Editorial 1/ Play it again sam
Editorial 2/ Blood brothers
From disaster to goodwill
Fifth Column/ Teachers not to be taken for a ride
How to make a fair deal every time
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ PLAY IT AGAIN SAM 
 
 
 
 
Reconciliation was a theme that marked the speech of the United States president, Mr Bill Clinton, to the millennium summit of the United Nations general assembly last September. And it is reconciliation that seems to be becoming the leitmotif of American foreign policy in the last months of the Clinton administration, as it attempts to mend relations with communist countries that have traditionally been the bete noire of Washington. During much of the Cold War, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea were three states that policymakers in Washington were most hesitant to engage, and even the end of the US-Soviet rivalry did little to improve relations. But today, the Clinton administration seems willing to embark on a new course with an imaginative set of fresh policies.

Consider first the case of Vietnam. Later this month, after attending the Asia-Pacific economic cooperation summit in Brunei, Mr Clinton will visit Hanoi. This will make him the first US president to visit Vietnam since the war ended more than 25 years ago. The previous presidential visits had been during the war itself. Recall that President Lyndon Johnson had visited US troops in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 and President Richard Nixon had met the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, in Saigon in 1969. Mr Clinton, who many have accused of being a “draft dodger”, has made reconciliation with Vietnam an important foreign policy priority. In 1994, the trade embargo against Vietnam was lifted and in 1995, diplomatic relations were restored. Earlier this year, US defence secretary, Mr William Cohen, visited Hanoi, and now comes the presidential visit. In addition, the US air force is currently involved in providing relief supplies to victims of the massive floods in the Mekong river basin. Even more startling is the possibility of Mr Clinton visiting Pyongyang after Hanoi. This is not speculation. The US secretary of state, Ms Madeline Albright, in her recent visit to North Korea, explored just this possibility. And although Mr Clinton’s visit has not yet been firmed up, there is an outside chance that the North Korean leader, Mr Kim Jong II, may just make enough concessions, especially on the nuclear and missile proliferation fronts, for Mr Clinton to make an unprecedented visit to a country regarded for long as the forbidden land by the mainstream of the American establishment. Finally, of course, there is Cuba; here too the US senate has ratified a bill that will ease trade sanctions on Cuba for the first time in 40 years. The legislation, which was approved overwhelmingly, allows the sale of food and medicine to Cuba. Havana will be allowed to purchase food and medicine from the US with the help of third-party financiers. Under certain humanitarian circumstances, Mr Clinton may even waive the ban on direct American financing. With the Middle East peace process in tatters, it is clear that Mr Clinton is now looking for other opportunities to go down in history as a peacemaker.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ BLOOD BROTHERS 
 
 
 
 
When brothers fall out, it is said that the breach is irreparable. The split in the Indian communist movement in 1964, which led to the formation of two separate communist parties, created a wound that continues to fester. Comrades in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and their counterparts in the Communist Party of India, even though both parties and the ideology they uphold have become irrelevant in Indian and world politics, continue to spar with each other. The latest instalment in this kind of fraternal bickering is the set to between Mr Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the general secretary of the CPI(M) and his brother-in-CPI, Mr A.B. Bardhan. The latter is known to be an eager advocate of uniting the two communist parties. He thought that the recent changes in the CPI(M)’s programme had increased the chances of unification and he thus shot off a letter to the CPI(M) with a unity proposal. All he got for his pains was a sharp rebuff from Mr Surjeet. Mr Surjeet refused to admit that the differences between the two parties were things of the past. He accused the CPI of conspiring to disrupt left unity. Such is the acrimony between the two communist parties that a gesture of reconciliation has become the occasion of reliving old controversies.

