Editorial 1 / Lady freed
Editorial 2 / Lady Trapped
Beautiful and bloody isle
Fifth Column / Keep the fire from spreading
Stable president, unstable polity
Document / The mobs knew no mercy
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / LADY FREED 
 
 
 
 
It is tempting to regard the release of Ms Aung Sang Suu Kyi as a major breakthrough for democracy in Myanmar. There is, of course, genuine celebration at the headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy. Ms Suu Kyi has described her unconditional release as a “new dawn” for her country. But she has also sounded a warning note, showing her levelheadedness and tenacity as a political leader. Her individual freedom is significant only in as much as it paves the way for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Moreover, this goal is insufficient in itself, if it is not endorsed by the immense task of salvaging the nation from every kind of ruin. Besides, there are still more than a thousand political prisoners held by the military regime in unspeakable conditions. In the international arena, Ms Suu Kyi has become a symbol of hope or the “power of the powerless”, as the Nobel committee put it when awarding her its peace prize in 1991. Yet to many spectators, her release could smack of strategic tokenism on the part of Myanmar’s military junta. Such a gesture is far from any change of heart in the regime, as its guarded statement accompanying the release indicates. The experiments in socialist economics conducted by Myanmar’s dictators since the early Sixties, together with severe international sanctions, have ravaged the country’s economy. Ms Suu Kyi’s international standing could be the key to survival if her powerful well-wishers — the United States of America, the European Union and Japan, among others — could be placated. It is significant that Myanmar’s generals have taken to calling themselves, since 1997, the “state peace and development council”, rather than the earlier “state law and order restoration council”.

Such doubts could qualify more optimistic readings of this event as the culmination of talks between Ms Suu Kyi and the generals, overseen by the United Nations envoy, Mr Razali Ismail. The possibility of concessions could also worry some. Would Ms Suu Kyi compromise her stance on getting her party’s sweeping victory in the 1990 general elections politically acknowledged by the junta? A long and grim history of military dictatorship and human rights abuse opens up behind this crucial moment in the unfolding of Myanmar’s destiny. Forced labour, narco-terrorism, ethnic unrest and the collapse of public health and education are some of the seemingly impossible obstacles to the restoration of a functioning democracy in Myanmar. India will have its own internal reasons for finding a balance between working with the generals, particularly at the borders, and supporting what Ms Suu Kyi has come to stand for in humane and political terms. The values at stake here amount to nothing short of basic human freedom.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / LADY TRAPPED 
 
 
 
 
When compulsions of alliance politics combine with ministerial ambitions, the result often is the kind of trap into which Ms Mamata Banerjee now finds herself. No matter what her pretences are, the mercurial Trinamool Congress leader cannot be unaware that she now looks more like a slave than a free agent in dealing with both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance government. Her decisions seem to be less of her own free choice than results of circumstances over which she has little control. Her prevarications on the political debates on the communal carnage in Gujarat are a sad testimony to her complete loss of freedom. By persisting in her demand for the resignation of Gujarat’s chief minister, Mr Narendra Modi, she tried to deceive herself and others that she was acting independently of the BJP. But the facade failed to hold during the opposition-sponsored censure motion in the Lok Sabha when she fell in line with the saffronites’ rescue act for the beleaguered Gujarat leader. Pathetically, she sought to rationalize her position, arguing that the nine members of her party in the Lok Sabha had to vote for the government because the people did not want another mid-term election. For one thing, the opposition did not have the strength to pull down the government, even if the BJP’s largest partner, the Telugu Desam Party, abstained from voting — which it eventually did. Contrary to what Ms Banerjee would have the people believe, her party’s position on the Gujarat vote would have made no difference to the survival of the government.

