Editorial 1/ Uses of terror
Editorial 2/ Double think
Economy check
This above all/ A river runs through the crowds
How to catch a crooked shadow
Fifth column/ No waters but without its shoals
Letters to the Editor

The stakes are high, and the balance difficult to maintain. But the beginnings do not look entirely unpromising. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has taken certain clearly outlined steps towards initiating a “dignified” interaction with the Kamtapuri separatists. His recent north Bengal visit aimed at projecting an openness to decorous negotiations with the extremists. He also sought to redress the justifiable unpopularity of the police in the region. When, elsewhere in the Northeast, insurgency seems to have become part of a paralysing normalcy, these inaugural moves are reassuring, manifestly well-intentioned and just about timely. However, secessionist violence seems not to be the only problem for him. And this is where the situation becomes unnecessarily complex.

The politics of separatism, bred by a long history of underdevelopment and deprivation, merges here with another kind of politics. And the latter has its peculiar unsavouriness too. The Trinamool Congress chief and Union railways minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee, has publicly expressed her support — as a matter of principle — for the Kamtapuri cause. This has been taken up by her party colleague and the Union minister of state for external affairs, Mr Ajit Panja. Mr Panja has extended his capacity for histrionic empathy to those Rajbanshis he believes to have been the victims of police atrocities in the first phase of Mr Bhattacharjee’s “Operation Kamtapur”. It is difficult to accept either Ms Banerjee’s support or Mr Panja’s sympathy as disinterested. The parallel unfolding of the sordid drama of political conflict between the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress in Bengal would make such a reading dangerously naïve. Hence, Ms Banerjee’s high-minded support for Kamtapuri separatism appears to be most unacceptably distanced from anything that one could call “principled” in one’s right mind. Ms Banerjee needs to be reminded of the modes of operation of these terrorists — indeed, of the fact that they are terrorists. Her support amounts to an endorsement of violence, the organized perpetuation of which remains an offence against every principle of the state and of civil society. Ms Banerjee must know that insurgency, in north Bengal, now works in active collusion with banned terrorist outfits, national and international, across the borders of the state. A modus operandi involving massacre, abduction and extortion, leading to the gradual battering down of civil society in the region, has to be condemned and prevented, no matter how understandable the ideology that prompted it in the first place. Using this situation to harass one’s political opponent and gain electoral advantage amounts to the most heinous irresponsibility. Here, Ms Banerjee’s other identity of a Union minister makes her stance doubly unprincipled. Flagrant and alarming double standards result from obviously divided interests and investments. The priorities of a Union minister, committed to a federal ideal, come into conflict with a stake in a wholly different order of power.

It is unlikely that Mr Bhattacharjee hadn’t bargained for this particular turn of the Kamtapuri screw. With this kind of oppositional instigation, walking the tightrope between openness and firmness becomes that much more difficult for him. He will also have to be that much more careful in ensuring that his projected attitude is properly implemented by the action of the police. Otherwise, he might have to contend with a larger, and uglier, set of forces.    

Leopards, and political parties, find it hard to change their spots. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), heading the Left Front government in West Bengal, was recently fired with the idea of calling a bandh on December 20, although it has obviously been having second thoughts since. There is some hope that good sense will ultimately prevail. The villain is again the Centre, and the Left Front is protesting against its refusal to release the Rs 1,487 crore for flood rehabilitation. The usual accusations and justifications have been hurtling to and fro, but that is neither alarming nor particularly damaging. What is quite astounding is the refusal of the left, especially the CPI(M), to see not just the uselessness but also the positive harmfulness of bandhs. The bandh culture is a deformed offspring of the idea of people’s protest. Its nurture by the government of West Bengal over the last two and a half decades has added to the already slack work ethics in the state. Bandhs are also a way of skirting accountability at all levels. The government can always plead helplessness and exhibit it by calling a bandh in protest against the Centre’s iniquities. That allows it to get away with incompetence and indifference when faced with the people’s needs. If it were merely a matter of evading immediate responsibility, the rigidity in thinking would be little more than comic. But the brilliant idea of the bandh was mooted at a time when the failure of West Bengal’s industrial rejuvenation has been established as a fact and concerned people are frothing in the mouth over ways to make the state more inviting for investors. It has also been established that one of the reasons investors fight shy of West Bengal is its willingness to close down at the drop of a hat. Not that the state government is not worried about the lack of investment. Thinking about a bandh again shows an incredible degree of muddleheadedness. That there are now second thoughts among the CPI(M) after the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, met the prime minister, is reason for hope. A promise of funds by the Centre has provided the CPI(M) with a way out of the silly bandh. If it has the good sense to take it, it might find some of its spots dropping off.    

