Editorial 1/ Hope Share
Editorial 2/ Out of the race
To play second fiddle
Fifth Column/ Forcing itself on the rest
In the company of warring critics
Short jump from the ballot to the bullets
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ HOPE SHARE 
 
 
 
 
The extreme volatility in the Indian stock markets continues unabated. Mr Yashwant Sinha’s budget, which received rave reviews, was announced almost two months ago. The budget acted as a major stimulant and share prices moved up dramatically. But this lasted a couple of days. Ever since that time, huge downward swings have been followed by small northward movements. The single most important cause for the downswings has been the growing apprehension that Indian software companies would be severely affected by the United States slowdown since the latter country constitutes the overwhelmingly dominant market for these companies. Clearly, these fears were not without any basis. Just a few days ago, Infosys, which is amongst the bluest of blue chips announced its profit figures. While it has recorded over 100 per cent growth in profits during the last year, it also issued a profit warning that the expected growth in profit during the current year would be significantly smaller. This announcement was sufficient to send the Bombay sensitive index crashing to its lowest level in 28 months. But, the signals are really quite mixed. There are several firms which are in the same boat as Infosys. Well known companies in the US such as Hewlett-Packard and Cisco have announced significantly lower profit levels and job cuts. Hewlett-Packard issued the drastic warning that its earnings for the quarter ending April 30 would be less than half the Wall Street expectations. For good measure, it also announced that it was cutting up to 3000 management jobs.

Several companies have announced results which suggest that the effects of the US slowdown (if there is one) on technology-intensive companies have been grossly exaggerated. One such is Intel in the US. Several domestic companies such as Satyam Computers, Hughes Software and Wipro have posted excellent results. Wipro has achieved a record 150.6 per cent growth in net profit during the fourth quarter. Its net profit for the entire fiscal year increased by 122 per cent, which was better than market expectations. Since the US slowdown could only have taken effect recently, the fact that Wipro’s profit for the last quarter exceeded the average for the entire year is particularly interesting: clearly the slowdown has not had any repercussions at all on Wipro.

These vastly different company expectations suggest that it is naïve to draw uniform conclusions about the implications of the US slowdown on Indian technology companies. But to the extent that some companies have undoubtedly been affected adversely, it suggests that these companies did not plan very wisely. They did not diversify and exploit the demand for Indian software services in other countries and are now reaping the consequences of putting all their eggs in one basket. Meanwhile, there is some cause for optimism. The US central bank governor has, in a surprise move, slashed interest rates by half a point in order to stimulate the economy. This has had an immediate impact. US share prices have risen sharply. Since US share prices are not anywhere as volatile as Indian share prices, the sudden rise in the former holds out hope that the US economy may not be in such a bad shape after all. If this is indeed true, then the Bombay sensex will hopefully move up at least to the point that it reached a couple of days after the budget.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ OUT OF THE RACE 
 
 
 
 
It would look like a mythic triumph of the rule of law — if only Tamil politics was a little less of a mad, garish comedy of ceaseless realignment. The returning officers of the Election Commission have scrutinized and rejected all of Ms J. Jayalalitha’s nomination papers. She seems now to have been disqualified altogether from contesting the forthcoming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. The EC’s firmness in sticking to its 1997 order barring candidature of convicted persons is particularly laudable in this case. The cleaning up of a sizeable chunk of the southern polity now looks like less of an impossible idea. The commission’s verdict cuts through various forms of legalistic cunning made by Ms Jayalalitha’s supporters in their attempts to get around the provisions of the Representation of the People Act.

