Editorial 1/ Getting there
Editorial 2/ Keeping watch
To market, more markets
Fifth Column/ That’s no way to treat a bill
Elders in their parlour
Document/ Those who aid and abet mob fury
Letters to the editor

Even cynics will admit that the peace process in Sri Lanka is slowly but surely moving forward. The government of Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe has, against all odds and expectations, demonstrated imagination and conviction in ensuring that the process is not derailed. It remains to be seen, however, if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam too are capable of demonstrating the courage that could bring peace to the island state after 17 years of a bloody civil war, in which more than 60,000 people have been killed. Consider some of the recent decisions which Colombo has made to ensure that the LTTE does not have any excuse to abandon the incipient peace process.

For one, the Sri Lankan government has facilitated the visit of Mr Anton Balasingham, the chief political strategist of the Tamil Tigers, to the Jaffna peninsula. The LTTE chief, Mr Velupillai Prabakaran, had made the return of Mr Balasingham from London, where he had been undergoing medical treatment, as one of the necessary conditions to be fulfilled before the Tigers could consider participating in any talks. For the other, the government had left the choice for the venue of the talks to the LTTE. The Tigers were keen to have the talks in India and preferably in Tamil Nadu. After New Delhi’s unwillingness to host these talks, Thailand has been identified as the venue for the talks by the LTTE and this has been accepted by Colombo. The LTTE is said to have chosen Thailand because its top leadership is familiar with the country, having spent extended lengths of time there. In addition, there are signals that the Wickremesinghe government may, in the next few weeks, formally remove the existing ban on the LTTE to help generate even further momentum for the talks. It may also be recalled that it is more than three months since Colombo removed the economic embargos on territories controlled by the LTTE. Colombo has also fulfilled, almost in entirety, its part of the landmark ceasefire agreement which was signed by Mr Wickremesinghe and Mr Prabakaran, including allowing the re-entry of unarmed LTTE cadre into government controlled areas, of the north and east of the island state, for the purposes of political work. While the LTTE has also not actively worked to derail the process, there have been some reports of violations of the ceasefire agreement. Hopefully, these were aberrations and Mr Prabakaran and the rest of the LTTE leadership is sincerely committed to the process. The real test of the LTTE’s intentions will, however, come during the talks, and of its willingness to accept a political resolution within a united Sri Lanka. New Delhi has so far followed a prudent policy. Although it is clear that India has been working behind the scenes to secure the peace process, it has wisely resisted the temptation of an active public involvement.


Respectability will soon take on a sinister new meaning in Calcutta. Every landlord in the city will be punished if he fails to provide “information” about his new tenants to the police. He will have to fill in a “residential tenants’ profile form”, while the tenant has to submit a supplementary form, presumably with more personal information. This sudden vigilance is the result of the spate of abductions in the city, and the American Center attack. The police have suddenly woken up to the fact that their intelligence and information network is not quite up to the mark. They have also worked out that criminals and terrorists in the city tend to live in respectable neighbourhoods, and such information will help in curbing this trend. However, the police commissioner assures Calcuttans that “respectable” people with a “good background” need not worry. The circle of information widens out from the homes and everyday lives of ordinary people to the highest levels of the Indian state. This is a Central government directive, being implemented by the state government through the police. This has been going on in Delhi and Mumbai for a while now — with no noticeable improvement in law and order, it might be added.

The gathering of private information for the use of the state is always a profoundly dubious mode of vigilance. In this case, the intrusion of the state into civil society becomes even more objectionable because of the categories invoked in the police circulars. “Profile”, “background” and “reputation” are the vaguest of terms, and could easily slip into the most dangerous doublespeak. Moreover, the commissioner’s idea of inspiring the “local clubs” to become the “eyes and ears of the police” is shocking in its unthinking incitement of the people to take law into their own hands. Such incitement directly manipulates and empowers individuals and communities to organize the sort of “vigilance” which is now part of the everyday reality in Gujarat. This regulation quietly puts in place a mechanism which undermines the very basis of civil society. It is being imposed on the public at a particularly volatile moment in the history of Indian civil society. Large sections of the citizenry in cities and towns seem to have completely lost trust in the state’s ability or intention to protect them from the systematic brutality which could suddenly erupt within the fabric of “normal” urban life. Every citizen committed to the idea of civilized coexistence should be wary of providing personal information to a government whose home minister publicly advises journalists to distort the truth if it happens to offend the world with its ugliness.


