Editorial 1/ Terror at home
Editorial 2/ Stiff posture
The peace of the grave
Fifth Column/ Living in a lunatic’s paradise
No profits from life and death
Document/ Money to get development going
Letters to the editor

Thugs will be thugs, it does not matter whether they invoke religion or political ideology as excuse for their thuggism. There is no other word to describe the destructive spree of the 500 Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal activists who went all out for the Orissa assembly in Bhubaneswar. The assembly library has been wrecked, not a glass window, nameplate or vase is whole and fire extinguishers have been ripped from the walls. Reportedly, the marauding crowd beat up everyone they came across. They tried to enter the women legislators’ room which had just been locked from inside. It was the lunch hour, so most ministers and members of the legislative assembly were out of the house. There can be no excuse for violence without provocation. To say that these were “temple activists” who wanted to present a memorandum to the chief minister has nothing to do with rampant lawlessness. The memorandum reportedly contained equally provocative demands, that the undisputed land be given to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas for the construction of the temple and the restrictions on kar sevaks be removed so that they can visit the place.

The magnitude of the offence matches its irony. The Biju Janata Dal is part of the coalition at the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party is its partner in rule in Orissa. That may have encouraged complacency, because there was certainly a lapse in security alert, else the rampaging mob could not have got as far as it did. Evidently, there is not adequate comprehension of the fact that no place in India is now safe. The Supreme Court has frustrated, for the time being, the intentions of the aggressive Hindutva outfits to revive the temple agenda. The BJP-led government at the Centre is caught between two stools. There is no sop it can immediately offer its extreme brethren, and the Orissa incident shows how they like to express their restiveness. It is amazing that the government actually sent the head of the Ayodhya cell in the prime minister’s office to receive the shila from Ramchandra Paramhans. This implies a degree of complicity and agreement with the temple agenda that is quite shocking under the circumstances, although it is not surprising in the light of the shameless pussy-footing the BJP has been doing around the issue. This positive signal is enough to tell these outfits all over the country that they will get away with the kind of mindless violence they perpetrated on the Orissa assembly, that their religious sentiments are of greater importance than any principle of civil society. Civil society, strangely enough, has a way of hitting back. Perhaps the patrons of Hindutva should consider that too.


The latest American nuclear posture review has, not surprisingly, generated an international furore. While large sections of the NPR were made public in January, it is the classified portions of the review that were recently leaked to sections of the press, which have created a diplomatic storm. The NPR identifies non-nuclear countries such as Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea and Syria as countries against whom the United States of America may need to use nuclear weapons in certain circumstances, along with China and Russia, which have been traditional American nuclear adversaries. Widespread concern is being expressed that US nuclear strategy is moving from its Cold-War emphasis on nuclear deterrence to contemplating the use of nuclear weapons in a war-fighting role. The NPR was long overdue and there was a need for American nuclear strategy to come to terms with new realities. The present NPR, prepared by the department of defence in cooperation with the department of energy, constitutes the most dramatic change since 1953, when President Eisenhower’s doctrine of massive retaliation with nuclear weapons, in the face of an attack, abandoned President Truman’s strategy of an “exemplary” use of nuclear weapons.

The NPR views the present security environment as dramatically different from that which operated during the Cold War. If, during the Cold War, there was a known ideological peer opponent to the US, in the shape of the Soviet Union, the NPR argues that the threats today are from multiple potential opponents and there is also uncertainty about the sources of conflict. Therefore, if during the Cold War, there could be an emphasis on deterrence, the focus now should be on assurance, dissuasion, deterrence and defeat. This calls for a synergy of nuclear and non-nuclear forces and strategies of both defence and offence. And while in the past a simple triad of nuclear forces on the ground, air and sea could be counted upon to ensure the security of the US, in the new and much more complex security environment what is needed, according to the NPR, is a mix of nuclear forces, strong defences and a robust and responsive infrastructure. The review calls for the construction of a portfolio of capabilities, some entirely new, to address a spectrum of challenges. While this would mean the gradual reduction of operationally deployed nuclear warheads to about 2,000 by the year 2012, there would simultaneously be the deployment of missile defence systems as well as the introduction of military technology that would be able to penetrate hard and buried targets. It is easy to understand the reason why the NPR has created such anxiety. But given the determination of the George W. Bush administration it is unlikely that the review will be rolled back in any significant sense despite public opposition.


