Editorial 1 / Wrong’un
Editorial 2 / Up in the cities
We don’t love the bomb
Book Review / We are like this only
Book Review / Yet another train through the terrains of fear
Book Review / Adding fuel to the fiery debate
Book Review / Testament to age-old beauty in danger
Paperback Pickings / Suggestions from the Eastern Seas
Fifth Column/ Make room for real changes
Letters to the editor

The failure by the Board of Control for Cricket in India to take action against those cricketers who have been accused by the Central Bureau of Investigation of being involved in matchfixing is more than a failure of courage. It is a failure of will. The BCCI asked the accused players to appear before a committee. This was fair enough since the players should be allowed to present their version of events. But nobody expected that the players would show up and confess all. On the contrary, the public expectation was that the players would protest their innocence and this is exactly what they have done. Even Mohammed Azharuddin about whose involvement the CBI cast no doubts has declared that he is innocent and that his “confession” to the CBI was given under duress. Faced with all this the BCCI has failed to announce any kind of punishments against the players. There is no recognition on the part of the BCCI that it is losing its credibility. If it does believe that the players are innocent and that the CBI report is rubbish, it should say so without beating about the bush. If it believes the opposite and is willing to uphold the CBI’s findings, it should not dither in imposing the severest punishments on the players.

The BCCI is deliberately behaving in a manner that suggests that the issue at hand has a lot of grey areas. It has none from the point of view of ethics and the game of cricket. It might have from a narrow legalistic point of view which is what the BCCI seems to be adopting. The cricketers have not broken any law since there no laws prohibiting the fixing of cricket matches. If the players have paid taxes on their earnings, then they are legally innocent. If they have not paid the taxes then it is a matter for the income tax authorities to sort out. The ethical point is a different one altogether. By hobnobbing with bookies and punters — and about this there is no denial from the players — the cricketers have violated the trust the public and the BCCI reposed in them. Why indeed, as players were they seen in the company or in touch with persons whose reputations and motives can only be described euphemistically as shady. The players were representing the country — one of them was also the captain of the team — but their choice of company was deplorable. By keeping such company they have brought suspicion upon themselves and shame to the country. They deserve to be punished for this alone.

The BCCI, for reasons best known to itself, is ignoring the harm these players have done to the image of cricket and indeed to the image of the BCCI itself. Those who run cricket in India would do well to recall that when Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were found guilty of passing information to bookies, the Australian Cricket Board was far too lenient with them. The ACB should have made examples of the two players. If the BCCI also pussyfoots the players this time round, it would fail in its duty to deter future players who are on a trip to get-rich-quick. The reputation of Indian cricket and Indian cricketers is nearly at its nadir. The BCCI will only push it further to the bottom of the pit by failing to take action. It would do well to keep both line and length.    

If the Bharatiya Janata Party could believe that its results in the Uttar Pradesh civic elections are a portent of its performance in the assembly elections in the future, it could have felt reassured. As local elections go, the civic poll outcome is a noticeable improvement on the party’s performance in the panchayat elections in UP and Gujarat. This could be a direct fallout of the change of leadership in UP. The chief minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, and the BJP state president, Mr Kalraj Mishra, seems to have stalled the rapid disintegration of the party’s vote base. At the same time, the BJP’s base in cities and towns, among the middle class and small traders, has always been strong. So, instead of being reassured, the party might start wondering how the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have made such successful inroads into its urban base. More alarming is the fact that the BJP has lost the corporations in Faizabad, Varanasi and Ayodhya. Hindutva seems too dead a horse to be flogged any more. In a way, having Mr Singh and Mr Mishra at the head of party affairs is a safer bet than most. The Lodhs had gone with Mr Kalyan Singh’s departure. The Muslims are still not friendly enough, never mind Mr Bangaru Laxman’s urgent pleas. The backward classes are generally with Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav or Ms Mayavati or the Apna Dal. The best the BJP can do is keep its focus on the upper caste and middle class votes, and the presence of Messrs Singh and Mishra is the best guarantee of that. Then the BJP can hope for a majority in a coalition when assembly elections take place.

