And the honour goes to...
Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party cannot be expected to behave ethically, much less in Gujarat and with someone like Narendra Modi on the podium whose sole preoccupation nowadays seems to be reviving memories of forgotten freedom fighters (Witness the drama surrounding Shyamji Krishna Varma’s ashes). So, quite predictably, Indira Gandhi and her family got lambasted on her death anniversary by L.K. Advani while the saffron honours went to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on his birth anniversary, which fortunately for the BJP, fell on the same day (“Iron man jab at Cong”, Nov 1). Even as he celebrated the contribution of a dead Congress leader to the nation’s freedom struggle, it should have been the duty of the deputy prime minister to pay his respects to a dead former prime minister of the country. But the nation be hanged, politics comes first for the BJP. Which is why, the one time anti-Jawaharlal Nehru leader, Subhas Bose, might be waiting to be honoured next.
Moloy Sen, Calcutta
Anything but comfortable
Sir — Ashok Mitra thinks that an article on the 500 pairs of shoes of a co-panelist in a television discussion would make interesting reading (“Rich but unembarrased”, Oct 31). Mitra seems to have run out of his ammunition against the so-called bourgeoisie. His conscience pricks to see the poor in India go barefoot. Typically, he has tried to “expose” the divide between the rich and the poor. One cannot help asking what his leftist party has been doing in the last 26 years to bridge the divide. If West Bengal is shunned by investors today, it is because of a large number of people like Mitra who have a negative perception of economic growth and prosperity. Mitra’s ideology has left West Bengal bankrupt, plagued by militant trade unionism and poor infrastructure. The state now lags behind Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and has a high rate of unemployment, particularly among the educated class. Mitra and his leftist fraternity seem to have learnt nothing from the defeat of communism not only in the former Soviet Union, but also in China where, perhaps, the worst form of capitalism is practised today.
Mohan Kumar Menon, Calcutta
Sir — I fail to comprehend Ashok Mitra’s message in “Rich but unembarrassed”, especially erudite jargons like the “Impossibility Theorem”. From what I understand, Mitra seems to be arguing that for socialist leaders, an unabashed display of personal wealth is sin. Even if one earned a considerable amount, one had to live a life stripped of all comforts. This, and this alone, would ensure that the rest, who enjoy a less privileged life, will never rise in rebellion. One may be the worst “aesthete” born, but so long as one did not voice one’s opinion, it is fine with the high priests of socialism. Right, Mr Mitra'
Partho Datta, Calcutta
Sir — I agree with Ashok Mitra although I do not believe that there is any possibility of an armed struggle of the same magnitude as the French revolution. But resentments against conspicuous consumption can manifest itself in armed robberies, assassination bids, terrorism and civil strife. Probably rich Brazilians living behind protective walls and armed guards will be able to explain the threat better.
To guard against mass anger, rich achievers would be well-advised to remember that their wealth is actually produced by the toiling masses and they cannot afford to ignore them altogether. Two, our own political leaders have to set the precedent by avoiding occasions where there is a vulgar display of wealth.
H.P. Mitra, Calcutta
Sir — Ashok Mitra has warned the nouveau riche in India about a possible backlash from the impoverished sections of society. The possibility of such a rebellion is even more real in West Bengal where there might be a popular uprising against leftist goons and the left’s absolutist power, and this might take place sooner than the revolt against the rich. Remember how the Russians had rebelled against their communist dictators much before the Americans got a chance to rise against their capitalist ones' If that happens, the people of Bengal will also try to topple the intellectual infrastructure which allows the leftist intelligentsia to boast about its aesthetic sensibilities while keeping its eyes closed to the aura of fear and duress that exists in its neighbourhood.
Sourav Chatterjee, California, US
Sir — “Rich but unembarrassed” puts forward the old socialist argument which is still likely to find eager ears in the decaying environs of Bengal where owning a car or a small business invites the ire of the “masses”. I am yet to come across this “common man” who, without political patronage, would consider the rich to be sinners. What is needed is a positive approach towards better living. We have to remember that travelling without a ticket in a state-subsidized railway or creating roadblocks on a working day is no way to take up anyone’s cause. Besides, the distinction between rich and poor is elusive. What a car means to someone, a pair of shoes means to another, and a bar of soap to someone else. But every human being dreams and must work sincerely and honestly to fulfil that. That is the only way out, not processions and roadblocks.
Sir — Ashok Mitra seems a confused man when it comes to critical social theory. After dabbling a little with pure economics on how conspicuous consumption may not help domestic industry, he leaves the argument half-way to rely on morality and aesthetics in appealing against indulgence. But isn’t it senile to intimidate the rich with “snatching and pilfering” and “open and violent rebellion” for their enjoyment of wealth' Mitra himself, being once an active participant of the present bourgeoise parliamentary democracy, should know better about the elaborate and draconian security system that we have put in place to take care of such thugs.
Saikat Mitra, Calcutta