Editorial 1 / On back gear
Editorial 2 / Home fires
Art of the clandestine
Fifth Column / Number games of fate
New frontiers on the east
Document / Upgrade and lead a better life
Letters to the editor

The finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, is desperate to give up the sobriquet of “Rollback Sinha”. The transformation will have to wait. Clearly, the combination of surcharge, dividend tax, hikes in liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene prices, withdrawal of some direct tax exemptions and reduction in interest by 0.5 per cent on small savings, has raised hackles where it hurts the most — the vocal urban middle class and the coalition partners of the National Democratic Alliance. At the associated chambers of commerce and industries meeting, Mr Sinha talked of a special savings scheme for both private and public sector employees, especially retiring ones and those opting for voluntary retirement schemes. While details are awaited, this is an attempt to roll back adverse sentiment, if not a rollback of specific budgetary provisions. The rollback of specific budgetary provisions has come in the form of a reduction in LPG price increase per cylinder from Rs 40 to Rs 20. Even here, confusion reigned, with the Union petroleum minister, Mr Ram Naik, first stating that the price increase would be Rs 25 and not Rs 20. Since kerosene prices have not declined, it is clear whose lobbying has been successful. LPG is hardly used by the poor and those who substitute unsafe LPG cylinders for safer compressed natural gas cylinders in cars cannot be described as poor. The Telugu Desam Party, and less importantly the Trinamool Congress, may attempt to speak in the name of the poor, but there is a difference between public posturing and reality. Rs 4,496 crore was provided in the budget as subsidies for kerosene and LPG. The subsidy burden will now increase to Rs 5,196 crore, an increase of Rs 700 crore.

This is under the assumption that global crude prices will continue at around $ 20 a barrel. There are some signs that this price might increase and, following the dismantling of the administered price mechanism on April 1, the government may make another attempt then at eliminating LPG and kerosene subsidies. However, given the present rollback, this endeavour is unlikely to be successful. If the intention was to reverse adverse sentiment following the budget, the finance minister would have been better advised to remove policies that make no economic sense, rather than roll back those that are based on economic rationale. That is, the dividend tax and the surcharge are the ones that should have been axed. The middle class would have been no less happy. As for the genuinely poor, they earn no dividends and pay no direct taxes. Neither do they have access to LPG connections — nor can they obtain kerosene in some cases. Since subsidized kerosene is siphoned off to Nepal and Bangladesh, India does perhaps subsidize the poor in those countries. The Indian poor continue to regressively cross-subsidize the urban middle class through indirect taxes and inflation. The question that remains is whether Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu, pro-reform in the state and anti-reform at the Centre, will be satisfied with Rs 20 reductions per cylinder. The thin end of the rollback wedge is in and the TDP may well decide that two pounds of flesh are better than one.


The bill against domestic violence is at last ready for discussion in the current session of Parliament. Only its provisions have upset activists anew. According to them, the bill not only confuses the definition of domestic violence, but it actually takes away certain safeguards for women that even the more faulty 1994 bill contained. Domestic violence becomes cognizable only when it is “habitual”. Being beaten up once or twice would not count, and it is not clear whether being beaten up twenty times or two hundred, and that too in twenty years or two, would activate the bill. Besides, the bill suggests that a man can use violence in defence of property. On top of that, there is no assertion of the woman’s equal right to the matrimonial property, which means that she can be thrown out at the husband’s will. Domestic violence is not a simple phenomenon. Any bill for its prevention must take into account the combination of subtle and brutal psychological, economic and physical abuse that a woman might face in her matrimonial home. If there is no legislation to guarantee her separate existence in her matrimonial house after she has complained of abuse, the implication is that throwing her out is legal. This bill does little to improve women’s sense of security.

