Editorial 1/ Brothers in arms
Editorial 2/ Test case
Maturity begins at home
Fifth Column/ Just to get over the ennui
Good night sweet prince
Document/The few voices of sanity and humanity
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ BROTHERS IN ARMS 
 
 
 
 
The recent arms agreement signed between India and the United States of America is of great political and strategic significance. Under the agreement, the US will supply India with eight AN/TPQ-37 Firefinders, long-range weapon-locating radar systems. Although the deal is only worth about $146 million, which is trivial by the standards of major arms agreements, there are important features of the sale which merit attention. For one, the Kargil war review committee had identified weapon-locating radars as an absolute necessity for ensuring the country’s security and to help prevent future incursions by Pakistan. Not only can the Firefinder, manufactured by Thales Raytheon Systems, detect and pinpoint the location of the adversary’s weapons, it is lightweight, small and highly mobile.

It is also capable of detecting weapon projectiles launched at any angle within selected 90-degree azimuth sectors over 360 degrees of coverage. The system is then able to relay information for counter-fire, tracking, correcting and improving the counter-barrage, as it is under way. Pakistan already deploys the AN/TPQ-36, an earlier version of the Firefinder radar, but it is not equipped with communications equipment of the same level of sophistication as the newer version supplied to India. For another, this is the first arms deal signed between India and the US in over a decade. Not surprisingly, a spokesman for the Defence Security Cooperation Agency, which handles American governmental weapons deals, termed the sale a “historic move”. What is also revealing is the Pentagon’s argument that the sale would help the foreign policy and national security interests of the US by helping to improve the security of India, which has been and continues to be a force for political stability and economic progress in south Asia. More significantly, the sale reflects the growing convergence of strategic interests between India and the US that is translating into closer defence cooperation.

Last December, the bilateral defence policy group met to develop a new and expanded framework in this area. Since then, the US government has worked actively to act on India’s military technology requirements. Of the 81 applications that the US has received from India, more than 20 are on the verge of being cleared. The process may still be slow, but there is clearly greater progress being made than in the past. Since the DPG meeting, India and the US have signed the general security of information agreement and extended military-to-military cooperation to new areas. The US navy, for instance, has already conducted five port calls in India. The two armies have agreed to expand counter-terrorism cooperation and training. Similarly, the Indian and the US air force have chalked out an agenda for joint training and cooperation. In sum, a new pragmatism is guiding India and the US in the area of defence, and it is in the interests of both countries to ensure that this cooperation is further cemented.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ TEST CASE 
 
 
 
 
Ensuring the security of children is one of the primary duties of a state. Whatever the protestations of the government of Gujarat, it has been established by a number of reports that a large proportion of children from the minority community feels too insecure to appear for the board examinations in the state. It would seem that here too the state of Gujarat has failed badly in protecting its children. There is confusion at every level. In most places the examinations had been held as scheduled on March 18, while in Ahmedabad and Vadodara they had been postponed to April 18. According to the examination boards, the percentage of attendance during the examinations in March was “normal”. There is a similar claim being made for those being held since April 18. Once again it is the Supreme Court, acting on a petition brought by a human rights organization, which is insisting on dates for re-tests to be held in May and June. It is a truly puzzling situation when the state administration has lost the trust of all observers and concerned citizens and the court needs to step into every breach.

The reports about the lack of attendance are both pitiful and alarming. The children have lost their admit cards, they do not know where the centres are, they have been requesting for “safe areas” for centres, those in the relief camps are in no mental state to take the examinations. That a youngster from the minority community was beaten up on his way to the examination and his admit card taken away from him comes as no surprise in the atmosphere of fear that is being projected by these reports. The failure of the children to appear for their examinations has two grave implications. It underlines the reality of the horrors they have been through that alone could have created a sense of insecurity on this scale. And it is a projection into the future. The children are willing to give up tests that will lay the foundations of their future life. If there is no re-test, it is not clear how many of them will sit again next year, apart from the fact that they would lose a year anyway. This event alone could yet make a mockery of the aims of education and equal opportunity for all. In the context of the immediate past, protestations of “normal” attendance will only reinforce the impression of inequality being deliberately perpetuated. Corrective steps are urgent, because a perception of this sort can have far-reaching and quite terrible consequences.

