Editorial 1/ Budgeted myopia
Editorial 2/ Uneasy truce
New lines of concord
Drowning by numbers
Dream of netizens in every village
Fifth Column/ When peace is out of bounds
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ BUDGETED MYOPIA 
 
 
 
 
Mindsets are difficult to change, even if the new chief minister sings a slightly different tune. Other than the proposal that tuition fees will be raised (by an unstipulated but marginal percentage) and private investment in education encouraged, the finance minister, Mr Asim Dasgupta, has nothing new to offer. Instead, in line with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s admonitions on swadeshi, Mr Dasgupta has created a fortress out of West Bengal. A 20 per cent luxury tax has been imposed on imported consumer goods. The luxury tax on hotels outside Calcutta may have been waived to spur tourism and tourists may desire Scotch whisky, but they will have to be content with watching Bengali and Nepali films instead. If this luxury tax violates World Trade Organization norms, that is not West Bengal’s headache, it is the Centre’s problem. There are two senses in which WTO norms may be violated. First, in the process, applied tariffs may exceed WTO bound rates. This is unlikely because India does not have bound rates on most consumer goods, except liquor and garments. Second, the WTO’s national treatment provisions are violated and Maharashtra’s attempt to impose a luxury tax is certain to be contested before the WTO. However, Maharashtra restricted itself to liquor and Mr Dasgupta does not believe in such constraints. Nor, as his injunctions on government teachers being debarred from private tuition show, is he concerned with enforceability and implementation. Just as students and peers will complain to big brother about deviations from the norm, given porous borders with other states, consumers and competing producers will presumably complain about luxury imported goods entering Bengal. Why else should there be an anti-evasion tax on inter-state purchases?

Local industry may applaud the autarky mode, but the government needs to realize that salvation does not lie in shying away from competition. Limiting plastic goods from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will not save Haldia Petrochemicals. Nor will marginal fiscal tinkering make Calcutta the software capital of India and shore up the tea or jute industries. Interest subsidies to biotechnology, jute diversification, agricultural implements and hosiery belong to the same category. If industry in West Bengal has to revive, the government needs to pay attention to labour laws and relations, physical and social infrastructure and bureaucratic procedures and controls.

It might be argued that these reforms lie outside the budget and in a limited sense, the proposition is true. But the budget is a reflection on whether such an overall blueprint exists and there is no evidence to indicate that the chief minister’s noises have signified anything for the finance minister. Nowhere is this as evident as in the case of education. It is universally acknowledged that West Bengal’s relative decline is due, in large measure, to declining educational standards. The answer does not lie in banning private tuition, but in improving the quality of government-imparted education. This spills over into the broader issue of accountability and work ethics. Until the Left Front improves this — and this is a broader issue than the limited one of the Industrial Disputes Act — there will be no reversal of capital flight, human or otherwise. Contrary to myopic beliefs, autarky facilitates de-industrialization, rather than hindering it. Consequently, this budget will have negligible impact and one would have taken a bet on this, had it not been for the fact that the tax on lotteries has increased.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ UNEASY TRUCE 
 
 
 
 
Although Assam has so far been spared a Manipur-like flare-up over the extension of the Centre’s ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), Monday’s bandh in the North Cachar Hills district reflected the measure of popular discontent over the issue. It came five days after another 48-hour bandh in the district last week organized by several students’ and women’s organizations which also had much the same fears about the truce. Public sentiments on the issue, particularly in the North Cachar Hills and Karbi Anglong districts, cut across political affiliations. While the district unit of the Congress called Monday’s bandh, two most powerful student groups of the state which are generally known for their anti-Congress positions — the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chhatra Parishad and the All Assam Students’ Union — had earlier criticized the Centre’s move. Such is the resentment against the truce extension that the surrendered ULFA members seized the opportunity to call another bandh in Sibsagar district the same day, though on a different issue. Never a popular outfit, the SULFA, as it is known in Assam, sought to garner public sympathy through the bandh call for itself over the killing of 12 of its members in Dibrugarh earlier this month.

While he has rightly lent his voice to the opposition to the latest truce with the Naga rebels, the Assam chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, has to ensure that the state is not plunged into the kind of bloody confusion that has paralysed Manipur. He won the electoral mandate to bring peace and development back on the government’s agenda . He may continue to put pressure on the Centre, along with politicians from Manipur, for a review of the truce with the Naga group. But maintaining peace in Assam will suit his — and the state’s — interest best. On its part, the Centre should do all it can to prevent a repeat of Manipur in Assam. Even if a substantive review of the agreement is not immediately possible, New Delhi can at least use its influence with Mr Thuingaleng Muivah to persuade him not to make provocative statements at this juncture. He did not exactly help matters by being dismissive about the anti-truce sentiments in Assam and Manipur in his latest interview from Bangkok .

