Editorial 1 / Striking back
Editorial 2 / Crisis diffusion
Architect of violence
Fifth Column / The oil economy on its way out
Calm in the eye of the storm
Document / Keeping from harm’s way
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / STRIKING BACK 
 
 
 
 
Nobody in West Bengal needs to be told that an element of coercion, direct or indirect, is embedded in the call for a strike or a bandh. A political party calls a strike, people stay at home because they are frightened of violence and this passivity is then interpreted by the concerned political party as spontaneous support for the bandh. This has become a tedious scenario, and in West Bengal, because of the Bengalis’ proverbial aversion to work, bandhs have become a matter of enjoyment, a holiday invariably tagged on to the weekend. Is this attitude a sign of coercion or support? Coercion, in a strike, is a dicey business. Despite this, the judgment of the Supreme Court against the use of force to guarantee the success of a strike is to be welcomed. If implemented and taken seriously by the political parties, it could lead to an end of the practice of strike organizers of stopping employees not sympathetic to their cause from going about their work. Strikers must be reminded that if the right to strike is a democratic right, the freedom to dissent and the right to work are equally fundamental to democratic practice. Democracy, by no definition, can mean the brute force of a majority. Minority opinion, the right to voice an opinion and to act according to that opinion are crucial to the health of a democracy. In India, those who protest loudly against the oppression of minorities in other spheres often perpetrate coercion on those who differ from them and are in a minority.

The Supreme Court’s ruling does not address a crucial issue: what will happen to those political parties who defy the ruling and continue to use coercion in strikes? The Kerala high court had opined that such parties should be derecognized by the Election Commission. Most political parties had objected to the Kerala high court’s judgment, and the Supreme Court is justified in overturning that ruling. Derecognition of a political party is much too serious a matter to be left to the EC, whose position cannot be held to be analogous to that of a court. It will not be unfair to suggest that till a system of punishments in this matter is put in place by the apex court, its ruling will be left at the mercy of the goodwill of political parties. Goodwill is not a virtue that is prominent by its presence in the ethos and functioning of Indian political parties. There is another aspect to the ruling of the Supreme Court which is significant. The ruling marks a shift in its attitude to labour. Time was when courts extended protection to labour as a weaker section of society against the alleged oppression of capitalists and the state. It is now correcting this tendency. In a democracy, the idea of equality before the law must have precedence over notions of welfare and protection of the weak.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / CRISIS DIFFUSION 
 
 
 
 
The United States of America’s assistant secretary of state for south Asia, Ms Christina Rocca, is visiting New Delhi at a time when tensions between India and Pakistan are beginning to peak again. India has signalled that its patience with Mr Pervez Musharraf’s military regime is running out, and it believes that Islamabad is doing little to stem cross-border terrorism. There are also reports that the Indian armed forces on the border are being put on high alert and all preparations are being made for a possible military engagement. It is reasonable to assume that Ms Rocca’s primary task will be to attempt to diffuse the crisis, and to ensure that there is a revival of the bilateral dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad. The US has greater leverage in India and Pakistan than in any other country. Washington’s relations with New Delhi are stronger today than at any time during the last 55 years. Indeed, even as Ms Rocca embarks on possibly the most challenging assignment of her career, American forces and Indian troops are conducting joint exercises in Agra this week for the first time in the history of independent India.

In the past few months, the Indian navy has escorted American ships through the Malacca Straits, and for the first time in decades, the US has begun exporting high-technology defence equipment to India. Washington’s relationship with Pakistan is more complex. Since September 11, 2001, Mr Musharraf has become a frontline ally in the war against terrorism. There is, however, growing frustration within sections of the George W. Bush administration at the military regime’s inability or unwillingness to act more decisively against extremists within Pakistan, even while it continues to believe that there is still no viable alternative to Mr Musharraf. Not only is there a significant American military presence in Pakistan, but critical injections of Western economic aid have also helped to stabilize the country’s economy. In other words, Ms Rocca enjoys goodwill in both Islamabad and New Delhi. However, if she is demanding more than a patient hearing in India, and wants to be a real peace-broker, she will have to ensure that Islamabad demonstrates greater sensitivity to New Delhi’s concerns on terrorism. Even as the snow has begun melting on the passes in Jammu and Kashmir, there are signs that terrorists from Pakistan have started infiltrating into the state once again. There are reports that elements within Pakistan will escalate the violence to subvert the forthcoming elections to the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. Ms Rocca must understand that New Delhi cannot be expected to compromise on the core of its security concerns on the basis of comforting verbal assurances from Islamabad, or indeed Washington, which show no signs of translating into reality.

