Editorial 1 / Need to reform
Editorial 2 / Let them talk
A tale of two Shahs
Fifth Column / Timid old world order
Angels don’t fear to tread
Document / Revision of some legal points
Letters to the editor

The mushrooming of madrasahs in the districts of West Bengal and the growing suspicion that some of them may be nurseries for terrorists have become a problem that can no longer be ignored. This has become clear from the speeches of the chief minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. In this context, some unpleasant facts have to be disposed of. These Muslim educational institutions, many of them unaffiliated to the West Bengal Madrasah Board, have flourished with the help of political patronage. This patronage has no particular ideological colouring but has one uniform motive. Political parties have extended their support and protection to these institutions to garner Muslim votes. The left, because it has the biggest following among Muslims, has to take the largest share of responsibility for this kind of cynical electioneering. The other reason for the spread of the madrasahs is more serious. They occupy a space created by a profound failure. There are not enough schools in the villages, as a result Muslim children flock to the madrasahs for some kind of education. This produces conditions in which the facilities of the madrasahs are abused by religious fanatics.

This abuse is possible because under the peculiar umbrella of Indian secularism anything goes in the name of religion. A genuine and a mature secularism would strive to separate all public activity from religion. Thus education should not have any religious overtones. There exists a uniform and universal curriculum of secular education. Children must be taught the rudiments of their mother tongue, of modern mathematics, of modern science and of history and geography. Education cannot be restricted to learning religious texts. One way to achieve this aim is to get madrasahs to reform their syllabi. Educational institutions owing allegiance to other religious denominations have already done this. There is no reason why madrasahs cannot be made to fall in line. Special privileges for religious minorities cannot be allowed to pass muster in the name of secularism. Simultaneously, the government must step in to promote schools in rural West Bengal. This is the necessary condition for the decline of the madrasahs. The growth of fundamentalism is a threat to the very fabric of civil society. It can only be countered by setting up and strengthening institutions of civil society. Since the government in West Bengal has always maintained an overbearing control over education, it cannot now abdicate responsibility. The promotion of schools in the villages and the eradication of madrasahs are challenges the government will have to meet unless it wants to be overwhelmed by religious fundamentalism.


Imperviousness becomes the prime minister. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s capacity to stand firm in the face of persistent battering from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been proved again. The VHP has now worked itself up into its shrillest pitch of impatience regarding the Ram mandir site in Ayodhya. If the Centre does not hand over the apparently “undisputed” part of the land by March 12, then the construction date would be finalized by the VHP leaders and sants, and the building work would begin in disregard of the Centre’s stand. This has been communicated to Mr Vajpayee as a “warning” by the chetavani sant yatra, and later, in saner circumstances, during the prime minister’s long meeting a couple of days ago with this importunate fringe of the sangh parivar. This has been followed by more bluster and invective against the prime minister at a public rally in the capital after the meeting. Some legislators from the Bharatiya Janata Party present at this rally have conspicuously kept their position ambivalent with respect to the VHP’s sentiments.

Mr Vajpayee has again pulled off his hallmark combination of deflection and firmness at this meeting with the VHP leaders. He maintained the semblance of a negotiation in sitting down to talk at length; and several important messages have been communicated impeccably. First, it has been made clear that there could be no question of handing over any part of the land to any VHP-controlled trust. Second, that the resolution could only be a matter of the law, the Constitution and, possibly, of a national consensus was reiterated and further developed. With admirable cunning, Mr Vajpayee has maintained the Centre’s legal position by putting this stance to the VHP as a reassurance that the judicial process would be expedited. Also, the principal issues in the dispute have been referred to the law ministry, again assuring as well as warning the VHP that the matter would only be dealt with through the proper legal and constitutional channels. Nothing could be further from the language of law, or of any rational discourse, than the VHP’s public protests against Mr Vajpayee’s response. One devoted sevak has gone to the extent of breaking his vow of silence in order to voice his displeasure. Everything from the Ram Lalla’s pallu to Mr Vajpayee’s cured knee and allegedly benighted eyes have been invoked to highlight his betrayal of the Ram temple cause. It is not surprising that such diatribes drove Mr Vajpayee to offer to step down. But he is too practised a rhetorician not to use such an offer as a strategic gesture. Mr Vajpayee should maintain this imperviousness in order to be able to attend to matters of far more national importance than the unholy clamour of a fundamentalist fringe.