   

 
 
NEW LINES OF CONCORD 
 
 
BY M.L. SONDHI & ASHOK KAPUR
 
 
Asia’s geopolitical picture has changed rapidly and radically as a result of several significant developments. The changes have increased India’s strategic importance to the United States. The re-positioning of Indo-US relations reflects the new realities which are irreversible in the foreseeable future.

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party led to the emergence of democracy in Taiwan since 1996, and this development in the vicinity of the mainland fosters voices of pluralism within China and a belief in the importance of a league of democratic countries in the post-Cold War era.

Taiwanese democracy is a challenge to Beijing’s authoritarianism. Also, Taiwan’s increasing military capability is a sign that China can rain missiles into Taiwan but it cannot take it by force. China is thus a regional great power in the area: but it is not the natural leader in Asia.

China has special ties with Pakistan, Iran, Nepal, Myanmar and it appears to have a plan to create a wedge between southeast and south Asia through Myanmar, and to maintain access to the Arabian Sea through the Karakoram highway and a new port being built in Pakistan under Chinese auspices. China has different policies for its neighbours. It strengthens Pakistan militarily to contain India and seeks to do the same through its activities in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and its missiles cover all major Indian cities. It has a policy for the development of naval bases for its use in Myanmar and in Pakistan, so its India-related policy has a naval dimension which eventually also affects southeast Asian countries and the US and its allies in Asia.

With the Koreas however, its policy is to facilitate inter-Korean dialogue. Its long term aim is to replace the US as the primary influence in the peninsula and as the security guarantor in the area. But here China is being hemmed in. South Korea and the US continue to emphasize the ongoing need for US military presence in the Korean peninsula, and the North Korean leadership implicitly accepts this idea. The US-North Korean dialogue is a step towards a strategic bargain that would be likely to extend American strategic and commercial influence into North Korea, across the Yalu. This will hem in China in the north. The historic China-Japan rivalry is resurfacing and Beijing must factor this into its calculations.

China is being hemmed in by alert neighbours militarily and diplomatically, its internal situation is deteriorating significantly and the difference between internal politics and external policies is losing meaning for the Chinese leaders. Its external behaviour has an impact on internal power struggles. By creating situations in China’s areas of interest, outside forces can, as they say, “mess with the Chinese mind” and interfere with China’s decision-making process and the inputs which go into the decision loop.

Entry into the World Trade Organization will produce more layoffs and to manage the negative impact Beijing is investing in its internal riot police, and it needs to pump billions of yuan into agriculture banks to keep the peasants happy. Growth or corruption and criminal activity add to a picture of social and political decay. This means Beijing must find diversionary activity to mobilize nationalism and to manage growing costs in terms of internal power struggles and external relationships.

A medium to long term element is the fact that the US government assesses India and China as likely major players in the world economy, ahead of the Europeans by 2025 if present trends continue and India maintains a 6 per cent annual growth rate. Javed Burki, a former senior World Bank official, sees India’s economy at 12 trillion dollars, 40 per cent greater than the US in 2025, with Japan and Germany falling behind.

India also has some political and social advantages over China. It favours pluralism in state and society and it has a legal system which protects property and contracts, the foundation of commerce. So the issue for India is not to be simply content with political democracy. It is to combine political democracy with the build-up of capitalism.

Another significant event concerns the Bush administration’s plan to develop and deploy national missile defence and theatre missile defence. The international debate centres on the effect of the NMD on Russia and the anti-ballistic missile treaty rather than Japan and China and the outer space treaty. Also the discussion centres on the military requirements and technical problems in mounting a credible defence. There is a view that the NMD is no good technically and politically, and India should not accept it. This is wrong and short-sighted. A broader political view shows that the focus on Russia requires attention to its prestige, and a negotiated termination of the ABM treaty is possible, which has been reinforced by the recent Bush-Putin meeting in Slovenia.

NMD is less of a military problem for Russia than it is for China because Russia can manage to maintain a capacity for both nuclear deterrence and missile defence. It wants to be taken seriously as an international partner of the US. It is not an equal but appearances count.

