Editorial 1 / Speech day
Editorial 2 / Ritual violence
Headboy in the class
Fifth Column / Barred against justice
Mani Talk / Terror in Parliament revisited
Document /Recording details of the crime
Letters to the editor

It seems that the president of India, Mr K.R. Narayanan, has mellowed. The usual astringency was absent in his Republic Day speech this year. His strong socialist bias, which he earlier seemed to have posited as a counterpoint to the present government’s economic policies, was this time assimilated into a general acceptance of the necessity of economic reform. In short, the president was realistic rather than critical. He seems to have lived down his reputation of being an over-active president. By not referring to the volatile situation at the border and the terrorist scare in the country, except to pay homage to the armed forces and security personnel, the president retained his distance from the immediate policies and actions of the government.

Mr Narayanan has evidently come to terms with economic reform, or at least thinks that it is the right thing to do publicly. He has not altered his usual focus on the poor and marginalized, he has said instead that pro-poor affirmative action is possible even in a “capitalist” economic system. That he has accepted the inevitable is indicated by the fact that he has called the reformed economy the economic system “of the future”. But the president’s example is interesting: he has pointed to the United States of America to illustrate how the private sector there pitches in to contribute to social development. Read between the lines, the exhortation to private sector organizations to adopt social policies which will contribute to the uplift of deprived sections suggests that the president is reconciled to lessened state intervention. Logically enough, the policy within the country that he chose to praise was the Madhya Pradesh government’s Dalit initiative. The president seems to feel that reservations for Dalits and tribal people in the private sector is something that should be emulated. It is a pity that affirmative action in India has become identified with reservations, something that has proved socially and politically divisive. The need for basic affirmative action, beginning from education and training in remunerative skills to accessible medical care, has been carefully pushed under the carpet. Such policies are not politically advantageous. This was an emphasis lacking in the president’s speech, although he did laud the government’s education bill. The most interesting feature of the uncontroversial speech, however, was the implicit reconciliation with the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The relationship between the two had been reputed to be edgy, although Mr Vajpayee wisely kept a low profile in the matter. That the president should quote from the prime minister’s poem to make a point presents quite the desired picture of harmony.


Symbolic violence has become part of the ritual of state in Assam. Just a day after Republic Day, the peacemaking overtures reiterated on this occasion were violently overturned through a series of blasts across the state. The three major incidents — which killed two persons (including a police officer) and injured 27 securitymen and civilians — involved the principal insurgent groups in the state. The United Liberation Front of Asom and the United People’s Democratic Solidarity are strongly suspected to be behind the blasts in the Kamrup, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts respectively. In almost all cases, the targets were police personnel, indicating the extent to which insurgency has struck at the roots of the state’s law and order infrastructure. The outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland should also be sketched into this grim scenario. About a week before these blasts, the NDFB had massacred 17 non-Bodos in a Bodo-dominated area of the state, following a massacre of 13 only a few days before this. Hence, between the ULFA, the NDFB and the UPDS, the entire effort, by the state and the Centre, to work, and talk, towards peace in Assam seems to have regressed to what might look like a rather hopeless situation again. Individual, as well as synchronized, peace talks appear to have not come to very much yet.

It is disheartening to note that the minister of state for home, Mr Pradyut Bordoloi, is still trying to locate the root of the insurgency evil in the provocations offered by the Inter-Services Intelligence. Terrorism in Assam will ultimately have to be seen in terms of more internal factors. These are the ineptitude and lack of political will in those who mediate, quite endlessly, the peace talks between the insurgents and the Centre; the electoral politics within the state; the duplicity of the spokespersons representing the various insurgent groups; and the divisions and rivalries within insurgent bodies which make any sort of trust or consensus almost impossible to sustain. Last November, for instance, the peace offer made by the chairman of ULFA, Mr Arabinda Rajkhowa, came with preconditions which the government found difficult to work with. Neither could Mr Rajkhowa inspire much trust that this offer would be endorsed by the armed wing of the ULFA, headed by Mr Paresh Barua. The ravage suffered by Assam’s economy, bureaucracy and civil society owing to incessant violence is shown even in such episodes as the disastrous aftermath of the state’s vitamin A and pulse polio programmes. Terror has established its radical presence in the state, and blaming the ISI while neglecting the basic infrastructure of the state could only strengthen these roots.


