Editorial 1/ Unready Citadel
Editorial 2/ Rule Of Law
India’s unthinking ways
Fifth Column/ Slow move towards a final solution
This above all/ Who is the friendliest of them all
Images of survival against odds
Letters to the editor

National security is, more than anything else, a question of readiness. It is particularly alarming when the principal agents invested with the responsibility of making people feel safe all show a concerted unreadiness in discharging this responsibility. What happened in New Delhi’s Red Fort on December 22 is beyond any justification. Armed militants — suspected to be members of the Pakistan-based extremist outfit, the Lashkar-e-Toiba — entered the fort, shot down three men (two of whom were army personnel) and escaped afterwards into the city. The Red Fort is a major army installation in the capital, with at least a thousand Rajputana Rifles men and the military intelligence unit housed in its premises. This is the first time that militants have managed to attack and kill within such a crucial army stronghold. The actual and symbolic implications are very grave indeed.

First, the security lapse at the militant’s entry-point in the fort speaks of a complete failure of the discipline of vigilance. The arms carried by the militants were far from unobtrusive; but the guards at the gate failed to intercept. Second, the army’s response to the raid remains shrouded in mystery. The militants, obviously well-acquainted with the layout of the fort, had moved about freely in it, stopping to kill in at least three different points. They had also managed to cut off the power supply within the complex. The army personnel seem not to have retaliated in any form within the fort and allowed the attackers to escape. They were also instrumental in keeping the police out for quite a while after the attack. The confusions that are still multiplying point to several grievous realities. There seems to be no coordination between the army, the police and the intelligence agencies. The intelligence unit inside the fort has failed in the very purpose for which it has been placed there. The army and the police have been continuously giving each other and the public conflicting accounts of the incident and its aftermath. The nation’s most important leaders are also directly implicated in this incident. The cabinet committee on security has in it the prime minister, the home minister and the defence minister, most of whom have linked the attack, either directly or through denial, with the Kashmir ceasefire. If, indeed, there is a connection, then the building up of the right environment in which such a ceasefire could be effective seems to be in the hands of people whose expertise in the matter has suddenly been exposed as questionable. This latest raid on the nation’s most prominent symbol of invincibility, together with the recent shootout at the navy chief’s residence in New Delhi will have to be addressed without delay if the government is at all interested in regaining credibility, internally and in the eyes of its neighbours.


The Indian army has its own laws. Hence, the term court martial. But the army can also be law unto itself. One example of this tendency has recently come to light. Some 24 years ago, a handful of soldiers and officers of the Indian army were accused of spying for Pakistan. They were court martialed, found guilty and dismissed. The Delhi high court last week ruled that all the seven officers who had been dismissed were to be granted their full service benefits. What is even more significant is the strong indictment the Delhi high court issued on military intelligence and the government. The court said that “the whole bundle of facts in the instant batch of cases would appear to be a potboiler to project the image of the military intelligence directorate.’’ According to the judges in the Delhi high court, there was no evidence to court martial the officers. The officers who received the clean chit after 24 years of legal wrangling can only be grateful that in India, civil law prevails over martial law. It is because of this, and this alone, that the seven officers can again walk with their heads held high. The Indian army, on the grounds of security, has large areas which are wrapped in secrecy. The army on a large number of issues is not accountable to the society which sustains it. This has produced networks of corruption, nepotism and vested interests which are forgotten because of the heroism of the men in war time. The judgment of the Delhi high court alerts people to the existence of these networks.

The forthrightness of the court’s judgment deserves to be applauded. But it also draws attention to a deeper societal and legal problem. The seven officers lived the last 24 years under the shadow of disgrace. They were stripped of what is most important to a military man, that is, their honour. They lost their rank, their uniform and their salaries and their perquisites. Men who had fashioned themselves to be heroes were branded, through a serious miscarriage of justice, as traitors. A mere reinstatement of all their service benefits is hardly an adequate compensation of what they actually lost. Loss of honour and disgrace are strangely intangible and non-measurable things. Material benefits cannot make up for these. Within the existing legal framework, there is hardly anything more that the court could have done for the seven officers. This is an area to which society needs to give greater thought. How is it that those who perpetrated the miscarriage of justice 24 years ago remain anonymous? Their corruption should be exposed and they should undergo some sort of post facto humiliation. Moreover, the government should exert greater control over court martial proceedings. The army cannot be allowed to flout the rule of law. Between democracy and security, the choice will always be, whether the army likes it or not, the former.