Mr Yadav has some things to be pleased about, since the Samajwadi Party is a close second in performance. But the Bahujan Samaj Party has done well too, and the Congress, fourth again, has improved its tally of councillors. Neither of these facts could be heartening to Mr Yadav. Having placed himself firmly against the Congress and not having grown fonder of the BSP over time, Mr Yadav will have a tough time if, as he hopes, he has to form a government in coalition after the assembly elections. Maybe he is just assuring his voters by saying that he can.    

Between November 11 and 13 in New Delhi, a major if largely unreported event took place. The first ever national convention for nuclear disarmament and peace took place. Over 600 people from all over the country (two-thirds were from outside Delhi) representing over a 100 organizations attended the convention and helped form at the end of it all a national coalition for nuclear disarmament and peace.

It is now possible to say, two-and-a-half years after Pokhran II, that a national-level anti-nuclear and disarmament movement, opposed to what India and Pakistan did in 1998, has emerged. Of course, the coalition asserted its opposition to the other nuclear weapons states but anybody and everybody can do that. What is important is that people and groups representative of a broad cross-section of Indian civil society have come together to collectively voice their opposition to the government of India’s nuclear policies and to give notice that they will be politically and non-violently fighting to reverse what has been done.

This was by many neutral accounts one of the biggest ever non-government organized conventions in New Delhi in almost a decade on any issue. It was certainly “news”. Never before had there been such a gathering, including leaders of major grassroots organizations in the country from Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan to Thomas Kocherry of the over eight million strong National Fishworkers Union to the tribal representatives of Jharkhandis Organization against Radiation, which is fighting a lonely and courageous battle against radiation poisoning by the activities of the Uranium Corporation of India Limited in Jharkhand.

This was not all. It is doubtful if ever before in India’s post-independence history had there been such a collection of eminent leaders of the global anti-nuclear and disarmament movement. They included representatives of the two largest Japanese anti-nuclear movements and Bruce Kent, one of Europe’s best known public figures who led the British campaign for nuclear disarmament during the period when it mobilized millions on to the streets.

Also present were Dave Knight, current chair of CND (United Kingdom), Ron McCoy, former co-president of the Nobel prize winning organization, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War; Kate Dewes, a leader of the south Pacific women’s campaign against nuclear testing, expert critics from the United States talking about their government’s advanced nuclear weapons research in laboratories like the Lawrence Livermore Institute, a former British naval commander, Robert Green, who was in actual operational charge of aircraft carrying nuclear weapons, and many others of equal eminence.

Yet despite the convention organizers holding four press conferences including a curtain-raiser on November 9, most papers chose not to cover it or to take advantage of the offers repeatedly made to help fix interviews with any of the visiting delegates whether from abroad or other parts of the country. Over 50 delegates came from Pakistan, and 10 more from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. These included senior retired military leaders of the highest standing in Pakistan who have been outspoken in their opposition to Chagai. All of them, including those from Australia, Asia, Europe and north America came entirely at their own expense to help forge a greater international unity among those who remain bitterly opposed to nuclear weapons of all countries including their own.

The issue is much larger than just inadequate coverage of the convention. What does it say about the nature of news journalism in the top, pace-setting papers of our country today that one such major English language daily could carry on its front page, as its lead, a story of a Russian female television newscaster who undresses while reciting the news but does not carry news of the convention even on its back pages? What are we to say when the prejudices of senior journalists (and the nuclear bomb issue is a very emotive issue) can have a determining effect on what is or is not covered by the papers they work in?

The significance of the convention was twofold — in what it collectively declared to be its aims and intentions, and in how its various constituents came together and are prepared to remain together. A summary draft charter was produced which has demanded that India refrain from further testing and open deployment and indeed that it roll back its preparations. Similar demands were made of India and Israel and of course demands were made on the US to stop its Star Wars preparations and to join, along with the other nuclear weapons states, the global effort to totally disarm.