The EC’s triumph could have both dark and comic consequences. In a state given to lurid political sensationalism, the question of law and order becomes ominous. Ms Jayalalitha’s party cadre have displayed violent passions after some of her previous convictions. The political consequences could, however, be contemplated with a less troubled sense of life’s ironies. First, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, like all other single-leader parties, could be rendered a cipher without Ms Jayalalitha. Obliging Rabri Devis cannot always be pulled out of the hat. Second, the entire situation with the numerous allies could keep a political spectator with a cruel sense of fun endlessly entertained. The Bharatiya Janata Party, never quite secure in the state, will now gain a second-hand advantage with the strengthening of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s position. The predicament of the Congress, on the other hand, could end up being this cruel spectator’s delight. So could that of the Tamil Maanila Congress, caught out in its dizzying oscillations between the AIADMK and the DMK. Mr P. Chidambaram’s view to the fate of Mr G.K. Moopanar’s faction of the TMC could now have more than a hint of gloating. The absurdity of Tamil politics’ constantly shifting alliances and allegiances, and indeed the ridiculous consequences of simply having far too many political parties could now suddenly be enhanced by this verdict, which could only bolster the EC’s image in managing to stick to its guns amidst the anarchy and corruption that Ms Jayalalitha had begun to embody.

   

 
 
TO PLAY SECOND FIDDLE 
 
 
BY ASHOK MITRA
 
 
An interesting news item has apparently been missed out in the cacophony of the on-going election campaign in five states. In both byelections — at Haidergarh and Saidabad —for two vacant seats in the Uttar Pradesh assembly held in early April, the Congress has fared miserably. Its candidates have lost their deposits in both constituencies and have come last, trailing even independent candidates. And this phenomenon has happened in the immediate aftermath of the Tehelka episode, which supposedly has provided the Congress with a fresh lease of life.

This ground reality is evidently having no impact on the power structure of the Congress. The charisma assumed to be attached to the Nehru-Gandhis is casually linked to the semi-divine status it is taken for granted they enjoy in the eyes of the populace in Aryavarta, more particularly in Uttar Pradesh. Sonia Gandhi is the supreme leader of the party, with none daring to ask a question, because she is the current abbess of the dynasty. Politics these days is largely centred around the disbursement of hard cash, white as well as black, and the Nehru-Gandhis, gossip has it, have stashed away lots and lots of such cash; this too could be an additional factor accounting for the former Italian citizen’s clout in the party hierarchy. Still, unless the party has wide credibility, money by itself will be of little avail. Sonia Gandhi, as the widow of a former prime minister and the daughter-in-law of yet another, is considered, right or wrong, by partymen as the best guarantee of their saleability in the poll market. The belief has gradually grown into a legend. The legend is proving to be the driving, or rather non-driving, force of the party.

It could indeed be, as the Bharatiya Janata Party is strongly of the view, that her foreign parentage will continue to be a major stumbling block to the Nehru-Gandhis’ return to power. Foreign lineage was not an encumbrance in the case of either Annie Besant or Nellie Sengupta. But that was three-quarters of a century or more ago. This distance of time constitutes a wide chasm. Besides, both of them were merely president of the Congress. The issue of accepting as prime minister of the nation a person who was, once upon a time, a foreign national perhaps does raise weightier questions with the electorate.

The hypothesis stated above may be right, or may not be. What is beyond dispute is the failure, till now, of this particular foreign-born lady to prove her mettle in the electoral arena. The last state assembly election in Delhi was not, really and truly, won by the Congress; the BJP blew it, through its misjudgment on the importance of prevailing market prices of onions and potatoes for the average Indian household. That apart, as far as the major states are concerned, the Congress is not in the picture anywhere barring Karnataka. In the case of the latter state too, the faction-ridden erstwhile Janata Dal handed the state on a platter to the Congress.

Sonia Gandhi must be realizing the sticky wicket she is facing, which is why she has been so desperately anxious to team up with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. Never mind if in consequence her party has to play a junior role in these states; as long as there is a flicker of hope of electoral success in the forthcoming assembly elections, even a subordinate position for her party will not bother the lady. It is insubordination within the party which she is not going to tolerate; after all, she is the standard-bearer of the Nehru-Gandhi mystique, others within the party must abide by her.

