Editorial / Learning too late
Editorial 2 / A chat show
An exemplary island
Fifth Column / Two disasters voted out of office
Signs of the times in UP
Document / Chemicals that compromise life
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / LEARNING TOOTOO LATE 
 
 
 
 
After the Centre’s decision to revoke the June 14 notification that extended the ceasefire in Nagaland “without territorial limits”, it might seem cynical to argue that governments never learn. The people often have to pay a heavy price for a government’s inability either to learn at all or to learn quickly enough. Manipur had to pay such a price — 17 killed and nearly six weeks of street protests, often defying the curfew —for New Delhi’s inability to learn fast enough. It was simply shocking that the Union home ministry had not anticipated such violent reactions in Manipur while agreeing to extend the ceasefire with the Naga rebels “beyond territorial limits”. For the Manipuris’ sentiments on the issue, particularly their fear of losing parts of their state to a “greater Nagalim” in the event of extension of the ceasefire beyond Nagaland, have always been well known. For Manipur, the shock over the ceasefire came at a particularly uncertain time when the state plunged into yet another political vacuum with the fall of the Radhabinod Koijam ministry. It was urgently necessary that the Centre retrace its wrong steps on the ceasefire extension at the earliest to prevent the state and its people from drifting further. The opposition parties in general and the Congress in particular have played a sensible role in the Rajya Sabha by ratifying president’s rule in the state. Mr Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), whom the Centre’s interlocutor and former Union home secretary, K. Padmanabhaiah, apparently persuaded to accept the revocation of the contentious clause, needs to be complimented for his spirit of accommodation.

But the remark made by the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, that the government was “in no hurry” to hold the polls once the state assembly was dissolved seems rather ill-advised. Now that the Centre has healed wounded feelings in Imphal by deciding to delete the controversial clause, it should lose no more time to restore democratic administration in the state. The Centre cannot afford to seek solace in the ratification of president’s rule and drag its feet in giving the state a popular government. Both the Centre and the NSCN(I-M) have to tackle another problem — jointly and immediately. If the change in the ceasefire agreement has satisfied Manipur as well as Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which also opposed it, it may have left Nagaland and Naga-inhabitated areas of Manipur somewhat dejected. Mr Muivah and the Union home ministry mandarins should do all they can to ensure that the Nagas’ dissatisfaction does not shackle the peace process in Nagaland or lead to ethnic unrest in Manipur. It would be disastrous if the four-year-old ceasefire in Nagaland were to collapse because of the Centre’s thoughtless decision, which it has been forced to rescind.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / A CHAT SHOW 
 
 
 
 
The group of eight (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United States) summit may have failed on Kyoto, but it did produce an action plan for Africa. 1.3 billion dollars have been pledged for a global health fund (mainly, but not exclusively for Africa), to be used with the United Nations in a fight ag- ainst AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. There will also be a development plan for Africa and a joint forum to pursue debt relief. While the endorsement of the World Trade Organization and the forthcoming ministerial talks in Doha imply that G-8 believes that globalization is a welcome necessity, there is perhaps a tacit admission that poor countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, which believe they have been marginalized and bypassed by globalization, have a point. Russia and its president, Mr Vladimir Putin, are believed to have been mainly responsible for this recognition. Twenty three countries are classified as heavily indebted poor countries; 19 are in Africa. In 1996, the then G-7 announced a HPIC initiative that led to the cancellation of $ 53 billion of debt. In Col- ogne in 1999, G-8 announced the cancellation of $ 100 billion of debt, and in Okinawa in 2000, there was an attempt to bridge the digital divide. While the debt relief initiative is welcome, two points need to be made. First, G-8 has no secretariat or follow-up mechanisms. Hence, its decisions are exhortations to members and as earlier debt relief decisions indicate, progress can fall short of promises. Second, external support is no substitute for improving governance within Africa, a point G-8 also makes.

