Editorial 1/ Against hope
Editorial 2 / Up in the air
A country on trial
Fifth Column / Last queen of the raj
Mani Talk / A thin-skinned government
Document / Why the control room did not respond
Letters to the editor

Picking up the pieces in Gujarat is proving to be a rather hopeless affair. The state’s downward spiral into lawlessness again became evident at a venue whose historic significance invests the episode with a brutal irony. Ms Mallika Sarabhai had organized a peace meeting at the Sabarmati Ashram, founded by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But the entire event turned into yet another barbaric fiasco, through a convergence of various kinds of hooliganism. The first kind was what passes as political protest these days. An unmanageable mob, led by prominent young members of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, succeeded in breaking up the meeting. They were protesting against the Narmada Bachao Andolan depriving the state of water, and managed to manhandle and humiliate the Andolan’s leader, Ms Medha Patkar, who was at the meeting. The thrill of disruption obviously transcends political opposition in the state. The second form of lawlessness came from the guardians of terror in Gujarat, the police. In trying to quell the mob, they merrily beat up a number of journalists and photographers. And this leads to another kind of political duplicity, which too has become part of the Gujarat phenomenon. The chief minister has vaguely condemned the incident, the state government has denied it altogether, and there have been a few furtive transfers and suspensions, together with the usual call for a “judicial probe”. This duplicity cuts across party lines. The Congress president has also strongly condemned the police attack on the journalists, but has quietly pushed under the carpet the presence of the leader and the corporator of the Youth Congress among those who broke up the meeting.

Almost every kind of civil and political activity is therefore implicated in the lawlessness which pervades Gujarat today. And this incident at the Sabarmati Ashram is not an isolated episode. Sheer intimidation, implicitly endorsed by a far-from-neutral police force, has managed to prevent or disrupt a number of peace rallies and meetings throughout the state. Ms Patkar’s presence and the entire Narmada issue have appeared to many to be a mere excuse for violent disruption. Individual social workers, activists and nongovernmental organizations have had to succumb to this reign of fear, born out of a total loss of confidence in the law and order machinery. The Sabarmati episode illustrates this convergence of forces, all of which could make the healing of Gujarat appear to be an impossible task. Ordinary people, the police and political leaders unite in using a combination of barbarism and duplicity to make peace and order look like lost causes in this hapless state.


There seems to be no prospect of peaceful governance for Uttar Pradesh. The fragmented verdict in the assembly elections has thrown every party into a tizzy, without any possibility of a smooth solution on the horizon. There had been no expectation of a majority mandate, and the intricate history of inter-party relationships in the state had promised a prolonging of confusion in the case of a hung assembly. The doomsayers have won. Even the most touted possibility, that of a partnership between the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, is still up in the air. Certainly, Ms Mayavati has seemed quite willing, as long as she is made chief minister and allowed to assign portfolios. Her enthusiasm is understandable. She would not only be on top, and thus able to consolidate the BSP’s position, but she would also be putting Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav’s nose out of joint. But things are not as simple for the BJP. The prime minister may be looking for a “friendly” government in UP, since this would be the healthiest option from the point of view of the BJP’s long-term plans. Even the sangh parivar, according to some reports, would not throw a spanner in the BJP’s works, because the whole big family is very concerned about getting legislators in place before the presidential elections. But such a situation is riven with contradictions. That the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh should allow such a coalition to go through, with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s June 2 ultimatum about Ayodhya in the background, is truly absurd. A BSP-led government would be expected to crackdown on Hindutvavadis if they cause a crisis. Besides, the BJP’s earlier relationship with the BSP has been fractious and sterile, and the first partnership broke down in acrimony. Ideological differences, however, were not a bar to partnership then, and cannot be expected to be so now. But the party itself is deeply divided, right down from the central leadership to the state, over supporting a BSP-led government. The former chief minister, Mr Rajnath Singh, is fiercely against it, although Mr Lalji Tandon and Mr Om Prakash Singh are all for it, with Mr Murli Manohar Joshi backing them from the top. The situation is ripe for bargains and camp-changes. What can force the BJP and the BSP together is the possibility that their failure to get together might induce the governor to call on Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav to form the government. And Mr Yadav might just succeed, if he can wean away an adequate number of legislators from the BSP and get the Congress to support him. Neither president’s rule nor another election is acceptable. UP poses a puzzle for the first-past-the-post system. Only the puzzle has persisted for so long that it has become far more than one of academic importance.