Perhaps the most popular topic in magazines and newspapers today is the perception that the Indian economy is slowly grinding to a halt. Signs of an economic slowdown are quite widespread. The agricultural sector under-performed last year. This is likely to be repeated this year too since the current monsoon has been quite uneven. The consumer durables sector is also in trouble — automobile sales are roughly at the same level as last year, while the sale of colour television sets is marginally higher. The production of manufacturing industries as a whole is only 5.5 per cent higher than last year.

Not surprisingly, all this has caused various groups to revise expectations about the short-term prospects of the economy. The business confidence index of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, which provides an assessment of the prevailing business conditions in the country and measures expectations of businessmen, has recorded a drop of 15 per cent. This comes after the index reached a five year high as recently as April this year. Organizations such as the NCAER have lowered their forecasts about the rate of growth of gross domestic product to six per cent or lower, while the international rating agency, Standard & Poor, have downgraded India’s credit outlook. Even the finance minister has admitted in a recent interview that the “feel good” factor has all but disappeared.

There are a couple of bright spots amidst this generally gloomy background. The most important of these is the very encouraging performance of the export sector. Indian exports have grown by an unprecedented 30 per cent during the first quarter of this financial year. Since this growth rate is in dollar terms, this performance is for “real” and is not a spurious figure reflecting the devaluation of the rupee. However, fears have been expressed that the export sector will not be able to maintain this for the entire year since a significant part of the record growth in the first quarter may be due to the momentum generated in the last year. Supply constraints may further restrict its growth for the remaining part of the year.

The NCAER Business Confidence Survey also contains the encouraging statement that despite the slump in business confidence, businesses have not shelved their investment plans. Perhaps the most authoritative vote of confidence in the economy comes from a macroeconomic model prepared by researchers at the Delhi School of Economics and the Institute of Economic Growth. Their model is based on a very detailed and disaggregated structural model of the economy. It projects growth rates for the next three years, and its current forecast predicts GDP growing at 6.59 per cent during this year and over seven per cent for the next couple of years.

However, the DSE-IEG team are “outliers” in the sense that their prediction is somewhat more optimistic than the rest. Unfortunately, although there is something like a consensus about the fact that the economy has slowed down noticeably, there does not seem anything like agreement either about the causes or the remedies. Each observer seems to have his or her own theory about the causes of the slowdown.

The DSE-IEG team asserts that even during the mid-Nineties, the impressive performance of the economy was due largely to the better utilization of installed capacity in various sectors. In other words, Indian industry did not really carry out fresh investment or add to capacity. They cite corroborating evidence about the falling rate of investment, which fell from 27 per cent to just over 23 per cent a couple of years later. One consequence of the relatively small increase in the volume of investment has been that the domestic capital goods industry has not benefited at all from the impressive performance during much of the Nineties. The near stagnation in the capital goods sector has meant that Indian industry as a whole has simply not matured sufficiently to grow at rates approaching 10 per cent — a much touted figure after the prime minister suggested that this was the minimum desirable rate of growth.

One school of thought believes that trade liberalization and the consequent inflow of imports has made Indian investors wary of carrying out fresh investment. Indian investors, the story goes, are scared that they will lose out to foreign competition. So, the increased risk has put off investment. However, this argument seems too simplistic. We seem to be able to compete with foreign industrialists in foreign markets. After all, how else could Indian exports record such an impressive growth rate during the last quarter? And if we can compete abroad, there cannot be any compelling reason why trade liberalization will affect all Indian industries.

A more likely scenario is that foreign producers may have a competitive advantage in some industries just as Indian industries have a comparative advantage in other industries. So, trade liberalization can result in structural changes in the pattern of domestic production, with some industries contracting while others expand. But this type of structural change can only affect the composition of new investment and not the overall volume of investment.

There have been some factors which have had an adverse effect on both the demand and supply sides. For instance, the steep rise in crude prices has obviously raised the cost of production of virtually every industry. As far as compression of demand is concerned, the unification of sales tax across states has meant an increase of about four per cent in the average level of tax. Public investment is also significantly lower. Government expenditure on infrastructure is said to be 27 per cent below the levels achieved a couple of years ago. This has been a major reason contributing to the poor performance of industries such as cement.