Obviously, Ms Banerjee’s freedom of choice and action has been severely curtailed by a combination of political expediency and personal ambition. She wanted to make politically correct noises on Gujarat but did not want them to be too raucous to spoil her long-awaited reinduction in the NDA ministry. The TDP could afford to do harder posturing because, unlike her party, it supports the government from outside. Ironically, getting back into the cabinet has become a compulsion for Ms Banerjee because she thinks her fight against West Bengal’s Marxist rulers is losing its edge without the support of ministerial resources. Having returned to the NDA after a brief — and unrewarding — alliance with the Congress on the eve of last year’s assembly polls in Bengal, she could not have played the quitter again. Going out of the NDA is no longer a viable proposition, but staying on with it will continue to force her to pay a price. That she is prepared to pay it is a measure of her reduced circumstances. A return to the Union cabinet may give her an illusion of power, but only that.

   

 
 
BEAUTIFUL AND BLOODY ISLE 
 
 
BY RAMACHANDRA GUHA
 
 
I landed in Colombo the day Vellupillai Prabhakaran gave his now celebrated press conference in the northern town of Killinochi. The juxtaposition was accidental, but fortuitous: what was to be a holiday leavened with the occasional meeting with academics turned into an intensive week-long course on the politics of the land. Naturally, most conversations centred on the event in Killinochi, with multiple meanings being read into the man’s words and silences, his clothes and his gestures. In these talks I was myself mostly silent. There was much to listen to and to learn from, for my teachers included some highly experienced journalists and scholars.

The ruling theme of these conversations was hope. My attention was drawn to two statements by Prabhakaran, these separated by six months. Thus in his annual Heroes Day speech last November, the Tigers’ Fuehrer spoke of the possibilities for peace in what he called “our beautiful isle”. Now, in his press conference on April 10, Prabhakaran had described the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi as a “tragic event”. It would have been heartening had he gone further: for instance, by expressing clear regret about the episode, and admitting that it did not help the Tigers’ cause at all. Still, to speak of the murder as “tragic” was — in the reclusive leader’s lexicon — in itself a gigantic leap. As indeed, was the talk of “our beautiful isle”, a phrase that seemed to display an inclusive sentimentality completely at odds with what is otherwise known about the man.

The last time the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam seriously sued for peace was in 1994. There was much and varied speculation as to why they had decided to talk again. One school of thought held that the events of September 11 made Prabhakaran realize that terrorists had to make themselves respectable. As well as presentable: hence the shaving of his military moustache and the exchange of those green-and-black fatigues for a light-coloured safari suit. Others felt the imperatives were more immediately personal. Prabhakaran is pushing 50, and this — by most accounts — devoted father of three wished his family to lead a “normal” life. Still others argued that the desire to talk stemmed from a belated realization that a comprehensive military victory was out of the question.

How representative of the Tamils of Sri Lanka are the LTTE? Back in 1994, and writing in the political monthly Pravada, the political scientist Ram Manikkalingam put it this way: “What do the Tamils want? What do the Tigers want? The Tamil people want personal security, cultural autonomy and regional autonomy. The Tigers want security guarantees and political power. We need to understand the distinction between Tamil aspirations and Tiger ambitions to achieve a viable peace.”

The distinction remains. The LTTE and Prabhakaran, of course, insist that they are the “sole representatives” of the island’s Tamils. But, in truth, there are at least three groups of Tamils in Sri Lanka on whose behalf the Tigers cannot seriously claim to speak. The first are the Estate Tamils of the highlands, whose interests are represented by organizations such as the Ceylon Workers Congress. The second are the Tamil-speaking Muslims of the northeast, who likewise have a party of their own, with representation in parliament. The third are the moderate Tamils in general, who find their voice in the Tamil United Liberation Front, a party which (despite that term “liberation”) has always been inclined to non-violence and constitutionalism.

Notably, in the days after his press conference Prabhakaran had separate meetings with representatives of all three groups. One does not know what transpired: but one hopes that he displayed some remorse for past actions, for the LTTE-sponsored attacks on the lives and properties of the Muslims, for the assassinations of the respected TULF leaders, Amrithulingam and Neelan Tiruchelvam, for the mindless LTTE violence that has exposed the Estate Tamils to retaliatory acts by Sinhala extremists.