At present, Afghanistan and Palestine are being punished. A few years ago Yugoslavia was punished, and, in 1990, as we all know it was Iraq. Each of these countries was accused of various misdeeds, from crimes against humanity to terrorism. Afghanistan was being punished for a long time, but selectively. American B-52 bombers occasionally bombed the mountain regions of Tora Bora or some other place, kill- ing the odd civilian who may have happened to be there. The government installed in Kabul gathers the rags of its dignity about it and declares that its regions are being cleansed of evildoers.

Palestine is being punished for a variety of reasons; for harbouring terrorists, for killing Israeli citizens and destroying Israeli property. The action being taken by the pathetic Palestinian Authority to contain the terrorist elements is not considered to be enough, so the punishment continues.

One is not, for a moment, condoning the actions that have prompted the punishment meted out to these countries. Perhaps one could ask if the countries as a whole were involved in the evils that prompted the punishment or were some organizations well- funded, trained and motivated, really responsible for these acts, but this question is one that has been asked by many several times over and is therefore best left for the moment.

The issue that deserves consideration is something else. It is the right assumed by some countries to punish others. Several decades ago one was part of a frightened assembly of schoolboys who watched one of them being marched up to the stage, in the school hall, and then beaten with a cane for something he had done. The situation was certainly not pleasant, but it was understandable to all of us; the headmaster was Authority, and Authority could punish. We had, I suppose, a vague notion that we needed to be disciplined, because good boys were disciplined and we all had to be good boys. In any event, wrongdoing and punishment were a part of the ordered world we grew up in.

It becomes a little difficult, however, to fit it into a world of several countries each going about its business. Which of these countries is Authority? The United States of America obviously thinks it is, not because of what’s happening in Afghanistan but because of what it’s done in Iraq, Yugoslavia and elsewhere. Some of its friends agree: Britain, for example, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, though not always. In Yugoslavia, NATO forces administered the punishment decreed, led naturally by a US general. When Iraq was punished it was, again, by the US, this time leading a group of countries called the “Allies”. No NATO, no United Nations — the “Allies”.

In the same manner, some countries are named “rogue” states. Rogue? A rogue is someone who is dishonest and unprincipled, going strictly by the definition of the word, or a wild animal driven from the herd, living alone “and of a fierce temper” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But who defines what honesty is, and what are the principles involved when one talks of someone being unprincipled? The world, it will be said instantly, the world decides. What world?

We all know the answers to these questions, and we also know that having answered them, we have no option but to live with the reality that these answers provide. One could accept even this, because, in the final analysis, what does one want other than to lead one’s own life as best as one can, earn a living, and settle into a routine that does not require one to think too much and answer too many questions. But there is a worry that makes this more complicated than it would seem.

Suppose Tanzania decided to punish Mauritius for some act it considered dishonest or unprincipled. Suppose it declared Mauritius to be a rogue state. Would it be generally acceptable, and Tanzania’s punishment applauded? If Malaysia were to decide to punish Swaziland, what then? Again, the answers are obvious. There would be a clamour for restraint, for talks, for a meaningful dialogue, a clamour backed by pressure of different kinds, and a refusal to yield might very well lead to that country, Tanzania, or Malaysia, or any other, being declared a rogue state, and thereupon punished by “Allied” forces.

The last century has seen several armed conflicts after World War II; most of them have been ideological confrontations and in the language of John le Carré, a legend was created every time to make the conflicts appear to be just and right, blows being struck for freedom and all the values that right thinking men hold dear. The legends were important; only when they wore thin, as in Vietnam, the conflict had to end. But the age of legends seems to have passed into history now. No legends are needed any more.

