Editorial 1 / Wrong house
Editorial 2 / Dialogue in arrest
Calling the bluff
Fifth Column / Round the world with Zheng He
On the boat to nowhere
Document / Home fires extinguished
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / WRONG HOUSE 
 
 
 
 
Questions of principles pertaining to the functioning of Indian democracy are more important than the passing of an act. Such issues are not being discussed in the needless furore caused by the Rajya Sabha’s turning down of the prevention of terrorism ordinance. Attention has been so concentrated on the joint session of Parliament, the third time in the history of Indian democracy, that other and more profound issues have been marginalized. The Indian Constitution created the Lok Sabha for the elected representatives of the people. But since the founding fathers were strongly influenced by the Westminster model, it was drawn to the idea of an upper house. In Britain the upper house, the House of Lords, exists to protect the interests of the Crown. This was not possible in India which was a proud republic. In India, the upper house was made to represent the interests of the states. It was explicitly not a body for the elected representatives of the people. By definition, therefore, the Lok Sabha is the forum which articulates the popular will. It is possible to disagree and disapprove with a decision made by the Lok Sabha. But whether one likes it or not, a decision made in the Lok Sabha must be accepted as an expression of popular will. The Rajya Sabha can therefore record its disagreement with a Lok Sabha decision and can even suggest to the lower house that it review its decision in the light of criticisms made in the upper house, but the Rajya Sabha, to maintain the spirit of democracy, should not reject a decision or a bill passed in the Lok Sabha.

The Rajya Sabha has proceeded to do just this with regard to POTO. By acting thus, the Rajya Sabha has perhaps appropriated for itself the role that is best performed by the Lok Sabha. It can be argued that the Rajya Sabha is well within its constitutional rights to reject a Lok Sabha decision. But this is to tie down the issue to a legalistic straitjacket. The main question is whether the Rajya Sabha should defy an expression of popular will. By the terms of the Constitution the Rajya Sabha should act in the states’ interests and not see itself as a carrier of the popular will. An ardent advocacy of the states’ interests should have led the Rajya Sabha to strike down the surcharge on income tax since this surcharge deprives the states of revenue. But the Rajya Sabha has never done this and there are no grounds for believing that it will do so this time round. This makes the Rajya Sabha’s role in Indian democracy somewhat paradoxical. It is occupied in doing what it should not be doing and neglecting to fulfil its actual role in a federal polity. A session of the joint houses of Parliament should be an occasion to initiate a discussion on the role of the Rajya Sabha and transitively, to a debate on the very relevance of an upper house in a republic.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / DIALOGUE IN ARREST 
 
 
 
 
The arrest of Mr Yaseen Malik, the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, under the prevention of terrorism ordinance, will cause a serious setback to the Centre’s efforts to initiate a political dialogue in the state. While the charges against Mr Malik may seem serious, the timing and the manner of his arrest create the suspicion that this is yet another effort by vested interests to subvert the possibility of arriving at a political breakthrough. Mr Malik was one of the first leaders of the militant movement in the early Nineties, and has become one of the more visible faces of insurgency. However, there is no evidence that his supporters have participated in militant activities since the mid-Nineties, and Mr Malik has himself espoused Gandhian non-violence for nearly a decade. The JKLF chief is also one of the moderate leaders within the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference, and has sought to consistently contain jihadi and pro-Pakistani elements within the umbrella separatist alliance. Last year, when Mr Malik was permitted by the Central government to travel to the United States of America, it was clear that a quiet dialogue between emissaries from New Delhi and a section of the Kashmiri separatist leadership had reached a level of trust and maturity.

While the JKLF seemed to be behind the recent foolhardy scheme of instituting a separate election commission, there were signs that Mr Malik and others may be willing, at the very least, to let a section of their supporters contest in the forthcoming polls. If this had happened, elections in Jammu and Kashmir could have been, for the first time in more than a decade, inclusive and credible. However, it was this very possibility that threatened established interests, particularly those represented by the state government and the ruling National Conference. The National Conference would have been marginalized in any electoral contest in which the separatists participated. Not surprisingly, therefore, Mr Malik was booked under the POTO even while the National Conference was expressing reservation about the ordinance and the chief minister, Mr Farooq Abdullah, had promised to review all past cases. Leaders from the APHC have received funds from abroad and there are, in fact, cases registered against several of its leaders. Yet no leader, in the past, has been arrested on these charges and certainly not in the midst of a press conference. The arrest of Mr Malik will undoubtedly create adverse international publicity and most certainly throw off-track the possibility of achieving a real breakthrough in Jammu and Kashmir. The only way out is for New Delhi to issue a clear démarche to the state government, and have Mr Malik released at the earliest.

