Editorial 1/ Roll over
Editorial 2/ Too red for safety
Got the wrong bird
Landed with a lot of trouble
Document/ It takes a few to cook up a frenzy
Fifth Column/ Partition was no new beginning
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ ROLL OVER 
 
 
 
 
Technically, every finance minister has the right to modify the finance bill. But in an attempt to preserve his job, Mr Yashwant Sinha has not just rolled back. He has rolled over. All this to placate the elusive “common man”. If the Goa agenda is hatched in Marriott Hotel, it is understandable that common man should be equated with urban middle classes and businessmen. Including the rollback on LPG subsidy, the revenue loss is Rs 2,850 crore. Mr Sinha claims this will be recovered through economizing expenditure. If economy in expenditure was possible, why was this not attempted in the original budget proposals? And what kind of expenditure will be cut? The logic of reforms has been removing exemptions on direct and indirect taxes and removing discretion across sectors and items. Mr Sinha has restored part of the rebate under Section 88. That he has done this by 15 per cent, and not 20 per cent as demanded by the Bharatiya Janata Party brass, is neither here nor there. The threshold of investments eligible for rebate has also been increased to Rs 1 lakh.

Similarly, indirect taxes should converge to a single rate and excise exemptions disappear. But to placate the small-scale industry sector, exemptions have been re-introduced for bicycle parts, hand pumps, toys, umbrellas, tiles, pre-recorded cassettes, granite, marble and some garments. The finance minister has the gall to suggest that excise on pre-recorded cassettes should be reduced to curb piracy. If this is a valid argument, then there should not be indirect taxes on any item amenable to piracy and counterfeiting. And if the BJP president’s argument of not antagonizing the common man is accepted, all taxation should be scrapped.

Discretion is also evident in the decision to hike customs duties on dairy products like butter and butter oil. Despite Gujarat’s obvious interest in the dairy sector, the adverse impact of the Gujarat fallout will require much more than import duty reductions on butter. The 100 per cent deduction on export profits from special economic zones runs contrary to what the government has itself proclaimed and illustrates the lack of coordination between the commerce and finance ministries. There can be an argument for exempting 5 per cent service tax on life insurance, since the sector is just being opened up and most of service sector taxation awaits the introduction of value added taxation. But this should have been thought of at the stage of budget formulation. Double taxation of dividends and the tax surcharge are both illogical. Both continue, although tax deduction at source for dividends will henceforth only apply if income is more than Rs 1,000. A better idea would have been to scrap double taxation entirely. Finally, why should land lines be removed from the 1-in-6 scheme? This merely requires submission of returns, not payment of taxes. Voting in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh took place before the budget. So, is the BJP reacting to the Delhi municipal elections and catering to telephone-owning traders and businessmen? Then there is an argument for allowing unauthorized constructions in Delhi. The BJP has proved itself incapable of governing. Now it proves itself incapable of reforming. The Hindutva agenda is all that remains.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ TOO RED FOR SAFETY 
 
 
 
 
Guerrilla warfares usually degenerate into mindless cycles of violence without a road map. Nepal’s Maoist rebels seem to have lost their way in endless bloodletting in ambushes and encounters. They were hopelessly wrong to have calculated that a sustained spell of stepped-up violence would force the government to talk to them. The prime minister, Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba, reacted to the challenge in the only way any government worth its salt would have done in a similar situation. Not only did he refuse to submit to the threat, but he also received the support of his own party, the Nepali Congress, and the opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) in meeting it with renewed determination. If Mr Deuba sticks to his resolve, he is likely to receive moral and material support from countries like the United States of America and the United Kingdom that have appreciated the Himalayan kingdom’s war against red terrorism. He cannot afford to capitulate under pressure from either disgruntled politicians waiting to discredit him or the apparent success of some rebel strikes. He would be better equipped to fight the battle if he accepts that there will be no easy victory. But their stray successes in striking at government forces cannot help the Maoists either succeed in their goal of overthrowing the monarchy and establishing a republic in Nepal. They may be offered an opportunity to talk, but only after, as Mr Deuba insists, they lay down arms.