The charter also demanded democratic transparency and accountability from the government departments responsible for the nuclear power and electricity generation programme as well as proper safety measures and full recompense to the victims of radiation poisoning resulting from the various activities related to all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. Those who know anything about the nuclear power programmes worldwide will also know that the Indian programme is one the dirtiest, most inefficient as well as one of the most secretive in the world. The Indian government certainly does not want the public to realize this but that is exactly what the new movement is aiming to disclose.

These demands, especially regarding nuclear weapons freeze and rollback, obviously constitute something of a wish-list. But this nonetheless serves crucial educative functions. To begin with, the Indian movement against nuclear arms cannot expect to have a significant influence on actual policymaking. However, governments and their policy supporters do not merely wish to have their policies established, they also want to legitimize their actions amidst the wider public. This is precisely where a developing anti-nuclear movement comes in — it aims to deliberately and determinedly de-legitimize such policies by criticizing and exposing the deceits, hypocrisies, stupidities and dangers of such government nuclear thinking and actions.

The more successful it is in doing this the more it becomes also capable of affecting actual policies. If it is more difficult to do so at the central or national level it is easier to do this at regional, state or more local levels, where many ordinary people are adversely affected by, for example, problems of radiation poisoning, and open to mobilization. The CND programme has committed itself to helping the JOAR in its fight to expose the terrible conditions that exist in and around the uranium mining areas of Jharkhand and to demand that the new state government take this matter more seriously than did the old Bihar state government or the Centre.

The other key lesson that the convention has imbibed is one that the great anti-nuclear mass movements of Europe and north America in the Seventies and Eighties took a long time to grasp. That is, an anti-nuclear movement, if it is to sustain itself, must be a movement that focuses not just on nuclear weapons or even nuclear power but on peace.

Moreover, to be for peace must mean something more than just wanting an “absence of conflict”. Peace must be imbued with a positive content such as the struggle to further social justice, greater democracy, and development. That is why it is necessary to link with all kinds of groups pursuing all kinds of struggles from civil liberties to women’s rights to sustainable and humane forms of economic development to opposing communalism in the name of preserving and strengthening democracy.

It is a tribute to the convention and a source of considerable optimism about the future of the CND programme that from inception it has been just that — a democratic and genuine coalition of all kinds of groups pursuing precisely these multiple issues and insisting that these specific struggles are also intimately connected to the common struggle against nuclearization of south Asia and the world.

The author has recently co-authored the book South Asia on a Short Fuse: Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament    

Edited by Aditya Bhattacharjea and Lola Chatterjee,
Ravi Dayal, Rs 450

The problem with celebrating an especial “way of life” is that either one is part of it or one isn’t. And most often one isn’t (in fact, its exclusiveness is part of its charm), in which case curiosity soon turns into mild irritation and, finally, into boredom — as when listening to somebody’s dreams at breakfast. Unless, of course, this way of life has been intrinsically brilliant, as such things could sometimes be, or has produced works of art of enduring excellence.

This volume’s editors and contributors seem to think that there is something ineffably “special” about New Delhi’s St Stephen’s College. This is a quality worth celebrating for its own sake and also for the sake of appreciating more fully the many-splendoured achievements of the Stephanian alumni. To understand the individual talents of Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Khushwant Singh, Shashi Tharoor, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Rukun Advani and Mukul Kesavan, one has to understand the Stephen’s tradition, and how it has produced a particular way of thinking, speaking, writing and, I suppose, of being. In the process, one would come closer to comprehending an important chapter of Indian history. These are the premises upon which the book justifies itself.

Mixing personal reminiscence, literary criticism, social history, caricature and critique, this is an enjoyable volume — if one takes its frequently insufferable tone in the right spirit. Singh, Advani and Kesavan, for instance, write entertaining prose. Arrogance — “solidly” educated and linguistically sophisticated — is very readable, as in Advani’s essay. But one can also see how this prose becomes the parodiable lingo of self-conscious clever-cleverness, with its mildly embarrassing puns, undergraduatish irreverence and its frequent use of that signature word of Delhiite postcolonialism, desi.

