Editorial 1 / Puppets on a string
Editorial 2 / Blase lungs
This is not submissiveness
Fifth Column / Slip through legal loopholes
Looking the other way
Threatened by the economics of sheer scale
Letters to the editor

Shadows of the party have already begun to lengthen over the government in West Bengal even though the tenure of the new chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, is not yet a fortnight old. The shadows have acquired the shape of the magic word, “performance”. To ensure the latter, Mr Anil Biswas, secretary of the state unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), announced that CPI(M) ministers — 33 in number — would have to draft annual plans and submit them to Mr Nirupam Sen, the minister for industry who also holds the planning and development portfolios. The plans and their implementations would be reviewed by the state party leadership and senior ministers every six months. On the face of it, all this sounds laudable and can be read as signs of the new government’s commitment to achievement and performance which are the two columns of Mr Bhattacharjee’s mansion of hope for West Bengal. A more cynical way of looking at the same thing would be to say that earlier incarnations of the Left Front did not emphasize these two virtues and the present one is demarcating itself from the previous one by showcasing its emphasis on achievement and performance. An admission of failure has become the carrier of new promise.

The problems, however, lie elsewhere. It is not clear why such a proposal has to be announced by Mr Biswas, who, one presumes, has nothing to do with the government. Surely such a proposal should come from the chief minister who alone is in the position to issue guidelines to ministers. Mr Biswas, whatever be his position and influence within the CPI(M), has no locus standi to tell state ministers how to go about their duties. Elected representatives of the people who are made ministers become public servants and thus cease to have party affiliations. They can only take orders from the chief minister or from the cabinet over which the chief minister presides. Mr Biswas, by announcing his own proposals, has clearly violated one of the unwritten norms of democratic governance. This only confirms what many observers have suspected for a long time. Mr Biswas functions in West Bengal as an unconstitutional centre of power. His presence was felt, very clearly, in the sphere of education where he monitored every important appointment. Now, after masterminding a resounding election victory, he has openly declared his intentions about meddling in governance.

It would be simplistic, of course, to blame Mr Biswas, the individual, for this state of affairs. Communist rule in West Bengal has seen an increasing blurring of distinctions between the party and the government. Mr Biswas, with the full backing of his party, has carried this to its logical conclusion: ministers will function according to the wishes of the party headquarters in Alimuddin Street. Once the scale of the left’s victory in the elections was evident, fears were voiced that Mr Bhattacharjee, the new chief minister, would not be allowed the space to operate independently of Alimuddin Street. That such fears were not unfounded is already obvious from what Mr Biswas had to say in his press conference. It is significant that ministers have been asked to submit their plans to Mr Sen, who is known as an organization man. Mr Bhattacharjee’s autonomous space is thus cramped even before he has begun operations. He will have to learn to govern with his party’s heavy hand on his shoulders.


India is thought to be a health hazard by expatriates living in Asia. In a recent survey, it tops the list of Asian countries in being seen as the most polluted country, with China coming second, followed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Hong Kong. Singapore, Malaysia and Japan are thought to be the cleanest. There is obviously a link between the experience of pollution and that of poverty and populousness. And on all three counts, India remains the winner. The situation is particularly grim in the major cities, where the levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide are highest, a fifth of the households has no access to safe water, less than a quarter have toilets and less than half have sanitation coverage. The most terrifying, for the expatriates surveyed, is the air pollution and traffic congestion.

It is significant that the survey reflects the perception of expatriates, because Indians seem to take particular pride in being physically resilient to and spiritually unaffected by any of these depleting and alarming phenomena. Concern over pollution levels still remains largely a matter of token legislation (the implementation of which is most often a lost battle) or the project-driven worry of elite schoolchildren. Perhaps this lack of fear is what makes it so difficult to implement or enforce anti-pollution measures. If Indians are lawless and devoid of any civic sense, then hypochondria, or even the fear of death would have helped. One does not have to be particularly considerate and socially aware to want to reduce pollution in one’s environment. One might wish it simply to save one’s lungs, eyes, skin and nerves. But sadly, and bafflingly, even this purely selfish concern seems to be completely absent from the consciousness of the average Indian city-dweller. There is also no sense of being at the receiving end of a very nasty offence each time an obviously unfiltered vehicle chooses to belch out something particularly noxious right on one’s face. It’s all part of the normal course of things — as long as there are no immediate damages. This combination of numbing indifference and fatal tolerance makes urban India ideal for the kind of laxity that produces a dangerously polluted environment. Meanwhile, cancer is on the rise and road rage is getting literally murderous.


