Editorial 1
Editorial 2
Left in the shade
Book Review 1/ Tales to make the flesh creep
Book Review 2/ Architect of fantasy
Book Review 3/ Mystics who rise and shrine
Bookwise/ Index finger�s valuable tip
Letters to the editor


Open for business

The export-import policy announced by Mr Rama- krishna Hegde, the Union commerce minister, is the product of a long battle of attrition which India fought and lost at the World Trade Organization. Despite this, Mr Hegde deserves plaudits for changing a structure that has been in place for the better part of 50 years. Mr Hegde�s reformist agenda is writ large over the Exim policy. He has in one stroke opened up imports of an entire range of consumer goods, from toiletries to electronic gadgets to dairy items to fish and processed food. The signs are clear: sectors of the economy which were considered to be closed to foreign competition are now being thrown open. There is a shift from the regime of quantitative restrictions to that of the open general licence. The import of many items has been made free. That trade barriers are being pulled down is evident from the announcement to initiate a free trade zone programme. The Exim policy will provide consumers in India with a greater range of choice and also make Indian manufacturers more competitive and more susceptible to global standards.

Notwithstanding what alarmists might say, there is very little chance in the rise of imports of the hundreds of items that have been listed. There is nothing to be apprehensive about from an ambitious import liberalization programme like the one sketched in Mr Hegde�s policy. On the plus side, the policy will force domestic producers to ensure quality and to offer competitive prices. There are indications that Mr Hegde is well ahead of the timetable set by the WTO. The latter has stipulated that by April 2003, all quantitative restrictions have to be removed. According to previous calculations, there should have been about 1,700 items after April 1999. But Mr Hegde has announced that now only 667 items are governed by quantitative restrictions. This is a bonus given the caveat that the minister�s figures are correct and not based on some bizarre bureaucratic miscalculation.

The signals emitted from the commerce ministry can only be decoded in one way. They record the obituary of the swadeshi lobby. There are no reasons to suspect that Mr Hegde is working outside of the policy framework approved by the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee. Mr Hegde must be reasonably certain of his cabinet colleagues� support for his pro-liberalization agenda. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to suggest that with Mr Yashwant Sinha�s budget for 1999-2000 and the Exim policy, liberalization has proceeded further and at a faster pace than under governments which did not have a body like the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch sniping at it from the flanks. It is no coincidence that the sudden rise in Mr Vajpayee�s personal standing, signs of consolidation of his own position within the Bharatiya Janata Party and the renewed thrust towards liberalization have all come together. They are part of a chain. Mr Vajpayee and his government are taking firm and long term policy decisions. He is thus being seen as a decisionmaker and he is earning the respect of his opponents within his party and outside. There is a lesson embedded in the strides liberalization is making under the BJP government. In a globalized era it is next to impossible for politics to stop the tide of economic reforms. Mr Vajpayee, with some help from Mr Sinha and Mr Hegde, has put reforms back on top of the national agenda. Surrender at the WTO has added to Mr Vajpayee�s political strength.    


Charged up

It is not surprising that a government should function less efficiently if it has to deal with constant politicking and abuse of power. The irony, of course, is that those responsible for governance are always the worst offenders in this respect. The resignation of Mr Devendra Singh Bhola, who held the family welfare portfolio in Mr Kalyan Singh�s Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh, is an example of the unceasing restlessness with which such governments are afflicted. The reason for Mr Bhola�s resignation is ostensibly his feeling of �suffocation�. Reportedly, Mr Bhola has accused Mr Singh of �prejudice�, �corruption�, �partisanship� and �misconduct�. There is, however, a less than appealing history behind Mr Bhola�s righteous outrage. In the first place, Mr Bhola is one of the leading BJP dissidents in Lucknow. The opposition is already demanding that Mr Singh prove his majority on the floor of the house because the feeling against Mr Singh among the BJP members of the legislative assembly is running high. Mr Bhola�s allegations against the chief minister, therefore, have added substantial grist to the opposition�s mill.

