Editorial 1 / Melting ice
Editorial 2 / Monopoly pranks
Diplomacy / Missing in history
The caged dragon
Document / Details of an inaction plan
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / MELTING ICE 
 
 
 
 
The visit of the Indian external affairs minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, to China has done much to consolidate bilateral relations. Even the usually reticent official Chinese spokesperson stated that the visit of Mr Singh had significantly enhanced mutual trust and understanding between the two countries. The common threat from international terrorism was clearly on top of the agenda. India and China have agreed to hold a regular dialogue on terrorism and expand cooperation in countering this common threat. Beijing has, in the past, been hesitant about cooperating with India in the fight against terrorism, given its close relationship with Islamabad, but it now seems willing to project a united front with New Delhi on this critical issue. No less significantly were the decisions taken during Mr Singh’s visit on measures to resolve the border dispute. A clear timeframe has been set for exchanging maps on the western and eastern sectors of the disputed border. It may be recalled that the two sides have already completed the exchange of maps on the middle sector. This exchange of maps will help demarcate the line of actual control on the border that separates India and China and which has remained a deeply contentious issue. This, of course, will not mean a settlement of the border dispute, which admittedly is more complex, but merely an agreement on actual positions occupied by the two sides on the ground. However, this should ensure “peace and tranquillity” on the border until the time that both sides are ready for a final settlement.

Economic cooperation is an area of tremendous potential, and the beginning of direct flights between Beijing and New Delhi brought this home. The first flight carried Mr Singh and his delegation. Both sides agreed to activate the joint economic group, to “aggressively pursue” the full potential of bilateral economic relations. India and China have decided that by the time of the visit of the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to Beijing at the end of the year, there should be substantial advancement on the economic front. The warming of bilateral ties cannot, however, hide the differences over a number of critical issues. New Delhi’s most serious concern remains Beijing’s disturbing record of transfer of arms and nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan. A healthier and firmer Sino-Indian relationship, it is clear, can only be built if both countries do not shy away from addressing the issues that have derailed ties time and again. Fortunately, the meeting between Mr Singh and Mr Zhu Rongji indicates that China has introspected and come to an understanding that it is vital to forge closer ties with New Delhi. The time has now come to translate that understanding into a stronger bond.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / MONOPOLY PRANKS 
 
 
 
 
Monopolies and administered prices are economic facts; they are also products of a particular mindset which in India refuses to die. From April 1, a well-established monopoly in India was dismantled and the government abandoned the old system of administered prices in the petroleum sector. But these changes have not yet ushered in, as they should have, a new age in the respective areas. The old order persists in the interstices of the new, holding the latter back. After announcing the departure from administered prices, the petroleum minister, Mr Ram Naik, without a blush, instructed the oil companies not to hike prices. What the minister giveth with his right hand, he taketh away with his left. Mr Naik’s announcement has thus left the prices of petroleum products unaffected. The argument the minister advanced is that he wanted to soften the impact of the transition. What he overlooked was the simple fact that this transition has been in the offing for half a decade. There are no reasons to stop the change from becoming actual. Mr Naik has asked the oil companies to “absorb volatilities in the international market’’. This stops the oil companies from acting as independent economic agents driven by the desire to post profits. The arms of the oil companies are being twisted to keep prices at current levels and to absorb the losses. Thus in the petroleum sector, India no longer has administered prices but frozen prices. The bottle looks new but inside it are the dregs of a very bad wine.

Videsh Sanchar Nigam’s loss of its monopoly over international long distance calls is not without certain contradictions. The immediate effect of this will be a lowering of call charges as has happened in the national long distance sector. A cut in rates by 20 per cent has already been announced. They can and should fall even further with competition and its inevitable attendant, a price war. But this does not appear to be immediately on the cards. The monopoly has gone but no alternative gateway is still available. This makes the dismantling of the monopoly somewhat meaningless. The reason for this is simple. Bureaucratic inefficiency has prevented the granting of access codes to private operators. The access code is crucial, for this will enable customers to reach licensed private operators. Two private operators, Bharti Telesonic and Reliance Communications, have been granted licenses. But they are still not ready to provide services. India thus hovers on the threshold of a new age in telecommunications. It needs a push to go over. This is also true for internet telephony which also became official. Too many restrictions are tying this down. The huge gaps between policy and reality might make one wonder if the government pulled of a prank on April fool’s day.