   

 
 
MATURITY BEGINS AT HOME 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
The massacres and looting in Gujarat have raised fundamental questions about the rights and responsibilities of citizens in democratic India. They display uncertainty in the minds and behaviour of citizens about what citizenship means in a democracy, what is the rule of law, and that rights must accompany responsibilities. Corporate citizens are mostly made up of domestic individual citizens. It is not surprising that very few corporate leaders and no chambers of commerce have even condemned the massacres at Godhra and later. It was to be expected that they would demonstrate lack of understanding about their social responsibilities as corporate citizens.

What must we expect from good corporate citizens? That they will follow the laws, rules and regulations of the country; try to meet country priorities as expressed in national policies, (for example to promote exports); respect the customs and mores of the country; meet consumer needs; and maximize the wealth of the nation through efficient operations and rising productivity. There are few companies in India that willingly, and as a duty, observe them. They complain about government policies and corruption, but they do not recognize their own contribution to the poor standards of governance.

When it comes to social responsibility, we have even fewer companies that can be said to qualify as meeting the requirements, which must include the immediate and the more distant responsibilities. The immediate ones include: honest dealings with customers with no misrepresentation, fair prices and continuous up-gradation of product design and quality; fair dealings with employees and suppliers; no despoiling because of their operations or their products, of the environment and the ecology; improving the corporate human resources.

More distant from the day-to-day work of the enterprise are others like involving themselves in community development through projects related to health, education, and so on; participating in evolving the best national policies through active lobbying; and supporting the political process through contributing finances to political parties. It is in lobbying for policy changes and involvement in the political process through mostly under-the-table funding, that more companies are active, not in the other responsibilities.

If we consider the expectations of the stakeholders from the companies that they deal with, these are also barely fulfilled. Shareholders expect that their equity capital will rise in value, that investments in loan or equity will be safe, that the returns will be better than on most other investments, and that the company will be transparent and honest in its disclosures. In fact of course, few companies conform to these expectations. The declining interest shown by investors in the last five years in corporate equity and debt demonstrates this. The use of insider information by the management, the rigging of markets to get unjustified and short-term higher values for their market offerings, the poor quality of disclosures are more common among Indian companies than not.

Employees expect that companies will provide security of employment while expecting job performance, safety at work, adequate and timely remuneration, career development and job enrichment. Again, few companies can be said to meet these requirements except when it is unavoidable by law. Those who do so voluntarily are very successful in terms of their growth, profitability and returns to shareholders.

Suppliers in India, especially the many in the small-scale sector, are much exploited by their larger customer companies who hold up settling of bills, do not give forward procurement plans, reject at will and deal with them in unfair ways. Of course the citizenship and responsibility of small-scale entrepreneurs are of a much lower standard than those of the organized sector.

The government in India has excellent laws but is unable to implement them. This is so as regards full payment of the due direct and indirect taxes, and obedience to other laws and regulations, from the food adulteration laws to those relating to pollution. Indeed, many companies encourage poor implementation of laws through bribery and corruption of government officials.

If the private sector is cavalier about its responsibilities to society, the public sector was designed to do the opposite. For long, public sector enterprises have had to struggle with meeting social responsibilities laid down in their charters, and increasingly in recent years, to also meet financial performance standards. The social responsibilities have included the development of backward areas, giving preference to purchasing from other public enterprises, maximizing employment, keeping prices low, giving subsidized supplies to certain customers, all of which hurt financial performance.

They are also prevented from legal recourse against other supplier public enterprises. When the Gas Authority of India Limited for example, is unable to supply the gas promised to a National Thermal Power Corporation plant using gas that was set up on such an assurance, the NTPC cannot demand compensation for non-performance of contract. Nor can it try to get justice from the courts, because the owner, namely the government, will not give it permission to do so.

Social responsibility cannot be at the expense of the shareholders and employees, or at the expense of the company’s growth and profitability. The primary social responsibility is to manage efficiently and as good corporate citizens. It lies in anticipating and meeting customer requirements. It demands transparent disclosure and no use of insider information in the stock markets. It requires that the company does not damage its surrounding environment. Its employees must be nurtured and all of them must have a chance to give their best to the company.