In any case, the woman’s position in the matrimonial home and in the family structure that society expects her to take weaken her resistance. A sense of insecurity about shelter induced by a legislation meant to protect her would wear down her resistance still further. Mandatory counselling of both parties, where the victim might be asked to sit with the accused, is a further twist in tale. Apart from being an obvious “conciliatory” move, it trivializes the woman’s complaint and implies that it might be just an aberration. The victim’s counselling should be optional and the abuser’s mandatory. Or the whole thing should be left to the magistrate’s discretion. A recent study showed that more than half the Indian women surveyed believed that a certain amount of beating up in the matrimonial home is only natural. Where insecurity and devaluation have been internalized to this extent, this kind of bill will go a long way towards hardening conservative attitudes towards women in the home, confining them to the roles of “adjusting” wife and mother.


The “war against terror”, led by the United States of America, has given rise to a major evolution of international law. The international community has accepted Washington’s contention that the terrorist attacks to which it was subjected last September amounted to an act of war against the US. On this basis, Washington invoked the right of self-defence to justify retaliation across international borders. Washington also asserted that this right covers military actions not only against the terrorists actually responsible for the outrage, but also against the taliban regime which harboured and supported them. The acceptance of this interpretation by the international community has widened the concept of self-defence in customary international law. The rising threat of global terrorism makes it essential to update international law.

In India, there is a virtual consensus that our stand on cross-border terrorism has at last been vindicated. Because of the daily menace it poses in Jammu and Kashmir, we have long maintained that cross-border terrorism is an act of aggression and that any state which sponsors such terrorism is guilty of aggression. We have always held that the principle of self-defence justifies military action against terrorist sanctuaries across the border and against the country offering such sanctuaries.

Indeed, some Indians have been so impressed by this latest development that they have urged New Delhi to launch an immediate strike against the terrorists and their sponsors in Pakistan or Pakistan-held territory. They argue that India can successfully invoke the doctrine of self-defence just as the US has done.

Such views reflect a lack of understanding of the nature of international law and the ways in which it differs from domestic law. Customary international law is an unwritten set of rules derived from the practice and opinions of sovereign states. Its interpretation is governed at least as much by the imperatives of international politics as by purely legal considerations.

Apart from the question of evidence, the key requirements for establishing the right of self-defence are necessity and proportionality. It must be established that the use of force in self-defence is necessary as well as proportionate to the injury. In judging these questions, sovereign states are heavily influenced by their national interests. Who, whom and when? These are important questions in the application of international law. It would be unrealistic to expect an impartial verdict from the international community.

The US has invoked the right of self-defence on several occasions — not always successfully. In 1986, it bombed Tripoli in retaliation for a terrorist attack on a Berlin nightclub which killed a number of American soldiers. The claim was rejected by most states. Apart from questions concerning evidence, many states doubted whether the attack on Libya — intended to kill President Muammar Qaddafi — was a necessary and proportionate response.

In 1993, an attempt was made on the life of the former president, George Bush Sr, while he was visiting Kuwait. The US response was to bomb the headquarters of the Iraqi secret service, which it held responsible for the attack. The US invocation of the right of self-defence received little support in this case as well. Washington was more successful in 1998, when it launched Cruise missiles against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for terrorist attacks on its embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. On this occasion, President Bill Clinton took the advance precaution of telephoning his main allies — Tony Blair, Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac — to ask for their support. The allies obliged, without troubling their legal authorities for advice. The support extended by these major powers served also to temper questions raised by some other countries. It later transpired that the US had acted on the basis of faulty intelligence with regard to the target in Sudan.

In all these cases, US actions might have been questioned, but they were never militarily contested. The vast disparity in military power between the US and its adversaries precluded any effective response on the part of the latter. In the absence of prolonged hostilities, questions about the legality of the US strikes soon faded away.

Second, their relations with the US heavily influenced the views of other states on the legality of US actions. In 1989, the principal Western allies readily responded to Washington’s appeal for support without troubling themselves unduly about the adequacy of evidence. The generous interpretation of international law in cases involving the US reflects its pre-eminent position after the Cold War.

Finally, the adversary’s standing was also a factor shaping the international response. None of the countries targeted by Washington had a particularly savoury reputation. Had Sudan enjoyed a higher international reputation, the ill-advised US missile attack on its territory would undoubtedly have elicited sharper criticism from other states.

