Editorial 1/Brittle isles
Editorial 2/Cat wasn’t belled
Air on G-8
Letters to the Editor

The island cluster that comprises Fiji would seem to be too small to be broken up. What the continuing crisis in the south Pacific island has shown is that no group of people is too small to be divided again and again. The ethnic canyon between indigenous Fijians and those of Indian origin is well known. But the antics of Mr George Speight, failed businessman turned coupster, have shown that the attacks against Indian Fijians hid a maze of fracture lines in indigenous Fijian society. These tribal and clan differences are now tearing the island apart, socially and even territorially. This made it impossible for even the Fijian military to put up a sustained front against Mr Speight. But it may also make it impossible for Mr Speight to control, either directly or from behind the throne, any future regime in Suva.

At one point it seemed the Fijian military would be able to isolate and wear out Mr Speight and his followers. This strategy fell apart following the death of a rebel in a shootout with Fijian soldiers in early July. This led to widespread demonstrations by indigenous Fijians. Ominously for the army, soldiers at one barrack mutinied in favour of Mr Speight. The Fijian army, the last relatively unified centre of power in the country, realized the siren of ethnic hatred was far louder than the discipline of uniform. Since then, Mr Speight and other Fijian leaders have been manoeuvring to try and put together a government that satisfies radical indigenous demands but does not bring down the full weight of international sanctions on the island. However, a governmental system where everyone has a veto, where power and responsibility does not lie with the same person, is proving unworkable. The most recent contretemps saw Mr Speight blocking an attempt to swear in the ageing and ill Mr Josefa Iloilo as the new president because the proposed cabinet had too few of his followers. This, despite the fact Mr Iloilo was Mr Speight’s personal choice for the post.

As almost any government will lack legitimacy in the eyes of other indigenous Fijians, let alone the Indian Fijian community and the international community, it is hard to see Suva ever finding its feet again. Not surprisingly, with almost every institution of government in disarray, political power is ebbing from Suva. Fijian mountain tribes have captured the country’s only hydroelectric dam. Other Fijians are grabbing land or taking over factories. Foreign tourists have been taken hostage at island resorts. Indigenous Fijians in the sugar cane rich western half of the main island are reportedly talking of secession. As they need Indian Fijians to run their sugar farms these chieftains are considering letting the ousted president, Mr Mahendra Chaudhry, rule a parallel government. Other component islands of Fiji, hurt by the loss of tourism and foreign aid, are also contemplating turning their backs on Mr Speight’s Fiji. Indigenous Fijians are obsessed with the issue of land ownership. Land holding is far more important to their culture than nationalism or economic wealth. Land laws skewed in favour of indigenous Fijians and discrimination of the Indian Fijians had helped keep the island together in the past. Mr Speight has pushed Indian Fijians out of the picture. Land is now up for grabs. The island is starting to sink under the weight of its own failure to be anything more than a skin deep nation-state.    

Electra turns into farce. All of India waited with baited breath and a dash of apprehension for the arrest of the Shiv Sena supremo, Mr Bal Thackeray. The waiting ended in anti-climax when the additional chief metropolitan magistrate of Mumbai ruled that the case against Mr Thackeray was time-barred. It will be recalled that Mr Thackeray had been accused by the Congress-led Democratic Front government in Maharashtra of inciting communal violence during the Mumbai riots of 1992-93. There was a great deal of drama attached to the impending arrest of Mr Thackeray and the decision to arrest him was tomtomed as a great triumph for the Congress and for secularism. The triumph turned out to be a chimera. It is now evident that the Maharashtra government and the Mumbai police had not done their basic home work. They had ignored the due processes of law. It did not need a great legal brain to discover that the charges against Mr Thackeray were invalid because they were being filed too late. There is no point now in blaming the legal system. The hands of the magistrate were tied by the existing rules which should have been familiar to the police and the government officials.

