Editorial 1 / Reigning supreme
Editorial 2 / Wrong goal
Beyond containment
Fifth Column / Hunger Among full granaries
Mani Talk / Reflections on an assassination
The tradition of torture in custody
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / REIGNING SUPREME 
 
 
 
 
The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has an extraordinary guardian angel looking over him. In the very recent past, he has suffered a foreign policy setback; in domestic policy, his government has been forced to do a complete turnaround over the ceasefire in Nagaland; in the realm of the economy, mismanagement of the Unit Trust of India has created a mini-scandal; personally, his health is nowhere near what it should be or what it was even a year ago. But all these factors have not diminished his influence and power. Despite appearances, it is clear from the meeting of the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party that the important policies laid down by Mr Vajpayee and his government have not been challenged or even criticized by the party. There was no demand that the prime minister should not visit Islamabad at the invitation of Mr Pervez Musharraf; neither was there any demand that the finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, resigns because of corruption in the higher echelons of the UTI. At the level of policy and governance, therefore, the prime minister remains untrammelled by any criticism from within his own party. Between the party and the government, there does not seem to be any artificial barriers. This has been the relationship between the party and the government throughout Mr Vajpayee’s tenure as prime minister. On all important and crucial issues, Mr Vajpayee has made the decisions which the party, at least in its public pronouncements, have endorsed. Disagreements and criticisms, such as they are, have been muted within the BJP.

Mr Vajpayee’s unchallenged position is not difficult to explain. Within the BJP, he is irreplaceable as prime minister. Nobody enjoys the kind of acceptance that he does within and without the party. This gives rise to envy and to under-the-breath cribbing, but everybody accepts that if the BJP wants to remain in power and put across the impression that it is the party of governance, Mr Vajpayee is somewhat indispensable. No one in the BJP leadership can afford to lose sight of this now, with assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh around the corner. The lack of an alternative has preserved the right balance between the government and the party. The latter should not be in a position to influence and/or subvert government decisions. At best, the party’s position should be advisory. Mr Vajpayee has successfully maintained the distance between the party and the government without erecting a hostile fence between the two. This is not a mean achievement given the fact that the BJP is an ideologically driven party. It is a measure of Mr Vajpayee’s political skills that he keeps the extremists within his party at bay and his head always well above the water line.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / WRONG GOAL 
 
 
 
 
If there was hardly any element of surprise in the statement of Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the president of the West Bengal state Congress, that the party’s alliance with the Trinamool Congress was over, it was because the two partners in the last assembly elections had been drifting apart since the polls. Ms Mamata Banerjee set all speculation at rest when members of parliament from her party took their seats in the treasury benches in the Lok Sabha. Even before this, it was no secret that she had initiated talks with the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership for a return to the National Democratic Alliance, which she had deserted in the wake of the Tehelka exposures to align with the Congress for the polls. Both sides have sought to rationalize the unmaking of the partnership, arguing that it was not an alliance but an electoral adjustment. But the onus for the breakup must lie more with Ms Banerjee than with the Congress. The failure to dislodge the Left Front from power had prompted most of her party MPs to pressure her to return to the NDA. Quite a few of them — former bureaucrats or professionals — seemed to be egging her on with the hope of ministerial berths. The latest reshuffle of the Union cabinet and remarks by the BJP president, Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, before and after the party’s national executive meeting in New Delhi, and by the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in Bhubaneswar make it clear that the return to the NDA may not necessarily come with a choice of ministries. That is why Ms Banerjee keeps up the pretence of criticizing the BJP on certain issues, even while she waits for the return call from Mr Vajpayee.