   

 
 
DIPLOMACY / MISSING IN HISTORY 
 
 
BY K.P. NAYAR
 
 
A diplomat by definition is one who upholds the interests of his country. It is a reflection of how Indians revere intellectual excellence and integrity that they expect men like John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert D. Blackwill to do this with greater sophistication than others in the profession. It was a bitter disappointment, therefore, for this columnist to see Blackwill — who towers above every other American ambassador to India in recent memory — pouting officialese in a letter which appeared on this page on March 11.

I would like to believe that in writing this letter, the ambassador was not doing a diplomatic hatchet job, which is required of him. It remains my conviction that the letter would not have been signed by Blackwill had he not been away from the United States of America since July last year — when he went to India — and, therefore, somewhat out of touch with his country except through cables from the state department and his infrequent visits to Washington lasting no more than a few days.

What riled the ambassador and prompted his letter was an article in these columns on March 6 about the killings in Godhra and its aftermath in Gujarat. That article carried the following paragraph: “The fact is that India has escaped any significant negative international fallout of these events primarily because, after September 11, it is no longer abhorrent in America to kill Muslims. No one will acknowledge it — least of all the officialdom — but not only in the US, but in many parts of the Western world, it will even be said in private, post-September 11, that such killings are desirable — or inevitable.”

Blackwill wrote in his missive that “hate crime goes against the very fabric of American society” and reasoned: “I hope you will agree that your article was mistaken in its portrayal of American attitudes towards minority communities.”

I wish the ambassador would have the courage of conviction to look Zahid Ghani in the eye and tell him this. Ghani is a Pakistani journalist in New York, accredited to the United Nations, who has been covering the world body for the last seven years. Four days after terrorists struck at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, Ghani’s brother-in-law, Waqar Hasan, was shot and killed in his grocery store in Dallas, Texas. His only crime was that he looked south Asian. The lives of Hasan’s wife and four young daughters are today in a shambles.

During the recent visit of General Pervez Musharraf to Washington, when ties between the US and Pakistan were convulsed by the fate of the journalist, Daniel Pearl, Ghani sent out a note to fellow journalists in the US, which made many of his south Asian colleagues in America sit up. In Pakistan, the entire country was being turned upside down in the search for the American journalist. But in Texas, the murder of the Pakistani was little more than a number for those who compile federally mandated statistics of hate crimes. Or maybe Blackwill should talk to Hasnain, a 20-year-old Pakistani, whose story is now well known within the south Asian community on the east coast of America.

Hasnain, whose relatives have narrated his horror story to the media on the condition that his last name be withheld, was returning to his university in New York on September 18 after visiting relatives in Houston, Texas. Because it is a humiliating experience for south Asians, Arabs and other non-Caucasians in general to use airports in America since September 11, Hasnain took a Greyhound bus from Houston bound for New York.

En route, his bus was raided and Hasnain was taken to the Stone County Correctional Facility in Wiggins, Mississippi, on a charge that his immigration papers were not in order. If anyone were to allege that the young Pakistani student was tortured in custody, Blackwill and many others would rise up in righteous indignation to swear that torture is never practised in custody in the US. That is something that happens in the third world alone. The experience of Arabs, south Asians and others since September 11 has shown that torture in custody is far, far more sophisticated than anything that authorities in the third world can think of. Here is what happened to Hasnain.

At the detention centre in Mississippi, Hasnain was allowed to phone his aunt. As he was approaching the payphone, a white inmate of the jail, described by the Pakistani as huge, went up to him and punched him so hard that the blow broke his front tooth. Two other white men joined in the attack, but somehow Hasnain managed to reach an emergency bell and pressed the button.

A lady’s voice answered his plea for help, but Hasnain says it was 25 minutes before help came, during which time the beating continued. And even when the guards arrived, they refused to interfere or stop the violence, according to Hasnain’s account. The Pakistani youth asked to be taken to a hospital, but instead, he was sent to the prison nurse, who gave him an ice pack and two pain-relieving tablets. To avoid further beatings, Hasnain was sent into solitary confinement. When he met his aunt a week later, Hasnain still could not hear out of his left ear or eat any solid food.