It is generally agreed that governments in India have shown little ability to own and control companies. They interfere often and do not let management function autonomously. There are multiple objectives, many times in conflict with one another. Efficiency and profit do not rule them. Employment generation, developing backward areas, industrial development and so on are given more importance. This inability of the government to allow its enterprises to function autonomously has been behind the argument for privatization.

Other services from governments such as health, education, water supply, solid waste management and so on are also very unsatisfactorily delivered. There is growing opinion that even such services should be handled by the private sector and not by the government. The drive to get the government out of business has extended itself also to the delivery of many services. In the United Kingdom for example, even prison services have been handed over in many cases to private parties. The withdrawal of the government is expected to ensure that the services are delivered more efficiently, waste and corruption minimized, customers pay for services and that the quality of services improves. Is general withdrawal of government from ownership of industries and the handing over of many public services to the private sector likely to improve matters in India?

Private ownership, control and management are to substitute for government ownership in public enterprises. Disinvestment is the mantra for governments, not only because many governments want to realize the cash value of these assets to reduce deficits in budgets, but also because these enterprises are not functioning at their best. Government ownership has led to politicians and bureaucrats using for ideological or personal benefit the largesse at their disposal in these enterprises.

The limited experience of privatization in India bears out the expectation that the enterprises will be run more efficiently. Modern Bread, Bharat Aluminium Company, and others demonstrate this. The opening up of telecommunications to private investment and the privatization of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, soon to be followed by other government telecom investments, have benefited the consumer immensely, led to an explosion in the ownership of telephones and expansion of the internet. Ports that have moved partly out of government ownership also show significant improvement in efficiency and improvement in customer satisfaction.

Central and state governments own over 95 per cent of electricity assets in India. Privatization has long been advocated as a panacea for the shortages, losses and poor service quality in the electricity sector. The model advocated is one of corporatizing generation, transmission and distribution, dividing them into smaller and more easily manageable units, and creating a new entity — “Transco” — to buy the electricity from the generating company and sell it to the distribution company. This is called the “single buyer” model. It creates a new private monopoly in place of the government monopoly. It is unlikely to improve the situation for the consumer. It is not merely government ownership but monopoly at any point and the consequent absence of choice for the consumers which has to be corrected. The presence of markets, traders and choice has to grow along with the elimination of government ownership and the consequent lack of incentives to improve efficiency and produce profits.

As far as other public services are concerned, the quality of these services as delivered by governments is poor. Hospitals are poorly maintained. There is excessive employment of low level staff and an enormous workload on doctors and nurses. There is overcrowding and poor maintenance of all facilities. In rural India, the situation is worse. Patients have to wait for days to be treated because of the non-availability of doctors, equipment and medicines. Poor patients on daily wages, who cannot afford any loss of wages, increasingly prefer to visit private quacks who prescribe strong medicines and enable the patients not to lose working time. Schools are understaffed, discipline imposed on teachers is lax, equipment and maintenance of buildings, where they exist at all, are poor and wages are low and delayed in payment. To a great extent the situation is similar in government-owned institutions of higher education.

In the case of the water supply, pipelines are poorly maintained and there is considerable wastage and theft of water from the pipelines. Water contamination is common. Only a fraction of the water supplied is billed and only a fraction of that is paid for. Garbage collection in the cities is spasmodic. The collection staff is undisciplined. Garbage, when collected, is dumped in a haphazard way. Considerable improvement is required in the quality of all these services. Is private delivery the answer?

