Editorial 1/ New Move
Editorial 2/ Back Shuffle
That uncertain feeling
Fifth Column/ Serve the greatest good of all
Federal is the key word
Kargil anniversary/ For the nation to look back in
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ NEW MOVE 
 
 
 
 
There are some gift horses that need to be looked in the mouth, but the gift must be welcomed all the same. New Delhi has therefore warmly welcomed the offer of the militant organization in Jammu and Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahedeen, to begin a ceasefire and come to the talking table with the Indian government with a view to resolving the Kashmir problem. The opposition has declared its full support for the government in this, for without doubt the militant outfit’s offer signifies the possibility of opening a real window of interchange — without arms — for the first time. The Indian government has been giving concretely positive signals with its gradual release of leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. The Hizbul’s offer, however, is not unconditional. The three month ceasefire would be operative only if Indian security forces suspend arms against militants during the same period. Since the Hizbul is not the only militant outfit in Kashmir, and since 14 other militant groups have expressed their displeasure at the ceasefire offer, this condition is trickier than it looks. If the other outfits continue with their depredations, the Indian security forces cannot have both their hands tied behind their backs. But this is a problem that will have to be resolved with tact and patience, for the Hizbul Mujahedeen’s offer is just too important to mess with.

The National Conference initiative in trying to talk to the Centre from what is admittedly an extreme position — demand for pre-1953 status for Jammu and Kashmir— may have contributed something to the Hizbul’s change of attitude. If the chief minister, Mr Farooq Abdullah, had been trying to best the attempts of New Delhi to open a dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders, the Hizbul Mujahedeen could well be trying to best everyone by getting in on any talks about autonomy for the state. It cannot be comfortable for an extremist outfit, which has championed that Kashmir become part of Pakistan, to find there is a risk, if autonomy talks get under way, for the state to be split into three, Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. It would be in the interests of all groups to be in on the beginning, so they can not only be in on the death but also find it to their liking.

It would not be unreasonable to suspect that the Hizbul’s offer has Pakistan’s say-so behind it. Therefore New Delhi’s welcome to the offer would imply its willingness to restart a conversation with Pakistan, so rudely interrupted by Kargil a year ago. By refusing to budge from the position that no discussion could be held without a suspension of militancy, India seems to have finally made a point. It has been helped by the fact that Pakistan’s position on Kashmir has slowly lost credibility in international fora, if only because the reality of terrorism is making itself painfully felt all over the world. The West’s frostiness regarding the issue has been unnerving for Pakistan, unsettled as it is with its internal troubles and shaky economy. It would not be surprising if Pakistan begins moving rather creakily towards some sort of neighbourly feeling. The Central government is likely to use the opportunity offered by the militant group to achieve as much as possible in the sphere of peace for Jammu and Kashmir. But it is early days yet and in no way can it do anything alone.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ BACK SHUFFLE 
 
 
 
 
Reshuffling ministers is a favourite pastime of Indian prime ministers. Some do it out of sheer boredom, others to needle or finish a rival or an opponent. The latest reshuffle of the cabinet by Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee has been somewhat thrust upon him because he had to remove Mr Ram Jethmalani, the former law minister. The reshuffle was an inevitable sequel to this. Mr Arun Jaitley has been appointed the new law minister. But this elevation has cost him the loss of the disinvestment portfolio to Mr Arun Shourie. The new appointment of Mr Jaitley is logical and fitting since he is a well-known lawyer. No eyebrows need be raised about Mr Arun Shourie’s new responsibility as his antipathy towards the public sector is on record. There is another angle to the change which may pass unnoticed. Mr Jaitley had been moving with zeal and enthusiasm with the disinvestment programme. His removal, despite Mr Shourie’s views, is bound to harm the credibility of Mr Vajpayee’s government in so far as its commitment to disinvestment is concerned. Mr Shourie’s plans for downsizing the government have not been acted upon by the prime minister. It is unlikely that his enthusiasm for drastically reducing the number of public sector units will have a favourable reception in the prime minister’s office. Mr Shourie can reconcile himself to pursuing a thankless task, and those who subscribe to his views to a bout of disillusionment.