The CPI(M), although it has been declared a regional party by the Election Commission, is by far the more powerful and more influential of the two parties. It heads the governments of three states and has a large cadre base. Yet, it is unwilling to be magnanimous to its less fortunate brother because it suspects the CPI of being too close to the Congress. That the CPI has a soft corner for the Congress cannot be questioned: its record during the Emergency has only to be recalled to underline this preference. For the CPI(M), anti-Congressism has been a kind of raison d’etre even though the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party has somewhat tempered the CPI(M)’s attitude towards the Congress. What both parties are oblivious to is that this debate is of no consequence to anybody. Neither is the move — and the opposition to it — to bring together the two communist parties. The Congress is a spent force in Indian politics. The two communist parties have never been a force and are not so now. The issue is of interest and meaning only to the two parties. That the two of them still fight over their respective attitudes towards the Congress and over unity moves only show their alienation from reality. The assumption of self-importance is a kind of illusion. The future of India is not related to beliefs and actions of the communist parties. Their futures are of no interest to anyone save the faithful. There is nothing more revolting than brothers fighting in the dustbin of history.    


 
 
FROM DISASTER TO GOODWILL 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
Canada’s new high commissioner to India is an extremely lucky man. Peter Sutherland, who presented his credentials to president K.R. Narayanan in October, begins his tenure in New Delhi with unprecedented goodwill generated by the recent arrest of two Canadian Indians accused of masterminding the mid-air bombing of an Air India Jumbo aircraft 15 years ago, killing 329 people. Canada is one of those countries which practised nuclear double standards following the Indian nuclear tests in 1998 and then ate crow after three of the five permanent members of the United Nations security council decided that it was best to accept the reality of India’s nuclear status and engage New Delhi instead of trying to isolate it.

But alone among the envoys of those countries which preached nuclear hypocrisy in May 1998, the new Canadian high commissioner will not have to pay for the folly of his foreign office. It is one of the paradoxes of diplomacy that envoys, who are otherwise upright and well-meaning persons, often have to pay for the bad judgment of their bosses back home. In the wake of Australia’s farcical outrage after Pokhran II, for instance, neither Canberra’s high commissioner in New Delhi nor his deputy — then an Australian Indian with impeccable diplomatic lineage in the Indian foreign service — could get anybody anywhere in the vicinity of South Block for months on end to give them the time of day. Alas, Australia’s envoy could not even get appointments with the chief minister of Delhi or with lieutenant governors of small Union territories for almost a year after the nuclear tests.

New Zealand is another case in point. There are not many in New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave who share A.G. Simcock’s sensitivity for India or his understanding of the country. But the high commissioner had to pay for Wellington’s tragic error in having boorishly berated the Indian high commissioner to New Zealand in public a day after the nuclear tests. But unlike its treatment of Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom, the prime minister’s office decided that New Zealand was not preaching one thing and practising another. Wellington’s opposition to the nuclear bomb was not a sham: it did not allow nuclear-armed American ships to even call at ports in New Zealand. So, relations between New Delhi and Wellington were on the road to recovery within months of the Pokhran tests.

Stories like this are legion in Chanakyapuri, but to get back to Indo-Canadian relations: two of Sutherland’s predecessors were unfortunate not to have enjoyed any goodwill during their tenures, thanks largely to Canada’s penchant for sermonizing India. The subject of these ill-advised sermons was not just nuclear or missile proliferation: it covered child labour, human rights and so on. Because of this short-sighted policy drafted in Ottawa, the visit of the prime minister, Jean Chretien, to India was, to say the least, unproductive. In fact, the disasters that surrounded Elizabeth II’s visit to India during I.K. Gujral’s prime ministership pale into insignificance compared to the effect that Chretien’s gratuitous advice on child labour and nuclear issues during his visit had on South Block. Like Sutherland now, his predecessor thrice removed was lucky in having enjoyed unprecedented goodwill in New Delhi. His tenure coincided with the P.V. Narasimha Rao government’s decision to unburden India of its mishandled socialist baggage.

The short-lived honeymoon in Indo-Canadian relations that came in the wake of Rao’s economic liberalization was reminiscent of the bonhomie between New Delhi and Ottawa in the Fifties and the Sixties, which did not survive Indira Gandhi’s first Pokhran test in 1974. This honeymoon also opened many eyes to the potential of Indo-Canadian ties. With the goodwill that the arrests in the Air India bombing case is bound to generate in India, Sutherland has the unique opportunity to attempt the realization of the full potential of this relationship.

