Editorial 1/ Double address
Editorial 2/ Standing apart
In an uncertain time
Fifth column/ Take a hard line on the abductor
Remembrances of an unknown land
Letters to the editor

What the president of India and the prime minister shared most strikingly in their speeches on the occasion of Independence Day was the invocation of poets. The president, Mr K.R. Narayanan, quoted Nazrul Islam and the prime minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, quoted Sahir Ludhianvi. Mr Narayanan’s speech once again conjured up the spectre of the conscience of the nation. While his general targets remained — implicitly this time — the executive, administrators, law enforcers and fundamentalist forces, he focussed on the most disturbing events in recent days. With Veerappan still on the loose with Raj Kumar in tow, the president spoke on the nexus among “criminals, politicians and important people in society”. But this reiteration of the theme of the uncomfortably shelved Vohra committee report was carefully balanced on the edge of formality. Traditionally, presidents have spoken of problems in general terms. Mr Narayanan’s approach has always been more direct and therefore controversial. His pre-independence speech, however, showed some signs of accommodation. The president did not hesitate to mention the issues that concerned him most, and he did so by making violence his central theme. But he did not train his guns directly on those responsible for the evils he listed. For example, he contented himself by alluding to the attacks on Christians as a symptom of waning tolerance in Indian society. He did bring up his favourite theme though: that of the fruits of liberalization not reaching the underprivileged.

The other area in which the president’s speech showed some similarity with the prime minister’s was in the reasonableness of tone regarding Kashmir. Naturally, this last figured most strikingly in Mr Vajpayee’s address to the nation. His assessment of Pakistan’s role was restrained but firm. It may have been the shadow of a failed peace process that took some of the sap out of the usually eloquent prime minister, for the old themes of development and post-Kargil prestige failed to fire. But Mr Vajpayee did send a warning to those organizations which were trying to disrupt communal harmony. This glance at sangh parivar outfits was routine, but it was important to have the warning formally expressed since the government has failed to resolve the Christian issue so far. What the two speeches bring out is the scale of the problems facing India 53 years after independence. The escalation of violence has become the central concern of the ordinary citizen. The difference in the causes of violence points to an all round malaise. Regional, ethnic, communal, political, personal, gender conflicts all end in bloodshed. Without serious implementation of development policies and a rigorous penal system the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future.    

Independence Day rituals do not necessarily reflect unified nationhood. Three major political outfits in Nagaland chose to celebrate the 54th Naga independence day on August 14. On this day, the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim and their parent body, the Naga National Council, were establishing their claim to Nagaland’s independence from the Indian Union as much as they were celebrating their nation’s independence from British rule. In his celebratory address, the president of the NNC, Mr Marhupfu Kent, also invoked the notion of “international diplomacy”. According to Mr Kent, the Naga problem could be solved by the “sympathetic intervention of friendly countries”. The timing and substance of this appeal can be understood in the context of two related issues: the question of foreign intervention and its relation to the ceasefire conditions between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M).

Appeals to the international community of nations by these groups have been a regular feature, particularly those addressed to the Unrepresented Nations People’s Organization in Geneva. The latest reiteration is perhaps meant to provoke the Indian government out of the combination of procrastination, equivocation, indifference and incompetence with which it has been handling the peace talks, particularly the ceasefire situation. The NSCN (I-M)’s contacts with China will be remembered afresh, now that a prominent leader of the United Liberation Front of Asom has revealed how a Chinese intelligence agency has been supplying unlabelled arms in support of his organization’s armed secessionism. The government’s alarm would be justified in this case. But the ceasefire can be an effective instrument of the resolution of the Naga impasse only if both parties to the agreement conduct themselves with motivated clarity. It took the Centre a couple of years to make its stance clear on the vexed issue of how far, territorially, the ceasefire extends. New Delhi has only recently clarified — since the prime minister’s inadvertent equivocation during a 1998 visit to Manipur — that the Naga-dominated districts of Manipur will not fall within the scope of the ceasefire. This also implies that the Naga nation cannot hope to claim bits of other states simply on the basis of ethnic representation. The ceasefire, now extended by another year, will continue to be futile if the mutually antagonistic NSCN factions persist in their two-facedness. The I-M faction, while lauding the Centre’s initiative in resuming peace talks, continues to support a number of smaller insurgent outfits in Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur, with their own secessionist agenda, thus extending the network of terrorism. For the talks to succeed, the commitment to peace must be mutual and absolute.    