While the Africa initiative is concrete, everything else in Genoa was vague and amounted to no more than noises on West Asia, Macedonia, and the Korean unification. Given the US position, it is not surprising that nothing should have come of the Kyoto Protocol, although one might have expected the other seven samurai to be a bit more persuasive. Clearly, Japan has decided that it cannot afford to antagonize the US too much. For all practical purposes, the Kyoto Protocol is dead and no alternative US plans have been forthcoming. Protests have obviously influenced the decision to hold the 2002 summit in the Canadian Rockies and with smaller delegations. Not only does there seem to be recognition that poverty and marginalization are issues that need to be tackled, independent of whether one agrees with methods adopted by protesters, there is also some recognition that summits blown out of all proportion by the media lead to unwarranted expectations and a lot of hype. Smaller delegations takes one back to the fireside chats that characterized initial G-7 meetings. Not much was achieved then. Not much is achieved now, but at least one recognizes that all that is expected is a chat show. The only concrete step this time is the Africa plan.

   

 
 
AN EXEMPLARY ISLAND 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
Mauritius is a small island in the Indian Ocean. It has no army or navy, only a small local police force. Its population of 1.2 million is amazingly multicultural and multiracial. The dominant population group is fourth-generation Indian origin, mostly illiterate labour that volunteered to work on the sugar plantations, without quite knowing how far they were to go. The other groups are Creoles, (a mixture of French and blacks from Africa), Chinese, blacks, and some whites of British and French extraction. The largest group among the Indians is composed of Biharis, with Tamils, Telugu speakers, Gujaratis, Marwaris and Sindhis being most of the rest.

The caste identity seems to be weak among the Hindus, who are the overwhelming majority, with a lot of intermarriage. Apparently there are some who send for their daughters-in-law from India. Brahmins may have been imported specially to perform at their temples. There are also Indian Muslims and Christians. The Muslims seem to live apart from the rest, and seem to be mainly artisans.

The Hindus run the country. Since independence in 1968, the country has been ruled by two families, the “father of the nation” and first prime minister, Sivasagar Ramgoolam, and his son; and now the present prime minister, Anirudh Jugunnauth, who might well be succeeded by his son. Top civil service positions are held by Hindus, in their late forties to very early fifties. Civil servants are paid about three times their counterparts in India, and live very well. At one time, the capital, Port Louis, was a thriving port, but the Suez Canal eliminated its importance. Ships come to Mauritius now only to carry goods to and from there, not as a fuelling stop on the long journey round the Cape to India.

The Arabs found it, but the Dutch occupied it for a few years and then went away, leaving it to the French to colonize it. It was an uninhabited island with unusual flora and fauna, with ebony trees and the dodo, both of which were decimated during the Dutch occupation.

The French sought to bring black labour, but it was the advent of the British in the early 19th century that gave a real impetus to its development. The French did, however, build a deep-sea port, and some impressive public buildings. French occupation is still recalled with some nostalgia for the good that they did, and French is spoken by all, taught in schools, and Creole — a form of bastardized French — is the common medium of conversation between Mauritians.

The British tried to plant tea, with little success, and then moved to sugar, which now covers 90 per cent of the agricultural land in the country. It was for working in the sugarcane plantations that experienced labour was imported from India. Soon after independence, the government realized its economic vulnerability in being a one-crop economy dependent on exports of a volatile commodity. While they processed the best quality sugar — superior to the large Indian grains — and tried to make downstream products, they realized that they could not be so dependent on one product. They diversified into two products: tourism and garments. Both were high value-added areas, and labour intensive, not calling for any special skills. What was required could be taught on the job.

Tourism has been a great success. With little to offer except fine beaches and the open sea, Mauritius got the leading hotel chains to enter. Air Mauritius was developed into a fine airline with the help of Air India, and today flies ten planes to and from destinations with large numbers of tourists. The old docks have been developed to become a shopping mall on the lines of the mall at Covent Garden in London. Temples built in the last century are tourist sites, as is a small lake that has become holy for Hindus.

Mauritius has approached tourism in the right spirit. They are primarily catering to holiday-makers for whom sightseeing is a short relief from the continuous sunbathing, swimming, surfing and paragliding over the sea. India and Indian states can learn from the Mauritius experience. In the Seventies they took advantage of the multi-fibre agreement, applied and got export quotas for readymade garments. Not having the limitations imposed in India by reservations for small-scale units, their units were large and automated.

Tourism and the garments industry transformed the economy, with per capita incomes now at $ 3,500 per annum. With the imminent lapse of the Mauritius Freeport Authority, they are now looking at further economic diversification as a financial services centre, focused primarily on Africa and information technology. On both fronts, they are moving speedily to set up skills and infrastructure. They also hope that these industries will reverse a brain drain that, with their small population, they can ill afford. The Indian government is helping with expertise and other solid support.

