Editorial 1 / Party to change
Editorial 2 / Keeping vigil
Better than average
Fifth Column / Hitmen in a fool’s paradise
Women across a gap
Document / Policies, plans and people in distress
Letters to the editor

Marxists talk of changing the world but often end up changing only themselves. This need not be a matter of shame because change is essential not only for survival but also for growth. The recently concluded West Bengal state conference of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) could be a turning point for the party and for the Left Front government insofar as it accepted a new agenda for change. The left’s search for capital and for capitalist partners in the state’s attempts for its industrial rejuvenation began during Mr Jyoti Basu’s regime. Even the old rhetoric about trade union militancy has long been abandoned. But the party faced a challenge in adapting itself to the policy changes initiated by Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s new regime. The changes have been necessitated as much by realpolitik as by inescapable economic realities. Mr Bhattacharjee’s new approaches to governance were illustrated by increases in hospital charges, electricity rates and education fees in the face of populist resistance by opposition parties as well as some partners of the ruling coalition. Moreover, he has shown courage in stating his intention to close down sick enterprises which have long been a drain on the state’s resources. In a large measure, hard economic choices and the Left Front government’s responses to them were the focal points of the political conference. Even if it is argued that the groundwork for the party’s changing responses had been done during Mr Basu’s long reign, it should be gratifying to Mr Bhattacharjee that the party rallied around his agenda at its first state conference since his elevation to chief ministership. He should also feel reassured that the state unit secretary, Mr Anil Biswas, played his role in persuading party comrades that “the struggle for development is part of the class struggle”.

For Mr Bhattacharjee, the party’s support was crucial because he had led the Left Front to its sixth successive victory in the elections last year on an agenda for change. His electoral promises of an accelerated rate of development and an “improved” front would have been difficult to keep if the party stuck to its old ideological positions on much needed economic reforms. The chief minister’s assertion that his government’s reforms would not be the same as those of governments led by the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Congress should not cause concern. Both he and his party also reiterated platitudes about the workers’ right to cease work if other means of solving a dispute failed. These only show that the party is anxious that its agenda for change should not look too drastic a break from its known ideological position. This is why, despite its call for capital, the CPI(M) continues to oppose liberalization and globalization of the economy. For the chief minister, however, getting the party’s nod for his reformist agenda was winning half the battle; he has to implement it fast.


What its children learn in school could directly affect the fate of a nation. The Supreme Court has recently pointed out just how seriously education ought to be taken by the keepers of the Constitution. The apex court has prevented the implementation of the new syllabus framed by the National Council for Educational Research and Training. This was to be introduced in the coming academic year all over India. The new textbooks were also ready for use. The court’s staying of the syllabus was prompted by considerations existing at more than one level. First, there was a procedural irregularity on the part of the NCERT. It had not consulted the Central advisory board regarding the change. This was the technical principle behind the court’s decision. Yet, the NCERT’s new secondary syllabus became a matter of public interest — and hence, within the jurisdiction of the court’s vigilance — because of its alleged saffron agenda, hidden as well as explicit. And this larger ideological issue is at the core of the public interest litigation bringing the syllabus to the Supreme Court’s notice. The petitioners in this case have charged the Centre with nothing less than using this syllabus for promoting religious and political views favoured by dominant sections of the “ruling regime”. Behind this fear, and this protest, are such things as arbitrary and unauthorized deletions from textbooks, and the introduction of “spiritual” or “value-based” subjects. Since these deletions tried to suppress historical evidence of Hindus eating beef or sacrificing cows, the question of inculcating sectarian interests in the syllabus was naturally and justifiably raised. This PIL has crystallized these questions around the more technical point of correct procedure.

Sectarian ideology continues to do its grim and relentless task in the country. And hence the petitioners’ concern is timely and understandable. The court’s decision involves such crucial institutions of the state as the human resources development ministry, the Central Board of Secondary Education and the national human rights commission. But it may still be worth raising the question as to whether judicial activism of this nature, however crucial the cause, ought to be extended to include the operations of a body like the NCERT. The agents of civil society, such as teachers, educationists and historians, have all raised their voices against the saffronization of education. The role of the judiciary should be extended to such spheres not without a degree of caution.