The (in)famous list of twenty “terrorists” and assorted unsavoury characters submitted by India to Pakistan for handover to Indian authorities for crimes committed in India, is an intriguing document. It includes, unsurprisingly, a clutch of individuals accused of being involved in the hijacking of IC 814 to Kandahar. It also includes Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of Jaish-e-Mohammad, whose release was secured through that hijacking. Mixed in with this lot are some who were long-established household names as underworld gang- lords — Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel, Tiger Memon.

Their improprieties principally consisted of comparatively more straightforward activities such as smuggling and extortion, though several are accused in the Mumbai blast case. A handful of Khalistanis have been resurrected to the national memory, some with alleged crimes of 20 years ago. One suspects that this group is the most vulnerable to becoming dispensable to their current host. And then there is Syed Salahuddin.

So who is this dangerous “cross-border” criminal India is trying to bring to book? Syed Salahuddin is Kashmiri. He sports a beard and a beret, and is apparently generally to be found on the other side of the line of control. He is the chief of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest militant outfit in Indian-controlled Kashmir, recently in the limelight for calling and then calling off a ceasefire with Indian forces. In a world where the “global war against terrorism” has overwhelmed and obscured any number of local and regional conflicts of greater complexity than a crispy pretzel, this would be sufficient for most as an explanation for his presence on the “most-wanted” list. Unless, that is, they happen to come across the occasional alternative narrative that shatters the dull monotony of the most virulent form of cross-border assault of them all — that on the mind, by the relentless two-way traffic of state propaganda.

“A Tale of Two Shahs” is one such narrative, nestled among the reams of strategic analyses that crowd subcontinental discourse (it is recounted in Sumantra Bose’s “Kashmir at the Crossroads”, Security Dialogue, vol. 32, no.1, 2001). It takes us back to March 1987, when assembly elections were being held in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. In Amirakadal in Srinagar, Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah of the National Conference and Mohammad Yusuf Shah of the Muslim United Front were pitted against each other. In the first election since Farooq Abdullah’s capitulation to New Delhi, the hastily put together Muslim United Front was attracting significant mass support. Here is what happened next in the world’s largest democracy.

“As counting begins, it becomes clear that Mohammad Yusuf Shah, the underdog candidate, is heading for a massive victory. According to observers present at the scene, the dejected establishment candidate had left the counting centre, when, to his amazement, he heard the counting authorities declare him winner of the contest over loudspeakers installed at the site. At the same time, Indian police swooped on the counting centre and arrested his rival, who was to be imprisoned for the next nine months without any formal charge, let alone trial.”

Fourteen years later much had changed, but both Shahs were still in the political arena: “Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah, loser-turned-victor in 1987, is a senior minister in J&K’s latest Indian-sponsored government, revived by New Delhi in 1996 to provide a civilian facade to its military control of the territory. But it is his defeated challenger who has really moved up in the world since then, except that he is no longer known as Yusuf Shah. Since 1990, he has been known by his nom de guerre, Syed Salahuddin — commander-in-chief of Hizbul Mujahideen....”

And so it is that India’s self-righteous story of victimization by a cross-border deliverer of the local variety of global terror is spoiled by the inconvenience of uncomfortable facts. Is India the aggrieved party in this case or is Yusuf Shah? Is the perpetrator of terror actually the victim of state terrorism? What is truly remarkable about this twist is that it is not exceptional. Practically every sanctimonious dish served up by India on the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir has a habit of turning up haddis that stick in the throat. When each story, image, or issue is taken together and viewed as a whole it becomes easier to understand why India’s stance on Jammu and Kashmir always sounds defensive and shrill. The reason is simple: India’s case on Kashmir is fundamentally weak. Every supposedly virtuous stand — whether on democracy, international commitments, terrorism, human rights — is besmirched by India’s own folly in Jammu and Kashmir.