   

 
 
ARCHITECT OF VIOLENCE 
 
 
BY J.N. DIXIT
 
 
The press conference with the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, at Kilinochi in north-central Sri Lanka on April 10 is a watershed in the ongoing discussions for the restoration of normalcy in Sri Lanka. The extent of international media attention on the event confirms its importance. Prabhakaran has followed up his press conference by attending to another critical dimension for a possible solution to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. He has held detailed discussions with the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, Rauff Hakeem, on April 13 and signed an agreement with it, assuring him of the LTTE’s support for the security and welfare of Muslims in the eastern provinces of Trincomalee, Batticoloa and Amperai, also promising that he will facilitate the return of nearly 100,000 Muslims to Jaffna.

There are basic questions affecting Sri Lanka to which there are no clear answers yet. Is Prabhakaran willing to allow the central government in Sri Lanka to retain jurisdiction over defence and foreign affairs, affecting the proposed Tamil homeland? To what extent is the Sri Lankan government willing to delegate financial powers and authority to maintain law and order to the proposed Tamil government in the northeastern provinces? Is the establishment of the interim government in the northeast considered the first step by Prabhakaran towards achieving the objective of an independent Tamil state? Is Prabhakaran willing to give up his armed struggle? Events in late April indicate that this is not the case. He continues to import arms.

The return of normalcy and the restoration of stability in Sri Lanka through the resolution of the ethnic confrontation between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese is a matter of deep interest to India, both in terms of India’s security and internal unity (in the context of the emotional links between Tamil citizens of India in Tamil Nadu and the Tamils in Sri Lanka).

The twin motivations of Prabhakaran’s press conference were, first, to gain legitimacy as a political leader, breaking out of the confines of international perceptions of him and of his organization as a terrorist phenomenon; and second, he wished to utilize the press conference to convey to the international community and to the Sri Lankan government the general terms of reference of his negotiating stance, if and when bilateral discussions start between him and Sri Lanka in Thailand.

The orientation of his policies as expressed during the press conference merit analytical description. First, he has made the LTTE’s participation in the negotiations with the Sri Lankan government in Thailand conditional to the government lifting the ban on the LTTE. He also stated that he would not personally participate in these negotiations if and when they take place. He has not withdrawn his demand for eelam, a separate independent state in Sri Lanka. He has demanded the right to self-determination and the delegation of power to the Sri Lankan Tamils and implied that his aim in the establishment of an interim government for the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka would be to make it the first step towards achieving eelam.

While confirming his adherence to a ceasefire, he has not agreed to give up arms. He made the extraordinary suggestion that India should resume an active role in finding a solution to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. He was indifferent to the death of Rajiv Gandhi and obfuscatory about his responsibility and role in that violent conspiracy. His political stance as articulated by his adviser, Anton Balasingham, is that he is negotiating with the prime minister, Ranil Wickeremesinghe, not as a leader of a militant secessionist group but as de facto head of the political identity of eelam.

Balasingham said during the press conference that Prabhakaran is both the prime minister and the president of eelam. The overall conclusion one reaches is that there is no basic change in the substantive negotiating position of the LTTE since it pulled back from the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement to resolve the ethnic problem in July 1987. Wickeremesinghe has been conciliatory in his reaction to the press conference, welcoming Prabhakaran’s remarks as encouraging and positive.

The government of India has announced a three-point policy: India would be supportive of the negotiations and the peace process; India would not mediate or play any direct role in these negotiations, and third, India had no intention of lifting the ban on the LTTE or the indictment of Prabhakaran as the leading figure in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination conspiracy.

What then should the Indian approach be towards the emerging negotiation scenario? India must welcome any initiative which can lead to a rational and just solution to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka through peaceful processes, safeguarding Sri Lankan unity and responsive to the legitimate aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils. Such a process should not legitimize terrorism and leaders of terrorist groups.

