Editorial 1 / Visions at cannes
Editorial 2 / Golden voices
Mani Talk / Vietnam and Afghanistan
Fifth Column / Freedom and the roots of violence
Count your lemons
Document / Family welfare the way it is needed
Letters to the editor

Ms Sushma Swaraj has come back from Cannes with her head full of cinema. She has had a vision or two there, and given the ministerial power she wields and her immense self-confidence in matters cultural, she has lost no time in translating these visions into what looks like a national “showbiz” policy. Henceforth, the governmental approach to cinema is going to be robustly commercial, and Ms Swaraj is busily creating a financial, educational and legal infrastructure for this swadeshi nouvelle vague. Her confidence has extended itself, without any misgiving whatsoever, to the aesthetics of cinema as well. She has been told at Cannes that there is too much singing and dancing around trees, and this should be cut down if Indian films are to be “tailor-made” for the international market. Her overarching “vision” is founded on structural changes — such as the creation of a new communications commission — which might make the information and broadcasting ministry look like it is relinquishing some control. But the spectre of redundancy never threatens Ms Swaraj or her ministry. She has proclaimed her sway over entertainment and propaganda — and again without a shadow of doubt regarding the rightness of such control.

The role of the state in entertainment and propaganda, according to this vision, will be far from minimal. Film institutes are to be set up, affiliated to select universities, and a special council formed that would determine the rules and parameters for these institutes. The worse than dismal state of the existing film institutes, in Calcutta and Pune, seems not to deter Ms Swaraj from such projects. No better indication could exist, than these dysfunctional institutes, of the need for the state to keep out of arts education. Its role should be that of a facilitator and provider of infrastructural support. Re-examining the Broadcasting Act, allowing unlimited foreign direct investment in the film sector, minimizing regulations and red tape in the industry are all sensible things to do in this regard. But Ms Swaraj has always been supremely oblivious to the limits of her prerogatives. The strident propagation of wholesome Indian values has often figured in her ministrations. Her party’s natural tendency to meddle with the contents of what it finds itself looking after shows up in her easy ability to move from law, finance and technology to the aesthetic content of commercial cinema. It could be a splendid idea to package bits of real Indian scenery as ideal “locations” for foreign films — another idea she has picked up in Cannes. But it would be a rather alarming development if she starts enjoying her role as the nation’s self-appointed arbiter of popular cinematic taste. Singing and dancing around trees is an ancient Indian tradition that Ms Swaraj’s swadeshi would do well not to meddle with.


Golden jubilee celebrations are expected to be joyous occasions. That is not exactly the way the Jan Sangh golden jubilee can be described. There were two distinct voices from the dais, those of the prime minister and the Union home minister. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee appeared miffed that the schedule for the programme had not been correctly communicated to him, which is why he missed the flag-hoisting ceremony. From there he picked up the running theme of the meet, the relationship between the party and the organization. He felt that it was, at the moment, rather less than perfect. The two are complementary, and the development of one should not impede that of the other. He was, in effect, answering the party’s unspoken charge that as prime minister, he had diluted the party’s policies in order to run the country. Mr L.K. Advani emphasized the importance of Ayodhya in the growth of the party and the need to put the “movement” in the right perspective and take it further. He enacted the principle of duality articulated by Mr Vajpayee. The emphasis on Ayodhya ran counter to Mr Vajpayee’s stress on consensus, and the need to keep the coalition together in the task of governance.

From one point of view, this could be seen as an effective strategy. The Bharatiya Janata Party has always spoken in two voices, one for its hardcore followers and the sangh parivar, and another for the much larger constituency it is nursing all over the country. There need be no surprise in this. At the same time, there was an undertone of acrimony in Mr Vajpayee’s charges. It seemed to spill over into a little exchange with the president of the BJP, Mr Jana Krishnamurthy, and to bring forth a couple of digs from Mr Advani as well. A party in governance is always slightly at odds with the party organization, especially if it is as firmly structured as the BJP. It is easy to imagine a similar situation with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) trying to run a 24-party national coalition at the Centre. Mr Vajpayee has repeatedly shown that running a government is different from being a party member. Many of his decisions have been taken in spite of the sangh parivar, and even in spite of opposition within his own party. It is Mr Advani who usually seems to do the damage limitation exercise, as far as party cadre and devoted followers are concerned. A balancing act can occasionally become a little nerve-wracking, and the strain shows. True, the dais for golden jubilee celebrations is not quite the place to air little irritations. It is apt to set the formal gathering a-flutter. That is what was most puzzling about the hint of tension at the meet. Yet this would not have been cause for remark had the Congress been sitting on the chairs. It is the misconceived but common enough notion that the BJP is a monolithic party that lies behind the discomfort.