Yusuf Shah’s story is a single vivid illustration of India’s Kashmir problem as a whole. This is a crisis of India’s own making, in which India is at least as much sinner as sinned against, perhaps more. Pakistan may fish in troubled water — and with troubled young men — but India’s record in Jammu and Kashmir in the last fifty years has been a political, diplomatic and public relations gift to Pakistan. It is an advantage they squandered with the Kargil misadventure, but may regain if India persists in its folly.

Is Kashmir a “dispute” or an “issue”? As it is patently obvious that it is the principal bone of contention, trying to pretend that it is just another issue is tedious tripe. Bleating on about bilateralism also borders on the ridiculous, as India internationalized the issue in the first place by calling in the United Nations in 1948. Besides, when the quarrel over Kashmir threatens the entire world with potential nuclear confrontation, it is everybody’s business. And as India and Pakistan have failed in fifty years to make even a beginning towards a solution, mediation is clearly necessary. The only question is who should mediate and who will police the implementation of a solution.

As India did not honour its international commitment of a “reference to the people” on the accession of Kashmir, it lost the moral highground of demanding the same of others. It may be correct to argue that Pakistan failed to keep its side of the condition to remove its troops, but India’s position would have been salvaged only if it had found another way of winning a “reference to the people”. India’s biggest disgrace in Kashmir is also illustrated by the Yusuf Shah story — its denial of democracy to the Kashmiri people, even in the flawed form it is practised in the rest of the country.

The 1987 elections were widely condemned as fraudulent, but in fact, except for the elections of 1977 and 1983, every single electoral exercise in Jammu and Kashmir has been a farce. Since the insurrection finally started in 1989, India’s only policy instrument has been brutal repression, with predictable violations of human rights. Its abuse of even those amenable to dialogue left the field free for the extremist fringes.

Caught between being “in the blood” of one claimant and “an integral part” of the other, Jammu and Kashmir has been reduced to a gangrenous limb poisoning the entire region. It is deeply worrying that this monument to state failure is still portrayed as the cornerstone of India’s identity. Yet, just as the Kashmir crisis is of India’s own making, it is also in India’s power to start to set things right in the part of Kashmir it controls, regardless of what anyone else does. There is, after all, another way for the Syed Salahuddins to make the journey to this side of the border. A negotiated settlement on self-rule, de-militarization, real elections under international observation, allowing the people’s choice to be declared the winner — these form the checklist India should really be working on if the Syed Salahuddins of Kashmir are to become Yusuf Shahs again.



The “Mogadishu Line” still stands, as firm as when it was first erected in 1993, and the success of Scott Ridley’s new film, Black Hawk Down, with the American public should ensure that it will stand for many years to come. Which means that Saddam Hussein can continue to sleep soundly: he is not next after Afghanistan on the target list of the United States of America’s “war on terrorism”.

Black Hawk Down is the latest in a string of films that show the realities of ground combat in a much more graphic and horrific way than previous generations of war movies, but it is not set in the comfortably distant past of World War II or Vietnam. It is set in Somalia only nine years ago, when an American force operating alongside a United Nations famine relief mission lost 19 soldiers in a single day.

The film is a reconstruction of the bungled operation in which US Ranger and Delta Force troops captured senior members of a Somali warlord’s army in central Mogadishu in a mission that was supposed to be over in half an hour. Instead, they were trapped in the heart of the warlord’s territory for over half a day. By the time Pakistani troops of the UN force got them out, they had lost 19 and over a 100 were wounded.

Body bag phobia

The American public was horrified, especially when a mob of the warlord’s people was videotaped dragging the body of a dead American soldier through the streets in triumph. Two weeks later, president Bill Clinton pulled all 30,000 American soldiers out of Somalia. It was the ignominious end of the elder George Bush’s “New World Order”, and by the end of 1993 it had been replaced by a new doctrine: the “Mogadishu Line”.

What it said, in essence, was that the US would not again commit troops to overseas operations short of a world war if the anticipated casualty toll was higher than — oh, 19, say. To accept a higher number of deaths would simply result in a popular and media revolt against the commitment back in the US, so better not commit yourself in the first place.

This doctrine never got into formal statements of US strategy because it sounds just too timid, but it has been observed in practice ever since. Neither in Kosovo three years ago nor in Afghan- istan last year did the US commit more than a few ground units, and in neither war did American casualties, including accidental fatalities, cross the Mogadishu Line. Yet the US won both wars, mainly thanks to the decades-long effort it has put into developing reliable stand-off weapons.