In this context, the ceasefire brokered between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government by Norwegian authorities is a positive development which could be the first step towards negotiations between the Tamils and the government, to forge solutions to the ethnic problem. India must keep in mind the fact that regardless of what Prabhakaran said in his press interview, there is no indication from his side that he will dilute his demand for eelam, thus breaking away from Sri Lankan territory.

Equally, there is no signal from the government that it would fulfil the basic demands of Sri Lankan Tamils regarding the merger of the northern and eastern provinces as a Tamil homeland, nor are there any clear indications about devolution of powers to the proposed Tamil provincial authority. These are extremely thorny problems. We should, therefore, watch over the progress and details of the impending negotiations.

Neither the government nor the LTTE has been able to evolve and agree upon a set of solutions better than the one which the former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, negotiated in 1987 and to which both sides had agreed. It was unfortunate that both the LTTE and the government pulled back from their commitment on the 1987 agreement which resulted in the prolonged violence.

Prabhakaran’s attempt to legitimize his political status in public opinion and with the international community, and to prevent his organization being labelled as a terrorist organization cannot obfuscate the fact that the LTTE is so, and Prabhakaran is the architect of its violent policies. The LTTE is designated as a terrorist organization by various governments. It is banned in India. Prabhakaran is a proclaimed offender in India’s eyes, responsible for the assassination of Raj- iv Gandhi, who genuinely tried to find a just solution to the ethnic problem.

Whatever the expectations may be from the proposed negotiations between the LTTE and the government, our national experience over the last two decades has been that neither the Sri Lankan side nor Prabhakaran is so far willing to work purposefully towards mutually acceptable compromises. Nor is there any guarantee that Prabhakaran will keep to his commitments, given the history of his not fulfilling them more than once in the past. India must therefore view the forthcoming negotiations with caution and limited optimism.

If his declared objective of an eelam in Sri Lanka is still a point which he holds on to, it obviously threatens the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. If this is the context which cannot be ruled out, the negotiations at best would be a purely tactical exercise on the part of Prabhakaran and the government, and at worst it would become a cosmetic farce.

It is also disappointing that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has not been in touch with moderate Tamil political forces in Sri Lanka, enabling them to become a more active and effective factor in the forthcoming negotiations. Nor has the Vajpayee government, despite having discussions with the prime minister of Sri Lanka, been able to suggest to Sri Lanka that it must show a clear responsiveness to Tamil aspirations, if it wishes this fresh round of negotiations with the Tamils to succeed.

The author is former foreign secretary of India

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / THE OIL ECONOMY ON ITS WAY OUT 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
What will happen when the United States of America finally realizes that west Asia isn’t strategically important any more?

For 40 years now, the concentration of oil reserves in west Asia was deemed to make this region uniquely important. American strategy was thus focussed on ensuring that the flow of oil to world markets was not interrupted. On the one occasion that it was, during the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, oil prices quadrupled, angry consumers queued for hours to fill up their cars and the global economy went into a long recession.

Well, Saddam Hussein of Iraq has now debunked the myth of the “oil weapon”. On April 8, he declared that he was suspending Iraq’s oil exports — around four per cent of the total output of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — until the Israelis ended the invasion of the West Bank, and invited the other Arab and Muslim members of OPEC to join him. The markets didn’t even blink.

One month into the embargo, the absence of Iraqi oil had still not caused the price to waver even a bit. Thus, Hussein has now declared an end to the embargo, claiming it could have worked if other countries had the courage to follow his example. But that’s exactly why the markets stayed calm: everyone knew that no other country would follow Hussein’s example. So did Hussein himself, really: he was only trying to embarrass his neighbours and present himself as the true champion of Arab and Palestinian rights.

Hussein’s gameplan

Iraq is a special case because it is a totalitarian state that is already living under economic siege as a result of sanctions. But none of the other Arab oil-exporting countries could follow its example because they need the cash flow too much. In the Seventies, at the time of the first and only real embargo, their populations were less than half of what they are now and their people had relatively low expectations. But now they simply cannot afford to stop exporting oil and cut off their main source of income.

The new reality was summed up last month by Prince Saud al Faisal, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia: “Oil isn’t a weapon like a cannon or a tank.” It is a commodity whose producers need to sell it just as much as its consumers need to buy it, and that means there is no longer any real risk of an embargo.

