the people that violence will not be tolerated, whoever be the perpetrator. Lacking such firmness, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee�s government might find itself caught in a sequence of disasters: assembly poll results, a meaningless budget and communal violence. There is something akin to a chain reaction of disasters.


When Yashwant Sinha talked about an Action Taken Report in last year�s budget, everyone scoffed at the idea. Indeed, historically, very few (non-tax) budget promises have been kept � think of privatization, rollback of subsidies, wasteful government expenditure, reduction of fiscal deficit, and so on. What is, therefore, refreshing in this budget is the lack of promises and hence, the comforting thought that few need to be broken during the course of the year. In as far as the budget should be irrelevant for a reform strategy, this year�s finance bill has done the job.

Too long, India�s policymaking has been restricted to what is good for specific sectors (read, the most vociferous ones) and seldom, what is good for the economy. What the budget has not done this year is give sops to industry, excepting, possibly, steel and tourism. As for textiles, it has corrected something that should have not been there in the first place. It has come clean with its accounting, stating that it will have a high fiscal deficit, has suggested a reasonable gross domestic product growth and not made any tall claims about reducing expenditure in the future. Even its disinvestment target has been kept the same as that of last year (which, incidentally, has not been met).

What are the positives in the budget? First, the government has, at last, woken up to the importance of reforms in the transmission and distribution aspects of power. There is no reason why this should have been so long in coming, other than political compulsions and amateurish policy-making, ably supported by a section of the intelligentsia that considers markets to be incarnations of Satan.

Second, the government has put in a few lines on elementary education. This is a modest, a very modest, beginning. I would have loved it if the finance minister could report that the prime minister in his meeting with the chief ministers did not talk about power and the state electricity boards only, but also about the implementation of effective primary schooling and vocational training facilities in the villages. But one should be patient with an otherwise elitist society.

Third, the finance minister has stressed investment in agriculture and opening it up to the market. This is a sector in which, ever since the Seventies, the government has been doling out political money at the cost of real economics, like irrigation, roads, storage facilities and so on. Given that a large proportion of our people are in rural areas, it is criminal not to worry about improving the rural economy. And, there are limits to what the agricultural sector can support � rural industrialization is a must.

Unfortunately, again reflecting the politics I suppose, the finance minister talked about khadi and employment generation in villages. I would have liked him to boldly recognize that it is not employment generation, but increases in rural productivity that will solve the problem of overworked rural labour wallowing in poverty. In all fairness, how many of our policymakers and readers of this newspaper are looking forward to a glorious future in the khadi industry for their wards? Then why this romanticism with khadi when it comes to rural labour?

However, the one thing that I find most exciting is the statement that movements in interest rates will be associated with market movements (though only annually). Some have complained that the current cut by only 5 basis points is not enough. This is true but that is being too myopic. Think about the good things that market-driven changes in interest rates can bring about. We will be free from the myopic manipulations by politically motivated do-gooders of resources generated by the small savers. This will not only bring about a better (read, market-driven) investment climate in the future, but will also punish bad political management of the citizens� resources. To complete the picture, the finance minister could have done away with all the special tax incentives that channel savings into government coffers. Maybe, he is setting the stage for such a move.

Not surprisingly, the finance minister has tried hard, in a difficult coming year, to mop up as much resources as he can. Hence the net surcharge of 3 per cent on personal income tax, reintroduction of the dividend in the calculation of the taxable income of individuals and, a rationalization of excise by moving exempt and lower-rate-attracting commodities to a pre-existing slab of 8 per cent. The most unhappy group is the dividend earners. They have every right to be so and I sympathize with them. However, what they had all this time was unwarranted. Remember, we have 4 slabs for income tax � no tax, 10 per cent tax, 20 per cent tax and 30 per cent tax. All this time, people whose taxable income attracted marginal rates of 20 per cent and 30 per cent paid only 10 per cent on the dividend part of their income. Now that is gone. I do not see how this was allowed in the first place.

Another group of unhappy people will be the LPG-users. I have two things to say to them. First, the move away from administered prices in petroleum products was inevitable and they knew such a price hike was coming. Second, LPG is used mostly by those who do not deserve any subsidies in a country that has more than a quarter of its population, by official estimates, below the poverty line and without any access to LPG. Moreover, many, if not most LPG-users, also buy petrol and diesel. These prices have come down. So, they will have to eat less and travel more.

The increased price of kerosene is a bit different. On the one hand, price subsidies that distort prices are, in general, inefficient mechanisms. Therefore, the sooner they are done away with, the better. Also, much of the subsidized kerosene was available in fair price shops to all sections of the population � rich and poor. This will at least reduce the subsidy to the rich.