The massacres in Gujarat have deprived the Bhara- tiya Janata Party leadership of the claim that minorities are safest when it is in power. This line had been parroted so often as to attain the status of a half-truth. In fact, the reverse appears to have been the case: the most unsafe state of the 28 that constitute the Indian Union, not only for Muslims but also for any one risking his life to stop the carnage was the one state under a cent per cent saffron regime.

In 1990, a resurgent L.K. Advani in Ayodhya had spelt out the logic of “safety” under “Hindu raj” after his release from detention. The parent body of his party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has now repeated it virtually verbatim. Muslims, it states, are dependent on the goodwill of the majority if they want to be part of the Indian body politic. Not that the BJP has been alone in advancing such theses. In October 1984, the editor of a leading national daily chose the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi to pose the issue to Sikhs as a whole. They had to decide, he said, whether they were with the terrorists or against them. The Congress cashed in on the massacres that followed.

The drama has been played out with tragic consequences for the defenceless: in Bhagalpur in 1989 and Mumbai in 1993. In each of these latter instances, the forces and groups that espouse Hindutva were never far from the scene. In the former, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s campaign for the Ram temple formed the backdrop for the violence. In the latter, the Shiv Sena carried out operations with surgical precision. But Gujarat puts all these events in the shade. Never before has an entire state of the Union been subject to such a vigorous attempt at ethnic cleansing. Those who cite the tragic precedent of the Kashmiri Pandits should keep in mind that the other two regions of the Jammu and Kashmir continue to have mixed populations.

In Gujarat, the violence was not confined to the ghetto, but engulfed the middle classes. If indeed the Inter-Services Intelligence wanted to drive a wedge between Indians on religious lines, and it had a hand in the Godhra tragedy, it could never find better allies than those who equate every Muslim with an invisible pro-Pakistani fifth column.

The burning of property and the gutting of shops and establishments, the leaflets distributed across the state calling for a boycott of minority-owned shops and businesses, all point to an attempt to sever the tiers of coexistence which form the warp and weft of Indian life. In a bizarre twist, the well off among a religious group are objects of envy. Poor Muslims are sought to be excluded from the labour market. A similar design in 1993 was thwarted by the merchant castes of Surat, as their diamond-cutting business relied on Muslim migrants from eastern India.

But to return to the issue. Not only did Muslims or, for that matter, Christians find themselves unsafe under the rule of the only Indian party which is a front organization of another outfit; but the sangh parivar also did not spare Hindus who, at great risk to themselves, intervened to save people’s lives. There has been no shortage of attacks against journalists and photographers. A peace meeting in the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, was not spared.

The glimmer of hope has been the inability of such attempts at polarization in the rest of the country. It is no coincidence that Gujarat has a two-thirds BJP majority and has been under the rule of the party (except for a brief interval) since 1995. Independent, non-sectarian groups, such as Communalism Combat, had sounded the alarm over two years ago when they pointed to systematic attempts to target “undesirable elements” using official machinery.

In fact, Gujarat has added significance for another reason. In the Eighties, it saw the creation of an allegedly populist bloc of lower castes, minorities and adivasis under a reformist Congress leadership. Two waves of anti-reservation movements first sundered the coalition apart and then, the Hindutva groups took over the public space long before they came to power. It is this ability to dictate the agenda of politics that sets the party and its sister outfits apart.

Far from sowing the seeds of peace, their cultural and educational agendas spread the notion of a clash of civilizations. Certain key groups are targeted: the middle classes, with their critical role in administration and education, the institutions of industry, the law and the poor through social work schemes. The carnage is indeed shocking: Equally so is the “justification” that they are mere retaliation. This is precisely the kind of mentality that justified the militant massacres of bus-passengers in the Punjab in the Eighties, or justifies terrorist bomb attacks on unarmed persons.

In fact, this mentality is more ominous, as it comes in the guise of nationalism. If nationalism seeks to carve out the territory of India, the Hindutva forces seek a division of hearts and minds. It seeks to re-order drastically the way in which most Indians, including most Hindus, live and work. It seeks to elevate to a central organizing principle the notion of a permanent clash of religiously rigid communities. “Hindu raj” means no safety even for Hindus, as one group will define what it means to be a Hindu or an Indian. Worse still, it would bring back the spectre of ceaseless violence which haunted the country at the moment of its birth, and was checked only by the resolute action of those who were then at the helm.