The other strategic concern about west Asia in the old days was that the Cold War was a zero-sum game. Every country in which the US-backed regime lost control tended to become a Soviet client, so that Moscow could cut off the flow of oil to the West in a crisis. But the Soviet Union collapsed 10 years ago. If the US loses its influence in some west Asian capital now, no global rival will take its place.

A new order

So the US obsession with the strategic importance of west Asia is just the usual business of perceptions and policy lagging behind a changed reality. In due course the perceptions will catch up. What will happen then?

First, Washington will realize that it doesn’t have to support friendly Arab governments even against their own people. An end to US interventions in Arab politics could allow the gradual spread of democracy throughout the Arab world, and that would be a good thing even if some of the new governments, in the light of past history, are strongly anti-American for a while.

The other issue is the US alliance with Israel, which was once based on common strategic interests: Israel was mostly in confrontation with Arab states that were backed and armed by the Soviet Union. That strategic rationale has vanished with the Soviet Union, and US support for Israel now rests solely on the foundation of habit and sentiment.

The US was not always Israel’s ally. In the Suez War of 1956, when Israel conspired with Britain and France to attack Egypt and seize the Suez Canal, it was the US which forced them to stop and give it back. Only when Egypt and Syria became full-fledged Soviet clients after that war did the US become Israel’s closest ally in the region. But all that is now ancient history — for the moment, the Israeli-US alliance remains intact, but the ground on which it was built has turned to quicksand.

   

 
 
CALM IN THE EYE OF THE STORM 
 
 
BY JYOTI PUNWANI
 
 
While half of Gujarat burns, Godhra, the place which sparked off the fire, is quiet. No one was killed here in retaliation, though half the town saw the burnt bodies of the passengers of the Sabarmati Express as they were being taken out of the coach. The immediate reaction came on February 27 itself, in the form of attacks on a mosque, a school and a large number of Muslim-owned factories and showrooms in Hindu areas which took place even as the curfew was on.

The Hindus arrested for these incidents are out on bail. But Muslims too have been arrested for these attacks. In fact, the same persons who allegedly led the mob which burnt the coach of the Sabarmati Express have been accused of heading mobs a few hours later, which attacked properties owned by their own community. They are the president of the Godhra municipality, Abdul Rahim Kalota, and councillors, Haji Bilal, Salim Shaikh and Abdul Rahman Dhantiya.

The political motive behind naming these persons as the main accused in the two communal incidents in Godhra is not lost on anybody in this town. The one thing that politically-aware Hindus and Muslims agree on in Godhra right now is that few of the 60-odd persons arrested for burning the train had anything to do with it. The railway police have claimed in court that 15 persons were arrested on the spot. But senior police officers reveal that the arrests took place only when combing operations began after the visit of the chief minister, Narendra Modi, to Godhra on the afternoon of February 27. Strangely, the railway police’s documents confirm this: they time the “on the spot” arrests at 21.30 hours, February 27.

Explaining these anomalies in court is a headache which can be put off till later. Right now the police want to know who burnt the coach and why. They have recorded the statement of Sophiya Shaikh, who was grabbed by a passenger but managed to scream and escape. They have also named Siddiq Bakr, the tea vendor who was assaulted in full view of scores of passengers, as an accused in the train-burning offence.

Incidentally, Bakr has been described as pleasant and mild-mannered by all the Hindu rail employees who knew him. These include the station master, Deepak Deshpande, whose wife got into Coach S/6 at Dahod, one station before Godhra, hoping to reach her office in Vadodara faster by the Sabarmati Express than her usual local train. “She would often leave my lunch-box with Siddiq,” says Deshpande.

Finding no trace of his wife anywhere else, Deshpande finally joined the rescue operations outside Coach S/6. She was the 56th to be taken out, he informs, her hand still clutching the double tiffin box she always carried: hers and his. “Seeing those bodies, even someone who has never hurt anyone would be prepared to kill,” says the soft-spoken man, hurt writ large on his face as he shows you pictures of them together.

Does Deshpande feel his wife’s death has been avenged by the violence against Muslims in the rest of Gujarat? “Will all that bring her back?” asks his sobbing mother, adding, “We want those who did this punished, but we don’t want any family ruined the way we have been.”