What is the deciding factor today is military power. If you have it, you can punish. A very very dangerous basis on which to function, but that is what the US is doing. Of course, it does get its friends to support what it does, but the friends may say many things; in actual fact the punishment, such as it is, is by the US forces. No one condones what happened in New York on September 11 last year. But no act, however dreadful, can lead to universal acclaim and admiration for a savage attack by air and land on an impoverished country, even if it is run by bigots who supported the atrocity, tacitly or otherwise.

But if a country is militarily powerful, and the dominant economy in the world, if it is a country to which all manner of people from all countries flock for that most cherished possession of all, the green card, then one doesn’t really need acclaim and applause. One will either get it anyway, or suitably deal with those whose enthusiasm seems less than acceptable.

If only the US would see how dangerous this is; being strong and economically powerful does not mean one can act as one chooses to. It means the opposite; one has to be extremely careful and tread very warily. With all its astonishing resources, was it not possible for the Americans to flush out a terrorist group? Or deal with the inconvenient Slobodan Milosevic without battering what is left of Yugoslavia? Surely the key in these matters is to adopt the tactics that the enemy adopts; that they will understand, more than anything else.

The assumption that “I can knock another country about because I am powerful but you can’t because you’re not” simply doesn’t work. Sooner or later other countries will go ahead and do their own punishing, and neither the US, not Britain, nor any of the enlightened white countries will then have the credibility or, indeed the face, to intervene. And a time may come when the use of force will carry with it a terrible price, to be paid in their own countries.

Today the countries being punished are poor and weak; nice targets for B-52 bombers and the snazzy F-18 fighters flying off the aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea. For the foreseeable future the targets may well be of this kind: one hears Somalia is next, or is it Iraq (again) and Sudan. No legends needed for them; just flagrantly murderous attacks which will end up killing a number of civilians (who don’t count because they’re who they are — poor, illiterate and non-white). But some day — some day — the “rogue” state may not be conveniently poor and weak. What legend will do then?

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


The pictures of blindfolded, gagged and manacled al Qaida inmates in a prison compound in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have rightly caused consternation among the allies of the United States of America. Criticism intensified last week, with the European Union external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, and the British and German foreign secretaries expressing concern over the treatment of prisoners. The US has agreed to introduce changes in the treatment of prisoners, after a visit by an International Committee of the Red Cross delegation.

But the changes are believed to be mainly cosmetic — a green line pointing towards Mecca painted on the floor of each cell. The US, however, had stressed all along that the pictures had given a superficial impression. They were taken upon arrival when blindfolds were necessary to stop inmates getting a “useful perspective of their surroundings”, and face masks to prevent a coordinated attack. Both were removed after the prisoners were led to their cells. As camp commander, Brigadier General Michael Lehnert reiterated, prisoner welfare would continue to be monitored “without sacrificing security”.

American security concerns are partly justified. Last week, 156 Arab taliban prisoners in Pakistan escaped after overpowering their guard, whilst in transit between prisons. A more poignant reminder is the Mazar-e-Sharif massacre — about 200 taliban were killed in that uprising — which began when two agents of the Central Intelligence Agency were interrogating prisoners.

Detritus of war

Recognizing the volatile situation in post-taliban Afghanistan, the US decided to transport 156 al Qaida prisoners — “the worst of the worst” according to Lehnert — to far off Cuba, with plans to relocate 2,000 more.

But the need to interrogate prisoners in a secure environment has created an equally uncomfortable situation in Cuba. The furore over the pictures has drawn attention not just to the material condition of the prisoners, but to their legal status as well. The US has so far refused to recognize them as “prisoners of war”. They are thus not guaranteed the rights stipulated in the Geneva Convention, a fact that has been used to explain away their ill treatment.

There are other reasons behind their classification as “unlawful combatants”. POWs aren’t required to give any more information than their name, rank and serial number, and are liable to be repatriated. Also, as long as the prisoners are not on US soil they are denied the rights guaranteed to criminals under the American constitution, such as presumption of innocence and trial by jury.

On the same day that Lehnurt was meeting the ICRC delegate, the American taliban, John Lindh, was appearing in a US court replete with a team of lawyers. Attempts by civil rights activists to guarantee the same rights to the prisoners in Cuba have so far been stalled.

