Editorial 1/ Not at face value
Editorial 2/ Party trick
A question of intelligence
Fifth Column/ Reasons behind a symbolic offer
Why Advani and Co. should go
Finding the best cure for the disease
Letters to the editor

The announcement by Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Mr Inamul Haq, of Islamabad’s decision to order its armed forces to exercise maximum restraint along the line of control has understandably invited scepticism in India. There are legitimate reasons for being cynical about Pakistan’s posturing. It is clear that Pakistan’s government was almost forced to make the announcement after the tremendous impact of the unilateral ceasefire being enforced by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir during the month of Ramadan. The decision had been widely welcomed internationally, and Russia, Britain and the United States had explicitly signalled that Pakistan must reciprocate if it is genuinely interested in peace in the region. More important, public opinion in Kashmir was clearly in support of the ceasefire, and even the umbrella organization of the separatist parties, the All Party Hurriyat Conference — many of whose constituents have close links with forces in Pakistan — had indicated its approval of this bold new initiative by New Delhi.

Islamabad’s announcement will not signal a real change in the ground situation in Jammu and Kashmir — even if Pakistan genuinely exercises restraint on the LoC — unless it is backed by a ceasefire by the militant groups, especially those manned by Pakistanis, and financed and trained by Islamabad. Not even the most naïve observers accept Pakistan’s propaganda that militancy operates autonomously and that it has little control over the terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in Jammu and Kashmir. It is clear that the United Jihad Council — a conglomerate of extremist groups — for instance, cannot continue its tirade against India without the support and acquiescence of powers that lie at the heart of the Pakistan’s establishment. Recall also that Pakistan has, several times in the past, made declarations of intent that have rarely lead to a real change in policy. In any case, Islamabad is bound by bilateral agreements signed over the last three decades in Tashkent, Simla and Lahore to respect the LoC, and explicitly committed itself to exercising restraint in the Washington communiqué of 1999.

Under the circumstances, India must respond with characteristic caution to Pakistan’s latest declarations. New Delhi must reiterate that a resumption of a dialogue will be possible only once all the three conditions that it has spelt out repeatedly are met. First, there must be a de-escalation of the tension along the LoC. Although Islamabad’s announcement suggests that this may have started, India’s armed forces too must certify that this has indeed happened. Second, there has to be a significant reduction in the infiltration of militants into Jammu and Kashmir. This can only happen when Pakistan takes steps to not let its armed forces provide logistical support to militants, and begins a process of closing down of training camps. Finally, Pakistan must end its support to cross border terrorism. General Pervez Musharraf’s regime must not just ideologically distance itself from the extremist groups, which it has not so far done successfully, but be seen to be acting decisively against them. Meanwhile, New Delhi must continue with measures designed to win back the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people. It is commendable that the security forces are continuing their policy of restraint despite tremendous provocations. If this initiative succeeds, it will become obvious to the people of Kashmir that it is Pakistan and its outfits alone who are responsible for the continuing violence.    

The chief minister of West Bengal seems a bit cornered. He is desperately offering anodynes to the nervous inhabitants of the Kasba area where the recent rash of armed robbery and murder is yet to be brought under control. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has said that although the police is doing everything to weed out the criminals, people are naturally still insecure. Therefore party workers should come forward to help reassure the residents and maintain nightlong vigils both in Kasba and Jadavpur. Charming as this sounds, the implications are not pleasant at all. Mr Bhattacharjee, who is also home (police) minister and has been so longer than he has been chief minister, is apparently unable to repose trust in the police force. Laxity and indifference among the police in West Bengal are not new features. It is just that the spectacular nature of the robberies and brutality of the murders have suddenly placed Mr Bhattacharjee in a spot, faced as he is with an increasingly aggressive and critical Trinamool Congress and assembly elections a few months away. He can only make apologetic noises about the police, to retain the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s vote bank and offer, in all good faith, the services of the party cadre.

