Editorial 1 / Stable Friends
Editorial 2 / Divide and rule
Independent thinking
Fifth Column / How to win the opium war
A journey with other people
Document / Terror region between states
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / STABLE FRIENDS 
 
 
 
 
Even contrarians will concede that there are few relationships that are as critical for India today as the one with the United States of America. The last year has demonstrated that both New Delhi and Washington, despite tactical differences, recognize the importance of forging a strategic partnership. What is also becoming clear is that there is an obvious convergence of New Delhi and Washington’s interests on a variety of issues and this could with imagination and initiative position Indo-US relations on a firmer ground in the future. While India and the US had sustained a high-level dialogue for nearly two years during the Clinton administration, there were apprehensions that this momentum would not be sustained during the tenure of the new Republican administration under Mr George W. Bush.

Much of the groundwork needed to firmly situate bilateral relations was completed within the first hundred days of Mr Bush’s office. In April, the US president signalled through his unprecedented meeting in the Oval office with the Indian external affairs minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, that he took the relationship with India very seriously. This meeting, although ostensibly spontaneous, could not have taken place without careful thought, and without a considered evaluation by Washington of the signal that it would send to south Asia and beyond. No less significantly, as part of Mr Bush’s “outreach to allies” on the National Missile Defence, the deputy secretary of state, Mr Richard Armitage, was dispatched to have consultations with key allies in Asia, including India. Mr Bush also moved with remarkable alacrity in making key appointments that had a bearing on India. Both Mr Robert Blackwill’s appointment as the new US ambassador to India and Ms Christina Rocca’s as the assistant secretary of state for south Asia were made within the first three months of the new administration. Later in the year, most of the sanctions that had been imposed against India after the nuclear tests of 1998 were removed. Quite clearly, the initial momentum was provided by the overarching concern about stability in Asia, and the role that India can play in generating a balance in the continent. And the belief that it is in the mutual interest of Washington and New Delhi to construct a stable order in Asia.

But the one key issue that has united India and the US is the fight against terrorism, particularly in the wake of the attacks of September 11. However, there were apprehensions in India that Islamabad’s close cooperation with Washington in the fight against al Qaida and the taliban, may renew the US tilt towards Pakistan. These fears are unwarranted. Only an extremely shortsighted US administration would give up its stated aim of eradicating terrorism, or of abandoning its growing relationship with India in favour of an unstable Pakistan. India and the US have often been viewed as natural allies, yet estrangement rather than engagement defined relations between New Delhi and Washington over the last 54 years. This is now beginning to change with India and the US becoming more sensitive to each other’s concerns than ever before.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / DIVIDE AND RULE 
 
 
 
 
A new district in the new year may portend good things for the state. The calculations behind the creation of West Bengal’s 19th district certainly seem to be promising enough. The chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, formalized the division of Midnapore district into two, Paschim and Purba Midnapore, with hopes of development for both. Too large a district — the population of old Midnapore was larger than that of any other Bengal district — hampers both administration and development. The decision to divide was based on this premise, although the premise did not escape debate. Neither was the final act free of shadows. There were objections from the Trinamool Congress, from the people of parts of Paschim Midnapore as well as Contai in Purba Midanapore, against the manner of the division, the choice of Tamluk as headquarters of the new district and the excess of forest area and prevalence of militant activity being left behind in Paschim Midnapore.

But as the chief minister said, no big step can be taken without some problems. The two areas to focus on in Midnapore would be literacy and electricity, and two smaller districts are likely to show results of this focus more quickly than one large one. A medical college for Paschim Midnapore, two engineering colleges for Haldia and Tamluk, electricity in every village in both districts, and natural gas for Purba Midnapore for gas-based industries are part of the immediate plans of the government. All this looks excellent on paper. The natural gas project is particularly ambitious, and so far the West Bengal government has not shown particular foresight in planning industrial projects. Such a project would be a boost to Haldia. The clearest message the chief minister had was for the People’s War Group militants, who are active in the area. Once again, threatening rhetoric alone will not cow militants, the police have to be both alert and responsible in order to put an end to their activity. But the state will have achieved much if it fulfils its two basic goals. Without complete electrification there will not be improvement in either education or the sense of security. The colleges being planned should be, from the beginning, conceived of as centres of excellence and not forms of lip service to a politically motivated promise.

