Editorial 1 / Hunt the hunter
Editorial 2 / Fragile edifice
Shaking the symbols
Fifth Column / Yet to be governed by good sense
Mani Talk / Going back to China
Document / Healthy children and piped water
Letters to the editor

The terrorist attack on Parliament on December 13 has presented the country with major security challenges. Unless the government responds with determination, New Delhi will continue to be viewed as an easy target by all those seeking to destabilize the country’s polity. It is time that New Delhi adopted policies that are proactive, anticipatory and integrated to make sure that no one is left in any doubt about the nation’s firm resolve to fight terrorism and states that back terrorists. Perhaps the most critical security challenge is to improve the preparedness of the security forces to deal with terrorists who are willing to kill themselves. Even countries with the most sophisticated security apparatus find it extremely difficult to deal with the threats posed by suicide bombers. The ongoing experience of Israel suggests that even with the greatest investment in security, a country can fall victim to such acts of lunacy. Before the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad made their appearance, in south Asia only the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were known for carrying out suicide missions.

The region may witness an increased tendency to resort to such acts if countermeasures are not immediately taken. Two steps are particularly necessary. First, it is vital to have a more efficient unified intelligence network throughout the country and especially in the region that can use human and electronic means to tap and intercept communication between terrorists. Only through systematic intelligence gathering can suicide missions be anticipated and aborted before the event. The Intelligence Bureau ordinarily is responsible for gathering intelligence about threats from within the country, while the Research and Analysis Wing gathers information largely from abroad. Military intelligence confines itself to external military threats from belligerent countries, particularly on the border. On paper, intelligence wings of the local police are supposed to coordinate with the IB, but in reality this never happens. Moreover, the IB and RAW often compete with each other, and rarely do they actually share hard information with what used to be known as the joint intelligence committee, but has now become the secretariat of the national security council. The result is that there is very little possibility of a unified high-level assessment of every day threats and, therefore, the absence of a coherent policy response.

The committee that went into the intelligence fiasco in Kargil in 1999 recommended major changes. In spite of the government apparently accepting the need for most of these, there is still little evidence that a real restructuring has taken place. It is equally vital that the response to a terrorist attack, particularly of the kind that occurred on December 13, must have a deterrent effect on the more rational members of the terrorist organization and its backers, particularly if it is a government. In other words, even while the government may carefully time its action, there must be no doubt that if New Delhi has to take measures to prevent such terrorist acts in the future, it must make the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and their sponsors bear substantial costs for the Parliament attack.


Corruption is so routine in the country at all levels that one report more or less hardly causes a ripple. And the reports keep coming. The estimates committee report on the functioning of the Orissa housing and urban development department has uncovered irregularities both costly and embarrassing. Costly because the loss to the Orissa state housing board is being put at around a crore a month. And embarrassing for the Biju Janata Dal-led government, because the favouritism towards certain private builders displayed in the joint venture projects under scrutiny reveals a fishy trail that leads up from officers of the housing board through other bureaucrats right up to the chief minister. Mr Naveen Patnaik could not be relishing this, although it does not come as a major surprise. The most that can be said about this government is that it is less colourful than Mr Janaki Patnaik’s Congress government. Corruption among bureaucrats and politicians in Orissa is such an old story that this report is unlikely to raise too many eyebrows. Besides, such irregularities are the rule rather than the exception in states where there is a building boom. West Bengal is showing scars of a different type for the same reason. And a state that could not account for the relief and cash that flowed into it in the aftermath of the supercyclone cannot be expected to be too nice about money matters, when joint venture projects in building provide such rich pasture.

The solution, needless to say, cannot lie in cynicism. Yet the Indian voter has shown, time and again, that corruption is seldom a clinching issue at the ballot box. What the Indian public expects, perhaps, is a certain degree of efficiency. Achievements may range from the fulfilling of sectoral interests to major development projects that improve infrastructure and create jobs. Unfortunately, Mr Naveen Patnaik has very little to show in this sphere. Neither has the Bharatiya Janata Party shown a great deal of interest in this eastern state it runs in coalition. Little blips like housing department irregularities may not affect Mr Naveen Patnaik negatively in the long run — unless, of course, they blow up into something like the fodder scandal. For better or worse, it will be the other sins of omission for which he may be called to account.