There is a double absurdity in this. The police is an arm of the state and under the command of the state executive. Mr Bhattacharjee’s function there is that of the minister in charge of the police. His identity as partyman is irrelevant. To invoke the help of party workers to stop crime is to make a mess of his two identities. No party can take up the cause of law and order in a state when there is a government to shoulder this responsibility. Mr Bhattacharjee’s remark smacks strongly of an abdication of responsibility as police minister. The comic side to this is the fear and distrust with which most non-party persons view CPI(M) party workers. It is doubtful that the residents of Kasba would feel reassured at the thought of CPI(M) workers looking after them. Instead of getting carried away by concern, Mr Bhattacharjee could say something more about increasing the number of thanas in the affected areas — and soon.    

It is a blow to national security that just when farreaching institutional and structural reforms are in the making, a needless controversy should come to the fore. The issue takes on an intriguing turn when one considers that individuals dragged into the controversy are people who have made a significant contribution to enhancing national security in all its complex dimensions and are poised towards eliminating many ills that continue to plague the nation’s security management system.

The controversy relates to the post of principal secretary to the prime minister and the national security advisor being held by the same individual, contrary to the recommendations of the Kargil review panel. The media has speculated on a supposed clash of personal interests between the principal secretary to the prime minister, wanting to retain this all-powerful portfolio, and the convener of the national security advisory board, desirous of displacing him. An institutional, technical and administrative issue of vital importance to national security has thus been reduced by fertile minds to a soap opera of personalities and ambitions.

As a follow up of the Kargil review panel recommendations, the government had formed a group of ministers under the home minister to suggest remedial measures. The GOM, in turn, had constituted four task forces — covering intelligence, border management, internal security and management of defence — to make recommendations. Presently, the GOM is in the process of deliberating on the reports of these four task forces and it has been reported that their recommendations are expected to be put up to the cabinet by the end of this month. It appears more than a coincidence, therefore, that a controversy dragging important players should surface at this critical juncture.

So ill-informed and hollow is this attempted debate that no commentator, except the individuals themselves, has highlighted that what the Kargil review panel recommended and what the principal secretary to the prime minister said in a television interview implies the same. Namely, that institutionally the post of the NSA requires a full time appointee although in the interim period of transition, the existing arrangement is to the larger good. The logic underlying this is that the very exercise of bringing about institutional and structural changes in the higher security organization needs individuals that have an understanding of the compulsions of change and ones who hold positions from where such change can be pushed despite age-old systemic resistance. Those, like this writer, who have long advocated restructuring, are convinced that if it is to succeed at all, this can only happen with a committed and determined prime minister’s office. Other traditional administrative avenues in the past have patently been unsuccessful precisely because of what the Kargil review panel terms as vested interests in the status quo. Why is it that India continues to retain archaic national security institutions when in all developed democracies, models responsive to modern security needs have been introduced decades ago?

Thereby hangs a tale. A tale of a nation striving to achieve greatness, but hampered by a mindset where individuals take precedence over institutions and where those attempting to usher in much needed change are drowned in shallow controversies. Much of this confusion could be avoided if the national ethos places institutions over individuals. But judging by this avoidable controversy, we still have a long way to go.

In this context, examples of two institutions, both of which are destined to have a profound impact on national security, need brief mention.When the long awaited formation of a national security council was announced and later formalized in early 1999, the joint intelligence committee staff was designated as the secretariat for the NSC and renamed as the NSC secretariat. At the time, national security observers not only criticized this arrangement, but also highlighted its adverse impact on the working of the JIC .It was argued that reorganization for enhancement of national security was being implemented by diluting the institution of the JIC and consequently its vital intelligence assessment role. It needed no soothsayer to predict that this would become our security Achilles’ heel. Kargil merely proved the point. Had, at the time, this monumental institutional weakness been given even a fraction of the exposure that the current controversy has generated, perhaps wiser counsels would have prevailed.

Debate on national security issues has two elements. One relates to institutions and the other to individuals holding key institutional posts. It is the irony of the national security scene that while the former evokes little interest possibly because of its technical import, the latter is newsy and will merit many colum- ns and television discussions. Such priorities could pass off as amusing were it not for the serious repercussions they have on the nation’s security, if not its very survival in its new nuclear avatar.