There is more than meets the eye in the developments in the ongoing session of Parliament. Ram Jethmalani has not exactly covered himself with glory by his post-dismissal antics. But neither has, one is sorry to say, the attorney-general. The government is obviously not serious in its intent to prosecute Jethmalani for his lapse, and the substantive matters are of much graver import than a mere technical offence committed by a person who was till the other day law minister of the country. Jethmalani however does not think, even on technical grounds, he is at fault.

The hullabaloo is, one suspects, more a reflection of the ongoing tension within the Bharatiya Janata Party. The so-called hardliners are not happy with the BJP’s recent stance on several major issues and the crowd the prime minister has gathered in his cabinet. According to the grapevine, Lal Krishna Advani is the ideal choice of the hardliners and he too is feeling stifled by the coterie round the prime minister. The agenda of the 18-party alliance is a considerably run down version of the BJP’s national agenda.

The perception of priorities varies between the two groups. Since the lure of office is so acute amongst the partners of the BJP, they, the hardliners have not the least doubt, are bound to swallow, without much demur, the indignities that might be heaped upon them. The prime minister holds a somewhat different view. He is greatly concerned with the sustainability of his government over the entire term of the Lok Sabha. He is not at all sure that, in case one or other of the partners are provoked beyond endurance on an issue on which its perception differs widely from the BJP’s, the coalition will not come apart. In parleys amongst the BJP’s top leaders, he must have explained his point of view.

The rest of the leadership have, for the moment, gone along with him. But formal compliance need not prevent backsliding on subsequent occasions, and there could well be plenty of back-chatting. A contingent of the BJP rank and file must be thinking along the same wave length as that of the Shiv Sena stalwarts. The latter were intensely unhappy with the prime minister’s refusal to accept Jethmalani’s advice to issue a directive to the Maharashtra government to desist from instituting proceedings against Bal Thackeray. In the event, the trial magistrate concurred with Jethmalani, and Thackeray conclusively proved his clout in Maharashtra by holding at ransom, for 10 days at a stretch, Mumbai and other places in the state.

The Mumbai additional chief metropolitan magistrate’s verdict has provided the opportunity, at least to some dissenters within the BJP, both to offer ex post justification of Jethmalani’s acts and, simultaneously, to embarrass the prime minister. Furious calculations must also be on within the coalition partners as well as amongst the opposition parties. There is a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the government’s economic policy not only in the Swadeshi Jagran Manch but also amongst several coalition partners. They have gone along with the prime minister’s office on the assumption that howsoever domestically unpopular in the short run the impact of the policy might be in terms of both employment and growth, this will be more than compensated by a huge inflow of direct foreign investment. This expectation is yet to be fulfilled despite a full 10 years of liberalization.

The recent gestures on the part of the government to further liberalize the regulatory framework is aimed at further strengthening the forces favouring the entry of foreign capital. The general ambience is anything but cheerful. The country’s agriculture has maintained its pace of growth not because of any marked improvement in capital formation in this sector, but because of the unbelievable run of excellent rainfall for the past several years. Private investment, including foreign investment, has till now been almost negligible in the farm sector.

The point emphasized by radical economists, namely, that farm growth will continue to be inhibited if land reforms are kept on hold, has been contemptuously brushed aside. Problems abound on other fronts too. The services sector has maintained its fast rate of expansion. This is largely a function though of government outlays and, let us add, deficit financing. After a brief flurry in the first couple of months of the current fiscal year, trends in industry have settled back into the trajectory of moderate to extremely poor rate of growth. In a number of industries, there are actually signs of recession. Since the low rate of industrial growth has been accompanied by disinvestment in public undertakings at a merry pace, the consequence for employment has been severe indeed. Besides, import liberalization has accentuated the crisis in employment and growth in the small-scale sector.

Other considerations would continue to claim the prime minister’s attention. The Congress is no longer sure that support to the government’s economic policy, for which it was originally responsible, would any longer yield sizeable dividends. On the contrary, important leaders within the party have been suggesting to its president that it was a gross blunder to adhere blindly to the International Monetary Fund-World Bank line, as their finance minister had decided to do in the early Nineties.

The shrinking vote percentage of the party in state after state has been a great civilizer. The Congress is therefore exhibiting signs that it does not mind moving away from the path pursued by the former finance minister, conveniently forgetting the fact that its commerce minister was equally responsible for the current mess. He was the most enthusiastic votary of the Dunkel draft and the newly set up global trade regulatory body, the World Trade Organization.

