Editorial 1/ Smoke signal
Editorial 2/ Born to purple
A matter of selection
Fifth Column/ General on the horns of a dilemma
Mani talk / Parliament stalled again
Document/ On the tracks of fire and hatred
Letters to the editor

Gujarat has exposed the falsity that now lies at the core of governance in India. Circumstances underlined this with bitter irony as renewed violence erupted in and around Gomtipur while the Union defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, was conducting a harmony meeting 10 kilometres away. Seventeen people, including a policeman, have already died, taking the toll of the dead beyond 800. Reportedly, more than 100 people have been hurt in the newest episode. The barest minimum that can be said is that the rule of law has completely collapsed in the state. In this context, the government�s proposal to pull out the army gains a rather sinister aspect. Mr Fernandes evidently stalled that. But what is significant is the return of violence during his visit. On the one hand, there is the repeated statement by representatives of the minority community that they do not trust him. On the other, there is a sense that miscreants feel confident enough to begin murder and destruction all over again while the minister is present in the neighbourhood.

The state government has completely lost credibility. But far more alarming is the fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party, together with its partners in the National Democratic Alliance, is doing nothing about it. The partners are busy trying to work out bargains by making dissident noises, the opposition is still trying to get its act together and feel the waters at the same time, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is cheering from the sidelines, and everyone is frantically talking about �trust� all the while. But the first step of a trust-rebuilding exercise is staring everyone in the face. Mr Narendra Modi must go. To pretend there can be any other beginning to healing is to enter, cold-bloodedly, into a compact with falsehood. It is no use accusing the BJP alone. All the parties are playing the same game. Otherwise the Gujarat government could not have gone as far as it is going now. Both the National Human Rights Commission and the National Minorities Commission have complained that the state has ignored their recommendations. It has rejected the NHRC�s demand for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the worst instances of violence and has refused to produce the list of Hindus killed in police firing that the NMC asked for. The latter would have been an important weapon against misinformation and an indicator of administrative complicity in creating misleading statistics. Besides, the state examination boards were very resistant to the idea of re-tests for the minority community candidates who could not sit their tests, until the Supreme Court took a strong stand. Yet this was not a court matter. The latest flare-up of violence is a sign that it is getting too late to mend matters where minority communities are concerned.


The king does not rule but long live the monarch. The return, amidst popular jubilation, of Mr Mohammad Zahir Shah to Kabul after nearly three decades is evidence of the persisting appeal of monarchy. Yet monarchs who return to their country after being dethroned seldom return to the same realm over which they once ruled. Charles II realized it when he came back to England in 1660 and found that his powers had been clipped and real power lay with the parliament. Mr Shah returns to Kabul not with a crown on his head but as an ordinary citizen with an extraordinary past. When Mr Shah had been forced to go into exile, Afghanistan was a poor and divided country which did not have a voice in international affairs. Many of these features still remain � poverty and the dominance of warring tribes � but a new dimension has now been added to the misery of Afghanistan. The barbaric rule of the taliban came to an end because of the onslaught of the United States of America that followed the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Even today, all the key players in international relations are keen to establish a stable regime in Afghanistan and to ensure peace there. A small and mountainous country has become the centre of the world�s attention. Thus Mr Shah returns not only to a different context but even perhaps to a different country.

The arrival of the former king has stirred many hearts and may have even aroused expectations. There is the feeling that the presence of the former king might help in bringing about some understanding among the warring tribes. This is a matter of speculation. Matters will be decided in June in the loya jirga or the grand council. But the Pashtun majority from southern Afghanistan hopes that the presence of the former king, himself a Pashtun, will facilitate their coming into dominance. The main issue before the loya jirga will be a choice between the interim government of Mr Hamid Karzai, which is backed by the Western powers, and a new government. The interim government has struck a delicate balance between the ethnic Tajiks of northern Afghanistan who led the battle against the taliban regime and the Pashtuns. But above all this looms the larger question of the survival of a regime which does not enjoy the confidence and support of the US. The latter will definitely not endorse any kind of return to Islamic fundamentalism. Mr Shah thus returns at a crucial, if troubled time. His own ambitions, if any, are unclear. The importance of primordial ties in Afghanistan and the welcome accorded to the former king are signs of the absence of modern ideas and institutions in Afghanistan. The ushering in of modernity into Afghanistan, with or without the king, is the real challenge there.