Supreme arbiter

The US is also concerned about the issue of legitimacy, implied in the granting of POW status or rights in US courts. The charges against John Lindh have been “demilitarized”: he is accused of “conspiracy to kill US nationals” and “providing support and resources to terrorist organizations”. While the US does not wish to compromise its warlike stance by trying other taliban under the same laws, neither does it want to recognize the “war on terrorism” as an actual war. As it is, the US’s headlong rush into military action in Afghanistan, without first making out a case against Osama bin Laden and without a United Nations’ resolution, clearly does not bear legal scrutiny.

The prisoners at Guantanamo thus find themselves in the grey area between national and international law. President George W. Bush has suggested an alternative: private military tribunals — without a jury — with the power to execute. Terry Waite, in The Guardian, has drawn an unhappy parallel between the arbitrary justice that this promises and his own sense of uncertainty as a terrorist hostage in Beirut. He concludes, “If the US is making up the rules...there will be no moral grounds on which we can stand.” And as long as there is no international court of law, only “injustice will be seen to be done”.


Now that I have done my bit for the National Democratic Alliance and the country by canvassing the European parliament in Brussels to do the white thing by India, I feel it my bounden duty as a patriotic Indian to not let the NDA government divert our domestic attention from the failure of the home minister, L.K. Advani, and his minions to protect us from the dread hand of terrorism. The government is not to be faulted for focussing national attention on the many and varied misdeeds of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. But we cannot let that become an excuse for blinding the nation to the many and varied faults of the home ministry and its intelligence and security apparatus.

To so blind the nation, Advani wants us to believe three things: one, that since Pakistan is behind the terrorist attacks, the home ministry is not to be held responsible for failing to thwart such attacks; two, that there is nothing which can be done about determined suicide bombers; three, that the spot action taken by the security forces to kill all the attackers within minutes within the premises, followed by the unearthing of the conspiracy and the arrest of the conspirators within a few days, shows that Advani and his merry band are very much on the ball, only to be congratulated not grilled. I, for one, am unable to buy any of the three excuses.

That Pakistan is up to mischief is no new discovery. Had the Seychelles, for example, suddenly hatched a conspiracy, I would have to concede that it was an attack from an unexpected quarter. But Pakistan? Ninety per cent, one imagines, of the intelligence and counter-intelligence thrust of our intelligence agencies is aimed at Pakistan. The Maharashtra deputy chief minister and home minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, is on record as saying that his agencies had received a firm tip-off of terror brewing and passed it on to Delhi. That Delhi failed to act on the intelligence is not to be ignored but underlined. And if Delhi did, in fact, act on that intelligence, the nation is entitled to know, ex-post facto, what steps were taken.

Indeed, the attack on the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly on October 1 2001, should have alerted the entire home ministry network to the prospect of Parliament House being the next sitting duck. If the home ministry was so alerted, it would only strengthen the nation’s confidence to know what was done to meet the potential threat; if the home ministry was not so alerted, the nation is entitled to know why not. But as negligence demands a price in ministerial responsibility, Advani exculpates himself by blaming the Pakistanis — as if this excuses his lapses.

The second argument trotted out by Advani and his clapper-boys is that nothing can be done to stop a determined suicide bomber. The Rajiv Gandhi assassination is cited as proof of this “self-evident” assertion. Advani and his spokesmen appear to have forgotten that the J.S. Verma commission laboured long and hard to pinpoint the many lacunae in security arrangements which were responsible for Dhanu getting within sniffing distance of her target. The special protection group system is a carefully thought-out systemic response to the enhanced security requirements of our leadership. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his cohorts bitterly criticized the SPG when it was first constituted; high office has apparently woken them up to the need to embrace what they once denigrated. The Verma commission stressed that it was by casting aside the SPG system and not putting in place an alternative equivalent that V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar opened gaping holes around Rajiv Gandhi.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam did what terrorists do: look for systemic lacunae — and then go for the kill. It was the systemic lacunae in intelligence and security that the five terrorists exploited to mount their deadly attack on December 13. We were fortunate that they were apparently tasked to target the Indira Gandhi international airport, but security there was too tight to enable them to accomplish their task and so they determined on a softer target — Parliament House. Is it not astonishing that the citadel of democracy has been left a more open target than the airport? If the airport has been rendered invulnerable, or at least less vulnerable to terrorist attention, should not the same or similar steps have been effected in respect of Parliament? If yes, what steps were taken? If none, why not?

