Editorial 1 / Studying Mr Modi
Editorial 2 / Will power
Drumbeats of war
Fifth Column / Let us hop Onto the fast track
Time to move forward on Kashmir
Document / To sustain long term development
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1 / STUDYING MR MODI 
 
 
 
 
It is about time the Gujarat story starts winding up. Mr Narendra Modi thinks that the best way to live happily ever after is to stop being paranoid, wean oneself off an unhealthy attachment to relief-camp luxuries, and quite simply, to go back home and get on with life. He seems to be working out a graded approach to the resumption of such normalities. The relief camps are being closed down, together with the tapering off of compensation and food rations. Victimhood could be addictive, and the state should know how to extricate itself from such a bottomless pit. And this is where Mr Modi’s firm and sensible statesmanship comes into its own. His moves have been swift, authoritative and remarkably transparent. He took back his promises to rebuild the vandalized mosques, moved on to vetoing the proposal of resettling the displaced, and now the closing of the camps. There is a sense of conviction in all this, an upbeat note of sure-footed political wisdom which is eager to exploit and persuade. Senior ministers are being despatched from Gujarat to rectify the media’s distortions. Mr Modi himself has been to New Delhi to see, among others, the prime minister and the home minister.

This Delhi visit confirms Mr Modi’s ability to reap the harvest of tragedy. Rising above such trivial issues as rehabilitation — this too recommended by that bothersome, but mercifully ineffectual, National Human Rights Commission — Mr Modi has invoked a bigger picture within which the Gujarat scenario must now be placed. First, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the National Democratic Alliance should think ahead to the elections in Gujarat, and to getting their timing absolutely right in this matter. Second, summoned by the larger national crisis, Mr Modi has decided to do his bit towards madrasah reform and border security. In this, as in most other matters, he has the “blessings” of the home minister. There is nothing innately wrong with wanting to modernize educational institutions or securing borders. But it is Mr Modi’s singular achievement in the last few months to have taken away from such salutary concerns any guarantee of secular justice or enlightenment. The most ordinary forms of vigilance begin to look dangerous when talked about or taken up by the chief minister and his men in Gujarat. Mr Modi has recently advised sociologically curious Indians to make a “deep study” of the Gujarat “mindset”. In doing so, he has also perhaps inadvertently suggested the best starting point for such a study. This is the “mind” of the chief minister himself, and how such a mind realizes itself in ever-widening circles, as the convictions of an individual life become an irreversible historical reality.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2 / WILL POWER 
 
 
 
 
If all power corrupts, the power of the illegitimate gun corrupts brutally. This has been evident in the manner insurgent outfits in the Northeast often use threats and coercion to recruit their cadre. It is not surprising ,therefore, that over 200 family members of militants belonging to the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom have charged the outfit’s “commander-in-chief”, Mr Paresh Barua, with forcing their wards to join the secessionist movement. Only last week, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, was accused of issuing a threat to schoolgirls in some Bodo-dominated areas to join it or “face dire consequences”. Some organizations in Nagaland have accused Naga rebels of forcing young people to join their ranks against their will. The allegations against the ULFA and the NDFB suggest two things — that their claim of spontaneous mass support is largely a myth, and that they can be ruthless in imposing their will on the people for whom they claim to carry on their fight against the “Indian colonial state”. The ULFA’s intimidatory tactics are further exposed by its response to the charge. It has not only sought to dismiss the allegation as propaganda sponsored by the “Indian forces”, but has also issued threats to the voluntary organization which helped the militants’ family members file petitions to the Assam human rights commission. Even if one assumes that the organization acted with an ulterior motive or at the behest of government agencies, the ULFA’s reaction did little to dispel suspicions about its methods of recruitment and functioning.

