Editorial 1/ Changing spots
Editorial 2/ Flood gates
From hope to uncertainty
Fifth Column/ Caught in the dead end of ideology
Making parliament more meaningful
It is performance that has taken a beating
Letter to the editor

There can still be some debate about whether the Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee is setting the agenda of national politics. But what is beyond dispute is the fact that Mr Vajpayee has firmly established his control over the party. The priorities and the orientation of the BJP now carry the imprint of Mr Vajpayee’s policies and attitudes. This is the first time in the history of the BJP that the parliamentary wing of the party has taken precedence over the puppeteers of Nagpur. The first step in this direction was taken when Mr Bangaru Laxman was elevated to the presidentship of the BJP. Mr Laxman is known to be Mr Vajpayee’s candidate. That the BJP was keen to acquire a new face was clear when Mr Laxman announced in Nagpur that issues like the Ayodhya temple, article 370 and the uniform civil code had all lost their relevance because the people had lost all interest in these issues. This is a remarkable admission from the leader of a party which used these very issues as rallying points in its mass mobilization. One immediate conclusion that suggests itself is that the BJP under Mr Vajpayee is eager to abandon its Hindu image. Such a conclusion is strengthened by Mr Laxman’s appeal that his party should review its relationship with the Muslims.

The direction of these changes is obvious. Mr Vajpayee is trying to appropriate for the BJP the political space vacated by the Congress. The decline of the latter and the consequent disarray in its ranks have meant that there is no natural party for governance in India. From 1947 till the late Eighties, the Congress represented such a party. It ruled in the first half of the Nineties, but never with conviction. The second half of the Nineties saw a series of gimcrack coalitions. The BJP now faces the challenge of making itself into such a party, but it cannot do this if it remains wedded to Hindutva and has a combative attitude towards religious minorities. There seems to be a growing realization among sections of the BJP leadership close to Mr Vajpayee that the BJP cannot claim to be a national party with a natural right to govern if it continues to represent only Hindu aspirations. It has to reach out to other communities. Mr Laxman is clearing the path and preparing his party for this radical step which, if it succeeds, will completely transform the BJP.

The project undertaken by Messrs Vajpayee and Laxman will entail a change in rhetoric, style of functioning and a complete overhauling of attitudes. It might even lead to a denial of the entire heritage of the BJP. Hindutva and anti-Islam have been the twin pillars of the BJP ideology and that of the sangh parivar, the wider ideological formation to which the BJP belongs. For the nonce and for obvious tactical reasons, Mr Vajpayee has not adopted a confrontationist line with the sangh parivar. On the contrary, he has paid lip service to it. But Mr Vajpayee cannot be unaware that what he envisages might mean a break with the parivar and the ideological behemoth it represents. These are early days but Mr Vajpayee’s intentions are very clear. He wants to govern as the prime minister of India not as that of the BJP. He has read the need of the times and is willing to speak and act in accordance to those needs. The effort itself, the courage to take on the ideological heritage that has nurtured him, guarantees for him a place in Indian history.    

Nature always poses the harshest tests. Andhra Pradesh, used to disasters and better up in disaster management than most states in the country, has taken a hard battering again since the torrential rains last Tuesday. According to the statement of the chief minister, Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, in the state assembly, the rains have destroyed 1,78,000 hectares of standing crop, mostly in the Guntur and Kurnool districts. Although 98,000 people have been evacuated, the official figures of the dead and missing are still rising. More than 2,000 villages have been destroyed and many minor irrigation tanks breached. The situation in Hyderabad might be improving, but that in the districts remains serious cause for concern. The Union minister for agriculture, Mr Nitish Kumar, has agreed, after inspection, that Andhra Pradesh should get Central assistance.