In the wake of the arrests in British Columbia, the high commissioner has an unlikely partner in this enterprise — the Punjab chief minister, Prakash Singh Badal, who is visiting Canada this week. Since Badal is not a Congressman and does not carry any baggage associated with Operation Bluestar, he will have a chance to apply a much-needed balm on the restive Sikh community in Canada. It would be stating the obvious to say that the potential of Indo-Canadian ties will remain under-exploited until the large and affluent Indian community is brought back into the mainstream of Indo-Canadian relations as a united voice.

It is clear that the long-awaited arrests have produced a sense of relief not only among Canadian Indians, but among all Canadians. There is a sense across the country that justice is well and alive in Canada even if the temptation may be strong to fall back on the adage that “justice delayed is justice denied”. After all, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the bombing of Air India flight 182 is still the worst-ever single terrorist attack. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police describes the mid-air crash as “the most serious act of terrorism perpetrated on Canadian soil in the history of the country”.

Badal is visiting Canada at a time when radicalism within the Canadian Sikh community has ebbed. Four months before the Air India bombing, Ujjal Dosanjh, a Canadian politician of Punjabi origin, was attacked with an iron by a man outside his law office in Vancouver. Dosanjh was taken to hospital and stitched up 80 times for head wounds and a broken arm. The moderate Canadian Indian survived the attack, and earlier this year, became prime minister of British Columbia, the first non-white to head the government of any province in Canada.

Dosanjh’s government has cut “community development” funding which used to go to Khalistani-run gurudwaras at the height of terrorism in Punjab. Although hate transmissions continue from Punjabi radio stations, there is an effort to put a stop to these. British Columbia is also home to Herb Dhaliwal, a Punjabi member of Canada’s federal cabinet. The biggest change that will strike Badal, though, is that moderates in his community have regained control of the big gurudwaras in Vancouver.

South block and Indian missions abroad normally tend to look at foreign trips by chief ministers merely as a nuisance. To be fair to the ministry of external affairs, it is difficult to fault such an attitude because many chief ministers look at their foreign trips either as mere junkets or as an opportunity to pamper their domestic constituency or to raise election money. It is, however, vital that South Block should use a different yardstick to measure Badal’s trip to Canada. The visit may present a rare opportunity at the political level to rebuild bridges with Canada’s Sikh community, which are still in a state of disrepair even though governments have changed several times both in New Delhi and in Chandigarh since Operation Bluestar. Such an initiative on India’s part is vital if only because Canada has become a “supermarket” for terrorists across the world. Such an incredible description of Canada is not the figment of this columnist’s or any other journalist’s fertile imagination.

A report just tabled in Canada’s House of Commons by the security intelligence review committee which supervises the Canadian security intelligence service said: “Canada has become a so-called ‘supermarket’ for terrorists because of its open refugee policies, its proximity to the United States and its diverse ethnic population, which provides both a cover and a pool of victims for financiers”. According to a testimony before a parliamentary committee by Ward Edlock, who recently retired as head of CSIS, one can name any terrorist organization in the world and it has an active presence in Canada. Now that the Air India tragedy is once again in public focus on account of the arrests, this is the time for New Delhi to take up with Ottawa more seriously and in-depth the way terrorists enjoy a free run of Canada. South Block can then have the satisfaction of turning tables on the Canadians who have been preaching them the virtues of human rights, nonproliferation and so on.

But such satisfaction is a minor matter. It is in India’s interest to work with Canada in curbing the terrorist menace emanating from that country because the tentacles of the sinister network in Canada poses a threat not merely to India but to the whole of south Asia, especially Sri Lanka. In this sense, it is perhaps more important to work with Canada on the issue of terrorism than to set up working groups or create an institutional framework between India and the US to deal with counter-terrorism.    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ TEACHERS NOT TO BE TAKEN FOR A RIDE 
 
 
BY ASOKENDU SENGUPTA
 
 
The teachers’ movement in India has reached a new phase, with some teachers summoning the courage to raise their voice against the functioning of the University Grants Commission and the ministry of human resources development.

In July 1998, the HRD ministry, after much vacillation and deliberation, declared revised payscales, based on the recommendations of the Rastogi committee, for college and university teachers. However, the government chose to ignore many important incentives recommended by the committee. The All India Federation of Universities and College Teachers’ Organizations made unusual delay in registering its protest. But a dialogue was started. The government accepted one of the major demands and raised the retirement age to 62, and rejected the rest.