Having fought the futile battle of insurgency for over 20 years, the ULFA should have come to terms with the reality that the majority of the Assamese people has emphatically rejected its secessionist ideas. It is not difficult for a rebel group to collect men and arms to strike at some targets. It may also be easy to exploit the people’s anger and frustration over lack of development and lure some young people into armed rebellion. But that neither gives it the character of a popular movement nor helps the people’s cause. It is time the leaders of these groups realized that peace, and not conflict, is the key to Assam’s economic development. They could draw lessons from the two factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim which have decided to give peace and dialogue a chance in solving seemingly intractable Naga issues. At long last, the People’s War group of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) has begun peace talks with the Andhra Pradesh government. Even the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the most powerful insurgent group in south Asia, is now talking peace, thanks to an initiative by the Norwegian government. The Assamese rebels must not miss their chance to join the peace march.

   

 
 
DRUMBEATS OF WAR 
 
 
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
 
 
Few leaders of a democracy have led a country in a warlike situation and then secured a lasting peace. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his colleagues obviously feel that he has the ability and the opportunity to do both. But the test of nerves is as much one of leadership within the country as of the projection of coherent objectives without.

Whether or not the border situation deteriorates into a conflict, an all-out one or a limited sector war as in Kargil in 1999, it has placed the India-Pakistan stand-off more prominently on the global agenda than any crisis since 1971. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh had then hailed Indira Gandhi’s outstanding leadership, with Vajpayee comparing her to Durga in a celebrated speech. The dismemberment of Pakistan was shadowed in ideological terms by the burial of the two-nation theory. The Shimla accord seemed to secure from Pakistan a promise of a negotiated, peaceful settlement of the Kashmir question. Even if the sanguine hopes were not satisfied, there is little doubt this was one of the achievements of the Indira Gandhi era. As opponents of the then ruling party, many key leaders of the present government were critical of the Congress for not pressing ahead and achieving more concessions. But a closer look shows them struggling to master a far more difficult situation.

If the world today is a very different place, so too is the nature of the Indian polity. The government is a multi-party coalition, hemmed in on a host of domestic issues by internal divisions. Losing ground steadily in one assembly poll after another, the Bharatiya Janata Party now rules no large state in the crucial Hindi heartland on its own strength. The Gujarat massacres have cast a pall of doubt over the ability of the ruling party to maintain law and order and protect the life and limb of citizens.

The tensions on the border have not only pushed Gujarat off the front pages, but also unified the political leadership cutting across personal divides, party loyalties and ideologies. This momentary unity conceals deep divisions both within and outside the ruling alliance.

By contrast, Indira Gandhi headed a one-party regime. Her teams of ministers and officials were small, united, cohesive and where essential, very discreet. The contrast with the present could not have been greater, with key ministers and players vying with one another to get their statements into print or have their say on television. Round-the-clock news channels and a far more assertive print media make policy more transparent but can also become a pressure point on decisionmakers.

Such changes are paralleled by seismic shifts in the world order. The United States of America, a major player in the anti-Soviet jihad, is now struggling to control the genies it helped set loose. The Soviet Union has vanished, with Russia playing a far more modest role, even as the US has directly deployed forces within the subcontinent the first time since World War II.

There is little doubt, denials notwithstanding, that the Western alliance led by the US is now playing a key role via shuttle diplomacy in enabling New Delhi and Islamabad to keep the lines of communication open. Any deal that emerges is likely to be brokered via a concert of Great Powers led by the US. The fact that the two south Asian nations are both armed with nuclear weapons has drawn attention in a manner nothing else could. The threat of annihilating civilized life in one of the world’s most populous regions is not something the rest of the world can be indifferent to.

Two thousand and one to two thousand and two may well mark a defining moment just as 1971 did. This is a time when the sole superpower eased itself into a qualitatively larger and more substantive role in the region than ever before. Nobody is quite sure where this will all end. The US has to balance its continuing reliance on Pakistan to prosecute its agenda in Afghanistan.

The latter’s leeway also hinges on developments in the domestic political front. There is a dissonance in the Vajpayee regime that lies at the heart of the National Democratic Alliance itself. In its advocacy of the need to counter terror, it has rallied all parties to its side. Beyond that it lacks in both vision and programme.

The massacres in Gujarat and partisan politics in their wake have cost the country dear. The European Union’s condemnation of the state administration is not an isolated instance, but part of a pattern of worldwide outrage at ethnic partisanship. In 1970-71, a far more explosive situation was better handled in West Bengal where hundreds of thousands of refugees from East Pakistan were housed and fed, with tensions with the local population being kept to a minimum.