There are two features of a disaster like this that need looking into. One is the invariable politicization of people’s misery, the exchange of blame and the race for political mileage. The inundation of Hyderabad is being attributed to the encroachment by the government into open areas, blocking the free flow of water. The building of Necklace Road around the Husseinsagar lake, filling up of areas along the Kurnool-Cuddapah canal, and the consequent narrowing of land over which extra water can spread, are some of the points being raised by the Congress-Left opposition, environmentalist groups and Telengana champions to put Mr Naidu’s government in the dock. The Telugu Desam Party has shot back with the counter-charge that most of the building up was begun under the Congress government led by Mr K. Vijaybhaskara Reddy. The simple point is that urban spread generally creates these problems, and this would apply as much to West Bengal as to Andhra Pradesh. This is the second feature. Instead of political games, leaders should try out environment-friendly planning. Similar in spirit to this is the continued failure to set up an early warning system for disturbances over the Bay of Bengal, a proposal rotting on somebody’s shelves as deluges and floods come and go. Blaming the meteorological office, as Mr Naidu has done, is one thing, and making a real effort to make the warning system as foolproof as possible is quite another.    

The ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir was as unexpected as it was welcome. There was hope that the government’s initiatives in beginning a dialogue with a wide range of Kashmiri political opinion would bring some results. The initiative had raised hopes of a thaw in the frozen positions all sides had adopted since a decade. The autonomy debate led by Farooq Abdullah had thrown up a lot of dust. When the dust settled, the air had cleared about what the Union of India is willing to concede and what is beyond the pale of possibilities. Abdullah went touring many a state capital and the offices of political parties explaining the merits of the State Autonomy Report and at the same time toning down the rhetoric connected with it.

The demand for a pre-1953 status for the state was quietly put aside. No one is in any serious doubt on the parameters and the perimeter that will define the scope and meaning of autonomy. The withdrawal of the ceasefire by the Hizbul Mujahedin and its conditional offer of another ceasefire in the future is not unconnected with these developments. There is, however, no guarantee that any future ceasefire will go smoothly or indefinitely. Certainly, in Jammu and Kashmir, ceasefires runs the risk of becoming a mantra or a taweez which will drive the political discourse. That would be unfortunate.

The many scores of funeral pyres which had to be lit within days of the ceasefire are proof of the fragility and vulnerability of the peace imperative, which is beginning to find a voice in Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country. The engines which drive this imperative and which will become more powerful as months go by are not political but economic. If young people have to have a meaningful future, guns, RDX and training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are not going to bring it about. If the brightest amongst them — and every young person considers himself bright — have to find a place in the sun in and outside India, they cannot be gun-wielding apparatchiks in face masks. These symbols of macho nationalism are no longer fashionable. ,

The economic reality drives the peace imperative everywhere. Jammu and Kashmir is no exception, especially since its young people have seen the face of religious orthodoxy in Pakistani camps and in Afghanistan. The funeral pyres which burned in Jammu and Kashmir after the ceasefire, are indicative of the confusion of those still committed to the AK-47 and the face mask, and who are unwilling to countenance peace.

The record of ceasefires the world over is at best a mixed one. In Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Africa and in east Asia ceasefires have not brought a solution of the conflict. They however create an atmosphere of relief and hope in place of fear and uncertainty. A ceasefire affects all parts of the population positively. Children can play in the streets, mothers can go to the corner shop, the humiliation of cordon and searches are mercifully suspended, the young people can meet on the lakeside boulevards. The security forces can go a little easy, the militant can go about less furtively. The government and political parties can do some serious negotiations without the danger of senseless killings upsetting the rhythm of hard work, which is what negotiating is all about. In Nagaland, a ceasefire is in operation right now. There have been other ceasefires in Assam and other parts earlier. They all, as do others elsewhere in the world, breakdown often. They are however revived, hold a little longer and breakdown again, and are revived yet again. There is no special reason to believe the ceasefires in Jammu and Kashmir will be any different in their continuity.

