Editorial 1 / Resurrection
Editorial 2 / No soft options
Eliminate the noise
Fifth Column / Secular, but not uniform
Couturier in a confused world
Document / Examine the rapist, not the victim
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / RESURRECTION 
 
 
 
 
The dreams of Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, to rejuvenate the economy of the state ride on the future of Haldia Petrochemicals Limited. The affairs of this company have been in the doldrums for months. The relationship between the two principal promoters of the company, The Chatterjee Group and the government of West Bengal, have not been smooth. The former was unhappy at what it saw as unwarranted interference by the government in the running of the company. The government of West Bengal, in its turn, accused The Chatterjee Group, or more correctly its chief, Mr Purnendu Chatterjee, of not fulfilling its financial obligations. The prevailing confusion and inertia seemed to bring the curtain down on West Bengal’s last hopes of an economic renaissance. The situation changed dramatically on Saturday evening when the government of West Bengal and The Chatterjee Group reached an understanding to resolve the deadlock in HPL. This understanding will eventually make The Chatterjee Group the majority stockholder of the company in whom will vest the management of the company. This will free Mr Chatterjee from any kind of interference from the government of West Bengal, and will bring to the latter the assurance that Mr Chatterjee will bring money to the company as he increases his holdings.

The implications of this remarkable turnaround are little short of profound. It is evident that the government of West Bengal has no intentions to remain involved in business ventures. It has accepted the logic of economic reforms which says that it is not the business of the government to be in business. A communist chief minister has finally cleared the hangover of the socialist era. Mr Bhattacharjee and his industry minister, Mr Nirupam Sen, must be congratulated for transcending the ideology that was hammered into them in the party classes. More than showing their courage, this decision on the part of Messrs Bhattacharjee and Sen display their awareness of the changed political and economic realities in which they have to function and succeed. These realities have no place for outworn ideological shibboleths. The change in the mindset of these communists is as dramatic as the end of the deadlock in HPL. Mr Bhattacharjee, from the moment he succeeded Mr Jyoti Basu, has been keen to initiate his own version of perestroika in West Bengal. The resolution of the crisis in the giant petrochemical complex at Haldia will go down as his first major success in this field. He should follow this up by completely withdrawing from the company: the government of West Bengal should not even have a token presence in the shareholding structure. The job of Mr Bhattacharjee should be the creation of an ambience of investment. As this happens, what HPL thinks today, West Bengal will think tomorrow.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / NO SOFT OPTIONS 
 
 
 
 
Ethnic killings have long been the most deplorable aspect of militancy in Tripura. Sunday’s mayhem at a marketplace in west Tripura, leaving 16 dead and many others injured, is a reminder of the dangerous uncertainty in which people in the state live. Not only do the militants strike and kill at will, but the shadow of militancy has also darkened all aspects of life in the state. Scores of schools in far-flung areas remain closed as teachers stay away for fear of the militants. Vehicular traffic along the Assam-Agartala highway, the lifeline of the state’s economy, is perennially under threat of militants’ ambushes. Commercial establishments are often forced to pay protection money to escape the militants’ bullets. Worse still, the killers strike with the avowed objective of forcing Bengalis to leave their homes and farms, and of sowing seeds of hatred between Bengalis and tribals. None of the other major insurgent groups in the Northeast such as the National Socialist Council of Nagalim or the United Liberation Front of Asom preaches or practises ethnic killings as either strategy or tactics. The Tripura militants, belonging to either the National Liberation Front of Tripura, which was suspected to have been involved in Sunday’s killings, or to the All Tripura Tiger Force, have persistently followed an ethnic cleansing policy. They want to force Bengalis, mostly refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan and then Bangladesh, out of the state where the tribals were once in an overwhelming majority. It must be madness to think that the killings could ever achieve this objective because Bengalis now constitute over 60 per cent of the state’s population.