A Nehru or a Patel, an Ambedkar or an Azad, even while they disagreed on much else, did not hesitate to use both administrative means and political mobilization to stem those who practised the cult of the gun. A country, they realized, could either be unified under one criminal law or broken into groups each bent on retributive justice. India could either choose Gandhi or Godse, but not both.

In the aftermath of the incidents, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s was a voice of moderation. But the very accusations his party made about the Congress in 1984 now hold true of his partymen in Gujarat. The delay in sending out the army, the complicity of the police, the repeated statements of the chief minister implicitly endorsing violence have been now compounded by transfers of staunchly apolitical police officers courageous enough to book ruling party members for instigating attacks. The clean chit to Narendra Modi sends a signal not only to his party but also to the rest of India and the world. Moderation sans action is devoid of meaning. Regret is not enough if justice is not done.

Far more than anyone else, many of the BJP’s allies have now been reminded that it is a party with a difference. It has more than a mission to rule the country. It is and remains part of a movement, with a philosophy, an ideology and a programme. Gujarat and the revival of the Ayodhya plank is not yet the end of the road for the alliance. But they mark the slow beginning of its eventual dissolution. Having failed to make a mark by toning up the economy or providing good governance, ideologues in the premier party are testing the waters with a revival of their core agenda. The country as a whole is on trial. It can succumb to their games or stand firm as a rock. There is no third choice on offer.

The cross currents of regional politics may give the prime minister the breathing space and numbers to stay on in office. But it is the authority of the coalition that has been undermined, its common agenda reduced to a dead letter. Those who stay on with the ruling party may soon find that they are riding a tiger.

The author is an independent political analyst and a visiting assistant professor at Cornell University, Ithaca


Not inappropriately, the crown on the coffin of Britain’s Queen Mother flaunted the Koh-i-Noor — she was, after all, Empress of India, and the last one at that. But the title ended in 1947 with Lord Listowel, the last secretary of state for India, giving up his seal of office to George VI, the last emperor, at Balmoral Castle.

He had to drop the I — Imperator — from his signature which devastated his mother. Surveying a plantation of trees in Windsor Great Park, each representing a colony, George VI remarked sadly that like India, they would all go. Clement Attlee tried to persuade Jawaharlal Nehru to console him with a heroic Indian title but Nehru refused, though Krishna Menon called the king “a really good man” who “understood and respected” Indians.

Reputedly, the queen-mum, who blamed Lord Mountbatten for “giving away the empire,” did not. “She is not fond of black folk,” Paul Callan wrote in the International Express. Her notoriously indiscreet vocabulary apparently included words like “nig-nog” and “blackamoor”.

In that she was very different from Victoria, the first queen-empress, whose partiality for her munshi angered her son and heir, or her daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, whose strong feeling for the Commonwealth has helped it through many crises. With more than a million subjects from the subcontinent, Her Majesty might be said to preside over the empire’s revenge.

India was glamour for the royals. Even the twice-divorced American commoner who cost Edward VIII his throne drawled, “But can’t you remain Emperor of India even if you are no longer King of England?” when he told her he was abdicating. George V and Mary had worn their imperial crowns at a grand durbar in Delhi. The Kaiser complained that a visiting German prince was not allowed to ride an elephant though the viceroy and assorted maharajahs did.

An Indian affair

“I don’t care what you say,” a dowager in pearls and navy two-piece exclaimed accusingly in a first class carriage of the train from London to Bangor, where I would take the branch line to Caernarvon and Prince Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales, though I had said not a word, “but royal events haven’t been the same since those dear maharajahs stopped coming!”

If George VI and his consort lost out on the glamour, it was not for want of trying. But Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah were so tense when the king-emperor entertained them to lunch at Buckingham Palace that he dared not broach a visit. “Poor George VI didn’t get his durbar!” an Englishman told me once as if I was personally responsible for the deprivation.

Yet, the king and queen were familiar figures in my childhood. Large framed photographs, signed with a flourish George R.I. and Elizabeth R.I., appeared in the assembly hall of La Martiniere on the eve of independence. I wondered whether this was the last defiant fling of a colonial school that survives only in the name (even the hall has gone!), or of the unreconciled royals.

Understandably, Nehru would not let Queen Elizabeth host a reception in the Red Fort’s Diwan-i-Khas in 1961. Twenty-two years later, Indira Gandhi refused to let her pin a decoration on Mother Teresa in Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Durbar Hall.