This behaviouristic asymmetry has run into difficulties, as it was bound to. A time comes when even the worm turns. She did not have to form a new coalition in Kerala; her party was already leading a front there in opposition to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). But, to ensure success at the polls in the state, it was essential that the party stayed as a coherent entity in the state. K. Karunakaran’s revolt has put paid to that prospect. Perhaps A.K. Antony and his men have been adjudged to be relatively more loyal to the Nehru-Gandhis; moreover, a dynasty instinctively dislikes the rearing of other dynasties, even on a minute scale. Karunakaran has failed to qualify even on that score. Some sort of a compromise deal has been struck in Kerala at the eleventh hour; nonetheless, the harm that has been done cannot be undone.

The trouble with rebellions is that they have a contaminating effect. The rot, if that is what it is, has spread to West Bengal. And what Bengal does today may well be emulated in a number of other states as well. The bigger slice of the party in Maharashtra, let us not forget, has already sauntered away.

In an environment where ideology has been rendered a joke, revolt is also encouraged by the existence of other parties, ever ready to fish in troubled waters. To cross over from the Congress to the BJP is as easy as gobbling up a banana split. True, the reverse thing can also happen, and in fact does happen. It is however the Congress which has of late been more hurt by defections. In Aryavarta, it has lost a large number of its leaders and followers to the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. That the process will come to a halt in the near future is a very remote possibility. Nothing fails like failure. Despite the patchwork coalitions, should the Congress be unable to register any marked success in the polls next month, the malady of disaffection is likely to spread.

Is not the BJP in a similar quandary? In both Tamil Nadu and Assam, it is contesting the assembly elections as a junior partner of the party heading the state government. In West Bengal, it thought it was doing exceedingly well by tying itself to the apron-strings of the Trinamool Congress. But loyalty is a fickle virtue. In the wake of the Tehelka videotapes, the lady who is the be-all and end-all of the Trinamool Congress has unceremoniously ditched the BJP, which has therefore been forced to plough a lonely furrow.

It is altogether a sorry situation. A party which believes in national cohesion and religious fundamentalism has been compelled to ally, because of the exigency of circumstances, with formations whose ideology and political craftsmanship are altogether antipodal. Whether the strategy pays off or not, in Assam and Tamil Nadu, the BJP is bound to face soon a mega-sized predicament. It should have no regrets, it will perhaps have Sonia Gandhi as its boon companion in adversity.

Both the principal parties in the country do not lack resources. They will no doubt try to extricate themselves from the awkward corners they have played themselves in by distributing largesse at random. Money, however, cannot buy everything even in this cynical era. The regional parties have tasted blood; local satraps are thrilled at discovering the power they have at their disposal. India’s political landscape, there is hardly any question, is going to be hazier and hazier from now on. Both genres, empresses as well as führers, should take heed. They will be overtaken by the bane which was once the remorseless fate of Indian agriculture: subdivision and fragmentation upto the nth degree.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ FORCING ITSELF ON THE REST 
 
 
BY ARSHI KHAN
 
 
The recent bombings on Baghdad by the United States and Britain and the first west Asia tour of the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, clearly indicate the emerging trend of “American global irredentism”. The two developments create an impression that Iraq is at the centre of the west Asia crisis. In reality, Powell’s visit was an important US move to divert attention from Israeli atrocities that has led to the killing of more than 400 Palestinians since last September.

Strangely, Israel’s violation of the United Nations charter, colonization of Palestinians and its amassing weapons of mass destruction are not considered a threat to the world. Yet the US had used this yardstick to control Iraq’s oil and destroy its missiles defence. The US also expects Iraq to scrupulously follow UN resolutions. No such demands are made on Israel which was also indicted by the UN human rights commission.

The use of force against Iraq, once sanctioned by the UN for the liberation of Kuwait, has become a permanent feature of US-Iraq conflicts. The US has not only misused UN regulations and agencies, it has also violated the fundamentals of international law. Iraq has openly accused the US and Zionist forces of violating Iraqi sovereignty and the fundamental rights of its people. It holds the US and its allies responsible for continuing the sanctions which should have been revoked much earlier.

US and them

“American global irredentism” is a new addition to the “alternative international law” through which American authoritarianism works on the pretext of enforcement of world peace, security, human rights and democracy.