   

 
 
CALLING THE BLUFF 
 
 
BY DIPANKAR GUPTA
 
 
It must have been noticed by now, but I will say it anyway: there is a great difference between killing for a cause and dying for one. Religious sectarians in India are always ready to kill for a cause, but will never die for one. It should also be remembered that though many Hindus died for the cause of nationalism, independence and for glory of their land, there is not a worthwhile example of a Hindu who became a martyr for the cause of Hinduism. In every other world-religion there are martyrs, and these martyrs are remembered by the faithful for giving substance and body to their respective religions. There is no such tradition in Hinduism. Rana Pratap, Rani Laxmibai, Lala Lajpat Rai did not die for Hinduism, though they were all Hindus, after a fashion.

When the chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, Ramchandra Paramhans, said that he would rather die than not start building the temple on the disputed site, many in the government and elsewhere got really worried. They should not have been so deeply agitated, for the recent record of Hindu chauvinists does not give any reason to believe that any one of them would die for a cause. These Hindu chauvinists are paper tigers and only excel at hitting out at minorities, and that too with government support. Wherever they have had unfriendly governments, as in West Bengal, these sectarians, notwithstanding their hellfire and brimstone rhetoric, have behaved themselves.

The appropriate response then to sectarians of all stripes is simply to implement the law and to hold them responsible every time they break it. To discuss, at such times, historical veracity or the fine points of cultural interpretation will only encourage these sectarians. They then begin to feel self- righteous and also come through as bearers of intellectual capital. To talk to sectarians about culture, religion, art and so on, is, therefore, counter-productive. When anyone breaks the law the person should be brought to book. Where is the need to discuss? If the government feels there is an overwhelming reason to hold protracted talks with these people, and not book them under grievous charges, then please change the law and along with that our Constitution.

It can be proved beyond doubt, by taking several instances of rioting, that in all cases the culprits had the active or tacit support of the government. In these riots again, the number of people killed show a hugely disproportionate number of people belonging to the minority communities. This was true in Ahmedabad in 1969 when Muslims died in large numbers. This is true equally of the Sikh killings in Delhi when around 2,000 Sikhs died in Delhi and its environs. This is true of Bhiwandi when the Shiv Sainiks went on a rampage. This is now equally true of Ahmedabad after the Godhra incident on February 26, 2002. Even in this last instance it is not generally known that before Godhra happened and kar sevaks were killed in the Sabarmati Express headed for Ahmedabad, Bajrang Dal activists had harassed and beaten Muslims on February 24 when the same train was going to Faizabad. Muslim women had the veils of their burqas ripped off, some children were also hurt, and many Muslims escaped being brutally assaulted by pretending to be Hindus. This news item appeared on February 25 in Jan Morcha, which is a little known daily published from Faizabad.

This incident has been covered up, for it then allows the Gujarat government, and its supporters in Delhi, to justify post-Godhra killings as a mass reaction. Even if this be true, it has to be admitted at the same time that sectarian violence could not have gone on for days had there not been government support in the shape of pulling back the police and the army. The Bharatiya Janata Party ministers, including the prime minister, did not intervene effectively enough to make sure that Narendra Modi behaved according to the provisions of the Constitution and not as a Hindu sectarian.

Ayodhya, on March 15, turned out to be an anti-climax simply because people expected that the kar sevaks were really a determined and committed bunch. I have always believed that if these sectarians were to be challenged, and their bluff called, they would immediately withdraw. I have historical evidence to back my claim, though sadly it is a little dated. After the Partition, the population of Delhi doubled in a matter of months and kept growing phenomenally. The refugees who came from Pakistan were filled with hatred, anger and hurt. This was the time when Hindu sectarian sentiments were at their highest and communal riots shook the city of Delhi. Delhi was till then a placid and laid-back place. In fact, its elected member to the council was a Muslim.