Building bridges with other Tamil groups is a necessary prelude to the rebuilding of the northern and eastern parts of the island. Decades of civil war have gravely affected the functioning of schools and hospitals, and this shows. Malnutrition is rife. A Colombo scholar who has travelled widely in the north told me that the only well-fed people he saw were LTTE cadres, Hindu priests, traders, and nongovernmental organization workers.

Reconciliation with the other Tamils is the first step, reconciliation with the Sinhala majority the second. The present talks have been encouraged by the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, but looked at askance by the president, Chandrika Kumaratunga (herself the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt by the Tigers). The Sinhalese I spoke to seemed, on the face of it, to be willing to give the Tigers a chance. They sense that their own actions have contributed centrally to the civil war. The killing by the Tigers of high politicians like Premadasa and Dissanayake and the deaths of innocent civilians in suicide bombings are more-or-less cancelled out by the burning of the great Jaffna Library in 1981 and the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, by the excesses of the Sri Lankan army and the discrimination against the Tamils in matters of education and employment. Besides, the revival of the economy, and of the tourist trade on which it so crucially depends, encourages an attitude of “forgive and forget”.

It is the third step, that of reconciliation with India and Indians, that may prove to be the most difficult of all. Prabhakaran knows this, hence his quasi-apologetic reference to the murder of Rajiv Gandhi and hence also his speaking in his press conference of India as “our fatherland”. These and other gestures may not be enough. For where the Sinhala may forgive Prabhakaran the murder of Premadasa, and the moderate Tamil forgive him the murder of Amrithulingam or Tiruchelvam, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi falls in a category of it own, aimed as it was at a leader of another country and in his own land.

Sri Lanka’s need for peace thus clashes squarely with India’s need for justice. This is a complicating factor that seems not to have been anticipated by the Norwegians, the well-intentioned brokers between the Tamils and the Sinhalas. But, as the talks proceed in Thailand and elsewhere, the Indian factor will dog them at every step.

One of the more unusual people I met on my visit was Hector Abhayavardhana, a legendary figure on the Sri Lankan left who is now in his eighties. He had lived eighteen years in India (from 1942 to 1960), active in various socialist and communist groupings across the country. He spoke of Indian radicals he had known well, such as Jayaprakash Narayan and Rammanohar Lohia, and asked in turn about the current status of the Indian left. But, in passing, we also discussed the conflict between Prabhakaran and the republic of India. Hector Abhayavardhana was absolutely clear that the progress of the Tamil-Sinhala talks was hostage to this problem. The solution he offered was inspired: namely, that Prabhakaran should indicate his willingness to be tried in a world court after the peace talks had reached a satisfactory resolution.

I suppose that for Prabhakaran to ask for forgiveness is as difficult as for the family of Rajiv Gandhi to grant it. Still, only some such heroic gesture, from either side, can bring Sri Lanka the kind of peace it longs for and which it honourably deserves. Otherwise, the Norwegian-inspired peace talks will very likely stall on the “Indian Question”. Then the Tigers will return to the jungle, and the cycle of violence will recommence.

[email protected]

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / KEEP THE FIRE FROM SPREADING 
 
 
BY ANAND KUMAR
 
 
The April 29 bombing of an airport in the Khotang district of Nepal by the Maoists has led to one of the largest state operations against the rebels in which more than 550 Maoists have been killed over the past week. The Maoist insurgency is turning out to be a serious threat to Nepal’s security and its 11-year old constitutional monarchy. The reason behind the rise and spread of this movement is socio-economic. Widespread poverty and unemployment, unequal distribution of wealth and land make it easy for Maoists to recruit from among the people.

The political situation has also worsened since the promulgation of a new constitution in 1990, with ten governments being formed almost in as many years. The nepotism and greed of political parties lend further substance to the insurgency. The long spell of political instability has resulted in bad governance and widespread corruption. Inflation is another problem. Yet the state has done nothing to alleviate the condition of the people.

