Editorial 1 / Two republics
Editorial 2 / Party pooper
Never mind the debris
Fifth Column/ Back to the same old divisions
Against absolute reason
When enjoyment and destruction go hand in hand
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / TWO REPUBLICS 
 
 
 
 
It is too early to predict the course of relations between India and the United States during the George W. Bush administration. But it is unlikely that the new phase of engagement that began during Mr Bill Clinton’s second term will be reversed during the next four years. Indeed, there seems to be good evidence to suggest that the Republican administration may even locate the relationship on a firmer ground. There are at least four reasons for this optimism. First, key members of the Bush administration are deeply concerned about the future of China, and its possible emergence as a belligerent and revisionist superpower that will seek to challenge American influence and power, especially in the Asia-Pacific region in the next decade or so. They view China more as a rival and a strategic competitor than the strategic partner that the Clinton administration had made it out to be. Important voices in the new American government are beginning to recognize that India, with its own problems with China, could be one vital counterweight to it and help provide a healthier balance in Asia. This could well mean that a Republican administration will be more sensitive to Indian security concerns, and more willing to accommodate India’s own aspirations to be a great power.

Second, the Republicans, although no less concerned about proliferation of nuclear weapons, may have a less absolutist view of India’s nuclear policy. Most important, given their own skepticism about the comprehensive test ban treaty, the pressure for India to sign the treaty is bound to ease considerably. If non-proliferation stops being an irritant in India-US relations, the bilateral relationship will inevitably become stronger. Unlike the Democratic administration, the Republicans do not carry a huge ideological baggage on human rights or environmental issues. Concern about human rights problems in, say, Kashmir or linkages between trade and environment are unlikely to manifest themselves in the manner that they did during the first Clinton administration.

Finally, while Bush may not have a nuanced understanding of foreign policy, and could not even recall the name of the Indian prime minister during the electoral campaign, his foreign policy team is probably the most gifted since the presidency of John F. Kennedy. This team seems to have a healthy respect for India, and recognizes the importance of forging a close strategic partnership with New Delhi. Prominent among these include the secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, the vice-president, Mr Dick Cheney, the national security advisor, Ms Condoleeza Rice, and the probable head of policy planning, Mr Richard Haass. It may recalled that during his testimony before the senate for confirmation, Mr Powell argued that India “should grow more and more focused in the lens” of American foreign policy. In addition, he said: “We must deal more wisely with the world’s largest democracy. Soon to be the most populous country in the world, India has the potential to help keep the peace in the vast Indian Ocean area and its periphery”. There are, of course, cold warriors who could find a place in the administration and who still are nostalgic about the close relationship that the US once shared with Pakistan. But it is unlikely that they will be able to derail the growing proximity between New Delhi and Washington that is based, more than anything else, on a convergence of strategic perceptions and core values.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / PARTY POOPER 
 
 
 
 
There are no two ways of defining a loyal party comrade. He is either with the party or he is not. Mr Subhas Chakraborty of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is looking for a non-existent middle ground. If he is sincere in his belief that he has no further involvement with the party he has served for the better part of his adult life, he should surrender his red card. Mr Chakraborty has shown no signs of substantiating his grievances and his dissent by his actions. For a lifelong communist, it is no easy matter to step outside the world of the party. Such a step is an irreparable breach. As long as Mr Chakraborty’s differences with his party remain verbal, a question mark will remain over his exit. There is in matters like this many a slip between the cup and the lip. Mr Chakraborty’s differences with the CPI(M) are not recent. He has been on the brink of leaving on a number of occasions in the past and then has not left. He has used strong words by announcing that he will not contest the election and also by declaring that even the intervention of Mr Jyoti Basu will not make him change his mind. Nonetheless, he is yet to take that last irrevocable step. But he should, if he is to match his words with actions.