The US holds that denial of the right to democracy gave rise to the right of armed intervention. This however happened selectively. The US justified force against Belgrade and Baghdad in the name of “popular sovereignty”, although it has special ties with Israel which has usurped Palestinian sovereignty.

It has been argued that a state or a coalition of states may lawfully intervene unilaterally to promote democracy in another state without UN authorization. Such arguments depend on a restrictive interpretation of article 2(4) of the UN charter, which prohibits the use of force. US interventions in Grenada and Panama in the Eighties were justified by the presumption that the UN had failed to achieve peace and order. In fact, the Reagan doctrine is based on armed intervention, leaving little room for diplomacy or peaceful persuasion. But this theory on the resorting to arms has been repeatedly rejected by the international court of justice.

New regimen

In case of Iraq, US actions and interference have gone even beyond the parameters of “alternative international law”. The recent airstrikes on Baghdad are similar to the heavy bombing in 1998. In response to the bitter criticism, the US claimed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, although UN documents and ground realities negate such claims.

Amazingly, the UN secretary general has not expressed any concern over the bombings. He seems satisfied with the US explanation that the airstrikes were “not an escalation, not a qualitative difference in their activities in Iraq”. Kofi Annan even said, “there was work to be done in biological and chemical weapons areas and only inspectors could judge how much once they have been able to get back into Iraq”.

Yet Iraq has supplied the UN with proof that it has no weapons of mass destruction. The UN inspectors, whose activities have long been suspect, eight years later are yet to give Iraq clearance regarding these weapons. Iraq has rejected further WMD inspections. In other words, Iraq has lost confidence in the neutrality of UN agencies.

The new US administration seems to be aggressive towards Iraq. The US policy towards Iraq is influenced by the strong Jewish lobby and Israel. The US might ease economic sanctions, but it is determined to restrain Iraq’s defence arrangements. The Iraqi daily Al Thawra wrote in March, “They have started to look for an even more cunning regime of sanctions. They are now trying to strangle with silk cord rather than to decapitate it with a sword”. Iraq can get justice only if the US abides by the UN charter and tries to implement the normative international law.

   

 
 
IN THE COMPANY OF WARRING CRITICS 
 
 
BY PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY
 
 
What makes two of America’s most eminent scholars and public intellectuals, seemingly from the same tradition, turn against each other? I am talking about Michael Walzer and Edward Said, whose falling apart publicly have, in recent years, generated much controversy and speculation.

Michael Walzer is best known for his book, Spheres Of Justice (1983), in which he proposed a powerful communitarian model of distributive justice against the ideals of possessive individualism, a book many consider to be the most successful reply to the likes John Rawls and Robert Nozick. What is often overlooked are the two nagging adjuncts to this communitarian ethics — the Judaic tradition of theological and political thought and the idea of the “connected” social critic. It is in these later contexts that Walzer encounters a formidable adversary in Edward Said.

Said is well known to literary critics all over the world for more than three decades now. But he has also written extensively on music, Islam and west Asian politics and is arguably the most famous spokesperson in the Western world for the cause of the Palestinian intifada, speaking against the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In 1988, Said co-authored and edited a book with Christopher Hitchens (who made the Channel Four documentary, Hell’s Angel, on Mother Teresa in 1994 and followed it up with an equally vicious book on her, The Missionary Position, in 1995) called Blaming The Victims and subtitled it, “Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question”. It’s singular objective was to bust the myth that the Arabs in Palestine were refugees of recent vintage, a small, shifty population of nameless vagrants who came to the West Bank in the mid-20th century, attracted by Jewish property, and are as such a trick foisted on Israel. This is a continuing theme in Said’s political writings and does not come as a surprise to his readers.

