Editorial 1 / Valley of hope
Editorial 2 / Not so soft
Lines of exchange
Fifth Column / Chalk out a survival strategy, and
At last, that uncommon move
Factors that lie behind the cure
Letters to the editor

There are signs finally that the peace process in Jammu and Kashmir is gathering some speed. The Central government has appointed the deputy chairman of the planning commission, Mr K.C. Pant, as its “negotiator” and indicated its willingness to begin as soon as possible a dialogue with separatist and other groups from the state. Mr Pant is a seasoned political leader with tremendous experience in a variety of fields. In addition, despite being a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party he enjoys a degree of support from across the political spectrum because of his stature and background. More significantly, Mr Pant has already begun consultations with officials and non-officials who are or have been associated with Jammu and Kashmir. However, the appointment of Mr Pant alone, welcome as it is, will not lend real momentum to the process of realizing sustainable peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Much more needs to be done on a variety of fronts, otherwise the gains made over the last six months, since the Centre initiated a unilateral ceasefire in the state, will be eroded.

Most important is to make sure the ceasefire is fully implemented until the end of May, the date to which it has been extended. It is clear that the local police and especially the special operations group have often not abided by the letter and spirit of the ceasefire. This is most unfortunate. A decision to announce a unilateral ceasefire must have anticipated that the level of violence would increase, pro-India elements would be targeted, and that militants may get the opportunity to regroup and consolidate. But the political gains from the initiative were thought to be, as they obviously are, greater than these short-term tactical reverses, which can easily be overcome once a decision has been taken to resume operations. If the local political leadership is backing the police, it is time that the chief minister is read the riot act. Personal ambitions cannot be allowed to hijack the government’s bravest initiative on Kashmir in recent years.

The government of India has also given the impression that it does not have a clear road map for the process. The controversy over the differences between the prime minister’s office and the home ministry is just one example of the government’s failure to present a united, cohesive front that is in full control of the process. If indeed the home ministry has taken complete charge of the process, it is time that Mr L.K. Advani made a speech explaining the rationale behind government policy to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. Finally, the time may have come to appoint a task force dedicated full-time to Jammu and Kashmir. The task force could be made responsible to Mr Pant and should be given the task of initiating and furthering a political dialogue and monitoring and assisting in governance and developmental activities.


Evil suspicions often turn out to be true. The conservationists of Bengali culture and language truly have very little to do with their time. The leftist Bhasha O Chetana Samiti has decided to concentrate its irrepressible energies in preventing the sale of Coca-Cola and Pepsi within the Rabindra Sadan-Nandan complex in Calcutta. So passionate were the defenders of Bengali culture that they were willing to go to the length of a “clash” which brought in the police. Apparently some young people called these defenders “fascists” and refused to take their bullying lying down. No imposition is acceptable, whether it comes in the guise of the defence of religion, culture or nationalism. It is a disgraceful failure of maturity in a 54-year-old independent republic that self-proclaimed guardians of culture and religion still wield a certain amount of influence. There is little difference between the right and left in this regard. They either break up Valentine’s Day celebrations or stalls which sell “foreign” soft drinks. It hardly matters, as long as they can make a non-issue into a news-grabbing headline in the name of cultural loyalty or nationalism. With the staggering arrogance of all such righteous champions, the members of Bhasha O Chetana Samiti have demarcated the Rabindra Sadan-Nandan precincts as the “seat” of Bengali culture. A minimum acquaintance with that culture would have prevented such towering stupidity. Neither would it have allowed them to feel threatened by the sale of “foreign” soft drinks in those holy precincts, and that, just days after quantitative restrictions have been removed. The issue of the “foreignness” of Coke is now close to primeval, and Mr George Fernandes himself is a much-changed man.