India has genuine reasons to be concerned over the Maoist menace next door and therefore help Nepal fight it. The rebels are known to have established not only links with some extremist outfits in India but also routes on the India-Nepal border for arms smuggling and clandestine movements. The recent arrest of eight Nepali Maoists in Lucknow and their extradition exposed the danger once again. The Maoists’ opposition to the renewal of the 1950 Indo-Nepalese friendship treaty is only a ploy to exploit differences between the two countries. New Delhi cannot have ignored the Maoists’ attempts to foment anti-India sentiments in Nepal at the time of the tragic assassination of King Birendra and his family last June. Maoist extremism in a geopolitically sensitive neighbourhood will naturally be a security concern for India as well.

   

 
 
GOT THE WRONG BIRD 
 
 
BY BRIJESH D. JAYAL
 
 
The MiG-21 series of aircraft constitutes around 40 per cent of the Indian air force’s combat force. Hardly surprising, therefore, that information of significance published on this crucial weapon system is scrutinized not only in IAF crew rooms and officers’ messes, but even more minutely by security and operational planners of India’s potential adversaries. In its recently tabled 29th report on “Aircraft Accidents in the Indian Air Force”, the public accounts committee of Parliament has called for phasing out of the MiG-21 aircraft from the IAF’s inventory. Pointing out that of the 221 aircraft destroyed in flying accidents between 1991 and 2000 with a loss of 100 pilots’ lives, 100 were MiG-21 fighters, the PAC has concluded that “the IAF is saddled with a sad compromise between what the nation can afford and what ought to be discarded”.

However noble the PAC’s sentiments may be, this recommendation may well have a detrimental effect on safety. For fighter and trainee pilots currently flying the MiG-21s (and their families), it is not a cheerful thought to be told that their daily workplace is a fighter aircraft that has been dubbed a “widow maker” by some insensitive commentators. Not surprisingly, the chief of air staff was compelled to undertake a “damage limiting” exercise by declaring publicly the obvious, that every IAF aircraft that takes to the air is fully serviceable and fit to undertake its mission. While the unacceptably high accident rate bedevilling the IAF for many decades has been a cause for recurring concern and the subject of successive committees, the simplistic notion that immediate phasing out of the MiG-21s will somehow solve the problem is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water.

There is another dimension to recommendations made by such a high level committee on a matter so vital to national security: one of sheer pragmatism. Can the nation in its current state of security compulsions phase out nearly 40 per cent of its combat air force? Can it afford replacement costs in one go that will run into tens of thousands of crores of rupees depending on the types of replacements chosen? Are replacements meeting the IAF’s requirements even available?

And finally, even if all these choices were plausible, would it not take a dozen or more years just to obtain replacements even if by magic the semi-paralysed defence procurement decision-making system were to arrive at an instant decision? In the interim, would not the gap in India’s air power impinge on national security?

Shorn of sensationalism, it is worth looking at the problem in some detail. In absolute terms, the MiG-21 accounts for the largest number of accidents, because its numbers are the greatest. Even a relatively higher accident rate as compared to other fighters is understandable if one considers the following.

First, the aircraft is also being used as an advanced jet trainer in the hands of trainee pilots, an avoidable compromise not of the IAF’s making but for which it continues to pay a heavy price in lives. Second, the air intake/engine combination designed for supersonic performance, is highly sensitive to bird strikes even the size of sparrows. Again, the compulsion to use such a design for the strike role is not of the IAF’s choosing, but is due to limited choices and budgets over decades.

And last, ever since the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union, the MiG-21 fleet has been at the mercy of very indifferent spares and product support both from Russia and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Recent reports indicate India’s interest in buying an entire MiG 21 spares factory with plant and machinery from Russia. The justification of this, according to government sources, is the closure of production units in Russia thereby compelling India to purchase low quality spares from Ukraine and various east European countries.

