Editorial 1/ Private in parts
Editorial 2/ Airless asylum
Scars and lessons
Fifth Column/ Deterred into a mindless position
This above all/ Why the law is an ass
Globaphobes on the wrong side of history
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ PRIVATE IN PARTS 
 
 
 
 
The Atal Behari Vajpayee government continues to cry wolf over privatization. The Union cabinet committee on disinvestment met again but did little other than okay the sale of 14 insignificant public sector firms. Even in these cases, some of the equity slices approved bordered on the farcical. What is the point of the cabinet meeting to approve the sale of two per cent of the Container Corporation of India? A decision on the real meat of disinvestment — the blue chip public sector firms like Maruti Udyog or Indian Oil — was put off once more. With the additional 14 approvals, the Centre has now given the green light to putting 33 public sector firms on the block. Unfortunately, privatization continues to be a theoretical construct. The theory gets larger, with more companies being added to the list. But nothing is being done on the ground. The modalities of sale have not been approved. This will lead to more cabinet meetings. At present, the Centre is unlikely to come anywhere close to its planned disinvestment target of Rs 100 billion.


The only silver lining of the cabinet meeting was that ministerial opponents to privatization were less vocal in their criticism. The four main opponents have been the ministers in charge of industry, petroleum, civil aviation and telecommunications. Their opposition has everything to do with the fact the bulk of the companies to be sold off fall under their respective ministries. Privatization would thus mean a huge loss of influence, patronage and perks of office. It remains to be seen whether the present acquiescence of these ministers is merely tactical or a genuine acceptance that privatization is necessary for the economy’s well being. Mr Vajpayee will also have to contend with the unlettered opposition of leftwing and swadeshi zealots — especially as any future sale of government holdings will include foreign buyers. India desperately needs to rid itself of the public sector millstone hanging around its neck. An estimated Rs 2.3 trillion of the government’s money is locked up in the public sector. The government earns about four per cent return on its investment. This is seven per cent less than it pays for the money it borrows from the market. This is fiscally unsustainable. In addition, sectors like automobiles and petroleum face the full brunt of competition in the next five years. The government lacks the money or knowhow to prepare them for the coming storm. If they are not passed on to private hands soon they will be worth next to nothing within a decade. The case of the relatively efficient Maruti Udyog, which has lost 30 per cent of its market share in three years, is a signal of what will happen if privatization does not move from the realm of talk to the realm of action. 


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ AIRLESS ASYLUM 
 
 
 
 
The “European conscience” — according to the French president, Mr Jaques Chirac — has been “deeply shocked” by what has happened in Dover recently. The discovery of 58 illegal immigrants, dead in an unventilated truck full of tomatoes, has again brought to the fore a whole range of issues. At the most immediate level, what is most horrifying about this incident is the juxtaposition of a dream of socioeconomic deliverance with the most inhuman exploitation of such dreams. The police are now on the trail of the sophisticated “Snakehead” networks that smuggle thousands of people from China to the West every year, charging them astronomical fees. This batch of 60 (there are two survivors) are victims, not only of these criminal gangs, but also of the horrifying brutality of the driver — now charged with manslaughter — who had switched off the container’s cooling system and kept its ventilator shafts shut. This is certainly not an isolated incident. Thirty six illegal immigrants were discovered in a van in Spain, unfed for four days. At least 173 drowned in the Adriatic last year in an attempt to get to Italy from Albania. This year, 141 Indians have been found trying to get into Britain illegally through Dover. There is a regular traffic from the subcontinent, as from north Africa and eastern Europe, all involving nightmarish conditions of travel.


The European Union’s immediate and, to a certain extent understandable, response has been to talk of tightening the laws against such trafficking by accelerating police, judicial and customs cooperation. Yet, these measures and their implementation have never been less than draconian in the EU. Perhaps, it is the stringency itself that has bred these illegal and desperate ploys. Surely, there is a larger problem here, and the French president invoking the “European conscience” is significant. The incident has also made the EU talk about the need for common policies regarding immigration and asylum. Particularly in Britain, the treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers has been a key issue in the conflict between conservative and liberal politics. The relationship between these illegal immigrants and the flourishing economies that benefit from the cheap labour they provide is symbiotic. It may not be entirely premature to recognize this and legitimize the migration of this human pool across international frontiers. This can only be a logical concomitant of a liberalized and globalized economy, and perhaps of the idea of democracy as well. The relaxation of a regime of checks and controls will also be a move towards decriminalizing immigration. According to a recent European Commission public opinion poll, 45 per cent of EU citizens think there are too many foreigners living and working in the Union. Liberalized immigration and asylum policies could ensure that these “others” are not perceived as criminals. This may ease Europe’s conscience a bit. 