Governments in many other countries do perform these functions efficiently. France for example has a thriving and acclaimed public sector in electricity, telecommunications, aviation and a host of other industries. Public services are mostly delivered by government and local authorities. The difference in India appears to be the lack of accountability of elected representatives to honestly monitor the delivery, the lack of involvement of the citizenry, the perception that such services are the responsibility of governments to give free, and the inability under government ownership to ensure that government employees perform their duties.

The inability of large sections of the population to pay for these services is the most important and exceptional part of the problem. When many people are very poor, governments have to subsidize the services delivered to them or even give them free.

The poor financial state of governments has meant that there are cross-subsidies and those that are able to pay are made to subsidize those who cannot. Cross-subsidies become untenable because the subsidies tend over time to spiral out of control because there are no strict limits on them. The well-heeled consumer resists paying and looks for cheaper alternatives. As he moves away from the government service, the government provider becomes financially unviable.

We cannot look to mere privatization to improve matters. Private owners for whom the overriding objective is to make profits through improving efficiency and growth better manage public enterprises. But this must be in competitive situations. There must be markets, traders who match supply to demand, and competitive suppliers who can give the consumer a choice and act to discipline one another. In social services, there must be a clearly stated policy on subsidies. Data must be available as to how much below cost is the service that is being provided to each group. The quality and extent of a service must be related to the subsidized nature of the service.

There must be independent agencies to monitor that competition actually exists in the case of enterprises and that the extent of subsidy is capped. At the same time, we must move away from cross-subsidies to charging full costs to all consumers, with the government reimbursing the suppliers for supplies made below cost, and special taxes on the well-to-do in order to raise government revenues for meeting those costs. Independent monitoring agencies that hear and settle grievances in public are an essential part of satisfactory service delivery. Decentralizing the control over services so that local communities take responsibility for the delivery of health, education, water supply, sanitation and so on is the way to achieve local accountability.

It is a myth to think that the government can withdraw from many of its traditional functions. We must make the government more accountable. Where possible, we must create competitive conditions and markets to improve the delivery to the consumer.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]


The Trinamool Congress was the lone National Democratic Alliance member not to vote in favour of the prevention of terrorism bill at the joint session of Parliament on March 26. While the other NDA allies backed it, the Trinamool Congress members of parliament abstained under orders from Mamata Banerjee. The party’s opposition to the bill was apparently based on two premises. One, Banerjee claimed that the bill would be used against her party by the Left Front government in West Bengal. Two, she felt that if her party supported the bill at the Centre, then it would not be able to oppose the proposed prevention of organized crime legislation in West Bengal.

It must be admitted though that Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress have shown unusual consistency in opposing the anti-terror bill. It abstained from voting when the bill was first moved in the Lok Sabha. The lone Trinamool Congress-supported independent Rajya Sabha member also did not vote for the bill when it was defeated in that house on March 20. The suspended Trinamool Congress MP, Ajit Panja, however, cast his ballot in favour of the bill at the joint session of Parliament.

Banerjee has said that her party objected to the way the bill was introduced and the powers it conferred on the police. Such a law should be used only by a specific agency formed for the purpose, similar to the Research and Analysis Wing or the Central Bureau of Intelligence.

Political compulsions

Interestingly, Banerjee has been vocally backing Atal Bihari Vajpayee of late, while openly criticizing some of his cabinet colleagues. The Trinamool Congress leader recently created a stir during the Lok Sabha debate on the budget by saying that the finance minister had protected the interests of a few businessmen at the cost of 100 crore people. At the same time, she lauded Vajpayee as a “wise statesman” and said the Ayodhya developments were a conspiracy to “weaken the prime minister”. Clearly, despite her refusal to vote for the bill Banerjee is in no mood to desert the NDA.

Though some senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders are annoyed at Banerjee’s statements on the anti-terror bill and the budget, the NDA convenor, George Fernandes, explained away the Trinamool Congress’s abstention at the joint session, by saying, “Whether right or wrong, the Trinamool Congress logic was that they cannot support it because of political compulsions in West Bengal.”

A section of the Trinamool Congress leadership, however, feels that Banerjee’s pressure tactics are proving counter-productive. The NDA has a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha even without the Trinamool Congress’s support and is thus under no compulsion to appease Banerjee.