The disclosure that the United States of America has advised Pakistan to hand over the 20 terrorists wanted for trial in India or else to bring them to trial in Pakistan itself is the latest instance of Washington�s understanding of India�s security concerns. This new development in American policy has been in evidence since the Kargil conflict, when Washington�s supportive stance came as a pleasant surprise to New Delhi.

India is eager to build closer relations with the US. In his address to the US senate on October 25, the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, went so far as to declare that the two countries were �natural allies�. This is the first time these words have been used by an Indian prime minister to describe our relations with another country. In the Seventies and Eighties, at a time when we had very close relations with the former Soviet Union, we rejected the thesis (advanced by Cuba and others) that the Soviet Union was a �natural ally� of the non-aligned countries. So what explains Vajpayee�s current readiness to borrow this term in order to apply it to Indo-US relations? Do his words correctly describe our relations with Washington? How extensive and durable are our new ties with the US and what is the basis on which new relations are being built?

India has come to acquire a distinctly higher profile in Washington during the last decade. The change in US perceptions is explained by four factors. First, the end of the Cold War led to a major revision of US policy in south Asia. The termination of the strategic alliance with Pakistan removed the principal impediment to closer ties with India. The US no longer had a reason to sustain a massive arms aid programme for Pakistan. Moreover, in the changed situation, Washington was no longer prepared to turn a blind eye to Pakistan�s clandestine acquisition of nuclear and missile technology from China and North Korea or to its sponsorship of terrorist organizations. The steady decline of the Pakistan economy and the serious law and order situation contributed to declining American interest in that country.

Second, India�s economic reforms since 1992 drew attention to her potential as a partner in trade and investment. Reductions in import tariffs, dismantling of the licensing system, removal of restrictions on the private sector, and liberalization and simplification of regulations for foreign investors stimulated overseas interest in the Indian economy. India�s economic growth rates during this period compared very favourably with global and regional trends. Economic growth was undoubtedly the major reason for India�s heightened profile in the US as well as in Europe during the past 10 years.

Third, the growing non-resident Indian or Indian-American community has played an important part in sensitizing American policymakers to Indian concerns. The pattern of Indian emigration to the US stands out in sharp contrast to the traditional pattern. Whereas the latter involved movement of unskilled workers to Africa, the Caribbeans, southeast Asia and the Gulf, the past few decades have for the first time witnessed emigration of Indian professionals to the US on a substantial scale. The size of the Indian-American community is estimated at 1.7 million and, because it is largely composed of professionals, it is said to have the highest per capita income of any ethnic group in the US. In recent years, the community has involved itself effectively in the American political process and has made its voice heard in influential circles. It has made a major contribution to forging new political, economic and technological ties between India and the US.

Finally, the current US administration appears to be reordering its security priorities. Terrorism has figured prominently in the list of US security concerns since the end of the Cold War, and after September 11 it has moved to the top of the list. This corresponds to India�s own concerns. India has an obvious stake in the success of current US moves to root out terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are also signs of a subtler change in American security perspectives. After Washington�s abandonment of the comprehensive test ban treaty, it has become a non-issue in Indo-US relations. The Bush administration appears to show some understanding of the compulsions behind India�s modest nuclear weapon programme. The focus of the nuclear dialogue has shifted to questions of preventing proliferation, missile defences and related issues. The new position flows from the fact that India�s nuclear weapons programme does not in any way impinge on US security interests. There are even some indications that in the Bush administration�s perception a relatively strong India would better serve the cause of maintaining peace and stability in Asia. In any case, Washington has shifted from an India policy dictated largely by non-proliferation ideologues to a more pragmatic policy based on regional realities.

Thus the US has good reason to seek better ties with India. From India�s viewpoint, the reasons for seeking closer ties are overwhelming and compulsive. The US today is the sole superpower. The rhetoric about multi-polarity which frequently garnishes policy statements of lesser powers � France, Russia, China or India � is a mere declaration of aspirations for a future global order, not a description of current power realities. In actual practice, every major country bases its foreign policy on an implicit recognition of US primacy.