It is not enough for the Bhasha O Chetana Samiti to prod the pulverized remains of an ancient issue in the hope of excitement, it must also be politically correct. Coke and Pepsi are not just “foreign”, they pose “health hazards”. In other words, Indian cola drinks are health-giving, that is, they pretend to be colas without being so at all. The born-again Bengalis might at least stop to think where their logic leads them. Once again, even a casual engagement with the culture they defend would have taught them the use of logic, semantics and perhaps even orthography. But no one seriously expects that of these champions any more, whatever their political hue. And the saddest thing is that illogic is contagious. Invariably, the people under attack are confused into the strangest excuses. The depot manager of Coca-Cola in Calcutta has said that although the company sponsors pop shows, it also promotes classical music and traditional art forms. He could not dismiss the whole shindig as rubbish. To accept the divisions being imposed in the name of “culture” is to allow the Bhasha O Chetana Samiti and its ilk a space they should never have.


There has been some cogitation in the media regarding reports that the Chinese prime minister, Zhou Rongji, will not visit India during his forthcoming visits to Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, and perhaps to Sri Lanka. Some analysts have alleged that this means China is downgrading the importance of India and re-affirming the importance of Sino-Pakistani relations.

The present state of India’s relations with China needs to be reexamined in the light of this opinion. First, following Jaswant Singh’s contacts with his counterpart, Tang Xiejuan, and the visit of the president, K.R. Narayanan, to Beijing last year, there has been a tangible forward movement in the work of the Sino-Indian joint working group on the boundary question. Its experts sub-group, after a delay of nearly seven years since 1993, has now agreed on initiating an exchange of maps to ascertain and, if possible, finalize the delineation of the line of actual control between India and China. The agreement is that discussions on delineation should cover the entire line of control from the northwest to the east. The approach to delineation is to be integrated and comprehensive.

The second significant development is the agreement reached between Singh and Xiejuan to expand the bilateral exchanges on political matters to bilateral security dialogue. This will cover not only bilateral security concerns but regional and global concerns and their strategic ramifications. This would naturally include issues related to nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the role of regional groupings, interactions between India and China in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional security forum and so on.

It is in this context that the second seniormost figure in the Chinese political hierarchy, Li Peng, paid a 9-day visit to India, accompanied by a large delegation of Chinese businessmen and economic experts, in February this year. His visit and his discussions underlined the Chinese interest in expanding economic and technological cooperation with India in a selective and focussed manner. Li Peng’s long visit and his going to the southern states of India where economic and technological activities are getting increased international acknowledgement, indicated the areas of particular interest to China.

There has been criticism that Li Peng’s discussions in New Delhi did not touch upon the boundary question and China’s defence, nuclear and missile collaboration with Pakistan. This criticism is factually valid, but its relevance has to be assessed in terms of possibilities of any practical compromise emerging on these issues given the Indian and Chinese policy orientations, rooted in their respective structures of geo-strategic and security interests.

Since Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in December, 1988, there is governmental acknowledgement from both sides that these particular issues will require patience and gradualness of approach. The alternative would be both polemical and confrontationist, which neither India nor China considers necessary or desirable. What is important is that these issues are not wished away.

Parallel to intergovernmental exchanges, a pattern of Track II non-governmental institutional exchanges was initiated in 1997, which has continued, except during late 1998 and early 1999 because of the critical fallout of India’s nuclear tests in May 1998. This exchange has been between the Centre for Policy Research, Institute of Chinese studies, Delhi University and the Chinese specialists in international relations and Asia-Pacific studies.

Four rounds of discussions have taken place between these Indian and Chinese experts in New Delhi and in China. The fourth round was held in New Delhi in March and provides pointers to prospects of Sino-Indian relations in the foreseeable future. The ambassador, Cheng Ruisheng, senior adviser at the Chinese Institute of International Studies, was the leader of the Chinese team, and I led the Indian team.

The discussions had a comprehensive agenda covering global, regional and bilateral issues. The views expressed by both sides were not subject to the caution and inhibitions of the policy stances of the Chinese and Indian governments. The presentations and exchanges were frank and more detailed. On prospects of cooperation, there was agreement that Sino-Indian bilateral economic cooperation may not have total complementarity; but in certain spheres of technology, administration and trade, there exists such a complementarity that there is potential for growth.

There was broad agreement that, given the Chinese focus on economic development of its southern areas, there are possibilities of cooperation between India, China, Myanmar and Bangla- desh. There were also indications that there could be cooperation and linking of developmental processes between the Mekong, Brahmaputra and the eastern Gangetic river basins.