The AIFUCTO ignored the fact that the teachers were not in a mood to cross swords with the government, and gave the call for an indefinite strike. For the sake of unity and organizational discipline, almost all the teachers participated in the strike. The strike was aimed more at embarrassing the Centre than doing something seriously for the teachers. Ultimately, pressures from within forced the organization to call off the strike almost unconditionally.

Class politics

The HRD ministry implemented the new payscales in the Central universities immediately and recommended it to the state governments. Despite the commitment made by the Centre to provide 80 per cent financial assistance, the states felt no compulsion whatsoever to implement the revised scales. In West Bengal, the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association boycotted the examinations and other administrative work for a long time and even organized a relay hunger strike to put pressure on the government. But the AIFUCTO remained unperturbed.

The role of the ruling Left Front government in West Bengal has been ridiculous. During the strike, it provided loud moral support to the teachers. But when the state governments were asked to implement the revised payscales, the West Bengal government witheld the payment of arrears and stubbornly refused to raise the retirement age. The AIFUCTO, being under the political guardianship of the Left Front, remained silent.

The game, however, is not over yet. The ball is now in the court of the HRD ministry. The revised payscales have been made effective from January 1, 1996. Logically, the career advancement scheme should have been made effective from the same date. But the benefits of the CAS was offered through a subsequent notification by the UGC from July 7, 1998, the date of publication of the new scales.

Deeper games

Earlier, the UGC had offered the outstanding teachers, serving at the college levels, a limited scope for promotion to the post of professor. Though it did not translate into monetary gain, it was an honour an outstanding teacher deserved. Recently, the UGC has scrapped this incentive offer. Moreover, the UGC is also planning to reduce the retirement age of university officers and a section of teachers.

The failure of the AIFUCTO may have encouraged the UGC to retaliate. But there is a deeper political game involved in this. The Bharatiya Janata Party perhaps wants to strike at the existence of the non-BJP AIFUCTO. The communists have for long indulged in active politicization of education, but now the BJP is treading the same path. Though the target of the BJP is the AIFUCTO, it is the teachers who ultimately suffer.

The revised payscales, the government claims, will be able to attract the best talents of the country and will be able to retain the existing ones. However, a comparison with other Central and state level organizations will reveal that there is no basis for such a claim. Moreover, by withdrawing certain incentives, the government has added insult to injury. Now a section of the teachers is on the warpath. It wants justice and has asked the president to intervene and see to it that they get what has been promised to them on record. An intensification of the movement may see the likes of the AIFUCTO move in. In such a case, higher education will suffer most. It is time good sense prevailed in both the warring parties. Teaching should not be made a pawn in the game of politics.    


 
 
HOW TO MAKE A FAIR DEAL EVERY TIME 
 
 
BY SANTANU MITRA
 
 
All hell broke loose on India’s environmentalists and their friends when, on October 18, the Supreme Court gave the go-ahead to the controversial Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ajay Singh Anand had been hearing the case over several months. Predictably, the verdict is being interpreted as a blow to environmental movements in India in general, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan in particular. In actuality, the apex court has allowed the dam to be constructed up to a height of 138 metres, but with necessary clearances from environmental and rehabilitation agencies.

The dam is expected to displace over three lakh people. Medha Patkar, the spearhead of the anti-dam campaign, had been pointing to the project’s “human and ecological costs”. But the Centre has been arguing that the project would benefit water-starved areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The ranks of the pro-dam enthusiasts had also been swelling in recent months. Last year, Shetkari Sangathan leader, Sharad Joshi, had organized a protest rally at the dam site demanding further construction of the stalled project.

The whole gamut of issues around the Narmada Bachao Andolan shows one classic predicament of development economics. Economic development is often a zero-sum game in which only one man’s loss can generate another man’s gain to the same extent. In such a situation, the mechanism for ensuring justice is often absent. What can be done to promote the positive side of development is to redistribute the gains of a development exercise in such a way that the adversely affected people are given at least as much as they have lost in the process. In economics this is known as the Kaldor compensation principle.