From “the heartland of Indian industry”, NDTV seemed to be prompting the assembled industrialists of the Confederation of Indian Industry, to say that this was an average budget. Having been bitten badly in past years when they had been carried away by the finance minister’s rhetoric and described the budgets as “perfect”, the industrialists were cautious. Rightly, they were able to focus on the many positive features of a budget developed under the most difficult circumstances. As the finance minister spoke, Gujarat was in flames in response to the ghastly killing of many kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya.

The large shortfalls in revenues owing to the economic slowdown, the slowing of the global economy, the effects of the Gujarat earthquake, the events of September 11, the attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, and in December, on the Indian parliament, and the mobilization of armed forces on the Pakistan border put enormous pressure on the government’s finances. Indirect tax revenues fell with the industrial slowdown, and the delay in disinvestments added to the shortfall.

The budget was expected to give signals that the government remained committed to opening up the economy, to reforms and restructuring and to accelerating economic growth. It was expected to pay special attention to agriculture and infrastructure development, kickstart industrial growth, strengthen the financial system and widen as well as deepen the tax base. The budget amply gives the desired signals and attends to most of the tasks.

As far as opening the economy is concerned, customs duties have now been capped at 30 per cent, the level of the association of southeast Asian nations. Foreign banks have been given the opportunity to set up subsidiaries. Foreign institutional investors will no longer be subject to the limits applicable to foreign direct investment in Indian companies. A clear signal that India will, some time soon, have capital account convertibility was given by the facility to non-resident Indians to repatriate their earnings in India in dollars, and the abolition of rupee accounts. Indian companies can now invest up to $ 100 million in overseas acquisitions. The dismantling of the administered pricing mechanism on petroleum products will take place as scheduled on April 1, another clear sign of opening up.

Some financial market operators have said that with the present low inflation, low current account deficit and large foreign exchange reserves, we should have immediate capital account convertibility. This ignores the inability of Central and state governments to control their deficits, that low inflation only reflects a low state of demand, and the vulnerability of many countries in southeast Asia and Latin America with convertibility. The calibrated and cautious approach to it in India should be welcomed.

As far as reforms are concerned, the reduction of subsidies on LPG, kerosene and fertilizers is a bold step, already opposed by antediluvian politicians, including those who imagine themselves as reformers in their own states. The creation of a market for public securities and for “junk” paper such as the non-performing assets with banks, financial institutions and others is another reform measure. The securities and exchange board of India is to be strengthened and accounting standards will be tightened along with regulation of audit firms. Fifty more areas reserved for small scale units are now de-reserved. The fiscal responsibility bill is to be presented to Parliament in this session.

For accelerating economic growth, plan expenditure is to be at the highest levels ever. Substantial investments in roads and further incentives for housing construction will stimulate the economy. Comprehensive reforms in agriculture will accelerate diversification of agriculture and the development of food processing. This will stimulate rural demand. However, no specific proposals are made to cap quantities procured and support prices.

With the dismantling of the APM for petroleum products from April 1, petrol and diesel prices are to drop. This will stimulate demand for two and four wheelers since people look not only at capital costs but also at running expenses. However, the increase in tax rates acts as a damper on industrial growth and might have been avoided. Further, the tax on dividend income and removal of exemptions on mutual funds, will affect equity investment. Pensioners are hit by the cuts in interest rates, but working savers will now have to save and invest more to assure themselves of adequate incomes on retirement.

Agriculture has a comprehensive package of reform, restructuring and stimulus to growth. However, it is in their implementation that we must have doubts, given the past record of this government and finance minister who have made grand announcements in past budgets and have been unable to implement them.

Infrastructure will benefit over the years, but not immediately, in telecom, railways, roads, ports and airports. For example, telecom will benefit from foreign investment, cellular phone instrument costs will fall, and tax advantages in mergers and acquisitions will help restructuring in the sector. The power sector has complex problems, and the budget has little relevance for their solution. What is required is fundamental change in political attitudes. However, the linking of many areas (irrigation, power, and so on), to the Central government’s financial support to states may have some effect in getting state governments to take necessary reform measures.