Surprisingly, the functionary of the Godhra unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad did not once mention the 32-year-old Pooja Deshpande during the course of an hour-long interview, even when asked who among the 58 dead hailed from that area. In fact, the incident itself didn’t interest him, only its implications (“jihadi terrorism”) did.

Most citizens of Godhra have seen through the VHP’s cynical politics. They answer in all seriousness when asked to explain why the “spontaneous Hindu anger” did not lead to the loss of any Muslim lives here, “None of the 58 who died was from Godhra.”

A more likely explanation lies in Godhra’s history of communal riots. In the two major riots in 1965 and 1980, the Sindhis who settled here after Partition, and the Ghanchi Muslims, a volatile mix of Afghan and Bhil descendants, fought it out. “We were the only Hindus who could take on the Ghanchis,” says Kishorilal Bhayani, leader of the Sindhis in Godhra.

This time, they decided not to let anyone “shoot from our shoulders. We have spent a long time rebuilding from scratch,” says Bhayani. “Every riot means years spent in rehabilitation and legal work, with business at a standstill. As it is, being wholesalers, the destruction of Bohra shops in the villages has meant our money going up in smoke.”

Not only did the Sindhis keep their “boys” in control, but they were also the first to invite, earlier this month, Muslim traders back into the sensitive “border” area where both communities have their shops and give them a guarantee of safety — an invitation that was warmly accepted.

Godhra is one of those rare old towns where all communities live in their own ghettoes. From February 27 till a few days ago, no Hindu ventured into a Muslim area and vice versa. This cost a young mother her life: when she developed complications after delivery, her family hesitated to rush her to a hospital in the Hindu area.

Ghettoes notwithstanding, the two communities are interdependent. The Muslim rickshaw-driver who took this writer to the predominantly Hindu railway colony, was surrounded by children from the adjacent bungalows as soon as he stopped. “Uncle, why don’t you come here these days?”, they lisped. After hours of raving and ranting against the Ghanchi Muslims who live in Signal Falia just behind the station, a railway officer revealed that he entrusted his house — “with all almirahs open” — to a Ghanchi whenever he went to his village.

But there was also the officer who flatly told his regular rickshaw driver that he no longer trusted him to take his children to school. Accentuating these hostilities is the local press, which, knowing that Sophiya Shaikh was molested, will not print it, but will carry screaming headlines proclaiming that Hindu women’s bodies were found in the mosques near the rail tracks, knowing all the while that nothing of the sort happened.

On March 4, when the curfew was still in force, a leading Muslim from Godhra faxed a letter condemning the burning of the Sabarmati Express to Sandesh, one of the two main Gujarati papers in the town. He was told they had no place for it amid all the news pouring in. Maulana Hussen Umerji, the principal religious leader of the Ghanchis, apologized on behalf of his community for the Sabarmati Express burning in more than one peace meeting called by the collector. No newspaper reported this. On April 2, senior citizens took out a peace march led by the collector which went through the most sensitive Hindu and Muslim areas, but was stoned at at one point in a Muslim area. The press highlighted this incident.

Nor has the local media reported in detail the “vengeance” being wreaked on Muslims elsewhere in the state. Indeed, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked, after a visit to Ahmedabad’s relief camps, “With what face can I go abroad?” Godhra’s press replied with a list of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on Hindus centuries ago.

Hence, most Hindus in Godhra not only refuse to believe that VHP passengers misbehaved with Muslims at the Godhra railway station, but many are also unaware of the brutality that Muslims, especially women, have been subjected to elsewhere. For them, English newspapers and private television channels are anti-Hindu, and hence cannot be believed. Even the youngsters whose regular inter-community meets kept Godhra peaceful after December 6, 1992, agree with the dominant Hindu view that Muslims, who began it all by burning the coach, are just being paid back in their own coin in the rest of Gujarat.

They should meet Girishchandra Rawal of Ahmedabad, who lost his 62-year-old wife Sudha in the Sabarmati inferno. Egged on by VHP activists, including his son, to express his “basic” feelings against Muslims, he replies amid tears, “Yes, I feel angry. There are no words to describe my loss. They deprived me of my partner in my old age. But as a Hindu, I have to control my anger. There is no place for revenge in my religion. I must wish even my enemy well.”

