Editorial 1/ Court is supreme
Editorial 2/ Peace of death
Goals and illusions
Fifth Column/ Getting ready for the bodybags
Not one inch to the sadhubabas
Document/ Investments for a better future
Letters to the editor

A verdict of the Supreme Court has a ring of finality about it. Implicit within any judgment from the apex court is the assumption that its orders will be obeyed by all Indian citizens and that the government of the day will exercise its authority to implement the court�s orders. Thus it is reasonable to conclude that peace will prevail in Ayodhya on the Ides of March. The Supreme Court has decreed that status quo should be maintained on the 67.70 acres of land which are part of the Babri Masjid and Ramjanmabhoomi complex. The apex court has disallowed any �religious activity of any kind by anyone either symbolic or actual including bhumi puja or shila puja��. This order came despite the Central government�s plea through the attorney-general, Mr Soli Sorabjee, that the court should allow a symbolic puja after imposing stringent conditions and restrictions. The court turned down the plea and made the significant observation, obiter dicta, that the permission given for the symbolic puja at the disputed site in 1992 had resulted in the demolition of the disputed structure despite assurances given by the government. It would not be unfair to read in this observation a profound mistrust on the part of the apex court about the real intentions of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas. To further safeguard the status quo, the court has also ordered that no part of this land which the government had acquired can be handed over by the government to anyone. The Supreme Court has not only defused the situation but has also saved India�s secular face.

This very role of the highest court of the country � laudable in this particular instance � draws attention to certain alarming features of Indian society and polity. These point to the immaturity of civil society and to the vulnerability of its institutions. The judiciary alone cannot be seen to be responsible for resolving problems affecting the secular fabric of Indian society. In fact, the judiciary should be the last resort. In India, it is often made the first resort because there is a suspicion about the effectiveness and, even at times, the motives of the executive and the other organs of civil society. One extreme example of this immaturity is the demand that the VHP should provide a written assurance that it would abide by the court�s decision even if this went against the position of the VHP. In a mature civil society no such assurance would be required; it would be taken for granted that the court�s verdict would always be honoured. It is to be welcomed that better sense seems to be prevailing and no body is seriously talking any more about defying the court�s judgment. The prime minister, Mr A.B. Vajpayee, has announced that his government will uphold the court�s judgment. He must ensure that there is no violence in Ayodhya on March 15. He would be unfair to himself and to the nation if he fails to keep his promise.


The West Bengal government should have taken note of the unhealthy excitement in Hasnabad on the day the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called a bandh against the burning of the train in Godhra. There have been adequate indications that West Bengal is no longer the secular heaven it was supposed to be, and that the presence of the left has not been able to check the insidious entry of Hindutva outfits, especially in the districts. Complacency is always a precursor to unpleasant surprises. The state administration was almost asking for the unfortunate incident at Taldi in the Canning area to happen. There was no need to allow such a large number of people with obvious intentions to flaunt a particular religion to get together at a time the country is tense with expectations of the worst kind of violence. The ensuing confrontation with the police, which left one person dead and six people injured, has led to a truly sorry aftermath. The ugliness of the incident has underlined the state�s unpreparedness, which is inexcusable, not only in the context of what is happening in the rest of the country but also in the context of the recent debate over the chief minister�s remarks on madrasah reform. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee�s instructions to the administration to be on relentless vigil against Hindutva peddlers coming this way should not have been necessary at all. By asking sabhadhipatis of the zilla parishads to mobilize public opinion against the VHP, especially those trying to perform Ram shila pujas in public, the chief minister has tried to attack the problem at the root. It is not merely such pujas that need to be stalled, but the insidious saffronization of public opinion.

But Mr Bhattacharjee should have sounded the alert on another front as well. If passivity in the face of AK-47s marked the failure of the police in the American Center incident, over-activity when faced with an unarmed crowd marked their failure at Taldi. The use of water cannons to disperse crowds is a time-worn and universally used method. If West Bengal is unsure of its water supply during an emergency, rubber bullets could have done the job. Why the police must open fire except in cases of extreme provocation, and aim, on top of that, everywhere except below the knee, is something that remains inexplicable. The police have to be retrained if they have forgotten what is in the manual. But the greatest training they need is in morale and sensitivity and, perhaps, in professional decorum. Incidents such as the one at Taldi defeats the purpose of the government and gives disruptive forces a useful handle. At least this should not happen again.


