Editorial 1/ Courtly interest
Editorial 2/ In business
Omens from Panaji
Fifth Column/ Why do most men hate gays?
Opening up in their own separate ways
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ COURTLY INTEREST 
 
 
 
 
It is time to worry when the law puts on too many wigs. By accepting the public interest litigation presented by Ms Mallika Sarabhai and two others the Supreme Court appears to be doing exactly that. The PIL has asked the court to set up a special investigation team to look into offences relating to communal violence and human rights violations in Gujarat. By issuing notices to the chief minister, the state units of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party and three of the state’s highest police officials among others, the court seems all set to uncover whether or not the state administration was biased in its action during the disturbances. This is a big step into the grey area that has been created over the past few years by the abdication of responsibility by the executive and the administration. The court’s intervention in the Gujarat imbroglio exacerbates an already confused situation by upsetting the rigorous system of checks and balances that are built into the governance of a democratic polity. If the civil administration is at fault, the state government is entrusted with the task of rooting out offenders and bringing them to justice. If the actions of the executive are considered questionable, parties in partnership and opposition, as well as the electorate are responsible for its just desserts. Offenders identified by the already appointed inquiry teams, as well as the police and rights commissions, can be charged and brought to court as alleged criminals. It is here that the court’s wisdom and impartiality are needed. This is the highest morality of the law.

This special place of the law in the larger system is diluted if the court is asked to take on the task of judging the efficacy of an entire state administration and, in effect, dole out “justice” — in the larger metaphorical sense — to Gujarat. It has to be asked if the movers of the petition feel that a multiplication of investigative bodies is the best way to get at justice and truth. Or that going straight to the Supreme Court would speed up justice by being one jump ahead of the national human rights commission and the national commission for minorities. They might be surprised to find that a PIL of this sort is exactly the kind of thing to trammel up justice. Such well-intentioned PILs further burden the overloaded justice system. It is a pity that the system of PILs cannot be fully eliminated. It remains a window of access to the law for the less privileged. But strict screening procedures should ensure that the court is not compelled to waste its time. A modern system demands the simplification of existing jobs. When overloaded courts have to duplicate jobs that are in the domain of other competent bodies and the law has to put on wigs not its own, perhaps it is time to look for the flaw in the system.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ IN BUSINESS 
 
 
 
 
It must be a rotten civil administration that requires the police to take the permission of a state’s chief executive to arrest a murder suspect. It is regrettable if the police had to get an approval from the chief minister, Mr Buddadeb Bhattacharjee, before arresting Mr Dulal Banerjee because he happened to be an influential member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), to which the former belongs. That the police collected what they considered good enough evidence to implicate Mr Banerjee in the murder of two estranged party colleagues should have been enough to proceed in accordance with law. It is reassuring that Mr Bhattacharjee lived up to his promise of keeping partisan politics aside and letting the police do their job. It should also be a positive signal that he had the party leadership backing his resolve in this particular case. But Mr Bhattacharjee must give out an even clearer signal that his party and government would not require the police to bother about politics in dealing with criminals. It cannot be a case-by-case approach; it has to be firmly established as a policy directive. That party-backed criminals still make a mockery of law and law-enforcing agencies was once again exposed by the Dum Dum episode. That many among the Marxist leaders aid and abet such criminals and shield them against police action was proved by the railings of the veteran CPI(M) leader, Mr Rajdeo Goala, against the party leadership over Mr Banerjee’s arrest. Mr Bhattacharjee and his party leadership would strengthen the morale of the police and also win greater public confidence in their intentions if the party initiates action against not only Mr Banerjee but also Mr Goala.