The contradiction can be politically more disastrous for her than the poll debacle. To start with, she retraces her steps back to the BJP at a time when the going is not good for the saffronites. Analysts predict that a downslide in the BJP’s fortunes will start with the next assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The logic of the arithmetic that made her enter into the adjustment with the Congress before the polls in West Bengal still remains valid. By going back to the BJP, she will definitely lose out on the secular, non-communist vote that came her way because of the alliance with the Congress. Her battle, as she never tires of saying, will continue to be against the Marxists. Ironically, her enemy will be the happiest with her return to the NDA because that will scatter the strongest possible anti-Left alliance to the winds. She may have lost one electoral battle against the left, but that could not be reason enough to blunt the edge of future battles. Politically, her best bet lies in strengthening the partnership with the Congress, despite the hiccups from old adversaries in her parent party.

   

 
 
BEYOND CONTAINMENT 
 
 
BY CHANDRASHEKHAR DASGUPTA
 
 
After the end of the Cold War, many optimists expected that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be dismantled. After all, the declared objective of the alliance was to defend western Europe against a presumed Soviet threat and even the most ardent military strategist would be hard put to visualize a threat from Russia after the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Warsaw pact, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Russian economy. It seemed only logical to expect the early demise of NATO.

Yet NATO has not only outlasted the threat it was supposed to meet but has actually witnessed an extraordinary spurt of activity. Its membership has grown to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic and the door is open for further expansion. For the first time in its history, NATO as an alliance went to war when it took military action against Yugoslavia. The alliance has asserted itself in ways which would have been inconceivable during the Cold War years.

The NATO has reinvented itself after the Cold War in order to expand into the strategic space vacated by the former Soviet Union. A historic step in this direction was the induction into its ranks of three former Warsaw pact countries — Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — in 1999. NATO has declared its readiness to entertain other applications from the region.

It is noteworthy that the entry of new members was not justified on grounds of security. Even the hawkish Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the early champions of expansion, acknowledged that “ in expanding NATO one should note that neither the alliance nor its prospective new members are facing any imminent threat”.

Strobe Talbott, the United States deputy secretary of state at the time, offered the explanation that NATO’s expansion would promote the continued evolution of the new democracies of central Europe towards “civil society, market economics and harmonious relations with their neighbours”. The claim is unconvincing. It is a strange thesis that the promotion of civil society or market economics requires absorption into a military alliance.

The reality is that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has replaced its old policy of containment with a new approach which may be described as “neo-containment”. Its objective is to prevent a reassertion of Russian influence in central and eastern Europe in a future period when Russia is restored to political and economic health. The central and east European countries inducted into NATO are irreversibly bound to the West.

NATO’s eastward expansion is made possible by two factors. First, with lively memories of Russian domination, the former Warsaw pact countries are eager to be identified with the affluent democracies of the western alliance. The Polish lobby in Washington was particularly active in persuading American officials about the case for expansion.

Second, in its current state of economic and military disarray, Russia can do no more than plead ineffectual against NATO’s advance. It can only hope that the expansion will not proceed beyond the borders of its erstwhile Warsaw pact partners. NATO has not ruled out capture of some of the breakaway republics of the former Soviet Union, in particular the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

If NATO’s expansion in central and eastern Europe has been peaceful, the same cannot be said for its penetration into the Balkans. The outbreak of ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia provided the occasion for NATO intervention and the absence of a Soviet countervailing power made it feasible. In the initial years, NATO’s role was contingent on a United Nations security council mandate. Commencing from 1992, NATO played a role in a number of peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia under a UN umbrella.

The legal requirement of a UN mandate was first violated in 1998, when NATO decided in principle to conduct a military operation against Yugoslavia even in the absence of such a mandate. The threat was carried out in March, 1999, when massive air strikes were launched against a defiant Yugoslavia, brushing aside Russian objections. Inevitably, the war ended in Yugoslav capitulation and yet another demonstration of Russian helplessness.

The war in Kosovo was one of the defining events of the post-Cold War era. It was of great significance in several ways.

In the Cold War years, the “balance of terror” ensured peace in Europe. East-West rivalry was pursued through third parties in distant Asian or African battlefields but Europe itself was free from war. Thus throughout the Cold War era, NATO, as an alliance, saw no military action; with the collapse of Soviet power, however, there was no effective military restraint against the use of force by NATO. The ironic result was that NATO went to war for the first time after the Cold War was over.