It needs to be remembered that a reform programme to be executed with success and speed needs the unequivocal support of the prime minister. The latter must decide that the pushing through of reforms cannot be compromised by political considerations. Mr Vajpayee is generally known to be in favour of reforms but he is not above political considerations especially as he knows that on reforms his party is not entirely with him. There are even more enemies of reforms within the sangh parivar, the broader family to which Mr Vajpayee belongs. Mr Vajpayee can distance himself from the anti-reformers within the sangh parivar but he cannot abandon the parivar. This acts as a restraint on his advocacy of reforms. A change in ministers always slows down an ongoing process. Mr Vajpayee may have gained time but he may not be able to avoid a showdown.    


 
 
THAT UNCERTAIN FEELING 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
Was it a story of much ado about nothing? Why was there no immediate public interest litigation questioning the legal propriety of the way the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government rejected the Srikrishna commission report on the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 in which 900 persons lost their lives? Was not the official decision clearly inspired by the wish to spare Bal Thackeray the consequences of his action and of the charges made against him and his party, then in power, for stoking the fires of inter-communal hatred?

Again, why did the Vilasrao Deshmukh government take so long to resurrect the Srikrishna commission report and make amends for its predecessor’s cynical bid to hush up so serious a matter? How did the file disappear from the state secretariat? And why, when the case against Thackeray was at last filed, not enough care was taken to make the charges stick and serve as a warning to other rabble-rousers who incite communal passions to paranoic levels?

The drama in the magistrate’s court when the Shiv Sena leader was taken there by the police on Tuesday morning made legal history. It was more like a Eugene Ionesco play. The defence counsel at this preliminary stage merely wanted the accused to be released on bail. The magistrate thought this was not enough and peremptorily dismissed the very case against Thackeray on the ground that it was time barred. In a country where thousands of cases are kept pending for decades and many undertrials spend more time in jail than the maximum sentence prescribed for the offence they are supposed to be guilty of, this was a rare example of instant justice delivered as fast as email.

This play, for which the script could have been written by the Shiv Sena leader himself, will undoubtedly raise many eyebrows and even provoke many sceptical sniggers. Even so, the Deshmukh government has cut an extremely sorry figure not only by its heedless delay in filing the case but the shoddy way in which it did its homework. Those unfamiliar with the sophistries and ambiguities of the law are in no position to say what turn the case will take when the state government goes in appeal to the high court for a reversal of the magistrate’s verdict. Yet many will wonder why, if the case was time barred, did Thackeray get so jittery as to conjure up visions of a Mumbai in flames if he was arrested and why the Central government lost its nerve.

The public in Mumbai, which has had to live in a state of acute tension and fear for over a week, hoped that the case might chasten the Shiv Sena leader. For all it knows, it might make him more bellicose after what has happened. There is still a ray of hope that sooner or later the Supreme Court itself might think it necessary to set a timeframe for action by the state and Central governments on the findings of a high powered inquiry commission set up by them on matters bearing on the peace not only of a particular city but of the country as a whole.

The Shiv Sena nominees in the Central government, who had resigned in protest against what was being done to their leader and to keep the heat on the prime minister to come to Balasaheb’s rescue, have lost no time in returning to their jobs. Even the long suffering head of the Central government, having dismissed the law minister for his barbed remarks about the apex court, is now trying to mollify Ram Jethmalani by assuring him that his dismissal from the cabinet is no reflection on the latter’s integrity but is primarily meant to ensure the best of relations between the executive and the judiciary.

The country has been used to living for a long time with what a novelist has called “that uncertain feeling”. There are moments when this becomes too intense to bear and days when one can easily ward it off and relax. Perhaps it is only the prime minister who is denied the luxury of keeping his mind off the worrisome question: what next? So far as he is concerned, the Bal Thackeray problem may have been removed from his plate but there are many others which are no less worrisome and the fallout of which can have much wider and more sinister repercussions.