Two almost simultaneous events last week are certain to shake the contours of India’s national security perceptions and preparations. That the events were separated by thousands of miles of physical space only serves to illustrate the correlation that Indian security encountered last week. While the external event with a long-term and timeless impact on national security went largely under-reported, it was the local event with a short-term consequence in the country that created waves. As is the wont these days, local events with a near live experience come to dominate thinking — and the attack on Parliament, with its psychological impact, did just that.

That close call on Thursday morning shook the national establishment as few events have done in independent India. But what it overshadowed was the anticipated announcement by the United States of America of walking out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, an event of far greater consequence for India than is commonly accepted. But such is the reality of the immediate, whence unsuccessful suicide attacks come to govern the relationship between reporting and reason.

Thursday’s attack within Parliament precincts was successfully repulsed by the police guard that protects the chambers of Indian democracy. And this has been the trend since the last of the two successful suicide attacks. That was in May, 1991, when Rajiv Gandhi fell to a human bomb attack. His mother’s assassination was the first successful suicide attack. Since 1991, no suicide mission has been able to succeed in its objectives. To recapitulate, there has been no damage inflicted on the Red Fort (December, 2000), Srinagar airport (February, 2001), or even the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly from last October’s car bomb.

There have been myriad such attacks on various military installations in Jammu and Kashmir over the last few years. But in not one of the operations have the stated objectives been achieved. Each operation, after all, has a certain set of goals to accomplish. And even without any declaration being made public regarding the attack on Parliament, it is safe to assume that the intention was to assassinate India’s political leaders and damage the seat of legislative functioning in the country.

The terrorists were plainly unsuccessful on Thursday. While many among those protecting these priceless monuments of a functioning state lost their lives, the sacrifice has helped to save these symbols of governance. After all, it is the symbolism of the attacks that has been most scarring for the nation.

In the partisanship that has come to mark national politics, there was a quickness in coming to conclusions even as the details of the operation were still unavailable. But then, such partisanship is not unique to Indian democracy. What is exceptional to the country, however, is the propensity to proclaim it aloud during a crisis. Such, alas, are the scars of a colonial baggage that the opinionated divide the debate between “them” and “us”, even as a battle is enjoined. Terrorist actions ultimately succeed on account of such divisions and partisanship in a democracy. They, after all, reside in these divisions even as they reject what the divide may stand for. Thus the symbolism of the targets — emblems of state authority and of the debating of disparate opinions.

As with all symbolism, there is a deeply thought-out reason for selecting what is to be attacked and it is based on a rejection of all that the symbols symbolize. It is not difficult to comprehend the causes behind Pakistani terrorists attacking the Indian Parliament. The vastness in the gulf between the two processes is sought to be countered by blackmailing the “other” into submission by the use of violence as the medium of debate.

All terrorism is ultimately based on blackmailing a nation’s sense of security into submission. It is the preferred policy option in a battle between the unequally placed, and as such is the method employed by Pakistan in its dealings with India. On the basis of its nuclear weapons, Pakistan has sought to blackmail India into capitulation, consistently raising the threshold of violence. On Thursday, that threshold peaked and now it is a matter of time before Pakistan counts the costs. For as with all policies of blackmail, a law of diminishing returns sets in when the consequences of further restraint become unbearable. Within India, that feeling has set in for, in principle, blackmail cannot be allowed to succeed.

In a similar vein, Washington’s decision to walk out of the ABM treaty is also a rejection of blackmail as a policy. The ABM treaty, after all, sought to impose an arms control regime on the basis of blackmail, not of trust. Moscow and Washington sustained a Cold War relationship that was premised on assuring others of the destruction, rather than the elimination, of threat. Perched on incalculably enormous arsenals, the two rivals blackmailed each other into restraint by mutually licensing the capability to destroy each other. The ABM treaty sought to impose a restraint regime by the use of assured retaliation as a policy, denying each party the ability to protect itself. Assured violence was the facilitator of restraint, as sure an example of blackmail as ever existed — and by mutual consent at that. Such a treaty was bound to end up in the dustbin in 2001, as by all accounts relations all over the world changed after September 11.