State terror

But all Trinamool Congress MPs, save Panja, obeyed the party whip on the prevention of terrorism legislation.

Meanwhile, the Left Front government in West Bengal seems to have decided to go slow on the proposed crime bill. The chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, has given no hints of the bill’s being moved in the forthcoming monsoon session. He has repeatedly argued that the proposed prevention of crime law in West Bengal has nothing in common with the Central legislation. Bhattacharjee has also said that his government will not implement the Central anti-terror law in West Bengal even if it was cleared by Parliament.

However, civil liberties organizations in West Bengal have expressed their doubts about the new act since it has a provision for detention without trial. Experts also point out that there is at least one similarity between the NDA government and the left regime in Calcutta — they both agree that the ordinary laws of the land become inadequate while dealing with the crimes committed by terrorists and the mafia.

As of now, Banerjee, though losing ground in New Delhi, has reiterated her intention of making an issue of the anti-terror law by initiating a campaign against POCA as soon as it is introduced in the state assembly. Perhaps that is why Bhattacharjee is hesitant about introducing it in the monsoon session of the state assembly.


The transformation of the prevention of terrorism ordinance to the Prevention of Terrorism Act on March 26 is a significant signpost in India’s constitutional history for two important reasons. First, it is significant since Article 108 of the Constitution has been invoked for only the third time during the past 50 years to convene a joint session of Parliament to ascertain the approval.

In a situation when either house of Parliament is reluctant to endorse a decision, Article 108 provides for a joint session to resolve the impasse. Such joint sessions of Parliament were summoned twice before. Once the Rajya Sabha rejected the dowry prevention bill in 1961, the Congress government convened a joint session for its endorsement by a majority. The Janata Party government had resorted to it when “the elders” did not approve the banking service commission (repeal) bill in 1977.

Second, though the outcome was well anticipated, the joint session was an opportunity for the National Democratic Alliance to flex its muscle vis-ŕ-vis the Congress-dominated Rajya Sabha. In terms of its numerical strength, the upper chamber is simply not equipped to stall the acceptance of any bill when the Lok Sabha has adequate numbers to push whatever decisions it adopts. In the case of POTO, the ruling coalition openly challenged the Rajya Sabha which had rejected the bill, already approved by the lower house.

In the name of resolving a crisis — since the government was keen to adopt POTA — the NDA has contributed to a situation where the Rajya Sabha is identified more as an ornamental institution than a constitutional authority. It is clear that the latest joint session of Parliament was convened not to discuss the bill threadbare, but to rush POTO through by a majority.

As a piece of legislation, POTA has caused consternation on a mass scale. It has also raised important questions on the nature of India’s federalism and the role of the council of states.

There is no doubt that the joint session was convened because the bill was rejected in the upper house. And the government’s right to call for a joint session cannot be legally questioned since the Constitution has authorized it to resolve a deadlock. Given its majority in the Lok Sabha, the NDA government was certain of the passage of the bill. So the Rajya Sabha is ineffectual and its opposition to a bill is not of much consequence since Article 108 significantly tilts the balance in favour of the ruling coalition in Parliament.

What is the constitutional significance of the Rajya Sabha then? It is clear that the council of states in the Constitution does not exclusively represent the federal principle. Its primary role is that of a second chamber exercising legislative functions.

The Rajya Sabha, as envisaged in the Constitution, is not a federal chamber in the way the American senate is. Its primary function is to coordinate with the Lok Sabha in discharging the Parliament’s legislative functions. Only under exceptional circumstances, as stipulated in Articles 249 and 312, is the Rajya Sabha, supported by no less than two-thirds of the members present and voting, empowered to make laws on any matter in the state list. For all practical purposes, the lower house enjoys “hegemonic” powers and the upper chamber’s authority is generally confined to ratifying decisions already taken in the Lok Sabha.

