Editorial 1/ Moscow prospect
Editorial 2/ Beliefs that cripple
Holy dread
Fifth Column/ Ensuring access to word power
Mani Talk/ Indianizing America
No change in the hues of the global village
Letters to the editor

The visit of the Russian president, Mr Vladimir Putin, was a study in contrast. There has rarely been a visit by a head of state so rich in substance and yet so lacking in popular appeal and enthusiasm. Consider first the gains from the visit. On three issues of critical importance to India, the presidential visit has gone beyond expectations. Most important is the memorandum of understanding signed on furthering bilateral cooperation on peaceful uses of atomic energy. Although the precise details of the memorandum are not known, it signals Moscow’s decision to move away from the nuclear suppliers group strategy of blanket noncooperation with India on nuclear issues until it accepts full scope safeguards on its facilities. This is extremely significant. The Russian decision will help revitalize India’s nuclear power generation programme, accelerate progress on the nuclear power station at Kudankulam and could, in the long term, become the basis for a review by other countries within the NSG of their absolutist stance towards India. Simultaneously, there was substantial progress made in defence cooperation with the establishment of an inter-ministerial commission on military-technical cooperation, and India agreed to buy $ 3 billion worth of Russian hardware.

No less significantly, Moscow has almost totally backed India’s position on Kashmir and Pakistan. On the one hand, Mr Putin made it explicit that he believed that the Kashmir problem should be resolved bilaterally on the basis of compromise and that the line of control should be respected unconditionally. On the other, Russia agreed with New Delhi that a dialogue with Islamabad can be resumed only when “necessary measures are taken for cessation of support for cross-border terrorism.” Moscow also made it clear that there were no plans for Mr Putin to visit Pakistan and corrected the apprehensions in New Delhi that Moscow was seeking to engage Pakistan in a strategic relationship that might undermine Russia-India ties. The joint working group on Afghanistan will be of critical importance to both India and Russia. It is noteworthy that both countries have agreed to coordinate their strategies to deal with a new form of religious terrorism, inspired by Pakistan and Afghanistan, that is seeking to subvert secular, multi-ethnic, pluralistic countries, of which India and Russia are among the largest. The call for sanctions against the taliban “unless they cease support to international terrorism, drug trafficking and conform to international norms on human rights”, should be the first step in a global campaign against the medievalist regime in Afghanistan.

There was much to be happy about and little to quarrel with the substance of Mr Putin’s visit. Yet, the Russian presidential visit generated little enthusiasm within the media or within the larger strategic community. Quite clearly, the United States’s shadow loomed large on the visit. India’s new engagement with the US has struck a chord with the elite and the establishment, and there was little chance that Mr Putin’s visit would generate the same attention as Mr Bill Clinton’s earlier this year. Moreover, the Russian president’s visit was ill-timed. A spate of visits by foreign dignitaries, and Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to the US has fatigued foreign policy watchers. This lack of enthusiasm should not prevent the forward movement of bilateral relations. Relations with Russia, it is vital to stress, will not beat the cost of India’s relations with the West. The Cold War is over; a strategic partnership with Russia is based on pragmatism and the common quest for a multipolar international system.    

The polio immunization drive has revealed, yet again, the dark underbelly of Indian modernity. Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar have come up with some frightening statistics, showing the extent to which, and the reasons why, a sizeable proportion of the population in these states has resisted the polio vaccine. Four lakh children in UP, three lakh in West Bengal and two lakh in Bihar have been barred from the vaccine by their parents as the last round of this five-year campaign came to an end recently. Although the number of polio cases has dropped significantly over the last two decades, UP and Bihar still show the highest incidence of the disease. There is also a noticeable north-south divide, the southern states showing a much better immunization record, although Andhra Pradesh comes close to the Bihar numbers.