   

 
 
INDEPENDENT THINKING 
 
 
BY CHANDRASHEKHAR DASGUPTA
 
 
Is non-alignment still relevant after the end of the Cold War? When the United States of America launched the war against al Qaida and its taliban patrons, a debate erupted in India over the principle and practice of non-alignment. Some commentators questioned whether New Delhi’s offer to provide certain facilities to US forces was consistent with India’s traditional policy of non-alignment. A rival school raised questions about the relevance of non-alignment in the post-Cold War era. Since mutually hostile military alliances are no longer ranged against each other, between whom are we supposed to be non-aligned, they asked.

In order to find answers to these questions, it is necessary first to consider what we mean by the term non-alignment. Before independence and in the early years after 1947, the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, frequently used the term “independent” to characterize India’s foreign policy. Thus, in a press conference on September 26, 1946, he declared: “In the sphere of foreign affairs, India will follow an independent policy, keeping away from the power politics of groups aligned against one another.”

The term “non-alignment” came into vogue in the early Fifties and was employed to convey the same sense as an “independent” policy. Take, for instance, the following extract from Nehru’s speech in the Lok Sabha on December 9, 1958: “When we say our policy is one of non-alignment, obviously we mean non-alignment with military blocs…This itself is not a policy; it is only part of a policy…The policy itself can only be a policy of acting according to our best judgment…I am not prepared…to give up my right of individual judgment to anybody else in other countries. That is the essence of our policy.”

Nehru made it clear that non-alignment did not mean equidistance between the rival blocs. India would develop closer ties with one side if this served her national interests. In an address to the Indian council of world affairs on March 22, 1949, Nehru observed: “When I say we should not align ourselves with any power blocs, obviously it does not mean that we should not be closer in our relations with some countries than with others…At the present moment you will see that as a matter of fact we have far closer relations with some countries of the Western world than with others.”

Finally, non-alignment does not mean foreclosing the option of joining one side in a conflict, if this serves our national interests. It only means that we do not tie ourselves to one party in advance, denying ourselves the right to make an independent decision. As Nehru explained to the constituent assembly on December 4, 1947: “We are not going to join a war if we can help it; and we are going to join the side which is to our advantage when the time comes to make a choice.”

Thus non-alignment is a flexible policy of pursuing our national interests. This is borne out by India’s diplomatic history. On more than one occasion, we have shifted course in foreign policy in response to major changes in the international environment.

In the period 1947 to 1953, India leant towards Britain and the West. Under Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union was deeply suspicious of the new Asian “bourgeois” states, viewing them as only nominally independent. In India, the Telengana uprising was attributed to Soviet instigation. In contrast to the distant relations with the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, India maintained very close political, military and economic ties with Britain.

Although India refused to be drawn into a military pact, her defence posture reflected her intention of staying out of a global conflict, if possible, or joining the British side, if necessary. Until 1949 all the three armed services were led by British officers. The air force was commanded by a Briton until 1952 and it was only in 1953 that an Indian naval chief was appointed. Military imports were sourced almost exclusively from Britain.

Nineteen fifty three witnessed a dramatic transformation of India’s external environment. The US-sponsored network of military pacts was extended to south Asia and Pakistan needed little persuasion to join the alliance. This coincided with a major shift in Moscow’s policy towards the Afro-Asian states. Post-Stalinist Russia courted the non-aligned countries with offers of economic and political support. India rapidly built up close political and economic ties with the former Soviet Union. In the United Nations security council, Moscow was ready to cast its veto against pro-Pakistan resolutions supported by the Western powers. Thus, in the period 1954-70, India adopted a more or less equally balanced position between the East and the West. It maintained close relations with both blocs, using the USSR as a countervailing power against the West.

India’s foreign policy entered a third stage in 1971 in response to a dramatic turn in Sino-US relations. In a radical departure from past US policy, the then American president, Richard Nixon, decided to forge a strategic partnership with China against the USSR, using Islamabad as a channel of communication with Beijing. This resulted in Nixon’s famous “tilt” in favour of Pakistan during the Bangladesh crisis.