The present regime may pride itself on its forging closer ties with the US, but it is not a patch on the way in which Indira Gandhi was able to reach out to the US congress, the media and the liberal establishment in putting the case forward. In contrast, the damage control exercise which Indian diplomats were pressed into after Gujarat has been as ineffective as their message is unconvincing.

The NDA looks more and more like a front dominated by the sangh parivar. The latter is testing the waters to play up the issue in a divisive way in the next round of elections. Vajpayee has reached the crossroads. He can speak for his party or the nation, but not both. He can be a believer in a plural idea of India or one that sees India as having two categories of Indians. Can he now stand above the tumult? For now, the choice seems to be to walk the tightrope as in the Kargil war, to rally support for the ruling party. This is a high-risk game and its outcome will be central to the next stage in the political drama that is unfolding across India.

The core of India’s present policy vis-a-vis Pakistan is to deprive the latter of the Kashmir card via patronage of violence. The success of that search will also hinge on non-partisan statesmanship at home. At the heart of Vajpayee’s dilemmas is the one issue that links internal politics and external pressures, identity and democracy, the relationship of the valley with India as a whole. In Kashmir, he came close to a fresh political initiative only to step gingerly away.

He admitted the need for free and fair elections, but said little about the deep alienation of its people from the Union at large. In the past, the BJP has proved willing to use the Kashmir issue for mobilization. But the government has not reached out to secular, pluralist Kashmiri nationalists in a meaningful way. The moment for such an initiative is passing and may soon be lost.

Foreign policy successes do help a ruler, as Indira Gandhi found in 1971-72; but her decline followed soon thereafter. As a veteran of that era, the question of questions is whether Vajpayee and his team will do better. The test at home is even tougher than the one abroad. In the coming weeks, there need to be credible measures to show that the government will create the conditions for broadening participation in the political process in Jammu and Kashmir.

The world will not walk away if the coming elections are not seen to be credible. Barring that, the gains abroad in the struggle against terrorism will be nullified and lost.

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

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN / LET US HOP ONTO THE FAST TRACK 
 
 
BY BINAY SRIVASTAVA
 
 
T he rail budget in the 150th year of the Indian Railways made matters worse for the government-held enterprise by introducing 48 new Janshatabdi express trains, reducing the subsidy on passenger fares and revising freight charges by classifying commodities. Instead of stopping non-core activities like manufacturing, catering and so on, the railways has decided to make Rs 200 crore through the supply of packaged drinking water.

In 1920, the Ackworth committee had suggested the commercialization of operations so that the railways could fund its own growth, much like other enterprises. Eighty years later ways to actually do this still elude the government. Nearly half the Indian Railways revenue of Rs 36,000 crore is spent on salary and pensions. Two out of every five member of the staff is unskilled and one-third of the workforce is surplus. Only about two per cent of the revenue remains for capital investment and upgrading of railways network. As a result, in the last 50 years track length has increased from 50,000 kilometres to 63,000 km only.

The Indian Railways claims that it is 6 times more energy efficient, 4 times more efficient in land use and environmentally far superior to the roadways. Yet, its share in freight and passenger traffic has declined to 40 per cent and 20 per cent respectively from a high of 89 per cent and 80 per cent in 1947. The real competition will begin when the Golden Quadrilateral network is ready by December 2003, the north-south and east-west corridor by late 2007, together with other projects.

Revised fares

The railways’ foray into telecommunications via Railtel is likely to generate Rs 700 crore this year. The government has also recently decided to tax free passes and privilege ticket orders available to its serving and retired employees, whose total strength is about 17 lakh. There is no reason why over Rs 1,000 crore of tax payers’ money should be pre-empted every year through the issuance of free passes and PTO’s for employees.

There should also be a hold on subsidies on fares. Of the 12 million rail users every day, over two-thirds comprise of monthly season ticket holders on suburban routes. These passengers should be made to pay for 30 single way fares instead of the recently raised 15 single way fares. With lower subsidies, market borrowings could be used for asset development instead of settling lease charges of previous funding. The parliamentary committee on railways has decided that a state’s backwardness and revenue generation for the Indian Railways will play a determining role in revenue allotment.