This brings us to the other vital institution in the security hierarchy. That of an integrated joint defence staff. The need for the creation of a combined defence staff secretariat headed by a chief of defence staff has, for long, been felt and indeed strongly debated. Every conceivable professional argument supports this concept, which is why all modern democracies follow this model in their higher security organization. Yet in India, the debate degenerates from institutional priorities to parochial individual service perceptions or indeed down to specific personalities.

Depending on which elevated governmental chair one sits on, the adverse logic can run from one extreme to the other. The bureaucracy cautions the political masters, albeit discreetly, that the CDS will become a super chief, too powerful to keep under check — a fear that the political leadership, ill- versed with the professional ethos, and the apolitical nature of our armed forces readily swallow. The army, by its very predominant size and perpetual involvement in anti-insurgency and other operations, advocates that the CDS can only be one who dons olive green uniform. The navy and air force, frightened by this onslaught, have, in the past, fiercely opposed the concept itself, fearing that once the concept is accepted the army argument will prevail.

In all this hype, the essence of the institution itself has been lost. It is the institution of the CDS secretariat, comprising of staff from all the three services, where joint planning and conceptualizing will be done from the lower staff level to the next upper rung and then to the top echelons. Our armed forces have acquitted themselves creditably in every joint operation. The institution of the CDS secretariat will exploit this same cooperative talent of the field within the combined secretariat.

One finds it hard to imagine that a joint defence staff secretariat consisting of multi-layered ranks and a mixture of olive green, white and blue uniforms will succumb to any parochial or personal prejudices based on the colour of either their uniform or indeed that of their superiors. It is this lack of willingness to understand and appreciate this vital facet of the institution of CDS, and confusing it with the appointment of the CDS, that has denied the nation the benefit of this inescapable institutional reorganization. We lost some five hundred military lives in Kargil for the concept to be resurrected once again.

If the futile controversy earlier mentioned were replaced by a healthy debate on the merits or demerits of the various institutional changes proposed by the Kargil review panel and currently under review by the GOM, then debates on national security will deservedly be elevated to a higher plane.

The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian air force    

Why did the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, suddenly offer the Palestinian Authority chairman, Yasser Arafat, a deal that would recognize a Palestinian state at once and even give it a bit more territory? And this after two months in which Israeli snipers and gunships have killed hundreds of Palestinians, and Palestinian gunmen and bombers have killed over a dozen Israelis?

Because on November 29, Barak called for a premature election, only one and a half years into his term, in order to get ahead of a resolution in the Knesset that would have imposed that election on him anyway. The election will be held within six months, and Barak has no chance of winning it unless he can show voters a peace agreement with the Palestinians as proof that his policies are succeeding.

Why did the Palestinians immediately reject his peace proposal out of hand? Because Arafat’s people see no point in keeping Barak in power if he can never deliver a just peace. As soon as Barak began to discuss even tiny concessions on critical issues like Jerusalem and Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory last July at Camp David, his own coalition government fell apart, and he has never been able to rebuild a majority government.

True, Barak’s defeat would bring the right-wing Likud party back into power in Israel. Likud’s current leader, Ariel Sharon, is the hardest of hardliners, and his slicker rival, the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is little better from a Palestinian point of view.

Token dignity

But Barak’s desperate offer to give Palestinians the symbolic dignity of an independent state now, while postponing further negotiations on Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and the return of Palestinian refugees for the next “two or three years” is a post-dated cheque on a collapsing bank. “If Mr Barak needs to go to the electorate in Israel with an agreement,” said the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, “it has to be a comprehensive agreement”.

Israelis are not stupid enough to believe that the sort of deal Barak is promoting would signify a real and lasting peace. Palestinians know that the Likud-led government Israelis will elect in a few months would not respect the independence of a paper Palestine republic even if they bought into Barak’s deal. Barak’s government can neither deliver the needed concessions nor even stop the daily killings of Palestinian kids, so it is basically irrelevant.