 
 
SCARS AND LESSONS 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
June 25 this year marked a quarter century since Indira Gandhi’s government imposed the Emergency. It is natural that the interlude of authoritarian rule in a parliamentary democracy should have left deep scars; but the experience did have a salutary effect, though a very different one from what its architects had intended. No ruler since then has dared to even consider attempting the kind of repression that was then let loose on a nationwide scale. Equally significantly, at least some of the key safeguards that were incorporated into the Constitution by the first non-Congress regime, such as the strengthening of the cabinet’s role, have had a restraining effect on successive governments.


If introspection about the Emergency is limited, then the reasons are clear enough. A whole generation of citizens of today has only dim memories of the era when news bulletins on the All India Radio invariably mentioned what the “youth leader” Sanjay Gandhi had said the previous day. Abu Abrahim’s famous cartoon struck off the pages by the censor and only reproduced after March 1977 used a memorable phrase. Two Congressmen told each other how they would “carry unanimity to the masses”. 

On a more sombre note, the twists and turns of politics have brought together in alliance key figures that were then on opposite sides of the fence. George Fernandes, the symbol of opposition to the Congress, even served briefly in the Charan Singh government, which was formed only after Indira Gandhi’s party extended its support. Maneka Gandhi and Jagmohan — both the targets of strong criticism by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, especially for their role in urban affairs in Delhi — now serve under Atal Behari Vajpayee. 

The great gain of the Emergency was undoubtedly the verdict against it in March 1977. A loose gaggle of groups, led by the hastily formed Janata Party, ousted the Congress from power for the first time. The unthinkable happened, and it happened peacefully through the ballot box, without any blood being spilled. For the rural poor in north India, it also ensured that no ruler in the future would ever dare to attempt forcible family planning. For urban India, the backlash against the clearances of the slum-clusters in Delhi sent a warning that forcible eviction was simply not on. The once all powerful Congress had to bite the dust.

The inability of the Janata Party to forge a credible and lasting non-Congress alternative was probably inevitable, but it had one salutary effect. It was the first coalition to govern India, bringing in a regional party, the Shiromani Akali Dal to New Delhi as a partner in office for the very first time. If the experiment fell apart, it was because the strains between the two great currents of non-Congress politics in north India, the socialist and the saffron, were not resolvable. Each pushed for dominance and neither won. The Congress rode back to power by stitching together its old support bases. What this experience did for the opposition parties is notable: never again would there be an attempt to tie together so many political strands in one brittle party structure. The V.P. Singh government of 1989-90 would be the first beneficiary of a different approach to power-sharing that allowed constituent units to retain their own identity.

For the Congress, the lessons drawn from the Emergency and the brief spell after it when it was out of power was exactly the reverse. The closest the party came to any serious rethinking about the episode was when Indira Gandhi admitted there had been “some mistakes” especially with regard to forcible sterilization campaigns. But she split her party rather than share power. 

By 1980, when it returned to power, she had groomed her son Sanjay for succession. Though more muted than in their heyday in 1975-77, it was his handpicked men that headed ministries in key states. All were figures that had stood by his mother in her years out of power. At the time of his untimely death in mid-1980, he had just assumed a key organizational post in the party office. It was this very centralized structure that would be inherited and defended by Rajiv Gandhi and all successors to the leadership of the Congress. The wider consequences of the emasculation of the largest vote-getter in the country are too well known to bear repetition. But they continue to plague it to this day.

Looking back, there is no doubt at all that the Emergency marked only the culmination of a serious systemic crisis of the Indian polity that had been developing for a considerable length of time. The stunning electoral sweeps both at the national and state levels by the Congress in 1971-72 and the Bangladesh war masked the deeper strains and tensions in the country. 

Though unable to make a mark in these polls, the opposition banded together under the leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan, making corruption a major campaign theme. Marxists, votaries of Hindutva, the anti-Indira Congressmen and socialists made for a strange and very mixed crew. But by 1973, their message seemed to strike home in states like Gujarat and Bihar. In a prescient book published on the eve of the Emergency, the scholar and writer, Ajit Roy, warned that success in the war abroad might well be followed by a harshly repressive period at home. Within weeks of his prophecy, came the Allahabad high court judgment and the clamp down.