The experience of running a coalition government of so many disparate elements has made him watch warily each step he takes. Having seen his government driven to the brink and forced to go back on a policy decision so often, he does not naturally want a repetition of a story involving loss of face. Nor is he unaware of the irony of running a government which has more trouble in keeping its own partners in tow than in dealing with the opposition.

The time may or may not be out of joint. What is certain is that the Central government’s machinery is all too often out of gear. This is clear from the sluggish pace of the economic reforms despite repeated promises to speed it up. This is because the government is unable to see, or reluctant to admit, the contradictions implicit in many of its policies which, while easy to formulate, are difficult to implement in so far as they are liable to hurt large groups.

If the progress with privatization has been too slow, the reason is that it often spells unemployment for many. The hope of sustaining even a growth rate of six per cent is likely to prove illusory if nothing is done to tighten up fiscal discipline which, going by the record, is ironically getting more lax. In any case, how can high growth rates be maintained in the absence of massive investment in the infrastructure which has so far failed to attract even one-fourth of the needed capital. Some parts of the country are indeed fast sinking into a morass of decrepitude from which it is already almost impossible to pull them out.

As for Kashmir, the government does not have the haziest notion of how it plans to get out of the corner into which it has been pushed by the nasty turn of events for which its own miscalculations are responsible in no small measure. Even Farooq Abdullah’s promise to settle for much less than a return to the provisions of the original accession agreement means nothing. Whatever ground the chief minister, whose own credentials to speak for the valley are in question, yields, the chasm between his position and that of the prime minister’s party will be hard to bridge.

Meanwhile, the mystery about what plans the Americans harbour in regard to the future of Kashmir continues to deepen. The United States hand was all too visible in he abortive initiative the Atal Behari Vajpayee government took in preparing the ground for negotiations with the Hurriyat leaders. The distance between the two being as large as it was, the move was doomed from the start and it fizzled out even before a cursory beginning. All that the fatuous gesture did was to raise the hackles of the diminishing ranks of the pro-Indian groups and goad them into asking for much more than they ever bargained for earlier.

The same American hand is apparent in the surprise sprung by the pro-Pakistani militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahedeen, in unilaterally announcing a three-month ceasefire and promising support to a dialogue with the All Party Hurriyat Conference. On the face of it, this may seem a welcome development. That nine other militant outfits have opposed this move is, however, hardly a good augury for a new beginning in negotiating a peaceful settlement.

It will be quixotic to invest much hope in the outcome of the new announcement until the Hurriyat leaders define their stand in precise terms and Pervez Musharraf, so far allergic to the so-called Lahore spirit, agrees to resume the peace process brutally interrupted by the Kargil war. What is more, he must, as a token of his desire for a reasonable settlement, wind up the various terrorist outfits Pakistan has trained and armed for years and end their incursions into Indian territory.

Dismissing all politics as part of showbiz in the offhand manner of some smart observers of the contemporary scene will not do. Food and water riots, local wars and genocides, summit meetings and international terrorism may provide entertaining material for television cameras. But the contention that “for every imbecility presented by the spectacle, there are only the media professionals to give an answer, with a few respectful rectifications and remonstrations” is just not true. The professionals who run the world and take the big decisions belong to other categories.

Mediamen count for much less in shaping the new world than politicians, multinational executives, technocrats, mobsters and even trend setters and salesmen. It is the latter who make war or peace, destabilize entire societies, invest or disinvest, transfer or withhold technology, deny aid or offer relief. They decide which states are to be dubbed terrorist. They impose economic sanctions and trade embargoes against those who fail to toe their line. They unleash mobs in the streets and bring a city’s life to a standstill.

How can media remonstrations, rude or respectful, make any difference to the identity of the main actors on the world stage or in the national theatres? They cannot do anything even about “that uncertain feeling” which overwhelms so many people so often.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ SERVE THE GREATEST GOOD OF ALL 
 
 
R.J. VENKATESWARAN
 
 
The Constitution review commission has invited suggestions from the public on how to improve the working of parliamentary democracy. The response in all likeness will be good. But what are the prospects of the country being made safe for democracy and democracy being made safe for India as a result of the recommendations of the commission?

