Editorial 1 / Credibility gap
Editorial 2 / Right off the line
A place in the polity
Fifth Column / Watchful eyes on the seat of power
Mani Talk / The mask unveiled
Document /Life in a rich refugee camp
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / CREDIBILITY GAP 
 
 
 
 
It would be too much to expect that the latest spurt of violence in Ahmedabad will bring some sense of shame to Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the prime minister, and others in the Bharatiya Janata Party who defended Mr Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat. The prime minister and other chosen speakers, like Mr George Fernandes and Ms Uma Bharti, went out of their way in the Lok Sabha to justify the violence in Gujarat and to absolve Mr Modi of responsibility. It is understandable, if unpardonable, that Mr Vajpayee and others in the BJP cannot accept the allegations that Mr Modi and his administration connived in murder and rape. But what is not clear is the prime minister’s steadfast refusal to accept the simple fact that Gujarat has witnessed, for the last one month and more, a complete collapse of law and order. Violence has shown no signs of abating. The latest reports suggest that now those returning to their homes from the camps are being made the targets. There are no indicators that Mr Modi has taken any effective steps to eradicate the violence. Mr Modi’s utter incompetence is writ all over Gujarat. For this alone he should be issued marching orders. Moreover, he has transferred officers who wanted to do their duty and has made speeches which have contained more than a hint of provocation.

Even before ideological opposition to Mr Modi has to come the establishment of peace in Gujarat. This is nowhere near happening and there is the growing feeling that there is a link between the violence and Mr Modi’s continuation in office. Neither in speech nor in deed has Mr Modi been able to strike a note of confidence about his intentions regarding bringing Gujarat back to normal. His claims that Gujarat is coming back to normalcy are belied by daily events in which killings and arson have predominated. Minorities still remain in terror in Ahmedabad and in other towns of the state. Not only Mr Modi but also the prime minister is indifferent to the violence and the killings. It is evident that Mr Modi has very strong supporters within the BJP, they include powerful ministers who are careful to camouflage their politics of hatred. The prime minister’s own position is, as usual, ambiguous. He asked Mr Modi to practise rajdharma, wept in the camps and then justified the violence in Gujarat as a natural reaction to the carnage in Godhra. This sequence combined with Mr Vajpayee’s refusal to sack Mr Modi have only conveyed the impression that Mr Vajpayee thinks Mr Modi is doing a good job in preserving law and order in Gujarat. Mr Modi has little to lose save his notoriety, but by continuing to support him, Mr Vajpayee has lost his credibility as the prime minister of India.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / RIGHT OFF THE LINE 
 
 
 
 
The landslide victory of Mr Jacques Chirac in the presidential elections in France owes much to the strong public reaction against the support generated by the National Front leader, Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the first round of the election. In the first round, on April 21, Mr Le Pen had secured more than 17 per cent of the votes polled and beaten the Socialist prime minister, Mr Lionel Jospin. In the final round, Mr Le Pen was unable to generate any further support, while over 80 per cent of the French people voted to keep the incumbent, Mr Chirac, in office. Mr Chirac, a conservative Gaullist, had emerged as the consensus choice of virtually the whole mainstream political spectrum, which was terrified with the prospect of Mr Le Pen occupying the highest office in the land. In this sense, the massive mandate that Mr Chirac received was not so much for his past record as a negative vote against Mr Le Pen. Indeed, there is little public enthusiasm for Mr Chirac who has, over the last couple of years, become largely discredited. Mr Chirac, it may be recalled, had got less than 20 per cent of the votes in the first round, which is the lowest score for an incumbent president in the history of the Fifth Republic. As one political analyst put it: “To build a wall against Le Pen, you have to vote for Chirac. It is a choice between bad and terrible.” Under the circumstances, the forthcoming parliamentary reactions assume considerable importance. It is almost certain that Mr Chirac will be unable to sustain the support that he has secured in the presidential election, but what will be of critical importance for the mainstream political parties is to ensure that the National Front is not able to win a significant number of seats.