Is the latest Central budget a harbinger of economic doom? Or, does it signal the dawn of a new era of wealth and happiness? Whichever way one poses the question, it sounds rather hollow. The budget is an annual exercise, a plan for the next 365 days, even though proponents and critics alike stretch its significance beyond legitimate limits.

One of the very first things that a student of economics is taught is the Marshallian divide between the short and the long run. True, the distinction is somewhat blurred. Yet, it makes him vaguely aware that the first of the �runs� concerns events of immediate relevance, while the second deals with distant ones. A corresponding separation occurs between tools devised for studying the near future and those reserved for understanding occurrences over a long span of time. A budget, by its very nature, is expected to focus on the first set of tools. Political parties, on the other hand, cannot afford to overlook the second. Accordingly, budget documents are notorious for their covert attempts to pass off short-run policies as long-run economic stimulants.

A much abused long-run concept is the expression �rate of growth of GDP�. Clearly, the gross domestic product is itself a short-run variable for production during a year. Its rate of growth, however, usually refers to a trend, experienced over several years. During these, the economy could take an occasional dip or two, but they must be more than compensated by years of upswings, to produce a positive rate of growth calculated for the whole period.

A budget that is devoted to growth is therefore a dubious document. A low level of GDP in the previous year, followed by a reasonable level during the present, can lead to a high annual rate of growth, with next to no implication for the trend per se. The primary component of the so-called growth-oriented 2002 budget is the Rs 37,000 crore set aside for investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure investment (on roads, education, health services) and, for that matter, any other investment in real capital formation (such as plants, machinery and so on), create incomes and employment for the people producing the objects of investment. These must be weighed, however, against the possibly depressing effects of other clauses of the budget.

As far as the latter go, the present budget seeks to reduce the spendable incomes in the hands of the middle class. This has been achieved in two ways. First, the income tax surcharge has increased and tax rebates gone down. Second, interest rates on government approved bonds have been slashed to as low as 8 per cent. Lower incomes lead to lower demand and lower output. The net effect of the fall and the rise cannot be predicted with certainty. Assume, however, that it will be positive, even if small. Things would be better still if private investment accentuates the effects of the government�s programmes. It may well happen too, if for one serendipitous reason or the other, the business climate improves. The purpose of the budget exercise will then be well served. A year from now, the government will be proposing a toast to the economy�s high growth performance, treating the trend as a matter of inconsequential detail.

Can a positive impact on growth, annual or otherwise, arise from the financial measures announced in the budget? If so, it must be on account of greater availability of liquid funds for investment. In this context, the government has initiated one more step � the imposition of a ceiling on investments in government of India relief bonds. People wishing to reinvest matured proceeds from these bonds, or those who are retiring will face an impasse. They will have no risk-free financial securities to invest in. Making a certain type of financial instrument unavailable ensures that the majority of investors will move on to others. Some analysts want us to believe that this will lead to the emergence of a healthy and free financial sector, a sine qua non for economic upturns.

The viewpoint is not devoid of wisdom. As far as investors in financial instruments go, increasing reliance on a freely functioning stock market leads to mature use of the instruments and ultimately better returns on one�s hard-earned savings. And assuming (quite unreasonably during a recession) that there is no lack of demand for funds by firms for investment in plant, the economy will buoy upwards with the help of funds evicted from government schemes.

The argument carries weight only when a well-developed private capital market is already in existence, which is hardly the case for India. If anything, the share market scenario is bizarre and unattractive to average investors. The risks of being hoodwinked as well as the transaction costs of apprehending frauds are impossibly high. A lackadaisical and sometimes corrupt system of penalty enforcement inevitably drives risk averse individuals away from stock market participation. To wish such individuals to turn around and begin to invest in stocks and mutual funds is no different from leading a child to the riverside on a stormy evening for his first swimming lesson.