The questions are pertinent in view of the failure of the government and the citizens to ensure the effective functioning of democracy. The annual report of the ministry of parliamentary affairs for 1999-2000 gives facts and figures to highlight the decline of Parliament.

For instance, the number of sittings of the Lok Sabha in 1999 was 51 and that of the Rajya Sabha 48 compared to 103 and 60, respectively in 1952. A great deal of time is wasted on interruption and disorderly scenes. It has always been tough for the speaker of the Lok Sabha and the chairman of the Rajya Sabha to maintain quorum and decorum in the house.

The Constitution has empowered the government to promulgate an ordinance when Parliament is not in session and the country is facing a serious situation. But the power has been misused.

In 1960, the Lok Sabha speaker, G.V. Mavlankar, complained to Jawaharlal Nehru about the bad psychological effects of ordinances on the people, on the house, which felt ignored and the central secretariat, which became slack, necessitating further ordinances.

Too many short cuts

Nehru agreed that ordinances should be issued only on urgent occasions. But the assurance was ignored by successive prime ministers. During Indira Gandhi’s regime many major decisions like the nationalization of commercial banks and the coal industry were taken through ordinances, thereby ignoring Parliament.

During 1999, 10 ordinances were promulgated relating to the repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act, patents law, the Prasar Bharati Corporation and Companies Act.

The Constitution has vested extensive power in Parliament. It has the right to impose, abolish, remit, alter and regulate any tax and also to control expenditure. But Parliament has failed to exercise these powers in the best interests of the country. The chaotic manner in which taxation system has developed, the indiscriminate way the public sector has been enlarged, the emergence of the bureaucrat as the great growth industry, and the huge increase in unproductive expenditure — all these could have been avoided had Parliament been vigilant about the performance of the government.

Parliament has shown little interest in the annual budget. As P.A. Sangma, noted in 1998, the budget had been passed “without discussion” in 40 minutes. In May this year only the ministers for communications, home and human resources development were discussed. Demands from all other ministries were put to vote without discussion.

House of disorder

The opposition has also failed to play a constructive role. The duty of the opposition is to oppose, expose and depose the government but this should be done without resorting to unparliamentary methods.

In 1974, Atal behari Vajpayee, then leader of the Jana Sangh, expressed his disgust with the working of Parliament. He declared that decisions were not taken on the basis of argument. Disorder, which ruled the roost, did not show the strength of democracy.

This situation persists. There is one important difference. Members of Parliament now enjoy generous salaries and perquisites. An MP gets a monthly salary of Rs 4,000, daily allowance of Rs 400, constituency allowance of Rs 8,000 per month, an office expense allowance of Rs 2,500 per month, besides other facilities including telephones and travel by rail and air on concessional rates.

In June 1973 some eminent educationists of Madras, in a statement, called for public agitation to ensure regular attendance by members of Parliament. They said that the members’ lack of interest in Parliament’s proceedings was “depressing”. The same indifference continues even today.!

India can take pride for being the world’s largest democracy only if it makes serious and systematic efforts to promote the greatest good not merely of the greatest number of people, but of all.    


 
 
FEDERAL IS THE KEY WORD 
 
 
BY SANTANU MITRA
 
 
The Centre has recently set up a four-member committee under the chairmanship of the Union home secretary, Kamal Pande, to study and make recommendations on the formation of a central law enforcement agency which would be empowered to investigate “federal crimes” having a bearing on the country’s internal security. Under the concept of “federal crimes”, as understood in the United States, fall certain categories of crime which are closely linked to and have repercussions on the country’s internal security.

The Union government feels these crimes relate to militancy, terrorism, insurgency, sedition, spread of disaffection among states, illegal immigration, trafficking in narcotics, weapons explosives and humans, smuggling in contraband goods, counterfeiting currency, money laundering and hawala transactions. With changes in the Constitution and the law, the proposed agency could directly take up cases of federal crimes and investigate them without having to seek permission from state governments.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States, the model for the proposed agency, derives its powers from the congressional statutes. But at the same time, the FBI does not have any hegemonic role in its capacity as a federal agency vis-à-vis local or state law enforcement agencies. State and local law enforcement agencies are not subordinate to the FBI, and the FBI does not supervise or usurp their investigations.