Much of the focus of the presidential elections, and of the forthcoming polls, was on Mr Le Pen. The National Front leader is known for his extreme political views that have kept him, for most of his political career, on the fringes of the establishment. Mr Le Pen has particularly outraged public opinion by his anti-Semitism. For instance, he believes that the number of Jewish victims in Nazi concentration camps has been exaggerated and he has even described the Holocaust as a “detail of history”. On more contemporary issues, Mr Le Pen’s views are as extreme. He favours total end to all immigration, and has been quoted as having advocated repatriation of all non-European immigrants. Mr Le Pen also favours a French withdrawal from the European Union and restoring the French franc. But if the mainstream political parties want to ensure that Mr Le Pen does not become a part of the political establishment, it is important to not just unite against him, but also to understand and then counter the fundamental reasons responsible for his spectacular rise.

   

 
 
A PLACE IN THE POLITY 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
Soon after being sworn in as the first ever Dalit chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in June 1995, Mayavati journeyed to the village of her birth in the western half of the state. No English language daily sent out a correspondent but a leading Hindi publication did. In typical fashion, she broke with precedent, and after receiving bouquets and encomia at a public rally, she did some plainspeaking. In the main, she berated those who now cheered her. On the day of her birth, she alleged there had been little celebration: like any other woman who came into a world where maleness signifies power, she had fought her way up every inch.

Then a sprightly 39, she has now elbowed her way back to power for a third time. If the past is any guide, her tenure will be a stormy one, marked by controversy not only with her ally-turned-arch-rival, Mulayam Singh Yadav, but also with her adversary-turned-junior-partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party. If politics in India over the Nineties has become an art of managing contradictions, then her party is truly one that thrives on them.

The Bahujan Samaj Party was launched in the Punjab but has grown into a formidable force in the valley of the Ganga. Its leadership is Dalit, but from the start it has made it a point to field candidates in general as opposed to reserved seats. It derives its ideological moorings from B.R. Ambedkar, but cut its teeth fighting pitched battles with the entrenched old guard Dalit leaders from western India. Its sole focus is on gaining and wielding political power, but its promise and its real test lie in how far it shakes up an age-old social order. Unlike its early days, its focus over the last few years has been less on welding together and consolidating key communities of Dalits who make up nearly one in every four voters in UP, than on reaching out to other classes, castes and communities.

In the recent round of assembly elections, the same party whose cadre once chanted the slogan, “Tilak, tarazoo aur talwar, In par maro jute chaar”, sang a different tune. The chant called on all to retaliate against their savarna Hindu, twice-born oppressors, the Brahmin, the Rajput and the Bania. Interestingly, this left scope for the mass of the population, including members of the religious minorities, the cultivating castes and backward classes to unify on a broad populist plank. But by the mid-Nineties, the Dalits and their allies, the Yadavs and other Mandal castes began to part ways.

Since then, the BSP has openly courted the upper castes, promising them a place in the sun, if only they accept its leadership. In the 2002 polls, Mayavati not only gave out tickets to more than 90 forward class candidates but also assured the “twice born” that hers was a party of justice not retribution. Referring to the elephant, her party symbol, she urged them to stamp it on the ballot paper without fear. “Hathi nahin, Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai”, was the battle cry. He is not an elephant but a symbol of the Hindu trinity was the message.

It is this as much as the timing of her alliance with the BJP which is a milestone in the politics of the country. This is the first time a Dalit-led formation has emerged as the second largest party in a state assembly. It is also unprecedented in that it is the dominant and major partner in a power-sharing arrangement. In 1993, the BSP was clearly the junior partner in the coalition with the Samajwadi Party, its longest stint in office so far. When things went sour between the pre-poll allies two years later, the BJP supported a party that was just about a third of its size in the state assembly. The equations remained the same in the next joint effort, a coalition in 1997.

Now, it is Mayavati who has the aces in hand. The tragedy in Gujarat had the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government searching for allies, and eager to win over a formation that had scores to settle with Yadav. More than that, the Hindutva party is in a bind in the state, where the sacred name of Ram has failed to yield dividends, even as links with power are essential for patronage. Against the wishes of a strong lobby in his party, the prime minister has pushed through an alliance of convenience that will not last a minute longer than either ally can endure.

For pluralist parties such as the Congress and the Samajwadi Party, the coming together of the saffron flag of Hindutva and the blue flag of the BSP does represent a tactical defeat. More seriously, the politics of aggregations in the country’s most populous state has yet to come to grips with the problems of effective governance, a trait that proved the Achilles’ heel of the erstwhile ruling party.