In 1989, the poet and scholar, A.K. Ramanujan, published a brilliantly far-reaching essay entitled “Is There an Indian Way of Thinking?”. It was still possible for him, in the Eighties, to spring such a question unabashedly, even while teaching in Chicago, and to then answer it in the affirmative, using a wealth of learning and wit. “Some lament, others celebrate India’s un-thinking ways. One can go on forever”, he wrote. The sly hyphen in “un-thinking” plays with the twinned ideas of India’s capacity for thoughtlessness and for unsettling — even undoing — certain accepted, and acceptable, habits of thought.

Ramanujan’s “Poona Train Window” is, in this sense, an un-thinking poem. It contemplates — with an unsettling blankness — the very Indian act of public defecation. “I look out the window./ See a man defecating/ between two rocks, and a crow.” In the “afterhush” of one train passing another, the viewer also notices “a rush of whole children”, “three women with baskets on their heads” (one of them “balancing…a late pregnancy”), buffaloes, flies, gulls. His “railway tea”, meanwhile, “darkens like a sick traveller’s urine”. But Ramanujan brings his poem back, at the end, to the initial vision, with the same sort of control that allows Bach to bring his thirty Goldberg variations back to the initial, sublimely simple, aria: “I see a man/ between two rocks./ I think of the symmetry/ of human buttocks.”

The poem makes us look; it also quietly makes us think. What exactly are we being made to do when we serenely meditate, in public, on a part of the human body performing an act, both of which are considered to be intensely private in most civilized societies? In what sort of a society, then, is this poem set? How does this society bind together, or isolate from one another, the various people in the poem’s play of gazes — viewer, defecator, poet and reader? Does this classical, sophisticated poem, by refusing to lament or celebrate, mark a moment of failure, or a high point, in the evolution of human civility?

I am reminded here of another great English poem about looking out of a train – “Whitsun Weddings” by Philip Larkin, England’s grimmest poet of suburban despondency. Rushing towards London in the “tall heat” of an English summer, looking out on “where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet”, what if Larkin’s viewer suddenly came upon the scene in Ramanujan’s poem? What turn would the poem have taken then? Would the English countryside, or suburbia, have been more interesting if such a thing were to happen? Perhaps Larkin’s poetry would have been less grey, less spirit-crushing. But at what cost?

Most trains coming into Mumbai’s Victoria Terminus run all the way along the city’s infamous Dharavi slum. The train sometimes seems to slice through the row of shanties, affording the commuter a vertical cross-section of private lives. The minutiae of everyday existence, the mystery of other interiors and intimacies, present themselves to the speeding gaze, indifferent to its discomfiture, voyeurism or unconcern. I remember one droll, enigmatic tableau — a man squatting on his haunches and tenderly feeding, from a bowl with a teaspoon, a goat tied to his bed-post.

The relationship between privacy and public spaces in urban India is formed by a whole range of often contradictory behaviour and attitudes, most of which are what Ramanujan would have called unthinking ways. This relationship and these attitudes are crucial not only to the growth or decline of Indian cities, but also to how we experience and present ourselves as individuals in these public spaces. Individualism — in the Western liberal sense — is routinely seen as alien to Indian life. Emerging from the feudal idea of the jati with its hierarchies of caste, kinship and occupation, the notion of the individual is supposed to get taken up into various forms of collectivity, chiefly the family. Ramanujan — borrowing from the language of linguistics — sees Indians as “context-sensitive”, their lives essentially “relational”, contained within “concentric nests”.

This may be true with respect to the family. But a much more resistant form of individualism — neither Western, nor quite liberal — comes into play when the “context” shifts from the familial to the civic. The notion of a collective responsibility to public, civic spaces seems to be quite alien to Indian city-dwellers. Cities tend to become agglomerations of domestic interiors, a citizen’s sense of belonging remaining confined within these little units.

What we do with domestic waste is most revealing. Even the most genteel households mark their boundaries by throwing their trash just outside their carefully demarcated limits. Staircase landings, pavements and streets are all “public” domains, the dirtying of which endorses the hygiene and ownership of the “private”. There are all sorts of taboos on certain intimate functions of the body; but the public disposal of the related refuse is a matter of general unconcern. Like the ribald emptying of chamber-pots in Elizabethan London, shops open and close by vigorously sweeping their dirt into the bit of pavement just outside. It is up to the passers-by to dodge the clouds of dust or the lash of a zealous broom.

