Editorial 1 / Tied in knots
Editorial 2 / No entry
More egg on our face
Fifth Column / Ground realities and the Economy
Mani Talk / Communism and communalism
Document / Toxins that endanger posterity
Letters to the editor

Threats of libel suits and other retaliations notwithstanding, private lives of public figures capture the media’s — and the reader’s — imagination like little else. Depending on the nature and import of the exposure, it could either be the craving for mere tittle-tattle or genuine concern for public morality. There is little doubt, however, that the media pryings on private lives are generally resented by people of public importance, more so if marital and extra-marital issues are involved. No wonder that the Union minister of state for sport, Ms Uma Bharti, fumed at media reports of her alleged marriage to the Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Mr K.N. Govindacharya, or that the Indian cricket captain, Sourav Ganguly, sulked at insinuations of an affair with a fading movie star from Tamil Nadu. Assam’s former chief minister, Mr Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, likewise dismissed reports of his secret marriage at a temple in Mumbai with a woman employee of the Assam assembly secretariat. In fact, he has seen in this a conspiracy by his arch rival, the Congress, which unseated him in the state elections last May. But the confusion about l’affaire Mahanta, as it has come to be known in Guwahati, has been confounded by the woman who has refused to “either confirm or deny” the reports. Moreover, she has kept the curiosity pot on the boil by promising to “reveal the truth” in a couple of days. Reports of the woman’s earlier escapades involving other politicians and bureaucrats have added to the suspense over her alleged marriage to the president of the Asom Gana Parishad. That she has been a woman of some importance to some powerful people in Guwahati is evident from the fact that her name had once been proposed as a member of the state public service commission. But for the intervention of the governor, Mr S.K.Sinha, she could have sat pretty on that august body. That precisely is the point about public figures’ private lives — the abuse of public office for private gain.

Mr Mahanta’s complaint about the Congress’s complicity in the episode may or may not be true. But the allegation has definitely queered his political pitch at a time when things have become stickier for him and the AGP. The Congress has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court in the letter of credit case, in which he is one of the prime accused. The party has been forced to suspend a former minister in his cabinet, Mr Rajendra Mushahary, who was arrested last week on a rape charge. In an unusual move, some party office-bearers, who met to suspend Mr Mushahary, also “approved” Mr Mahanta’s denial of his alleged second marriage. This, in turn, provoked another section of the party leadership to question the authority of the office-bearers to do what they did. So, what began as an insinuation about Mr Mahanta’s private life has blown into an issue of public morality as well as an embarrassment for an embattled party. Losing the elections now looks like only the beginning of the AGP’s — and Mr Mahanta’s — misfortunes.


Blind obduracy is no new thing with the taliban in Afghanistan. There is, rather, a show of defiant glee every time the regime achieves a heightening of international condemnation against it, as was very obvious at the time it destroyed the pre-Islamic Bamiyan Buddhas. Therefore it comes as no surprise that it is refusing visas to the German, Australian and American diplomats who are desperately trying to meet their respective citizens shut up in prison. Eight foreign members of the Germany-based aid agency, Shelter Now International, have been detained along with a large group of Afghan aid workers on the charge of proselytizing. This is truly dangerous territory. The claim of the ministry for promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, that thousands of copies of the Bible in Dari and Pashtu languages and other material have been found in SNI shows that an individual or the agency has been trying to convert Muslims into Christians, puts the detained aid workers at tremendous risk. Hardline elements in the fundamentalist regime have long been looking for ways to rid their territory of “corrupting” foreigners. The suspicion that they may have been trying to intervene in Islamic belief is the best excuse the taliban can get. The taliban is trying to create a “pure” Islamic state by a ruthless implementation of sharia laws, and the autocratic rulers can now put their merciless decrees into practice in the name of religion.

Humanitarian aid is not a priority on the taliban’s list. The purity it wishes to achieve is sought through sheer brutality: bloody and extreme punishments, relentless oppression of women and methods of gender segregation bordering on the insane, sweeping powers of detention, ill-treatment of prisoners, swift and arbitrary change of decrees, and severely xenophobic measures. It is not only blocking the diplomats’ entry, it is also revelling in the mixed messages its representatives are constantly sending. The foreign aid workers may simply be deported after “investigations” or they may be imprisoned for five years. It depends on which decree is to be brought into effect, which would, in turn, depend on the whim of the supreme religious leader. The fate of the Afghan aid workers is likely to be death, should the charge be proved. It is the fate of the 20 million people in need of basic aid that is most terrifying. An escalation in this most recent episode is likely to send other aid agencies packing. As it is, the United Nations Afghan fund received less than one-third of the required donation this year. Even the most courageous and determined humanitarian ideals are likely wilt when faced with an irretrievably despotic and irrational force.