The key points of tension between the two new partners will make it a rocky ride ahead. They are rooted in the body politic and the nature of agrarian society in the state. Dalits now comprise a large bloc in the state secretariat and the public sector units and will soon be embroiled in conflicts of patronage with their upper caste dominated ally. In the fields, farms, forests and towns, the so-called Dalit Act of 1989 was given teeth by the last Mayavati regime and there is little reason to expect her to go easy on human rights violations of her constituents now. And finally, there is the issue of the land pattas of those given surplus farmland during the Emergency and then cheated of their fair share. Though hers is not a party of clear economic doctrine, it was the re-opening of the issue of land distribution that culminated in the fall of her government in September 1997.

More acute than this will be her handling of the Ayodhya issue. For now, the BJP is relieved to have her on its side, complete with her clutch of 13 Lok Sabha members of parliament. But the election saw her field as many as 86 Muslim candidates of whom 14 won their seats. For her own future, it is vital for her to prove her credentials by keeping the Hindutva groups in check. This holds a further threat as the growth of Hindu vote bank politics would undermine the idea that the Dalit identity has a distinct place in the polity, and is not assimilable to Hinduism. In the short run, her conflict is with Yadav, but tomorrow’s battle will be with the BJP.

These tensions may well be exacerbated by the fact that with Gujarat as its test site, Vajpayee’s party is now waiting to return, as and when the time is ripe, to its older, more explicit policy of Hindu vote bank consolidation through highly charged and emotive campaigns in the public realm. The peace may have held so far in north India but it is Mayavati herself who is on trial in Lucknow. If she cannot contain her ally, she will suffer incalculable political damage. Hence, the hard bargains over who will control the home portfolio.

Uttar Pradesh has long been central to the unfolding political dramas in India at large. Whether it will mark the high point of the BSP’s rise or will be the springboard to its becoming a national level power-broker will hinge in large part on what the new chief minister does. With power in her grasp, it is her deeds that will count.

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

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / WATCHFUL EYES ON THE SEAT OF POWER 
 
 
BY TILAK D. GUPTA
 
 
If the National Democratic Alliance managed to win the vote on Gujarat in the Lok Sabha despite the growing contradictions within it on the issue, it was partly because the Congress, the major opposition party, is not too interested in propping up an alternative government that will be dependent on outside support. The signals from the April 12-13 meeting of Congress chief ministers at Guwahati and the subsequent strategy adopted by the party both within and outside Parliament suggest that the Congress, while exerting pressure on the beleaguered Vajpayee regime, requires more time to put its own house in order before launching the final assault.

The left parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal feel, however, that the time is now ripe for ousting the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government. The Congress, according to insiders, believes that it would be premature to try to form an alternative government by engineering a split in the NDA.

Even Mulayam Singh Yadav has temporarily suspended his animosity towards the Congress and, for the first time in many months, even attended an all-party meeting convened by Sonia Gandhi. The People’s Front also went out of its way to invite the Congress to join its mass demonstration in Delhi on April 17, to demand the removal of the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi.

Strange bedfellows

However, the Congress, while urging closer coordination among the opposition parties in both houses of Parliament, chose to follow an independent path by organizing a dharna at Raj Ghat to demand Modi’s ouster. Evidently, Sonia Gandhi and her advisors are now keen to project the party’s distinct identity as the most powerful opposition force in the country and one which alone is capable of providing a stable alternative.

The Congress, now ruling in 14 states, is clearly playing its cards cautiously to secure the chances of forming its own government at the Centre after the next general elections. For that, according to the party’s calculations, two issues need to be addressed. First, the party has to regain, at least partly, its lost influence in the four states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

Second, it must ensure that the anti-incumbency factor in the states run by the party does not adversely affect its fortunes during the next Lok Sabha polls. The Guwahati conclave of Congress chief ministers was designed to take care of the latter. No wonder issues like rural development, better administration and poverty alleviation programmes for the weaker sections dominated the meeting. As far as the task of recovering lost ground in the four states is concerned, the party leaders claim that they need some more time.

Waiting in the wings

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress leaders think that minority votes would again be restored after the Gujarat massacres. Moreover, they are convinced that the upper caste Hindu voters would return to the Congress en masse as the BJP-Bahujan Samaj Party coalition government led by Mayavati has been established in UP.

