Editorial 1 / Single & single
Editorial 2 / Wrong strike
Fear and the democratic state
Fifth Column/ Under the long shadow of hate
Nourishing thoughts
Time they chose to save the provident way
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / SINGLE & SINGLE 
 
 
 
 
The die is all but cast so far the Congress in West Bengal is concerned. All indicators point to a split in the party. A group of Congress legislators, led by Mr Saugata Roy, travelled all the way to New Delhi to persuade the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, that the time was ripe in West Bengal for an alliance with Ms Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. Ms Gandhi refused to consider the proposal because Ms Banerjee is tied to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Ms Gandhi, it would appear, has nothing against Ms Banerjee but she considers Ms Banerjee to be contaminated by the virus of BJP. This has left the Congress legislators led by Mr Roy with very little option. Ms Gandhi’s refusal is seemingly based on the moral high ground of secularism. She believes that Congress’s secular credentials will be compromised if she seeks an understanding with the Trinamool Congress which in turn is part of the National Democratic Alliance and has an electoral understanding with the BJP in West Bengal. The BJP is Congress’s number one untouchable. To this extent, Ms Gandhi is being consistent with the ideological heritage she has decided to make her own. But she may be a trifle out of touch with the political realities of West Bengal.

Since the time Congress was relegated to the position of being the permanent opposition party in West Bengal, it has been driven by one aim: defeating the Left Front. Ms Banerjee, within and without the Congress, has been the most vocal anti-left campaigner and the most strident articulator of the aim to defeat the Left Front. Through sheer grit and determination she had earned for herself the right to be regarded as the sole spokesman of all anti-left aspirations in the state. Indeed all those who vote against the Left Front consider her to be their white hope. To deny this is to deny reality. In West Bengal, Ms Banerjee’s standing and popularity have not been affected at all by her ties with the BJP. In fact, the Congress vote bank has virtually gone over to the Trinamool Congress. The party that carries the Congress flag is seen as a lame duck, limping behind the left. Under the circumstances, some Congress legislators feel that tying an electoral knot with the Trinamool Congress is the most realistic thing to do. Such an alliance will prevent a division of the anti-left votes and will also stop the Congress from disappearing down a political black hole. There is the recognition that the Left Front can be defeated only through a grand alliance of all the anti-left parties. Ms Gandhi prefers not to sup with the BJP even with a long spoon. This may appear righteous but is bad politics. She is obviously ignorant that Harold Laski, Jawaharlal Nehru’s political mentor, defined politics as the art of the possible.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / WRONG STRIKE 
 
 
 
 
Too much should not be made of the United States secretary of defence, Mr Donald Rumsfeld’s characterization of India as one of the countries “threatening other people including the US, western Europe and countries in the Middle East.” Although Mr Rumsfeld’s charges are serious, it is critical that these remarks are not blown out of proportion and allowed to derail ties between India and the new Bush administration. It is clear that Mr Rumsfeld’s comments, which were made during an interview on American television, were, in reality, directed against Russia and in defence of the national missile defence project. It is worth recalling that Mr Rumsfeld headed an independent commission during the Clinton administration that strongly supporting the idea of constructing a shield to protect the territory of the US, and its allies, from missiles that could be used by actual or potential adversaries.

What is also clear is that Russia is one of the strongest opponents of NMD, not only because it will violate the anti-ballistic missile treaty that the US and the Soviet Union had signed nearly three decades ago. But Moscow also believes, as do many other countries that NMD would be destabilizing and will subvert the nuclear deterrent relationship that exists between the US and Russia. During the course of the television interview, Mr Rumsfeld wanted to quite obviously prove that Moscow’s apprehensions cannot be taken seriously because of its track record on arms control and non-proliferation issues. It was in this context that Mr Rumsfeld made the imprudent, and patently absurd comment that Russia was part of the problem that the NMD was addressing because they were selling technology to countries like Iran, North Korea and India, which could threaten the interests of the US and its friends. Although the remark seemed to have been made without much thought, it is unfortunate that someone of the stature and experience of Mr Donald Rumsfeld made it. Rumsfeld, it is worth remembering, was one of the youngest defence secretaries during the Ford administration of the late Seventies, and has had a distinguished career in public and corporate affairs. He, for one, should have been able to make a clear distinction between countries like North Korea and Iran, on the one hand, and India on the other. He should have been aware that Washington’s relations with New Delhi have vastly improved in the last couple of years, but are still fragile enough to be destabilized by those who might still not be able to break away from their Cold War past. Indeed, after decades, India and the US have moved from estrangement to engagement. It is vital, therefore, for India to reach out to key members of the new Bush administration to re-emphasize the areas of bilateral cooperation and the absence of virtually any issue of strategic divisiveness, and to do so before Cold Warriors hijack the relationship.