Second, the alliance no longer sees its role as being limited to the defence of its borders, the role envisaged in the NATO charter. It went to war against Yugoslavia professing humanitarian objectives, even though Yugoslavia posed no threat to NATO boundaries. The alliance now claims a right to “humanitarian intervention” in other countries, asserting that this right transcends the sovereign jurisdiction of the targeted country over its internal affairs.

Third, the Kosovo war was an “out-of-area” operation. The NATO treaty did not envisage military operations originating outside its borders. Kosovo was precisely such an operation. It left a large question mark against the geographical limits of NATO’s future operations. Will they be confined to NATO’s periphery, as most Europeans hope, or will they extend to more distant regions, as the Americans want?

The European allies, particularly the Mediterranean countries, are apprehensive of potential security risks arising from unsettled conditions in neighbouring north Africa and the south Asia. They would like to build up a NATO capability for addressing challenges on Europe’s periphery. They are reluctant, however, to give NATO a mandate for intervention in distant theatres.

Western military interventions in Asia or Africa have traditionally been the preserve of individual NATO members, as distinct from the alliance as a whole. In the Kuwait war, for example, the US organized a posse of like-minded countries which included a few, but not all, of the other members of NATO. NATO as an alliance did not participate.

The US is now calling for a generous expansion of NATO’s military horizons. While disclaiming any intention of giving the alliance the role of a global policeman, it is pressing for an expansion of NATO’s area of operations beyond the periphery of western Europe. The future limits of the alliance’s area of operations remains an open question.

To sum up, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has constantly been reinventing itself. The old doctrine of containment has been replaced by a policy of neo-containment. By recruiting new members, the alliance has expanded into the strategic space formerly occupied by the Soviet Union. The aim is to permanently marginalize Russia’s role in Europe.

Further, in the absence of any countervailing power, the alliance has also extended its reach in the Balkans through a war against Yugoslavia. In the process, NATO has thrown overboard the restrictions it previously observed in employing military force. The alliance now claims a right to employ force, in certain situations, even against states which pose no threat to NATO. Finally, the alliance has expanded the area of its operations beyond its borders. Time will tell whether NATO’s operational horizons will extend beyond the periphery of western Europe.

The author is former ambassador to the EU, Brussels

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / HUNGER AMONG FULL GRANARIES 
 
 
BY DEVINDER SHARMA
 
 
The Supreme Court has finally donned the robes of annadata — food-giver. Shocked at the increasing number of starvation deaths amidst overflowing foodgrain godowns, the apex court has directed the six hunger-prone states to reopen public distribution shops within a week.

The Supreme Court’s directive provides hope for over 320-million people, who cannot manage two-square meals a day. The shocking state of starvation while more than 60 million tonnes of foodgrains are stocked with the Food Corporation of India is a criminal neglect of constitutional obligations on the part of the government.

That it was left to the court to direct the government to “devise a scheme where no person goes hungry when the granaries are full and grains being wasted due to non-availability of storage space”, speaks of the government’s apathy towards the country’s underfed. The court has also sought affidavits from the state governments of Orissa, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh detailing their response to meet the situation of “scarcity among plenty”.

The prime minister finds it easy to blame the previous governments for food mismanagement. “We are faced with the paradoxical problem of surplus foodstocks. There is also the related problem of substantial quantities of food being wasted. This has happened because of inadequate attention in the past to its storage, preservation, processing and proper distribution.” If that is true, then why did the Supreme Court come down so heavily on the starvation deaths amidst overflowing food silos? Why did the apex court ask for schemes to provide food to the needy and that too within the next two weeks?

Passing the buck

This was despite the government’s claim that it has doubled the allocation of food to “all poor families” under the PDS and has launched a new Antyodaya Anna Yojana for the poorest 10 million families.