The CPI(M)’s North 24 Parganas district committee, of which the Dum Dum unit is a part, has long been one of its most problematic wings because of bitter factional rivalries among its leaders and members. Extortions and other strong-arm methods by the party cadre are not confined to this district outfit. But the chief minister and his senior party colleagues must not treat the likes of the Dum Dum episode as inner-party affairs. They must see it for what it is — a criminal conspiracy to terrorize local people by flexing party muscle and a threat to public security. Although Mr Bhatacharjee has raised hopes that his administration would not spare criminals masquerading as politicians, he needs to be seen doing what he says. Earlier, he acted as firmly when some CPI(M)-supported criminals, allegedly enjoying the patronage of one of Mr Bhattacharjee’s cabinet colleagues, were arrested from the Salt Lake stadium complex. But neither did this lead to the expected legal action nor did the party take action against the minister accused of sheltering the criminals. Mr Bhattacharjee has an opportunity in the Dum Dum case to prove that he means business.

   

 
 
OMENS FROM PANAJI 
 
 
BY SHAM LAL
 
 
A series of stunning electoral reverses had of late taken much of the sheen off the Bharatiya Janata Party’s image. The growing erosion of its social base at the same time made it more vulnerable to pressure from its ideological mentors, all too keen to make it return to its old moorings. They could not wish away the dynamics of coalition politics and had to lump the way their political protégé had let itself be bullied now by one ally and then badgered or buffeted by another. They could at best insist on its pushing its Hindutva agenda with greater vigour whenever it could do so.

The Panaji session of the party’s executive committee was in fact assigned the task of making Gujarat, one of the two states where the BJP is in power on its own, a test case for the new aggressive line. The play staged there had been scripted in advance by the hardliners in the sangh parivar who were hailing Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, as a hero just when victims of the last month’s orgy of murder, loot and arson in his state regarded him as the author of their woes. Modi’s resignation letter, its outright rejection, the directive to dissolve the state assembly and seek a fresh mandate, with the BJP riding the crest of a new Hindutva wave, were all pre-arranged.

The firebrands in the party had their way. All voices of moderation were duly silenced. The prime minister himself put a new persona on display in Panaji. The man who had wondered in public in Ahmedabad how he would show his face to the outside world after the kalank (disgrace) of the mass rioting, and lectured to an unrepentant chief minister on raj dharma (the duty of a government to protect the life and property of all its citizens, irrespective of their caste and creed), went on a holiday somewhere else in Goa. Even the rhetoric of his new persona took its cue from the tough talk of the hardliners.

The party was in an indecent hurry to expose the people of a riot-ravaged state to a new barrage of communal propaganda, and as one of its own members was bold enough to say, “count its votes on dead bodies”. The deepening of the communal divide, intolerable living conditions in the refugee camps, and the sight of frightened government and private sector employees seeking transfer to another state, made even many of the BJP’s allies feel sick. The others wondered about the warped mindset of a party which could think of exploiting the feelings of a traumatized people for partisan political ends rather than divert all its energies to relief and rehabilitation work and to healing the wounds inflicted on those who had lost their kith and kin and homes and lived in fear and trembling for weeks on end.

There is no getting away from the grim truth that what has prevailed in Gujarat is the new ethic preached by some in the sangh parivar of “two eyes for one eye and a whole jaw for a tooth”. That many members of the National Democratic Alliance are in jitters over the madness that seems to have seized the BJP is no surprise. For, they have sense enough to see that, if this ethic spreads to other parts of the country, there will be no way to prevent the political system itself from falling apart.

In any case, neither the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamool Congress nor any of the other estranged NDA constituents, who are opposed both to Narendra Modi’s continuance in office and to holding elections in an atmosphere vitiated by new fears and hatreds, are buying the proposition that so long as the BJP holds fast to the coalition agenda at the Centre, the other partners have no business to poke their noses into the affairs of the states ruled by it. How can the party forget that not long ago it sought the dismissal of the Laloo Prasad Yadav government in Bihar where the law and order situation at the time was not one tenth as threatening as that in Gujarat last month.