Joint venture

Out of Rs 2,888 crore earmarked for projects this year, 10 per cent is for the northeastern states, Rs 268 crore for metropolitan transport projects, Rs 95 crore for bridges, 40 per cent for Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Rs 122 crore for Jharkhand, and so on. The railways has also entered into a joint venture with Gujarat Pipavav Port for on-time delivery of consignments with a penalty clause. If this succeeds, more such joint ventures could come up with other states.

To increase traffic in both passenger and goods, special efforts like containerization, improvement in wagon and coach design, speedier gauge conversion, renewal and doubling of tracks, rapid electrification and so on is required. Only one-fourth of the total route length is electrified so far. The Indian Railways has decided to install anti-collision overhead devices on all locomotives which will help apply brakes automatically on sensing an approaching train on the same track.

The Union government’s decision to make a one time grant of Rs 17,000 crore over a period of 6 years should also go a long way in strengthening safety through track and rolling stock renewal. The Rakesh Mohan committee has advised that the railways must limit subsidizing to select passenger and freight services and only to the extent that funds are made available. The suggestions should be implemented. Finally, if the 10th plan’s suggestion about reducing and maintaining staff strength at about 12 lakh is heeded, productivity levels would rise considerably.

   

 
 
TIME TO MOVE FORWARD ON KASHMIR 
 
 
BY BHARAT BHUSHAN
 
 
Upto now India has tried to de-link the international diplomatic pressure on Pakistan on the issue of promoting terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir from the Kashmir issue itself. On Kashmir, India is holding on to its traditional postures.

As a result of the Indian and international diplomatic offensive against Islamabad, terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to come down. It may not disappear, but experts believe that the terrorist violence in the state would be 30 to 40 per cent less than the critical level, that is, the level at which people are frightened of participating in political processes or speaking out.

What is India going to do if this happens? It will then have to decide how it wants to resolve the Kashmir problem. It can, of course, begin by holding elections to legislatures. However, no one will be foolish enough to believe that free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir would be the permanent solution to the Kashmir issue.

In addressing the Kashmir problem, India must ask itself two questions. Is this the right time to move in for a solution? And if so, is India willing to explore new paradigms which may lead to a solution, which is acceptable not only to India and Pakistan but also to the Kashmiris?

There are those who argue that this is not the right time to discuss Kashmir. They believe that India and Pakistan should put the Kashmir issue in cold storage temporarily and concentrate on improving relations in other areas. Attempt the solvable issues first and create a propitious atmosphere for addressing the vexed issue of Kashmir — or so the argument goes. This is a residual argument which has been proved wrong time and again — most recently during Nawaz Sharif’s time, when the warm hug in Lahore actually led to Kargil.

This is, in fact, the right time to address Kashmir with Pakistan. Today, in Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan has a leader who has demonstrated the capacity to make fundamental policy changes and survive. He started Kargil, reversed it and yet emerged stronger. He turned Islamabad’s Afghanistan policy on its head, took on the jihadis within his own country and increased his acceptability domestically as well as internationally. By eschewing terrorism as a means of furthering Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, he is once again making a major policy reversal and hopefully, he will be successful in this endeavour too.

None of the political leaders of Pakistan — not Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, not Benazir Bhutto and not even Nawaz Sharif — has demonstrated this capability. For once there is a leader in Pakistan — albeit a military one — who is taking that society away from religious extremism. The jihadi culture was always a superimposition on the moderate south Asian Islam that most Pakistanis practise. This was partly the fallout of Pakistan’s Afghan policy, as also the result of the Inter-Services Intelligence’s promoting religious extremist outfits to launch a low-intensity war against India in Kashmir. Musharraf is now attempting to steer Pakistani society away from all this and towards moderation. To do this and yet retain political control requires deft footwork.

