Editorial 1/Scheme of things
Editorial 2/ Call centre
Unforgettable divide
Fifth column/ Too many ministries destroy efficien
Of a bungling statesman
Best keep the records spotlessly clean
Letters to the editor

An unwarranted attack on the governor, a demand for the removal of the consul-general of the United States and a series of assaults on journalists — these would appear to be unconnected and disparate events. But they are not if they all have one source, the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Fear and nervousness have made the CPI(M) reckless and the party has fallen back on modes of aggression, which have paid dividends in the past. There are obvious reasons for the CPI(M)’s alarm. The popularity curve of the Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, is on the ascendant. Her rallies attract crowds; people believe her promises and, more important, see in her a leader who stands by them in a crisis and in times of need. She is not a distant icon like Mr Jyoti Basu and she does not hide behind a shield of functionaries like the CPI(M) apparatchiki in Alimuddin Street. The CPI(M) may not publicly acknowledge the threat that Ms Banerjee represents but they recognize it when they make their political calculations. What they cannot find is a way to counter Ms Banerjee’s campaign. They have thus fallen back on two things at which they are rather good: terror tactics and conspiracy theory. In the absence of any other constructive programme, the CPI(M) has chosen intimidation and a hate campaign against old and familiar ghosts.

The CPI(M)’s long innings in power has made its cadres complacent. One result of this is the complete unpreparedness of the cadres in the face of the growing challenge of the Trinamool Congress. Since the slogan of revolution now sounds risible, the CPI(M) is without a rallying cry which can galvanize its cadres. One way of doing this is to convince its cadres that there exists a triangular controversy aimed at overthrowing the Left Front government in West Bengal. The three points of the triangle are located in Raj Bhavan, which houses an allegedly hostile and interfering governor; in Washington, where a congenitally anti-communist government is pushing its outpost in Calcutta to destabilize the last bastion of communism, and in the media, which is hand-in-glove with the other conspirators and therefore not only giving the CPI(M) a consistently bad press but also promoting its arch rival. The only way this so-called conspiracy can be broken, the CPI(M) believes, is through terror which will involve all or most of its cadres. The CPI(M) thrives on conspiracy, it feeds its own self-importance. This delusion is producing violence that is affecting more and more parts of West Bengal. The violence, in its turn, is providing the CPI(M) with evidence of a global conspiracy. This might all sound a bit insane but it is this madness which gives a method to the actions of the comrades. When the gods want to destroy somebody, the ancient Greeks believed, they first render him mad.    

The Centre has come through on the promise of the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, to throw open domestic long distance telephone calls to private firms. What is praiseworthy is that the suffocating monopoly of the government owned department of telecom services has at last been broken. However, as has been the pattern of telecommunications reform in India, liberalization of domestic long distance telephone is a case of three steps forward, one step back and one step sideways. In a few years expect the Union telecommunications ministry to come up with yet another policy on domestic long distance telephony. Hopefully it will finish the job started by the Sunday announcement of the telecom minister, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan.

There are four broad elements to the opening up of domestic long distance calls. The new policy scores well on two of them. First is the matter of how difficult it should be for private companies to enter the business. As Mr Vajpayee had promised, there are no limits to the number of firms involved. However, by insisting on firms that have a net worth of Rs 25 billion and paid up equity of Rs 2.5 billion, the government has ensured only large domestic players will be able to enter the market. This keeps out fly by night operators but may throttle competition. Which raises issue number two: foreign participation. Unfortunately the government has bowed to domestic private firms and the department of telecommunications and limited foreign equity to 49 per cent. The foreign equity cap and the high entry costs for Indian firms will greatly restrict the number of new firms offering long distance services — to the detriment of the customer. Domestic long distance telephony in India has two components. One is interstate calls where the call crosses a state border. The government gets full marks for throwing this sector open to all. The other component is intrastate calls, those between cities in the same state. In this area New Delhi has avoided real reform. These are the most lucrative calls, representing two thirds of the present Rs 120 billion domestic long distance call market. Unfortunately, an intracity call operator will be required to get the okay of already existing fixed telephone operator. In most states the latter is the DoT which will obviously be reluctant to provide access to rivals in its domestic long distance market. Overall, the government has got it about 70 per cent right. There should be a revival of foreign investment in the telecom sector, even if with oldish technology. Further blows will be dealt to the DoT’s revenues. This should strengthen the case for DoT’s privatization. However, as is the norm for half measures in economic reforms, it will take much longer than should be the case for individual customers to notice the difference in terms of service and price.    