Then again, there is a precipitating factor in Mr Bhola�s resignation which does not leave him with a spotless slate. He is reported to be disgruntled with the fact that his brother, alleged to have aided the escape of an accused in a kidnapping case, has been arrested after a raid on his house. This little incident is difficult to whitewash. Even if Mr Bhola is the most upright of men, it is fairly clear that his brother may not have been keeping the best company. Whether or not the chief minister is �vindictive�, as Mr Bhola claims, is not the point. The apparent absence of disinterestedness, political and personal, undermines the authenticity of Mr Bhola�s accusations. It is only to be expected that the opposition will ask for a Central Bureau of Investigation enquiry into the allegations against Mr Singh. The episode appears to be simply a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Accusations of corruption by disaffected partymen are usually preceded by a long period of complicity. The sufferers, as usual, are the people. With ministers and MLAs concentrating on mutual recriminations and political oneupmanship, governance inevitably takes a back seat.    

Recently two academic appointments in West Bengal have been in the news. One more prominently than the other for obvious reasons. The appointment of Surabhi Banerjee to the pro-vice chancellorship of the University of Calcutta has captured the media�s attention. The appointment and activities of the new director of the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies, a new and somewhat obscure research institute whose research priorities are vague and nebulous, has come under attack from left intellectuals.

Sections of the left intelligentsia have pointed out that the new director, B.P. Saha, has no serious academic credentials since he is a former police officer. They interpret his appointment as another instance of how the Bharatiya Janata Party government is establishing its hold over research institutes by appointing its own people in key positions. Saha has not helped matters, according to his critics, by his general highhandedness and by trying through various means to curtail the academic freedom of scholars in the institute.

Left intellectuals have protested against this in the ways known to them. They organized a signature campaign. A delegation met the governor of West Bengal. A press conference was arranged. Both the chief minister of West Bengal and the Union minister for human resources development were informed of developments. Nobody knows if anything will come out of all this but anybody who values academic freedom and the autonomy of research institutions will appreciate the efforts made by the left to stop what it sees as interference by the BJP government.

The appointment of Banerjee in the University of Calcutta is a similar act of interference, this time from the left itself. It is abundantly clear that she was appointed either at the behest of the chief minister himself or by Anil Biswas, general secretary of the West Bengal unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) who is reputed to wield enormous power in the sphere of education in West Bengal. At any rate, there is no denying that the democratically elected decisionmaking bodies of the university, the senate and the syndicate, were completely bypassed. The vice-chancellor too had nothing to do with the appointment. In principle, therefore, there exists no distinction between what the BJP did by appointing Saha and what the CPI(M) did by appointing Banerjee. Both are decisions that go against the autonomy of academic institutions. Both are instances of governments in power trying to control their respective turfs by appointing loyalists. Both are examples of the extension of the patronage network.

The left intelligentsia, if they were sincere in their objections to Saha�s appointment and actions, should in principle be opposed also to Banerjee�s appointment. But not a sound has come from any left quarter. For the record, the left has been playing this game of appointing its own candidates in key positions in universities and research bodies long before political power was a twinkle in the sangh parivar�s eyes. There has been no public criticism of this interference by any left intellectual. The left�s logic seems to be �if the BJP does it, it is terrible and it should be opposed, if we do it, it is fine�.

The left�s record in practising this logic is rather commendable. From the early Seventies, Nurul Hasan began the policy of appointing his favourites in important academic bodies and selection committees in universities, especially in history and the social sciences. Very few non-left historians were appointed as members of the executive committee of the Indian Council for Historical Research. This is not to suggest that all the left historians who were appointed were bad or worthless. The more important point is that many others who were as good but did not have known left loyalties were not given the same opportunities. The sangh parivar has only taken a leaf out of the left�s book. Unfortunately, the pool of talent from which the parivar can draw is small because no historian or social scientist with a modicum of self- respect can subscribe to some of the outlandish theories the parivar propagates.

The same problem has now stricken the CPI(M) in West Bengal. It is following Nurul Hasan�s policy and is expecting that academics will function as loyal retainers. But academics with dignity, even when they are ambitious, find it difficult to carry out all the orders emanating from Alimuddin Street. The CPI(M) is thus reduced to recruiting from the bottom of the barrel.