In a recent book, one of Indira Gandhi’s former advisers, P.N. Dhar, has made out the case that the coming anarchy left the government with no other option. In particular, he refers to JP’s ill-advised public speech in which he called upon the officers and men of the defence services to ask how long they would follow the orders of a government that had lost its legitimacy. 

There is no doubt at all that the ageing leader was not in control of the forces that he had unleashed. No one in his camp had a clear road map to the future. With its two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament, and with all but two states in its grasp, the Congress could do just about what it liked even with respect to the Constitution. But the Emergency was a cure that had little relation to the complaint: namely, political leaders must adhere to the norms and the spirit of democracy.

Far from making things better, it only gave the police a kind of power they had never before enjoyed on such a scale. What is more, it allowed for certain precedents to be set that have been playing on the minds of those who had opposed Indira Gandhi all their lives. In the absence of press censorship and a captive media, the cult of Sanjay could never have assumed the proportions it did. Today, it is the aspiration of over a dozen major political dynasties across the country to groom a sibling for high office even at the cost of other eminently capable leaders.

In a negative sense, the Emergency also catered to the idea that there is a quick fix solution to deep-rooted political problems. The present regime’s obsession with tinkering with the Constitution displays the same mindset. A ministry with a fixed five-year term is precisely what this country had under the Congress, in fact if not in form. Steamroller majorities proved no check on an executive hellbent on having its way. 

There is no reason to believe that any other political party or combination would be inherently more democratic, unless the checks on the abuse of power stay in place. The only safeguard for both stability and liberty is to never trade the one for the other. This, perhaps, is the insight given to us by the Emergency experience that will stand us in good stead over the next quarter century and beyond.

The author is an independent researcher on ecology and political affairs and former fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ DETERRED INTO A MINDLESS POSITION 
 
 
MURARI MOHAN MUKHERJEE
 
 
With the May 1998 Pokhran II nuclear tests, India moved from maintaining a studied nuclear ambiguity to having the capacity for at least a minimum nuclear deterrent. The tests were justified as a defensive posture, given the insurance of an effective retaliatory capacity provided in a fluid global situation. The principal justification for the tests had been the need to have an effective deterrent against China. 


Soon after the tests, the government declared that India was a “nuclear weapons state”. But a nuclear weapons state with an effective deterrent must have a nuclear weapons infrastructure. This includes weaponized warheads, delivery systems, command and control structures, early warning facilities and an institutionalized working link between nuclear scientists and the military hierarchy. 

Since none of this is in place, India’s claim of being a nuclear weapons state reinforces the belief that for the Indian government the nuclear explosions were an end in itself. Evidently, neither had the long road beyond the tests been visualized nor was an action plan thought out. Recent developments not only confirm this impression but also raise doubts about the veracity of the government’s claims and even the quality of India’s nuclear deterrence. 

Strategic priorities

Soon after Pokhran II, the government committed India to a moratorium on further tests. The fission device exploded in 1998 only confirmed the capability demonstrated by the single device tested in 1974. India’s nuclear culture thus raises three important issues which must be analysed now that the second anniversary of the tests is past. One, the role of institutions to systematically evaluate strategic priorities and objectives; two, the role of the country’s strategic culture in determining nuclear dynamics; three, the role and significance of nuclear and strategic issues within the overall security framework.

Institutional structures need serious review in the context of developments like Kargil and Kandahar. The gaps lie in the lack of coordination among the various units of the decisionmaking apparatus, of viable crisis management approaches, credible intelligence gathering and analysis methods, and decisive moves to contain and manage crises. At the root of the government’s failure to withstand a crisis situation is its failure to institutionalize the decisionmaking and implementation process. 

India’s nuclear doctrine needs viable security conceptions, not ad hoc preferences. The questions about the thermonuclear test, the government’s ambiguous position on the draft nuclear doctrine and its inability to put together a credible nuclear command and control structure create serious security problems. This ambivalence is dangerous in that it leaves the adversary to draw its own conclusions about India’s deterrence.

Civilian control

The second dimension of this issue is the lack of involvement of the military, which would be the executive arm of the nuclear deterrence system. Overt civilian bureaucratic control has stifled the military. While much is made of the hike in defence expenditure, in real terms, the military’s autonomy is completely overshadowed by the bureaucracy. The armed forces’ lack of appropriate autonomy denies them a meaningful role in strategy formulation and implementation. 