In West Bengal too, the Congress hopes to re-emerge as the main opposition party. It is banking on the dwindling fortunes of Mamata Banerjee. Nevertheless, to be on the safer side, the Congress is also wooing Banerjee, inviting her to return to the party fold. The Congress think-tank, however, believes that the party needs breathing space to rejuvenate the organizational network in these states to translate its increasing popularity into votes. A step in that direction might be making leadership changes in these four states.

The Congress game plan is to expose and embarrass the BJP on the Gujarat issue and to cause a rift between the saffron party and its allies. Since the official party stand is that it would be counter-productive to hasten the fall of the Vajpayee government at a time when it is not fully prepared to take over, the Congress has clearly sought to present itself as a responsible party waiting in the wings to take over. This is also a way of differentiating itself from the other opposition parties. Coming back to power on its own steam seems to be no less important to the Congress than ousting the NDA government.

   

 
 
MANI TALK / THE MASK UNVEILED 
 
 
BY MANI SHANKAR AIYAR
 
 
When the treasury benches rose as a phalanx at 3 am to barrack me so vigorously that nothing I said could be heard by even the Lok Sabha stenographers, let alone the house, the presiding officer gave me permission to lay the text of what I had said on the table of the house. With a view to unveiling the mask that hid my words, besides ripping off the prime minister’s mukhauta, “Mani-Talk” brings you the unheard word. Reference Keats’ “Ode on A Grecian Urn”: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter”!

Sir, I am grateful to the prime minister for his having arranged to send us this morning on our parliamentary mail a pamphlet reproducing the official version of his recent speeches on Gujarat. Compared to newspaper reports of what he said, what we have been sent is clearly a sanitized version. But, for the purposes of this debate, let us take it as the authorized version.

The prime minister’s remarks on Godhra on the day of the tragedy are given on page 1 of this pamphlet, and I invite the house to reflect on the contrast between the prime minister’s reaction to the ghastly tragedy in Godhra and what the leader of the opposition stated the same day — February 27. The prime minister limited himself to saying: “Today morning, the Sabarmati Express was stopped; a violent incident took place there. This is a very tragic incident indeed, very unfortunate.” He added: “the Government is deeply worried by today’s event…We are in close contact with the Gujarat Government.”

I ask you to contrast these anodyne remarks with the Congress president’s heartfelt and outright expression of shock and horror. I quote from The Hindu of February 28 which I am holding in my hands. The newspaper reports, in a story datelined New Delhi, February 27, that Sonia Gandhi, in a statement issued to the media, “expressed her shock at the violent incidents and strongly condemned the perpetrators of such acts”. Moreover, she “conveyed her deepest sympathies to all the bereaved families”.

The prime minister neither expressed any shock nor condemned the perpetrators. He did not even care to sympathize with the victims. He was content to pat himself on the back for keeping in “close contact with the Gujarat Government”. Which only shows that the Central government is just as culpable as the state government since it was in “close contact” with that government throughout all the horrors of February 27 and 28, and subsequently. And it is this prime minister who comes to this house blaming the whole of Parliament for not having expressed its shock over Godhra. If that was so important, why did the PM himself not use language at least as poignant as Sonia Gandhi’s?

Sir, it is fascinating to see through this pamphlet that initially the prime minister attempted no cause-and-effect relationship between the events in Godhra and the subsequent events in the rest of Gujarat. For a month and a half, for six whole weeks, it appears from this pamphlet that Godhra was not invoked by the prime minister as an exculpation or justification or even an explanation for the grim pogrom in Gujarat. Till the PM’s speech in Goa on April 12, the “kriya-prakriya” argument was only that of Narendra Modi — and Sir Isaac Newton. This pamphlet shows that on March 2, in his televised appeal to the nation, the prime minister made no distinction between Godhra and other incidents, he seamlessly merged his condemnation of all the events in a single sentence which I should like to quote: “The ghastly incidents of burning people alive, including women and children, from Godhra to Ahmedabad and then at other places, are a blot on the face of our Nation.” No question of “action-reaction”, or in Narendra Modi’s words: “Har kriya ki pratikriya hoti hai.”

On March 16 in the Lok Sabha, the PM reiterated: “Whatever happened at Godhra is known to all of us. But what happened thereafter cannot be justified by what happened in Godhra”. Even on April 4, at the Shah Alam camp, the PM was still saying: “Whatever happened after Godhra is extremely shameful for everybody. But whatever happened at Godhra should also be condemned in equally strong terms.”