The controversial dimensions of Chinese goods driving out Indian goods from the Indian market itself, especially in the context of China entering the World Trade Organization, was discussed in detail. The Chinese side did not reject the negative implications perceived by India and suggested first non-governmental and then governmental expert-level discussions. Parallelism in the interests and approaches of India and China on issues related to human rights, environmental management and economic development was accepted.

Differences of opinion on the democratization of the United Nations, UN reforms, expansion of the security council and non-proliferation issues were accepted in view of the framework and the differing interests of India and China. Importantly, the Chinese side stated that while its formal policy stance on nuclear non-proliferation will remain what it is, the Chinese intention is to deal with India’s nuclear and missile weaponization on the basis of existing facts and realities. The Chinese approach would not be punitive or confrontationist.

India should structure its responses to China, on the basis of this Chinese realism. Elaborating on this point, the Chinese side gave the assessment that this realism is going to be an incremental international phenomenon which would be reflected in the policies of the major powers. While China will monitor India’s nuclear doctrine and deployment plans, it does not expect any critical confrontation with India as long as the current processes of normalization are sustained. On the question of Chinese nuclear missile and general defence cooperation with Pakistan, the Chinese side emphasized that this relationship is based on their assessment of China’s security and strategic interests.

They accepted the validity of Indian concerns in these matters which were clearly and firmly conveyed to them. The Chinese response was that there are both economic and security reasons for the Sino-Pakistani defence relationship and that India and China should consider measures of managing this critical phenomenon in a realistic manner. The Chinese side added that this defence cooperation with Pakistan does not mean that China will take a pro-Pakistan stance on issues of bilateral controversy between India and Pakistan. The Chinese approach is detached and impartial. On the question of China recognizing Sikkim’s integration with India, the Chinese side clarified that China’s approach is realistic and it accepts the factual position. It was suggested by them that India and China should sign a border trade agreement between Tibet and India, in which, goods will pass through Sikkim and the procedural formalities involved in this trading arrangement will, by implication, acknowledge India’s jurisdiction over Sikkim.

As far as the boundary question goes, both sides agreed that progress made in the delineation of the line of actual control was a constructive development. The Indian side suggested a long-term proposal for discussing the boundary question in due course on the basis of moving away from colonial terms of reference, determination of boundary on the basis of recognized principles of international law, use of the most modern cartographic methods to delineate the boundary, minimal change in jurisdiction on populations and, subject to this, mutual give and take of territory. It was also agreed that the main points of Sino-Indian cooperation could be the managing of development, migration, the security environment in Asia, domestic and external strategic environment. This could also be extended to globalization, multilateralism and bilateral relations.

As far as the Chinese prime minister’s omitting India from his south Asian itinerary is concerned, the Chinese side gave a rational explanation. Li Peng had visited India in February. A second visit by a senior Chinese leader in April would not have resulted in any substantive results beyond what Li Peng discussed in New Delhi and other parts of India. It was indicated that Zhou Rongji’s visit is on the cards perhaps late this year or early next year. We need not predicate the state of Sino-Indian relations on the basis of high level state visits. What is of greater importance is that dialogue is sustained on substantive issues on a continuous basis.

The author is former foreign secretary, government of India


On March 5, the coalition government comprising the Biju Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party, completed one year of its rule in Orissa. Though the state government issued a 30-page booklet about its achievements, the opposition pounced on Naveen Patnaik, calling him “the most ineffectual chief minister the state ever had”.

What is more alarming for the chief minister is that members of the legislative assembly and the members of parliament from his own party are also in a rebellious mood. Eleven BJD MPs passed a unanimous resolution on February 27 urging the chief minister to withdraw from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre.

The BJD-BJP government took over this cyclone-devastated state when the combine swept the assembly polls about a year ago, winning 108 out of 147 seats. Misfortune, however, continued to haunt Orissa, as an acute drought gripped the western part of the state last year. Calamities apart, the state also happens to be in financial ruin.