Unfortunately, such a redistribution is often easier said than done, especially when all the losses incurred cannot be measured only in monetary terms. In this case, the dam will uproot many from their land. But here the concept of land does not mean only the land where a house has been built. It comprises the natural environment, means of earning livelihood, the natural resources commonly shared by the community and so on. However, as in the case of the Narmada valley people, the government can try to make up their monetary losses and make alternative arrangements for livelihood.

On the other hand, the beneficiaries of the project are expected to get better access to water. The women of the region will no longer have to walk miles to get water. The water table will go up and their agricultural activities will become easier and more profitable and, in many cases, they will overcome the problems which the continuous spells of drought cause. These gains are again not measurable entirely in monetary terms. Since the gains cannot be measured in full nor monetized in full, they cannot be redistributed according to the Kaldor compensation criteria.

This is where the value judgment on the part of the government comes in with regard to estimation of a project over and above monetary calculations. Decisions based on of value judgments are always risky and controversial. They can never please everyone all the time. Moreover, in this age of individualism, any value judgment about any zero-sum game where the Kaldor principle cannot be followed is bound to be questioned.

The Centre and the states seem to have made a value judgment that is loaded heavily in favour of the inhabitants of drought-prone areas. Incidentally, the Supreme Court, after giving due consideration to all facts placed before it, has given a judgment that has, to a large extent, been found to coincide with this value judgment of the governments although the verdict also emphasizes the importance of proper compensation.

But, the value judgement of the protagonists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan is in favour of the displaced. In fact, Arundhati Roy, the author turned environmental activist, was laughing when the judgment was being delivered. “The Supreme Court judgment is so ridiculous. It has taken the court six and a half years to say that Sardar Sarovar is a fantastic project.” She found it shocking that there was no social link between the people who are going under and the world “we” live in.

One does not wish to go into the merits and demerits of the judgment of the Supreme Court since it is not only naïve but also audacious to think the apex court reached a decision without studying the issues pertaining to that matter in the proper context and no one has faulted the court on procedural points. If the Supreme Court has not talked to even one of the ousted, as Roy accused, that cannot be construed as a point against the court since the process of dispensation of justice does not demand any such action on the part of the judiciary. After all, this was not an inquiry commission. Moreover, the NBA itself brought the case before the court of law in 1994 as a representative of the interests of the displaced. Moreover, it is probably not a very healthy trend to run down or castigate the process of justice and the guardian of the Constitution as soon as one judgment of the apex court goes against the interests of any individual or section. If the rule of law is breached once, that generates a chain reaction leading to the law of the jungle. No conscientious civil society can risk a journey down that path of self-annihilation.

There is one point that is buttressed by the whole controversy. The Indian democracy certainly lacks a proper mechanism through which the government and the people can have dialogues on important policy issues that have long term implications on the lives of the people. It is the solemn responsibility of a democratically elected government to ensure that the people’s will is reflected in its decisions. Democracy itself means a value judgment — that the majority is always wiser than the minority. Now, if on a particular issue one of the many antagonistic value judgments gets the support of the majority, that wins the game by gaining legitimacy. This is the only way in which the value judgment of one can be imposed on another. It is the responsibility not of the judiciary but of the legislature to frame such a mechanism and of the executive to take the help of such a mechanism while formulating policies.

The World Development Report 1997 was devoted to the theme of the changing meaning of the state and it would not be irrelevant if we draw from this report to analyse whether there could have been any mechanism that would have helped the impasse. If democracy is taken to be the most appropriate and desirable system of polity, there are measures, however imperfect, to gauge the needs of the people. In the big, jumbo-sized nation states of today, the people’s role in running the government is often confined to a mere periodic exercise of franchise. It has been assumed that the best established mechanism for giving citizens voice is the ballot box. “But”, as the aforesaid report pointed out, “periodic voting does not mean the state is more responsive.”

Further,“governments are more effective when they listen to businesses and citizens and work in partnership with them in deciding and implementing policy. Where governments lack mechanisms to listen, they are not responsive to people’s interests, especially those of minorities and of the poor, who usually strain to get their voices heard in the corridors of power. And even the best-intentioned government is unlikely to meet collective needs efficiently if it does not know what these needs are.” It is stated in this report and also borne out by experience that government programmes work better when they seek the participation of potential users, and when they tap the community’s reservoir of social capital rather than work against it.