India was quick to understand the implications of the new development. Its response was to sign the Indo-Soviet treaty of peace and friendship. When Nixon ordered the USS Enterprise to sail into the Bay of Bengal, a Soviet submarine also appeared on the scene. For almost two decades after 1971 India maintained closer relations with Moscow than with Washington, though it lost no opportunity to repair ties with the US to the extent possible.

Thus, India’s foreign policy underwent dynamic changes throughout the Cold War years, in response to changes in the international environment. In the initial post-independence period, India maintained much closer ties with Britain and the West than with the USSR. From the mid-Fifties to 1970, it maintained a more or less equidistant posture between the two superpowers and, from 1971 to around 1989, it had closer ties with Moscow than with Washington. On one occasion — in 1962 — India even sought US military assistance against the advancing Chinese army without, however, binding itself to any long- term commitment in the form of a defence pact.

All these shifts were quite consistent with non-alignment since India always maintained independence of action, adopting specific positions in the light of its national interests. Non-alignment is a flexible and dynamic policy, not a metaphysical doctrine.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union have transformed the international environment, throwing up new challenges and opportunities for our foreign policy. Moscow is no longer in a position to play the role of a countervailing power against Washington. More important, however, the termination of Pakistan’s role of a US Cold War ally cleared the way for closer Indo-US ties.

Our national interests require forging new ties with today’s sole superpower, the US, in all possible areas, including defence. There are no grounds for criticizing New Delhi’s offer of certain facilities to US forces during the Afghan operations as being inconsistent with non-alignment.

Our national interests require us to join the war against terrorism, the first stage of which was the Afghanistan operation. The offer of facilities was made in this specific context and it did not entail any future commitment. Non-alignment does not mean rejection of military cooperation, only of alliances which foreclose future options. Those who defended New Delhi’s decision on the ground that non-alignment is irrelevant in a unipolar world were equally in error. The essence of non-alignment, as Nehru repeatedly pointed out, is independent decisionmaking and this is as relevant in a unipolar as in a bipolar or a multipolar world. For a country like India, non-alignment is as valid today as it was in the past.

The author is former ambassador to China and the US

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / HOW TO WIN THE OPIUM WAR 
 
 
BY PRAVIN KUMAR
 
 
One major fallout of the recent American military operation in Afghanistan has been the rise in opium prices in the neighbouring countries. This is partly because the departing taliban took with them large quantities of opium. Since the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was sealed, the price of a pudi of heroin has reportedly risen from Rs 25 to Rs 60 in the streets of Mumbai.

Afghanistan and the central Asian countries have been home to poppy cultivation for centuries. “We don’t have much water, so with narcotics we make more money to offset the problem of drought”, an Afghan farmer reasons. Hence, the one problem the new Hamid Karzai regime in Afghanistan will have to face is in diminishing the country’s dependence on opium for revenue. With opium fetching $750 per kilogram, it will be difficult to ignore it as a revenue-earner. But a drastic cutback in opium production is a pre-requisite to the promised billion dollar international aid programme.

Opium production in Afghanistan has had mixed fortunes. The Soviets discouraged profiteering, and its financial system made it difficult for occupied Afghanistan to hide profits. The end of Soviet occupation led to a spurt in opium cultivation as the civil war undermined institutions that would have tried to stop the activity. The taliban, when it assumed power, cracked down on opium production by levying a heavy tax.

Striking at the roots

However, though opium prices plunged since the United States of America began bombings on October 7, prices have subsequently risen. Unless massive efforts are made to wean farmers from opium production, Afghanistan is expected to resume its dubious distinction as the world’s top opium producer by next summer.

It goes without saying that downplaying the role of opium in Afghanistan will be far more difficult than it has been in Myanmar, the world’s second largest source of opium and heroin and where the production has dropped sharply from the 1995 levels. Though partly the result of drought, the drop also reflects the Myanmar government’s efforts to keep areas out of cultivation.

