Engineer a compromise
Sir — The sleight of hand is typical of the Murli Manohar Joshi administered-Central Board of Secondary Education. It has been visible in attempts by Joshi’s education ministry to wrest control over the Jawaharlal Nehru University and, more successfully, over the National Council of Educational Research and Training. A Central body decides to bring a premier engineering institute in Bengal under its list and the state government is not even informed of it (“To BE with Delhi or state”, Jan 13). As usual, there will be allegations and counter-allegations about who should have informed whom. But why should a Centre-state battle be fought while the future of more than a lakh students throughout the country hangs in balance' Both the CBSE and the state should be forced to come to a compromise over the Shibpur engineering college. If the state bears a substantial part of the cost of running it, then it should be allowed to reserve a percentage of seats for students from Bengal.
A. Basu, Kharagpur
Sir — I have gone through the report, “Basu repents labour blunder” (Jan 6), with great interest. The reason I am writing this letter is because I experienced this militancy from 1967 onwards. I was the second person to be gheraoed in early February 1967, when the United Front came to power. Although there were no oustanding issues left to be resolved with the workers, the gherao was carried out to coerce me to recognize the man anointed by Jyoti Basu’s party as the union leader. For over two decades we had been working through a works committee where we discussed all issues with the workers. The committee was an efficient body of elected workers and management nominees and recognized by the West Bengal government. In fact, our works committee was considered one of the best by the labour directorate.
At the time of the gherao in 1967, Ajoy Mukherjee was the chief minister, and when my manager telephoned him, he said he could not help because Basu had informed him not to lift such gheraos without his approval. The gherao lasted for more than ten hours and continued till early morning when the workers left on their own accord. Later, the workers came and apologized to me. I met Basu subsequently and in my capacity as vice-president of the Indian chamber of commerce told him that in my opinion he was destroying the confidence of investors and managers in the state by encouraging such militant unionism. He gave me a talk on Marxism, said that he was elected to create a revolution in West Bengal, and that capitalists did not appreciate the position.
Again in 1969, the men of Basu’s party gheraoed my house for two nights and two days, from Saturday to Monday. I was out of own, but my wife, my mother and children were inside. Even milk supply was stopped and no food was allowed into the house from outside. The entire area in front of my house was cordoned off and there was no sign of the police anywhere near that area. The workers were however given regular meals by the party.
In another example of militant unionism, the managing director of Bengal Chemicals was gheraoed and forced to sign a cheque for the payment of bonus — a large amount which the company at that time could ill afford. Due to the coercive tactics, the MD soon developed cardiac problems.
Basu’s policy has done immense damage to the state and it is quite surprising that it took more than two decades for him to realize his mistake. The state has been seriously affected with many industries closing down or going bankrupt and new investments going to other states. This has seriously affected employment in the state. This blunder is even more severe than Basu’s “historic blunder” of refusing the offer to become prime minister.
However, I think the scene is changing and the attitude of the present chief minister is correct. Once you admit mistakes to yourself and to the people at large, things will start improving. I think this is a beginning of that improvement.
G.K. Bhagat, Calcutta
Sir — To describe trade unions as “militant” is to put things mildly. Jyoti Basu ought to have described them as a violent lot too. His repentance is out of sync with the place and the time. The communists have committed blunders and rarely apologized. Being a senior citizen and having lived in this state for 75 years I have seen them labelling Subhas Chandra Bose a quisling, demonstrating violently to prevent a one paise increase in tram fares after independence and several other trivia. Working in a private firm also gave me the opportunity to see how repeated gheraos resulted in the company becoming sick within a few years and the subsequent closure of its offices in the state and elsewhere.
Arabinda Bose, Calcutta
Sir — The political tactics of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — gheraos, strikes and other kinds of hooliganism — are boomeranging now. Trade unionism and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s “work culture” can never exist side by side. The former has found its way into the police force too and showed its ugly face recently in the case involving the murderof the police sergeant, Bapi Sen. Politicization of every sphere is no sign of development. The ruling left should now go for a total behavioural change.
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta
Taken for a ride
Sir — Car owners of Calcutta already pay a high road tax in the form of expenses towards repair and maintenance of their cars, courtesy the abysmal condition of the roads. The proposed hike of Rs 1,000 per vehicle imposed by the state government is bound to make a big dent in the pocket of private car owners. It is doubly unfair since private car owners, unlike taxi and bus owners, cannot protest from a common forum. Why should a section of citizens be marked out to compensate for the government’s failure to cut down on its superfluous expenses'
P.K. Mookerji, Calcutta
Sir — A Maruti 800 owner now pays a tax of Rs 550 on his vehicle. With the imposition of the new road tax, this will jump to Rs 1,550. Since roads are used by everyone, it is unreasonable to single out private car owners for the tax and spare buses and taxis. Cars should not be seen as a luxury, particularly when there are a number of aged people who maintain a car out of compulsion. In the recent past, the government has hiked registration fees for vehicles, besides charging Re 1 per litre of petrol or diesel as cess. The government should scale down the hikes in registration fee to five per cent, increase road tax by 20-25 per cent and withdraw the cess on petrol and diesel.
Shekhar Ranjan Chakravortty, Hind Motor