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EDITORIALS

The Judge who would cause no one any hurt
T
HE M.S. Liberhan Commission meant for enquiring into the traumatic events of December 6, 1992, need not have been appointed. The Honourable Judge has taken nearly 18 years and 48 extensions to produce a magnum opus to say essentially nothing more than what the newspapers had reported then.

Going bold
Survey hints at major reforms
I
T is a very bold economic survey, listing sweeping policy changes. If the survey gets wider political support, the Indian state would shrink, subsidies get thinner and Indians pay the market price not only for oil and gas, but also fertilisers, sugar and food.



EARLIER STORIES

Who is the minister?
July 2, 2009
Statues don’t vote
July 1, 2009
Waiting for the monsoon
June 30, 2009
Making judges accountable
June 29, 2009
Who cares for hockey?
June 28, 2009
De-stressing education
June 27, 2009
Boosting higher education
June 26, 2009
Containing Maoist menace
June 25, 2009
Banning Maoists
June 24, 2009
Varun said it all
June 23, 2009


ARTICLE

Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Class X exams, or No?
Spare a thought for rural children
by Sudhamahi Regunathan
T
HE recent suggestion to do away with the Class X board examination or make it optional so as to save children from its traumatic effects is, no doubt, based on concern and love for youngsters. It reflects the understanding of the trauma a child goes through in facing the dreaded board examination which teachers and parents revel in treating as the precursor to the “real” test, the Class XII examination, to be faced two years later.

MIDDLE

Women’s world
by Kiran Jagat
W
HEN my husband took over as Governor of Manipur the immediate problem facing this state was the kidnapping of children by the underground militant wings. Young children were either caught or lured to become child soldiers in the name of high sounding, heroic revolutionary actions that had actually denigrated into plain money making by threat and bribery.

OPED

Can BJP or CPM become India’s Labour Party?
by Prem Prakash
T
HE success of a democracy is dictated not just by the kind of government a country has, but how effective an alternative does the country possess to the government in power. Democracy flourishes when a country has a multi-party political system.

CPM suffers another setback
News analysis by Subhrangshu Gupta in Kolkata
A
FTER the recent Lok Sabha polls, the CPI(M) has suffered yet another major setback in the West Bengal civic elections in which the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance has won a landslide victory by defeating the left front candidates.

Driving home a point on aging
By Susan Campbell
T
HE senior simulator suit I’m wearing has jettisoned me a few decades into the future. The neck-to-ankle jumper has straps and pads that restrict the movement of my knees, back and elbows. Weights render my arms heavier. Straps make it hard to stand up straight.





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The Judge who would cause no one any hurt

THE M.S. Liberhan Commission meant for enquiring into the traumatic events of December 6, 1992, need not have been appointed. The Honourable Judge has taken nearly 18 years and 48 extensions to produce a magnum opus to say essentially nothing more than what the newspapers had reported then.

The destruction of the Babri Masjid brought national shame and hit at the roots of the ethos that run through Indian pluralism, which indeed is the bedrock of the Constitution. It did not occur to the Judge, however, that the delay in passing the judgement on those culpable for the gory events of 1992 would itself be hurtful.

Lakhs of people were encouraged to go to Ayodhya with pickaxes, hammers and whatever; top leaders of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar camped at Faizabad to see the mosque being brought down brick-by-brick, little realising how serious was the damage they were inflicting on the concept of Indian nationhood.

The frenzied kar sewaks were full of passion, fanned by a serialised Ayodhya yatra led by none else than Mr Lal Krishan Advani and encouraged the parivar which believed in a different, and dangerous, concept of the Indian nation. And when the mosque had come down by the end of a traumatic day, there were celebrations in the BJP leaders’ camp at Faizabad.

Messrs Advani, Joshi, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharati can thank Justice Liberhan for letting them off lightly. The Judge has avoided charging them even with a conspiracy for causing a grievous hurt to India.

While the Judge was plodding through his work, Mr Advani as Home Minister in the NDA government got out of the CBI’s charges by artful management, leaving his colleagues like Joshi and Uma Bharati to fend for themselves.