Regrettably, the ruling Left Front’s responses to militant strikes lack teeth as well as direction. It did after Sunday’s killings what it has done for two decades on similar occasions — it called a bandh in the area and asked the Centre for more paramilitary forces to fight the militants. The Marxists in Tripura never got over their dilemma as to how to deal with the tribal insurgency. They have dithered to launch an all-out offensive against the killer gangs for fear of alienating tribals who form a large part of their votebank. In the process, they have failed to provide security to both Bengalis and tribals. Their calls to the militants to surrender arms and join the state’s political mainstream have had little effect, particularly on the NLFT, the most organized and well-armed rebel group in the state. It is time the Marxist government made up its mind to stamp out the militant menace. It is time for the government to actively prevent more such killings. Time for soft options seems to have run out in Tripura.

   

 
 
ELIMINATE THE NOISE 
 
 
BY BIBEK DEBROY
 
 
At this time of the year, everyone’s mind turns towards the budget. Whatever for? As required by the Constitution, the budget is nothing but the Central government’s annual statement of revenue and expenditure. There shouldn’t be anything terribly exciting about this. Unfortunately, especially since 1991, the budget has become identified with policy signals, treated as synonymous with reforms. So we are delighted when budget speeches mention these reforms, irrespective of whether these reforms are ever likely to be implemented.

Let’s be realistic. The finance ministry, and especially the present finance minister, has very little control over the political economy of these reforms. What is the point of bunging them into the budget speech? Unnecessarily, such announcements create hype. And when nothing is implemented, expectations crash. This is precisely what happened this year, in 2001-02. Small-scale industries dereservation, reform of the food sector, labour laws, fertilizer subsidies, the administered price mechanism in petroleum, privatization, power sector reforms, downsizing government in line with various recommendations of the expenditure reforms commission, review of the Essential Commodities Act — these are all illustrations of hype. In some instances, there were precise timeframes. The designated time-frames are over and almost nothing has happened. No one denies these reforms are desirable. But let’s not mess things up by promising such changes through budget speeches.

The budget speech has two parts — A and B. Part A is full of such promises, plus all kinds of Centrally sponsored schemes in social sectors. Honestly, should there be Centrally sponsored schemes in social sectors at all? These are meant for states, and further down, for local bodies. Yet, everyone in Parliament, and everyone outside it, applaud such schemes when they are announced. There are special schemes for widows in Vrindavan and Kashi, or rural roads in the prime minister’s name. As the finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, has pioneered the notion of “action taken reports”. Yet, there are no ATRs on widows or rural roads. Agreed, the government should spend money on physical and social infrastructure. But the point is that very little of this money comes through the Central government’s budget. The successful national highway development programme did not obtain a single paise through the budget.

For 2002-03, I have a suggestion for the finance minister. Please scrap Part A of the budget speech. We do not need it. Scrapping will save time and money. We don’t need announcements about reforms. We don’t need Centrally sponsored schemes. So what is left in Part A? Only the revised estimates for 2001-02. That one paragraph will suffice to satisfy the constitutional obligation. Restricting the budget speech to Part B (and one paragraph for Part A) will be a remarkable and unprecedented innovation. Okay, the finance minister is also required to say various things about the state of the economy. But surely, the economic survey can take care of that.

Sinha can do better still. In terms of the constitutional obligation, there are revenue and expenditure estimates. But we know that expenditure is determined completely exogenously, for every finance minister since 1991. Interest payments will remain. Food and fertilizer subsidies are exogenously determined. Downsizing government is exogenously determined. There are therefore no announcements to be made on expenditure. One has a figure for nominal growth and there is no particular reason to vary it across different ministries and departments.

In the last resort, these variations are completely arbitrary, as are the demands for grants. These variations are determined by what is known as the ceiling method. This simply means that someone looks at the ceiling and decides on a figure. Hence, eliminate these subjective variations. Apply the uniform nominal rate of growth to the revised estimates for 2001-02. At one stroke, one has resolved the problem of the two mammoth expenditure budget volumes.

This makes the budget exercise completely a revenue or receipts exercise. But Sinha can do better still. North Block has no control over non-tax revenue. What is the point, say, of plugging in Rs 12,000 crore or any other figure for disinvestments? Instead, convert the entire budget exercise into a tax exercise. But wait a minute. Is there much to be said on direct taxes? Not really, even though the finance minister has legitimately been arguing that the direct tax to gross domestic product ratio needs to be increased.