This practice on the part of the left has had one very important consequence about which the left seems to be oblivious. The left has lost all moral ground to object to the various instances of interference by the BJP. People do not take the left�s objections seriously because they know that in power it does exactly the same thing. So when a group of very serious scholars object to Saha�s appointment in the Maulana Azad Institute they are taken lightly because they do not object to Banerjee�s appointment. Their actions only record the double standards by which the left conducts its own affairs.

In the history of the left, double standards have very deep roots and very profound implications. The left has always been vocal against the many acts of inhumanity carried out by its enemies but has always been curiously and significantly silent on its own innumerable misdeeds. Isaac Deutscher, the great anti-Stalinist biographer of Leon Trotsky, wrote of the Stalinist purges and of other acts of violence of the Stalinist regime but refused to comment on the killing and destruction carried out by the Bolsheviks when V.I. Lenin and Trotsky were in power.

All the hallmarks of the Josef Stalin era � the indiscriminate use of the secret police, the establishment of labour and concentration camps, the deification of the party and the celebration of violence � were all begun by Lenin. Stalin only made their use into a fine art. Lenin�s terror was directed against his opponents, the Social Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks and the Workers� Opposition. Historians of the left continue to disown this. Also, they do not comment on the Katyn massacres of 1940 in which 6,000 Polish officers, under direct orders from Stalin, were shot and then buried in mass graves by the Soviet secret police in a month long operation.

This was a prelude to Stalin�s dominance over Poland. For years, fed by Soviet lies, left historians made Nazis responsible for this killing of the cream of the Polish officer corps. There was a deliberate refusal to look at evidence which could run counter to the established orthodoxy. The tradition continues. One could read a book like Eric Hobsbawm�s The Age of Extremes and come away with the impression that Stalin�s terror was not a major event in this century and that it can be explained away as the product of exigencies. Similarly, historians of pronounced Maoist sympathies, and now champions of the subalterns, have steadfastly refused to comment on the violence of Mao Zedong�s regime. There is a strange refusal to admit that the logic of exigencies can work also for the Nazis and many other acts of terror that capitalism has been an heir to.

The double standards grow out of a blindness and out of a sense of righteousness. They have come to permeate much of what the left stands for. From their refusal to admit the crimes of Lenin, Stalin and Mao to their inability to protest against CPI(M)�s interference in academic institutions.

This is written as much in anger as in sorrow:

�My mind, because the minds that I have loved,

The sort of beauty that I have approved,

Prosper but little, has dried up of late.�    

Macmillan, � 10.99

Robert Westall is not an author who is widely read in India. Which is a pity, since his fiction for young adults is marvellously directed at capturing the imagination of his readers. His subjects, for the most part, belong to the realm of the preternatural and he conjures up that shadowy, twilight world in all its fantastic, immeasurable possibilities.

That is not to say, however, that the late author wrote only of ghosts and haunted houses � though there are plenty of those in his stories. As is evident from The Best of Robert Westall: Volumes One and Two, what sets him apart from other writers of ghostly tales is the finesse with which he handles his subject, building up atmosphere not through crude, Gothic props but by his masterful use of language and of course, by his eerie storylines. In his writing, good and evil, nature and supernature collide and at times coalesce, often with intriguing results.

Though he wrote for young people, Westall�s protagonists are not necessarily children or adolescents. For instance, in �A Walk on the Wild Side�, which incidentally, is one of the best stories in the collection, the protagonist is a fiftyish headmaster who slowly realizes that his cat Rama is not an ordinary Ginger who harbours an ordinary affection towards her master. By some weird, other-worldly shift, she has been transformed into a beast-woman who is desperate to consummate her passion for him. Sounds utterly absurd, but such is Westall�s craftsmanship that he does rather a good job of evoking the willing suspension of disbelief that is so vital in stories like these.

Many of the stories in these two volumes are set against the backdrop of World War II, a time when Westall himself was growing up in Britain. But the pick of the lot are easily the ones where he catches the reader in a web of fascinatingly extraordinary circumstances. And so, there is �The Creatures in the House� where a malevolent spirit which has fed off the minds of generations of single old ladies, reducing them to vapid, vegetable like beings, has finally to face the challenge of a strong young woman and her brood of cats. (Cats do, in fact, bag the star turn in many of Westall�s stories.) There is �The Death of Wizards� where an 18 year-old would-be poet yearns to know the truth about everything so that he can create immortal poetry. But when he does receive that priceless gift, he realizes its awesome, horrifying implications. And there is �The Woolworth Spectacles� where an honest, righteous young woman slowly opens her heart to evil once she finds an old pair of spectacles and keeps them on her person all the time.