Those in awe of the discipline which is supposed to be the strength of the CPI(M) will wonder at the party’s tolerance in the face of Mr Chakraborty’s open violation of that discipline. At any other political conjuncture, any other comrade would have faced expulsion if he had uttered the same things as Mr Chakraborty. This tolerance is an index of a larger political reality. The CPI(M) faces in the next few months a tough election. It is desperate therefore to preserve the unity of the party and to keep within its fold an experienced campaigner like Mr Chakraborty. The tolerance can be read as a recognition of the CPI(M)’s declining support base and as an admission of Ms Mamata Banerjee’s growing strength and popularity. The conjuncture gives to Mr Chakraborty the option to bargain or to quit. His choice may well be crucial to the results of the forthcoming elections.

   

 
 
NEVER MIND THE DEBRIS 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
Why scoff at the affluent West for incurring so much expense of money and spirit in managing the staggering amounts of waste it produces? Yes, with all its resources, it cannot recycle or launder a large part of the litter, much less patch up the hole in the ozone layer. But we in India have been able to do little, even to check the fouling of the holy Ganga though this has not prevented over 20 million pilgrims from flocking to Allahabad to have a dip in the river at the sangam, the point of its confluence with the Yamuna.

The West tries to reprocess not only the enormous quantities of poisonous effluents released by its nuclear, chemical and metallurgical plants but also the leftovers from its orgy of consumption abetted by a frenzied creation of new wants. Even so, it prefers to export at least some of the more dangerous stuff to poor countries which are too willing to risk burying it in their soil for a pittance. God blesses the rich in this world with a surfeit of material goods. The poor can only look forward to a place in the kingdom of heaven after their demise.

The urban landscape in India rebuts the very idea of cleanliness. Many cities and towns in the country literally overflow with garbage. The judiciary can issue directives for a thorough cleanup and some officials even live in fear of being hauled up for contempt of court. But that is poor comfort to millions of helpless citizens. The stench arising from rotting kitchen wastes in garbage dumps infects day and night the very air they breathe.

So used are they to living amidst filth that a clean environment is for most people no more than a pipe dream. Even more worrying for them is the accumulating debris of policies which come to grief soon after they go into action. The fate of the peace process in Kashmir is a case in point. It never made any headway and, in the absence of a positive response from the other side, is petering out amidst a new barrage of charges and counter-charges.

This has not, however, prevented the government from refusing to admit defeat and extending the unilateral ceasefire by another month. The revival of the temple controversy by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, on the other hand, is a story which began with a bang, created a lot of noise pollution, and ended with a whimper. Beatrice Webb once called marriage “the wastepaper basket for the emotions”. But which container will accommodate all the refuse produced by flawed official policies?

That the uncertainties surrounding the policy-making processes at the Centre are to a large extent the creation of a ruling coalition of disparate groups is too obvious to bear repetition. It is only natural that some partners are more interested in insuring their regional support bases against the risk of getting eroded than in helping the finance minister to enforce stricter fiscal discipline. Fearing a showdown, the government invariably prefers yielding some ground to putting its own future at stake.

But the compulsions of coalition politics are by no means the only source of the all too frequent shilly-shallying on the part of the Central government in confronting knotty issues of domestic and foreign policy. Much of its hesitation in making up its mind results from the contrary demands made by the need to contain social unrest at home and go ahead with the economic reforms. Thanks to the globalization process, “the economic and the political mingle their determinations and implode into one another”.

The question whether the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government acted entirely on its own or after some goading by the United States in announcing a ceasefire is not very relevant. The all-important problem now is how to get rid of the debris of the peace process. One more month of living in a world of makebelieve will be easy. But building a new policy on the ruins of the old will call for a far more hardheaded reassessment of the situation. What the government is trying to project as a sign of its moral strength is most likely to be interpreted by the militants as a demonstration of its military as well as political weakness.

Having rejected outright the resolution passed by the Kashmir assembly demanding a return to the original instrument of accession, what made the government believe that any militant group would settle for less when most of them were keen on the state joining Pakistan or becoming an independent entity? A free-for-all debate on the issue can lead nowhere in an atmosphere vitiated by so many jehadi groups busy whipping up communal hatreds. Any meaningful negotiation rather demands an unequivocal prior agreement by the parties concerned on the parameters within which they are to be held.