The BJP leaders L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi, Uma Bharati and Kalyan Singh as also the RSS front organisations like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, however, do come under a bad light in the report. But nothing more. Justice Liberhan has been like a surgeon whose hands tremble while the patient is on the operating table for dissection. He has been too afraid to face the truth lest he may be blamed for causing any hurt that may come to anyone because of his diligence.

The NDA government was not keen on Justice Liberhan coming out with his report.Any indictment of the BJP leaders and the Sangh Parivar, howsoever mild, would have been embarrassing for it and forced the BJP ministers to resign from the government. The UPA government did not tell the Judge to speed up his inquiry either, possibly because of the fear that waking up the ghosts of 1992 would worsen the communal situation on the ground.

Fears of both the NDA and the UPA may have led to an unspoken understanding that it was better for everyone not to rake up the events that made the country go through the shock of December 1992. The Judge conveniently went along with the wishes of whatever the ruling dispensation at the Centre was.

Justice Liberhan, meanwhile, can draw satisfaction that he has been able to submit his report in his and our lifetime and that it does no one any harm.

No wonder, it is said in the language of governance that committees and commissions are often appointed not to find the truth, or a solution, or for punishing the guilty, but only to defuse a situation.

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Going bold
Survey hints at major reforms

IT is a very bold economic survey, listing sweeping policy changes. If the survey gets wider political support, the Indian state would shrink, subsidies get thinner and Indians pay the market price not only for oil and gas, but also fertilisers, sugar and food. The survey Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee tabled in Parliament on Thursday seeks to scrap all cesses and surcharges on taxes and suggests aggressive reforms, including an end to the state monopoly in the Railways and nuclear and coal power, and throws open defence, insurance and multi-brand retail (starting with food) to direct foreign investment.

The survey is critical of the way the oil price hike was handled, but it supports the politically sensitive issue of freeing the petrol and diesel prices from government control. It means consumers will pay global rates of oil and government subsidy will cease. The housewife will get only six to eight cylinders of subsidised cooking gas in a year and for the rest she will pay the market price. The sudden hike in the petrol and diesel prices on Wednesday has already shocked consumers and more such shocks are possible in future should the oil prices shoot up again. The survey suggests a subsidy for diesel if the crude oil prices move beyond $80 a barrel. Even the subsidy on kerosene, used by the poor, is to be phased out by encouraging every rural household to have a solar cooker and a solar lantern, if not an electricity or LPG connection.

Leave aside politicians in the Opposition, even those in the government may be unprepared for such bold initiatives, which, however, come at a time when inflation is no longer a worry. The snapshot of the economy remains upbeat with hopes of a 7 per cent growth this year and a return to higher growth in later years. The survey suggests another round of fiscal stimulus through tax cuts and a hike in government spending. Significantly, it gives a push to PSU disinvestment to raise Rs 25,000 crore annually. How much of the survey moves from the paper to the ground will be keenly watched.

The fall in the tax revenue due to the slowdown and the increased government spending to boost demand and revive the economy have left less money in the government’s kitty. Apart from the abolition of the cesses and the surcharges, the axing of the commodities and securities transaction taxes as well as the rollback of the fringe benefit tax, as suggested in the survey, will put further pressure on the exchequer. The government will be hard-pressed to bring the fiscal deficit from 6 per cent of the GDP to the acceptable levels of 2.5-3 per cent. Given the global and domestic financial constraints, the survey finds the government’s $500 billion infrastructure spending plan, as envisaged in the Eleventh Plan, quite a tough challenge.

Emphasising on infrastructure building, the survey has identified bottlenecks that come in the way of speedy implementation of projects. These include delay in land acquisition and law and order problems in states. Infrastructure projects often get delayed, leading to cost over-runs. Timely implementation of the projects is, therefore, essential to maintain their financial viability. Then there are policy and regulatory gaps, inadequate availability of long-term finance and inadequate capacity of the private sector. As part of the solution, the survey has called for establishing a regulatory authority for the transport sector covering the highways, railways, ports and airports. These are all sensible and workable suggestions, which nobody should disapprove of.