The American president, George W. Bush, chose an address to the National Defence University in Washington to unveil his administration’s plans for the Nuclear Missile Defence shield. He emphasized the dangers of the Cold War policy of mutual assured destruction on which the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty was based .He justified change, as the Soviet Union was no longer an adversary. Identifying the changing threat, he talked of nations for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life and who seek weapons of mass destruction to intimidate their neighbours. He gift-wrapped the dumping of the ABM treaty by promising that this new framework must encourage still further cuts in nuclear weapons. Crucially, he still supported the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which legitimizes nuclear weapons in the hands of five nuclear powers. What was left unsaid was that as long as there were nuclear weapons with others, only an NMD shield would confer on the US an unfettered and lone superpower status.

The British prime minister, Tony Blair, obviously buying time, shared the concerns of the United States, but deferred judgment until Washington put forward a firm proposal. Britain’s opposition, the Conservative Party, on the other hand, urged the prime minister to “get off the fence and lead European support for the missile shield”. At a joint press conference between the visiting Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, and Jaswant Singh, both endorsed the Russian position that the ABM treaty should not be abrogated unilaterally and welcomed the US administration’s decision to engage Russia in a dialogue on missile defences. Not surprisingly, it is China, which has been openly critical of the US proposal. Having been dubbed a “strategic competitor” by the current US administration, it legitimately fears it would be the main target of the anti-missile system proposed to be developed.

The Indian response has drawn criticism primarily on three counts. First, an uncharacteristically prompt and, some observers say, a submissive response in the face of cautious ones even from US’s allies. Second, downplaying its earlier opposition to the undermining of the ABM treaty and militarization of space, while highlighting the US’s promise of reductions in nuclear arsenal, the moving away from hair-trigger alerts and the desire to make a clean break from the adversarial legacy of the Cold War. And third, by its endorsement, sacrificing the strategic autonomy that India had created for itself by going nuclear in the first place.

Undoubtedly, India’s response has been prompt and unambiguous, a clear departure from the past. But then, the NMD has not come as a surprise. It has been under consideration for some years and featured in Bush’s election campaign. It perhaps speaks of our cynicism of governance that when we see dynamism and clarity, we long for lethargy and ambivalence. But to read submissiveness into the response is not doing justice to this government’s positive contribution to both foreign policy and national security issues.

For a system that has thrived for decades on lack of clarity and ad-hocism in matters of national security and strategic interests, the very process of introducing meaningful change needs political will, bureaucratic prodding and time. This, as those who follow national security issues can vouch, has been happening over the last few years. That the national security advisory board, packed with reputed intellectuals and professionals, has been working non-stop for two years providing well-deliberated inputs to the government, including a strategic defence review, is no mean achievement for a country which has been dubbed as one without a strategic culture.

That the totally flawed policy of “keeping nuclear options open”, which meant different things to different people, but was, in effect, no security policy at all, was finally consigned to the dustbin of nuclear history, is once again laudatory. And finally, the prolonged series of talks between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott was, after all, not merely about arm-twisting on the comprehensive test ban treaty, as we were made to believe, but was far more substantive.

Strategic interests, and policies to back them, lie not in dogma, but in constructive flexibility in response and policy, in keeping with a dynamic international security environment. With the end of the Cold War, it would be irresponsible not to pull away from the Cold War policy of mutual deterrence — a policy which was the best of a bad bargain and, unknown to many, which nearly brought the world to the very brink of nuclear disaster many a time.

Equally, the position that signatories to the ABM treaty mutually discuss changes cannot be faulted for fairness. Passive militarization of space is already a reality. Crucial command, control, communications and intelligence inputs are dependent on space. Measures to protect these and deny an adversary similar facilities must already exist. Resisting militarization of space is therefore not a realistic policy option.

It would be irresponsible of security planners to believe that mere testing of five devices and a few Agni launches confer on this country an effective deterrence capability and consequently strategic autonomy of any significance. The Pokhran tests crucially overcame political pusillanimity and merely passed the first technical milestone of a long race. Technically and operationally, a credible deterrent requires substantial testing of both warheads and delivery systems separately, then as an integrated system with dummy warheads and finally at the hands of the users in an operational scenario.