The supernatural in Westall can sometimes verge towards the mystical, as it does in �A Nose Against the Glass� In this story, an old, immensely prosperous antique dealer is visited by the apparition of an emaciated young boy outside his store on Christmas Eve. Deeply troubled, he runs out into the frosty night intent on rescuing the child and giving him food and shelter. The pursuit ends in the local church where old Widdowson dies but not before scrawling a last testament leaving his entire fortune to the children of the world. For he has finally seen the child for who he is � he has deep, bloody scars on his two wrists. There are shades of Oscar Wilde�s �The Selfish Giant� here but what of that? Westall places his tale in a modern context and as usual, keeps his reader�s attention rivetted on the unfolding drama of the inexplicable, unknowable supernatural.

What is refreshing about his work is unlike a lot of authors writing for young adults, Westall does not fight shy of referring to �adult� issues like lust or adultery. And his stylistic excellence is indubitable. Whether he writes of fighter planes or haunted houses, archangels or lonely spirits, his style is always vividly evocative, always crisp and contemporary. Whether or not one gets gooseflesh reading his stories, young people could definitely go to Westall for some cracking good prose.    

By Gautam Bhatia,
HarperCollins, Rs 295

An architect by profession, Gautam Bhatia delves into his childhood and adolescence to produce his first novel. He should have stuck to architecture and written books on it. With the title, A Short History of Everything � A Novel, one is keen to discover what �everything� means but is none the wiser at the end. The author blends fantasy into the plot and in one such �fantasy� passage tries to imagine how Robert Frost was inspired to write, �Stopping by woods on a snowy evening�. In another, how Hemingway�s wife may have given the title to The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

One may fantasize that the architect handed over his manuscript to his son and said, �I am going out to build a skyscraper. Do be a good boy and give a title to this tome while I am out.� And behold, A Short History of Everything � A Novel (in case someone mistakes it for a reference work on history) is ready. A more prosaic explanation is the inspiration came from Stephen Hawking or Julian Barnes.

The novel is set in Delhi of the Sixties. The author presents some of the more hilarious aspects of growing up. He and his best friend, Rajesh, attempt to write a pornographic novel. Not being very familiar with the female anatomy, they keep a biology textbook handy. The result: �Sarita had heavy full buttocks, that hung provocatively across her chest.� For atmosphere, �Suresh leaned over the side table, and reached for the bottle of whiskey. It was Vat 69. The bottle opened with a loud pop and the bubbles fizzed out.� This clearly is adolescent vintage.

First hand knowledge comes later. After a healthy curiosity with Sally Anderson, an American classmate, the duo decided to be more adventurous. After strutting through Connaught Place ogling at the girls, the two progress to the red light area of G.B. Road. This section is extremely plausible with the boys not having a clue as to how to find a bordello. Finding what they were looking for, the protagonist, in a normal reaction, is scared witless and ends up �running like crazy down the dim hallway�. The boys lie about their experiences to each other.

Similarly, the author�s sketch of Atma Ram, the family retainer, is well done as is the picture of his father, the remote bureaucrat. The passage where Atma Ram receives a letter from home is poignant. At the end of the recital of the letter�s contents �Atma Ram was a heap of conflicting emotions, a little tearful, a little remote. Every month the letter arrived, just to remind him of the sad state of things � the prices, the medical bills, high maintenance costs, and to nudge his guilt into action.� The author paints in sepia a picture of Delhi in India�s age of innocence. The serenity of the bureaucratic colony, a turn around Connaught Place, holidays in Simla, swimming in the Gymkhana pool and a short ride in the family Jaguar Silver Shadow. Those were idyllic times and for many not disturbed even by the India-Pakistan war of 1965. Bureaucratic wives sipped Rooh Afza and �talked about the bravery of the lower classes�.

