Editorial 1 / No right to rule
Editorial 2 / Ingmar and Aamir
Talking about Gujarat
Fifth Column / Amazing calm in a time of madness
State of perpetual flux
Document / To take the first head count
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / NO RIGHT TO RULE 
 
 
 
 
There is only one conclusion warranted by the comments of the chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Mr J.S. Verma, on the Gujarat government’s handling of the communal riots. The chief minister, Mr Narendra Modi must accept moral responsibility for what happened and for the utter incompetence of his administration in quelling the violence. The inevitable next step to such acceptance should be his resignation. It is inconceivable that a political leader who sat back and watched violence of the most horrible kind unfold and claim the lives of people should be driven by any moral or ethical principles. Yet, it cannot be overlooked even by Mr Modi’s supporters — this includes the Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani — that he holds a high public office and he is responsible for his actions or for the lack of them. The evidence coming out of Gujarat both through official and non-official channels is stacked against Mr Modi. The evidence speaks of indifference and in some cases, even of collusion. Police officers in Gujarat, according to the NHRC, sought to seek permission from Mr Modi before fulfilling their duty under the law. There is nothing to suggest that Mr Modi has taken any kind of action against these police officers who just failed to do their job. The very fact that they petitioned the chief minister to get a free hand to suppress rioting is a comment on the nature of Mr Modi’s administration and also of the biases inherent in it.

Violence continues in Gujarat. This goes against Mr Modi’s boast that he had created some sort of record by restoring normalcy in 72 hours. No observer has come away with the impression that Ahmedabad and the rest of the state are back to normal. It did not require a great deal of intelligence to infer that the carnage in Godhra would be followed by largescale violence against Muslims in Gujarat. Mr Modi and his government took no steps to pre-empt such an occurrence. Senior police officers in Ahmedabad merely watched as murder and mayhem took their toll on life and property. Mr Verma is entirely justified in saying that “things could have been better and all that happened could have been averted.’’ For an administration, nothing could be more damaging than the observation that it could have stopped the violence but did not. This failure could have grown out of incompetence or out of intention but there is only one price for the failure: the resignation of the chief minister. Responsibility must begin at the top.

The negligence of Mr Modi’s government is clear from Mr Verma’s statement that no minister or high-ranking official had to date visited the relief camps. Mr Modi has thus displayed indifference not only to violence but also to human suffering and human misery. It is unlikely that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government in New Delhi will remove Mr Modi, though the continuing violence in Gujarat makes it a textbook case for the imposition of president’s rule. Mr Modi may continue in office and might even reap dividends of the Hindu backlash, but he cannot escape ignominy. History will remember him not as a chief minister but in the same terms that the authors of “the final solution’’ are remembered.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / INGMAR AND AAMIR 
 
 
 
 
It takes a great deal of hysteria to make one speak of Lagaan and The Bicycle Thief in the same breath. Vittorio de Sica’s classic had won the 1949 Oscar for the best foreign film. And if Ashutosh Gowarikar’s frenzied campaigning had paid off on Oscar night, then he would have rubbed shoulders not only with de Sica, but also with Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel, Francois Truffaut and Akira Kurosawa. All these film-makers have won the same award, sometimes more than once. In alphabetical order, Gowarikar would have been sandwiched between Fellini and Kurosawa; Lagaan would have found its place between La Strada and Rashomon. Such a thought could inspire boundless pride or a sense of the ridiculous, depending on whether one is a patriotic Indian or a lover of good cinema. Postmodernism, like death, is the great leveller, merrily confounding brows, high and low. There can be no better illustration of this levelling than the history of the Academy awards.