Financial sector reforms are directly under the finance minister and he has done a lot, but not enough. He has not done anything about the many weak banks and financial institutions. There is no talk of disinvestments in banks. He has reduced interest rates, and perhaps with the present low inflation, could have gone further. Recapitalization of Indian Bank and cooperative banks will help strengthen them, as will the revised rules on treatment of non-performing assets. The creation of a market for government securities, and the asset management company proposed as a step in creating a market for “bad” loans, the equivalent of “junk” bonds, are excellent initiatives. So are the moves to strengthen the securities and exchange board of India, as well as the regulation of audit firms.

There has been criticism of the dividend tax and the 3 per cent surcharge on income tax. The abolition of dividend distribution tax will help companies with inter-corporate dividend incomes. The treatment of dividend as income of the recipient will hurt individuals, not companies, since companies will not be taxed twice on the same income. It is the higher income individuals who will be affected most since they will pay higher tax rates. Avenues for investing savings have been narrowed for individuals, with the reduction in the returns available after the abolition of tax advantages.

The taxation of exports to a minimal extent is probably a good thing, though software companies used to zero tax may complain. The extension of service tax to more areas is commendable. It is not clear what is proposed to improve tax compliance, since only the intention is mentioned. Computer hardware will be helped by duty reductions and postponement of low duties on import of finished products.

The negative features are important. The fiscal deficit is now at the levels of the early Nineties. While the present situation may permit the economy to tolerate it, this cannot continue. There is no clarity as to how revenue expenditures are to be reduced, given the angry reaction in Parliament to the announcement of the cut on subsidies. The disinvestments target is too cautious at Rs 12,000 crore and should have been much higher. On social infrastructure, the budget is singularly unambitious. That is a pity, since education, health, social security, nutrition and so on, are areas needing urgent attention. There are noises, but not backed by resources or reform in these sectors to ensure that the existing institutions are able to deliver.

Finally, does this budget have a “grand” plan? It does fit into the framework of reform. It is not flamboyant or loud on rhetoric as it was in past years. But it addresses details and that makes implementation more likely. The doubts are on whether the government will be compelled to roll back on some measures, whether it will be able to actually spend the money provided for investment and whether necessary actions by other ministries will be taken speedily.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic [email protected]


American hitmen are expensive, but they’re efficient and they do take credit cards. Russian hitmen are cheaper and also quite reliable, though their work is sometimes untidy. A South African hitman would do the job for $5,000 or less, and he would be less obvious on the streets of Harare. But a Canadian hitman?

The story that Morgan Tsvangirai, ex-trade union leader and candidate for the presidency of Zimbabwe in the elections on March 9-10, tried to hire Canadians to kill the president, Robert Mugabe, has dominated the state-controlled media for the past two weeks. Tsvangirai has officially been charged with treason.

Yet Mugabe’s police didn’t keep Tsvangirai in jail, as you would expect with such a dangerous character. They let him out within two hours, as if they wanted to hold over the charge in case Tsvangirai wins the election, not one they really believe in.

The Movement for Democratic Change is only a few years old, but it came within a hair’s breadth of winning last year’s parliamentary elections, and Tsvangirai would probably beat the 78-year-old Mugabe in the presidential election if the votes are counted properly. But that is the problem: Mugabe has no intention of leaving power after a mere 22 years, and as the opposition’s credibility has grown, so have the violence and trickery of the ruling ZANU-PF.

Cut and paste

The Australian programme, SBS Dateline, first ran the tape of the meeting between Tsvangirai and the Canadian “assassins” as a documentary on February 13, reassured by the sterling reputation of the Australian journalist, Mark Davis (who also got an interview with Mugabe). Since then, Zimbabweans with televisions have seen the key six-minute clip 20 or 30 times. Time enough to notice that the time-codes (which were left on by the bungling editors) jump all over the place.