Global support for the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan does not mean that we can now march across the Pakistan border to the applause of the international community. There is ample evidence of Pakistan’s sponsorship of cross-border terrorism and many influential states have publicly recognized this fact. However, other conditions do not hold. In the first place, the margin of our military superiority is not such as to preclude a vigorous Pakistani response. Fear of a military escalation — particularly since both sides possess nuclear weapons — will lead other countries to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities. It is doubtful whether significant benefits would accrue from an aborted operation.

Moreover, many states will question the necessity of a strike across the border in view of Pervez Musharraf’s apparent readiness to cooperate in curbing terrorists operating from Pakistani soil. As long as the US remains satisfied with the level of Pakistani cooperation, it will seek to restrain India from a retaliatory strike. A window of military opportunity will open up only if Pakistan falls foul of Washington by refusing to extend adequate cooperation.

What is the sensible course of action for India in this situation? We have to wait and see whether Pakistan mends its ways under American prodding. In a few months, after spring arrives in Kashmir, we shall know whether General Musharraf is serious about curbing cross-border terrorism. If there is evidence of his sincerity, we should reciprocate fully by withdrawing our forces from the border on a mutual basis, restoring ties at ambassadorial level, restoring overflights and other communication links and resuming high-level bilateral talks to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir. This broadly corresponds to New Delhi’s position.

We must also be prepared in case it turns out that General Musharraf is unwilling to take the far-reaching domestic measures necessary to curb terrorist activities across the line of control in Kashmir. It could turn out that he is prepared to curb jihadis elsewhere in order to partially satisfy American demands but is not prepared to do so in Kashmir. In such an eventuality, we would have to consider limited strikes at terrorist targets — particularly individuals responsible for criminal acts on Indian soil. For reasons we have seen, we are unlikely to receive much comfort from the international community if we openly take recourse to armed action, invoking the doctrine of self-defence. We should, therefore, take limited clandestine actions to eliminate terrorists who have found sanctuary in Pakistan or Pakistan-held territory.

We do not at present possess the forces and capabilites required for such clandestine strikes. It is imperative that we build up these capabilities in the armed forces and the intelligence services. Our forces are currently configured to fight a major war in the West on conventional lines. The current international environment is not conducive to such wars. There is an urgent need to build up a competence to strike at cross-border terrorism in the only way feasible in the current diplomatic environment — clandestine strikes which can be plausibly denied.

The author is former ambassador to China and the European Union


“Situation returning to normalcy in Gujarat,” drones a news headline. Normalcy. Seven hundred and fifty human beings, Muslims and Hindus, but mostly Muslims, are dead. Burnt alive. The mobs that lit bonfires of the living in the name of religion and the impassive spectators and neighbours who watched have now dispersed.

“Where was the delay? I restored sanity in a record 72 hours,” says Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. Is this sanity? Perhaps it is. After all, the brute average that underwrites a democracy by numbers is normalcy. The will of people must be respected.

This is clear from what Hareshbhai Bhatt, the vice- president of the Bajrang Dal, has said: “There was no rioting. This was an expression of the way the majority community has felt. For years, Hindus have been pushed around.” Did he hire arsonists to restore the will of the people, to soothe their suffering sense of subjugation at the hands of a Muslim community that ranks last nationally in terms of per capita wealth, income, education?

“We have our ways. But it all revolves around Hindu anger.” Normalcy is freedom to murder without consequences. After all, isn’t the job of the courts and the police to ensure the greatest good — justice and security — for the greatest numbers? Utilitarianism is nothing if not the philosophy par excellence of the demos.

The minorities ruffle the average, they strain at the central tendency at Hindu-ness, Islamic-ness, Christian-ness, white-ness, native-ness, you name it. Democracy by numbers tidies the distribution by purging pesky outliers. In the past, however, we have called this worship of majoritarian sentiment by its kindred name: fascism.