It may be that in a normal situation every party should refrain from meddling in the internal affairs of others. But are mass rioting on the scale witnessed in Gujarat recently, the suspicion of police and government complicity in what happened, the grave implications of these events for law and order in other states and the danger that the kind of insurgencies that plague Kashmir and many states in the Northeast may take shape in other parts of the country as well, merely parochial matters of concern only to one state or one party?

The answer to this question is a big “no”. A tragedy like Gujarat’s in all its bearings sends out ominous signals about political threats to internal security in all parts of the country. A deepening of the communal divide in one part of the body politic has repercussions in every other part. And a blatantly partisan conduct of a government in one state targeting a minority community cannot but add to the fears and anxieties of those in the same position elsewhere. Nothing can be more absurd than the BJP’s proposition which, if taken to its logical conclusion, amounts to the claim that it alone has a stake in Gujarat’s internal peace and that if a state is on fire all that the rest of the country has to do is to leave the victims to the mercy of whatever government is in power.

If the BJP genuinely wants to bring Gujarat back to normalcy, restore the minority community’s confidence in its bona fides, and hasten the rehabilitation process, how has it convinced itself, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that Narendra Modi made a good job of controlling the riots? Why has the Vajpayee government preferred disruption of Parliament to accepting the demand by the opposition parties for a debate under an article which ensures voting? Had not the prime minister proclaimed at Panaji that he was ready to prove his majority in the Lok Sabha at any time? Is the uncertainty about how some of his allies might vote making him nervous?

Has he not already made sure that if N. Chandrababu Naidu’s party votes for the adjournment motion, Mayavati will step in to give the NDA the margin of safety it needs? In any case, this is only the beginning of the fallout of the BJP’s cynicism which was in full bloom at Panaji. When the final bill is presented the prime minister may find that the cost has been too exorbitant. Though the numbers game favours him, the basics of the situation as a whole do not. With the army mobilized all along the western front for months, no end to cross-border terrorism in sight, the economy on a downswing and the Gujarat riots sending a wrong signal to foreign investors, the outlook was already pretty bleak.

Dissidence in the NDA ranks, the prospect of having to deal with more dubious allies, the pending budgetary rollback and the increasingly lax fiscal management all promise an era of non-governance. Neither changing the mask to suit the audience the prime minister addresses nor a deeper shade of saffron in his party’s new look will ward off the ill omens.

It is no use taking recourse to dodges. No numbers game, no sales talk and no search for quick fixes to get over one embarrassing situation after another can make up for the lack of effective governance. The country has already had a taste of what this has done to Kashmir. And Gujarat has just had a disorienting experience of a total breakdown of law and order, planned or otherwise.

Things being what they are, even talk of political stability has lost its old meaning. What the country has had for the last six years is a mere shadow, not the substance, of a stable political order. One fractured electoral verdict after another at the Centre has done away for good the promise of a ruling set-up capable of making its decisions stick, not to speak of delivering on its promises.

That is why no one wants a mid-term poll. For all parties realize that with the inevitability of another ramshackle ruling coalition consisting of disparate groups, each with its own communal, regional or caste agenda, will not be more effective than the one now in power and unwittingly busy driving the country into the jaws of anarchy. Few are willing to face up to the consequences of the loss of its steering capacity by the state, and no one is too keen to decode the signals of ill omens coming from Panaji, much less heed the grim warnings they convey.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ WHY DO MOST MEN HATE GAYS? 
 
 
BY YOGINDER SIKAND
 
 
Some days ago, Arjun, a friend in Delhi, wrote of how a policeman had found him arm-in-arm with another man in a public park one evening. He was subsequently threatened that if he did not pay up he would be taken to the police station and his parents informed that he was a homosexual or, worse, a hustler.

Arjun gave in to the policeman’s demand for money. When he reached home, he found, to his shock, the same policeman waiting on the steps of his house. Now that the policeman knew where Arjun lived, he was told that he had better comply with the demands if he did not want his parents to know of his secret life. From that day onwards, Arjun would ply the policeman with money and beer to buy his silence. Life had become a veritable hell.