While inaugurating the budget session of the assembly on March 1, the governor, M.M. Rajendran, blamed the state’s precarious financial condition on the lack of growth and development in the state. Though the government has promised to introduce the necessary reforms to overcome the current financial crisis, the opposition has accused the chief minister of mismanaging the economy.

It’s the economy, stupid

As the governor’s address reveals, the state’s accumulated debt burden will be around Rs 20,000 crore by the end of the current financial year. This is a whopping 51 per cent of the state’s gross domestic product. The government has even been forced to borrow money, despite the high debt burden, in order to meet the current revenue expenditure . A cabinet sub-committee has been formed to work out fiscal and administrative reforms, but it is doubtful if Patnaik will take requisite action to stem the rot.

Congress MLAs have also showed their aggressive mood by tearing apart a copy of the governor’s address and by walking out of the assembly. The party, which now has only 26 MLAs, is confident that the state government will soon collapse under the weight of internal conflicts and disputes. Ramakanta Mishra, the leader of the opposition in the state, feels that if the Centre is differentiating against Orissa, it is because the ruling BJD-BJP coalition does not have the guts to ask for its rightful dues. Orissa was apparently denied the Sareikela and Kharswang regions during the formation of Jharkhand nor given enough aid for the supercyclone and drought victims.

With most of the developmental work in the state coming to a halt owing to the fund crunch, leaders of Patnaik’s own party have become apprehensive of the future. A resolution was adopted by some disgruntled BJD MPs demanding that the party snap all ties with the BJP. The chief minister has apparently also written to the prime minister, asking him to intervene in order to redress the wrongs committed against the state in the railway budget.

What lies ahead

The BJD believes that the railway budget prepared by Mamata Banerjee has reduced the allocation of funds to Orissa by Rs 59 crores, which in turn has virtually closed the East Coast Railway Zone by denying funds to it.

The vernacular press in the state has taken strong exception to the “injustices done to the state” by the Centre. While Orissa’s urban population is sore about the alleged stepmotherly treatment meted out by the Centre, the public outcry in the villages is directed towards the state government’s failure to rehabilitate the victims of the supercyclone and its inability to offer relief to people in drought-affected areas.

The Congress seems to have benefitted from the widespread resentment against the government as it has succeeded in drawing large crowds to its meetings. Patnaik however defends his government and has listed five major areas where it has succeeded. This includes rehabilitation of cyclone victims, efforts to combat the drought and implementation of schemes to eradicate poverty.

Patnaik, who had been ridiculed for his inability to speak his mother tongue, has now started saying a few sentences in Oriya during public meetings. It remains to be seen whether all this will help him tide over his present difficulties.


Amitav Ghosh has done it again: he has done us proud. He has recognized the almost unbearable irony in the fact that his latest novel, nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2001 and declared its Eurasia regional winner, does in its very conception refute the essential — and essentializing — nature of the Commonwealth: “So far as I can determine, The Glass Palace is eligible...partly because it was written in English and partly because I happen to belong to a nation that was once conquered and ruled by Imperial Britain….That the past engenders the present is of course undeniable; it is equally undeniable that the reasons why I write in English are ultimately rooted in my country’s history. Yet, the ways in which we remember the past are not determined solely by the brute facts of time: they are also open to choice, reflection and judgment. The issue of how the past is to be remembered lies at the heart of The Glass Palace and I feel that I would be betraying the spirit of my book if I were to allow it to be incorporated within that particular memorialization of Empire that passes under the rubric of ‘the Commonwealth’.”

It is not as if the Commonwealth bogey has not reared its ugly torso earlier, and been roundly chastised for its pains too. Almost two decades ago, the then master-blaster of Indian English writing, Salman Rushdie, had rung its deathknell in his 1983 essay, “Commonwealth Literature Does Not Exist”, collected in Imaginary Homelands, that fine anthology of his occasional writings/musings published in 1991. It is certainly one of the more balanced pieces that Rushdie has produced, the effect of which has since been somewhat vitiated by his rather more bizarre — and thereby more infamous — pronouncements on the comparative merits of regional Indian and Indian English literatures, made first in a special issue of The New Yorker magazine and then reiterated in his introduction to The Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947-1997.