But the price for Israel of sitting on the occupied territories and protecting all the Jewish settlements there will go on rising. Dozens of Palestinians may die for every Israeli, but the political cost in Israel will be far greater because Israelis have so much more to lose. Eventually, Israel will have to bite the bullet and offer real concessions to make it stop.

Permanent conquest

So it should. The state of Israel authorized by the United Nations in 1948 consisted of just about half the territory of the former League of Nations mandate of Palestine. This was pretty generous, considering that Palestine had been 90 per cent Arab in population just two generations before.

In the 1948 war of independence, Israel beat the large, incompetent armies of neighbouring Arab states and conquered two-thirds of the lands allocated to the Palestinians as well. That was a permanent conquest, now accepted by almost every country in the world, including most Arab countries: Israel’s current, internationally recognized, and virtually unchallenged, borders include five-sixths of former Palestine.

All the haggling is about the remaining sixth — East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — which Israel conquered in the 1967 war. Over two million Palestinians are crammed into these little patches of ground, and for the first decade after the conquest every Israeli saw them as bargaining counters, to be traded back in return for recognition of Israel by its neighbour-enemies.

But the appetite grows with eating, and the early Israeli consensus on giving these conquered lands back (except for East Jerusalem, which was always a problem) broke down in the later Seventies. It has never been rebuilt, and it will clearly be some time yet before it is. We shall just have to wait.    

Tomorrow, December 6, is the doleful anniversary of the most shameful event in independent India, the destruction of a place of worship by a fanatic mob of hatemongers, organized and led by the gentleman who is today the home minister of India.

This is not a political statement, it is a judicial finding. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has kindly undertaken a very readable translation into English of the verdict delivered in Hindi by the additional sessions judge, Jagdish Prasad Srivastava, on September 9, 1997. What follows draws from that judgment (with the English corrected when the communists’ grasp over the grammar of this strange tongue fails them. Given their loyalties, they would have no similar difficulty with Chinese).

Please note the date of the judgment. It was delivered when Lal Krishna Advani was not the home minister. He assumed office a few months later. The case has not moved forward a millimetre since then. Coincidence? Technically, the case has not moved forward because some of those indicted have moved a criminal revision petition, no.255 of 1997, in the Lucknow bench of the high court, praying that “the impugned order” be set aside, and that till a decision is taken on this, the proceedings in the session court be stayed.

The list of those who have gone in appeal does not include Advani. Nor does it include two other ministers of the present government — Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti. Technically speaking, therefore, they have accepted that the prima facie charges laid against them by the additional sessions judge (Ayodhya episode) — to give him his full title — are warranted and to be considered further in the trial court.

But, of course, they do not accept the technical point. Outside of the courts, they have proclaimed their innocence. Moreover, they have expressed their deep regret over what happened (“saddest day of my life” and so on) and distanced themselves from all the shameful happenings of that Black Sunday eight years ago. But not all their tears can wash out one word of the judicial findings against them.

The case number is sessions case no. 344/94. Among the 40 accused are the three ministers. The chargesheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation against them includes offences under seven different provisions of the Indian penal code. (There is a related case no. 749/96 against Mahant Avaidyanath and others, which is covered by the same judgment but does not refer to the three ministers under scrutiny in this column). It may be noted that the CBI investigation took well over a year before being brought to the court of the additional sessions judge in 1994. The court took nearly three years to arrive at its conclusions. Clearly, total judicial rectitude was maintained throughout the proceedings.

The prosecution submitted that the three ministers, along with 27 others, “committed a criminal conspiracy” through the period “October 1990 to 6 December 1992”. Among other acts of desecration, said the prosecution, “it was decided to raze the Babri Masjid to the ground”. “The BJP” (in concert with three other organizations — the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Shiv Sena) “made plans to demolish the disputed structure of the Babri Masjid”. Moreover, “a suicide squad of the Bajrang Dal” was “trained” to demolish the mosque “in the Chambal valley”.