The Kashmir circumstance of the ceasefire is unique. The Hizbul has its headquarters in Pakistan and has received a great deal of support from that country’s government since long. The Hizbul is however only one amongst a large collection of militant organizations operating in Kashmir and taking orders from Pakistan. The ceasefire offer has been declared as unilateral and unacceptable by the other militant organizations. The Srinagar-based but Pakistan-directed All Parties Hurriyat Conference finds itself on the horns of a dilemma and has been equivocal on the ceasefire. It wants to have the cake of seeming independence in its opinion and to eat it too. Its semantic jugglery runs the risk of the Hurriyat being seen by the Kashmiris as not being interested in their wellbeing. Pakistan — the sutradhaar of the Kashmir imbroglio — finds the prospect of direct negotiations between the Kashmiris and the government of India disturbing. Pakistan’s clamour, and that of its armed cohorts, for a seat on the negotiating table is therefore understandable. Their desire and ability to make the negotiations impossible will manifest in the violence, which will be let loose against the people of Kashmir. The ceasefire will thus be made an end in itself, instead of it remaining a means to sustaining the negotiations. The conditional offer of another ceasefire should be seen as an attempt to use it to determine who joins the proposed talks and controls it.

The critical milestone in the months ahead would be the elections to the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly next year. On its present performance, the National Conference can have a very difficult time in the elections. That of course requires the participation of a credible group of parties in opposition to the National Conference.

The Hurriyat can provide the basis of such a political coalition which can also include the Hizbul and other elements if they give up arms and negotiate for and obtain an amnesty. The Hurriyat and its militant allies know that time will run out for them, if Abdullah and the National Conference are allowed another five years. Other political parties in Jammu and Kashmir who have struggled against the dynastic domination of the National Conference are equally aware of this. The next elections therefore offer the window of opportunity if a credible opposition can be put together. The example of what was achieved in New Delhi by such an exercise is not lost upon them. There are therefore many convergences of interests working out in the developing situation. There is a possibility of a large matrix of interests being fulfilled by the political negotiations. People will find the peace which they so well deserve, there can be freedom in Jammu and Kashmir from the political domination of one party, and New Delhi will have a truly participatory political process in the state in which people will get involved. Above all, India with Jammu and Kashmir, will have an opportunity to move up to a higher threshold of statemaking and nationbuilding.

It is essential to create conditions for ceasefire in future to hold and get firmer by the week if the peace process is to go forward. There would inevitably be attempts to derail the peace process by making the ceasefires ineffective. The need is to put into place mechanisms which allow the ceasefire to be sustained, for doubts and suspicions to be assuaged, and for fixing responsibility for the hopefully isolated but inevitable cases of violence during the ceasefire. There is enough skill and experience in the security forces and the Hizbul and other militant groups to create reliable ceasefire monitoring and implementing arrangements. Patience and trust and a commitment from all concerned to allow the peace imperative to prevail, will be the critical ingredient in future.

As of now, the Hizbul is using the ceasefire as both a carrot and a threat, which only shows that the Hurriyat, the militants and New Delhi have quite some distance to go before any substantive negotiations can start. It is useful to remember that ceasefires are only the means and not an end in themselves. The true measure of the Hizbul and Hurriyat’s commitment to peace will emerge from their understanding of what ceasefires can and cannot do.

The author is director, Delhi Policy Group, and former director-general military perations    

Top leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are projecting themselves as strong adherents of ideology. This perspective was brought forth at the Thiruvananthapuram plenum, where a draft of the updated party programme was adopted by the party’s central committee in the last week of April this year. The organ of the party, People’s Democracy,carried an analysis on the rationale of the changes in the party programme. The CPI(M) general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, and two politburo members, Prakash Karat and Sitaram Yechury, have attempted to generate enthusiasm about these changes among party members.

Nevertheless, the party still continues to suppress the background and genesis of the party progra- mme. The note to the draft document was not circulated to party members. Many card-holding members and those who joined the party before the split in the Communist Party of India in 1964, have questioned the validity of this decision.

Surjeet had touched upon some controversies in the undivided CPI during the formulation of the party programme, but suppressed some essential facts. The CPI and the CPI(M) publish documents like “draft political resolutions” and “draft party programmes” in their party journals. These are not for party members alone. This is to let people understand the nature of debates going on within the party.