There are interesting twists and turns — and shifts and slippages — between the two Rushdie pieces, even before one follows the chain of intellectual thought down to the more immediate context of Ghosh’s open letter of March 18, 2001 to the contest administrators of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. It is, in fact, quite fascinating to discover how the same terms of reference — imperialist hegemony, world englishes, regional literatures — assume different shapes and hues, prance and provoke, and poke and prod, our consciences and our (collective) consciousness. And to find that from Rushdie to Ghosh, there are a million mutinies now.

There was much to be admired in Rushdie’s early diatribe against the creation of a “ghetto mentality” through the yoking — by violence and illicit (neo)imperialist intention together — of disparate literary communities who all happened to have once been ruled by Brittannia and still used her language creatively. When he insisted that “‘Commonwealth Literature’ should not exist” he was speaking at once for both the so-called “Commonwealth” writers in English who did not appreciate being lumped together by some craven notion of a historical inheritance that they daily wrestled with in their work, as well as all those shamefully neglected “regional” writers who bore the burden of their non-Englishness so defiantly and so brilliantly in countries across the globe.

Or so one thought. Rushdie himself sounded quite brilliant in his self-reflexivity: he “recognized this unmanageable, unlikeable beast” — Commonwealth Literature — as an “exclusive ghetto”, privileging the English-speaking/writing classes of the ex-colonies while marking them out as distinct from the British and the American (the original sinners or the standard-bearers, label them what you will). Considering the Indian context, he then went on to write (in the 1983 essay): “It is also worth saying that major work is being done in India in many languages other than English; yet outside India there is just about no interest in any of this work. The Indo-Anglians seize all the limelight. Very little is translated; very few of the best writers — Premchand, Anantha Moorthy [sic] — or the best novels are known, even by name.”

Twenty years on, some of this has changed — translations are proliferating, and there is a burgeoning interest in such work outside India — but in the main, the “Indo-Anglians” do still hog the limelight, and not always for the best reasons. However, the point of interest lies elsewhere. One needs to recall the astonishing statement that Rushdie went on to make on this subject later in his life: “The prose writing…created…by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a stronger and more important body of work than most of what has been produced in the 16 ‘official languages’ of India…and indeed, this new…‘Indo-Anglian’ literature represents perhaps the most valuable contribution India has yet made to the world of books.”

Rushdie was obviously so profoundly convinced of his own thesis that he found that only one regional voice — Saadat Hasan Manto — made the cut in his final selection of 32 writers for the Vintage collection of Indian writing he co-edited in 1997 to mark 50 years of India’s independence. To think that Kiran Desai is more “vintage” than Mahasweta Devi, or Ardashir Vakil more “valuable” than Ananthamurthy, defies logical thought; clearly, Rushdie’s articulation of his own writerly anxieties is hardly worthy of refutation or debate.

Which brings us to Ghosh’s “open letter” and to the idea being generally expressed that he has followed in action the spirit long-festering among writers of Indian origin — led by Rushdie — that the “Commonwealth” is not an umbrella they would choose to be huddled under. The larger paradigms are similar, perhaps, but there are profound differences in the manifestations of the spirit of protest, and to lose sight of the importance of these divergences is to miss completely the political implications of the gestures themselves.

Rushdie’s original attack against the “Commonwealth” label was two-pronged: that writers in English from Commonwealth nations resented being ghettoized, and that they had nothing in common with each other to deserve this neo-imperialist umbrella. He made a token acknowledgment of the worth of regional writers, but glimmerings of the Rushdie to come are visible in the 1983 essay itself. Two (separate) statements sound suspicious with hindsight: one, that “the children of independent India seem not to think of English as being irredeemably tainted by its colonial provenance. They use it as an Indian language, as one of the tools they have to hand”; and two, that “the greatest area of friction in Indian literature has nothing to do with English literature, but with the effects of the hegemony of Hindi on the literatures of other Indian languages”.

It appears to me that Rushdie had early imbibed the true (if hidden) spirit of the parent of the Commonwealth, which was to divide and rule, later metamorphosing into a desire to homogenize and asphyxiate.

