ROUTINE RITUAL
CMs’ meet requires new format
WHEN the Tamil Nadu chief minister stormed out of the last meeting of the National Development Council critics wrote that off as an outburst of pique at the cutting short of her speech. After the recent fruitless foray on internal security, at least two other chief ministers, obviously not belonging to the Congress party, have endorsed Ms Jayalalitha&’s slamming the manner in which such interaction takes place. There is limited scope for discussion, just a string of speeches ~ the bulk of their contents being reiteration of previously stated positions. Without even getting down to “merits”, can a single-day meeting suffice for every chief minister to make a comprehensive presentation on how the items on the agenda are being addressed by his/her government, an assessment of success and difficulties, a sharing of experiences for mutual benefit? On Wednesday the Punjab chief minister spoke of  “an annual ritual, five-minute speeches, and the union government not accepting a single suggestion”. And there is little reason to suspect political motives to Sukhbir Badal making common cause with Jayalalitha, even if the Congress sees ghosts lurking everyone. The man who is presently giving it nightmares went even further and demanded a White Paper on the Centre&’s responses to issues raised at such meetings. A matter which P Chidambaram sought to brush aside with characteristic superciliousness, confirming the impression that New Delhi deemed itself a superior entity, dictating policy and strategy, considering it infra dig to condescend into entering partnerships with the states. The Prime Minister&’s language may not be strident, but he is too stubborn to cooperate. Not even with Sonia&’s pet poodles of the National Advisory Council ~ if Aruna Roy is to be taken at her word. So what chance is there of mere chief ministers getting a view across ~ not all of them have the media savvy, or brazenness, of Narendra Modi who went to town giving the “national media” ammunition aplenty.
If these meetings are not to degenerate into mutual bad-mouthing the format requires comprehensive re-working. The chief ministers’ presentations could be circulated in advance, responses carefully considered. Officials from the Central and state governments could meet a couple of day before, deal with some issues, brief their political bosses who could take the debate to a higher level, hopefully to logical conclusions. That, however, would presume a sincerity of purpose, a commitment to resolving problems. The first step would be Raisina Hill accepting that it is not the sole repository of administrative and political acumen.

PRESIDENCY RANGE
The dismissal of Prof  Zachariah
THE development has been unfortunate in the extreme both for an academic of brilliance and a fledgling university. Indeed, Presidency University has been blighted almost at its threshold and it is the students, more than any other segment, who are aghast at the turn of events.  Professor Benjamin Zachariah, who has distinguished himself both as a historian and a teacher at a fairly young age, has been dismissed allegedly for abusing Professor Rajat Kanta Ray, his teacher at Presidency College and now the university&’s Emeritus Professor of History. The immediate provocation was Prof Ray conveying a verbal message from the VC that Prof Zachariah should officiate as Head in the absence of the incumbent. Reports suggest that the younger man flew off the handle at the suggestion. He clearly reacted with far greater indignation than he was entitled to and has now been shown the door. Worse, he is alleged to have misbehaved with those professors who had stood by Prof Ray.  The dismissal is said to have astonished the Mentor Group which had inducted him from abroad.
That said, it would be no defence of Prof Zachariah to suggest that he was let down at the time of his appointment, arguably a problem embedded in the multiplicity of authorities ~ Vice-Chancellor, Mentor Group, and Governing Council. Very simply, he wasn’t made the Head despite the reported assurance. The official charge of “drug abuse” remains unsubstantiated till date. Assuming that it is true, the authorities have somehow conveyed the impression that it is an afterthought to buttress the charge of misbehaviour at a meeting of the History department. Didn’t so serious an allegation call for an investigation much earlier? Were the authorities hamstrung in the absence of a university statute and a court? Didn’t Prof Zachariah deserve a written order, asking him to officiate as Head?  Answers to these queries may not be available anytime soon. The resultant chaos and the fury are, therefore, embedded in the university&’s structural deficiency, one that the overarching and pontificating entities and the thoroughly effete education department have failed to address. The institution needs to put its house in order. Prof  Zachariah had overstepped the mark and has had to pay for an inexcusable offence… with as yet no apology. The students of the History department ~ with its exceptionally rich tradition of teachers ~ deserve better. Prof Tapati Guha Thakurta&’s decision to resign from the department&’s academic committee deepens the crisis.

ROMANCE AT RISK!
Motorised shikaras for Dal
SACRILEGE, or the inevitable bowing to the march of time? That query could soon be posed to tourists savouring a highlight of a trip to the Kashmir Valley ~ a cruise across Srinagar&’s still picturesque even if polluted Dal lake in a traditional shikara. A ride as romantic and as famous as a sail along a canal in Venice in a gondola. The “threat” to that unique joyride comes from the economic concept of cost-effectiveness, or to be specific from a boat made of fibre glass powered by a light motor. A traditional wooden shikara costs an estimated Rs 150,000 and requires an expenditure of Rs 30,000 on annual maintenance. The producers of the modern boat plan to sell it for Rs 125,000 and say it will require minimal maintenance for six years. Moreover since the boatman can make many more trips a day his income will be boosted, specially during the tourist season. Sounds great that sales pitch, doesn’t it. Yet heritage and tradition are as much tourist attractions as natural delights, and it is difficult to imagine a “plastic” boat exuding the same charms as one hand-crafted in virtually the same manner for over a century. The slow movement across placid water, the dip of the heart-shaped paddle hardly causing a splash, the “transport” to another world ~ given an amorous ambience by Bollywood ~ was indeed the stuff of which dreams were made. Which person taking a ride on a shikara did not want a photograph to capture on paper an image etched forever in the memory? No honeymoon in the Valley was complete without such a joyride and picture. Shikaras are more than pleasure boats, they provide ferry services to and from houseboats, they also serve as the “platform” for roving merchants ~ a picture-postcard of a flower-seller in a bloom-laden shikara has long been a favourite memento. There could be a section of tourists who might opt for a possibly less-expensive trip in a modern boat, those who appreciate the finer things in life will be appalled at the manufacturer&’s prediction that in another 15 years his products will have driven the original shikara off the Dal.