Where then would the average investors� funds be headed? Two such instruments may be distinguished. The first consists of existing second-hand shares directly traded in the stock market. These are not overly attractive instruments, for reasons already cited above. The second possibility is to invest in traditional stores of value, precious metals and stones � gold, diamond and so on. Such investment had begun to wane in the recent past on account of the availability of lucrative and safe government-backed financial securities. In their absence now, one expects to see a rise in the price of the precious metals and stones following from speculation in these markets. In fact, contrary to what one might expect, this is likely to divert funds away from productive channels. Worse, it might fuel the parallel black economy.

Why, one should ask, is the government keen to wash its hands of the popular middle-class savings schemes? Fresh loans, we are told, are being used up for paying interest on old debts, leaving nothing for productive investment. Should the reverse not be true though? Had there been productive investment opportunities for the government, the incomes from these could have been used to pay off debts. Actually, such avenues do not exist and, in their absence, it is convenient for the government to trade risks with the public, by reducing its obligations in terms of interest rates as well as principal borrowed. The fall in the interest rates brings relief primarily to the government and not private investors. Indeed, to date, there is no significant work in economics that succeeds in linking private investment behaviour to interest rates on loans.

Could the government have resorted to money-printing to make interest and other payments, rather than resort to higher taxation? What is so holy about containing the size of the deficit? First, there is pressure from foreign sources. Why monetize the deficit when foreigners stand willing to lend their excess funds? Second, money creation, unless backed by an increased flow of real production, causes a high rate of inflation and eats into the nominal value interest receipts, thus reducing the latter to an effectively low rate. By directly reducing the rate, the government is doing what inflation would have done indirectly. Inflation is a politically costly option for the government to follow. Come budget time a year on, the government would be closer to the next election. It is tougher to face the electorate with a track record of inflationary policies.

Whichever way one looks at it, the budget is concerned with short-run goals. Invariably though, it is designed to create long-run illusions.

The author is professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta


Nine killed and forty wounded in one day is not unusual in traditional military operations. The Israelis, who have less than a fortieth of the United States of America�s population, lost that many in a single day last week. The Afghans, who are outnumbered twenty-to-one by Americans, have probably lost that many people in war every day for the past 23 years. But Americans may have lost the knack.

This is no criticism of Americans. Being willing to sacrifice your young men in huge numbers in war without flinching is no reason for pride. Old-fashioned societies can do it because they still have the warrior ethic, but more important, because they don�t actually have to watch the kids die. Television changes all that, and creates the phenomenon of �casualty aversion�.

There is now a belief in Washington D.C. that this was a passing phenomenon, ended by popular outrage after the events of September 11. The US president, George W. Bush, is convinced of this, as witness his remarks after the US�s losses on Sunday in the Gardez operation in Afghanistan: �I think any time somebody loses their life, the American people will mourn and feel sad � and I feel that way too. On the other hand, I am just as determined now as I was a week ago or three months ago to fulfil this mission....�

Vietnam revisited

The mission, as Bush has formulated it in the past couple of months, is not just to eliminate al Qaida, but also to achieve the unrelated goal of destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. That task could not realistically be accomplished without committing several hundred thousand American ground troops, but at the White House, there is confidence that Americans are now willing to accept much higher levels of casualties because of their fear of �terrorism�.

These first few American casualties in Afghanistan are therefore a kind of litmus test. If public and media concern about casualties at this level die down after a few days, then you can at least argue that a military operation on the scale of Iraq is politically feasible in the US in 2002. If not, then not. My money is still on �not�. I continue to doubt that the Bush administration would launch its own mini-Vietnam.

For the US, the whole story of �casualty aversion� began with Vietnam: the public�s quite unforeseen rebellion at the waste of 55,000 American lives in that war has shaped American strategy for over a generation. By the Somalia intervention in 1993, when the killing of 19 American soldiers in a single day led to the hasty withdrawal of 30,000 US troops, it led to the informal rule known as the �Mogadishu line�, which stated that no future US military intervention overseas would be undertaken if it looked likely to involve even a few dozen American deaths.

Unacceptable deaths

So ever since the Vietnam war, but with more emphasis since 1993, the US government has invested vast sums of money in developing weapons that would enable the country to fight and win wars without unacceptable casualties � indeed, if possible, without any casualties at all. In recent years this techno-fix has seen some notable successes, though only against third-rate opponents.