Surely, the Vajpayee government, after its experience of Kargil, its awareness of the contempt in which the military regime in Pakistan holds the peace process initiated in Lahore, the escalation of cross-border terrorism after the end of hostilities, and the raising of the jehadi rhetoric to a paranoid pitch, must have had a precise idea by now of how far it could go in reaching a settlement with the militants or with their Pakistani patrons? Why then does it fight shy of stating in clear terms the changes, if any, in its previous stand?

So far as the record goes, the government has never resiled from its position that Kashmir is and will always remain an integral part of the Indian Union. If this is still the case, it rules out the demand both of its merger with Pakistan or its constitution into an independent state. Thus any negotiation with the militant groups can be only on the degree of the state’s autonomy.

In fact, even this cannot be discussed in a context divorced from the history of the last 50 years. Pakistan does not come into the picture here at all. It is a matter to be settled between India and the Kashmiri leaders in the light of both past experience and the likely repercussions of any major change in Kashmir’s status on the future of Centre-state relations in the rest of the country.

So far as Pakistan is concerned, the first need is to cut out all the crap about the United Nations resolution, for long consigned to the dustbin of history. As for Kashmiri identity, the people of the state know too well about both open and sneaky bids to obliterate Sindhi and Baluchi identities and the treatment of mohajirs as half-aliens. The core issue is one of demarcating the border between the two neighbours and any meaningful negotiations can be held only on the basis of Pakistan keeping whatever part of the state’s territory it occupied during its first armed conflict with India and converting the 52-year-old line of control into an international frontier.

The trouble with Pakistan, which has made a miserable mess of both its politics and economy, is that it needs an enemy to divert its people’s attention from the deteriorating situation at home. It must be made to learn the hard way that export of terrorism can only add to the suffering of the population whose cause it cynically claims to espouse. As for the militants, they must be given a heavier dose of the very medicine they have been administering to those safeguarding India’s territorial integrity.

On the temple issue, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad seems to have developed cold feet at the prospect of a confrontation with the government led by a member of its own extended family. If it had no intention of fixing a date for starting work on building the temple at the disputed site, why did it have to conjure up the spectre of a looming crisis? Its threatening noises only brought home to the public that its bark was much worse than its bite. The Allahabad high court has now more than a year to make up its mind on the ownership of the disputed land and since both the government and the Muslims are committed to abide by its verdict, its decision should put an end to an unsavoury episode whose fallout has kept the country on tenterhooks for many years.

For the rest, the government should be on its guard against words designed to puff up the national ego. Futuristic images of a software superpower in the making cannot hide the dread realities of the numerous weak spots in the country even in many vital areas of the fast developing information industries, and more so in the facilities to induct the new technologies into manufacturing sectors of the economy to make them more competitive in the world market.

Nor should the government, in moments of self-adulation, forget the overall economic picture which is pretty grim, with large areas of grinding poverty, civic services in many cities about to break down and most states teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

The government must also remember that what many post-industrial utopians hail as new opportunities for global interaction often get translated for countries at the receiving end of the globalization process into greater inequalities at home and increased dependence on those abroad who occupy the top slots in the new pecking order. The justified hope of a closer understanding with the US under the Bush administration does not diminish the pathos of the way many policy-makers and media pundits here hang on to every word with regard to India that comes from the Pentagon, the state department or even some thinktanks.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ BACK TO THE SAME OLD DIVISIONS 
 
 
BY NAVIN CHANDRA JOSHI
 
 
At the recently held world economic forum in New Delhi it was said that India needs to pull up its socks because it is still in great need of foreign direct investment to have access to technology and foreign exchange. It was noted that inflow of FDI in India was declining when compared with China.

An interesting observation made was that the rise in income disparity within the country was holding India back from rapid growth. Economic reforms have benefited some sections much more than others. This increase in inequalities is discouraging for foreign investors. In fact, it is responsible for the rising discontent in Indian society and the continuation of subsidies through populist policies by the state governments.