Limitations of space do not allow for the narration of the tragic story of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old gas station attendant in Mesa, Arizona, who was shot dead by a still-unrepentant white man, only because Sodhi had a beard and wore a Sikh turban. Or of Sukhwant Singh, a Sikh priest in Cleveland, Ohio, who barely escaped with his life after burning bottles filled with petrol were thrown into his bedroom at the Guru Gobind Singh gurudwara.

Hate crimes are raging across America, prompting civil rights campaigners to bemoan that “we” (Americans) appear as barbaric as the ones we are trying to fight in the name of civilized values. In his letter, Blackwill brought to bear the moral force of the Washington archbishop’s plea against hate crimes. I recall a memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral on September 17, where it was said: “As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.”

In his letter, Blackwill quoted lofty words from the president, George W Bush: “America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”

But the question is: is it in the president’s power to do anything about hate crimes? Barbara Lee, the Democratic congresswoman from California of African-American descent, was the only legislator to vote on September 14 against a resolution by which the US congress ceded its constitutional authority to Bush in going to war against terrorists. In response, she received over 2,000 death threats and now has round-the-clock protection. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for apostasy. Even Rushdie did not receive as many death threats from Iranians or Muslims around the world as the California congresswoman did from her compatriots. Yet the US ambassador insists that “hate crime goes against the very fabric of American society”.

Lest it should be assumed that hate crimes in the US against south Asians — and others — are a reaction to the horrible terrorists attacks on September 11, Blackwill should travel to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on his next visit home. There, at the India Grocers store, he would be gladly directed to Sandip Patel, 25, the former manager of the store, who is paralyzed from the neck down. In April 2000, he was shot at in a hate crime. Anil Thakur, 31, a customer who happened to be in the shop died in the attack. In September 1998, Rishi Maharaj, a teenager on his way home in Ozone Park, New York, was beaten to death by three men with baseball bats. Why? There were too many Indians moving into that neighbourhood and the assailants wanted them out of the area. The list is long and could fill a book, if ever one is written on this subject.

Indians are generally less familiar with American history than with the history of England, Europe or Asia. Unlike them, Blackwill ought to know that ethnic and religious hatred is built into America’s history. Few Indians have heard of Bhagat Singh Thind. He was one of 67 Indians who had been granted American citizenship in 17 states between 1905 and 1923 because the US naturalization law of 1790 provided for citizenship to “free white persons”. Since Indians were considered Aryans and a branch of the Caucasian family, they were taken as eligible for US citizenship.

The law was subsequently changed and Thind took the issue to the US supreme court. The learned justices, in their wisdom, decided that it was not just enough for Thind to be Caucasian, he should also have been “white”. Following the judgement in the US versus Bhagat Singh Thind case, the US citizenship of all the 67 Indians was revoked. At least one Indian- American committed suicide. But even before the law took its perverse course, it was being taken into their own hands by white men. It is on record that in 1907, in an act of blatant racial hatred, 700 Indians, mostly Punjabis, were uprooted from their settlement in Bellingham, Washington state, and driven into Canada. The exercise was repeated in Everett in the same state and elsewhere later.

I shall not dwell on how America treated its native Indians, black slaves or the Japanese who were thrown into concentration camps after the attack on Pearl Harbour because these travesties of justice and human rights are too well known. But one little known episode from history bears narration.

Some military historians have recorded that as the tide of World War II changed for the Allies in Europe, it was the brave Japanese- American fighters of the segregated 442nd Nisei regimental combat team of the US army who broke through the German “Gothic Line” in Italy to reach the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau and bring hope for its survivors. But the Americans hastily replaced the Japanese with white soldiers before the liberation of Dachau was announced to the world. Even to this day, Japanese-Americans have a military-sounding phrase for their role in Dachau: missing in history or MiH.

   

 
 
THE CAGED DRAGON 
 
 
BY M.L. SONDHI AND ASHOK KAPUR
 
 
When the former Soviet Union collapsed, China appeared to be in the driver’s seat in Asia. Not only was it the most powerful communist state in the world, but it also had a privileged status as Bill Clinton’s strategic partner in Asia and as a permanent member of the United Nations security council. Japan’s economy was in a crisis, India was tied up with Pakistan and debilitated by its Nehruvian legacy, while China’s reforms were attracting attention and foreign investment from American, European and south Asian companies. China’s military modernization programme was moving ahead slowly but surely, stimulated by its ambition to be the foremost power in Asia.