From Bosnia to Kosovo to Afghanistan (until last Sunday), the enemies crumbled under the twin assaults of American air-power plus local auxiliaries who did the actual fighting on the ground. But the local ground troops (if they are even available, which they probably wouldn�t be in Iraq) have their own agendas, and don�t necessarily want to die for Washington�s. Which is why the US had to commit a thousand ground troops to the Gardez operation � and started losing people.

�Boots on the ground� means body-bags. It can�t be helped: mortar rounds come in, people step on mines, they get sniped. But if you�re serious about taking down any reasonably competent regime � and �evil� is often competent � then you must be able to take casualties. It is still not clear that the US can.

Maybe the US will attack Iraq this spring, but my guess is that it won�t. There�s a lot of mileage in a good bluff.


The most important political issue tearing the nation apart is mediated by a little-known figure wrapped in ochre robes, smeared with ash and clutching a stick with a small cloth tied to it. His intervention is initially presented as a breakthrough � elbowing as it does another ochred group of trishul-waving devotees while negotiating with the opposing forces of the representatives of religious personal law. The latter later reject the deal and are castigated by an irrepressible imam. Welcome to 21st century India, Hindu rashtra in the making � or are we there already? Perhaps we are in the transitional phase when the era of pandering to every form of religious sentiment in the name of secularism has given way to a sort of theocratic medley. Holy men of all manner of persuasion have been flooding the nation�s capital with no less zeal than the Ram sevaks� thronging to Faizabad district. They are negotiating over mandirs and masjids, shila-pujans and garbhagrihas. They are seers, held in the highest respect by the nation, we are told. Public figures gratefully assign to them the task of working out a mutually satisfactory deal that will deliver deliverance from Ayodhya.

With respect, then � who is the sankaracharya of Kanchi to determine India�s political destiny? Who are the All India Muslim Personal Law Board? Not to mention the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, assorted other saffron fronts and bearded seers who now hold center-stage in India�s political arena. Barely had the Narayana Murthys and Azim Premjis managed to displace the image of the land of elephants, snake-charmers and maharajas than we are back to the real world of medieval obscurantism, savagery and sadhubabas. Fifty years after we slaughtered our way to our tryst with the transfer of power, Hindus and Muslims still burn each other alive. The government fiddles, the world watches aghast. The law-enforcers say it is a societal sentiment and do nothing. The state announces compensation that rates the lives of Ram sevaks twice as valuable as those of other citizens.

Not satisfied with allowing religion to take over politics through the dangerous game of playing politics with religion, the nation�s political leaders proceed to renounce their responsibilities in favour of two other authorities � the courts, where various elements of the Ayodhya dispute have been languishing for years, and the sants. Instead of bearding the ones we had, we now invite the smeared ones as well. Other countries are accused of harbouring Muslim fundamentalists. �Secular� India can boast of showcasing a full range of fanatics on its political canvas.

What is getting lost in the combined assault of legalistic quibbles and the holy war waged through petty rituals is that Ayodhya is not a property dispute, but it is a battle over space all right. It is a battle over political space, over control of political discourse. During the increasingly bloody decade and a half since India�s first computer-inclined prime minister decided to open this can of worms in a monumentally misguided attempt to play Hindu and Muslim �cards� simultaneously, Ayodhya has become a battleground for the fundamental questions of identity, representation and the true meaning of a secular state. In other words, it is a battle over the very founding principles of what modern, independent India was supposed to be all about. India is losing this battle. India is losing because India�s political representatives are ceding this space.

The abrogation of responsibility in the Ayodhya dispute in favour of sants and seers has ceded an unquantifiably large chunk of political space to the obscurantist practice of religion. Ironically, it is the younger generation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, with a stake in its political future, who have the most to lose from this self-inflicted walkover. Every inch of ground ceded to obscurantist holinesses is a foot of political future lost to younger, modern-minded BJP aspirants. And with their marginalization, out goes the possibility of a modern political party for the future to be forged out of what was created as the political arm of a crusade. Ayodhya, which made the party, may in this way prove its unmaking as well.

