Editorial 1 / Peace within
Editorial 2 / Broken free
At the heavenly high table
Fifth Column / Widening cracks in the alliance
A race against time
Document / Towards a cleaner and greener planet
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / PEACE WITHIN 
 
 
 
 
No obstacles to peace are insurmountable if the desire for it is genuine. There is reason to be optimistic about the National Socialist Council of Nagalim leadership’s desire to return to India for the next round of discussions on Naga insurgency. This is a welcome move because the NSCN, led by Mr Isak Swu and Mr Thuingelang Muivah, had earlier insisted that talks on the issue must always be held in “a third country”. That was why the talks had so far been held in Geneva, Amsterdam or Bangkok. By agreeing to attend discussions in India, the NSCN(I-M) has sent out a clear signal that its insistence on “sovereignty” for the Naga people will no longer be a precondition for the talks. The rebel leadership seems to have reconciled itself to the fact that no government in New Delhi can accept its demand for “sovereignty”. Holding the discussions in India can create better conditions for their success than going over the intermittent rounds in some other country. The NSCN(I-M)’s willingness to join the negotiations in India should also be significant for peace initiatives with other outlawed groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom which insist on the talks being held in “third” countries. It should not be construed as a compromise on the part of the NSCN(I-M) leadership. It only shows that Mr Swu and Mr Muivah are astute negotiators who will be guided by reality rather than by prejudices.

It should not be difficult for the Centre to “clear the decks”, as an NSCN(I-M) representative put it, for the leaders’ return to India. After all, they came to Nagaland in 1998 after nearly 30 years, following New Delhi’s decision to allow them a safe passage. This was possible after the rebels and the government successfully implemented the ceasefire agreement between them. New Delhi should reciprocate the rebels’ gesture by offering the leaders another safe passage. The progress of the negotiations should decide if the time has come for the government to lift the ban on the organization, withdraw arrest warrants against the leaders and repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which is in operation in Nagaland and Manipur. The rebel leaders cannot be unaware of the impact of the government’s response to these demands on other insurgent groups in the Northeast. New Delhi may find it difficult to repeal the Armed Forces Act, for example, because it is necessary to deal with the Manipuri rebel outfits. Some sceptics suspected that the NSCN(I-M) would use the ceasefire to regroup and rearm its cadre in Nagaland. The fears have generally proved wrong, thanks to the sincerity of purpose on both sides. The rebel leaders should take the peace process further by returning to Nagaland for the sake of peace and of the long-suffering people of the state.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / BROKEN FREE 
 
 
 
 
It is not surprising that the independence of East Timor has been marked with such great celebration. The people of the tiny island state have won freedom after nearly five hundred years of oppressive rule by foreigners, and after a struggle in which several thousand citizens lost their lives. Since October 1999, the territory was governed through the United Nations as it prepared for self-rule. It was the UN secretary general, Mr Kofi Annan, who, on last Sunday, presided over the independence celebrations as Mr Xannana Gusmao was sworn in as president. More than a dozen heads of state and nearly 600 delegates attended the swearing-in.

East Timor’s history is one long saga of foreign domination. The Portuguese controlled the country from the 16th century to 1975. During World War II, East Timor had witnessed battles between Australia and Japan, and Australian forces were stationed here during the latter half of the war. During this period the local population supported the Allied efforts in the war, but this did not bring much support for their cause. In 1975, leaders from East Timor made a unilateral declaration of independence, but within days they faced a massive Indonesian invasion. During the years of Indonesian rule, there were massive human rights abuses and large-scale suppression of civil and political liberties. But because of the politics of the Cold War there was little international pressure put on Jakarta. It was only after the end of the Cold War, and the economic crisis that the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations faced in 1997, that Indonesia was persuaded to hold a referendum in East Timor. The local population voted in favour of independence. As one of the poorest nations in Asia, East Timor desperately needs help from the international community. With a population of 750,000, more than half of which lives in poverty, political independence will not bring freedom from want. Large parts of the country have no electricity and only limited access to health and educational facilities. Fortunately, foreign donors have agreed to contribute about $440 million, which would at least help the new administration sustain its presence for the next three years. Also the next years may witness East Timor securing the benefits of oil and gas deposits in the Timor sea. Although there are still no precise estimates of the quantity of deposits, there is no doubt that these should be enough to ensure that the small island state enjoys prosp- erity. The presence of the Indonesian president, Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri, during the independence celebrations suggests that East Timor will also finally enjoy a period of relative calm and political stability.