The country is, as usual, in turmoil. Gujarat, the Ayodhya volcano, Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast —these, amidst others one could go on mentioning sustain the state of high excitement without which we would wither and fade away. It’s almost like a heroin fix, and like a heroin fix, it’s something we could do well without. After all, there’s always television, and films.

This, however, is not what one senses in West Bengal — at least in Kolkata — which one was visiting for the first time. One had stayed for many, and, on the whole, happy years in another city called Calcutta, but that has gone the way of Bombay, Madras, Trivandrum, Vizag, Calicut and so many other cities, with their histories and legends. (What monumental stupidity to equate patriotism or the jingoism we pass off as patriotism, with the conferring of new names yes, new names — on places which grew up with their own names! Whatever Bombay is today is because it was Bombay, not a wretched fishing village called Mumbai; Madras is known to the country and the world as a metropolis that the British built as Madras. And no one ever built Kolkata; that was what the locals called it, but it never grew into what it became from a swampy little hamlet into a great metropolis, the capital of India, except as Calcutta. That was the city one knew; not as the capital of India, true, but a great city nonetheless. Now there’s only Kolkata. But we digress.)

The one thing that Kolkata has which most other cities, certainly the ones in the cow belt, haven’t got is a sense of peaceful, day-to-day chaos. Calcutta had, in its last days, endless processions, deafening slogans and an all-pervasive sense of tension; Kolkata has not. There may well be processions from time to time, but the overall sense is of a city that appears to have come to terms with the strain of living. Power cuts seem to be less than they were some years ago; the roads look better maintained; the garbage heaps through which one picked one’s way down main roads and streets seem to have been removed.

But above all, there is a generally peaceful air to the place, the shootout at the American Center notwithstanding. Decades ago, in stormy Calcutta, a veteran journalist said once, “You must understand; here all that matters is hujug (this isn’t easy to translate: it’s a sort of generally shared excitement or tension). You start running and within seconds there’ll be hundreds running with you, without knowing why you’re running.” In Kolkata today if anyone started running, passersby would most likely stare curiously.

Meanwhile, Gujarat burns; bearded sanyasins ostentatiously perform pujas in Ayodhya, devotees prostrate themselves before their amma, J. Jayalalithaa. One could envy Kolkata its relative peace and quiet, and admire the ability of the administration which ensures it. One could, except for one niggling, disturbing little thought somewhere in the back of one’s mind. Even while the bloodbath was in progress in Gujarat, with its chief minister waxing eloquent on the excellent work being done by his administration in preventing more deaths, the Foreign Investment Promotion Board cleared a number of projects which meant the establishment of new industries in the country, or the augmentation of existing ones. The precise number and names are not relevant, but what is is the fact that General Motors sought, and obtained, permission to expand its factory in Halol. Halol is in Gujarat. That’s where many new cars were burnt, but General Motors wants to expand there, not to move its unit elsewhere.

A single item, true, but it’s one that seems to be significant in more ways than one. It speaks of the confidence this multi-national organization has in things returning to normal in Halol; but more than that, it continues to believe that the location is the best, from its point of view. It is this that must make us pause, and consider. Is a violence-prone area good as a manufacturing base? What about the industrial belt around Kolkata, with its existing infrastructure, and an Industrial Development Corporation eager to promote any new industry? Here they would have power, water, land, and above all relatively much less chances of a communal flare-up. So why does General Motors persist with Halol? Why does Hindustan Motors, an organization which grew up in the Calcutta of old, locate its new Mitsubishi Lancer factory elsewhere? Why does Ford locate its manufacturing unit near Chennai?