In this regard, the following recommendations of the said report should be mentioned. Public discussion of key policy directions and priorities should be ensured. This includes making available information in the public interest and establishing consultative mechanisms, such as deliberation councils and citizen committees, to gather views and make known the preferences of affected groups. The report suggests that getting genuine intermediary organizations represented on policymaking councils is an important first step in articulating citizen interests in public policymaking.

India does not have intermediary organizations but has strong interest lobbies that have neither constitutional legitimacy nor responsibility. Unfortunately, the panchayati raj, which takes care of the three lowermost tiers upto the district-level, has not advanced the cause of decentralization of the process of policymaking. As a result, effective government-to-people and people-to-government dialogues are still lacking.

There is a direct method that can take care of issues that involve irreconcilable and antagonistic value judgments by reducing them to numbers — the final determinant in a democracy. This method is that of the referendum. This instrument of direct democracy is absent in India. This is practised in many other countries. Referendum can be of two types. First, special, when the government intending to take a major policy decision refers the proposal to the people for their approval. Second, routine, when at a periodic interval a government will have to seek referendum from the people on its continuance in power. Such a system of mid-term appraisal helps the people to keep the government on its toes.

The Constitution review commission would do well to think of recommending such a mechanism to be introduced in the Constitution. The government (at any level) can decide on its own to hold a referendum on any of its proposed policy decision in the area that would most likely be affected as a result of such a decision. People’s direct verdict on the issue will help it ward off unnecessary controversies.

The Constitution should provide that once the government puts an issue to referendum, it will have to abide by the decision arrived at in that referendum. And, there should be a prescribed time limit within which the government would have no power to seek another referendum on the same issue. To prevent any gerrymandering, the government will be required to publish a white paper well in advance on the necessity and the area of the referendum with all the justifications influencing its decisions in this regard. The high courts and the Supreme Court will have the final authority to reject or accept the proposals regarding the area of operation of the referendum, if the government’s proposal is challenged.

In case of any dispute as regards the desirability of any policy decision already made by the Central or state governments without any prior referendum on the issue, any affected party or citizen or organization can seek a referendum in the area where the relevant policy decision will have its effects. The authority to decide on the fairness of the complainant’s case will rest with the high courts and the Supreme Court. The government can plead against holding a referendum only on grounds of national security. If the high court rejects the government plea, it will have the power to appeal to the apex court.

A special wing of the Election Commission can be entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing any such referendum. This wing will frame the question that would be put in referendum and decide on the symbols attached to various options. The questions should not favour one particular party or the other and they also should be given due publicity well in advance so that if there is any objection to the framing of question that can be settled in the judiciary.

But the Constitution should stipulate expressly that no referendum can be sought or held on extra-constitutional or anti-constitutional issues. In case of any dispute as to the constitutionality of an issue, the Supreme Court will be the sole authority in making decisions. The government, at any level, should also have the constitutional power to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on whether to hold a referendum on a particular issue or not if it deems fit to do so. The government can also think of holding a referendum on a proposed legislative measure, if it requires to do so.

Had such a mechanism been in place, there would have been no ambiguity about the desirability or otherwise of a project such as that of the Narmada dam. The government could have taken a decision on the dam issue on the basis of the people’s verdict in a referendum. Such a referendum would have made it clear whether the displaced or the beneficiaries are in the majority and that would have settled the matter once and for all.    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Et tu, Khushwant?

Sir — Where is Khushwant Singh, India’s unsparing and irreverent columnist? In “Mature beyond his age” (Oct 30), Singh goes out of his way to puff the poems of Feroze Varun Gandhi, the latest celebrity from the Nehru-Gandhi family. The true Khushwant Singh, “with malice towards one and all”, would have written off any new writer audacious enough not to notice his presence at the launch of the new book. Instead, Singh not only forgets that he was passed by, but is also uncharacteristically pleased at the 20 year old’s ingratiating gesture of coming to meet him some days later. From Singh’s own account of the meeting, one cannot help feeling that the budded poet is also adept at maintaining good public relations. As for the poetry, Singh’s pen has been merciless on poets of greater worth. Of course, Singh is only one among many, including Anjolie Ela Menon and M.F. Husain, who couldn’t resist being associated with the Gandhi family. Was it then youthful charm and family name yet again?
Yours faithfully,
Shakeel Mohammed, Calcutta

Truant parents

Sir — Some points need to be made about “Parent penalty on Mamata hit list” (Oct 29). The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government apparently proposes punishment for parents if they fail to send their children to school. While this is a good measure and has already been made into law in many states, it is not clear how it will be enforced. It has to be properly enumerated whether parents will be sent to jail or forced to pay a fine. This has to be done since every law in this country leaves scope for added corruption.

