Editorial 1/Desert stop
Editorial 2/Faith police
Is there a message, voter?
Letters to the Editor

Mr Bill Clinton’s telephone call to the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, informing him of his intention to stop over in Pakistan did not come as a surprise. Washington had intimated to New Delhi in February that the United States president could not afford to skip Pakistan. The US delayed the public announcement in the hope of extracting concessions from the Pakistani chief executive officer, Mr Pervez Musharraf. The demand list included restoring democracy, curbing Islamic militia, supporting nuclear nonproliferation and so on. The general responded by demanding Clinton spend an entire night in Islamabad. The Pakistani leader gave a few minor concessions, but he cranked up tensions in south Asia on both the nuclear and the insurgency fronts. Unfortunately, Mr Vajpayee added his voice to the nuclear rhetoric and boosted Islamabad’s argument that Mr Clinton’s avoiding Pakistan would increase regional tensions. Mr Musharraf did not get the overnight stay he wanted. But the US did agree to Mr Clinton’s spending a few hours in Pakistan in return for cosmetic gestures by the general. However, only a superficial reading of post-Cold War international relations would lead anyone to believe India has somehow suffered a humiliation.

Since 1997 the Clinton administration has pursued a policy of piecing together a 21st century relationship with India based on the virility of the Indian economy — especially in knowledge based industries — and its democratic stability. The Pokhran nuclear tests and India’s failure to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty have meant the relationship will lack a defence facet. US sanctions on nuclear technology and an arms sales ban will remain. But in the post-Cold War era defence links have become greatly devalued. A crucial component of the new Clinton policy, as was clear from US policy statements in mid-1999, was the final burial of the special US-Pakistan relationship. When it came to the 21st century’s sources of power — technology, democratic principles and economic strength — Pakistan had nothing to offer. But the US cannot afford to abandon its old ally. The reason: it is now an overt nuclear weapons power. If only because of Islamabad’s potential for nuclear blackmail, the US government accepts that it has to remain permanently engaged with Pakistan. The days of arms and aid from the West are over. But the fear of Pakistan becoming an atomic rogue state means the US cannot isolate the country. Even New Delhi understands that severing all ties with Pakistan is less a policy than the absence of one. And if Pakistan follows in the path of Afghanistan and becomes a nuclear armed taliban regime, India will suffer the most.

Washington stresses that the president is visiting India and only tangentially south Asia. The number two country on his itinerary is Bangladesh. Pakistan comes a distant third. The US president will spend the least time in Pakistan. He will sign a dozen agreements with India and Bangladesh. Mr Musharraf will only get a handshake. Thanks to various sanctions, the US-Pakistan relationship is without aid, defence links and trade. Washington has few instruments by which to influence Pakistan. Ties lack the positive outlook that exists between the US and India. Pakistan lacks the well organized ethnic lobby in congress that India has. It can be said Mr Clinton had to make a short halt because if he did not, the US policy of engaging Pakistan would be bereft of even symbolic content.    

It is becoming difficult to choose between Orissa and Bihar in matters of poverty, lawlessness and fragmented social groups. But in religious discrimination Orissa is still ahead of Bihar. It is most distressing to find a state government officializing discrimination, and more so if the state happens to be the one in which a Christian missionary and his two children were brutally burnt to death. The erstwhile Congress government in Orissa, led by Mr Giridhar Gamang, had passed an order warning churches against carrying out conversions without informing the district authorities in writing. The administrative procedure preceding the passing of the order is technically faultless. It follows an amendment to the 1989 Orissa freedom of religion rules, which derives from the 1967 Orissa Freedom of Religion Act. What is sinister about the government order is that it makes a deliberate mockery of freedom. And it comes from the Congress, which vociferously pitches it “secular” credentials against saffron tinted “communalism”.

All attacks on freedom are humiliating. But this order specializes in humiliation. Any individual wishing to convert to Christianity has to appear before a district magistrate and declare that he is changing his religion voluntarily. Some people might feel that religion is a private matter and there is every reason such feelings should be respected. The government order does not stop at this however. The police will conduct an inquiry into the background of each such declaration. Then the church concerned would have to fill in a complicated form, presumably to establish its “innocence” in the matter of the conversion. There are prison terms and heavy fines for violators. It is difficult to define the impulse that might lie behind such a government order in a secular country. Recent developments have unsettled the comfortably vague notion of secularism. Moves by the state and Central government will help decide which way the country is to go. The order in Orissa is a shocking step backwards in this difficult time.    

