Editorial/The still small voice
Bridge over troubled waters
Bridge over troubled waters
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/THE STILL SMALL VOICE 
 
 
 
 
Conscience has become an old fashioned word. So when politicians and legislators invoke the idea of a conscience vote it means things have reached an impossible pass. No one would deny that such is the case with the bill for women’s reservation in legislative bodies. Women members of parliament and representatives of nongovernmental organizations met the prime minister in order to compel him to a decision about tabling the bill. What emerged from that meeting was the idea of a conscience vote. It is the natural outcome of the divisions within parties the bill has exposed. Members of political parties committed on paper to support the bill have gone to the length of absenting themselves from the Lok Sabha once when the bill was in the danger of being passed. The history of the bill has been one of absurd stallings and unparliamentary behaviour. A conscience vote would settle things one way or another.

Yet a conscience vote should not have been, as it is in this case, an extreme measure, an exception in a situation of deadlock. On the ground, it means the elimination of the party whip. The whip guarantees that the party votes in one direction, according to its centralized decision of supporting or rejecting a proposal, a policy or a legislation in Parliament. The whip is, among many others, an inheritance from the British parliamentary system. It goes back, in its goal to ensure united action, to the time when a nascent parliament struggled to protect itself against royal incursion. For a democracy today, without the complication of royalty at the periphery of its governmental system, a whip is either anachronistic or completely different in intention. The latter is true of India, which has, willy-nilly, transformed the party whip into an extra tool of party discipline.

This has anomalous consequences in a democracy which aspires to represent the people. The party system in India is deeply entrenched. Legislators are members of or are backed by different political parties, and the few “independent” candidates are assimilated into the party arithmetic which decides the structure of Parliament or the assemblies. Yet each legislator is voted into his seat by his constituency, the people he is supposed to represent. Once in power, however, their interests become secondary. The MP or member of the legislative assembly is bound by his membership to the party to abide by its policies and enmities. The result is a gradual alienation of the representative from his constituency. The most obvious manifestation of this has been seen repeatedly in the last few years of coalition governments. Electoral partnerships between political parties are always decided on the principle of grabbing power by the shortest route; they have nothing to do with the opinions of the people who elected the representatives in the first place. The electoral system in India has acquired a thrust of its own through the logic of party domination. The ideal of representing the people is growing tenuous.

Even the structures of the political parties themselves militate against democracy. Fulltime, paid members of the party, who have never faced an election, hold the most powerful offices and decide the policies. Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders in West Bengal, for example, have had their decisions regarding the state overruled by the party’s policymaking bodies. India seems to have forgotten that a democracy is not about political parties, but about people. A conscience vote would be one way to cut through the confusion. An MP or an MLA could vote either according to his own conscience or as a representative of the constituency that elected him. That alone would be a true expression of democratic principles, a reflection of the people’s will in the passing of legislations and policies. The conscience vote should be used positively, not as a last resort as in the case of the women’s reservations bill.    


 
 
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
India does not have to send troops again to Sri Lanka. But it must be hoped that a government that is celebrating the second anniversary of the Shakti tests and the first of Operation Vijaya, and is moreover sending warships to the distant South China Seas for exercises that some in that region interpret as a show of strength, also has a strategy for this long-festering crisis on its own southern doorstep.    

 
 
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS 
 
 
 
By Sunanda K. Datta-Ray 
India does not have to send troops again to Sri Lanka. But it must be hoped that a government that is celebrating the second anniversary of the Shakti tests and the first of Operation Vijaya, and is moreover sending warships to the distant South China Seas for exercises that some in that region interpret as a show of strength, also has a strategy for this long-festering crisis on its own southern doorstep.

The alternative is mindboggling. In her distress, Chandrika Kumaratunga is reported to have sought help from Pakistan and China. She has restored diplomatic relations with Israel — were they ever really broken? — presumably as a prelude to more open arms supplies and military training. Her government is currently entertaining a Russian delegation. Oslo’s mediation effort is known to enjoy American support. This is not to mention the various multinational forces, many with a political personality like some radical Palestinian outfits, that are involved in selling arms to both sides, or helping to run narcotics syndicates and raise funds for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

It does not matter that New Delhi might have friendly ties with some of these governments and outside agencies. It does not matter that India itself may have been engaged clandestinely with one or two among them. What does matter is that like vultures to a carcass, predators from all over the world who have no stake in Sri Lanka’s survival or south Asian stability can create profound problems for India’s security across the narrow waterway of the Palk Straits.