On the other hand, more than 75 per cent of rural households use firewood for cooking and, this is independent of whether they are rich or poor. This is not only bad for the environment at large, but also unhealthy for people inside such houses. The use of firewood was showing a healthy decline, which may now be arrested, as its substitute fuel will be more expensive. However, as petroleum products become decontrolled, the availability of LPG may go up allowing the poor to shift out of firewood into gas for cooking. It is not only healthier for them; there is more energy per rupee of properly priced gas compared to firewood.

So, how do I sum up the budget? Market economics is mostly common sense; reforming a misguided socialist economy is not. Unfortunately, for the past 10-11 years, common sense, and the logic dished out in the pink papers, were being used to reform the economy. It worked somewhat but not sufficiently well in some cases, and quite disastrously in many others. I do not know what happened this year, but it seems sense of the uncommon kind has taken over. Let us hope it is not an accident but a promise of things to come.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi


�If writers talk about oppression, they don�t do much writing. Fifty years have gone by. What colonialism are you talking about?� This acerbic comment by V.S. Naipaul may be contrasted with the assertion of another Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, quoting his fellow-poet, Czeslaw Milosz: �What poetry is that which does not save men or nations? At best it is a collusion with official lies.� The colonialism that Naipaul dismisses can perhaps be better characterized as the colonialism of the intellect and emotions which paralyzes much of the post-colonial world today.

Certainly, in south Asia, nationalism has inured us to the tragedies of displacement and cultural loss resulting from decolonization. It remains the task of the visionary artist to return to those tragedies and their human cost. Especially that which is extracted from victim and aggressor alike when private tragedies enter the public domain as visible, violent separatist movements. This is not to hail as art all imaginative work dealing with terrorism, separatism and oppression, but rather to pose a tougher test for such work to escape charges of didacticism and propaganda.

Double vision

Today, the work of art that appeals must expose injustice of all kinds. But it must also remind us of the transcendent plane that redeems human existence in the middle of all its rot and sordidness. The darker the reality which the artist focuses on, the more urgent the need to reveal this transcendence, be it invested in religion, nature, human emotions or simply the beauty of the artwork itself.

Nowhere is this double vision more evident than in the cinematic retelling of terrorist and fundamentalist violence, such as Santosh Sivan�s Terrorist, which traces the emotional journey of a Tamil suicide bomber from Jaffna to Sriperumbudur, and Kamalahaasan�s Hey Ram!, which describes a similar journey of a secular Hindu-turned-fundamentalist during 1947. Such films are risky business. Especially because they are an art form that colludes most easily with fantasy, pastoral and the blunting of the critical edge, to express the grittiest and most ambivalent of realities: blurred boundaries between terrorism and martyrdom; violent manifestations of �the higher cause�; resilience of humanity in the face of acute brutalization.

In fact, the multiple story-telling possibilities of cinema enable directors like Sivan and Kamalahaasan to indulge in a certain �double vision�. The screenplay tells us one story, the camera and the music others.

Hope springs eternal

The most memorable sequences in Hey Ram! present key moments in the protagonist�s movement towards militant Hinduism, where the violence of this ideology is contrasted to the cultural and aesthetic richness of the Hindu philosophy. Kamalahaasan is shown standing in a desert in the garb of a sadhu, shooting with deadly accuracy at shifting sand-pillars; or immersing himself in the Ganga before setting out to assassinate Gandhi, the chanting of shlokas always in the background.

The camera and soundtrack play similar �counter-narrative� tricks in Sivan�s Terrorist. Here, the lush Jaffna topography, the local diet and temple music comprise the world of the suicide bomber, Malli. These sensory inputs remind us of the life which must be sacrificed for an anodyne higher cause. A cause whose very haziness is conveyed through conversations between Malli and the revered but shadowy �Leader�. This simple, but insistent, focus on the senses as the springs of life peaks in Malli�s realization of her pregnancy, and prevents her from detonating the explosives strapped to her.

Should we condemn this concluding stroke of wish-fulfilment as vain fantasy, similar to the sudden apotheosis in Hey Ram! from would-be assassin to repentant Gandhian? To do so would be to miss the point: in the grimmer balance sheet of the real world, the Dhanus and Godses outnumber the Mallis and the Rams. Sivan, Kamalahaasan and others like them reawaken hope that in this world, too, someday, the human spirit will finally conquer the subhuman and sub-rational drive towards brutalization. Until that day oppression will continue to power the thinking artist�s role as humanity�s vigilante.