The prime minister claimed that these interventions have addressed the problem of access to food, both physical and economic, and have provided a basic safety net to people. He said he would examine whether surplus foodstocks could be used in innovative ways like promoting female literacy programmes and attendance in schools while admitting that the implementation of free food provided to school children under the midday meal scheme leaves much to be desired.

Equally to blame is the country’s free press, because it more often than not sets the political agenda. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, had said that famines do not occur in independent, democratic countries with a free press. Even at the time of the great Bengal famine in 1943, the British press was “free”. In Ethiopia, at the height of the 1984-85 famine that the BBC covered, north-western parts of the country had heaps of grain rotting.

Fateful decision

Even today, nearly 85 per cent of India is still rural with no access to financial resources other than crops grown by them. In a bad season, families have no grain, and therefore no income. So, when there is food, they can’t buy it.

In India and Bangladesh, despite strong traditions of democracy and “free press”, millions of people are going to bed hungry every night. We can blame Pakistan, with its military dictator and the controlled press, for inequalities when it comes to food and hunger but how can we explain the politics of food in India and Bangladesh?

The fact, however, remains that it is a shameful comment on both the democratic institutions and the media that the judiciary has to step in to ensure the fundamental human right of food for all. That the Supreme Court has to direct the government to provide food to the needy is an indicator that the glorification of democracy and the free press does not mitigate human suffering. Political parties of all hues and the Indian print and electronic media have conveniently overlooked hunger and starvation.

It is now left to the Supreme Court to show the way. It is to be hoped that it can deliver what successive governments in the past 50 years have collectively failed to do. It will certainly require more than grit and determination on the part of the Supreme Court to force the government to act. If this experiment fails, the poor and hungry will have no choice but to resign themselves to their fate.

   

 
 
MANI TALK / REFLECTIONS ON AN ASSASSINATION 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
I must be among the select few to not think Seema Biswas when talking Phoolan Devi. For I never did get around to seeing the film. Mala Sen’s biography had grabbed me, but I read Arundhati Roy’s denunciation of Shekhar Kapur’s pulchritudinous exploitation of oppression and decided that my personal contribution to fighting injustice would be to deny myself the indulgence of adding to the producers’ humungous profits.

I need not have bothered. Posthumously, Nalini Singh (of Doordarshan’s Aankhon Dekhi) recounts in last Sunday’s Hindustan Times the delectable tale of Phoolan Devi visiting her for a free consultancy on how best to squeeze BBC’s Channel Four and Farooq Dhondy for all she could get out of them. For the outrage of suggesting that Phoolan Devi took her clothes off before taking a bath. Bully for her, I say. No denying the artistic inspiration obtained by the BBC from being exposed to a spot of the real Chambal ravines.

In mid-1996, I went through the most traumatic experience of my life — my defeat in the Lok Sabha elections that year by the same impressive margin with which I had won five years earlier. It appeared then to be the end of the political road for me. And in my deep depression, I would occasionally wander into Central Hall to savour les memoires d’antan — the memories of a long-lost past.

One gloomy afternoon, deep in the dark, dank recesses of an almost empty Central Hall, I spotted a Bharatiya Janata Party acquaintance from happier days. I went up to him. “How are you?” he cordially greeted me. “Awful,” I said, “I’ve lost - and you’ve won.” “No, yaar, I’ve lost too,” he confided miserably. “Really?” I said, surprised, “Who to?” He hesitated. Then shaking his head sadly almost whispered, “To Phoolan Devi.” To lose was bad enough. But surely where the Old Testament talks of the seventh circle of hell, the prophets must have meant losing an election to Phoolan Devi. Not once. But twice.

Our urban middle class has been universally outraged by two events — the election of Phoolan Devi and the swearing-in of Jayaram Jayalalitha. Which, of course, shows how little our urban middle-class understands democracy. And why the danger to democracy comes not from the Phoolan Devis and Jayalalithas but the crass self-serving of the middle-class. Phoolan Devi won, not once but twice, because the electorate of Mirzapur wanted her to win. With open eyes, they preferred her to the BJP. And if that had been the choice before me, that is exactly the way I too would have voted. Fortunately, a happier fate has put me outside the pale of the Mirzapur voters’ list.