Russia has many reasons for accepting the foregone termination of this treaty based on blackmail. Not the least of which is that its arsenal will then come down to numbers that are better handled technically and financially. It already has a rudimentary anti-ballistic missile system in place, and given the possibilities for joint research and mutually agreed deployment there is every reason for Russian acquiescence to the inevitable. The assured demise of an outdated ABM treaty, coupled with deep cuts in nuclear arsenals, has long-term implications for Indian security.

Besides the various “rogue states” or “hostile regimes” (a new American classification for those that harbour terrorists), the country most affected by the demise of the ABM treaty is China. Its basically functional arsenal of about 20 missiles that can strike mainland US will come to nought when the development of missile defences gathers pace. In order to update its arsenal China will have to divert funds currently earmarked for modernizing its conventional military, as also from its economic development programme. This move is certain to push further back China’s emergence, if at all, as a rival to the US.

China’s policy of blackmailing the world into acquiescence on account of its intercontinental ballistic missiles will come a cropper when viable missile defences are put into place. China has to then acquiesce to global standards of proliferation or further raise its own stakes. Either way the long-term impact on India is definite. Confronted on two sides by states that practice the policy of blackmail as the guiding principle, India will have to determine for itself how best to respond. India’s interests lie in a new global strategic regime, but not one whose parameters were set during the Sixties and Seventies. The bottomline must remain the rejection of policies based on short- or long-term blackmail. Freedom cannot endure in an environment of blackmail.


Disgruntled states have for years demanded a change in the Constitution concerning the appointment of governors. In a recent meeting of the interstate council the prime minister finally agreed to consider more closely one of the proposals: the local state cabinets must have a say in the governor’s office. But the various arguments for and against this model have been around for decades. What were those debates which framed the Constitution, and has change become necessary now?

As the Constitution currently stands, the governor of a state is selected by the president, one nominal functionary selecting another. The only qualification for the post is that the potential governor be a citizen of India, aged 35 years old or above, and not a member of any legislature or profit making organization. When the drafting committee for the Constitution met, there were several other more radical proposals: election to the gubernatorial office through adult suffrage, or through the state assembly, or for nomination by the president from a list of candidates selected by the provincial legislature.

The first proposal was incorporated into the draft, the chance for introducing democracy into such a redolently colonial office being welcomed. But with the rest of Constitution based upon the British system where the sovereign must function as a nominal head, it was difficult to include an elected governor. It was also felt that if the governor were directly elected he would not be above political ambition.

Agreeable convention

The second suggestion, that the governor be elected by the state legislature, was considered threatening to the independence of the governor, since his existence would rely on votes from the majority party. The final proposal, that the governor should be selected by the president from a list of names submitted by the local legislature or cabinet, was also rejected. Then political factions would again come into play, and the president, unintentionally, would be casting a significant vote for one party’s candidate.

As A.K. Ayar of the drafting committee observed when the system of presidential appointment without state election or nomination was agreed upon, this would depoliticize the process. Two conventions were “agreed” upon: generally the governor would not be a resident of the state, and so less likely to involve himself with the internal affairs of the state. And the president would consult the chief minister before an appointment, reducing the chance of imposing a person “disagreeable” to the state.

Blocked to flotsam

So why do states still clamour for change? Perhaps because on several occasions the president has acted without informing the chief minister. The United Front government of West Bengal urged the Central government in 1967 to chose one of three suitable names; but Dharam Vira was sent as governor. Also, the office is often treated as a “sinecure for mediocrity”, or even as a “consolation prize” for the fallen heroes of the ruling party.

This has meant that instead of serving as a reward for noted leaders or experienced administrators, the office is often filled with the flotsam of the political world. Some governors have, on occasion, exercised their powers against the will of the state assembly in order to please the Centre. Whether true or not, the accusation of being a Delhi “yesman”, whenever a cabinet is dismissed, assembly dissolved, or a veto exercised, is damaging for the authority of government.