The third dimension is the repression of debate on the subject. The Parliament is yet to have a detailed discussion on the draft nuclear doctrine. All this has led to the bureaucracy monopolizing the formulation and decisionmaking of nuclear design and doctrine. The decision to go nuclear was originally to depend on the outcome of a strategic review. India has had to spend more time coping with the fallout of the tests than to create a semblance of order in its nuclear policy. The result has been that the Indian deterrent appears no less opaque than it was before May 1998. 

The need is therefore to evaluate the wide spectrum of threats and contingencies and their complicated links with the nuclear question, and to evolve a viable security strategy. Nuclear weaponization is not the solution to India’s security challenges. But, an objective and viable review of all related security challenges, with due autonomy for all the actors involved and a proper balance of resources, budgeting and priorities is desirable. 


 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL/ WHY THE LAW IS AN ASS 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
“When laws go contrary to human nature, they are more honoured in breach than in observance,” remarked a legal luminary now a member of our Supreme Court. He was commenting on a recent decision by the Netherlands government to legalize the sale of drugs. “Drug addicts will get what they want from wherever they can at prices drug-pushers demand, however poor its quality. And not all drugs are as harmful as heroin. So the Dutch have decided to take the risk of legalizing the trade; impose quality controls and prices. I think they have done a wise thing.”


I readily concurred. Our own experience is largely limited to attempts to impose prohibition on the sale of liquor. And it proved a total flop wherever it was tried. We lost thousands of crores in revenues we could have earned and we turned enforcement authorities into extortionists. Liquormaking became a cottage industry. Hundreds of lives were lost after the consumption of illicitly made poisonous hooch. But our brainless prohibitionists stubbornly refused to learn any lessons from the experience. 

What we wish is to prevent drunkenness leading to violence, ill health and ruination of families. Our aim should be to create a society of temperate, modest drinkers of wholesome liquor openly and cheaply available. Our liquor industry which makes table wines, beers and champagnes has achieved international standards and can earn a lot more foreign exchange than they are. We must never again allow prohibitionists to impose their silly fads on the people. Any legislation aimed at banning the intake of alcoholic beverages will be infructuous because drinking is in human nature.

Another equally foolish and unenforceable legislation is against prostitution: prostitutes, courtesans, dancing girls, call girls, street walkers, part-time whores have existed from times immemorial because they fulfil a very basic human need. No country in the world, rich or poor, has ever succeeded in eradicating prostitution. That has been accepted in all advanced countries of the West. What we need is to protect the girls from being forced into the flesh trade, to eliminate pimps and policemen who extort money from brothelkeepers. This can be done by legalizing prostitution. 

The only constructive role the state can play is to provide regular medical check-ups, provide women in the profession with condoms which will protect them from being infected with venereal diseases (including HIV and AIDS) and provide free education to their children in government schools. Society must change its attitude towards prostitution and treat women in the profession with respect: after all little stigma attaches to men who patronize them. 

To wit: “Tawaif (Prostitute) — Naghme jinhen smajhe ho woh nalon ki hai awaz/ yeh naaz-o-ada hain mere dukh-dard ke ghammaz/ yeh nachh nahin dil ke tarapne ka hai andaz/ Dukhta hai badan, hilta hai har jor badan ka/ Andaza kare kaun mere ranjo-mehan ka. (You who think I sing, these songs are but cries of pain/ All these gestures I make are its accompaniments;/ What you think as dancing is only my style of trembling/ My body aches, every limb and joint cracks/ Who but I know what sorrow I am suffering!)

Yet another anachronism is the law punishing adultery. The incidence of extra-marital relations is very high the world over. Strictly monogamous marriages in letter and spirit are a rare phenomenon, becoming rarer by the day. Relations between a man and his wife are strictly their own personal business in which there should be no interference by outsiders and least of all the state. It is time adultery was taken out of the Indian penal code.

As outdated as the laws I have mentioned above are the laws punishing homosexuality, either male or female (lesbianism). It should be realized that people are made differently and there is no such thing as a normal male or female whose sexual instincts are confined to relations with the other sex. Homosexuality is known to exist amongst animals and is by no means uncommon among humans of both sexes. In any case whose business is it any way what people find emotionally or physically more fulfilling, homo or bi-sexual relationships? And why should other people get unduly exercised about it? All advanced countries have abolished laws against homosexuality and in some countries even allowed church marriages between people of the same sex. If we followed suit it will not make an iota of difference to our lives, only free homosexuals from the fear of persecution. Whether or not we have a government bold enough to scrap laws which have ceased to have relevance to our times remains an open question.

