Editorial 1/ Law of the wild
Editorial 2/ One man’s word
Names that live forever
Fifth Column/ Trapped in its own devious game
Extreme measures
Check the line of transmission
Letters to the editor

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments’ move to free the comrades of Veerappan in exchange for the freedom of the abducted film star, Raj Kumar, exposes at one stroke both the weakness of the two states and their compliance with Veerappan’s criminal activities. The Supreme Court’s quashing of the trial court’s order to release 166 detainees under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act to conciliate the bandit is couched in the strongest of terms. The points it makes are pertinent, not only to this particular case, but to the attitude politicians and governments have towards established criminals. The holes in logic that the court has picked are gaping ones. It has underlined that the governments could not have ensured that Veerappan would release his hostage even if his comrades in jail had been released. Since the police and special task forces of the two states have for more than 10 years been unable to capture the criminal who has been holding sway over 16,000 acres of forest straddling the borders of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, there is no guarantee that he will not carry on with his criminal activities after his comrades are freed.

There is an additional twist in the nature of the activities of Veerappan’s associates. Five of the associates housed in Tamil Nadu’s prisons are Tamil extremists. The court’s statement makes clear that not apprehending Veerappan is a double failure, given that he is not only a sandalwood and ivory smuggler, kidnapper and alleged murderer, but also involved in “anti-national” work. That the state governments were willing to give in to his demands argues a kind of complicity with the criminal. From this point of view, the ruling gets to the root of a very sore matter. Veerappan’s reputed invincibility is a myth, nurtured by interested politicians, bureaucrats and officials for their own unpalatable reasons. And this is exactly what lies behind the criminal-politician nexus all over the country. The governments cannot cover up their weakness by releasing prisoners on demand. If there is popular unrest in the neighbouring states over Raj Kumar’s continued captivity, it is up to the respective administrations to restore order. That the film star has not been rescued or freed, that he was abducted at all, are the governments’ responsibility. They cannot now take an easy and unacceptable way out. As the court has reminded them, if democratically elected governments show themselves to be conniving with lawbreakers and break the law themselves, the people will feel free to take the law into their own hands. The cynical might have another view. Given the failure of successive governments in the two states to capture Veerappan, may be the people would do a better job of catching him if they did take the law into their own hands. But, of course, that would be a most undesirable state of affairs. The court’s ruling reminds the states that they have a job to do. They have not done it yet.    

There is no need to mince words. When Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao was convicted in the bribery case, a travesty of the legal process was celebrated as the triumph of justice. Even The Telegraph was a participant in the celebration: it hailed the judgment given by the trial court as proof of the limits that exist on the principle of privilege. The Telegraph’s response was misplaced. The suspension by the Delhi high court of the conviction corrects a grievous wrong that had been done to Mr Rao. The fact of the matter is that there exists no case to convict Mr Rao. What was admitted as evidence by the trial court was the testimony of one individual who had turned approver. It was one man’s word against another. One does not need to be a jurist to know that a man cannot be convicted on another person’s word. It has been the consistent contention of Mr Rao’s counsels that the statement of Mr Shailendra Mahato should not have been accepted as approver’s testimony under Article 105 of the Constitution and that his evidence was full of contradictions. There is a singular lesson to be drawn from Mr Rao’s conviction, the media response to it and the suspension of the sentence passed on him by the trial court.

This is not the place to discuss whether Mr Rao was guilty or not of giving bribes. Like any other Indian citizen, he is innocent in the eyes of the law till he is proved to be guilty. Under the legal system, there are certain procedures to be followed for a man to be proved guilty. A man cannot be convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence or on the basis of the evidence provided by one man. The judge has to be satisfied that the due processes have been followed and that the evidence is foolproof. He cannot allow himself to be influenced by any other thing except the evidence. Only when all these conditions are fulfilled can it be said that justice has been rendered. Mr Rao was the victim of a trial by the media whose views were coloured by the widely held opinion that politicians lack integrity. People in high places who wield power and influence in India seldom get their just deserts in a court of law. This is also a popular perception. Thus, when a former prime minister was convicted, it was automatically seen as a triumph of the judicial system. In fact, it was the exact opposite. The argument being made here should not be misconstrued as a plea for Mr Rao’s innocence. The argument only insists that Mr Rao — and all other citizens of India, irrespective of their position and influence — be judged justly following the due processes of law.    

