Editorial 1 / Political craft
Editorial 2 / Rare occasion
Road to Mandalay
Fifth Column / Four years to heal and reconcile
Mani Talk/ Somnath and Ayodhya
Real private fears in public spaces
Letters to the editor

If one did not know Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee better, one would be justified in believing that the prime minister had suddenly turned into an advocate of swadeshi. In a statement in Lucknow, Mr Vajpayee spoke against the unnecessary buying of cheaper imported goods. He was referring to the availability of Chinese goods like toys, batteries, radios and television, which are cheaper than their Indian counterparts. It would appear as if the prime minister was championing swadeshi and sailing close to the winds emanating from the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch since he did seem concerned about the threat the small-scale manufacturers were facing because of the legal and illegal entry of these cheap goods. But a closer look at what Mr Vajpayee actually said would show that he was only invoking the spiritof swadeshi. He was making an emotional appeal as indeed the original swadeshiwallahs had done during the partition of Bengal in 1905. Mr Vajpayee was appealing to the people not to buy Chinese goods unnecessarily. What is significant is that he was not arguing against the availability of Chinese goods. In other words, the prime minister was obliquely making clear that he was not contemplating a ban on Chinese goods. The latter would be available in the market. It would be up to the people of India to buy them or not. The spirit of swadeshi, when it takes the shape of policy, becomes protectionism. Mr Vajpayee’s statement, when looked at closely, is not in favour of protectionism. Mr Vajpayee has spoken in favour of swadeshi but has not conceded anything of substance. If this keeps the fanatics of Nagpur happy, Mr Vajpayee has hit the bull’s eye.

Craftiness in politics, like water, flows downwards. Mr Vajpayee’s oblique style seems to be catching on. Mr Yashwant Sinha, the finance minister, at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, chided corporate heads for criticizing government policies in the presence of “white foreigners”. This appears to be anti-foreigner and insular. Mr Sinha seemed to be saying that criticism was justified so long as it was not made to foreigners. Reservations should be articulated only internally and the flag flown in the presence of foreigners. This is a wellknown logic whose rigour is lost in the context of a globalized economy, which, by definition, knows no national boundaries and therefore, the terms internal and external are irrelevant to it. Mr Sinha sidestepped this contradiction by actually welcoming foreign investment and reiterating the inevitability of globalization. The anti-foreigner posture was not matched by the promulgation of any swadeshi polices. Swadeshi is the rhetoric while globalization is the stuff of policies.

There is a cautionary tale in all this. It is facile and convenient to portray Mr Vajpayee as nothing more than a crass Hindu fundamentalist. A derogatory label vacates the arena of interpretation. Mr Vajpayee has been too long in the business of politics to be pinned down by a simple label. He is wily enough to play off both ends against the middle. He speaks to please the Hindutva brigade and acts as a prime minister of India should. He appears to concede when in reality he has not yielded an inch. He can be condemned for his doublespeak, but that would be tantamount to condemning him for being a highly successful politician. It is not his job to be transparent; his job is to be effective. Dissembling may be a small price for running an effective coalition government.


Good sense has prevailed. And perhaps the newly introduced work ethics of the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. The West Bengal government has decided not to call a bandh on December 20, making the date memorable for the rarity of the occasion. Bandhs, strikes and disruptive political processions on the road have been the badge of West Bengal’s identity for a long time. But now an exasperated electorate might begin to hope that one withdrawn bandh could mean five bandhs not announced at all. The way to the withdrawal was not strewn with roses. There were sharp divisions within the Left Front, even within the Communist Party of India (Marxist) itself, regarding the wisdom of bringing the state to a standstill in protest against the Centre’s alleged meanness with relief funds for flood affected people. The first stone was cast into the waters by the transport and sports minister, Mr Subhas Chakraborty. He declared that bandhs affect the poor most. This was obviously not what the party wanted to hear. There were other objections within the party too. For example, Mr Biman Bose, member of the state committee, was upset that the last day of the Vidyasagar Mela would be disrupted. Other front partners were unhappy with the idea of a bandh during the month of Ramadan. With the Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, going all out to welcome Muslims, a Left Front sponsored bandh in the special season of a minority community could look especially bad.