From November 9-13, the fourth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization will be held in Doha, Qatar. Normally, there is nothing special about a ministerial conference. They are supposed to be held at intervals of two years. The WTO’s agreement says so. After the WTO was established on January 1, 1995, the first such ministerial conference was held in Singapore in 1996. The second ministerial conference was held in Geneva in 1998 and the third in Seattle in 1999. Most people did not notice Singapore and Geneva. Everyone noticed Seattle, and this was not just because of protesters on the streets. Incidentally, there will be very few protesters in Doha, they will simply not get visas. Anyway, Seattle was important because it was more than an ordinary ministerial conference. It was expected to announce the launch of a new round of trade talks, the so-called “millennium round”.

Everyone knows this did not happen in Seattle. In that sense, Seattle was a fiasco. But Seattle was not a fiasco because of protesters on the streets. Nor was it a fiasco because developing countries had grievances and were opposed to the millennium round. Who cares about developing countries? That might be unfair, but that is the way the world and world trade functions. Had the major three groups, the United States, the European Union and Japan, agreed on trade talks, the millennium round would have happened, regardless of what developing countries think. The problem in Seattle was that the major developed countries had not agreed. Over a few days, ministers are not expected to thrash out major disagreements. That happens earlier, and with a lot of media hype, ministers simply rubber stamp what has already been agreed. There was inadequate preparation for Seattle, a bit like the Agra summit. Clearly, developed countries have learnt from their mistakes and Doha will be different. No country wants to give the impression that trade talks failed. Hence, Doha will launch the millennium round and the recent group of eight summit in Genoa indicates this as well.

This brings one to India’s negotiating stance, which is perplexing, to say the least. We are opposed to the new round. Why are we opposed to the new round? Impossible to figure out. For quite some time, we have drawn a distinction between implementation of the Uruguay round agreements and new issues. Implementation of the Uruguay round agreements essentially means market access — industrial tariffs, agriculture and textiles and garments. The liberalization promised in the course of the Uruguay round has not happened in these areas. Indeed, this is true.

Developed countries have circumvented liberalization. But have they circumvented liberalization by violating any of the agreements signed in 1993 and 1994? The answer is no. There were flaws with those agreements and this allowed them to remain protectionist, in textiles and garments, and more importantly, in agriculture. That is, they may have violated the spirit of the Uruguay round agreements, but certainly not the law. This is an extremely important point. If we are unhappy about existing agreements, as indeed we are, we have to renegotiate them. How can we renegotiate agreements if we do not go through a new round of trade talks? (Agriculture is slightly different because in that area, negotiations happen regardless of whether there is a new round.) The suggestion that implementation problems can be resolved without the millennium round is therefore false.

At Seattle, our negotiating stance was more sensible. From what one could make out, the position was that we did not mind a new round as long as it did not include labour and environmental standards and competition policy. One can understand about labour and environmental standards, which clearly amount to disguised protectionism. One does not entirely understand the resistance to competition policy. With emphasis on cross-border capital flows and investment, a country like India should be pushing for a competition policy agreement. On labour and environmental standards, there is of course a reasonable amount of consensus among developing countries in opposing their inclusion. Had India just said that (even if competition policy is included in this list), everything would have been fine.

But India is not saying that. India is saying, no millennium round. The Seattle stance has changed, despite the commerce minister remaining the same. Note that there is a difference between opposing the millennium round and opposing select items on the agenda. The agenda for the trade talks is still uncertain. So we are not opposing agenda items like labour or environmental standards, we are opposing the idea of the round itself.

This is precisely what we attempted to do in the mid-Eighties. We tried to project ourselves as leaders of the developing world and opposed the Uruguay round. It is a separate matter that no major developing country was willing to accept our leadership and we became the leaders of sub-Saharan Africa, often adopting in the process, stances that were not necessarily in our best economic interests. Service sector negotiation is one example.

Anyway, regardless of our opposition, the Uruguay round happened, because we were ditched by countries that offered us support, and it is likely to be no different this time. Most major developed countries have withdrawn their opposition to the millennium round, apart from opposition to specific items on the agenda. We are thus in splendid isolation and, as in the mid-Eighties, are being labeled as a country that opposes and obstructs everything. Since our human development indicators are often on par with sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps we wish to be bracketed with that region.