Indeed, at the press conference that day (I am quoting from page 20 of this pamphlet) the PM said: “Gujarat is a riddle for me. How did such a situation suddenly develop?” Good question.Why did this situation suddenly develop? The prime minister in his press conference did not put all the blame on Godhra, as Modi was doing. In fact, going one step further, the PM told the press: “Majority needs no protection. The majority is capable of safeguarding its interests. They have the numbers on their side. It is the minority which requires protection.”

It was only on April 9 in Singapore that the PM’s tone started changing; he started singing a different tune: “If at the Godhra station, the passengers of the Sabarmati Express had not been burnt alive, then perhaps the tragedy could have been averted.” Cause and effect. Kriya-pratikriya. The mask was slipping. With the token visit to the Shah Alam camp behind him, the rashtriya swayamsevak in the prime minister began emerging. And three days later — Goa, April 12 — the Modi-Newton theory of kriya-pratikriya took a complete hold of his mind. I quote the sanitized version of his speech to fellow members of the sangh parivar: “We should not forget how the tragedy of Gujarat started. Who lit the fire? How did the fire spread?” And he goes on to identify them: “Wherever such Muslims live, they tend not to live in co-existence with others, not to mingle with others; and instead of propagating their ideas in a peaceful manner, they want to spread their faith by resorting to terror and threats.”

Is this any way for a prime minister to speak? Is he the PM of only 85 per cent of this country? Are all Muslims to be targeted because some of their numbers do not “mingle with others”? Is he suggesting, as sadhvi Uma Bharti explicitly said this morning, that Hindus — all Hindus — make the best of neighbours? Has either he or she asked the refugees in the relief camps whether it was not their neighbours of one community who attacked the helpless, blameless, guiltless neighbours of the other community?

Sir, apart from identifying only one religion — Islam — with terrorism, what has the PM’s identification of some touch-me-not Muslims to do with any of the criminals of Godhra? Were the arsonists and butchers, the heartless, pathological murderers of Godhra attempting, in the prime minister’s words, to “propagate their faith” or “spread their ideas”? Why link proselytization to arson and murder? It is only because the prime minister’s mindset is the mindset of the fanatics of his parivar that every now and then, and particularly when he is in their company, be it in the United States of America or in Goa, his mask slips and he reveals his true self.

I ask him: why not condemn in the same terms those who in the name of their faith and their ideas avenged themselves equally brutally, for reasons only of community and religion, on Muslims who had nothing to do with Godhra? Are terrorism and threat the monopoly of Islamic extremists? What of the horrors inflicted by Israel on the ordinary people of Palestine? Are Jews Muslims? What is the religion of the United Liberation Front of Asom or the People’s War Group? Are they Muslims? Is the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim a Muslim outfit? And, on the other hand, what is the religion of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its history of threats and terror? What of the terror and threats unleashed by the sangh parivar from M.S. Golwalkar to Narendra Modi? What, specifically, of the terror and threats unleashed on innocent Muslims all over Gujarat? Are the Muslim victims of Gujarat the victims of Islamic terrorism?

And yet to pander to his RSS constituency, the PM says in Goa: “Everywhere Muslims live in large numbers. And the rulers in those countries are worried lest those Muslims embrace extremism.” Is the PM not concerned about majoritarian extremism in this country? Is he blind to the hatred being spread — literally behind his back — in this house? Does he never read Organizer and Panchajanya?

Sir, this house entirely agrees with the PM when he says: “Follow raj dharma” We disagree only when he adds, I quote again: “I believe that Narendra Modi is following it.” Any Central government which believes that what has been happening in Gujarat these last 63 days is “raj dharma” deserves to be censured. We have brought this motion — and our amendment — precisely to do that!