In such a situation, the Maoist ideology with its promise of a revolution has proved to be attractive to the poverty-stricken peasantry. Maoists have also won over ethnic and linguistic minorities in Nepal by promising them autonomy. A parallel administration is being run by the rebels in districts under their control. They have successfully introduced land reforms in these areas. This has increased the people’s confidence in their administrative abilities.

Hitting back

The substantial financial and military might of the Maoists pose a challenge to Nepal’s administration. Maoist hardliners in fact want to do away with the existing multi-party democracy in Nepal. They want an elected constituent assembly to frame a new constitution. To drive home the message, Maoists have struck out repeatedly at symbols of authority and criticized the government for being unable to curb corruption or check inflation.

The criticism is not entirely unfair. Although the Nepal government has occasionally shown a willingness to talk with the rebels, rarely has any major decision been reached through them. The government inaction has allowed the Maoists to use the situation to their advantage. Soon after the palace killings, the rebels demanded an abolition of monarchy, “an all-party convention, formation of the interim government and the formation of a new constitution”. To achieve this aim there was an upsurge in Maoist violence that ultimately led to the resignation of the prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala in July 2001.

Koirala was succeeded by Sher Bahadur Deuba. Although Deuba encouraged talks with the rebels, nothing much came out of them. The Maoists are also divided among themselves. While the moderates want to give up the demand for republicanism, the hardliners do not. The government claims that it has no mandate to scrap the present constitution. The deadlock thus continues.

Look ahead

The Nepal government has so far concentrated on military solutions as a way to solve the impasse instead of going in for effective socio-economic reforms. It has also decided to spend less money on development efforts. The parliament has passed two crucial bills aimed at strengthening the armed forces and providing local authorities with greater power.

The Maoist insurgency has been looked at as a law and order problem. But the use of force has so far failed to check it. Nepal saw one of its worst phases of violence in five years when the Maoists ended their four month long ceasefire and killed 37 men in the army and police in a series of attacks. As a result, the king was forced to declare a state of emergency and the army and the police were given widespread powers that resulted in the killing of a large number of Maoist rebels.

The use of military force can achieve temporary peace. But it will not remove the feeling of animosity against the government. For any long term solution it is necessary for the state to go to the root causes and see what has given the rebels such a strong foothold. Only the socio-economic uplift of the people will ensure their support for the state. Till then, violence in Nepal will keep erupting intermittently.

   

 
 
STABLE PRESIDENT, UNSTABLE POLITY 
 
 
BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
 
It can be a matter of little satisfaction for the people of Pakistan that General Pervez Musharraf has not declared himself president for life. Other dictators, like Nkrumah of Ghana and Sukarno of Indonesia, before him did not hesitate to do so.

However, General Musharraf is going to be there for a long time. From October, when he would have completed three years in office, he would get another five-year term thanks to the April 30 referendum. He has also said that he proposes to bring a constitutional amendment to reduce the life of the national assembly from five to four years. He clearly intends to oversee not only the October elections but also the next assembly elections as president. He would then get another five-year term from that national assembly. All together, it would be a fair guess that the general intends to stay on for at least 13 years.

General Musharraf’s continuing in office, however, is unlikely to bring immediate stability to Pakistan. At least five trends seem clear as of now: political divisions in Pakistan are likely to increase; the October elections may not be free and fair; the emergent parliament would be fragmented; the president’s powers would increase and the provincial assemblies may come into conflict with the local self-government bodies.

The run-up to the October elections is likely to divide Pakistani society sharply — between those who support the general and those who don’t. It is already clear that General Musharraf will not allow Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif to contest. However, he cannot prevent their partymen from contesting, entering into electoral adjustments or forming alliances with other political parties.

The broad contours of such arrangements have begun to emerge. The religious parties have joined hands with the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy. Even human rights activists, the Pakistan Oppressed Nationalities Movement and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists are supporting the ARD. For the first time in Pakistan’s history, the centrist, the right as well as the left forces are ranged against General Musharraf. Once the ban on political activity is lifted, as is scheduled to happen in July, political debate in the country will pick up momentum and polarize people.

