Editorial 1/Off the people
Editorial 2/Battle of the Bill
Two faces of the youth
Letters tothe Editor

Traffic in the heart of Calcutta was disrupted for a few hours on Saturday by a rally organized by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). This is not surprising. What is amazing is the response of the chief minister, Mr Jyoti Basu. He said that this kind of rally would always take place in a democracy. In other words, in the opinion of the chief minister, the disruption of daily life and the distress this causes to countless people was not even worth considering. Mr Basu obviously has an extraordinarily biased view of democracy. For him the right of protest is the only right in a democracy. He has deliberately overlooked the fact that other people also have certain basic rights in a democracy. Moving around without let or hindrance, carrying out one�s daily responsibilities, the free use of public thoroughfares and so on are among these rights. A major road is not by reckoning a place to hold a public rally. Those who do so act in an irresponsible manner and those who speak in favour of it only compound the irresponsibility. There are good reasons to suspect that if a similar demonstration had been organized by one of the parties opposed to the Left Front, Mr Basu and his comrades would have been shrill in its denunciation. It is a shame that a leader of the stature of Mr Basu has to be reminded that the city of Calcutta does not belong to the CPI(M) and that there is a vast distinction between anarchy and democracy.

As some one who has been trying to bring investment back to West Bengal, Mr Basu should realize the kind of signals that go out to potential investors when rallies are held in the middle of the city by his party and when he speaks in their support. The message says that when it comes to protecting or propagating their own interests and ideology, the CPI(M) stops at nothing. It makes its own laws and unmakes existing ones; that it rides roughshod over the rights and interests of all others. These are not features that any investor � or for that matter any civilized human being � will find particularly attractive. But life in Calcutta is never free of these aspects. What is worse is that the party in power is � and has been for more than two decades � the pacesetter in perpetuating this kind of disruptive politics. Mr Basu�s problem is that one morning he is all in favour of wooing capitalists back to West Bengal and the next morning he is suddenly a firebrand communist. It is said that an artist is a person who can hold two contradictory opinions and still function. Unfortunately for Mr Basu, he is not an artist; he is in the business of running a state. And he is not leaving behind an edifying legacy.    

India and Pakistan are verbally sparring in advance of the visit of the United States president, Mr Bill Clinton, to south Asia. Islamabad has issued endless statements since Washington announced the US president would be visiting India and Bangladesh in March. Pakistan�s new ruler, Mr Pervez Musharraf, has cajoled, flattered and threatened in his attempts to ensure Mr Clinton adds Pakistan to his itinerary. By some accounts, he is insistent Mr Clinton stay overnight in Pakistan and not just make a stopover. Pakistan�s chief executive officer has warned that tension with India would �escalate�� if Mr Clinton spurned his hospitality. India, he argues, would become more intransigent regarding talks with Pakistan. From chief executive to president to foreign minister there has been a steady Pakistani chorus about Kashmir being a nuclear powder keg. Mr Musharraf has played on the US president�s desire to go down in history as a peacemaker by saying Mr Clinton could serve as a via media between Islamabad and New Delhi. But to do that the US president must visit Islamabad. To further hammer home the point, Mr Musharraf has portrayed himself as a benign dictator holding off the forces of Islamic fundamentalists and anarchy. �I�m the nation�s last chance,�� he likes to say. As Pakistan focusses US attention on Kashmir by ratcheting up rhetoric and violence in the valley, India has begun to respond. Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee recently said he was prepared to talk about Kashmir but only in regards to the return of Pakistani occupied territory. He has drawn attention to Islamabad�s irresponsible nuclear threats. The Indian national security advisor is reminding Europeans that Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism.