   

 
 
FEAR AND THE DEMOCRATIC STATE 
 
 
BY BHASKAR GHOSE
 
 
The attack on Subash Ghising and the shooting in Kashmir of civilians by security forces in Sopore and then in Srinagar are really two aspects of a basic element in our society — to which very few have admitted. This is the almost necessary use of fear as a part of the democratic process. We have elections to various bodies, we have a vigilant press — and now equally vigilant television news units, we have a sternly independent judiciary and a greater perception of the strength of public opinion among people in general. But, in real terms, these mean little.

Democracy and the functioning of society is what happens in the streets, in the mohallas and villages. That is where it is fear that governs all action, not participation in any democratic process. Political parties which loudly proclaim their dedication to democracy, the leaders of which bray at public meetings that they are servants of the people, translate at street level into mobs of thugs and ruffians who use murder, maiming and plain thrashing as a means of enforcing their commitment to democracy.

Trade unions are no different; any worker who argues with the leadership is either savagely beaten or, if he persists with his arguing, is killed. The Sixties and Seventies of the last century saw this form of democracy used against men who were working as managers or supervisors. The infamous Subodh Banerjee, who did more to subvert democracy than any other politician of his time, sanctified that instrument of torture called the ghera as a democratic means of expressing the people’s will, and if anyone died as a result — as some did — then it was the just anger of the people against the corrupt lackeys of capitalism which had manifested itself.

Fear was the instrument used by the left to consolidate its hold on various groups of employees. To be sure, there were among them some fiercely dedicated and committed comrades, but these comrades never scrupled to use fear to further their objectives. When the United Front government came to power, they soon realized that fear was not their monopoly. The Congress mobilized its “youth” groups — gangs of toughs who used fear just as ruthlessly as the leftist gangs did. And then, of course, came the Naxalite movement, when fear became the sole instrument, when democracy and its institutions were contemptuously cast aside for the slogan that Mao Zedong had coined: “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

But fear is no one’s monopoly; nor is the violence used to instil it. The Naxalite movement was finally broken by that very means. Many tales and legends have emerged from it, when murder was transformed into love for the motherland, smoothly drawing a veil over the fact that those killed by the Naxalites were almost always poor constables, minor officials and landowners who were only a little better than the toiling peasants for whom the Naxalites killed and maimed.

And it is this fear which is being used in Kashmir and the Northeast; always in the name of something which would appear to absolve it of the horror that accrues to murder, especially of people who were ignorant of the reasons why they were killed. Fear makes for conformity, for control. Control means power. They want power. It’s really as simple as that.

If, as is said, most of the people in the Darjeeling region had faith in Subash Ghising, then the one sure way to counter it is to use fear, because nothing else will work. If people gather in an angry group because they feel a man has been wrongly killed by security forces in Sopore, then again the easy way is to use fear. And what more effective way to instil fear than by murder?

On a slightly lower level, but one that is no less contemptible, is the use of fear by goons of the Shiv Sena and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Valentine’s Day. The occasion was silly enough, but it drew more attention because of the efforts made by members of these groups to stop its observance. (In fact this whole business is fishy; Valentine’s Day is so clearly a publicity gimmick brought by some private television channels that one wouldn’t be at all surprised if the whole ridiculous business of attacking restaurants and tearing down banners had actually been stage-managed. A good PR company could have done it.)

“Hate is an automatic response to fear,” Graham Greene wrote, “for fear humiliates.” So we have found, to our cost. Fear has led to hatred, hatred to more violence and destruction, to more slaughter. Midnapore in West Bengal and the accursed districts of Bihar are terrible examples of what fear can lead to. If a mature society is where there is no fear, and, by definition, no hatred, then we certainly have a long long way to go to achieve anything like that maturity.

One cannot help thinking of the United States presidential election; if what happened in Florida had happened here, there would have been bloody riots, hundreds dead, many more maimed or injured, shops looted and burnt, and general chaos would have engulfed the country. It may well be that American society has faults of another kind — insularity, prejudices, indifference to everything beyond their immediate world and much more. But underlying it all, there does seem to be a general acceptance that fear plays little part in determining what people in general want. Perhaps the PR people got in before the fearmongers did, who knows?