China’s political concerns are different. The TMD stimulates Japanese militarization, encourages Taiwanese autonomy, and signals US determination to be the preeminent space cop and a hegemon in Asia, which enjoys the consent of the US’s Asian partners. Moreover, the TMD will degrade China’s offensive missile capability even if the TMD is not 100 per cent effective. The costs of Chinese defence therefore, will go up and this will play further into the already intense internal power struggles and debates in Beijing.

Also, China calculates that even if it increases the size of its nuclear and missile arsenal against India, India can match the increases, so the argument that China can frighten India if it joins the US on this issue makes no sense. Presently and in the foreseeable future, China has no military advantage over India. It has a capacity to confuse and distract the thought processes of the Indian political class but it does not have an edge on the ground.

These developments clearly indicate that the re-positioning by India and the US vis-ŕ-vis each other has a deep and broad Asian geopolitical and a modern military-technological framework. The re-positioning is not a passing flirtation, rather it is grounded in new realities. Geopolitics and not simply global economy is the new game in many Asian and Western capitals. The Indo-US re-alignment rests on a number of concrete factors which make India important for American interests and strategies.

Foremost, there is a triangular rivalry among the US, Russia and China in Eurasia. Although the US is presently the sole superpower because it alone can project power globally, it is aware that its hegemony is temporary. Experts like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger acknowledge this.

Russia, China and India are regional great powers. There is a possibility that India is encouraged by Russia to join the coalition with China and Russia. The US would like to preempt this possibility. The new American ambassador is an expert in Russian and Chinese affairs and the choice of a strategist points to the importance of Eurasian geopolitics in Indo-US relations. The other alternative is the more likely.

Historically, India is a rival of China and the civilizational differences along with policy and prestige disagreements will stimulate the rivalry further. So India joins the US without declaring that the common ground is China in addition to the attraction of the marketplace and the twinning of two democracies. The Sino-Indian rivalry is reinforced by China’s policy of special support for Pakistan as a threat to India because China itself cannot militarily upset India.

So as US-Pakistan relations cool over the growing influence of taliban and Islamic forces in the region which Pakistan supports, and China is seen as a long term problem for the US, there would come to be a natural affinity between the US and India in the strategic and other spheres. The growing attraction of the Indian economy is an additional element.

M.L. Sondhi is chairman, Indian Council of Social Science Research Ashok Kapur is chairman, department of political science, University of Waterloo, Canada

   

 
 
DROWNING BY NUMBERS 
 
 
BY A.K. LAL
 
 
The demographic explosion in India, registered in the latest census figures, is entirely man-made. We have crossed the one billion landmark making us the second most populous country in the world, next only to China. The Indian figures showed the sharpest decline since independence in 1947 with the decadal population growth rate falling from 23.86 per cent during 1981-91 to 21.34 per cent during 1991-2001. Nonetheless, it is feared, at the present growth rate, India is destined to overtake China as the most populous nation in the world by the year 2050. According to the Washington-based Population Institute, India accounts for 70 per cent of the total increase in the world’s population every year.

The ever-rising population undermines all our efforts to provide our citizens with adequate food, clothing, education and jobs, and slows down our economic and social development. Unsustained population growth not only thwarts all our economic and social progress by overburdening the quality and availability of public services, but also limits employment and educational opportunities apart from leading to environmental degradation. In bigger cities like Delhi and Mumbai, it is not polluting vehicles which play havoc with the environment of such cities, rather it is the evergrowing population and the concomitant civic requirements which add to the misery of the big cities. The population bomb is also indirectly contributing to social and political strife such as human rights abuses, communal clashes and caste conflicts.

The unabated village to city immigration because of unchecked population growth in rural areas has a telling effect on the already overstrained basic facilities such as food, sanitation and drinking water in a large number of villages across the country. The national commission on population, which supervises the implementation of the national population policy, 2000, has identified 135 districts in 15 states across the country as being the most problematic from the point of view of abnormal population growth. This categorization is based on 13 socio-economic and demographic indicators.

Population control measures are to be applied in these “backward” districts to achieve the targeted fertility rate of 2.1 per cent by 2010, and population stabilization by 2045. In this list of districts, Uttar Pradesh has the ignominy of having 52 districts out of the total 68. Bihar, with all of its 33 districts in the list, has the tag of being the most backward state. The five BIMARU states — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa — with 44 per cent of the country’s population in 1996, were expected to contribute 55 per cent of the population growth between 1996 and 2010. In contrast, the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala were expected to see a population growth of just 14 per cent during the same period. According to the Census 2001 reports, Bihar has also earned the dubious distinction of the highest decadal growth — 28.43 per cent as against Kerala with the lowest rate of 9.42 per cent.