In one case, one sentence Tsvangirai says is immediately followed by another from 20 minutes earlier. What seems on the sound-track like straightforward and incriminating statements turn out, when you watch the time-codes, to be a cynical scissors-and-paste job. And then it turns out that Davis was given the tape by the man whom Tsvangirai purportedly approached in search of a hitman, Ari Ben-Menashe — who has been doing work for Mugabe’s government for years.

Ben-Menashe is an Israeli-born Canadian who has dabbled in the spy world for decades, and was once described as “notorious and chronic liar”. His Montreal-based firm, Dickens and Madson, has recently been involved in marketing the illegal diamonds with which Congo pays the Mugabe regime for the loan of thousands of Zimbabwean soldiers who fight in its civil war — a bloody business that is making some senior military and party officials in Zimbabwe disgustingly rich.

Script of a coup

The current story appears to have begun when Ben-Menashe’s firm of “political consultants” approached Tsvangirai, offering him advice on how to deal with the press and political issues in the United States of America. (Ben-Menashe’s version is that Tsvangirai approached him, but why would somebody living in Zimbabwe look in Montreal either for advice on US media or for hitmen? Even Ben-Menashe’s wife says she does not believe a word he says.)

So Tsvangirai meets with these nasty but stupid people three times: twice at the Royal Automobile Club in London, and then the key meeting in Montreal on December 4 where Dickens and Madson secretly videotaped the whole session. Tsvangirai admits that he was there, but he denies that the purpose was to plot Mugabe’s assassination.

Thus is the fate of over ten million people decided. Tsvangirai will almost certainly win the vote, but even if he also wins the count, he will not assume the presidency. The treason charge will be activated, and he will be thrown in jail instead. This whole story is the script not of a coup against Mugabe, but against the next elected president of Zimbabwe.

And what are we to make of the major players? Mugabe is a scoundrel, but we knew that. Tsvangirai is a fool, and that is an unhappy discovery. Davis is a fool too, which is probably less serious. And the Canadian “hitmen”? In the world of crime, Canadians are not revered for being good hitmen, but the best conmen.


Last November, Vandana Shiva, the prominent environmentalist and women’s rights activist, gave a speech to the Ladies Study Group in Calcutta. She was discussing life-campaigning and current preoccupations with women’s bodies as the site for the preservation of culture. Pointing at her sari, she declared, “We are women who know the value of a good sari. We must continue to recognize the skilled labour of the women who make these saris, and support their work.” The saris in the audience rustled appreciatively. A speech on women’s rights, followed by brunch at the Taj Bengal — this is the face of a certain type of genteel activism, concerned, trusting and profoundly detached from Shiva’s world of campaigning.

The recent conference held by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee should have been very different. The DMSC (originally called The Durbar Family) was set up in 1986 in collaboration with the All India Institute of Public Hygiene and Health to combat the spread of AIDS among West Bengal’s sex workers. The organization is now largely staffed and run by sex workers.

The conference had been convened to discuss the issue of legalizing the sex industry, and to provide publicity for the forthcoming international gathering of sex workers in Calcutta. If the milieu of the Ladies Study Group was missing in the gently neglected upper rooms of the University Institute, the themes of women’s rights in Shiva’s talk were not. The president of the DMSC, Swapna Gayen, herself a sex worker, began the debate: “We want society to recognize sex work as work.”

Unfortunately, Gayen was speaking to an audience which had already been convinced. When a microphone was passed around the hall for members to announce their names and professions — journalist, film-maker, sex worker — the Ladies Study Group, or any other representative from middle and upper middle class society, were conspicuous through their absence. It is this section of society which Mrinal Dutta, the DMSC project director, would most like to see the sex workers’ message reach. In an interview given several days after the conference, he described how the fight against AIDS is linked to the campaign to have sex workers recognized by society. “Only through legalization of the sex industry will sex workers gain the protection and the self-respect to insist that clients use condoms. For legalization we need middle-class support.”

Dutta describes the situation in 1986 when Tikribai, a sex worker in the docklands area of Calcutta, became the first person in India to be diagnosed with AIDS. At that time, less than two per cent of sex workers used condoms. Dutta attributes this to the sex worker’s complete disenfranchisement: over 25 per cent were bonded labourers. A system was in operation whereby independent sex workers and women trafficked in from surrounding villages would be arrested by the police and then be bought out of prison by pimps and brothel-owners to be put into bonded labour.