Domestic hygiene becomes a means of marking out private territory. In this, the nuclear family acts as a unit of privacy pitted against the encroachments of the city. As a result, such spaces as elevators, compounds, pavements and even hospitals, crematoria, government offices, public toilets and parks remain nobody’s business. Littered and despoiled, they never become part of a civic identity. Parks are renovated, lit up against vice and then kept locked up, looking vaguely municipal. They never quite come to life in the same way as, say, the piazza and its myriad life are integral to Mediterranean sociability. The sense of belonging to a city expresses itself, if at all, in such ultimately useless passions as nationalizing its name.

In India, these practices of domestic hygiene are exactly mirrored in attitudes to personal hygiene. And here the body becomes the vehicle of a fastidiously guarded purity (with its own long history), which is, perhaps, an individualism of sorts. Here again, through “Poona Train Window”, we must think of the lower bodily functions and of a few relatively higher ones as well. Waking up to the noise of general and furious hawking as part of the neighbourhood’s morning ablutions has always been a rather comforting routine for many Calcuttans.

In a city like Calcutta, teeming with a large migrant and shelterless population, notions of privacy get fundamentally altered. So much of the intimate life of human bodies takes place entirely in the public eye. Walking through the city during mid-day, when the homeless bathe in the corporation taps, or at night, when they are getting ready to sleep, could be a rich experience for the compulsive metropolitan voyeur. Yet human beings must defecate, urinate, expectorate, menstruate, procreate, decay and die. They must also somehow cling on to shreds and patches of dignity and of privacy, however ridiculous these notions may be in certain lifestyles.

This delicate ecological balance is maintained in Indian cities through a system of averted gazes. If a man urinating against a private wall manages not to meet the eyes of those who walk past, then his act somehow remains uncommitted, his privacy remains inviolate. Similarly, the eyes of beggars, lepers and cripples must never be met. Private acts in public spaces — out of compulsion or callousness — turn privacy into a state of mind, into even a willed state of illusion or disavowal, rather than a physically achievable and necessary condition. As a writer in this column has recently put it, the “worst” then becomes “good enough”.

In Ramanujan’s poem, the defecator turns away from the train, preferring to bare his posterior to the public gaze, to meeting the passengers’ eyes with his own. But this viewer refuses to avert his gaze, not out of any humane engagement, but out of a detached aesthetic fascination with “the symmetry of human buttocks”. Ramanujan was aware of the perversity of this response, and saw the tendency to sanitize and simplify as central to Hindu culture. Another poem in the same volume — called “The Hindoo: the only risk” — ends with these lines: “At the bottom of all this bottomless/ enterprise to keep simple the heart’s given beat,/ the only risk is heartlessness.”


Eleven years of killing, over 50,000 dead and the highest ratio of soldiers to civilians in the world, with a nuclear war between India and Pakistan as the pay-off if things get out of hand: the conflict in Kashmir dwarfs every other global confrontation in its potential for harm. But the prospects for peace are actually rising in Kashmir.

The clock seemed to be ticking down on India’s unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir, originally due to expire at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on December 27. But it has now been extended by the Indian government until Republic Day on January 26. The local situation has remained such that India may review possibilities of further extending the ceasefire. That could be a new beginning for the whole region, and nowhere needs it more.

Analysts in the subcontinent and elsewhere prattle on about a nuclear “balance of terror” between India and Pakistan, but they are talking through their hats. The old Cold War “balance of terror” between East and West only came into existence after the mid-Sixties, when both sides had built thousands of nuclear weapons that were invulnerable to surprise attack because they were buried deep in missile silos or hidden away at sea in submarines.

Disarming surprise

That stabilized the confrontation somewhat, because it was no longer possible to disarm one’s adversary with a surprise first-strike that eliminated all his nuclear weapons. Every nuclear attack would be met with a nuclear counter-attack — technically called “mutually assured destruction”. But this period was preceded in the Cold War by a far more dangerous decade when surprise nuclear attacks might have succeeded — and that is the technological era that Pakistan and India are living through now.

Perhaps in ten years’ time India and Pakistan will have buried their nuclear missiles in silos or sent them out to sea. Now their few dozen nuclear warheads are just sitting out in the open, slung under the wings of aircraft at the end of runways, or screwed to the top of relatively short-range missiles at military bases not far from the border. A disarming surprise attack could work, and the warning time available is only 15-20 minutes.