In 1951, India became the first country in the world to have a state-sponsored population programme. The idea of stopping childbearing artificially was an idea hard to accept by masses. The programme was totally voluntary and stressed the need to provide family planning solutions at people’s doorsteps. There was, however, not much headway in containing the population to an appreciable extent for the next 15-20 years.

The national population policy, 2000, while emphasizing the two-children norm, takes a comprehensive look at the issues determining population growth. Healthcare of the mother and child and sanitation figure high on its agenda. The policy underpins the need for bringing down the total fertility rate from 3.3 to 2.1 by 2010 to meet the targeted objective of stabilizing the country’s runaway population by 2045, without resorting to any coercion in the implementation of the family planning programmes.

The recently convened meeting of the national commission on population adopted resolutions to ensure full registration of births, deaths and marriages, free education for children till 14 years of age, the provision of basic needs like water, nutrition and roads, full immunization of children and so on. This is on the basis of detailed discussion on strategy and implementation, with heads of 135 problematic districts in the country. The discussions also took in factors like poor health facilities, lack of counselling for women and absence of doctors in primary health centres in the rural areas, lack of access to contraceptives, poor level of mother and child nutrition, lower marrying age for women and lack of safe drinking water both in urban and rural areas.

Despite India’s early entry into family planning programmes, population control has been far from satisfactory. In contrast, voluntary family planning services and higher levels of female education are credited with supporting decline in family-size in countries like South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. Sustained family programmes in countries like South Korea and Thailand have kept the rate of population growth to one per cent. Preference for the male child also hindered family planning measures in such countries.

In India, Kerala’s demographic success story typifies a balance between “top down” and “bottom up” forces operating for fertility decline, combining the organization of family planning programmes by the state and the demand for such services from the people, especially women, because of their better education and higher status.

In order to help family planning programmes, it is important to raise the status of women, as envisioned in the 73rd constitutional amendment. Better organized family planning programmes with higher quality services along with motivation through self-help groups at village and panchayat levels, comprising mostly of housewives interacting with healthcare workers and gram panchayats, and the involvement of the private sector and nongovernmental organizations in family planning programmes will go a long way in creating greater awareness about the importance of smaller families. The skewed child sex-ratio, with the popularity of female foeticide, especially in Haryana and Punjab, has sounded a disconcerting note.

In the light of the fact that India’s population grew by 181 million over the last decade, the gravity of the situation must be driven home. It is encouraging to note that religious leaders are lending a helping hand in spreading awareness about family planning measures in areas like Aligarh and Nagaland. It is also heartening to learn that the authorities in Punjab and Haryana, of late, are embarking on a plan to step-up vigilance against the use of sex-determination tests leading to female foeticide in these states.

   

 
 
DREAM OF NETIZENS IN EVERY VILLAGE 
 
 
BY RAHUL GHOSH
 
 
India has contributed immensely towards the global information technology boom. But within the country the phenomenon has benefited only the urban elite. The green revolution started in the village but benefited the entire nation. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about information technology. The problems of rural penetration are inadequacy of power and lack of telecommunications routes.

The national telecommunication policy 1994 had promised a telephone in every village by 1997. In 2001, half of the villages still do not know when this will become a reality. Besides, software in Indian languages is not commonly available. Rural connectivity means the development of software in regional languages. Some work on this has begun of late.

How can IT fulfil rural India’s needs? The dairy co-operatives of Anand in Gujarat are using IT to collect milk from producers, to process it within the processing units and even in the distribution channels. But the other side of the coin is gloomy.

Software with the soft touch

The Rajasthan government launched the RajNidhi project, an ambitious programme that aimed at a new era of e-governance connecting villages throughout the state through internet. Software was developed in Hindi to enable villagers to access information related to health, family planning, immunization schedules for children, employment, transport, distance education, agriculture, water and electricity connections, birth and death registration, rates of land and building taxes. The state government promised to provide all the 9,184 panchayats with a RajNidhi kiosk by 2003. But till date little has been done. Only a few villages have got computers under RajNidhi. Most villages have no telephone connection yet. The programme has fallen flat.

Matters of power

A project involving the Indian Railways was launched in mid-2000. It would revolutionize low-cost telecommunications, producing 100,000 internet connections in 4,000 towns in less than two years for half the usual cost of connection. But developments are far from satisfactory.