In the ominous shadow of a new Ides of March, the �Muslim appeasement� thesis has made an unwelcome reappearance, with a curious twist. It is astounding to hear even non-temple-going young Turks of the ruling party argue in this hour of crisis that the answer to alleged past Muslim appeasement is the appeasement of Hindu sentiment, without which the modernists will apparently cease to represent the majority of Indians. In actual fact, the problem with Indian �secularism� was not Muslim appeasement, but the indulgence in mass appeasement of all forms of religion in the name of secularism. But if the urban modernists of the ruling party are concerned about their political base, ceding the right of majority representation to obscurantists is surely political suicide for this very group. Nothing seems to have been learnt from the folly of allowing the leadership of the Muslim community to be cornered for far too long by self-styled men of god. Nor any lessons from the folly of neighbouring countries in trying to harness religious fanaticism for political ends.

Kicking the issue upstairs to the courts is ultimately a red herring. Quite apart from the doubt that fanatical bands with scant regard for civil society would suddenly turn respectful of the law, Ayodhya is simply not a legal problem. It is a political problem and it requires political answers, to be given by political representatives of modern India. Even the rosiest imagined long-term court-enforced �solution� to the Ayodhya dispute, which envisions a mosque, a temple as well as a variety of civic institutions on the land around the destroyed masjid, is a mirage. This vicious and vitriolic game has been played for far too long for the site at Ayodhya to become one of peaceful coexistence of temples, mosques and libraries. If ever it comes about it is likely to remain a flashpoint for conflict between competing fanaticisms rather than a model of peace and harmony � a partitioned India in miniature, but just as lethal.

The proposed temple has come to symbolize different things to different people, all of them political. Hence a silent wellspring of support for the movement even from people who are not temple-goers, or those who do not even believe in the divinity of Ram. Kar sevaks are cropping up in Bengal, in whose tradition Ram is not a god but the hero of a mahakavya, but where communal antipathy simmers in bhadralok drawing rooms with as much venom as the bylanes of small-town Uttar Pradesh. In the ugly climate of communalization, Ayodhya has become a proxy for the assertion of dominance by the 80 per cent over the perceived uppitiness of the allegedly appeased 12 per cent. Communal distrust, always lurking just under the surface, has been thoroughly incited by the use of the imagined birthplace of a fictional character. Ayodhya has been used so effectively as an instrument that principled opposition to the entire idea is now confined to an ever-shrinking minority, the members of which may soon have to declare themselves roving republics of individuality as well.

Abid Hasan, one of Subhas Chandra Bose�s closest aides, used to recount a story of how members of the Indian National Army had once planned a �surprise� for their leader during a barracks inspection. By then � incredibly it seems today � Bose had managed to completely integrate his men, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, in the greater cause of the struggle for freedom. They lived together, ate together, trained and fought together. And so they planned to surprise him with a common prayer, to demonstrate that they could now also worship together. A prayer was composed, addressed to �duniya ki malik�, and duly performed when Bose arrived. He said nothing then. Later, he called Hasan to give him a severe berating for this attempt at religious integration.

Hasan remembered feeling shocked and hurt initially, but slowly came to appreciate Bose�s approach. If you use religion to unite, Bose said, it can also be used to divide. Religion was a private matter, to be pursued separately by individuals. It had no place in public life. Secularists in independent India did not follow this prescription. Today�s political aspirants would do well to appreciate its essence. Not one inch of space should be ceded to religion, in Ayodhya or any other site in the nation�s public life. Enough of their holinesses � let us beard the lot.


The government of India has been trying to create an awareness towards moderation of demand and the adoption of a consumption pattern which would not leave a deleterious impact on the environment. The government, for example, has embarked on an extensive awareness campaign through the print and television media to stress the need to save scarce water, energy, and petroleum resources.

This is in conformity with the importance given by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in his thinking on nation and character building.

Programmes for policy makers, industries, and/or consumers designed to educate and raise their awareness for more sustainable consumption and production patterns include training and awareness programmes on Ecomark schemes, on comparative testing, on the bureau of Indian standards, general consumer awareness.