Opportunist ideology

Members who joined the CPI(M) after the mid-Seventies are not aware that those who broke away from the CPI in 1964 wanted the concept of “people’s democratic revolution” to prevail in the undivided CPI. But this was not well spelt out. Rather, there emerged two factions — one arguing for a “national” front, maintaining a soft line towards Jawaharlal Nehru and his policies, and another for a “democratic” front, which emphasized leftist consolidation and no truck with any section of the Congress.

At the sixth CPI congress — also the last congress of the undivided CPI — in Vijaywada (April, 1961), Bhupesh Gupta and P. Ramamurti presented the “alternate document” defending the people’s democratic revolution as a strategic concept. S.A. Dange, P.C. Joshi and G. Adhikari put forward the other strategy of a national democratic revolution. But the alternate draft political resolution by 21 national council members endorsed national democracy, arguing that the capitalist path “pursued by the bourgeoisie will lead the country into a critical situation and will not solve the basic problems of the people”. It stated that “the working class and the broad masses of peasantry must play the leading role and all national forces must be united in a National Democratic Front”.

Surjeet, Karat and Yechury should explain why the democratic frontliners in the CPI(M) strongly supported the party line of national democracy in the alternate draft political resolution but campaigned for people’s democracy in the draft programme at the Vijaywada congress. Is this not an example of ideological opportunism?

No way out now

The “rightist” draft programme, on the other hand, stated that “the working class and the Communist Party must not adopt a complacent attitude to the emergence of right reaction in our country. Every effort should be made to isolate it and defeat it with the aid of all progressive sections including Congressmen opposed to it”.

In 1977, the CPI(M) forged an objective unity with parties like Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and other rightist parties that were allied to the Janata Party under the guidance of Jayaprakash Narayan. In 1974, Narayan called for “total revolution” — “end of ideology” and “partyless democracy”. The then Bihar party chief of the CPI, Jagannath Sarkar, criticized Narayan, arguing that the two ideas were fostered by the Central Intelligence Agency. But the CPI(M) leaders did not even mildly criticize Narayan for this. Surjeet, Jyoti Basu and other CPI(M) leaders went out against Indira Gandhi when the latter maintained her stand on non-aligned foreign policy and the significance of the public sector in the Indian economy. There are several other issues which CPI(M) leaders want to evade, one of which is frank self-criticism. The average left politician is generally ignorant about these aspects of governing a party. This is the reason why the party has moved on to a cul de sac.    

Last Friday, we came to the end of yet another session of Parliament. If you had not noticed, that is probably because you did not know in the first place that the monsoon session had been on these last four weeks. Moreover, judging from attendance in the house — particularly in the afternoons — it would appear most members of parliament did not know either.

The root cause for the collapse of parliamentary activity in the life of our democracy is the press. A gallery has been provided for them above the speaker’s chair to give them a grandstand view of the proceedings. It is mostly empty. The only way to induce parliamentary reporters to stop their idle gossip in the corridors and actually enter the house is to tip them off about an impending disruption of proceedings. Then they swarm into the gallery, signalling with ill-disguised gestures their friends on the floor, “Yoo-hoo, here I am, so get as outrageous as you can and I assure you a box on the front page tomorrow.”

Let the house get down to any serious business and the press gallery promptly empties. The trivialization of our Parliament is the handiwork of the media. Now we have television. Privatized television at that. No more Doordarshan, but shiny little things buttonholing the great and not so great as they emerge from the hallowed halls to get a one-liner out of them — exclusive. That then becomes the news, not what went on inside but what the pretty little one was able to scoop outside.

The proceedings are, of course, televised — continuously — for those who wish to watch. But most people are at work when the Lok Sabha is at work. And when they return home, who wants to watch the bold and the beautiful of the Lok Sabha when there is The Bold and the Beautiful to be had on the small screen?