Alternatives to opium have to be found in Afghanistan. The US Agency for International Development says that farmers can be encouraged to grow equally remunerative crops such as “flea seed”, a plant similar to poppy, but which synthesizes thiamine only, not morphine and codeine. Seed-oil can be usefully extracted from this plant’s seeds to provide a healthy cooking oil. The seeds can also be used as a source of protein. But Afghanistan needs to become more stable before the agency can start implementing any crop substitution programmes.

Magic seed

Another approach favoured by the International Narcotics Control Board is the extraction of alkaloids from the skin of the poppy capsule. All poppy growing countries, except India, are now following this practice. Several concentrated poppy straw varieties have been developed like Sanchita which has less than 0.05 per cent of “straw-morphine” However such varieties are not a permanent solution, because they are not free from opium/latex, and hence can be lanced by unscrupulous growers.

Curiously, opium-less poppy varieties do occur in nature. As early as 1982, such varieties were reported to occur among Indian land races. They were studied at the Central Institute of Aromatic and Medicinal Plants, Lucknow, but in breeding reverted to normal. A team of scientists at CIAMP has now developed an opium-less and alkaloid free variety of poppy called Sujata by inactivation of the “opium-gene”. Sujata does not exude latex opium on lancing or plucking and the straw has no alkaloids either.

According to the Lucknow scientists, the non-narcotic variety of poppy can be safely grown as a seed crop and used for augmenting food prodcution worldwide, including India. The protein content of the seeds is higher than the other varieties. Sujata also has a higher proportion of unsaturated fatty acids which would serve as a dietary control for coronary heart disease.

Does Afghanistan’s future then lie in the hands of this promising food crop?

   

 
 
A JOURNEY WITH OTHER PEOPLE 
 
 
BY SUDIPTA BHATTACHARJEE.
 
 
Today, the Nagas just want peace, believesBy Sudipta Bhattacharjee. The reconciliation process is paving the way towards this in a climate of mutual tolerance The new year is always a harbinger of hope. It is also a time for resolutions. Events over the past weeks would ratify that resolving the internecine conflict in Nagaland is now the primary concern of the people. An unprecedented “reconciliation process” was launched in Kohima on December 20, ushering in optimism about an early settlement of the Naga imbroglio through the Centre’s peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim.

The Naga Hoho, apex body of Naga tribes, took the initiative to launch a unity drive because it felt “there may be no people for reconciliation if a political settlement” came first. It cited the case of South Africa, where a truth and reconciliation commission was set up after the political goal was reached, and said the Nagas wanted the conciliatory move to act as a catalyst to a political solution.

This could be a defining decision in the five-decade-old Naga crisis, given that reconciliation means mutual giving. It initially did not work in the case of South Africa, though. Susan Collin Marks, director of the Washington DC-based Search for Common Ground, was a member of the Western Cape regional peace committee and documented South Africa’s political transition. She recalls: “The relationship between peace committees and their political masters was doomed from the start. The peace committees, operating in crisis mode to deal with daily, ongoing violence, required flexibility, resources and quick responses, whereas the politicians who administered them gave priority to the party’s political interests. These incompatible goals were sure recipe for conflict. In a way, control of the peace process by party politicians represented a contradiction in terms.”

Were the Hoho, the church and sundry Naga grassroots organizations to orchestrate this movement for peace, they would have to work out the modalities vis-à-vis politicians. The positive aspect is that they enjoy the people’s trust. As Marks points out: “People got used to participation in the forums that sprang up. When interest groups come together in a spirit of collaborative problem solving around an issue of common concern, they have the best chance of finding sustainable goals, solutions and formulations for the future.” This seems to be the agenda for progress in Nagaland too, alleviating the sense of futility that prevailed ever since the Centre retracted the phrase “without territorial limits” in its ceasefire with the NSCN(I-M) in July 2001.

The festive season was heralded by several positive moves from various quarters. On December 18, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN announced a 30-day ceasefire with the rival I-M faction and lauded the Hoho’s peace and reconciliation efforts. The previous week, the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, took time off during his Japan visit to meet the NSCN leaders, Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, in Osaka. This was followed up by a meeting between the Centre’s interlocutor, K. Padmanabhaiah, with these leaders in Bangkok. New Delhi took care to exclude the militant outfit from the ambit of the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance.