   

 
 
AT THE HEAVENLY HIGH TABLE 
 
 
BY RUKUN ADVANI
 
 
The recent death of the biographer, S. Gopal, makes me imagine a high table at All Souls — not the one in Oxford — but the one which art in heaven. Every 26th January, this Heavenly High Table hosts a dinner exclusively for Indian scholars who have gone Up There over the last few years. The saints who go marching in to the Republic Day dinner all belong to the same generation and look like they were born wearing black gowns. They have naturally been invited only if they have been at Oxford or at Cambridge during their earthly lives or if they have had some suitably worthy institutional connection with the yellow stone shadows that bestow grace only upon Isis and Cam.

They include Sukhomoy Chakra- varty, Ashin Das Gupta, M.N. Srinivas, Ravinder Kumar, Partha Sarathi Gupta, Dharma Kumar, and S.Gopal. We are lucky to still have with us the other scholars of that Indo-Oxbridge generation who I imagine will, many years down, hopefully occupy a chair each on that same high table: Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Tapan Raychaudhuri, Amartya Sen, and Sumit Sarkar.

Meanwhile, leading the desi troop from cloisters to gleaming oak and arriving at the head of this high table is Sukhomoy Chakravarty — not because he went Up There first, nor because he was the first Nehru Professor of Economics at Trinity College, Cambridge, nor because he taught Lord Hahn and Joan Robinson a thing or two about mathematical economics, nor because he delivered the Oxford Radhakrishnan Lectures which resulted in Development Planning: The Indian Experience, but because even crueller than the denial of the Nobel Prize year after year to Amartya Sen (until decency belatedly prevailed in Stockholm) was the denial to Sukhamoy Chakravarty of his rightful home, namely the Master’s Lodge at Trinity. And judging by the regard expressed for Professor Chakravarty by the present Master of that Lodge, simple justice demands that Sukhomoyda, glowing with the aura of Presidency Enlightenment, be placed at the head of this angelic high table, that he be the one to mutter grace in Latin, that he permit his Indian colleagues to seat themselves when the prayer is done.

I lay no claims to having known Professor Chakravarty well, but it was my good fortune to have met him regularly, about once every two months, over the last four years of his life. The publishing multinational where I worked had given me carte blanche to develop a series of books for advanced students and teachers of economics in India. To begin such a series, we needed to rope in some series editors who would serve as magnets for younger economists, who in turn would put together the individual volumes.

To kickstart the idea I met Kaushik Basu at the Delhi School of Economics. He had been some years my college senior and had acquired a considerable reputation as a teacher after his return from the London School of Economics and the United States of America. Kaushik was immediately enthusiastic about the series idea, but, he said, “If you want it to work, we’ll need three series editors — Sukhomoy Chakravarty, Prabhat Patnaik, and myself.” I knew nothing about economics and economists, so I asked why we needed this precise team. He explained that Prabhat knew all the left-wing economics, he himself knew all the neoclassical stuff, and Sukhomoy Chakra- varty, he said simply, knows everything. He knows more than Prabhat and I can together know over many lifetimes. These may not have been Kaushik’s exact words, but I am ready to swear, by placing my hands on the holy wood of the All Souls high table, that this was roughly what he said.

I met a lot of high-powered economists because of that series (which came to be titled “Themes in Economics”) and they all had the same view of Sukhomoy Chakravarty’s incredible erudition, his pre-eminence as the only economist who knew everything. I discovered why. When the series got going, which it did because Kaushik and Prabhat paid court to the presiding deity of the Delhi School of Economics and the planning commission, and he agreed to be de facto chief editor, editorial meetings began to be held in my office premises every two months.

My own job was that of a glorified waiter: I provided tea and Flury’s chocolate pastries from the Park Hotel. There is nothing quite like chocolate pastries to galvanize academics.