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Thought for the Day

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

— Martin Luther King

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Corrections and clarifications

  • The headline “Monsoon may hit tomorrow” (Page 18, May 30) should have been “Monsoon may hit city tomorrow”.
  • The headline “Sibal talks consensus on educational reforms” (Page 2, July 1) should have read “Sibal for consensus on educational reforms”.
  • “Soldier” has been mis-spelt as “Solider’ in the headline of a report on a long-delayed pension (Page 2, July 1).
  • It should have been “dues” not due in the headline of the report on farm inspectors’ longstanding dues (Page 3, July 2).

Despite our earnest endeavour to keep The Tribune error-free, some errors do creep in at times. We are always eager to correct them.

We request our readers to write or e-mail to us whenever they find any error. We will carry corrections and clarifications, wherever necessary, every Tuesday & Friday.

Readers in such cases can write to Mr Kamlendra Kanwar, Senior Associate Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh, with the word “Corrections” on the envelope. His e-mail ID is kanwar@tribunemail.com.

H.K. Dua
Editor-in-Chief

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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Class X exams, or No?
Spare a thought for rural children
by Sudhamahi Regunathan

THE recent suggestion to do away with the Class X board examination or make it optional so as to save children from its traumatic effects is, no doubt, based on concern and love for youngsters. It reflects the understanding of the trauma a child goes through in facing the dreaded board examination which teachers and parents revel in treating as the precursor to the “real” test, the Class XII examination, to be faced two years later. The Class X examination is trauma enough to the average student who aspires for a subject of choice, particularly if it is other than humanities.

To this extent Mr Sibal’s idea is valid. Two questions that can be raised are: Will this step really help children learn in a more relaxed fashion? What purpose has the Class X examination been serving anyway?

Examinations cause stress since they involve competition. As long as there are limited resources and more people vying for them, there will be competition, and at one age or the other the student has to enter the fray and find a slot for himself/herself. The acquired slot may or may not adequately reflect the calibre of the student.

Such concern has been evinced before by many policy makers in education. An examination in junior classes was viewed as burdening the child and it was made mandatory to scrap the examinations in the primary school. This was done promptly. Many urban parents hailed the move as a step in the right direction. What happened in the less privileged schools is something different: when you meet a fifth class student in an average government school across the country, it should come as no surprise that they cannot even write their names. While a recent survey by PRATHAM has brought out figures to prove this, personal experience in the slums of Delhi, the national capital, has repeatedly shown this to be true.

Students come to school for their free uniforms, books and mid-day meals. The teacher is under no compulsion to teach since he or she has to promote the students anyway. Often this teacher is tired after spending the last three months in a cattle-counting survey or census survey during election duty, etc. So, this break is well earned. Working against the teacher is also the fact that she/he has lost some of the hold on the students because the children and their parents are aware that promotion is automatic. Learning does not seem so important at that stage to most people in a rural or slum set-up.

Till now the Class X examination put pressure on the teacher to perform. Will the scrapping of the examination still keep that pressure? In urban areas where parents are more involved with their children’s schooling (at least comparatively) some pressure exists. In semi-urban and rural areas, there is very little pressure except that of the boards.

In turn, this leads us to the second question: what was the role of Class X examination? The Class X examination has till now acted as a standard scale on which every student is assessed for various jobs like peon, driver, etc. If these exams are scrapped, new yardsticks will be sought and then the basic education will have to be a Class XII certificate. While the fond hope that this may make the entire population scale up the people’s education levels is a dream worth nurturing, the reality is somewhat different.

Many rural youth stop studying after Class X (pass or fail) and seek employment as peons, drivers, etc, or go in for vocational apprenticeship programmes through ITIs. Another two years of study will, in all probability, increase the number of drop-outs. Even those who go on to complete their Class XII may not necessarily qualify to be termed as more educated.

Where then does our compassion/empathy mismatch with the reality? The answer comes at two levels. One, the policy makers put in enormous efforts to get reports written and recommendations made. Who is to implement them? The person who is ultimately implementing them has no idea of the process that went on to change the prevailing practice. If academics say they were not involved in the decision making, this only means they have not gone through that thinking process which leads them to change their process of imparting education. To them a photocopied notice or e-mail informs them that from now there will be no examination and that teachers are required to meet the new conditions which are as follows. The new conditions like the statutory warning on cigarette packets are mandatory only in their presence, not vis-a-vis their implementation.