So both countries have “launch-on-warning” policies, even though they know radar operators can make mistakes. Some dozens of nuclear warheads exploding over airfields and military bases across northern India and Pakistan (plus, almost certainly, over New Delhi and Islamabad) would not be literally the end of the world, but tens of millions would die.

Enough for the moment

The need to step back from this hair-trigger confrontation was part of the reason for the three-month ceasefire declared last August by the biggest of the Kashmiri guerrilla outfits, Hizbul Mujahedin. It collapsed after only two weeks, but it would never have happened without encouragement from Pakistan (which arms the guerrillas, though it officially denies it).

The Indian government’s ceasefire this month has held considerably better, and behind the scenes, major concessions are being discussed. New Delhi no longer demands that all the Kashmiri groups pledge allegiance to the Constitution before starting to talk. Pakistan is signalling that it no longer insists on being included in the talks from the start, though there must be some understanding that it will be brought in before the end.

“If we’re genuinely interested in peace, we’ve got to engage”, says Abdul Ghani Bhat, chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference that unites all the pro-independence parties in Kashmir. As long as everybody keeps the final destination sufficiently vague, it may be possible for all the parties to stop the killing and start talking.

“Talks” doesn’t mean a final solution for the Kashmir question, which dates back to the decision of the state’s Hindu ruler to opt for India at Partition in 1947, despite its majority Muslim population. It certainly doesn’t mean the referendum on Kashmir’s future that Jawaharlal Nehru promised 50 years ago. It just means talks, and maybe more autonomy for Kashmir — plus an end to the killing, and the withdrawal of a few hundred thousand Indian troops and police from Kashmir’s towns and villages, and a long step away from the brink of a regional nuclear war. Enough for the moment.


We got talking about the friendliest people in our country. We analysed Panjus (Punjabis), Bhaiyas (Uttar Pradeshis and Biharis), Bongs (Bengalis), Dakhanis (Telengas, Kannadas), Mallees (Malayalis), Madrasis (Tamilians), Mian Bhas (Muslims), Makapaons (Christians) and Bawajis (Parsis). We went down the list demolishing each group for one defect or the other. Panjus: very forthcoming, but uncouth and loudmouthed — who wants to make friends with them?

Bhaiyas: nondescript, neither as extrovert as the Panjus nor as introspective as the Bongs. Bongs: think they are number one Indians and very arty-farty — when Bengal sneezes, the rest of India catches cold and so on. And clannish. No cuisine culture, only mishti doi and roshogolla. Maharashtrians, Dakhanis, Madrasis and Mallees, all lumped together as Madrasis, are full of caste prejudices and rarely invite people to their homes. Makapaons and Bawajis are half-baked firangis: you don’t feel relaxed in their company. General conclusion: people who prefer their own kind, either languagewise or castewise, don’t qualify to compete for the friendship championship. Nor do people who keep their women behind the purdah or in the kitchen.

So who are we left with? I recall my encounters with my countrymen and women. I have been just about everywhere in this country. I had not yet made up my mind when I got a letter from Bobbeeta. I had all but forgotten her but for her odd name, Bobbeeta. I had met her briefly in Guwahati and Delhi. I went over names of other Assamese I know: Baruas, Bezbaruas, Hazarikas, Gogois, Bardolois, Saikias, Phukans, Bor-Thakurs, Raj Khowas, Goswamis, Chaudhrys, Sharmas, Acharyas. Surprising, since I have not been to Assam more than four or five times and each time for short periods of three or four days. Yet, I keep in touch with more Assamese than with any other people. Why? For one thing, to me, the average Assamese woman is better-looking than the average anywhere else. For another, they are more forthcoming and more hospitable and have no hangups about caste or class. My vote for the friendliest of Indians goes to the Assamese.

Back to Bobbeeta. She was nurtured on films and electronic media. She started playing child roles in many films till she came to Doordarshan in Guwahati as a news reader and also started acting in serials. While she teaches history in Pandu College, Guwahati, she is a research fellow at the department of film studies in Calcutta’s Jadavpur University. Her crowning achievement is being anchor and co-producer of Geetimalika, a song-based programme, which will telecast its 100th episode on Boxing Day, December 26, a record for any programme telecast in Assamese.