Sukhomoy Chakravarty arrived unfailingly at all these meetings, a sort of Legend-Who-Walks of very thickly set proportions, with spectacles so thick they seemed in lieu of eyes and a body language giving out disarming friendliness. Disconcertingly, he would show up a full half hour before the appointed time because he wanted me to show him every new book we had published, in India and abroad, since the previous meeting. At first I showed him all the new stuff in economics on the assumption that that was what an economist would want to see, but he’d set those books aside. “I’ve read those ones,” he would say, and ask to be shown what was new in English literature, European poetry, social theory, Indian history, Russian linguistics and Gayatri Spivak: in short, Everything.

The man genuinely wanted to lay his hands on every intellectual development in every sphere of learning, and one reason for his agreeing to be a series editor, it became obvious, was that before each meeting he could raid the shelves of a publishing company and buy all that knowledge at the discounted price we were pleased to offer him. But he was no empty intellectual: he also wanted to lay his hands on an alarming number of chocolate pastries, all the while telling us that his sweet tooth had made him suffer lifelong guilt for gross violations of “Pareto optimality” in relation to confectionery. “Don’t tell Latika about these pastries,” he would say wickedly as he tucked into his third, “the problem with having an economist as a wife is that she is doubly sure these are not optimal for my heart.” Kaushik Basu was convinced we collectively contributed to the heart attack that killed him. “It was those pastry sessions that did him in,” he said many years later.

I did not get to know S.Gopal on terms that were anything like the friendly informality I managed with Professor Chakravarty, but I met him off and on and exchanged some professional correspondence with him, and so I imagine him as the man who occupies the chair next to Sukhomoy Chakravarty at the Heavenly High Table. In fact, if Professor Chakravarty had never existed the task of pre-meal Latin thanksgiving would certainly have fallen to Professor Gopal. As his editor, I met him on three counts: first, over his one-volume abridged biography of Nehru; second, his far superior biography of his father Radhakrishnan; and third, a reissue of the very first book his father had written, titled Essentials of Psychology (1912).

With me, Gopal’s demeanour was regal, austere and impeccably courteous. He knew better than to let his hair down in a publishing office, correctly recognizing it as a hotbed of academic gossip. He had a minimal interest in his abridged Nehru, merely reading the proofs meticulously and agreeing mechanically to suggested deletions. But he took great care over every phrase of his Radhakrishnan biography, asking me to double-check a quotation by the Australian poet, Peter Porter, on death as fading sea-tide (which he used to describe his father’s end). He, in turn double-checked a French translation provided him by the late P.K. Ghosh, that most learned of Bengali printers, whose press Gopal had been particularly insistent about for Radhakrishnan.

T.S. Eliot once sarcastically described literary critics as suppressed creative writers. Extending the analogy, editors are often suppressed or failed academics, such as myself, gawping from the wings at the world of the intellect we almost inhabited yet didn’t quite manage. It’s like being fascinated by chess without being able to play it. But for all that, it can be fun just watching. Though I understood not a word, it still felt nice listening to Professor Chakravarty floor Kaushik Basu and Prabhat Patnaik with his flow. It felt nice writing letters to Professor Gopal with stray thoughts on his prose. It seemed voyeuristically worthwhile to try deciphering what made these exalted Indian Oxbridgians and institutional heavyweights — the foremost Indian economist of his time and the most highly regarded Indian biographer of his day — tick.

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / WIDENING CRACKS IN THE ALLIANCE 
 
 
BY TILAK D. GUPTA
 
 
The April 29 resignation of the Union minister for coal and mines, Ram Vilas Paswan, from the Central cabinet over the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stance on Gujarat was never expected to enable the opposition to push through its censure motion in the Lok Sabha the next day. Eventually, the government won by a comfortable majority. Yet, Paswan’s resignation and the demand for Narendra Modi’s ouster by several National Democratic Alliance partners have put the BJP in a spot.

Worse, without Paswan by its side, the party cannot expect to repeat its performance of the 1999 Lok Sabha polls — the BJP and its NDA allies had won 42 of the 54 seats at stake in Bihar — in the next general elections. Paswan, the most influential Dalit leader in Bihar, was one of the chief architects of that rather remarkable victory.