From The Bicycle Thief to this year’s foreign-language winner, No Man’s Land, the shift from pure cinematic excellence to a combination of political correctness, feel-good and insane hype is clearly perceptible. Among Lagaan’s contenders, Amelie wanted to show that “Paris can be nice” (Marcel Proust would have snorted loudly). No Man’s Land — a piece of Bosnian minimalism, according to its director — is the star attraction at the forthcoming Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London. Racial sentiments have also been nobly elevated this year. The leading actress awardee has dedicated her Oscar to “every nameless, faceless woman of color”, reminding everybody that it took the Academy 74 years to award a black actress. The leading actor award maintains this racial high as well. Strident moralism also informed the campaigning for best film. The famous mathematician, Mr John Nash, had to go on television recently to declare that his anti-semitism and bisexuality could have been schizophrenic delusions, and therefore these allegations were part of a “dirty tricks campaign” to sabotage the film, The Beautiful Mind, based on his life. Presumably then, by playing Adolf Hitler superbly on screen, an actor could seriously risk his Oscar.

   

 
 
TALKING ABOUT GUJARAT 
 
 
BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
 
 
Tragic events like the ones we are witnessing all over Gujarat shatter lives, unsettle moral convictions and unmake the fragile achievement we normally call society. But the discourse that has slowly arisen over this violence, the terms that have gained wide currency to describe, explain, justify and excuse this violence threaten to once again render it invisible.

There is always a degree of opacity about our attempts to understand violence, but the unmeaning use of words surrounding acts of violence simply make the object disappear from sight. Commonplace words, like “riot”, “law” and “police”, seem not so much a description of events or things but an attempt to control their volatile meaning. Just as this violence blurs the line between legality and illegality, between state and criminality, between truth and fiction, between faith and power, so it blurs the meaning of terms till we don’t quite know what we are talking about.

The corruption of language is a way of disguising complicity. Listen to our public officials, our chief ministers, our home minister, our prime minister parrot clichés. These clichés are the means of dismantling our conscience. Here are just a few randomly chosen commonplace terms in the lexicon we use to come to terms with events such as the violence in Gujarat, and a few suggestions about what they have come to mean in our discourse.

Riot. A riot conjures up images of spontaneous violence. When the word, “communal”, is prefixed before it, it suggests spontaneous violence between two communities. I doubt if we have had any communal riots in the last 20 years. We have massacres, conspiracies and pogroms. But to describe events such as the 1984 massacre of Sikhs, the violence in Bombay in 1992 and the Gujarat violence (including Godhra) as a communal riot is to subtly insinuate equivalence between two communities where none exists. It is to deny that that these events are organized events with identifiable perpetrators. Riot now really means a massacre where we do not apportion blame.

Provocation. When we say that the Godhra massacre was provoked or that the violence that followed was provoked by the Godhra massacre, what are we saying? Simply that some are always ready to kill, but are only looking for an excuse.

Compensation. That grand gesture by which the state mourns the loss of its innocent citizens. Is it simply a way of assigning a monetary value to a life? Or the acknowledgment by the state that it cannot make the guilty pay.

Commission of Inquiry. This is a no brainer. A commission to ensure that the truth does not get out, or if it does it can be safely ignored.

Sensitive Area. An area so deadened that it needs violence to wake itself up, an area that needs constantly to prick itself so that it can remind itself that it has feeling.

Tragedy. Avoidable suffering wilfully inflicted by a group of people on another people. Nothing Greek about this.

Communal Harmony. Spare a few of the other community so that we can have a go at them at a later date.

Mourning. When politicians say, “We must mourn the dead,” what they mean is this: “ I feel sorry for the victims. They had it coming.”

Popular Sentiment. The sentiment that is represented, not through the ballot box, not through elected representatives, not even through public opinion polls. It is the sentiment that armed and self-appointed guardians of a community can express only through violence on someone else.

Martyrdom. My own life is so worthless that I think that others’ lives are worthless too.

Or for that matter, just consider what our public institutions have become.

Police. An agency given the discretion to use or not use violence as and when it thinks fit.

Moral Leadership. The person quickest to engage in a politics of blame and recrimination

Justice. The endless pursuit of legal formalities under intractable rules without any result.

Secularism. A way of calling someone morally depraved or partial or both.