As Dehra Dun was preparing to take on the mantle of the interim capital of Uttaranchal, much spring cleaning by an otherwise slumbering administration was in evidence. A sobering fallout of this newfound enthusiasm was the emergence from amongst the overgrown lantana bushes of a touching memorial near the homely one-roomed post office at Rajpur; a township nestling in the Mussoorie foothills. Mounted on a modest pillar of brick and mortar some five feet high is a rough marble slab with the following inscription engraved somewhat in an amateurish hand: “RAJPUR — From this town 78 men went to the Great War 1914-1919. Of these...gave up their lives.”

Clearly this memorial was erected when the soldiers were leaving — a time of high emotion. But by the time the war ended and the surviving soldiers returned, the people of Rajpur appear to have forgotten the less fortunate of their colleagues who perished. That must explain the missing figure on this modest memorial. This syndrome of high emotion followed by total neglect lives with us to this today.

While the banks of the Jamuna river in Delhi overflow with samadhis of our political leaders, there is none for the brave men in uniform who have since the midnight hour of that fateful August given up their lives protecting national integrity and sovereign territory through four wars, countless border skirmishes, perennial insurgencies and a continuing proxy war. Not to mention other daunting missions like Blue Star, Sri Lanka, Maldives and more. Many thousand servicemen and women have laid down their lives serving the cause of free India. Yet the nation has not cared to spare a square foot of granite to commemorate each such name.

Contrast this with the Commonwealth graves commission, of which the Indian government is a partner. The commission is tasked to commemorate by name each member of the forces of the Commonwealth who laid down his or her life during the two world wars. Not surprisingly such memorials are spread across 2700 sites around the globe.

We, as a nation, suffer from the Rajpur syndrome. Long on emotions, but very short on gratitude and memory. Remember the heartrending “Ae mere vatan ke logon” by Lata Mangeshkar after the 1962 war on hearing which Jawaharlal Nehru shed tears? Or the line-up of ministers to receive daily body bags from Kargil? Or our latest homage of lighting a candle in memory of the Kargil heroes? Beyond this fleeting display of emotion one sees a strange degree of indifference in all those whose duty it is to truly care. How many of us even remember the names of those young officers and men barely in their twenties who marched up those peaks in Kargil knowing that death awaited them; let alone those that made similar sacrifices in previous wars?

On January 26 of each year, the prime minister dutifully places a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate. This is symbolic of the eternal soldier in whose memory a flame burns. With that one gesture, the nation pays its debt and clears its burdensome conscience. But where is the memory of the father, son, brother or husband who was flesh and blood?

Ironically this eternal flame burns under the umbrella of India Gate erected by the British to commemorate the names of all those of our people who died fighting their wars — not ours. If after 53 years of being free we still have something to learn from other enlightened nations, it is the purposeful and dignified perpetuation of the memory of those servicemen that have laid down their lives in service of the country. Purposeful, because only then will future generations understand the true price of freedom and carry the burden of this responsibility into the future. And dignified because even in violent deaths the soldiers died with duty and honour in their hearts — sentiments worthy of the highest respect.

Recently this writer had occasion to visit the Commonwealth War Memorial at Cassino, a small town in Italy in the shadow of a hill. The battle of Monte Cassino, one of the fiercest during World War II, resulted in over a lakh and a quarter of allied casualties amongst whom were thousands of men from this subcontinent. As one walked through the gates, the serene atmosphere was overpowering. Voices automatically changed to hushed tones. Many stood in silent homage unable to comprehend the strength of mortals who could make such sacrifices. Beautifully manicured lawns formed the base for symmetrical tombstones in perfect military precision — yet with personal tributes from loved ones. At one end were beautifully erected panels of granite with immaculately engraved names. Names and regiments of all those who died fighting for the overlooking hill.