The serenity hid repressions. The schoolboy his and the housewife hers. The protagonist�s mother tries to overcome her repression by expending her energies in cooking but cooking is no substitute for sex. Sex will out, even in the best of families and it does here too. The mother never quite recovers from the dalliance.

Sita, the hero�s sister, slips in now and then. One cannot help feeling that she does so only to fan the fires of incest. Is the incestuous love part of the book�s fantasy? One also fails to understand why Gita, the hero�s daughter, was introduced at all.

The novel ends abruptly, adding to one�s dissatisfaction. But the author has a way with words. Certain portions stand out � the overbearing father dominating the mother and the son, for example. And the book is good in parts.

The design of the dust jacket is excellent and the sketch before each chapter relevant to the narrative.    

By Claudia Liebeskind,
Oxford, Rs 595

The book under review deals with sufi traditions in south Asia in contemporary times. Sufism deals with the love for god and �began as an individual�s attempt to achieve a more direct relationship with god.� A sufi saint is one who, having attained perfection, devotes his life counselling people and helping them in their time of need irrespective of their religious beliefs. If a living saint attracts followers, people cannot forget him as a spiritual guide even after his death. Shrines of such saints play an important part in the lives of communities.

Instead of encompassing the whole of south Asia, the book deals with sufi traditions related to three shrines, all located in the district of Lucknow. They are the shrines of Takiya Sharif, Kakori, the Khanqah Karimiya, Salon, and Haji Warith Ali Shah, Dewa. On the one hand the book shows how religious thoughts affect people�s lives even today. Spiritualism and modern life are inextricably linked.

On the other hand, it is a study of contemporary sufi orders by a Westerner. Down the ages many good books have been written on sufism. But there is paucity of material on individual shrines and the methods of functioning of the followers.

The author has tried to restrict her field to three sufi traditions which gave her scope for indepth study. There is more about shrines and their followers than can be expected in a general study on sufism. Her interviews with people together with the source material have imparted an interesting touch. Though a foreigner, through her fieldwork the author has managed to give a view of the shrines that is as good as an insider�s. She discusses their orders and how they deal with their large following today.

Claudia Liebeskind lays down all the three traditions and links them with the shift of power from the time of the decline of the Moghuls to the present day. The research work follows the typical format of academic dissertations. In a space of seven chapters she tries to accommodate all her findings. She gives the historical background before dealing with the traditions. Her recounting of history is informative, especially for people with little or no knowledge of sufi traditions.

On the national level she shows how the traditions adapted themselves to changing times. She also links them with the decline of Muslim power worldwide. The book tries to find out the reasons for the decline in interest among followers and the methods adopted by the sufi orders to cope with the changing times. The decline of Moghul power, the colonial government, land reforms, Partition and the spread of Western education all affected the following. When the Kakori order was affected by financial crisis and Salon plagued by succession problems, Dewa managed to bear the onslaught of the time because of its message.

Warith Ali Shah�s message attracted all and sundry. To him, happiness and misfortune were gifts of god, �the events of comfort and discomfort are only the miracles of the beauty of the attraction of the beloved.�

Though Liebeskind goes into the details of the subject, there is nothing new for those acquainted with it. But the documentation is valuable for further research.    

Why are most Indian books so poorly indexed? Is it because we have poor professional indexers? But is it possible for any indexer to handle a range of books from science, technology and medicine to literary criticism, philosophy, economics, law, sociology and history? The real fault lies, as many professional indexers and publishers concede, with the author who is the best person to compile an index. For any work worthy of an index the labour can be hard and long and it really takes a dedicated author to go back to his own work, sentence by sentence, to wrinkle out all the references that might be of value to readers. Most Indian authors fail to put in the last bit and leave it to the professional indexer � with fatal consequences.

What is a good index and what are the practical steps required to produce it? According to Douglas Mathews, whose indexing triumphs include the Alan Clarke Diaries and an English translation of Mein Kampf, the function of an index is not to be a precis or abstract of a book, but to signpost particulars within the text, concisely, precisely and accurately. It points out where to look for all the names, terms and topics of relevance by listing them, usually alphabetically, wherever they occur within the book, and then by referring to a page or column number, though sometimes even more precisely to a defined position on a page, or to a paragraph number

The question that often arises in the preparation of an index is how many entries and cross references to put in. Some readers use indexes only occasionally, simply looking for a simple entry, or going directly to the specified page to begin their reading. Others may be more rigorous, noting several entries, following them up with cross references.The way the book and its index are to be used must influence the choice of entries. Or put differently, the entries must be chosen keeping the market in mind and this the author knows best.