Arjun’s is not an isolated case. Other gay men have been through similar experiences. Hatred of gays is deeply entrenched in heterosexual, patriarchal society, and as the Indian gay movement grows increasingly assertive there are growing reports of gay bashing, blackmailing and the like. Few Indian gays are open about their sexual orientation for fear of rebuke and persecution, which is why their sexual preference remains a secret that they closely guard from what they perceive to be the hostile hetero-patriarchal society around them.

Challenge stereotypes

What accounts for this hatred of homosexuals? Homosexuality is supposed to be just as “natural” as being left-handed. Why then do heterosexuals, particularly men, react with undisguised hostility whenever the issue of homosexuality is raised?

Much of the hatred of homosexuals, buttressed by appeals to religion and morality, is principally rooted in two factors: ignorance and fear. Not many heterosexuals know gay men or women personally, and even if they do, few would know that they are indeed gay. Ignorance breeds the worst sort of prejudice and promotes negative stereotypes of homosexuals — of gay men being perverts and child-molesters, sex-starved maniacs with insatiable sexual appetites and so on. These stereotypical images, which have no basis in actual fact, then serve to strengthen an already deep-rooted homophobia.

Equally crippling is the fundamental fear which many heterosexual men have of gay men. Any digression from the conventional forms of heterosexuality is perceived as a challenge to the structures of patriarchy and male privilege. If males begin to behave, as many gay men do, like “females” are seen to, not just in purely sexual terms but also in lifestyle and attire, the carefully cultivated, yet fragile, edifice of male superiority structured on male difference begins to crumble. For, if men behave no different from women the rationale behind male superiority is forcefully challenged.

Goal ahead

In this way, homophobia can be seen to be, in a very real sense, a reflection of a hatred and, worse still, a fear of the feminine that lies behind the structure and ideology of patriarchy and male supremacy. The feeling against gays is, in that sense, propelled by a subliminal realization of how flimsy the structures of male domination actually are. And that is why any deviation from the rigid norms of heterosexuality is punished so severely, why gays are associated with criminality and sin, and why people like Arjun and countless others continue to be made mute victims at the altar of patriarchal “morality” and “normality”.

Male liberation is as important as female emancipation for the emergence of a truly human society. In this quest for humanization, gay men have a key role to play by stripping off layers of imposed and carefully cultivated normative rules for male behaviour that are based on both control of women and the denial of the finer, feminine side to every man, for androgyny is a universal condition.

In other words, the gay liberation movement has a dual task ahead of it: freedom for the Arjuns of the world who continue to lead haunted, maimed lives for no fault of their own. And rescuing heterosexual men from the chains of patriarchy that dull their sensitivities and restrict their ability to express emotions. In the process, the gay movement could also challenge the strictures patriarchy constantly imposes on women.

   

 
 
OPENING UP IN THEIR OWN SEPARATE WAYS 
 
 
BY JEFFREY D. SACHS, NIRUPAM BAJPAI AND ANANTHI RAMIAH
 
 
This article explores some of the mysteries of state level performance. We consider four such mysteries: one, the mediocre growth of Kerala despite excellent social indicators; two, the relative fast growth of landlocked, arid Rajasthan; three, the improved growth performance of landlocked Madhya Pradesh; four, the poor growth performance of coastal Orissa.

Kerala is a forerunner in human development terms. However, between 1992 and 1998, Kerala has moved from 6th to 8th place in per capita gross state domestic product rankings and grew at 2.5 per cent between 1980-1990 and 5.2 per cent between 1992-1998. We attribute this poor economic performance to three major factors.

First, Kerala traditionally has had a very low manufacturing base. In 1981, manufacturing as a percentage of GSDP was 13.9 per cent and that had risen to a meagre 15.5 per cent by 1991. Kerala’s poor economic performance can be attributed to a limited focus on and growth of the commodity production sector. Although the economic structure has changed somewhat, it has not seen a deepening of its industrial base.