And amongst those inscribed were familiar names from this subcontinent. These were men who died far away from their homes — not to return even in death. They died for a cause greater than themselves. At least there is dignity and grace in the way their names stand commemorated and immortalized — even if it is far away from their motherland. At least someone cared and continues to care to perpetuate the supreme sacrifice that they made.

To this writer the serenity and dignity with which this memorial — with thousands others across the globe — stands is indeed a fitting debt of gratitude by nations that care. Personally, the experience was more rewarding than a visit to any place of worship. Perhaps the immortal spirit of those that are commemorated there makes it so. To come back to ugly reality. In the words of a famous wartime general, “The soldier who is called upon to offer and give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.” What have we in independent India done to perpetuate the memory of such of our noblest souls? A wave of shame must overwhelm all those who governed this country and managed its armed forces for having failed our servicemen in death.

Today our servicemen and women continue to serve in the harshest of conditions. Even in times of peace they live under cruel combat and environmental conditions. They suffer daily casualties, so routine that it fails to make news. Inevitably, the list of such noble souls continues to grow. The nation owes them a deep debt. This debt needs to be repaid now, not in symbolic gestures but in concrete terms. A national memorial commemorating and immortalizing every life so generously sacrificed should become a national priority if not an obsession.

Let the nation pledge that before it reaches its diamond jubilee of independence, there will be in Delhi a monument commemorating the sacrifices made by our soldiers, sailors and airmen. A memorial of grandeur and dignity to match the sacrifice. A memorial that to the nation will be a source of inspiration drawn from this spirit of sacrifice.

And above all, a memorial from where our future generations will draw courage to follow in the footsteps of those who stand immortalized. There can be no greater place of public worship on Indian soil than such a monument. Only when the nation has paid this debt can it morally aspire to achieve greatness. A noble cause cries out for enlightened leadership.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force    

There can no longer be any doubt about Pakistan’s role in creating and building up the taliban movement. But there are portents to suggest that the Afghan policy followed by Islamabad for the last generation has backfired. For nearly 30 years, Islamabad’s relations with Kabul were strained. No Afghan government has till date recognized the Durand Line of 1893 as legitimate.

Afghan governments have always advocated a “greater Pakhtoonistan” and wanted to give the tribal population of North Western Frontier Province and Baluchistan the option to choose between Afganistan and Pakistan. Leftwing tribals have supported the Afghan claim. So, in 1955 and 1962, diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed.

Therefore, Afghanistan never joined the Baghdad pact or the central treaty organization. In order to eliminate the Afghan threat, General Zia ul Haq seized the prospect of a mujahedin led jehad against Soviet occupation. Not only would this bring the United States closer to Pakistan but would also give the latter access to an unprecedented amount of money and ammunition. Moreover, Pakistan would be able to flex its muscles against India as well as subsume the Pakhtoon challenge under the appeal of militant Islam and anti-Soviet jehad.

Taliban terror

Throughout the Eighties the Inter-Services Intelligence handled millions of US dollars that poured in from the US and the Arab countries, while the Central Intelligence Agency extended the required technical support. The ISI was even given gadgets to monitor each and every telephone call in Pakistan, both domestic and foreign.

With Zia’s knowledge and consent, the ISI soon became a state within a state and usurped even the policymaking functions of the civil authorities.The end of the Cold War and the pullout of the Soviet forces from Afganistan would have been the desired result.

However that was not to be. It was the Soviet protégé, Najibullah, and the Tajik, Burhanuddin Rabbani, supported by the Tajik rebel, Ahmed Shah Masud, who captured power in Kabul. They demanded assistance as before, even though Pakistan’s sources had dried up. This and the tensions between the Pakhtoons and the non-Pakhtoons further embittered relations between the two countries. The mujahedins felt forsaken, while the ISI considered them ungrateful.