Deep-rooted caste prejudices and religious superstition seem to be the most important elements in the range of social attitudes expressed in the parental decision to opt against the vaccine. And this cuts across religions. Upper caste parents refuse to avail themselves of the services of lower caste health workers. Notions of divine intervention or retribution have also been invoked frequently. Gender weaves itself into this picture as male health-workers have been refused access to some mothers. State health departments and nongovernmental organizations have to take these factors into account when planning health programmes in future. Crucial, too, is the popular perception, in some areas, that immunization and infertility are somehow linked. And here, the intervention of the state is regarded with instant fear and suspicion. The legacy of the sterilization fiasco during the Emergency seems to have become part of a collective irrational. This irrationality — ancient, yet modern, variously inflected and expressed — could cripple the nation in more senses than one.    

Among my wedding photographs, there is one that needs a gloss. It shows me in the usual terrifying finery, kneeling to garland the round stone known as the Vishnu-shila. The man I was getting married to had the same gotra as I. Since marriages within the same gotra are considered endogamous, the priests had decided (according to the book of loopholes, no doubt) that I should first get married to the god — which would mean a change of gotra or gotrantar — and should thus be freed to marry the man without the taint of endogamy. The photograph shows me dissolving in ill-concealed — and shockingly misplaced — merriment as I garland the stone to make the god my first husband. I suppose — it was years ago — it was not just the sense of the absurdity of the moment but also the thought that I was to publicly commit bigamy within the next hour or so that seemed so funny.

But it is not funny at all.

And the giggling bride in the photograph is distressingly far removed from some of the realities of the country in which she lives.

In the last week of September, Madhushudan Tili, a rickshawpuller living in a village 80 kilometres from Burdwan town, woke from a dream and pickaxed his wife to death. He had dreamt that his wife was having an affair with their neighbour, Sukul Murmu, and, as he later told the policemen who came to arrest him, he knew he had done the right thing because god had shown him the truth in a dream. Tili left a trail of blood behind him. After his wife, he killed two of his four children and severely injured Murmu, his wife and parents who had rushed in to stop him.

Tili is not insane. The officer in charge of the police station has made a point of stating this and adding that he has responded to interrogation like any normal person.

Putting the two pictures side by side, the giggling bride and the murderous dreamer, it is a real temptation to dismiss them as the coexistence of two cultures. This would be perfectly acceptable in a developing country which suffers from enormous disparities of income and education and is going through dizzying changes. That’s the easy way out. The spiralling violence in the country, in all its regions, at all levels of society, may raise questions about the two-culture thesis. The roots of violence are, of course, multiple. No country could illustrate this better than India. But the attitude to violence, a kind of acceptance of it as inevitable, may have one deep strain that is identifiable.

The bride in the photograph and the rickshawpuller in Burdwan district have something in common. Both are violating the notion of secular justice. Here “secular” is not opposed to communal, but refers to the non-religious norms by which everyday life is conducted. Bigamy via marriage with the god, Vishnu, may sound absurd, but it was felt to be essential for the series of rituals through which the bride could rightfully marry her earthly husband. Tili merely carried this inescapable layer of belief to its logical conclusion. Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet, so many years ago, hesitated, famously, to follow the promptings of his father’s perfectly articulate ghost. But Tili didn’t reject the prompting of his dream. Since it was god’s direction, his consequent action was inevitable — and uncaring of the country’s law.

It is this last that is crucial. A large proportion of violence in India is rooted in superstition. At its extreme and most outrageous, the crime does not come under even half a provision of the secular law. Is marrying a little girl to a dog to protect her from the evil eye a crime? By what definition? A father can do it and get away with guests, some of them amused perhaps, enjoying the feast and the fanfare. Society accepts, deep down, the father’s reasons.

There are laws for many forms of violence. Yet these cannot protect women from, say, witchhunts. Even if the law activates itself to punish the culprits, a woman might still be hounded out of her only shelter in the heart of Calcutta. The law-enforcers, some cowed by the press of popular faith, and some awed by a sense of ineffable glory, will watch from the sidelines as a newly-burnt sati is canonized. These are all crimes against women, yes, but is it enough to stop at that?

Perhaps the question could be framed anew. Is it not possible that a people which at some level or another accepts violence springing from superstition or “faith” also takes for granted, as acceptable, any irrational source of bloodshed? Because such tyrannies have not stopped after years and sporadically show signs of growing. Secular notions of justice are limited by the rational. They will always fall short when confronted with the irresistible force of beliefs. These exist at different levels, sometimes almost unconsciously, in the minds of all sorts of people.