But the new American force structure has not really eliminated the need for ground troops. You still need soldiers to seize and hold the ground in the end. It’s just that you don’t need as many of them, and they don’t have to be very good soldiers, if they have the full resources of US air power to open the way for them.

Ground rules

So long as there is some local force that can fill this role, like the Kosovo Liberation Army in the Balkans three years ago or the Northern Alliance last year in Afghanistan, the strategy works just fine. But if there is no local force available to take the place of ground troops, will the US no longer risk itself?

Then there might as well not be any American armed forces at all. Washington can bomb all it wants but without ground troops to follow up, all the bombing in the world cannot bring a determined government to its knees.

There is no armed opposition force in Iraq that could easily be built up to take on the role that the KLA and the Northern Alliance played in America’s last two wars. The various Kurdish forces in the north cannot agree on a common front for more than five minutes at a time, and have no interest in marching on Baghdad anyway. The Shias in the south have been beaten and terrorized into utter submission. And it’s over a quarter-century since there was any open armed challenge to Saddam Hussein’s rule from the Sunni Arabs in central Iraq.

The US can bomb Iraq far harder than at present, if it wants (though there really is very little evidence linking Saddam to al Qaida). But the Mogadishu Line still stands, and without a reliable local force in Iraq, on the ground, it can do little more.


Her eyes give her away. Cold and hawk-like, they are misfits on her petite frame. Their hard glitter robs her smile of warmth. The shining black muzzle of the Kalashnikov peeking from behind her shoulders, 15-year-old See- ma thrusts her hand forward. “Hello! Comrade,’’ she greets in a flat, dull monotone.

Seema’s palms are callused from hours of shooting practice and lugging heavy load across the hilly terrain. A tribal from Jharkhand’s Garhwa district, Seema is a member of the People’s Guerrilla Army, an armed wing of the People’s War Group. She is into active combat and handles automatic weapons with ease. When not on the field, Seema usually supervises camp chores and attends to guests. At night, she chants praises of the “Lal Sena” by a campfire to the soft beat of drums.

She came to the camp as a toddler with her mother almost 12 years ago. Her father, a hardcore Naxalite had been killed in an encounter near Aurangabad, Bihar. Since then, the camp has been her home and after her mother’s death, she took to “revolution” full-time.

The nature of her duties has changed over the years. She was initially part of a cultural front — the Struggling Forum for People’s Resistance, a rural women’s rights’ forum. The members went around the villages exhorting women to “break free of patriarchy, assert property rights and fight the imperialist forces”.

But with the formation of the PGA in December 2000, she suddenly found herself at a crossroads. Seema was asked to join a platoon and prepare for armed aggression. Despite initial misgivings about her resilience, she was gradually accepted by her “male colleagues” and is now an accomplished sharpshooter. She is a trained PGA cadet, a vital cog in the outfit’s military command structure.

Seema’s camp is located 60 kilometres from Garhwa on the Bihar-Jharkhand border. A road forks out from the odd cluster of hutments to the west towards Surguja in Chhattisgarh, where she has a “lot of friends”.

Seema represents the new face of leftist militancy in the “liberated guerrilla zone” straddling the forests of Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and south Orissa. She symbolizes the pre-eminence of women in the male-dominated rank and file of guerilla militants and the changing gender equations in the traditional set-up.

Women, who earlier formed the cultural and moral backbone of the Naxalite outfits, are breaking uncharted grounds. They are gravitating to field action and now constitute regular hit squads. Insiders say their forte is strategy. The women are often used as “decoys” to identify and lure soft targets. Their ability to communicate without raising suspicion, the speed with which they gel into the ambience and a natural sixth sense prove handy during operations, especially in the unpredictable scenario following the promulgation of the prevention of terrorism ordinance.

Nearly 30 per cent of the PGA members in Dandakaranya (Chhattisgarh) and north Telengana (Andhra Pradesh) are women — all warm and lively, full of zeal in their Twenties. Most of them are tribals, drawn from the various cultural and quasi-political fronts active at the village-level.