To add to the government’s woes, even short run foreign capital, which has been shoring up the country’s stock exchanges, has been behaving altogether haphazardly. Exchange resources are dropping steadily, and crash in the share markets is evidently the result of the political uncertainty afflicting the country.

The left has been, till this point of time, almost completely immobilized. Apart from the fact of a by and large still dormant peasantry in major parts of the country, the most dependable support to the left has traditionally emanated from the organized working class. The economic policy adopted by, first, the Congress government, and for the past one year emulated by the BJP-led regime, have taken the teeth out of the trade union movement.

The ground reality, nonetheless, could change fast. Already a lot of discontent has accumulated amongst the lower middle and poorer classes because of the hardships and sufferings caused by liberalization and globalization. These categories are still in a dazed state, but this may not last for long. Once the internal fissures of the BJP come in the open — the motor force might be either the Swadeshi Jagran Manch or the pro-Shiv Sena hotheads — the alliance partners, already somewhat restless, could attempt to pitch their demands on the prime minister higher and still higher, making the alliance experiment totally infructuous.

In the circumstances, some of the partners could choose to walk away. Once they do so, the Congress and the left, biding their time from the wings, might jump into action. The Congress has the bigger advantage of goodwill which the copyright of its name ensures; in many backward regions, even a partially rejuvenated Congress would provide a substantial threat to the BJP. The left too would find the situation tailor-made for them, as it was for a while 30 odd years ago.

Without question the country is entering an uncertain time. The emerging symptoms are frightening. In the aftermath of the Raj Kumar kidnapping, even as ethnic riots have singed Karnataka, the bandit Veerappan has rubbed in the point that he is every bit a sovereign monarch and India’s state power has to cringe before him. The episode of the Hizbul ceasefire seems to be a flop, if not worse, and the massacre of the Amarnath pilgrims at Pahelgaon proves how hollow is New Delhi’s claim of impending peace in Kashmir. A regime which sends helpless pilgrims to their slaughter, many would say, does not deserve to survive. Nor can it be expiated from the scandal of riots and killings in Surat that followed.    

Veerappan’s kidnapping of the Karnataka film icon, Raj Kumar, reminds me of a 1992 interview I did with a Sikh preacher-terrorist who had some crazy notions of reforming Indian society. Around 35, the tall, bearded Ranjit Singh saw himself cleansing India with a necklace of beads in one hand and a gun in the other. For him, the beads stood for the power of prayer and the gun for eliminating individuals who were too depraved to be reformed. In the course of our two-hour conversation, Ranjit Singh made a remark which jolted me. He said that he and his men had once thought of kidnapping Lata Mangeshkar to get national attention.

Which brings me to the bizarre Veerappan drama. No government has the power to prevent individual kidnappings. But it can choose not to negotiate with kidnappers even if it puts a hostage at risk. Callous though this may sound, the policy pays off. History shows that kidnappers tend to relent when their blackmail does not work with an unbending government.

We saw an example of that when Sikh militants kidnapped a Roman diplomat, Liviu Radu, in Delhi in 1992. They released him unharmed a few days later when the Centre refused to negotiate. That happens rarely. Most times the Indian state routinely surrenders to terrorist kidnappings.

Blackmail is out

V.P. Singh’s government released jailed terrorists to secure the freedom of its home minister’s daughter in 1989. Naxalite kidnappers in Andhra Pradesh have got their jailed colleagues freed several times. The Congress leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had three Kashmiri militants released in exchange for his kidnapped brother-in-law.

About Raj Kumar’s kidnapping. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka want his release because chief ministers know they may be politically finished if he is injured or killed. So they have allowed their governments to get hijacked by Veerappan. But their surrender sets a dangerous precedent. Tomorrow, if another outlaw kidnaps a national figure like Sachin Tendulkar or Amitabh Bachchan, will the Indian state surrender to him too?

Western governments do not submit to blackmail. Take Italy’s most famous case of political kidnapping in 1978. Red Brigade terrorists abducted the former prime minister, Aldo Moro, and demanded the release of 15 of their jailed colleagues in exchange for his freedom. The Italian government refused to negotiate and Moro’s captors shot him dead 55 days after they took him away. The governments no-negotiation stand received the full backing of the Italian opposition. Moro’s kidnappers were subsequently caught, tried, and sentenced for life (Italy has no capital punishment.).