Musharraf is also good for India. By changing Islamabad’s Kashmir policy of the last one-and-a-half decades, he would eventually lessen the influence of the army on the Pakistani polity. It would also weaken the distorting influence of the ISI in Pakistan domestically. There is, therefore, for the first time, the prospect of a Pakistan which would not be intrinsically inimical to India. India should want to push this process further to help create a Pakistan that does not see itself as an enemy, which does not use its leverage with China against Indian interests and which does not threaten India with nuclear weapons.

For this, India needs to make two fundamental changes in its attitude towards Pakistan. India needs to get rid of the “punish Pakistan” mindset which persists within some sections of the establishment. And it must work towards a satisfactory resolution of the Kashmir issue. Only a Pakistan whose borders with India are secure and stable can be friendly towards it.

The change in mindset is most important. The “punish Pakistan” outlook leads to adventurist ideas ranging from breaking up Pakistan in order to make it landlocked to fomenting an independence movement in its northern areas. Those who dream of a landlocked Pakistan must ask themselves what kind of neighbour would such a Pakistan be? Would it be any more friendly towards India than today’s Pakistan? Would India be able to take a massive influx of refugees from Sindh? As for fomenting trouble in Pakistan’s northern areas, India must realize that its interest lies in making sure that the northern areas and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir are fully integrated with mainland Pakistan. The sooner this happens, the greater would be the chances of better integrating Jammu and Kashmir with India. If the aim of inflicting punishment on Pakistan is to ultimately get it to discuss the Kashmir issue, then why not begin directly where we hope to end up after such tortuous and devious methods?

It has become increasingly clear over the last 50 years that conventional perspectives on the Kashmir issue have not led anywhere. Neither the paradigm of the instrument of accession being final nor that of a plebiscite, nor even that of converting the line of control into an international border, is going to work. The search for a workable solution, therefore, must begin by jettisoning these paradigms.

If the aim is to work towards a defensive border, then that itself would mean handing over the problem to geographers on both sides. Leave it to the surveyor-generals of the two nations and task them to suggest the give and take required so that both India and Pakistan can have a low-cost, defensible border — one that would, for example, cut down the troop requirements by one-third or more. Which nullah, which gully and which pass should go to whom could be decided on the basis of who has a better defensive position there.

Another way of looking at redefining the border could be to follow the watershed approach — with the direction of the flow of water deciding the border demarcation. In order to give Pakistan the confidence that it will never again be subject to the threat of revocation of the Indus water treaty, it could be given the source of a river — the Kishanganga, for example.

Yet another approach to redefining the border could be to use the linguistic (and, therefore, cultural) identity of the people along it. The areas where people speak Mirpuri, Poonchi, Pahari or Kashmiri could go to the side which has the linguistic majority. The Gujjars who speak Pahari would then go to the side which has their preponderance, the fate of those speaking Poonchi would be decided likewise and so on.

The point is that there could be many ways of redefining a defensible and stable border. India and Pakistan need to explore them to solve this vexed problem instead of getting trapped in frozen positions. The time is ripe for doing so. Even if the rest of the world is kept out of any mediation, it would be waiting to encourage a fair resolution of the issue.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT / TO SUSTAIN LONG TERM DEVELOPMENT 
 
 
 
 
We, the heads of state and government, gathered in Monterrey, Mexico, on March 21 and 22, 2002, have resolved to address the challenges of financing for development around the world, particularly in developing countries. Our goal is to eradicate poverty, achieve sustained economic growth and promote sustainable development as we advance to a fully inclusive and equitable global economic system.

We note with concern current estimates of dramatic shortfalls in resources required to achieve the internationally agreed development goals, including those contained in the United Nations Millennium Declaration. Mobilizing and increasing the effective use of financial resources and achieving the national and international economic conditions needed to fulfil internationally agreed development goals...to eliminate poverty, improve social conditions and raise living standards and protect our environment, will be our first step...

Achieving the internationally agreed development goals...demands a new partnership between developed and developing countries. We commit ourselves to sound policies, good governance at all levels and the rule of law. We also commit ourselves to mobilizing domestic resources, attracting international flows, promoting international trade as an engine for development, increasing international financial and technical cooperation for development, sustainable debt financing and external debt relief and enhancing the coherence and consistency of the international monetary, financial and trading systems.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, exacerbated the global economic slowdown...It has now become all the more urgent to enhance collaboration among all stakeholders to promote sustained economic growth and to address the long-term challenges of financing for development...