Caution makes sense in a hierarchical society whose monarchical traditions die hard. Our Midnapore cook asked in 1947 whether Nehru or Gandhi would be the next raja. Legislative elections have merely changed the process of anointing monarchs. Not for nothing did the Guinness Book of World Records cite the Rajmata of Jaipur for being elected with the highest majority ever. Lest some ambitious Indian gets ideas, the crown that was made for George V’s durbar at the Indian taxpayer’s expense was promptly whisked off to the Tower of London.

When the Koh-i-Noor’s return was mooted some years ago, Inder Kumar Gujral, then prime minister, wisely warned that India had more serious things to think of than diamonds. His beleaguered successor might welcome the controversy as a distraction. That apart, with the last empress gone, the queen herself might reflect that Duleepsinghji, the stone’s previous owner, always called Victoria “Mrs Fagin”, receiver of stolen goods in Oliver Twist.    

The prime minister’s outburst against the leader of the opposition in the Central Hall debate on the prevention of terrorism ordinance was no aberration. It was entirely of a piece with the inability of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to comprehend that criticism is the function of the opposition. It would be absurd for the opposition to vacate its democratic responsibility to oppose when the opposition is persuaded that any step being contemplated by the government is not in the national interest.

Indeed, the plea for consensus which the government is so fond of making (especially every time dissidence in its ranks makes it difficult for the treasury front-bench to carry its own back-benchers) is contrary to the basic logic and methodology of democratic debate. One can understand the plea for consensus if without 100 per cent backing, the government is unable to carry forward its agenda. But parliamentary democracy rarely calls for 100 per cent backing. On the contrary, the first principle of parliamentary democracy is that a 50.1 per cent majority grants 100 per cent legislative and executive authority. Governance is not dependent on opposition support; the whole idea is that while the opposition opposes, the government governs. And debate is the dialectic of democracy. The government proposes; the opposition opposes; and out of this dialectic between the government thesis and the opposition antithesis emerges the synthesis of national opinion, the ultimate arbiter of the validity or otherwise of government policy.

Such elementary political science appears to be beyond the comprehension of the prime minister. He seeks, not only on the occasion of the Central Hall debate but routinely, to deflect criticism from himself by pointing to his fifty years in Parliament. So what? Of those fifty years, all but the last four years — and eighteen months about a quarter century ago — have been spent by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the opposition. On the contrary, the principal party of today’s opposition has spent virtually 50 of the 55 years of independence on the treasury benches. Vajpayee, therefore, has almost exactly as little experience of governance as the Congress has of opposition. Does that mean Vajpayee should not be given the opportunity of governing — or the Congress of opposing? In any case, is democracy an exercise in gerontocracy? Vajpayee has as many years behind him as Sonia Gandhi has ahead of her. So, should she defer to him merely because he is older? Did the seventy-year old Jawaharlal Nehru ever tell the thirty-something Vajpayee that he should not criticize the prime minister because there were forty years between them?

The prime minister seems to need to remind himself every so often that he is the prime minister. This inferiority complex is hardly surprising as he must have surprised himself at having at long last made it. Since it is diurnally borne in on him that as with all things this too must pass, he throws a tantrum like a spoilt child every time he is taken on personally. Consider the cheap oratorical trick he played on Sonia Gandhi over the nuclear doctrine. She chose not to deal with the subject in her intervention in the debate on the motion of thanks to the president two years ago. Vajpayee drew her attention to this lacuna, and then, resuming his seat unasked, asked her to state what the Congress position on this was. When she declined to address this vital national issue in a two-minute polemic suddenly sprung on her, Vajpayee himself had a quiet laugh and his back-benchers a loud guffaw. The joke’s really on Vajpayee. Four years after Pokhran-II, the government still does not have a nuclear doctrine. And this notwithstanding the clear articulation of a draft doctrine (however much I may personally disapprove of it) by the advisory board to the national security council. But if he can score debating points in this manner — taking unfair advantage of his fifty years in Parliament compared to Sonia Gandhi’s more recent entry — why does he begrudge her learning how to hit back?

There was nothing unparliamentary about what she had to say on POTO, nor in her accusing the prime minister of not behaving as a national leader should in the face of the worst Hindu-Muslim riots since Partition. Moreover, it is not for the prime minister but the speaker (in this case, the presiding deputy speaker) to determine what is and what is not parliamentary. Instead, this cry-baby prime minister spilt his tears on the floor of the joint session at what he chose to describe as a “personal attack” on him, instead of addressing the issues raised by her. Well, perhaps the impossibility of defending the indefensible was what accounted for our aged prime minister trying to save face by resorting to attack as the best form of defence.