What does come as a shock is a special section reserved for Michael Walzer, entitled “The ‘Liberal’ Alternative”. It is important to note that “liberal” is placed within scare quotes. Said takes apart Walzer’s expositions of the Judaic political tradition, especially the latter’s claims in his book, Exodus And Revolution (1985), that the Exodus story of the bondage and oppression of Jews in Egypt, their wanderings in Sinai and the search for a promised land are the original form of progressive politics and that it is possible to trace a continuous history from this to the radical politics of our time. Said finds this claim that Jewish Exodus politics is a model for present-day resistance movements spurious. Said points out that in their early stages, for reasons of sheer survival, all monotheistic religions had to be merciless: this is true of early Islam as it is of Pauline Christianity and of the Jews.

The related strands of Walzer’s thesis — first, that the conquest of Canaan was more like a gradual infiltration than a systematic campaign for extermination, and second, that Moses’s unforgiving dictum, “Thou shalt utterly destroy them”, is a command that was effectively revoked by talmudic and medieval glossators — are also rubbished by Said. Said claims that after the destruction of the Temple, the Jews were in no position at all to collectively implement the commandment.

Beyond these factual and interpretative hairsplitting, however, lies a deeper pattern of antagonism. There is a method in Said’s indictments, which stem from a grudge against liberal communitarian political stance that Walzer and his ilk maintain. Said has accused Walzer of “sweeping the board improbably clean of zealotry, vicious sectarianism, tyrannical theoretical systems and the sheer disorderly tumble of historical events”. Said accuses the “liberal” alternative of having a penchant for eliding the complexities of history.

It is not a mere coincidence that in 1998, when Said and Hitchens were editing their book, Walzer published his The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the 20th Century, undoubtedly a classic account of modern intellectual history. In this book, Walzer reasserted the need for the true social critic to remain connected to his everyday world unlike the detached and dispassionate philosopher. He reads sympathetically the lives and works of a series of intellectuals — from Martin Buber to Antonio Gramsci, from George Orwell to Herbert Marcuse.

There is one notable exception. The most famous of the modern French intellectuals, Julien Benda, and his book, La Trahison des Clercs [The Treason of the Intellectuals], are put paid to by Walzer for professing the false virtues of distance and detachment. Benda is the typical case of the social critic going quiet, his quietude the result of his search for some transcendental or moral truth beyond the immediate social context. In the process, Benda detaches the clerc from the layman and is therefore the great betrayer.

Now every serious reader of Said knows that Benda is his hero. In fact, while delivering the 1993 Reith Lectures, in which Said was invited to speak on the role of the intellectual in modern life, he chose Benda to be the representative figure. The intellectual’s obligation, as Said sees it, is to truth and truth alone. And this responsibility to truth can only be exercised if the intellectual stands apart from the society in which he operates. Said’s social critic is a lonely figure.

What actually bugs Said then is not Walzer’s position regarding the Palestinian question, which is more an effect than the cause of the difference between the two men. The “liberal” alternative for Said is to dilute the logic of the left, a retreat to the soft morality of the concreteness and intimacy of shared communal and familial bonds. (Walzer has iterated the importance of the Jewish political community in exile — the kahal — in the introduction to the recently published four-volume The Jewish Political Tradition.) It profoundly distresses Said to see Walzer being hailed as one of the last of American socialists, and his position advanced and honoured as progressive. To Said, liberal communitarianism is smug in its conviction that the world can be made better by human effort. This position retains the vocabulary of the left, but scuttles both the theory and the critical astringency that gave the left its moral and intellectual fervour.

True to his liberal credentials, Walzer has never attacked Said with as much vitriol and generally maintains a dignified distance from all sorts of ad hominem criticism. Yet Walzer is never shy about defending his “precarious” Jewish status in the journal, Dissent, of which he is one of the editors. Perhaps he is amused at Said’s own questionable left credentials. Meanwhile, even as Said goes on lamenting the existence of an orchestrated American Zionist lobby as the final hurdle to the Palestinian cause, Walzer is still looking for dialogue and communication between the different interested parties in west Asia. And referring to the glass as partially empty or partially full does make a difference.

   

 
 
SHORT JUMP FROM THE BALLOT TO THE BULLETS 
 
 
BY UTPAL CHATTERJEE
 
 
In his tiny shop in the Khyber Pass near the Afghan border, Shoaib Khan pulls out his best-seller — the Kalashnikov AK-47. “Weapons are the jewellery of men,” he says smiling,“Women wear jewellery, men wear guns.”