Move to the centre

Ehsaan Jafri, two weeks ago member of the legislative assembly of Gujarat, is now a pile of charred remains, along with several family members and Muslim residents of Gulbarg Society, Ahmedabad. He moved to the Chamanpura locality not to escape the majority, not to live in the ghetto that is the lived geography of fascism but, rather, to live with ordinary people like himself, who were Hindus by birth but in every other respect no different. So he thought. So says Zakia Naseen, his widow.

Jafri believed, in retrospect one has to say naively, that because he saw his Hindu neighbours as friends and acquaintances, not as anonymous inhabitants of the reified “majority”, they too would see him, care for him, protect him, as Ehsaan Jafri, and not abandon him to the mob as they did, on February 28, 2002 , as a Muslim.

He could have — perhaps should have — expected that from the police or from politicians. He could not — should not — have expected that from friends and neighbours. But, then, the fault is his. He failed to comprehend the impassive logic of normalcy, which has no place for individuality, for relationships, for difference; no place for Ehsaan Jafris, only room for the majority sentiment and well-behaved minorities who respect the central tendency.

Memories of normalcy

Middle-class Gujaratis called friends on cellphones to rejoice in the pickings as Muslim businesses on C.G. Road, Ahmedabad, were systematically looted. These well-bred Gujaratis, stalwarts of Hindutva, were simply aiding the central tendency, perhaps, by normalizing the population.

Ayub Qureishi, recently resident of Naroda-Patiya on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, is one of those fortunate Muslims who survived the pogrom. He can now enjoy the fabulous sum of Rs 100,000 for each family member killed that the government of Gujarat, in its unending benevolence, has assessed as proper compensation for “affected” members of the minority (members of the majority “affected” by Godhra will receive Rs 200,000 per family member killed). Ayub can look forward to his large cache of money and an endless cache of time to re-live memories of his seven-year old daughter and a five-year old son roasted alive, now that the “situation is returning to normalcy in Gujarat.”

Welcome to democracy by numbers. Only those with deference to the popular will allowed. Dissenters will be summarily removed.


The year 2001 was a year of great turbulence. September 11 marked the emergence of a powerful nexus of al Qaida and two powerful state agencies — the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence. By attacking the bastions of modern capitalism and military organization, this nexus not only challenged the United States of America, but it also revealed how the centre of gravity of Islamic politics had shifted to Afghan- istan-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia. Though the taliban is on the run, al Qaida is still at play, as frequent terrorist alerts in the US indicate.

The response of the Bush administration to September 11 was to consolidate its military presence in central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. The US was quickly able to integrate these hitherto separate regions into a single integrated military front in which military power and political authority flowed easily from the Caucasian region through central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. This front will outlive the defeat of the taliban and the reconstruction of Afghanistan because the war is against a shadowy terrorist organization with international links. Just as the US forces did not leave the Gulf region after Operation Desert Storm, it is unlikely they will leave the central Asia-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Arabian Sea region.

Moreover, by cutting off the possibility of building a submarine base at Gwadar as the Chinese had planned, the US military presence in the Arabian Sea has ensured that Pakistan is no longer a meaningful strategic gateway for China into the Muslim world. The alliance Beijing had assiduously promoted with its missile and arms supply and diplomatic support to Pakistan and Muslim countries like Iran and Syria, is coming apart. China has been contained in a strategically sensitive area even as the Bush administration offered Beijing the blandishments of admission into the World Trade Organization and the prestige of hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.

The Bush administration’s military plan is to strengthen its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, through its proposed missile defence programme as also by cultivating Vladimir Putin. At the same time, the US administration is also trying to develop new military ties with India, hitherto a non-traditional strategic partner. They recognize that India sits astride the lines of sea communication in the Indian Ocean, besides holding its own against China and exerting pressure on Pakistan. Though the Bush administration and CNN lionize Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistan president is now vulnerable to American ultimatums. September 11 led to an ultimatum to side with the Americans, or else. December 13 led to another ultimatum, the result of which was Musharraf’s January 12, 2002, speech.