Mauritius aims to have a computer in each household. It is setting up software parks and IT institutes. They are already a greater wired society than much of India. There are over 200 television sets owned, over 150 telephones, over 20 cell phones and almost 50 personal computers owned per 1,000.

The single-mindedness of governments in Mauritius is impressive. Having decided, they move quickly to implement. It is no wonder that the World Bank reports real per capita income in purchasing power parity terms in 1995 as being over $ 13,000; it would be nearer $ 20,000 today. The country depends on imports for much of its necessities. For example, it produces practically no milk, not having any cows. Despite being an island, it imports fish. Its fishing waters are heavily exploited by Japan and other big fishing nations. Mauritius has no navy to enforce its fishing rights.

For energy it depends on imported oil and gas. The Dutch had set up windmills, but now they are literally museum pieces. It has no engineering or machine tools industries. Being small in size and population, it cannot be diversified, and has to keep changing in anticipation that an existing industry will die. Its policy- makers have to continually reinvent the economy. This calls for imagination and flexibility, qualities we in India do not associate with government.

Mauritius is an Indian country. The culture is Indian — the food, the films, the universally spoken Hindi, the good feelings for India and so on. It has always supported India in international fora. Why can we not have the same relations with countries nearer home? Even Nepal is hostile; with the infiltration of insurgents from India’s Northeast and Nepalis into Bhutan, it may well go the same way. We are unable to have the same cordial relations with the other larger neighbours. Is it that the diaspora has to be distant before we become considerate? This may be so, given the many years it has taken us to recognize the value to us of the Indian brain drain to the United States.

India has done nothing to collect and disseminate information about the Indian diaspora. They are strong in many countries — the US, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Guyana — and are expanding in many European countries. Can we not list them, involve them in India, offer scholarships to such as are looking for cultural training in India, develop ways of helping them identify their long-lost relatives still living in India? The Indian diaspora is a great and unique resource. We do not even have an idea as to how vast it is.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / TWO DISASTERS VOTED OUT OF OFFICE 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
“My reply is ‘ha, ha, ha’,” said the Jakarta police commander, Sofjan Jacoeb, when Indonesia’s deposed president, Abdurrahman Wahid, ordered his arrest two weeks ago. “I’m just laughing.” It was attitudes like that in the army and police force that made it possible for the people’s consultative assembly to vote Wahid out of office only 21 months into his five-year term. Wahid was a disaster as president, which is why the final parliamentary vote to elevate the vice-president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, to the job instead on 24 July was unanimous. Even Wahid’s own spokesman, Wimar Witoelar, admitted after taking the job that “the things one hears outside are basically all true — you know, how disorganized it is....I can say with all honesty that my man is a good guy. I can also say that my man does not have the competence to govern.”

The feckless, half-blind and eccentric former president, who has now flown off to the United States to seek medical treatment for “stress”, will not be missed by most Indonesians. Neither do most Filipinos miss their former president, Joseph Estrada, who was forced from power in Manila by street demonstrations last January after his supporters closed down a senate trial seeking to impeach him on corruption charges. But there is something worrisome about the way these men lost power.

Tough guy wins

Consider what happened in the Philippines last year. Estrada got elected basically because he had played tough-guy underdog roles in so many locally made films, and millions of poorer Filipinos lacked the sophistication to distinguish between the man and his movie roles. But they also voted for him because they hoped he would stand up to the economic elite who have continued to dominate politics (because they have more money to spend) even after democratization.

Unfortunately, Estrada was more interested in joining the economic elite than in fighting it, and within a year he was mired in corruption charges and facing impeachment by the Philippines senate. He managed to block impeachment, quite constitutionally, with the help of political allies (whose votes he may well have bought, but nobody can prove that). Whereupon much the same people who brought down Marcos in 1986 took to the streets again in “people power part II” last January, and forced Estrada out too.

He was then arrested on corruption charges — but in May his supporters took to the streets in what they dubbed “people power III”, trying to oust the new president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Three demonstrators were killed, and Arroyo declared a state of rebellion and had a dozen opposition leaders arrested. A national election later in May confirmed that her actions had the support of most Filipinos, but the actions of both sides have gravely undermined constitutional order in the country. Taking it to the streets is becoming a tradition.