The answer is known to everyone, and yet is one that few talk about publicly. It’s the work culture in the state. For decades now, workers of this once heavily industrialized state — good, hard workers — were organized into unions, initially to be able to protect themselves from arbitrary and exploitative decisions by the management. As the years passed, however, the unions, fed by an ideology which glorified insurrection, became instruments to coerce the management into agreeing to measures which brought about the financial ruin of these concerns; but the really terrible damage they did was to encourage members of unions to believe that laziness and indiscipline were manifestations of the struggle being waged against capitalist exploiters. Capitalists exploited the toiling masses; so, if you didn’t toil, they couldn’t exploit you. It was brilliant, and utterly destructive.

Those who dreamt all this up were very gifted clever people, whose oratory was fiery and inspiring; many were the demonstrations, gheraos and strikes they organized with phenomenal success. They then made the greatest mistake of all; they won the state elections, and kept winning them. This made them responsible, even though initially they tried to evade that by pointing dramatically at the evil Central government. But that excuse wore thin, because they kept saying it for several years together. And the pigeons have finally come home to roost.

The state has now developed, thanks to their valiant efforts, an identity which couldn’t be uglier; one filled with aggressive, even murderous unions of workers who are lazy, insolent and violent. Any new enterprise has, even before it starts up, a bunch of truculent “youths” (never mind that they’re well into their forties) shouldering their way into the manager’s office, who don’t apply but demand jobs, and threaten to stop whatever the unit would have begun doing if they don’t get them.

And not only in new industrial units; in offices, including government offices, in every organization there are these parasitical unions, which batten on the remains of the state’s economy like vultures, preaching the creed of laziness, insolence and indiscipline. Executives scurry about feverishly agreeing to whatever the union leaders want, and do they want the well-being of the state? The question would be met with derisive laughter. They want power; power over “the masses”. The heady, intoxicating feel of power. The new fix, with much more of a kick than heroin or coke.

Halol may burn today. But the burning will stop, and work will start again. Real work, hard work. That’s why General Motors is expanding there, that’s why Hindustan Motors has moved its Lancer factory outside West Bengal. Why Toyota, Honda and Ford have chosen to keep away from this industrially attractive location.

Truly, it is time, in the peaceful city of Kolkata, to pause and consider what lies in store for the state. Peace it has, certainly; but what sort of peace is it?

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting


The other day, a Muslim friend was telling me how his 17-year-old daughter could not sleep at night after seeing pictures of the Gujarat riots. “Will a mob torch our home also?” she asked. My friend said, “No. But if they did, we will have to cope with it as best as we can.” I did not know what to say.

Over the last two weeks, we have heard political leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allied parties talk about the “divine retribution” handed to those who killed Hindus in Godhra. “Every action has a reaction,” they said with spine-chilling arrogance.

Have we already stepped into an unofficial Hindu rashtra? Has our secular Constitution been turned upside down stealthily with the connivance of leaders within and outside the government and the tacit support of a section of Hindus which likes to perceive itself as threatened by members of the Muslim community? What about us, who are also technically Hindus? Do our opinions matter to the storm troopers of Hindutva?

These are perilous times when the state’s veneer of a “smile for all” has turned into a “dirty scowl” for the Muslims. After all, they are in a minority and had better learn to live as Hindus. Veer Savarkar’s ghost must have resurrected itself as a saviour of Hindus. They claim to be avenging the injustices of history. They have already razed to the ground the Babri Masjid which, they say, was built by demolishing a Ram temple. Now they have one goal: Rebuild the temple.

Killing fields

The government has set aside its task of governance and is spending days and nights negotiating a deal with the sants.

Some in the government are privately rubbing their hands in glee, saying the Gujarat riots were a boon for the BJP and the sangh parivar. The Hindus unitedly went for the kill. Good thing. What else do they want? Maybe another partition — a replay of train after train bearing slaughtered bodies, of mobs raping women, killing children, looting.

Whoever said history teaches a lesson must be a dreamer. Incidences of genocide and massacres reappear over and over in history not just here but the world over and remind us the spirit of evil is as resilient as that of the good.

One holocaust was not enough to drive the Nazis out of existence. Anti-semitism is still raging. Enthnic and religious hatred is a powerful passion, that kills sanity. The world is becoming increasingly unsafe for our children.