There are around 65 million urban households. And the Centre or North Block has no control over whether the rural sector will be taxed or not. At least 35 million urban households will be below the threshold. So all this tinkering with one in six schemes does not achieve very much. The number of those who submit income tax returns may go up to 25 million, but the net increment to revenue is precious little. That apart, the rates cannot change. The surcharge cannot go. It will be enough if there is no additional war surcharge. Yes, the slabs can be tinkered around with a bit. Yes, one can attempt simplification of procedures. But look at where that has got us. Look at the present forms. Attempted simplification has led to more complication. Better to leave things as they are. Change the slabs a bit. Remove some exemptions. Full stop.

So now the budget exercise has become an indirect tax exercise. You cannot do very much on import duties either. In 2001-02, the finance minister made a commitment that peak tariffs will be reduced to 20 per cent in three years. This obviously means industrial tariffs. Who dares to touch agricultural tariffs, given the domestic paranoia about self-reliance in food and the external compulsion of imminent World Trade Organization negotiations? Peak tariffs on industrial products are 35 per cent now. If they have to come down to 35 per cent in three years, on an average, we required 5 per cent annual reductions. This leaves no degrees of freedom, and pre-determines that the peak duty on industrial products must be reduced to 30 per cent. Full stop again. We are only left with domestic indirect taxes.

We know that state-level sales taxes will be unified from April 1, 2002. We know that this will not be a complete value added tax. Entry taxes, octroi, local body taxes will continue. Some states will even impose special additional taxes. We know that states will not agree to the scrapping of the Central sales tax. In the absence of a complete VAT, there is the minor matter of devising a WTO-compliant system of export incentives. The commerce ministry could not accomplish that exercise in 2001-02. They seem to be ready in 2002-03. But why internalize this in the budget and rob the commerce ministry of its moment of glory?

Better to leave this announcement for March 31 and the export-import policy. Perhaps the special excise duty can be harmonized. Perhaps it can be scrapped entirely, since it is antithetical to the idea of a VAT and doesn’t belong until it is merged with the Central VAT. But God help us! The left and everyone with remote leanings towards the left will scream blue murder. If the special excise duty is harmonized or eliminated, goods that are apparently consumed by the rich will become cheaper. You cannot have that. Perhaps the excise tax exemptions can go, as they should. After all, it is because of these exemptions that excise revenue has become a function of just four commodities. However, if excise exemptions are scrapped, representatives of the small-scale industry will scream blue murder. Hence, there are no degrees of freedom on indirect taxes either.

There is just one area in which something can be done — services, the glorious sector that accounts for 50 per cent of national income and a sector that has been consistently growing, despite the government’s best efforts to shackle it. Admittedly, services should be taxed through the direct tax route. However, enforcement mechanisms to ensure this are not in place. Admittedly, when services are taxed through the indirect tax route, this should follow the VAT principle and allow for credits on inputs. However, enforcement mechanisms to ensure this are not in place either. The service tax rate is 5 per cent now. It can be increased to 10 per cent. But surely not at this moment, not in the midst of this slowdown. Forty one service sectors are taxed now, through a tax on turnover. WTO has a list of 800 service sectors. Surely, several of these can be added to that list of 41.

You will now appreciate why I am interested in only one aspect of budget 2002-03. Which service sectors will be included? Nothing more. Nothing less. The budget will become a service tax budget. If you eliminate the noise. Did someone say something about ensuring growth through the budget? Come off it. Growth, like most other things, is determined exogenously.

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

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / SECULAR, BUT NOT UNIFORM 
 
 
BY NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT
 
 
It is interesting to note that the recent Supreme Court judgment in favour of providing maintenance to divorced Muslim women beyond the three month iddat period has resulted in a heated controversy within the Muslim community. It is also important that the call for reform has come from Mushtaq Ahmed, who served as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board lawyer in the Shah Bano case. In an open letter, he has drawn the attention of the community to the need for reform of Islamic laws.

Article 44 of the Constitution expressly directs the state to codify civil laws without discriminating between different communities. It also directs the state to frame a “uniform” civil code for all citizens without taking into account differences in religion. Thus, although the Constitution has granted sufficient freedom of religion to all, it has hoped to bring them under the same law.