Classic Manila mode

Now look at Indonesia. The revolution that overthrew the dictator, Suharto, in 1998 was in the classic Manila mode, and the subsequent election was mostly free and fair. Sukarnoputri’s party got the largest share of votes and most people expected her to emerge as the country’s first-ever democratically elected president, but various perfectly legitimate political deals in the new parliament enabled Wahid to win the presidency instead.

It was a mistake the legislators soon came to regret, as Wahid turned out to be incapable of confronting the country’s many urgent problems (and apparently not even much interested in doing so). But they gave him a five-year term in circumstances certainly no more questionable than those that brought George W. Bush to the United States presidency last year. They had no more constitutional right to turf Wahid out than the Democratic majority in the US senate would have to start impeachment proceedings against Bush.

On the one hand, constitutional order, without which democratic politics soon comes to resemble open war; on the other, the urgent need of poor countries for honest leaders and sound policies. The democratic leaders of Indonesia and the Philippines, convinced that they could not wait for the next election and a constitutional solution, have opted for what they see as the only practical course of action. But actions create precedents, and these are not good ones.

   

 
 
SIGNS OF THE TIMES IN UP 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
The brutal slaying of Phoolan Devi, member of parliament for Mirzapur, in the national capital only drives home the situation in the country’s most populous state. Her funeral showed how the Samajwadi Party was already moving quickly to consolidate and expand its base among the Mandal classes just when the ruling party was out to divide this constituency with a new reservation policy.

Not just caste but the very character of politics in Uttar Pradesh seems set for a sea change in the months ahead. Just a decade ago, the saffron flag flew top of the mast and the Hindutva party rode the crest of the Ram wave to power for the first time. Today, the unified Hindu vote has fragmented and the divisions within have surfaced, even in the top echelons of the saffron family.

Unable to appeal to the religious minorities, the saffron party is now working overtime to woo other sections with sops. For its core constituents, it has promised to fill 20,000 vacancies for schoolteachers and resolved to upgrade their pay packages. But this will simply not be enough: despite reservations, most of the beneficiaries will be upper caste. The party is in dire straits, and needs to woo fresh support.

The architect of the demolition in December 1992, Kalyan Singh, once labelled the Hanuman of the party, is at odds with it. He is its sworn adversary with a small outfit of his own, berating the sangh as a caste Hindu conspiracy. More ominous is the growth of caste-based tensions within those that remain loyal to the party. Divisions in society and politics have been reproduced and magnified within the Bharatiya Janata Party brass.

Ashok Yadav, a senior minister in the present government in Lucknow is leading the charge against the new reservation polices of the Rajnath Singh regime. Other prominent members of the legislative assembly ranged against it include O.P. Singh, the former head of the state unit and Faizabad MP and the former chief of the Bajrang Dal, Vinay Katiyar.

The plank is simple: by dividing the 27 per cent other backward classes quota into seats for more and less privileged groups, the chief minister will consolidate the hold of the upper castes on the administration. More critically, it aims to divide the OBCs who actually make up around one in two voters in the state.

Hence, the significance of the recent murder of the so-called bandit queen. Phoolan herself was a Mallah from Bundelkhand, the semi-arid belt that abuts the border with Madhya Pradesh. Her symbolic appeal for the Samajwadi Party lay in the fact that its success rested on its ability to bring together a large section of the OBCs and Muslims under one banner.

Rajnath Singh’s options are limited. The rift between him and the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, forced Kalyan Singh’s exit. Ram Prakash Gupta, though a Bania, was unable to inspire confidence and presided over the BJP’s worst showing ever in recent years in the 1999 general elections. In contrast, the present chief minister enjoys the confidence of the powerful Brahmin-Thakur lobby that is so central to the party.

The more backward class, on whom the chief minister places so much hope, is a divided lot. As many as 26 communities, they all lack wealth, land, power and ritual status. Unlike the Dalits, they have not gained out of decades of reservation in education and employment. Nor are they numerically as large as the Yadav or Kurmi communities.

Unlike in Bihar, they have not thrown up a major statewide leader of the stature of a Karpoori Thakur. If anything, Phoolan’s killing is bound to work in favour of the opposition parties. They will harp on the fact that a lower caste politician is unsafe under Hindutva rule.

In turn, a “wager on the strong” can only work if the groups antagonistic to savarna dominance are divided and set against each other. But much has changed in the post-1989 era. For one, both the Samajwadi Party and the Dalit-led Bahujan Samaj Party have expanded their bases of support.