Straight penalty

The Indian state should similarly decide once and for all that it will never negotiate with outlaws or terrorists. Western nations don’t. For instance, Iranian militants during Ayatollah Khomeini’s time took scores of American diplomats as hostages during Jimmy Carter’s presidency to demand that Washington turn over the Shah of Iran to Teheran. The United States administration refused to negotiate and ultimately, the militants had no choice but to free the hostages.

Washington’s uncompromising stance flowed from the recognition of a simple reality. Around four million US citizens live outside the US at any point of time. They are vulnerable to being kidnapped. If Washington started negotiating for the release of kidnapped Americans, the action would end up encouraging more kidnappings.

The Italian government is uncompromising not only with kidnappers but also with families that negotiate with them. It even had a law by which all relatives of kidnapped persons up to the first cousin had their assets frozen to prevent them from raising money for ransom.

No state can prevent the kidnapping of individuals. The number of famous individuals in India is enormous, those whose abduction would grab national headlines.

At a guess, here are some names: Sunil Gavaskar, Nani Palkhivala, P. T. Usha, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, the Nawab of Pataudi, or say Mother Teresa when she was alive. Tens of thousands of policemen cannot to detailed to guard them. The greatest deterrent for criminals is not that they cannot commit crimes. They can. The deterrent is the punishment that follows.    

A Western commentator on Fiji’s recent crisis describes it as a tragedy of separate solitudes. Nothing could be more apt. He holds the Fiji Indians squarely responsible for this absence of cultural dialogue: their condescending attitude towards Fijians, their consumerist ways, economic domination and media power. The indigenous culture needs to be safeguarded from the globally potent Indian culture, he warns. To this end he advocates a series of positive discriminations, including the abolition of Hindi from the list of Fiji’s official languages.

Off-track in crucial ways (since the latest crisis is a fallout of the disintegration of native Fijian social order and the rise of its middle class leadership), the professor’s prescription is both old and new, and typically Western. It is new because it is in tune with the current turn of Western cultural politics that yearns to “ethnicize” the nation, having realized that the project of “nationalizing the ethnic” was difficult with the different non-Western communities living in the Western metropolises.

It is old, because it is part of the enduring vagaries of colonial pragmatics that once kept the native Fijians away from the plantations. The back breaking toil of the Indian “coolies”, the “plantation raj” had calculated, would make the new colony of Fiji pay, while the Fijians could continue with their pristine lives in indolent villages unexposed to the corrupting effects of a capitalist economy.

The Fijians and Indo-Fijians were kept separate in every sphere of life and they regarded each other with bitter suspicion and prejudice. The tragedy of isolation that has made independent Fiji’s polity vulnerable — almost unworkable — had its beginning in this typically colonial admixture of moral concern and shrewd economic calculation. Utilizing the discipline of the “lines”, the Indians in Fiji, in course of time, have constructed much of what today’s Fiji is, primarily with their labour and management. This is a huge achievement, given the way they began their journey. But what is more interesting is the cultural trajectory of these “splintered” people, because this is what defined them as a community and also alienated them from the larger community that inhabited the country.

The resultant cultural ethos, the fashioning of “little India” as it is called, was not so much a case of mimicry or idle nostalgia on the part of Fiji Indians as an active attempt to yoke an identity in the face of little or no recognition from the native community as cultural or political beings. Much later, once the Bombay film world entered the scene as the provider of a “motherland” culture, the reconstructed home would attain a new meaning in keeping with the dynamics of this quasi-globalizing media.

The indentured people were by and large unlettered. What survived among them of the cultural set-up of the north Indian villages were the traditions of bhakti — the devotional songs and supremely, Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas. The Ramayana in its new location created a new semiotics: a nostalgic identification with the “motherland”; but more important, with the aid of its transcendental promises, it became a vehicle of acclimatization with the tense environment of plantation capitalism. Ram was banished for no fault of his; so were the Fiji Indians. If Ram could survive for 14 years, surely the Fiji Indians could do so for five, or if extended, to 10 years.

After indenture, every household leased out on an average 10 acres of land for cultivation. This land belonged, and still does, to the native Fijians. The situation demanded a transition from collective amnesia to an active dream towards the reconstruction of a national memory.

Here lies the crucial difference between the Fiji Indians and the Indian indentured population in other parts of the world. The complete proletarianization of Indians in Guyana, for instance, meant a near total loss of the traditions of their erstwhile homeland, while the Fiji Indians were in a position to maintain these because of the isolated subsistence farming after the tenure of the indentured labour.