Social structures and spaces, originally dictated by beliefs such as caste, set perception in certain predetermined moulds. If there is inequality of caste between traditional landlords and landless peasants, the struggle over land can easily be perceived as a conflict of castes. There is no untruth in that. Only it is, more significantly, a struggle over the unequal distribution of land.

What hardens the perception is the political discourse of the present time. A politics that battens on caste conflict instead of seriously trying to iron out age-old inequalities makes caste an unavoidable focus of the mind. Political correctness takes sides and the rhetoric is fixed. We think first, and often solely, in one way, and gradually find it easier, more comforting, to take this line of least resistance. But can we actually say whether the little girl who was stoned to death by women when she followed her cow on to the property of a higher caste family was the victim of caste violence or of a crime against women or of oppression of the poor? The population of two villages stood by and watched.

Caste conflict, crimes against women — there are so many labels. Each label can be stuck on to a huge variety of crimes, each of a different and explicable source. No one can deny that there are many factors to each trend. There are enormous odds stacked against women, social, economic, educational. There is simple sexual and biological vulnerability. And a dowry death is not exactly the same as a witchhunt. The one is the result of an unjust and entrenched form of exploitation, and the other the social expression of a superstitious belief, often the manipulation of such belief by one person or of a group for revenge or material gain. What is common to them is that they both exist, still, and they do so only because we allow them to.

For the law to be meaningful, there has to be a people’s consensus. This is possible even in a country as diverse as India. But as long as secular justice is felt, however secretly, to be irrelevant or inadequate in certain matters, Tili will go to the police station proudly and sanely asserting his righteousness in murdering his wife. He is, in one way, in tune with the times. The present political endorsement of the irrelevance of the civil law has many faces. It may be Hindu supremacists demolishing the Babri Masjid or vote bank “secularists” refusing to touch the unjust personal laws of minority communities, they all place Tili in an explicable context. Such endorsement helps reinforce the privileging of the irrational in peoples’ minds. So an adolescent might feel, while using his friends to push his rival in love off Howrah Bridge, that his love is beyond all law. In this country, who is to tell him any different?

The laughter of the bride in the photograph is, perhaps, excusable. But it is also very convenient. A lot of us would giggle in such a situation. After all, a ritual gotrantar is not quite the same thing as stoning a little girl to death. Yet the tolerant amusement is useful in accommodating apparently innocent little acts in order to please society while retaining, at the same time, a distance from the injustice and violence that spring from the blind adherence to ritual.

Even a few years ago, the amusement would have remained innocent. But not today, not anymore. We have to ask ourselves whether our inertia in the face of violence is not, partly at least, the result of an inherited habit of thought. The laughter does not allow us to see the deep-embedded links that are pulling people more irresistibly towards bloodshed.    

Jharkhand is now waging a war of words. The language row threatens to blow into a full-fledged civil war with each tribe clamouring for the recognition of its own dialect. While the Santhals — led by the member of parliament from Orissa’s Mayurbhanj district, Salkhan Murmu — are rallying for Santhali as the state language, the Ho-Munda Samaj, led by a former Ranchi University vice-chancellor, is pushing forth its claim. The Kudmi-Mahatos, on the other hand, advocate a common link language for the time being.

Murmu is projecting himself as the champion of the mother tongue, much to the discomfort of tribals. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader staged a series of “over-hyped” rail blockades in the tribal-dominated areas of Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal last week and intends to launch another sustained agitation from October 25.

This “crusade’’ is the crux of Murmu’s politics. In the last Lok Sabha elections, Murmu’s relied heavily on the language fracas. He had promised the Santhali voters that once Jharkhand was created, Santhali would get precedence over all other languages. As a result, the overwhelming majority of Santhali voters in Orissa’s Mayurbhanj district voted for him.

Scripted role

Santhali, according to popular perception, is one of the more familiar tribal dialects. It has a better outreach than the insulated tongues like the Ho, Mundari and Panch Pargania. The Santhali language even has a well-defined script — the ol’chiki — while other dialects use either the Devnagari or the Bengali script. But non-Santhali tribal intellectuals, who feel that issues like language, culture and education are their prerogative, have a different view on the matter.