There are other societies where fear has been replaced by active commitment and participation. Japan, most European countries, and even tiny Mauritius. Elsewhere fear rules; openly, as in Africa, or in other less evident but no less dangerous ways in countries like India, China, and in most of Latin America. Control through fear has always been a temptation to politicians, as in this country; but that fear casts a dark shadow which follows the politician around. Hence the security cordons, the pilot and escort cars and screaming sirens and commandos. They are, hopefully, beginning to realize that to control through fear inevitably means to live in fear of its corollary, hatred, spilling over into murderous forms.

The choice before one is, nevertheless, not easy assuming, of course, that there is a choice. But if one could choose what would it be? A society free from fear, and consequently of hatred in its endemic form, which would lead almost inevitably to complacency, to an absence of questioning, to a gradual soporific state where all that would matter would be buying goodies in the malls around one and watching TV? Or a society steeped in fear, and consequent hatred, but a consequence of which is heightened perception, an awareness of different aspects of society manifesting itself in a live, dynamic press, of anxious grassroots inquiry into the basics which build society?

The poet Rabindranath Tagore spoke of a state where the mind would be without fear, and that seems to be an ideal that is worth striving for. But would that ideal state, could that ideal state, have a Rabindranath Tagore?

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ UNDER THE LONG SHADOW OF HATE 
 
 
BY ARSHI KHAN
 
 
Continuous campaign by the Armenians to secure the approval of different countries finally paid off when the French national assembly decided to classify the killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Turks as genocide. The French senate had approved the Armenian genocide resolution last year, despite stiff opposition from a group of senators. The French assembly’s decision was celebrated in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and in countries where Armenian lobbies are powerful.

The West seems to justify the resolution against Turkey on the pretext of human rights and freedom of expression. But Turkey is extremely disappointed with the resolution as it has greatly damaged its relations with France. Continuous protests by Turks against France and strong boycotts of French goods in Turkish markets also show a new trend in Turkey’s relations with western Europe.

The Turkish people have expressed their disappointment with some of their traditional allies who are more interested in accepting the Armenian version of the truth without examining the Turkish view. In the post-communist era, Turkey has become a guest rather than a member of the European family. The European Commission is investigating legal aspects of Turkey’s retaliatory actions.

After their success in France, the American-Armenians are lobbying in Maryland by submitting the genocide resolution in the state house of representatives and the senate as well as by referring it to the school curriculum.

Who killed whom?

The Maryland senate is believed to have accepted the Armenian allegations. A representative of the Turkish-American Association of Korean War, William Ali, said on February 1 that the draft (of the bill) was racist and unfair against Turkey. The Greek lobby has reportedly extended support to the Armenian allegations.

The Armenian genocide issue was raised earlier in the United States, Italy and other countries. On the occasion of the 85th anniversary of the event, in April 2000, Armenians staged demonstrations before Turkish embassies in Moscow, Teheran, Brussels, Yerevan and Athens. The education minister proposed to include accounts of the genocide in school textbooks of Israel.

Earlier when the issue of the Algerian massacre was brought before the French parliament, the French constitutional court had stated that such issues should be left for historians to decide. Brutal massacres and the suppression of the Algerian people in 1870-71 and in 1957 by the French colonialists are wellknown facts. Almost all the colonial powers of the West are guilty of massacres of their subjects. The Jews, once victims of the Holocaust, can also be accused of Palestinian killings in 1948-1949.

Resolved to divide

In response to the genocide bill, the Turkish government has cancelled defence deals worth millions of dollars with France. These include projects aimed at the modernization of warplanes and the highway project over Izmit Bay. The European Commission has warned Turkey not to overreact.

This event assumes significance given that Turkey is a member of the European Union and of other European organizations. The foreign relations committee of the French national assembly approved the Armenian genocide bill, which was ratified a week later.

The wariness in Turkish diplomatic circles is understandable since the bill seems to vindicate the allegation that about 1.5 million Armenians became victims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. But there are other opinions. Armenians had enjoyed many privileges and immunities under the Ottomans. But their collaboration with the Russians during World War I and their use of force against the Turks in southeastern Turkey led to a long term conflict. Some scholars maintain that about three million Turks died then.

The passing of this resolution has not only strained relations between the Turks and the French but can easily upset relations with other countries. The Turkish ambassador to Britain has accused the Armenians of wanting Turkish territory, a claim vehemently denied by the Armenian president. The resolution could prove damaging for Turkey in its bid for EU membership and prevent it from strengthening its position in the European defence security system.