Earlier, none of these reasons by itself may have led to the withdrawal. Now it might be seen as a sign that the chief minister’s determined initiatives in the direction of better work culture are beginning to take effect. The withdrawal might also be the first stirring of a healthy separation of politics from everyday business. But a retreat demands a facesaver, and the Union finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, has supplied the West Bengal government with one. The state finance minister has received an assurance that a bill proposing the setting up of a national calamity contingency fund will be placed in the Lok Sabha on the last day of this session. It is a good enough facesaver on which to place a positive step.


Two significant developments occurred in India’s relations with Myanmar in November. The first was a visit by General Maung Aye, vice-president of the Myanmar government, accompanied by a 16 member delegation to India. The second was a seminar organized by the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and the Centre for Strategic Studies of Myanmar in November. The visit of Myanmar’s vice-president attracted some controversy in segments of Indian public opinion. The point being made was that the military government of Myanmar having refused to respect the election results of 1990, has no legitimacy and, therefore, India, as a democracy, should not have contacts with the military government.

The point to remember is that Myanmar is an important neighbour and that the nurturing of relations with that country is of political, strategic and security interest to India. India’s relations with Myanmar had been ambiguous and distant for nearly three decades. They are reviving just now. Recalling more recent history of our relations with this country is important. Indo-Myanmar relations went into a negative spin in 1990, when the military authorities of Myanmar refused to accept the 1990 electoral verdict of the Burmese people in which Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy, emerged victorious.

India’s commitment to democracy created distances with Myanmar as a result. In any case, the V.P. Singh and Chandra Sekhar governments were so enmeshed in domestic political uncertainties that they were not able to structure a cohesive foreign policy with a clear sense of priorities. It must be underlined that the government of Myanmar dealt with India’s critical reaction to their assuming power with sobriety and without any polemical reactions. Nor did they react to Indian public and media criticism, and to our government’s attitude by doing anything negative against India during the period 1989-91. It would be relevant to mention here that important Western powers like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan, tried to generate political pressure on the military regime of Myanmar at the political level to give up power to Aung San Suu Kyi.

These powers also formally requested India to join their embassies in Yangon to present a formal protest to the military regime for its not respecting the results of the elections. The industrially advanced powers were hypocritical in this exercise because while indulging in general political opposition to the military regime, they continued their investments in Myanmar and their export trade to Myanmar. While India did not join them, India did convey its disappointment at the negation of democracy in Myanmar through bilateral diplomatic channels.

The considerations which influenced India to revive relations with Myanmar were, first, Myanmar’s geo-strategic importance for India, Myanmar abuts on our sensitive northeastern states and portions of Bangladesh. Myanmar shares an equally significant border with China. Thus the northern frontiers of Myanmar constitute a tri-junction with Bangladesh, China and the eastern frontiers of India. Myanmar is also an important country on the rim of the Bay of Bengal, lying astride India’s southeastern trade routes. The southeastern coast of Myanmar is close enough to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India, so developments in that area could affect our security interests in the Bay of Bengal.

Indo-Myanmar cooperation to counter drug smuggling, narcotics crimes, insurgency and security threats to our northeastern states was acknowledged as imperatives for our foreign policy. It was equally important to ensure that Myanmar does not become part of an exclusive area of influence of other powers in the region with whom India has uneasy relations. China, for instance. This is an objective which would be shared by the people and governments of Myanmar also with a view to maintaining their independence and freedom of options in dealing with their foreign policy and security concerns.

It was, therefore, considered necessary to normalize relations with Myanmar regardless of the kind of government in power there. The third factor was clinically rational. While India remains committed to democracy and related values, there was no reason for India to unilaterally assume responsibility of creating democracies in other countries. This had to be the choice and responsibility of the people of the country concerned, in this case the people of Myanmar.