They claim that though Santhals comprise 15 per cent of the new state’s 29 per cent tribal population, Santhali does not merit state language status. Santhali hegemony will only serve to alienate the already disgruntled “Mitans”, the friendly backward and scheduled caste groups like the Kumhars, Kamars and the Momins, which have been coexisting harmoniously. Besides, the issue has already polarized the broad tribal communities like the Hos and the Mundas.

The Kudmi-Mahatos, one of the politically dominant groups, advocate a common link language till a suitable regional language can be evolved. They feel that either Hindi or English will serve the immediate purpose as “Jharkhand will be heavily dependent on its non-tribal political masters during its initial years of flux.’’

Church row

This will entail constant interaction with non-Hindi speaking states and mainstream political parties, which will have substantial stakes in the new state.

The language row may also pit the Church against the forces of Hindutva, a determining element in the state’s realpolitik. While maximum conversion to Christianity has taken place among the Santhals, Hos, Oraons and the Mundas, the Kudmi-Mahatos have been largely left untouched. They are mostly Sarnas (animists) by faith. Recognition of Santhali will consolidate the base of the Church, which has a significant say in Jharkhand politics. In districts like Gumla, Lohardaga and Khunti, bordering the proposed state capital, Ranchi, the church still dictates the voting pattern.

The saffron constituents of the National Democratic Alliance, which holds the numerical majority in the new assembly, has been trying to counter the tide of Christianity with their Vanbasi Kalyan Kendra, the school-cum-healthcare centres. The Mahato leaders argue that though a number of Santhal leaders are politically aligned with the BJP, they share a close rapport with the church. “They are either married to tribal Christian women or they have been educated in schools run by the Church,’’ alleges a Mahato intellectual. This detracts from the primary thrust of the statehood movement — right to self-determination.

The Mahatos, who feel slighted by Murmu’s “zeal’’, plan to submit a memorandum to the prime minister later this month pressing for a common link language. The All-Jharkhand Students’ Union, Jharkhand Buddhijeevi Manch and a number of allied fora will host a three-day seminar on the “challenges confronting Jharkhand’’ in Jamshedpur from October 21 to debate on contentious issues.    

My brother, Swaminathan, who is consulting editor and columnist with a large upcountry group of newspapers, brought in the millennium with a front-page headline story on New Year’s Day 2000 which speculated on whether the coming millennium might not see an American president with a Punjabi accent. I called him to ask whether President Bill Clinton had an Irish accent.

He has now worked out the demographic implications of Clinton’s nod to more H-1B visas for information technology workers and concluded that with one lakh such visas coming the way of the best and the brightest Indian brains every year, we will end the current decade with an additional one million Indian-American immigrants, each of whom is likely to bring in or give birth to another four million Indian-Americans, swelling the population of Americans of non-Columbus Indian origin by an impressive five million by the time Al Gore or George W. Bush becomes history. Thus, says Swami, the Indian influence on America will be massive as will America’s influence on India expand exponentially, fulfilling the dream of Gandhi the Globalizer of an India in which the winds of the world blow about our house freely without our being swept off our feet by any of them.

How far does this fantasy mesh with reality? That the hitherto unheard of Indian-American is already heading several large American corporations, including the world’s largest airline, and that among America’s leading venture capitalists is an Indian at the top of the heap, is of course heart-warming for an Indian of my generation who grew up trying to educate middle America into understanding that we neither lived in trees nor slept on beds of nails. So also is it a matter of undoubted pride that instead of being equated only with exotic spirituality, Indian-Americans are gaining renown in American mainstream academia. Further, there can be little doubt that as Indian-American voting communities in the United States acquire a degree of clout, and Indian-Americans contribute to the coffers of American aspirants, they will politically influence American decisionmaking on issues of concern to the Indian-American community, such as Kashmir. Reciprocally, as San Diego and Providence become home to more and more Indian-Americans, so will they become household names in Midnapore and Mayiladuturai.