That choice, of course, need not have been restricted to Phoolan Devi or the BJP if any of my shocked and disapproving readers had cared to take recourse to the obvious course open to them in our Constitution — which does not, contrary to popular belief, prevent those without a criminal record from standing in elections.

It is the virtual wholesale abandonment of their civic responsibilities by self-certified “responsible” citizens which accounts for the democratic choice being restricted to Phoolan Devi or the BJP. It is the abnegation of participation in the political process by the voluble arm-chair critics of our democracy which spells the real death of our democracy.

A truly responsible bhadralok would surely have taken up cudgels against such a perversion of democracy by filing his own nomination in Mirzapur — at least as a token protest. Of course, the bhadralok would have been roundly defeated. And, of course, it is fear of defeat that makes him stay his hand. And thus it follows, as night the day, that if fear of defeat makes “sensible men of substantial means” stay their hand, then the choice before the electorate will be restricted to Phoolan Devi or the BJP (The celebrated quote is from Walter Bagehot’s 19th-century masterpiece, The English Constitution.)

The other great failing of our urban middle-class, the kind that read The Telegraph, is that they think democracy is about elections. It is — but only once every five years. In between, over five long years, democracy is about receiving in your home the detritus of society, those in real need, those, in short, who elected you — and serving those anonymous lakhs who have taken you to the crest of the wave. In that task, Phoolan Devi was superb.

She may not have quite known how best to help, but there was no doubting the sincerity of her desire to help. Nor of the absence of any affectation in her offer of her help. For she came from a much lower stratum of society than most of the lowest of the low who rang the bell at her door. Her sympathy was genuine. Her empathy welled up from instant identification with the masses who sought her help.

My biggest failing as an elected representative is my social and cultural alienation from those who sweep me to Parliament. My foreign education and flowing oratory is not what they have sent me for to Sansad Marg. They concede that it is part of my duties to deal with arcane exotica in parliamentary committees and debates on the floor of the house — but only if, at the end of the day, I turn to their concerns.

Phoolan Devi turned to their concerns not, like me, at the end of the day but at all times of the day. And at all times of the night. Her doors were never barred. Which is why the determined assassin could so easily worm his way into her confidence and her home. She knew she was under sentence of death. Her enemies, if we are to go by what her lawyer, Kamini Jaiswal, has told the press, began with her husband.

We have now seen the vulgar exploitation of her funeral by the odious likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh, the brutal brushing aside of her family’s desires by the political “family” into which her transparent innocence had been co-opted. Phoolan Devi always knew she would die. Yet, she never let her constant apprehension of brutal death come in the way of opening her doors to all, hundreds of thousands of uncounted others — and one assassin. There was not much difference for her bet- ween the Chambal ravines and Ashoka Road.

It is courage of that order which is notably absent from our frowning upper middle-classes. I salute the memory of one whose passing has left bereft many, many thousands more than will miss me when I am no more.

   

 
 
THE TRADITION OF TORTURE IN CUSTODY 
 
 
 
 
Serious human rights abuses include extrajudicial executions and other political killings and excessive use of force by security forces combating active insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir and several northeastern states; torture and rape by police and other agents of the government, and deaths of suspects in police custody throughout the country; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast; continued detention throughout the country of thousands arrested under special security legislation; lengthy pretrial detention; prolonged detention while undergoing trial; occasional limits on freedom of the press and freedom of movement; legal and societal discrimination against women; extensive societal violence against women; female bondage and prostitution; trafficking in women; child prostitution, trafficking, and infanticide; discrimination and violence against indigenous people and scheduled castes and tribes; widespread intercaste and communal violence; increasing societal violence against Christians; and widespread exploitation of indentured, bonded, and child labour...

The law prohibits torture, and confessions extracted by force are generally inadmissible in court. Nevertheless, torture is common throughout the country, and authorities often use torture during interrogations. In other instances, they torture detainees to extort money and sometimes as summary punishment.