The ground rules for the October elections to the national and provincial assemblies are a major source of anxiety for the political parties. General Musharraf has announced that the same method of polling as in the recent referendum would be used in October.

This is not a good omen. It not only implies that there will be polling booths aplenty, conveniently located at places of work, petrol pumps and hotel lobbies. But it may also mean that the same corruption, misuse of government machinery and electoral malpractice which were witnessed during the referendum may be repeated. In the April 30 referendum, there was virtually no secret voting, no voters’ lists, no polling agents, no attempt to restrict multiple voting and no transparent counting. At this rate, the October election could be as much of a farce as the referendum.

The election is also unlikely to throw up clear winners. There are no charismatic political leaders who can move the electorate in General Musharraf’s favour. He does not have any politician of the stature of Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif in his camp. And none of the political parties supporting him can get a majority in the national assembly.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid-e-Azam), which has been created by General Musharraf by splitting the Pakistan Muslim League, does not have a clear leader. Everyone in that party is a prime ministerial candidate. If there is no rigging, the PML(Q) cannot get a majority.

The other parties supporting General Musharraf are also not electoral heavyweights. Imran Khan’s Tehreeq-e-Insaf party is not seen as a big election winner. The Millat Party of the former president, Farooq Leghari, can help him win only his tribal seat. The influence of the Awami National Party is limited to the North-West Frontier Province, and that of the Baluchistan National Party to Baluchistan. On the other hand, the Muttahida Quami Movement has considerable influence not only in Karachi, but also in Hyderabad (Sindh) and in parts of Sakkar and Mirpurkhas. But the MQM does not seem to know where it stands — it supported General Musharraf in the run-up to the referendum but boycotted the polling. It may, however, still go with General Musharraf.

The Pakistan Peoples’ Party and the PML are the only parties with widespread support and they are opposed to the general. While the PPP’s support base is concentrated in Sindh and in rural Punjab, the PML has influence in the urban areas of Punjab. The PML led by Nawaz Sharif was created by the army in Punjab at one time to counter the PPP. But today, the PML (Nawaz) is opposed to the army’s rule. Punjab accounts for half the seats in the national assembly. And there is no political party in sight which can deliver the province to the general. This must be a source of anxiety for him and his advisors.

All indications till now are that General Musharraf will have to unite his allies and help them form a coalition government in a fragmented national assembly. But this assembly would also have a sizeable presence of the PPP and PML(N), sitting in the opposition.

The prime minister of the coalition that is cobbled together would be weak and dependent on a strong president backed by the army. The powers of the prime minister and the cabinet are likely to be further curtailed by the national security council. The president (and the chief of army staff) will be its chairman and the three service chiefs will be its members along with the prime minister and the defence minister. All decisions of strategic importance will be taken by the NSC, which in effect would keep a check on parliament. The power to dismiss the elected government will rest with the president’s office.

Under the circumstances, even pro-establishment political elements may find that the compromises they have to make with the president and the army do not suit them. Just as Mohammed Khan Junejo as prime minister had to confront Zia ul-Haq, the new prime minister may be forced to do the same, however docile he might be to begin with. Each compromise that General Musharraf makes with the prime minister will undermine him politically and morally.

Not only at the centre but even in the regions there may be political uncertainty. The provincial assemblies, once in place, would come into conflict with the local government bodies, elected on a non-party basis and headed by nazims. Nothing has been done as yet to redefine and separate the powers of the provincial assemblies from that of the local bodies. Since all the administrative and financial powers have been given to the nazims, the provincial assemblies may find that they have little to do.

From all indications then, it seems that Pakistan is entering a difficult and uncertain phase in its political life. The world will be watching with keen interest to see how it charts its course.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / THE MOBS KNEW NO MERCY 
 
 
 
 
Yashodaben Koshti, whom we met at the Shah Alam camp, told us that she had read leaflets distributed by the VHP that said that Hindus should not have any kind of relations with Muslims. If they did, they were not Hindus at all. She said, “I am a Hindu but I am ashamed at what they have done in my name and that is why I am here in the camp to help in whatever way I can.”