   

 
 
NOURISHING THOUGHTS 
 
 
BY DEVINDER SHARMA
 
 
Narotia Devi is one of the millions of impoverished Indians. She, like the others, has managed to survive against all odds. When I first met her in a dusty village in tribal Bihar, I must confess that I wasn’t moved by the stark poverty that prevailed all around in the Palamau district. I had, like a majority of the elites and the educated who live in the metropolis, become accustomed to living side by side with the poor and the downtrodden.

What shocked me was that Narotia Devi had not had a “normal” meal for the past three days. Working under the harsh sun in the field, she told me that it wasn’t unusual for her, and many of the women in the village, to go without food for a few days, week after week. But then how could they be putting in so much physical labour without feeling the pangs of hunger?

She laughed. And then showed me a root plant — genthi — which she normally eats once in two or three days. What she didn’t tell me, or perhaps wasn’t even aware of, was that the root plant killed appetite. She, and everyone else who had it, simply didn’t feel hungry.

First Palamau, then Kalahandi and now Bundelkhand, hunger and starvation seem to have spread their tentacles far and wide. That such a disquieting state should prevail in a country which has foodgrains overflowing its mandis in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, is difficult to fathom. What is more depressing is that the proposal to provide the surplus foodgrains to the hungry and the needy has been shot down by the planning commission. The finance ministry too has objected to the suggestion, saying that any such move will widen the fiscal deficit. In the bargain, more than 320 million poor and hungry will be left waiting endlessly for a morsel of food.

With the grain silos overflowing, the country’s food buffer has swelled to a peak of 45 million tonnes, including 22 million tonnes for the public distribution system. And yet, over a third of the world’s 800 million hungry and chronically malnourished continues to languish in India. Such is the economic deprivation that an estimated two million children die every year from diseases related to malnutrition.

The finance ministry’s worry over the widening fiscal deficit is not based on sound economics. But then, it rarely has been. For instance, none of the macro-economists and the bureaucrats batted an eyelid when the former prime minister, I.K. Gujral, handed out an annual burden of more than Rs 80,000 crore by way of implementation of the ninth pay commission report. And that too for a highly incompetent work force. More recently, the non-performing assets of nationalized banks have shot up to Rs 53,000 crore. A few corporate houses and political bigwigs have milked the state exchequer dry. Does one hear of any urgent measures to recover the whopping amount? And what about the fiscal deficit?

Shanta Kumar, Union minister for consumer affairs and public distribution, has time and again warned about the ballooning subsidy bill on account of the carrying cost for the bulging foodgrain stocks. This year’s food subsidy bill, budgeted for Rs 8,100 crore, is sure to cross the Rs 10,000 crore mark. The country may, in fact, be required to spend Rs 15,000 crore to keep the additional quantity of surplus food stocks. In any case, by the time the grain silos are emptied, a bulk of the stocks would be rendered unfit for human consumption. Much of this may have to be eventually sold as cattle feed or be simply written off.

Why can’t the government provide the available food to the needy and desperate? Quite obviously, the hungry don’t matter in the game of politics. For the democratically elected leaders, irrespective of the political parties they belong to, the poor mean nothing more than the votes they cast.

As, Amartya Sen has, many times over, pointed out, serious famines do not occur in independent, democratic countries with a free press. While famines kill millions of people, they do not kill prime ministers, ministers, bureaucrats, economists and of course, journalists. At the same time free press and democracy remain mute spectators to the scourge of acute malnutrition.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government probably believes that what the poor need is fiscal growth, not so much food and shelter. Whatever be the country’s gross domestic product, a sizeable percentage of the population is unable to procure enough foodgrains to sustain two square meals a day.

Yet, for the past few years, the national kitty has been overflowing with grains. In 1995, foodgrain stocks swelled to 35 million tonnes, in 1998 to about 30 million tonnes, in 1999 to over 34.5 million tonnes.

All that successive governments have promised is to strengthen the public distribution system and to use food stocks in such a way so as to stabilize prices. Often, this meant nothing more than finding avenues for exports.

No other democracy in the world would have survived this strange paradox of overflowing grain silos on the one hand and a large mass of the hungry on the other. Even in the United States, foodgrains and other foodstuffs are allowed to be exported only after meeting the food requirement of every individual and animal. This year, the US government has spent around $ 50 billion to feed its 36 million people below the poverty line. In India, on the other hand, policy-makers tend to create the impression that since the poor cannot afford to buy food, it is not the duty of the state to make it available to them at an affordable price.