In other words, the writers of the Constitution envisaged that in a secular state, various religions would exist, but the law must be uniform and identical, and that all people should be under one legal system. Despite this ideal, Article 44 has so far remained dormant. Five decades have passed without the framing of such a code out of fear that it may evoke a serious outburst in the Muslim community.

Impersonal law

Thus, although Hindu personal law has been drastically modified, Muslim personal law has remained untouched. The apex court has, of course, ordered the government to go ahead with the uniform civil code. The court has also felt that such a codification will help the cause of national integration and common citizenship. It needs to be emphasized that Article 44 does not, in any way, seek to affect the religious rights of the Muslims. It only aims at making the law uniform in civil life.

That legislative competence and political courage are separate has been established through the years. The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, was passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government to override or bypass the court’s verdict on divorce. This act had pleased only the most reactionary elements of the minority community.

In the same year, the court pronounced a momentous verdict in the Diengdeh V. Chopra case. Various provisions contained in the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), Special Marriage Act (1954), Parsee Marriage and Divorce Act (1936) were taken into account.

Act together

It was felt that the laws relating to judicial separation, divorce and anullment of marriage were widely different. The court had therefore stated that the “time has now come for a complete reform of the marriage law and the adoption of a uniform law applicable to all people irrespective of religion or caste”. The court had also directed the ministry of law and justice to do the needful in this respect and to submit a report on the progress of its measures.

This order by the apex court falling on deaf ears, another case of an unequal civil code soon came up before the apex court concerning Geeta Rani who was married to Pradeep Kumar according to Hindu rites in 1983. In 1991, however, he converted to Islam and married another woman. In this case, the conversion to Islam was only for the purpose of facilitating a second marriage. Thus, the differences in the laws of different communities regarding marriage, divorce and so on were the root cause of social injustice and, therefore, the apex court once again called for the codification of uniform laws. Justice Kuldip Singh stated that “personal law…can be superseded/ supplemented by introducing a uniform civil code…No community can oppose the introduction of uniform civil code for the citizens in the territory of India.”

Yet, no attempt to enact such a uniform law has been made. It is unfortunate that an important provision in the Constitution has remained dormant because of inaction on the part of legislators. In a secular state, all laws should be separate from religious injunctions, making it possible for them to be applicable to all citizens. Otherwise, this discrimination would eventually breed discontent among different communities and undermine the basis of the secular state.

   

 
 
COUTURIER IN A CONFUSED WORLD 
 
 
BY SEEMA GOSWAMI
 
 
In France, the retirement of designer Yves Saint Laurent has been the cause of something approaching national mourning. And while the rest of the world has learned to shrug off the French obsession with chefs, chanteuses and couturiers, there is a very real sense in which the exit of Saint Laurent at the age of 65 marks the end of an era.

For the French, there is a particular poignancy to his departure. Saint Laurent was the last of the great French designers. Since the late Eighties, French fashion has been in decline. The upper end of the High Street is dominated by such Americans as Donna Karan,Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. The trendy fashion houses are Italian: Gucci, Prada, Bottega Veneta and those veteran labels, Armani, Valentino and Versace.

Even the great French houses are hiring non-French designers. Christian Dior was revived by an Englishman, John Galliano. Givenchy has seen three British designers: Galliano, Alexander McQueen and now Julien MacDonald. Chloe became a success because of Stella McCartney; her successor, Phoebe Philo, is also British. And even Chanel has had a German designer — Karl Lagerfeld — for over a decade.

The saga of Saint Laurent’s own house demonstrates how times are changing. Founded by Saint Laurent and his one-time lover and business manager, Pierre Berge, in the Sixties, the house never made any money from the couture that made Saint Laurent famous. It made its money from the fame.

In the late Sixties, in an unusually prescient gesture, Berge and Saint Laurent decided that couture was finished and that the future of fashion lay in ready-to-wear. Accordingly, they set up a chain of boutiques called Rive Gauche, selling factory-made clothes that bore the Saint Laurent name even though the master himself had not designed them.