But the problems remain. Most “schools” of writing are later creations of literary history. People now seen as belonging to, say, the Lakes school of Romantic poetry, the Bright Young Things of the Twenties, or the Auden generation never consci- ously and public ly thought of or talked about themselves as part of particular schools, although they were often struck by how they were thrown together by life and history, creating kindred sensibilities and modes of expression.

These communities of writing have produced such masterpieces as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, the “English” (perhaps not the American) Auden and Isherwood’s matchless Berlin novels — all of an order of brilliance that justifies the later literary historical speculation about the circumstances in which they were written. Is the “Stephanian novel” good enough to justify the creation of a comparable mythos — that too in a spirit of self-celebration, instead of leaving such judgments to posterity? How much indulgence, honestly, do such eminently forgettable creations as Beethoven Among the Cows, English August, Last Train to Innocence, The Trotter-Nama and The Great Indian Novel really deserve? Apart from chronology, what justifies their self-perception as coming “in the wake of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children”? The exception here is Amitav Ghosh’s achievements in fiction, particularly in The Shadow Lines. This is why it is a pleasure to read Ghosh’s tastefully reticent tribute to his “own, private Montparnasse”, to friendship, conversation and history’s strange convergences.

Yet, as Leela Gandhi — a Hinduite — points out in her wonderfully snide and angular essay, “moral outrage” at Stephanian self-regard would be too disastrously unchic. “Where else”, she asks, “can we imagine the formation of the radically abusive artist as a young civil servant?” And there is nothing intrinsically unacceptable about privileged subversiveness. An over-earnest critic like Tapan Basu falls directly — and rather inelegantly — into the grapes-are-sour trap in his humourless reading of “metropolitan privilege” as “a trope of transcendence of the innumerable parochial constraints of everyday existence in a third-world country like India”. Why get so seriously rattled by a second order historical curiosity?    

Edited by Mushirul Hasan,
Oxford, Rs 595

There has, of late, been a spurt in books about the Partition. Mushirul Hasan, in particular, has developed a particular fascination for the subject. Three years ago, he edited two volumes which tried to view the Partition through the looking glass of literature. Inventing Boundaries looks like an extension of his old idea, though it is different in that literary extracts are kept to a minimum. But there are other writings, drawn from a variety of sources. Politicians, economists, writers and other eminent personalities recreate the turbulent time for the readers.

Except for some, most of the articles included in this volume are familiar to readers, though the book brings them for the first time between two covers. There are six essays in each of the first two parts of the book, while the third contains short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto and Intizar Hossain. Starting with B. R. Ambedkar and winding up with the relatively anonymous Jason Francisco, the book is like a journey into the past through a myriad glasses. But that is about all the novelty the book has to offer.

The book does not break new grounds. Even Hasan’s own essay on the changing profile of Aligarh Muslim University fails to assess the changing scenario in present day AMU. Essays by Yohanan Friedmann on Jamiyyat-i-Ulama-i-Hind, Claude Markovits on the role of the business community in the Partition and Alec Reid’s “Hyderabad Today” are thought provoking.

If Kazi Saiduddin Ahmed and Jamiluddin argue for one side, Radha Kamal Mukherjee and Sajjad Azheer speak for the other. Urvashi Butalia, as well as Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin, view their own writings as explorations of the past. But the real gain are the two moving short stories.

In the prologue, Hasan gives a brief sketch into the aberration of history and goes on to say that it is wrong to find roots of the Partition in the Aligarh movement, just as putting undue emphasis on the British-Congress-Muslim League negotiations cannot “unravel the complex nature of the partition”. The Muslim League’s demand and the emergence of militant Hindu nationalism is interpreted as the “political and economic anxieties of various social classes”.

He also rightly laments the relegation of nationalist Muslims to “a historian’s footnote”. In the introduction, Hasan gives a critical estimate of the Partition writers. Hasan’s inability to say anything new about the subject comes through as a reluctance to break the ice. He treads cautiously, apportioning blame to all the parties involved in the dangerous political game of the time.

Like many others before him, Hasan would rather be vague than speak out his mind on the sensitive subject. This stance makes him perform precarious balancing tricks on the tightrope. But then why rake up an issue where there are more questions than answers? Isn’t it time that the ghost of the past was finally laid to rest?    