Several states are facing large fiscal deficits and the combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and the states is likely to reach nine per cent of the gross domestic product by the end of the fiscal year 2000-2001. This level of deficit will be quite unsustainable.

Unfortunately, in India, the lack of political consensus remains the main obstacle to development. Successive governments have had to introduce reforms by stealth which have been followed by strong protests and popular opposition. This has been true of, say, disinvestment in the public sector units. The process would have been smoother had there been a social safety net.

Still too poor

It is with this consciousness that most of the leaders at the economic forum expressed the need for market economies to be socially responsible. They included the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.

Globalization of economies has stalled the progress of poverty reduction in developing countries , including India. The international fund for agricultural development noted in its 1999 annual report that the impact of destabilization, collapse of financial markets and sudden devaluation of currencies, associated with the process of globalization, are reflected in increasing poverty, inequalities in income and declining levels of public and welfare expenditure.

The economic growth achieved by India in recent decades has had no perceptible impact on rural poverty levels. Despite improvement in infant mortality rates, life expectancy at birth and adult literacy rates, India still suffers from very low scores on measures of human development such as human development index, gender development index and gender empowerment index. Around 80 per cent of the rural population in India has a caloric intake much lower than the 2,400-calories-per-adult norm.

Fewer morsels

The economy needs reordering. Large amounts of money must become available for infrastructure development. Producers must be guaranteed production costs so that food production can be accelerated. Food security is indispensable to the wellbeing of the economy.

Policies in developed countries continue to remain formidable barriers to the free flow of agricultural goods going from developing countries. There is no dearth of food in India but many have no access to it. It is feared that 600 million people may be deprived of food by 2010.

Discipline should be imposed on the most distorted sectors of international trade, determined by the World Trade Organization. Specific binding commitments in market access, domestic support and export competition in member states need to be secured. Today, market access is hampered by persistent protection by tariff and other barriers. They continue to block developing countries’ imports into the developed world. As a consequence of globalization, serious gaps are growing between those who profit and others who are subdued by global pressures to adjust.

Technology is the main driver of globalization. Computing and telecommunications, accompanied by education and vocational training offer unprecedented chances to raise living standards and to create an infinitely denser network of electronic uses for global integration. Globalization can bring about more productivity, more employment and higher income among the poor if its benefits percolate downwards. But if this does not happen, it is within the power of governments to slow down or even to turn back the tide of globalization.

   

 
 
AGAINST ABSOLUTE REASON 
 
 
BY PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY
 
 
Perhaps the single greatest modern work on American political rhetoric is Harry Jaffa’s interpretation of Abraham Lincoln in Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln Douglas Debates. The contents are not only an enduring lesson in political prudence for the American citizenry — who as a people are as deeply divided and dogmatic as any —but for all those who wish to place their wager on democratic politics and affirmative action as the correct and possible challenge to the political right — from Georg Heider’s Austria to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s India.

Historians have recently argued that Lincoln won the American Civil War with metaphors and that words remade America. Jaffa’s interpretation shows that this is only half the truth. In the bedrock of Lincoln’s political thought lay the passion for a reasonable course modelling the opposing and equally dangerous passions of a fierce rationalism — often paradoxically couched in Christian values — of the Northern abolitionists and the moral indolence of the slaveholding South. Lincoln, in a lifelong mission to balance the ills of both, aimed at modelling the political virtues of restraint, forbearance and a commitment to deliberative dialogue.

Jaffa’s ultimate focus is on the great debates that took place between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, the rightwing democratic senator; debates that revolved around whether democracy was about legitimizing majority will, one that could vote “slavery up or down” as Douglas proposed or about endorsing certain rational principles through legislations and judicial reviews that might ultimately be counter-majoritarian. But Jaffa first treats two earlier speeches of Lincoln as his point of departure — the Lyceum Speech and the Temperance Address.