Ironically, the Indian state structure, which is supposed to be federal with strong unitary features, is still not armed with a weapon like the FBI. The main task of the Pande committee would be to come up with recommendations on how it intends to convince the state governments that the proposed agency would not be a means to clip their wings in law and order management and police and public order which come under the state list in the eighth schedule of the Constitution.

The Pande committee has been asked to come up with its findings and suggestions. The Centre had plans to take up and debate the concepts of federal crime and the proposed agency in the meeting of the chief ministers which the prime minister, A.B. Vajpayee, convened to discuss the subject of internal security. As expected, there was a lot of opposition from the states. And that is precisely why the Pande committee has been set up so the Centre is able to convince the states that creation of an agency will not in any way infringe on their constitutional powers.

The state governments are always engaged in embarrassing fights with the Centre on the issue of division of power and the constitutional and extra-constitutional checks and balances one can exercise against the other. This in spite of a detailed division of powers as enunciated in the Constitution. Even though the common refrain of the states in this regard is that they are entrusted with less power under the Constitution and the Centre should devolve more and more powers to them, it is the states that are holding the final sway in matters of police administration and public order; so much so that, in many of the states, it has become extremely difficult for the state police forces to act independently, or without fear or favour due to political interference from the ruling party or coalition.

It is true that, so far as financial powers are concerned, the balance is tilted in favour of the Centre, but it is not so in the case of the police administration or public order. The Centre can have its say in such matters only in special circumstances like Emergency or president’s rule.

Earlier, when one-party governments with comfortable majorities were common at the Centre, imposition of Emergency was not a difficult proposition. There was some fear in the minds of the state governments that such failures on their part to maintain law and order would be used as a pretext to dismiss them. But, today, with a weak Central government, dependent on regional bosses for its very survival, the states are fully aware of the fact that it would not be easy to dismiss them.

For a federal polity in a fragmented and coalition prone environment, it does not augur well to continue with such a system of unbridled independence of the states in such matters. Such a state of affairs can have a devastating effect on our security environment — both internal and external. The only remedy lies in redefining the concepts of police and public order by separating the concept of “federal crimes” that affect the internal security of the nation as a whole. In fact, internal security is nothing but the internal part of the defence efforts and as such, should be treated at par with the first entry of the Union list (“defence of India and every part thereof including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war to its prosecution and after its termination of effective demobilization”). This has nothing to do with commonplace law and order. It basically connotes a greater, more important and all encompassing security environment that is often breached by miscreants and anti-nationals whose organizational strengths span borders.

In keeping with the federal nature of the polity, there should be a central law enforcement agency that would deal with such cases. But, at the same time, this agency should have the power to aid the Centre in enforcing its responsibilities and duties to states under Article 355 of the Constitution. The Centre is planning to amend this article to enable it to intervene directly in the law and order issues of states in so far as the crimes of federal nature are concerned. Such an arrangement will be a good alternative to Article 356 that has been misused too often. A suitably amended Article 355 will obviate the need for wielding the gun of Article 356 in all but few important instances when the party or coalition ruling in the state is itself involved in anti-national or subversive activities or is undermining the authority of the Constitution. Plans are also afoot to transfer police and public order subjects from the state list to the concurrent list.

As with the FBI, the proposed central law enforcement agency should confine its jurisdiction to crimes of truly federal character. Sufficient checks should positively be built into the system to ensure that it does not intervene arbitrarily into the domain of the state police forces.

Furthermore, the CBI is, at present, an investigative agency and not a law enforcement one in the true sense of the term. If it is found that the Centre is free to deal with internal security issues on its own (that is, if the Supreme Court so opines), it can turn the CBI into a federal (central) law enforcement agency through the necessary statutory changes.