The other problem which trapped sex workers in a cycle of debt was their inability to borrow money openly. Money lenders — often just pimps — would offer money at several hundred times the standard rate of interest. As Dutta reiterates, these women were not in a position to follow Durbar’s advice to use condoms.

Besides AIDS-testing and education programmes, the DMSC’s work consisted of gradually building up the trust and confidence of sex workers. The policy was to enable sex workers to help themselves. It has been hugely successful. The setting up of committees by sex workers to register themselves, and the creation of a cooperative bank to provide short-term low-interest loans, has, to a large extent, prevented pimps from operating. Bonded labour has almost been abolished, and the number of independent sex workers is currently at 65 per cent — significantly, the same percentage as that of women who regularly use condoms.

The DMSC headquarters is itself filled with activity: a dance workshop is being held; a number of sex workers drop by to discuss problems whilst their children play around the building. I remind Dutta of the anecdotes told by some of the film-makers and writers at the conference, of children being locked away in adjoining rooms whilst their mothers entertained clients; of a sex worker who had her school-work torn up by her pimp after one writer had tried to educate her. Dutta is himself the son of a sex worker. He pauses briefly before he replies with a mixture of wryness and frustration, “They should come here then.”

I also remind Dutta of one sex worker’s impassioned plea at the conference. After a series of speeches by invitees on how the women’s rights movement should interact with the DMSC, Sadhana Mukherjee had come out with words to the effect of “All this talk of women’s rights is all very well, but how will it help us?” Dutta responds that the language of women’s rights, especially the discourse on patriarchy, has been very important in allowing sex workers to speak about themselves and position themselves in relation to society. The phrase, “sex worker”, itself was coined at a conference in 1997 to identify their cause with other workers’ movements, and replace the various derogatory terms of “prostitute” and “whore”, and their Bengali equivalents. As Dutta argues, the conference which is currently being held at the Salt Lake Stadium, is evidence of how much sex workers can contribute once the terms and the mindsets which ostracize them from society have been removed.

Dutta leaves the interview to continue the work of coordinating the conference. I stay behind, however, to ask Gouri Banerjee, one of the few middleclass women who work at the centre, whether feminist discourse had helped the DMSC to communicate and share resources with other women’s rights groups. “All women have benefited from the realization that we have the same right to work as men, to have our own living, the way we want. But I personally feel that the feminist movement is doing nothing. There is a gap. The feminist discourse is nice to hear, nice to read but there has been little attempt to take up the sex worker’s cause.” Asked why it might be so, she responds that the lack of interest in some of the most exploited and degraded women in society reflects just how controversial a subject selling sex for money still is: “The feminist movement in India has a lot of work to do in appraising the implications of the sex industry, both for itself and for the middle classes.”

Before leaving, I have the opportunity of speaking to the DMSC president, Swapna Gayen. She is one of the many successes of the DMSC. She decided to become a sex worker at the age of sixteen after leaving her marriage to a drug addict, and suffering sexual molestation in the middle-class homes where she worked to support herself. Last week, she was showing Ben Bradshaw, a British foreign office minister, around Sonagachi. But what she wants above all, Gayen tells me, is a house to call her own, where her children can live without fear. It is the image of normalcy which lies beneath the debate about women’s rights and the legalization of the sex industry.

It is startling because the freedoms which the image implies are still absent from the lives of Gayen and her fellow sex workers. A great gap exists between the everyday reality of the sex industry, and the normalcy enjoyed by thousands of middle-class women, those women who had been evoked by their absence at the conference. And until a Ladies Study Group can attend a DMSC conference, sex workers will still be far from achieving the recognition which they need.


The government of India has made public hearings mandatory for developmental projects wherein affected persons, stakeholders are given opportunity of hearing/discussion before arriving at a decision. Public participation is also an important step in every major decision for social, economic and sustainable development. Participation is encouraged by bringing in transparency in decision-making. The government facilitates the participation of various groups in arriving at a decision in a more participatory manner.