Next, “on 5 December 1992”, said the prosecution, “a secret meeting was held at the house of Shri Vinay Katiyar” (the BJP member of parliament for the area) “which was attended by Shri Lal Krishna Advani” at which “a final decision to demolish the disputed structure was taken”. The party to that “final decision” is today the Union minister of home affairs (god bless his soul — or what remains of it). It was also the prosecution’s contention “that when the disputed structure was being pulled down Shri Advani asked Kalyan Singh” (the chief minister of UP) “not to tender his resignation till the disputed structure had been completely pulled down”. As for the now chagrined Uma Bharti, the prosecution said she had “instigated the kar sevaks” with slogans like “ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid thod do” and “khoon khraba hona hain, ek bar ho jane do”.

Uma Bharti in court argued that “she had made no speech instigating anyone to pull down the masjid”; on the contrary, she had “asked them to climb down”. On behalf of Advani and Joshi it was contended that no criminal conspiracy had been hatched, they had not made any “instigating speeches” and the report of the observer, Tej Shauker, “is silent about the accused persons, Shri L.K. Advani and Shri Murli Manohar Joshi”. More important than these denials, however, was the argument made by the advocates of these two present cabinet ministers that “the present case is not a fit case to be tried by the court of sessions”. It is this argument which is being used to justify their continuance in the council of ministers.

The judge, Srivastava, said, “The court has to see whether there is any evidence available on record to sustain the chargesheet and whether there is a just basis for the framing of charges.” On the basis of what the law calls the application of the judicial mind to the evidence tendered and contested before the court, the judge held that “it is clearly established that the accused person (Advani) acted in the demolition of the disputed structure”.

Moreover, said the hon’ble court, “it is crystal clear” that the BJP, in cohorts with the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal, “hatched a criminal conspiracy due to which the disputed structure was pulled down”. Thus, “on the basis of the evidence available on challan”, the court found that “prima facie evidence under section 120-B is established” against 38 of the 40 persons accused, including our three honourable ministers (and so are they all, all honourable men — excluding, of course, Uma Bharti who is no less honourable but not a man).

The court further found that “prima facie offences” under six other sections of the IPC, read with section 149 IPC, had been made out “against accused persons Shri Lal Krishna Advani” (the first named) and, inter alia, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti. The court also found “on the basis of evidence produced by the prosecution” that the three ministers, in addition to several others, had also committed “a prima facie offence under section 120-B” read with five other sections of the IPC. Therefore, concluded the hon’ble judge, “they are charged under the aforesaid offences” and “directed to be presented in the court…for the framing of charges”.

The high court has reserved its orders on whether the case is to go forward in the sessions court. Therefore, as of now, the charges as laid by the additional sessions judge stand. In exactly the same circumstances, Harin Pathak, the BJP’s former minister of state for defence production, has resigned or been made to resign. The BJP insisted on the resignation of Rameshwar Thakur, the former Congress minister of state for revenue, when the joint parliamentary committee on the securities scandal made a passing reference to a minor indiscretion on his part. Parliament was held up for 13 consecutive days. Now, when the boot is on the other foot, it seems not to pinch the BJP and its NDA allies.

Parliamentary decorum, the principle of responsibility and accountability to Parliament, and the independence of our investigating agencies, government prosecutors and the judiciary, all demand that the three ministers step aside and present themselves for trial. If they are found innocent, we can look forward to seeing them back on the front rows of the treasury benches. And if they are found guilty, we can look forward to seeing them in jail. Satyameva jayate.    

A large number of people in India are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. According to the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, the total HIV positive population in India at the end of 1999 was 3.7 million, second only to South Africa’s 4.1 million. Since India’s population is much larger than South Africa’s, HIV prevalence rate among adults in India is only 0.7 per cent compared to 19.94 per cent in South Africa.

Female sex workers are usually most vulnerable to the infection mainly because their clients are often unwilling to use condoms despite persuasion by the former. The first serologically confirmed HIV infection in India was detected in 10 out of 102 sex workers tested in Chennai in 1986. By the mid-Nineties, at least a quarter of the sex workers in cities like Hyderabad, Madurai, New Delhi, Puri, Tirupati and Vellore were infected with the disease. In the Northeast, intravenous drug use is the primary cause of HIV transmission. In Manipur, the prevalence of HIV in sex workers has increased to over 70 per cent in just four years.