Each country has primary responsibility for its own economic and social development, and the role of national policies and development strategies cannot be overemphasized. At the same time, domestic economies are now interwoven with the global economic system and, inter alia, the effective use of trade and investment opportunities can help countries fight poverty. National development efforts need to be supported by an enabling international economic environment. We encourage and support development frameworks initiated at the regional level, such as the New Partnership for Africa’s development and similar efforts in other regions.

Globalization offers opportunities and challenges. The developing countries and countries with economies in transition face special difficulties in responding to those challenges and opportunities. Globalization should be fully inclusive and equitable, and there is a strong need for policies and measures at the national and international levels, formulated and implemented with the full and effective participation of developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to help them respond effectively to those challenges and opportunities.

In the increasingly globalizing, interdependent world economy, a holistic approach to the interconnected national, international and systemic challenges of financing for development...in all parts of the globe is essential. Such an approach must open up opportunities for all and help ensure that resources are created and used effectively and that strong, accountable institutions are established at all levels. To that end, collective and coherent action is needed in each interrelated area of our agenda, involving all stakeholders in active partnership.

Recognizing that peace and development are mutually reinforcing, we are determined to pursue our shared vision for a better future... Upholding the charter of the United Nations and building upon the values of the Millennium Declaration, we commit ourselves to promoting national and global economic systems based on the principles of justice, equity, democracy, participation, transparency, accountability and inclusion...

In our common pursuit of growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development, a critical challenge is to ensure the necessary internal conditions for mobilizing domestic savings, both public and private, sustaining adequate levels of productive investment and increasing human capacity. A crucial task is to enhance the efficacy, coherence and consistency of macroeconomic policies. An enabling domestic environment is vital for mobilizing domestic resources, increasing productivity, reducing capital flight, encouraging the private sector, and attracting and making effective use of international investment and assistance...

Good governance is essential for sustainable development. Sound economic policies, solid democratic institutions responsive to the needs of the people and improved infrastructure are the basis of sustained economic growth, poverty eradication and employment creation. Freedom, peace and security, domestic stability, respect for human rights, including the right to development, and the rule of law, gender equality, market-oriented policies, and an overall commitment to just and democratic societies are also essential and mutually reinforcing.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Spot the difference

Sir — What explanation does the United States of America have to offer about its ill-treatment of the “American-taliban”, John Walker Lindh, lagging in US military custody? (“Lindh rights violation charge against US”, June 16). The country most vociferous in its advocacy of human rights is responsible for denying Lindh his fifth amendment rights which require all suspects to be told that they have the right to an attorney and to remain silent. The picture of Lindh, all tied up and blindfolded, brings to mind that of the slain US journalist, Daniel Pearl, in confinement. The latter had evoked sharp protests from the US president himself. The media had also condemned the kidnap and torture of Pearl. Lindh does not seem to be fortunate enough. Most countries have chosen to remain silent on the crime so far. It will be of little surprise if Lindh faces the same fate as Pearl, the only exception being that the executioner this time will be a so-called civilized nation.