These commonplace perversions of our vocabulary would be hilarious, if they were inconsequential. The tragedy of our times is not simply the wilful production of suffering through acts of violence. It is also the fact that we are increasingly unable to represent the meaning and nature of these events to ourselves.

Language is always volatile and subtle, not easily chained to fixed definitions. But the slipperiness of the language we use in connection with violent public events is making us increasingly incapable of saying anything. Our language has been colonized by those who don’t mean what they say to the point where any utterance carries the suspicion of insincerity. Like emotions which can never be quite our own once Hindi cinema has expressed them, our feelings and views on events such as Gujarat become trite, because someone has already debased the vocabulary in which they could be expressed.

In properly constituted nations, tragedies bring people together; in ours they divide because there are no fixed points in our vocabulary which can serve as the medium of communication. What will be the terms in which we mourn the dead and protect the living? Do we mourn them because they are “citizens”? But what does “citizenship” mean? Or perhaps we can mourn them as “Hindus” or “Muslims”. But what do these mean in a world where any invocation of them has to be prefaced by, “I am not that kind of a Hindu” or “that kind of Muslim”? Perhaps we mourn them as “human beings”. But can we get to the core of that term in a world caught up in a web of abstract representations of people?

What does avoiding violence mean in a world where there are so many adjectives qualifying violence from some point of view or another, that its meaning can scarcely be fixed? In politically charged circumstances, can we give “death” a shared meaning?

We have a tissue of irritable mental gestures that resemble a language, but little communication. No wonder some of us, despite our great rituals of participation, feel alone and confused. The corruptions of our language are signs of a disintegrating consciousness, where we are uncertain not only of what to say, but how to say it. So we continue to echo words that have long lost the power to represent our world to us. Perhaps it is because the only way we can live with our reality is by distorting it.

The author is professor of philosophy, law and governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University,New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / AMAZING CALM IN A TIME OF MADNESS 
 
 
BY STEPHEN REGO
 
 
As the first reports of the Godhra carnage and the violent reaction to it in different parts of Gujarat trickled into Mumbai, the city was enveloped by a blanket of fear. There was speculation over the possibility that the devastation of 1992-93 would be repeated. That this did not actually happen has left most people relieved; and more than a little surprised.

“We were extremely apprehensive,” says Maria Easwaran, facilitator in Andheri of the Mohalla Committee Movement, an organization born after the 1992-93 riots, “especially about what would happen in a few sensitive areas. But now we are thankful that our worst fears were belied.”

Why did Mumbai escape the wave of fury that swept through Gujarat? Has “Mumbai learnt a lesson from the 1992-93 riots,” as Additional chief secretary (Home), Ashok Basak, said a few days ago? Opinions are guarded on this, and there are no easy answers about what went right.

S.M. Daud, a retired judge of the Mumbai high court, who headed a citizen’s probe into the 1992-93 riots, feels that the citizens, from both communities, are now wiser and do not fall prey so easily to the provocation from political elements.

Message of peace

Easwaran believes that no sane person wants a riot, and during the heightened tension last week, common sense prevailed.But the activities of bodies like the MCM and other local non-governmental organizations helped in spreading the message of peace. In two major trouble spots of ten years ago, Meghwadi and Behrampada, for example, the night before the bandh called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Muslim women in slums went from house to house till late at night exhorting the youth to remain calm in the face of provocation the next day.

Such propaganda has only been effective because of years of hard work, Easwaran points out, years “during which we won the trust and confidence of the people at the grassroots by helping them to find solutions to all their big and small problems. We also carefully built the committees by involving only those who have some credibility and standing in the community,” she adds. The MCM has also been successful in restoring peace during earlier flashpoints as when the Srikrishna Committee report was released or when Bakri Id and Mahavir Jayanti coincided with each other a couple of years ago.

Aiding the local mobilization was the swift and rapid deployment of the police force. This was a marked contrast to what was going on in Gujarat.