When the communal elements were getting really dangerous, Jawaharlal Nehru stepped forward to take matters in hand. He made sure that members of the Hindu Mahasabha did not go unpunished. He very demonstrably had them detained and put behind bars. This silenced them for a considerable period of time. But when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was assassinated Nehru banned the Rash- triya Swayamsevak Sangh and came down on this organization with a very heavy hand.

What did the members of the RSS do? They did not come out roaring like lions, but went to the prime minister bleating like sheep. With folded hands and bended knees they implored Nehru to take a kinder view of them. They assured the government that the RSS was simply a cultural organization and had no desire to be involved in politics. All this is known, and there are records to prove the cowardice of these so-called Hindu heroes.

The lesson is very simple. If tough measures are taken against sectarian law-breakers then they immediately begin to behave themselves. It may also be mentioned in this connection that the Hindu Mahasabha and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh were no match to the Congress party electorally as well. From 1951 to 1967, that is for twenty years after the Partition, it was the Congress that won election after election in Delhi. How could this have happened?

The electoral victory of the Congress in the years when one expected that Hindu chauvinists would do well can only be explained by the fact that most Hindus are not professional sectarians. They have jobs to do, they have families to look after, and they have career goals and ambitions. Nehru made these communalists look inept because Nehru promised an economic alternative. He did Bhakra Nangal, Bokaro and Bhilai steel, he had a land reform programme, he had the five year plans, and it was the Congress government that actually helped refugees with their housing needs. In all these departments, the Hindu communalists were useless. They had no idea as to how the country would handle poverty and disease. All they could say was “Hinduism is in peril”.

Quite clearly, as Ayodhya demonstrates, the Hindu fanatics have not changed. What has changed is that there is nobody like Nehru who can call the bluff of these paper tigers. Indira Gandhi played the communal card, and sadly, so did her son. The official inheritors of Nehru’s legacy undermined all the known pillars of secularism in practice. Instead of attending to poverty, hunger and disease with better and more effective policies, they indulged in the most thoughtless political maneouvres for short-term advantage. This is what has given these religious chauvinists so much credibility. If communalists are stronger today than before it is because the official secular parties abdicated their responsibilities and cleared the road for sectarians to emerge as viable political alternatives.

Vajpayee has no alternative today but to go along with the RSS and the Hindu sectarians. The hard core of the BJP is made up of Hindu chauvinists. When the BJP lost face in the recent elections it had only two options in front of it. One was to rework its basic policies and make them more citizen- friendly. This is obviously very hard work and also involves tremendous sacrifice on the part of its members and supporters. In which case the only viable alternative left for the BJP was to go back to the temple issue and appease their hard-core supporters. So if Godhra had not happened, perhaps a Godhra would have had to be invented. This is not an unheard of strategy.

There are two reasons why the Ayodhya temple-building programme of March 15 ended with a whimper. One, the Supreme Court did not oblige. It came out with a clear and unambiguous verdict that should make every Indian proud that his judiciary is still intact. But this need not have deterred the kar sevaks if they were really willing to die for a cause. Then at least the sangh parivar could have claimed some reflected glory for its cause. That too did not happen. This is why the Hindu sectarians in the sangh parivar are all looking very foolish. Although this time round, there was no Nehru to call the bluff of these sectarians, it was the Supreme Court that stepped in and exposed them.

The author is professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / ROUND THE WORLD WITH ZHENG HE 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
If there were a Chinese Oliver Stone, he would make a movie about it. The final scene would be of Admiral Zheng He arriving back in 1423 from his fantastic voyage, the first-ever circumnavigation of the globe — only to be met on the pier at Quandong by the emperor’s personal emissaries.“You were only away on holiday, admiral,” their leader whispers hoarsely to the great navigator. “You didn’t sail around the planet. You didn’t discover a ‘new world’. You didn’t even get past the Indian Ocean. Stick to the script, and everything’s fine: the emperor’s happy, we’re happy, your wife and children are safe. Otherwise...” and he smiles a vicious smile as he draws his finger slowly across his throat.

The first thing wrong with this scene is that Admiral Zheng, being a eunuch, did not actually have a wife and children — but this is cinema, and we have to make allowances for popular taste. The bigger problem is that it is most unlikely that Admiral Zheng discovered the Americas 70 years before Columbus, and circumnavigated the world a full century before Magellan.