Bharati and Rita, two illiterate Gond tribals, joined the PWG from the Gadechirolli region in Maharashtra at a time when, in their words, “repression was at its peak”.

They were initially assigned to the women’s wing and addressed social issues in at least 10 villages on the Andhra Pradesh-Chhattisgarh border. But as police crackdown mounted, their lifestyles changed. Village hideouts were replaced by forest lairs and they soon found themselves constantly on the move with the men. Initially, the bias was palpable. Recounts Bharati: “First, there was a lot of repression and we faced seemingly insurmountable odds. The boys were not sure whether we would be able to withstand it. They remained mute spectators. But when they realized that we were a growing tribe and had graduated to armed platoons from renegade reformist squads, their confidence increased and this opened the floodgates for women recruits.” Bharati is now a section commander and is adept at “bush war”.

Rita, who followed in Bharati’s footsteps, “proved her mettle” in the 1997 Kandi ambush (Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra border) and later in the Manpur raid, killing 16 policemen. Sujata, a feisty Gondi woman from Bastar, led a squad at Kondagaon in north Bastar against police atrocities.

The “reversal of roles” can be partially attributed to the new-found confidence among women in the outfit. “We can take up any responsibility given. But sometimes they hesitate to delegate responsibility. This need not be so for if we are unable to do something, we will say so,” clarifies Rita. However, the reluctance to grant these “iron ladies” their due is fast fading.

Closer home, the PWG organized a 12-day convention on the Jharkhand-Orissa border late last month. Billed as the PGA raising day, the outfit used the occasion to induct 200 cadres into its fold. “Almost 25 per cent of the recruits were women,” said Shravan, a PWG top gun. Twenty-five-year-old Susmita, a city-bred from Ranchi, shunned her relatively cushy trade union background for the gun and the grime at the induction ceremony.

According to insiders, the change has been precipitated by two factors: intensified police action after the promulgation of POTO and a realignment of forces. Women have a few natural advantages and can be easily disciplined, unlike men, who often tend to run amok.

During police raids, they are less easily identified than their male counterpart and their chances of escape are thus much higher. Moreover, as in the Topchanchi massacre of October 31, 2001, an entire squad of women “kept the police engaged in small talk” while the platoons plundered the outpost. “Now that our structure are becoming more military, almost like an army, women are becoming indispensable. They are vital to operational strategy,” says Madan Kumar, a PWG zonal commander.

The blurring of dividing lines between the arch rivals — PWG and the Maoist Communist Centre — has also contributed to their “rising stock”. The MCC with its three women-dominated cultural fronts — the Jan Sangharsh Suraksha Manch, Nari Mukti Morcha and the Revolutionary Students’ League — is considered a good training ground. Of late, it has also been feeding the armed platoons with a steady stream of “trigger-happy” girls.

The return of Nirmala Chatterjee, widow of the slain veteran, Sagar Chatterjee, to the MCC fold after nearly half a decade has also been a shot in the arm for the women in the group.

Platoon members from Andhra Pradesh have been frequenting Bihar and Jharkhand to train women in the use of landmine and grenades. The Bihar police recently recovered a mutilated body of a 25-year-old Telugu woman from an MCC camp in the Kaimur hills. She was apparently a part of the Andhra training brigade, camping in the vicinity.

A white paper — Ranniti aur Karyaniti — released by the PWG at its ninth annual congress in March last year sums up its shift in strategy. “Women comprise almost half the country’s population and they are bound by patriarchy. A vast majority of them do not have the right to property and are treated as consumer items. So more rural women will have to be brought into the guerrilla fold to help consolidate the jan kshetra (independent zones). They will take on the imperialist forces, change the age-old inheritance pattern and wrest political power at the grassroots through armed insurrection”, is how the paper put it.

And with the PWG and the MCC set to close ranks officially in March, women will definitely occupy the centre-stage in the months to come.