Necessary facilities were provided to the ISI chief, Lieutenant General Hamid Gul and the outcome was the emergence of the talibans from the long ignored southern city of Kandahar. Najibullah was seized and shot, while Rabbani along with Masud had to seek refuge across the Hindukush.

Wounded core

By the end of 1998 over four-fifths of Afganistan had been brought under taliban control and the regime was recognized by Islamic countries like Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Having tasted victory the taliban now ceased to behave as Pakistan’s disciples. They began searching for new sources of assistance and found it in opium, drug-trafficking and cross-border smuggling. They made contacts in Pakistan and west Asia. Knowing how valuable they were to Pakistan the taliban began tightening the screws from time to time. They refused to accept the Durand line or call off the Pakhtoonist movement. Close contact with a destabilized and fundamentalist Afghanistan is weakening the state of Pakistan and accentuating the centrifugal forces in it.

In fact, Pakistan continues to bleed both ways, through the massive subsidies it has to reserve for the never-content taliban as well as through losses incurred in smuggling, euphemistically referred to as Afghan transit trade. According to Ahmed Rashid, an authority on Pakistan’s taliban policy, Islamabad had to release six million US dollars as salaries for taliban officials only a month after Pakistan had tested nuclear devices on the Chagai hills. In the preceding year Pakistan had paid an equivalent of 30 million dollars in arms, ammunition and fuel. For a country on the verge of bankruptcy, this is too heavy a bargain.

The Central Board of Revenue has estimated that Pakistan lost about 600 million dollars in 1997-98. All this has ruined the economy and polluted the political life of the country and led to further sectarianism and violence.    

Darkness descends like an inky blanket over the steep hills cradling Ranchi. The lights dim as the town retires for yet another uncertain night.

A faint wick glows inside a concrete hovel off the foul smelling Morabadi ground in the heart of the town. Three heads pore over a frayed road map of the city, etching rough lines across the vital linkages connecting the scattered townships and the city proper. A countrymade gun lies at a corner beside a neat pile of ammunition. These men are prepared for the worst.

The terrain of operation is uneven and the plot thick with unpredictable twists. Even the day is inauspicious, if the seers are to be believed. The great tribal roadshow is about to unfold amidst notes of discord. The birth of Jharkhand professes to be a difficult one. While the controversy over the issue of chief ministership deepens with the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, rejecting the candidature of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief, Shibu Soren, and the latter snapping ties with the National Democratic Alliance, the relentless march of the red underground into the state’s industrial heartland spells trouble for the “newborn”.

The Jharkhand Mukti Manch, a frontal organization of the Maoist Communist Centre, plans to hold a mega-rally in Ranchi on November 15, the day the new assembly is sworn in. Four other rallies by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha on the same day are expected to add to the chaos.

Over the past two months, Naxalites have struck selective targets with renewed vengeance. Last month, the superintendent of Lohardaga police was killed in a People’s War ambush in a remote village at Chandwa block bordering Palamau. It was followed by the attack on railway police force personnel by the Maoist guerrillas aboard the Gaya-Asansol passenger train. But the most decisive strike by the MCC was in Dhanbad on October 30, when it gunned down four bodyguards of the Bihar minister for higher education, Saba Ahmed, at a football match in Tundi block, in an aborted bid on the minister’s life. The same night, the outfit hacked five villagers to death in Palamau in an act of “retribution”.

The attacks reflect a distinct shift in the outfit’s strategy on the eve of the formation of Jharkhand. From a predominantly rural base in the highlands of Palamau, Gaya and Aurangabad during the mid-Seventies, the MCC has forayed deep into the coal mines of Dhanbad and the industrial nodes of Ranchi. Recent intelligence reports indicate that the outfit’s Bihar-Bengal area committee has penetrated semi-urban areas of the East Singbhum district outlying the steel township of Jamshedpur. Besides, the Maoists have also accelerated the pace of activities in West Bengal’s Purulia and Midnapore districts bordering Bihar, where they had lain dormant for the past two decades.