In the circumstances, Beijing’s leaders could comfortably talk about China as a supporter of peace. Its “independent policy of peace” was frequently advertised, but this was misleading. China’s aim was to instill complacency in its neighbours from east Asia to south and southeast Asia and central Asia while it continued with the modernization of its military.

Two international events shattered Beijing’s smug overconfidence. The Indian nuclear and missile tests of 1998 and the defence minister’s declaration that China was India’s potential enemy number one signalled that the nuclear proliferation problem had not been laid to rest in Asia and that India could not be contained by international pressures.

Then came signs of a North Korean interest in a space launch, and Japanese defence preparations to improve its satellite communications technology, together with the heightened defence consciousness in the Japanese political establishment following North Korea’s missile tests. Although Tokyo was reacting to North Korea, it was also conscious of the need to prepare for rivalry with China in the economic, military and the diplomatic spheres and to help protect the sea routes from the Sea of Japan to the Persian Gulf.

India’s nuclear tests showed that Beijing’s policy of public detachment and private contempt of India was no longer sustainable. China was learning the hard way that its neighbours were not being lulled by its peace diplomacy. It was being engaged militarily, by the developments in its neighbourhood. The power game was intensifying even though the Cold War was over. Beijing started to miss the predictability of the Cold War’s triangular game between the Soviet Union, China and the United States of America. The end of the Cold War was meant to transform the triangular game into a bilateral US-China contest in the Nineties. Instead, international events were making diplomacy and strategy a many-cornered game with players like the US, Russia, India, Japan, and of course, Taiwan.

September 11, 2001 was the other event which helped change China’s belief that it was the natural leader of Asia and brought about an awareness that the Asian strategic neighbourhood was quite complex. Beijing’s carefully laid plans to project its influence internationally, especially in Asia and the Persian Gulf region, were being undermined. Samuel Huntington in Clash of Civilisations points to Beijing’s promotion of a “Confucian-Islamic” linkage. China developed a pattern of targeted and strategic military sales including missiles and nuclear components to Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, Iran and Syria.

Pakistan was China’s strategic gateway to the Muslim nations in the Indian Ocean region. Myanmar, which is primarily Buddhist, was the other bridge between China and south and southeast Asia. Beijing’s game-plan, thus, had a strategic and a religious aspect. Its strategy was to slowly and subtly undermine American, Russian and Indian political and military authority in the region with its military, economic and diplomatic activities. Also, by creating an Islamic-Chinese nexus, it would focus attention on the clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, Russia and Islam and the Hindus and Islam. To succeed in this plan however, Beijing’s leaders required a sub-critical regional environment as well as ample time to complete their military modernization and diplomatic initiatives.

China’s plans were first dented by the Indian tests and the new activism of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Even more significant, Beijing’s capacity to act was hampered by the US’s sharp response to the September 11 terrorist attack and by its strengthened military presence in the region. The centre of gravity of international conflict had shifted to central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean regions. The US had a network of bases and allies from Georgia to central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Arabian Sea as well as its old network in Japan, Taiwan, the Pacific islands, Australia and southeast Asia. India was a new ally. For Beijing, this distribution of military power and the emerging pattern of relationships were confining. Its diplomatic and military strategy was in distress.

The key to an understanding of Beijing’s strategic dilemma lies in the role and functions of China’s armed forces. The Chinese army has a number of missions: to protect the authority of the Communist Party, to guard the borders, to ensure internal security, to guard the maritime zones including the South China Seas where there are oil and territorial disputes, and to be alert in areas where the US navy is powerful.

China also needs to show that it has the capacity to take Taiwan by force, as well as maintain its authority in Tibet and other troubled frontier zones. Finally, China’s economic and military interests and its international prestige require that it be able to project military and economic power outside its borders, especially in the sea routes. However, the Chinese armed forces cannot handle all these tasks at present.