The fallout of the utter incompetence of the Maharashtra government is the elevation of Mr Thackeray to some kind of superman who is beyond the reach of the law. This is the unfortunate part of this entire episode. It is well known, because he makes no secret of his views, that he has no love for the minorities in India. Many of his pronouncements on the subject are extreme and objectionable. If, as the Maharashtra government claims, it had enough evidence to bring him to book then it has missed a very good opportunity because of its own incompetence and carelessness. By making a dog’s breakfast of its own case, the Maharashtra government has created the ground for the greater success and propaganda of Mr Thackeray and his cause. There is a kind of nemesis at work here since the Congress, when it has suited its own purpose, has not hesitated to incite communal violence. Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s murder comes readily to mind. In a sense, a Congress government has no moral ground to move against Mr Thackeray. A legal nicety allowed morality to prevail.    

Even when the world’s richest and the most powerful meet, there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip. The final outcome of the annual summit of the group of eight leaders who met in Okinawa, Japan, last weekend is, without doubt, a stunning vindication of the foreign policy followed by the Atal Behari Vajpayee government since the nuclear tests in May 1998. Yet, it obscures the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip.

It was not as if all was well for India in Okinawa or that the ride towards the final consensus was as smooth as it would appear on the surface. A careful analysis of the summit process in Okinawa reveals that the G-8 foreign ministers who met immediately before the gathering of heads of state were deeply concerned about the nuclear situation in south Asia.

Clearly, they did not wholly dismiss recent reports from the subcontinent that further tests were on the anvil in Chagai in the run up to the second anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear explosions. Nor did they discount recent comparisons between the nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan.

Unlike the Indian government, the G-8 foreign ministers were in no mood to discuss reports that Pakistan had an edge over India in nuclear weapons. It is only logical that if Pakistan does, indeed, have nuclear superiority over India, then India will want to aggressively pursue its nuclear programme which will offset that superiority. In other words, further tests by India cannot be ruled out. The United States state department is on record stating that unlike in the case of Pakistan, there are no reports from any source — either official or unofficial — that India is considering more nuclear tests.

Notwithstanding such public assertions, fears about an end to the moratorium on future testing led G-8 foreign ministers to call upon both India and Pakistan not to do so. In a scarcely noticed document called “conclusions of the meeting of G-8 foreign ministers” issued in Okinawa, the group of rich nations actually demanded that both India and Pakistan should continue “their unilateral undertakings not to resume nuclear testing”.

It is customary at such summits for heads of state to routinely accept what their foreign ministers recommend: more often than not, entire paragraphs and pages from foreign ministers’ reports find their way into the final documents. But with reference to south Asia, the experience in Okinawa was altogether different.

“We call on both India and Pakistan to join international efforts to strengthen the nonproliferation and disarmament regime”, the final statement from Okinawa on regional issues said. It was an exact reproduction of the recommendation made by foreign ministers a few days earlier. But that one sentence was all that there was in common between the document produced by the foreign ministers and the final statement by the heads of state. Gone was the demand on India and Pakistan that they should desist from further testing. The foreign ministers had said: “we call on both countries to sign and ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty and to undertake further steps to meet nonproliferation goals elucidated by the international community in the United Nations security council resolution 1172”.

The final document, instead, welcomed the “positive statements and steps that have been made”. Although the call for signature and ratification of CTBT was understandably made, the heads of state opted for a softer version of the demands made by foreign ministers on India and Pakistan. “We reiterate our call for them to carry out fully the concrete measures set out in the UN security council resolution 1172”, the final document said.

The subtle differences between the foreign ministers and the heads of state in Okinawa in a way sums up the difficulties faced by the West in dealing with a nuclear south Asia. The heads of state, dealing with a wider canvas, are not interested in the problems, but only in the solutions. The Bill Clintons and the Tony Blairs do not want businesses in their countries to be cut out of the Indian pie as it promises to get bigger. They also realize that the tears they shed for democracy from time to time are very much in danger of being seen as crocodile tears if they refuse to engage the world’s largest functioning democracy just because it has nuclear bombs — that too without being in violation of any treaty obligations unlike, say, Iraq or North Korea, should they produce nuclear weapons.