Unavailability of power and transmission and distribution losses are cause for worry. Solar power could be a good solution but it still costly. The long term solution could be use of renewable power sources, such as hydro-electric power in the hilly regions and wind power in areas with good wind energy potential. Local power generation is preferable to reliance on a centralized system.

Governmental efforts are focussed on globalizing the Indian software industry and maximizing profits for the sector. The government has failed to make IT a way towards social equity. To make IT an agent of social change in rural India, what is needed is political will.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ WHEN PEACE IS OUT OF BOUNDS 
 
 
BY ARSHI KHAN
 
 
One cannot help wondering why the efforts made by the Palestinians, the Israelis, and regional organizations like the Arab League, have failed to usher in peace in Palestine. Even the recommendations made by George Mitchell and the proposals made by the United States Central Intelligence Agency chief, George Tenet, have not made much of a difference. After the declaration of the unilateral ceasefire by Israel, more than 13 Palestinians have been killed and several others injured.

The declaration of the ceasefire has not made life easier either for the Israelis or the Palestinians. In spite of the existence of the so-called ceasefire, the economic blockades have not been lifted. Moreover, Palestinians are not willing to accept a solution that fails to put an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The pleas of various human rights organizations have failed to make any difference. An Israeli pacificist movement, Yesh Gvul, had issued a declaration on May 31 in which it had asked Israeli soldiers to stop participating in acts that would tantamount to committing war crimes. According to it, Israelis are committing war crimes by shooting and bombarding unarmed civilians and by continuing its blockade of Palestine by depriving the innocent civilian population of food and medical treatment.

More violence

The Israeli army has also been using heavy artillery which is generally used in full combat warfare to carry out the bombing and shooting of civilians on a regular basis. Amnesty International’s report on global human rights stated on May 30 that the Israeli forces killed 300 Palestinians last year, most of whom were killed unlawfully during the intifada and that it had used “excessive lethal force”. It is believed that the Israeli forces have wounded more than 10, 000 Palestinians. The majority of the dead and wounded were demonstrators throwing stones. At least, 100 of those killed were minors.

The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has repeatedly called for the deployment of an international protection force. Human rights agencies have reported an increase in incidents of violence — beatings, abuse, psychological humiliation, confiscation of identity cards, obstruction of medical assistance and so on.

In fact, the conflict between Israel and Palestine needs to be understood in two broad contexts — Israeli response and international diplomacy. The delay in resolving this crisis can be best understood by assessing the role of the Israeli establishment, the Palestinian leadership and the international community.

Principled conflict

The occupation and absorption of the Palestinian territories and their legitimate rights can be held responsible for the increasing hostility between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Zionists’ insistence on a greater Israel to legitimize lands belonging to the Palestinians for the settlement of Jews from different parts of the world have led to further disagreements. Israel has also refused to recognize the rights of four million Palestinian refugees as well as those of 3.2 million Palestinians in the West bank and the Gaza strip.

The failure of the peace process has led to further disillusionment among Palestinians. With the birth of Israel in 1948, Palestinians had to give up their lands and homes, most of which were confiscated by the Jewish settlers and victims of the Holocaust. As a result, there were four million refugees and Palestine was divided according to a United Nations plan of 1947.

Israel’s war with the Arabs in June 1967 resulted in another crisis — Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands which rendered 3.2 million Jews without a home. Arrogance of power and the support of the US made Israel seek peace with Jordan and Egypt on its own terms. Given that most Palestinians lost their homes and their belongings owing to Israeli aggression, it is not surprising that they decided to fight for their freedom.

Arafat has identified two important issues — the repatriation of four million refugees and complete withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories. In pursuit of these objectives, Arafat signed the declaration of principles in 1993 which affirmed the aim of the Israel-Palestine negotiations. However, these principles have failed to work in the absence of any commitment to the peace process.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Rural paradise regained

Sir — Hasn’t urban India always had a thing for rustic boys and girls singing soulful numbers around the old neem tree (“Lagaan breaks class barrier”, June 22)? Why is it that Lagaan’s success at the box office raises so many eyebrows? Has everyone forgotten the Dilip Kumar-Vyajayanthimala starrers, with their quintessential bullock-carts and stacks of hay? Even then, in the Fifties and the Sixties, the urban elite would turn out in their best attire to take a peek into the unfamiliar world of Indian villages. The paradox lies in the fact that India’s rural world is brought to life on the screen by actors who are themselves part of the urban elite. The hip MTV generation that the report talks about are actually able to identify with the Gracy Singhs or Aamir Khans who turn up dressed just like them in the entertainment pages of newspapers the next day. The dhoti-clad Aamir Khan is Bhuvan of Champaner village only as long as GeneratioNext willingly suspends its disbelief.
Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Mukherjee, Calcutta