Three trends now negatively affect Beijing’s strategic calculations. One, Japan’s possible economic collapse, which would undermine China’s growth rate and its economic reforms. Two, internal unrest, in part the result of growing unemployment because of economic reforms. The growth of religion (Falun Gong, whose followers outnumber the members of the Communist Party) and democratic forces also puts pressure on communist rule. Regional economic advancement creates barriers between various regions in China. Further, the long distances and economic differences weaken central political authority.

Finally, the US’s increased power and influence in Asia and its network of alliances inhibit China’s ability to project power outside its borders. The US’s anti-terrorism campaign against the al Qaida’s international network — from Afghanistan to the Philippines — has also blocked off China’s ambitions.

Thus China is faced with a military dilemma. Should it emphasize internal security or project its regional power capabilities in a increasingly militarized and crowded strategic neighbourhood? Beijing’s political class faces yet another problem. If a crisis in the Japanese economy disrupts China’s economy more than it did during the 1997 Asian crisis, should Beijing emphasize economic security or military security?

Indian strategic interests are also tied to China’s policies. The build-up of China’s military and nuclear presence in Tibet is being buttressed by the development of a new rail network in Tibet which can be linked with other major transport links in the region. This is a serious challenge to Indian security interests. A new strategic alignment is needed between the Tibetan government-in-exile, India and the US, which is an expression of the George W. Bush administration’s new orientation towards India. Washington’s India and Tibet policies do not depend on its China policy at present.

After September 11 and December 13, India too has reviewed its threat perceptions because the centre of gravity of international conflict has shifted into its immediate neighbourhood in the northwest and the north, and security of the sea route in the Indian Ocean has gained sharper emphasis.

India needs both land as well as a sea orientation in its strategic planning. Along with other areas, Tibet must be a strategic focus of India’s policy because of China’s integrated military and diplomatic activity in the region from central Asia to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Kashmir and India’s northeastern states. The presence of old Maoist maps revealing Chinese ambitions in the Himalayan areas, as well as Pakistan’s gift of a part of Kashmir to China also reveal Beijing’s attempt to maintain a foothold in Kashmir affairs.

The international community is coming to realize that the Tibetan problem is not so much about human rights, religious freedoms and development aid as it is about finding a strategic understanding of Tibet’s importance in the wider scheme of China’s military planning. Steps should now be taken to show Beijing that its professions of peace should be based on peaceful internal change within China, and that any projection of its military capabilities in India’s north will be met with counter-measures.

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

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / DETAILS OF AN INACTION PLAN 
 
 
 
 
Another pamphlet that is circulating is seemingly signed by a member of the minority community and promotes abuse of Hindu women, among other things, a sure way to make young Hindu men see red. Another despicable strategy of the perpetrators of the violence is the use of psychological terrorism. An old Muslim man was shown the head of his beheaded son on a tray before he himself was brutally slain. Another woman surrounded by a mob was made to witness the following scene: her son who had climbed up a tree to escape the mob was brought down, his fingers cut off, and the rest of his body similarly dismembered, before the woman herself was killed.

What we would like to see:

One, a special court of enquiry on the lines of a war crimes tribunal by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court. This court of enquiry should, within a time bound period, investigate the crimes against humanity committed on the minorities and should have the power to punish... Two, a special committee to be instituted to investigate the negative and dysfunctional role of the police, the other arms of the executive and the media. Three, NHRC should ask the police commissioner for the video clippings from the local television channels and also for details of the combing operations, and break up of persons arrested and/or under preventive detention. The video channels also would expose the role of local councillors including the mayor, and the ring leaders of the arson and loot who were either from the ruling party or closely associated to it. Four, prevent the misuse of POTO and selective use of other legal sections. Five, immediately extend relief and implement rehabilitation measures to all affected so that people can start leading regular, normal lives to the extent possible under the circumstances. No amount of talk of healing can take place without this basic restoration of roti, kapda and makaan.

Post-Godhra events at Roshannagar-Ashapuri, Navayard, Vadodara...The following is the preliminary report of the fact-finding committee set up by PUCL and Vadodara Shanti Abhiyan, Vadodara...