Check the spread

Initially, the government of India tried to deny the seriousness of the AIDS menace in India. By mid-1992, the National Aids Control Organization was formed to formulate and oversee all AIDS prevention and control efforts in the country. Recently, the NACO has allocated the main responsibility of AIDS prevention and control activities to the states.

The states vary considerably in their performance of various prevention activities such as raising awareness about HIV among people, promoting use of condoms, providing HIV free blood for transfusion and taking steps so that intravenous drug users do not share infected needles.

The government programmes for the prevention and control of AIDS have received financial and technical support from various international organizations like the World Bank, UNAIDS, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries. Many non-governmental organizations within the country working on AIDS receive funds from government agencies.

Some state and community projects have been successful. For example, the Tamil Nadu government, worried that the HIV infection rate among pregnant women in the state had tripled to 1.5 per cent in two years, set up the AIDS Society. This body worked with NGOs to develop a vigorous AIDS prevention campaign. The innovative safe sex campaign targeted at the young sexually active male was a big success.

Success story

The STD/HIV Intervention Project in Sonagachi, a red light area in Calcutta, is an internationally recognized example of a successful prevention project. It has succeeded in keeping the HIV prevalence rate in this area less than five per cent, whereas elsewhere it is as high as 25 per cent. The main reason for this is that female sex workers in Sonagachi are no longer as powerless as in other areas in persuading and compelling clients to use condoms.

They have made this possible through an association of their own called Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee. With its 40,000 odd members all over West Bengal, the DMSC has enabled the sex workers to achieve many rights and privileges which were beyond their dreams even a decade ago.

If the current prevention efforts of the Central government, state governments and NGOs can be sustained, India may be able to avoid the disastrous situation regarding AIDS which many African countries are already faced with. Or else, we will have to deal with a problem larger than that of the enormous growth in population.    


Mountain moles

Sir — V.R. Raghavan’s article, “Winning combinations” (Nov 28), describes how defective the synchronization among the three wings of the defence forces in India is. In the past, this led to the partial and indecisive outcomes of the three pre-Kargil wars. However, the writer inadvertently fails to point out the lack of preparedness in the armed forces. In August 1945, mujaheds entered Kashmir. They somehow managed to elude the expensive intelligence network that the Indian forces had built up. The ploy was exposed owing to some shepherds in the area who had the good sense to report them. Thirty-four years later, infiltrators tried the same thing again. Ironically, this time too, shepherds came to the rescue of the Indian defence forces and not the intelligence agencies. It is about time that we got a better (especially aerial) surveillance network going. The Indian Space Research Organization and the Defence Research and Development Organization should start working in tandem.
Yours faithfully,
Amitava Chakraborty, Howrah

Playing ball

Sir — The contents of the report, “Strict on Azhar, soft on Jadeja”. (Nov 30), were quite stunning. If it has been proved that these cricketers are guilty then why is the Board of Control for Cricket in India delaying the declaration of a suitable punishment for the guilty players? Moreover, the ban on cricketing for life is hardly adequate punishment in this case. These people have cheated millions of cricket fans. Over the years, people have bought tickets and thronged the galleries but they did not do so to watch a game that has already been fixed. They have been robbed left, right and centre. Besides, Manoj Prabhakar and Ajay Sharma have retired from their cricketing careers. What is the point in banning them from cricket?

When it is proved that Jadeja had links with the bookies and punters, why should anyone be lenient with him? After all, he has also violated the principles of the game just like the others. He should be treated accordingly. Ideally, they should all be put behind bars. But if indeed there is no law in this country that can send these people to jail then the laws of the land need to be changed at once and such a provision should be immediately included.

Yours faithfully
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

Sir — The report, “Strict on Azhar, soft on Jadeja”, shows how the judiciary and the allied bodies in India function, leaving room for manoeuvre by pockets of administrative power. Since the board’s stance regarding Ajay Jadeja smacks of such partisan treatment, the issue should now be arbitrated upon by the Centre, rather than by the autonomous bodies like the Central Bureau of Investigation.