Sound management practices lead to responsible corporate behaviour on most of these items, and for others there are laws to be followed. Unfortunately, many companies violate them because the implementation of laws by the government is so poor. The effect of competition in the market also serves increasingly to keep companies on the right path as far as consumers and employees are concerned.

Some suggestions can be made to keep companies on the lawful path as corporate citizens. One of the non-executive directors could be named as ombudsman to receive complaints of violations from whistle-blowers and then investigate them. In the United States of America, a senior female auditor had no such outlet at Enron and could complain only to the chairman, who did nothing about it. It is on questions of social responsibility that we run into difficulty. This is particularly so with large companies who may get involved in community effort, in high-level lobbying and in political funding and even electioneering. It is not easy to distinguish where business interests are best served by such activities and where there are other considerations driving the effort. A good rule might be to only take such social actions that ultimately will lawfully benefit the corporate interest. Thus a company might take up health and education projects in the area where it has its establishment. If it wishes to do so in other areas, it might donate money to an organization that works there.

Good citizenship and responsibility are symptoms of a mature nation. The non-response of corporate citizens to the Gujarat massacres shows poor understanding of their duties. This is reflected in other corporate behaviour. Many companies submit untruthful accounts, rig their share prices, do not settle complaints about their products, delay supplier payments, mistreat employees, bribe their way into illegal government approvals, steal public assets like electricity, use substandard materials, and in many other ways try to gain undeserved advantage.

The fact that ours is a soft state in which penalties are low, delayed and rarely given, and where the investigative and judicial processes are slow and many times faulty, encourages poor citizenship.

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

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ JUST TO GET OVER THE ENNUI 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
Seventeen eighty nine, 1815, 1830, 1848, 1870, 1936, 1968: France has a habit of blowing up in the faces of those who presume to rule it. And while there are no signs of impending revolution at the moment, the mood of the French as they move into two months of non-stop elections — presidential elections today with a run-off on May 5, followed by two rounds of parliamentary elections on June 9 and 16 — is grumpy at best, and totally bloody-minded at worst.

In one sense this is quite unreasonable, for France is not in a bad shape. The past five years which have seen a right-wing president, Jacques Chirac, “co-habit” with a Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, the economy has grown much faster than in France’s leading continental rival, Germany. Unemployment, though high, has drifted downwards. The country’s public services are excellent, and its national health service has been acclaimed by the World Health Organization two years running as the best on the planet. What have they got to complain about?

But in another sense, the electorate does have much to complain about. The two leading presidential candidates, Chirac and Jospin, are the same men the French had to choose from in the last presidential elections in 1995.

Two men in the boat

They have governed the country jointly since Jospin became prime minister after the 1997 parliamentary elections. There is no way that the voters can break the status quo; they just get to choose between different representatives of it.

“There is a real problem in understanding the differences between Chirac and Jospin in this campaign,” explained opinion pollster, Philippe Mechet. “People are turning to anyone original, even if they’re a Trotskyist.” And so they are: the Trotskyist candidate, Arlette Laguiller of Lutte Ouvriere (Workers’ Struggle), a party that preaches the dictatorship of the proletariat, is currently running at 10 per cent of the vote. So is Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far right, ex-paratrooper who believes that the Nazi gas chambers were “a detail of history”.

Looking at Chirac and Jospin, you can hardly blame them. The main problem with Chirac is the stench of corruption that follows him everywhere. The latest in a long series of revelations about his inability to distinguish between private income and public money is a report published by the current mayor of Paris. It alleges that when Chirac held the same office in 1987-95, he and his wife managed to charge the town hall almost $2.5 million for food consumed in their private apartment. They were claiming to spend over $50 a day even on tea and coffee, and many of the receipts were altered or even faked.

Bored stiff

Jospin is as sneaky as Chirac is sleazy. It was recently revealed that he had secretly remained a member of a small Trotskyist revolutionary party, the International Communist Organization, until 1987 — that is 16 years after he joined the Socialist Party, and six years after he became general secretary of that party.

In other words, for more than half the time he has belonged to the Socialist Party, he was a mole, boring from within while awaiting the great day of the proletarian revolution. So much for principle — and now he’s even dropped the socialism.