Yours faithfully,
Titash Mitra, Calcutta

Voice of sanity

Sir — This is in response to Rudrangshu Mukherjee’s edit-page article, “Midsummer madness” (June 16). Mukherjee seems to think, and no doubt he is entitled to his opinions, that the left has jeopardized “the only, worthwhile cause in India today — anti-communalism” by refusing to accept A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the National Democratic Alliance candidate, for the post of president! Mukherjee has no doubt in his own mind that Kalam is no consensus candidate. The name was floated by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and eventually, a number of opposition parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Congress, apart from the NDA allies, came to succumb to the BJP’s tactics for reasons of their own and swallowed the proposal, hook, line and sinker. When the politics of cowardice is the order of the day, any act of protest against emerging communal fascism may seem to be “madness” to some people, but how can Mukherjee think that the cause of anti-communalism would have been served better if the left parties, too, had supported the NDA candidate? The People’s Front is not an opportunistic alliance in which parties may take the most abject positions and still remain part of the alliance. The People’s Front was shattered when Mulayam Singh Yadav suddenly announced that Kalam’s name had been proposed by him and hence he had to support it, not when the left parties rejected Kalam’s candidature. With appalling cynicism, Mukherjee argues that after all, even if the left parties had supported Kalam, no harm would have been done because the president is “merely a figurehead of the republic and a rubber stamp for decisions made by the Union cabinet”. He turns a Nelson’s eye to the fact that the name of Kalam has been fielded precisely in order to reduce the “august office” (Mukherjee’s words) into a rubber stamp of the BJP-dominated Union cabinet. By the way, neither the BJP nor Mukherjee can have much respect for Kalam if they think that because of his “non-political” status, he can be easily used as such a “rubber stamp”. Will Mukherjee kindly explain how Yadav or Sonia Gandhi are helping the cause of anti-communalism by assisting the BJP to put such a “rubber stamp” in place?

Yes, the leaders of some parties who might have been constituents of a possible People’s Front have moved away from the left parties. In their political wisdom, they have felt that not supporting Kalam, a “Muslim” candidate who is so “non-political” that he has not found a word to say about the Gujarat holocaust, might hamper their electoral prospects. This means that the candidate fielded by the left parties does not even have a ghost of a chance of winning. According to Mukherjee, this is “very pathetic” so far as that candidate, Lakshmi Sahgal, is concerned. Obviously, he has no idea who he is talking about. He seems to think that Sahgal is a “rubber stamp” of another kind, one of the “pawns of the party’s whims” who is being “sacrificed…at the altar of a vague and utterly specious principle”, as if somehow, she has been wheedled by the left into offering herself as a “sacrifice” for the occasion. This is not merely an insult to a person who has known her own mind ever since she was in her teens, but a regurgitation of the ramshackle liberal argument that women (passive, stupid creatures who are incapable of taking decisions in political matters) are merely used by political parties to serve their own ends. Let Mukherjee spare his sighs; obviously, he cannot have any understanding of the “cause” that inspires the 88-year-old Sahgal to keep on fighting against communal fascism as she had once fought British imperialism. There are moments in history when you have to stand up to be counted. That is the example Sahgal has set by her decision. Mukherjee considers this to be “madness”; but if he had any respect for “anti-communalism”, he would have avoided offering implicit apologies for those who, in our poor country today, seem to have monopolized the business of counting.

Yours faithfully,
Malini Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Mission impossible

Sir — It is unfortunate that Maneka Gandhi, former minister for environment and currently minister of state for statistics and programme implementation, always goes overboard in her mission to stop cruelty towards animals (“Claws out in minister’s war”, June 4). As a result, scientists in 650 laboratories have become jittery and are being forced to stall experiments that are of crucial importance to mankind. In West Bengal, for example, there is now a severe dearth of medicines to treat patients of snake-bites, thanks to Maneka Gandhi. Needless to say, a number of snake-bite victims will die because of the shortage of drugs. The situation will worsen in the monsoons. Maneka Gandhi would do well to remember that in a poor country like India, we cannot afford to not carry out experiments that will benefit millions in the long run. Impractical solutions should be avoided.

Yours faithfully,
Govinda Bakshi, Budge Budge

Sir — Maneka Gandhi deserves praise for her noble efforts. Her proposal to build an institute to care for sick and disabled animals would take animal welfare in India to international levels. The minister’s sincere efforts to improve the quality of life of animals would contribute to bringing about a positive change in the Indian attitude towards animals. Maneka Gandhi should also try to convince the government to pass a bill guaranteeing the fundamental rights of animals, as was recently done in Germany.

Yours faithfully,
Naren Sen, Howrah

Sir — In India, elephants, with their feet shackled, are still employed to carry out demolition drives. Chaining of animals itself is a crime, making them carry out hazardous jobs is even more terrible. It is a matter of shame that despite having modern instruments at hand, elephants are being used to lift and transport weight and bulldoze structures. Severe measures should be adopted by the government to stop this practice.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:

The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]
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
   
 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company