This has suddenly become a hot topic because a respectable amateur historian claims to have found maps proving that Zheng He (sometimes written Cheng Ho) really did sail around the world in 1421-23. Addressing the Royal Geographical Society in London earlier this month, Gavin Menzies, a retired Royal Navy submarine commander, revealed that he had found a Portuguese map of 1428, before Portugal’s seamen began their own voyages of discovery, that clearly shows the outlines of Africa, Australia and South America.

Ego boost

He suggests that this map was based on others smuggled out of China by the Venetian merchant and explorer, Nicolo da Conti, who had visited China at the time and may have met Zheng He. Menzies even claims to have reconstructed the system of celestial navigation by which the Chinese fleet managed to cross both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. But even if it were all true, so what?

It would doubtless boost Chinese self-esteem. But what really mattered about the voyages of Columbus, Magellan and the rest was that their “discoveries” were followed by the European conquest of most of the world. In the case of the Americas and Australasia, European settlement completely overwhelmed the previous populations and largely replaced them. Might the Chinese have done the same?

If the Chinese, then almost all farmers, had known in the15th, 16th and 17th centuries that there were vast amounts of good land in other parts of the world that could easily be taken from the current inhabitants, it seems highly unlikely that they would have ignored the opportunity. The vagaries of politics in Beijing might have stalled the process for a time, but the knowledge could not have been permanently suppressed if Zheng’s fleet of a hundred ships had actually gone to the Americas and Australia on a round-the-world voyage of exploration.

Did they make it?

The fact, however, is that Zheng’s remarkable voyages (up to six or seven long trips over a period of thirty years) were not intended to discover new territories. They were made to re-open direct trading relations between China and many different peoples around the Indian Ocean, which had fallen into the hands of middle-men or been cut off entirely for over a century due to various political and military upheavals.

But at the southern tip of Africa, already eight months and 8,000 kilometres from home, would he then have headed straight west into the open South Atlantic, with no knowledge of where or even if he would next make a landfall, and no known trading partner at the destination? Then, having survived that gamble, would he have pushed his battered ships further west around Cape Horn through the worst weather in the world, sailed up the west coast of South America, and once more launched forth into the unknown, seeking to cross the world’s greatest ocean at its widest point?

One suspects not. It’s fascinating to speculate what might have happened if the 15th-century Chinese had reached Australia and the Americas, but the truth is almost certainly that they did not.

   

 
 
ON THE BOAT TO NOWHERE 
 
 
BY ANURADHA KUMAR
 
 
In October last year, a fishing vessel sailing from Sumatra to Australia sank. There were only 45 survivors. The 60-feet-long boat, that had been smuggling about 400 Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians and Algerians to Australia, suddenly capsized. Many of the passengers had hoped it would be the final leg of their arduous journey that had begun from places as far away as Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are many others who make the journey in conditions which resemble that in a 17th-century slave ship. These are all asylum seekers, refugees in search of a new life. But, increasingly, they are being turned away by those very countries to which they have turned. In recent years, as the United Nations human rights commission chief lamented, more and more governments are refusing to accept refugees because there are so many of them and because they are also seen as destitute economic migrants.

Restrictive government policies have now forced many asylum-seekers like the boat survivors to turn to smugglers. This is also the reason why global traffic in human beings is such a big business. The global industry of people-smuggling is estimated at $ 7 billion a year.

However, refugees receive little succour even after they reach their destination. The plight of several of them came to the world’s attention recently when over 220 asylum-seekers, detained in centres in Australia, went on a hunger strike. Australia itself is a nation of immigrants — the original “boat people” arrived on the first fleet from England in 1788. After World War II, other Europeans arrived. Australia grew into a thriving multicultural society where the poorest and the most desperate of other nations came to live a full life. As the Booker Prize-winning writer, Peter Carey, once observed: “A real Australian...is, by my definition anyway, an immigrant”.

Times have changed, however, since the Australians welcomed thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodian boat people in the Seventies and Eighties. Under a policy of mandatory detention, put in place since 1958 and which applies to all illegal immigrants, they are now taken to one of the six detention centres in the country where their claims are assessed. Of late, this policy has been the subject of growing international criticism as the number of immigrants involved has escalated.

Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, was re-elected last year after having acted firmly against groups of mainly Afghan asylum-seekers. His government refused to allow hundreds of refugees, predominantly Afghans, to land, leaving them stranded in the Indian Ocean aboard the Norwegian ship, the Tampa. Australia then reached a deal with several South Pacific islands — called the Pacific solution — to take unwanted asylum-seekers in return for cash. The move has been severely criticized as an attempt to create “tropical gulags”.