Dance of synthesis

While watching Uma Sharma’s solo dance performance “Images of Krishna in the holy Guru Granth” everyone in the packed auditorium of the India International Centre was asking “Is this Sikh or Hindu?” No one had a clear answer. 

The gurubani she danced to were Hey Gobind! Hey Gopal and Prabhjoo to peh laaj hamaaree as well as a composition of Bhai Gurdas, the scribe who wrote down the Adi Granth at the dictation of the fifth guru, Arjan Dev, depicting Draupadi being stripped of her garments and Krishna coming to her aid by lengthening her six yard sari infinitely. 

I wish Akali leaders who keep making loud noises about Sikhs’ distinct and separate identity from the Hindus had witnessed Uma Sharma’s performance. I often wonder if they ever bother to study their sacred texts and history. Do they know that the maharajah, Ranjit Singh, who had passages of the Granth Sahib recited to him every morning and carried it on top of an elephant when leading his troops in battle, also went to Hardwar to bathe in the Ganges and wanted to bequeath the diamond, Kohinoor, not to the Harimandir (note the name) in Amritsar, which he rebuilt in marble and gold leaf but to the temple of Jagannath in Orissa which he had never seen? Was he a Sikh or a Hindu? 

The simple historical fact is that Sikhism as enshrined in the Granth Sahib compiled in 1604 AD is largely based on the Vedanta. The Khalsa militant fraternity started by Guru Gobind Singh became a parallel tradition. Despite the fact that Guru Arjan had proclaimed “we are neither Hindus nor Mussalmaans,” no one questioned the close affinity Sikhs had with Hindus or their being regarded as a part of the Hindu mainstream. It was after the Sikhs lost their kingdom that the British made a clear distinction between the clean shaven kesadhari Sikhs and the bearded Khalsa by reserving all privileges in elected bodies and services for the latter. 

This was further accentuated by the Arya Samaj (Hindu) and the Singh-Sabha and Akali (Sikh) movements. Though privileges based on religion were abolished in 1947, by then the Khalsas had consolidated their separate identity. Nevertheless the only honest answer to the question, “Are you Sikh or Hindu?” is “We are both Sikh and Hindu.” 

Coming back to Uma Sharma’s dance recital: it was an emotionally charged interpretation of the adoration of Krishna. Uma has not lost any of her saucy coquetry and seductive charm. I don’t know whether Krishna succumbed to her blandishments but the audience most certainly did. She should be asked to perform in Punjab’s cities, towns and villages to rid Punjabis of their narrow-minded bigotry. 

Godforsaken and happy to be

A pious Jew, who had reached the age of 105, suddenly stopped going to the synagogue. 

Alarmed by the old fellow’s absence after so many years of faithful attendance, the Rabbi went to see him, and found him in excellent health. The Rabbi asked, “How come after all these years we don’t see you at services anymore?”

The old man lowered his voice, “I’ll tell you, Rabbi,” he whispered. “When I got to be 90, I expected god to take me any day. But then I got to be 95, then 100, then 105. So, I figured that god is very busy and must’ve forgotten about me, and I don’t want to remind Him.”

(Contributed by Amir Tuteja, Washington). 

 
 
GLOBAPHOBES ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY 
 
 
BY AARON LUCAS
 
 
These are dark days for the members of the protectionist union and eclectic globaphobes who paraded famously through the streets of Seattle and stormed police barricades in Washington DC. After losing a string of major congressional votes — from permanent normal trade relations with China to freer trade with Africa to quotas on imported steel — and after failing to disrupt the World Bank-International Monetary Fund meetings last month, it is obvious that the anti-trade “movement” isn’t as formidable as its cheerleaders claim.


Perhaps most telling is that the anti-globalization message is falling on deaf ears in developing countries, which are resisting attempts by their self-proclaimed defenders to link labour and environmental agendas to trade. As one Gabonese diplomat, who was blocked from attending the Seattle World Trade Organization meetings, noted with disgust, “[The protesters] understand nothing, and are as remote from our problems as you’d expect from middle-class whites in Washington state.” Mexico’s president, Ernesto Zedillo, was even more damning: “Forces from the extreme left, the extreme right, environmentalist groups, trade unions of developed countries and some self-appointed representatives of civil society, are gathering around a common endeavour: to save the people of developing countries — from development.”