Honestly, should we have any problems discussing industrial tariffs, trade-related intellectual property rights, agriculture, services or anti-dumping? Especially on TRIPs, thanks to the South African and Brazilian cases, clauses on compulsory licensing and parallel imports are likely to be diluted and that makes life easier for us. We shouldn’t have major problems with negotiating trade-related investment measures, competition policy and government procurement.

At one point, there was a draft multilateral agreement on investment that was floating around. Had that been on the agenda, there would have been major problems. But clearly, MAI has gone for a six and all one is talking about is some extension of the present TRIMs agreement. I have already mentioned competition policy. Perhaps one should also add that the relevant domestic law should soon be in place and that makes life easier. There are indeed problems with government procurement. Signing the government procurement agreement effectively means that government purchases will have to be through competitive bidding.

This is not just for the national level, but also for sub-regional levels and for services. At the sub-regional level, this is slightly difficult to implement for services. Of course, there is the perverse argument that signing such an agreement is good for us. It imparts transparency to government purchases and eliminates the possibility of scandals. True.

This leaves one with labour and environmental standards. If there is anything we should be opposing, it is their inclusion and many developing countries have indeed adopted such a stance. But instead of doing this, we decide to oppose the entire millennium round. Why are we doing this? I suspect we are doing this to deflect opposition at home. Incidentally, the Congress has now come out in favour of the millennium round. So, presumably, one means opposition from within government ranks, and the likes of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch. But in the process, the country loses all credibility.

It is also possible to argue that the opposition is just public posturing and we do not really mean this. We probably hope to get something from the United States or the European Union in return for support of the millennium round. What we hope to get is anyone’s guess. A security council seat or removal of sanctions is not linked to support for the millennium round. There is another line one hears in the corridors of Shastri Bhavan. What is so special about a trade round? As a country, India favours a continuous process of trade negotiations, especially now that the WTO has been set up as a permanent organization. (The general agreement on tariffs and trade was never an organization, it was only a legal agreement.)

It is difficult to make much sense of this argument. There is no substitute for multilateral trade talks. Continuous trade negotiations will often be bilateral, even though they are eventually multilateralized because of the most favoured nation clause. We have already seen that bilateral negotiations lead to relatively weaker countries granting relatively many more concessions.

At the time of Seattle, the commerce minister had said, “We went well prepared and returned well prepared.” We certainly do not seem to be well prepared now. And how we will return is also certain. With a considerable amount of egg on our face.

The author is director, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi


India’s gross domestic product growth has slowed down substantially after having grown at an annual rate of over 7 per cent during 1994 and 1997. During 1997-98 and 2000-01, it decreased to 5 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively. The rate of growth for agricultural production for the same years were 6.2 per cent and 4.6 per cent, and that for industrial production were 6.6 per cent and 5 per cent respectively. The statistics help prove the importance of agricultural growth to India’s GDP.

Reduced farm production signifies a lower disposable income for 70 to 80 per cent of our population which is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. This leads to a lower demand from the majority of the population. Which means reduced sale of consumer durables, non-durable goods, tractors, motorcycles and so on.

The poor growth of the farm sector has a multiple effect on industry. Industrial growth suffers from poor consumption pattern and the consequent lack of funds to invest in the sector. Fall in agricultural incomes over the past two years has minimized the demand for industrial products in rural areas. This is likely to hamper the industrial growth rate in the future.

The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy has forecast a 6.3 per cent growth in real GDP in the current financial year. The Reserve Bank of India recently predicted an economic growth of over 6.5 per cent for 2001-02. The finance minister has also stated that he expects the economy to turn around by the end of this year. But these forecasts are uncertain. The GDP growth in the last fiscal year had slipped to 5.2 per cent although it was projected to be 6 per cent.

Good tidings

The basis of the CMIE forecast is the presumed growth of agricultural production by 9 per cent over the previous year. This would be the highest in the last seven years and it comes after two consecutive years of shrinkage. Interestingly, the projected growth rate of industrial production for the same period has been placed at nearly 4.5 per cent, as opposed to 5 per cent for last year.

According to the CMIE study, 90 per cent of the gross crop area in the country received excess to normal rains this year. This is probably the reason behind the optimism. If the rainfall continues through August, agricultural growth may indeed cross the 9 per cent mark. Without this, the GDP growth rate will never be realized. Already, the flooding of thousands of hectares of agricultural land in Orissa has endangered the possibility of this estimate coming true.