But the odds favour Mr Musharraf. The US believes south Asia is the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint in the world. It believes, therefore, that it must remain engaged with both India and Pakistan. The Clinton administration believes promoting democracy, economic growth and dialogue in the region is the best long term means to reduce regional friction. Mr Musharraf�s overthrowing of a democracy would seem to put a spoke in that. This is what led to Washington to attempt a bit of blackmail by not listing Pakistan on Mr Clinton�s itinerary. The US clearly hoped Mr Musharraf would promise to restore democracy or some other concession in return for a presidential visit. Instead, the general raised the stakes. He played a far stronger hand by raising bogeys like nuclear war, Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism � and warning all would be enhanced by Mr Clinton�s not being his guest. It is a high level diplomatic poker game in which Pakistan holds the trumps. India is sitting quietly in the sidelines. Or New Delhi may have already resigned itself to the US president visiting its neighbour and is instead focussing on ensuring his stay in India will be more fruitful.    

For the last few weeks I have been among students and the young, for a variety of reasons. I have been witness to their exuberance and their astonishing vitality. They would engage me in informed debate one moment and suddenly be very young the next, intensely curious and at times filled with wonder, and vulnerable. Some of them were clearly very intelligent, unusually so, and none of them had the insulation and protection of cosseting, pampering wealth.

These young people were organizing events; they were clinically professional in their work, setting non-negotiable deadlines, ensuring they were kept, and working as part of teams in a seamless bonding that held in all manner of situations. And then there are these other images, from the chapters of one�s past. Age fills one with such images, something the young find it difficult to understand, something which makes them impatient.

But then, these are really accumulated records, like images or sounds on tape; the longer the tape records, the more there is to rewind and play from time to time. These images are also of students, crowded into a hot, tense room at a time when they had been rioting, attacking buses, and stopping traffic on the main highways over some issue or the other, and they were in that room to talk to the custodians of law and order. These were quite, quite different.

Their intensity was white hot, their eyes glittered with it; they were determined that events would be as they determined they should be and would settle for nothing less. There was no question of informed debate; what they understood by the word discussion was a strident iteration of how they wanted events to be ordered. There was no place for reasoning, for anything other than rather specious, very basic and almost apologetic persuasion. These were students � no, not students, young people � who read only crammers, if they read anything at all, and who passed examinations by cheating.

What pathetic creatures they were; the images of their encounter with authority are over 15 years old, so they must be that much older, and, for certain, are in the process of fading into the oblivion that mediocrity brings. No achievers there; one or two may have developed into fringe politicians, which is about all they can be, and the rest are shamefacedly, resentfully doing some very minor work in some shoddy offices.

They would be all at sea with the youngsters of today, who talk casually about the internet, of modem speeds and downloads, of chatting with others in cyberspace. And yet they were in colleges, as the present lot are, or in some professional institutions, as the present lot are. That is about all that they share: being in educational institutions of some kind.

Let me put it in a different perspective. The passionate, truculent lot one encountered all those years ago live on even today in new avatars, all over the country. They are a particular breed of young people, who are completely different from the ones I have recently had the good fortune to be among. They, too, have been to school; some of them have not done too badly, and they have joined colleges, or professional organizations as have thousands of others. The differences manifest themselves here, though some characteristics may have surfaced when they were in school.

There are, then, these two different kinds of young people: the sharp, curious, constructive achievers, and the loud, intense ones who swagger, who use physical violence and are always eager to confront authority, and both are students, since they are enrolled in some educational institution or the other. The difference is not to be explained away by social or economic circumstances.

One cannot say that one lot are �exploited� or that the other come from �privileged� families. One has firsthand knowledge of the kind of students one dealt with in the district, and they were very often children of politicos, or of wealthy inhabitants of the local town. On the other hand, the youngsters one met recently were from about average families, and only one was the son of a political leader. Perhaps parental influence has something to do with it; everyone is shaped by his or her home environment, and a lack of care or perception could make some difference. But that certainly cannot be the whole story.

One clear trait, though, needs to be mentioned, as it may be an important pointer, even though it may be more fanciful than real. It is the proximity to, and receptivity to, political parties and their activities. The unruly tough talking lot are almost invariably very close to local party bosses and to the sordid world of politics. Most of us read about national or state politics in the papers; statements by one leader or another on various issues, and the occasional violent incident where one or the other uses its thugs to make a forceful political point.