When my friend told me about his daughter’s trauma, I thought about my teenage son, about the world we are going to bequeath to them. Will they be allowed to live in peace? Politicians and religious leaders who keep alight the torch of hatred can toss aside this question because they do not want peace. They do not believe that life is precious. They are the perpetrators of hatred in a world globalized not only by liberalization and market policies, but also by religious terrorism run amok.

Riot act

If Muslim fanatics want to kiss the ground Osama bin Laden treads on, their Hindu counterparts want to idolize the “aven- gers” of Godhra as heroes. It is a lunatic’s paradise. If you are a “good” Hindu, condemn Godhra and pretend the pogrom that followed did not happen. If you are a “good” Muslim, ignore Godhra and condemn the violence. Nobody seems ready to say that innocent people were butchered by lumpens who want to rule with knives and spears.

Instead of hanging its head in shame, the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat is boasting of its ability to execute a pogrom by calling it riots. Perhaps this is a way of stabilizing populations. As someone said, Muslims are already a burden on our population — too many wives, too many children. She held back before justifying the killings but insinuated that a few hundred deaths in the minority community was nothing to rave and rant about.

I wonder what we should rave and rant about if not such incidents of violence. Should we gather in solidarity with the sadhus and sing bhajans outside the disputed site in Ayodhya? Will that make us great nationalists? Will we be traitors if we take part in a peace march pleading for sanity?

Unlike the sants, out on the streets, I believe we have only one life. There is no second chance to make amends in another life.


The price of medicines is a sensitive issue in India. In a country that has one of the largest concentration of the poor in the world, where government spending on public healthcare is only Rs 50-75 per year per person, and where only a miniscule percentage of the population has access to health insurance, this would seem only natural. But strangely, there is no direct correspondence between poverty and the prices of medicines. In countries equally poor, or even poorer than India, medicines cost much more. Take the prices of commonly used medicines: a strip of 10 tablets of Ranitidine, the popular anti-ulcer drug, costs about Rs 18.50 in India, while in Pakistan it is priced at Rs 260.40 and in the United States of America, Rs 1,050.

Indian drug consumers would seem a privileged lot, but they weren’t always so. According to a 1961 US senate committee report, “In drugs, generally, India ranks amongst the highest priced nations in the world.” But then came two government policies that turned the tables in favour of the consumer — the Indian Patents Act, 1970, and the drug pricing control order. The IPA aimed to regulate the operations of pharmaceutical multinational companies, besides giving an impetus to the domestic drugs industry and encourage domestic research and development. The earlier patents regime, which allowed inventors exclusive rights for 14 years, was dismantled.

The new law did away with product patents for pharmaceuticals, food products and agro-chemicals. It allowed only process patents for a maximum of seven years. The government also appropriated for itself wide powers to grant compulsory licences for three years. Other measures included restrictions on the import of formulations (the final dosage forms in which drugs are sold), high tariffs on imported drugs as also equity ceilings on foreign participation. The DPCO initiative too sought to control the prices of medicines by limiting the profitability of pharmaceutical companies.

In 1971, of the top ten firms only two — Sarabhai and Alembic — were Indian, the rest were either MNCs or Indian subsidiaries of MNCs. Before the DPCO came into force, native drug-makers accounted for only 25 per cent of the market and 60 per cent of domestic needs were met by imports. No wonder, prices of medicines were very high.

Look at the scenario now. Indian companies have more than 75 per cent share of the domestic market in drugs. Seven out of the top 10 companies are Indian. About 350 of the 500 drugs consumed in the country are produced locally. Even better, India exported pharmaceuticals worth Rs 87 billion in 2000-2001, an increase of 21 per cent from that a year ago.

The only ones to suffer from the government regulations were the pharma MNCs, which found the Indian market less profitable. They did not take kindly to this, but did not complain much as long as it meant only the loss of the Indian market. But India’s slack intellectual property rights regime did much more damage. The invention of new medicines being a time- and cost-intensive exercise, global pharma MNCs feel justified in fixing very high prices in order to recover their investments. Indian manufacturers, unfettered by product patents, were free to manufacture these formulations at low costs. Worse, they also started exporting these at low prices to other less developed markets, where consumers could not afford higher prices.