From the interrogations of al Qaida prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, it appears that the US now has enough evidence of the role of the ISI and Pakistan military in al Qaida’s operations. Hence Musharraf was obliged to move against jihadis inside and outside his government. In other words, Musharraf may have rented Pakistani airspace in exchange for American dollars but he has lost his diplomatic and strategic space because of US and Indian demands to curb the source and methods of militancy. In effect, Musharraf’s space in Afghanistan and international affairs has shrunk, while the US’s has grown considerably. India, Japan and several Asian countries have also found opportunities to increase their influence in Asian affairs. September 11 has been good for middle-tier Asian powers in the post-Cold War international system. Australia and South Korea sent its forces to fight terrorism in Afghanistan.

Under the guise of sending weapons and supplies in support of the US’s anti-terrorist campaign, Japan breached an important line in its external policy and internal politics. November 9, 2001, is an important day in Japan, because it was on that day that it dispatched two destroyers and a supply ship to the Indian Ocean. During World War II, Japan’s army could extend only as far as Myanmar and for decades after its defeat Japan’s diplomacy seemed to stall at the boundary reached by its army in World War II. Now the Japanese military forces can “legitimately” go overseas. The Philippines government has also declared that the Abu Saffaf group has ties with al Qaida and American troops are in the country to assist them.What are the implications of these changes for China and India?

The expansion of China’s strategic and commercial influence in central Asia has been halted by the resurgence of US-Russia cooperation and the US’s ascendancy in the region. The Shanghai Six is now a dream. China’s manoeuvrability has been limited to the Korean peninsula, southeast Asia, the Taiwan Straits, South China Sea and possibly, the Bay of Bengal.

But China still dreams of an Indo-Pak parity in US policy and hopes that the US state department will help Pakistan in its confrontation against India. But the recent high level US-India military exchanges suggest a new level of strategic understanding and convergence of interests between the two democracies. China continues to hope the US will promote its interest and keep India in check, but the idea no longer seems to appeal to the American political establishment. China’s hopes are under attack from two sides. One, Pakistan is a weak state. Two, India has been able to build up its missile capability against China and now seeks to build its naval capacity as well as a sea-based nuclear triad. The Indian political establishment no longer sees China as a factor for peace and stability in the region. China is for China only.

India needs to strengthen the naval basis of its nuclear triad as well as extend its naval power to the South China Sea. Command of the sea does not mean that the Indian navy is to be the dominant power in the Indian Ocean. It means that it should possess significant capability to deny such dominance to a potentially hostile power like China.

India’s military shopping list to Russia and the US should reveal the seriousness of its nuclear and naval intent. India needs the Victor 3 class nuclear powered submarines from Russia, as also Backfire bombers and perhaps the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier. The US might also possibly approve P-3 Orien maritime aircraft for India along with the Harpoon anti-ship missiles and other sophisticated military systems.

In advancing its maritime strategy India should be aware of Japan’s rapidly changing interests in the Indian Ocean region. Japan, India, the US and Australia have a converging interest to keep clear the lines of military and commercial communications along strategic sea routes in the Indian Ocean, which extend from the sea of Japan to west Asia.

India’s maritime strategy should be tuned to convey a number of messages. One, that the object of naval expansion is China, not Pakistan. Two, diplomacy is not enough. India needs coercive diplomacy which includes naval and nuclear arms and missiles. Three, India needs a naval base for its nuclear triad, which is necessary to acquire a credible second strike nuclear weapons capability. This is especially important since China is relentlessly pursuing military modernization under the guise of peace and development. Its desire to gain access to the Indian Ocean via Myanmar is a threat to vital Indian economic and strategic interests in the region.

Finally, just as China is guided by its national security interests and says so openly, so should India. The aim of Indian foreign policy should not be to maintain “good and friendly relations” but to seek the best possible relations which are consistent with the country’s national interest.