Widespread perceptions often turn out to be self-fulfilling. If several businessmen are apprehensive about future prospects and so shelve their investment plans, then their decisions aggravate the general sluggishness in the economy. More businessmen then postpone their investment plans, and the ripples simply spread wider and wider.

The antidote to this is often some concerted action which jolts the economy out of its slumber. The obvious candidate to take this concerted action is the government. Fears of political instability seem to have receded. Nevertheless, there is a feeling that the government is reacting to events rather than shaping them. It can change this and revive the economy by suddenly announcing a whole package of new reforms. Alternatively, a sharp increase in plan expenditure may well have a large multiplier effect on the economy. For instance, the prime minister’s ambitious project to build 4,000 kilometres of new highways can have a very significant positive effect on the entire construction industry, and through them on the rest of the economy. Of course, how the government will finance this expenditure is quite a different story.

The author is an economist at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi    

At Hardwar begins the milking of the Ganga. Canals take off in different directions leaving a trickle in the mainstream. One canal is used to produce electric power, another goes to irrigate thirsty flat lands of Uttar Pradesh. Waters of these canals or those running in taps are not sacred: that privilege is reserved for the water running past Har-Ki-Pauri. People fill bottles to take home. Thousands of people make a living carrying matkas full of Gangajal slung on bamboo poles on their shoulders; they walk hundreds of miles without letting the pots touch the earth till they reach their destination. Legend has it that unlike water of lesser rivers, Gangajal has medicinal properties and never stales. If faith can move mountains, faith keeps alive Ganga’s supremacy over other rivers of the world.

The further upstream you go the more spectacular becomes the mountain scenery through which the Ganga flows. Its crystal clear and colder waters assume different colours: green, blue and silver white. This time I only got as far as Rishikesh and spent some time in the garden of a spacious guest house belonging to the Somanis. Steps that led down to the river were too steep for my aged legs. So I sat on the lawn breathing the freshest air I’ve known over the years. Parents of children in the Ranipur D.P.S. joined me. All of them were Punjabis, Jains, Aroras and Sahnis who had settled in this sylvan town in the mountains along the right bank of the sacred river. “You must stay here next time you visit Ranipur,” they said. “We assure you our aartee is more beautiful than the one you saw at Hardwar’s Har-Ki-Pauri. We will make all the bandobast.” I readily agreed.

We set off from Rishikesh soon after noon, along the main road to Hardwar. A few miles down the road we were stopped by the police. “Chakka jam!” they exclaimed. “You better take the other road.” So we went to Rishikesh and took the road we had come by along the canal through the Rajaji National Park — dense forest with an occasional farm house. We were back in Hardwar. We took leave of the Pandeys, Parinder Singh Bal, Tandon and others and took the road to Delhi. The first lap was not so bad. We were on Cheetal Grand by 2 pm. After a sandwich and a cup of coffee we continued our journey. Then our troubles began. The number of buffalo carts loaded with sugarcane increased. So did tractors, trucks, tempos and private cars. We came to a railway crossing. The bars came down a second before we could cross over. On either side lines of vehicles built up like troops lining up for battle. Cyclists and scooterists escaped by ducking under the bars and getting on the other side. A passenger train with its siren blowing full blast rattled by. The lifting of the bars on both sides was the signal for the battle to commence.

From both sides the charge was led by buffalo carts: they stopped buffalo-nose to buffalo-nose. Neither side would budge. Much hurling of abuse from either side but no giving way to the other. We were stuck in the middle of the rail tracks for half an hour. I don’t know how the impasse was broken. From our side two buffalo carts charged through the enemy lines. Our car followed them and crossed over. We passed over a mile long line of trucks and cars. We thought the road would be clear for the rest of our journey. But hunooz Delhi door ast.

At every town we ran into processions organized in favour of some candidate or the other fighting zilla parishad elections. The only stretches where we could pick up some speed were Muzaffarnagar and Meerut bypasses.

From Modinagar onwards we were ourselves in a procession of cars and buses. We crossed the Hindon and Yamuna bridges. Near the Pragati Maidan there was another wall of humanity to block our way. By the time I got home it was late evening. It was nine hours in the car, my knees needed Vajpayee surgery. My legs were stiff. I asked myself why I have to go on living in this semi-civilized country, everyone asserts his right of way, no one is willing to yield to another. But I will not run away. Perhaps I will rent a small villa in Rishikesh and spend the rest of my days on the banks of Ganga matey.