Preliminary discussions were held between the government of India and the Myanmar foreign office between February and August, 1992. I was a participant in these discussions, which ultimately led to the visit of the vice-foreign minister of Myanmar, U. Baswa, to India between August 11 and 13, 1992. The Myanmar delegation made three points during this visit. Myanmar respects India’s commitment to democracy and hopes India would be patient about the revival of democracy in Myanmar. Second, Myanmar acknowledged that security and political concerns existed which are shared by both countries. Myanmar was therefore willing to cooperate with India in taking joint action to meet the security and strategic interests of both countries. The third point which Baswa made was that Myanmar will be willing to increase economic and technological cooperation with India. Another important anxiety of India was the increasing strategic linkages between Myanmar and China.

The Chinese had already built an all-weather road from Kunming in China to Mandalay in Myanmar, which they were planning to extend to Yangon. There were also reports of the Myanmar government providing some visiting and berthing facilities to the Chinese navy. When these points were raised with the Burmese authorities they responded by saying that they would be ready to accept India’s assistance in building up the transportation network in their country. They indicated that they would like India making the road from Imphal and Mandalay and then on to Yangon as a parallel to the Chinese road-building activities.

They denied any military facilities being given to China and added that they would be willing to give general facilities to the Indian navy also in their ports and on their coast. There have been visits of the home secretaries, the controller of drugs and the ministers of commerce between the two countries between 1993 and now. Myanmar becoming a part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asian Regional Forum over the last five years adds to the legitimacy of the Myanmar government in the eyes of other governments in the region and lends validity to our having relations with that country.

The visit of General Maung Aye, is, therefore, timely and strengthens our bilateral relations. The visit will increase Indo-Myanmar cooperation to prevent insurgency along the 1,600 kilometre sensitive Indo-Myanmar border. Myanmar has problems with Kachins, and we have problems with Naga separatists. There is an extensive complementarity of needs in the economic, commercial and technological spheres between Myanmar and India. Activating economic and technological cooperation was an important objective of this visit. If India speeds up the building of the Imphal-Tamu-Kalemayo road, a true beginning would be made to consolidate Myanmar as a land bridge between India and the southeast Asian countries.

The visit of General Maung Aye is a timely step. Dealing with a government in effective control in Myanmar which is recognized by all the important powers in the region, need not imply any dilution of India’s commitment to democracy. It is sufficient if India focuses on strengthening its own democracy instead of moralizing about it to the other countries and other people. The overriding consideration in our relations with our neighbours should be safeguarding our interests and contributing to the stability and wellbeing of other countries concerned.

The author is former foreign secretary of India    

It’s going to be a long four years for George W. Bush Jr. It’s wall-to-wall graciousness now, as everybody on both sides of the month-long post-election struggle talks of reconciliation and healing, because that’s what the American media and public demand at this stage of the proceedings. But neither side really means it, and they certainly aren’t going to act on it.

Behind their self-righteous bluster, Republican leaders are acutely aware that their man has in effect stolen the presidential election with the help of his friends in the Florida legislature and the United States supreme court. They know that a large part of the US electorate sees that reality too.

They also know how much this perception can hurt them in a country that is divided right down the middle. Al Gore had barely a 0.3 per cent lead in the popular vote. The senate is divided 50-50, and it’s quite likely that one of two senior Republican senators, Strom Thurmond (98 but healthy) or Jesse Helms (79 but ailing) will shuffle off this mortal coil fairly soon. In either case, the replacement senator would be appointed by a Democrat governor, thus giving the Democrats a senate majority even before the mid-term elections in 2002.

Bending the rules

In the house of representatives, the Republicans have a five-seat lead, but party discipline is much weaker there: a Bush White House cannot rely on a voting majority there. And the rest of the country is equally divided: the Republicans control 17 state legislatures, the Democrats control 16, and the remaining 17 have one chamber controlled by each party.