The consequence, of course, is that the serious business of Parliament has become virtually as in camera as a board meeting. Which is a terrible pity because publicity is not only the oxygen of politics, if the electorate is not informed of what is going on in the legislatures, the meaning of democracy itself is leached of meaning. Worse, when the public is informed only of disruption and walk outs and demonstrations in the well of the house, then it comes to believe that apart from hungama nothing else happens in Parliament, that their elected representatives are a bunch of overgrown schoolchildren, unruly when not corrupt, grossly misbehaved when not cheating, backstabbing, blackmailing and putting themselves up to the highest bidder.

Be honest, dear reader: is this not what you yourself believe? Is that not why the politician on the social scale lies somewhere between the brigand and the whore? That would be alright if, in fact, most MPs were dacoits turned from private loot to public loot, but as one who has served five years in Parliament and am now coming to the end of my sixth, the image seems a parody of Parliament. Whenever matters turn serious, the press takes itself off — and nothing, or virtually nothing, get reported. When it does, there is a standard reporting formula: open with the minister’s reply, throw in a paragraph which takes one sentence from the opposition’s opening speech, and if there is still space available, squeeze in a passing mention of another MP or two, preferably with a pejorative adjective affixed to give the copy a bit of zip.

Weeks of preparation, arguments carefully constructed, facts pouring out like a cataract are thus buried by a conspiracy between reporter and editor to ensure that if the issue is serious stick it in the mortuary and if the issue is trivial highlight it. The nation is not to be informed, but entertained. And so the entertainers take centrestage. The ones in the well of the house can point themselves out to their children in the evening transmission. Those who make a serious contribution are lucky if 10 of their peer group and anyone other than that poor devil — the agency reporter — is around to hear them.

I learned my lesson when Uma Bharti, screeching like a banshee, accused me of an unparliamentary gesture. There was a lady in the chair and she declined to rule on two perfectly valid grounds: one, that she had been looking elsewhere when I made my gesture; and, two, that she knew how to expunge an unparliamentary expression from the records, but what on earth was she to do with an unparliamentary gesture?

Next day, I was splashed over every newspaper: seven-inch headlines, three-deep boxes. Not one speech I have made — the budget, the motion of thanks, Dunkel and the World Trade Organization, Kashmir, Pakistan, hawala, the Gian Chand report on the sugar scandal, Harshad Mehta and V. Krishnamurthy, disinvestments, Bofors — nothing I have ever said has focussed me so completely in the public eye as those 60 seconds of Uma Bharti screaming and yelling.

I do not know that there is any solution to this, but what Parliament can do is to so reorganize itself and its work schedule as to make it that much more difficult forr the media to stuff itself on trivia. For starters, I would suggest that all debates be scheduled for 10 am in the morning. That way many more speakers can be accommodated and the minister will be able to reply when there is someone to listen instead of, as at present, in the deeper watches of the night when all honest citizens are abed.

Second, question hour must be pushed to the last, not the first hour of the day, so that disrupting it does not become the easy way of making it to the papers next morning. Third, zero hour should be scheduled at 6 pm — after all listed business is over. This will still give the headline-catcher his shot at the headlines, but not, as now, at the expense of the solid and the nitty-gritty.

Besides, the speaker must insist that exactly as many minutes as are lost in closing down the house will be added to the end of the day. And if for any reason, the disruption is deliberately for the whole day and prolonged into several more, then the session will be extended by exactly the number of days.

If, in addition, the working hours are extended by an hour in the mornings and another in the evenings, the lunch break done away with, members being free to sate their hunger when they want, Saturdays are made working days, and all three sessions extended by a week or preferably two, we might somehow succeed in slipping it to the people, notwithstanding the recalcitrance of the press, that their work is actually getting done, not drowned in yelling and shouting.    

Last month, eight people were lynched by a crowd at Bhangar, only 30 kilometres from Calcutta. Six persons were recently lynched in Raidighi in the same district, three beaten to death in Nadia. Fifty persons have been lynched in about a month in the South 24-Parganas alone. As many as 150 incidents of lynching have taken place during the last year in the state. The police usually wash its hands of these incidents, saying that the victims were all notorious dacoits.