It requires strategic forces to train for, maintain and operate the systems along with associated infrastructure, drills and so on. It requires an integrated command and control structure that is both fool-proof and responsive. One that prevents any risky steps towards lowering nuclear thresholds in times of crises yet will respond effectively. It requires the capacity to absorb a first strike before launching a second strike. Alas, none of these is yet in place and many not even thought of. Since old habits die hard there are people and institutions within the system that are part of the problem. That is why one has not heard of the nuclear doctrine after the draft was released for debate and that is why reorganization of higher defence management is taking time. And finally, is it logical to believe that a system of decision-making and resource allocation that has the armed forces a decade behind in modernization can put in place an effective nuclear deterrent capability in two years? There is no such thing as a poor man’s deterrent — it either exists or does not. In India’s case, it needs no James Bond to guess where it stands.

Those who fear that the evolving nuclear scenario will force China to enter into an arms race with the US to the detriment of India’s security must not overlook the fact that the Soviet Union tripped because of its attempts to keep up the arms race. China is certainly wiser and knows the trap being laid.

There is a silver lining. The Indian response, in its content and speed, indicates a maturity in its approach to foreign policy and national security, an approach no doubt backed by the confidence of incisive homework being done by intellectuals and professionals behind the scenes. The US is following a path that it sees fit for its own future and aspirations, India must do likewise. The challenge is to find a mutuality of interests and bring about a narrowing of differences. Shedding old dogmas and looking for new opportunities best do this.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force


J. Jayalalitha is believed to have remarked a few days ago that she wants corruption cases against her to be handled firmly and that her immediate task would be to probe the charges of corruption against M. Karunanidhi’s son, M.K. Stalin. Even though she was convicted in several cases, Jayalalitha has recently been elected the chief minister of Tamil Nadu by an overwhelming mandate. Ironically enough, she also holds the anti-corruption portfolio.

The memorandum against Stalin was filed before the Tamil Nadu governor, Fathima Beevi. In the natural course of events, this will be forwarded by her to the state government for necessary action which can then start an inquiry, file a criminal case and even arrest Stalin. The memorandum only accuses him of corruption. Stalin has neither been convicted nor does he have any cases filed against him.

Jayalalitha, on the other hand, has been sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment in the Tansi land deal case. In another case, she has been convicted to one year of rigorous imprisonment. Consequently, her nomination papers were rejected under section 8(3) of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. This section clearly states that any person convicted of any offence and sentenced to more than two years of imprisonment shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a period of six years after being released.

Foul is fair

By inviting Jayalalitha to form the government, Beevi, has set an unusual precedent. Moreover, it was she who had given the go-ahead to the prosecution in a corruption case against Jayalalitha only a month ago. It is possible for Beevi to argue that she had acted on the advice of the Karunanidhi government. Article 163 of the Constitution makes it obligatory for the governor to act on the advice of the council of ministers.

The crucial question remains unanswered. Did the governor act in a fair and impartial manner and in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution? As far as appointing the chief minister is concerned, the governor can and should use her discretion. The governor can appoint a person who is not a member of the legislative assembly as chief minister. Such a person would have to get himself elected to the legislative assembly within six months. The Constitution debars the courts from interfering unless the governor has acted in a manner that is arbitrary or is a gross abuse of the power that has been vested in him.

Many of us will remember that the first United Front ministry led by Ajoy Mukherjee was dismissed by the then governor of West Bengal, Dharma Vira, and P.C. Ghosh was appointed by him as the new chief minister. The matter had later come up before the Calcutta high court which had upheld the decision of the governor.

Chair of contention

The situation is different this time. The Indian Constitution does not say anything about the election of a convicted person to the chair of the chief minster. In order to cross this hurdle, Jayalalitha will first have to find a way of setting aside the conviction against her. She will also have to challenge the returning officer’s refusal to accept her nomination papers in accordance with the directive issued by the Election Commission. It has been argued by many that the EC’s order of 1997, which disqualifies a candidate from contesting the elections if he or she has been convicted for not less than two years, is actually a violation of the authority bestowed on it by the Constitution.

There is also a contradiction between the two successive sections of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951. According to section 8(3) of the act, a candidate is disqualified from filing nomination papers for election from the date of conviction, if the candidate is not a sitting member. The following section 8(4) says that a sitting member is protected from this disqualification and can file his papers pending an appeal. Jayalalitha can point out this discrepancy and thus tip the scales in her favour.

Moreover, the EC’s order of 1997 does not clarify whether a stay order denotes a stay of conviction or merely that of a sentence. Jayalalitha’s appointment has raised a number of legal questions. The loopholes in the Constitution have helped her this time. It remains to be seen whether she is able to make full use of these inconsistencies.