Awareness campaign programmes to promote sustainable consumption patterns are carried out through programmes of the quality council of India and others.

The kinds of national information available to assist both decision-makers and industry managers to plan and implement appropriate policies and programmes in this area include: status, data, notifications, standards, policy documents.

There is a monitoring system in place to oversee enforcement of relevant laws, regulations and standards, ...carried out by the state pollution control boards, their regional offices, and regional offices of the ministry of environment and forests. Environment indicators are being developed under the environment management capacity building project.

Research and pilot projects and activities are underway in the following areas: life cycle assessment, green rating. Clean and environmentally sound technologies are promoted and applied through statutory requirements, general awareness, creating demand for sustainable projects, encouraging industries, creation of data bank on cleaner techniques, creating of infrastructure.

Other technology-related issues being addressed are the involvement of financial institutions for financial assistance, development of standards, capacity building infrastructure awareness, and financing.

Activities in this area are financed by the national budget and through external assistance. Cooperation is carried out between the government and the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, the Asian Development Bank and through bilateral arrangements with a few countries in order to further activities related to promoting sustainable consumption and production patterns.

The government has embarked on a macro-economic stabilization programme since 1991. Structural reforms in foreign trade and payments, the tax system, the industrial policy, and the financial sector have been undertaken, all of which are likely to have implications for the environment. While the government is attempting to raise resources internally for sustainable development, the importance of international assistance cannot be minimized.

In respect of investments, including foreign investments, the entrepreneurs are required to obtain statutory clearances relating to pollution control and environment for setting up an industrial project. A notification issued under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has listed 29 projects in respect of which environmental clearance needs to be obtained from the ministry of environment and forests. This list includes industries like petro-chemical complexes, petroleum refineries, cement, thermal power plants, bulk drugs, fertilizers, dyes, paper, etc.

However, if investment is less than Rs 500 million, such clearance is not necessary, unless it is for pesticides, bulk drugs and pharmaceuticals, asbestos and asbestos products, integrated paint complexes, mining projects, tourism projects of certain parameters, tarred roads in Himalayan areas, distilleries, dyes, foundries and electroplating industries.

Further, any item reserved for the small-scale sector with investment of less than Rs 10 million is also exempt from obtaining environmental clearance.

Powers have been delegated to the state governments for granting environmental clearance for certain categories of thermal power plants. Setting up industries in certain locations considered ecologically fragile (the Aravalli range, the coastal areas, the Doon valley, Dahanu etc.) are guided by separate guidelines issued by the ministry.

India�s eighth five year plan was drafted in the context of severe resource constraints, and a serious balance of payments situation. The sources of financing projected in the plan differ from earlier plans in that it seeks to reduce dependence on borrowing, domestic as well as foreign, and on deficit financing, placing greater reliance on resource mobilization and economy in government expenditure. The plan contemplates an investment of Rs 7,980 billion. Considerable reliance is placed on savings of the household sector.

The process to identify environmentally unsustainable subsidy is ongoing, and measures are being taken to phase them out. Last year, the government of Kerala had agreed to phase out subsidies to pulp wood producers over a period of five years.

To be concluded



Time to act

Sir � It was disappointing to read the report, �Buddha shelves crime bill� (March 12). Also surprising were the reasons given by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for doing so, which seem to contradict his earlier eagerness to combat organized crime. Given that Bhattacharjee himself had reiterated the need to pass the prevention of crime ordinance in the past, it is difficult to understand what could have changed between then and now. Has law and order in West Bengal improved radically in the last few weeks? Bhattacharjee himself admits that extremist groups like the Kamtapur Liberation Organization have become active in north Bengal. Surely this gives more ammunition to the chief minister to argue for the passage of the bill. Bhattacharjee should realize that there is little use waiting for the Centre�s prevention of terrorism ordinance to be passed. He, probably, knows it best. That is why it is all the more unfortunate to see him capitulate to the apparatchiki of Alimuddin Street so abjectly.
Yours faithfully,
Tapati Haldar, Calcutta

Divide and rue

Sir � As has rightly been pointed out by the article, �A void at the centre� (March 7), neither the Central government nor the state government in Gujarat can come up with an excuse that might explain their complacency in dealing with the Godhra massacre. The inaction of the two governments is all the more shocking given that the country has been engulfed by communal and sectarian violence many times in the past. The riots in Godhra are tragic not only because they resulted in the death of people from both the communities, but also because they could have been avoided had the state government taken prompt action.