Hills on fire

Sir — The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) insists that the basic intention behind the extension of the ceasefire is to create a peaceful atmosphere for negotiations. What it fails to note is that the present controversy is not with the ceasefire truce, but the extension of it to regions in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The government of India arrived at the ceasefire truce with the rebel NSCN(I-M) in Nagaland with effect from August, 1997. The negotiations have been continuing for the last four years. What has hindered the process in these years? Is it the area of coverage under the ceasefire agreement? Why is the extension of the ceasefire into regions of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh so important for the peace talks?

In Bangkok, Thuingaleng Muivah had declared an unimaginable area of 12 lakh square kilometres for the Nagas. In another development, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN(I-M), while welcoming the extension of area coverage, asserted that it would not compromise on the territorial question of the Nagas.

The situation in 1964-72,during which ceasefire was also announced, was very different from what it is now. The Naga rebels then insisted on a sovereign Naga country. Realizing that this is impossible, the rebels have changed their stance. They will now try to settle for a bigger Nagaland within India. The Central leaders would also try to settle the reorganization question within constitutional limits. This apprehension of a division of Manipur has led to the loss of 13 lives in that state already. Yet, Manipur had been handed over to the government of India in 1949 by its maharaja vide the merger agreement which promised to protect its territorial integrity.

To win back people’s confidence, the Centre should review the ceasefire agreement, make the necessary modifications and try to amend the provisions of articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution so that states are not reorganized again in the Northeast.

Yours faithfully,
M. Bidyasagar, Imphal

Sir — The protests in Manipur against the ceasefire and against the NSCN (I-M), once again proves the inefficiency of the A.B. Vajpayee government. What makes the Union home minister think that the ceasefire will bring the Naga militants to the table for a peaceful solution? L.K. Advani has ignored the sentiments of the people of Manipur and surrendered to the Naga militants.

But probably one cannot expect much from a politician like Advani. His shameless arguments before the Liberhan commission shows that the much talked about “national sentiment” behind the developments in 1992 was a sham. It would be naive to think that this man would be concerned about the welfare of citizens.

The legendary visionary, Vajpayee, on the other hand, showed his concern for Manipur only when his legislators threatened the Samata Party-led government. Manipur, presumably, can be left to burn provided the fire does not engulf the Centre.

Yours faithfully
Sagarika Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — The fear of losing more than 70 per cent of the state’s territory to the Nagas brought out thousands of people out of their homes on June 18. The clashes continue in Manipur. So far, the All Manipur Students’ Union and the All Manipur United Club Organisation have been spearheading the agitation by democratic means.

But it would be worthwhile to remember that Manipur’s rebel organizations are observing the Centre’s moves keenly. They also have their own agenda of a sovereign Manipur. Thanks to the prime minister and his Union home minister, Manipur may bid farewell to the Bharatiya Janata Party soon.

Yours faithfully,
Laishram Napoleon and two others, Imphal

Sir — Insurgency continues unabated in both the Northeast and Kashmir. Militants abduct and kill innocent people and all the government does is reward them. The recent ceasefire agreement with the NSCN(I-M) clearly reveals the attitude of the government. Those who thought that the BJP-led government would give a tough deal to militants have been totally aback by the timid response of the Vajpayee government. If the situation is not brought under control, we will soon be heading for a Yugoslavia in India.

Yours faithfully,
M. Dasgupta, via email

Road to chaos

Sir — Now that elections are over, and five years being too long a period for incidents to remain in public memory, this is the most opportune time for a government to go back on its words. The municipal affairs ministry, via the mayor of Calcutta, is determined to evict hawkers from the main thoroughfares of the city.

Over the years, thousands of unemployed young men and retrenched workers were encouraged by the political parties, particularly the ruling group, to take to hawking. It was one way to attract a vote bank whose need for jobs could not be fulfilled. Hawkers’ unions were backed by political parties which ensured that they could carry on without having to pay licence fees, electricity charges and so on.

Infringement of public property was not considered an issue till now. Yet, any rash action on the part of the government or the municipality in this regard might lead to further inconvenience to the public as a direct fallout of the hawker-removal drive would be a spurt in anti-social activities.

One also fails to understand why the drive is being limited to the main thoroughfares. Many kiosks and stalls hinder movement on the rest of Calcutta’s roads. Why is no action being contemplated against these?

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Chanda, via email

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