Yashwant Sinha�s budget for 2002-03 has received a mixture of brickbats and bouquets. That there was not much expectation of a bold budget helped Sinha. At the same time, he was constrained by the decline in the growth rate of the economy, which meant corporate tax revenues had fallen. He has not been able to stick to his fiscal deficit target of 4.7 per cent. As against the revised estimate expectation of 5.7 per cent, he is now budgeting for 5.3 per cent for 2002-03. He concedes that this is still below what is desirable.

The budget is a statement of good intentions and proposed reforms in many quarters. His declared objective is the implementation of the second generation of reforms. One important feature of the budget is the focus it has placed on restructuring India�s agriculture. The relaxation of restrictions and regulations that impeded India�s farmers has ranked high in the budget. Unfortunately, much of the effort in this area lies with the states. The finance minister proposes to incentivize the state governments to perform the job by linking additional Central allocations in proportion to the progress in the reform. Ultimately, deregulation of the agricultural sector is an exercise in political courage, and much depends on the emerging political scenario in the country.

The finance minister has also promised a series of reforms in the urban sector. These reforms themselves are highly desirable. But they involve amendments to the Rent Control Act, Stamp Act and the Urban Land Ceiling Act. Whether political consensus will prevail to bring about these changes is a question of doubt. The efficacy of the financial incentives in bringing about further progress in the difficult area of urban sector reform has to be judged in the light of actual experience. The finance minister has declared his intent, and it is for the state governments to carry it out.

The same is true of the more difficult area of power sector reforms. The state governments have been dragging their feet on this critical sector. The finance minister has announced his intention to create a new initiative with a focus on distribution in place of generation. The emphasis placed by the finance minister is the appropriate one. Here again, the budget has done little except to state the policy objective. It has not articulated a strategy.

With regard to infrastructure in general, the finance minister has announced his intention to entrust the Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation with responsibility for the coordination of resources. This is a desirable strategy. With respect to infrastructure, there is much scope for raising funds through special purpose vehicles. It is the declared intention of the finance minister to encourage such instrumentalities.

One cannot help feeling that the finance minister�s latest effort is characterized by a number of partially-digested ideas, which have to be worked out for full details. It is perhaps inherent in the massive restructuring that he has proposed. One looks to the budget for specific action points. What the finance minister has outlined is the setting up of a number of structures which will incentivize the states to take appropriate decisions. Considering the features of his initiatives in the power sector, it is doubtful whether his intent will be fully realized within the time frame he has indicated. Where the finance minister has successfully translated his intended structural reforms into reality is with respect to the areas which fall within the Central sector. Particular mention should be made of the dismantling of the administered pricing mechanism. It is creditable that the finance minister has bitten the bullet insofar as the politically unpopular decision of raising prices on liquified petroleum gas and kerosene is concerned. But, these announcements were received with derisive laughter by the Parliament. Whether these reactions perceive a rollback of the decision is a matter which will be resolved only in the coming weeks. In the light of the electoral failures faced by the ruling party, it is on the cards that the finance minister may have to take back some of the price increases in these sectors.

In his effort to restore fiscal balance, the finance minister has combined a bit of tax restructuring with additional resources. His decision to remove the concessions with regard to small savings follows in the lines of the recommendations of the Shome advisory group and of the Reddy committee. What repercussions these decisions will have on the extent of small savings collections is a question for the future. The finance minister may have to modulate his decision in the light of the actual experience gained in this regard. The finance minister has combined a surcharge of three per cent on income tax with the various rationalization proposals. More important, he has yielded to the pressures from tax reformers to re-impose a tax on dividends in the hands of shareholders. The logic of removal of tax on dividends was that dividends already bear a tax in the sense that corporates pay corporation tax on the profits, from out of which dividend is paid. A shareholder being asked to pay tax on dividend is equivalent to a double taxation.

P. Chidambaram�s solution for this anomaly was a uniquely elegant one. To compensate for the tax loss suffered by exempting dividends from tax, he wanted to charge the corporates themselves. This achieved operational efficiency, in the sense that multitudes of dividend earners were spared the need to file returns and at the same time, tax efficiency was preserved. At one stroke, Sinha has lost the advantage and the simplicity of this new system. It had also naturally an adverse impact on the stock markets. Especially when the need of the hour is to restore the faith of the investors in the equity markets, it is unfortunate that the finance minister has seen it fit to reverse a very rational solution to the problem of double taxation of dividends.