They followed up the success of the boutiques with the growth of a huge perfume empire boasting such famous names as Opium (considered daring during its Seventies launch), Rive Gauche (what we would now call a brand tie-in) and Paris. Saint Laurent had nothing to do with the perfumes which were devised by professional perfume houses under instructions from Berge and his team. But by the Seventies, he was the most famous designer in the world and his name sold the perfumes.

All went well till the Eighties when the Americans and the Italians began to dominate the fashion business. Though Saint Laurent was still acknowledged as the world’s most influential designer of haute couture, the house itself lost its way. Berge failed to develop the Rive Gauche concept as he should have in the age of ready-to-wear. The perfume business stagnated; the old brands did well but there were not enough new successes to ensure growth.

While the house was taking the wrong turns, the notoriously fragile Saint Laurent was lurching from emotional breakdown to nervous collapse, fuelled by addiction to drugs and tranquillizers. He would disappear to his house in Marrakesh for months on end. He would not emerge from bed for days. He wouldn’t turn up at his own shows. And he would tell friends that he wanted to give it all up.

While his creative genius was undeniable, his influence on trends became less noticeable. He had made his name with the Trapeze collection in 1958, his first for Dior, and invented such staples of the fashion business as the Mondrian print (after the style of the painter). His “Le Smoking”, the tuxedo for women, was inaugurated in 1966, as was the sheer blouse, both of which went on to become fashion classics. In 1968 came the jumpsuit, and in 1976 the Ballet Russes collection, whose Russian influence lingered on the High Street for years. But while Saint Laurent was the first designer to give women the convenience and freedom of men’s clothes, his early innovations were followed by a creative lull.

Meanwhile, Berge cheapened the YSL brand by licensing the name to manufacturers of bath towels and key chains. In America, large conglomerates produced YSL suits that would have made the couturier throw up if he had ever seen them. Consequently, by the Nineties, the decline of YSL as a fashion brand paralleled the designer’s decline into depression. Berge had seen the writing on the wall, selling off part of the beauty business (which owned the perfumes). In 1993, the empire was acquired by the French conglomerate, Elf-Sanofi. Then in 1999, Sanofi sold out to Artemis, owned by Francois Pinault, the millionaire investor who owns a chunk of the Gucci group. Pinault transferred his holdings to Gucci, entrusting the YSL brand to the Italian fashion house’s CEO, Dominic De Sole, and its hot, young designer, the American Tom Ford.

As part of the deal, Pinault allowed Berge and Saint Laurent control of the couture house, but they surrendered all control of the perfume business and — most significant of all — of the YSL Rive Gauche ready-to-wear label. Ford soon evicted the American designer, Alber Elbaz, whom Saint Laurent had hired for ready-to-wear, and appointed himself chief designer (Saint Laurent’s menswear designer, Hedi Slimane, had already walked out to join Dior). De Sole cancelled most of the licenses the greedy Berge had awarded and concentrated on taking the house upmarket.

And so began the greatest confusion in fashion. Soon, there were two YSLs. There was the couture, the basis of any great label, designed by Saint Laurent himself. And there was a very different ready-to-wear collection which reflected Ford’s flashier, more Italian-influenced style. At first, Ford tried to pay homage to the master. At his first menswear collection, he made the models wear Saint Laurent’s trademark glasses. Each of his womenswear collections contained take-offs on the classic Saint Laurent tuxedo. And he told interviewers that Saint Laurent was his idol.

Unfortunately, Saint Laurent hated Ford’s clothes. (This is not as big a deal as it sounds. He also hates Ralph Lauren — whom he famously, and successfully, sued for ripping off his Le Smoking — together with John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and nearly everybody else you can think of.) He refused to show up at any of the fashion shows, though he was in the front row at Hedi Slimane’s debut show for Dior. And Saint Laurent’s acolytes helpfully offered that he thought that Ford’s style was vulgar.

The contrast between the two men could not have been greater. Saint Laurent thinks of himself as an artist, has a tortured sensibility and spent his youth traumatized by his homosexuality before finally coming out in an interview. Ford is a former model, does not call himself an artist, is outstandingly commercial, prides himself on being market-savvy and is proud to be gay. When his YSL collections became huge successes, while Saint Laurent’s couture collections had minimal impact, the trend was clear. The era of the artist was over. The market-savvy craftsman had won.