With candidates like that, it’s little wonder that the percentage won by the protest vote is rising steadily from one presidential election to the next. But in the second round all the protest candidates will fall away, and the run-off will once again be between Chirac and Jospin. The latest opinion polls put Jospin slightly ahead in the second round, but at least half of both men’s votes will come from people who would far rather vote for someone else.

In France, prolonged stagnation in the political system has traditionally preceded a great upheaval. As a newspaper put it in a famous headline just before the “events” of 1968, “La France s’ ennuie”(France is getting bored).

It makes absolutely no kind of rational sense to talk about a replay of 1968 when the French seem so prosperous, so calm, so resigned to a dull but comfortable fate. But it is France we’re talking about, so you can never be sure.

   

 
 
GOOD NIGHT SWEET PRINCE 
 
 
BY RUDRANGSHU MUKHERJEE
 
 
“Death is not understood by death: nor you, nor I”: so W.H. Auden, one of the favourite poets of S. Gopal who died on April 20. Nobody will ever be able to explain why S. Gopal, whose enjoyment of life was second to none, should have suffered such a long and debilitating illness before time claimed him irredeemably.

I first saw Gopal on April 2, 1974 when Barun De invited him to deliver a lecture at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta. He made such an impression that I still remember the date. I got to know him when later that same year I became his pupil in the history department of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The rapport was almost immediate, and on my side — because of my youth, no doubt — it bordered on hero worship. The relationship evolved. He watched me grow from a precocious student to a young historian and teacher and then to a journalist. The verb “watched” is used advisedly. Gopal did not believe in deliberate monitoring. He watched, when asked he gave sane advice and helped by stealth like a millionaire dowager shoplifting at Harrod’s. We became friends, and for a few years in the Nineties, before illness prevented him travelling, we tried to coincide our visits to Delhi so that we could meet for breakfast at the India International Centre to chat and gossip. After that, whenever I called him, his first question was, “When are you coming to see me?” I did manage to go to Chennai in August 2000, only to see him. We spent the entire morning together and I could see how frail my old friend and teacher had become; that special Gopal sparkle had gone. I remember coming away from Girija, the house his father had built, and thinking of the lines of Philip Larkin which Gopal himself had quoted to describe his father’s old age and final illness: in this evening which lights no lamps.

There were many many more meetings than the ones I have just recalled — and I will be pardoned for reminiscing, but memories have been chasing each other since the phone call came on Saturday afternoon that Gopal was dead — but there are a few that tend to stand out. One glorious spring afternoon in Cambridge, Easter Sunday I think it was, when we met unexpectedly on King’s Parade, both of us walking unhurriedly to listen to evensong at King’s; the silence and the solitude that followed once the service was over. Coffee at King’s Arms, the pub across the road from the Bodley in Oxford, on the morning Sanjay Gandhi’s plane crashed: Gopal telling me softly that he had known Sanjay as a small boy. And most of all a hilarious coach ride from Cambridge to London when all the other passengers wondered what a grey-haired man and a young man, quite obviously don and student, had so much to chuckle and laugh about.

Oxford lay deep in Gopal’s heart, and seeing him there, I always thought of the place as his natural habitat. And so it was, because his association with the place went back a long way and was, in fact, parental. His father, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, was the first Spalding professor of Eastern religion and ethics in Oxford. Gopal went up to Balliol from Mill Hill, a public school just outside London. In the Sixties, he went back to Oxford as the Reader in modern Indian history. He remained till his death a fellow of St Antony’s College. Oxford manners and rituals were so embedded in him that at a lunch in Delhi for Colin Lucas, who had then just been elected Master of Balliol, Gopal, forever the loyal Balliol man, went up to Colin, many years his junior, and said, “Good afternoon, Master.” Even Colin Lucas’s reassuring “Just Colin to you, Gopal” didn’t persuade Gopal to jettison the old world Oxford formality.

But this shouldn’t convey the impression that Gopal was a formal man. With friends he was always casual and even with students who made the effort to break through his formidable personality. His teaching was informal and open. He was better in tutorials than in classroom lectures. He listened to questions and always had time for answers with which he was not in agreement. He never pushed his own views but encouraged students to think for themselves. When we were his students in the middle Seventies and the shadow of the Emergency had not fallen on JNU, Gopal was at the peak of his power and influence. But he wore this very lightly and most students were unaware of the weight his voice carried.