Although human rights organizations welcomed the government’s decision to accede to the United Nations convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, they believe that its decision not to accept Articles 20, 21, and 22 of the convention would effectively undermine the UN human rights commission’s ability to investigate allegations of torture once the convention is ratified. In July the home minister told Parliament that “the question of ratifying the convention is engaging the government.” By the year’s end, the government had not ratified the convention.

In 1997 the UN special rapporteur on torture reported that torture was practised “systematically by the security forces against persons in Jammu and Kashmir” in order to coerce them to confess to militant activity, to reveal information about suspected militants, or to inflict punishment for suspected support or sympathy with militants. According to the special rapporteur, “on no occasion had information been made public regarding instances of action taken against security force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir for acts of torture”. As of December 1997, 55 cases of disappearance and custodial death were still pending against Border Security Force personnel in Jammu and Kashmir. According to human rights organizations active in the state, 12 young men from Kurhama Ganderbal were arrested by personnel of the Dogra regiment in July and taken to an army camp, where they were beaten severely and had a mixture of water and chili powder poured on their genitals. On June 12, personnel of the 19th Rashtriya Rifles arrested and severely tortured Shabir Ahmed Malik of Galmoona district, Kupwara. He was admitted to SMHS hospital, Srinagar, following his release on June 13, examination revealed extensive damage to internal organs. In May, army personnel from Malangam Bandipora district, Baramullah, invaded the home of Ghulam Rasool Bhat in Malangam and tortured Bhat and his wife Nisara. According to human rights groups, both were stripped and subjected to electric shocks and cigarette burns. Human rights activists maintain that there is a similar pattern of abuse by security forces in the Northeast. Police atrocities against indigenous people include torture.

The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions received responses from the government to several inquiries. In the case of Purushottam Kumar and Monoj Kumar, who reportedly died in police custody as a result of torture, the government stated that four police officers had been found guilty and that further investigations by the state police were under way. The government denied wrongdoing by the police in several other cases involving allegations of death from torture while in police custody, telling the special rapporteur that those in question had died of cardiac arrest or other illness, or by mishap during altercations with police. The special rapporteur also made new inquiries into allegations of extrajudicial executions during the year. The special rapporteur on torture noted that methods of torture included beating, rape, crushing the leg muscles with a wooden roller, burning with heated objects, and electric shocks. Because many alleged torture victims die in custody, and others are afraid to speak out, there are few firsthand accounts, although the marks of torture have often been found on the bodies of deceased detainees. The UN special rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial killings renewed their requests to visit Jammu and Kashmir to the government in 1998, but they were not permitted to do so.

The prevalence of torture by police in detention facilities throughout the country is borne out by the number of cases of deaths in police custody.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

A fate worse than death

Sir — The Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Gardens’ latest misadventure is the notice they slapped on Ajanta Circus to surrender their animals on grounds of cruel treatment. The fate of the animals ever since the circus left them behind, after being served the notice, is shocking (“Circus ends, nightmare begins for animals”, July 25). Since the past month the animals have been living in cramped cages without food or water in the circus maidan. If an organization is so concerned about the welfare of animals, how is it that it can stand by and watch these very animals starve to death without lifting a finger? While the animals were part of the circus they were at least fed, looked after and definitely not left to die, which is much more than the Sanjay Gandhi Zoological Gardens has done for them. The callousness and complete lack of integrity with which the organization has treated the animals should make anyone who cares for animals question who the real offenders are — the circus or the organization itself?

Yours faithfully,
Sreela Banerjee, Calcutta

What was the name again?

Sir — Our ministers’ lack of concern for the state while making policy decisions has yet again been brought to the forefront by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s decision to pass a bill in the assembly legalizing the change of the name of Calcutta to Kolkata (“Buddha bid to legalise Kolkata”, July 28). The government, according to Bhattacharjee, will take care of the immense expenditure — printing of stationery, documentation and so on — that this name-change will incur.