   

 
 
DOCUMENT /LIFE IN A RICH REFUGEE CAMP 
 
 
 
 
Sanitation and the supply of water are also problems. For 9,000 people in the Shah Alam camp, the municipal corporation has provided a mobile toilet with just 5 seats and a temporary toilet with 5 seats. There is no drainage or any arrangement for cleaning or garbage removal. In contrast, local volunteers are working around the clock to keep the camps inhabitable. The delegation came across an NGO, the Kamdar Swasthya Suraksha Mandal, which was cleaning the Bapu Nagar camp and had cleaned 8 other camps. Two water tankers are provided to the Shah Alam camp everyday, but the organizers of the camp are responsible for the emptying of the tankers, and if they are late, the tankers leave. One or two camps require government compensation forms to be filled in against which the victims are supposed to get yellow cards. Volunteers spend hours trying to fill up the forms for the victims. This is a difficult task since the forms are very complex and detailed and demand a lot of information, not all of it available to people who have lost their homes and all their documents. The shortage of forms can be comprehended by the fact that while there are more than 8,000 people in the Bapu Nagar camp, they have been given only 200 forms. There is no provision being made for the filing of FIRs...Since most of the thanas are far away from the camps, it is not possible for the victims to go there. Only in Bapu Nagar camp were the former residents of Akbar Nagar (which has been razed to the ground) able to go to the thana across the road...to file their FIRs. About 20 FIRs a day are actually registered by the thana authorities when there are more than 300 to be filed.

No government officials had visited any of these camps except those who accompanied the all-party delegation that visited the Shah Alam camp. The Kankariya camp had 175 Dalit families from the Shah Alam Toll Naka area. Gopal Bhai Sharma, who was in charge of the Kankaria municipal schools ...told us that 700 people from this area came to this camp on February 28 after they were attacked...He said that stones and acid were thrown on these people by Muslims living in an 11-storey building nearby. Bhagaji was killed. Forty houses were burnt. They have been back since to see their houses which are undamaged. They are all daily wage-earners and Dalits. The women work as domestic servants in their neighbourhood. They are all anxious to return home and start working again but are demanding that a police chowki be established in the area.

We were happy when they informed us that they had been getting rations from March 4 and that all their FIRs had already been lodged with the police. Without this help these poor families would have been in even further distress. Unlike the other camps, we did not find any volunteers or help here. The camp is in an upper caste neighbourhood. Narendra Modi, Fakirbhai Vaghela and the opposition leader, Amarsingh Chowdhury, have all visited the camp. Various officials have also been regularly visiting the camp. We could only wish that the other camps had received similar attention.

But on the contrary, till March 10, not a single minister or a single government official had visited even a single camp, apart from at the time of the visit of the all party delegation. Since we were late for our appointment with the collector, K. Srinivas, we met the additional collector, Urmila Patel, along with officials in charge of the relief operations. When we pointed out this blatant double standard in aid to relief camps the only reply was that employees are too scared to go to the Muslim camps. What about officials? Actually, many non-Muslim relief workers were moving in and out of the camps with no problem. It appeared to be a deliberate canard against the Muslim community that relief workers would be attacked, propaganda to justify the clearly discriminatory approach between Muslim and Hindu camps. Shockingly, the officials expressed ignorance about the fact that no rations were being sent or that FIRs were not being filed. They said that the police commissioner was to have ensured a desk at each camp to file the FIRs and were surprised that it was not so.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Bitter-sweet victory

Victor takes all Sir — The resounding defeat of the far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the French presidential elections demonstrates that all hope is not lost in a world where a shrill and intolerant xenophobia seems to be increasingly gaining ascendance (“France pours out to pin down Le Pen”, May 6). Despite the strong and united anti-Le Pen front put up by a large number of the French and various left-wing political parties, the National Front party leader’s victory in the first round should warn Jacques Chirac not to sit on his laurels for the next few years. Unfortunately, a dangerous trend is emerging across Europe — in England, the far-right British National Party won council seats for the first time — which signals troubled times ahead for immigrants and minorities. Political stagnation, economic insecurity and lack of alternatives account for this new-found fascination with the extreme right. Hopefully, politicians, in France and also in India, will realize how important it is to take precautions well in time rather than wait for the tide of hate to turn into a tsunami.

Yours faithfully,
Partho Sen, Calcutta

Reforming ways

Sir — The recent Supreme Court ruling, which directs candidates to furnish the Election Commission with details of their criminal records, assets and educational qualifications, is an attempt to curb the criminalization of politics and to ensure transparency in electoral processes (“Come-clean order on candidates”, May 3). This will help voters elect their right representative.