Certainly, as a daily visitor to the premises, I have often wondered why security is so lax in and around Parliament. For example, I am usually driven to Parliament and then the chauffeur goes off on various errands and later returns to the parking lot. The car is checked for its label before it is allowed ingress but, to the best of my knowledge, the chauffeur’s antecedents are not enquired into; literally anyone can drive the members of parliament in and literally anyone can drive the car into the parking lot and then into the porch on being summoned. No questions asked.

Indeed, anyone can drive (or could drive) the car into the porch by merely pretending to have been summoned. That a false label can be duplicated by a computer neo-literate and that red lights are available for the asking in the market are not matters that ought to have occurred to the authorities after the incident; they should have been integrated into the security drill much earlier. It is nonsense to say that the cooperation of MPs is required for security to be effective. Of course, every time some new measure is introduced there is a good deal of grumbling, but in the end the system prevails.

In any case, in the instant case, it was not some VIP lording it over the police that brought near-disaster on Parliament; it was the system which allowed a bunch of terrorists to flaunt a false label and switch on a bogus red light to get past security, with possibly a polite salute from the officer on duty. I can think of no better witness than the former director-general of police and now Rajya Sabha Bharatiya Janata Party MP, B.P. Singal, whose car entered the premises immediately behind the terrorists. As a professional policemen, he would know that no trip-wire was in place to forestall the terrorists.

As for the third line of defence mounted by Advani and his NDA acolytes that they unearthed the conspiracy in days, yes, of course, the home ministry has proved adept at bolting the stable door after the horse has fled. But it is not that which North Block is being charged with. If they could act so quickly and decisively after the damage was done, why not in advance? We were deeply fortunate that the terrorists chose to enter through Sansad Marg rather than Vijay Chowk; we were even more fortunate that this made them drive past the porch since a U-turn would have been needed to swerve into the porch; we were above all fortunate that the vice-president was delayed by the crucial few seconds needed to thwart the terrorists’ entry into the building; and that the terrorists were so confused or panicky that instead of moving towards the porch they scaled the wall which divides MPs from the Central Reserve Police Force located behind the wall.

Only one person — the suicide bomber — moved into the porch and seems to have been blown up when security opened fire on the intruder. The others were slain as they fled round the rear of the building. All kudos to the Hon’ble Speaker who is responsible for security arrangements on the premises. The fault lies with the home ministry for not being equally efficient beyond the perimeter of the premises.


Amendment of section 160 recommended by insertion of sub-sections (3) to (7). In view of what is stated above, we would recommend the addition of the following provision — say, as new sub-sections — in section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973: “(3) Where, under this chapter, the statement of a girl under the age of twelve years is to be recorded, either as first information of an offence or in the course of an investigation into an offence, and the girl is a person against whom an offence under section 354, 354A or 375 of the Indian Penal Code is alleged to have been committed or attempted, the statement shall be recorded either by a female police officer or by a person authorized by such organization interested in the welfare of women or children as is recognized in this behalf by the state government by notification in the official gazette. (4) Where the case is one to which the provisions of sub-section (3) apply, and a female police officer is not available, the officer in charge of the police station shall, in order to facilitate the recording of the statement, forward to the person referred to in that sub-section a written request setting out the points on which information is required to be elicited from the girl. (5) The person to whom such a written request is forwarded shall, after recording the statement of the girl, transmit the record to the officer in charge of the police station.

“(6) Where the statement recorded by such person as forwarded under sub-section (5) appears in any respect to require clarification or amplification, the officer in charge of the station shall return the papers to the person by whom it was forwarded, with a request for clarification or on specified matters; and such shall thereupon record the further statement of the girl in conformity with the request and return the papers to the officer in charge of the police station.