The secondary sector areas that have seen growth are construction, power and so on, rather than actual manufacturing activity. Kerala’s private investment is very low — as a percentage of GSDP, investment in private projects in Kerala accounted for a mere 1.77 per cent, making it the poorest state in this regard.

As one would expect, Kerala also receives very little foreign direct investment. However, it is one of the biggest recipient states of remittances from Keralite workers abroad (mainly in the Gulf countries). The Rs 6,000 crore the state receives in remittances every year is about a fifth of its domestic product. These remittances are three times more than what the state receives from the Centre as budget support. Between 1980 and 1995, more than Rs 31,350 crore flowed into the state from the Gulf. This disproportionately large income is due to the fact that Kerala accounts for approximately 50 per cent of Indian migration abroad, even though it represents only 3.4 per cent of the total population of the country. Since remittance income is counted as part of the state’s income but not its GSDP, Kerala may not be as poor a state as its GSDP figures suggest.

The lack of FDI and private investment is the likely consequence not only of the lack of an industrial tradition, but because of the relatively hostile attitude of state governments over the years to private investment, and a highly militant labour force which has also resisted private investment. Labour relations problems in Kerala are notorious, with frequent work actions and opposition to privatization. The communist parties which governed the state for many years until 2001, had part of their base in the unions, and did not resist labour militancy. This reputation for aggressive labour tactics has dissuaded private investors, both domestic and foreign over the years. With a change in government, there may also be a change in the investment climate in the state.

Rajasthan recorded the overall highest growth in the pre-reform period. It grew the most in agriculture, tourism, construction and other services (among all 14 states) and was amongst the top three group II states in manufacturing growth. What spurred Rajasthan’s incredible growth spurt in the Eighties? One part of the answer is that Rajasthan received the highest per capita transfers and grants from the Union government among the four BIMARU states, and was one of the top recipients of federal transfers of all states. This explanation is hardly sufficient, however, since other states such as Orissa, which received large transfers, did not experience such successful economic growth. Rajasthan’s high growth remains unexplained in the literature, but should probably be explained by four additional factors: one, the benefits of the Green Revolution in the wheat-growing areas of the state; two, the impact on the state’s agricultural output as a result of building Rajasthan’s Command Canal in the early Eighties; three, the tremendous boost in tourism during the Eighties and the Nineties; and four, the rapid electrification of the state that took place in the Eighties.

Madhya Pradesh practises direct democracy at a rate unparalleled by other Indian states. The extent to which reforms have aided growth in Madhya Pradesh is unclear. One would expect these experiments in direct democracy to work as long-term rather than short-term measures. However, if the reforms were both targeted and quickly and effectively implemented, there is no reason why they should not be a big determinant of Madhya Pradesh’s growth in the Nineties.

Madhya Pradesh was the first state to conduct elections to panchayats in 1994. By this method, it aims to give power to the people directly, rather than to their representatives. Empowering the people has enabled the government to overcome difficult situations such as water shortages. The state supplies the panchayats with some funding and technical support in order to “widen, de-silt and deepen village ponds, dig new wells and build dam checks”. Thus the state government has moved to a supervisory rather than directly administrative role. Drought relief work has particularly targeted women. For instance, the Madhya Pradesh government supports a “food for work” programme where women are given a certain amount of wheat and some limited cash in exchange for their manual labour.

Traditionally, Orissa is one of India’s poorest states (3rd lowest GSDP in 1980). It was also the slowest growing state in the Eighties, at a miniscule one per cent per annum. Its poor growth is partly attributable to its even lower agricultural growth, at 0.72 per cent, though it is unclear why agricultural production has fared so poorly. Its soil and suitability for irrigation do not stand apart from more successful states. One explanation may be Orissa’s vulnerability to floods and the resulting devastation each year as a result of tropical cyclones. Orissa is also notable for having the most productive mines and quarries in the country (which grew by 15.6 per cent during 1980-90), adding further to the mystery of poor performance.