If the chief minister bothered to take a look at the condition of Calcutta, he would realize that there are far more important problems, such as law and order, the supply of water and power and so on. Rather than wasting his time and the taxpayer’s money on changing the name of the city, the people of the state would be happier if their hard-earned money was spent on improving basic civic amenities. Once he succeeds in making Calcutta an equal to the other metropolises, he can focus on changing its name to Kolkata.

Yours faithfully,
Sajjad Ali Mondol, via email

Sir — The latest trend among our ministers is to show their patriotic spirit by changing the names of our cities — thrust on them by our “colonial rulers” — to their “original” names. Bal Thackeray, M. Karunanidhi and most recently Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have been doing this. Ironically, they are trying to create history by destroying history.

The name, Calcutta, has existed for years. Upon Bhattacharjee declaring that he would like to change the name of the city a few months ago, a poll was conducted which showed that around 57 per cent of the citizens were against it. Politicians need to understand that they have no right to take decisions without considering the wishes of the citizens. It would also be more beneficial if our politicians tried to improve the life of the common man instead of changing the names of cities.

Yours faithfully
Praveen Ramachandran, via email

Sir — It is indeed commendable that The Telegraph has continued using the name Calcutta instead of Kolkata. The renaming of the city achieves nothing and simply exposes the myopic views of our leaders. They are avoiding real problems such as providing food, shelter and clothing to the people of our city as well as the state. To evade the issue of inefficient governance, they are resorting to populism and parochialism. The renaming of Calcutta is a huge mistake as the cost of renaming just the state-run service sectors like the Calcutta Tram Corporation, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation and so on will involve high cost, unwanted for a state with empty coffers.

Last, the right to rename the city does not lie in the hands of a few hundred legislators. It is the right of the citizens to decide whether they want to change the name or not. A survey or a vote count should take place before making this decision.

Yours faithfully,
Prabhjyot Singh Madan, via email

Flooded by disaster

Sir — It has been rightly stated that the people of Orissa are battling with nature once again — first the supercyclone, then the droughts and now floods — (“Water power”, July 17). The state government has acquired a reputation for inefficiency in dealing with calamities. But all blame cannot be foisted on the state. The Centre must step in if it sees that a state government cannot meet the needs of the people. Orissa should also not be singled out as an example of mismanagement of relief during and after calamities. Gujarat after the earthquake is still floundering in its efforts to provide relief to its people. Supplies have not been distributed, houses not rebuilt and donations have gone to waste. The country is obviously ill-prepared for calamities. Instead of seeing these instances as opportunities for political one-upmanship, the Centre as well as the state governments should come up with concrete plans to tackle calamities in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Sir — Orissa, one of the states most susceptible to natural calamities, is now in the grip of floods. This is a scientifically advanced age and though we may not be able to stop floods, we can undertake certain damage control exercises. The Centre does not need to wait for a calamity to prepare these measures. A plan is required to resolve the problems of the people in the flood-affected areas. One hopes the Union govern-ment will evolve permanent remedies to minimize further damage.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The Orissa floods should act as a reminder to our state government of the floods that submerged portions of West Bengal last year. The Orissa floods and the lack of preparation of the Union government to deal with the calamity are a warning to other governments. The West Bengal government should start taking preventive measures to avoid facing the same fate as Orissa.

Yours faithfully,
Durba Ganguly, Calcutta

Shocking bias

Sir — I am an executive in a reputed consultant firm in Calcutta. After my transfer to the city, I was looking for an apartment to rent. During my search, I came across Calcutta’s ugly communal side, which I did not know existed. Various people refused to rent out their apartments to me upon realizing that that I was Muslim.

This has shocked both my colleagues and myself, as we believed that a cosmopolitan city like Calcutta must be accepting of every religion and community. Needless to say I was very hurt and disillusioned and am currently looking for a transfer out of Calcutta as I can- not believe this kind of communalism can exist in this day and age.

Yours faithfully,
Zahir Abbas, via email

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
   
 

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