In all, over 5,000 MiG-21 aircraft have been manufactured worldwide with some 1,000 still reportedly operational with air forces of at least 33 countries. A few years ago, the Israel Aircraft Industries developed the MiG-21 2000 upgraded fighter and ground attack version for export. A programme to upgrade 125 MiG-21 bis at significant costs is presently underway to keep the MiG-21 operational with the IAF till at least 2015 since the light combat aircraft is hopelessly behind schedule. Surely this level of commitment by air forces and aviation industries across the world does not point to the MiG-21 being an aged aircraft to be consigned to the museum?

If these general assumptions are even partially correct then undue pessimism about the viability of the MiG-21 is premature and misplaced. Instead, the underlying systemic weaknesses need to be redressed.

Which brings us to the issue of the high number of accidents in the IAF. While the IAF must ultimately bear responsibility for its operations, training, safety and indeed losses, air force flying operations are dependent on many factors outside its immediate control. It is a sad reflection on national security consciousness and commitment that the IAF gets little or no support from concerned agencies within this country.

In the early Seventies, the Kohli committee looked at the problem of accidents and made recommendations. This was followed in the early Eighties, by the LaFontaine (later to become chief of air staff) committee. In between, at the initiative of the IAF, the late Salim Ali and the Bombay Natural History Society carried out a detailed survey of IAF airfields and local flying areas and made comprehensive recommendations to reduce bird strike accidents. The Kalam committee in 1997 reportedly stated that the IAF accident rate could be halved over the long term if its recommendations to address three major reasons were implemented, namely human error (aircrew and servicing crew), technical defects and bird strikes.

The IAF knows to its utter frustration that while minor and peripheral recommendations of all such committees are promptly addressed, the more serious ones, which by their very nature are also critical to safety, get bogged down in endless debate, finally being consigned to lockers in the ministry of defence. If this sounds an unfair indictment, then a few examples will illustrate the point.

To take aircrew error first. Based on the LaFontaine committee recommendations, the government accepted the need for an advanced jet trainer as far back as 1986 and the IAF evaluated various options. Not surprisingly, the Kalam committee in 1997 repeated this recommendation. The fourth report of the standing committee on defence (1998-99) of the 12th Lok Sabha on the AJT squarely blamed the government for indulging in a procrastinative technique of committing the matter ad nauseum to various committees and deplored that such methodology was being adopted for inventing alibis despite its admission that non-availability of an AJT continued to take a heavy toll in terms of training-related accidents. Even such severe strictures by a parliamentary committee have come to naught and the IAF is without the AJT.

On the technical side, the air force’s case for having its own engineering college stands accepted for well over a decade. Yet such an institution, which exists in the other two services, and which will make a qualitative improvement to air forces technical knowledge, skills and attitudes, still eludes the IAF.

The air force depends either on Russia or the HAL for product support for the MiG-21 fleet. The latter is also responsible for major repair and overhaul of this fleet. As mentioned earlier, Russian support has been erratic and unreliable, compelling the IAF to look at sources whose quality may be suspect. In the past, the HAL’s performance on quality, timely delivery and reliable product support has also been criticized. The services’ pleas to assume control of government quality control inspectors at HAL and defence public sector units for better accountability have long been resisted, although one is unaware of any recent changes. Considering that a major portion of HAL’s turnover comes from the IAF budget, discontinuation of the practice of deputing senior IAF officers to the HAL in senior management positions has also had a detrimental effect.

While the IAF does its best to control bird menace within its airfields, it has no control beyond. Today notwithstanding the existence of IAF-civil bird hazard committees, which are virtually defunct, and laws forbidding construction adjoining airfields which are blatantly violated, no tangible steps are possible towards reducing the bird menace, because of entrenched and varied interests.