It was the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November 1948, the day Americans traditionally go to the polls to elect their president. The Democratic candidate was the incumbent, Harry S. Truman, who had succeeded to the office in April 1945, at the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But Truman was no Roosevelt, and in 1948 it was widely thought that new leadership was needed to guide the country into the post-war years. Thomas E. Dewey, the popular Republican governor of New York, was the overwhelming favourite. In fact, the Republican establishment and their conservative media supporters were so confident that The Chicago Tribune published a victory edition that very evening in grand anticipation, announcing in banner headlines, “Dewey Wins”. But then as now it was the people who voted and not the press and the pollsters, and the people’s choice in that election was of course Harry Truman.

In the more accurate press reports the following morning, Truman was shown gleefully waving The Chicago Tribune, “Dewey Wins,” edition over his head. The applicable metaphor here, as Dewey and the Republicans learned to their great regret, was that revealing fable from the classical Greek, “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.”

It is a metaphor the leadership of the National Democratic Alliance and its Bharatiya Janata Party, Samata Party, and Janata Dal (United) constituents might well have contemplated to their advantage in the run up to the recent assembly elections in Bihar. Had they done so and been less concerned with bickering over the loaves and fishes of office which their misplaced confidence inspired, Bihar might have been spared much of the poignant drama of the days since the results were announced.

Not only were NDA expectations badly confounded, but equally those of the Congress, and the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) left alliance, which were inevitably anticipating more substantial numbers and the enhanced anti-NDA bargaining position that would have provided.

If the final results had even begun to approach the opinion poll figures of 175 to 180 for the NDA (leave alone their own “computer generated” estimates of 218 seats), there would long since have been a new government functioning in Patna. But the likelihood of Nitish Kumar being the chief minister-designate in those circumstances would have been minimal indeed. Failing these results, the reality we have before us was almost inevitable.

In other words, the NDA combine with its 122 seats did much worse than expected, and Laloo Prasad Yadav and the Rashtriya Janata Dal did much better than the opinion poll estimates which ranged from 65 to 100 at the most optimistic.

But given the persistent and continuing anti-Laloo sentiment that is abroad among the electorate (reflected among other things in a marginally lower voting percentage from 1999, now estimated at 28 per cent), the 124 seats for the RJD, or 126 for the RJD-Communist Party of India (Marxist) combine, are presumably the limits of Laloo’s support base in the year 2000, 10 years after he initially assumed office. (The Laloo Janata Dal had 120 seats in 1990, when Laloo became chief minister with the strong support of his then ally, Nitish Kumar.)

In retrospect it is of course easy to explain what happened. The NDA leadership naively assumed that the dramatic successes of the 1999 party election would automatically translate to comparable successes in the assembly elections. In this state of heightened expectation, seat sharing became a matter of competition rather than accommodation. The problem was never fully resolved, with rebel candidates and independents standing against official nominees in enough constituencies to have affected the end result.

Rather than projecting a unified coalition and a unified coalition leader as they did in 1999, the NDA constituents were in fact badly divided. That they issued their common platform barely 48 hours before the first day of polling, when Election Commission rules require that campaigning end, reinforced the image of confusion. And perhaps most critically and quite inexplicably, they badly underestimated the political skills of their only real opponent.

Laloo Prasad Yadav remains the most artful populist politician of the 20th century, and he literally pulled out all the stops in pleading with an electorate for forgiveness and support. He played the role of the humble Laloo brilliantly, for example, allowing that if it was development (for him an oxymoron) they wanted, he would give it to them. Although his votes and seats were down dramatically from 1995 (from 165 to 124, or a 25 per cent decline; the NDA constituents were up from 63 seats to 122, that is an increase of 93 per cent), it was a tactic that kept his declining base intact, much to everyone’s surprise, especially that of the NDA.