Few of us know just how obnoxious the world of politics at the district or regional level is. The primacy of cunning, deceit, of the coldly ruthless use of physical violence to coerce and frighten people is as total as it is revolting. Local politicos value, above everything else, the power to instil fear, because to them it is no different from the reverence that a real leader inspires.

This is what the young find so attractive; the swagger, the casually tossed out order to �discipline� someone, the hot-eyed encounters with authority where such phrases as the �people�s anger� and �people�s will� are brazenly used when what they really mean are the use of weapons, arson, and the forcible closure of social activity by using the fear they have bred.

In an otherwise somnolent town these are heady things, worthy of emulation, to get, among their own peer group, the same effect. Later if they are lucky, they can spread their control over the local community, strutting on the streets talking loudly, jeering at their frightened teachers who scuttle by, pretending nothing is wrong. These are the young students who are referred to apprehensively as �the boys�.

The other lot has very little to do with politics and political riffraff. Their world is constructed of totally different values, built by themselves; parts of it are attractive, the most part, and some not, like sniffing cocaine. But it is their own world, one they inhabit and do not seek to impose on others.

Both groups inhabit the city, even the same university, in some cases, and will they be drawn into some terrible confrontation, a sort of Armageddon on whose outcome the identity of the youth of the new century will depend? Not likely. The two have lived side by side for decades; a mutually shared wariness divides them. They will certainly continue to be two separate worlds till, when they leave their colleges and universities behind, the whirl of economic activity and social relationships blurs some of their identities.

But, even as that happens, there is no doubt at all as to what will, finally, define the youth of this age.

The author is former secretary, ministry of information and broadcasting    


Neighbourly fortunes

Sir � Jakarta should have some respite from its three decade long political turmoil (�Wahid threatens to fire defiant Wiranto�, Feb 4). The Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, is now burdened with fresh anxiety, just a few months after resolving the East Timor stand off, with the security minister, General Wiranto, refusing to quit in spite of pressure from his party. General Wiranto has been accused of backing pro-Indonesia militias in devastating East Timor. With the economy still in the doldrums, the country now needs a stable government. Indonesia and Malaysia were the two countries most affected by the 1998 currency meltdown in southeast Asia. And it is a pity that Kuala Lumpur is no better off than debt ridden Jakarta. It has been spending enormous amounts on the �pseudo trial� of its deposed leader, Anwar Ibrahim. Internal political trouble is truly damaging in these two cases. The countries desperately need to marshal their resources to get back on their economic feet again.

Yours faithfully,
Arati Sen, Calcutta

CTBT and after

Sir � The comprehensive test ban treaty must be ratified by both houses of Parliament before the A.B. Vajpayee government signs the pact that will come into effect when 144 countries give their consent. But New Delhi must not ignore the fact that once the CTBT is signed, it will be difficult for India to independently conduct research; since the United States and its allies will periodically inspect the laboratories and installations based in the country.

Meanwhile, the Centre should also evaluate as to why it is being pressured by Washington to sign the CTBT � especially when only two of the permanent five members of the security council, Britain and France, have so far ratified it. India cannot be bullied by way of economic sanctions by any of the permanent five, the US, Britain, France, China and Canada.

Finally, Washington has often turned its foreign policies upside down. For instance, a decade ago the US helped Kabul to oust the Russian army from Afghanistan; but now the tables have turned with the the Bill Clinton administration branding taliban leaders as terrorists. New Delhi must be on its guard and not succumb to the superpower�s arm twisting tactics.

Yours faithfully,
Ibne Salaiman, Calcutta

Sir �Unless the US senate ratifies the CTBT, it will be superfluous for the Vajpayee government to do so (�No tricks, just treaty�, Dec 11). However, if the US lawmakers change their stand, India must also follow suit � since in this case, New Delhi�s ratification will definitely put India on the global nuclear map. Also, there is no reason for the Centre to not sign the treaty. Top scientists have emphasized that India needs no more tests after Pokhran. The signing of the CTBT will certainly put India at par with other nuclear powers. Meanwhile, the Vajpayee government cannot afford to irritate �big powers� if it wants to become a member of the United Nations security council. And signing the CTBT will help the Centre to get rid of fears of US slapping economic sanctions.