His closeness to Jawaharlal Nehru went back to the days when Gopal had served as the director of the historical division of the ministry of external affairs. Gopal described Nehru as “the hero of my youth”. It was thus fitting that Gopal became Nehru’s biographer and the editor of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru. But he took his time to don the mantle of Nehru’s biographer.

His first books are now forgotten. He won the Curzon Memorial Essay Prize in Oxford for an essay on the Permanent Settlement in Bengal and its Results. This was published as a book. He wrote two separate books on the viceroyalties of Lord Ripon and Lord Irwin. This immersion in the viceregal papers paved the ground for a major study of British policy in India between 1858 and 1905. Individuals were thus important to Gopal and even his study of policy was individual-centric. He did not look at the social and economic structures that made policy and were made by policy. British Policy in India, published in 1965, examined “the ideas and aspirations of British parties and statesmen, their ways and methods of implementing them and the consequences, both anticipated and unintended, of these efforts”.

The date of publication is important. Gopal in 1965 was already 43 years old (he was born on April 23, 1923). Most historians around this age have formed their views. Gopal showed his intellectual openness in the way in the next ten years he absorbed the work of his younger colleagues in Indian economic history and the history of Indian nationalism. Gopal encountered and became part of the first major shift in the historiography of modern India.

The first volume of the biography of Jawaharlal Nehru (published in 1975) opened with a masterly and lucid survey of the Indian economy and society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gopal used this as the context of the life and career of the young Jawaharlal. The focus on the individual was now fleshed out with an awareness of context, of the way in which social and economic factors make the career and opinions of an individual, even of a remarkable one. The subsequent volumes never matched the command of the first one. He became too close to his subject, the hero of his youth, and faltered wherever Nehru did. But the first volume of the biography of Nehru will remain a landmark biography.

Gopal surprised everybody when, after the biography of Nehru, he decided to write a life of his father. But this is perhaps the best book he wrote. It was a son’s book, but the level of objectivity and distance he achieved was remarkable. It could not have been an easy book to write. He seldom spoke about it. But he traced the life and the ideas of Radhakrishnan with clarity and coherence. His prose, always limpid, acquired in the sections on his father’s last years in Madras, an almost poetic quality.

In the Preface to the book on his father, Gopal wrote, “I have tried not to be swayed by personal affection and have shirked nothing.” There was something fearless about this declaration. Not only in his writing, in his life too Gopal could be fearless. He refused to compromise with the Emergency despite his closeness to Indira Gandhi and broke with her. In an interview to The Telegraph in 1997, he said that the Emergency was the worst disaster to have befallen India in the 50 years after independence. In 1977 when the Janata government began an onslaught on the so-called leftist bias in history writing, Gopal was among the first to react with a long essay called “The Fear of History” in Seminar. He edited a volume on the Babri Masjid controversy called The Anatomy of a Confrontation. He lived by certain values and refused to surrender them.

These values were informed by an unalloyed enjoyment of life. Gopal loved to travel and loved good food and good wine. When one was with him laughter was a constant companion, banter a part of his art of conversation. Like most Oxford men, he loved gossip. He was often serious but never deadeningly solemn. He refused to let the child in him die and this gave to his persona an ineffable charm. He was also devastatingly good-looking.

All this, and the full life that he had lived, made his last days so sad for those who knew and loved him. I began with Auden and I will end with him: “he closed his eyes/ upon that last picture, common to us all,/ of problems like relatives gathered/ puzzled and jealous about our dying.”

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/THE FEW VOICES OF SANITY AND HUMANITY 
 
 
 
 
Yet through all the horror of Gujarat there were also the voices of sanity and humanity. The delegation was moved by the tremendous work being done by relief workers of all communities. It also met scores of people young and old, men and women who expressed their horror and anger at the communal carnage and against the forces who planned for its occurrence. They all expressed their helplessness. There were huge mobs with the police standing by. How could we have come out against them, they asked. We are against what happened, but what could we have done? Questions that haunt the human conscience. There were cases where neighbours had saved Muslims. In some areas like in Juhapura, some Hindu families have left out of fear but their property is undamaged. The Shah Alam camp organizers are also running a camp in a mandir where a group of Hindu families has come. These are examples that provide some hope.