There is an eerie resemblance between what happened in Vietnam and what the Americans appear to have in mind for Afghanistan. The Geneva conference on Indo-China was convened in 1954. As in Afghanistan, so in Vietnam, a political settlement was sought in the shadow of a war that had been raging for decades. In both countries, the war was as much or more a civil war between domestic political foes as a war between domestic and foreign forces. Interventions from outside were sought and encouraged by the domestic rivals; simultaneously, domestic players were often made into playthings of the forces they had imported or relied upon. Sides changed frequently. It is often forgotten that Ho Chi Minh rode into Hanoi in September 1945 to proclaim the independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on a jeep provided by the American office of special services, the World War II predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Thus, Osama bin Laden was by no means the first monster the American Frankenstein created for itself. If there had been no American assistance to forestall the restoration of the French colonial empire at the end of the war with Japan, Ho Chi Minh’s exile in China would have continued indefinitely. (Ho had left Vietnam in 1912 and returned home, courtesy the Americans, only all of 33 years later).

Osama bin Laden had but an anti-communist stake in Afghanistan until the Americans made him a key instrument to forestall the establishment of a Northern Alliance run government. Now, of course, the Americans have turned to the same Northern Alliance to run Osama out of Afghanistan. That either Ho or Osama might have plans of their own was apparently not known to the Americans or ignored by them. More probably, their belief in their own invincibility persuaded them to imagine that both could be bent to suit United States of America’s purposes and America need not bother itself unnecessarily with the two having objectives of their own.

The Geneva conference of 1954 produced a government of (South) Vietnam built around the royal personality of former Emperor Bao-Dai. It was to be a constitutional monarchy of the kind the US apparently now has in mind for a post-taliban dispensation built around King Zahir Shah. Actual political power was vested in Ngo Dinh Diem who, before accepting the post of prime minister, obtained from the Emperor the assurance that he would have full powers in exchange for a protestation of loyalty to the throne. It is clear that the King of Afghanistan will be a similar constitutional figurehead, real power vesting in the hands of those who have been sheltering from the taliban on the outer extremities of Afghanistan for the past several years and are now making their way back to Kabul in the wake of America’s war on one man.

It took 28 months, from June 19, 1954, when Ngo Dinh Diem swore fealty to Emperor Bao-Dai, to October 26, 1956, when Diem overthrew the Bao-Dai, for the American-inspired monarchy to become an American-inspired republic. One wonders whether the Northern Alliance will give King Zahir Shah quite as many months on the throne. Whatever the games the Americans are up to in Rome, the agendas of the Northern Alliance are republican.

The regime put in place by Ngo Dinh Diem was fiercely anti-communist, as anti-communist as the regime now being planned by the Americans for Kabul will be anti-taliban. Ngo Dinh Diem’s anti-communism had its roots in his deep Catholic faith. He had, in fact, trained as a Catholic priest in a Boston seminary. His brother, Ngo Dinh Thuc, was the Catholic Archbishop of Hue and rose to be second only to Diem in (South) Vietnam’s political hierarchy. Diem’s sister-in-law, Ngo Dinh Nhu, was the political bridge between her husband and his brother, and a formidable political figure in her own right.

It was on this quadruped of anti-communist Catholics that the Americans placed their initial hopes. The problem with this arrangement was two-fold: first, Vietnam was and is largely Buddhist and Diem’s Catholic coterie was deeply disliked; second, the root cause of the dislike was less the religion of the rulers than the brutality of the regime. Eventually, it was Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire that put paid to the Diem regime. The proposed Northern Alliance regime is, of course, quite as Islamic as the taliban, but largely composed of non-Pashtoon ethnic mino- rities and its outrages, when and wherever it has been in office, have made Diem’s excesses pale in comparison.

The Diem regime was eventually brought down by the Americans themselves. Seymour Hersh’s The Dark Side of Camelot (Chapter 23) suggests that Diem was assasinated on the orders of John F. Kennedy’s White House. Robert S. Mc Namara’s In Retrospect (Chapter 3, “The Fateful Fall of 1963”) details the sins of omission which the reader is free to add to Hersh’s list of the US’s sins of commission to confirm how the US establishment persuaded itself that for a more viable settlement to survive, Diem and his Catholics would have to be given what Hamlet calls the “quictus”. The US inspired, or at any rate US-assisted coup of November 2, 1963 overthrew Diem and killed him and all his family.

That, of course, was the key decision which sucked the US into the Vietnamese quagmire. For, thereafter, it was the Americans and the Americans alone who determined who would rule Saigon and, therefore, who would run America’s proxy war on communism. When a few years from now, with the taliban a distant memory but Afghanistan still convulsed in internal disorder, Langley, Virginia is ordered to come up with an answer, I would be astonished if they do not proffer a Diem-like solution to their woes with the post-taliban dispensation.

Bernard B. Fall’s 1964 classic, The Two Vietnams, puckishly relishes the many errors of fact which informed the heated debates in the US congress over Vietnam in the years leading to the 1954 Geneva conference. Some of the most telling quotes are from two rising senators, one from Massachusetts, the other from Texas, destined to become the president and vice-president team of the brightest and the best which finally sank the US in Vietnam. A similar haziness over history, culture and political personalities pervades American perceptions of Afghanistan. I take my story from David Halberstam’s definitive The Brightest and the Best, his late Sixties recounting of the Kennedy years. A diplomat somewhere had blundered. The state department decided to punish him by transferring him to the country they considered the least significant in the world. He was sent to Afghanistan!


Among the first few victims of President George W. Bush’s “War against terrorism” were four individuals who had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, the taliban or even terrorism. They were members of a United Nations aide team that had been working among the refugees in Afghanistan, a country that has been at war for well over 20 years. There will be more civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the days to come, and innumerably more who will be indirect victims — dying of hunger, disease and other related causes. The four civilian deaths prompted a speedy response from Amnesty International.

Nearer home the casualties were of a slightly different nature, but nonetheless significant. In Delhi, six activists of a student organization, a secular leftist group, were reportedly arrested and charged with conducting “anti-national” and “seditious” campaigns, when they were distributing pamphlets against the American air strikes in Afghanistan. In Jaisalmer, a bin Laden look alike was held for interrogation by the police until it was clearly established that his name was actually Narinder Singh Bhatia.

Hate attacks and other irrational actions have already polarized the atmosphere in the US and some parts of Europe. Wearing Muslim type clothes, or even something vaguely resembling it, can turn one into a target of attack.

Smoking them out

In India the same phenomenon seems to have reared its ugly head. In the Sangli district of Maharashtra, a 70-year-old Muslim, Ziauddin Sutar, was allegedly set on fire by a group of Hindus, who were reportedly incensed at the TV coverage of a pro-taliban demonstration by Muslims elsewhere. All these instances show that in times of war there is a tendency for the authorities and sometimes even the majority communities to lose all sense of proportion and balance.

This has serious implications for democratic rights the world over. History is full of examples to show that such knee-jerk reactions, even if they emanate from well-meaning individuals and not from politicians with narrow self-serving agenda, are dangerous and can even be counter-productive. Entire communities can be labelled, entire points of view conveniently eliminated from public discourse.

The plight of the Japanese American community during World War II has been well-documented, but what is not so well known is that 11,000 German Americans were also interred during the period under the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, which remains in effect even today. Despite repeated public assurances by the authorities, there is no guarantee that Arabs, or residents of countries of west Asia, or perhaps even Asians, normally resident in the US will not become the hunted this time round. The first signs of it happening are already there.

Alienation effect

Against this background, one must take a closer look at a deeper question that has raised its head both in the US and in India. Are we vulnerable to terrorist attacks because we are too “free”, too “liberal”, and must we seek solutions in greater policing, tighter controls and enhanced restrictions on democracy? This has been the crux of the thinking behind the US congress vote in favour of a number of new restrictions on the freedoms that Americans have traditionally enjoyed.

It would be good to remember that the terrorism that we are witnessing today has its origins in two related phenomena. Many of the groups are creations of the geopolitical designs of an earlier era of the very same US which is today leading the fight against it. On the other hand, they enjoy a semblance of support because they are seen as the only type of opposition in a region where all forms of democratic dissent have been snuffed out by Central Intelligence Agency plots and US-backed regimes over the last 30 years.

History seems to indicate that terrorism cannot be eliminated without tackling its root causes. It also shows that once armed with greater powers under new “anti-terrorist” laws, the enforcement agencies, whose own intelligence and other failures are often at the root of the violence in the first place, have displayed a tendency to go overboard in the past. It is a lesson that we should not for- get in a hurry. And certainly not in the already troubled times of war.


The second half of the 20th century saw major changes in what interests economists. Gone was the age-old preoccupation with studying economic systems like capitalism, communism and socialism. Microeconomics, which examines a consumer or a firm’s economic behaviour in various institutional settings, became fashionable instead. Economists wanted to understand and solve practical problems of a complex economy and design, in T.S. Eliot’s words, “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good”. But traditional theory, which stuffs textbooks with important but boring concepts like cost curves and production functions, left many questions unanswered.

New insights came from game theory and information economics, which has become vibrant sub-fields of microeconomics. Game theory studies strategic behaviour of economic agents; it was recognized with the Nobel prize in 1994. Information economics deals with subtle economic interactions among people who have different information. Although others made sporadic but valuable contributions, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences recognized that the work of this year’s winners of the Nobel memorial prize in economic sciences — George A. Akerlof, A. Michael Spence, and Joseph E. Stiglitz—form the “core of modern information economics.” To quote Harvard University’s Professor Gregory Mankiw: “The big question in economics is when do markets work and when do markets fail. These three economists moved that analysis into a new realm — where some people in markets know more than other people in markets.”

All this began in 1970 with the publication of a now legendary paper, “The Market for Lemons” by George Akerlof, longtime economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. He noticed information asymmetry in used car markets — the sellers of used cars (and of many other items) usually know more about the car’s quality than the would-be buyer. Why would someone sell a used car unless it’s a bad car or “a lemon”? Exceptions like people leaving the country are rare among sellers. So the buyer infers the reason behind selling and refuses to pay a high price. Now, why sell a good car at a bad price? Only the lemons will remain in the market. Using economics jargon, we can say that asymmetric information led to adverse selection, which caused market failure for good used cars.

The observation that sellers often know more is plain common sense. Isn’t the whole story a rehash of Gresham’s law: “bad money drives out the good”? What Akerlof (and other laureates) did was that they got hold of a simple idea, identified the underlying principle, couched the problem in a mathematical model that took the analysis much further, and laid the foundation on which diverse models were built to study other real world problems. To give an analogy — people who just possess the initial observation are like chess players who see only a step ahead, while the complete analysis makes true masters who can foresee many more moves.

Adverse selection has many applications. Akerlof, who was a visiting professor at the Indian Statistical Institute during 1967-68, observed that local Indian lenders charged double the rates than those in big cities. He argued that a middleman trying to profit by borrowing in town and lending in village would risk heavy losses because he may get an adverse selection of borrowers who are unlikely to repay. Akerlof wrote many papers that drew insights from other fields. For example, he suggested that social conventions like the caste system can hurt economic efficiency. The eminent economist, Paul Krugman, suggested that Akerlof’s work on “near-rational” behaviour has the potential to resuscitate macroeconomics (which almost collapsed under severe attacks by monetary economists) “and bring Keynes back from the dead.”

Michael Spence, who was a professor and a dean at both Harvard and Stanford universities, did important research on insurance markets and pioneering work in applying game theory to “new theory of industrial organization.” But he is best known for his seminal paper on signalling, where he showed how better informed individuals can sometimes overcome adverse selection by sending a signal to the less informed. Spence suggested that education can signal “productivity” to potential hirers — you may signal your abilities by passing punishingly difficult competitive examinations and successfully completing a demanding course of study, but a lesser talent will fail to scale those heights. In the lemon example, a seller can signal a used car’s quality by offering a guarantee to the buyer. So a credible signal must be costly to do, easy to see, and hard to mimic — for signalling costs must differ across individuals.

Subsequent research refined the theory and explored how signalling works in different markets. The Nobel committee observed that (discipline names have been inserted) “this covers phenomena such as costly advertising or far-reaching guarantees as signals of productivity (microeconomics/marketing), aggressive price cuts as signals of market strength (marketing), delaying tactics in wage offers as a signal of bargaining power (labour economics), financing by debt rather than by issuing new shares as a signal of profitability (finance), and recession-generating monetary policy as a signal of uncompromising commitment to reduce stubbornly high inflation (macroecnomics).”

Joseph Stiglitz, who recently joined Columbia University after being the chief economist of the World Bank, has written many outstanding papers. Many of them find that when information is asymmetric, things may not end up as planned —markets may fail to work, regulations and policies may produce unintended results, incentive schemes can go haywire. Sometimes markets can devise solutions, and at some other times corrective regulations may be necessary. The real world is quite complex.

Why is credit rationing so common? Stiglitz’s paper with Andrew Weiss suggests adverse selection. Should you try to cut losses from bad loans by hiking rates charged to borrowers? But that may drive away the good credits and leave behind the riskier ones. Rationing the volume and giving loans to the best prospects is perhaps prudent.

When true worth is unknown, people often assume that better goods would carry higher prices. Economists fervently believe that prices carry information. In another widely cited paper, Stiglitz and Sanford Grossman analysed the financial markets and came up with a strange paradox: if a market is informationally efficient, that is, all relevant information is reflected in share prices, then there are no incentives to dig up more information about the company. But the moment people cease information gathering, prices stop reflecting information, and opportunity reopens for profitable research on company’s prospects.

Stiglitz was a pioneer in applying tools of information economics to understand markets and institutions in developing countries. For example, sharecroppers usually split the harvest with the landowner. Wouldn’t it be fair if the wealthier landowner bears all the risks? But that would kill the tenant’s incentives to cultivate efficiently. As a landowner knows little about harvest conditions and the tenant’s work effort, sharecropping is optimal for both parties.

His paper with Michael Rothschild added an interesting twist to the lemons problem: “screening mechanisms” can sometimes persuade people with information to reveal their hand to the less informed. For example, insurance market is rife with information asymmetry — a buyer knows more about his health condition than the insurer. Still, the insurance company can give clients effective incentives to reveal their risk situation. If you select lower premiums and higher deductibles, then you are likely to be healthy; the opposite would suggest chronic bad health.

Akerlof, Spence, and Stiglitz gave us effective tools for analysing the complex economic world. Their work has spawned much research in diverse areas of economics. They continue to influence how economists think, and speak their daily language.

The author is associate professor of finance and control, Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta


To provide for the unmet needs of the family welfare services, formulate and implement innovative social marketing schemes to provide subsidized products and services...where the existing coverage of the public, private and NGO sectors is insufficient in order to increase outreach and coverage.

Improve facilities for referral transportation at panchayat, zilla parishad and primary health centre levels. At subcentres, provide auxiliary nurse midwives with soft loans for purchase of mopeds to enhance their mobility. This will increase coverage of ante-natal and post natal check-ups...

Encourage local entrepreneurs at village and block levels to start ambulance services through special loan schemes, with appropriate vehicles to facilitate transportation of persons requiring emergency as well as essential medical attention.

Provide special loan schemes and make site allotments at village levels to facilitate the starting of chemist shops for basic medicines and provision for medical first aid.

Finalize a comprehensive urban healthcare strategy.

Facilitate service delivery centres in urban slums to provide basic health, reproduct-ive and child health services by NGOs and private sector organizations...

Promote networks of retired government doctors and para-medical and non-medical personnel who may function as healthcare providers for clinical and non-clinical services on remunerative terms.

Strengthen social marketing programmes for non-clinical family planning products and services in urban slums.

Initiate specially targeted information, education and communication campaigns for urban slums on family planning, immunization, ante-natal, natal and post-natal check-ups and other reproductive healthcare services. Integrate aggressive health education programmes with health and medical care programmes, with emphasis on environmental health, personal hygiene... nutrition, education and population education.

Promote inter-sectoral coordination between departments/municipal bodies dealing with water and sanitation, industry and pollution, housing, transport, education and nutrition, and women and child development, to deal with unplanned and uncoordinated settlements.

Streamline the referral systems and linkages between the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of healthcare in the urban areas.

Link the provision of continued facilities to urban slum dwellers with their observance of the small family norm.

Many tribal communities are dwindling in numbers, and may not need fertility regulation. Instead, they may need information and counselling in respect of infertility.

The NGO sector may be encouraged to formulate and implement a system of preventive and curative healthcare that responds to seasonal variations in the availability of work, income and food for tribal and hill area communities and migrant and displaced populations. To begin with, mobile clinics may provide some degree of regular coverage and outreach.

Many tribal communities are dependent upon indigenous systems of medicine which necessitates a regular supply of local flora, fauna and minerals, or of standardized medication derived from these. Husbandry of such local resources and of preparation and distribution of standardised formulations should be encouraged.

Healthcare providers in the public, private and NGO sectors should be sensitized to adopt a “burden of disease” approach to meet the special needs of tribal and hill area communities.

Ensure for adolescents access to information, counselling and services, including reproductive health services, that are affordable and accessible. Strengthen primary health centres and subcentres, to provide counselling, both to adolescents and also to newly weds... Emphasize proper spacing of children.

Provide for adolescents the package of nutritional services available under the integrated child development scheme...

Enforce the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1976, to reduce the incidence of teenage pregnancies. Preventing the marriage of girls below the legally permissible age of 18 should become a national concern...

Provide integrated intervention in pockets...in the urban slums, remote rural areas, border districts and among tribal populations.

To be concluded



War on free speech

Sir — While the United States of America is busy trying to preserve the “American spirit” following the attacks of September 11, no effort has been spared to kill the very American ideal of free speech. On campuses nationwide, faculty and staff have faced consequences ranging from open criticism to immediate suspension for speaking their mind. Journalists and broadcasters have been fired for airing opinions that were regarded inflammatory, unpatriotic and ill-timed. A University of California library assistant was suspended for sending an e-mail criticizing US support for Israel. A columnist, Ann Coulter, was fired for a strongly worded anti-Palestine piece. As a student at the University of Texas, Austin, I was appalled when the UT president, Larry Faulkner, lashed out at our journalism professor, Bob Jensen, for penning an anti-war column in the Houston Chronicle. While Jensen compared the terrorist attacks to civilian deaths perpetrated by the US in past military actions, Faulkner retaliated by calling Jensen “a fountain of undiluted foolishness”. So where is this new-fangled notion of political correctness heading? Towards choking free speech and celebrating name-calling?

Yours faithfully,
Radhika Mitra, Austin, US

Misleading cry

Sir — The editorial, “United front” (Oct 12), has drawn attention to the fact that the Organization of the Islamic Conference, representing over a billion Muslims around the world, “is clearly distancing itself from the taliban” since it did not condemn the bombing of Afghanistan. This development should be an eye-opener for all right-thinking citizens of India. However, perched on his ivory tower in Delhi’s Jama Masjid, the shahi imam, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, has pontificated that the terrorist attacks on the United States of America are a visitation of “divine wrath on the American government for all its tyrannical activities”.

Denying the imam’s exclusive right to interpret divine intercessions, an equally bellicose Bajrang Dal or Vishwa Hindu Parishad might well say that the bombs now raining on Afghanistan are the manifestation of divine dispensation against the taliban for its tyrannical rule over the Afghan subjects.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Rangaswamy, via email

Sir — The shahi imam’s proclamation of jihad against the US for bombing Afghanistan takes him closer to a fundamentalist zealot. Where was he when America bombarded Yugoslavia into submission in 1995 for the eventual liberation of Bosnia-Herzegovina? Then, too, thousands of Muslims had suffered unspeakable losses at the merciless hands of the Serbs.