Although other NDA allies like the Telugu Desam Party, National Conference, Trinamool Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham, and sections of the Janata Dal (United) and Samata Party had expressed disapproved over the BJP’s handling of the Gujarat carnage and demanded Modi’s removal, it was Paswan alone who resigned. The BJP leadership however chose to underplay the significance of his resignation. Some even hinted that Paswan’s action was the result of his increasing marginalization within the NDA in the recent past.

After the resignation

Senior BJP leaders allege that Paswan found his position as the voice of the Dalits in the NDA compromised after the party decided to form a coalition government with the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayavati in Uttar Pradesh. Others argue that Paswan’s “demotion” from the communications ministry to the relatively unimportant coal ministry had displeased him. Paswan, however, denies these allegations and insists that he was agonized by the continued persecution of minorities in Gujarat.

Whatever the motive behind Paswan’s resignation, there is no denying that it has put the BJP and its NDA allies under pressure. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime, torn between the need to pander to sangh parivar hardliners and to run the government according to the rule of law, has been jolted by Paswan’s departure. BJP allies like the TDP are also under increased pressure to distance themselves from the ruling coalition after his resignation.

But the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (U) are probably the worst affected by Paswan’s resignation. These parties, along with Paswan’s Lok Janshakti, were part of the undivided Janata party. They joined the BJP in 1999 to defeat Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal in the general elections. In fact, it was Paswan who mobilized Dalit votes to ensure the NDA’s victory. With Pas- wan no longer in the NDA, these parties now face an identity crisis in Bihar.

Legacy of Bihar

Anti-Laloo sections of the Muslims may now reject them and rally behind Paswan. As it is, a vocal section of the Samata Party and Janata Dal (U) are up in arms against their leaders’ defence of the Centre’s stand on Gujarat.

Paswan has already indicated that his battle to end RJD rule in Bihar will continue even after his departure from the NDA. Paswan has not indicated whether he will join another party; instead he says he is prepared “to go into political wilderness for some time” in order to protect his identity as a defender of Dalit and minority interests. Paswan may be attempting to repeat in Bihar the strategy that has worked wonders for Mayavati in UP — build a solid Dalit-minority support base as a third force to oppose the upper caste-based BJP and the other backward class-dominated RJD.

It is still uncertain if Paswan will eventually succeed. What, however, seems certain is that his parting ways with the NDA will lead to considerable difficulties for the BJP and its two major allies in Bihar. For the BJP in particular, this political setback so soon after its recent electoral loss in UP does not bode well. As for its “secular” allies, Paswan’s resignation undoubtedly intensifies their present discomfort. And if the BJP continues to be unrelenting on Gujarat, chances are some of them will really be left with no option but to follow the Paswan way.

   

 
 
A RACE AGAINST TIME 
 
 
BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
 
Any war between India and Pakistan would be devastating even if it remained a conventional war. Therefore, everything ought to be done to prevent it. The momentum that is propelling the two neighbours towards war can be stemmed only by two factors: what President Pervez Musharraf is willing to do to put an end to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and whether the Americans are able to put sufficient pressure on Pakistan to mend its ways.

The government in New Delhi can do precious little to prevent the war. The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, may be politically weak. It could even be argued that he should have handled the post-December 13 developments differently. However, such arguments have no bearing on the current dynamic. No government can allow the present situation to continue and still hope to retain any legitimacy. The question, therefore, is no longer whether there will be a war with Pakistan but when it will take place.

Pakistan needs to understand India’s resolve. Its inability to comprehend the Indian psyche in matters of national security was evident during the Kargil operation. The same General Musharraf had thought that with a caretaker government in New Delhi and with a bitterly divided polity, India would be far too weak to do anything if the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir were changed. How utterly wrong the Pakistani calculations were became evident in no time when a fractious political class, even with a general election in the offing, set aside its differences to take on Pakistan.

That a similar coming together across the political divide is taking place even now is evident from the intervention of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, during the debate in Parliament on the terrorist incident in Jammu. She could have easily taken a partisan position. After all, this war, if it takes place, will help the Bharatiya Janata Party the most. Yet she refrained from any divisive diatribe. Instead, she exhorted the government to convert its rhetoric against terrorism into an effective operational strategy.