The problem is that five million Indian-Americans still leaves us with 995 million unhyphenated Indians — you, me and about a billion of the domesticated rest of us. Also, five million Indian-Americans leaves the US with approximately 250 million non-Indian-Americans (including – dreadful thought — a couple of million Pakistani-Americans, desperately competing with us to become the hewers of wood and drawers of water of the much-heralded IT revolution). Moreover, these five million forthcoming Indian-Americans will be drawn from the best-educated, higher caste and, therefore, more upwardly mobile, more affluent segment of our society. The bulk of our people – and by “bulk” I mean about 99 per cent – will remain grounded where they were, globalized it is true but just as much part of the globalized world as were the Esquimaux, the Hottentots and the Maoris of the Era of Empire.

An Indian presence in curious corners of the globe is nothing new. Nor their influence where they are settled. Indians in east Africa were far more influential commercially than the Silicon Valley Indian will ever be in America. In Hong Kong and Singapore, the Indian businessman holds his own with the Chinese, as he does with everyone else in the Gulf. In Trinidad and Guyana, Mauritius and Fiji, the Indian is tops, or next only to top, in politics. Why, British Columbia, the Pacific sea-board province of Canada, already has an Indian premier. And Keith Vaz is minister in the British foreign office. Lord Raj Bagri is head of the metal exchange. Swraj Lord Paul is better known than any Indian cabinet minister in British political circles. Amartya Sen is Master of the most prestigious college in Cambridge. I.G. Patel served as director of the London School of Economics for a decade, many decades ago.

Shekhar Kapur was carefully selected to direct the film on Britain’s most renowned queen. No respectable British library shelf is complete without Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy. And the best batsman on the English cricket team is a once-upon-a-time Pakistani. Does this add up to a decisive Indian voice in British business or politics? Has the British influence on India grown or diminished?

Moreover, is there any guarantee of the Indian immigrant voice in lands abroad being really in our best interest? Have we forgotten that Khalistan was propagated less from Pakistan than by non-resident Indians in Britain, America and Canada? Most people who leave their land of birth do so with guilt and complexes. Many resent their talents not having been recognized or rewarded at home. Others are so enamoured of the golden West they can only denigrate and deride what they have left behind. Yet others become expat Indians of a dangerously narrow bent of mind — witness the sangh parivar’s growing diaspora. An Indian lobby in the US five million strong will always be a mixed blessing.

To the extent that Indian-Americans serve the Indian cause — and doubtless several million of the five million will — how decisive that will be depends less on well-heeled Indian-Americans lobbying their local congressman than on America’s larger strategic interests and strategic reach. Diplomacy, not demography, will tilt the balance. Thus, for example, no community has had a greater impact on American politics at the highest level than the Irish: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, five of the last eight presidents were NRIs— non-resident Irishmen.

Yet Ireland remains among the poorer of the European Union partners, with infinitely less American investment than almost any other European country. It has also found neither peace nor unity despite (or, perhaps, because) the Irish-American has been the biggest financier and gun-runner for Irish terrorism. The presence of well over five million German-Americans did not prevent them from being incarcerated in World War I nor the Japanese-American suffering the same fate in the second.

The Jewish lobby has had enormous influence on American policy in the last half century but could not push the American establishment into pressing for Israel until Adolf Hitler’s genocide changed everything.

There is another factor to be borne in mind. While the first-generation Indian-American looks back home and the second-generation Indian-American is the definitive ABCD — America born confused desi — certainly by the third generation, and often as early as the second, the immigrant gets Americanized, with, more often than not, one of the parents being of non-Indian origin. To expect such Americanized Indian-Americans to attend Atal Behari Vajpayee’s successors’ receptions for the Indian community with the exuberance we have seen displayed in the first year of the millennium is to fly in the face of two centuries of the experience of the American melting pot.

If India is to really matter in the US it is when globalization applies to not just computer engineers but all labour, as in the 19th century European exodus to North America. A few hundred million Americans of Indian origin will be an America in which India matters. It will also mean an enormous increase in prosperity in India — after all European prosperity is the consequence of at least half a billion of those who but for Columbus would today have been promoting the Malthusian nightmare on the Continent. The rest is illusion.    