In January 2002, there was news about the hunger-strike by over 220 asylum-seekers, protesting against their living conditions and the uncertainty of their status. The protest was undertaken in three of the largest detention centres located in the remote desert areas of western and south Australia. There are other centres in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. Refugees were allegedly being kept like caged animals, their emotions crushed. Most had become mentally sick. There are mounting concerns about the children in such camps. They have been found to be severely distressed, depressed and traumatized. Psychiatrists believe that the government has failed in its duty to care for these people.

The Australian government has not only been criticized by human rights groups, but also by former employees of the refugee camps. They alleged that refugees were abused, both physically and verbally. Sporadic hunger strikes have been common over the last three years. There have also been suicides in the camps.

Woomera is the largest detention centre, and perhaps the most remote, in Australia and houses some 1,000 inhabitants. Surrounded by layers of barbed wire fences, it is situated in a former rocket testing range in the south Australian desert. It is a bleak place with little to offer to its inmates. Ironically, it has now become a tourist attraction. Backpackers have been seen taking photographs outside the gates. The standoff between the inmates and the government lasted several days at Woomera and it was eased only after the government lifted the freeze on the processing of claims by Afghan detainees. The authorities also released about 20 detainees. Inmates however want to be transferred to another facility that is less isolated and where conditions are better.

The debate on refugees has polarized Australia. Despite widespread support for the government’s stance, there are many who fear that the country’s reputation is being damaged by the bad publicity it has received on the issue. Take for example the aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra, a group which campaigns for indigenous sovereignty over the land snatched in 1788 by settlers from Britain. The organization is shocked and horrified at the callous and inhumane treatment meted out to refugees.

The government however believes that the only way to go about it is to share the burden with other countries. At present Australia has around 2,000 detainees. Since August 2001, the government has already turned away about 1,500 asylum-seekers, sending many to small Pacific nations. Last year, Australia asked the tiny, sinking Pacific nation of Tuvalu to take in west Asian asylum-seekers. With a population of 11,000 people, Tuvalu is spread over nine atolls. Earlier this year, Tuvalu, worried about rising sea levels, itself appealed to New Zealand and Australia to take in some of its islanders.

In Europe, detention of asylum-seekers is far more limited. Although a number of European countries are taking steps to increase the number of detention centres, the number of people detained is usually only a fraction of those arriving illegally to claim asylum. The United States of America, too, detains all asylum-seekers arriving on its shores without legitimate documents. But it also has a far larger number of asylum-seekers than Australia — more than a million over the past decade.

The UNHRC chief has strongly criticized governments’ attitudes to asylum-seekers despite their ratification of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The convention has been signed by 141 states, yet there are currently about 22 million refugees in the world who continue to be viewed as a burden rather than as potentially productive citizens. He warns that unless governments do more to find lasting solutions to the problem of influx, many more of the immigrants will fall into the hands of human smugglers, traffickers and criminal networks.

The Amnesty International secretary general has also called on the Australian government to end its policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers. Amnesty points out that Australia has time and time again expressed its vocal support to the refugee cause and promotion of human rights institutions. The world expects Australia to practice what it preaches.

Among the many suggestions Amnesty put forward was one that sought to place detention centres under the same scrutiny as prisons. This would ensure that the respective governments’ decisions to detain would also be reviewed. At present the Australian government remains the sole judge and jury of its policy with regard to refugees. As Amnesty reported recently, the need to uphold human rights and humanitarian principles had never been greater than in the world post-September 11. But it all fell on deaf ears as the Australian government announced plans to build a new detention centre in the remote Christmas Island in the Pacific where those detained would be herded while their claims for refugee status were sorted out.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / HOME FIRES EXTINGUISHED 
 
 
 
 
After Godhra, the situation in Baroda became tense. There was one death on the afternoon of February 27 in the presence of police in the railway station. This was a signal to Hindu extremist forces to begin the free for all mayhem. During the day and the night of February 28, tension and violence escalated in the city. The Gujarat bandh, supported by the state government, gave a clear licence to anti-social elements to come out on the streets.