The changes discussed by the interstate council include making official the previous convention of dialogue between chief minister and president over a governor’s selection, of providing a model for the type of person who would be qualified for the role, and generally making the appointment process more transparent. These measures can be seen as taking into account the debate of 50 years ago, but also working with the conventions established since. The governor’s original role, as laid out in article 159, should be remembered. The governor is to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”.


On board Air China 109. Beijing-Hong Kong. I had long thought the shortest crossing from the First World to the Third was at Erez, the frontier post which divides Israel from Palestine. But I have now discovered a shorter route. Step out of the glistening new Metro in Hongkong (Britain’s parting gift to China) at the Olympic tube station and emerge into the verdant patio-garden which leads into the 21st century steel-and-glass mansion of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. Straight through to the polished marble floors, potted plants and indoor dwarf palms, on to the escalators and, whoosh! down to the rear of the building. Out — and you are into the second reality of Hong Kong: the backstreets which could have been lifted straight out of Calcutta — or even Kumbakonam. The Third World nestles just behind, and just out of sight of, the Economic Miracle.

I see this again in Beijing. The boulevards of the capital are Manhattan Redux. Steel-and-glass palaces, neon signs flashing, top-star hotels and upmarket department stores busy and bustling, traffic jams stretching so far back that our swish mini-bus takes an hour to traverse a distance that could be covered by foot in a third of that time. The staff at hotels, restaurants and shops are ever-smiling, efficient, courteous to a fault, and equipped with an adequate smattering of English. This is the face the new China wishes to show the world. And the world gasps back in astonishment.

The land belongs to the state. So whatever comes inconveniently in the way of ten-lane expressways is relentlessly bull-dozed, shanty towns erased to make way for glittering malls and ultra-modern office complexes. Where shanty towns are still to be demolished, there are miles of brick walls running parallel to the thoroughfare, blocking the bad, the ugly and the smelly from the view of those flowing past in limousines. In a slightly seedy quarter off the main boulevards — a quarter which was the poshest part of the capital when I last visited Beijing a decade or more ago — orders have gone out for steel and glass facades to be erected over all the buildings to make the exteriors indistinguishable from Los Angeles on the other side of the Pacific.

My Chinese hosts keep me so busy at my conference, and so sated with mouth-watering dinners which begin at six in the evening and continue till a late bed-time, that I have to snatch a few daylight hours on the morning of my departure to see a China I am anxious to discover — the Beijing of the Hatungs. Hatung is the only word of Mandarin I know. It means “lane”, and it refers to the lanes that run between the boulevards and behind the monuments to China’s economic miracle.

There are two kinds of hatung — the romantic and the real. The romantic hatungs are located in the vicinity of the Forbidden City and are a kind of City of Joy for the Lapierre brand of foreign tourist. Traditional Chinese comforts are on display — mattresses on low couches or the floor, covered in traditional Chinese bedclothes, a touch of silk, a touch of brocade; Chinese curtain hangings; Chinese furniture; and smiling Chinese hostesses in Chinese dress pouring jasmine tea into delectably small traditional porcelain cups.

Traditional Chinese discomforts are also available to the discerning back-packer in search of a whiff of the Orient: slit latrines gashed into the floor, uncertain plumbing, peeling walls, and a neat stash of trash on the pavement outside. Rooms are let in these hatungs to foreigners who know whom to ask. The owners are generally well-connected to the local Party luminary.

Then there are the hatungs for real. These are the by-lanes where the bulk of Beijing lives — hovels on to which creaking doorways open, snaking corridors connecting ten by eight rooms housing entire families but, more often, serving as “chummeries” where single workers crowd into dormitories dreaming of wives, children, girl friends left on the farm in far-off rural provinces. Little different from a chawl in Mumbai. And as in a chawl, the people live in oblivion of their surroundings; this is their lot; they are the Dick Whittingtons of China, come to Beijing because they were told its roads are paved with gold. They find no gold. But they do find brass. Which is more, much more than they found at home.

At any given time, there are upward of 200 million Chinese on the move, leaving rural China in the hope of a job in the city or, thrown out of employ, moving from a job that was, to the hope of another to be gained.