The other objection raised against the education bill is with regard to the age group of 6 to 14 years. This objection is credible since the education process should start around three years or so. However, this involves related areas like nutrition and health. It is a wellknown fact that children getting nutritious food during the first five years after birth have a better resistance to diseases and live a healthier life. For this it needs to be seen that parents are able to feed their children properly. A designated local authority like the panchayat or village headman can advise and oversee that those with lower incomes have less children.

Tough problems call for tough solutions. The quality of life cannot improve in India unless better infrastructure, universal education and social security are made available. And for this, massive finances are required. This would remain a dream unless the government shifts its emphasis from political gain to pragmatism by disbanding a large number of its ministries and giving voluntary retirement options to more than 50 per cent of its staff. This should be coupled with privatization of all public sector units. In addition, all subsidies should be withdrawn, to release huge funds that can be used to reduce public debt.

Minimum education should be prescribed for all politicians. Unfortunately, vested interests have entrenched themselves and it requires an absolute majority for the party in power and a strong leader to effect the required changes. Let Mamata Banerjee and her party use professional help to lead the country into the next millennium.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Sir — Trust the Indian government to come up with nothing but warped ideas. Punishing parents for their children’s lack of education is yet another imaginative gem. The government of India has obviously forgotten that it rules over a population, a majority of which inhabits the villages and a substantial portion of it lives below the poverty line. Education becomes a matter of secondary importance when families are struggling to find themselves two square meals a day. If children go to schools they lose out on a part of that share.

It is good the government is at least making an effort to break the vicious circle. But why the parents? Does it think that the fear of punishment for not sending their children to school will stop couples on the streets from having children? Will penalization matter when parents have little or no money to pay the fine?

The factors which feed the vicious circle that the government is trying to break go deeper into society and a some of these are of the government’s own making. It has to first make sure that the parents have enough to feed their children before it demands that they send their children to school.

Yours faithfully,
J. Ramesh, Calcutta

Man, woman and child

Sir — The report “Assam minister ‘rape victim’ delivers boy” (Oct 27) is yet another addition to thousands of similar reports in the newspapers every day. Rape in India has become a routine affair and now it seems to have become a privilege with ministers who can easily manipulate the administration to absolve themselves of a rape charge. With the entire force grovelling before a minister for petty favours like a promotion, bending rules cannot be too difficult a task for him.

That is perhaps why those dealing with this particular case against R. Mushahary seems to have been in no hurry, giving enough time for the suspect to destroy the evidence.

Morality is on sale in India, and that too at a discount. On the one hand, we talk of upgrading the status of women and on the other, throw her as prey to the lust of men. The whole setup dealing with rape cases needs to be overhauled. The rate of conviction in such cases is so poor that it encourages such crimes to continue occurring. Rapists often escape, leaving the victim open to the scorns of society.

A separate body like the Central Bureau of Investigation must be formed to deal with rape cases alone. And the punishment for those convicted should be no less than the death sentence, for those committing such a heinous act cannot be reformed. This would also act as a deterrent to others from indulging in the act.

Yours faithfully
Vikram Surana, Calcutta

Sir — It is common knowledge that in India the police arrives only when the crime has been committed and the criminal has fled. This is all the more true for rape cases where it is always the victim who gets blamed for the crime. The stand taken by the police in the case of Monila Brahma and Assam’s minister of state for welfare of plain tribes and backward classes, Rajendra Mushahary, is quite unique.

Instead of arresting the minister immediately, the police actually waited for six months after the first information report was filed for Brahma to deliver the child which she had conceived. It is time the Indian Evidence Act was amended. The onus should be on the convict to prove that he is not guilty, not the other way round.

Yours faithfully
Debjani Kundu, Calcutta

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