The finance minister has been emboldened to make a few relaxations in capital account, thanks to the adequate reserves with the Reserve Bank of India. These relaxations primarily concern non-resident Indians, who hold deposits with Indian banks. Incidentally, they include a permission for Indian mutual funds to invest in rated securities in other countries. It seems to me a little bit inappropriate to allow this particular relaxation, especially in the context of the inexperience of the Indian mutual funds in dealing with scrips of other markets and the shortage of capital in our own country. Perhaps, this is one measure which is the result of irrational exuberance on the part of the finance minister�s advisers. Our reserves are adequate, but not to the extent that they can be invested by amateurs in the industries of other countries.

Overall, Sinha�s budget effort has not excited enthusiasm either on the part of corporates or on the part of the markets. It is at best a declaration of intent. Experience alone will tell whether Sinha�s intentions will be realized barring a few rollbacks. One can at best say that Sinha�s latest budget is replete with good intentions but hold prospects of a deficient performance. One can excuse the markets for reacting adversely to a weak effort.

The author is former governor, Reserve Bank of India


In an effort to remove the anti-export bias of existent policies, improve the efficiency of resource allocation as well as the competitiveness of domestic markets, India has made steady progress in eliminating quantitative restrictions, licensing and discretionary controls over imports since 1991. Imports of capital goods, raw materials and components have been de-licensed, tariffs on such imports have been reduced substantially, and tariff categories have been streamlined.... As a result, all goods can now be freely imported and exported, except those belonging to two negative lists. Indian companies have made investments in several countries all over the world...

The ministry of environment and forests functions as a nodal agency for the United Nations Environment Programme, South Asia Co-operation Environment Programme, and International Centre for Integrated Mountain and Development, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and various international agencies, regional bodies and multilateral institutions. India is signatory to the following important international treaties/ agreements in the field of the environment: (i) International Convention for the regulation of Whaling; (ii) International Plant Protection Convention; (iii) The Antarctic Treaty; (iv) Convention on Wetlands of international importance; (v) Convention on International trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna; (vi) Protocol of 1978 relating to the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships; (vii) Vienna Convention for the protection of the Ozone Layer; (viii) Convention on Migratory Species; (ix) Basel Convention on Trans-boundary movement of hazardous substances; (x) Framework Convention on Climate Change; (xi) Convention on conservation of bio-diversity; (xii) Montreal Protocol on the substances that deplete the ozone layer and; (xiii) International Convention for Combating Desertification.

The ministry and its agencies cooperate with various countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada, Japan, Germany among others bilaterally and from several United Nations and other multilateral agencies such as the UN development programme, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund (Japan) and Overseas Development Administration (UK) for various environmental and forestry projects. India believes that environmentally harmful processes should be stopped and that over-exploitation of non-renewable resources should be controlled. However, the specific production process to be used would depend upon the absorptive capacities and development priorities of the country concerned and hence, no global harmonized standard for production processes can be developed. The solution lies not in unilaterally banning trade, but rather in transferring technology and offering prices to developing countries for commodities that would not then necessitate their overexploitation or jeopardize their development priorities.

India is signatory to various regional and international agreements which provide financial assistance for development cooperation. The issue of technology transfer from developed to developing countries has been a recurring theme in all multi-lateral and bilateral negotiations/ discussions and is at the heart of the North-South divide. At the same time, efforts to develop a mechanism to actually carry out such a transfer have met with only moderate success so far. Indian research and development efforts... have remained largely in the government domain... In India, initial steps have been taken through the National Productivity Council, established with Global Environment Facility assistance, and with the UN environment programme as the implementing agency. The initiative however, has a limited scope insofar as it only addresses a small portion of the problem.

To be concluded



Saffron is the colour of guilt

Truth hurts Sir � Words fail one when faced with a tragedy like the death of the 58 kar sevaks when the train in which they were returning from Ayodhya was set on fire by a mob (�Nation faces trial by fire�, Feb 28). Reportedly, many of the kar sevaks at Ayodhya were simple villagers who did not know anything of the temple-building mission. It is despicable that these innocents should die because of a single political party�s dubious agenda. While everyone had been expecting the worst as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad�s March 15 deadline neared, one had hoped that the Centre would be able to put a stop to the madness. But, the Centre seems to have let things get out of hand. The Bharatiya Janata Party should have learnt a lesson from the P.V. Narasimha Rao government and its fumblings during the Babri Masjid incident. But, it seems that till the situation does not get out of control, the Centre refuses to act. Or perhaps the truth is that the BJP is hand-in-glove with the VHP and does not want to act, until forced to do so.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Sen, Calcutta

Labour woes

Sir � The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre seems to think that labour law reforms will help kickstart industrial growth (�Nod for labour law reforms�, Feb 23). The amendment to the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 � which the cabinet cleared recently � allows the retrenchment of workers in sick units which employ up to 1,000 workers without the permission of the government. Earlier, retrenchment was allowed only in units which employ up to 100 workers. This proposed amendment has been faced with much opposition, even from within.