Monday, the 14th of August, was the 53rd anniversary of Partition, a good time to think about the relationship between the public history of an event and the way in which it is individually experienced, remembered and written down. Amit Chaudhuri (“Partition as exile”, July 9) has a view on this: where official histories of Partition are narrative and totalizing, the individual experience of Partition is poetic and fragmentary. This probably means that the public record and schoolbook history try to impose one cause-and-effect story on all Indians, while individuals experience Partition variously, obliquely, and in bits and pieces that don’t always add up to a story with a partisan beginning and a sarkari end.

In this opposition between history as the genealogy of the nation and the past as experienced by individuals, history as a discipline has disappeared from view. Chaudhuri refers to official history frequently; all history in his essay is curricular or official; for him, therefore, the reports, films and novels that speak of Partition, rehearse a nationalist script that the authors first learnt in their schoolrooms. Generations of historians who modified, contested and complicated this Standard Received Past, creating orthodoxies of their own, which in turn were challenged by others, find no acknowledgement.

The Partition of India was an event. The event consisted of the colonial state and contending nationalists agreeing to divide colonial India into two sovereign nations, India and Pakistan. Formally this division ruled out an exchange of minorities but the moment the borders were drawn up and then ratified by the creation of Pakistan on the 14th of August, 1947, the killings began in earnest and minority populations were displaced on an unprecedented scale.

For Chaudhuri, recognizing Partition as a historical event amounts to being hegemonized by official history. Partition for him is not an event because its effects were spread over decades and the ways in which people reacted to this supposedly definitive event was infinitely complex, a complexity which official history cannot accommodate.

I don’t know about official history but history, the discipline I teach for a living, has no difficulty in coping with the idea that events have consequences, that these consequences are not uniform and that they can affect the lives of people decades after the date of the event. To allow that an earthquake has an epicentre is not to deny that its devastation is differently and unevenly experienced.

That said, Chaudhuri’s insistence on the singularity of individual reactions to Partition is odd. North India and Bengal are full of refugee settlements whose residents will give you strikingly uniform accounts of their experience of terror, displacement and exile. Even if we allow that every life is as unique as a fingerprint, the life experiences that people have in common — collective experiences of defeat or death or displacement — must count for something in shaping their lives, in defining the nations that they inhabit.

Chaudhuri writes that Partition’s effect was disruptive rather than definitive. Disruption isn’t the word I’d use for the displacement of millions of people and the killing of a million and more, but that aside, it shouldn’t be hard for anyone to grasp that this “disruption”was definitive. Apart from the individual misery it spawned, it created two permanently hostile states, revanchist parties, resentful refugee populations that were politically significant, and a durable justification for majoritarian politics. It was certainly definitive for those who died; it was definitive for their families.

It was definitive in a remote and referred way for the largely south Indian audience that shouted its hate at the Pakistani team during a World Cup match in Bangalore some years ago. Anyone who wants to understand how profoundly the drawing of lines on a map in 1947 reconstituted our world should read Amitav Ghosh’s fine novel, The Shadow Lines.

If someone were interested in understanding the ways in which the experience of Partition shaped politics in Bengal, there is a first-rate article by the historian, Joya Chatterji, that he could read which describes how the agitation for rights in the refugee camps of the Fifties affected the political fortunes of the communist party in Bengal. But Chaudhuri’s essay isn’t really about the events of 1947. It tells us more about his narrative strategies for writing fiction than it does about narratives of Partition, public or private.

Chaudhuri tries to domesticate Partition in two ways. One we’ve looked at, the poetic and fragmentary route. Since everyone has a different take on Partition, it is doubtful that Partition was an event at all — extreme subjectivity as the solvent of history. His second strategy is both more radical and more interesting. For this he uses the films of Ritwik Ghatak.