On the basis of the discussions contained in the preceding chapters, the commission is of the ...opinion that the following amendments need to be carried out in the Indian Penal Code, 1860; the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973; and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872... Substitution of the existing section 375 of the IPC recommended. The...section...be substituted by the following: “375...Sexual assault means — (a) penetrating the vagina (which term shall include the labia majora), the anus or urethra of any person with any part of the body of another person or an object manipulated by another person except where such penetration is carried out for proper hygienic or medical purposes; (b) manipulating any part of the body of another person so as to cause penetration of the vagina (which term shall include the labia majora), the anus or the urethra of the offender by any part of the other person’s body; (c) introducing any part of the penis of a person into the mouth of another person; (d) engaging in cunnilingus or fellatio; or (e) continuing sexual assault as defined in clauses (a) to (d) above in circumstances falling under any of the six following descriptions:

First, against the other person’s will. Second, without the other person’s consent. Third, with the other person’s consent when such consent has been obtained by putting such other person or any person in whom such other person is interested, in fear of death or hurt. Fourth, where the other person is a female, with her consent, when the man knows that he is not the husband of such other person and that her consent is given because she believes that the offender is another man to whom she is or believes herself to be lawfully married. Fifth, with the consent of the other person, when, at the time of giving such consent, by reason of unsoundness of mind or intoxication or the administration by the offender personally or through another of any stupefying or unwholesome substance, the other person is unable to understand the... consequences of that to which such other person gives consent. Sixth, with or without the other person’s consent, when such other person is under 16 years of age.

Explanation: Penetration to any extent is penetration ... Exception: Sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 16 years of age, is not sexual assault.” Further, we are not satisfied that the exception should be deleted.

Recasting of section 376 of the IPC recommended... “376. Punishment for sexual assault (1) whoever, except in the cases provided for by sub-section (2) commits sexual assault shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than seven years but which may be for life or for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine unless the person subjected to sexual assault is his own wife and is not under 16 years of age, in which case, he shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. If the sexual assault is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority towards the person assaulted or by a near relative of the person assaulted, he/she shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to life imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine. Provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of less than the minimum punishment prescribed in this sub-section.

(2) Whoever, (a) being a police officer commits sexual assault (i) within the limits of the police station to which he is appointed or (ii) in the premises of any station house whether or not situated in the police station to which he is appointed; or (iii) on a person in his custody or in the custody of a police officer subordinate to him; or (b) being a public servant, takes advantage of his official position and commits sexual assault on a person in his custody as such public servant or in the custody of a public servant subordinate to him; or (c) being on the management or on the staff of a jail, remand home or other place of custody established by or under any law for the time being in force or of a women’s or children’s institution takes advantage of his official position and commits sexual assault on any inmate of such jail, remand home, place or institution or (d) being on the management or on the staff of a hospital, takes advantage of his official position and commits sexual assault on a person in that hospital; or (e) commits sexual assault on a woman knowing her to be pregnant or (f) commits sexual assault on a person when such person is under 16 years of age or (g) commits gang sexual assault, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 10 years but which may be for life and shall also be liable to fine:

Provided that the court may, for adequate and special reasons to be mentioned in the judgment, impose a sentence of imprisonment of either description for a term of less than 10 years. Explanation 1: where a person is subjected to sexual assault by one or more in a group of persons acting in furtherance of their common intention, each of the persons shall be deemed to have committed gang sexual assault within the meaning of this sub-section.

To be concluded



They never learn

Slow learners Sir — It seems that the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, Laloo Prasad Yadav, and his equally “popular” wife, Rabri Devi, are determined to be in the spotlight — for all the wrong reasons, of course (“Anthem insult slurs on Laloo”, Jan 28). This time they were caught on the wrong foot for refusing to even stand up when the national anthem was being played at the Republic Day parade in Patna. Not surprisingly, opposition parties pounced on the “disrespectful gesture” and demanded a public apology from Bihar’s first couple. Indeed, the least the chief minister and her infamous spouse could have done was show some respect to the national anthem — at least for the sake of the chair she continued to lounge on while the national anthem was being played. Their doing so would have set an example to the people, now that even common citizens are permitted to fly the tricolour on their housetops. But, perhaps, such good sense is too much to expect from the Yadav couple.