Edited by Veena Das, Dipankar Gupta and Patricia Uberoi,
Sage, Rs 695

In this volume, presented to T.N. Madan, the eminent sociologist and social anthropologist, the 17 essays range from domesticity to diaspora, from modernity to secularism.

Most of the essays can be placed within the broad discourse of the “tradition-modernity” continuum. Tradition, both in its pure and hybrid form, is mostly the focus. Patrick Olivelle questions Louis Dumont’s purity principle of hierarchy and shows tradition as informing individual habits. McKim Marriot’s ethnographic details focus on traditional female roles and activities within the Hindu dome- stic realm. While R. S. Khare questions the traditional ideas of gift and exchange in relation to social justice and human rights in the context of poverty in India, Lionel Caplan deals with the politics of gift, personalization of charity and competition among the poor for limited resources.

The formation of identity has remained crucial in the interplay of tradition and modernity. Diana L. Eck explores the construction of a pluralistic and widespread Hindu imagined landscape through the processes of duplication and multiplication of myths. Lawrence A. Babb’s account of sacrifice and social identity of the trading communities is based on an Agarval origin myth. R. K. Jain proposes an organic link between immigration and settlement abroad in the 19th century and migration to industrially advanced societies in the 20th century. The “homing instinct” has always been viewed by diasporic Indians through emotional and mythic construction of the “imaginary”.

Patricia Uberoi uses two cinematic narratives to portray the conservative construction of family values provoked by the anxieties regarding national identity among Indian middle class diaspora. D. McGilvray employs a comparison of Muslim identity in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka.

Tradition’s encounter with modernity is addressed by Frederique Apffel-Marglin, Arthur Kleinmann and Don Seeman. The essays by Stanley J. Tambiah and Lloyd I. Rudolph revolve around the question of “self and other” in the Oriental discourse.

While on secularism, Dipankar Gupta’s cross-regional comparison reveals that secular concerns (like economic security, resource mobilization and so on), rather than caste loyalty, determine electoral politics in India. Paul R. Brass feels that secularism should be seen as a pragmatic solution and not as an ideology. According to H. Gould, the Babri Masjid issue unlocks the “programmatic communalism” of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh combine, a complete break with the Congress’s “pragmatic communalism”. Ashis Nandy is critical of the politics of secularism. While Brass’s rhetoric ignores the challenge of the local, regional and global, Nandy’s over-optimism about the revival of Hinduism is utopian.

The book provides a good basis for understanding India, where tradition and modernity coexist through complex accommodation.    

By Aglaja Stirn and Peter van Ham
(Mapin, Rs 2,400)

Aglaja Stirn and Peter van Hamoffers’s, THE SEVEN SISTERS OF INDIA: TRIBAL WORLDS BETWEEN TIBET AND BURMAfirst and foremost, unforgettable visual delights. The photographs convey the brilliance and throbbing vitality of the colours that strew the seven northeastern states of India — the greens, browns and blues of the breathtaking landscape, the reds, yellows, blacks, whites, oranges and silvers of the costumes, ornaments, utensils and houses. As important, though, are the accompanying essays. Balanced accounts of the history of different ethnic tribes, their lifestyles and rituals, beliefs and environment make this volume an excellent introduction to the Northeast. In spite of the fascinating photographs, the book avoids exoticism. It is dedicated to the struggle to prevent the traditional life of these states from being influenced negatively by a Westernized lifestyle.    

Edited By Ban Kah Choon
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Ban Kah Choon’s joseph conrad: the eastern stories brings together this expat Pole’s best shorter fiction set in Java, Borneo, Singapore and Sumatra. Conrad spent five years in the Malay archipelago, in the late 1880s, sailing in “that part of the Eastern Seas from which I have carried away into my writing life the greatest number of suggestions”. The selection includes such classics of storytelling as “Youth”, “The Lagoon” and, of course, “The Secret Sharer”, which ends, memorably, “on the very edge of a darkness thrown by a towering black mass like the very gateway of Erebus”. The story’s last word is “destiny”. Conrad’s “East” is both a historical and a deeply inward attempt to look into the “very soul”, the “secret places” of a terrain, in whose heart the white man glimpses an obscure “horror”, like Mr Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness and like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.