Chaudhuri declares that “Partition in Bengal is central to the filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak’s work — not the moment of Partition itself, or its place and representation in the nationalist historical narrative, but its human, almost elemental, story of displacement and resettlement. In Ghatak (who was of East Bengali origin, and was married to an East Bengali), Partition becomes a metaphor for migration, resettlement, and exile, among the most profound preoccupations of 20th century creative artistes everywhere; for the 20th century is an age of great and continuing displacement.”

Citing Ghatak’s use of natural images to represent displacement and renewal, he writes that “It is through these images suggesting the original creation of the universe that Ghatak makes material the inner world of Partition, of apocalypse and rebirth. This serene background, where the historical and the natural seem to be as good as identified with each other, frames, almost indifferently, the small drama of the story’s human characters. Partition, according to this vision, which conflates the natural, the geographic, and the political, is seen as almost predetermined...Movement, exile, and displacement...have been a part of life in India from the beginning of the 20th century, and probably before; during Partition, movement and exile simply took place on a mass scale, and with sudden and violent intensity and coercion.” (italics mine)

Here we have Partition made little by the near infinity of geological time or (take your pick) the very long duree. It is either a puny disturbance dwarfed by large metaphors or just more of what was happening already only this time with the pedal pressed down to the floor. I suppose you could say that the 1943 famine was just an upward spike in the long graph of malnourishment in the Bengal countryside. You could, but you would have to admit that a lot had been left unsaid. Was the Bengal famine an event? Hard to tell...people experienced hunger in such different and complex ways.

Either way Partition is denied its historical particularity: it becomes a generic disturbance, not an event that changed our lives. So it doesn’t have to be addressed by the novelist, except as noises-off, or invoked whenever it’s useful to tincture some fictional matron’s life with remembered sadness.

This fictional world is sustained by a thin ether produced by stirring everydaylife into the taken-for-granted-present. The promenading novelist dawdles past a pageant of scenes from bhadralok life, recording at leisure its tics and foibles, serving up self-absorbed, frictionless inner lives, immune to history because upheavals like Partition are either processes that occur off camera, or matters of subjective recall. Event, above all, is taboo: were history to happen to this bubble world, its sedate streets would fill with people, damaged, excited and inspired by their pasts. Unpredictable and volatile, they might goose our loitering flaneur into a gallop.    

State governments are justified in demanding more power from the Centre. Such a claim would be true to the spirit of the federal nature of the government. There has been in recent years far too much concentration of authority at the Centre, which has reduced the powers of individual states.

At present, the Centre has separate ministries for health and family welfare, rural development, tribal affairs, water resources, social justice and empowerment, culture, youth affairs and sports, environment and forests and agro and rural industries.

The functions of many of these ministries have not been clearly spelt out. Clearly, most of these portfolios should come under the state governments. But separate ministries have been formed only to enable the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to accommodate the representatives of the coalition in his jumbo cabinet.

But the question is, even if the demand of the states for more autonomy is concerned, will it really benefit the people? It is pertinent to raise this question since state governments have not been able to discharge their responsibilities with reasonable efficiency so far.

Where the states fail

There have been 11 finance commissions and all of them have focussed attention on the fiscal indiscipline in the states. Maintenance expenditure has been sadly and systematically neglected. This has caused the deterioration in the conditions of basic facilities and services, particularly that of roads, transport, sanitation, health and education. The persistence of acute shortage of power is mostly due to the inefficient management of the state electricity boards.

The Union energy minister, R. Kumaramangalam, has revealed that electricity worth about Rs 1,500 crore is “stolen” every year in the states and that over 40 per cent of the power generated is not brought into the billing process.

According to an official report, released in January 2000, at present there is no sanitation worth the name for 52 per cent of the urban population and individual toilet facilities are available only for about 24 per cent of the population. The sewerage system covers only 35 per cent of the population of class IV cities and 75 per cent of the urban population of class I cities. About 34 per cent of the urban population does not have arrangements to drain rainwater around the house.

About 28 per cent of urban waste is allowed to putrefy on the roadside and around houses and factories. Quite a substantial portion of it goes to the drains and chokes them. Pests, flies and mosquitoes find their breeding grounds here.