Lynching has become a frequent occurence in West Bengal. According to one estimate, at least 20 people are lynched every month. People seem to be losing faith in the police. Instead of handing over criminals to the police, justice is meted out by the people themselves. This is because people believe handing over criminals to the police is to ensure their escape.

Matter of faith

The loss of faith is natural. Despite repeated complaints, the police does not arrest criminals. Even if informed during the course of a dacoity, the police takes hours to reach the spot. Policemen are evidently hand in glove with the criminals. They often know all details of the criminals, including their hideout, time and place of operation, but seldom take the initiative to arrest them. If arrests do take place, they are merely an eyewash. The cases made out for the criminals are petty enough to get them instant bails. The handful of police officers who do make the effort to curb crime are not free from the diktat of local politicians and have to give in to the prevailing ethos.

The comptroller and auditor general has often criticized the role of the police in tackling crime. The subject committee of the state assembly in its report has also criticized police inaction, police refusal to make a diary of complaints, and the bad behaviour of the personnel.

Play your part

Whatever the home (police) minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, might say, there are errors in the system which need to be rectified. He might encourage the police to play football with the people, but is making little effort to build up a strong infrastructure. The relevant laws and bylaws and the criminal procedure code are years old and were framed following the British law. These have to change with the times.

There is no instance either of exemplary punishment for a corrupt policeman or reward for a valiant one. The police has become the means by which political parties achieve their goals. The police has forgotten that its duty is to protect life and property, to provide security to the people, to maintain law and order and peace. They are like all other government employees. The people of Bhangar have promised they would not take law into their hands if only the police helped. The police has to promise to do its part. Unless that is done, incidents like Bhangar will continue to recur.    


Drink, but don’t be merry

Sir — You can “drink and holiday in London”, as Rupali Ghosh says, but aren’t you a “bad girl” then (“Bottoms up”, Aug 27)? Ghosh may be optimistic, but drinking and women simply don’t go together as far as social acceptability in India is concerned. Exceptions are only some social spaces, among some social groups and in some special cities. No wonder Bangalore, with its carefully cultivated bar culture, recurs in Ghosh’s article. Elsewhere, girls might be drinking with enthusiasm but social response is still negative. In Calcutta, and this is personal experience speaking, except for five star spaces, restaurants do not entertain “unaccompanied” women who wish to have a drink. Two women are not “company”, one man is. If the restaurant condescends to serve, it chooses the drink the women may have. This may be beer, or innocent looking vodka with orange or tomato juice, or rum which can go with a cola. Whisky is a strict no-no. And places where a lone woman can enjoy her drink aren’t even dreamt of. Whither “liberation”?
Yours faithfully,
Jaggoseni Sen, Calcutta

Anarchy at large

Sir — If a political party comes to power with the slogan of revolution, rules for 23 long years and still screams for inquilab, then there is something seriously wrong with it. The revolution that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) seems to have brought can be found only in its organizational setup, its party offices and in the living standards of its leaders. There is little else to boast about as far as West Bengal’s overall development is concerned. An excess of trade unionism has badly affected the state’s economy, while there have been few instances of industrial development. The state has also become dependent on foreign aid for drinking water, maintenance of roads and other development projects.

There is hardly any government department which runs profitably, and existing factories are closing down. The less said about administration, the better. As employment is scarce, the young are forced to hawk wares on the streets or work for political parties. It is unfortunate that West Bengal, which used to be a leading state even a few decades ago, is now one of the backward ones, and Bengalis have been relegated to second class status in their own state.

Yours faithfully,
M.J. Zakaria, Calcutta

Sir — Shefali Guha, in her letter (“Thorns in the oasis”, July 23) looks at the CPI(M) through her parochial lenses. The CPI(M) has always been with the people, but ground realities have made it realize there are loopholes in its administration that cannot be plugged within a few days. The candid confessions of the leaders regarding their mistakes are gestures that have brought the party closer to the people. The CPI(M) must have learnt a few lessons from its mistakes.