The China of the by-lanes looks as much like India as the China of the boulevards looks unlike India. It is as disturbing for an Indian shamed by Chinese boulevards as it is reassuring for an Indian to discover the bylanes behind the boulevards. The difference between India and China is not so much that we have hatungs and they have palaces as that our hatungs are cheek-by-jowl with our palaces, while their hatungs are hidden by or behind their palaces.

Also, of course, their palaces are more numerous, more imposing, more glassy, more glossy than ours — and more built by overseas Chinese, and some by genuine foreigners, than by themselves. Which brings us to the most searing reason for which we are behind China — they have NRCs; we have to make do with NRIs. Cumulatively, some 85 per cent of foreign direct investment in China has been by non-resident Chinese. Equally, 85 per cent of foreign exchange deposits in India are by non-resident Indians. FDI creates visible assets. Deposits merely increase the comfort level of our foreign exchange balances. Moreover, FDI is asset-creation; non-resident deposits are debt-creation.

A second reason is that Deng Xiaoping did not bother about the fiscal deficit. The Chinese budget is, in any case, an illusion. As banks are wholly state-owned and China’s considerable savings, squeezed and voluntary, re-funnelled into these banks, the state and its agents — generally high-ranking Party cadres — have a ball channelling these savings where they will. In consequence, their non-performing assets make our nationalized banks look like models of prudence and propriety. Where our NPAs average 15 per cent of outstanding credit, the People’s Republic officially admits to a quarter of all loans being non-performing but most responsible estimates suggest the true figure is nearer half. It is unrestrained bank credit, without looking too closely into boring details like collateral and due diligence, which is one reason for China’s economic miracle.

Another is Deng’s airy dismissal of the foreign debt burden and capacity constraints. The former stood at 98 billion dollars a decade ago; ours has taken ten more years to cross a hundred. Deng ordered that the foreign debt be increased on the sound grounds that foreigners could not take away physical assets they had created, and on being asked what was to be done with the thousands of hotel rooms being built said what did it matter if they were empty; one day they would be filled. They are. But 60 per cent of Beijing’s gorgeous new office-space is yet “To let”.

China flourishes because its leaders are not fussy housewives like Yashwant Sinha. It survives because it pushes production, productivity and exports faster than debt accumulation. So long as that persists there is no danger of Gordon Chang proving right in predicting The Coming Collapse of China, an exercise in wish-fulfilment rather than sound prognosis.

What is really remarkable about China is less its uneven — and uncertain — economic growth than its political liberalization. I first travelled through China, from Hanoi to Hongkong, in 1968, a China convulsed by the Cultural Revolution. I have been back more than once since then. But this time the expression on the face of the Chinese people has changed. The tension is gone. The strain is no more. The eyes are open, the cheeks are dimpling, the mouth is smiling. They are a relaxed people, easily interacting with foreigners, no longer anxiously looking over their shoulders, no longer stiff with apprehension.

Democracy, as we understand it, freedom of expression, as we understand it, freedom of association, as we understand it — all these are as distant a dream for the Chinese as a tandoori chicken in every pot is for the Indian. But compared to thirty, or even ten years ago, the liberation of the People’s Republic is beginning to translate into liberty for the Republic’s people. And the transition is being managed infinitely more intelligently than Mikhail Gorbachev’s flop show.

So, as India glacially advances towards the Chinese economic miracle and China drifts, almost imperceptibly but ineluctably, towards India’s political miracle, the doors are opening to a return to the halcyon days of Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai. Begging Jaswant Singh’s pardon, Washington is a dud bet; we should be putting our money on Beijing.


Children’s health improves on average as a result of policy interventions that expand access to piped water. However, the gains largely bypass children in poor and poorly educated families.

The World Health Organization estimates that four million children under the age of five die each year from diarrhoea, mainly in developing countries. Unsafe drinking water is widely thought to be a major cause, and this has motivated public programs to expand piped water access. In this paper, we estimate the impacts on child health of piped water in a developing country. We argue that expanding piped water is not a sufficient condition to improve child health status in this setting. The source of ambiguity lies in the uncertainty about how public and private inputs interact in the production of health conditional on the heterogeneous quality of public inputs. The private inputs relevant to diarrhoea prevalence and duration include hygienic water storage, boiling water, oral re-hydration therapy, medical treatment, sanitation and nutrition.