For the centenary of Geetimalika, a big bash is planned to honour Bobbeeta, her husband and co-producer, Chinmoy, director-editor, Manas Adhikari, and script writer, Jimoni Chaudhury. Bobbeeta has written to me about what they plan to do for the big bash but has not invited me to join them. This is a very unfriendly act by people I vote as the friendliest of Indians.

A special kind of affection

My neighbour, Reeta Devi Verma, is passionately fond of dogs and cats, not the pedigreed variety, but strays born in gutters or abandoned by their masters. Her husband, Bheem, a prince of Cooch Behar, is even more dedicated to them.

Every evening he sets out in his ancient car with packets of food to do the rounds of the locality where dogs wait to be fed. He occasionally takes a vet with him to inject the dogs with anti-rabies vaccines, treat them for mange and sterilize them. Caring for abandoned animals is more important to him than social norms.

No matter who has invited him, and at what time, he will not turn up before 8.30 pm, till he has fed hundreds of dogs who depend on him. He never goes away from Delhi.

Reeta has taken on more. She is building a hospital for tuberculosis and AIDS victims in her home town Guwahati. She has a fully-equipped ambulance which goes round villages treating people no longer able to travel to the city. She has also set up a laboratory. She has to spend several days in Assam every month.

Reeta once found a mongrel abandoned in Greater Kailash market. It was scared of humans and as Reeta approached it, it ran away and hid under a car. When she tried to get it out, it bit her. Nevertheless, she managed to get hold of it and bring it home. It had been traumatized. It took some time for Reeta to win its affection. She fed it, nourished it to health and virtually became its human mother. It was a hairy, cuddly Apso kind of dog. It developed a terrible mother fixation. It slept on Reeta’s bed, growled at anyone who came near its mother and followed her wherever she went like her shadow. I named her Pooch — tail, Reeta’s tail.

Reeta and Pooch became inseparable, Whenever she came to see me, Pooch followed. She felt unhappy till Reeta took her on her lap. It took me a long time to win Pooch’s confidence. Reeta would put her on my lap and let me cuddle her. She returned my affection, but as soon as Reeta got up to leave, she jumped off my lap to run after her mom, happily wagging her tail.

When Reeta left for Guwahati, Pooch was desolate. Every morning and evening, Bheem brought her to let her sit on my lap for a few minutes. Pooch acquired a feeling of possession over me. If anyone came near me she growled at them. She was not as eager to go back with Bheem as she was with Reeta. A bond of affection grew between us.

One morning last week, Bheem and Pooch did not show up. I wondered what had happened. A couple of hours later Reeta rang me up from Guwahati. “Pooch is dead”, she said in a choked voice. She could not speak any more. A heavy gloom of depression came over me. I kept thinking of Pooch all day and the time she spent in my lap, how she fell asleep as I stroked her fat bottom and whispered into her ears, “You sensuous little bitch!”

So passed the day. After dinner I was sitting by my fireside. Lost in my thoughts. Bheem walked in carrying Pooch’s body (wrapped in a shawl) in his arms, with tears streaming down his eyes. I extended my arms. He placed her body on my lap. I stroked her body. It was as cold as a slab of ice. Her eyes and mouth slightly open — just as they were when she was alive and enjoying my making love to her.

In consultation with the stars

“Raghupati did nothing important without consulting his astrologer. Had it been feasible, he would have checked with the stars even before buttoning up his shirt or scratching his elbow or breaking wind. A family tradition. Over the years, astrologers and palmists, yogis and fortune-tellers had advised him on whom to marry, what new first name to give his wife, when to copulate so as to beget only sons, when to officially drop his caste-revealing surname, what allonym to adopt, when to angle for a transfer, which posts were both lucrative and safe, whom to beware of, whom to trample on, whom to suck up to, when to separate from his wife, which functions to attend, what colours to wear on which occasions, what food to eat and when, when to divorce — briefly, how, when and where to place every step of life.”

(Upamanyu Chatterjee, The Mammaries of the Welfare State).


In countries like Turkey, Bosnia, Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, the chief sounds now are those of blasting shells and cries of the dying. Surprisingly enough, cinema still exists in these countries. Such cinema, however, is distanced from the popular notion of cinema as entertainment. One wonders how film-makers continue with their art while a war is going on.

Unlike in India, European film festivals often make special arrangements for the screening of films made in war-torn countries by film-makers who live and work there. In this context, it would be appropriate to focus on the work done by the Sarajevo group of authors.