In the post-reform period, Orissa grew somewhat more rapidly than in its pre-reform phase, 2.53 per cent per annum, but was still near the bottom of the states in its growth performance (12th during 1991-98 as opposed to 14th during 1980-90). Moreoever, in some ways, Orissa became an innovator in economic reforms. It was the first state to reform its power sector and it has strongly set out industrial policy. Orissa is also the first state in India that has announced new agricultural and tourism policies.

In the post-liberalization period, Orissa ranks 6th in foreign investment, and at the top in per capita terms. The reason for Orissa’s sudden emergence is its industrial policy, which has directed investors towards Orissa’s abundant natural resources.

Orissa has 90 per cent of India’s chrome ore and nickle reserves; 70 per cent of bauxite; and 24 per cent of coal reserves. With no other state having such abundance of natural resources, the big business houses have no option but to set up steel, aluminium and coal based power projects in Orissa only.

Orissa’s post-reform ability to attract both private and foreign investment makes it plausible that its pre-reform failure was due primarily to ineffective or non-existent industrial policy to exploit its mineral wealth. However, it remains a puzzle as to why its agriculture sector grew so poorly. In the post-reform period, the sector declined more, experiencing a contraction in growth of 0.5 per cent. Despite its resource wealth, Orissa is still a predominantly agricultural state, and thus its poor agricultural performance augurs very badly for its future income growth and income distribution.

One possible explanation that needs further focus is the very high proportion of tribal populations in Orissa. There are 62 distinct tribal groups in the state, concentrated heavily in the Western hills. Around 25 per cent of the state population is tribal, the highest in all of the country. As elsewhere in India, these tribal populations tend to have distinctively lower social indicators in health and education, and suffer social and political exclusion.

Our main finding in conjunction with the study on China is that the forces of convergence, absolute and conditional, are very weak. We should probably expect that India’s growth will continue to be urban-led, favouring those states where urbanization is already high — perhaps due to coastal access or to the relatively high productivity of agriculture. There is little to ensure that growth will equalize across regions. Still, the assessment is hardly a pessimistic one.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is director, CID, Harvard University, and the Galen Stone Professor of International Trade at the Department of Economics Nirupam Bajpai is development advisor at CID and the director of the Harvard Indian Programme Ananthi Ramiah was a summer intern at CID when this study was undertaken in 2001

to be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Thanks, but no thanks

Sir — What makes Shobhaa Dé, a former editor of a film glossy and the author of such piffling works as Socialite Evenings, think she will fit the bill as “brand ambassador for Bengal” (“Shobhaa is willin’, so is state”, April 16)? Dé’s very gracious — and need it be said, completely unsolicited — offer to take up the cause of Bengal and project the many “assets” of the state to the world will come as a surprise to most people. Leave aside the question of whether Bengal needs a “brand ambassador” at all, Dé is not even a Bengali unless one can be a Bengali by marriage. After all, holding fancy dress Bijoya parties for her socialite friends in Mumbai is not all there is to being a Bengali. Also one can think of many more and equally successful true-blue Bengalis who would make much better brand ambassadors. But perhaps the real reason for her new found love for Bengal lies elsewhere — by her own admission, Dé is looking for a publisher for the Bengali translation of her book, Speedpost.
Yours faithfully,
Mitul Ganguly, Calcutta

Firm on agenda

Sir — The editorial, “Back to basics” (April 14), is right in saying that it would be too much to expect the Bharatiya Janata Party to deviate from its Hindutva agenda. The national executive of the party, held in Goa recently, did not condemn the violence in Gujarat. Nor did the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, insist on the resignation of the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, despite being aware of his role in the killing of Muslims in the state. Perhaps the party believes that it is only by aggravating communal polarization, as it did in Gujarat, that it can win elections. This shows how desperate the BJP has become after its poor performance in the recently concluded assembly elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal, as well as in the Delhi municipal elections.