Though our work is yet to be completed, we deemed it important to submit the following in order to provide a broad overview of the post-Godhra situation, especially since tension still prevails in the state. Our enquiry was limited to the Roshannagar-Ashapuri as well as Navayard Cabin D areas and is based on detailed interviews with the residents of these areas. Roshannagar is mostly a settlement of Uttar Pradesh migrant labourers, some of whom ply petty businesses as well. Ashapuri is a Dalit bustee, around a quarter of them being Christian. Navayard Cabin D area has a majority of Muslims, most of them employed by the Western Railways. The whole area is populated by the lower and lower-middle classes and has poor standards of education.

Detailed outline of events of February 27, 2002: first evening meeting of 86 Village Samiti at Amarnagar; anxiety among residents of Roshannagar. second evening meeting of 86 Village Samiti...general consternation ... among residents of Roshannagar, especially since little groups of 10-20 trickled back from Amarnagar; a small mob, mostly locals, gathers and pelt stones; loudspeakers used by the madrasah to warn of impending attack, and urge women and children to secure themselves and men to group on terraces; ...police complaint lodged against the use of loudspeakers; police arrive in 4 jeeps with around 4-5 policemen in each, apart from a police van, and are led to Maulana Mohammed Yusuf by Leelaben; madrasah searched, books torn and thrown in the gutter, loudspeakers confiscated; 21 arrests, maulana included, are made; arrested men loaded into the empty police van and taken to Fatehgunj police station; police torture in lock-up. Thursday’s arrestees taken to Circuit House, and then to Central Jail without disembarking from the police van; lodged in Central Jail till 12:00 pm, March 5, subsequently released on bail.

At Roshannagar-Ashapuri: around 9:30 in the morning 2 armed mobs (total strength of about 1,000), and accompanied by police, surrounded the right flank of Roshannagar; houses, shops, larris, tempo vans...motorbikes burnt/ damaged and chemicals spilled; women and children fled to Ramwadi and Kalyannagar;...shops and houses looted.

At Navayard Cabin D Area: about 1.30 pm mob arrives in 3 luxury buses; people from local neighbourhood also join in, so much that a mob of 2,000 is collected in the open space next to police constable Abdul Majid Malik’s house... The well-armed mob tries to move towards Roshannagar...; hearing the noise, men, about 25 in strength, rush out from the mosque; 4 Police jeeps present at the scene,...police fire at the Muslim group.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Not everything official about it

Unofficial line Sir — The morals of the Bengali babu, especially those of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) member of parliament, Biplab Dasgupta, seems to have been deeply hurt by the doings of Satyabrata Mukherjee, the Bharatiya Janata Party minister of state for chemicals and fertilizers (“Sex call slur on BJP minister”, March 27). Dasgupta accuses Mukherjee of having made international sex calls from his official telephone. While Dasgupta may be right in implying that Mukherjee cannot use public money for private entertainment, his other assumptions are risible. He has expressed surprise that a minister could indulge in sex calls at a time when people have no food or money. Does that mean it would be okay for the minister to use government money for international sex calls just in case the country was prosperous? The fact that the calls were made to hotlines is eating up Dasgupta. He should realize that the focus needs to be only on the misuse of public money and not on Mukherjee’s sexual peccadilloes.

Yours faithfully,
Ayan Sinha, Jamshedpur

Thumbs down

Sir — The third joint session of Parliament, which was held to pass the prevention of terrorism ordinance, amply demonstrated the immaturity and lack of political vision of the opposition, particularly its leader, Sonia Gandhi (“Atal brawl dwarfs bill battle”, March 27). Much valuable time of the house was lost in the mudslinging that ensued between Sonia Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Irrelevant references were made to what had happened and was happening in the United States of America, which only exposed the hollowness of the opposition’s tirade against POTO.

Members of parliament should concentrate on the debate before the houses instead of trying to score brownie points over each other. The opposition must also realize the significance of POTO to the common man. Terrorist groups and their activities are multiplying everyday in India, endangering daily existence. So much so that even normal train and bus journeys have become security risks. A proper application of POTO will be the most potent instrument of action against all such terrorist threats.

Yours faithfully,
P. Misra, Calcutta

Sir — The March 28 extract from the People’s Union for Civil Liberties report on the Gujarat violence clearly demonstrates the biased attitude of police officials (“Those who unkeep law and order”). I believe that POTO will only help strengthen these biases. The police can now openly victimize innocent members of the minority community and the treatment would be legally justified, thanks to POTO which has a number of clauses open to misuse. By passing POTO all that politicians have managed to do is provide the police with another weapon besides their arms.

Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Asif Iqbal, Calcutta

Sir — By resorting to a joint session of Parliament to push through POTO, the Bharatiya Janata Party has finally dropped all pretences of being democratic. In fact, it has also negated the system of a bicameral legislature. For of what use is a Rajya Sabha that can be bypassed so easily?

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha,Shillong

Sir — The BJP-led government has finally managed to get Parliament to pass the controversial POTO. The government has also shown much alertness in the arrest of Yasin Malik, head of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (“Malik dragged out of meet”, March 26). But it should realize that the way it deals with Malik’s case will indicate to the population whether POTO might be misused or not.

While on the one hand, POTO will definitely provide the police with an excuse to be high-handed during arrests, on the other, it might help speed up the process of law following arrests. One must also agree with the prime minister that if the BJP could support the Congress when it passed the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, although it proved ineffective, the National Democratic Alliance should be given a similar opportunity by the opposition.

Yours faithfully,
Sumant Poddar, Calcutta

Sir — Even as Atal Bihari Vajpayee was assuring Parliament that POTO would not be misused, a posse of heavily armed policemen raided a press conference being addressed by Yasin Malik in Srinagar and forcibly arrested him. The charge? A woman carrying $100,000 had just been arrested and the money was supposedly meant for Malik. If the police are going to use such flimsy excuses for arresting people, need one say more about what use POTO is going to serve?

Yours faithfully,
N. Narasimhan, Bangalore

Sir — While watching the live telecast of the joint session of Parliament, I was shocked by Sonia Gandhi’s speech. Her words and her body language showed her arrogance and ignorance of parliamentary behaviour.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — The main grudge of the opposition against POTO seems to be its not having been taken into confidence by the NDA on the matter. Its penchant for vote bank politics was also evident from the fact that it continued to focus on its fear that it might be misused against the religious minorities, that is Muslims. The former Lok Sabha speaker, P.A. Sangma, rightly pointed out that the justification for opposing a law simply on the pretext that it might be misused is ridiculous.

As Sangma noted, there are few laws and acts that have not been misused. The Maintenance of Internal Security Act and the TADA for example. But that is not sufficient reason why a new law should not be implemented. Sonia Gandhi should also realize the contradictory signals India is sending abroad. While we talk of containing terrorism in the global arena, we are afraid to pass a stringent law against terrorism within the country.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Travel wise

Sir — The Indian Railways’ concession to senior citizens has turned out to be a joke since now senior citizens who hold concessionary tickets but do not have with them proof of age are penalized more heavily than a ticketless traveller. We were recently travelling by Coromandel Express when four young officers of the railways’ anti-fraud squad emerged and demanded our tickets. Since we were not carrying the requisite documents, we were asked to pay up an astronomical sum. This included the money paid for the ticket, including the reservation fee and superfast charge. In our case it was Rs 1,894. The tickets were forfeited, which made us ticketless travellers, and we were charged afresh the full fare for the journey, including the other charges. We were also asked to pay a heavy penalty for ticketless travel. In all we had to part with Rs 5,950 each for the journey which would have cost us 1,894 each. My point is that the railways, under the circumstances, should have charged us the amount of the concession (Rs 712) and this should have been subject to refund afterwards on the production of proof. What is more, the new regulation should have been extensively publicized beforehand.

Yours faithfully,
A. Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — I travelled by the Dadar Express on March 13 and 20. We had to shelve out Rs 27 each for the meal which was of mediocre quality. On my return journey on March 20, we were charged Rs 30 for the vegetarian meal. The same preparation was served at all the three meal hours.Most shocking was that at Barauni the pantry attendants left and passengers were deprived of food for the rest of the 24 hour long journey.

Yours faithfully,
Suman Sengupta, Kalyanpur

Sir — According to “Travel now to tunes on tracks” (Jan 21), the railways have decided to introduce piped music in local trains. This is a welcome move. A journey in the overcrowded trains is nothing short of a nightmare. Bengali songs, especially Rabindrasangeet, will go a long way in soothing harried commuters and lessen the strain of the journey. Installing a public address system in the compartments will also be helpful to less regular passengers as they will get to hear the names of approaching stations.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

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