By Abraham Eraly
(Penguin, Rs 295)

Abraham Eraly’s Emperors of the peacock throne: the saga of the great mughals is more a readable “definitive biography” than an academic history of one of the world’s most splendid empires. This is a tome without footnotes, although there is a short and helpful bibliography at the end. It presents a flesh and blood chronicle of more than two centuries of Mughal rule, starting with Babur’s victory, in Panipat, over Ibrahim Lodi in 1525. Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb follow, with Eraly scrupulously and imaginatively conveying a sense of their individualities. He brings his narrative up to the threshold of another “revolutionary transformation” in the history of India.


Edited By Imtiaz Ahmad, Partha S. Ghosh and Helmut Reifeld
(Sage, Rs 325)

Imtiaz Ahmad, Partha S. Ghosh and Helmut Reifeld’s Pluralism and equality: values in indian society and politics examines the “core values” of state, pluralism, secularism and equality in the differing historical and socio-cultural contexts of Europe and India, emphasizing their fundamental role in democratic governance. Indian and German scholars address questions relating to the political concept of group and individual human rights, the problems of secularism in modern India, the role of caste and ethnicity in the policies of the “secular” parties and policy formation in the context of globalization. Useful for students of political science, history, sociology and cultural studies. The large abstractions and the slightly dense language of most of the discussions might put off the lay reader.


By Ronald J. Terchek
(Vistaar, Rs 245)

Ronald J. Terchek’s Gandhi: struggling for autonomy focusses on Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as a political theorist. Terchek specially emphasizes Gandhi’s discussions on power, modernity and colonialism. The idea of autonomy is at the centre of Gandhi’s political philosophy His justification of non-violence, and his “frontal assaults” on colonialism, untouchability and modernization are built on this central commitment. Terchek’s manageably sized, but rather unremarkable, monograph attempts to read Gandhi as a “consummate problematizer of conventional ideas”.


David Page and William Crawley
(Sage, Rs 250)

David Page and William Crawley’s satellites over south asia: broadcasting, culture and the public interest charts the progress of the Nineties satellite revolution in the south Asian subcontinent. Tapping an extensive range of public opinion in the metropolitan cities and small towns of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Page and Crawley study this impact as a regional phenomenon, not just within the individual countries, but also its powerful overspill effect. They also look at the role of the state in the new environment created by the demise of communism, the integration of the world markets and the rapid advances in communications technology.


By Ritwik Ghatak
(Srishti, Rs 195)

Ritwik Ghatak’s stories is a collection of very short fiction by this master filmmaker, translated by Rani Ray. Most of these stories were written between 1947-50, and shadows of the famine, the Quit India agitation, Tebhaga and the Partition fall on them in various ways. His restlessly experimental creativity soon outgrew fiction, and he started writing for the theatre, under the influence of the Indian People’s Theatre Association. He then moved on to, and remained with, cinema.    

As many would agree, there was actually no challenge to Sonia Gandhi in the Congress. Jitendra Prasada contested the elections for the party presidentship merely to express his dissatisfaction with her style of functioning and he knew from the start that he would find few backers. Yet even Prasada, who knew the Congress and its sycophantic tradition inside out, could not have imagined what happened in the elections. Clashes between supporters were not so significant as the flouting of the norms of internal democracy, the blatant display of abject loyalty and the unnerving deification of one contestant.

There is a sense of dé jà vu in all this, but there is something more sinister. Lists of delegates were changed time and again, public relations officers of the party ensured not a single dissident could pass their scrutiny. Members of the Congress working committee and officebearers themselves campaigned for Sonia Gandhi’s candidature. Worse was the behaviour of Sheila Dixit, who openly violated the secrecy of the ballot box by displaying her ballot paper.

The chief returning officer, Ram Nivas Mirdha, a leader known for his integrity, could not check the abuses in the election. In justification he said the election process had to be monitored right from the enrolment of members and the scrutiny of the members’ lists.