Vajpayee’s remarks were especially disappointing. Instead of punishing Modi, the prime minister accused the minority community of following the “jihadi” principles of Islam. By portraying Muslims as troublemakers who are unable to live in peace and spread terror, he has only reinforced the insecurities of the minority communities in India. His irresponsible remarks will further encourage sectarian violence.

Yours faithfully,
Nita Singh, Calcutta

Sir — It is surprising that the BJP has refused to bow down to pressures from the Telugu Desam Party over the resignation of Narendra Modi. The party is mistaken if it believes that it can pursue its Hindutva agenda and dispense with secularism. It should know that the support of the TDP continues to be crucial if it wants to be in power.

However, the politics of vote banks has exposed the parties’ lack of sincerity and their willingness to compromise on principles for the sake of power. Thus, the TDP’s subsequent vacillation must come as a relief to hardliners in the BJP. It is a pity, however, that a communal chief minister cannot be removed despite his manifest inability to discharge his constitutional obligations.

Yours faithfully,
Dhrubajyoti Ray, Mankundu

Sir — Why has there been such a hue and cry over the statements Atal Bihari Vajpayee made in Goa? History records that the propagators of most modern religions used force to convert others to their faith. Muslims are no exception to this. Vajpayee has merely reiterated this in his speech.

Yours faithfully,
Asok K. Das, Ahmedabad

Sir — While accusing the Muslims of being jihadis, the prime minister seems to have conveniently overlooked the fact that his own party believes in the same ideology that drives militant and fundamentalist Hindu groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Atal Bihari Vajpayee should also have dwelt on the fact that there has been an unprecedented rise in incidents of communal violence and desecration of mosques and churches ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre. Vajpayee’s recent statements have damaged his image of a moderate leader and proved that he is in no way different from those who were responsible for the carnage in Gujarat. His remarks should therefore be condemned by all the secular and peace-loving citizens of our country.

Yours faithfully,
Lourdu Sebastian, Asansol

Sir — It was shocking to hear Sonia Gandhi accuse Atal Bihari Vajpayee of losing his mental balance. Notwithstanding her subsequent apology, it must be said that not only was the scathing and very personal attack unbecoming of a leader of a national party like the Congress, but it was also against all norms of decency. What is interesting is that this was not the first time that the Congress president has attacked her political opponents. One remembers her tirade against the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, not so long ago. She had also criticized the prime minister earlier.

But, since when has Sonia Gandhi become an expert on the human psyche? Perhaps, the Gandhi bahu, forced to abandon her dreams of becoming the prime minister of India, is now preparing to shift careers?

Yours faithfully,
V.A. Gopala, Bangalore

Road blocks

Sir — Auto-rickshaws, which have become one of the most common and convenient modes of transport, are responsible for the chaotic condition of traffic in Calcutta. The drivers of auto rickshaws are notorious for flouting traffic regulations. For example, permits are issued for autos to ply from Bondel Road to Hazra via Ballygunge Phari. The autos however shuttle between Ballygunge Phari and Hazra only — apparently, the Hazra-Bondel route is not lucrative enough. To make matters worse, these autos are often parked right on Ballygaunge Phari, leading to massive traffic snarls at this important and busy junction.
Yours faithfully,
Pallav Paul, Calcutta

Sir — Himani Swami’s suggestion in her letter, “Traffic Travails” (April 9), will greatly help lessen the traffic congestion near Behala chowrasta. I would like to draw attention to a similar problem further down the road. The narrow road connecting Shakherbazar with James Long Sarani is permanently clogged with traffic, thanks to the cycle- and auto-rickshaws that ply on this stretch. Declaring this crossing “one-way” will immediately help to improve the situation. Will the authorities give the idea a trial?

Yours faithfully,
Arun Kumar Agarwal, Calcutta

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