If the board indeed spares Jadeja, it will be difficult to contain the wrath of the minorities, who will invariably construe the step as an example of stepmotherly attitude towards them. Government intervention seems inevitable if the crisis is to be resolved.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir — Reports have clearly pointed out that Mohammed Azharuddin has been involved in matchfixing and other related scandals to make money, and by doing so, he has cheated the whole nation.

He should be punished, and the punishments should be extremely severe. Its purpose should not only be for Azharuddin to feel that he has made a mistake, but it should also be a moral lesson for future generations who play this sport in India.

With hindsight it appears embarrassing to have run after these so-called celebrities for their autographs. We had no business admiring them in the commercials they appear in and in their interviews. A good cricket match brings the nation to a standstill. Everybody seems to be paralysed by the event. Innumerable man-hours are wasted. But what has all this brought us? Our devotion to this pre-planned drama was completely misplaced. These people should be punished in an exemplary way.

Yours faithfully,
S. Sundaresan, Dubai

Sir — Why does Raj Singh Dungarpur insist that “till the guilt is proved, consideration must be given to the ‘contribution’ of those in the dock”? Hasn’t the guilt of Mohammed Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja been proved conclusively? Moreover, BCCI’s rule-book clearly specifies that the board shall have the power to call into question the conduct of any player within its jurisdiction and may take such action as it deems fit.

One wonders why, in spite of having such clear guidelines, the board is dilly-dallying over the question of punishment. This is all the more unfortunate, since the first breakthrough was made in India with the naming of Hansie Cronje, and the South African cricket board took little time to ban Cronje from the game for life.

Yours faithfully,
Sankar Lal Singh, Calcutta

Sir — The suggestions offered in the forthright editorial, “Wrong ’un” (Dec 1), urging exemplary punishment for the tainted cricketers, are welcome. True, the BCCI is behaving in a way that suggests that the matchfixing issue has a lot of grey areas. The personal dealings of the members of the BCCI with the tainted cricketers should not obstruct the course of law.

Now that the allegations of matchfixing have been proved, it seems that cricket in the last few years has not been played in the way it ought to have been played. Therefore, Sachin Tendulkar’s leadership qualities cannot be blamed entirely for India’s poor performances during this period. It has been revealed now that deficient captaincy had little to do with India’s losses in the last couple of years.

Hence, to be fair to the former captain, captaincy of the Indian team should be offered to Tendulkar once more by the BCCI — whether he accepts it or not is immaterial.

Yours faithfully,
B.C. Dutta, Calcutta

Short of work

Sir — That the junior cabinet minis-ters are complaining of being under-employed, speaks volumes about the management — or the lack of it — at the highest level of the nation (“PM takes notice of out-of-work ministers”, Nov 25). This exposes how the wealth of the country is frittered away to induct ministers in order to pay lip service to the various quotas of caste, race, religion and region.

On top of this, there is another factor — the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance craving for the inclusion of as many of their members of parliament in the ministry. A voluntary retirement scheme is the common prescription for such a malaise. Why is this not applied to the ministries at the Centre and also in the states?

Yours faithfully,
C.R. Bhattacharjee, Calcutta

Sir — It is impossible to understand why the 15 junior ministers who met Atal Behari Vajpayee want to be allotted more work when hundreds of their predecessors in earlier cabinets were content with seeing their names on the government payrolls. Surely they are aware that in India, it is only the secretaries who are employed, while the senior ministers are under-employed and their deputies are expected to spend fileless days.

Perhaps in future, conscientious senior ministers will meet the prime minister to let off steam. With the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main constituent of the NDA, bogged down with internal contradictions, the recent defeat in Gujarat and the possibility of another in Uttar Pradesh soon, the meeting of the junior ministers may well be a precursor to the true fileless days for the members of the Vajpayee government.

Yours faithfully,
R. Balasubramanian, Calcutta

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