With globalization, liberalization and privatization, reforms in the industrial, economic and social services sectors have become inevitable. But, in a democratic country like India, these reforms, undertaken in consultation with the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, should also have taken into consideration the views of trade unions which represent workers� interests. Reportedly, some unions like the All-India Organization of Employers, have welcomed the proposed amendment, others have denounced it. The Hind Mazdoor Sabha has called it �draconian� and an assault on the working class. Both employers and employees must be in agreement on how to go about industrial and economic reform, if progress is to be made. The impact of retrenchments, when there is little hope of redeployments, will be increased social problems as well as increased levels of poverty.

The World Bank takes a daily income of $ 1 or Rs 48 as the benchmark to define poverty line. By this count, much of India�s population lives below the poverty line. Instead of trying to build Ram temples or establish Hindi as a link language, the government should focus on the core issue of alleviating poverty. We should learn from China which is economically stable despite its vast population.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhusan Saha, Balurghat

Sir � The proposed labour law reforms seem to be a last ditch attempt by the government to try and fulfil at least some of the promises made by the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha. Whatever be the motive behind these reforms, there is no need to raise such a hue and cry about them. The competent employee should not fear losing his job. He should realize that with the economy on a downturn, such reforms are necessary.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti De, Calcutta

Acerbic truth

Sir � V.S. Naipaul may have won the Nobel prize for literature, but it has not helped to curb his acerbic tongue. This was evident from his appalling behaviour at the recent international festival of Indian literature, held at Neemrana (�Nobel Naipaul�s ignoble face�, Feb 22). I agree with Naipaul�s views on colonialism and gender discrimination in the literary field, but he could have stated his views more politely. Instead of interrupting Shashi Deshpande, he should have waited for her to finish. That is the least courtesy demands, but perhaps that is asking too much of Naipaul. Thanks to his rudeness, his pertinent comment that literary works needed to be judged on merit alone, was ignored.

Yours faithfully,
B. Hemalatha, Kharagpur

Sir � While we have come to expect tantrums and bad behaviour from filmstars, it is shocking to come across such behaviour in a writer of V.S. Naipaul�s stature. It was even more shocking that despite being the moderator, Amitav Ghosh did not stop Naipaul from insulting his fellow writers. Obviously, Naipaul�s many literary awards weighed heavily on Ghosh and it was left to a one-book wonder like Ruchir Joshi to take him on. Naipaul�s verbal assault on writers like Nayantara Sehgal and Shashi Deshpande was in very bad taste. He may have won the Nobel prize for literature, but it doesn�t give him the right to ridicule others. It is time someone told him to keep his opinions to himself.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, Calcutta

Sir � It is sad that every time a celebrity behaves obnoxiously, the media decides to waste newsprint and airtime on him. This time around, it was V.S. Naipaul�s turn to claim his place in the sun, for all the wrong reasons of course.

Naipaul�s outburst against Nayantara Sehgal and Shashi Deshpande may have been entirely uncalled for, but his statements about colonialism and the oppression of female writers in the literary world were true. Writers can no longer talk about the backlash of colonialism on literature more than 50 years after independence.

Writers who claim they have managed to write their novels despite the obstacles of colonialism and female oppression are only trying to justify their mediocrity. Writers like Sehgal and Deshpande have received an education comparable to that of most international writers. They have had to face few hurdles to get their books published. Therefore, their claims of being victims are illogical.

Yours faithfully,
Rahul Gupta, Jamshedpur

To put the record straight

Sir � Certain incorrect assumptions have been made in the report, �Assam rifles under CPM fire� (Feb 14).

The Assam Rifles is not a political organization and its task is to fight/ conduct counter-insurgency operations, not indulge in petty state level politics. The information regarding the meeting of Assam Rifles officers with political leaders is baseless and incorrect. The report regarding the alleged role of the former Assam Rifles deputy inspector-general, Brigadier B.K. Ponwar, in rigging the autonomous district council polls held in April, 2000, is also totally false and fabricated. It is known that a defeated party always places the blame on someone else.

Yours faithfully,
S.P. Sinha, chief public relations officer, Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing), Government of India, Calcutta

Our correspondent replies:

The report is based solely on allegations made by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) spokesperson and the editor of the party publication, Daily Desher Katha, Goutam Das, at a press conference in Agartala.

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