The excessive dependence of Indian agriculture on the monsoons decades after independence is an example of the inefficiency of the government and its refusal to adopt scientific methods that can help increase agricultural produce. Yet rapid strides have been made in agriculture by Israel, Japan, Netherlands and others, where nature is even more unkind.

All in the attitude

It would be unfair to hold the government solely responsible for the dismal situation in the agricultural sector. The chief reason for the state of affairs is the fact that agriculture and its relative fields are considered to be unimportant and lacklustre. The media’s poor coverage of agriculture should illustrate this.

Government policies do not reflect any sustainable effort to boost farm production. All attempts seem to end in the conception of “subsidy”. None of the policies ever relate to the technical or the marketing aspects of farm product-ion which could have helped farmers fight against natural calamities.

The marketing, transport and storage of farm produce are also neglected in India. The lack of concern about the quality of our farm produce is another major reason behind the low export and high import of agricultural products in India.

Research conducted by urban agricultural scientists which remains confined to the laboratory or the research journals can do nothing for the crisis Indian agriculture is facing. Rain water management, water harvesting, water use, semi-controlled cultivation are still not attractive topics for research or serious study. Until we change our narrow vision of the farm sector, we cannot stabilize our economic growth.


The Lok Sabha is now discussing the saffronization of education, a vital national issue on which SAHMAT — the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust — launched a public debate a week earlier. I was among those invited to speak. I included the throwaway line about how I represented the only party which had never ever come to any political accommodation with what I chose to call “the forces of communalism”, whether at the Centre or in the states.

Instead of letting it go at that, the Communist Party of India supremo, comrade A.B. Bardhan, chose to lash back that if the Bharatiya Janata Party was today in power, it was because the Congress had withdrawn support to the Gujral government. To this, the Pondicherry education minister, A.V. Subramanian, riposted that the Congress had only demanded the resignation of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam ministers from the I.K. Gujral government following the Jain commission’s indictment of M. Karunanidhi and his cohorts in the events leading to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Had that demand been accepted, the Gujral government would have continued in office.

It was the insistence of the United Front, including the communists, on championing the DMK rather than preserving Gujral which had brought down that government. And it is that very DMK which is now the most ardent supporter of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. So, how did standing up for the DMK amount to standing up against communalism?

A more fundamental question was raised by Rajasthan’s education minister, C.P. Joshi. Communalism, he said, could not be fought at seminars and conference halls alone. It had to be taken on in the political sphere, and it was in the political arena alone that the future of our secular society could be secured. To that end, the communists had to make up their collective mind: who was the enemy — the BJP or the Congress?

It is a question that will not go away. For good or ill, indeed, for ill more than good, our polity has entered an era where in the foreseeable future no one party will be able to muster a majority at the Centre to form a government on its own. Even were this to happen, stable, self-confident governance would require a measure of outside support. The two major parties are the Congress and the BJP. But the two major political formations are the secular and the non-secular forces. If, indeed, the communists believe, as the Congress believes, that the rift valley in Indian politics is the divide between the secularists and the communalists, then the communists, who are without a shadow of doubt the most committed secularists in the country, have to decide whether the nation’s political future should be tackled on a party partisan basis or on the basis of ideological conviction.

For no single factor has contributed as much to the rise and present eminence of the BJP as the support which the communist parties and their left fronts have extended to political formations which have raised the BJP from the lowly two seats they secured in the 1984 elections to the prime minister’s chair, which the BJP has occupied thrice over and uninterruptedly over the last three years.

The communists hate to hear this; and the minute one makes the point, they spit forth the counter-argument: what kind of secularists are you who talked of Ram rajya, let the shilanyas go forward, and sat back while the Babri masjid was demolished and the Ram lalla murti installed once again? Guilty on all counts. I am proud of having told a correspondent of this group of newspapers the day after the demolition that the Congress prime minister of the time had shown that death was not a necessary precondition for rigor mortis to set in. The publication of that remark in the Ananda Bazar Patrika perhaps contributed to my never having had a red light mounted atop my motor car.

But whatever the Congress’s failings in preserving secularism, the irrefutable fact is that it has never ever entered into any kind of understanding, overt or covert with the BJP or any associate of the sangh parivar. A golden opportunity to do so presented itself when Mamata Banerjee proposed the mahajot. I myself wrote in this column at the time that one way of reconciling our secularism with the political imperatives of West Bengal would be to do to the communists in West Bengal what they were doing to us in Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu, the CPI and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are aligned to J. Jayalalitha’s All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, as is the Congress, but both communist parties insist that they are not aligned to the Congress. Therefore, I argued, let the Congress and the BJP respectively be aligned to the Trinamool Congress but not to each other. And if the communists complain, we can always say we are only following in West Bengal the precedent the communists themselves have set in Tamil Nadu. It is the only column I have written for which I have been reprimanded by the party high command. How, I was asked, could I claim to be a secular fundamentalist and then devise a political machination to enter into a mutual accommodation with the forces of communalism?