The proof of democracy lies not in voting, but in the results the ballots produce. The coming together of the Asom Gana Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Assam was based on that presumption. But the ballots had bad news for them. The fledgling alliance floundered with the combine experiencing the worst possible rout.

The victory of the Congress in the state — the party garnered clear majority at 70 — was expected. But the mandate for the party, which was almost written off after death of the former chief minister, Hiteswar Saikia, is laced with a number of messages. It is not just the victory of a party which psephologists predicted would come riding piggyback on the anti-incumbency wave. There is more to the mandate than meets the eye. In fact, it conceals more than it reveals.

Tarun Gogoi’s crowning as the new chief minister means that the priorities of the Assam electorate have changed drastically. Voters seem to have put the migrants’ issue on the backburner.

Yet this message is ironic for a number of reasons. The electorate seems to have realized the situation on the immigrants’ front after nearly a decade. Moreover, the very party, that is the Congress, which was declared “illegal” because it was seen protecting the Bangladeshi infiltrators as its vote bank, is now back to the front as the people’s party.

The message from the hustings is clear. The “cause” for which Assam was once prepared to take up the cudgels, for which every Congressman was ostracized, for which many a young agitationist lost his life, for which development activities came to a halt and which to some extent led to the birth of the United Liberation Front of Asom, has been forgotten. The Assamese have learnt to live with illegal migrants in their midst.

Unlike in West Bengal, where Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress initially fuelled hopes for a change, the Congress opposition in Assam had held out no promises. The Congress is a party which has ruled Assam for the maximum amount of time and its track record is anything but clean. Although the Congress government of Saikia romped back in 1991, it had made an ignominious exit mid-term in 1985 after the signing of the Assam accord.

It is true that the AGP, which grabbed power with the promise that it will solve the migrants’ issue, has been as ineffectual in this regard. But in electing the Congress, the voters have absolutely ensured that illegal migrants stay where they are. The Congress stand on the Illegal Migrants’ (Determination by Tribunals) Act is clear. It has vowed not to allow the act to be repealed. And so long as the act stays, foreigners will have a free run in Assam.

The IM(DT) Act has been one issue that has been politicized in successive elections in the state. The controversial piece of legislation, formulated by Abdul Muhim Mazumdar, former minister in the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta cabinet, is seen as a safeguard for illegal migrants, quite unlike the Foreigners’ Act elsewhere. This is because the IM(DT) Act in Assam emphasizes that the onus of proving the “status of citizenship” of a “foreigner” lies on the complainant. And this is fairly difficult. It is almost next to impossible to catch hold of an illegal migrant from Bangladesh and say that this is an infiltrator and that he ought to go. If one detects a migrant, one also has to prove that he is one. Most migrants, by now, have acquired some form of a locus standi, like a voter’s identity card or a ration card to guarantee their stay in the state.

The IM(DT) Act was also the common plank that brought together the AGP and the BJP. Yet 24 hours before the five-day talks that saw the two parties align began in New Delhi, Mahanta had said that he was not thinking of aligning with the BJP. “If the minority community (read migrants) thinks we have maintained a safe distance from the BJP, they will vote for us.” This was in March 28 this year.

On March 29, the chief minister, along with two of his colleagues, sat next to the BJP in-charge for the Northeast, Sunil Shastri, and the Union minister for water resources, Bijoya Chakraborty, for talks for an electoral understanding. After five days, the two parties announced that they were fighting the polls together.

But even before the talks there was speculation, surprisingly from the party quarters, about the AGP getting increasingly saffronized for survival. Both parties however came home to the rude shock of dissidence within the organization that threatened to undo the gameplan.

This was because the AGP and the BJP had kept the possibility of an alliance under wraps. This had done more harm than good. Grassroots workers of both the parties were thrust into an arrangement they were not prepared for or thought would happen.

The drubbing notwithstanding, the AGP-BJP alliance marks a new beginning in the state’s political scene. An essentially regional party has tied up with one of the country’s most powerful national parties. No matter what, this has changed the political alignments in the state forever.

The marriage of convenience was however not by chance. It was a calculated move, worked and rehashed a number of times. To go back to the people with the same four-party alliance would have been like walking on a political minefield for Mahanta. For him, the alliance with the BJP was the only way to improve his chances at the hustings.