One can conclude from these results that the voters of Bihar know their minds well. If they have delivered a fractured verdict, they did so with clinical intent. They have had 10 years of Laloo Prasad Yadav, whose RJD government was defined in the CPI(M-L) election manifesto as “an apology for institutionalized anarchy”. It is an anarchy the citizen voters of Bihar propose to change. They seek some semblance of governance which attends at least minimally to basic needs like roads, water, electricity, education, medicine, and fundamentally, the law and order of a civil society.

That is the message they have sent in these elections to all politicians who have for so long taken them for granted, whether of the RJD, or, as in the recent elections, the NDA. And for the moment they are perfectly content to let them all twist slowly in the wind, wondering when and whether they will assume office. The response of the politicians in these circumstances is one of convincing, cajoling, and enforcing alliances, splits, and defections in anticipation of the forthcoming vote of confidence.

The parties that engage in these efforts to generate support are said to be negotiating over “common minimum programmes”, while their opponents’ efforts are described as “horse trading”. Whatever the case, the acrimony, and, sadly, the violence since the governor, V.C. Pande, tapped Nitish Kumar to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly has been extreme even for Bihar.

The RJD bandh of last weekend and after has resulted in at least eight deaths, six when a locomotive collided with a breakdown repair van on the East Central Railway in north Bihar. The van was returning from replacing fish plates which had been removed by RJD supporters of the bandh. Hundreds have been injured. Railway services and telecommunications have been severely disrupted in much of Gangetic north India.

It is difficult to see these actions as “Gandhian” civil disobedience as claimed, or for that matter as anyway appropriate in a secular, civil polity. In most democratic societies they would be considered as endangering life and property and open to criminal prosecution.

It is of course entirely reasonable to question the constitutional propriety of the governor’s action, though it must be noted that the framers of the Constitution were silent on this matter, and one must presume, for reasons they considered important. Contrariwise, at a time of one party dominance, it is entirely possible that the framers might not have foreseen the kinds of narrow divisions this time of transition to coalition politics has produced.

However that may be, the governor, who was reported to be “consulting constitutional authorities” throughout, was well within the discretionary powers available to him to invite anyone he felt could provide a stable government. It is a point made on Sunday last by Digvijay Singh, the Congress chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, differing rather dramatically with the party leadership in New Delhi on this issue.

Indeed, it may well have been the delay in the Congress conveying its support of the RJD on Thursday and Friday of last week that moved the governor to act. And that delay may itself have been motivated by indecisiveness both in New Delhi and in Patna on the wisdom of that support, in the face of strong opposition from the Bihar wing of the party and the 180 degree policy turn this position represented.

It must also be noted here that Pande comes from an Indian Administrative Service background with a reputation for impeccable integrity. He was the revenue secretary under Rajiv Gandhi and the cabinet secretary under V.P. Singh. How the ambiguities thrown up by the assembly election are resolved will be demonstrated sooner than later on the floor of the house.

At the moment of writing this, the situation is fluid in the extreme and the results in either direction are problematic. No one is more adept at engineering defections and breaking parties than Laloo Yadav, as he has demonstrated again and again over the 10 years of his incumbency. I make the point only as an observation and not a prediction, for all parties and players are obviously equally determined. And if there is no resolution on the floor of the house, the citizen voters of Bihar will express themselves yet again, and more pointedly one presumes, at the ballot box.

These events recall the aphorism of Abraham Lincoln, that great American president of the people, when he said in 1864: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, But you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” It is a message Nitish Kumar or Laloo Yadav should take very seriously.

As the results of the assembly election show, the citizen voters of Bihar are tired of waiting.

Walter Hauser is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia    


Uneasy sniggers

Sir — An offensive snigger permeates every line of Suchandana Gupta’s report, “No one is man enough to sit beside Shabnam” (March 6). This is quite sickening because it places above every other consideration the fact that the new legislator in the Madhya Pradesh assembly, Shabnam Bano, is an eunuch. There is even the insinuation that the voters’ selection of her is at best some kind of a joke and at worst a way of teaching a lesson to all those “male” legislators who had failed to fulfil their aspirations. One gets the feeling that Gupta does not mean to be derogatory of Bano. Rather, she is scathing of all the assembly men whose maleness had in some way lapsed because first, they were beaten by an eunuch, and two, they were silly enough to refuse to sit by her. That is exactly the kind of opprobrious pseudo-liberalism that is the hardest to take. It is similar to the discomfiture that led to the seating problems in the assembly. Both attitudes are part of what keeps the hijra community outside the pale of respectable society.