The anger within the government over the attack on an army camp in Jam- mu on May 14, in which innocent family members of armymen deployed on the border were mercilessly killed, is also immense. Its extent can be gauged from the fact that there was a serious suggestion that instead of expelling the high commissioner of Pakistan, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, he should be put under house arrest, the Geneva Convention be damned. Luckily, saner advice prevailed.

Already, the stress on the political class has begun to tell and Vajpayee is being ridiculed as “baat bahadur” (a tall talker). Those who are defending the cautious and graded approach being followed by him recall that in 1971, Indira Gandhi had waited for eight months, during which time the refugees from the then East Pakistan had kept pouring into India, before formally going to war. The long wait, they point out, had not weakened her resolve in any way.

This time around, the Indian forces have been on the front with Pakistan for nearly five months now after being deployed there in the wake of the attack on Parliament. Since then, neither have the terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir ceased nor has cross-border infiltration shown signs of decline. In the month of May alone, up to now, more than 150 people have been killed in terrorist incidents in the state.

After the attack on Parliament, between January and March this year, more than a hundred security forces personnel were killed in Jammu and Kashmir while the tally of civilians killed is nearly three times that. The infiltration in the months of March and April was more than double of that in January and February, suggesting that the period of tactical withdrawal by Pakistan in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Parliament was over.

There has been an argument in the Indian establishment that the country’s strategy for tackling Pakistan-sponsored terrorism needs to be changed. Low intensity warfare can only be answered with low intensity warfare, conventional war with conventional war and a nuclear strike with a nuclear strike — or so the argument goes. But after September 11, it has become relatively difficult for India to use the option of covert operations against Pakistan. While it is nobody’s case that India may not have used such methods against Pakistan earlier — the point, however, is that this option no longer exists. India cannot condemn terrorism and at the same time indulge in it.

Pakistan must know that after September 11, the primary reaction of India to cross-border terrorism would have to be overt. Under the circumstances then, there can be only two alternative explanations for the continuing terrorist strikes in Jammu and Kashmir: that President Musharraf is indulging in doublespeak when he claims that terrorism in the name of Kashmir would not be allowed, or that there are forces beyond his control which are subverting his policies.

If President Musharraf is being double-faced and the terrorist strikes in Kashmir are likely to continue, then India has no option but to take military action against Pakistan. If, however, there are forces within Pakistan which are opposed to President Musharraf’s policy of not allowing terrorism in the name of Kashmir, then he needs help. Then this problem can be tackled either with the cooperation of India or with international help.

There are reports that Pakistan is likely to approach the United Nations security council to restrain India from going to war. India can have no objection to this. Pakistan’s move is a multi-faceted weapon. It can cut in various directions and President Musharraf’s advisors do not seem to recognize that the consequences of the move may be ungovernable. The UN security council has to honour and implement its own resolutions on terrorism. It cannot be that the UN would urge India not to go to war but condone Pakistan’s role in sponsoring terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

If Pakistan argues that it cannot control cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, then what if the UN security council proposes the positioning of an international anti-terrorism force along the line of control on the Pakistan side of Kashmir? India will not object to this. What does India care about who controls Pakistan on the other side of the LoC as long as infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir stops?

But imagine what might happen in Pakistan — the people would say that already one-half of the country is under the control of the United States of America and now Islamabad is ceding control over some other parts too. This could pose a serious threat to General Musharraf himself.

If, on the other hand, Vajpayee does not act with determination, many believe that he too may be in grave personal danger. If communal polarization is allowed to take place in Jammu, Hindus begin to migrate from there and the army’s morale is further eroded, anything could happen.

This is clearly a race against time. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has behaved in a restrained manner up to now, in order to delay the inevitable as long as possible. The Americans have apparently asked India for some more time to talk to Pakistan. And Vajpayee has given them time. But even he will not be able to wait indefinitely.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / TOWARDS A CLEANER AND GREENER PLANET 
 
 
 
 
In order to strengthen the technological capabilities of Indian industries, both for meeting national needs and for global competitiveness, a number of new initiatives have been launched. A technology development board was established in 1996 with the mandate to facilitate the development of new technologies and the assimilation and adaptation of imported technologies, by providing catalytic support to enable industries and research and development institutions to work in partnership with each other....grants to R&D institutions showing commercial earnings through technology services were also introduced in 1996 and will be continued and broadened. Already, a long-term perspective, called technology vision for India 2020, has been prepared which could form the basis of technology development programmes...