Judging by the past, the latest PAC report will soon join its other illustrious predecessors in the archives. If indeed the nation is serious about preserving its air power assets and the morale of those who man this fine service, then the time has come to stop indulging in the age-old procrastinative technique of forming committees. The problems and solutions to flight safety are well known and documented, only the administrative will is lacking. Making the MiG-21 a scapegoat unfortunately is not the answer.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force and a test pilot who has extensively test flown the MiG-21 in IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited

   

 
 
LANDED WITH A LOT OF TROUBLE 
 
 
BY MADHUSHREE C. BHOWMIK
 
 
For the past 40 years, Ajay Mitra, a lawyer by profession, has identified himself with the land of his birth in Singhbhum, Jharkhand. He learnt the language of the land, adapted his lifestyle to suit its ethos and even pioneered a human rights movement for the indigenous inhabitants. After spending more than a quarter of his adult life fighting for the sons of the soil — in court and at various ethnic rights’ determination workshops and seminars in the state and outside — he finds himself an “outsider”. The spectre of eviction haunts the veteran human rights’ activist.

The tribals, whom he helped discover their self-worth in the feudal milieu of undivided Bihar, have given him the tag of a diku (foreigner). They want him out of their domain. Mitra has joined the ranks of social castaways, whose hearth, home and identity are at stake in the nascent state, sharply polarized along ethnic lines.

The Singhbhum administration has initiated proceedings to “restore” Mitra’s land to its rightful owners under the Scheduled Area Regulation statutes. The case is pending in West Singhbhum’s Chaibasa court. The man, who had made the tiny plot in the heart of the town his home for the past 40 years, is suddenly rootless, an emotional refugee in his adopted land.

Never has the ethnic schism been so deep and bitter as it is now, 18 months after the formation of the new state. Mistrust and resentment have ripped the fragile social fabric that managed to keep the tribal-non-tribal divide under wraps for over 150 years. The stage is set for a strife as the first round of “cleansing” purges the last vestiges of amity. Bonafide non-tribal settlers, who made the state their home 150-200 years ago and pioneered development, are now the “usurpers”. Their contributions have been conveniently forgotten.

According to a study by the Jharkhand Human Rights Organization, in 1997, there were 27 Scheduled Area Regulation cases (pertaining to the restoration of tribal land from non-tribals) in the Chaibasa court. It shot up to 50 in 1999 and has now crossed 100. These figures are for West Singhbhum alone. In East Singhbhum, Ranchi and the rest of the Santhal Parganas (governed by the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act), the number of cases is five times more. Of these, at least 50 per cent of the non-tribal “usurpers” are genuine landowners with valid settlement papers.

Mitra’s case typifies the problem. The pull of the heartstrings has had scant impact on an over-zealous state machinery, out to right a historical wrong. “The land in question rightfully belongs to tribals and post-Jharkhand, it is my duty to restore it to the legitimate owners,’’ said the deputy commissioner of West Singhbhum, Rajesh Agarwal.

The fact that the claimant is a tribal has blinded the administration’s commitment to fair play. If Mitra and his legal fraternity are to be believed, the claim defies all “existing” provisions of the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, which governs the transfer of tribal land in Singhbhum. It also overrules the traditional Wilkinson’s law, under which the land was settled.

The plot, as records show, was settled by a local manki (traditional administrative chief under Wilkinson’s law, which still applies to the Kolhan region of Singhbhum) for a paltry sum in 1949 in the name of a local Bengali, a first generation migrant. It subsequently changed hands and came to Mitra’s possession a couple of decades later. But the knotty conundrums of the law have cast shadows of uncertainty on all land settlements before 1964, when the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act of 1908 was amended. The amendment stipulated that all tribal land, transferred illegally to non-tribals under Section 71 (A) of the act could be restored within 30 years of settlement. Transfer or sale of tribal land under the tenancy act requires the deputy commissioner’s permission. But under Wilkinson’s rule, the traditional tribal chiefs are empowered to settle “unclaimed” land without any third party approval.