That is the point the communists have to ponder over. Without them, many of the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal governments of the post-fourth general elections era (1967-71) would not have been formed. The Janata government of 1977, which brought to office at the Centre two notorious Jan Sanghis who are still at large, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani, was the toast of the communists. It was the support extended by the communist parties to the covert alliance between V.P. Singh and the BJP in the 1989 elections which raised the BJP’s head-count in the Lok Sabha from 2 to 88.

Most shamefully, the V.P. Singh government would never have been able to visit on our heads the communal disasters of 1990 if the communists and the communalists had not entered into an unholy alliance to provide the crutches which kept that morally crippled government on its feet. That collaboration in “outside support” must surely rank as the Indian equivalent of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939.

Moreover, the unholy pact between communism and communalism enabled the BJP to come to power on its own for the first time ever in the state assembly elections of 1990, ushering in a decade of saffron rule in many states. It was the Central government, supported by the communists, which gave Advani the opening and the platform to launch his rath yatra and carry on the unforgivable sin to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, even after Laloo Prasad Yadav picked up Advani and brought the rotten edifice of the V.P. Singh government crumbling down.

One Laloo Prasad has done more to keep communalism at bay than the shifting sands of communist politics. If the communists were to reflect on the Laloo example, given that they could not bear to reflect on any Congress example, it might still be possible to rescue Indian secularism in this decade from the horrors of the last.


In a review of the scientific evidence on contaminants and human health, a branch of the United States Public Health Service recently concluded that polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins are responsible at least in part for the neurological and behavioural deficits reported in children exposed in the womb.

This assessment by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry based this judgment on “remarkable parallels” in the human epidemiological evidence and corroboration from wildlife and laboratory evidence: “[T]he collective weight of the evidence indicates that certain PCB/dioxin-like compounds found in fish can cause neurobehavioural deficits. Further, the evidence indi-cates that these compounds have produced some effects in some Great Lakes fish consumers.”

A recent medical study reports rising rates of genital defects in male infants in the US, which — together with similar reports of increasing incidence from five European countries — indicates a disturbing health trend. The study, which used data from two surveillance systems tracking birth defects, found that the rate of hypospadias, a defect involving misplacement of the urethra, doubled between 1970 and 1990. This defect arises from incomplete masculinization of the male genitals and has been replicated in the laboratory with anti-androgens such as DDE and vinclozolin (a commonly used fungicide on fruits and vegetables).

In recent decades, the incidence of cancer of the testicles in men under age 34 has been increasing rapidly in many countries and poses a challenge to epidemiologists trying to determine the cause. According to recent studies, this cancer in young men almost certainly arises from events early in life or even in the womb — a hypothesis supported by the higher rate of testicular cancer among men with developmental defects such as hypospadias and undescended testicles.

Researchers also note that striking geographical variations in the pattern of this disease point to the importance of environmental influences. Another clue has come from animal studies, which support the theory that estrogens may play a key role in promoting testicular cancer and raise the question of whether synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen are contributing to soaring testicular cancer rates.

Seeking to resolve the contentious debate about whether the reported worldwide decline in male sperm counts is indeed real, a team of reproductive epidemiologists recently conducted an exhaustive re-analysis of all the data in a 1992 Danish study. The team...concluded that the dramatic sperm count drop of about 50 per cent described in that study may, in fact, be more severe than initially reported. In the study, ... the team determined that the data showing this loss are not, as some critics have contended, a product of bias or confounding variables. “Further analysis of these studies supports a significant decline in sperm density in the United States and Europe,” according to the research team.