(7) The statement of the girl recorded and forwarded under sub-sections (3) to (6) shall, for the purpose of the law relating to the admissibility in evidence of statements made by any person, be deemed to be a statement recorded by a police officer.”

4.2.1. The representatives of Sakshi supported the said recommendation and wanted us to reiterate the same.

4.2.2. The 154th report of the Law Commission dealt with the above recommendation... After setting out the aforesaid sub-sections... the 154th report makes the following comments and recommendation...in ... chapter XVIII: “6.6 The origin of this suggestion in its embryonic form can be traced to the Law Commission’s reports on ‘Rape and Allied Offences’ and ‘Women in Custody’.”

6.7 The bill (NCW) has gone beyond the Law Commission’s earlier recommendations in that, insisting on the presence of a female police officer. Though the presence of such female officer is useful and necessary, their absence should not lead to delay in the investigation of the offences. Sub-sections (4), (5), (6) and (7) referred to above obligates the officer in charge of the police station to forward the person to a representative of a government, recognized women’s organization and the statement recorded by the person shall be deemed to be a statement recorded by the police officer.

6.8 It may be pointed out that the 1994 bill does not incorporate the above amendment.

6.9 We are of the opinion that section 160 be amended on the lines suggested above, subject to certain modifications. The recommendation made in sub-section (4) of NCW bill is not practicable having regard to the present condition and dearth of female police officers. It may also not be practicable for the victim or any person interested in her to approach the person mentioned in sub-section (3). Instead, we suggest that sub-section (4) may be amended to the effect that where a female police officer is not available and contacting the person mentioned in sub-section (3) is difficult, the officer in charge of the police station, for reasons to be recorded in writing, shall proceed with the recording of the statement of the victim in the presence of a relative of the victim.

Further, the age of “twelve years” be raised to “eighteen years” in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child."

4.2.3. Reiteration of the recommendations made in the 154th report. On a consideration of all the relevant facts and the realities of life, we too are of the opinion that the procedure indicated in the sub-sections (4), (5) and (6) is too involved besides being impracticable.

Implementation of the several steps mentioned in the said sub-sections (4) to (6) would indeed result in unnecessary harassment to the victim of the offence or to the complainant, as the case may be. We are inclined to agree with the opinion expressed in para 6.9 of the 154th report of the Law Commission in this behalf. We have changed the language of sub-section (3) by including a woman government officer. Changes are also called for in the light of the amendments effected by Act 43 of 1983 and also in the light of the recommendations made by us in paras 3.2 and 3.5 (substitution of the offence in section 375 and the addition of section 376E).

To be concluded



Quote of arms

Disarmed Sir — With President K.R. Narayanan quoting from the poems of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, during his Republic Day speech this year, perhaps the close-to-frosty relationship between the two will now take a turn for the warmer. Vajpayee, of course, had reason to be sour at Narayanan’s frequent interventions in many executive decisions which the latter deemed unfair to the unprivileged millions. But as far as the general citizen is concerned, Narayanan’s has been a successful term as president. At least, he tried to do what past presidents could not — prove that presidents need not always rubber stamp decisions by the cabinet. Unlike in the president-centric democracy of the United States of America, it is the cabinet and Parliament which hold the balance of power in India. No wonder our pragmatic president has tried to keep them satisfied. What better way to do this than to quote our poet PM. Full marks to Narayanan!

Yours faithfully,
Niraj Kumar Saraiya, Calcutta

Changing spots

Sir — The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s move to re-ignite the Ram janmabhoomi controversy with the rath yatra as well as its insistence on going ahead with building the Ram temple after March 12, do not augur well for Uttar Pradesh and the nation as a whole (“Ram rath rolls before polls”, Jan 21). The last time the rath rolled, it aroused a fever of Hindu fundamentalism, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Babri Masjid. It is sad that the political party alleged to have inspired that demolition is at the helm of the Union cabinet today. The Bharatiya Janata Party is also participating in the proposed rath yatra to project its Hindutva credentials with an eye on the forthcoming polls in UP.