Taming of the midnight shrew

One night as I lay reading in bed I felt a gentle rustling near my pillow. As I turned round I sensed something had brushed past me and disappeared. It could have been a moth because it felt very smooth. I resumed reading. A few minutes later I felt the same thing move over my legs. I looked down. It was gone. It could have beer a poltergeist or a malevolent spirit. I thought it best to switch on the airconditioner and cover myself from head to foot under a sheet to thwart further onslaughts on my body.

Its third visitation was not so gentle. It scampered over the sheet above my face. I got up with a start and switched on the bed light. It was an ugly little rat-like creature which often enters my flat and squeezes itself through the minutest opening under the doors. I had assumed it was a bandicoot. I was wrong. I had a closer look at it as I tried to chase it out of my room.

It was a dark grey creature with a long snout and unlike rats or mice which run, it glided on its belly and seemed to have poor vision as it often came charging towards me. Our battle continued intermittently till 2 am till I got my walking stick to hammer the daylight out of the little pest.

I consulted my book on Indian fauna. Since it resembles a rodent, it is commonly known as a musk rat because of the musky odour it emits. It is in fact the grey musk shrew (Suncus caeruleus) known as chachoondar or ghoose in northern India, kandeli in Malayalam, and sondeli in Kannada.

It can be identified by its piercing call, keek, keek, keek, when it is on the run and an inch long turd it deposits. I often wondered why God created this ugly, smelly little pest which haunts our homes at night for no apparent purpose except to disturb our sleep. Apparently there is a purpose behind its existence. This shrew lives on tiny insects like cockroaches. It also frightens off mice and rats.

My night visitor did not know I have rid my flat of cockroaches and rodents. Perhaps it was a reconnaissance expedition and on finding no other victims, it decided to pester me. I will set a rat-trap baited with a cheese which is a bit rotten in order to catch it. Being a Jaini in belief, I will not harm it but let it loose in the garden of some member of parliament who lives in my vicinity. Politicians have lots of cockroaches around them.

Get off, big fat guy

A British newspaper sponsored a contest for the best answer to this dilemma: “Assume that in a balloon there are three famous men who have made invaluable contributions to mankind. The first one made an important medical breakthrough, the second invented a youth serum and the third is a renowned nuclear physicist. The balloon runs into a storm and can be saved only if one of the passengers is thrown overboard. Which man should be sacrificed?”

The newspaper received innumerable lengthy replies citing the merits of each man. But the judges awarded the first prize to a 12 year old whose answer was: “The fattest one.”

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)

Shamelessly yours

Comrade Sunil Rai of Ludhiana rang me up to express his anguish at the performance of our cricket team (Ganguly, Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Robin Singh et al) against the Sri Lankan team. He composed the following lines as “tribute” to our team:

Sharm unko aatee hai, jo sharm say sharmaatey hain/ Hum to itney besharm hain ki sharm humsay sharmaatee hai.

(Only those who know what shame is can face it/We have become so shameless that shame itself hides from us.)    

In a recent judgment passed by the Delhi high court, Santosh Singh, the prime accused in the Priyadarshini Mattoo murder case, was released on bail. This was hardly surprising, given that Singh had earlier been acquitted by a lower court, almost a year ago. The law demands that the prosecution must be able to prove its case conclusively, especially if the whole case rests on circumstantial evidence. According to the Supreme Court, the motive in a case based on circumstantial evidence assumes great importance. If other circumstances prove the case conclusively, only then can the absence of motive be ignored.

In the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, the state had been able to establish the motive. The additional sessions judge, G.P Thareja, believed that “the facts proved and the acts of the accused lead to the inference that the accused had the motive to have the deceased at any cost and failing to do that, did not allow her to belong to anyone else. The state has established that motive”.

That fact alone should have been enough to convict the accused. Instead, Thareja indicted the Central Bureau of Investigation for tampering with the medical evidence. The judge felt that there was no evidence on record to suggest that Mattoo had been raped. The blood samples taken from the accused had been handled ineptly and the vaginal swabs had failed to prove the rape conclusively. The CBI had also failed to produce the two prime witnesses, namely the victim’s servant and Mattoo’s Vasant Kunj neighbour, Kuppuswamy. As a result Singh was acquitted on grounds of reasonable doubt.