And then the Centre

A situation like this arose not so much out of the lack of funds, but because of the inability of state governments to utilize the available resources in the most productive manner. Given this background, would it be realistic to expect that the transfer of more powers to the states will ensure the adequate availability of basic amenities for civilized living?

These facts and figures however, should not create the impression that, while the states have been neglecting their responsibilities, the Centre is a paragon of efficiency.

The truth is that the Centre also has miserably failed to adopt policies and procedures to accelerate the country’s overall growth. The reports of the comptroller and auditor-general, year after year, have focussed attention on the colossal wastage of public funds.Various parliamentary committees have also sharply criticized the government for its inefficiency and extravagance.

Michael Brecher says in the biography of Jawaharlal Nehru: “He is an inept administrator. Decisions are concentrated in his hands to an incredible degree. He lacks the talent and temperament to bring about prompt and proper coordination among the various ministries. The result is the administrative jungle he bemoans.”

The jungle of ministries has grown enormously under Nehru’s successors, causing delays in taking crucial decisions and implementing them quickly.

This situation persists under Vajpayee’s administration. All that the prime minister has done to tackle the problem is to set up commissions, committees and task forces. Then he takes their reports as read, and sends them to the library.    

If there is a chance of bungling, Atal Behari Vajpayee is not the man to miss it. At one time, it was a toss-up as to whether the most incompetent prime minister the country has suffered was H.D. Deve Gowda or Chandra Shekhar. Now, both have been put in the shade. The honour goes without competition to Vajpayee. This is what happens when a man trained for half a century to lead the opposition is suddenly asked to rule the country. He flounders. He fumbles. He fudges.

The problem with Vajpayee is that he mistakes theatre for statesmanship and poetry for diplomacy. Every time he is put in charge, he aims for the headlines, not realizing that nationbuilding is hard, solid boring work, not PR. Thus, when he was foreign minister in the benighted Janata government of 1977-79, he took it upon himself to define foreign policy as everything the Congress did not do. So, he embarked on a much-publicized visit to China. Only, he forgot to check before leaving what the Chinese were up to. So, hardly had he landed in the Middle Kingdom than the Middle Kingdom decided it needed to take out a barbarian or two. They invaded Vietnam, leaving Vajpayee no alternative but to beat a hasty retreat. Fortunately, shopping in Hong Kong was not annulled by the abortion of his visit to the People’s Republic.

Contrast Vajpayee’s China foray of 1979 with Rajiv Gandhi’s China foray of 1988. I do not know when Rajiv Gandhi decided in his own private mind that the quarrel with China was stupid and it was necessary to get back to the grand vision of the two Asian giants working in tandem. Had Rajiv been Vajpayee, the China visit would have been scheduled the day he became PM. Instead, the day he became PM, he ordered his most able bureaucrats (this did not include me!) to dust off the India-China files and start studying how and where to make a beginning. It was public knowledge that a major initiative was in the offing, but it was not known when — or, with any certainty, even whether — the initiative would actually be brought into play.

A few months down the line, there occurred the Sumdorongchu incident at the trijunction of India, China and Bhutan. With steely determination, the Indian army were instructed to hold their own. They did. There was some apprehension in Bhutan that a tough Indian posture might result in tiny Bhutan being dragged into armed confrontation with giant China. Rajiv Gandhi promptly scheduled a visit to Bhutan. I was in the party that went to Thimpu in September 1985. On the flight out, the prime minister was furious that the external affairs officers had failed to bring with them detailed maps of the grazing ground in dispute. Such was the attention to detail.

Bhutan reassured, Rajiv Gandhi next concentrated on bringing internal peace to the Indian side of the India-China border. Following the accord with the All Assam Students Union, the state government headed by a Congress chief minister was dissolved (more than three years before its term was to expire) and fresh elections were ordered in an atmosphere in which it was certain that the Congress would be overwhelmingly defeated and Prafulla Mahanta’s Asom Gana Parishad would sweep its way into office. That happened. No price was too heavy to pay to bring tranquillity to the Northeast.