An analysis of voting in the Rajya Sabha on Article 249 will reveal the pattern. For instance, between 1950 and 1987, Article 249 was invoked only thrice — including once each in 1950 and 1951 under the provisional parliament, even before the Rajya Sabha was formally constituted. In 1986, the article was invoked again. That 78 per cent voted in favour of the ruling party demonstrates how, in the Rajya Sabha, members vote in accordance with their party affiliations.

There are, however, occasions when the Rajya Sabha has been tough with the lower house. Its partisanship was, for instance, demonstrated during the brief Janata Party interlude (1977-80) when the Congress-dominated Rajya Sabha thwarted a government-initiated constitutional amendment by refusing to endorse the move for which the support of two-thirds of the house was required.

The divide between the two houses has become more prominent of late. The Congress majority in the Rajya Sabha appears to have preempted several attempts to adopt legislations to fulfill the government’s agenda, while in the days before 1967, the Rajya Sabha hardly played a significant role except to corroborate the views expressed in the lower house. Following the installation of non-Congress governments in various states since 1967, the upper chamber seems to have acquired a definite, if not completely new, role in the governing processes.

The rise of the regional parties in several states has radically altered the composition of the Rajya Sabha. In other words, parties other than the ruling party at the Centre are being able to send more representatives to the Rajya Sabha. As a result, ruling parties invariably have fewer members in the upper house than before. There have been occasions when the ruling party has failed to muster the required two-thirds majority in the Rajya Sabha to pass constitutional amendments, as was the case with the 43rd and 44th constitutional amendments.

The amendments were finally passed after an agreement between the ruling party, which had a majority in the Lok Sabha, and the opposition, which had a majority in the Rajya Sabha. The agreement amounted to saying that the Rajya Sabha shall literally remain a second chamber simply to follow and endorse the so-called “first” chamber.

Perhaps the framers of the Constitution too wanted things this way. The Constitution lays down that in case of a conflict between the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha over a money bill, the views of the former shall prevail. With regard to bills other than money bills, both houses have equal powers on paper, but in case of a deadlock, the provision of a joint session to resolve the impasse clearly places the Lok Sabha in an advantageous position.

Since the Rajya Sabha can, in accordance with Article 88(1), never have a strength of more than 250 members, it continues to be handicapped, at least numerically, vis-ŕ-vis the Lok Sabha, which has more than 540 members. So, the joint session is a device that invariably endorses the decision of the Lok Sabha even if the Rajya Sabha votes en bloc to oppose it.

It is clear from this that the Rajya Sabha, as envisioned in the 1950 Constitution, is not a federal chamber in the classical sense of the term. Its primary function is to coordinate with the Lok Sabha in discharging parliamentary legislative functions. Towards strengthening the Rajya Sabha’s role as an instrument for the effective representation of the states, the suggestions made by the Sarkaria commission in 1988 provided important directions.

Instead of restructuring the second chamber, the commission recommended “procedural safeguards” that can easily be adopted without undermining the spirit of the Constitution. The Rajya Sabha, by its rules of procedure, may provide for the setting up of a special committee reflecting the opinions of various sections of the house. Through free and frank discussions at the level of committees, a consensus is likely to emerge even on resolutions under Articles 249 and 312. Whether it is a foolproof mechanism is difficult to determine given the rapidly changing political equations among the members of the house. This recommendation is potentially useful under the present political circumstances when single party majority seems almost an impossibility.


Needless to say, cross-referencing and verification of details would need active cooperation from many governmental sources. We have tried to ensure accuracy by interviewing, individually and jointly and over several days, several people from both communities.

The following are names that came up again and again: municipal councillors, Pradip Joshi (Ward no. 12) and Bharat Shah reportedly incited and sanctioned the mob violence; they are supposed to have been in constant touch with the “rioters” as well as the police. Local residents, Rajubhai, Dilipbhai and a person known as Painter, played an active role in leading and urging the mob.

PSI Vaghela of Fatehgunj police station, reportedly, was very violent in his demeanour. He is supposed to have beaten the arrestees with an iron rod; Haveldar Ghanshyam was also singled out for his abusive behaviour.