Almost five years after her death, Priyadarshini Mattoo continues to live, if only in newspapers and in the hearts of her family and well-wishers. The truth of the matter is that Mattoo need not have died at all. Her death has, more than anything else, exposed the inadequacy of laws in our country, specially those regarding rape, molestation and stalking.

Her case is important because it will bring the sense of a resolution for her family and friends other than bringing the culprit to justice. What is most disturbing about this case is that Mattoo knew that she was being stalked. In the period between February 25 and November 6, 1995, the Mattoo family had complained to the police on six occasions about Singh’s misdemeanour and continued harassment of Mattoo. She complained that he used to block her way with his motorcycle at crossings and shadow her on campus. However, in the absence of anti-stalking legislation, the police could do nothing more than detain the accused for a couple of hours and then let him off with a warning.

Unlike India, countries like Britain, the United States and Australia have very definite anti-stalking laws. There is no one definition of stalking available in the laws of these countries. Stalking is usually defined as the act of a person who, on more than one occasion, follows, pursues, or harasses you, and by engaging in a pattern of conduct knowingly causes you to believe that he will cause you physical harm or mental distress. Stalking behaviour can range from unsolicited gifts and flowers, to telephone calls, letters, break-ins and even murder. The difference between harassment and stalking is usually a distinction of law. When harassing behaviour is repeated again and again, it becomes stalking.

According to forensic psychologists, stalkers generally fall into two categories — the love obsessional stalker and the simple obsessional stalker. The former usually goes after celebrities and has no relationship with his target. Seventy five percent of stalkers fall into the second category, and usually have some prior relationship with the victim. The simple obsessional stalker is the most dangerous and may even be a former husband or a boyfriend or someone the victim may have met briefly or dated once.

The psychological profile of a typical stalker is that he is immature, jealous and unable to have close relationships. He is usually young or middle aged, his intelligence above average; he is insecure and has a very low self-esteem. He may have genuine problems with intimacy; so that his victim becomes the be-all of his existence. He may have a history of sexual abuse and mental illness. He generally preys on the fear of his victims as their fear makes him powerful. Most stalkers start out as voyeurs and then graduate further as their psychopathology deepens.

In the US, the first anti-stalking law was passed in 1990 in California. The US Congress enacted the first federal stalking law in 1996. These laws protect the victim and help her assume control of her life. Stalking can be very difficult to prove and, therefore, the victim should try to preserve some form of communication with the stalker, ranging from letters or email to telephone conversations. Getting a caller identity installed in the telephone or anonymous call blocking can also help.

However, the laws as they exist in the US or in other countries cannot be incorporated into our legal system. Lawmakers and jurists in India must decide, after a complete review of anti-stalking legislation in these countries, which laws would best suit the Indian system.

In fact, a complete review of the criminal justice system is long overdue. The Mattoo case proves beyond doubt, the politics that exists in our legal system. The tussle of jurisdictional issues between the police and agencies like the CBI complicates matters further. The bureaucracy must play a lesser role in justice. The lawmakers must realize that society is changing, as is the nature of crime. The system must adapt to these changes. This includes a more sympathetic attitude to issues like rape and sexual harassment.

In order to prevent the evidence in a case from being manipulated, autonomy should be granted to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory to conduct its investigations. All findings in a criminal case should be kept secret. The government should also contemplate establishing the post of a chief medical examiner, who would be free from bureaucratic control.

The Mattoo case could not have been simpler. The prime accused was arrested within 24 hours of the murder on January 24, 1996. Under police interrogation he confessed to the rape and murder of Mattoo, leaving hardly any room for the defence. Though the taped confession would not have been permissible in court, the case was still quite self-evident. Yet it was the prosecution which was in deep trouble when the verdict came out. It remains to be seen whether the high court will overrule the lower court’s judgement. Meanwhile, we can all agree that justice had not been done.    

Although India is taking confident strides into an era of economic liberalization, there has been very little advance in matters pertaining to the nation’s maritime security. Without a strong naval force to protect India’s growing legion of merchant ships, the whole gamut of industrial and commercial transactions will lie exposed to insecurity.