Still a tinderbox

According to D.N. Jadhav, who was officiating as police commissioner during the period, “Most leave was cancelled and almost three-fourths of our total strength, or about 30,000 men were on active duty during the time.” The services of the state reserve police battalions and two companies of the rapid action force were requisitioned to be deployed in the case of emergencies.

There were other factors that contributed to the calm — most significantly the relative balance of forces between the two partners of the Hindutva alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena. It may be recalled that Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, while immediately condemning the Godhra killings and blaming the Inter-Services Intelligence for them, had refrained from expressing total support to the bandh called by the VHP.

Thus it appears that an unlikely combination of local mobilizations, speedy police deployments and the contradictions within the Hindutva alliance kept Mumbai relatively calm, even as neighbouring Gujarat, with which it has innumerable links, burned.

But, as Yasnim Sheikh, an advocate, points out, “the situation is still volatile and could flare up again. Rumours can undo whatever has been achieved. In the BIT Chawl near Mumbai central, for example, we noticed a few days ago that some Hindus have stopped parking their cars in the places they have used for years, because it is directly opposite a Muslim-owned building. We have immediately held meetings with both communities and defused the tension, but clearly, despite our success this time around, there are no guarantees that Bombay will not burn again.”

   

 
 
STATE OF PERPETUAL FLUX 
 
 
BY BIDHAYAK DAS
 
 
The seventh successive change in government within a span of five years has proved beyond doubt that in Meghalaya politics is as changeable as Shillong’s weather. The latest developments in the state also prove another point — that the remote control of Meghalaya’s politics lies in the hands of the “little big man”, Purna A. Sangma.

Whether this is due to the politics of convenience to serve a particular party’s interests or one individual’s lofty ambitions, there is no denying the fact that Meghalaya is well on its way to becoming something akin to Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Bihar. In other states, elections to the Rajya Sabha do not make much of a difference in state politics. But not so in Meghalaya.

Last time Sangma was in Shillong, he pulled down the E.K. Mawlong led Meghalaya Peoples’ Forum government over the contentious Meghalaya House deal. This time he has made the Congress pay for not supporting the Nationalist Congress Party candidate, Robert Kharshiing, as the “consensus choice” for the Rajya Sabha elections scheduled for March 27. Sangma has thus scored two successes. By giving the four-month old People’s Forum of Meghalaya government headed by F.A. Khonglam a new look, Sangma has all but realized his dream of an all-party government.

The PFM now enjoys the support of 56 members in the Meghalaya state legislature, which has a total strength of 60. It is supported by all parties except the Bharatiya Janata Party and a lone Garo National Council legislator. But what was the need to affect a change in the PFM government, which already had a jumbo-sized ministry and was functioning well enough? The induction of nine legislators from the opposition United Democratic Party into the ministry, and the dropping of six seasoned Congress legislators and an independent have puzzled everyone.

The reason though is simple: Khonglam did as Sangma wanted him to. Two ideas animated Sangma and Kharshiing, president of the Meghalaya unit of the NCP as well as the party’s candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections. One was to weaken the support base of the Congress candidate in order to win the Rajya Sabha elections at any cost. Two, to experiment with an all-party government formula.

But of immediate concern was the Rajya Sabha elections. The NCP has four seats in the Rajya Sabha, one short of the number it required to get recognition as a national party in the upper house of Parliament. Sangma and Kharshiing admitted as much when they said that getting into the Rajya Sabha from Meghalaya was “extremely important”.

The NCP was aware that it was up against stiff competition from the sitting Congress member of parliament, Onward L. Nongtdu. And so the NCP thinktank, comprising Kharshiing, Sangma and Khonglam, played a power game that overturned almost all political equations in the state. Their proposal to the various parties in the state was simple — “support our candidate and we will give you power in return”.

The first to fall for this ploy was the Meghalaya United Democratic Party — a coalition partner in the government, which had also decided to contest the elections to the upper house in the Central legislature. The UDP found the temptation offered by the NCP so irresistable that it was even willing to forget its grievances against Sangma for unceremoniously pulling down the Mawlong government and it jumped at the offer. The UDP withdrew its candidate from the Rajya Sabha contest and agreed to support the NCP’s Kharshiing, provided of course that its legislators were inducted into the state cabinet.