There was a time when their disunity was enough to let the saffron party emerge and remain the uncontested numero uno. That moment is long since past. Already by 1996, the BJP was unable to garner a majority and eventually had to resort to splintering rival groups in order to cobble together a ministry. It still had the advantage of the hill districts being a bastion. Uttaranchal has removed from the confines of UP the only upper caste dominated sub-region in the whole state.

Two years ago, its vote base shrank below the 30 per cent margin. More seriously, it yielded place to the Congress in many key urban centres. Today, it is in an unenviable position. What is significant is the failure of the party on the administrative front.

It has been unable to project the image of a cohesive and unified force for development. This is in contrast to even other Hindi belt states such as Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Since the exit of Kalyan Singh, serious attempts to control government spending have been abandoned. This is most markedly so in the education sector. The new salary package alone will swell expenditure by over six billion rupees. Such desperate tactics to woo the voter were last tried by the N.D. Tiwari ministry in 1989, but to little effect.

Among its allies, the one who seems infused with a sense of mission is Ram Vilas Paswan. Although a veteran of the struggles against the Emergency, he actually arrived on the national stage only around the time of Mandal. Paswan’s new party hopes to cut into Mayavati’s base, but his network in UP is limited and he has an uphill task ahead of him.

Quite apart from the fact that a motley crew of allies is unlikely to tip the scales in its favour, the run-up to the polls only drives home the centrality of the state in Indian politics. Despite being carved up, it still accounts for a hefty 80 of Lok Sabha seats.

For Vajpayee, nearly one in six BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha hails from Uttar Pradesh. It was his party’s victory here in 1991 that catapulted it into a leading opposition force in Parliament. And it was his fast that facilitated the installation of a BJP-led coalition, complete with history sheeters and defectors in 1997. A defeat here will have serious consequences for the party, whose entire ascendancy through the Nineties was built on gains made in the Gangetic basin state.

But there is a second more critical milestone that may well lie ahead. If the BJP falls to third place and the Congress does not displace it from its present position, an event unlikely enough to be counted out, then Indian politics is about to cross a major landmark. Both the first and second largest political formations will be lower caste led groupings. The old line-up of Backwards versus Forwards has already given way to a tripartite conflict with Dalits. But the Forwards will become a mere ringside player. Mandal’s impact will have been complete.

Except for a brief period in 1989-90, either the Congress or its saffron rival has been the ruling party or the opposition. If the Samajwadi Party and the BSP are the two key poles around which politics is to crystallize, it will also have its reverberations on the state of the all-India polity. New Delhi’s coalition will be shaken at its foundations. And Indian politics will never be the same again.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / CHEMICALS THAT COMPROMISE LIFE 
 
 
 
 
Half a century ago, scientists made the unsettling discovery that manmade compounds, such as the pesticide DDT, accumulate in the bodies of people and wildlife. Today synthetic chemical contamination is pervasive and global. There is no clean, uncontaminated place and no person untouched by this chemical legacy. Each of us now carries several hundred synthetic chemicals that were not present in the bodies of our great grandparents at the turn of the century.

The question of how contaminants affect health has become all the more urgent since scientists recently recognized a new kind of hazard known as “endocrine disruption”. Through a series of accidental discoveries, researchers stumbled on the fact that some widespread, manmade chemicals, called "endocrine disruptors," can interfere with the body’s own hormones and jeopardize health.

In the past five years, the scientific investigation of this problem has intensified and provided steadily growing evidence linking these synthetic endocrine-disrupting compounds to impaired health in wildlife and people. This exploration is ongoing and far from complete.

Although uncertainties remain about the impact of these compounds on human health, the emerging science has heightened concerns and provided sufficient evidence of damage to wildlife to justify immediate protective measures. The time has come for precautionary action to reduce our reliance on suspect chemicals and to establish screening and testing programmes to assess chemicals for hormone-disrupting hazards.

Hormones, which are produced in a variety of organs known as endocrine glands, travel in the bloodstream carrying messages from one part of the body to another. In adults, these hormone messages govern sex and reproduction and also coordinate organs and tissues that work in concert to keep the body functioning properly.

Normal development depends on getting the right amount of the right chemical messenger to the right place at the right time. If these messengers don’t arrive or arrive in the wrong amounts, the offspring’s development is irreparably altered. Disruption at this stage of life can cause permanent damage with consequences that last a lifetime.