After all, the vicissitudes in the career of the independent India have taught us that federalism may be in danger not only because of the Centre’s activities but also from the states’ side. But the party in power in New Delhi at any given time, to settle scores with the opposition, has, in many cases, misused the CBI. This has, in turn, eroded the credibility of the organization. The remedy lies in making the director of CBI a constitutional authority, the terms and conditions of whose appointment could be similar to those of the comptroller and auditor general.    


 
 
KARGIL ANNIVERSARY/ FOR THE NATION TO LOOK BACK IN 
 
 
BY N.K. PANT
 
 
One year ago, Kargil witnessed the sacrifice of hundreds of young Indian lives. For nearly two months, the mountains had echoed with the Indian army’s regimental battle cries mingling with deafening gunfire and acts of valour rarely seen in recent times. More than 500 men sacrificed their lives, many more losing their limbs in this age of push-button warfare.

The saying that cowards die many times before their deaths is perhaps apt. What did after all motivate these young men in olive green to stake their lives in these remote, bitterly cold and desolate ridges?

Such courage in the face of adversity can be attributed to patriotism at times. The izzat of the regiment and leadership on the spot does inspire the man in uniform to give his best. However, patriotism is not the only thing that drives men to join the armed forces. The uniformed services may be the ideal profession for the fearless. But finally, it is the shaping up of a raw person into a disciplined and obedient soldier through motivation, training, inculcation of the regimental spirit and instilling of morale that make a true soldier.

Man is the weapon

Motivation is inculcated through training and introduces chivalry among soldiers. In Kargil, the strongly motivated will of the men turned the scales in India’s favour. Their peacetime training had made them not only physically and mentally tough, but also capable of living and working under the most difficult conditions of unusually high altitudes.

It would not be wrong to say that the difficult war was won on the playgrounds of the National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy and scores of the regimental training centres all over India. Soldiers drawn from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kohima proved themselves by dislodging the enemy from the higher Himalayan ridges. On these forbidding heights such as Tiger Hill, the only effective weapon was often the man himself. The outcome was often decided by small groups of determined men, undaunted by odds and unwearied by mortal danger.

Gift of tomorrow

The sacrifices made by Indian officers and jawans have not been in vain. Unlike more than the decade old Indian peacekeeping force catastrophe, the soldiers knew what they were fighting for. The enemy was finally forced to withdraw. The daring spirits of the fighters could well have inspired the famous lines—“When you go home, tell them of us, and say / For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”

The nation must honour its soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice by turning Kargil, Drass and the Batalik mountainous belt into a modern Haldighati. This region on the country’s map needs to be converted into a war heroes’ sanctuary or developed as a visiting site of national importance. Future generations of Indians could visit the places associated with the great battle and draw inspiration.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR  
 
 
 
 

Play on in public

Sir — So a guilt-ridden Hansie Cronje had contemplated suicide to escape the shame that he inflicted on his family, country and cricket (“Hansie Cronje says he had contemplated suicide”, July 24)? But what business had he to bring that to public notice? One is by now well aware of the fact that there is not even a fine line of demarcation between the private and public lives of cricketers. And that they use strategies to make statements as these to project their images to the public in ways that suits them fine. Think of all the tears that Kapil Dev shed on a television show to convince people of his innocence. But what came of it? Has the coach of the national cricket team been able to change his image in public opinion? Even Cronje “broke down” during the confessions at the Edwin King commission. All these bids to appear innocent, remorseful, and repentant, in spite of slinging muck at the sport, are very facile after all. Notice that after so much playacting on the part of the ex-heroes, these statements fail to move people any more.

Yours faithfully,
Smita Dutta, via email.

Leading question

Sir — There is a saying that common people have no understanding of great souls. This has been proved amply in Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s article, “Death made him” (July 15), where the writer assesses the stature of Shyama Prosad Mookerjee and succeeds only in making himself an object of pity. It is sad that petty intellectuals are now being allowed to pass their verdicts on idealists. The merits of any person of high stature can easily be diminished by a riot of words. No wonder the writer quotes such comments as that of the British governor, F. J. Burrows, to bring down a true patriot like Mookerjee from the pedestal merely for the sake of proving his contention.