One can’t help wondering if Khan’s concept is novel. In Bihar for one, politicians also seem to have been thinking on Khan’s lines regarding men’s accessories. Many of their counterparts also subscribe to the view in states like Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and now, even West Bengal. That is one effective way of scaring and “impressing” the voters, mosts certainly in poor and ravaged rural Bengal.

Ill-gotten money, after all, is for personal use and hard to spare. Gun cartridges are easily more dispensable, especially if one chooses to be vindictive against suspect voters or those who are known to vote for the rival party. Or those who belong to “detestable”castes, are aligned with the “wrong” party or are alienated from the “right” one.

There is a surfeit of “senas” in the villages nowadays and their frequently-reported invasions of rival territories leave a bloody trail in rows of corpses, some mutilated beyond recognition. Some sena chieftains have even acquired the courage to flaunt their accessories in the state capital to lend weightage to their contest for ministerial berths in the state cabinet. Some others nurse parliamentary ambitions.

Gun culture

Oddly enough, the public seem to be taking a keen interest in these people who have suddenly become the focus of intense curiosity. For, sadly enough, this new category of people have become part and parcel of our political system that scares away the motivated, educated and well-intentioned lot from the hustings. The latter were the kind of men who fought in the freedom movement and gave India its identity. More than 50 years since then, it is the turn of the “bejewelled” men to take over the mantle.

One would, quite inevitably, raise the question of the assembly elections in West Bengal. The countdown to May 10 has begun and it would be worthwhile to mention that in politics even a fortnight could be crucial. Former British prime minister, Harold Wilson, in fact thought that even a day was a long time in politics.

Whatever the opinion polls may suggest for the future of the state, the penultimate fortnight might make all the difference, especially if a few more Keshpurs happen where the glittering “jewels” of the rival parties may surface. In fact, in the end, guns and gore might decide the fate of the people of West Bengal, instead of the ballots.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Shrine of worry

Sir — Mukul Kesavan deserves to be complimented for his extremely cogent and thought-provoking article, “A coup in slow motion” (April 22), about how the entire spirit of our Constitution and the provisions of liberalism made by the founding fathers are being subverted by the relentless propaganda of Hindu fundamentalists, keen to establish the Ram mandir at the disputed site in Ayodhya, while claiming to be establishing India’s “national heritage”. In fact, whether by “agreement” or by favourable judgment, these people are determined to build the temple and have even prepared pre-fabricated parts for this purpose. Kesavan is also justified in saying that for right-thinking people, it is not enough to resist this unsavoury indoctrination in a passive manner alone. One should also actively oppose this idea. An organized and active resistance should emerge in this country against these designs. Otherwise, the insidious nature of this “Hinduization” will overwhelm us soon.

Yours faithfully,
H.P. Mitra, via email

Across the border

Sir — The BJP government could not rise to the occasion on yet another grim occasion — the brutal killing of our BSF jawans. We are immediately reminded of the government’s apathy and lacklustre response at the Amritsar airport, the humiliation at Kandahar, the absence of military intelligence in Kargil and the latest ineptitude during the Bhuj earthquake. On the other hand, we see how other countries are vigilant about national crises and dishonour. We cannot even start comparing ourselves with the performance of the Americans, Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese and the Israelis in response to such national calamities.

We have to understand the irrelevance of the rhetoric of “world peace”, “peaceful coexistence”, “complete disarmament” and so on, which our political ancestors, like Jawaharlal Nehru or Leonid Brezhnev, upheld. Why exactly were the nuclear tests conducted? What sort of strength were we boasting of? If the government is at a loss about tackling terrorism, border skirmishes, what good has our bomb done? Soon we will be labelled as an easy target by the world outside, despite our tall claims of being powerful and democratic. The Vietnamese expelled the mighty Americans from their country by determination, unity and will. These qualities seem to be absent in our country.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Banerjee, New Delhi

Sir — The editorial, “Borders on two villages” (April 22), which put the responsibility for the crisis at the Bangladesh border on India, has perhaps not passed an entirely fair judgment. India has been providing shelter and succour to the innumerable immigrants from Bangladesh, despite its population problem. While it may be admitted that it was a mistake on our part to indulge in the building of the footpath on disputed territory, Bangladesh could have reacted differently; if not for anything else, at least as a gesture of gratitude towards a country which helped it acquire its name and independent status. Instead, a barbaric treatment was meted out to the Border Security Force personnel, making a mockery of international human rights.