Khonglam was only too happy to oblige since it would mean that the UDP, which was earlier debating whether to support the Congress candidate, would now favour the NCP. The NCP thinktank acted swiftly and before the Congress could react, Khonglam had decided to drop seven of its legislators from the PFM council of ministers to make way for the UDP.

Interestingly, even the former chief minister, Mawlong, who only few weeks ago had spewed venom at Sangma and the NCP, had a long closed-door meeting with the little master of Meghalaya politics, proving the adage that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies.

The NCP had scored and the UDP was back in power, without which it seemed lost. But for the Congress, a leading partner in the PFM coalition, this was a completely unexpected blow. While the NCP managed to win the support of the UDP, the MUDP, the Hill State Peoples’ Democratic Party, the Peoples’ Democratic Movement — all partners in the ruling coalition — the Congress had no choice but to sit and watch.

As of now, the NCP candidate looks likely to have the support of 40 legislators. This margin may well climb in the coming days if the three BJP legislators too decide to vote for him.

For its part, the Congress has always been divided over the issue of a consensus candidate. This has landed it in a strange situation where some of its legislators have been kept on in the council of ministers while some others, and very senior ones at that, have been pushed out, in what Khonglam has termed as an exercise in “adjustment and accommodation”.

The Congress is thus caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand, it cannot go against the party high command’s directive to contest the Rayja Sabha elections, and on the other, it cannot remain in a government where it finds its wings clipped. The party’s Meghalaya unit president, Salseng C. Marak, visited New Delhi recently in order to sound out Sonia Gandhi on whether the Congress should continue to be part of the PFM-led state government or break away. The indications are that the Congress will ultimately walk out to avoid a deepening of differences amongst its legislators which are already threatening to split the party.

The arrival of the Congress’s central observer, K.K. Handique, from New Delhi has also given rise to doubts about the unity within the Congress. A section of political observers believes that the presence of a central observer at this juncture indicates all is not well with the Congress and that there still exist serious differences over the consensus candidate issue. Rumblings within the Congress have come to the fore, especially after some of its legislators said they were happy with Khonglam’s arrangement and had no problems supporting a consensus candidate, even if one from the NCP. This can only mean that while some Congressmen are rallying around the party’s candidate, Nongtdu, others are not too happy with his nomination.

F or now, the Congress has decided to continue in the PFM coalition, although the ministers who were sacked have written to Sonia Gandhi expressing their unwillingness to continue. She is yet to respond to their missive, but the political drama centered around the Rajya Sabha elections indicates the beginning of an unhealthy trend in Meghalaya politics. Of course, it matters little to the NCP or Sangma, for whom a seat to the Rajya Sabha has to be won at all costs.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / TO TAKE THE FIRST HEAD COUNT 
 
 
 
 
The state of Gujarat has come under the most severe attack by communal hooligans resulting in an unprecedented damage and destruction of life and property... The nightmarish atmosphere of terror and violence, perpetrated by the ruling party and the government, continues to threaten human rights, civil liberties, constitutional guarantee of individual freedom and democratic privileges.

Normal life has come to a standstill. In fact life has been hit so hard that we are afraid it will never come back to normal. The livelihoods of poor daily wage earners, and especially Muslim poor wage earners, have been totally dislocated as their means of daily earning like hand carts, shops, houses have been burnt, looted or destroyed. Establishments of the relatively better off have remained closed due to the bandhs, curfew or the prevailing atmosphere of insecurity. Also closed for the same reasons are schools, colleges, government and private business and industrial establishments, banks, state transport bus services, auto rickshaws or taxis, tours travels, etc. that are part of routine life...