Farce enacted

The question is whether one can at all fashion an election machinery which is impartial, particularly for a party where sycophancy is an ingrained trait and where the slightest show of dissidence is considered an act of treachery.

The mindset the Congress leadership displayed does not augur well for democracy. The tendency is to have a monolithic power structure. Only a year and a half ago, Sonia Gandhi failed to arrive at a compromise with other non-National Democratic Alliance partners over the formation of an alternative government. She also showed no tolerance for Sharad Pawar and P.A. Sangma, as a result of which the party split. Sonia Gandhi’s style of functioning might be similar to Indira Gandhi’s, but that does not mean she is endowed with the same qualities as those of the former prime minister.

The Congress elections in fact have come as a great disappointment for those trying to build a broader opposition to the NDA government. If Mirdha believes the monitoring of an election process in a party should start earlier, then appropriate rules should be framed to ensure fairness and impartiality. It is through the initiative of election commissions since 1954 that political parties are forced to hold internal elections. But the election commission stopped at saying that the parties conduct elections according to their statutes. This is where the problem starts.

Who’ll save the day?

In Germany, which has undergone the trauma of dictatorship, political parties are cautious enough to prevent a repetition of history. India was spared the same ordeal, barring the brief span of the Emergency. But this was preceded by the suppression of internal democracy within the Congress itself. Madhu Dandavate, then general secretary of the erstwhile Socialist Party, had warned against such a development. He had prophesied that the dilution of democracy within the Congress could result in a similar fate for the nation. That was exactly what happened.

The picture is more complicated now. There are several parties based exclusively on one or more caste groups. The feeling of solidarity among caste members with their party and their sole leaders has created a situation where dissent is seen as treachery. In other cases, the charisma of the leader alone carries the party. Democracy cannot breathe in this atmosphere.

It is necessary that some independent authority supervises organizational elections and guarantees its fairness. It also has to ensure that dissenters are not “disciplined” and thrown out. Monolithic parties cannot take such an initiative, while caste based ones would be opposed to such measures. The communist parties can contribute a lot in this direction.

Today we are witnessing a political consolidation of caste and communal groups. Consumerism has politically firmed up castes. The harbingers of change have to rise from among the educated middle class, although their hedonism might serve as an obstacle.    


Backyard concerns

Sir — “Mumbai port in China folly” (Nov 27) describes how the defence ministry could easily have been in big trouble. The surface transport ministry should have know better than to float global tenders for the dredging of Mumbai port. Obviously, this would open up opportunities for foreign intelligence agencies to plant their ships and submarines near the port. This would have been suicidal for the Indian defence forces, especially for the navy. It would mean that the Western Command, where warships and submarines are berthed, would have become vulnerable to foreign inspection. That the China Harbour Engineering Company got the contract and was about to plant its ship, Chi Van, off the Mumbai coastline and within Indian territorial waters is shocking. How did the matter get that far? This is not to say that the Chinese authorities would have used the vessel for espionage. But simply due to security compulsions, no foreign ship should be allowed in this area except for strictly commercial purposes.
Yours faithfully,
Paritosh Goenka, via email

Major false step

Sir — The wooing of minorities, especially the substantial Muslim population of West Bengal, by Mamata Banerjee and her ally, Subrata Mukherjee, proves their fundamentalist credentials beyond any doubt (“Mamata woos minorities, warns majority partner” Nov 15).

Banerjee’s unnecessary attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party as non-secular shows lack of judgment. Both the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and the BJP stand for majoritarianism. They are concerned about 80 per cent of the population and there is nothing wrong with that. It is the essence of parliamentary democracy that majority views should be safeguarded and implemented.

Sooner or later, the people of West Bengal will see through Banerjee’s gimmickry and before she realizes it she will lose her exalted position. She will find out that her newfound fundamentalism will give her support from the majority. If she puts her party into a completely pro-Muslim mould, she will alienate the vast majority of Indians. The BJP has proved itself to be extremely efficient in governance. Banerjee has no business calling it anti-secular. She should look at her own credentials, which are turning increasingly fundamentalist.