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / KEEPING FROM HARM’S WAY 
 
 
 
 
On May 21-23 2001, diplomats from around the world will gather in Stockholm, Sweden, to sign the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The new treaty, one of many important initiatives growing out of the 1992 Earth Summit, represents the most ambitious effort by the global community to date to rein in and ultimately halt the proliferation of toxic chemicals. Unlike other chemical treaties that rely on notification requirements or end-of-pipe pollution controls, the new convention calls for outright banning and destruction. The treaty is designed to eliminate or severely restrict production and use of a pernicious group of pesticides and industrial chemicals; ensure environmentally sound management and chemical transformation of POPs waste; and prevent the emergence of new chemicals with POPs-like characteristics.

The treaty targets some of the world’s most dangerous chemicals. Persistent organic pollutants pose a particular hazard because of four common characteristics: they are toxic; they are persistent, resisting normal processes that break down contaminants, they accumulate in the body fat of people, marine mammals and other animals and are passed from mother to foetus; and they can travel great distances...on wind and water currents.

Even small quantities of POPs can wreak havoc in human and animal tissue, causing nervous system damage, diseases of the immune system, reproductive and developmental disorders and cancers.

The POPs treaty was finalized last December by consensus of the 122 negotiating governments, with the support of both the chemical industry trade associations and environmental/public health groups including the more than 300 NGOs participating in the international POPs elimination network. World Wildlife Fund and other NGOs are pleased with many elements of the treaty. These include its embrace of precaution in the face of uncertainty about the nature and extent of toxic chemical threats; the requirement that developed country parties provide new and additional financial resources so that all nations can participate in treaty implementation; the appeal to parties to prevent the production and use of new POPs chemicals; the elimination goal for dioxins and other byproduct POPs; the call for substitute products and processes rather than reliance on pollution scrubbers and filters; and the presumption that all parties agree to control new POPs added to treaty annexes.

...Precaution, including transparency and public participation, is operationalized throughout the treaty, with explicit references in the preamble, objective, provisions for adding POPs and determination of best available technologies. The objective states: “Mindful of the precautionary approach as set forth in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the objective of this Convention is to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants.”... Developed country parties commit to providing new and additional financial resources to developing country parties and parties with economies in transition. Adequacy, predictability and timely flow of funds are essential. The treaty calls for regular review by the Conference of parties of both the level of funding and the effectiveness of performance of the institutions entrusted with the treaty’s financial operations. On an interim basis, the Global Environment Facility will serve as the treaty’s principal financial mechanism...

Of 12 targeted POPs, eight are pesticides, most of which are slated for immediate bans once the treaty takes effect... DDT provisions include the goal of ultimate elimination, limiting use to disease vector control in accordance with WHO guidelines. The treaty calls for research, development and implementation of safe, effective and affordable alternatives to DDT. Parties that have regulatory and assessment schemes for new chemicals are called on to “take measures to regulate with the aim of preventing” the production and use of any new POPs.

...For dioxins, furans and hexachlorobenzene, parties are called on to reduce total releases “with the goal of their continuing minimisation and, where feasible, ultimate elimination.” Rather than rely on end-of-pipe pollution control technologies, the treaty urges the use of substitute or modified materials, products and processes to prevent the formation and release of by-product POPs. Environmentally sound management and disposal of POPs wastes... The POP content in waste is to be destroyed, irreversibly transformed, or, in very limited situations, otherwise disposed of in an environmentally sound manner in co-ordination with Basel Convention requirements.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Death in the family

Sir — The death of Ritu, daughter of veteran Congressman K. Natwar Singh, is the latest addition to the long list of suspected suicides by the daughters of prominent leaders like Shivraj Patil, Bibi Jagir Kaur and Ajit Jogi (“Tragedy after tragedy in Natwar Singh’s family”, May 7). Ritu’s death followed the suicide of her sister-in-law, Natasha. The deaths prove that all is not well with the households of Indian politicians. Affluence and power in third world countries have proved to be the bane of peaceful existence. Not only have suicide rates among the rich and famous shot up, there has also been a series of gruesome murders, usually a fallout of rivalry between affluent families. The murder of Nitish Katara is a case in point. More alarming is the growing suspicion that many of the suicides are actually murders passed of as suicides to protect the reputation of the public figures. Yet few questions are raised. Maybe the new consumerist culture has robbed the nation of a conscience.