In fact, many of the intellectual property rights provisions of the Uruguay Round were directed specifically at the Indian pharma industry. The Indian government, faced with opposition from the public as well as the domestic pharma industry, tried to resist being coopted into the global IPR regime. The patent versus patient rights debate, and India’s position on it, is best encapsulated in Indira Gandhi’s speech to the World Health Assembly: “The idea of a better-ordered world is one in which medical discoveries will be free of patents and there will be no profiteering from life and death.”

Be that as it may, the Indian government was one of the 117 signatories to the Uruguay Round. This means that by December 31, 2004, India must amend its patent laws and bring them in line with the World Trade Organization’s specifications. While fears that this will lead to a hike in drug prices are justified, there is something to be said for a stricter patents regime. Pharma MNCs, who lobby for stricter IPR, say that it will benefit developing countries by bringing in more foreign investment, facilitating the transfer of technology and thus helping domestic R&D initiatives. They may be right. India, which has a robust domestic industry and a large reserve of qualified manpower, has little to lose from a product patents regime. The country might even stand to gain from royalties earned on new molecules developed in future. Keeping in mind its WTO obligations and the global movement towards liberal trade policies, the government has steadily pared down its regulatory sphere over the years.

The new pharmaceutical policy 2002, released on February 12, is a step along this path. But instead of simply fixing the number of formulations under price control, the new policy takes into consideration the value and volume of sales. It fixes prices of only the mass consumption drugs — ones which have a more than 50 per cent share of the market. The 279 drugs on the national essential drug list of the ministry of health and the 173 drugs used in various government health programmes are also eligible for price control. Manufacturers are also allowed exemption if they can prove that the daily cost to the consumer of the medicine is less than two rupees.

For pharma companies, this is a case of one step forward and two steps back. At the heart of the policy is the need to bolster the competitiveness of Indian pharma companies, in the face of the entry, or re-entry, of MNCs into the market, and the stricter patent regime under the WTO while also protecting domestic consumers.

But just when it seemed that the pharmaceutical MNCs had won the IPR battle, two events brought home to governments of many developed countries the dangers of letting these companies hold the lives of citizens to ransom in the form of inflated medicine prices. The first was the offer by the Indian generic drugs manufacturer, Cipla, in January 2000, to sell a combination of three AIDS drugs, at a cost per patient per year of about $ 350, to a South African non-profit organization. The revolutionary potential of Cipla’s offer can be gauged from the fact that the price of such an AIDS cocktails in the US and Europe would be anywhere between $10,000 and $12,000.

At the height of fears of an anthrax attack, authorities in the United States of America desired to build up stocks of ciproflaxin, the antidote to anthrax. Bayer, which held the patent for ciproflaxin until 2003, announced plans to step up production so as to have stocks to treat 1.7 million people. But the US officials wanted stocks for 12 million people.A number of Indian pharmaceutical companies offered to supply generic versions at much cheaper rates. One hundred and twenty capsules of Cipro 500 mg, the brand name for the Bayer drug, costs $ 693 in the US; the same quantity can be had for about $ 20 in India. While the US government dithered on the offer, Canada “contracted” the generic manufacturer, Apotec Inc, to supply one million cipro tablets.

Many experts have welcomed the public health resolution of the December 2001 ministerial conference of the WTO, which allows governments to grant compulsory licences to generic drug manufacturers in “cases of national emergency”, like anthrax or AIDS. But is this really as revolutionary as it seems? Unfortunately, no. Under pressure from pharma MNCs, the Doha declaration does not allow the export of patented drugs and makes mandatory the setting up of a manufacturing base in the country facing an emergency. What use will a compulsory licence to manufacture a drug in the face of a “national emergency” be, if these medicines can’t be imported to the country affected? Diseases, like time and tide, will not wait for companies to set in place facilities to manufacture antidotes.


The implementation of sustainable development programmes as detailed in Agenda 21, requires large amounts of investment. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Secretariat estimated that the implementation of all activities under Agenda 21 during 1993-2000 would require additional resources of US $ 125 billion a year. This is in addition to the US $ 500 billion a year from governments and the private sector in developing countries to put the countries on a sustainable development path. The figure was arrived at by estimating the cost of addressing sector and resource-specific environment and development problems.