In the camps, areas and hospitals that we visited, there were groups of people from the same neighbourhood, mohalla or village. From their accounts, it was possible to piece together pictures of what transpired in these areas between the night of February 27 and March 5.

...The Times of India of March 13 says that, according to the police, 107 people were burnt to death in Naroda Patia and the adjacent area. The Shah Alam Relief Committee presented a memorandum to the all-party delegation that visited their camp on March 8.

In this they have said, “Another gruesome tragedy took place at Naroda Patia and Naroda village in the northern labour/industrial area of Ahmedabad. A Hindu gentleman called Tiwari, who is a resident of Naroda Patia, sheltered 30 people in his house. He contacted the Shah Alam committee. The DCP of the area was contacted for help to shift these stranded people. It took three hours for the police to arrive and by that time 27 Muslim women, men and children were done to death. Only three escaped...and are now in Shah Alam refugee camp.”

The delegation met the victims from this area of Ahmedabad in both the Shah Alam and Juhapura Sankalit Nagar camps. Amina, an educated woman who worked in a printing press and lived near the Noorani Masjid in this area, said that tension started growing in the area from the 27th night. On the 28th morning (the day on which the VHP had declared a Gujarat bandh), between 9 and 10 am, her neighbours started shouting, “They are coming.” The entire area was cordoned off by mobs on all sides. She said that on the pretext of saving them, the rioters separated the women and children from the men, but after this happened the women were also attacked brutally.

Her sister, Saeeda, a dress-maker, was killed in the melee that ensued. A pregnant woman, Qausar, was slashed through her stomach with a sword and killed. The nearby Roadways Depot was used to supply fuel which was used for burning homes and people.

Rashida Bano, whose husband had a tube-light supply business and who is Qausar’s sister-in-law, said that her home, in which there was a large consignment of tube-lights, was completely burnt down. Sabira Bibi and Chand Bibi confirmed the story about Qausar. In fact, the latter said that she was an eye-witness. Fatima said that her sister, Qudrat Bibi, lost 11 members of her extended family, of which only three members have survived. Lal Bibi’s son Muskan and daughter Safiya were both killed. She said that when she cried out to SRP personnel for help, they said, “You people burnt Hindus in the train, now you have to pay the price.”

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

She is at it again

Sir — Has the Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee, finally lost grip on reality? Going by her sit-in dharna to prevent the eviction of illegal settlers along the railway tracks between Tollygunge and Dhakuria, it would certainly seem so (“Railway eviction hits Mamata hurdle”, May 5). Given didi’s penchant for high drama and the fact that she has been very quiet lately, one had expected something of the sort from her. But surely she could have found a better cause? The dharna achieved very little other than disrupting law and order for a few hours and inconveniencing the average Calcuttan whose interests she claims to uphold. That she was violating a directive of the Calcutta high court or that the shanties were slowing railway traffic did not matter to her. Banerjee does not realize that Calcuttans have seen through her gimmicks and that only a miracle will help her improve her score in the next assembly elections.

Yours faithfully,
Joyita Saha, Calcutta

Point of debate

Sir — Our members of parliament spent most of the over 14-hour-long debate in the Lok Sabha on Gujarat in abusing one another, rather than discussing the situation in the state (“Debate rolls over & over in dirt”, May 1). Even though the government won the vote under Section 184 comfortably, abstentions by the Telugu Desam Party and National Conference and the resignations of Ram Vilas Paswan and Omar Abdullah have revealed the cracks in the National Democratic Alliance. In fact, this might well be the beginning of the end for the present government.