Yours faithfully,

Shivaji K. Moitra, Kharagpur

Cleaning spree

Sir — The Supreme Court judgment on electoral reforms has proved, as the editorial, “Job description” (May 6), pointed out, that the judiciary is now having to perform the work of the executive, which is found to abdicate its responsibility most of the time. The country’s legislators should have realized the need for such a reform, and passed necessary laws to bring about changes in the system.

It has been proved time and again that accountability vanishes once the candidates are elected to the legislatures. Therefore, it is important that the people know all the necessary information about the candidates before casting their vote. The people of India can no longer afford to be swayed by pre-election promises. There is no alternative to hard facts.

Yours faithfully,
M. Sharma, Calcutta

Sir — One of the basic pillars of democracy is information. The Supreme Court’s judgment making it compulsory for all electoral contestants to disclose full details of their criminal records, wealth and educational qualification merely safeguards the citizens’ right to information. It is also important to fix an age limit for individuals contesting elections so that the people of a constituency can get maximum service from their elected representative. The EC could also debar persons from contesting from areas other than his place of domicile. That way, local issues will get top priority.

Yours faithfully,
Dinabandhu Mukherjee, Calcutta

Sir — As with all court rulings, the success of the Supreme Court ruling on electoral reforms will depend on its implementation by the EC and the administration. Recent political history of the country has several instances where people with multiple criminal cases against them have been allowed to contest elections, and even assume the office of the chief minister. It is not enough that a landmark judgment has been delivered. There are other laws which safeguard public interests, but these are hardly ever put into practice. The EC must ensure that the judgment is not added to that list.

Yours faithfully,
Shipra Mandal, Hooghly

Sir — The Supreme Court has recently asked the EC to make it mandatory for candidates contesting elections to make public declarations of all criminal cases against them (“Come-clean order on candidates”, May 3). Contestants have also been asked to disclose the sentences they have been awarded, along with statements of their assets and liabilities and educational qualification.

This landmark verdict will surely give Indian voters an opportunity to choose their representatives in full knowledge of their deeds. This can become the first step towards ensuring that law-breakers do not become law-makers.

Yours faithfully,
Kavi Vishnu Satpathy, Baripada

Sir — As the custodian of the constitutional rights of the Indian citizen, the Supreme Court has seen to it that the Indian voter’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is not obstructed while electing his representative. The underlying idea is to check the entry of criminals into the hallowed precincts of Parliament and the assemblies. One hopes that after this landmark ruling, the Indian electorate can finally go to cast its vote armed with full knowledge of the candidates’ public records.

Yours faithfully,
Subhasish Majumdar, Sonarpur

Hop, skipper, jump

Sir — Some people seem to think that the only way to show off their cricketing knowledge is to pick Sourav Ganguly’s faults. Susanta Ghosh seems to be one of them when he questions Ganguly’s behaviour after the last West Indian wicket fell in the second test (“Winning streak”, April 29). He feels that Ganguly’s way of celebrating did not befit the national captain. But what could be so wrong in collecting the stumps and hugging teammates after a historic win? After all, India won in West Indian soil after 26 years and the win came at a time when we were beginning to forget the taste of overseas victories. Does Ganguly really deserve the brickbats?

Yours faithfully,
Sanjib Dutta, Konnagar

Sir — Isn’t it a little strange that just a few days back, everyone was after the Indian cricket captain and now that he has had a couple of good scores under his belt, the harshest critics have changed into his most vocal supporters. Sourav Ganguly must be congratulated for keeping his cool and refusing to be swayed by either criticism or adulation.

Yours faithfully,
S. Bhadra, Calcutta

Sir — A planned campaign is seemingly on to malign the east zone cricketers. Commentators have been hinting that the Bengal wicketkeeper, Deep Dasgupta, is in the squad because of the skipper’s patronage. But they forget that Ganguly was one of the first persons to keep Dasgupta out of the squad even when he was delivering the goods.

Yours faithfully,
Sheuli Bose, New Delhi

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