Yours faithfully,
Babul Raptan, Calcutta

Questions of captaincy

Sir — There is a general euphoria surrounding Sourav Ganguly’s appointment as captain of the Indian cricket team for the one day international series against South Africa. But the cricket authorities in India need to take a few steps for better all round coordination, focussed endeavour, improved and sustained performance so that India can retrieve its relatively strong position among the cricket-playing nations of the world.

The need of the hour is to instil greater team spirit and national pride among players. Their priorities must be effort and performance: nothing else should matter. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, selectors, coach and captain must work without discord. They must get together regularly so that there are no gaps in communication. Players must cooperate with the captain and coach, there must be no room for personal likes and dislikes. The coach, physiotherapist and captain must meet after play and exchange notes. If any player is found wanting, he should be told to pull up his socks. A single failure should not lead to omission from the team; involvement and sincerity must be taken into consideration. Tours abroad must have a comfortable itinerary, with matches properly spaced out. The team should reach the country well in advance, and at least three practice matches played to get used to the pitch and bounce. Office-bearers of the BCCI should not be allowed to make public statements on team matters. There should be no fiddling about with fitness as in the case of S. Ramesh and M.S.K. Prasad.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sekhar, Calcutta

Sir — The Indian selection committee has taken the right decision to appoint Sourav Ganguly as the Indian captain. This step should have been taken immediately after the world cup, instead of reinstating the reluctant Sachin Tendulkar. Ganguly is an indispensable part of the teams for both tests and one-dayers and has also proved himself as captain in the Toronto Sahara Cup 1999. Not only did he win the tournament with a depleted team, he also did not allow captaincy to inhibit his performance, winning a man of the match and the man of the series award in the process. In an unprecedented gesture, he called up the entire team to receive the trophy. Mohammed Azharuddin lobbied for V. Raju ignoring the claims of the more eligible Utpal Chatterjee, and Tendulkar advocated Ajit Agarkar at the expense of Debasish Mohanty, but Ganguly did not push Laxmi Ratan Shukla ahead of the others. This has proved his truly national outlook.

Ganguly must now beware of envious trouble-makers. Kapil Dev was perhaps the only one not to malign Ganguly during his initial years. He also congratulated Ganguly when the latter scored 183 at Taunton, surpassing his own record of the highest individual score by an Indian in one day international. Kapil Dev and Ganguly working in tandem can do wonders for Indian cricket.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Dhanbad

Sir — Sourav Ganguly is the right choice as the captain of the Indian cricket team. While Sachin Tendulkar’s efforts are exaggerated by the media, Ganguly’s exceptional performances rarely get much praise.

For example, when Tendulkar was declared run out after he collided with Shoaib Akhtar in the middle of the pitch in the first test of the 1999 Asian Test Championship held at Eden Gardens, Akhtar came in for severe criticism from the media. Moin Khan, however, was not similarly condemned for deliberately catching Ganguly at first bounce in the Chennai test held earlier. Besides, Ganguly has a better record against arch-rivals, Pakistan.

Yours faithfully,
Jamal Akhtar, Bihar Sharif

Sir —The “prince of Calcutta” is now king of India. Sourav Ganguly had proved himself on the field, in both tests as well as in one day international, and captaincy of the Indian team was his due. Ganguly’s has been the only performance that stood out amidst the ruins of most of the recent Indian innings. He has the composure and astute cricketing sense required in a good captain. Besides outstanding personal scores, he is also the occasional bowler.

Ganguly faces a tough task ahead because Indian cricket is going through one of its worst phases. It might be too much to expect results immediately, but knowing Ganguly they will not be long in coming.

Yours faithfully,
Lesley D. Meredith, McCluskiegunj

Letters to the Editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
[email protected]

Maintained by Web Development Company