Although the government introduced requisite safeguards in the tenancy act over the years to stem illegal transfer of ryati (tribal ancestral) land, it never decreed official abrogation of Wilkinson’s law, framed in the mid-19th century by the British generals, who annexed the Kolhan region. The law, which grants quasi-autonomous status, as well as revenue and administrative powers, to indigenous inhabitants (in the form of the traditional manki-Munda system of local self-governance) clashes with the regimented CNT Act, which rests on the bulwark of panchayati raj and the post-Independence Indian administrative set-up. The existence of two diverging systems of land laws have proved to be the bane of settlers like Mitra. If Wilkinson is the yardstick, Mitra, armed with a valid land deed, is on the right side of law. The plot was settled 53 years ago, and the CNT Act states that “illegally transferred” tribal land can be restored within 30 years of settlement.

Instances such as these are numerous. Bengalis, north Bihari migrants and even the local scheduled castes, who have been assimilated into the greater tribal fold — hor mitan (pan-ethnic brotherhood) by way of inter-marriages with tribals, are under pressure to make way for the “rightful claimants”. Laxman Kesri, an affluent backward caste farmer from Manjhari married to a local tribal girl, has to pay “house tax” to local extortionists, who have staked claim on his land. He trudges 75 kilometres every day to the Chaibasa court to follow up the case. Jai Shankar Prasad, an industrialist and an early settler from north Bihar, also faces destitution even though his land had been acquired for setting up industry under section 49 of the CNT Act, which deems such acquisition valid.

The militant face of tribal student activism and the “tactical silence” of the National Democratic Alliance-led state government on the issue contribute to the growing discord. At a recent rally in Ranchi, the Adivasi Chhatra Sangh demanded “proper implementation” of the tenancy acts and warned the non-tribals to return “usurped land.’’ The student leaders, backed by a large number of tribal legislators, including those from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, were ready to go to “any length to redress centuries-old grievances.” “Give us back our land or else face the consequences,’’ warned the firebrand student activist, Chamra Linda, egged on by a crowd of over 50,000 at Ranchi’s Mohrabadi ground.

The government squirmed with unease as the “rallyists” branded the chief minister, Babulal Marandi, a diku — the head of a puppet government”.

Rubbing salt to the wound, a BJP parliamentarian from Mayurbhanj, Salkhan Murmu — the spearhead of the immensely-popular Adivasi Janadhikar Manch — has been building up opinion against “outsiders” in the region with his demand for 60 per cent reservation and stringent implementation of tenancy laws. “There has been injustice,’’ admits the BJP member of parliament from Singhbhum, Laxman Gilua, in tacit agreement with the students.

In keeping with the party’s new pro-Dalit stand, the saffron rank and file in the state echoes the cry for justice.

But the party’s largest ballot base in the state has been the non-tribals. Since 1995, when the BJP first cruised to power in undivided south Bihar, it had been riding on the back of non-tribal votes to victory in almost every district of Chhotanagpur and the Santhal Parganas, where it garnered electoral majority.

It was only later that the party started wooing the tribals, following an erosion in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha base through sustained “religious conversion” and grassroots welfare schemes. Even now, the party’s ethnic vote bank is divided along religious lines (between the Sarna and the tribal Christians).