Above all, the men and women around George II, many of them veterans of his father’s reign, are Washington insiders who understand the Democrats’ calculations all too well. Gore’s advisers are also realists, and they knew that if the Republican dominated supreme court didn’t get them, then the overwhelmingly Republican Florida legislature would do the job. The true post-election Democrat strategy was aimed not at winning the presidency, which was clearly impossible, but at forcing the Republicans to show how far they would bend the rules to secure the White House for their man. That has now been demonstrated, so it’s time for Gore to be gracious.

But there will be no “coming together”, despite all the one-nation rhetoric that oozes into every corner of the US media universe for the next week or so. America remains a nation split exactly down the middle, the “culture wars” continue, and the victor in the court battle has finally been allowed to claim the White House precisely because his credibility and even his legitimacy are now crippled beyond repair.

Time reveals all

Will the Bush White House have the political levers to deal with what is already being called “the second Bush recession”? No way. Will the National Rifle Association have “a president where we work out of their office”, as a senior NRA official boasted last May? Forget it. Will the US defence industry be able to collect on the corporate welfare measure known as national missile defence? Dream on.

Likewise for tax cuts for the better-off, privatizing parts of the social security system and the other, rather slender, planks that made up Bush’s domestic platform. No great loss, even for the most devout right-wingers. The outgoing Clinton administration did amazingly little to swing the pendulum back, so even if a Bush administration can make no major changes, the right-wing Reagan revolution continues to define American reality.

The one big difference in the US under Bush may be in foreign policy, where presidents have more freedom of manoeuvre. But given Bush’s combination of indolence and ignorance about the world beyond the states, the one area where this is likely to show is in his relative lack of enthusiasm for the Israeli cause. (Gore, by contrast, would have made even Bill Clinton look hesitant in his unquestioning support for everything Israel does.)

Meanwhile, the missing Florida votes will eventually be counted (under the freedom of information act), and his illegitimacy will be underlined. The mid-term elections in 2002 will probably sweep Democrats into power all across the country (or at least that is their expectation). And then in 2004 Bush loses to Gore, or Hillary Clinton, or even a yellow dog. It is going to be a long four years.


Intervening in the Lok Sabha debate on Ayodhya, the prime minister sought to buttress his case by citing what Rajendra Prasad had said at the kumababhishekam of the Somnath temple in April 1951. What he conveniently forgot to mention were the circumstances in which Rajendra Prasad, who was then the president of India, was obliged by the council of ministers, specifically the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to abandon his plans of going to Somnath as the president of India and to make his visit there in a purely personal capacity. As the story behind this reflects the fundamental difference between Nehru’s pristine version of secularism in governance and the acrobatics being indulged in by a life-long swayamsevak-turned-mukhauta, the tale is well worth retrieving from the archives.

On India attaining independence, there were a few princely states left dithering, one of which was Junagadh, whose prime minister was Shahnawaz Bhutto, father of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. On the advice of Shahnawaz, the nawab of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan. Vallabhbhai Patel attempted to make the nawab see reason and when that proved impossible, Indian forces marched into Junagadh, held a plebiscite and proceeded to integrate Junagadh into the Indian Union.

As Somnath lay within the territory of Junagadh, it was announced that a magnificent temple would be raised at the site where it had earlier been razed by Mahmud of Ghazni during repeated assaults through the first two decades of the 11th century.

A month later, in December 1947, a cabinet meeting was held at which the Union minister for works and housing, K.M. Munshi, the founder of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawans, apparently raised the question of government funding of the reconstruction of the temple. When later this initial mention was fleshed out with a detailed proposal from Munshi’s ministry, Nehru hotly denied that there had been any substantial discussion and asserted that, in any case, no decision had been taken to fund the project.

A secular government, Nehru held, could not involve itself in building places of worship and if any such temple was to be built, even at so renowned a site as Somnath, it must be with private funds. Although several ministers of his cabinet, in particular Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and N.V. Gadgil in addition to Munshi demurred, Nehru carried the day and the government distanced itself from the project.