With the right combination of these public and private inputs, diarrhoeal disease is almost entirely preventable. However, behaviour is known to play an important role. Public inputs such as access to a piped water network can either displace parentally chosen private inputs or be complementary to them. Even when there are child-health benefits (factoring in parental spending effects) the gains could well by-pass children in poor families, taking account of parental behavioural responses to poverty. For example, if piped water increases the marginal health benefit for parents of spending more on their children’s health, and such spending is a normal good, then the health gains from piped water will tend to rise with income. This is not implausible on a prior grounds.

Piped water in rural areas of developing countries is no doubt safer than many alternative sources, but it is often the case that it still needs to be boiled or filtered and stored properly to be safe to drink. This can be a burden for a poor family. A poor, or poorly educated, mother may reasonably think that there are better uses of time and money needed to provide this complementary input to piped water.

It is plausible that there are private inputs that are cooperant with piped water in determining child health. However, it can also be argued that such private inputs have positive income effects in this setting, and there is supportive evidence. For example, it is estimated that 29 per cent of the poorest quintile (in terms of a composite wealth index) of families in rural India in 1992/93 used oral rehydration therapy when a child had diarrhoea, as compared to 50 per cent in the richest quintile.

Similarly, 52 per cent of those in the poorest quintile sought medical treatment, as compared to 78 per cent in the richest. The upshot of all this is that being connected to a piped water network may well be of limited relevance to the poor from an epidemiological standpoint. Income poverty and lack of education and knowledge may well constrain the potential health gains from water infrastructure improvements. The incidence of health gains need not favour children from poor families, even when facility placement is pro-poor. India undoubtedly accounts for more child deaths due to unsafe water than any other single country. Parikh et al (1999) quote an estimate of 1.5 million child deaths per year in India due to diarrhoea and other diseases related to poor water quality. Moreover, estimates indicate that one-fifth of the population of rural India do not have access to safe drinking water. Expanding access to piped water is considered an important development action in India.

Our aim is not to model the effect of contaminated water on child health in this setting. Rather we attempt to quantify the child health gains in terms of diarrhoeal disease from policy interventions that expand access to piped water, and to see how the gains vary with household circumstances, notably income and education.

The main questions we ask are: Is a child less vulnerable to diarrhoeal disease if he/she lives in a household with access to piped water? Do children in poor, or poorly educated, households realize the same health gains from piped water as others? Does income matter independently of parental education? The following section establishes the theoretical ambiguity in the effect of access to piped water on child health. Section 3 discusses the methodology we propose to test for child health gains from piped water. Section 4 describes our data for rural India. The results are given in section 5, while section 6 concludes.

To Be Concluded



The truth of the tapes

Sir — Your initial reporting on the video-tape of Osama bin Laden discussing the September 11 attacks — recently premiered in the United States of America — might have mentioned the possibility that it was fake (“Osama’s chilling tower calculations”, Dec 14). Of course, a hazy picture of a bearded man wearing army fatigues talking inaudibly in Arabic might be bin Laden. It might also be a coincidence that the tape was released just before the final assault on the al Qaida, and when people were wondering how US priorities so quickly changed from tracking down bin Laden to destroying the taliban. The case that the tape is authentic rests on the idea of dressing a man to “play the moor”, and the words bin Laden is translated as saying do not conclusively incriminate him. Surely with the promises of support from Hollywood, given last month by prominent directors and producers, and the still pressing need of proof of bin Laden’s guilt the US could have made a better effort?

Yours faifthfully,
Arindam Dey, Calcutta

Party politics

Sir — It has become the fashion in India to make social festivity into a political extravaganza, or in other words, bring politics into religion. The Ramadan season, with its fasts and feasts, has been appropriated by the political leaders of India. As your editorial, “Party matters” (Dec 11), suggested, iftaars have become “at best” a token gesture towards Muslim sensibilities. At their worst, they are little more than competitions, measured by the size of the gathering, the number of big personalities, the variety of gastronomic delights on offer, and of course, the peddling of politics.