Probably the writer will say that Subhas Chandra Bose’s greatness emanates only from the mystery of his death, and that he never really contributed anything worthwhile to the country. Talent of great men must be judged with respect to the time to which they belonged, as much as by the relevance of their work to the present. We should all remain indebted to Mookerjee, who has contributed much for the making of Bengal. While the former prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, helped Pakistan separate from India in front of the whole world, Mookerjee expressed his so called sectarian feelings by working tirelessly for Bengal. Only ungrateful people can direct such venom at great souls.

Yours faithfully,
Rudradev Maity, Hooghly

Sir — Rudrangshu Mukherjee has only discussed the academic S.P. Mookerjee, but not thrown sufficient light on his political inclinations.

Indian historians are far from neutral. Either because of political affiliation, favouritism, or vendetta, historians have never treated all political leaders equally. While M.K. Gandhi has been given a place in Indian history as the “father of the nation”, the equally illustrious Subhas Chandra Bose has been given a raw deal. Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad have been bestowed with laurels, while the sacrifices of Khudiram Bose and Surya Sen have been nearly eliminated from the pages of history.

Therefore, Indian history can never be accepted as the ultimate truth. Mookerjee’s contributions have also been interpreted differently by various people. It thus becomes difficult for the layman to analyse Mookerjee, the politician. According to one school of thought, undivided Bengal was to be united to Pakistan on account of its Muslim-majority status. Then Mookerjee intervened, and fought for the cause of the Hindu-majority West Bengal, and succeeded in retaining that part of the state for India. If that is the truth, then everyone in West Bengal should be indebted to him. But some scholars believe that Mookerjee was one of the “patrons” of the partition of Bengal, since he feared that in united Bengal, the minority Hindus would remain subjugated to the Muslim majority. If this has any element of truth, then Mookerjee is no different from M.A. Jinnah.

Since these are two contrary schools of thought, it is necessary that neutral scholars present a picture of the “real S.P. Mookerjee”.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Dhanbad

Sir —The curriculum vitae of S.P. Mookerjee makes all Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders appear tiny in comparison. The way our present deputy chief minister projected himself, for example. He not only refused to attend the birth centenary celebrations of this great Bengali leader, but also gave vent to tirades against him.

Mookerjee’s greatness and political acumen must be judged in the context of the political ethos of the Forties. Thanks to his foresight, West Bengal and east Punjab remained parts of India. Thanks to the writer for describing his illustrious academic record. 6

Yours faithfully,
Reba Bose, Jamshedpur

Sunset time

Sir — The previous powerholders in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation had launched Operation Sunshine with great fanfare with the aim to beautify the city by evicting hawkers. But this noble initiative left Calcuttans less than pleased. The predominantly Bengali hawkers of the Hatibagan and Gariahat areas were mercilessly hounded out by the police while their non-Bengali counterparts escaped unscathed on Jawaharlal Nehru Road or Lenin Sarani. No prizes for guessing that the distinction was made with an eye on the vote bank of the linguistic minorities.

There is every likelihood that the new civic power will follow in its predecessor’s footsteps. But the report that the displaced hawkers are welcome back to the streets at least shows the principled stand of the Trinamool Congress (“Hawkers get back pavement pride of place”, July 20). They seem committed to accord equal status to all communities.

Yours faithfully,
Roy George, Dhanbad

Sir — The editorial, “Road hogs” (July 17), points out rightly that to defy every action of the opposition party goes against the interests of the people. One of the few achievements of the Left Front was the implementation of Operation Sunshine. The people of Calcutta could for once get to walk on what was meant for them to walk on — the pavements of the city. Subrata Mukherjee, the newly elected mayor, has declared his intentions to reinstate the evicted hawkers on the pavements. He does not have the interests of the evicted hawkers at heart, only the augmenting of the vote bank for his party. Had he the true interests of the city in mind, he would have concentrated on finishing what was left incomplete by the leftists.

Yours faithfully,
Ankar Roy,Calcutta

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