Until recently, the research and regulation of synthetic chemicals focused primarily on the dangers of genetic mutation, cancer, and gross birth defects. In probing endocrine disruptors, scientists are investigating entirely new mechanisms and novel avenues through which synthetic chemicals can upset normal biological processes and undermine health and wellbeing. Evidence is mounting that endocrine disruptors can do damage at extraordinarily low doses — measured in parts per trillion — and that they are already compromising the health and intelligence of the next generation.

Endocrine disruptors can upset the body’s internal communication in several different ways. Many manmade chemicals mimic natural hormones and send false messages. Other synthetic compounds block hormone receptors that receive the messages travelling in the bloodstream and prevent true messages from getting through. Some cause disruption by preventing the synthesis of the body’s own hormones or by accelerating their breakdown and excretion. Whatever the mechanism, the bottom line is the same: any chemical that interferes with hormones can scramble vital messages, derail development, and undermine health.

Although the investigation of human health effects has hardly begun, researchers have already found immune system changes, neurological and motor delays, and learning problems in children exposed in the womb to background levels of PCBs, a family of hormone-disrupting, persistent contaminants. Epidemiological studies are also documenting disturbing trends showing that people are increasingly suffering from health problems seen in wildlife and laboratory animals that have been exposed to synthetic endocrine disruptors. This growing human evidence includes reports of declining sperm counts in some parts of the world, rising rates of benign prostatic enlargement and testicular cancer, and an increasing incidence of other genital defects in males.

The greatest uncertainties about endocrine disruptors concern people and the question of how great a toll hormone-disrupting synthetic chemicals are taking on human health. In most cases, there is no way to answer these questions definitively because there is no unexposed population to study as a control group and because scientists do not for ethical reasons conduct experiments on people. Nevertheless, compelling new findings are emerging in this research arena.

An ongoing study by researchers at Wayne State University has documented significant deficits in intelligence and learning in children exposed to PCBs and other contaminants in the womb. Doctors found significant learning and attention problems in children of women who had eaten contaminated fish from Lake Michigan in the six years prior to pregnancy. In their most recent examination of these children at 11 years of age, they found the most highly exposed have difficulty paying attention, suffer from poorer short- and long-term memory, are twice as likely to be at least two years behind in reading comprehension, and three times as likely to have low IQ scores.

This work is striking...because the fish-eating mothers were not highly contaminated. The levels measured in their bodies fall on the high end of what is considered the “normal” background range for PCBs in humans.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Futile gestures

Sir — The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government’s policy for gifting a carrot to Pakistan for every stick that it gives India defies logic. While Pakistan goes on sponsoring one terrorist act after another in Kashmir and other parts of India, threatening the country’s political and economic stability, the BJP government reciprocates by inviting the Pakistani military ruler and showering lavishness on the entire delegation. This is after Atal Bihari Vajpayee has touched up his image of a statesman by inaugurating bus-services between Lahore and New Delhi and granting more visas to Pakistani nationals. It is not surprising that the number of Pakistani infiltrators on Indian soil has gone up since then. Pakistan has done little to reciprocate India’s friendly gestures. On the contrary, the Pakistani president called a press conference immediately after his return from Agra to tear apart the Indian efforts. It is time India realized the futility of talking peace with a people who only seem to understand the knowledge of the gun.

Yours faithfully,
Shivaji K. Moitra, Kharagpur

Tragedy, farce or poetic justice

Sir — In India, individuals are elevated to greatness once they are dead (“In politics, she was still among thieves”, July 26), no matter what tremendous social, political and economic repression they may have faced in their lifetime. Why is it so difficult to show respect to people when they are alive?

Take the case of Phoolan Devi. The same people who had condemned her for the Behmai murders and looked down on her because of her past life have begun worshipping her as an icon now that she has been assassinated. Where were they when she was being assaulted, raped and paraded nude in public?

Even the political party which tried to give her due recognition during her lifetime merely used her to fetch more votes. No one is born a bandit. Circumstances make bandits. When the law of the land failed to protect Phoolan Devi, she had no other option but to take the law into her own hands.