The complexity and language level of the index should match those of the book which can only be done by the author who has worked on the text keeping his readers in mind. No professional indexer can match the linguistic levels with the main text which is one of the key factors for the success or failure of a book.

Above all, it is the author alone who knows whether a book needs an index and what level of detail the reader would want from it.

Most books have only one index; few though have one or more special indexes, each dealing with some principal aspect of the book. Thus a history book for schools might list the names of people mentioned and a book of war a simple index of battles. Legal texts almost always have a separate index of cases, while a poetry anthology would index poems by their first lines. Only the author knows; the indexer or the editor can�t know all the ins and outs of the text.

Once the author understands the limitations of the indexer, the modus operandi is simple. The author is provided with a set of page proofs and asked to underline all the entries that should be included in the index along with the cross references, if any. The underlined text with the selected entries is then handed over to the professional indexer who knocks them into shape by structuring and wording the entries in a systematic and consistent manner.

What is important to keep in mind is that a good index is not just the terms, events and people in the book but the concepts, ideas and relationships: the latter is an intellectual exercise that authors can handle, indexers can�t.    


Christian calling kettle black

Sir � No Christian was killed in Gujarat, yet the German media launched a tirade of vilification and disinformation against India. One is therefore flummoxed by Germany�s silence on the massacre of Christians in Indonesia. Also, under Pakistan�s blasphemy law, any Christian can be sentenced to death on the basis of a statement by a Muslim citizen. Yet in Western strategic perceptions Pakistan enjoys an elevated position. So Pakistani Christians become expendable. Germany, in cahoots with other Western countries, has been a generous source of military hardware and finance for Bosnia�s and Kosovo�s Islamicists arrayed in a phalanx against the Christian Serbs. So much for Western concern for Christians. Let us also not forget how Christian Anglo-Americans killed tens of thousands of innocent German women and children with nonstop firebombs in one of the most mindless massacres in human history during the nightlong air raids on Dresden in April 1945. This, when the war was practically over and Germany lay prostrate in ruins. Some �Christians� don�t deserve to talk of Christian solidarity.

Yours faithfully,
Badal Ghana Chakravorty,
New Delhi

Unstable manners

Sir � Indians ought to be flattered by the fact an eminent British social scientist is to enlighten them on the �joys of globalization� (�Blair guru at India pulpit�, March 24). But many would have reservations about one point the lecture of Anthony Giddens, director of the London School of Economics, is to reportedly raise at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library: �how political instability has been caused by the rise of fundamentalism� in India. Just the opposite is true.

It is political instability � caused by the Congress�s moral and ideological decline and the advent of coalition politics � that gave rise to fundamentalism (for scholarly Westerners, presumably only of the Hindu kind) and not the other way round. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu Mahasabha and assorted Hindu ideologues were around during Jawaharlal Nehru�s time. It was his near maniacal exercise of secular politics that kept them at bay. The Jana Sangh was around to give Indira Gandhi headaches � till she hijacked their planks and made the latter irrelevant courtesy garibi hatao.

Religious fundamentalism did not appear in a void. If Sikh militancy held the nation to ransom, could Indira Gandhi blame anyone but herself? If both Muslim and Hindu fanatics began popping up with alarming frequency after 1984, was anyone more culpable than Rajiv Gandhi? Did not V.P. Singh�s attempt to Mandalize the polity lead to the rath yatra? Did not P.V. Narasimha Rao�s inaction on Ayodhya disenchant Muslims and make them seek solace with champions of caste � read wreckers of the social and political fabric?

Did the tumultuous era of coalition politics begin at the Bharatiya Janata Party�s behest or courtesy the Congress�s corruption ridden decrepitude? Why did Hindus go beyond their normally reactive approach to issues � if not because they were fed up with pseudosecularism and caste politics? How did the BJP come to power, unless the vacuum following a long period of instability handed it the opportunity on a platter? And who is trying to take India back to political chaos, Atal Behari Vajpayee�s saffron party or Sonia Gandhi�s �secular� one?