The Union minister of state for home, I.D. Swamy, last week mentioned that for its part, the I-M leaders were on the verge of climbing down from their rigid stand on sovereignty. Although the NSCN(I-M) has voiced opinions to the contrary, a modicum of flexibility is evident in its representatives attending the Naga national reconciliation at the Kohima local ground where thousands of Nagas congregated, and, two days later, sending an invitation to the Hoho for “consultations”.

It was a pity that the turnout for the reconciliation meet was not as high as the hundreds of thousands expected Many of the tribes went unrepresented. Even the Khaplang faction, which had been openly supporting the conciliatory process, did not attend the gathering. It would perhaps have been too much of a good thing for warring groups to abandon the adversarial stance and gather under the umbrella of collective goodwill. What a blow to those vested interests, working overtime to stymie such peace endeavours, that would be.

Admitting schisms and contradictions and the need to overcome them, the Hoho president, M. Vero said, “(We) Nagas have to sacrifice our pride, fears, selfishness and revenge for reconciliation to become a reality and to continue the Naga journey along with other peoples.” Those would be operative terms for a vision of their future, and may have stuck a discordant chord in those (and there are many) in Nagaland who foresee a nation separate from India.

The macrocosmic impression is reinforced by the candid appraisal by a Naga editor: “When one thinks of Naga society, one gets the mental picture of a pressure cooker on the boil: confined space, permitting absolutely no avenue to escape and reach out and under very high pressure, ready to explode and/or implode. The first is manifested through our export of violence to neighbouring societies, while the latter is clear from continuing Naga disunity and fratricide.” Take a count, and one finds more Nagas killed by their brethren than at the hands of security forces, as is usually alleged.

It is still early to be euphoric about the outcome of the prevailing congeniality, partially bestowed by the Yuletide spirit and the general benevolence associated with the beginning of a year. The church and several organizations have helped the Hoho forge ahead on this unique mission. This is acknowledged in the December 20 declaration: “The Naga Hoho, Churches and the social organizations feel the urgent need to initiate a process to acknowledge the wrongs and the pains of the past that must be put right for the sake of the future…The journey will not be an easy one.”

There are two major stumbling blocks to the smooth conduct of peace talks — the demands for sovereignty and the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in India and Myanmar, which are neither contiguous nor Naga-dominated. Those who seek to draw parallels between the Naga and Mizo insurgencies usually overlook these basic factors. In the case of Mizoram, the talks were between the Centre and the Mizo National Front, with Laldenga as the undisputed leader. The only similarity is that Mizoram, at the time of the accord, had a Congress chief minister (Lathanhawla) who voluntarily stepped down to make room for Laldenga.

It is difficult to envisage such a transition in Nagaland, which is still riven by divisive forces, diverse aspirations and often unrelated goals. It was because of this that the problems persisted even after Nagaland was accorded statehood, unlike in Mizoram.

Today, the Nagas simply want peace, unconditionally. Brandishing a “historical right” and touting “nationalism” no longer appears the only route to a feasible solution.

The Naga Hoho’s goodwill measure to neighbouring states last year and the reconciliation process make for sound stepping stones towards a rapprochement of sorts in a climate of moderation and mutual tolerance. The seeds of transition have been sown and the government, for its part, has been sincerely promoting what it terms “democratic decentralization”. The Centre is unlikely to offer a “solution” to the Naga problem before elections to the Manipur assembly are completed in February, given the considerable Naga population in that state and the tendency of Meiteis to erupt at an unfavourable verdict, like they did in June last year. Any decision on Nagaland will have a direct bearing on the Northeast, especially on Manipur.

The Hoho would do well to use this period to synchronize public opinion and usher the diverse political groups — underground and otherwise — onto a common platform. It did so symbolically (to spectacular effect) by weaving together shawls of the myriad tribes across the podium for the December 20 meet. If it can accomplish that, half the battle would be won.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / TERROR REGION BETWEEN STATES 
 
 
 
 
Mutual legal assistance may be refused: if the request is not made in conformity with provisions of this annex; if the requested state considers that execution of the request is likely to prejudice its sovereignty, security, public order or other essential interest; if the authorities of the requested state would be prohibited by its domestic laws from carrying out the action requested with regard to any similar offence, had it been subject to investigation, prosecution, or proceedings under their own jurisdiction.