While one understands that everybody cannot decide, it is important to hold workshops and sensitisation camps so as to convey the thinking that has gone behind the new set of decisions and to what purpose. In the past, doing away with examinations has resulted in negligence to ensure learning in classrooms.

The second answer or reason is that tension or stress is primarily an urban phenomenon. In the less urbanised and rural sections of the country, the tenth class examination is the first level of recognition. It is not even necessary to pass this examination. Class X fail is by itself some measure. For them the board examination is a kind of standard they have measured themselves against. But one must also add that getting through the Class X examination is often so difficult that only a few of the students go ahead to do their twelfth.

The one common feature that makes the Class X examination a challenge for the rural section and a stressful exercise for the urban children is that the syllabus is very rigid. For one it may be that the range of subjects from math to language (English in this case) may be too wide for an average student. If more options are introduced, we may be able to introduce the culture of competing in what one enjoys. The rigidity of the Class X syllabus so as to bring up an affluent urban child and a poor urban child on the same platform in a few subjects may need revision.

A myriad options could be introduced so that the combination of subjects taken by a student allows a lot of flexibility and makes her or him enjoy it. India is a country which requires multi-models. So, if we can have different kinds of subject combinations, we may be improving the quality of work put in by the student by harnessing interest.

Different levels of a subject may be offered to the same Class X student across the country and the certificate could say, Class X basic, Class X medium, Class X advanced and so on. This way students get to choose what they would like to test themselves against. Of course, two mandatory steps would be: to redesign the examination format itself so as to make it more student-friendly and an attempt to truly test a student’s learning rather than his or her skills of memory and reproduction. Redesigning should also include on arrangement to conduct sensitisation workshops for teachers, focusing on building their skills and keeping alive their learning powers.

By doing away with or making optional the Class X examination, are we going in for a symptomatic treatment? The easiest solution? Are we helping the student or just giving stress a new avatar?

The writer is former Vice-Chancellor, Jain Vishva Bharati University, Rajasthan.

(To be continued)

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Women’s world
by Kiran Jagat

WHEN my husband took over as Governor of Manipur the immediate problem facing this state was the kidnapping of children by the underground militant wings. Young children were either caught or lured to become child soldiers in the name of high sounding, heroic revolutionary actions that had actually denigrated into plain money making by threat and bribery.

It was a frightening and abominable situation fit to make any mother’s day filled with fear, and her nights troubled with nightmares. But the women of Manipur fought it bravely. They had sit out protests and marches; they called for bandhs; they had the newspapers screaming out the horror and ugliness of the situation .

They did not let the police force rest till they had hunted the kidnapped children, and even if they had failed to catch the culprits they had at least foiled the nefarious activities of the underground forces. The women kept at it till the underground finally gave up and there was no more kidnapping.

Later, as the problem settled down I went one day to the much talked about Ima market. It was the most colourful market I had ever visited. The unusual part was that it was totally manned by women , and even more amazing was the fact that most of the products sold there were manufactured by the women themselves.

Beautifully woven baskets of all shapes and sizes, “phaneks” of as many hues as you can think of, exquisitely woven ethereal dupattas in silk and cotton, with designs of flowers , birds, and mysterious cultural symbols woven in rainbow colours. They were like poems written in weave.

A part of the market was entirely devoted to unique vegetables and herbs collected with great effort from the mountains, which abound in them. Dried and salted fish, pickles , herbal medicines and incense of rare and exotic perfumes were sold. It was indeed the most sense, mind and pocket tickling market that would have any economist scratch his head in awe of their marketing and manufacturing techniques.

Talking of the empowerment of women this market was of the women , for the women and by the women. It was here I realised that the women of Manipur were the mainstay of its economy.

Even in art and culture women are seen to be not far behind. Holi is celebrated with a lot of zest and bravado in Manipur. It is spring here and the natural flora of the state abounding in orchids of different shapes and colour along with lilies, azalias, jacaranda, gulmohar and many exotic flowers add to the colours of Holi.

More then colour it is the dance and songs with which the people of this state celebrate Holi. One can hear the plaintive sound of women singing the sankirtana from a distance. It’s a rare sight to see the Ras Lila on a moonlit night at Govindajee temple, a heavenly sight indeed that lifts you from this plane to another .