Yours faithfully,
Santosh Kumar Sharma, Kharagpur

Sir — The announcement of the Union railways minister, Mamata Banerjee, favouring the reservation of seats for Muslims in areas such as employment and education is baffling indeed. She claims she will pursue reservation as a policy if and when her party comes into power. This is absurd. Her worldview appears to be caught in a time warp. Her policies seem archaic.

Instead of insane policies, Banerjee has to concentrate on the industrialization of West Bengal and on other areas like health and education which have been severely damaged during Left Front rule.

Yours faithfully,
Arunavo Bose Chowdhury, Barrackpore

Sir — Not long ago, Mamata Banerjee broke off with the Congress because it was unable to discipline the “corrupt” Sultan Ahmed. Now Banerjee welcomes the same “corrupt” Ahmed into her party in the hope of garnering Muslim votes. Is there any principled politician left in India?

Yours faithfully,
Amit Kapoor, via email

Sir — Mamata Banerjee’s pre-election slogan, “Job reservation for the religious minorities”, is unseemly. The makers of our Constitution have given us a “secular” polity. We should abide by the true meaning of the word “secularism”.

Any discrimination among citizens on the grounds of religion is unconstitutional. If a cabinet minister raises such a slogan, the Supreme Court as upholder of the Constitution should take steps to break the “divide” between people on religious grounds. If indeed this is a secular country, the state should not patronize any religion and should remain neutral in these matters.

Yours faithfully,
Saroj Kumar Mukherjee, Calcutta/dt>

Sir — The editorial, “On a minority key”(Nov 16), made a valid point. It was never expected that Mamata Banerjee would lose her senses to this extent. By promising reservations for Muslims she is going in for complete alienation and even a conceivable resignation. And if that happens, the prime minister would not need to appease her like he did in the case of oil prices. Has Banerjee forgotten how V.P. Singh sunk into oblivion after the nationwide reaction to his reservations drama? Banerjee is inciting a civil war. Pretty soon she is going to become a political pariah.

Yours faithfully,
Monojit Sanyal, Chandernagore

Sir — Mamata Banerjee has appeared in a newavatar; as a friend of the Muslim communities. Her concern will provide a much-needed impetus to the cause of Muslims who have long been marginalized and discriminated against in this country. It is good to know that her policies are at least concerned about the realities that India faces today. We should have more politicians taking up this issue seriously,

Yours faithfully,
Ismail Khan, Bhubaneswar

Comparatively factual

Sir — May we invite the writer of the feature “Comparative Literature” (weekly series designed to help you pick the right degree) in “Careergraph” (Nov 15) to our undergraduate first year class on theory of literature, where we endeavour to distinguish the difference between “fact” and “fiction”? Although we cannot but grant that the writer himself can well serve as an illustration for our basic premise in this course: most of the time, “fact” is “fiction” masquerading in the borrowed feathers of reality, a reality that exists only in the writer’s mind. May we also attempt to set down a few “facts”, not primarily in order to counter the report but simply to bring it closer to what the column purports to do, that is, “help (youngsters) pick the right career”. For this, surely, they at least require basic information that is correct.

We have not abolished any admission test at the MA level, primarily because of the scope and thrust of our discipline, which heralded interdisciplinarity much before it became the fashion. We welcome applications from graduates in any discipline. We have different levels for testing arts, non-arts and single literature students but we insist on giving everyone, regardless of the colour of their honours degree, a chance to show if they have the very special skills we demand from a comparative literature student.

The list given under “where to study” needs much elaboration. All comparative literature courses in the country except at Jadavpur University are either MA or MPhil courses attached to schools or centres (not departments) of comparative literature or comparative studies or to language-single literature departments.

Ours is the only department that offers the subject from the BA to the research level. Ours is also one of the first departments in the university to receive assistance for advanced research from the University Grants Commission, a programme that is continuing uninterrupted since 1987.

Yours faithfully,
Sumanta Mukhopadhyay and others, department of comparative literature, Jadavpur University, Calcutta

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