In the “Address Before The Young Men’s Lyceum Of Springfield, Illinois, 1838”, Lincoln warns against mob rule on the grounds that it encourages those lawless in spirit to become lawless in public. But he laments the infeasibility of discretionary justice as a practical solution to majoritarian aspirations. In explaining why the United States cannot abolish slavery outright, Lincoln argues it would be disastrous to try to achieve everything in the name of pre-political abstractions, like human rights and equality, too soon. As Jaffa goes on to explicate, the popular leader must be prepared to gratify the less-than noble but not immoral demands of his would be supporters. Men and women must be led towards higher rational purposes of which they are scarcely conscious if those who hold these purposes first show concern for and have an ability to gratify their less than noble demands.

In the Temperance Address, Lincoln again comes out heavily against the moral zealot for his perverted sensualism but also against the rational abolitionist for trying to prematurely precipitate the impulses of the irrational slave-holding Southern confederacy. Jaffa uses these two early speeches to set up his main theme, which is how Lincoln, in his debates with Douglas, fulfilled self-government and prudential political morality.

Indeed Douglas’s doctrines of popular sovereignty, as Lincoln saw it, was a calculated indoctrination in moral incontinence. But the real lesson for the liberal democrat is Lincoln’s rejection of abolitionism because he saw it as a politics of moral purity, a zealotry fed by the same impulse of irrational despotism it so piously opposed. While working towards “higher” principles moral reformers risk reducing principle to partisanship. The abolitionist path would involve the arrogation to the federal government of an unconstitutional power to abolish slavery, or the unconstitutional succession of the free states. This Lincoln condemned as the path of the politically juvenile, breaking faith not only with the Southern states but also with the founders of the constitution.

What causes uneasiness in Jaffa’s Lincoln is that on the face of it one might feel that Lincoln is actually hoodwinking the populace by flattering his audience —these are after all election campaign speeches — by appearing to endorse popular sovereignty and liberty but actually only espousing his own republican elitist principles. But the whole point is not, as critics of Jaffa sometimes write, that Lincoln admonishes that the wise should not reason candidly with those who are in the error because that would diminish the influence of the wise. In this sense it is benign deception, benevolent manipulation. The entire reading of Lincoln arises from a belief that irrational popular will has to met head on before the high principles of absolute equality and secularism are to be implemented within a polity.

Despite Lincoln’s limitation as a liberal leader, the greatest of them being a stubborn resistance to the vision that the blacks could actually share political power with the whites, he put his foot down pragmatically against one highest form of irrational value, namely distinction based on the basis of pigmentation in the human skin. He saw prudence in being radical on the need-to-act basis, rather than being teleological.

Two paths beckoned the opponents of slavery, straightforward but premature abolitionism — that by threatening the Union and the American constitution, also would threaten indirectly that vital weapon of power against the slaveholders: the declaration of independence.

The other path was the anti-extensionist path upon which the founders had placed the American nation by cutting off the slave trade through the banning of slavery from the Northwest territories. Along this path, free labour society would spread westward, choking off slavery. The anti-extensionist strategy was the longer path, but the surer one

Two paths likewise beckoned slavery’s supporters. The faithful constitutional path was to acquiesce in slavery’s ultimate demise, while the extremist alternative was to oppose the US constitution. Should slavery’s supporters choose the forbidden path, the constitution, in providing for its own defence, that would authorize the emancipation of the slaves by martial law.

To ask whether Lincoln’s ultimate aim was to preserve the Union or to abolish slavery is a misunderstanding of his peculiarly narrative and rhetorical conception of the American national identity. He accepted the American nation with all its warts and boils, prejudices and parochial idiosyncrasies before invoking the rational guiding principles that had to be counter-majoritarian anyway. But this gradual counter-majoritarianism came as a mitigating balm rather than as a rude elite jolt from the top.

This is the crucial mistake that the liberal, secular and the left-of-centre political parties have been making continuously in independent India. They have underestimated the prejudices and irrational values of the average Indian — Brahmins and subalterns alike. Their secular and humanitarian principles did reach the target audience as a shallow and false burden that sought to bulldoze through their traditional ways.