It is true that the tribals had been dispossessed of their land and displaced from their homes in the aftermath of myopic development projects. But then, aren’t the political masters to blame for poor rehabilitation? Is creating fissures in the tenuous ethnic harmony a plausible solution to the problem? The ruling NDA could think of a “collective” remedy instead, for its own survival, if not in the interests of the non-tribal settlers. For, only 29 per cent of Jharkhand’s population is indigenous. The rest comprises settlers of all hue.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ IT TAKES A FEW TO COOK UP A FRENZY 
 
 
 
 
The administration’s account of the deaths as on March 11 is as follows: On February 28, in village Pandunda under taluka Khanpur, number of dead: one. On the same day, in village Divda(Khanpur), number of dead: one. On March 1, in village Rinchia (Ghoganbi), number of dead: one. On the same day, in village Devada (Kadana), number of dead: one. On the same day, in village Pandharwa (Khanpur), number of dead: 21. In village Halol (Halol), number of dead: five. On March 2, in village Kalol (Kalol), number of dead: 16. In village Linnawada (Linnawada), number of dead: one. In village Limdia (Khanpur), number of dead: eight. In village Aral (Kalol), number of dead: seven. In village Rameshra (Halol), number of dead: two. Between March 3 and 4, number of dead: none. On March 5, in village Anjanvar (Santrampur), number of dead: eight. Between March 6 and 7, number of dead: none.

Maulvi Husain Umarji, Messrs. Khatudi, A.A. Hasan, Charkha, all advocates, and others who are organizers of the camp told us that Godhra has a mixed population, which is 40 per cent Muslim and 60 per cent Hindu. While there was rioting in the town in 1980, since then, there have been no incidents, not even in l992. There are individual disputes, they say, that people try to convert into communal friction, but there have been no communal clashes in this entire period.

They said, however, that political events were vitiating the atmosphere for some time before February 27. The Bharatiya Janata Party had not been a major political force in the area but in the last parliamentary election, a BJP member of parliament, Bhupendra Singh Solanki, was elected. He had been arrested in l989 for fomenting communal tension. There were no members of legislative assemblies from that party in the district. After the last town area elections, Raju Darji of the BJP was elected president. In April 2001, a no-confidence motion against him was moved by Mohammed Hasan, who had the support of 24 corporators, eight of whom were Hindus. The motion was passed and, in May, Mohd Hasan was elected president of the town area. He is now under arrest as the main accused in the Sabarmati Express case. He has no previous criminal history. We were told that as far as the camp organizers knew, the ghastly event of February 27 was triggered off by an altercation between tea vendors, at least one of whom was a Muslim, and kar sevaks.

They did not think that it was a pre-meditated attack and were convinced that the political events of the town were also responsible for the way in which the incident was being presented by BJP leaders. They believed that with the political isolation of the BJP, this type of violence was geared only to regaining its hold in view of the elections next year.

They told us that no incident of any kind took place in Godhra town after the train atrocity on Feb 27. But later, planned attacks were made from February 28 till March 3. The attacks, though fewer, were continuing till the date of our visit, March 11.

According to the Gujarat government, about 600 people have been killed since February 27 in incidents of arson, communal killings and police and “private” firing. This is a gross underestimate. Since charred bodies are still being recovered, and the killings have not yet stopped, this figure is bound to go up. Relief organizations taking details from the camps put the figure at closer to 2,000. Estimates of damage and destruction of property are being placed at more than Rs 3,000 crore in losses in Ahmedabad alone.

Many mosques, dargahs and mazars have been broken and destroyed...The mazar of the revered poet, Vali Gujarati (opposite the Police Commissioner’s office) was not only broken on February 28, but subsequently a saffron flag was placed on it. After that was removed by the police, the shrine was completely obliterated and a tarmac road was built on the spot. The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has denied any responsibility as far as the road construction is concerned, but it is quite clear that this could not have been done without the involvement of some government agency. At least ten mosques have been “converted” into temples where puja is being held regularly. The Gumte Masjid, a 16th century monument, has been broken down by rioters. This could not have been done without the use of bulldozers. At Vasna, on the main highway to Rajkot, a large mosque has been demolished. We were told that there was a legal case in process regarding the land on which this stood and that ministers in the Gujarat government had been physically present when it was demolished.