But it is sad that the judiciary was compelled to invoke the “doctrine of unoccupied field”; in effect, it was the executive’s inaction that forced the judiciary to intervene. Recently, the national council for research on women, in a report to the Union government, had recommended reforms in the electoral process similar to the ones desired by the apex court. However, the government had pleaded “helplessness” saying there was a lack of political consensus on the issue — not surprising given the large numbers of politicians with criminal records today. At present, no one can enter politics, much less become a member of any legislature, state or Central, unless he has some connection with criminals or wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. Also, educational qualifications have little or no significance. The apex court’s landmark verdict will hopefully ensure greater probity in public life. It will also prevent “lawbreakers” from becoming “lawmakers”.

Nongovernmental organizations like the Alternative Dispute Resolution or the People’s Union for Civil Liberties headed by eminent activists like Kamini Jaiswal and H.D. Shourie should now ask the Supreme Court to find ways to prevent misbehaviour within legislatures which tarnishes the image of the country internationally. Such disruption of legislative proceedings also results in losses of crores of rupees of public money.

Yours faithfully,
Srinivasan Balakrishnan, Jamshedpur

Sir — The Supreme Court directive on the guidelines to be adopted for screening eligible electoral candidates is significant. In the absence of such procedures, unsuitable persons tend to get elected by misusing power and money. Citizens have long voiced a need for regulations to debar persons with criminal records and inadequate qualifications from contesting elections.

The apex court’s initiative in this connection is welcome. One can only hope that these guidelines are implemented in their letter and spirit, at the earliest.

Yours faithfully,
P.K. Bagchi, Howrah

Intelligence test

Sir — The Punjab anti-corruption bureau has done a commendable job by unearthing the huge cache of Rs 25 crore, in cash and property, illegally amassed by the chairman of the Punjab public service commission, Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu (“CM steps up graft heat on Badal”, April 24). This reveals that, in the presence of specific directions from politicians, our intelligence or vigilance departments can work very fast to expose corruption in offices of the state and Central government, and even the private sector, for that matter.

The question is, will the state vigilance departments be allowed to get on with their jobs without interference, or will what they unearth be brushed under the carpet at the behest of the politicians? The politicization of high-level appointments, which results in the preferment of corrupt or mediocre officials, is a matter of great concern.

There are many more like Sidhu all over the country who are going scot-free despite their involvement in various financial scandals. Further, corrupt officials are to be found even in the departments of education, health and judiciary. This deplorable state of affairs exists in most states irrespective of which party is in power. Sadly, over and above the political interference, the state vigilance departments are bogged down with paper work and are not empowered to book culprits.

Vigilance departments must be placed directly under the president or governor, so that they can work without fear or favour. The media must also highlight the good work of the Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh.

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — The recent unearthing of the recruitments scandal involving the former chairman of the PPSC should serve as an eye-opener to all state government officials (“Split wide open”, April 27). That Ravinder Paul Singh Sidhu got away for so long with accepting bribes upwards of Rs 50 lakh from candidates aspiring to the post of deputy superintendent of police shows how deep-rooted corruption has become in the Indian bureaucracy. And now reports indicate that even ministers in Punjab have acquired a large number of properties during their tenure, which they could never have afforded with their known sources of income (“Akali ministers made scanner”, April 30).

Jaspal Bhatti, the well-known media personality and satirist, had launched a “Punjab suitcase party” on the eve of the state elections to expose the widespread corruption in political parties. India’s inefficient political leaders and bureaucrats should learn a lesson from Bhatti. It is a matter of great shame that India ranks 72 out of the 91 most corrupt countries of the world.

Yours faithfully,
Mohan Lal Sarkar, Budge Budge

Flights of disaster

Sir — The report, “Fighter in sky, killer on ground” (May 4), brings to light the disastrous consequences of the government’s misplaced reliance on the outdated MIG-21 aircraft. The fact that as many as 84 MIG-21 aircraft have crashed in the last five years is reason enough to term these “flying coffins”.

These crashes not only lead to immense loss of life and property, but they also lower the morale of our fighter pilots. It is amazing that the recommendations to scrap these 1960 and 1970 vintage MIG-21 fighter aircraft, which should have been relegated to museums long before, came through only a month ago.

The government must immediately take steps to scrap these outdated aircraft and replace them with modern ones.

Yours faithfully,
Shashi Bhushan Chongdar,Durgapur

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