Even so, it is not clear why Saint Laurent suddenly decided to call it a day. The charitable view is that he tired of creating timeless couture for an ungrateful world that preferred flashier ready-to-wear. A less charitable theory is that he decided to throw in the towel because he had lost. YSL is once again the hottest label in the shops — but it is Tom Ford’s YSL, not Saint Laurent’s.

Either way, Saint Laurent is not taking any chances with the couture label. After he shows his last collection on January 23, 2002, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the house will not go to Ford, nor will it hire another designer. It will retire with Yves Saint Laurent.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / EXAMINE THE RAPIST, NOT THE VICTIM 
 
 
 
 
Sub-sections (1A), (1B), (1C) and (1D) should be inserted in section 53 of the Criminal Procedure Code as recommended by the 84th report of the Law Commission, with...adaptations.

While granting bail to a person accused of sexual assault, one of the conditions which should be imposed by the court shall be that such a person shall not be in the proximity of the person assaulted.

In the case of sexual assault, there shall be no interference with or disturbance of the natural habitat of the person sexually assaulted by or through the criminal justice process.

The investigation and trial of sexual offences should be...concluded within six months. The expression “social worker” shall be defined to mean a woman interested in or working for the cause of women and/or children and who is familiar with issues of violence against women and children.

A new section 114B should be introduced in the Evidence Act stating that where in a prosecution for aggravated sexual assault under sections 376A to 376D of the IPC, the question is whether the person so assaulted consented to it and where such person states before the court that he/she did not so consent, the court shall presume it to be so.

Clause (4) in section 155 to the Evidence Act (which permits the person accused of rape or attempt to ravish to prove that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character) should be deleted.

In section 146 of the Evidence Act, another clause, namely, clause (4) should be added stating expressly that in a prosecution for sexual assault, it shall not be permissible to adduce evidence or to prepare questions in cross- examination of the person assaulted with respect to his/her previous sexual history, character or conduct whether to establish consent or otherwise.

The absence of a medical report in the case of a sexual assault shall not be an actor against the complainant/person assaulted.

There should be a provision either in the CrPC or in the Evidence Act to the effect that a minor who has been assaulted sexually, should not be required to give his/her evidence in the presence of the accused as it will certainly traumatize the minor. Steps should also be taken to provide an appropriate and safe environment in which the child can recover.

The testimony of a child who is subjected to sexual assault should be recorded at the earliest opportunity by a judge/magistrate in the presence of a friend, relative or social worker whom the minor trusts.

For a proper implementation of the above suggestion, videotape/circuit television should be provided. Further, where the child is to be cross-examined, the questions shall be handed over to the judge who shall in turn put those questions to the minor. While recording the evidence of the minor, appropriate breaks should also be given to make the minor feel comfortable.

All cases of sexual assault should be tried by special courts which shall be manned by judges, prosecutors and counsellors, “specially trained/sensitized to issues of sexual assault”.

A new offence should be created by appropriately amending section 166 of IPC, making it an offence for a public servant to disobey the direction of law prohibiting the summoning of a minor/woman at any place other than her place of choice and also a public servant who disobeys any direction of law with respect to the manner in which the investigation concerning a minor shall be conducted.

...Each of the above suggestions were discussed in the commission in the presence of the three persons representing organizations mentioned...above, in the light of the 84th report of the Law Commission as well as the 154th report of the Law Commission. While we agree with some of the aforesaid suggestions (as would be evident from the recommendations set out in the succeeding chapters), we find ourselves unable to agree with all of them.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Ethics is still foreign

You don’t think of ethics anymore Sir — In 1997, the then foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Robin Cook, grandly announced the need for an “ethical foreign policy”. The sentiments were widely lauded, until the British government gave the go-ahead to a multi-million pound weapons sale to Indonesia, then under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Suharto. In the post-September 11 world, Tony Blair has again been resorting to lofty rhetoric: most recently the need for the reduction of tension between India and Pakistan. I was “shocked” therefore to read of the British deputy prime minister’s planned visit to India (“Pull-back pressure mounts on India” Jan 14). He is to attend a meeting on sustainable development next month. He will also be pushing India to accept a billion pound sale of 60 Hawk jets. This is another distasteful reminder that the UK still continues to betray the principle of an ethical foreign policy.