Instead, a trust was set up which collected a substantial fund through private donations. The temple was ready to be inaugurated by April 1951. By then, Rajendra Prasad had become the first president of the Indian republic. He was invited to the inauguration and readily accepted. But when the government heard of this, the council of ministers was convened by Nehru to discuss the propriety of the president attending this religious function.

Cabinet meetings are held in secret and only the decisions are recorded, that too in the baldest language. Therefore, we of a later generation have to construe what might have happened against the background of significant developments of the time. In September 1949, the pound sterling was devalued vis-ŕ-vis the American dollar; India, as a member of the sterling area, followed suit but Pakistan did not do so; therefore, India broke off trade relations with Pakistan.

Hours later, Nehru was met by a delegation of Muslim traders from the walled city area of Delhi who said their shops had been closed by government order. Nehru sent for his minister of rehabilitation and was horrified to learn from the worthy that he thought it followed as day the night that if trade was banned with Pakistan, it meant that Indian Muslims could not indulge in commerce.

That rectified, Nehru found himself confronted with a proposal from B.C. Roy, the legendary chief minister of West Bengal, endorsed moreover by the Union home minister, that in retaliation for the expulsion of lakhs of Hindus from East Pakistan, the government of India might follow a policy of throwing out one Indian Muslim for every five Pakistani Hindus forcibly expelled from East Bengal. Nehru put his foot down and instead embarked on negotiations with the Pakistan prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, which resulted a few months later in the Liaquat-Nehru pact, a document unique in the annals of international diplomacy.

Through the pact, the two countries bilaterally undertook to unilaterally treat their respective minorities as equal citizens, not as hostages for good behaviour by the other side. However, when Nehru addressed the Congress parliamentary party to explain the terms of the pact, he was heard in such sullen and resentful silence that he returned to his office and wrote out his resignation. Patel eventually persuaded him to withdraw the resignation.

However, so charged was the atmosphere that the Congress president of the United Provinces (as Uttar Pradesh was then called), Purushottamdas Tandon, who Nehru had complained was talking the language of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, threw his hat into the ring for the presidentship of the Congress in the country as a whole — and won, not against some unknown but none less than J.B. Kriplani. It was while the party was thus drifting away from its secular anchor that the Somnath temple reached completion.

The council of ministers at its meeting in April 1951 took the decision to advise the president, Rajendra Prasad, not to proceed to Somnath in his capacity as president of the republic. Bound by this advice, the president announced that, in that case, he would wish to be present at Somnath in his personal capacity.

It was as such that he went there and it was as such that he spoke there. Unless this background was known, the average listener to Atal Behari Vajpayee’s quotation might have been forgiven for thinking that the speech came from none less than the first citizen of India.

Vajpayee, of course, needs no instruction on this. Because three months later, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee resigned from the Nehru cabinet and established a new party, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. His private secretary at the time was a young 26 year old youth called Atal Behari Vajpayee. In the first general elections that followed in early 1952, the Jana Sangh was routed but not until they had elected their first member of parliament, N.C. Chatterjee, father of Somnath Chatterjee. When Nehru reconstituted his cabinet after the elections, two of the ministers most closely associated with Somnath were dropped, K.M. Munshi and N.V. Gadgil.

The sequel to the Somnath episode is instructive. Nehru went on, in September 1951, to persuade his colleagues to resign from the Congress working committee. Tandon too resigned; Nehru took over; and proceeded to the Ram Lila grounds in Delhi on Gandhi Jayanti, October 2, 1951, where he delivered himself of a single line which, in my view, sums up everything we need to know about secularism in governance. Jawaharlal said: “If any man raises his hand against another in the name of religion, I shall fight him to the last breath of my life — whether I am in government or outside.”


Criminologists have established that women are more afraid of crime and that this is related to their sense of physical vulnerability to men, and to vicious crimes like rape and murder. According to Gill Valentine, the relationship between a woman’s fear of male violence and her perception and use of public space indicate her fear of being attacked and the consequences of such attacks. As a result of this fear of public spaces, women tend to place too much faith in the safety of their homes.