The delegation has made this detailed report available so that a wider section of people become aware of what the implementation of Hindu rashtra costs the nation.

...The delegation visited Godhra town in Panchmahal district on March 11 where it met the district magistrate, railway officials, railway police officials, doctors and nurses at the Civil Hospital. At the Iqbal Primary School that is being run as a relief camp for about 1,800 people, the delegation met the organizers as also the affected. It was the first day that the curfew had been lifted for the full day and was to be imposed at 6 pm.

The district magistrate, Jayanthi Ravi, told the delegation that she had got a message from the railway station SS at 8.05 am on February 27 that the Sabarmati Express was being stoned. At 8.10 am she got another message saying that some of the carriages were on fire. Her immediate concern, she said, was to ensure that the police and fire services reached there and that adequate medical arrangements were made. According to her, the police reached there within a few minutes. The police and the railway police force fired to disperse the crowd, and two Muslims were killed. The fire service reached at around 8.30 am. She also asked for additional forces. She refused to comment on any aspect of what was part of the investigations except to state that the mob was of a few hundred people from the area neighbouring the railway tracks and that all those injured had been rushed to the Civil Hospital and later shifted to Ahmedabad. She took the decision to impose curfew at 10 am and it was implemented fully by noon, by which time all the children in schools had been safely sent home. The train left for Ahmedabad at 12.40 pm. The delegation was impressed by the firm actions taken by the DM that probably prevented a much bigger outbreak of violence in a town described as “communally sensitive”.

Later when the delegation visited the relief camp, ...the positive role of the administration in providing relief and medical aid was also mentioned by those affected. The delegation could not get details of the actual damage in Godhra as it was not possible in such a short period to move around the town. The delegation also met senior railway officials including the members of the RPF who were there on Feb 27. Tragically, Puja Deshpande, the wife of the station master, Deepak Deshpande, had boarded the Sabarmati Express on that day to travel to Ahmedabad. She was one of those who had been burnt to death. The delegation tried to meet Deshpande but he was not available. According to the statements of the officials, the train was running late by 4 hours and 40 minutes. They had no information that kar sevaks were on the train. Usually, said an RPF officer, when rallyists travel, there is prior information. Thus, when the rallyists were on their way to Ayodhya, the RPF post had received a message and the particular officer had in fact accompanied them till the next big junction. This, according to him, is essential because rallyists usually pick up fights at the station, not paying for the tea and so on. The RPF official said he was later informed by two licenced tea vendors that some of the kar sevaks refused to pay for their tea and were harassing a Muslim tea vendor on the platform. However he could not tell the delegation their names or where they lived. Thus this report could not be confirmed. When asked about a press report that a girl related to the tea vendor had been picked up, he said that he had no knowledge of such an incident but there may have been a quarrel between the tea vendor and the kar sevaks. According to him the police have not recorded any statements of the vendors yet because of the curfew, but will do so shortly.

to be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

It’s all about money, honey

Sir — Elizabeth Hurley is back in the news with claims and counter-claims regarding the paternity of her son (“Looking for Liz son’s father”, April 21). The millionaire, Steve Bing, who Hurley says is the child’s father, has asked for a paternity test although Hurley insists that she was in an “exclusive relationship” with him. A major reason behind the prevalent guardianship laws in England and the proposed legislation in West Bengal, which will make a mother’s identity sufficient for her child’s legal identification, is to make it possible for a woman to lead a normal life free of legal hassles even if her child’s biological father refuses to accept responsibility. It is therefore confusing why Hurley is so hellbent on proving that Bing is the father of her child. She does not need a legal sanction to raise her child in England. By demanding a paternity test, Bing is actually asking her to prove she is not lying. Would Hurley have pursued her case to this point if Bing was not a millionaire?
Yours faithfully,
Ratul Ghosh, Guwahati

Sparring partners

Sir — I agree with Sonia Gandhi’s comment that Atal Bihari Vajpayee has lost his mental balance. She should have added that he has lost his memory as well. Of late, Vajpayee has been regularly forgetting what he says and then either contradicting himself or issuing clarifications. When the violence in Gujarat began, he told the Lok Sabha that he was ashamed and that the incidences of violence had tarnished the image of the country. When Vajpayee visited Gujarat later, he was full of sympathy for the victims. His advice to Narendra Modi was to do all he could to help the riot affected and to bring back normalcy. But in his speech in Goa, Vajpayee did a complete U-turn. He justified the Gujarat violence by saying that it was the result of the Godhra carnage.