M.L. Sondhi is co-chairperson, Centre for the Study of National Security, Jawaharlal Nehru University Ashok Kapur is chairman, department of political science, University of Waterloo, Canada


The facilitating role of the government has been increasing through, for example, the identification of and support for the development of environmentally sound technologies such as chlorofluorcarbon alternatives, clean coal technologies, energy efficient technologies, and others. In this field, a number of research and development projects have been identified for support. The ninth five year plan projections have stressed the initiation of measures for reducing the energy intensity in different sectors through changes in technology and industrial processes. A critical mass of research and development capacity is crucial for effective dissemination of environmentally sound technologies and their generation locally. Areas which need attention are access to information on state of art technologies, a framework for dissemination of information, development of guidelines for the transfer of technologies, and training of personnel.

Technology upgrading requires that Indian enterprises of all types have information on relevant technologies in international markets and within the country. Indian technology policies are undergoing significant changes, and have improved in recent years. They are not, however, ideal. A coherent technology strategy in India must address a number of interconnected elements in the incentive regime, and the relevant markets and institutions. Technology development generally requires the setting up of clusters of industries that can share information and skills, as in science parks or dedicated industrial estates. Some such facilities exist in India, but their efficacy and functioning need to be strengthened.

...To strengthen the technological capabilities of Indian industries, both for meeting national needs and for global competitiveness, a number of new initiatives have been launched. A technology development board was established in 1996 with a mandate to facilitate development of new technologies, and the assimilation and adaptation of imported technologies by providing catalytic support to enable industries and research and development institutions to work in partnership with each other. Matching grants to R&D institutions showing commercial earnings through technology services were also introduced in 1996 and will be continued and broadened. Already, a long-term perspective called technology vision for India 2020 has been prepared.

...In India, there is considerable technological activity in a wide spectrum of firms. What is most impressive is the number of small and medium sized enterprises that are investing in new technology-based ventures, and often striking out in world market as exporters. However, the rest of the industrial sector still needs to invest in technology upgrading. The experience of many developing and industrialized countries suggests that a rapid acceleration of industrial technology development calls for a deliberate “strategy”, in the sense that it requires the government to coordinate and guide an essentially market-driven process.

Technology development calls for both general and specific forms of human capital, and emerging technologies are highly skill intensive in both technical and managerial terms. While India is endowed with large amounts of high-level human capital, investments in the creation of new skills (as measured by enrolment levels in technical subjects at all levels) are low. In addition,...large segments of industry invest very little in training. The small and medium enterprise sector suffers from very low levels of skill, while industrial training institutes are often unresponsive to their needs. R&D has been rising, but the overall level is still low and over three-quarters of the research effort originates from the public sector. The government is undertaking an analysis of current technological trends in industry in order to formulate appropriate policies to encourage R&D.

To be concluded



Meaning of the word

Wordly wise Sir — S. Jaipal Reddy is having a ball, it seems. First, he does what many must have wanted to do but did not know how — call the prime minister a “humungous fraud”. Then he quietly sits back and watches with a smile on his face how the Bharatiya Janata Party and sangh parivar leaders squabble among themselves without knowing the meaning of the word, “humungous”. (One BJP cabinet minister had to be told the meaning on a television news programme.) Very few seem to realize that Reddy belongs to that fast disappearing breed of leaders who have a vocabulary large enough to contain words such as this. While the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mayavati and Mamata Banerjee have come to the forefront of the political stage propped up by issues of caste, religion and regionalism, people like Reddy are missed when it comes to representing the country in the international arena. It is all very well for the downtrodden to come upfront, but if it is at the cost of losing people like Reddy, it will mean nothing short of a humungous disaster.

Yours faithfully,
S.R. Sadhu Khan, Guwahati

And the award goes to...

Sir — The sentence awarded to Arundhati Roy for committing contempt of court raises a number of questions (“To be or not to be in jail for three months”, March 7). First, what could be so objectionable about challenging a court verdict? Isn’t the system of appeal a form of this? By appealing to a higher court after a verdict has been announced, isn’t one trying to prove that the last verdict was wrong? Should one then assume that the lower courts can be at fault but not the Supreme Court?