It is not only the prime minister but all his colleagues who behave in this cry-baby manner. Readers will recall the prime minister having taken himself off to Kashmir two years ago where he unburdened himself of the aphorism, when asked whether talks with the militants would be held within the framework of the Constitution, that the talks would be held “insaniyat ke dayire mein” (“within the framework of humanity”). I asked, in a debate on this in the Lok Sabha, what on earth this expression meant. Did the prime minister mean that the framework of the Constitution was “inhuman”? Did it mean that a government sworn to uphold the Constitution was going to give that Constitution the go-by? If not, what then was meant by “insaniyat ke dayire mein”? And then added that the prime minister should know that he is prime minister, not a “quawwal”. The home minister’s reply to my point was lengthy and entirely focussed on the impropriety of my calling the prime minister a “quawwal”. The substance of my point was not answered at all.

In a similar manner, when in the budget debate of 2000, Madhavrao Scindia and I took the finance minister to task for paying too much attention to the chambers of commerce and too little to the poor, Yashwant Sinha hit back by first saying he would ignore the “personal attack” on him (what was so “personal” about faulting him for being a terrible finance minister?) and then proceeding to remind the house that he was not a maharajah (snigger! snigger!) and had not, like the Congress spokesmen, gone abroad to study (more snigger! snigger!). There followed some heart-wrenching stuff about how he had been to a village school and, unlike some others (hee! hee! hee!), had known poverty first hand. But there was no convincing refutation of the substance of the criticism brought against him.

It is a parliamentary trick which Sinha has perfected through repetition. Little of the argument is touched upon. But he will never fail to remark on how humble his origins are and how backward the constituency he represents. Uma Bharati’s the same. She never fails to mention that she is not “zyada padhi-likhi”. I once said there was no need for her to say so since it took only a few minutes for the house to know that she was not “zyada padhi-likhi”. I remain astonished that this was not expunged and it happily graces the records of Parliament!

M. Venkaiah Naidu is another. Faced with an hour’s onslaught on the many and varied failures of his ministry of rural development, in last year’s debate on the demand for grants for his ministry, Naidu described my detailed, fact-based criticism of his government’s lapses as “curses” — and then refused to respond in substance to these alleged “curses”. The outer limit for inability to face criticism is, of course, that displayed by Arun Shourie. Treating public sector assets as his private property, Shourie sells off national assets — usually to a single bidder — at prices which would make his mother weep if he were selling his family silver. But criticize him for it, and he either disdainfully dismisses the criticism — instead of replying to it as he is duty-bound to do by our system of parliamentary democracy — or gets into a rage that anyone should question his competence or integrity. “He put in his thumb/ And pulled out a plum/ And said, ‘What a good boy am I!’”

Why is this lot like this? Why do they get so het up over words like “humungous” and “lemmings”? Is it because their vernacular education leaves them dumbfounded by words of more than two syllables in what is for them a foreign language? Is it because they are so puffed up with self-importance that they have no sense of irony left? Or is there something more to it? Why can they not understand that the floor of Parliament has been established for criticism? That criticism can and must be harsh? For it is when criticism is voiced in clear, categorical and telling terms that the point being made is best made. And that it is when criticism is harshest and most pungent that the defence has to be equally pointed and telling.

Perhaps then the true answer is that the government is thin-skinned because the BJP does not understand democracy. Its mindset is fascist and its ethos sycophantic. So, they think that because they adore their Vajpayees and Shouries, the rest of the world is obliged to do likewise. Let the prime minister weep. The nation has more important tasks to attend to.


March 1 saw more intense rioting activity, with larger, well-prepared mobs roaming the streets. A tailor shop in Abhilasha (near Maruti Super Store) was burnt, and Robe Laundry and another laundry ..., both Muslim-owned, were looted and burnt in Abhilasha. From Abhilasha/ Swati area, a mob of around 300 move on to Shuklanagar.