At the national level, the other apparent funding mechanism is budgetary support by developing countries for environment protection programmes. However, public expenditure has its limitations. Developing countries, with their limited domestic savings, rely on external finances to supplement their resources and overcome budgetary constraints. With the far from favourable trends in external financing, the ability of developing countries to undertake large-scale public expenditure in this field is doubtful. Debt servicing commitments further aggravate the situation. Besides, many developing countries are undertaking economic policy reforms and are faced with even more stringent budgetary constraints. At best, only a modest reallocation of resources is feasible.

...India has always emphasized the importance of public investment for sustainable development by providing fiscal concessions and incentives. Since energy-efficient technologies and non-conventional energy technologies directly improve the protection level of the atmosphere, several tax concessions, 100 per cent depreciation allowance, and investment subsidies have been made widely available. Investments under the national river action plan on control of river pollution arising from both municipal and non-municipal waste also produce a major impact on marine and ocean-based resources since they control land-based sources of marine pollution in India. However, additional resources need to be made available through external sources for implementing various programmes and activities listed in Agenda 21.

The goal of Agenda 21 was in part to raise additional external funds for sustainable development activities by increasing bilateral and multilateral official development assistance to 0.7 per cent of the gross national product from donor countries. The fact remains that many of the developing countries are experiencing a net outflow of resources. The average ODA in the post-Rio de Janeiro period, 1993-95, has been lower than in 1990-92. In fact, ODA at an average of 0.29 per cent of the GNP in the 1993-95 period has been the lowest in decades. The global environment facility is the only new funding mechanism made available to meet the additional needs identified in Agenda 21. The amount of about US $ 2 billion from the GEF, besides the Montreal protocol multilateral fund to tackle ozone depletion, is almost negligible and has fallen short of even the most conservative estimates of the requirements.

While outlining the estimates of financing needs, Agenda 21 fails to identify the mechanisms to ensure their delivery. Discussions at the earlier meetings of the commission on sustainable development, and in the finance working group, have developed a very useful framework for identifying new and innovative sources of funding, including a sectoral approach to mobilizing funds from within the economy and from external sources. Several of the alternatives highlight the important links between the creation of incentives for the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption in the North and potential financing for sustainable development in the South. More research work on the formulation of such policy options needs to be undertaken to consolidate the progress achieved and to address the unresolved issues.

To be concluded



Back to the old ways

Sir — For the last few years, Yashwant Sinha has announced an increase in the prices of essential commodities in the budget, only to backtrack later (“BJP enforces budget rollback at gunpoint”, March 17). This year, too, has been no exception, with the Central government rolling back cooking gas prices by an average of Rs 20 per cylinder less than a month after the budget. While the rollback will come as a big relief to the middle-class housewife, it will cost the government Rs 700 crore more. Unfortunately for the Bharatiya Janata Party, dissatisfied allies like the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamool Congress are also unwilling to settle for anything less than a 100 per cent rollback. Instead of squeezing the service classes every time he needs money, Sinha could take the initiative of reforming the tax structure so the business classes and the self-employed cannot find their way out of the tax net. The additional revenue thus generated would enable the Central government to lower the prices of essential commodities, which would help the middle classes.
Yours faithfully,
Oindrilla Sengupta, via email

Insincere worship

Sir — It is a pity that the failure of the National Democratic Alliance to fulfill its constitutional duty forced the Supreme Court to intervene in order to preserve the status quo at the disputed site in Ayodhya (“Court rises above Ram”, March 14). While the judgment of the court declared that “no religious activity of any kind by anyone either symbolic or actual including bhoomi puja or shila puja” could be performed, the issue is likely to simmer indefinitely. The Bharatiya Janata Party should accept full responsibility for raking up the Ayodhya issue in the mid-Eighties and then using it to storm to power in the early Nineties. It is also disappointing that the elected executive of the world’s largest democracy was unwilling to act decisively to stop these self-proclaimed upholders of Hinduism.