About 40 people have got together to form SAGA. They are writers, poets, students, film directors, painters and ordinary citizens, for whom humanity means more than the message of nationalist propaganda.

In the last few years, SAGA has had the chance to screen a host of films at several European film festivals like the Mannheim-Heidelberg film festival in Germany, the Thessaloniki film festival in Greece and the Donostia San Sebastian film festival in Spain.

SAGA says these films are “a last cry for help from drowning people.” Bosnian film director and SAGA activist, Ademir Kenovic, remarks “when war broke out, carrying out a film project could not even be contemplated. We used our minimal budget to make short video films with the help of friends.” SAGA also uses video images as a form of communication.

For example, Saga Portrait is a 12-minute video. In it, the camera follows a group of SAGA activists driving around to observe stray dogs and desperate people. With an old police van, the group drives into a barrage of grenades, trying to survive another so-called “normal” day. SAGA authors are not professional journalists. They come from different backgrounds. Some have not only lost their jobs in the war but also their families and friends.

Draw Me, made jointly by Francois Lunel and Kenovic is a 10-minute study of the tragedy of war as it becomes evident in a paediatric ward of a Sarajevo hospital. The film does not have any commentary. The visuals are shocking and self-explanatory. Herak: Confession of a Monster, is a 30-minute video focusing on a war victim, Borislav Herak. He talks about atrocities committed by him, almost without emotion. His matter-of-fact retrospection leaves one speechless because he is talking about crimes like murder and rape.

Not all films are shot on video. There are some 16 millimetre films. A particularly good one is Man, God, the Monster. The film represents a new aesthetic of film-making, created by Sarajevo film-makers living within the besieged city.

They present their view of life, redefined and reinvented by the war. There are three different, independent stories within this film. The first is about a film director. This man, used to creating reality on films, is now confronted with the horrible reality of having to fight for survival.

The second story is about a group of actors rehearsing for Waiting for Godot. They are trying to invent some semblance of meaning for themselves and for their fellow-beings.

The third story is the most shocking. It is about a 19-year-old boy who has turned into a cold-blooded killing machine. The story he unfolds before the camera defies all principles of humanity. Against this backdrop of violence, efforts of Sarajevo citizens to survive and live a normal life appear tragically absurd.

Why have You Left Me is a feature film dealing with the emotional scars of the war in former Yugoslavia. It is narrated from the point of view of the young generation that is paying the highest price for the war. It is an anti-war film, powerfully presented as a bizarre love story.

The narrative unfolds with a boy meeting a girl in the heavily shelled area of Vukovar. The boy almost loses his mind and the girl loses her family in the war. After some time, he meets the girl again in Belgrade. He is now a soldier and she is a refugee. War is the invisible protagonist of the film.

The Balkan landscape, as it unfolds through these unusual films, comes across vividly. Balkan film-makers have demonstrated their commitment to cinema by making films from within a zone of armed conflict and aggression. Even under the most adverse conditions, they continue to produce art in an attempt to create bridges of communication with more fortunate countries. Sadly, Balkan cinema gets obscured into anonymity in the context of international cinema.

Balkan film-makers have proved that war does not hinder their appetite for creativity. They create art for art’s sake. Their response to a war-torn situation as socially responsible citizens is commendable. Their films clearly show their deep concern for the inhumanity and futility of war in a modern, civilized world.



Loss and gain

Sir — The editorial, “Don’t bank on it” (Dec 18), demonstrates a lack of comprehension of the voluntary retirement scheme now being implemented in various banks. The overwhelming acceptance of the VRS by the employees as well as the officers is the manifestation of their deep resentment of the working conditions in most of the nationalized banks. The editorial assumes that most of those who are leaving are talented and employable elsewhere and those who are staying back are incompetent and ultimately redundant. The truth is just the reverse. Many employees, even those who are in their early fifties, are leaving because of the attractive VRS package, which is giving them a considerable amount of money. As a result of their departure, banks will not be worse off, as the editorial claims, than they are today. There will remain a sizeable work force which is good enough to run the banks efficiently. No one should grumble about this.
Yours faithfully,
K.R.S. Srinivas and B.K. Mohanraju, Calcutta

Sphinx’s riddle

Sir — The editorial, “Enigma variations” (Dec 16), has suggested reasons behind the present mood being displayed around Ayodhya and Hindutva by the prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. But it has not pointed out the right one. It is obvious to the rational mind that the policy of appeasement of minorities followed over the years, by successive governments in this country, has put Vajpayee in a position where he can no longer switch tracks and implement an alternative regime. The appeasement of sectional interests has become the motif of the ruling coalition’s policies for a number of years now. The numerous regional and caste groupings that are represented in the Parliament have turned it into a rogues’ gallery.