Actually, it is not a problem that is confined to Western democracies, or for that matter, the big players on the world stage. Take, for instance, a small country like Kyrghyzstan, by no means a major power or a paragon of democracy. No sooner had India announced its nuclear tests two years ago and the West made loud noises of protest, the Kyrghyz foreign ministry thundered that it would impose sanctions on India. Yet, within a few days, the foreign ministry had to eat its own words at the instance of none other than the country’s top leadership.

India was, at that time, in the process of buying a substantial quantity of naval equipment from Kyrghyzstan. The survival of an important ammunition factory in Kyrghyzstan, a leftover from the Soviet era, was dependant on the Indian order. Those in charge of the factory, providing employment to a few hundred people, rushed to the top political leadership with a plea to be soft on India and the leadership quickly saw the wisdom of complying with that request.

In dealing with a nuclear India, countries big and small are faced with this dilemma within their establishments. Foreign ministries often feel the need to go along with the global trends in disarmament and nonproliferation while their economic ministries — indeed the top political leadership as a whole — have to cope with a more real set of problems such as keeping up a business relationship or expanding it.

If countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which were in the forefront of the post-Pokhran campaign to pillory New Delhi and isolate it, have now come round to recognize the reality that they have to come to terms with a nuclear India and normalize their relations, it is only because they have belatedly seen this writing on the wall. The lesson from Okinawa too is that while foreign offices across the world may have their nonproliferation agenda, there are clear limits beyond which these cannot be pushed. It is a lesson which the leadership in Beijing learned a long time ago and used to its advantage.

While all this is, no doubt, in New Delhi’s favour, the Vajpayee government can, by no means, be complacent. True, the government has given a good account of itself so far in nuclear diplomacy, but if momentum of this process is to be maintained, the government will have to work out a long-term nuclear policy which reflects the country’s vision in this regard. Sadly, there is no indication yet that this is about to happen. At a time when the government is getting ready to browbeat the opposition into a consensus in Parliament on the CTBT, the most disturbing question that actually needs to be addressed is whether the moratorium on further nuclear testing is to be reviewed.

There is the as yet unanswered question of whether India should ultimately make neutron bombs. Issues such as these can only be addressed through a cogent and coherent nuclear policy of which there is no evidence on South Block’s horizon.

What is worse, there are too many and often contrary opinions on nuclear policy being aired in New Delhi by those who should know policy. This gives an impression of drift, and creates a feeling that the Pokhran II nuclear tests were nothing more than a political gimmick. A victim of this will be the credibility of India’s bombs. The country may, in fact, find itself back to square one where its nuclear option cannot, in practice, be exercised.

That is when foreign offices across the world will strike back and institutions like the G-8 heads of state may then be forced to go along with the view that India should be told where it stands on the nuclear question. After all, the Vajpayee government must not forget that India is not yet a part of the nuclear club or anything else that comes with that membership.    


Magnanimity without flourish

Sir — It is unfortunate that a large number of Indian policy decisions are mere populist jokes which end up squandering public money. The decision to rename the Tollygunge and Park Street stations of Metro Railways after Uttam Kumar and Mother Teresa respectively, is one such (“Metro halts for icons”, July 23). It is hard to imagine that Calcuttans would have forgotten these individuals in a hurry had it not been for Metro Railways’ move to name stations after them. Though it has been only a few years since Mother Teresa passed away, Uttam Kumar left the world more than two decades ago, and he is still more popular than a few of the current stars put together. Attempts like the Metro Railways’ amount to carrying coals to Newcastle. Consider what it would cost the railways to implement this wonderful project. Couldn’t this sum have been channelized to the sagging maintenance of the service? Icons like Uttam Kumar and Mother Teresa do not need the Metro Railways’ magnanimity. The average Calcuttan does.

Yours faithfully,
Sumana Sinha Ray, Calcutta

Rallying point

Sir — Rallies and demonstrations protect democratic interests only when conducted in a sensible way. What Calcutta witnesses every other day is a mockery of this democratic practice, causing severe public dislocation and inconvenience. School and office goers are the worst sufferers in the traffic snarls that result from these rallies.