Yours faithfully,
Dithi Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Corporate fudge

Sir — The Enron “crisis”, the worst in the United States of America’s corporate history, has metamorphosed into an Arthur Andersen “debacle” (“FBI agents begin probe of Enron documents”, Jan 24). Who will be the first to go to prison? Will it be an executive of Enron or Andersen? It is anybody’s guess. Corporate entities fudging accounts to show better results and dupe share-holders in the process has gone on for ages. But it is a different ball game altogether when a professional body of auditors is caught colluding. The chairman of the US security and exchanges commission is in a bitter mood, understandably. Over the years, the so-called self-regulating mechanisms of the US association of accountants have failed not just in the case of Enron but in that of some smaller fries as well. It is, therefore, certain that the US congress will legislate soon after the current spate of enquiries is concluded, in order to regulate the accounting profession.

India’s chartered accountants are rated amongst the best in the world. However, the lure of the lucre seems to have drawn some of the CAs, albeit small in number, who are not averse to affixing their signature on a doctored balance sheet.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants has indeed formulated a strict code of professional ethics for its members, but it is not always clear how it goes about the thankless and burdensome task of exposing and debarring errant members. It is time the institute had a fresh look at the subject as a whole, especially since the Central Bureau of Investigation now wants to take its help in investigating corporate fraud. The institute should demonstrate that it is radically different from the Indian Medical Council, another professional body which is in shambles today because of lack of government oversight.

Yours faithfully,
Kangayam R. Rangaswamy, Durham, US

Sir — During the US elections, there was a story doing the rounds in the newspapers that if the Maharashtra State Electricity Board-ENRON standoff was not resolved soon, the new Republican administration lobbied by Enron could create trouble in the fledgling Indo-US ties. The story seems to be closed for now with Enron finding itself bankrupt and all those with whom it had lobbied already in trouble, especially Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. It is good that the Indian government did not budge then under pressure. It seems that the Indian government knew more about Enron’s influence over US foreign policy than most other analysts.

Yours faithfully,
Somnath Banerjee, Patna

Sir — The collapse of the Enron stock from $90 to 25 cents within a year is perhaps the greatest collapse in the history of the stock markets around the world. What caused its fall? Detractors of Enron in India had been drawing attention to the dishonest means being adopted by it to engineer its goal of getting monstrous and undeserved profits. Enron’s principal ability was in identifying and satisfying the needs of India’s corrupt politicians. It proposed a plant which could never be economical, persuaded Indian financial institutions to lend most of the money and take most of the risk, and had the government of India agreeing to subject its agreements to British courts.

Enron decided as a corporation that dishonesty was the best policy. It did not need to deliver any value to its customers, so long as it made donations in millions to the American president and politicians all over the world. It expected that its shareholders would get rewarded over the years from the phenomenal profits. Meanwhile, its managers could help themselves to some of the money while they were around. This should be a lesson to businesses and shareholders that dishonesty will not always pay.

Yours faithfully,
Shailesh Gandhi, Mumbai

Puff politics

Sir — It is heartening to note that Indian Railways has banned smoking in trains, platforms and in its offices (“Smoking ban in trains and stations”, Jan 20). This will spare non-smokers from the ill-effects of tobacco smoke. While the railways’ action was prompted by the recent Supreme Court ruling, forbidding smoking in public places, I doubt how far the railways will go to enforce the ban.

According to Union health ministry statistics, 25 life-threatening diseases are caused by smoking and about a million people in India die every year from tobacco-related diseases. The observance of May 31 as “no-tobacco day” has also not had any effect on the use of tobacco products. The apex court must now contemplate a similar ban on tobacco products like gutkha and khaini, as also on pan and pan-masala.

Yours faithfully,
Manoranjan Das, Jamshedpur

Sir — The ban on smoking in trains and stations is a positive step, since smoking is a hazard not merely for smokers but also for the environment. While the ban and Rs 100 fine on offenders is laudable, the Indian Railways should go a step further and maintain a record of all offenders — their name, age, address — so that it can keep tabs on the frequency of offence.

Yours faithfully,
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore

Sir — It is unfortunate to see people smoking in banks unmindful of the recent Supreme Court ruling in this regard. One way of putting a stop to this would be to make senior officials accountable for any violation of the apex court ruling. But equally, if not more, important is the need to instill public awareness and impress on people the need to obey the laws of the land.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Bondopadhyay, Dum Dum

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender

Maintained by Web Development Company