This is not to demand unequivocal support for Colombo’s Sinhalese-Buddhist establishment. Nor to seek partition. Indian diplomacy must be guided only by a mature assessment of India’s long-term needs, not a ruling coalition’s balancing game. For all the obloquy that has been poured on him, Rajiv Gandhi displayed that vision. Commenting on the historical preoccupation with Himalayan defence when welcoming Australia’s Bob Hawke, he proclaimed a determination “to never again lose control over the approaches to India from the sea”.

India was able to prevent Trincomalee, with one of the world’s finest natural harbours and huge oil storage facilities, from being leased out to any foreign government. The 1987 accord ensured that foreign broadcasting stations (read Voice of America) were not used for “military or intelligence purposes”. And it envisaged a joint machinery to exclude the kind of extraneous activity that might soon be rife.

Let us be honest, too, about the Indian peace keeping force. The objection was that it failed in its task, not that it was sent. It suffered huge casualties. Demoralization was intense. If the grim pictorial evidence that the Tigers produced is to be believed, it inflicted brutal tortures on Tamil civilians, men, women and children. Ultimately, India paid for the failure — not the decision — with the life of a promising young leader who laid the foundations of economic liberalization and political understanding with the United States. None of this would have happened if the IPKF had succeeded. And it well might have done. Performance did not live up to concept.

That distinction has to be stressed to warn against the pitfall of allowing a past event to shape future thinking. There is no black and white in this complex situation, only as many shades of grey as there are positions that India has taken up and abandoned. Some would say that India’s hands are not clean, but whose is in the evolution of history? Politics is not a static thing; responses must always be shaped by challenges.

Sinhalese-Buddhist fanaticism has brought its troubles on its own head. Matters would never have come to this pass but for its elevation of a single language and religion, its scuttling of pragmatic power-sharing arrangements, bloody pogroms against Tamils and sustained policy of political and economic discrimination. Any visitor needed only to take the wretchedly maintained and agonizingly slow train from Colombo to Jaffna to realize that the Tamil homeland had been reduced to a neglected backwater. Even outsiders could tell from Colombo society’s snide remarks that well-placed Tamils who changed their surname endings from “gham” to “ghe” were the butt of racist jokes. More poignant was the sense of personal inferiority and therefore insecurity that obliged educated Tamils to make this unhappy attempt to deny their birthright.

The chain of injustice and obstruction goes on. The ruling elite, which had only talked of decentralization for 70 years, lost little time in marginalizing the nine feeble provincial councils that were set up in 1987 under pressure from India. The most recent betrayal was by the opposition United National (Uncle-Nephew because of the legendary nepotism that helped its long stranglehold on power) Party which criminally destroyed an imaginative devolution package in the form of a new constitution that the ruling People’s Alliance justice and constitutional affairs minister, G.L. Peiris, had drawn up. Refusing the measure the two-thirds parliamentary vote that it needed, the 85 UNP legislators threatened to go to court at a time when the 27 moderate Tamil members of parliament supported the constitutional compromise and even the LTTE seemed disposed to listen.

That background cannot be forgotten in any condemnation of Tiger tactics and objectives, vicious and dangerous as they are. Nor is there anything to show that the Sinhalese-Buddhist elite has learnt its lesson. It is as obdurate and prejudiced as ever. As the UNP’s parliamentary recalcitrance demonstrated, it still will not surrender one jot of its historical privileges. Yet, it also flies in the face of history. For the kingdom of Jaffna was always separate from that of Kandy, and the Dutch treated Colombo, Galle and Jaffna as separate administrative regions up to 1796. There was symbolic merit, therefore, in the aborted Kumaratunga-Peiris constitution’s proposal to replace “unitary” with “united”, describing the island as “an indissoluble union of regions”.

It would be unrealistic not to acknowledge that this is probably the most that Colombo can hope to get away with. The worst — from the Sinhalese-Buddhist point of view — would be a repeat of what the Turks have done in Cyprus. The search is for a mean. Having finetuned conflicting Israeli and Palestinian claims, the Norwegians might be able to find it. India lost the initiative of doing so which is all the more reason why it must now ensure that Erik Solheim’s prescription does not impact adversely this side of the Palk Strait. Sulks, silences and cold-shouldering the Norwegian negotiator will not help. It would be wiser to incorporate his task in a grand strategy that pivots on the “hands off” principle that lay at the heart of James Monroe’s famous doctrine which Henry Kissinger described as making a moat of the ocean that surrounded the entire western hemisphere.