Programmes and projects:

Adoption of cleaner production technologies and formation of waste minimization circles are being encouraged to minimize environmental pollution. Under the World Bank-aided industrial pollution control project, technical and financial assistance is provided for establishing common effluent treatment plants in clusters of small-scale industrial units at, for example, Mumbai, Surat, and Chennai. An Eco-Mark scheme has been launched to certify various products of industries which fulfil the prescribed standards of environment-friendly production, packaging, and waste disposal.

Status: The expanded scope for specializing in areas of comparative advantage is manifest in the improved growth performance of the economy. Furthermore, while exports have vigorously responded to the removal of the anti-export bias of a protectionist environment, domestic industry appears to have been stimulated by the expanded availability of imports and capital goods and the challenge of competing in the international marketplace. The positive response of Indian industry to deregulation is amply demonstrated by the capital goods sector. The capital goods industry, which witnessed a negative growth of 12.8 per cent in 1991-92, registered an average growth of about 23 per cent during 1994-96.

Major industrial cities along the coastline like Mumbai, Surat, Cochin, Chennai, Vishakhapatnam discharge approximately 0.7x109 cubic metres of waste. There are 1,551 industries located along the coastline of the country and all the major ones treat their effluents before disposal. There are innumerable small-and medium-scale industries which dispose untreated waste as well as sewage into creeks. Several tanneries located in Calcutta and near Chennai have been strongly recommended for closure in cases where they did not install treatment plants within the stipulated period specified by the apex court of the country...

Transport: The various ministries/agencies involved are those of surface transport, heavy industry, civil aviation, shipping, railways, urban development, petroleum, environment and forests....

In the present system, amendments to existing acts/notifications are carried out by the administering ministry/department in consultation with the concerned department/ministries.

Planning commission is finalizing an integrated transport policy which would focus on coordinated and integrated development of all modes of transport.

The ministry of surface transport deals with the Indian Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, and Central motor vehicles rules, 1989. Enforcement of these is done by the concerned state authorities. States play an active role in the decisions involving transport and their inputs are considered at all levels of decision-making...

To mitigate pollution problems in Indian cities, more stringent norms for vehicular emissions have been notified under the Central motor vehicle rules which came into effect in April 1996...

The Motor Vehicle Act (Amendment), 2000, legislated the use of environment-friendly fuel like compressed natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas as auto-fuels...

For railways, the Railways Act, 1989, is administered by the ministry of railways.

Bharat stage-I norms have been introduced all over the country with effect from April 1, 2000. This norm is being progressively tightened and Bharat stage-II norms, which envisage a sulphur content of a maximum of 0.05 per cent for petrol and diesel both, have been introduced in Delhi from April 1, 2000, in Mumbai from January 1, 2001, and in both Chennai and Calcutta from July 1, 2001. The ministry of finance provides tax incentives for popularizing use of environment-friendly fuel like CNG, LPG, and so on.

The chairman, Central pollution control board, is chairing an inter-ministerial committee to specify the road map for future emission norms for the country. The report is expected by March 2001.

The ministry of railways has its own codal procedures, safety norms, rules and regulations for all aspects of the railway’s working including safety, operations and maintenance of assets.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Hope for the future

Hope against hope Sir — When the world is being torn apart by war and other forms of devastation, East Timor’s independence becomes a symbol of hope for the future (“Millenium’s first-born nation”, May 20). The perseverance and determination of the people of East Timor, subjugated by colonial rulers and other repressive regimes for more than a century, has ensured the birth of the first nation of this millenium. Interestingly, the increasing realization by the respective militias in countries like East Timor and Myanmar of the futility of coercion is paving the way for the return of democracy and freedom in these countries. Although the United Nations under Kofi Annan has been a failure in dealing constructively with various international crises in recent years, its positive and responsible intervention in East Timor deserves credit. Hats off to the East Timorese and the UN for setting an example for others to follow in the future.