The iftaar party recently held by Sonia Gandhi allowed her and Mulayam Singh Yadav to make a political rapproachment during the “celebrations”. It is not surprising, as the editorial informed, that members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and prominent imams of Delhi have instructed the faithful not to attend these parties; many calling for politicians to throw such parties for poor Muslims instead. Sadly, as religious discourse permeates so much of the political arena, it appears unlikely that iftaars will go back to celebrating our non-political brotherhood.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

Sir — In your editorial, “Party matters”, you have rightly opposed the politics of iftaar parties. None of the political personalities who host ostentatious iftaar parties is known to throw similar parties on the occasion of Diwali, Holi, Bijoya, Buddhist Purnima, Mahavir Jayanti, Ramnavami, Janmashtami or the anniversary of Guru Nanak’s birth — not even for the sake of symbolism. As such, the politicized iftaar parties don’t suggest a secular ethos, but a blatant communal lopsidedness.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — The political deal-makers have been exploiting the sacred iftaar. These religion-mongers are expert at changing their gestures, one moment demolishing a mosque, the next visiting an iftaar party. President George W. Bush is the latest example. The iftaar he hosted in the Pentagon was presumably to soothe ruffled feathers among Muslim leaders for his infamous “crusade” speech before the attack on Afghanistan. He needed to dispel the notion that a Christian West sees itself in opposition to “Islam”. But Bush must be careful not to follow the example of Bangaru Laxman’s iftaar last year, at party headquarters, which demonstrated that politics had swallowed up all religious content: the “iftaar” was hosted without any arrangement of magrib prayer.

Yours faithfully,
Anirban Sarkar, Calcutta

Terror in division

Sir — Atal Bihari Vajpayee has pushed India towards this unprecedented era of terrorism with his sheer incompetence to govern (“Nation numbed”, Dec 14). What should be the most secured area in the country — the Parliament and its grounds — became the latest target for militants. The question that arises is, why did the intelligence department fail to alert the security of a possible attack? With a minister like George Fernandes in charge of defence, India shall remain a happy hunting ground for terrorists. It is time that Vajpayee, along with the opposition, came to a consensus on this serious matter, and apportioned blame not only to terrorists but also to his own government.

Yours faithfully,
Kantilal Dugar, Assam

Sir — Opposition parties are needed for any democracy since constructive opposition always checks the lapses of government. This is possible only when both opposition and ruling parties keep the interest of the country above their respective petty political equations. The opposition should learn how to appreciate the good work done by the government and its machinery.

On September 11 the administration of the United States of America failed to protect the World Trade Center in New York. But no opposition party in the US had demanded the resignation of George W. Bush, or of his secretaries of state for defence or home affairs. This is in stark contrast to the current situation in India in the aftermath of the attack on Parliament.

Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani have been criticized, and George Fernandes continues to be surrounded by controversy. When the country’s security is at stake it is not wise to project a divided picture of our society to the world as it may encourage terrorist outfits in their designs to destabilize the country.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Parting shot

Sir — Liquid petroleum gas is now subsidized to the extent of nearly Rs 160 per 14 kilogram cylinder. This is likely to be reduced to Rs 60 from April 2002, and the total annual subsidy of Rs 7200 crore will come down to Rs 240 crore for nearly 40 million consumers. But why should better-off people still be included, when 260 million people live below the poverty line, in approximately 50-million households, with the most minimal of energy supplies?

These are the people who are forced to use fire wood, agricultural waste and animal dung as fuel for cooking. The type of chullahs they use are barely 10 per cent efficient, and emit harmful smoke, affecting health and polluting the environment. There are, however, improved chullahs costing Rs 150 each which can reduce fuel requirement by half.

There is a programme of introducing improved or smokeless chullahs to cover a potential of 120 million families in the country. But despite ten years of hard work by the ministry of non-conventional energy sources, along with other departments and non-governmental organizations, improved chullahs have been provided to only around 30 per cent of the targeted families.

But if the next five years of the proposed annual LPG subsidy for the richer section of the society were spent on the improved chullahs, many, if not all, of the families might be reached. Low technology appliances and a little redistribution of wealth are unfortunately not fashionable among politicians.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

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