The Sama area of Vadodara falls under Ward 12. It is a relatively newer part of the city, having mostly come up since the mid-1970s, and has a predominantly Hindu population. This area has never experienced disturbances in earlier communal riots in the city. In the present riots, however, a number of serious incidents took place here. On the night of Feb 27, a Muslim-owned mutton shop was burnt in Sanjaynagar and three neighbouring mutton/chicken shops, also Muslim-owned, were destroyed.

On the morning of Feb 28, around 10 am, a small mob of around 20 people attacked the residence of J.S. Bandukwala, a well-known and respected figure in Vadodara and active member of the PUCL, who has over the years consistently opposed both Hindu and Muslim religious extremism. Bandukwala and his daughter managed to take shelter in the house of their Hindu neighbours. One car in his compound was completely burned and the other damaged by the mob. The attackers fled within 10 minutes, when people from the neighbourhood came out on the road. Police arrived about 20 minutes after the attack.

In the course of that day and the following day, a number of Muslim-owned larri-gallas were burnt: four fruit-sellers’ larris and a cotton mattress larri at Swati market, another larri at Abhilasha, and larris at Nutan Vidyalay corner. A Muslim-owned bus was burnt on New Sama Road on the morning of Feb 28. According to local people, a residence was attacked and burnt in Chanakyapuri the same day. By evening, there were burning tyres and other material at many places in the Sama area.

On the evening of Feb 28, a few persons living in Sama went to meet the councillor, Pradip Joshi (who also happens to be the Vishwa Hindu Parishad boss for Ward 12), to appeal to him for peace in the area. He said that he would not be able to control the mob fury, especially since these were “uneducated people”. He ranted at length about the unpatriotic and criminal nature of the Muslim community (for instance, their habit of abducting Hindu girls), and dwelt on the desirability of Muslims going and living in their ilakhas. He also produced a list which, he explained, showed the voting patterns in the recent assembly bye-election, and how Muslim localities had voted against the BJP. On being repeatedly asked whether he could assure that there would be no further violence in the area, he replied that he could not do so, and one of his associates explained that what had happened that day was “only a sample”, and that it was best to be prepared for what would follow the next day. Joshi spent some time describing how he had dealt with Muslim “anti-socials” in Navayard. Navayard saw severe attacks on Muslims in the days to follow. Around 9.00 pm that night members of the Vadodara Shanti Abhiyan staying close to Bandukwala’s house discovered that he had not been provided with police protection after the attack on his house, despite his request. After prolonged efforts, two armed policemen finally arrived at Bandukwala’s residence at 11.00 pm. At 2.00 am, they declared that they were leaving as their duty was over, but were persuaded to stay on till 5.00 am. They returned again at 10.30 am the following day.

To be concluded



Halfway house

Sir — There is nothing so bad as a cabinet of ministers, one half of which does not practise what the other half preaches. While Yashwant Sinha’s finance ministry has been going on and on about downsizing, cost-cutting and other such economies, Sushma Swaraj, the minister for information and broadcasting, has been stubbornly refusing to lay off any of its 1,334 surplus employees (“Sushma skirts Sinha’s pool”, April 5). The problem is not Swaraj’s alone. The problem lies in the tradition of employing five people to do what three people are capable of doing. To an extent, this had become necessary to retain some kind of proportion between the number of unemployed people and the swelling population, but after the opening up of the markets, this is one luxury a developing economy cannot afford. Reports have it that Swaraj has relented somewhat. But the fact that most of the posts identified as surplus are from the lower rungs of the organizational hierarchy shows how much politicians such as Swaraj care for the common people of the country.
Yours faithfully,
Suman Krishnan, Calcutta

Unseemly support

Sir — Sham Lal in his article, “Murky side of war” (April 5), exposes the selfishness of the United States of America when it comes to global affairs. History has shown time and again that American intervention takes place only when the country’s interests are harmed. Americans create terrorists like Osama bin Laden to protect their interests.

