Print edition : September 11, 1999
The Congress(I)

This has reference to the cover story "Into battle" (September 10). With the Congress(I) finding its prospects to be dim in Uttar Pradesh and deciding to contest as a junior partner in alliances in States such as Bihar and Tamil Nadu, it is unlikely that the party will get a majority on its own. The Congress(I) has started speaking of forming a coalition government in the event of the elections producing a hung Parliament. After the fall of the Vajpayee government, the Congress(I) was not able to form a n alternative government because the leadership of Sonia Gandhi was not acceptable to some of the secular parties. As a candidate for the prime ministership Manmohan Singh may be more acceptable to parties across the political spectrum. So, if Sonia Gand hi is really interested in the future of the party and the welfare of the country and in upholding secularism, she should, at least at this late stage, support Manmohan Singh's candidature and confine herself to leading the party.

A. Jacob Sahayam Vellore, Tamil Nadu * * *

The cover story brings out all the facts about the current crisis facing the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress(I). The days of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are over, and the Congress(I) is showing signs of being a spent force.

Instead of being on the offensive during the run-up to the parliamentary elections the party is expending a lot of time and energy defending a) its projection of Sonia Gandhi, a foreigner by birth, as the next Prime Minister of India; b) its attempts to sneak in Sonia as its candidate in Bellary in what you have correctly pointed out as a "hide and seek operation", inviting criticism from members of her own party; and c) its attempts to strike an alliance with Laloo Prasad Yadav's RJD in Bihar, which ha s resulted in a revolt by party cadres in that State. Sharad Pawar, a political heavy-weight, left the Congress(I), weakening its hold in Maharashtra. Ironically, an alliance with Jayalalitha, the maverick Tamil Nadu politician, has further diminished th e party's credibility, because of the corruption cases against her and her unprincipled role in bringing down the BJP-led government in collusion with the Congress(I).

In the final analysis, what works in India during election time is the sort of fuzzy logic used in the microprocessors of washing machines, and not the cold analytical stuff of your columns. Atal Behari Vajpayee's BJP-led alliance may win the elections n ot entirely because of the victory in Kargil, nor on account of the low inflation rate, not even because of his party's image of being less corrupt, but because of his oratorical skills and his frequent dalliance with mellifluous poetry in Hindi when he reaches out to the masses. Personal charisma does indeed matter and right now, Vajpayee's counts a lot more than Sonia's.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Maryland Heights, U.S. Narmada Valley

Arundhati Roy has done a commendable job in drawing attention to the struggle of the Narmada Bachao Andolan ("I felt that the valley needed a writer", August 27).

Her essay "The Greater Common Good" has made a lot of people understand the principle behind the struggle of the tribal people in the Narmada valley. She made a valid point when she said that the "Government has suddenly discovered the emotive power of t hirst." Quenching the thirst of the people of Kutch and Saurashtra has been projected as a goal of the Sardar Sarovar project. If that was so, why were the dammed waters of Mahi and Sabarmati (the rivers closest to the two regions) not diverted to Ahmeda bad, Mehsana and Kheda instead of Kutch and Saurashtra?

At the same time, the NBA and Arundhati Roy have not answered a crucial question: what alternative does the movement offer to farmers in need of water, if the struggle succeeds? Merely stating the obvious - that the water from this dam may still not reac h the farmers - is not the answer. Or is the NBA (and Arundhati Roy) only limiting their concern to the threatened villages?

Shweta Moorthy New Delhi The English language

This has reference to William Safire's column, "The bandwidth of the e-speak" (August 27).

As the centuries passed, the English language, both spoken and written came to be categorised as "Old English" and "Middle English". Present-day English is called "Modern English".

Come 2000, with the advent of the lingo of the netizen, present-day English may come to be called "pre-millennium English".

The Encarta global dictionary, to be published in eight versions - with the collaboration of Microsoft - may reflect "Millennium English".

K. Viswanathan Chennai Muhammad Ali

The book review ("In the fight for black freedom", August 27) by Nirmal Shekar was inspiring.

The story of Muhammad Ali's hardships and struggles is touching. His convictions as well as his momentous and emphatic decisions have a compelling significance. As today's "technocratic" world races towards a global village that is socially, culturally a nd economically monolithic efficiently wiping out all "unfit elements" (societies, ideas and systems regarded by it as backward and obsolete), it requires great courage to swim against the current. Ali deserves to be honoured.