The anti-trade forces claim to speak for the poor countries, but oddly enough, workers there are not so sure that they need saving. Many realize that the removal of trade barriers immediately expands the range of choices for consumers and places downward pressure on prices, thus raising the real value of earnings. Some note that foreign investment provides more jobs, new production technologies, infrastructure improvements and a source of capital for local entrepreneurs. 

Businessmen want access to both cheaper inputs and vastly larger markets for their products. For most people, however, the many benefits of a liberal trade and investment regime can be boiled down to one very attractive proposition: globalization spurs economic growth, and growth raises living standards. That common sense notion is supported by numerous studies that have found a link between the freedom to conduct international transactions and economic growth. 

A well known paper by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner of Harvard University found that developing countries with open economies grew by an average of 4.5 per cent per year in the Seventies and Eighties, while those with closed economies grew by only 0.7 per cent. The same pattern held for developed countries: those with open economies grew by 2.3 per cent per year while those with closed economies grew by 0.7 per cent. 

Developing countries that have grown at the open economy average have been converging with the industrial economies while their closed economy counterparts have tended to fall further behind. No wonder “globalization” isn’t such a dirty word in places that are suffering from a lack of it.

Perhaps more clearly than anywhere in the world, east Asia illustrates the rapid gains in human welfare that are possible when developing nations adopt an outward-oriented development strategy. Real per-capita incomes in the region have grown at an average rate of four to six per cent per year since the Sixties. That compares extremely favourably with the development experience elsewhere: from 1960 to 1990. The top eight Asian economies grew about three times faster than the economies of Latin America and south Asia and five times faster than those of sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the recent Asian financial crisis appears to have presented only a temporary obstacle to these burgeoning economies. Even if the crisis had stopped all economic progress for five years, those economies would have performed well above the world average for the past three decades.

Critics of cross-country comparisons correctly point out that isolating the effects of trade liberalization from other variables is methodologically daunting, since reductions in trade barriers are frequently made in conjunction with a host of other reforms. 

Two points, however, are crystal clear. First, there is an undeniable relationship between growth rates and economic freedom generally, including the freedom to conduct international transactions. Second, contrary to the claims of the anti-trade forces, there is no evidence whatsoever that countries that have shut themselves off from global markets have prospered over the long term.

The globaphobes are on the wrong side of history. In the past half century since the founding of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, the world economy has grown six-fold, in part because trade has expanded 16-fold. As east Asia has shown, growth need not lead to the wholesale exploitation of workers in poor countries. Instead, globalization makes it possible for more people to lift themselves out of grinding poverty more quickly than was ever possible in the past. It has and will continue to measurably improve the lives of millions around the world. 


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Lady with a cause 

Sir — What would Maneka Gandhi do without the Mumbai film industry? Every now and then, she has to dig into Hindi films for a “just cause” (“Elephant calf torture slur on film”, June 21). For someone who was advised to take up animal activism by an image consultant firm, she sure has an eye for a cause. Yet, one can’t help noticing that her anti-milk crusade was gradually fizzling out as the 25th anniversary of the Emergency was bringing her late husband, Sanjay Gandhi, back into an unfavourable reappraisal. Hence, the launch of a new website, accompanied by the tirade against producer R. Mohan. What was most surprising was her choice of Juhi Chawla for inaugurating the new website. As an actress, Chawla is undeniably a part of the Mumbai film industry, against which Maneka Gandhi is up in arms. Either the Union minister for social welfare knows of the lack of solidarity in Bollywood, or she knows when to bury the hatchet and woo the film industry. One wonders which of the two is the correct explanation.
Yours faithfully,
Sreemoyee Mitra, Calcutta

Cursed are the meek

Sir — The recent killings of Brother George Kuzhikandam in Mathura, and of his cook in judicial custody are a matter of deep shame for India (“Murder witness dies in custody”, June 19). The extreme third-degree methods used by the police on the cook, Vijay Kumar Ekka, to suppress the truth reveals that the police is complicit with the perpetrators of the crime in Mathura. Can India boast of its secular credentials given the atrocities that have been committed on Christian missionaries in the recent past? 

In our country, the life of a black buck seems to be more precious than the life of a human being. Otherwise, how do you explain the failure of the administration to bring justice to those responsible for the ongoing genocide? 