Yours faithfully,
Prabhas Ranjan Biswas, Krishnanagar

Women under fire

Sir � The number of female foeticides is increasing everyday in the country. Laws prohibiting sex determination tests, other than on medical grounds, have been completely unable to stop this inhuman practice. The problem is growing not because of a lack of legal regulations, but on account of the lack of proper awareness among people. Naturally, the male-female sex ratio in the country has become abnormally skewed. At a recent conference held in Bangalore organized jointly by the International Centre for Research on Women and the National Law School it was revealed that out of 8,000 aborted foetuses, 7,997 were females.

This indicates the lack of general awareness regarding the prevention of female foeticide. Legal provisions without proper awareness can solve this problem only in part. There are plenty of loopholes in the law. Couples with the assistance of clinics and dishonest doctors continue to go for sex-determination tests to find out the sex of the unborn baby. Killing the female foetus is then deemed �necessary� for many people, as even today the girl child is unwanted in most households. People must be made aware of the magnitude of their action in order to stop such inhumanity.

Yours faithfully,
Soumya Sen, Jamshedpur

Sir � India needs to learn a lesson or two from Islamic countries and ensure women are not presented on television in a vulgar fashion. For example, at the Femina Miss India 2000 contest, telecast live on Doordarshan�s metro channel, the norm seemed to be that the male executives of sponsoring companies would kiss the female contestants. Moreover, male escorts would accompany contestants to and from the stage. Besides, the contestants all wear revealing clothes. Surely this is not in tune with Indian culture. After all, a good figure can also be shown off in clothes that cover the body.

Instead of feeling proud about the many triumphs by Indian beauties in contests like the Miss Universe and Miss World in recent years, these should be recognized for what they are � a ploy in the bid by foreign multinationals to capture the Indian market. India has the potential of being an important market. It must use this to bargain for the removal of these unacceptable features from beauty contests.

Yours faithfully,
Madhu Agrawal, Delhi

Sir � The news report, �Woman executed in Kabul� (Nov 17), is a shocking instance of how women still continue to bear the brunt of unjust sexual politics. What is even more outrageous is the enthusiasm shown by the common people of Afghanistan in watching the execution � which was arranged in a stadium � as though it were a sport. The taliban leaders seem to believe that they can do just about anything in the name of Islamic law. But Islam does not ask its followers to be cruel. The taliban leaders are simply exploiting people. One cannot accept the argument that a religion would instruct the chopping off of a woman�s head only because she failed to cover her head in public.

Yours faithfully,
Saima Afreen, Calcutta

Sir � The compensation of Rs 10 lakh authorized by the Supreme Court to be granted to the Bangladeshi rape victim leaves much to be desired. The woman, who was gangraped at the �Yatri Niwas� in Howrah, cannot be said to have been compensated since the guilty have not been brought to book. Money alone cannot compensate for rape. The entire process of punishing rapists should be reexamined, so that the law can be seen to have a human face.

Yours faithfully,
Vijay Kumar Lunia, Calcutta

Sir � The Union home minister, L.K. Advani, had rightly observed that rape reduces a woman to a living corpse. This is probably the reason why he recommended capital punishment for rape some time back. But death for rapists is not enough. For a crime like rape, it is best to go by the policy of �an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth�. Thus it follows that rapists should be made to undergo the same trauma that their victims went through. Only then will �justice� be done to these criminals in the real sense of the term. Only such punishment may deter others from committing such crimes ever again.

Yours faithfully,
S. Jamal Ahmed, Patna

Last word

Sir � In keeping with the recent trend of renaming cities and regions of the country, the names of Andaman and Nicobar should be changed to Swaraj and Swadesh, as Subhash Chandra Bose had wished.

Yours faithfully,
Srihari Bhakta, Calcutta

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