India’s food mismanagement is leading to the emergence of an acutely hungry and malnourished society. Despite an average daily foodgrain consumption of less than 500 grams, the nation seems to be thrilled with the steady increase in calorie intake. In China, it is six times more, hovering around three kilograms per day. With a population of just about 200 million more than India’s, China produces more than twice the quantity of foodgrains and still prefers to import grain each year to keep its massive population adequately fed.

With a chronically malnourished population, the resulting impact on human development and economic growth can be imagined. The absolute number of the severely malnourished today is, in fact, more than the country’s population on the eve of independence.

A beginning has to be made to feed the hungry millions, and the sooner the better. The surplus food could be used imaginatively so that it acts as an incentive to rural growth and development. By doing so, the nation could try to wipe out the sense of guilt and humiliation that come with chronic poverty and growing hunger. The struggle against poverty has to be fought and controlled by people and communities. However, the lack of political will comes in the way of ensuring humane levels of food security for all. The BJP-led coalition, for once, can show the correct path by making the surplus foodgrains available to the poor and the hungry.

   

 
 
TIME THEY CHOSE TO SAVE THE PROVIDENT WAY 
 
 
BY BARUN KUMAR SAHU
 
 
The provident fund began as a welfare scheme of the government for individual salaried employees. Today, however, it has substantially been reduced to a source of borrowing for the government, and not a very cheap source of borrowing at that.

During the early decades of the last century, the financial market being underdeveloped, the provident fund was the preferable option of investment for employees. It was a good way to channel the savings of the employees for the growth of the economy. But now the financial market is far more developed and there are several options for investment available to the people. Apart from the public provident fund, there are the general provident fund and employees’ provident fund. The PPF is voluntary and the GPF is compulsory for government employees. The EPF is compulsory for other salaried employees. In addition, there is the contributory provident fund for those not under any of these.

Lowered interest

The interest rates on the provident funds are very attractive. Nonetheless, they are not very popular. The unpopularity of the GPF and EPF may be gauged from the fact that many employees subscribe to the provident fund close to the prescribed minimum levels.

The main problem with the GPF lies in the management of the fund. Generally, GPF accounts are maintained by the accountant general and government departments. Unlike banks and other financial institutions, maintenance of financial instruments is not the forte of the AG and government departments. Many evils are associated with the GPF: missing credits, wrong credits, fraudulent withdrawals, and even outright corruption. The problems can be obviated by entrusting the management of the GPF to specialized agencies.

Tangled up in red tape

Another problem with the provident fund is red tape. For advances and withdrawals from it, the investor is required to apply in writing, giving reasons for both. It is the sanctioning authority, and not the investor, who decides if an advance or withdrawal may be allowed.

Even for the government, the provident fund is not a very easy source of money. It may not be in the best interests of the government to make the provident fund compulsory. Interestingly, the GPF is based on government rules, and not on any legislation. It is thus very weak on legal grounds. The authorities have few legal powers to take action against an employee who does not subscribe to it. It is the investor’s money in the GPF, and not the government’s.

In this age of free market economy, there is little justification for the compulsory nature of the provident fund. It should be voluntary. It will be ironical if a welfare measure is not even optional for its supposed beneficiary.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

No return for services rendered

Sir — At the official level in India, every attempt at political correctness somehow belies the fundamental political incorrectness in the mindset of the policy-makers. The recent controversy regarding the classification of sex workers in the 14th census is a case in point (“Heat mounts on census to drop beggar tag”, Feb 16). Even after the services of sex workers have been acknowledged as work, how can the government be so insensitive as to classify them as beggars? As Nimmi Bai, a representative of the Indian sex workers, rightly pointed out to the registrar general, census, she and her compatriots have to work like any other industrial worker to earn their living. The slight is compounded by the fact that the earnings of these sex workers should be compared to the alms received by the beggar — for free. If it is so embarrassing for the government to acknowledge the presence of sex workers in the country, they could easily be included in the category of self-employed persons, or in a category specially created for them.
Yours faithfully,
Chandrima Kundu, Calcutta

Love, Indian style

Sir — It is truly amazing to see the extent to which Bal Thackeray’s Shiv sainiks go in their attempt to help the people of the country retain their Indianness. Since the sainiks take so much interest in grooming young people the proper Indian way, they should go one step ahead and educate them in love — Indian style. They could start by distributing copies of the Kamasutra translated in all languages; even introduce it as part of the academic curriculum. Excursions should be arranged to Khajuraho and Konark and other such ancient temples where young people can have a closer look at the ancient Indian depiction of love. Besides being inspirational, it will certainly be more attractive than the simple exchange of Valentine’s Day cards and a truly constructive way to dissuade youngsters from celebrating Valentine’s Day. Perhaps more effective would be the construction of temples with Kamdev as the presiding deity.
Yours faithfully,
Sajni Koruth, via email