What however surprises is that it took so long for the “natural friends” to come together. As the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said at an election rally in Guwahati referring to Mahanta: “Yeh hamare purane dost hain, lekin Mahanta hamari dosti ko beech-beech mein bhool jaate hain (This is an old friend of ours. But this friend forgets the friendship at times”. Indeed, the BJP’s natural friendship dates back to the anti-foreigners’ agitation when Vajpayee had highlighted the migrants’ issue in Parliament praising young Mahanta, who spearheaded the movement to oust illegal Bangladeshis from the state.

The electorate in Assam being traditionally anti-establishment, the Congress victory is not surprising. One should not read too much in its clear majority. But another message from the hustings is shocking: the Assam Accord may matter little now. Apart from the development projects that the accord proposed, including an Indian institute of technology and a refinery, the most crucial clauses dealt with the problem of how foreigners were to be identified and then deported. Without these clauses being addressed to, the accord remains a redundant exercise. But the Congress’ stand is clear by Sonia Gandhi’s own admission: the IM(DT) is here to stay.

The voice of the people has to be reckoned with. The Congress nevertheless needs to be given a guarded welcome. The brazen corruption of the Saikia regime has been forgotten because public memory is short. But the new chief minister, Gogoi, not at all the simpleton the media projects him to be definitely not indecisive, has to deliver.


With the quantitative restrictions on imports lifted on 715 articles, Indian industry is presently going through a rough phase. Cheap Chinese products have started flooding domestic markets. The small and medium scale units are the worst hit. Even the large manufacturers have not been spared by these Chinese invaders. Manufacturers of tyres, bicycles, dry cell batteries, food products, chemicals, consumer durables like electronic goods and components are fearing they will lose their market to their Chinese counterparts selling these products at throwaway prices. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry has demanded protection of the domestic industry against dumping of Chinese goods. The government itself seems confused: whose interest should it protect — the consumer’s or the manufacturer’s?

It is believed that there are two routes through which Chinese products are entering Indian markets. One is the legal route and another is through smuggling. Nepalese re-export of Chinese goods to India is also more or less legal, following the 1991 change in the Indo-Nepal treaty that enabled Nepal to re-export foreign-made goods after minimal value additions. The fact that India abolished a 4 per cent import duty in September 2000 only helped this cause.

Are we ready for it?

Different factors make the Chinese products so price-competitive. First, the economics of scale. The combined capacity of all Indian television manufacturers is nearly seven million sets a year. A single Chinese firm has an annual manufacturing capacity of about 10 million sets. This disparity prevails in almost all sectors of the Indian economy. The policy of reservation for small-scale sectors has most adversely affected large investments, which, in turn, has made Indian companies incompetent in achieving economies of scale and price competitiveness. There is also a feeling that Chinese labour is more productive. But it is not as cheap as Indian labour. The more “liberal” Chinese labour laws provide the workers with higher wages but cannot ensure their job security.

The government of India has taken various measures to save its domestic industry, especially the small-scale sector from Chinese onslaught. Conducting raids on the illegal importers of Chinese goods, increasing customs duty on the imports of Chinese goods, introduction of compulsory licensing for imports and imposition of Bureau of Indian Standard’s yardstick on imports are some of them. Several critics have opposed these moves and argued that as a party to the World Trade Organization, India should not impose such restrictions. Rather the country should welcome competition and try to solve the problem by economic means. But is India ready for it? That is the big question.



In a highly infected state

Sir — N. Chandrababu Naidu’s statements about the growing number of AIDS cases in the state are inane (“IT’s price: AIDS”, May 25). Someone should tell him that attributing this phenomenon to having a long coastline and to the development levels in Andhra Pradesh comes across as a non-sequitur. It does not take a lot of erudition to know that African and Latin American countries have the highest occurrences of HIV-infection. And these countries are far from being developed. Further, going by Naidu’s rationale, the highest number of AIDS victims should be found in peninsular or archipelagic countries. There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case. The comments made by Naidu display not only his ignorance about the disease, but also his inability to reason coherently. Only in India can one find such atrocious statements emanating from high offices. The editorial, “Aids to development” (May 28), is entirely agreeable in its criticism.

Yours faithfully,
Zeno Raghavan, via email

Around the table

Sir — The invitation sent out to the Pakistani military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, to start a dialogue with his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, displays a peculiar shortsightedness on the part of India (“Atal puts letter agenda on table”, May 26). The question which arises at this point of time is whether the situation in the Kashmir valley is such that talks will lead to a resolution of the dispute between the two countries or lead to further panic and vigilantism in the region.