...Reports started coming from various Muslim localities of stoning, threatening, stabbing, and sword-wielding by intimidating Hindu extremist elements. Swords were a prominent tool used by Hindu middle class and lumpen gangs to intimidate the Muslim minority. Mobs organized, attacked Muslim localities, destroyed places of worship, all the time shouting war cries of “Jai Shri Ram”. Throughout the night of February 28, Muslims were terrorized. Many hid in their homes, sheltered by Hindu, Sindhi neighbours.

...Through the night of February 28 and the day of March 1...first houses were looted, and then houses were burnt. Use of gas cylinders, petrol and kerosene bombs to blow up houses and places of worship (Noor Park and Kisanwadi) and burn them thereafter was a distinct characteristic of destruction. Even goats belonging to Muslims in the Gotri area of the city had acid poured on them and thereafter killed. By March 1, people started leaving their locality and moving into jamaat khaanas or with relatives in “safer” areas. Mobs went back repeatedly to the abandoned houses to loot and wreak further damage (for instance in Atladara, Noor Park, Kisanwadi). Shops have been also set on fire by drilling holes and pouring inflammable liquid and then setting them on fire ... The Islamic Study Center at Ajwa road was destroyed, ... and Mangal Bazar, a bustling shopping area, was set on fire. The Times of India office, Baroda was stormed by mobs demanding more pro-Hindu news. The Tulsiwadi slums in Karelibaug were also attacked by mobs.

...Reports of selective destruction of Muslim property started pouring in. People were seen moving around with electoral lists; in Kisanwadi, women reported that one local young man had made lists of house numbers and location of minority houses. Visits to sites showed where laaris (pushcarts) were parked in Akota. Two Muslim laaris were burnt while the Hindu one in the middle was intact. Such examples can be extended to residential areas too. In an area of majority Muslim homes, Hindu houses are safe ... Another “novel” phenomena this time was to instal idols of Hindu gods immediately on the destroyed Muslim property.

...After the March 15 shila daan, a second round of violence erupted and followed the same pattern. Muslim establishments not damaged in the first round were targeted in the second round. The objective was to finish those Muslim houses and properties untouched by the first wave. Today there is practically no Muslim property in non-Muslim areas undamaged by the loot and arson.

...After the towns of Ahmedabad and Baroda on March 1 and 2, rural areas were targeted by March 3 and 4. Tribal villages which have never before been affected by communal disturbances, saw large scale and extremely violent and inhuman violence. Incidents in Baroda district began from Tejgadh, Panwad, Kawant. The pattern here was that first people in far flung villages were terrorized. The terrorist activities then moved on to smaller towns like Panwad, and then came to the taluka town. First, terror in people of the minority community was sought to be created by stoning, spreading rumours, and killing their animals. Then mob attacks forced people to flee. This was followed by the looting of houses, including carrying away of their animals like goats (or killing them by driving vehicles over them), finally burning, smashing, and breaking whatever was left in or around the houses.

... In this communal violence, the geographical pattern as well as the nature of violence was also different. In contrast to the communal riots of 1969 and 1992, this time new areas are affected, and not just usual trouble spots. Areas where people have co-existed peacefully for generations have been targets of violence this time, eg. Pira Mita, Fatehganj. Elected representatives and persons associated with the ruling party have played a key role in spreading violence to peaceful areas. Corporators and councillors have challenged colleagues in relatively unaffected areas and implied a lack of mardangi because no destruction has been seen in these areas. Similar patterns were reported from other parts of Gujarat when leaders in the quieter districts were sent bangles to denote lack of manliness. The idea seems to make all places unsafe for Muslims. And spread a scare among Hindus that if Muslims migrate to nearby places, the Hindu areas automatically become unsafe. (Some “safe” areas like Tandalja, where Muslims migrated to after the 1992 riots have been sought to be projected as a “mini-Pakistan” even by “responsible” figures in society. In Fatehganj eye witness accounts (Hindu families living opposite the mosque) reveal that the chadar in the mosque in Sadar Bazar caught fire. Both communities helped to douse out the fire. Stoning started in the evening. The police arrived promptly, and opened fire in which one was killed.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Monumental foolishness

Young talent Sir — The destruction of the tomb of Vali Gujarati, the 17th century Urdu poet, in Ahmedabad by “rioters” shows that anything that is even vaguely associated with Islam is under threat in the communally fraught situation in India today (“Rioters raze ghazal pioneer’s tomb”, March 25). Not only are innocent Muslims falling victims to a mindless violence, but a structure of great cultural and historic importance was also not spared. Further, after the rioters had done their worse, the Congress-ruled Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation contributed its bit by removing the rubble from the scene. This was monumental foolishness. The rubble should not have been disturbed — it could have been used to repair the structure. While the mayor, Himatsinh Patel, has denied that AMC bulldozers were used to clear the rubble, the denial is not only ineffectual, but it also tries to undermine the seriousness of the issue. It is a shame that everyone — the government as well as the opposition — has been so strategically callous towards a national heritage.