The food comes out as well

Sir — Mukul Kesavan makes an interesting point about the brand of realism in Hollywood films ("Restroom Realism", Aug 12). But when it comes to drawing parallels between Hollywood and Hindi films, he does not quite manage to get his act right. His observation that in the three hours and forty two minutes of Lagaan, the villagers of Champaner do not eat even once is as factually wrong as that Hollywood movies do not show the characters ever “crouched over a porcelain bowl”. In Lagaan, Gracy Singh’s role as the provider of food for the amateur cricket team is a very important one, as it validates her presence in the vicinity of Aamir Khan/Bhuvan. This is also part of what Kesavan calls “dotting each ‘i’ and crossing each ‘t’” of Bollywood realism. And although they may not match the number of munching scenes, scenes in the lavatory are actually not so hard to come by in Hollywood films, especially in the films of Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino, not to mention the more avant-garde films like Trainspotting.
Yours faithfully,
Sudha Sivaraman, via email

Blood in the valley

Sir — I have lost my brother-in-law in the Kashmiri militants’ attack on Amarnath pilgrims. He was a diehard Hindu, with more faith in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s ability to protect Hindu pilgrims than in the militants’ ability to kill them at will.

His unconditional faith couldn’t save his life. Along with several other pilgrims, he became a victim of the government’s inefficiency. Even after the killing, the home minister retaliated merely by directing hollow threats towards the militants, as is his usual practice.

Why can’t the government stop all pilgrimages to this holy shrine until the security of the pilgrims can be ensured? The answer is easy enough: it would amount to an admission of its incompetence in providing security to citizens. The other question, of course, is why people don’t stop going on these risky pilgrimages? The answer to this one is also easy: they are easily fooled by the government’s hollow declarations .The government has taken advantage of this and sent innocent people to become fodder for militants’ bullets.

How much more must the nation sacrifice so that a party or a coalition can stay in power?

Yours faithfully,
Kantilal Dugar, via email

Sir — The killing of 15 innocent and unarmed herdsmen in Doda on August 5 was another example of the cowardice and savagery which Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups have consistently displayed in Jammu and Kashmir (“Massacre rerun in soft-target belt”, Aug 5).

Coming in the wake of the twin massacres in the same district on July 22, it also indicates the militants’ design to drive out Hindus from Jammu and make Jammu and Kashmir a predominantly Muslim state. The intention is clearly to not only make it easier for fundamentalist Islamic terrorist outfits operating there, but also to tilt the verdict in favour of Pakistan if a plebiscite is ever held in the state. But there is a new element in Pakistan’s strategy. No terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the last incident. Both the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Hizbul Mujahedin have condemned it. The former calling it the work of “Indian agents” and the latter saying that its religion did not permit the killing of civilians, whatever their faith. The Pakistani government and the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, have condemned it as well, with the former claiming that it was aimed at “discrediting the Kashmiri freedom struggle”.

It is clear that outrages like the one in Doda have been facilitated by the ceasefire that the government had unilaterally implemented in Jammu and Kashmir from November last year till the announcement of the invitation to Pervez Musharraf. It has enabled the terrorist groups, hard pressed at the time, to regroup and regain their striking power. The move to create a special force to protect herdsmen in Doda is welcome. But to be effective, this must be accompanied by a general stepping up of counter-terrorist operations.

Yours faithfully,
D.V. Vamsee Krishna, Bhubaneswar

Systemic change

Sir — The West Bengal government’s decision to go to Microsoft for the computerization of governmental work is nothing short of shocking (“No mean business”, Aug 5). It seems that the authorities are not aware of the existence of the parallel Linux-based system which belongs to the free software category. One of the major goals of this is to put freedom of knowledge above everything and freedom in academics and research cannot be compromised with. It is this freedom that encourages interested persons and experts to invent new algorithms and softwares irrespective of immediate commercial gain. For example, a free Bengali word-processing package has been developed by a physicist in Calcutta.

The long term goal should be the use of Indian languages in operating the computer, not only word-processing. That is the only way computers can become really useful in the daily life of people. A democratically elected government needs to safeguard the freedom to have full knowledge of the operating system that is being used, the right to modify or change according to local or individual need and not to remain tied to the licenses and copyright rules of some organization in a foreign country.

Many research institutes in and around Calcutta, and the Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar, are operating on Linux-based systems. There is no lack in expertise in running, maintaining, and tailoring such systems to local needs of the people of different regions. Moreover, there are developers all over the world who, in the true scientific spirit, make their codes available to everybody. Free softwares available for Linux-based systems and networks are robust, time-tested, and operational globally.

Therefore, it would be prudent for the West Bengal government to go for Linux based systems, if not for anything else, than for the freedom of knowledge. A government can ignore the glamour of commercial packages. Some support from individuals or team projects to develop a Bengali-based operating system — Red hat Linux, for instance, is available in many Asian languages — could easily make the dream of computers in everyday life a reality.

Yours faithfully,
Somendra M. Bhattacharjee, Bhubanewar

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