The state chief minister’s reaction to the people reeling under violence is too casual ... exuding uncalled for bravado about “deft handling” of law and order. He has evaded all sense of responsibility and accountability. We have tried to present an overview of the disaster and doom prevailing in Gujarat. Briefly:

1. Poor and middle class communities, particularly from the Muslim minority, are rendered shelter-less, as their houses are either looted, destroyed or burnt.

2. Some of the minority men, women and children have been killed by stabbing, private or police firing, or by burning them alive. Their families have fled their homes and are either in some relief camp, or at their relatives’ homes or have left the state.

3. In Vadodara, as in other places of the state, Muslim families have been attacked en masse, at night, and looted, beaten...maimed and killed. All of them have fled their homes to save their lives, with houses of many burnt.

4. Cruel, inhuman and uncivilized attacks continue unabated and a kind of Hindu extremist demoniacal force has been unleashed that is spreading poisonous fiction about Muslims. Propaganda has been on the rise saying that Muslims are a peril for the survival of Hindus. They are advised to awaken, decimate and drive out Muslims from India. Leaflets are being circulated to incite people against Muslims. Their propaganda is full of venom, hatred and violence. The tragedy is that these pamphlets originate from groups that are allied with the ruling party in Gujarat

5. Over 15 mosques, dargahs or other Muslim monuments have been destroyed or damaged in Vadodara city alone. At least a hundred Muslim shops and establishments have been attacked, destroyed, looted and burnt.

6. Lari gallas, paanshops, restaurants, hotels and the already meagre means of life have been either looted or destroyed. Big shops, small, big industry, home-producing units, are destroyed...

7. About 120 Muslim houses in Kisanwadi, 40 huts in Fagwel Nagar, 185 houses in Noor Park, 28 in Vishalnagar, 12 in Hujarat Paga, 40 in Kapurai, 80 in Adarshnagar in Bhutadi Jhampa, as also Muslims’ houses Govindnagar, Vijaynagar, Makarpura, Sardar Estate and Dandia Bazar, Sayajipura etc. have been destroyed.

This list is far from complete and we still are to enumerate loss of life and property in rural area...

The roles of the police and mass media and local TV channels have remained provocative and have succeeded in instigating ...the majority community... against Muslims. The police, who obviously have received encouraging hints from the state government and the ruling party have failed to maintain law and order, and have rather played an anti-national and unconstitutional role, becoming instrumental in destroying democracy and harmony among people. India’s culture, tradition and heritage is at stake.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

One who wrote to the chief

Chief target Sir — One cannot help but feel a little sorry for Air Marshall Manjit Singh Sekhon, whose ambition to become the air officer commanding in chief of the western command seems to have become his undoing (“Flights of folly”, March 23). With more tact, better judgment and some luck, no one would have found out about his letter to the former chief minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, and he may even have realized his dream. But fate and the army had a different fate in store for him. That this much-decorated officer is also a simpleton at heart is obvious from the fact that he did not apologize when caught, but made matters worse for himself by naming other officials who had done the same deed. But alas, his long experience should have told him that the loopholes in the system, despite being as broad as daylight, are likely to go unnoticed. All that will remain in the establishment’s memory is his ill-fated letter-head that cost him his job.

Yours faithfully,
Mridula Bhadra, Calcutta

Unnecessarily evil

Sir — To look at examinations as a “necessary evil” would be too philosophical, especially for students (“Wrong skills”, March 21). It would be more positive to view them as a challenge posed by paper-setters to candidates. For all these years, it has been more or less customary for the Indian Certificate for Secondary Education council to avoid the repetition of questions in examinations conducted by it. This is because the vast syllabi for both ICSE and Indian School Certificate examinations provides ample opportunity for questions to be set on a particular topic without unnecessary repetition. It is also a customary practice with other educational boards and institutions. It is thus difficult to comprehend this year’s unexpected occurrence. The repetition of four questions in the ICSE history paper was a deception of sorts and has revealed the negative attitude of the board towards the examinees. Also, the four questions were set from sub-topics. Given that there are hundreds of them in the 25 long chapters, the repetition could have been avoided.