The deployed world of memory was not an expression of the desire to return, nor a docile willingness to replay on a minor scale a mammoth original. Rather, it was an attempt to assert control over a defined space and if possible attain hegemony over it, and an attempt to bring its economy, administration, education and media increasingly under their sway. That hegemony was not to come though, for very little of Fijian life was incorporated in the little India that came up and prospered while the Hindi media of Fiji (especially advertising) continued to have fun at the expense of the Fijians.

Once Hindi films reached the Fijian shores in the early Forties, the Fiji Indians found a lively expression of the romanticized India they needed. The foundation was already laid by Ramcharitmanas from which Bollywood took its elaborations of the familial self and whose moral limits it would seldom transgress. The peculiar history of the years during and after indenture did not come as a hindrance; it actually helped the work of imaginative reconstruction.

Take for instance the domain of sexual politics. Throughout the phase of indenture and even later, when many men lived without wives of their own, women became the site of two contradictory demands: it was demanded that they have relationships with more than one man, while, at the same time, they were expected to comply with the standards of chastity. Thus, one of the central moral themes of Hindi cinema — the image of the devoted wife or the heroine struggling to be chaste — had its special resonance in their predicament.

Once it had access to the people, Bollywood created its own public and psychic platform for them to interact. What keeps the disparate elements of these masala films together is the network of reviews, magazines, repeat-viewing, blow-ups, music programmes, gossip columns, enormous billboards, fan club hagiographies — in short, an “insiderism”, “a buddy culture” of speech and body-language. With time, as the memory of the “roots” — the real India — started to fade away for the Fiji Indians, films took over the responsibility of constructing an empty, variegated space through its interminable web of images, songs, “dialogues” and stars.

The tables were turned in the 1987 coup when the military — manned almost exclusively by the Fijians — took charge of the country. This occasioned a fairly largescale exodus of Fiji Indians to such destinations as Sydney, Auckland and Vancouver.

The transition from post-indenture Fiji to advanced capitalist, Christian, secular, multicultural West was primarily a move to new forms of association as well as a different vortex of power relations. The situation was unenviably complex, since the India the Fiji Indians met in those locations was an India unwilling to give up its historical memory of unquestioned superiority vis-ŕ-vis those who, even if now Westernized and fairly prosperous, were, to their minds, once nothing but “coolies”.

This made the construction of a new sense of imagined nationhood all the more necessary. In the new context, the empty space of popular Hindi film would be shorn of even the pretence of a referent — it is space unto itself, a pure space, so to say. The Bombay film industry reciprocates this gesture by placing the diasporic imaginaire at the very heart of its new aesthetics and music. The new Bombay popular film offers the Indo-Fijian diasporic youth a platform for organizing their cultural life in a way that is “acceptable” to the West and at the same time retains a measure of difference.

Along with this, the folk traditions of Ramayan katha and bhajan, that once paved the way for Hindi cinema and may no longer be overlapping and reinforcing in today’s urban Fiji, have regained in the Western diasporic context their role of retaining identity.

The Bombay popular film may be utterly ahistorical in its modes but for the Fiji Indians, its deployment is linked with a process profoundly historical — namely, a definition of the self in the context of the post-indenture years.    


Troubled head

Sir — Pious sermons. Is that all the president of India has to give to the nation (“Bandit makes it to president’s sermon”, Aug 15)? The “unholy alliance” between politicians and criminals, the rise of a “new intolerance” in society, the degraded status of women, the curse of poverty and ignorance and the failure of five year plans are no new revelation. The people of the country live with these experiences every waking hour of their lives. The government needs to act, citizens need to raise their voices, the integrity of the country needs to be maintained, and people need to be given their due. Yes, Mr President. But where does the head of the nation fit into the scheme of things? There is no doubt K.R. Narayanan has been more active as president than many India has had since independence. But in a country in which people are killed like cattle, believers burnt alive and citizens live in abject fear, the president needs to do a little more than mouth platitudes. What about his power of passing ordinances?
Yours faithfully,
Yudhijit Mitra, Calcutta

Centre versus Centre

Sir — The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences now faces a real threat of closure following severe cuts in funding from the Central government. With some of India’s front-ranking social scientists at its helm, the CSSS has enjoyed an international reputation since its inception in the early Seventies. The CSSS has for long pioneered research in many areas of Indian studies. It has forged strong connections with local researchers and, through its educational functions, has trained generations of researchers during the period of its existence. All this has been done at a relatively small expense, relative not only to the research budgets of institutions in the developed countries, but also to those of other comparable institutions in south Asia. The Centre is now one of the most respected and well known research institutions in the country.