Yours faithfully,
Renu Agrawal, Parlin, US

Sir — There is no imagining the extent to which politicians will go to get a few more votes. There might or might not have been any politics in the killing of Phoolan Devi, but her cremation was clouded in politics. The Samajwadi Party leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav, ignored her family’s wishes of holding her cremation in Delhi, so that he could arrange it in Mirzapur, Phoolan’s constituency, and influence the voters before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The body of the bandit-turned-member of parliament was taken in a huge politically charged rally. The home minister’s resignation was demanded. The Uttar Pradesh chief minister’s house was stoned.

Nobody has the right to exploit the death of another for political gains. Particularly not Mulayam Singh Yadav, who vehemently opposed the women’s reservation bill, a cause most strongly espoused by Phoolan Devi during her short political career.

Yours faithfully,
V A Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — It has been alleged by Samajwadi Party politicians that the Central government had failed to provide adequate security to Phoolan Devi, which resulted in her assassination. Why a popularly elected member of parliament in a democratic country should be in need of security at all escapes one’s understanding. Should it then be the practice to provide all MPs with security guards? Such a thing is unheard of in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. Even the president of the US moves about with minimal and unobtrusive security, no matter the contrary impression that Bill Clinton’s visit to India may have conveyed. In contrast, we see our VIPs always surrounded by Black Cat commandos. Security provided by the government should cease to be seen as a status symbol.

Yours faithfully
C.V.K. Moorthy, via email

Sir — The Telegraph must be thanked for reprinting Arundhati Roy’s criticism of The Bandit Queen — the movie (“Shady girl, blazing guns…and the political fast lane”, July 26 ). The article has not lost its relevance even today. But did we detect a bit of Roy’s vanity creeping into it? Little pearls like “talking to the backs of trucks” or “like worried hen” are classic Arundhatisms which readers gratefully gobble up. But accusing the state of reaching into a woman and “plucking” her womb out is slightly unwarranted. That too, relying solely on Mala Sen’s account. What necessitated hysterectomy in a patient bleeding from a ruptured ovarian cyst is best answered by professionals, not people like Roy.

The prison doctor may have shown very dark humour in his comment, when he reportedly said that the birth of more Phoolans was not desirable. The decision probably helped save the patient’s life. Yet we are urged to jump to a conclusion by Roy’s account of Sen’s account of a prison doctor’s alleged comment.

This is akin to the kind of melodrama Shekhar Kapur uses in his films, intending to get the same kind of “bums on seats”. It tends to intrude between the reader and the read. When the dust settled, what got diluted was the story of Phoolan Devi — a simple village woman who tried to live her life without too many compromises.

Yours faithfully
Prosenjit Roy, Calcutta

Sir — No tears need to be shed over the death of the dacoit-turned-MP, Phoolan Devi. Poetic justice has been done. It is only in India that dacoits seem to be pardoned if they have the right political patronage, even after public money has been spent in capturing them. Her death will bring joy to the families of all those, including policemen, who lost their lives during her depredations. It is unfortunate that Parliament was adjourned owing to the death of a former bandit. If Veerappan decides to join politics someday, will he too command the same respect?

Yours faithfully,
Tejash Doshi, Calcutta

Sir — The murder of Phoolan Devi in broad daylight last Wednesday has come as a shock. Her life had changed radically in the last two decades. She was no longer a dreaded bandit but an honourable member of parliament. Her assassination has also exposed the loopholes in the security set-up even in high-security zones of Delhi in which Rashtrapati Bhavan, Parliament House, the Parliament Street police station and the New Delhi diistrict commissioner of police’s office are located. The assassins got away with as much ease as Phoolan did in the Chambal ravines. If the ordinary citizen feels defenceless after this, he can hardly be called paranoid.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Parting shot

Sir — K.P. Nayar’s “A Washington itinerary” (July11) states that “India and the US have also had unprecendented talks on international human rights, the environment and peacemaking”. It is ironic that India feels it necessary to talk with a country which views human rights as a tool to intervene in others’ internal matters and has lost its seat in the United Nations commission for human rights. Regarding the environment, it opposed the Kyoto protocol and wouldn’t ratify it because “it exempts 80 per cent of the world, including major population centres such as China and India, from compliance”. The Bush administration does not recognize that developing countries are vulnerable to climatic change. It has decided to withdraw drinking water regulation, reduce federal funding for renewable energy, and given clearance for nuclear reactor construction. Under such circumstances, will Nayar explain what kind of “unprecedented” talks are going on?

Yours faithfully,
Somnath Bhattacharyya, Calcutta

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