The film stars who allegedly killed the wild animals, on the other hand, are being hounded like criminals booked under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act for a crime for which they have not yet been convicted. Our law enforcers either lack prudence or their hands have been tied by their political bosses.

Yours faithfully,
Victor Raphael, Ranchi

 

Sir — It has been rightly pointed out that for the first time in the history of free India, Christians, as a community, are feeling increasingly insecure. The National Democratic Alliance government is directly or indirectly responsible for the atrocities. 

The innumerable yajnas organized in the name of worship by members of the sangh parivar, during which self-appointed dharmrakshaks harp inflammatory speeches against Christian missionaries and Christians; the violence that usually follows after that; the description of the events as “trifles” by prominent members of the government; the sheltering of criminals by political parties in the government, and the inaction of the government itself are ample proof of this. But this applies to only those who are willing to see it.

The Dharmarakhsyak Sri Dara Singh Bachao Samiti and the Dara Sena — who glorify the prime accused in the killing of the Australian missionary, Graham Staines and his two sons — can flourish only with the backing of the government. 

Yours faithfully, 
L. Tirkey, Hazaribagh

 

 

Sir — The recent killings of Christians and the bomb blasts in churches in India are deplorable, but so is the threat issued by Christians that they will take to arms if attacked or if their “humanitarian activities” in the tribal belts are hindered. The alleged role of the church behind terrorist organizations in Tripura, which are destroying Hindu temples, killing innocent people and forcing tribals to abhor their culture and take up Christianity is well known. 

Condemnation of terrorist groups like the National Liberation Front of Tripura by Christian leaders is still awaited. Also, when Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh workers were kidnapped in the Northeast, they remained a silent spectator. Peace is not a prerogative of the Hindus but also a duty of the minorities. It is a two-way process and all should strive to achieve it. 

Christians who boast that India is their homeland, but threaten to go to the United Nations or rush to meet the president of the United States after every stray incident of violence without even giving the Indian government a proper chance for a fair enquiry, are doing more harm to themselves and to their community than they acknowledge. 

It is a fact that Christian missionaries are really working for the poor and the downtrodden sections of the society. But their attempts to convert these people is unfortunate. Distribution of chloroquine tablets as “Yeeshu’s prasad” to malaria-affected tribals and then converting them is just one such incident of their community service. 

Service to humanity can also be done without bringing in religion. It is advisable that Christians do not lose hope with the government and mend their ways too to bring these attacks to a halt and restore mutual love and trust. The government should also address the bone of contention and formulate stringent laws to ban religious conversion. Proper notice should be taken of the flow of foreign funds and their use in India. This will help bring back communal harmony and peace.

Yours faithfully,
Rajesh Sengupta, Calcutta

 

Sir — The recent spate of attacks on Christian missionaries, missionary institutions and places of worship is disturbing. It is not that such attacks were unheard of before the NDA government headed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. But with the advent of the BJP in the corridors of power, the frequency of such attacks, be it physical, verbal, or through the print media, have increased manifold. 

The BJP and its ideological partners cannot deny their direct involvement. A series of unrestrained statements, convenient actions and inactions, spiced with pregnant half-truths, right from the day of the Dangs in Gujarat had successfully created an atmosphere of disrespect and hatred directed against a minuscule community which is also politically dispensable. It is the last factor that has encouraged anybody with a criminal bent of mind to go in for the attacks.

Under such vitiated circumstances, the Christian community too is fast losing its composure. Its complaints have become all too shrill, almost reaching the senseless levels as that of its adversaries. To me this is more ominous than the cause itself. 

A Christian cannot forsake patience, forbearance, hope and goodwill towards his fellow being, even in the time of intense persecution. Christians of the country would do well to look at the widow of Graham Staines. 

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Biswas, Ranchi

 

 

Sir — Every day the media carries news about atrocities on Christians. Both missionaries and the laity are brutally tortured and murdered, churches are bombed or vandalized. All this is done in the name of religion. But the government always finds it own convenient labels to describe the events. They are either “suicides”, “property disputes”, “personal rivalry” or “Inter-services Intelligence activity”. 

Religious insecurity is understandable, but it should also be remembered that religion is an extremely private aspect of an individual. God will not turn away from you if your neighbour desires to convert to a different religion. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom. It should not be taken away from the minority communities. Ignoring the recurring attacks on Christians will create more problems to India’s road to development.

Yours faithfully,
Eyyo Ouseph, Calcutta


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