It is ironic in this context that the Indian prime minister today, a man with rightist indoctrination, understands this dialectic of enlightenment much better than the Marxists and uses that wisdom for the wrong ends. Atal Bihari Vajpayee can play up both the secular and the faithful forces. He is thus closer to Lincoln in this regard. But the fact that he might use this wisdom for suspect ends immediately distances him from Lincoln. The opposing forces, instead of eschewing the traditional and the dogmatic, must meet the challenge of the right on their home turf.

Liberalism means an understanding of the notion not only as an inheritor and bearer of rights and freedoms but also of the structure of hatred that lies in both absolute rationalism and absolute racial and religious partisanship. The truly liberal must not then get cold feet to look into its critique from the political right.

One then must modify, and modify fast given India’s present scenario. The stakes of politics are quite high and cannot be fended off with a naďve feel-good bonhomie as both the left and the Congress now realize after half a century’s blunders. The question is how far they are acting on that realization. We need a Jaffa’s Lincoln now.

   

 
 
WHEN ENJOYMENT AND DESTRUCTION GO HAND IN HAND 
 
 
BY RADHAKRISHNA RAO
 
 
The tourism industry has always been a major foreign exchange earner for third world countries. Over the last two decades there has been a growing realization of the environmentally disruptive fallout of this industry. Increasing awareness about the environmental pollution that is inevitable in conventional tourism has given a big push to the concept of eco-tourism. This is based on the sustainable exploitation of natural resources. The objective of eco-tourism is to promote nature as a product. Marketing nature involves devising a tourism strategy that places the least possible pressure on the finite natural resources of a country.

Eco-tourism also aims at organizing eco-friendly camps amidst natural settings to make people conscious of the conservation of flora and fauna. Against this backdrop, the ministry of environment and forests has recognized eco-tourism as one of the 15 thrust areas and is planning to develop its management skills on eco-tourism.

Natural concepts

Today, most “naturally rich” African countries have been successful in exploiting their wildlife and forest resources in a sustainable manner to attract an ever-growing number of tourists from around the globe. Kenya and South Africa have made significant strides in promoting eco-tourism.

In the lush green state of Kerala in south India, eco-tourism is slowly catching up, specially in the wake of vigorous efforts to make use of the scenic splendour of the coastal backwaters. Hundreds of Westerners keen on the bewitching natural beauty of the state and wanting to benefit from ayurvedic therapy are making a beeline for Kerala. The promotion of the eco-tourism industry by Kerala is likely to revolutionize its economy in the years ahead.

Mountains of waste

In India, the ill-effects of unplanned and unsustainable tourism are there for all to see. From the picturesque Kashmir valley in the north to the golden beaches of Goa on the western coast of the country, tourist destinations are fast falling prey to pollution.

Moreover, the tourism and leisure industry is the means of livelihood for a large number of people in both Kashmir and Goa. But in the rush to promote tourism in order to improve the standard of living of the people, the vital symbiotic relationship between tourism and the environment has been forgotten. It is in this context that Sunderlal Bahuguna has stressed the need to save the deteriorating Himalayan environment from tourism. For many years the Himalayas have been attracting tourists, pilgrims and adventurers, which has caused widespread pollution and ecological disruption.

Eco-tourism seeks to create infrastructural facilities to attract tourists without disturbing the eco-system. In the Himalayas, the pastoral nomadic community of the Van Gujjars has made use of non biodegradable substances and has thus promoted eco-tourism in its own way.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Bad score in homework

Sir — The report by Kay Benedict, “Usurper Naidu seeks highest honour for NTR” (Jan 23), speaks of the most vulgar display of familial affection. N. Chandrababu Naidu should feel at least slightly ashamed even before beginning to ask the prime minister or the president to select the late actor and politician, N.T. Rama Rao, for the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award. What is worse is that Rao does not qualify for the award on either of the counts. If Naidu and the Telugu Desam Party want to contend that he should be given the award because of the exemplary role he played in national politics, their argument will not be tenable because there are the likes of Jyoti Basu who have been at least as influential in national politics, if not more. As an actor too, if a Bharat Ratna has to be awarded, it should be given to the “star of the millennium”, Amitabh Bachchan. Naidu, before grovelling in order that this honour be given his late father-in-law, should have done his homework.
Yours faithfully,
Jyothi Shankar, via email

Which came first?