Shuklanagar is a mixed locality of Hindus and Muslims. The settlement is somewhat unusual in that the overwhelming majority of residents, both Hindu and Muslim, are “from outside (pardesh)”, i.e. from Uttar Pradesh. They have settled in Vadodara over the course of the past 25-30 years, but retain links with the “desh” (UP). A few of the residents work in industries as casual labourers, some have vegetable handcarts, and many work in small tailoring and furniture enterprises which are Muslim-owned, but employ Hindus as well as Muslims. There were some 4 policemen on duty near one entry point to Shuklanagar. The mob attacked from the other side at around 11.30 am ... with shouts like “Maaro Mian ko” (kill the Mias), and “Bharat Mata ki jai.” The residents held off the attackers, who were armed with sticks, swords and petrol bombs, for several hours. Muslims and Hindus both participated in resisting the attack. The policemen stationed at the other end of the colony did not enter the picture. While the mob lobbed petrol bombs, they were unable to set fire to the houses or the mosque, though they managed to burn a moped and the laundry larri of a Hindu dhobi.

After more than 3 hours (around 3.00 pm) police reinforcements arrived and the mob dispersed. Around 25 men from Shuklanagar suffered injuries; two men with head injuries were admitted to Narhari hospital in Fatehganj. (They have been treated and discharged.) The 300 or so Muslim residents fled the area, and took shelter in Kamatipura. Hindus remained in the locality, many of them sleeping for several days on the terrace of a “local” (Gujarati) Hindu living at one end of the colony. This person said that he had an army officer for a tenant, through whom it was arranged that two armed army personnel were stationed outside the house for several days. On the night of March 2, a small mob of around 25 people made another attempt to set fire to houses in Shuklanagar, but were repulsed. Residents of Shuklanagar have been without any income since March 1, since all economic activity came to a complete standstill after the attack. They estimate the daily collective loss in earnings as Rs 25,000-20,000. The Muslims explained how they had been living at the mercy of others (doosron ka kha rahe hain) in Kamatipura, where the Muslim community arranged for food for them. Hindu residents have been equally affected, since most of them work in the local small enterprises. The Muslim residents did not return till the 17th/18th, and most of the families left after that for their villages in UP “for 2 or 3 months, till things calm down”.

Around the same time that the mob retreated from Shuklanagar, the residence, near Amar Complex, of Iqbal Pirzada, a retired government official, was attacked — probably by the same mob — and completely burnt. Anticipating trouble, the family had left the house a day or two earlier. When they were finished with the Pirzada residence, the mob moved on towards the nearby residence of J.S. Bandukwala. While Bandukwala had been evacuated about an hour earlier, his daughter and 5 Abhiyan members from the neighbourhood remained in the house. An autorickshaw arrived with two LPG cylinders, which were stored in a nearby Hanuman temple. The mob, numbering between 200 and 300, tried to advance towards the house, but was kept at bay for over half an hour by the two armed policemen stationed outside the house. Repeated calls to the police control room and various police stations all elicited the response that no police personnel or vehicles were available to help. Two calls to the collector on his mobile phone yielded an assurance that police help would be sent, but this arrived only some 45 minutes after the second call. (Thereafter the collector’s mobile was shut off, as was the police commissioner’s throughout.) Meanwhile, part of the mob attacked the house from behind, where there was no police protection. The people inside the house managed to escape over the wall to the (Hindu) neighbours when heavy stoning began. The mob then took to stoning the neighbours’ house as well, and set fire to the Bandukwala residence.

To be concluded



Switching partners

Smooth switch Sir — It is a telling commentary on the parlous state of the Indian polity that opportunists like Mayavati are now seeking to join the National Democratic Alliance at a time when its fortunes are at their lowest (“Soft Mayavati whets BJP’s UP appetite”, April 6). That Mayavati is debating whether to accept the Bharatiya Janata Party’s offer of a Central cabinet position in return for giving up her claim to the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh, amounts to open horse-trading. In all probability, the NDA will not survive the next general elections, what with Godhra and communal problems. Hence Mayavati’s wanting to jump on to the faltering NDA bandwagon can be only said to serve her interests, in the short term. It is obvious that if the BJP is defeated in the next elections, she will not hesitate to ditch it for a new partner. Until our politicians develop a stronger moral fibre than that of street hustlers, democracy in India will continue to be a sham.

Yours faithfully,
Biswapriya Purkayastha, Shillong

My right to criticize

Sir — Arundhati Roy’s attempt to trigger a debate on our judicial system should be praised, not decried (“Scandalous in effect”, March 22). The present Contempt of Courts Act is based on a legislation formulated in pre-independence India to give immunity to British judges from Indian freedom fighters and others who felt that the judgments made in cases concerning them were biased or unfair. It is sad that such a provision continues to be in force in free India. The judiciary is the only arm of our democracy which does not seem to be accountable, and it is this that has led to allegations of corruption and misconduct by judges.