Pursuit of our national interests requires a comprehensive dialogue with the US on major global and regional issues. We should seek opportunities for cooperation wherever our interests coincide. Where US policies are inimical to our interests, we should try to modify American perceptions and, if we do not succeed in the effort, we should resolutely defend our vital security and economic interests. In many areas, US policies do not directly affect our national interests; in such cases, we should resist the temptation to take up cudgels on behalf of others. In earlier periods, espousing other people�s concerns might have yielded dividends in terms of influence in third world forums but such postures will yield no dividends today. India�s foreign policy must be based on a clear-eyed perception of the national interest.

With due respect to the prime minister, India and the US are not �natural allies�. In fact, neither India nor the US has any interest in forging an �alliance�. The disparity in power between the US and India is so great that in an alliance we would be reduced to the role of an auxiliary which has little or no say in shaping allied policies. As regards the US, it neither requires nor seeks new allies. Washington today seeks new coalition partners, not allies. The distinction between the two is that an alliance is a long-term arrangement, whereas a coalition is formed in response to a specific situation. For example, in the current �war against terror�, the US has formed a broad-based coalition in which members play differentiated roles. This allows a country to selectively decide whether or not to join a coalition as well as the nature and extent of its participation, without committing itself to automatic support of US initiatives on other issues. Partnership in a coalition is fully compatible with non-alignment � unlike membership of an alliance.

Building durable partnerships in world affairs requires sustained application by both sides. India and the US have made a promising start to establishing a new partnership but it will require sustained efforts by both sides to build up truly durable ties.

The author is former ambassador to China and the European Union


Like all usurpers, Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, too is frantically searching for legitimacy. The April 30 referendum to decide whether he should continue as president might suffice for now, but Musharraf also needs to hold free and fair elections by October as decreed by the Pakistani supreme court. But the people of Pakistan are not yet impatient for democracy: a survey conducted by The Herald, Karachi, revealed that only one per cent of the respondents considered the restoration of democracy as a priority. But the supreme court has refused to postpone the elections. Musharraf also knows that if he manages to win, his position will become more secure.

At the same time, he is reluctant to risk losing the elections, or losing effective power after it. Zia ul-Haq had appointed Mohammed Khan Junejo as the prime minister after the 1985 elections, but the latter soon began to assert himself. Junejo even sent his foreign minister to Geneva, against Zia ul-Haq�s will, to negotiate with representatives of the United States of America, the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan, to ensure Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. He had to be sacked under the fifth amendment. Musharraf is surely wiser with the knowledge of this precedent.

Number games

However, it is difficult to remain a virtual dictator with a democratic sheen. Right now, as a serving general, the parliament and the provincial assemblies cannot elect him president. He may amend the constitution, but it is for the supreme court to decide whether such an amendment is within the constitutional parameters. Also, such an amendment would need to be approved by a two-thirds majority � not an easy task by any means.

His woes will not be over even if the supreme court rules in his favour, since after that he would need a parliamentary majority to ratify his policies.

However, Musharraf has already initiated the process of packing the parliament with the so-called �king�s friends�. By replacing the earlier separate electorate for non-Muslims with a joint electorate, he has ensured the support of the dozen or so non-Muslim members of the national assembly. Besides, 25 seats have been reserved for technocrats nominated by him. This is a clear violation of democratic ideals. As Mohammed Waseem, a political analyst, fears, �This will be resented by politicians who struggle to win their seats through open competition.�

Also secret links have been established with both the exiled Benazir Bhutto and the leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League now in disarray after Nawaz Sharif�s departure for Saudi Arabia. Both parties have in their ranks people who are keen to get back to power. To keep Bhutto on his side, for instance, Musharraf is reportedly planning to replace the foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, a hardcore Bhutto-baiter, with the former foreign secretary, Shahryar Khan.

Walking a tight rope

But the Pakistan People�s Party and the PML alone may not ensure the reliable support that Musharraf is looking for. He has already lost the support of the religious orthodoxy and the ultra-nationalists by openly siding with the US. Thus he needs to show that, while fighting fundamentalism, he is not going against Islam and that he can stand up to India.

Even in his January 12 speech, Musharraf did not reject the role of religion in public life, he only swore to fight the fanatics. While on the one hand, he sought Western support by taking steps against religious militants and also by inviting a dialogue with India, on the other hand, he tried to keep the Pakistanis happy by refusing to hand over the 20 militants India sought and by not taking effective measures to check cross-border terrorism.