Next, keeping China in mind as unflinchingly as Arjuna had kept the fish’s eye, the 20 year insurgency in Mizoram was brought to an end, by the same technique of getting the Congress chief minister, Lalthanhawla, to make way for the rebel leader, Laldenga, who had for two decades been targetting Lalthanhawla — literally! Then came in quick succession, Tripura and Darjeeling — two further troublespots, which the state governments could not control without Central intervention. Not military intervention, but political intervention, injecting good sense, moving away from the small state syndrome. Jyoti Basu was brought around on Darjeeling and Nripen Chakraborty defeated at the hustings. The victory was not that of the Congress, but of India’s. The Chinese could see clearly that the overture, when it came, would come from a leader seen as a messiah of peace in the lands bordering China.

Rajiv Gandhi went a step further. Notwithstanding Chinese sensitivity to anything concerning Arunachal Pradesh — since the Chinese have repudiated the McMahon Line and laid claim to virtually all of Arunachal — Rajiv Gandhi, in February 1987, endowed Arunachal with full statehood. The Chinese squawked. Rajiv let them. For he knew that it was only an India in full charge of the area it claimed for India that could be a foeman worthy of China’s steel.

The other dimension that had to be secured before any serious discussion could begin with China was Pakistan. Where his defence minister and chief of army staff conspired to take India to the brink of war with Pakistan without the prime minister’s knowledge or approval (largely in order to earn K. Sundarji a field marshal’s baton and give Arun Singh the opportunity of playing with real, not toy, soldiers), Rajiv Gandhi established such an excellent personal rapport with Zia-ul Haq that war was obviated; there was no India-Pakistan wedge left for the Chinese to open, not even the ongoing armed conflict in Siachen.

It was only after the Northeast had been brought to peace and the India-Pakistan border stabilized that Rajiv Gandhi scheduled his historic visit to China. The results were solid more than spectacular. That is why they have endured.

The contrast with Vajpayee’s bumblings could not be more stark. The K. Subrahmanyam report establishes beyond the pale of doubt that plenty of intelligence was available to the Vajpayee government that all was not well in the Kargil sector. None of this was evaluated — because there was no preparation for the Lahore visit, just PR and hype. The disaster of the Lahore visit was a playing out as tragedy of Vajpayee’s foray into China as farce. Something similar is now happening in the talks with the Kashmir militants and the India-Pakistan dimension to the Kashmir imbroglio.

Talks were begun with the terrorists, not out of inner conviction but at American nudging. The door was opened to the Hurriyat, but without taking Farooq Abdullah into confidence. To hit back, Farooq got his National Conference to pass the autonomy resolution. But not before making a perfect monkey of Vajpayee by letting the PMO announce there would be no resolution, then cocking his snook at Vajpayee’s PMO.

So busy did PMO then get with damage control that they forgot to follow up their opening to the Hurriyat, who were left fuming when the Central government abandoned the Hurriyat to cosy up to one faction of the Hizbul Mujahedin. So desperate was Vajpayee to stake his claim to the millennium Nobel Prize that abandoning his opposition to Farooq’s autonomy, Vajpayee jumped into the Hizb’s azaadi, mouthing some poetry about the limits to the talks being set not by the Constitution, but “humanity.” The Pakis and their proxy army are left not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Meanwhile, the guard was lowered. In criminal violation of the Nitish Sengupta committee recommendations, the army was not deployed to protect the Amarnath yatris; instead a totally uncoordinated Central Reserve Police Force-Jammu and Kashmir police network was hastily put in place. In consequence, there are scores of innocent civilians dead, many apparently of CRPF/Jammu and Kashmir police bullets.

The mess-up has given Pakistan, whom the Vajpayee government scorns to talk with, the unmissable opportunity of showing who calls the shots in the valley. So, home minister L.K. Advani, idiotically and irresponsibly, follows Mulayam Singh Yadav in “hot pursuit”. If this goes on, the two newest nuclear weapon powers will soon be at war. And Vajpayee promptly disowns his own external affairs minister and denies ever saying they would not talk to a military dictator.

The nation is unsafe in the hands of such a naive, whimsical, fickle publicist. We need to be rescued from his simple-minded tomfoolery.    