The media has often been hauled up for contempt of court. The most recent case was the one involving the magazine, Wah India, which had published a feature grading 32 judges of the Delhi high court. This case ultimately led to the magazine closing down. The Hindustan Times also had to print an apology for publishing a story about sitting high court judges.

More often than not, the courts seem to consider all criticism directed towards them by the media as contempt. But when lawyers like Ram Jethmalani, Indira Jaisingh, Soli Sorabji or even S.P. Bharucha, the present chief justice of India, ask for reform of the judiciary and point to flaws in it, they are not accused of contempt of court. Since the courts are free to judge who is guilty of contempt, strangely enough, recent events suggest that it is only the media and a few vocal activists who are at fault.

Yours faithfully,
Subhash Chandra Agrawal, New Delhi

Sir — N.R. Madhava Menon’s criticism of Arundhati Roy in “Scandalous in effect” is not entirely unexpected. But his criticism of newspaper editors and activists is unwarranted. They were after all stating only what they felt — that Roy’s freedom of expression had been infringed upon.

Madhava Menon stresses the “symbolic reverence” that judges and courts should be held in, but calling a spade a spade can hardly be called irreverence. If the media and citizens cannot point out flaws in the judiciary, is no one to comment upon perceived misjudgments or seemingly biased judgments? One has heard of judges, unduly influenced by the reputation of a lawyer, ignoring the merits of a case, as well as of lawyers who wield enormous influence over particular judges.

Also, why should one not say so, if one feels a particular judgment is wrong or unfair? The media, by bringing such feelings to public notice and pointing to possible weaknesses, is only helping to improve the judiciary. One cannot dismiss things merely by saying that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter and hence all criticism of it is prohibited. If someone disagrees with a judgment, he must have the right to state his viewpoint — to expect him to show “symbolic reverence” to the courts while doing so is ridiculous. Madhava Menon should try to remove flaws in judicial procedure, instead of only supporting the “symbolic” sanctity of the courts.

Yours faithfully,
K.R. Venkatasubramanian, Calcutta

Temple deaths

Sir — The recent shootout inside the Raghunath temple, in which eight people died, is a pointer to the constant fear that Hindus live in, in Jammu (“Temple turns terror war zone”, March 31). In protest, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena called a Jammu bandh the next day. How this would help deal with the obvious breakdown in the temple security or the loss of lives is anyone’s guess.

Since Jammu has a large population of Hindus, it is not surprising that the sangh parivar was extremely vocal in condemning the attack. But it is amazing that the secular parties kept mum on the issue. Either they were worried about their vote-bank or they did not want to tarnish their secular image. These parties should stand up for the victims of terrorist violence, whatever religion they belong to.

Yours faithfully,
Reshmi Dasgupta, Tinsukia

Sir — Obviously, security inside the Raghunath temple in Jammu was lax or the militants could not have wreaked as much havoc as they did. The summer months are always a dangerous time in Jammu and Kashmir: militants can easily sneak across the border after the snows melt. This is known to the security forces in the state, yet they weren’t vigilant enough. Until security is tightened there, such incidents will continue to happen. The “secular” parties who did not support the prevention of terrorism ordinance or the ban on the Student’s Islamic Movement of India will now hopefully realize the folly of their actions.

Yours faithfully,
Kaustav Sinha Ray, Calcutta

Traffic travails

Sir — West of Behala chowrasta there is a parking stand for autorickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, buses and mini-buses which ply to Shakuntala Park, Sarsuna. This makes the narrow road extremely congested and risky for vehicles and pedestrians. If this stand is shifted to the north and south of the main road, it will help to improve the situation and make it easier for traffic to flow westward.

Yours faithfully,
Himani Swami, Calcutta

Sir — Not so long ago, the West Bengal transport minister, Subhash Chakraborty, spoke of raising tram fares. Few will grudge such a hike, if tram services in Calcutta were a little more regular and dependable. The other day, I had to wait 45 minutes at Gariahat for a tram to Hazra. Before increasing the fares, Chakraborty should ensure that trams are more punctual.

Yours faithfully,
Susobhan Sarkar, Calcutta

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