Rather than adopting a wait and watch policy for the rath yatra, the Centre would do better to curb it before it spreads communal disharmony. Else, we may well be on the threshold of another widespread communal riot in the country.

Yours faithfully,
Avishek Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — The article, “Diplomat Advani demolishes label” (Jan 20), demonstrated the noble intentions of the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, towards minority communities — Christians and especially Muslims. After all, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. The incident, where Advani shared a podium with the vice-chancellors of Jamia Milia Islamia and Hamdard universities, the shahzada nasheens of the Dargah Nizamuddin and Ajmer Sharief and diplomats from Islamic countries, indicated that India’s Muslims support the government and are not “second class citizens” within India. Pakistan, which needs to garner the support of India’s Muslim intellectuals to make inroads into the Muslim support base, must be feeling foolish after this show of communal amity.

Advani should be congratulated for his efforts to bring all communities together in the fight against terrorism. Rather than seeing it as a “diplomatic” ploy, the move should be considered an important step in furthering national integration and communal harmony that once existed between Hindus and Muslims in India.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — The news report, “Sangh show of strength in tribal belt” (Jan 17), infers that the tribals of Jhabua, where the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh recently held a Hindu sangam, are not Hindu because they worship gram devta or kul devta. Such an inference demonstrates not only ignorance about the evolution of Hindu society, but also a cavalier attitude to tolerant Hindu faith. Are not monotheistic religions fundamentally opposed to local and clan-based deities? Are there not local deities in almost every town in the country? Do not most Hindus worship their ancestors? Indeed, Hindu society has remarkable diversities — not only based on region or community but also based on personal predilections.

Apart from a certain respect for and tolerance to divergent views, Hindus are in complete agreement about very little — including the question of the existence of god. Before Islam and Christianity became forces to reckon with, none called themselves Hindus. By arguing that any person not displaying an idol or photograph of Hanuman is not Hindu, one will only end up injecting Hinduism with elements of fundamentalism akin to that in monotheistic religions.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — While the editorial, “Metamorphosis” (Jan 13), may be overwhelmed by L.K. Advani’s “graduation” from a militant rabble-rouser to a responsible statesman, there are many who see in this phenomenon shades of the transition M.A. Jinnah went through. Jinnah succeeded in his ambition of affecting Partition and becoming the premier of Pakistan by taking advantage of the fissures between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Soon after he achieved his goal, however, Jinnah turned ‘’secular’’ and said that Pakistan would follow the tenets of religious tolerance.

Advani too has accomplished his ambition of promoting the BJP from a non-entity to the party in power at the Centre. It was his fanatically pro-Hindu stance that fuelled the communal fire in the country and resulted in the worst ever civil riots since independence. He can now afford to act pious. That he has not completely changed his spots even now is evident from his support for the saffronization of education and his deposition to the Liberhan commission, in which he described the Ram janmabhoomi movement as a show of ‘’cultural nationalism’’.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Colours of patriotism

Sir — Navin Jindal’s affectations of patriotism — supposed to be invoked by the freedom to fly the national flag — brings to the fore the immaturity of even the elite Indian mind more than anything else (“Indians win freedom to fly the tricolour”, Jan 16). The idea itself — flying the tricolour atop houses to make patriotism fashionable — is absurd as much as it is ridiculous. When will it dawn on us that nationalist ideals find better expression in actions than affectations.

Yours faithfully,
Saima Ali, Calcutta

Sir — The cabinet decision to change the flag code to empower all Indians to fly the tricolour is indeed laudable.

However, no code regarding the national flag can be effectively implemented as long as the Congress retains the old national flag which Mahatma Gandhi gave to the nation, as their party flag. Ever since the current national flag was adopted, replacing the charkha of the swaraj flag with the Ashok Chakra in the constituent assembly on July 22, 1947, it has been the Congress flag.

A national debate should be invited to derecognize the Congress flag which bears extreme resemblance to the national flag in colour, design, pattern and style. The only difference — the central emblem — is hardly noticeable. There is no reason why the Congress should be allowed to project itself as the custodian of all the values that the national flag represents.

Yours faithfully,
Sekhar Chakrabarti, Calcutta

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