Of course, Pakistan is a constant reminder of the difficulties in the way of enunciating and implementing an Asian variant of the Monroe doctrine. Behind Pakistan stands the United States. But no political parallel is ever exact. Also, the Reagan administration’s response to the IPKF and the Maldives operation indicated that given other inducements (trade and investment), Washington might learn to live with what it denounced in another context as “hegemonic aspirations” but which, in truth, is no different from its own prerogatives vis-a-vis North and South America and the Caribbean islands.

Whatever stand India takes must be credible to unbiased foreigners. It must not be based on the petty considerations of coalition convenience. And it must be accompanied by the political will and physical capability to enforce it. Perhaps Atal Behari Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh, astute men both, do have a deep policy, and the impression of vacillation is misleading. But if they cannot respond positively to Sri Lanka, they might as well forget grandiose claims rooted in Shakti and Vijaya and abandon the pretentiousness of naval exercises so far from national waters. Strategy, like charity, begins at home. Or nearabouts.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Retiring with Ma

Sir — Ian Botham wanted to send his mother-in-law to Pakistan, his idea of the worst place on earth he could consign her to (one wonders who he thought would have suffered more — the lady or the country?) Bill Clinton brought his to India and now wants to lighten the gloom of his post-presidential years in her company (“Citizen Clinton at home with mom-in-law”, May 11). Beefy probably thought it behoved his masculinity to have a running feud with his wife’s mother. But Clinton is the new man who does not mind letting his career take the backseat now that his wife’s is on the ascendant. Or is Clinton’s newfound love for Dorothy Rodham the index of all that’s wrong with his marriage?

Yours faithfully,
Uma Parthasarathy, New Delhi

Fixed in history

Sir — It is quite obvious that Manoj Prabhakar is again trying his best to grab the limelight in the wake of the matchfixing controversy. His allegation is that an Indian player offered him Rs 25 lakh to play below his potential in the Singer Cup in 1994. At first he refused to reveal the identity of the “player” for reasons of security. Now he has agreed to spell it out, but only on “assured protection”. This, incidentally, has been agreed to by the Union home minister himself. Yet, Prabhakar did not utter a word about this “player” in his meeting with S.S. Dhindsa, the sports minister. What other “assurance” is Prabhakar expecting?

Prabhakar probably knows nothing. Otherwise, he would have revealed the “truth” by now. One should trust his ingenuity given the fact that in past matches, like one against the West Indies, he has shown clear signs of throwing away the match. Prabhakar and Nayan Mongia had deliberately played slowly in a few matches against the West Indies, for which they were dropped for a couple of matches. For Prabhakar, offence is probably the best defence.

Yours faithfully,
Rohit Nuwal, Calcutta

Sir — After losing his place in Indian cricket, Manoj Prabhakar had come out with his explosive statement on matchfixing, which has now become history. Yet, Prabhakar knew it well enough, that his statement could not be proved, since there were no tapes, no recordings or eye witnesses. However, the world has witnessed Prabhakar and Nayan Mongia play negatively in slog overs; blocking four to five balls in an over, and taking singles otherwise. This has often forced India to lose by a narrow margin.

In Pakistan, Justice Malik Mohammed Qayyum has used video recordings of games where Pakistani cricketers have underplayed and conceded the match as evidence to bring proceedings against them. Why cannot the Central Bureau of Investigation adopt similar procedures to bring to book errant cricketers?

Yours faithfully,
Dilip Kumar Basu, Calcutta

Sir —The year 2000 will remain a black year in the history of cricket. Years ago, Manoj Prabhakar had sacrificed his career in cricket by alleging the involvement of Indian cricketers in matchfixing. However, Justice Y.V. Chandrachud’s clean chit to Indian players has further hampered Prabhakar’s standing. In the public eye he was proved to be a man making false allegations and playing politics with cricket. Prabhakar has been steadfastly kept out of Indian cricket, although time and again the need for an all-rounder was felt. Thanks to Hansie Cronje, Prabhakar is back in the news. Cricket-lovers now feel there should be a thorough investigation into the allegations. They also wish Prabhakar was called back to the Indian team.

Yours faithfully,
Ashoke Kumar Bothra, Joteshibrampore

Letters to the editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]

Letters to the editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]    
 

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