Ninety-seven per cent of India’s external trade is carried on by sea going vessels. International merchandise worth over $500 billion is estimated to be passing through oceanic trade routes. The Indian navy, which is capable of maintaining peace in the region, is still short of funds. Its share of the yearly allocated funds happens to be a meagre 13 to 14 per cent of the total annual defence budget — the rest goes to the army, air force and other defence establishments. It is time India starts rethinking its naval policy and introducing changes.

It is natural that the inherent flexibility of naval power should be fully exploited so the navy can play an important role in the nation’s post-nuclear military strategy, especially in the Indian Ocean region. India cannot afford to ignore its more than 7,000 kilometre long coastal front, island territories on either side of the peninsula and 2.2 million square km of the exclusive economic zone spread over the vast watery stretches.

Indian naval ships have already proved their worth in evacuating Indian citizens from Kuwait before the war in 1991 which was followed by peacekeeping operations off the coast of Somalia.

Island heads

The onerous responsibility of guarding the nation’s seas, communications, offshore oil installations, and the different islands of the Indian Union fall on the navy. The island territories, owing to their remoteness from the mainland, are vulnerable to possible hostile activity and hence need forward force deployment.

The Lakshadweep islands lie on the western seaboard about 200 nautical miles from the Kerala coast. Their strategic importance can be gauged from the fact that the commercial shipping routes leading to the east and vice versa lie in their proximity. On the eastern seaboard, the Andaman and Nicobar islands are quite far from the Indian mainland but are situated close to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. These twin groups of islands can act as bridges in forming and maintaining political, military, economic and cultural ties with our neighbours.

The Nicobar group has a special strategic significance since an effective naval presence there will ensure the security of vital global trade routes passing through the nearby Strait of Malacca. The Union government had earlier announced the setting up of the far eastern naval command at Port Blair. It did not keep that promise for reasons unknown to the public.

A joint services command headquarters is likely to be established there to step up security in the economic zone around the islands which is frequented by smugglers, pirates, drug traffickers and gun runners. In addition, Chinese naval activity off the Myanmar coast will also have to be monitored.

Dominant force

A revised force structure is therefore desirable. The present strength of roughly 130 assorted ships will have to be substantially expanded and thoroughly modernized. The defence minister, George Fernandes, had in 1998 listed the rapid expansion of the navy as one of the government’s top priorities. No action has followed this statement. Although the indigenous construction of three frigates, two submarines and an aircraft carrier has been sanctioned, besides proposed acquisitions from Russia, these need to be further augmented.

An internal study paper prepared by the naval headquarters had concluded that the navy needed to build one submarine a year to maintain a force level of 20 submarines and six to seven combat vessels since warships take a long time to be built and then commissioned into the operational mode.

By virtue of its geographical position, population and wealth, India automatically emerges as the dominant power in the Indian Ocean. It must take steps to ensure the safety of commercial maritime traffic passing through one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. After all, this is the purpose of a blue water navy which is useful during peacetime as well as in a situation of conflict.    


Crime watch

Sir — The editorial, “Inexcusable” (Nov 29), exposes the incompetence of the West Bengal government in tackling crime in the state. The contribution of the cadre of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to the scenario is undeniable. The crime graph shows a significant spurt in crimes like robbery, rape, murder, kidnapping and extortion of money. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the new chief minister, is making all the right noises, but unless he shrugs off his commitments to his party and deals with the crimelords firmly, there is little hope for the state. He should start by revamping the police force, which would also be apt, given that he holds the home (police) portfolio. Making the administration more transparent and training of the police force should be prioritized. Pruning government staff could release money for providing the police with the latest equipment. Increasing the salaries of the police personnel, along with deterrent punishments for corruption, will also go a long way to combat crime in West Bengal.
Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Embattled peace

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party, which accuses every other political party of being pseudo-secular, is toeing the same line of appeasing the minorities. How else should one interpret the choice of Ramadan as an occasion for making peace overtures to the Kashmiri militant outfits (“For talks and Ramzan, valley looks to Pak”, Nov 27)? What can the special month of fastings and prayers have to do with curbing militancy and tackling cross-border terrorism? A quest for peace is always laudable, but abject pusillanimity in the face of fundamentalist onslaughts is deplorable.

Yours faithfully,
Indrajit Banerjee, Calcutta

Sir — The recent announcement of unilateral ceasefire in the Kashmir valley by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government is a prudent tactical move (“Sandwiched between guns, truce dawns”, Nov 28). It is bound to boost India’s image in the Muslim world. Not everyone is happy though. The Shiv Sena has already objected to the government’s decision. This is hardly surprising since this is not the first time that it has tried to disrupt communal harmony by inciting hatred against the minorities. Vajpayee deserves praise for his firm stand and his refusal to bow before pressure.

Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Ayub Ansari, Jagatdal

Sir — Policy matters assume great importance, especially if they compromise the security of the country. The unilateral ceasefire announced by the Centre is an unwise move (“Talks offer to Pakistan with truce guns”, Nov 25). Not only have the Kashmiri militants rejected it, Syed Salauddin of the Hizbul Mujahedin has said that “armed struggle would continue if India failed to fulfil the conditions”. Salauddin’s conditions are not acceptable to the Indian government. The response to this peace initiative was the kidnapping and killing of five people by the Lashkar-e-Toiba in the Doda district.

There is a contradiction in the Centre’s attitude towards Kashmir. While India keeps reiterating that Kashmir is an internal issue and not subject to foreign intervention, it is also eager not to alienate the international community. The government has rightly displayed its good intentions, now it is time to reexamine the peace process.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — The government has made a ridiculous offer to the militants in Kashmir by announcing a unilateral ceasefire during the month of Ramadan. Doesn’t the Centre realize that the ruthless militants do not care about religion and religious practices? If they did, the killings in the valley would not have continued unabated. What exactly is the implication of this unilateral ceasefire — that the Indian security forces will do nothing while the militants continue to carry out strikes on the civilians?

It is difficult to justify the Centre’s move, especially at a time the country was expected to play a proactive role in relation to Pakistan. India has evidently not learnt from its past mistakes, be it the Lahore bus ride or the earlier ceasefire offer to the Hizbul Mujahedin. Both events are fairly recent, and both backfired.

Yours faithfully,
Subir Dutt, Calcutta

Sir — The editorial, “Looking at peace” (Nov 22), displays insight and openness to new ideas. Atal Behari Vajpayee’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir is a laudable gesture, especially so on humanitarian grounds. If the holy month passes off in relative peace, there is every chance that the Centre might win back the faith of the Kashmiris. If, as Islamabad has promised, there is restraint on Pakistan’s side of the line of control, it will help India’s initiative. If, on the other hand, it proves abortive owing to noncooperation on the part of the militants, then the latter are bound to be isolated from the people, who have hitherto been sympathetic towards them. Thus, India stands to gain both ways. Vigilance is the key during this crucial month, and, coupled with bold follow-up action, this ceasefire might signal a turnaround.

Yours faithfully,
Rakhal Chandra Chakrabarti, Howrah

Dynastic anxiety

Sir — One cannot understand why the Congress is determined to retain Sonia Gandhi as its chief. There are several other experienced politicians within its fold. She has no political acumen at all. The party’s performance has been more than dismal ever since she has been at its helm. Her liaison with the scandal-tainted J. Jayalalitha and Laloo Prasad Yadav caused much dissatisfaction among the Congress’s grassroots supporters. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is ruling the country today because she has not been able to provide an alternative.

Jitendra Prasada should be congratulated for his courage. After all, he ran against Sonia Gandhi for the party presidentship. His opposition to her has driven home the point to the devotees of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that there is an able person to take her place.

Sonia Gandhi has been unable to root out factionalism in many states. This will cost the party some assembly seats in the forthcoming elections in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The Congress should ignore her in future.

Yours faithfully,
Mili Das, Sindri

In your editorial, “Democratic duel” (Oct 31), the chequered history of the 115-year-old Congress has been correctly emphasized. It has also been demonstrated that the party mechanism is not totally democratic. The scuffle between Sonia Gandhi loyalists and those of Jitendra Prasada, although alarming, was to be expected. There is a belief among Congress members that any member of the Nehru-Gandhi family is beyond question. Such a party should be shunned.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — The editorial, “Winner takes all” (Nov 17), paints an accurate picture of the election of Sonia Gandhi as the Congress president. The Congress runs on sycophancy. It is sad to recall that the Congress has been nurtured by some of the most eminent politicians of pre-independent and free India. But owing to the rule of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty it has now lost its democratic identity.

In this context, Jitendra Prasada’s efforts were laudable. But he did not show any path-breaking political acumen. He merely got some media attention, not the Congress presidentship. The present conditions will not allow the Congress to rejuvenate itself easily.

Yours faithfully,
Ravi Shanker Singh, North 24 Parganas

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