Also, not all verdicts turn out to be as easily acceptable by the people as the recent Ayodhya verdict. There have been Supreme Court judgments which have left room for doubts and questions. Would the voicing of these doubts and questions be deemed as contempt of court? Can the judiciary claim to have always shrugged off political and administrative pressures to produce a fair verdict? If not, then the matter of contempt of court needs to be thought over again.

Yours faithfully,
Smita Agarwal, Calcutta

Sir — The Telegraph has gone a little overboard in comparing Arundhati Roy with the likes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde and even Socrates. Even after bowing down to the Supreme Court and coughing up the fine, Roy expects people to buy the story that paying the fine does not in any way mean that she has apologized or accepted the judgment. Isn’t she practising one thing while preaching another? Roy was better suited to the world of literature and its jamborees, than social and environmental activism.

Yours faithfully,
Mrinmoy Goswami, Nagaon, Assam

Sir — Arundhati Roy clearly has a well thought out game plan. Going to jail and being equated with Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Fyodor Dostoevsky are all in consonance with that. The experience of prison and the tearful story of how the establishment deals with environmental activism in India are ingredients for a book that will sell millions of copies in the West. There are several environmental activists in the country who are little more than publicity-hungry socialites. The interests of the affected villagers often come lowest in their list of priorities. The Narmada Bachao Andolan, with which Roy is associated, has weaned cultivators away from the thriving soyabean cultivation in areas adjacent to the construction site. Environmentalism and development are not mutually exclusive terms. Ideally, there ought to be a holistic approach, premised on social cost-benefit analysis.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

Sir — If Arundhati Roy had really believed in the cause of the NBA, she would not have paid the fine of Rs 2,000 to avoid the extension of her prison sentence. She insists that her “symbolic jail term” of one day has more than served her “purpose”. How, if one may ask? The only “purpose” it has served is to teach activists like her a lesson and put them in their place.

But who has won in the end? An abstraction called “the state”, in a sinister emulation of the same principles of animism as that followed by the primitive tribes. Quite evidently, Roy’s class of writers, intellectuals and mediapersons have enjoyed a special kind of prestige and power in recognition of their services to what is known as the “establishment”. No wonder they were beginning to think that their coterie was just short of dictating the terms for running the country. It is their turn to thank the apex court for opening their eyes.

Yours faithfully,
S. Tasnim Ahmed, Mumbai

Sir — Arundhati Roy is a writer. Writers, particularly the ones who write fiction, are known to be always on the lookout for “experiences” that might provide material for novels. What could be a better and more enriching experience than a short stint in prison, alongside some hardened criminals? All she needed to do was not pay the Rs 2,000 fine. She would have proved a point, and, who knows, paved the way for another Booker. Writers should be more adventurous than Roy.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Ranjan Parida, Rourkela

Sir — If Mani Shankar Aiyar thinks Arundhati Roy is like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who is his boss like?

Yours faithfully,
H.D. Paul, Calcutta

To stay or not to stay

Sir — Sarmila Bose rightly notes that it is unfortunate that the administration in New Delhi is being run by the sadhus (“Not an inch to the sadhubabas”, March 14). When will Indians be able to shun these so called spiritualists? The anecdote about Subhas Chandra Bose’s anger at attempts to broker religious unity is an eyeopener. It is time Atal Bihari Vajpayee put the ash-smeared sadhus in their place and tried to run a government the way it should be.

Yours faithfully,
Kalyan Ghose, Calcutta

Sir — Sarmila Bose’s ignorance of the Hindu faith shows through when she calls the sankaracharya of Kanchi “a little known figure wrapped in ochre robes, smeared with ash and clutching a stick with a small cloth tied to it”. Writers like her, who pick up their information from drawing room discussions, are unlikely to have any idea of the sankaracharya’s importance in Hinduism.

Yours faithfully,
Alok Divyanshu, via email

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