Thousands of women negotiate public space everyday. Valentine’s study of the dynamics of fear indicates that many of the choices of routes and destinations that women make, are a product of the “coping strategies” that women adopt to stay alive. In trying to avoid certain areas and places which they perceive as dangerous, they are pressurized into a restricted use of public space.

Unlike men, women find their personal space being invaded by whistles, comments, and even actual assaults from men, whenever they find themselves in public spaces. A case in point would be that of the young researcher from the West who moved around India and abroad on her own for her work and was repeatedly abused verbally in public spaces.

Primal terror

There are certain places where women consider themselves vulnerable. The place where women anticipate themselves to be most at risk are those where they feel the behaviour of other people, specifically men, who might be sharing the space, will be unregulated. Be it a subway or an alley, a woman has to look continuously over her shoulder in order to protect herself from a male attacker. Women are constantly aware of their physical surroundings especially after sundown.

They frequently consider rundown neighbourhoods marked by vandalism and graffiti as unsafe, particularly areas dominated by the African-American communities in Western countries or those dominated by lower income groups in India. They do not associate clean, less crowded streets with such behaviour.

Unfortunately, this is not always true. A young student who was raped on the grounds of her university in England, had later told her housemates that the punky or dirty looking men were not necessarily the most dangerous. While women identify isolated places as dangerous during the day, they express a fear of all public places at night.

Safety in numbers

One of the reasons for this is that night reduces visibility and therefore increases the opportunity for attackers to strike without being observed. Inevitably, roads become more dominated by men during the evenings. Valentine cites examples of aggression such as the use of physical strength by men to intimidate women in bars or the male mockery of women engaged in sport or leisure activities like running. Alcohol often intensifies their aggression.

The majority of women still adopt a traditional gender role, and are consequently pressurized into a temporarily segregated use of space. Despite the fact that women nowadays have successful careers and are more independent than their predecessors, there has been a rise in the incidence of sexual and violent crimes against women. The fear of male violence prevents a majority of women from being independent, depriving them of the confidence to live alone, work in particular professions and socialize without a male companion.

While the fear of male violence in public places is overwhelming, many women are subjected to male aggression within their homes. Women without personal incomes or jobs are frequently a target of intimidation



Matchless indifference

Sir — Most of the matches in the world doubles tennis championship, which ended with Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi losing in the final on December 17, was held in an almost vacant stadium in Bangalore. This despite the fact that the top eight teams of the world and the Indian duo competed in this event and consistently played high quality tennis. The same event, when held in Germany earlier, had packed stadia. How can the players be expected to perform at their best when there is no appreciation of their talents? Crowd support gets the adrenaline of the players pumping and converts ordinary matches into thrilling displays. Three months of efforts in organizing the event in India have been wasted because of an unresponsive public. Even young tennis players did not share enough enthusiasm to make the event a success. Tennis, unlike cricket, is a relatively clean sport. Yet, people flock to see cricket and ignore prestigious international tennis tournaments such as these.
Yours faithfully,
Rohan Bhasin, Calcutta

Ancient Indian glory

Sir — Radhika Ramaseshan in her report, “Sangh digs up Indian link in America find” (Nov 26), is not faithful to her intentions of reviewing the booklet “Hindutva — A View and A Way of Life”. Even American archaeologists like Alden Mason, curator of the Peru Museum for several years, have furnished evidence to illustrate the view that Indians and the Asians discovered America in ancient (pre-Columbian) times. In his book, The Ancient Civilization of Peru, Mason shows that they exchanged artifacts, plants and crops with Latin American countries like Peru.

Many other American scholars like Gordon Ekholm, Thomas Wilson, Hugh Fox and European scholars like Heine Geldern have written several books advancing scientific and empirical evidence of trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic contacts between India and Latin American countries in pre-Columbian times. Ramaseshan should not turn a blind eye to this. The influence of the Atlantic countries, which colonized India and its universities, seems to have limited the views of our scholars within Atlantic colonial interests. They think that India’s contact with the rest of the world took place only through its northwestern passes like the Khyber pass and the Arabian Sea. Indians have been made to read more of the histories of Greece, Rome and England in schools and less of the history of India.