India has had modest, but increasing success in attracting private capital flows. Furthermore, much of these private capital inflows into India have been of the non-debt creating variety, which has helped boost the balance of payments as well as the availability of invertible resources in the economy. The international community is very positive about India’s effort to achieve a high rate of growth. After the advent of liberalization which was initiated in 1991, the involvement of the private sector (local and foreign) has been encouraged.

The bulk of India’s population is still rural and engaged in agriculture, which generates nearly one third of India’s national income. While economic reforms have been mainly confined to the industrial sector, they have affected agriculture since these reforms have significantly altered relative prices and protection. A fall in agricultural prices has an undesirable effect on the welfare of the people who depend upon agriculture.

In India’s context, globalization in terms of liberalization of agricultural trade can have a profound impact on the poor. India feels that there remains a need for an alternative agricultural trade agenda that promotes greater food self sufficiency and food security in the developing countries rather than promoting global harmonization of standards in subsidies.

The most adversely affected groups are thus small farmers and small scale industries. These groups are protected by provision food security, better prices for their products, incentives and other facilities to improve their performance to make them competitive.

Several activities and programmes involving multilateral financing are ongoing in India which include Global Environment Facility through the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme and United Nations Economic Programme: India is the second largest recipient of GEF funding. The salient feature of the GEF portfolio are: a diverse and varied portfolio comprising projects that are environmentally, socially and financially sustainable; projects involving a range of issues and approaches to address the questions of innovation, experimentation, demonstration, cost effectiveness and replicability; projects that are country-driven, based on national priorities; capacity-building, human resources and skills at the community level and in government.

The thrust areas reflect the national policy and plan statements — (i) management of natural resources, (ii) capacity-building for decision-making, (iii) management of development, (iv) information, advocacy and participation. The Montreal Protocol sets out a time schedule for the freeze and reduction of ozone depleting substances or controlled substances. A multilateral fund was established by the parties to assist developing countries meet the control measures as specified in the protocol. It assists the government and the industry to design, implement, monitor and evaluate ODS phase-out projects and programmes in the aerosols/foam/solvent refrigeration and fire extinguishing sectors, covering large, medium and small scale enterprises. The ministry of environment and forests is the national executing agency for the institutional strengthening projects for the phase-out of ODSs under the Montreal Protocol. In Asia, India is number three in receiving funds for chloro-fluoro carbon phase out programme, next to China and Malaysia.

There is only one Capacity 21 project in India which is being implemented by the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research through the ministry of environment and forests. The main objective is to build capacity at various levels of the government, national institutes and the community at large through NGOs by introducing concepts of environmental economics into their resource use and planning decisions.

Specific interventions of natural resource accounting through practical applications at policy and field levels include air quality, water quality, biodiversity and common property resources. The IGIDR has come out with documentation on the above areas.

In India, there are several ongoing projects which are being implemented through various bilateral programmes. The main thrust of these programmes is on basic human needs, women in development, support to infrastructure, private sector development, environment, good governance, developing eco-friendly goods and technologies.

The largest share is for poverty eradication , natural resource protection and capacity-building in that order. The amounts are miniscule compared to the needs of the country.

To be concluded



Sense and insensitivity

Where is the common sense? n Sir — Are economists like Shubhashis Gangopadhyay real people living in a real world (“The FM’s best foot”, March 1)? Or is it that they go against popular sentiment just for the fun of it? If they cared to take their blinkers off, they could see that just as the earthquake-surcharge in the last budget did precious little for the people of Bhuj, the 3 per cent security-surcharge on personal income tax this time is not going to make the lives of Indians any more safe. Will it be a riot-surcharge next year? While Gangopadhyay asserts that “market economics is mostly common sense”, he advises the middle classes — hit hard by the rise in LPG prices and the lowering of interest rates on small savings schemes — to “eat less and travel more”. He may have enjoyed playing Marie Antoinette, but for the man on the road, there was nothing remotely funny in what Yashwant Sinha had to offer. Like Sinha, Gangopadhyay too seems to have got his arithmetic wrong. How else could he equate an increase of Rs 40 in LPG prices with a marginal decrease of Re 1 in petrol?