It is also doubtful if a conclusion can be arrived at solely on the basis of the talks with Musharraf. There are several separatist groups in the valley who have competing and often divergent claims. They need to be included in talks at multiple levels if anything constructive is attempted in the process. But, one must remember that in the past, several attempts conducted with much fanfare have proved ineffective in the end. Take Vajpayee’s “bus diplomacy”. Why did the elaborate exercise fail?

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — It gives one hope to see that the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has invited Pervez Musharraf for talks. This decision will certainly change the atmosphere in the subcontinent. It was important for both India and Pakistan to come to the table, the ceasefire having run its course for a sufficient period of time. Peace in south Asia, to a large extent, is dependent on the relations between India and Pakistan. Naturally, there is reason to be pleased if these two sides are willing to talk about their disputes peacefully.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Despite the media propaganda about how able a “statesman” Atal Bihari Vajpayee is, his foreign policy, especially with regard to the neighbouring countries, leaves much room for improvement. What has he achieved through the six-month-long ceasefire in the Kashmir valley? Has the situation on the ground improved at all? Do circumstances warrant a dialogue between the two sworn enemies?

Vajpayee had earlier claimed that there was no question of talks with Pakistan unless state-sponsored militancy is checked. His firmness seems to have vanished suddenly and all sorts of assertions are now being made about Pakistan’s restraint at the border. Under pressure from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and humiliated by the dismal performance in the recent assembly elections, Vajpayee has been left terribly confused. He doesn’t even seem to remember what he has said in the recent past.

Even after two-and-a-half years in power, the government at the Centre has not been able to formulate a transparent and comprehensive policy to deal with neighbours. This includes not only Pakistan but also countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The ineptitude of the government is evident from the death of numerous soldiers in border skirmishes like Kargil, Pyrdiwah and so on.

Yours faithfully,
Aditya P. Chatterjee, Calcutta

Sir — The decision to invite Pervez Musharraf for talks has been praised severally. The government is reported to have taken its key allies and the opposition into confidence before taking this decision. The Congress however denies this and says that it was “merely informed” of the decision. Some senior Congress leaders did not even bother to verify the news and baselessly accused the Central government of keeping the opposition in the dark. The row, as usual, is unseemly.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — Given the recent history of the Kargil imbroglio, increased violations of the line of control, the fact that Pakistanis are now showing signs of restraint should lessen anxiety on both sides of the border. If the talks succeed, the benefits will accrue to Indians, Pakistanis as well as Kashmiris. Even if the talks fail, India will be able to derive satisfaction from the fact that the peace initiative has raised its status in the eyes of the international community.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Entry point

Sir — The pope’s entry into a Syrian mosque is without precedence in the history of Christianity (“Pope carries history and peace to mosque”, May 7). By his action, Pope John Paul II has displayed his firm belief in peace and secularism. He has also shown to the world what Christianity stands for in relation to other religions.

Christians all over the world are becoming an unhappy lot because of increased factionalism. The sign of peace that one does during mass has become a purely symbolic gesture. If the pope has been successful in carrying the message of peace to countries across the globe and to people of all faiths, Christians should give peace a genuine try.

Yours faithfully,
Carol Druart Rodricks, Calcutta

Sir — The visit of Pope John Paul II to the Great Umayyad mosque of Damascus is commendable, particularly in an age when many religious leaders incite people to use violence against people of other faiths. This latest gesture by the pope will enhance people’s trust in religious leaders and give them hope for a secular world order.

Yours faithfully,
Nilanjan Biswas, Malda

Everything in a name

Sir — I am glad I left Calcutta before its rechristening. If I am vehemently against the renaming of the city, any city, it is for very simple and rather humane reasons. I do not wish to comment upon the political and pseudo-nationalistic motives that drive our leaders and lawmakers in all such matters.

I came to Calcutta in 1994 and after spending close to six years in the city, developed a deep sense of attachment with it on many levels. This phenomenon, it is my firm belief, is far from uncommon. Names and their sounds are as powerfully evocative as photographs and scents. They are associated with a rich profusion of memories which encompass one’s intellectual, emotional and physical worlds. When you take away the name of an entity, a being, you take away its very identity. In other words, you kill it. The name, “Kolkata”, has nothing to do with me, nor have I to do anything with it. Those who killed “Calcutta” killed a great deal in many of those who are fond of it.

On my visit to the city some days back, some of my old joy was restored when I picked up a copy of The Telegraph and discovered that the city still appears under its old name in the newspaper’s columns. Allow me to thank you.

Yours faithfully,
Mansoor Nazeer, Hyderabad

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