Further, it is surprising that the prime minister can talk of holding elections in Gujarat. Violence in the state has not abated yet. The Bharatiya Janata Party knows that Muslims will not be able to come out to vote and hence the party will be left with only Hindus to vote for it. So the party calculates, it will win the elections easily.

Vajpayee has even accused the Muslims of being separatists and propagating their religion through terror and money. But what about the sangh parivar hooligans in Gujarat who have told the minorities to leave the country or be forced out? The saffron outfits have now asked the Hindus not to have any truck with the Muslims — not to do business with them, not to employ or work for them, not to watch movies with Muslim actors or actresses. Hindu doctors have been asked not to treat Muslims. This will only lead more Muslims to take to smuggling, drug-trafficking, terrorism, and so on. It will also make them more vulnerable to blandishments by mischief-makers, from within and without.

Vajpayee has accused secular parties of over-reacting on the basis of media reports. It is pity that he has not verified the media reports himself. The camera does not lie. What was seen on television screens was not a soap opera shot in a studio.

Yours faithfully,
T. Hussain, Rourkela

Sir — How could Ghulam Nabi Azad say that the prime minister should be arrested under the anti-terror law and that he was more dangerous than Pervez Musharraf (“Al Qaida mud on Atal critics”, April 17)? Congressmen have raised a hue and cry about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s comments in Goa. But Vajpayee was commenting as a BJP leader in Goa and not as the prime minister of India, just as in Gujarat he was speaking as the prime minister. His comments should not be taken out of context.

Actually, the Congress is restless at being out of power especially now that it is ruling in 14 states. But much as the Congress would like to believe it is secular, it is not — it merely believes in appeasing the Muslims at the expense of the Hindus.

Yours faithfully,
Manjul Saha, Rourkela

Sir — Never have Indian politicians behaved as badly as they do today. The leader of the opposition especially is supposed to behave in a responsible and dignified manner. Her utterances should be such that they command respect even from the treasury benches. Thus it was sad to see Sonia Gandhi tell the prime minister that he had lost his mental balance. At the very least she should have shown some respect for his advanced years. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a veteran politician much before Sonia Gandhi had even come to India.

The prime minister is an institution, not just a person. By denigrating him, she is insulting the nation and the position she intends to capture by hook or by crook. Sonia Gandhi’s own subsequent apology shows that it is she who has lost her mind.

Yours faithfully,
K.B. Misra, Kharagpur

Talk about cricket

Sir — It is truly mystifying that Harsha Bhogle was adjudged the best cricket commentator by a media group recently. Yes, Bhogle does speak good English but he is mostly clueless about what is going on in the field. On occasions when a batsman was declared out Bhogle was not even able to decipher correctly the reasons for the dismissal. Besides, his commentary is full of irrelevant details and gossip which have hardly any bearing on the game.

In a recent television interview with Sachin Tendulkar, Bhogle was fine as long as he stuck to non-cricketing subjects. But when one of the callers asked which shot Tendulkar could not play well, he stared at Tendulkar adoringly and commented that there was no shot that he could not play. Bhogle does not know that the hook shot, which Tendulkar has a tendency to play into the air, is Tendulkar’s weakness.

In our country, people who have never played cricket seem to write and comment freely about the game in the media. Of course, our large fanatic cricket fans provide enough readership/viewership for whatever gossip that is cooked up by these so-called critics of the game.

Yours faithfully,
Shivaji Ray, Calcutta

Sir — It is shocking to see Anil Kumble axed from the playing eleven for the second test match between India and West Indies. The man who has taken over 300 test wickets doesn’t deserve this treatment. The question is, is the wicket responsible for Kumble’s non-inclusion or his recent poor form? If it is the latter then the team manage-ment must similarly punish all the batsmen who are in poor form.

Yours faithfully,
Harsh Kishore Saraogi, Calcutta

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