But one thing was clear: the government could give no credible answers to the accusations of the opposition. Instead, veteran politicians made a mockery of the debate with their irresponsible comments. George Fernandes’s comment that the Gujarat riots were not the first time such incidents had occurred was a blatant attempt to justify the murder and rape of thousands of women and children. Was the defence minister consoling the members of the minority community who had lost everything in the riots or was he just being flippant? As for Uma Bharti’s comment, surely, Sonia Gandhi’s chewing gum in Parliament does not take away from her credibility as leader of the opposition. In all this, what was saddest was our MPs’ complete indifference to the fact that they were lowering the dignity of the house.

It was good that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government decided not to telecast the proceedings of the house — it would not have done anything for the image of the country with the national and international audiences.

Yours faithfully,
Aparajita Dutta, Calcutta

Sir — Sonia Gandhi’s chewing gum in the midst of the Lok Sabha debate on Gujarat reveals just how casually she was taking the proceedings of the house. George Fernandes was also right in saying that India has witnessed over 15,000 communal riots in the last 50 years, many of these when the Congress was in power. Instead of trying to restore peace in Gujarat, the Congress is out to extract political mileage from it. How can one forget Congressmen’s role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots? If there are few Muslims leaders today and if the community continues to have one of the highest rates of illiteracy and poverty it is the Congress’s fault. A community cannot grow if it is looked on as no more than a vote bank, to be appeased and then forgotten. This has also resulted in the sense of alienation most Muslims feel today.

The nation is anguished at the loss of lives in Gujarat. But the Congress and other “secular” parties have not helped matters by condemning the violence, but remaining silent about Godhra. By doing this, they have only driven a schism between “secular” and Hindu India. In the light of the communal tensions prevailing in the country, Hindus and Muslims should ignore such political gamesmanship and learn to live peacefully.

Yours faithfully,
K.B. Misra, Kharagpur

Sir — Omar Abdullah should have considered his party’s record in Jammu and Kashmir before demanding the resignation of Narendra Modi. Most victims of terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir are Hindus. Such has been the persecution of Hindus in the state, that most of them have been forced to leave. Since, the National Front government has not been able to ensure the security of Hindu pilgrims who visit the region or prevent the destruction of temples by terrorists, Abdullah has no right to accuse Modi of being anti-minority. Abdullah should not have offered to resign from the government — he should have stayed on and tried to work things out.

Yours faithfully,
Kaustav Sinha Ray, Calcutta

Road breaks

Sir — The stretch of the Taratalla road from Jinjira Bazar to Ram Nagar is full of ditches and speed breakers. These cause much damage to the vehicles plying on it. Since citizens do their duty by paying road tax, must not the authorities do their by improving the condition of this road?

Yours faithfully,
Rehmat Molla, Calcutta

Sir — Although the municipality road to Purunabasti is a thoroughfare for heavy vehicles the Jharsuguda municipality has not taken any steps to either renovate or reconstruct the road. The road is narrow owing to the ditches on both sides. Since, there are two schools and a temple situated on the road, it is always overcrowded. The drainage system along the road also does not work. Not only has this road become unsafe, but it is also making the area very unhygienic.

Yours faithfully,
Biswakesan Mishra, Jharsuguda

Sir — Bundles of paper and waste plastic materials are stacked at the entrance of the Premises no.75, Colootala Street, by traders. Besides being a fire hazard, these also obstruct movement along the road. Sometime ago, this state of affairs had caught the attention of the Jorasanko police station. But the police did not take strict action against the encroachers, who were soon back in action. And so the road continues to be as unusable as ever.

Yours faithfully,
Sharfraz Alam, Calcutta

Small change

Sir — Over the last few years, one, two, three, 10 and 20 paise coins have all but gone out of circulation. And now it is the turn of the 25 paise coin. The five rupee coin is also very heavy — it should be made lighter so that it is approximately the same size as the 20 paise coin. The size of 25 and 50 paise coins should also be reduced so that they resemble the one paise or two paise coins in circulation a few years ago. This would also minimize the cost of minting them.

Yours faithfully,
Mahesh Kumar, New Delhi

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