By declaring that he has no quarrel with the Vietcong, he immediately identified himself with all the victims of colonialism and not just blacks.

In the history of the emancipation of oppressed people all over the world Ali has made a special contribution in his own way.

Kamrul Haque Guwahati Nirad C. Chaudhuri

The tribute to Nirad C. Chaudhuri ("The passing of an unknown Indian", August 27) was highly commendable for its style and objectivity.

I feel that Nirad babu paid the highest tribute to the Mahatma when he said that no Prophet was so completely identified with the Indian masses as he and that "he was profoundly uneducated intellectually and lived in utter nakedness of spirit till his de ath." This is the state of a free soul, of the self-realised saint, seer and sage. What was unique about Gandhiji, however, was that, living as he did in that state of inner freedom, he worked tirelessly for the Independence of the country and for the em ancipation of the Indian masses and shone as a beacon for seekers of truth everywhere.

The other remarks of Nirad babu about Gandhiji may be highly prejudiced, but Sukumar Muralidharan has exposed their hallowness with admirable restraint and power. Nirad babu worshipped the intellect and missed the dimension that transcends it.

K.V. Subrahmanyam Ganeshpur, U.P. Plantation workers

The article "A bitter harvest" (August 27) highlighted the plight of the workers of the Manjolai estate in Tamil Nadu. Their hardship can be traced to their poor income. All the managerial, supervisory, clerical, technical and medical staff of plantation s are paid monthly salaries whereas the workers, who are the real backbone of the plantation industry, earn daily wages. The disparity between the salaried staff and the workers is enormous. Unless remedial action is taken to reduce this iniquity, it wil l be difficult to achieve industrial peace in the plantation sector.

During wage negotiations, plantation owners put forth the oft-repeated argument that the industry is unable to foot the wage bills. The Tea Board's figures for the year 1997-98 indicate that the total production of tea in India was 838 million kg, of whi ch 660 million kg was locally consumed; that is, 80 per cent of the tea was sold in the local market. Only 20 per cent was exported.

At Coonoor, one kg of tea dust is sold between Rs.120 and Rs.180 at the retail outlets, depending on the grade and quality. Branded tea is sold at Rs.250 a kg at other places in the country. Tea is normally sold in auctions in different centres in the co untry and the trade is controlled, nationally and internationally, by a handful of monopoly companies. The lion's share is cornered by the intermediaries - brokers, agents, retailers and so on.

An average tea picker can collect, during the peak season 60 to 70 kg and even more, if the picker is young and energetic. During the lean season, which lasts for four to five months a year, the norm is 15 kg for a day's wage. Tea prices go up during the lean season because of the fall in the harvest. Five kg (maximum) of green tea leaf is required to make one kg of dust tea and no one needs to be in doubt about the profitability of the industry.

Tea producers, with the help of the government and the Tea Board, can sell their production in the local market and effectively check the operations of the middlemen, agents and brokers and thus pave the way for a better deal to the workers.

Many plantations do not implement properly the provisions of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951. This Act requires urgent revision to ensure that the workers get adequate health, housing, potable water and other facilities. Instances can be quoted where th e owners of plantations have not paid wages for months on end, and one can imagine the difficulties of the poor workers.

More than one million workers, mostly from tribal communities and socially weaker sections, are directly employed in tea plantations all over India. One hopes that the owners of plantations will shed the age-old colonial concept of management and treat t he workers as an integral part of the industry, recognise their contributions to the growth and development of the industry and banish poverty from their lives.

V. Nadesan Plantation Workers' Industrial Training Institute Gudalur

Neelan Thiruchelvam

Radhika Coomaraswamy's article on Neelan Thiruchelvam (August 27) was more refreshing than the anti-LTTE reports. While she condemns violence, she refrains from making sweeping generalisations about the perpetrator(s) of this murder. However, her support for moderation seems to offer little for the Tamils in Sri Lanka to advance their self-respect and dignity.

Neelan, I agree, was a brilliant lawyer, but he was an individual who basically echoed the sentiments of the Sri Lankan regime. Moderate Tamil leaders have a vision, but I am not sure that the Tamil people would like to be part of this vision.

P. Ramasamy Department of Political Science National University of Malaysia Malaysia

Correction Time

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.


R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor