Editorial 1 / Party matters
Editorial 2 / Not quite friends
Russian renascence
Fifth Column / The great indian toppling game
Some thugs and their fantasies
Document / Declaring draft differences
Letters to the editor

It does not matter that the need to free politics of religion is so earnestly discussed in political circles. Throughout the Nineties, iftaar parties in New Delhi have increasingly gained ground as meeting places where new political alliances and possible brotherhoods are hinted at. This is a double violation. On the one hand, such iftaar parties hosted by the most important politicians in the land are a token gesture of respect towards the minority community. They stand in for truly effective measures to include minorities in the mainstream cultural ethos, and are a poor disguise for an effort to hold on to minority vote banks. To go further, they may well be a cosmetic attempt to cover up for the fact that there are not too many politicians of similar status from the minority community. On the other hand, even these parties are turned into political affairs, with a checklist indicating the current political interests of the invitees by underlining their comings and goings, as well as the pointed absences. This does not quite work out to be a gesture of respect towards the faith of the minority community, which observes the month of Ramadan as a period of piety, fasting and prayer.

It is not surprising, therefore, that members of the all India Muslim personal law board and prominent imams of Delhi have instructed the faithful not to attend these parties. One of the imams has suggested that politicians throw these parties for poor Muslims for a change. This year the Bharatiya Janata Party has resisted the temptation of throwing a party, but the growing closeness of Ms Sonia Gandhi and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav at her party is very much in the news. Nothing could better expose the hollowness of tokenism. Nor is the disease confined to India. The president of the United States of America, Mr George W. Bush, felt the urge to throw an iftaar party in his continuing anxiety to inform the Muslim community that his war was against terrorism and not Islam. The extent of the discomfort can be gauged by the fact that the British ambassador to Pakistan is now keeping a Ramadan fast. The insecurity works both ways, although its results are sometimes tragic and sometimes absurd. But such a situation is inevitable when religious discourse is allowed to permeate the political sphere, whether simply with the intention of nurturing constituencies or of indirect control over natural resources. The Muslims in India do not need iftaar parties by politicians to feel reassured. They need consistent and informed attention to their problems. Tokenism of the kind exhibited by politicians only invites charges of appeasement which drive the majority and minority communities further apart.


Unstable coalitions have long been the bane of politics in some northeastern states. Few would therefore lament the departure of the E.K. Mawlong government in Meghalaya or rush to welcome the successor regime of Mr F.A. Khonglam. Mr Mawlong’s exit was somewhat unusual in that it was the culmination of the controversy sparked by allegations of corruption involving the sale of the Meghalaya House in Calcutta. It is not often that a government, particularly in the Northeast, bows out over corruption charges. But Mr Mawlong had his moves wrong at every stage of the political controversy that the sale prompted. He dismissed the allegation last February, calling it a “conspiracy” hatched by his detractors to destabilize his government. He failed to read the danger signal when two ministers, belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party, resigned from his government on the issue. His end was in sight when the Nationalist Congress Party, the second largest group in the coalition he led, practically issued an ultimatum to him not only to scrap the Meghalaya House deal, but also to punish some ministers and bureaucrats allegedly involved in it. He finally cancelled the sale and set up an inquiry, but, at the same time, proceeded to split the NCP in a desperate attempt to survive in office. His elation at humbling the NCP veteran and local strongman, Mr Purno A. Sangma, proved shortlived as the former Lok Sabha speaker repaid him in good measure, first by retrieving his own camp and then by splitting Mr Mawlong’s own United Democratic Party.

It would be futile to expect, however, that Mr Mawlong’s departure and Mr Khonglam’s arrival would put an end to the state’s political instability. The new chief minister is the sixth in that office in the past three years. Mr Sangma may have succeeded, at least for now, in stitching together another coalition, with his NCP and the Congress as the biggest partners. The large size of the ministry — 37 from the 42 members of the legislative assembly supporting it — is obviously an attempt to hold together habitual defectors. Those who have been left out include two former chief ministers. Curiously, Mr Sangma has chosen Mr Khonglam, an independent member of the assembly, who later became an “associate” of the NCP, to lead the new combine, apparently because of his unflinching loyalty to the former. It is difficult to see how the Congress, the largest single constituent of the coalition, will accept a secondary role in the new government. Even if the new government manages to survive for some time, Mr Khonglam will be too busy to placate unprincipled partners to provide good governance. The people of Meghalaya can only hope that the government functions as long as it lasts, because either president’s rule or another election would have been a worse option.


Most Indians see our close ties with Russia as a simple extension of our “traditional” relations with the former Soviet Union. Yet the new Russian Federation is very different from the old Soviet Union, and our relations with the new Russia have had to be re-fashioned on an altogether different basis. It is important to understand the change that has taken place in order to appreciate the strengths and limitations of our relations with Russia.

The Russian Federation differs from the former Soviet Union in its territorial boundaries, political structure, economic system and power potential — in short, in all the features which shape a country’s foreign policy. As a result of the implosion of the Soviet Union, Russia lost much of its territory in Europe and in its Caucasian fringe, as well as its vast central Asian borderlands. The new Russia is dedicated to the values of a liberal democracy and market economy, modelling itself on the Western opponents of the former Soviet Union. The transition has not been a smooth one, having precipitated an economic collapse from which the country has yet to recover. Economic chaos and political instability have greatly weakened the once formidable defence forces. Russia is no longer a superpower and will not again be one for several years.

Our relations with the former Soviet Union were based on the fact that it was a superpower which could play the role of a balancing, or countervailing, force against the other superpower, the United States of America. Our ties with Moscow gave us considerable leverage with the Western powers during the Cold War years. Indo-Soviet cooperation helped promote our interests in all fields — political, military and economic.

In the political field, the pro-Pakistan tilt of the Western alliance during the Cold War period was balanced by Soviet support for India. In the United Nations security council, Moscow was prepared to cast its veto against pro-Pakistan resolutions on Kashmir. The Soviet Union gave us invaluable diplomatic support on this vital issue.

The zenith of Indo-Soviet political cooperation was reached during the 1971 war. The Bangladesh liberation struggle broke out at a time when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were engaged in forging a new strategic relationship with China. Yahya Khan of Pakistan was the secret channel of communication between the American and Chinese leaders and was duly rewarded for his efforts by the creation of a Washington-Beijing-Islamabad axis aimed against India and Bangladesh. Incredible though it seems today, in December 1971, Kissinger went to the extent of hinting to Beijing that it should consider military intervention in favour of Pakistan.

India’s response to the new Washington-Beijing-Islamabad axis was to sign the Indo-Soviet treaty of peace and friendship. Moscow used its veto in the UN to thwart attempts at imposing a ceasefire before the Pakistani army in the east could be defeated by the Indo-Bangladesh forces. When Washington sent the USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal in a demonstration of support to Pakistan, Moscow responded by despatching a submarine to the same area. Never before or after was the countervailing power of the Soviet Union employed to greater advantage in India’s favour.

In the economic field, too, India was able to obtain leverage from its Soviet ties. Thus, when the US declined on ideological grounds to assist India to set up a public sector steel plant, India turned to Russia for help. The result was Bhilai, India’s first public sec- tor steel plant. Once it was clear that India had a Soviet option, it became easier to obtain Western cooperation in setting up new plants in Durgapur and Rourkela. In the heavy machinery and petroleum sectors as well, the Soviet option gave India invaluable leverage in its dealings with Western companies.

From the Sixties, after failing to obtain modern Western fighter aircraft and submarines, India turned to Moscow for sophisticated military equipment and technology. Though India was careful to avoid over-dependence, Russia became the major foreign source of equipment for the Indian air force and navy. India’s indigenous defence industry benefited greatly from access to Soviet technology.

Unlike the former Soviet Union, the Russian Federation today is not a superpower. It has yet to recover from the economic collapse resulting from its initial ill-considered attempt to make an overnight transition from socialism to capitalism. The new Russia is yet to achieve political stability. The once-mighty armed forces have been run down for want of financial resources. The day is still far off when Russia will once again take its place as a superpower.

The foreign policy of the new Russia inevitably reflects the current power realities. Moscow is in no position to play its earlier role of a countervailing power against the Western alliance. Indeed, at present, Russia itself is economically dependent on the West. The new Russia is torn between its desire to be co-opted as a member of the dominant Western alliance and an urge to once again play the role of an independent power-centre.

Even though Russia no longer plays the role of a balancing factor at the global level, both New Delhi and Moscow attach great importance to their bilateral cooperation, as is evident from the fact that Indo-Russian summits have become an annual feature.

The new Indo-Russian relationship rests primarily on four pillars. First, India and Russia face a common threat from trans-border terrorism. International terrorism has shown its hand in Kashmir as well as in Chechnya. The Moscow declaration on international terrorism, signed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Vladimir Putin last month, calls attention to the fact that “in multi-ethnic countries such as India and the Russian Federation, violent actions being perpetrated under the slogan of self-determination, in reality, represent acts of terrorism which in most cases have strong international links”. The declaration calls for “decisive measures against all states, individuals and entities which render support, harbour, finance, instigate or train terrorists or promote terrorism.”

Second, the shared concern over terrorism leads to a considerable convergence of interests in central Asia and Afghanistan. New Delhi and Moscow have similar approaches on regional issues in this area. Both view terrorism and religious extremism as threats to peace and security in central Asia. For this reason, they oppose the inclusion of taliban elements in a future Afghan government. Third, Russia remains our principal overseas source of military hardware and technology. Indo-Russian defence cooperation has acquired a new dimension, covering not only arms sales and manufacture under licence but also joint research and development of new hardware.

Indeed, the defence relationship now has a symbiotic character. Russia no longer has a captive market for its weaponry in eastern and central Europe, while domestic demand has shrunk greatly on account of Russia’s economic dislocation. The Russian armaments industry has come to depend on its principal overseas markets — India and China — for its survival. Finally, there is an impalpable but nevertheless vitally important element of Indo-Russian ties — a tradition of mutual trust and understanding.

This is reflected in our belief that a renascent Russia will play a positive role in a future multi-polar world and a corresponding Russian conviction that an emergent India is a positive force in international relations. Hence Moscow’s support for India’s aspirations to a permanent seat in the UN security council. The US is currently the sole superpower. In the prevailing situation, both India and Russia accord topmost priority to strengthening their ties with Washington.

In a sense, Indo-Russian relations have inevitably shown a certain relative decline, in comparison with the ties between either of these two countries and the US. But in an absolute sense, Indo-Russian cooperation continues to be highly important for both countries.

The author is former ambassador to China and the US


Six chief ministers in three years. With over a year to go for the next elections to the Meghalaya assembly, the possibilities for a further round of musical chairs are endless.

Developments over the past weeks will vouchsafe that political acrobatics are the forte of elected leaders in the abode of clouds. When Flinder Anderson Khonglam took the oath as the sixth chief minister at the Shillong Raj Bhavan on Saturday, he simply upheld tradition. For manoeuvres and machinations are inherent to this legislature.

Those championing the ouster of the chief minister, E.K. Mawlong, who finally resigned after losing a trust vote in the assembly on Friday, may say that it was poetic justice for Mawlong. But Meghalaya has a history of such political trapeze acts. Only two chief ministers, Williamson Sangma and Salseng C. Marak, were able to complete their terms in office since statehood was conferred in 1971. Significantly, both were Garos, a tribe exhibiting more unity and less propensity to pull down a fellow legislator.

Undoing a heritage

Ethnic divide plays a major role in deciding tribal political fortunes. It is this that led to a kaleidoscope of coalitions over the past weeks, each as diverse and entertaining as the capers of the politicians themselves. Dissident Nationalist Congress Party legislators floated the Meghalaya National Congress Legislature Party (pro-Mawlong), while a 20-member conglomerate materialized into the United Meghalaya Opposition Forum. Breakaway United Democratic Party leaders launched the Meghalaya UDP before they joined the mother of all coalitions, the People’s Forum of Meghalaya, boasting 42 members in a house of 60.

Mawlong sailed into rough weather in October when the Bharatiya Janata Party threatened to withdraw support over the controversial deal to sell Meghalaya House, Calcutta (a heritage building, no less) to the Asian Housing Construction Company Limited. To clear the air, Mawlong scrapped the deal and ordered an inquiry. Had he stepped down then, the matter would have probably ended there.

However, Mawlong chose to cling to the chief minister’s chair with a tenacious sense of hubris. He probably banked on the unpredictable swings in Meghalaya’s political scenario where greed and an utter lack of accountability prevail. He certainly did not anticipate the sustained public outcry, egged on by newly-formed bodies like the People’s Rally Against Corruption. With elections looming on the horizon, vacillating legislators decided not to antagonize the electorate by befriending Mawlong at this hour.

Lucky five

However, it was the former chief minister’s own partymen who finally pulled the rug from under his feet. First the power minister, Martle Mukhim, and then the finance minister, A.H. Scott Lyngdoh, resigned over the Meghalaya House deal. The NCP then enacted a “here today-there tomorrow” tableau, before joining the new PFM coalition on November 26.

The low-profile Khonglam was the unanimous choice for the motley group, because it would provide enough scope for backseat driving. Former chief minister and Congressman, D.D. Lapang, was sworn in as deputy chief minister for precisely this reason. Lotsing Sangma, Mawlong’s deputy, will be rewarded with the home portfolio in the new government.

Not surprisingly, the new cabinet is an oversized one. Former Lok Sabha speaker and NCP leader, Purno Agitok Sangma, who has played kingmaker in this spectacular drama, has been going around the country crying himself hoarse about the need for compact ministries. But he chose to differ in the case of his home state because “sentiments” of members of the huge and unwieldy coalition had to be taken into consideration. Thus, of the 42 legislators who said “aye” for Khonglam yesterday, we have a 37-member two-tier ministry, comprising 29 cabinet members. In case they haven’t realized it yet, it is the remaining five who are the fortunate ones: they can take the prerogative of toppling this government when the occasion demands.


The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government’s decision to delete sections from history textbooks has drawn many a comparison with the much-maligned taliban. To the extent that the action smacks of intolerance, this comparison is indeed valid. However, when seen against the backdrop of other events — for example, last year’s revocation by the government of a commitment to publish a commissioned series of books on modern Indian history by senior scholars — there seems to be a wider pattern with an uncanny similarity to those of a group of people who wrote one of the darkest chapters of 20th century history.

The date was the Thirties. The place, Adolf Hitler’s Germany. The group, Heinrich Himmler and his feared SS (Schutzstaffel, “protection squadron”). Himmler attempted, among other things, to reinvent history by stirring up a bizzare mixture of ancient Teutonic myth and late 19th-century anthropology. He was a member of the Thule Society, an ultra-nationalist outfit named after one of the mythical homes of the German people. The society believed in the greatness of the German past and helped create the bedrock of what became the Nazi ideology on race.

Drawing their inspiration from the Roman writer, Tacitus, whose historiography was politically motivated, Himmler and his Thule cohorts believed that the greatness of the German Volk was evident as early as AD 9, when the Teuton tribes, under the leadership of their chieftain, Arminius, destroyed the legions of a powerful but corrupt Roman army in the forests of Teutoburg. Their claims of racial supremacy and historical grandeur were buttressed by the operas of Richard Wagner and the theories of individuals such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, a late 19th century British philosopher who believed in the racial superiority of an ancient northern European people, who he thought to be the Aryans. From here, it was a short step to contend that the early Germans were the original Aryans.

With the ascent of Hitler to the German chancellorship in 1933, Himmler and his lieutenants in the SS began to systematically advance their historical fantasies. They created a division, the Ahnenerbe (“Ancestral Heritage Society”), with the task of providing scientific evidence to support their theories. To this end, they sponsored expeditions to the far reaches of the earth and actively recruited university professors from the most prestigious German universities. There was even an Ahnenerbe expedition to discover the lost city of Atlantis, a supposed home of the Aryan race, and a quest for the holy grail, prompting Hollywood, half a century later, to make what became two big blockbusters — Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).

The Ahnenerbe’s search for evidence to support their theories became more and more frenzied as time wore on. At the end of 1942, while German soldiers were freezing to death at Stalingrad, the Ahnenerbe was ransacking southern Russia for archaeological evidence. It also trawled the death camps for skulls to buttress its far-fetched racial theories. Moreover, its members conducted criminal medical experiments on Jews in concentration camps, all to prove racial differences and thereby, the superiority of the Germanic “Aryan” race. Although the head of the Ahnenerbe, Dr Wolfram Sievers, was brought before a war crimes tribunal, found guilty, and executed on 2 June, 1948, many of the top archaeologists employed by him returned, unpunished, to university life, only to re-emerge as leading academics in post-war Germany.

The Ahnenerbe’s quest to re-write history by sponsoring unscientific and crackpot research was matched only by the attempts by the SS to destroy any historical accounts not in accordance with their own. History text books were modified, and libraries across Germany raided to purge them of material not to the liking of the SS bosses. Large book burnings were organized, with precious books and manuscripts from the country’s leading libraries removed and burnt in public squares.

Today, outside the prestigious Humboldt University in Berlin an inscription attributed to the poet, Heinrich Heine, stands as a sordid reminder of the consequences of such actions. The inscription, “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings”, proved prophetic, as the holocaust that killed millions of Jews, Roma, Poles and other minorities, began in earnest.

The rhetoric of the BJP and the sangh parivar has already taken the lives of many innocent minorities in India. Many of these victims, for example, priests and nuns from south Indian churches, had been engaged in genuinely socially productive activities, such as education, healthcare, and rural development. Against this backdrop, the German story is a sobre reminder of the manifold evils that can result in the future if the Central government’s attempts to alter the way history is taught and interpreted succeed.

While it is not good historiography to compare two totally different contexts, it is hard not to notice the similarities. There are, in both cases, the claims of true Aryan heritage, the belief in racial superiority and a harkening back to ancient history to reclaim purity and a golden age. There is, at the same time, a pathological hatred for the “Other” — in the Nazi case, the Jews and other non-Aryans, and in the case of the BJP extremists, Muslims, Christians and other minorities.

There is also the BJP and the sangh parivar turning their back on historical evidence when it does not suit their fantasies, and a fanatical commitment to appropriate scholarship and scholars in order to serve their perverse ends. Equally noteworthy is the tacit rejection of the message of syncretism and nationalist identity promoted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training books. This was based on the principle of truth and reconciliation, and pride in multi-cultural diversity.

It must be pointed out here that the NCERT history textbooks were not a result of the imagination of a few zealots, nor the ideology of a political party, but the result of a careful summarization, by leading scholars, of painstaking research conducted by the world’s leading Indologists. What we are witnessing now is a harking back to the view of history as seen and felt by one group to the exclusion of others — including true facts as agreed upon by leading scholars of Indian history worldwide.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of independent India was the erection of a democracy that respected and celebrated cultural diversity, and a commitment to truth, as enshrined in the national motto. For 50 years, it was this spirit of truth, tolerance and syncretism that attracted the world to India. Indeed, this spirit, and that of pacifism and non-alliance, has been our power, and has helped project our real strength — that of a nation of civilized, cultured and tolerant people, who can stand tall against outfits like the taliban and proclaim that we are proud to offer an alternative to monocultural religious or nationalist jingoism.

Sadly, the disavowal of truth and tolerance witnessed in the shameful act of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, reduced, in one fell swoop, the respect the rest of the world had for us. That incident is testimony to the damage that the distortion of history, such as being attempted in the attempts at changing text books, can do.

To get back to where I started, it is hard not to notice the irony in the current Indian administration’s critique of the taliban. What an irony indeed that both regimes chose to insult that paragon of pacifist virtue, the Buddha — the BJP government, by assenting to the re-invocation of the sage’s name in connection with the nuclear tests; and the taliban, by physically destroying the Bamiyan treasures. If the current administration’s attempts at distorting history succeed, India will no longer be remembered as the land of the Buddha or Asoka, nor for the tolerance and civility of its peoples. Rather, it will go down the same route as the Nazis and the taliban — and will be known around the world, and in history, as a nation of thugs. It is the solemn duty of all genuinely patriotic Indian citizens to prevent this hijacking of our history and heritage.

The author teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz


Mr Chairman, let me start by thanking you for coming out with the Draft Ministerial Declaration contained in job (01/140 dated 26 September 2001). 1 would also like to thank the DG and the Secretariat for providing excellent cooperation to you in preparing the Draft Declaration. I recognize that you have organized extensive multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral consultations in order to assess the problems, concerns and flexibilities of the delegations before producing the first Draft. Whatever may be our concerns with this first Draft, which I will outline shortly, I will like to pay a special tribute to you for the patience and perseverance you have shown in handling this difficult and delicate task.

Mr Chairman, you will not be surprised if I say that I have serious concerns with many elements as well as the structure of the Draft. The fundamental concern for my delegation is that the fact that though the draft does not use the word “round” anywhere, the implication of the draft declaration appears to launch an open-ended new round of negotiations with all the traditional elements of a round as seen during the Uruguay Round, built into it. I shall explain this concern of my delegation in greater detail towards the latter half of my intervention. Again, we have major concerns with the preambular portion also to which I will revert to a little later.

Now, I would like to start with para 10 of your Draft which deals with implementation issues and related concerns. At the outset I would like to say that both in the implementation draft and declaration draft, it is better to recall 1998 Geneva Ministerial Declaration while dealing with implementation, as was suggested by one delegation yesterday. We have had an informal general council meeting yesterday evening to discuss your Draft on implementation, which has two annexes, and a language regarding the proposed treatment of issues which may remain unresolved. We and a large number of delegations have spoken extensively yesterday. Though paragraph 10 starts with the sentence “we attach the utmost importance to the implementation issues and related concerns raised by members and are determined to resolve them”, the results achieved so far do not appear to be in consonance with the sentence. However, I am hoping that by the time the declaration is adopted by the Ministers, there could be a general feeling and appreciation that this sentence is justified. In this context, I would like to specifically recall my statement of yesterday. All the tirets not covered by Annex I and Annex 11 cannot be relegated to the post-Doha process. We have indicated clearly our priorities yesterday. There is another concern regarding para 10 that I would like to highlight. I get the impression that your intention is that implementation issues that remain unresolved even by Doha, should be fully addressed, in accordance with appropriate guidelines developed under the work programme proposed to be established. My understanding is that your intention is to bring this work programme as an element under future work programmes. There is some anxiety and doubt on this in as much as some delegations appear to interpret the work programme envisaged under paragraph 10 as a separate self-standing work programme, unrelated to the future work programme which starts from paragraph 11. You can probably remove lot of anxiety and concern through appropriate clarifications. If necessary, you can consult further in this regard. I recall that you said that this could have been in italics. We would also like to say that the implementation issues which are brought on to the mainstream of the work in the future work programme should be on a fast track and thus, the time target for completion of the work on the implementation issues should be very much earlier than that for the future work programme.

Paragraph 11 of the Draft deals with agriculture. You have taken us into confidence as to why in the first draft you limited yourself to outlining elements rather than providing any specific draft. I am aware that you intend to consult on the subject further. During these consultations, we will make our priorities and concerns known.

Para 12 deals with services. We have no serious problem with this paragraph. We may offer some drafting suggestions later. Mr Chairman, as you would guess, my major problems start with paragraph 13. Though my delegation has initially expressed serious concerns even about starting negotiations in the area of non-agricultural market access, in recent weeks, we have indicated that we can go along with negotiations in this area subject to fulfilment of certain expectations and these are not those of my delegation alone. They are: (a) the mandate for negotiations should indicate that tariff peaks, tariff escalations and specific and mixed and compound duties on products of export interest to developing countries will be addressed as a matter of priority; (b) there should be satisfactory outcome on the implementation front; (c) there must be a consensus for negotiations designed towards extension of the protection of the geographical indications to products other than wines and spirits.

To be concluded



A different ball altogether

Sir — The report, “Hussain spares team the rod” (Dec 8), shows how attitudes to the game and to teammates have changed over the years. After a ten-wicket defeat suffered in the hands of the Indian team, instead of severely criticizing the English players, Nasser Hussain has encouraged them to indulge in some introspection. This is definitely a positive step which would enable the team members to work on their game. Moreover, cricket would witness a more balanced competition from the weaker teams. Hussain’s encouragement to players to analyse their own game in terms of technique, style and other aspects would also lessen the workload on the team coach. This way the age-old tradition of the coach being held responsible for any team debacle can be done away with. Especially in the case of India, either the coach or the captain gets all the blame for the side’s dismal performance in any match. It is time that Hussain’s example is followed. This will take our game to newer heights.

Yours faithfully,
Uddalak Mukherjee, Calcutta

Blood feud

Sir — The present spate of violence in Israel once again reflects the cruel face of terrorism (“Blood feud”, Dec 4). Terrorist outfits like the Hamas are not ready for any kind of peace talks and pretend to be real followers of a faith which does not instigate violence. The United States of America’s foreign secretary, Colin Powell, in his address at Louisville University, said that no solution is possible unless the Palestinians lay their arms down and the Israelis leave the occupied land.

The ongoing war declared by the US on terrorism can only bring a temporary solution and a momentary suppression of terrorism. The real solution can only come through the use of force to curb terrorist tactics.

Yours faithfully,
Devanath. R, Tirupati

Sir — With Christmas coming round the corner, the deadly attack by the Hamas activists on the cities of Jerusalem and Haifa could not have come at a worse moment. The retaliatory missile attacks by Israel on the Gaza Strip have pushed the ongoing west Asia peace process way back. Yasser Arafat, instead of merely condemning these attacks, should move swiftly and bring the guilty to book if he is serious about restoring the peace process.

These attacks should serve as a warning for India as, according to what the jihadis have to say, India is third down their firing line after the US and Israel. The US, realizing that India is emerging as a global power to be reckoned with, has offered a strategic tie-up in the field of military relations. An India-US alliance is bound to enhance the defence and intelligence capabilities.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Wrongly advised

Sir — The Calcutta Telephone Authorities have a real cause to celebrate as they have dissolved the much-hyped telephone advisory committee. The actual reason for the operation of the TAC was to look into the problems of the common man and to get them solved. However, most of the committee members of the TAC were relatives, friends and kin of ministers and legislators.

The loss, around Rs 70 lakh, can now be utilized for the development of facilities for the public. The state minister for telecommunications, Tapan Kumar Sikdar, should do whatever is necessary to improve the state of affairs. The callousness with which the TAC was being run should be further scrutinized.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The recent scrapping of all TACs is welcomed and it is an example to other government departments to do away with superfluous committees. The original purpose of the TAC was to give a functional representation to lawyers, doctors and traders in order to allocate phones on a priority basis. The entire scenario has changed with the ready availability of phones. In a market economy, such TACs are not required as an intermediary between subscribers and service providers.

The distortions started in the Sixties when TAC membership was enlarged with patronage appointees under the head, “unrepresented interests” and “social workers”. For some political appointee members of TAC, it meant an unrecorded income by recommending phones to highest bidders. Subsequent developments are still more disturbing. No wonder government finances are under pressure when politicians play ducks and drakes with public organizations to enlarge their political base.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Pai, Mumbai

Noisy worship

Sir — Khushwant Singh deserves praise for his condemnation of the hullabaloo generated during Indian festivals like Diwali (“Delights of a noisy festival”, Dec 1).The noise pollution caused by the innumerable “bombs” and “crackers” that are exploded during Durga Puja and Diwali cast serious doubts over our claims of being a civilized nation. Most of us remain unconcerned about the ill-effects of air pollution that can cause diseases like bronchial asthma and lung and heart diseases. Additionally, chhat revellers have also begun celebrating noisily.

The immersion of idols in the Ganges and other water bodies results in water pollution. The festivals of other religious communities also play their part in the disruption of life. We could however take a cue from the peaceful celebration of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter by Christians. It is high time that we master the art of celebrating without fanfare. It would not be a bad idea for governments both at the Centre and at the states to ban this bonhomie in the guise of religion.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — It is indeed ironic that Diwali which has traditionally been known as the festival of lights has turned out to be a nightmare for most people in the major cities of India. Successive judgments by the Supreme Court and the state high courts have not had the desired effect on young people who continue to celebrate Diwali noisily. The situation has however improved to some extent in West Bengal. But these festivals also provide a perfect opportunity for ill-mannered young people who indulge in hoolinganism.

Yours faithfully,
Mohan Lal Sarkar, Budge Budge

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