Yours faithfully,
R.N. Mukherjee,

Sir � Given the glorious uncertainties of Indian politics, no one expected Atal Behari Vajpayee to complete one year in office. When he took oath as prime minister of India, he knew he had to surrender his own will to those of his allies and the sangh parivar. His choice of Jaswant Singh as finance minister was opposed by the RSS. So Yashwant Sinha came by the portfolio. This episode alone showed how painful it was for Vajpayee to both run a coalition government and humour the ideological family to which he belonged. There was no alternative to compromise.

The BJP government�s list of blunders have been many: frequent rollbacks of policy under political pressure, the rout in the assembly elections in three states, the failure to impose Article 356 on Bihar for more than a brief period, the inability to check spiralling prices of basic commodities, the loss of image both within India and abroad due to the communal attacks on Christians culminating in the murder of Graham Staines and his sons in Orissa. Add to this high handed actions like the summary sacking of Vishnu Bhagwat and the announcement of Justice C. Shivappa�s (forced) retirement.

None of this detracts from Vajpayee�s achievements � chiefly Pokhran II and Indo-Pakistani friendship. No government, be it BJP or Congress led, is infallible. Yet Vajpayee�s leadership does India proud. He has both accepted and transcended the limitations of coalition governance and saffron ideology.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha,

Sir � Mamata Banerjee�s and J. Jayalalitha�s decision to join hands came at a time A.B. Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif were engaged in an India-Pakistan gamble for peace (�Mamata flaunts alliance with southern sister�, Feb 21). It is a healthy sign the Trinamool Congress and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leaders expressed willingness to work together and, more important, resolved to strengthen the hands of the prime minister. Their only minor disagreement is over whether George Fernandes should continue as defence minister (�Mamata puts Atal before southern sister�, March 30). Banerjee has stated she has faith in Vajpayee�s judgment. Such developments increase popular confidence in the BJP led government, raising hopes it will last longer than its detractors imagine.

If Banerjee and Jayalalitha are to guarantee political stability, they must also strengthen support bases in their own states. They should not depend on New Delhi to take on the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu chief ministers on their behalf. Despite law and order problems in West Bengal and the reported sheltering of Sri Lankan Tamil militants in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has to be extremely cautious about using Article 356 against any state. Banerjee and Jayalalitha have to be content with the fact a BJP led government at the Centre is more malleable to their incessant demands than a Congress led one can ever be. The most important task for all nationalist leaders is to promote such political realignments that help India grow out of its dependence on the Congress crutch.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher,

Sir � On the eve of A.B. Vajpayee�s much publicized visit to Lahore, 20 people were killed by Kashmiri militants in the border district of Rajouri and in Udhampur in Jammu. All the victims belonged to the Hindu community. It is obvious that amity between India and Pakistan would not serve the interests of terrorists in Kashmir. What is not as clear is why better relations should needle the so called secular left and the Congress.

Despite being branded as a member of a communal party, Vajpayee went ahead with the historic bus ride to Lahore so as to sort out differences with a nation created to be a �haven� for Muslims. His efforts proved a resounding success. Can the left and the Congress � the former least bothered about Kashmir and the latter adept at making noises � honestly say that in over 50 years of independence they have managed a similar feat?

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha,

Ghost who still walks

Sir � Vir Sanghvi�s tribute to Lee Falk made me nostalgic (�Mr Walker�s last mile�, March 21). As a child I hero- worshipped the �ghost who walks� and pestered my parents to buy me Phantom comics. I was so awed by Phantom�s adventures that I risked being hauled up in class. My comics were often confiscated and the teacher returned them only if I promised to do well in my examinations. Today, my father keeps me company by reading Phantom comics. Phantom stories � with their old jungle sayings and dreaded tribes, with Colonel Worobu of the Jungle Patrol and the beautiful Diana � are unforgettable. Lee Falk may have passed away, but Phantom lives on among grown up �children� who rightly refuse to outgrow him.

Yours faithfully,
Manoj Banerjee,

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