Allies in the coalition are forever playing truant. Non-Muslim political parties in the opposition are continuously regurgitating the almost forgotten issue of Ayodhya. In fact, this year, there were not even any symbolic protests, like bomb blasts in trains, on the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Given this scenario, even the calmest of men would lose their cool. It is only natural that Vajpayee has thrown in his towel.

Besides, in order to salvage the country from anarchy, Mamata Banerjee and Yerran Naidu should be asked either to put up with the coalition or to shut up.

Yours faithfully,
R.H. Putran, Calcutta

Sir — The recent statements on the Ramjanmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya, by the prime minister, have been made in a supremely calculating manner, and not in a fit of hysteria. The opposition has completely misread the Realpolitik behind this. For months now, Vajpayee has been consistently moving towards a decision on the Kashmir issue. This has caused him more than his deserved share of concern. His recent statements are meant to set some kind of “tone” to the way in which the Kashmir issue is going to be settled.

Yours faithfully,
Jitesh Sonee, Calcutta

Sir — It is unfortunate and ironic that the prime minister’s statements served to aggravate the anger of the opposition parties. They should now keep calm and use this event as leverage to dislodge the present government.

The nature of the statements would make anyone think that Vajpayee was talking on behalf of the sangh parivar. It also seems like he is fanning sectarian sensibilities. The opposition should convert this into a sentimental issue on these lines.

Yours faithfully,
Tarun Kumar Sarkhel, Purulia

Sir — The prime minister’s support to the Ram temple in Ayodhya on the eighth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid has upset many. Why did Vajpayee destroy his carefully nurtured secular image by playing an overtly communal card? It may be that Vajpayee had resisted the dictates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for far too long. There could have been pressure on him to make amends for this.

He was probably making an attempt to appease the members of the organization in which the Bharatiya Janata Party has its ideological origins. But all said and done, he has taken a big risk because his statements could have led to the disintegration of the ruling coalition. It seems that the risk has paid off quite well.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

Seems to be working

Sir — The editorial, “Rare occasion”, (Dec 19) raised an issue of fundamental importance. It is indeed sensible of the chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, to persuade his government to call off the bandh, originally scheduled for December 20. The most disconcerting feature about a bandh is that, apart from paralysing normal life, it prevents several people from earning their livelihood.

Casual labourers, who work on the basis of daily payment, have no other means of substituting their income for that day. Besides, bandhs hamper industrial production and bring all transport services to a halt. All of this creates enormous difficulties for the average citizen and causes the loss of a lot of revenue.

It is true that the National Democratic Alliance has not provided the West Bengal government with enough funds to combat the aftermath of the recent floods, which have devastated nine districts in the state. Some protest should be made in this regard. But calling a bandh is too much of a punishment for the common man. Meanwhile, the Union finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, has promised that the 11th finance commission has come out with a new scheme for the management of calamities. He has also assured the West Bengal government that a national contingency fund is going to be set up to provide relief.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Sir — It appears that our government believes that a bandh is a common solution to all our problems. But this is mindless. Everyone knows that it causes more inconvenience than it helps. Why do people have to stay at home and make a bandh successful? What are we afraid of?

We have been independent for more than 50 years and yet we do not have the guts to protest against something that is clearly undesirable.

Yours faithfully,
Nazim Ahmed, via email

Sir — For most Calcuttans, bandh means holiday. Very few consider it as a form of protest.

Yours faithfully,
Tulika Ghoshal, Calcutta

Cruel sport

Sir — The news report, “Circus owner, two others in custody for girl’s death” (Dec 17), does not surprise anyone. Animals are continuously ill-treated in circuses. Naturally, they get desperate and attack human beings out of sheer frustration. It has been reported that the electric rod is used on the animals during their training. Maneka Gandhi had intended to stop such circuses from performing. But that was obviously not taken seriously by the Olympic Circus in Howrah. Why can’t we have circuses where no animals are used or ill-treated? This would be enjoyed without guilt by both adults and children.
Yours faithfully,
Helen Rodgers, Calcutta

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