Yours faithfully,
Jayati Ray, Siliguri

Idol worship

Sir — It has been rightly pointed out in the editorial, “A hero of saffron”, that every political party has its own political pantheon and this may not be acceptable to others. It is also true that those in power always try to impose their own icons and their own ideals on the rest of the population, no matter how detrimental they are to national interests.

The government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party has taken the conscious decision to rename the Port Blair airport after V.D. Savarkar despite the fact that the country is being ravaged by communal tension. The BJP draws heavily from Savarkar’s ideology which is broadly based on Hindu separatism. Fortunately, in a country which has a strong secular history, communal violence can never rule the roost. Unity and brotherhood among communities will remain the abiding principles of Indian society.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — The editorial, “A hero of saffron” (May 12), smacks of a hatred for anything Hindu. Such insinuation should have been avoided. It is wellknown that Hinduism, even that propagated by the sangh parivar, does not condemn other religions. In fact, Hinduism does not seek to annihilate people belonging to other religions. If peace-loving and inherently disorganized Hindus have now taken to violence it is because of the socio-political and economic onslaught against the community.

There is no doubt that the Hindu society has numerous social evils. However, Hindus have demonstrated that they are receptive to reforms. For them, secularism is not a temporary tactic or an insidious ploy, but a matter of profound faith. It is regrettable that despite this everything that is wrong with India is tendentiously traced to Hindus, and, more specifically to Hinduism.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Without even sifting through history, politicians are now playing footsie with a non-entity like V.D. Savarkar who never distinguished himself as a freedom fighter. While in jail, Savarkar is reputed to have cringed before the British government, promising to be loyal once set free. To name an airport after such a personality is an insult to those who accepted the hangman’s noose for the cause of their country.

Yours faithfully,
Subroto Dev Roy and Sanjay Dev Roy, Calcutta

Sir — It was appalling to read the report on V.D. Savarkar, “Pioneer of divisiveness” (May 5), which was quite obviously aimed at tainting the image of a devout nationalist. The national hero spent 14 gruelling years of his life in the Cellular Jail, serving a punishment harsher than the death sentence. Judging the efforts of a national leader after almost a century is a useless practice. The biased report might even add fuel to the communal frenzy. The media should restrain itself from painting a black image of a freedom fighter just to prove a point.

Yours faithfully,
S.K. Jha, Titagarh

Sir — It is tragic that despite facing international censure and media backlash on Gujarat, the government is still championing rabid Hindutva. By christening the Port Blair airport after the pioneer of Hindu fundamentalism, the government has violated the sanctity of a place where our freedom fighters sacrificed their lives for us.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Workload

Sir — The editorial, “Striking back” (May 14), correctly observes that the success of bandhs in West Bengal has much to do with the Bengalis’ “aversion to work”. I have never come across a government employee who detests strikes. In fact, officials revel at the possibility of sudden holidays. Only shopowners seem to despise strikes. It is strange that a government advocating change through revolution should stop people from working. Strikes are both unprincipled and undemocratic. The Supreme Court verdict will at least compel people to work.

Yours faithfully,
Ankan Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — It is not only in West Bengal that bandhs are taken as holidays. To avoid getting embroiled in violence, people often prefer to stay away from work. Seen in this context, the apex court’s decision to make forcible bandhs illegal is a positive step. If properly implemented and taken seriously by political parties, the administration could stop strike organizers from preventing people from going to work.

The worst sufferers of forced strikes are the daily wage earners, petty shop-keepers and stall owners. Bandhs also take their toll on educational and medical services. No political group or citizens in India is held accountable for any damage to public or private property during a bandh. But in some countries, a trade union calling a strike is held fully responsible for any damage.

As mentioned by the editorial, “Striking back”, the minority’s right to voice its opinion is crucial to democracy. Political outfits will not take the court ruling kindly. But they should realize that the majority in the country still struggle day in and day out to earn a living. A forced strike is an obstacle to that basic right.

Yours faithfully,
Niloy Sinha, Murshidabad

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Readers in the Northeast can write to:
Third Floor, Godrej Building,
G.S. Road, Ulubari, Guwahati 781007
All letters [including those via email] should have the full name and full postal address of the sender
   
 

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