When faced with a crisis, the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was unable to reign in the members of the sangh parivar. His obvious helplessness was clear from the fact that the sankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswathi, was appointed as the government’s mediator in the dispute. The editorial, “Court is supreme” (March 15), rightly says that the judiciary should not be forced to intervene to solve such disputes.

Yours faithfully,
Mitul Ganguli, Calcutta

Sir — The Supreme Court’s order maintaining status quo at the disputed site in Ayodhya and banning the performance of puja there, was welcome. Since the government of India owns the undisputed land adjacent to the mosque and since India is a “secular” country, it is only natural that the performance of any religious ritual there cannot be legally allowed. In the spirit of its judgment on Ayodhya, the apex court should also ban the offering of namaz in parks or on the roadside, since these are public places and belong to the government. In a secular country, all religious rituals should be performed in the privacy of the home. Community worship can be carried out in temples, churches or mosques. Similarly, the erection of pandals on public roads during Durga Puja or Kali Puja should be declared illegal.

Yours faithfully,
C.V.K. Moorthy, via email

Sir — I do not think that the government of India made a mistake by seeking the Supreme Court’s permission to perform symbolic puja on the undisputed land. Had the apex court not instructed the government to maintain status quo at Ayodhya, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s agitation would have suffered a setback. This would have further facilitated negotiations between the two sides. The Centre’s failure lies in its failure to realize that the court cannot provide a solution to this. Given that the sentiments of two communities are involved, a court judgment will be neither practicable nor acceptable.

Surely the Supreme Court has better things to do than arbiter disputes between communities? Further, it will be almost impossible to decide whether there had originally been a temple at the disputed site. The best way to solve the dispute would be through negotiation. Although the Centre lost an opportunity to affect a breakthrough when the sankaracharya’s proposals were rejected by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, this need not discourage the government.

Yours faithfully,
A.K. Sinha, Ranchi

Sir — The attorney-general of India, Soli Sorabjee, seems to have been caught in the middle of the Ayodhya controversy. Both the opposition parties and NDA constituents like the Trinamool Congress and the Telugu Desam Party have expressed their displeasure at the Centre’s decision to send Sorabjee as its representative to the Supreme Court. It is clear from the discrepancies in the statements made by Sorabjee and the prime minister after the verdict that the attorney-general’s brief was to argue in favour of performing symbolic puja at the disputed site. But Sorabjee is a professional lawyer and also the attorney-general; there is nothing wrong in his representing the government’s point of view within the ambit of the law. There was no need for him to assure the press and the people that the words spoken by him in court were his own interpretation of the law, and not influenced by the government’s stand on the issue.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir —I fully support the Supreme Court’s judgment and believe that any religious activity on public land, roads, and the use of public funds for such activities should be stopped. While all communities and people of different religious denominations should have the right to celebrate their festivals, such celebrations should not disturb other citizens. This should include a ban on loudspeakers in puja pandals and mosques and the performance of namaz on roads, as well as government-sponsored iftar parties and the practice of giving special discounts to pilgrims who are going for haj and to Kailash or Mansarovar. The use of public buildings for religious activities should also be stopped. All this would go a long way in reinforcing India’s secular credentials.

Yours faithfully
S. Sinha, Ranchi

Sir — In the week of doublespeaks, Ramchandra Paramhans beats the Soli Sorabjees hollow. Who, but an Indian “spiritual leader”, could convince millions a day after threatening to commit suicide that Lord Ram appeared in his dream and asked him to change his plans?

Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Das Gupta, Howrah

Parting shot

Sir — The decision to rename Park Street after Mother Teresa is unfortunate. It is harsh but true that thanks to her, Calcutta has become a byword for squalor, human suffering and abject poverty. It has also become the symbol of the white man’s burden. People all over the world are convinced that Calcuttans are totally incapable of looking after themselves and that their every need is met by Mother Teresa’s order, the Missionaries of Charity.

The city’s commercial prospects have received a blow in international circles owing to such an image. Honouring Mother Teresa by renaming an important street after her would only reinforce the existing misconceptions about Calcutta.

Yours faithfully
A. Alexander, London

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