Sham Lal has rightly premised that nations should not be built on shared memories but on the willingness to look beyond the past. The inability to brush aside past wrongs and an indulgence in the politics of vengeance can have disastrous consequences, as the Gujarat riots have demonstrated. What is even more astonishing is the way in which the National Democratic Alliance has refused to accept responsibility for the riots. Gujarat has once again reiterated the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party cannot be trusted. It is imperative that the opposition parties realize that until the Ayodhya dispute is settled once and for all, communal violence will recur again.

Yours faithfully,
Sunanda Gupta, Cuttack

Sir � Sham Lal rightly laments in �A void at the centre� the fragility of Indian unity, wherein even the slightest threat can result in a major conflagration. The regular eruptions of sectarian violence have left a question mark over India�s national integrity. Behind the apparent facade of the peace-loving Indian society, lie dangerous passions that flare up whenever the interests of a particular group, community or sect are hurt. Lal has rightly stated that fake displays of unity cannot hide the deepening communal divide.

Yours faithfully,
Kajal Chatterjee, Sodepur

Sir �Sham Lal�s analysis of the Godhra massacre and its aftermath though relatively free of bias, is way off the mark. The so-called secular parties like Mulayam Singh Yadav�s Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have, together with the communists, pandered to the wishes of the minority community and have subsequently alienated Hindus. Successive governments in India have indulged in vote bank politics and have ignored the mushrooming of madrasahs or their role in terrorist activities. Perhaps the Ayodhya dispute would not have gone out of hand had politicians like Syed Sahabuddin not played their part in fanning communal sentiments.

Yours faithfully,
R.H. Putran, Calcutta

Just an accident?

Sir � Our son is a student of St James School. In the locality where we live, some of us parents had formed a car pool to take our children to school and to bring them back.

On January 28, 2002, a car belonging to one of the parents, while being driven by his driver, hit a tram head-on near the Maidan. One look at the smashed car will show that it was being driven at a high speed. Our ten-year-old son sustained severe head injuries, a fractured leg and was bleeding profusely.

Instead of taking him to the hospital, the driver took his employer�s child to the Calcutta Medical and Research Institute, abandoning our profusely bleeding child on the road. Our son was taken by passers-by to Seth Sukhlal Karnani Memorial hospital in an extremely critical condition.

At the SSKM hospital, the doctors put several crude stitches to his forehead, but did not administer the much-needed drip. We arrived at SSKM to find our child lying unconscious and going rapidly into shock. Each time we asked the doctors what had happened to him and why no drip had been given, we were asked to go to the counter outside and get a ticket made. There were hordes of people standing around, mere curious onlookers.

By the grace of god, we managed to get the child out of SSKM to the Park Clinic. By that time, the boy had lost his pulse, and Drs Subir and Sandeep Chatterjee somehow revived him after they worked on him for over an hour.

Almost all those who are victims of accidents that take place in south Calcutta are taken to SSKM. Is this the fate that awaits all that are taken there?

This was not the last of our nasty shocks. It seems that some influence is being used somewhere to subvert justice. The police has taken no action whatsoever against the driver of the car. In fact, the officer of Hastings police station assigned to the case has filed a report that the driver is absconding. But the driver has been spotted a number of times in and around his employer�s residence.

Calcutta has shown us two faces through this incident � on the one hand the largesse of the passers-by, the miraculous caring of Drs Chatterjee, and on the other hand, the callousness of the doctors at SSKM.

I write this in the hope that parents who trust car pools, paid or otherwise, should take pains to make their pools more secure. I hope this letter will also urge those at the helm of SSKM to look into the dismal conditions that prevail there, so that other accident victims, especially children, who are taken there may get better treatment than our son received. I would also like to appeal to the Calcutta Police to have the matter investigated, so that the people of this city with a soul do not begin to get the impression that justice can be defeated.

Yours faithfully,
Mukul V. Toolsidass, Calcutta

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