Yet another intelligence failure and the passive response of the Indian government will morally discourage the security forces. India’s restraint could be misinterpreted as weakness. This undue and misplaced display of diplomacy by the South Block mandarins is deplorable.

Yours faithfully,
Shankha Roy, Calcutta

Sir — “Borders on two villages” was in bad taste. Even the Bangladeshi media would not have been so unwarrantedly critical of India. It is unfortunate that even a small and militarily weak country like Bangladesh could attack, torture and kill Indian securitymen, and even return the mutilated dead bodies for the whole world to see. They could do it only because India is perceived to be a soft state. If we are under the illusion that others consider us a powerful country, or are afraid of us, we are deluding ourselves.

The most important issue between India and Bangladesh is the massive one-way infiltration. The number of illegal Bangladeshi settlers on Indian soil runs into crores. The problem is so great that India may rightfully demand a few districts from Bangladesh to settle the illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators. Friendly relations with another country cannot be established unilaterally. India has been going on extending concession after concession to Bangladesh in order to establish “friendly” relations. However, there is little reciprocation from the Bangladesh side.

Yours faithfully,
Robin Kumar, via email

Sir — The brutal killing of the BSF personnel by the Bangladesh Rifles is a matter of shame. But the way the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government handled the situation is even more shameful. It failed to register a strong protest with the Bangladesh government. The external affairs ministry is more concerned about our friendship with the Bangladesh government than with the lives of the BSF personnel,who were tortured and killed. The prime minister has not condemned the incident strongly enough. The Centre has once again shown its cowardliness.

Yours faithfully,
Kumar Saurabh, Jamshedpur

Sir — The crisis on the Indo-Bangladesh border should make India sit up to certain realities. It just goes to show how situations change overnight and points out the need for India to be wary of its seemingly harmless neighbours. The Northeast has long been a neglected terrain. The government often turns a blind eye to rumours like the construction of helipads by the Chinese within Indian territory and the Chinese intrusion into Arunachal Pradesh.

And now Bangladesh, a country smaller than most Indian states, has dared to take on India militarily. India’s excessive insistence on diplomatic resolution of all conflicts should not give out signals that make people believe that it shies away from being firm. It is time the political parties stopped their mutual mud-slinging exercise and take steps to prevent the occurrence of such incidents in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Anuradha Sarkar, via email

Sir — One would imagine that Atal Bihari Vajpayee does not understand the worth of the sons of this soil. Otherwise, he would not have reacted in such an ineffectual manner to the outrageous butchery of our soldiers. If the persons who give us security are tortured and slaughtered in the manner in which they were at our eastern borders, and no strong measures are taken by our government against this, then the prime minister should be forced to take responsibility and step down. What is the use of “talking” to the Bangladesh prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajid, and waiting for a probe into the incident. It is not going to return us our soldiers.

Yours faithfully,
Rohit Maheswari, Calcutta

Sir — This unspeakably fiendish act by an ostensibly friendly nation deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible terms by all civilized people. This matter should be brought up in an international forum like the United Nations. The least that the UN can do is pass a resolution condemning the act in no uncertain terms. With this action, Bangladesh has given new meanings to the word, “friendship”. Although New Delhi may have good reasons for its surprisingly low-key response to this sickening incident, this will not do. India does not, even now, seem to understand that it is dealing with neighbours who misconstrue patience as weakness and tolerance as foolishness.

Yours faithfully,
Satish Kumar, New Delhi

Letters to the editor should be sent to: The Telegraph

6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
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