The prime motive behind the Kuwait war in the early Nineties was to safeguard the interests of the oil companies owned by Americans. Consequently, military action was launched against Iraq with the support of United Nations sanctions. But what about using military force to implement the UN resolutions which demand Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied land in Palestine? It is clear that no military operations, at least not on the scale of the Kuwait war, will be carried out. American politicians get huge finances from the wealthy Jewish community in the US. Hence, no consequences for Israel.

Yours faithfully,
Mohammed Asif Iqbal, Calcutta

Sir — In the context of the mounting Israeli military action in Palestine, the White House had stated a few days ago that “Israel has the right to defend itself”. When India deployed its army on the India-Pakistan border, citing security reasons, the Bush administration wasted no time in intervening, saying that “the two countries must resolve the problem through dialogue”.

How long will the US, simply by virtue of being the most powerful nation in the world, be allowed to practise such double standards? I think that the international media has a huge role to play here: they must make clear that unless the US gives up its double standards and rethinks its strategies on south Asia, its so-called “war on terrorism” will never take off.

Yours faithfully,
Kaushik Wadera, Calcutta

Sir — “Attack one American and you attack all Americans,” proclaimed Bill Clinton. President after president, politician after American politician have proclaimed that the US government always protects its citizens. But this was not the case in 1967, when Israel deliberately attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 and injuring 172 helpless US marines, in the international waters off the Gaza strip.

In the absence of US criticism, the same Israeli force grew as a west Asian superpower, armed with sophisticated US warplanes and weapons, and unconditional financial aid from the US. The same force is guilty of murdering thousands of innocent civilians in Lebanon and in Palestinian refugee camps, and of conducting genocide in the occupied land in Palestine for 35 years.

It is remarkable that despite several UN resolutions and worldwide outrage at the Israeli aggression on Yasser Arafat, George W. Bush and his administration have chosen to leave the fate of the Palestinians in the hands of Ariel Sharon.

Yours faithfully,
Deepak Sarkar, Victoria, Canada

Beginning to show

Sir — The Congress’s routing of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Delhi municipal polls may have been caused by the Union budget presented by Yashwant Sinha on February 28. It hugely upset the influential business class of the capital, who chose to shift their faith from the ruling party at the Centre at the municipal levels too.

But the fact that the Congress has won is also a wonder of sorts. Because it is no better than the party it defeated. What decided the winner finally was probably negative voting and a want of a proper alternative. It is time for Delhi-ites to prepare for another term of misrule.

Yours faithfully,
M. Kumar, New Delhi

Sir — The BJP’s dry run continues (“Poll plague knocks on Atal door”, March 28). If the dismal show in the Rajya Sabha elections was not enough, there was the Delhi debacle. But the most worrying feature in this string of failures is the surfacing of cracks within the party and within the parties of its allies. This could not be concealed any more since cross-voting by the National Democratic Alliance members was rampant in the Rajya Sabha elections, while a section of the BJP found it difficult to hide its mirth as it became clear that the party was going to lose the city of Delhi.

This is a catch-22 situation for the BJP: if it goes back to its Hindutva agenda, it risks losing whatever little popular support it still has; if it tries to practise moderation, the sangh parivar will make it difficult for the party to continue in power. This is the beginning, rather than the end, of the BJP’s woes.

Yours faithfully,
Sheetal Khurana, Ghaziabad

Merely a slip

Sir — This refers to the report, “Karan breaches Cong boycott of Fernandes” (March 22). I am pained that your correspondent should have attributed political motives to what was purely an unintentional lapse. That day, the question to the defence minister was way down on the list, there was no possibility of its being called, neither did I have any intention to ask supplementaries. It so happened that a number of members of parliament were absent, as a result of which, towards the end of the Question Hour, my name was suddenly called by the chairman. I instinctively got up, asked the question and put a couple of supplementaries. It was only after the Question Hour was over that colleagues pointed out our party’s decision in the winter session not to put any questions to George Fernandes. This had entirely slipped my mind, and there is no occasion whatsoever to read ulterior political motives into this incident.
Yours faithfully,
Karan Singh, New Delhi

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