Cleanliness is the ethics of conservation. Conservation of record materials without maintenance of norms of cleanliness is like building castles in the air. Adoption of precautionary measures is of vital importance, since it eliminates the chances of infestation of documents. Record materials deteriorate with age, infestation of insects and micro-organisms, atmospheric pollution, heat, light, dust particles, humidity, bad handling and other reasons. Damage owing to these agents often become irreparable if they are not detected in time. In other words, the afflicted documents should be attended to immediately lest the damage goes beyond repair. A clean environment with a regulated amount of relative humidity, heat, light and a strict vigil on the span of life of documents — and the life of the documents can easily be extended by some years.

Stop pollution

Atmospheric pollution has a significant role in the deterioration of documents. The atmosphere is practically laden with dust particles which are hygroscopic and act as nuclei for condensation of acidic gases. In contact with moisture, they form sulphurous acid, sulphuric acid and carbonic acid. So when the dust particles get embedded in the ingredients of records, they impart their acidity which renders the documents brittle, discolours them and eventually leads to perforation. Besides, dust particles also cause physical deterioration, since with fluctuation in temperature, the rate of expansion and contraction of record materials is not identical with that of the dust particles. Dust particles also moisten the documents and create an atmosphere congenial to the infestation of fungus. Therefore, regular removal of dust particles with the aid of suitable sucking machines is a must for the conservation of documents.

Termite terror

Considerable damage is also caused by termite, cockroach, book lice, book worm, silver fish, moths, rodents and other micro-organisms. Among them, termites, mainly of the subterranean kind, can cause damage to wood, paper, books, textile and other cellulosic material. Their attack can hardly be detected in the initial stage. Anti-termite measures will have to include treatment of cracks and crevices in the walls and floors with chemicals and cement. Surroundings should also be kept clean and no nutrients should be allowed inside the stack area. The same precautions would also keep away cockroaches and rodents. Book lice and book worms which cause severe damage to records should be fumigated with prescribed chemicals like paradichlorobenzene.

Thus, maintenance of cleanliness, along with regulation of relative humidity, is the main pillar of proper conservation of documents. It also lessens the chance of health hazards to those handling the records. But precautionary measures according to the nature of the problem should be adopted under the supervision of experts.    


No pink in green

Sir — What happens if you are flush with funds? You can “research” and come to conclusions as morbid as “vegetarian mothers are more likely to give birth to girls” (“A vegetarian way to the girl child” Aug 13). The sex of the baby is determined at the moment of conception and it is more the father’s than the mother’s chromosomes which do the trick. Mothers can munch leaves, eat raw plants and even trees if they want to, the diet wouldn’t affect her child’s sex. Vegetarianism undoubtedly helps the foetus by eliminating chances of its being harmed by infections which animal protein usually carry. But it cannot produce more girls than boys. Hypotheses, especially those as unscientific as the one enumerated above, should not be haloed as conclusions of “research”. That will do more harm than good. Imagine what impact it would have for a country like India where a sizeable section of the vegetarian population in north India yearns for boys. Bahus might suddenly find themselves forced to gnaw bones.
Yours faithfully,
Jayadrath Sinha, Calcutta

Planned paranoia

Sir — The state secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Anil Biswas, had demanded a few days back the immediate removal of the United States consul-general in Calcutta and his wife (“CPM quit call on consul couple”, Aug 8). The CPI(M) alleged that the consul-general, Christopher Sandrolini, had violated diplomatic norms by sending two officials from the political analysis wing of the US consulate to Nanoor, where 11 persons were killed in a political clash last month.

The deputy chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, however, played safe by saying that the matter was being looked into. The minister of state for external affairs, Ajit Panja, said that he had already sought a report from his department in this regard. But he did admit that “no consulate can send a team because the sovereignty and integrity of the country is involved”. At the same time, he criticized the CPI(M) for demanding the removal of the consul-general and his wife.

The US is no longer the US of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, just as Russia is no longer the Russia of Nikita Kruschev and N. Bulganin and China is not the China of Zhou En Lai and Mao Zedong. The first is no longer at daggers drawn vis a vis the others. Biswas, before playing the “conspiring American” card, should consider this.

Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir — Jyoti Basu’s statement about the US consul-general and his party’s charges of espionage against the two staff members of the consulate betray his lack of practical wisdom. The offence of consulate personnel was that they had visited the killing fields of Nanoor. The culprits have not yet been arrested. By blowing up the issue involving the US consul-general out of proportion, the CPI(M) has tried to divert the attention of the people of West Bengal from the real issue of crumbling law and order.

West Bengal has also joined the globalization bandwagon and wants to do business with foreign countries.While attempts are being made to woo foreign investors, secrecy at this level smacks of double standards. Besides, the two members of the consulate staff are Indian citizens. To bring up the bogey of Central Intelligence Agency agents in spite of this is rather wearisome.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — The CPI(M)’s demand for the removal of the US consul-general in Calcutta is hilarious — another example of familiar red histrionics. The demand reflects arrogance borne out of too many years in power, and a total lack of diplomatic etiquette.

The US consul-general may have instructed his officials to collect the truth about the Nanoor killings, as there have been different versions of it offered by different political parties. Such action neither amounts to spying, nor interference in the internal affairs of the country. Hence the Centre should have rejected the state government’s demand outright instead of entertaining it.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Bloodstained valley

Sir — The massacre of civilians in Jammu cannot be seen in isolation from the Hizbul Mujahedin’s strategic call of ceasefire that has followed soon after Farooq Abdullah’s demand for autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir.

Terrorism or militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, unlike in the Northeast, is a means to create an Islamic state like Pakistan where citizenship rights are restricted only to followers of Islam.

The Central and the state governments are equally at fault for having slackened the security measures in response to the “ceasefire” call. For the Hizbul Mujahedin is but one of the several militant groups operating in the state. It is naive to suggest that the recent killings of over 100 Hindus within a span of 24 hours was the handiwork of Lashkar-e-Toiba or instigated by Pakistan to wreck the negotiations targetted at solving the Kashmir problem. How many more lives are to sacrificed at the altar of negotiations of doubtful utility?

It is shameful for L.K. Advani and Farooq Abdullah to continue in office when conditions have been allowed to deteriorate so much that even a pilgrimage is perilous. If Fazlul Haq Qureishi, the leader of the Hizbul team, can demand the participation of Pakistan in the proposed negotiations, then why is Advani refusing to consider Jammu and Ladakh’s demand for statehood?

It is time to realize once and for all that no amount of negotiations can appease communal militants or bring peace to Jammu and Kashmir.

Yours faithfully,
H.C. Johari, Calcutta

Sir — In spite of giving a dramatic call for a ceasefire on July 24, the Hizbul Mujahedin, Kashmir’s militant outfit, suddenly attacked the Amarnath pilgrims, Bihari labourers and other civilians in different parts of the state. These attacks claimed more than 100 lives and forced the Central government to rethink its decision to negotiate with the militants. As the editorial, “Ceasefire in blood” (Aug 3), observes, opponents of peace always try to destabilize the peace process everywhere in the world.

Had the negotiations succeeded, it would have shattered Pakistan’s dream of keeping alive the Kashmir issue. New Delhi should now try to ensure that Indians do not fall prey to the evil designs of the militants.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir — The Hizbul supreme commander in Pakistan has had the audacity to declare that there will be unprecedented violence in Kashmir. In south India, the sandalwood smuggler, Veerappan, has set a deadline for the government to meet his demands. The demands of the hijackers of flight IC814 remain in public memory. All these prove that the existing system in India can be easily defied.

The system must be set straight immediately and the rise of anti-national elements curbed by firm, even ruthless, dealing. Indira Gandhi had done this during the Bangladesh war of independence, and while containing the Naxal menace. Now it is the turn of A.B. Vajpayee to be tough and halt the spilling of innocent blood in Kashmir.

Yours faithfully,
A. Uma Shankar Lal, Calcutta

Sir — In the guise of peace talks, the militants in Kashmir are strengthening their positions, and for all the allegations India levels against Pakistan, it is maintaining a normal diplomatic relation with the country. But enough is enough. Bold action is the need of the hour, even if it means the suspension of diplomatic relations with a neighbour.

Yours faithfully,
Harakh B. Shah, Calcutta

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