Yours faithfully
Manjula Bhaduri, Calcutta

Talking the talk

Sir — The much awaited television address of Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, did not belie expectations (“Speech bearing Powell stamp”, Jan 13). One would agree that Musharraf did a tightrope walk. He was compelled to spell out Pakistan’s stand on global terrorism. Which means he had to satisfy the United States of America and be conciliatory on the one hand and on the other, keep his countrymen in good spirits. Musharraf, as expected, tried his best to keep alive the anti-India rhetoric in order to avoid a possible revolt from fundamentalist groups within Pakistan, telling them that political support for the Jammu and Kashmir cause would continue. But what will be included in this definition of “political support” is a big question. A complete change in Pakistan’s policy on terrorism and Kashmir was needed. But Musharraf seems to have lent himself to only a change in posturing.

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Sir — The Pakistan president’s speech does not reflect any major shift in the country’s Kashmir policy, the nucleus of Indo-Pak tension (“Attack on terror with reforms”, Jan 13). In fact his emphasis was on US and United Nations intervention in Kashmir, much against India’s wishes. Yet going by the UN’s recent statements, the organization seems to have made itself distant from such mediation and even stressed the need for bilateral resolution of the Kashmir problem. The US, too, has repeatedly tried to make it clear that it would mediate only if the both India and Pakistan agree to such mediation.

However, the good thing is that Islamabad has acknowledged terrorism in Kashmir under international pressure. It remains to be seen if Pakistan’s words are matched by actions with regard to extremists operating from within Pakistan. Also, Musharraf would do well to change his opinion about third party mediation. The need would not arise only if he abided by the Shimla and Lahore agreements. These constitute the guidelines of bilateral negotiations and both India and Pakistan should adhere to them.

Yours faithfully,
Kaustav Sinha Ray, Calcutta

Sir — Pervez Musharraf’s speech was intended to avoid further international pressure on Pakistan (“Ban on Lashkar & Jaish, hedging on handover”, Jan 13). The pressure will now be on India to diffuse the tension. But that will be difficult given that beneath the ban on some terrorist groups and supervision of some madrassahs and mosques, lies a rebuttal. Pakistan’s call for foreign mediation and refusal to hand over all suspected terrorists contravenes India’s wishes.

Yours faithfully,
Tathagatha Sengupta, Thiruvananthapuram

Sir — It might be a good idea for India to refrain from criticizing the Pakistan president’s speech (“Wary India buys time” Jan 13). Perhaps Musharraf is the best Pakistan leader India could hope to deal with. It is hard to imagine Benezir Bhutto, and especially Nawaz Sharif, giving such a speech. Indeed it was under their stewardships that the situation reached its current state. Musharraf should be congratulated for daring to make the speech that could be death for him. For the consequences for a leader who is seen to be weak or susceptible to pressure from India or the US might well be another revolution. If peace is the priority for both Pakistan and India, then Musharraf and his counterpart in India, are the best leaders to ensure it.

Yours faithfully,
Manas Gupta, Calcutta

A tale of two journeys

Sir — On December 9, 2001, I travelled from Abu Dhabi to Calcutta via Dhaka. I was held up at the Dhaka airport for about 5 hours, waiting for my delayed connecting flight to Calcutta. At Dum Dum my baggage arrived in apparently good condition. But when I opened my baggage, I was in for a big surprise. My expensive camera, a costly ornament set, some pieces of jewellery and a few other precious items were missing. My other two suitcases,carrying personal clothings and children’s books, were undisturbed. I strongly suspect that the theft took place during the wait at Dhaka when the bags were left at the luggage shed. My case is not unique. An organized racket seems to be in operation.

Yours faithfully,
Kumares Majumdar, Abu Dhabi

Sir — On my way to the Howrah station to catch a train to Pune, I left some important documents on the rickshaw. In Pune, I received a mail entitled “documents found”. The rickshaw-wallah had passed on the documents to his wife, who took it to a gentleman in whose house she works. This person wrote to me. I am greatful to this humble rickshaw-wallah.

Yours faithfully,
Arpan Sharma, Pune

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

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