Globalization is a phenomenon which touches our lives in multiple ways. It has given rise to a series of complex questions: are we just consumers (of commodities, symbols and messages) in the global market? Or, are we critical agents capable of seeing the world with our own eyes? Can we retain our cultural memory in these rapidly changing times? Or, are we destined to live without any solid foundation, stability and depth: absolutely decentred, without memory and identity? Perhaps we need an appropriate art of resistance to cope with globalization.

The kind of globalization we are seeing ought to be distinguished from simple or symmetrical cultural exchange or dialogue. There are two reasons. First, the collapse of socialism and the eventual victory of global capitalism have given entirely new meanings to the process. Second, because of the ever-expanding technologies of communication, the momentum it has gained cannot be compared to anything else in history. The result is that globalization has become unidimensional, legitimizing the values of the affluent, post-industrial, advanced capitalist Euro-American world.

Pleasures of life

This seeks to create a consciousness oriented to pleasure in the unlimited consumption of goods, material as well as symbolic. In the global village, it is this culture that unites an Indian and an American, an African and an Australian. Globalization promotes the logic of the market. It can be seen in the way even culture-specific qualitative experiences — from ethnic arts to social movements — are appropriated and “protected” through international funding. It also technologizes every sphere of human existence; the miracle of technology is allowed to subjugate politico-ethical questions. Globalization is almost like the second coming of imperialism, through the seductive power of the images, messages and mythologies of global capitalism.

Forms of resistance

To evolve a resistance against this form of cultural imperialism, an authentic and symmetrical cross-cultural dialogue needs to be forged. This sort of dialogue enables a culture to retain its integrity. Second, it is important to evolve a sound political attitude to realize the limits of “techno-managerial” solutions. It is necessary to see the emancipatory value of an alternative politico-economic project that emphasises the participation of the community (rather than the monopoly of transnational corporations), the distribution of resources and the celebration of people’s power (rather than the dictation of the “invisible” hand of the market).

Third, it is important to realize the beauty of an alternative mode of living, qualitatively different from the pleasure seeking consumerist lifestyle. It is this mode of living that alone can resist the mythology of global capitalism with its idea of “good living”. And we can learn these three lessons of culture, politics and living from great Indian visionaries.    


Wheel of misfortune

Sir — A ceremony to honour Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was shown on Doordarshan on October 2. It was amusing to see a number of participants — politicians probably — engaged in spinning cotton. Is it their daily practice or do they reserve it for Gandhi jayanti only? The answer is surely the latter. Spinning cotton manually is an archaism in these technologically advanced times. Khadi is one of the costliest textiles for the ordinary citizen, in spite of being subsidized by the government. Consequently, few people other than politicians are found to wear khadi. It will be interesting to find out the extent to which the standard of life of the average handloom worker has improved after 53 years of independence. In the age of highly competitive textile mills, it has became difficult for the handloom weaver to survive. The government should help the handloom weavers to find alternative means of livelihood, rather than letting them perish just for the sake of keeping alive the great Indian handloom myth.
Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy,via email

Malcontent by choice

Sir — I fail to understand why Mani Shankar Aiyar prefers to fly up in arms at whatever Atal Behari Vajpayee does, instead of being a responsible and constructive member of the opposition (“The times are out of joint”, Sept 26). His loyalty to the Nehru-Gandhi family has become so firmly entrenched that he conveniently chooses to forget that Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy of nonalignment was first violated by Indira Gandhi herself, with her leanings towards the former Soviet Union. The firm roots of the India-Soviet Union relationship can be gauged from the fact that India failed to criticize the Soviet Union for its occupation of Afghanistan.

Aiyar should not forget — in spite of his caustic remarks about the condition of Vajpayee’s knee — that the Indian prime minister is indeed a man of the present times. Despite all odds, he has given a purposeful direction to Indian foreign policy. Vajpayee’s Pokhran II adventure was criticized by the Congress not because of the ethics involved, but because the Congress was not taken into confidence prior to the event.

Moreover, the National Democratic Alliance government has not bowed down to the United States on the Kashmir issue. Aiyar, therefore, has no reason to draw the conclusion that India has sold out to the US.