Why the shift? Left analysts attribute it to a growing sense of insecurity among the insurrectionists. With the Dalit peasantry rooting for peace, the outfit’s charm is gradually waning in the rural hinterland where it ran a parallel administration. The MCC feels marginalized as the region’s realpolitik undergoes sweeping changes and neo-rightists singe the terrain with their crippling brand of communal politics. So the desperation to grab headlines.

This frenzied quest for publicity has also precipitated changes in its strike mode and cadre-hierarchy. The outfit, like its Naga and Manipuri counterparts, now believes in snaring them young. It has nurtured at least two juvenile hit squads over the past three years to take on high-security targets.

According to the police, the attack on the higher education minister was carried out by a gang aged between 12 to 16. Most of these teenagers, indoctrinated into Maoism as toddlers, are recruited from the Dalit villages of Palamau and Gumla controlled by the MCC. The outfits intimidate the villagers into “donating” the children to the cause of revolution and any act of defiance is punished with death.

Children come in handy while breaching security cordons and melting into the crowd unsuspected. “In most cases, these fleetfooted youngsters manage to escape unlike older cadre, who often blunder,’’ says a senior police officer in Daltonganj.

But these “children’’ and their mentors aspire for greater glories. As the outfit becomes city-centric, the role of the “little insurgents’’ assume significance. They move in th city unhindered, gathering intelligence and often double up as couriers ferrying arms from one hideout to another. More than a dozen of these “teenaged commandos” have infiltrated Ranchi and its suburbs over the past fortnight.

The prospect of a non-tribal government in Jharkhand has put a spanner in the MCC’s spin on things. The irate Maoists, who will now confront an administration manned by their “class and political” enemy, have even issued a fatwa against the projected BJP chief minister, Babulal Marandi.

MCC’s newfound aggression is also linked to its chequered economics. The outfit, which traditionally controlled the trade in tendu leaves (used for making bidis) in Palamau, Chhatra and Aurangabad is losing out to middlemen hired by bidi merchants in Patna and Calcutta. Though it has an edge in firepower, the extremists find themselves short of lucre which the middlemen shower in plenty.

As a result, the MCC, which once monopolized “lifting and transportation” contracts, is facing resistance at the grassroots level. This has disrupted flow of funds and coffers are fast emptying.

To tide over the funds crunch, the MCC tried breaching the trade unions of the Dhanbad coal mines towards the beginning of the past decade. The Jan Suraksha Sangharsh Manch, an MCC front, began mobilizing miners but the coal mafia clamped down. Frustrated, the cadre temporarily retreated. This urban exercise proved to be a misadventure for the oufit found wanting in “sufficient motivation power”.

What the MCC fails to grasp is that violence cannot be a tool for grabbing power, especially in an urban milieu, where the targets are capable of retaliation. Use of brute force has an adverse impact on a thinking public and the MCC, hamstrung by its rural background and policy of intimidation, finds it difficult to get a toehold in Jharkhand.

When the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) was formed after the dissolution of the All-India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries and the merger of Maoist factions, one breakaway splinter, Dakshin Desh, refused to relinquish its identity. This group considered mass mobilization at the grassroots level a prerequisite to armed offensives. The faction led by Amulya Sen and Kanai Chatterjee singled out the Jangal Mahal area in Bengal’s Burdwan district for its activity. This region with a sizeable tribal population and dense forests was ideal for launching a Maoist movement.

Abject poverty and exploitation by local landlords made the villagers vulnerable to the “red ideology”. The party organized militia squads and carried out blatant propaganda to politicize the peasantry.

But restlessness soon gripped the party rank and file. Not content with their ambit of dominance, the group gradually spilled over to Palamau, Gaya and Aurangabad, districts of south Bihar. As activities gained momentum, the founders formed the Bihar-Bengal area committee to control operations and mastermind strategies. The Dakshin Desh was eventually re-christened the Maoist Communist Centre at a massive rally in the dense forests of Palamau.

The outfit’s legacy of armed struggle and Robin Hood-like activities in the villages of south and central Bi- har are difficult to ignore. The militant tag prevents it from toeing a political line and the guerrillas languish in a kind of social isolation. The city, with its diluted form of idealism and skewed social justice, is not their turf. Rather, the hundreds of impoverished villages in Jharkhand’s remote backwaters are their natural habitat.    