It would be extremely shortsighted of the government to close down an institution that has brought the country so much international prestige. It would also kill off one of the most vibrant intellectual nerve centres of the nation and the city. Calcutta takes legitimate pride in its intellectual heritage. The Centre is a product of that heritage. It would be a very sad development if narrow-minded political or financial considerations led to its premature demise. I do sincerely hope that such a prospect will be ultimately avoided by the decisionmakers in charge.

Yours faithfully,
Dipesh Chakrabarty, Chicago

Sir — Rudrangshu Mukherjee is right in saying that there are more things than meets the eye in the proposal to close down the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (“Price of research”, Aug 13). When the democratic state is in actual crisis, the areas of interest shift. Social sciences research in India is, to a large extent, dominated by a coterie who can be loosely termed socialist humanists. The state supports an institution of this incline as long as it’s own is facing no threat . But the first thing it targets when it has to safeguard it’s given propaganda are these centres of excellence. For good academic research would entail a critique of all extremism. The present government has to ensure the closure of an institute of the CSSS’s stature because it has an agenda to sell. Several other institutions have seen bitter conflicts involving students, faculty, leading to the suppression of a humanist ethos. This may only be the beginning of the Centre’s troubles. Calcutta has few centres of such repute. Its dissolution would mean that good academic research would henceforth be hard to come by. If the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its brethren have their way, ideology of a bizarre kind will make its way into the academic discourse. This will be fatal.

Yours faithfully,
Sayandev Chowdhury, via email

Sir — There is a sudden hue and cry that Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta is going to be closed down owing to lack of funds from the Central government. It seems to be another ploy by Indian intellectuals to extract more funds from a weak government. By definition, Indian intellectuals are social scientists or historians associated with either the Indian Council of Historical Research or the Indian Council of Social Science Research, two institutes created by the once semi-fascist Congress government to patronize the so-called leftist,liberal and secular intellectuals. No researcher in social science or history has any future unless he toes the line of these two institutes. After seeing the recent turmoil in ICHR and Arun Shourie’s exposure of the intellectual and financial bankruptcy of “great historians”, the Centre seems to be taking an anticipatory bail.

The CSSS has 14 academic and 45 non-academic members. A sudden visitor will find a number of people sitting around or roaming aimlessly. Getting rid of 25 of them will reverse the CSSS’s economic position. Since A.B. Vajpayee and his party are so eager to have a certificate from intellectuals to boost their secular credentials, they will certainly jump to help the CSSS as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,
Minati Rudra, Jalpaiguri

Impossible privilege

Sir — The railway ministry had announced with much fanfare that freedom fighters who hold the railway pass meant for them would be allowed a one-time travel opportunity by AC two tier in any Rajdhani Express to celebrate the millennium. In the absence of any specific guidelines, it was assumed that freedom fighters could approach any railway booking counter with their passes and make the reservations. However, as many of the elderly realize to their dismay, things are not as simple.

One learnt after hours of waiting in a queue that this privilege was available only after a special pass was issued by the rail authorities concerned with the matter. So back to the local railway office to get the pass. After another long wait, there was another surprise waiting for these aged. Even though enough AC two tier berths were available, the pass holder would be issued only a wait-listed ticket which had to be confirmed after making an application to the chief commercial manager of the relevant department.

The confirmation would be announced only a few hours before the scheduled departure of the train. The same procedure applied to the return journey. Surprisingly, however, if the pass holder was willing to downgrade his ticket to AC three tier, a confirmed ticket was issued immediately.

Will the rail authorities and its ministers care to explain why these people, all of whom are elderly and barely able to undertake these tedious train journeys, are made to go through such a strenuous exercise? How is it that while wait -listed tickets are being issued for AC two tier, confirmed tickets are being issued for AC three tier?

Moreover, though each journey is recorded in the freedom fighter’s railway pass book, the one on the Rajdhani Express is not recorded. Would it not be better if freedom fighters were allowed to use their existing passes to book tickets for this one journey on this particular train?

Yours faithfully,
Ranjan Guha Majumder, Calcutta<./dt>

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