If it would be contrary to the legal systems of the requested state relating to mutual legal assistance for the request to be granted. Any assistance under this annex may not be refused on the sole ground that it concerns political offence or an offence connected with a political offence or an offence inspired by political motives. Reasons shall be given for any refusal of mutual legal assistance.

The requested state may postpone mutual legal assistance on the ground that it interferes with an ongoing investigation, prosecution or proceeding....the requested state shall consult with the requesting state to determine if the assistance can still be given subject to such terms and conditions as the requested deems necessary.

A witness, expert or other person who consents to give evidence in a proceeding or to assist in an investigation, prosecution or judicial proceeding in the territory of the requesting state shall not be prosecuted, detained, punished or subjected to any other restriction of his or her personal liberty in that territory in respect of acts, omissions or convictions prior to his departure from the territory of the requested state. Such safe conduct shall cease when the witness, expert or other person having had, for a period of fifteen consecutive days, or for any period agreed upon by the states parties from the date on which he or she has been officially informed that his or her presence is no longer required by the judicial authorities...has nevertheless remain voluntarily in the territory or, having left it, has returned of his...own free will.

The ordinary costs of executing a request shall be borne by the requested state, unless otherwise agreed by the states concerned. If expenses of a substantial or extraordinary nature are or will be required to fulfil the request, the state parties shall consult to determine the terms and conditions under which the requests will be executed as well as the manner in which the costs shall be borne.

The state parties shall consider...the possibility of concluding bilateral or multilateral agreements or arrangements that would serve the purpose of giving practical effect to or enhance the provisions of this annex.

The offences referred to [earlier] shall be deemed to be included as extraditable offences in any extradition treaty existing between state parties. The state parties undertake to include such offences as extraditable offences in every extradition to be concluded between them.

The state parties that do not make extradition conditional on the existence of a treaty shall recognize the offences referred to [earlier] as extraditable offences between themselves subject to the conditions provided by the law of the requested state.

The offences referred to... shall be treated...as if they had been committed not only in the place in which they occurred but also in the territories of the requested state parties.

The state parties may... apply paragraphs 5 to 18 of this annex to requests for extradition in respect of offences referred to...if they are not bound by a treaty of extradition. If these states are bound by such a treaty, the corresponding provisions of that treaty shall apply unless the states agree to apply paragraphs 5 to 18 of this annex in lieu thereof.

State parties shall designate an authority, or...authorities, which shall have the responsibility and power to execute requests for extradition or to transmit them to the competent authorities for execution. The authority or the authorities designated...shall be notified to the secretary-general of the United Nations. Transmission of requests for extradition and any communication related thereto shall be effected between the authorities designated by the state parties; this requirement shall be without prejudice to the right of a state to require that such requests and communications be addressed to it through diplomatic channels and, in urgent circumstances, where the state parties agree, through channels of the International Criminal Police Organization — Interpol, if possible.

Requests shall be made in writing in a language acceptable to the requested state. In urgent circumstances and where agreed by the state parties, requests may be made orally, but shall be confirmed in writing forthwith.

A request for extradition shall contain: The identity of the authority making the request; As accurate a description as possible of the person sought, together with any other information which would help to establish the identity, location and nationality of the person concerned. A summary of the facts of the offence for which extradition is requested; and The text, if any, of the law defining that offence and prescribing the maximum punishment for that offence.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Winner all the way

Sir — Not only do the English know how to appreciate cricket, but they are also good at rewarding deserving players (“OBE for Hussain”, Dec 31). The awarding of the Order of the British Empire by the queen of England to the English skipper, Nasser Hussain, goes to validate this. Both as captain and as a player in the English cricket team, Hussain has played a constructive role in reviving the fortunes of cricket in England. Unlike many other captains of other countries, he has been innovative and tactical in his approach. He has both criticized and encouraged players, which has helped the young in the team to improve their performance. However, the gesture of the queen might find a few cynics raising their eyebrows since Hussain has very few overseas successes under his belt. Moreover, the OBE runs the risk of being interpreted as another precious gift going to the much maligned migrants who have made England their home.