Sir — For the second year in a row, anti-secular forces in India have vandalized restaurants and shops and terrorized couples in public on Valentine’s Day. These actions show, more than anything else, that the followers of the sangh parivar have failed to put a finger on the pulse of the nation. They would surely antagonize fewer people if they conduct their agitations along economic lines, explaining that the Valentine’s Day celebrations are just one more way in which capitalist forces drain wealth from third world countries like India.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Moitra, Calcutta

Sir — Valentine’s Day seems to be creating enmity among people instead of spreading the message of love. While the concept of love is neither new nor modern, it is now being marketed and sold among young people in India. Love is hardly an alien concept in our culture. Many of our ancient poets used to celebrate the love between man and woman through poetry. Such feelings were however, intensely private. Valentine’s Day is still very new in India. Rather, the practice of rakhi bandhan is part of tradition. The concept is bound to lose its appeal after sometime.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The only way the young people of India can be freed of harmful Western influences will be through the fear generated by the Shiv sainiks.

Yours faithfully,
Sudeshna Guha, Chandernagore

Direct speech

The president of India, K.R. Narayanan, has rightly expressed concern about the intentions of the National Democratic Alliance government and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (“President stability stab at PM”, Jan 26). His worries are legitimate and make sense. Both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party have proved time and again that they are not to be trusted.

The Constitution has been functioning well for the last 50 years and will continue to do so in future. It guarantees to all citizens who are above the age of 18 the right to vote. The system of indirect elections would prevent the people of India from having a direct say in electing their representatives. A system of indirect elections will not achieve anything positive. By criticizing the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and by accusing his government of dictatorial tendencies, the president has fulfilled his responsibilities as the head of the state. Such criticism is welcome and should not be misinterpreted.

Yours faithfully,
Ajay Kumar, Jharkhand

Sir — K.R. Narayanan has made some confusing statements (“BJP cut up over Ayub parallel”, Jan 26). His criticism of indirect elections is ironic, given that he himself is elected by the same process.

One cannot help wondering if the president’s outbursts have anything to do with his personal political ambition. Or is he trying to prove he is more than just a “rubber stamp”? He has demonstrated his partisan attitude on more than one occasion. We remember his calling on Sonia Gandhi to form the government even though she did not have a majority.

Frequent elections put undue pressure on the economy. A fixed term for the members of parliament would go a long way in ensuring stability. Moreover, the Constitution has always been a bag of mixed borrowings. Confused ideas and unnecessary legal jargon have distanced it from the Indian public and from the head of the state.

Yours faithfully,
Amrita Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — The relationship between Vajpayee and the president seems fraught with tension. This is not the first time the two have disagreed. But this is the first time the president has criticized Vajpayee strongly, that too while addressing the nation on the eve of Republic Day.

The president is right in saying that we must not endanger the basic tenets of our Constitution vis-à-vis indirect elections. But Vajpayee’s suggestion that Parliament should have a fixed tenure makes sense as it would put an end to frequent elections. Comparing the proponents of indirect elections to Ayub Khan,though, is a bit too much.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Crack team solution

Sir — The article, “Managing disaster” (Feb 4), points in the right direction. Given that natural calamities occur almost regularly in India, the need for a disaster management team is understandable. The Gujarat earthquake showed more than anything else how unprepared we were to deal with a calamity of such magnitude. Confusion and panic in official circles delayed rescue operations and resulted in the loss of more lives.

Bhaskar Ghose has proposed the setting up of a disaster management team led by a chief who will oversee its work. I suggest that any such body should be paramilitary in nature since managing a disaster in India is equivalent to fighting a war. The team would have to be freed from red tape and allowed to function on its own. Its personnel must also be trained to handle the sophisticated equipment at their disposal.

Yours faithfully,
Ranjit Kumar Guha Roy, Durgapur

Sir — While Bhaskar Ghose has rightly pointed out the need for a disaster management system, it is a fact that even if such a group is established, the situation will not improve greatly. In India, such groups and committees are established from time to time. Very few are able to operate independently and efficiently. Interference from other departments of the government, busy trying to outdo one another, usually affects the performance of such groups.

Yours faithfully,
Nandita Mishra, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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