There is reason behind the speculation that had Pakistan not mustered the support of the US in the heyday of the nonaligned movement, India would have opted for support from the US rather than from the Soviet Union.

Aiyar’s conclusion that Indians have no faith in the Nehruvian model of self-reliance is, once again, devoid of careful thought. The mixed economy model of Nehru has bred nothing but sick companies riddled with bureaucratic hurdles and red-tapism.

Also, the era of liberalization and privatization was initiated by the Congress government under P.V. Narasimha Rao. The NDA is merely carrying it forward with a few major changes in the field of information technology. The populist slogan of garibi hatao, coined by Indira Gandhi, was a complete eyewash in the name of socialism.

Aiyar must therefore refresh his memory before criticizing just for the fun of doing so.

Yours faithfully,
Rina Chawla, Haldia

Sir — On September 17, the last day of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s official visit to the United States, the Congress member of parliament, Mani Shankar Aiyar, moaned on a television chat show that he had to hang his head in shame because our prime minister had gone to the US and kowtowed before the US president on bended knees.

The charge by Aiyar was not challenged by the chat show anchors probably because they didn’t know better, or because it is not their job to do so.

Had Aiyar been truly convinced that the prime minister had “surrendered” before the US, he would have advised his party president, Sonia Gandhi, to take action on an official level. He had a golden opportunity as well. Najma Heptullah, member of the Congress, was in Washington at that time and also an invitee to the state banquet thrown by Bill and Hillary Clinton in honour of Vajpayee. Heptullah could have been instructed to boycott the banquet as a mark of protest.

Aiyar’s party, like Aiyar , speaks in many voices on all issues, including India’s nuclear policy.

Yours faithfully,
Anmol Sajjan Purohit, Mumbai

Sir — Like several other people, Mani Shankar Aiyar suffers from a misconception about the Pokhran II nuclear tests: that by opting for Pokhran II, India lost its edge over Pakistan in conventional warfare. Those supporting this argument perhaps think that Pakistan didn’t possess nuclear bombs till it conducted the Chagai tests. Or that Pakistan would not be able to use the bomb on India if the latter handed Pakistan another defeat using arms.

It should be remembered that after Pakistan’s defeats in 1947, 1965 and 1971, General Zia ul Haq in the Eighties chalked out the plan to go nuclear by hook or by crook. His purpose was to nullify India’s edge in conventional arms. On learning about this from intelligence sources, Rajiv Gandhi tried to stall Pakistan’s plans, but failed owing to lack of cooperation from the US and China and the United Nations. Subsequently, he gave the Indian scientists the go-ahead.

Alongside the bomb, on Pakistan’s agenda there were also export of terrorism and low intensity conflicts like Kargil. What would have happened if India did not have its own bomb to combat the possibility of Pakistan using its own? It goes without saying that the only reason Pakistan did not use its bomb during Kargil was the fear of retaliation on the same terms.

Self-professed experts like Aiyar should consider these points and refrain from attacking the bomb at the first opportunity.

Yours faithfully,
Nairit Kumar Singha Deo, Calcutta

Washed out

Sir — The report, “Death in sweep of tide, tidings of depression” (Sept 30), makes it plain that the Hooghly waters hit Calcuttans only softly. The situation, it goes without saying, is pretty bad in the districts. There is not an iota of doubt that the flood was manmade, at least for the city. Poor dredging of the riverbed, no cleaning up of the canals, no maintenance of the lock-gates for decades allowed the swirling waters to enter the city. The Left Front government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation are to be blamed squarely for this. Meanwhile, it is the generosity of the Centre which has allowed our neighbouring state, Bangladesh, to “export” its miseries to India. The country’s river water treaties with Bangladesh need to be reviewed urgently.
Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — The photograph of a woman with her newborn baby on a makeshift raft on the front page of The Telegraph (Sept 24) symbolizes the untold sufferings of the people of West Bengal ravaged by the floods. The havoc caused by the floods in the state has been well covered by the newspaper. But the floods in the 15 districts of Bihar, including the worst affected Nalanda district, and the two districts of Uttar Pradesh including Gorakhpur, where the army was called, have not been given adequate attention.

Yours faithfully,
Bikash Banerjee, Durgapur

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