The women of Manipur are aware of the many problems that the state is riddled with . There are many societies to tackle these problems. Women are seen heading many NGOs, looking after AIDS patients, teaching skills of weaving, matt making, embroidery etc. to destitute women.

There are many women who are teachers, doctors and even politicians. Women are the backbone of the agricultural activities of Manipur . They participate in all agricultural operations except ploughing the fields.

But the most amazing sight was when I saw women doing labour work under NREG scheme. They had hitched up their phaneks and tied their dupattas around their head, and were helping to dig a drain.

 But where were all the men? There is one big problem the women of Manipur have to face and that is to raise sons that are sound in body and mind, who will not only make good husbands and fathers but will contribute effectively to the development of a modern state, which is technically and economically sound. A rich state with a high standard of living……Only this will take away the misery of the courageous women of Manipur and bring a smile back on their beautiful and wistful faces.

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Can BJP or CPM become India’s Labour Party?
by Prem Prakash

THE success of a democracy is dictated not just by the kind of government a country has, but how effective an alternative does the country possess to the government in power.

Democracy flourishes when a country has a multi-party political system. Most democracies have bicameral systems like the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States or the Conservatives and the Labour in the United Kingdom, which also has a third alternative in the smaller Liberal Party.

When India opted for parliamentary democracy, the founding fathers visualised a multi-party system like the one in the United Kingdom. This author had the good fortune of being an active newsperson witnessing the first three general elections under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, who dominated the Indian political scene like a colossus.

The Indian National Congress was the dominant party in the country for over two decades, and no worthwhile alternative emerged, though there were a large number of small parties, including the Jana Sangh, which later became the Bharatiya Janata Party.  There was no Leader of Opposition in Parliament, which was dominated by the towering personality of Jawaharlal Nehru.

In more ways than one, Jawaharlal Nehru did everything to nurture India’s young parliamentary democracy. It used to be said then that he was his own Leader of Opposition. In the development plans that he formulated, he ensured that along with the growth of wealth, there was stress on the equitable distribution of such wealth.

Along with national leaders who led the struggle for freedom, Nehru made the people of India partners and ingrained in them the importance of electing their government.  He treated himself as the first servant of the people of India.

The scene that followed his passing away saw the steady diminution of the Indian National Congress. It got divided, and even though Indira Gandhi emerged as a dominant leader following the 1969 general election, Parliament still did not have a Leader of Opposition. The opposition could be seen only during street demonstrations. 

Thus when the nation faced a crisis following the Allahabad High Court judgement against Mrs Gandhi’s election, the opposition parties took to the streets. In the absence of a clear alternative to the Congress, the country had to suffer a state of Emergency. That is a different story though.

The nation has lived through that nightmare and moved on. Parliamentary democracy in the country has not only survived, but also emerged stronger for it. The system has also lived through periods when it had Prime Ministers like V.P. Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda who had no majority but survived by dividing the people of India.

With the emergence of the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP and the United Progressive Alliance headed by the Congress, the country seemed to have achieved two alternatives. But the growth of a system in a multi-polar, multi-ethnic society like ours can be a slow process.

The elections of 2009 have thrown up two strong national parties — the dominant Congress and the opposing BJP. Both parties are still dependent upon smaller regional ones to be able to present two political alternatives to the nation.

Congress leaders are working hard to restore the party to its past glory and strength. The Congress has been able to create a pool of young leaders and is led by an able Prime Minister in Manmohan Singh in whom India has placed trust.  He is leading the country towards what Jawaharlal Nehru envisioned as “economic freedom”.

Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani, on the other hand, leads a weakened BJP and reduced numbers of supporting smaller parties. Today’s BJP, it seems, does not know itself.  Is it an independent party or is it an extension of the RSS?   Can it be an alternative to the Congress? It failed to project any economic policy or a development plan for the country during the recent elections. The party does not also have any pool of young leaders.

The BJP is also not able to free itself from the RSS stranglehold. Can the BJP ever become a party of the 21st century, appealing to the aspirations of a young India?

In a country where a large number of people still live below the poverty line, in a world where the country has to face a dominant global economy, it is tragic to see the country’s main opposition party devoid of an ideology or a programme that can face challenges. One hopes that the BJP will recover from this almost paralytic stroke that it has suffered.