Yours faithfully,
Shiuli Ray, Calcutta

Whose cause?

Sir — Achin Vanaik in “Babri Masjid and after” (Dec 25) gives a true picture of what Indian nationalism has now come to represent. It is unfortunate that the actual nationalist spirit as reflected in the writings of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Nazrul Islam and Subhas Chandra Bose is getting lost in the aggressive nationalism propagated by the sangh parivar. It is also alarming that the demolition of Babri Masjid, a sacred site for a particular religious community, should become the yardstick of nationalism.

As rightly pointed out by Vanaik, the fanatic euphoria following the Pokhran tests of 1998 also showcased the complete “moral unconcern” of the Indian elite who had, with the same gusto, cheered the activities on December 6. It is curious how this section has completely forgotten the bloodshed and bitterness of Partition, an event that has scarred the history of the subcontinent. Lessons should also have been learnt from the Kargil war. If the so-called nationalists have any concern for the interests of the country, they would know that it is more important to invest in nfrastructure than in another fruitless, inconclusive war with Pakistan.

The consumerist urban lot has emerged the new guardians of Indian nationalism and modernization. They are committing a grevious error by converting the issue of Ram mandir into a matter of national honour and by succumbing to the nuclear temptation. Thus, the elite, who form the backbone of the present Indian society is, as usual, giving the short shrift to the common man. Should it still have the right to shape India’s destiny?

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — Achin Vanaik gives an interesting insight into the Indian perception and attitude towards issues like the Babri Masjid demolition, Pokhran II and the events of September 11. He makes the double standards of the Indian government quite blatant. After the demolition of the World Trade Center by terrorists, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had declared its unconditional support for the war against terrorism. But can one forget that the same party had carried out a similar act of barbarism in December 1992? Vajpayee and his party seem to justify that cowardly action as a nationalist act. They show no signs of realizing that the demolition is also an act of political terrorism, or as Vanaik puts it, “an act of terrorist intimidation and a brutal defiance of the values embodied in the Indian constitution”.

There are other indications of double standards. While India carried out the Pokhran nuclear test on grounds of national security, it condemned the tests conducted by Pakistan at Chaghai Hills only days after.

What is most alarming is that the government has the support of the Indian elite which has a lot of say in policymaking. It is also their tendency to “patriotically” justify the actions of the government. What we need at this juncture is a strong opposition that will serve as a sounding board for the government.

Yours faithfully,
Bandana Sarkar, Calcutta

Sing as you like

Sir — Each year, Calcuttans seem to be left with few causes to celebrate. Things seem different this year. Much to the disappointment of the culture police of the Visva-Bharati University, the copyright over Rabindranath Tagore’s works has expired (“Tagore copyright freedom at midnight”, Dec 31). At last Tagore’s spirit will be relieved from institutional dominance and authoritarianism. However, freeing Tagore’s works from the control of a sole authority will brings its own set of problems. For one, the songs will be prone to distortion and experimentation. One can only hope that good sense would prevail among the musicians and artists and will restrain them from going overboard. It would be interesting to see what the new exponents of Tagore’s music evolve in their attempt to rediscover the essence of the poet.

Yours faithfully,
Anupam Basu, via email

Sir — The copyright over Rabindranath Tagore’s works has deprived many talented people from recording their own renditions of the poet’s songs. Viswa-Bharati has also not seen to the reinstatement of many records. The lapse of the copyright is thus a welcome change.

Yours faithfully,
Shiv Shanker Almal, Calcutta

Sir — In the recent past, there has been much controversy over the presentation of Rabindrasangeet. The furore over Kumarjeet’s renditions come to mind. But no art has ever flourished under strictures. Hindustani as well as Western classical music have flourished because they have been used extensively in popular music.

Yours faithfully,
B. Sunil, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir — Bollywood’s stereotyping should be condemned. Muslims dying just when the muezzin calls the faithful for prayer has been repeated ad nauseum. Perhaps the most cruel treatment goes to the Parsi community whose members are invariably shown riding funny cars and speaking in even funnier accents. These misrepresentations of people and communities only enforce prejudices.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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