When the very first case of AIDS was detected in the United States it was said that this pandemic is “Western” and cannot appear in India. As it turned out, it is as Indian as any disease could possibly be. The situation in fact is already grim with India being ranked as a “high prevalent” country for sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover five per cent of our population has already been infected with the AIDS virus.

HIV can be transmitted in many ways. Infection through blood transfusion is one of them. The victim might contract the disease from an infected needle or infected blood and might pass it on to the sexual partner or the unborn child in case of a woman. The administration and the authorities concerned are however still sleeping over this fact.

Blood racket

Buying and selling of blood in India is a highly developed industry. The private pathology laboratories collect blood from commercial donors and sell it to hospitals and clinics without testing it. There are about 1,020 blood banks in our country, half of them are unlicensed. In most cases the donors are not made to go through any preliminary testing.

Laboratory personnel do not have any knowledge about HIV and do not follow the official guidelines for infection control. A survey conducted in Ahmedabad on 100 commercial donors revealed that 98 per cent of all commercial donors were poor, illiterate and newcomers to the city who come there to seek employment. They sell their blood via agents and soon this becomes the only source of livelihood for the professional donors.

Prevention is cure

Despite the risks in the commercial blood donation system, India cannot afford to eliminate this practice since half the blood used in urban hospitals is collected this way. In order to prevent HIV infection through blood transfusion, about 715 blood banks were provided with facilities for testing AIDS. However this accounts for only 7.1 per cent of the total number of blood banks in the country.

A pathology centre usually has only one pathologist and three to four unskilled assistants who collect the blood. These people should be given proper training in handling blood and blood products. Doctors should ensure that the equipment are sterilized. Use of disposable syringes is a must. Commercial blood donors should be identified and counselled. Frequency of blood donations for commercial donors should be restricted. Instead, they could establish a cooperative blood banking system. The government should encourage blood donation campaigns. It is imperative that the state develops proper facilities for storing blood. The AIDS menace has to be dealt with firmly.    


Broken partnership

Sir — Of the famous five framed by the Central Bureau of Investigation, none but Ajay Jadeja could have put it as unabashedly — “Today I need you guys” (“Sleepless and sweating, Jadeja begs to be believed”, Nov 5). He was talking to scribes for whom he had meant his press meet at the Indian Women’s Press Corps in New Delhi. It goes without saying that the other four in his fraternity would nod their heads in agreement. What did the “everybody believes you” guys do about that fervent appeal of a sinking man? It was quite apparent in the report, “If there’s a match, Ajay Jadeja must be on the mobile” (Nov 7). Jadeja’s whereabouts had been confirmed, his home surveyed and his mobile links traced to show the man is a liar. The media has turned the tables on the ones it befriended not too long ago. Yet it had been a cosy partnership; the media and the cricketers had played up to each other to feed fabulous stories and images to the people. Are the cricketers entirely wrong in expecting some favours from the media in their hour of crisis?
Yours faithfully,
S. Mahato, Calcutta

Presidential tussle

Sir — The front page picture on The Telegraph on October 30 is an eyeopener regarding the prevailing Congress culture that has developed under the present leadership. The supporter of Sonia Gandhi who throws to the ground a rival faction member looks like a ruffian. This is a sad departure from the days when Congressmen, particularly prior to independence, were revered by the people for their commitment and conducts.

Jitendra Prasada’s challenge to Sonia Gandhi’s leadership is commendable since a person from the dynasty who lacks in leadership qualities, political acumen and is incapable of making independent decisions cannot be fit to lead the 115 year old party. If Sonia Gandhi has faith in the Indian democracy, she should allow a democratic contest in the party’s elections. The party should not be held or run as a personal fiefdom of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — In the 115 year old history of the Congress, this is probably the fourth time the Congress president is facing challenge from within. Sonia Gandhi is the party’s president not because of any inherent ability of her own, but because she is the widow of Rajiv Gandhi. Also, that Jitendra Prasada’s challenge grows out of the party’s non-performance in successive elections and its declining influence in the country’s politics.