Yours faithfully,
Bhumika Patel, Mumbai

Disinvest, and perish

Sir — Despite being referred to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction way back in 1994 and two revival packages, the Indian Iron and Steel Company continues to be sick. Given the continued uncertainty at IISCO, the fate of the approximately 17,000 workers at the Kulti and Burnpur plants hangs in the balance.

There is no way that the Steel Authority of India Limited can afford the approximately Rs 500 crore in voluntary retirement scheme benefits, since it is in the red itself. MECON’s Rs 600-crore revival package for IISCO too does not seem to have helped. The best way out for the company now seems to be a tie-up with TyazPromExport, the Russian firm which had come up with a Rs 800 crore package to modernize IISCO. But this deal too seems to be stuck. Every effort should be made to save IISCO, since the government stands to lose about Rs 280 crore and banks and financial institutions about Rs 900 crore if it folds up.

IISCO, like other industries in West Bengal, has been crippled by frequent strikes by trade unions. The workers of IISCO should realize that while they suffer due to the strikes, the union leaders remain unaffected. They should strive to become “partners in progress” with the management. They should forsake the path of confrontation and improve their work ethic. Given the industrial scenario, they should be ready for measures like retrenchments which the management might take for the well-being of the company, since these will also benefit the workers.

The management should be firm in dealing with all those who sponsor strikes. In this, IISCO might benefit from the government’s proposed labour reforms, which seek to give more teeth to the management. If IISCO wants to be competitive in the global steel market, modernization of the plants is an imperative.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — The government seems all set to disinvest NALCO which, with a 1.6 metric tonne a year alumina refinery and a 2.2 lakh tonne a year aluminium smelting capacity, is one of the country’s most profitable aluminium-makers. The recent disinvestment drive is surprising given that the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the coalition government at the Centre, had opposed disinvestment of public sector units when it was in the opposition.

Justifying disinvestment, the government says that it is only roping in strategic partners who will provide the technological assistance to improve the PSUs’ output and help them survive in the altered economic scenario. But, Pechiney, the French aluminium maker and packaging giant, has been NALCO’s technological partner for the past 21 years. Hence, in this case, there does not seem to be any need to bring in a strategic partner.

Further, the workforce of NALCO includes a number of physically disabled, who will undoubtedly be laid off once the company is sold. Only recently, NALCO invited applications from the physically disabled to fill vacant posts. What will happen to these applicants now? The life of the physically disabled is already difficult, without the government adding to it by suddenly rendering them jobless.

Yours faithfully,
Seema Sengupta, Calcutta

Talent to the fore

Sir — The fifth one day international between India and Zimbabwe revealed how much the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, has matured recently (“Mongia, Yuvraj end India’s ‘final’ jinx”, March 20). Ganguly’s insistence that Yuvraj Singh be included in the Indian side in the fourth ODI shows his faith in his young teammate’s talent.

The move to rest Sachin Tendulkar and Javagal Srinath has given Ganguly an opportunity to experiment with the youngsters. India should now concentrate on the world cup and make optimum use of the youngsters in the side. Young cricketers like Mohammed Kaif, Virendra Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh have proved their mettle, if not their consistency. But if they are moved around too much, they will not be able to do justice to their potential.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Ever since Mohammed Azhar- uddin and Ajay Jadeja were banned, Indian cricket has been feeling the dearth of new talent (“Sunny speak”, March 18). Sourav Ganguly especially deserves to be congratulated for encouraging a bunch of talented youngsters.

Yuvraj Singh, in particular, seems to have come into his own in the recent series against Zimbabwe. His brilliant batting helped India win the fourth ODI and keep its hopes alive in the series. In his one and half years in international cricket, Singh has been in and out of the national team. Singh should be made a permanent member of the national team because besides being an explosive batsman, he is very agile in the field too.

Yours faithfully,
Abhishek Kumar, Ranchi

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