And this is where Ghosh’s quiet service to the nation lies. As he correctly notes in his letter, his work — and especially the novel in question — is luminous proof that “the children of India” do, indeed, “think of English as being irredeemably tainted by its colonial provenance”: all you need to do is consider “English” both as signifier and signified, a hegemonic as well as linguistic tool “at hand” to use, refuse and refute. Ghosh writes: “As a literary or cultural grouping…it seems to me that ‘the Commonwealth’ can only be a misnomer so long as it excludes the many languages that sustain the cultural and literary lives of these countries”; clearly, this belief stands in complete contradiction to Rushdie’s wild (if defensive) posturing about the status of English amongst Indian literatures today.

Towards the very end of The Glass Palace, Ghosh writes of Aung San Suu Kyi: “She haunts them unceasingly, every moment….She has robbed them of words, of discourse….The truth is that they’ve lost and they know this…this is what makes them so desperate…the knowledge that soon they will have nowhere to hide… that it is just a matter of time before they are made to answer for all that they have done.”

There really are no parallels here with Ghosh’s withdrawal of the novel from the race for the prize, but how uncannily true the keywords ring! If there is anyone among contemporary Indian writers in English, it is Ghosh that we may look to, to rob the ubiquitous “them” of words and to send them scurrying for answers while they search for a corner to hide in.


Each year, April 17 is observed as World Haemophilia Day to focus attention on the plight of those suffering from this deadly disease. Often described as a royal disorder, this disease prevents the clotting of blood due to the deficiency of factor V or VIII, which are responsible for inducing blood clotting. The severity of haemophilia depends upon the level of the vital clotting factor. Significantly, the disorder affects only the male, with the female remaining the carriers, passing on the disease to the male progeny.

Though essentially an inherited disease, even those without a family history of haemophilia can develop it because of simple genetic mutations. The Assay test is normally used to check the degree of haemophilia by zeroing in on the exact extent of the deficiency factor. It has roughly been estimated that on an average, one person in a population of 10,000 is a haemophiliac. India is known to have a haemophiliac population of one lakh.

Taking care

Persons with haemophilia bleed continuously, both on account of the external wounds and internal bleeding in the brain and the joints. Without timely and proper treatment, a haemophiliac could become totally disabled for the rest of his life. Since a haemophiliac needs constant transfusion of blood and its various products, he runs the added risk of contracting viral infections, including HIV and Hepatitis-B, because of the poor condition of blood banks in India.

In 1983, Indian haemophiliacs got together and formed the Haemophilia Federation of India, which is registered as a charitable trust of haemophiliacs, doctors, concerned individuals, institutions and regional haemophiliac societies. The three major objectives of the Haemophilia Federation are to locate undiagnosed haemophiliacs, to provide information about proper care and make haemophilia treatment available at an affordable cost.

Treatment costs

Till now, the low incidence and the exorbitant cost of treating the disease has led to haemophilia receiving poor attention from the public health administrators in India. This is even more unfortunate given that very few haemophiliacs in the country can afford the cost of treating the disease.

Earlier, total blood transfusion was the only cure for haemophilia. But now the deficient factor can be corrected through the intake of an active ingredient of anti-haemophilia factor. However, this imported blood product is prohibitively costly and just around two per cent of haemophiliacs in India have sufficient resources to afford it. Treatment with cryoprecipitation, not as costly as the anti-haemophilia factor, is an affordable option.

It is time the public healthcare system of the country took notice of the compelling needs of haemophiliacs and help them through proper care, attention and treatment to emerge as productive members of the society.



Unjust situation

Sir — There are about 20,000 pending cases in Allahabad high court alone and about five lakh each in Calcutta, Madras, Delhi and Bombay high courts respectively. In all, about three crore cases are pending all over India in different courts. If this state of affairs is allowed to continue, and justice is delayed for an indefinite period, it is equivalent to a breakdown of the judicial mechanism in the country. It has been observed that even for relatively small offences, people are taken into custody for indefinite lengths of time. This is because they have to wait endlessly for the disposal of their cases. The government should take positive steps to combat this phenomenon. If the need arises, judges will have to put in extra hours. The plaintiffs should not be given more than one extension and the defendant not more than two. There should be a time limit of a maximum six months to decide a case. However, it would require both judicial and political will to implement the changes.
Yours faithfully,
S.L. Dhanuka, Calcutta

Temple talk

Sir — The media, both print and electronic, is once again actively discussing the Ayodhya issue. With the elections to five state assemblies approaching us, this kind of discussion will only consolidate pro-Hindutva votes in favour of the BJP. Indeed, who has raked up this issue at this juncture? The Liberhan commission has been summoning top political leaders who have been involved in the Ayodhya episode for their testimony. The former prime minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, appeared before the commission. But, what he said there need not be the present stand of the Congress on the Ayodhya issue.