Sir — One regrets that the editorial, “Sacred and profane” (Jan 21), has drawn the conclusion that “it is no longer possible for Indian political leaders to practise the Hindu religion as a matter of private faith without ending up on the same side with fundamentalist politics.” What should Hindu politicians do then? Stop practising or give up their faith? Why should Hinduism be singled out to stress the necessity for a separation between religion and politics?

Neither Islamic countries nor Christian majority states treat the majority population with as much disdain as the so-called secular state of India. If the distinction between religion and politics is to be followed, the minorities should be preached that sermon first, not the Hindus who have been practising religious tolerance for so long. In a secular state, the least that is expected is fair treatment to the majority.

Yours faithfully,
Robin Kumar, via email

Sir — Only in that most unfortunate of all lands — India — can the editorial of a daily dare refer to the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya as “that icon of sectarian vandalism” (“Sacred and profane”, Jan 21). What about the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem which is built on the ruins of the Temple Mount of the Jews that was demolished by Arab Islamic fanatics and over which almost the entire peace process in west Asia now hinges?

Yours faithfully,
Pankaj Anand, via email

Sir — Recent developments in our country clearly indicate that we might be heading for a communal riot sometime this year and that too for an issue the majority of people is not interested in. Whether there was a Ram temple at the disputed site or not is an issue which should be allowed to rest in peace.

History is history and should be allowed to remain as such. The sadhus who want the Ram temple have no family or social obligations and have nothing to lose in this wild gambit. It is the innocents who will suffer and, for all you know, they probably find cricket closer to their heart than a temple for a legendary figure. It is a pity that politicians are only adding to this chaos.

Yours faithfully,
Swagato De, Jamshedpur

Sir — We had witnessed the massive killings that took place in various parts of the country following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is not a tough job to imagine the state of affairs once the crazy kar sevaks once again manage to hold centrestage and attempt to reconstruct the Ram temple. Why can’t people join hands to oppose such an event? Why can’t we erect a world class research institute, or a hospital, or even an educational institution at the disputed site? We all know that it is impossible to construct a temple or reconstruct a mosque without avoiding violence, and yet, one must not let the land lie unused. Besides, whether one agrees or not, science, health and education are much more important than the birthplace of a religious figure. I protest against the religious exploitation of India.

Yours faithfully,
Hirak Guha, via email

Sir — The editorial has not come a day late. Religion or faith is a purely personal matter and we have no business to make a public or political issue of this. Our politicians have always made it a public issue thereby causing the religious divide in the country. Religions have divided societies and people. The need of the hour is religiousness, not religion. Religiousness is spirituality exemplified by truth, righteousness and individuality.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ramakrishnan, via email

We and US

Sir — Now that the task of installing the new president of the United States is over, one can hope that the nation will fall back on the conservative family values the nation had abandoned under Bill Clinton (“President Bush takes unity vow”, Jan 21).

The US evidently needs to slow down, stop playing the cop in the international arena and let people and nations across the world set their houses in order without directions from the White House. Bush has to steer the US on a fresh course internally, cut down on taxes and make the administration more humane.

For India there may not be much change in US attitude. But India has earned itself a prominent position in international politics which the US can ignore only at its own peril. The US must also heed the growing community of Indian Americans, on whose talent and hard work the nation is dependent to a large extent.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — The recent utterances of the new president of the US, George Bush Jr, with regard to Iraq-Kuwait, China-Taiwan and India-Pakistan suggest that the shadow of his father, George Bush, will continue to be reflected in US foreign policy initiatives. The very fact that Colin Powell of the Kuwait war fame has been made foreign minister indicates that the senior Bush’s visualization of the new world order will be implemented.

Indian foreign policymakers have to do some homework now that the Clinton era is over. It is also to be seen how soon the new president or any member of his staff shows an inclination to visit India. For India as for other nations, it will have to be a wait and watch policy.

Yours faithfully,
Jitesh Sonee, Calcutta

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