Prasada’s only sin seems to be the assertion of democratic rights in a party that advocates democracy. His protests are being made out into a challenge to the dynasty. He may lose the elections, but the Congress would do well to remember that this dissident has raised very pertinent questions which it needs to answer and now.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Azimganj

Sir — The clout of leaders is what dominates India’s political parties. The Congress has more or less become the property of its president. Anyone who dares to question the proprietors’ way of behaving will be shown the door. The idea of collective leadership and the atmosphere of sharing viewpoints are gone.

On a different level, it can be argued that regional parties exist entirely on the strength of the regional leaders. These parties cannot have more than one leader at a time. If the second emerges, it will signal the end of the party because the competitor does not wait to take over the party in the natural process. The party invariably splits into rival factions.

Only the communist parties and the sangh parivar are exceptions. The communist party was once divided but this was not so much because of personality clashes as of the changed international political equation following Chinese aggression upon India. Neither has the Bharatiya Janata Party depended on any one leader for its survival.

The century old Congress should not behave like the regional parties which depend on the charisma of the leader to survive. I hope the strong contender for the post of the party’s president, who challenges the supremacy of Sonia Gandhi, will not be thrown into the dustbin in the name of party discipline.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — So what’s new about Jitendra Prasada’s challenge to the Congress party president? Not too long ago, Sharad Pawar and P.A. Sangma, had deluded themselves into believing they could take on the Nehru-Gandhi bahu. Both were hounded out of the party and forced to form a separate outfit, the Nationalist Congress Party, which is now fighting political oblivion. Why can’t Congresswallahs get used to the fact that the party is a piece of personal baggage for the Nehru-Gandhis? This is how most would like to see the party and would be comfortable with. Election to the post of the party president was never a democratic affair. It goes against the Congress tradition to be so. One only has to recall Subhas Chandra Bose’s unsavoury experience with the party’s “democracy” — he was first elected and then forced to step down to make way for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s candidate — to realize this. There might be truth in the allegation that Sonia Gandhi is incapable of leading the party. The party probably has to wait for a more capable Nehru-Gandhi in the future. Remember, Jitendra Prasada and all future dissidents, the Congress has been in the dumps before. But that is not the end of the party nor of dynastic rule.

Yours faithfully,
C. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Striking oil

Sir — How can the bus owners of Calcutta say that the new fare structure must be to their liking before they stop their agitation? It is surprising the West Bengal government has not checked the average income of and expenses incurred by the buses which should be the basis of any revision of the fare.

As most of the private buses operating in and around Calcutta are old, the book value of these buses by now should either be nil or nominal. So the returns on such investment cannot be very high. The government, for the sake of transparency and accountability to the commuters, must justify the basis of the new fare structure. Otherwise people will believe there is a nexus between the government and the bus owners.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — If the recent bus strike in Calcutta has been a success in the opinion of the organizers solely on grounds that commuters had to undergo immense inconvenience, that goes to the discredit of of the state transport services which failed to operate 80 per cent of the fleet on at least at 80 per cent productivity level.

This exposes the miserable management of the transport administration in its own undertaking is. Under certain conditions it should share a portion of the private sector load. There is hardly any other reason public services should exist at an enormous cost to the exchequer. But the services rendered by the Metro Rail authorities during the period have been excellent.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, via email

Sir — Bus strikes following the rise in the oil prices have become a regular phenomenon in West Bengal. Recently, bus strikes enjoyed the covert support of the state government, since bus owners were ostensibly protesting against the Central government’s policy. The state government neither tried to dissuade bus owners from going on strike, nor did it deploy a larger number of state owned buses.

However, the sole positive aspect of the strike must not be ignored. Thanks to the bus strike, Calcuttans enjoyed three days of negligible traffic jams and pollution.

Yours faithfully,
Sabir Ahamed M., Calcutta

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