Yours faithfully,
Min Benzamin, via email

Sir — How can the shahi imam of the Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the representative of the Muslims in India, express his support for the taliban while condemning the American attack on Afghanistan? When the twin towers of the World Trade Center were hit and thousands of innocent men and women, including some 250 Indians, fell prey to the so called jihad propagated by a group of Islamic fundamentalists, he was conspicuous by his silence. Now that the people of Afghanistan are under attack, he seems to suddenly feel the pain. Such people, in any country, should be strongly dealt with for openly siding with terrorists. But one can hardly expect any strong measures from the National Democratic Alliance government.

Yours faithfully
Vikram Surana, via email

Sir — The world’s largest Islamic body, the OIC, has officially endorsed the US airstrikes on Afghanistan, albeit in guarded tones. The shahi imam of the Jama Masjid, on the other hand, has vehemently denounced the US action. A United Kingdom-based Islamic fundamentalist group has now called for a fatwa on Tony Blair. Examples like this abound. Does the OIC, regarded as the representative of the Muslim world, realize that the reactions of the shahi imam and the UK-based fundamentalist group actually undermine its official stand?

Yours faithfully,
Arta Mishra, Cuttack

Defence matters

Sir — The return of George Fernandes as the defence minister of India should be welcomed by one and all (“Signal of Fernandes return ministry” Oct 13). With his return, many eyebrows have risen, but they may be safely ignored. The Tehelka exposure did bring to light corruption at the highest level in the country. But the investigating agencies have not been able to frame any charges against Fernandes till date. And yet, he resigned, taking moral responsibility.

Although Jaswant Singh was given the additional charge of defence, with his commitments to the foreign ministry, it was not possible for him to do justice to the other portfolio. The result was evident in the excesses committed by the neighbouring countries on Indian borders. The prime minister deserves congratulation for taking the bold step in the face of severe opposition.

Yours faithfully,
S. Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The re-induction of George Fernandes into the Union cabinet as defence minister has come at a most inopportune moment, with the Venkataswamy commission putting its seal of approval on the Tehelka tapes as genuine. The National Democratic Alliance must be regretting that it has succumbed to the pressure tactics of the Samata Party, perhaps threatening the fragile coalition. The prime minister should have waited for the Venkataswamy commission to submit its final report on the Tehelka issue. His statement that “India needs a fitting defence minister and only George suits the post in the present circumstances” only shows up the unfortunate state of Indian politics, where none among the existing parliamentarians is fit to handle the defence ministry. It may be mentioned here that L.K. Advani resigned from the Lok Sabha the moment his name figured in the Jain hawala case and returned to the house only after his name was cleared by the Supreme Court. The Bharatiya Janata Party has since compromised on its principles, perhaps for the sake of staying in power.

Sonia Gandhi and Laloo Prasad Yadav have criticized the move. On the other hand, Mamata Banerjee, who had quit demanding Fernandes’s resignation, has welcomed his re-entry into the Union cabinet. Need anything more be said about the unique Indian school of “politics of convenience”?

Yours faithfully,
S. Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — One cannot help being surprised at the prime minister’s statement that he had no option but to bring back George Fernandes. Unless the enquiry commission finally absolves him, no person charged in a corruption case should hold any public office. A time limit must be set for the commission.

Yours faithfully,
Ashis Chowdhury, Calcutta

Sir — George Fernandes, during his earlier stint as the defence minister, had visited Siachen to pat the backs of the jawans braving the chill there. During the Kargil war, the communication network was upgraded to help the fighting jawans keep in touch with their families. It was heard that the jawans at Siachen were allowed to make STD calls to their respective homes at quarter rate. But perhaps owing to the carelessness of the telecom department, the jawans were being charged at full rate. The bill was not paid and the lines disconnected as a result.

When thousands are enjoying free telephone connections being members of district telecom committees, it is a shame that the soldiers of the country, serving in remote areas, are denied this privilege. I hope that on his return, George Fernandes will do the needful to extend free STD lines to jawans posted at Siachen as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

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