It is also unfair to blame students for trying to become experts in detecting “trends” and for adopting selective methods of study. These do not necessarily go against the notion of the “love of learning”. However, I do agree with the notion that learning history is also about developing the ability to strike a balance between memorizing facts and interpreting them. Unfortunately, the present system of examination lays emphasis on the former rather than the latter. A careful look at the question paper would reveal that it is just a quiz — a test of memory. There is no scope for originality. Perhaps, this says a great deal about the lack of originality in the paper-setters.

There is nothing wrong or unscrupulous about using selective methods of study for examinations. Students all over the world use such techniques. However, repeating four questions in a single paper is unprecedented.

Yours faithfully,
Thomas Mathew, Calcutta

Sir — Having passed my ICSE and ISC examinations not so long ago, I was rather horrified to read about the complaints made by students and teachers of ICSE schools about the repetition of questions in the history paper. According to the rules and guidelines of the council which are issued to students before the examinations, selective study of any kind is discouraged. Instead,students are advised not to leave out any portion of the syllabus. Further, a great deal of emphasis is also laid on thoroughness. There is nothing wrong in being selective in studying for a board examination, but surely that does not mean that a student will be completely ignorant about a particular topic? Moreover, given that one set of events in history is usually linked to another, selective study can be self-defeating and hence meaningless. Also, every student who does selective study is taking a risk and should accept responsibility for his actions.

Yours faithfully,
Suparna Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — It is a fact that council rules do not say that questions will not be repeated. But if 60 per cent of the question paper are on topics already covered in the previous year, it is a bit unfortunate. Not only were topics repeated, some questions were even outside the syllabus. Take question number 3( g) and (h) in part I. According to the syllabus, students had to know only the structure and role of the two regional associations. Same for question no 14. Students are supposed to learn only the role of Jawaharlal Nehru in the chapter on the nonaligned movement. Question no 15 about the objectives and achievement of the south Asian association of regional cooperation. The syllabus says only the structure and role of SAARC should be known to students. It also mentions that students had to know only the functions of UNESCO, not its objectives, which were asked for in question no 13 A. Then again, in section B, question no 7, students had to write lengthy answers for which only 10 marks were allotted. School authorities should put pressure on the council to evaluate answer sheets in the light of the inconveniences caused to students.

Yours faithfully,
M.R. Sengupta, via email

New learning

Sir — Ashis Chakrabarti’s article, “Ground for future shock” (March 13), has rightly commented on the decline of secularism in West Bengal. The educated Bengali middle-class now has no qualms voicing communal sentiments or endorsing the saffron agenda. One cannot help wondering how and why this change occurred? How has the sangh parivar ideology managed to win over the Bengali intellect? As has been pointed out by Chakrabarti, much has been said about the mushrooming of madrasahs in West Bengal but not about sangh parivar outfits. In Bengal as in the rest of India today, a Muslim is now automatically suspected of being anti-national. Surely, there is something that secular peace-loving citizens of West Bengal can do before it is too late.

Yours faithfully,
Joyita Saha, Calcutta

Sir — It is a pity that the ideals of Rabindranath Tagore, Nazrul Islam, Swami Vivekananda and Subhas Chandra Bose that had played an important role in developing the secular mindset of Bengalis is now being ignored. Bengalis are now compromising on the cultural legacy. Today’s generation prefers listening to Hindi film songs to Rabindrasangeet.

The government’s inability to deal effectively with communalism, coupled with the state government’s complacency has been responsible for the state of affairs in West Bengal. That the Ram Janmabhoomi psyche has permeated the state is evident from the actions of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Taldi or Malda.

It is imperative that the state government monitors the law and order situation in West Bengal more closely and, if necessary, takes steps to ban organizations like the VHP. But the greatest responsibility for maintaining communal harmony in the state should be borne by the Bengali populace. The people of the state has to ensure that the long-cherished value of secularism does not get eroded by the new-found anti-secularist rhetoric.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

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