The recent escalation in terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir shows that Musharraf is doing his best not to lose the constituency of clerics so carefully created by Zia ul-Haq.

In short, Musharraf is making the right noises and striking the right poses to ensure his electoral success in October. Only time will tell whether a stronger and more secure Musharraf will be able to ensure peace in this part of the world.


The rot began � as most of the rot in our politics begins � with Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He pulled out his two Bharatiya Janata Party members from the Lok Sabha on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament in 1989 (although he and his ilk clung tenaciously, �like limpets�, as Rajiv Gandhi famously put it, to their seats in the Rajya Sabha). It is from then that dates the deterioration of Parliament into a forum of demonstration instead of a forum of discussion, debate and decision. The 10th Lok Sabha saw, for the first time, in the monsoon session of 1994, the stalling of proceedings for a prolonged length of time, topped by the stalling of the winter session in 1995 for thirteen long days over a man who has since emerged as the BJP�s bulwark for its state government in Himachal Pradesh. Ever since, disruption, not deliberation, has characterized our Parliament.

The media shares the blame. Over the Nineties, the media have perfected the art of portraying Parliament in disarray and ignoring Parliament in full swing. Parliamentary reporters are no longer commended, as they used to be, for their talent in conveying the pith and essence of argument on the floor of the house; they win their spurs now on their ability to cater to middle-class prejudice against politicians, with no realization that politics without politicians is as impossible as newspapers without reporters. In consequence, we are drifting dangerously close to extinguishing India�s greatest achievement since independence � parliamentary democracy. I have often seen the vocal, if unrepresentative, middle class denounce politicians � all politicians � on TV programmes; for the first time a few days ago, I heard that argument carried to its logical conclusion: someone from the studio audience denouncing democracy itself. True, he was unable to say what alternative he desired, but I felt myself in Lisbon 1921 or Rome 1922 or Berlin 1933 (or Karachi 1958) when the populace welcomed Salazar and Mussolini and Hitler (and Ayub Khan) as liberators of the nation from the travails of democracy. Are we headed that way? I am afraid we are � unless a semblance of decency and decorum is restored to our parliamentary proceedings.

The only institution that can save Parliament from the lemmings� rush into which we are now is the speaker. He has the authority. It is time he exercised it. Take the instant case of the fracas over Gujarat that has already lost us a full week and, as at the time of writing (Monday, April 22), shows no sign of resolution. A straightforward look at the rules and the background provided so usefully in successive editions of Kaul and Shakdher (now into its fifth edition) shows us how straight and clear is the path to parliamentary salvation. The word Parliament derives from the French � �parler�, to speak. It is not the forum for forcing adjournment of work; it is not the forum for slogan-mongering; the well of the house is not for invading; the irreducible minimum is getting on with the business specified in the order papers for the day.

Only one exception is allowed: the device of the adjournment motion. In the Central legislative assembly, the adjournment motion was the only device available to members to express their concern over urgent matters of public importance. Post-independence, other devices, including Rule 184 � debate followed by a vote � and Rule 193 � debate not followed by a vote � have been added. These devices began being incorporated in our parliamentary practice and procedure from 1953; later they were incorporated in the rules. They were all designed to foster orderly debate. Their essential purpose was to facilitate opposition to government; for government has its own set of rules to facilitate government business.

This was clearly understood by the imperial government of His Majesty the king-emperor in India. It is scandalous that this is not understood by the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The speaker of the Central legislative assembly, say Kaul and Shakdher, �invariably permitted discussion by admitting adjournment motions liberally�. What a fall since then, my countrymen! An imperial government had little difficulty acquiescing to the 1923 ruling of the speaker, Frederick Whyte, that an adjournment motion is �a convenient method by which the pending business of the Assembly may be put aside in order to make way for the discussion of some sudden emergency.� The point was to facilitate discussion, not avoid it, particularly as �an adjournment motion has to be taken in the nature of a censure motion.� The British in India were ready to be censored; the National Democratic Alliance government is not. Was it for this that we fought for freedom?