The only other political grouping that could meet the challenge of the emerging situation, the Communist party — in all its shades — finds itself in an equally great political mess. The one difference, however, is that the party has an ideology and economic philosophy. It would need to rise above its beliefs from the Stalinist era to be able to evolve into a party that can appeal to the vast majority of India’s people.

The emergence of the Naxalite movement can well and truly be laid at the doorstep of the CPM in failing to deliver in the states where it ruled. The Communist ideology being based on a violent revolution, the failure of the CPM to deliver via the route of parliamentary democracy led to the emergence of a violent Naxalite movement. It cannot be written off merely by being declared a terror outfit.

The Congress with its economic planning, its concern for the poor and disadvantaged and all inclusive secular ideology appeals to the people. It is now for the BJP and the CPM with its allied Left wing supporters, to evolve and offer an alternative like the Labour Party in Britain does to the Conservatives or vice versa.

India’s rural scene too could witness a major change in the next few years as education and information make their way into its villages. We are already witnessing the impact of telecom in rural India. Let us also not forget that when we were a country of around 400 million in the mid-sixties, we were dependent upon PL480 food imports from the US to feed ourselves. Today’s India of one billion plus people not only feeds its people, but also is a net exporter of food.

It is the reality of an emerging powerful India that opposition parties like the BJP and CPM have to come to grips with. Their beliefs in archaic thoughts of Hindutva, divisiveness or Communism of the Leninist era and trade unionism of a bygone age can hardly be an alternative to the Congress — the party that comes with a vision of an India as a global power, secular and committed to growth which is all- inclusive.

If the Labour party in Britain could change itself to a New Labour ridding itself of octopus like trade union control to meet the challenge of a changed Thatcherite Britain, there is no reason why the CPM cannot do the same in the current Indian context. It is a challenge that can be met.

Or else come 2014 and the Indian political scene would be dominated again by the all inclusive Congress. — ANI

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CPM suffers another setback
News analysis by Subhrangshu Gupta in Kolkata

AFTER the recent Lok Sabha polls, the CPI(M) has suffered yet another major setback in the West Bengal civic elections in which the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance has won a landslide victory by defeating the left front candidates.

Of the total 16 municipalities where the elections were held on Sunday, 13 went to the opposition and the CPI(M)-led left front somehow could retain only two municipalities- Gangarampur ( west Dinajpur ) and Rajarhat-Gopalpur. They also won Malbazar in Jalpaiguri district only by one seat.

It is after over four decades that the Marxists have lost their one-time bastions in Dum Dum, South Dum Dum and Madhyamgram , Asansol and Kulti in Burdwan and Howrah ’s Uluberia. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee did not foresee such disaster to befall the Marxists at this stage. But they were happy that their victory trend of the Lok Sabha elections had been extended to the civic polls. .

In the last elections held in 2004, of the 16 municipalities 14 belonged to the left front and in South Dum Dum and Dum Dum the CPI(M) had been holding the fortress since 1969.

But now there was a reversal of the verdict and the TMC -Congress “jote” not only made inroads into the Marxists’ known citadels but it also entrenched itself into the new domain at Dankuni ( newly formed civic board), Mahestala and Sonarpur -Rajpur. In Kaliaganj and Islampur in Raiganj and Sainthia in Nadia, the Congress has achieved a major victory by winning the maximum number of seats.

Jubilant at their victory, both the WBPCC(l) chief and the TMC supremo have declared that they will also be fighting jointly the coming civic elections in Kolkata , Bidhannagar and 83 other municipalities in May-June next year and subsequently the state assembly polls in June 2011 for “ permanently” ending the Mar prolonged misrule in Bengal .

Mamata said they would celebrate their victory on July 21 in Kolkata by dedicating the “victory” in memory of those 13 Youth Congress leaders who were killed in the police firing in the Esplanade area on July 21, 1996, while participating in the protest march against the price rise and the state’s deteriorating law and order situation.

Both TMC and the Congress formally demanded the chief minister’s resignation and holding of the assembly elections since the two consequent election results have revealed that the left front government has lost the people’s mandate.

Mamata said if Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has no lust for power and if he has any respect for democracy he should immediately step down and take a fresh mandate.But neither the chief minister nor the CPI(M) state secretary Biman Bose made any public statement in response to Mamata Banerjee’s demand.