In the light of this, the West Bengal government’s directive to ban rallies in front of the Metro cinema and Victoria House on weekdays is a laudable move (“Kick off to city centre rally ban”, July 12). The catch, however, lies elsewhere. Since any move by a political party must be opposed by the opposition, even if it is just for the sake of opposing, it may be safely presumed that violation of this directive is not going to be an exception. Political parties must realize their activism on the streets achieve little besides causing discomfort to the public. They must work towards the successful implementation of this ban.

Yours faithfully,
Prajna Mitra, Calcutta

Sir — The Trinamool Congress rally on July 21 succeeded only in disrupting public life in Calcutta with the resultant traffic dislocation and violation of sound pollution norms (“Siege forces six hour standstill”, July 22). The ruling Left Front is, of course, a forerunner in this respect. During Congress regime it used to be no less a menace. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party’s support base is still restricted in the state, the organization is yet to beat the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress in this game.

If the show of strength in public rallies remain the only concern of political parties, they can hardly generate faith in the minds of the common people who get the rough end of the stick when public life is dislocated. It is governance that matters in the end, and for now this seems limited to causing trouble to citizens.

Yours faithfully,
C.R.Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — The Trinamool Congress rally called by Mamata Banerjee has shown how futile is the state government’s ban on rallies at two focal points in the city. The area adjoining Metro cinema and Victoria House is where a large number of office buildings are located. As such, it is the destination of thousands of people everyday. They usually traverse fairly long distances to reach this area. Therefore, it is not of much help if a small area remains uncluttered while the rest of the city is tied up in knots. In fact, on July 21 nearly the entire city came to a standstill for about six hours as truck after loaded truck and pedestrian processions converged at the Brigade Parade grounds.

However, it is merely incidental that this has happened at a Trinamool Congress rally. For, the same thing is going to happen at rallies convened by the ruling Left Front. Who will criticize the rulers then?

Yours faithfully,
Saikat Ghosh, Calcutta

Smut logic

Sir — Owners and visitors of pornographic sites on the internet must be thanking Ravi Visvesvaraya Prasad for enumerating the benefits of launching pornographic sites in his article, “The frontiers of smut” (June 19). But Prasad does not point out any of the malignant influences of these sites. A very unique problem faced by multinational companies is their employees’ abuse of the internet. According to International Data Corp, 30 to 40 per cent of worker productivity is lost as the employees surf pornographic sites during office hours at the expense of the company. To monitor their employees’ use of the internet, companies have to invest in softwares that can record every digital move made by the employee.

Prasad can argue that this problem will lead to the development of web-monitoring softwares. But we must not forget that children are increasingly becoming internet savvy and their natural curiosity can take them to these sites. The internet is a powerful tool which we fortunately have in our hands today. It should be used to educate, inform and increase productivity.

Yours faithfully,
Debjani Kundu, Calcutta

Sir — The Telegraph must be congratulated for making people aware of the evil influences of the internet. Many using the computer and the internet are not fully aware of this hazard. However, cybersex is not all that people using the internet indulge in. Some agencies have preventive measures against such misuse of the internet. Internet has its use. Let cybersex and vulgar talks in the chatroom not blind us to the fact.

Yours faithfully,
Sharad Todi, via email

Sir — Avijit Ghosh in “Survival of the fittest”(June 18) has made a useful study of the internet service providers and seems to be hopeful of quality service from the private ISPs . On the face of it, the “free for life” offer from one such private ISP appears to be way ahead of others. But the reality is far from encouraging.

For one, the plans of unlimited hours are not profitable when one considers the daily average surfing time, which is usually less than three hours. Charges for this “unlimited” hours are steadily falling among private ISPs and will continue to fall. Therefore, it will be unwise to sign up for anything beyond a year.

For surfing less than three hours a day, the monsoon plans 100 and 150 of the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited are the best when the free hours and a validity period of three years is considered. Other factors to be considered are speed of connection, surfing and downloading, and customer care.

These can be ascertained only from experience. My personal experience with one private ISP has not been satisfactory. Private ISPs have to work harder if they want to get ahead of a giant like VSNL. Ghosh should have spared a thought for this.

Yours faithfully,
K. Paul, Calcutta

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