Yours faithfully,
Jyotsna Pal, Howrah

Nation on fire

Sir — The burning of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra in Gujarat on February 27, and the brutal killing of about 60 persons, including women and children, was a barbaric act and must be roundly condemned. The reprisal by Hindu mobs the following day in Ahmedabad and elsewhere is understandable, if not justifiable, for mob psychology does not discriminate between religions. But it should have been obvious to the Gujarat government that such reprisals were to follow and adequate measures should have been taken by them in advance to prevent them. But perhaps the willingness to take such measures was lacking. The Ahmedabad police commissioner admitted on television that the police force was infected by the prevailing mood and shirked its duty. The mob, therefore, went on a rampage, with an impotent police force watching as idle spectators. When so much was evident, it is difficult to see why the army was not asked to step in immediately.

The chief minister made the gratuitous remark that the army had been asked to stand by. But why not deployed? The Central government, monitoring the situation from New Delhi, where a meeting of the cabinet committee on security had been convened in the evening of March 1, also echoed the view of the chief minister. This lends credence to the suspicion that the state and Central governments conspired together to embark on a course of inaction. Late in the night, when mob fury had almost spent itself, the army was called in. The initial act of burning the train at Godhra was reprehensible. So was the excessive retaliation by Hindu mobs. But most reprehensible was the failure of the government to take adequate steps to prevent the looting, arson and murder.

Your faithfully,
S.M. Murshed, Calcutta

Sir — The Gujarat riots have served as an eye-opener. Once again our intelligence was caught napping. Thanks to the media, the workings of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state and the BJP government at the Centre lie exposed. Both needs to be severely reprimanded, first for allowing the violence to spread and second for delaying the deployment of the army, which was hamstrung apparently by the lack of map knowledge. It was only after hundreds of lives were lost that the army was brought in. The tall claims of the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, and the home minister, L.K. Advani, sound hollow in the light of this cruel reality. We must remember that the question is not about which community acted first and who reacted to it. The question is simple: what was our cultured society and the government doing against terrorists on our own soil? Right from the rath yatra to the shilanyas, from the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the Bombay riots, the Indian government and administration can boast of no concrete action that would deter a recurrence of violence. Every step taken has been like playing a political card. Until and unless all communal organizations irrespective of their religious affiliation are banned, the nation will continue to bleed.

Yours faithfully,
S.A. Rahman Barkati, Calcutta

Sir — As soon as the communal tragedy broke out in Gujarat, the political and religious crooks of the country wasted no time condemning “the mindless killing of innocent people”. The defence minister, George Fernandes, visited strife-torn Gujarat and appealed for peace. Where was the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, at this crucial hour? Was it not his constituency that was bearing the brunt of the riots against Muslims? Why was the defence minister compelled to do the home minister’s job? Did Advani have something more important and urgent to do? Shouldn’t he explain this failure? By the time the political and religious leaders of our country take some positive measures to control the situation (and at the same time invent legitimate excuses to justify their inaction), much harm will have been done to the people of both the communities in Gujarat.

Yours faithfully,
Omar Luther King, Shillong

Sir — The Ahmedabad riots are a repetition of the Delhi riots of 1984, and the Bombay riots of 1992. As we have seen on earlier occasions, the mobs outnumber the police and the local administration. Sadly, the television coverage showed more footage of the onslaught on the minority community, although both the communities share the blame on equal terms.

Yours faithfully,
Samir Banerjee, New Delhi

Sir — Apropos the editorial, “Bloody chain” (March 1), it is regrettable that there have been attempts to trivialize the heinous crime of burning alive a large number of people returning to their homes after exercising their constitutional and legal rights according to court orders. Worse, it is even implied that the victims deserved the chastisement. Not very long ago, when a Christian missionary and his children were burned alive in Orissa, the media had rightly condemned the incident in very strong terms. Unfortunately, when Hindus are victims, even the courtesy of condolences to the bereaved families is rarely witnessed.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Gupta, Calcutta

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