The subscribers to the “Atlantean” school of thought know and speak of the trade contact of the Indus Valley people with west Asia. However, they are not able to explain how a script exactly similar to the Rongo-rongo script of the Indus valley found its way to the Easter islands, or how the Peruvian animal called the llama managed to get depicted in the Indus valley seals, because they have not studied the race movements to and from the vast coastline of India. The reason: the British colonial universities lacked interest in such studies.

Ramaseshan’s knowledge of ancient history and geography of the country seems to suffer from this limitation too. She is not aware that the ancient Sanskrit textbooks of geography describe India, Polynesia, Latin America and also Europe and give their climatic difference, along with the time-differences of important cities and places in these continents, adducing irrefutable evidence of the Indian knowledge of America before 1492. For instance, Bhaskaracharya, the 12th century astronomer, mentions the time differences between important cities of Asia, Polynesia, Latin America and Europe in his Siddhanta Siromani (Goladhyaya), about 200 years before Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America: “When the sun rises at Lanka, the time in Yamakotipura (Tarawa in Kiribati islands) — 90 degrees east of Lanka, will be midday. In the lower hemisphere, at Siddhapura (Havana in Cuba), it will be twilight then, and at Romakadesa (in Europe), the time will be midnight.”

The scholars with the “Atlantean” bias, who are accustomed to regarding Greenwich as the meridian in such calculations, will have to relearn that prior to the rise of British colonial power, in the ancient world, the longitude passing through Sri Lanka was the meridian (madhya-rekha).

The sooner the scholars find their lost roots and the basis of these calculations, the better. They need to study ancient Indian history and geography more deeply and objectively before they take up their pens for review or retort.

Yours faithfully,
B. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — Radhika Ramaseshan’s report on the new booklet “brought out by the Sangh as part of its two-month long Rashtriya Jagran campaign to familiarise non-believers with the saffron ideology” is in bad taste. The information in the booklet is by and large factually correct, if a little unpopular. No less a person than Monier Williams has said that Indians were Pythagoreans 2,000 years before Pythagoras and Spinozites 1,000 years before Spinoza was born. Williams further states: “I am deeply convinced that the more we learn about the ideas, feelings...of the natives of India, the less ready shall we be to judge them by our own conventional European standards; the less disposed to regard ourselves as the sole depositories of true knowledge, learning, virtue and refinement existing on earth; the less prone to despise the men who compiled the laws of Manu, one of the most remarkable literary productions of the world; who thought out systems of ethics worthy of Christianity; who composed the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, poems in some respects outrivalling the Iliad and the Odyssey; who invented for themselves the science of grammar, arithmetic, astronomy, logic, and who elaborated independently six most subtle systems of philosophy.”

As Indians we should not feel inferior to any other race. There is enough evidence to show that the Tamils had naval trade with Africa, China, west Asia, Arabia, Greece and so on. It is easier to fall into the trap of pseudo-secularism than it is to break free of a centuries-old system of indoctrination.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, Calcutta

Post haste

Sir — Several million people have been held to ransom by postal employees for almost two weeks now. Surprisingly, not a single member of parliament has raised the issue in Parliament. The postal employees have a charter of demands. Three lakh and nine thousand extra-departmental staff want departmental status, pension and other perquisites. They demand that vacant posts should be filled up and promotions made through written examinations. It is time the Centre’s representatives sat down with the striking staff and ended the impasse.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — The government has weakened the postal department while encouraging courier services without acknowledging the importance of the regular mail service to the people. It is ludicrous to privatize a government undertaking solely for the purpose of profit. All government sectors cannot make profit. It is unfair of the government to cover up its own role in the impasse by holding the postal employees responsible for it.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Chakraborty, Howrah

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