Everywhere in Ahmedabad, shops, business establishments, buildings, homes, hotels, restaurants and small kiosks belonging to Muslims have been burnt, looted and destroyed in a planned and scientific manner. In some large shopping centres, only those shops belonging to Muslims have been burnt while others adjacent to them are untouched. This applies to restaurants, smaller shops and office-premises also. A systematic plan to break the economic backbone of an entire community to make it dependent and subordinate has been implemented.

To be concluded

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/ PARTITION WAS NO NEW BEGINNING 
 
 
BY MOHIT SEN
 
 
When the issue of Partition was first being discussed by the national leadership, three powerful arguments were advanced in its favour. One, that Partition was the only way the rising incidence of communal riots could be checked. Two, that it would help the country grow in unity and strength. Three, that secularism was undoubtedly more powerful than communalism and would soon be able to overcome the latter.

Even his most fervent followers were unwilling to support Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in his opposition to the Partition. Although the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had opposed partition of the country, it was because it felt that India was the homeland of Hindus, and that Muslims who lived here were aliens who had no role in its future. This stand was reflected in that of the Muslim League.

However, reality disproved the thesis that Partition would put an end to communal riots. Never before or after, has there been a communal holocaust on the scale that followed the Partition.

The second argument about a strong and united post-Partition India is difficult to prove or disprove. Certainly, India has made significant progress in every sphere since independence. But is this because of the Partition or in spite of it? Partition did not really bring Indians together. Instead, it compounded the Kashmir problem, which has been a drain on our economic resources.

Fault lines

Besides, who can say what would have happened had the Partition not taken place? Would a united India have made speedier progress, or been able to contain the communal differences that have cropped up despite India’s being a secular country? However, all such speculation is pointless.

As to the third argument about the obvious superiority of secularism over communalism, a modern and progressive India could not have been built on the principles of communalism. We live in a multi-religious society in which the Muslims constitute a large community spread throughout the country. Our history bears witness to the contribution of the Muslims, and indeed all other communities, to the making of a modern India.

Besides, it is possible for an individual to have multiple identities. A “religious identity” does not necessarily lead to antagonism or conflict, unless someone is rabidly intolerant. The significant question here is, which of these identities determines a person’s behaviour and person- ality?

An illustration of this is the difference between Gandhi and M.A. Jinnah. Gandhi was very religious and was opposed to all forms of communalism. Jinnah was not particularly religious, but considered himself the champion of Muslims who he thought were being oppressed in India. Their freedom was his primary concern. Incidentally, this difference between Gandhi and Jinnah is also illustrated by the destinies of the states they founded.

Base instincts

Despite all this however, secularism has not prevailed over communalism in India or anywhere else in the world. Conflicts like the one between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland bear testimony to this fact. The ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia is another good example. But since the late Nineties, the battle against communalism has gained in intensity. It is, above all, what is at stake in Gujarat today.

Of course, poor economic growth was also instrumental in fanning communal hatred. Perhaps the communal divide would not have become so pronounced had the economic condition of the people improved significantly since independence. Economic development alone, without doubt, is not enough. All we can do now is combat communalism and reinforce the principles of secular nationalism.

Jawaharlal Nehru was wrong to believe that modernization, powered by developments in science and technology, would be enough to counter casteism, communalism and sectarianism. It is true that unless India becomes a modern nation, these ideologies can not be fought, much less defeated. But this was not enough and, as it happened, development itself was held back by communalism and casteism.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

As good as it gets

Sir — In a country where most politicians display a singular lack of imagination and enterprise, it is heartening to read about the efforts made by the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Digvijay Singh, to teach the people of his state a thing or two about health and sanitation (“Digvijay lands, broom in hand”, April 27). Exasperated that his repeated message to the people to pay more attention to hygiene has fallen on deaf ears, Singh took matters in his own hands. As part of his Gram Sampark Abhiyan, Singh is visiting one village after another educating villagers about the importance of using toilets. What is perhaps most surprising is that Singh’s concern for the welfare of his state seems genuine, if the success of past initiatives like the Gyandoot project or the Rogi Kalyan Samiti scheme are anything to go by. How many similar projects can West Bengal boast of? Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee could learn a few lessons from Singh about good governance.
Yours faithfully,
Riya Dutta, Calcutta