However, the senior central committee member, Abdul Rezzek Mollah, who is also the state’s land reforms minister, said the results certainly reflected the loss of faith and confidence of the people in them.

“Our voters and supporters have started leaving us since we could not deliver during our 32 years in power and we fear the people will desert us once for all if we do not meet the people’s basic needs for their livelihood at the earliest”, the out-spoken minister said.

State transport minister Subhas Chakraborty, who like Mollah, belongs to the anti-chief minister lobby, said he was apprehending bad results but he did not imagine such a disastrous performance. The results showed the people “no-confidence” in the left front and it was like sounding their death knell. If there is no change in the present situation, the party may suffer a similar defeat in the coming elections, Chakraborty gave a warning.

Like Mollah and Chakraborty , a large section in the party has been quite unhappy and aggrieved at the running of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government and also the style of functioning of party secretary Biman Bose.

It is said that these “rebel” leaders at the recent state committee meetings also expressed their wrath and anger by accusing the leadership of encouraging coterie rule. They alleged that instead of adopting the pro-people policies, both the government and the party were now serving the vested interests which was making them unpopular among the people. And the Lok Sabha as well as the civic elections results have reflected the people’s dissatisfaction.

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Driving home a point on aging
By Susan Campbell

THE senior simulator suit I’m wearing has jettisoned me a few decades into the future. The neck-to-ankle jumper has straps and pads that restrict the movement of my knees, back and elbows. Weights render my arms heavier. Straps make it hard to stand up straight. Gloves restrict the movement of my fingers — and pads on the fingertips make picking things up next to impossible.

A neck brace keeps me from turning my head with ease, my impairment glasses reduce my vision to about 30 percent, and now I’m climbing behind the wheel of a car.

Whee! Welcome to my dotage.

Recently, Liberty Mutual, the insurance company, arranged for a few hardy travelers to drive while impaired — by age, not alcohol.

The company, with the input of senior transportation people at ITNAmerica and the Ohio-based Macklin Intergenerational Institute, marked off a driving course in a parking lot in East Hartford, Conn., loaded human lab rats like myself into full-length simulator suits and handed us the keys.

At the same time, Liberty launched a video game that allows players to see what it’s like to drive while old. (Go to libertymutual.com/driverseat.)

The point is to get the conversation started about elderly drivers and, not incidentally, mass transit and alternative transportation for seniors who perhaps should surrender their licenses.

I tried the computer game under the sympathetic eye of a young man named Josh, who helped design the game. It simulates what it’s like to drive at age 65, 75 or 85. I went for broke (85) and took out several pedestrians, including a little boy in a red shirt, for which I am heartily sorry, and I’d like to thank Josh for not smirking.

The game is geared to baby boomers, who might be uncomfortable talking to their parents about the inevitable — though eventually boomers will need to have that same talk with themselves.

A recent Liberty Mutual survey said that 75 percent of adult children say they haven’t talked to their parents about dwindling driving skills. Yet 92 percent of those parents say they thought their children had the right to bring it up.

By some estimates, the number of drivers 70 and older will triple in the next 20 years. Recent studies show that — despite their bad driving reputation — elderly drivers tend to modify their driving habits as they age. They stop driving at night. They avoid busy highways. They tend to be less likely to be involved in fatal accidents, though they are more likely to be involved in multi-vehicle crashes, especially at intersections.

Back in the car (a Toyota Camry), Steve, the guy in the seat next to me, is giving me instructions for the driving course in front of us, and though my body is artificially aged, my mind is flashing back to 1975, when Mr. Archer, my driver’s-ed instructor, barked orders as I tried to maneuver a hulking Ford around the telephone poles strategically placed in my high school parking lot.

As patient as was Mr. Archer (And Steve, too! Hey, buddy!), I am so not understanding what I’m supposed to do, and it has nothing to do with pretending to be old. As I have him repeat himself — twice — I start to laugh. My (slim) ability to follow instructions probably won’t increase as I get older, will it? I pity my children, and that future uncomfortable conversation we’ll have. Meanwhile: I take out a few orange traffic cones and cackle the whole way. Whee!

— By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

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