Rao was wise in doing what he did and not presenting the present Congress’s policies in his testimony before the commission. The same rules apply to Advani as well. He need not utter the stand of the National Democratic Alliance in his testimony. The Ayodhya episode occurred long before the National Democratic Alliance came into being. Advani did not take part in the Ayodhya event as an NDA leader.

The media’s insistence on confusing Advani’s words with the stance that the NDA has on Ayodhya is wrong. Advani is not appearing before the commission as a representative of the NDA. So, there is no room for confusion. Ayodhya does not figure on the NDA’s agenda. It is better for the media not to overemphasize Advani’s testimony as a negative feature of the coalition. Besides, what he has stated as evidence before the commission are not his own views. He was just quoting what was stated in earlier court verdicts.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The statements by the Union home minster, Lal Krishna Advani, about the construction of the Ram mandir are hurtful (“Advani kills two birds with one temple”, April 12). Ever since December 6, 1992, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party always raise this issue and make such controversial statements when they do not have any other means to “impress” their countrymen.

Lately, because their image has been tarnished owing to the Tehelka episode and because everybody is criticizing them, they are doing all kinds of things to regain their popularity with the masses. By attracting attention to the Ayodhya issue, they are trying again to play on communal feelings to incite the masses into another frenzy like the one we have already seen in 1992.

This kind of politics always hurts the feelings of both Hindus and Muslims; and this is not all — sooner or later, it will also lead to more killing of innocent people. Any action taken by the BJP or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to construct the Ram mandir by force will unleash a few more dangas and loss of government property.

Yours faithfully,
Divyand, Bhubaneswar

As a matter of course

Sir — From the current academic session (2000-2001), the University of Calcutta has introduced “Environmental Studies” as a paper for undergraduate students. All students, both at the honours and the pass courses, of the humanities, science and commerce streams at the undergraduate level will have to secure pass marks in the paper.

The purpose of this compulsory course is to create awareness among students about the ecological system, the problems facing our fragile environment, and the possible ways of preventing, controlling or solving them. This course has been introduced, following a Supreme Court directive to the University Grants Commission to make environmental studies a mandatory subject at the college level. Seminars and workshops are being organized to prepare teachers for this new development.

Although experts have insisted that the aim is to give rudimentary ideas about the environmental problems in a form accessible to the uninitiated students, confusion persists in the minds of the students about the nature, format and standard of questions that they will have to face for the first time, and the manner of the evaluation.

While some teething trouble is to be expected, the syllabus prescribed by the university shows a balanced approach. There is a distinction between “environmental sciences” and “environmental studies”. The former is for the expert while the latter is for the lay-man. The syllabus keeps this distinction in mind, lest it becomes tedious and incomprehensible for the students.

Yours faithfully,
Gautam Mukhopadhyay, Calcutta

Sir — According to reports, the BCom (Honours) Part II examinations of the Calcutta University are going to start from May 3. But, traditionally, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India holds its foundation-course examinations in the first week of May.

Needless to add, this will clash with the BCom examinations. Will the authorities concerned look into the matter and do something about it so that students aspiring to sit for both examinations can do so?

Yours faithfully,
Md. A. Saddar, Calcutta

Sir — Students who had to appear for the higher secondary examinations at Sree Jain Vidyalaya School were badly harassed. They had a lot of trouble getting additional sheets for their answerscripts. The invigilators are rude and unwilling to cooperate. Students even had to shorten their answers because of the paucity of answer sheets.

Yours faithfully,
Vikram Malhotra, Calcutta

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