Winning streak

Sir — It is no coincidence that India has won 10 test matches after Sourav Ganguly took over as captain of the Indian cricket team a few years back. One hopes that after the resounding victory against the West Indies in the second test at Trinidad, Ganguly, who has become the favourite whipping boy of Indian cricket, will get some respite. The Indian captain had taken a calculated risk by deciding to drop Anil Kumble for the second test, a decision that was severely criticized by the media. Had India lost the match, Ganguly would not have been spared by his detractors.

However, with three matches remaining in the series, the West Indies will probably bounce back. Instead of getting carried away by this victory, Ganguly should ensure that only the best players are selected for the third test. Further, the dismal batting of the Indian tailenders left Ganguly without a partner in the second innings and restricted India’s lead to 313. India should also retain Deep Dasgupta, who has proved his batting prowess and temperament on the fast South African tracks.

Yours faithfully, Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir — Sourav Ganguly has once again proved his capabilities, both as captain and as a batsman. He has also for the time being silenced critics like Raj Singh Dungarpur, who is always attacking the Indian captain on one pretext or the other. One remembers Dungarpur’s disparaging comments just before the Indian team left for the West Indies. Is Dungarpur eating his words now?

Yours faithfully,
T.K. Mishra, Mumbai

Sir — The victory of the Indian team against West Indies in the second test at Trinidad has undoubtedly gladdened millions of cricket lovers in the country. Given the appalling record of the team abroad, every victory is special for the team and for cricket buffs. Sourav Ganguly’s reaction after the last wicket fell was however in bad taste. Ganguly should have remembered that he is the captain of a national team and should not behave in a manner that would embarrass his countrymen. Is he the first captain to have led his team to victory?

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — Most cricket commentators are unpredictable and it is not unusual for them to criticize a player one day and praise them the very next day. Sunil Gavaskar is no exception to this rule. Like the other experts in the game, he too has criticized Ganguly for dropping Anil Kumble, though in a subtle manner. However, given that Kumble has never performed particularly well abroad, his exclusion from the team made sense.

Although Ganguly has been going through a lean patch for the last few months, he was able to deliver when India was in trouble in the second innings of the second test. He authored a confident innings of 75 and, with the help of V.V.S. Laxman, was able to stabilize the Indian innings. Ganguly is a mature cricketer who has never allowed negative criticism to affect his performance.

Yours faithfully,
Sanjib Dutta, Hooghly

Business as usual

Sir — In his article, “Maturity begins at home” (April 22), S.L. Rao has rightly pointed out that the passive and indifferent attitude of businessmen and corporate heavyweights to the situation in Gujarat is symptomatic of the malaise that has gripped Indian society. Very few businessmen or corporate houses have come forward to extend their help to the innumerable families who have lost everything in the Gujarat massacre.

Most of Gujarat’s rich business families have preferred to play it safe and have not commented on the massacre. One could contrast their indifference to the efforts made by celebrities like Mallika Sarabhai, who organized a peace meet in Sabarmati Ashram to protest against the state-sponsored pogrom in the state.

Yours faithfully,
Mahjabeen Neshat Anjum, Gaya

Sir — It would be naďve to expect good citizenship and a sense of responsibility in a country whose governance is in the hands of depraved politicians who do not care about its future. The complicity of our political leaders in fanning sectarianism is also well-known. Despite the many laws in the country, equality before law still remains elusive. After more than half a century of independence, India is being ruled by murderers who do not care about safeguarding its political future. The silence of the corporate sector is not unexpected given that it is only too eager to make the most of what comes its way.

Yours faithfully,
Indrajit Banerjee, Calcutta

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