The Trinamool Congress, which has emerged as the CPI(M)’s main contender in the state, has also been duping the people for a long time. It would be a mistake to think that the Trinamool Congress’s promise of a golden West Bengal is in any way more sincere than the promises made by the ruling party.

Yours faithfully,
Ujjwal Kanti Chakraborty, Bankura

Sir — The editorial, “Have gun will win” (July 30), presents a comprehensive analysis of the origin of the present spate of violence and bloodshed in West Bengal. The CPI(M) is indeed guilty of “having eroded the strength and autonomy of the law and order machinery”. The editorial goes on to equate the politics of Mamata Banerjee with that of the CPI(M) and accuses her of the tit-for-tat kind of politics. In certain real situations, however, such a means becomes inevitable for the opposition party.

The case of the civic repoll (due to a defect in the electronic voting machine) in ward no 16 of the Salt Lake municipality is a good example of this. What took place was malpractice involving the administration, the party heading the ruling Left Front and armed goons. Surprisingly, the polling was not disqualified by the Election Commission. Under these circumstances, what could an opposition party do but ask its armed members to chase away the goons?

Yours faithfully,
S. Mallik, via email

Sir — For once Jyoti Basu is absolutely right in saying, “They [the Trinamool Congress] want president’s rule here because they know they can never win the polls” (“Basu slips into campaign mode”, Aug 20).

After the occurrences during the municipal elections repoll in Salt Lake, it is amply clear that if elections are held with the CPI(M) ruling the roost from the Writers’ Buildings, other parties can only dream of capturing it. Who else but the ruling Left Front would know that unless president’s rule is imposed, it would not be possible for the Trinamool Congress, which now has a huge wave in its favour, to win the polls. The Left Front itself came to power in West Bengal following president’s rule. The National Democratic Alliance team which toured the strife torn areas of rural Bengal recently has recommended president’s rule in the state. But there is little hope of anything being done in the regard, because, as usual, the Congress in Parliament can be expected to play spoilsport, being the “B” team of the CPI(M).

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Guha Majumder, via email

Death by neglect

Sir — The editorial, “Substandard” (Aug 23), has justifiably hit out at Russia. There can be no doubt that one-party dictatorships assign little value to the lives of their citizens, and leaders with tough KGB backgrounds such as Vladimir Putin may well send 118 sailors to a watery grave without batting an eyelid. Maintenance of nuclear submarine fleets on shoestring budgets without adequate financial allocations for emergencies and rescue measures is utterly condemnable.

The truth is perhaps that Russia preferred to murder its servicemen rather than seek foreign assistance because it feared that foreign powers (mainly the United States) would, in addition to rescuing the trapped men, have a good look at the technical and security details of the state-of-the-art submarine. That Russia did not want. One may compare this with the Kandahar hijacking incident where India let go three terrorists in order to save the trapped passengers in the aeroplane.

Yours faithfully,
Santanu Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir — The sinking of the Kursk in the Barents Sea off Murmansk was a great tragedy for the Russian people. The maintenance standards of Russian equipment need a great deal of improvement.

In Russia, the national flag was flown at half-mast and merrymaking stopped to pay respect to the dead crew of Kursk. In India, though, no such respect was paid to the hundreds killed in Kashmir. Why should Atal Behari Vajpayee get away scot free when Putin is having to shoulder the responsibility for the submarine mishap?

Yours faithfully,
A. Ghosh, via email

Sir — The callous attitude of the Russian administration towards the trapped crew of Kursk is mindboggling. Should national ego be upheld at the cost of the lives of the men in uniform?

The United Nations must insist that all vessels cooperate fully with the nearest rescue vessels in international waters so there are no unnecessary deaths. The Indian navy can learn an important lesson from the Russian tragedy. Nations must show that they care for their valiant defence personnel.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

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