True, times have changed. The present presiding officer, deputy speaker, P.M. Sayeed, was perfectly within his rights in not conceding the initial motion for adjournment as we now have the alternative devices � Rule 184 and Rule 193 � for discussion on matters of urgent public importance, the first involving an �element of censure� if carried (which it won�t be unless the government has lost its majority); the latter not involving such censure as the motion is �talked out�, that is, nothing is put to the vote of the house. For our purposes, the crucial point to note is that with regard to both rules, the authority of the speaker is absolute: it is entirely up to him, bearing in mind the language of the rules and the precedents set by his predecessors, to determine whether or not to admit a motion, even to �disallow a part thereof when in his opinion it is an abuse of the right of moving a motion�. He may do so whenever he feels that a motion is �calculated to obstruct or prejudicially affect the procedure of the House or in contravention of these rules.� What could be clearer?

Unfortunately, right through the Nineties, the speaker has preferred to be guided by the house rather than preside over the house. Of course, there are certain matters on which the speaker has to go by the sense of the house. But determining whether a discussion should be held and, if so, whether it should be held under Rule 184 or 193, is the unfettered right of the speaker � or, rather, fettered only by precedent. And one of the most important precedents takes us back to the usual suspect, A.B.Vajpayee. For on July 24, 1997, Vajpayee converted his own adjournment motion into a discussion under Rule 184. Were his �mansik santulan� in perfect balance, we need have had no adjournment of the house for a whole week � the adjournment motion moved by Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and others could easily have been taken up for discussion under Rule 184.

The leave given by successive speakers to government and the opposition to work out a consensus among themselves has transferred the power of decision-making from the speaker to the house in matters where the speaker and the speaker alone is required by the rules to take a stand on his own. Of course, the speaker is a creature of the house, in the sense that he is appointed by the house and can be removed by the house. But if that makes a speaker flinch from doing his duty of taking a decision in his sole discretion, parliamentary democracy is in danger. We have tragically not followed the Westminster example of maintaining the independence and impartiality of the speaker. There, a speaker, once elected, is speaker until he resigns of his own volition. By tradition, speakers do not change with the change of government, never seek any other position, and are always elected unopposed. By our tradition, speakers do change with every change of government; have been available for the past two decades for even positions in government, let alone constitutional office; and are forced to face opponents in elections. Inevitably, the speaker�s decisions are seen as tainted by political considerations, however objective they may be. Little wonder then that speakers prefer the easier option of holding the house in abeyance till the problem is sorted out, rather than insist on their prerogative of determining on their own the admissibility or otherwise of motions for debate and discussion.

Till that tradition is ingrained in our parliamentary system, I fear things will grow worse � very much worse, perhaps irretrievably so � before there is any sign of their growing better. Much more than the fate of the Vajpayee government hangs on the ultimate decision of the deputy speaker, Sayeed. The fate of our democracy itself hangs in the balance.


The railway official said that the train arrived at 7.45 am and left at 7.50 am. He believes the chain was pulled soon after because some passengers were left on the platform. He saw these passengers running to board the train after it had pulled out. The chain-pulling occurred twice, first at 7.55 am and then at 7.58 am. If this is so, then the story that some people from the mob had climbed on to the train to stop it so that it could be attacked would not be correct.

According to him, a mob of about 500-600 people (Muslims, mostly Ghanchiyas from the adjacent colony, parallel to the track) had gathered. They were shouting and could be seen stoning the train, especially S6 from across the track. There were no crowds on the other side. That is why other passengers could escape. Since the train was a few hundred metres from the platform, they could not see exactly how and when the train caught fire. But all the officials the delegation spoke to stated repeatedly that in all their experience of train accidents and burning, never had they seen a coach catch fire and burn so quickly. According to them, this could only happen if the entire coach had been doused with petrol or/and if there was inflammable material inside the coach.

They also said that in a coach meant for 72 passengers, there were at least 50 more that made it difficult for people to get out. The window shutters had been pulled down and the officials conjectured that this was perhaps to escape from the stoning.

But then, how could so much inflammable material have found its way inside to the extent that the entire coach was so badly burnt? By the time the fire-fighters came, there was no sound from inside. It was their conjecture that the victims of this terrible atrocity were mainly women and children because others stronger and bigger could reach the exit doors first. The delegation was horrified and deeply moved to hear this recounting.

Inside the burnt coach, the delegation found heaps of foodgrains, sacks stacked near the windows. There were also stoves and jerry cans. Clearly, the kar sevaks had taken this material to cook for themselves. This points to the possibility of inflammable substance inside the coach.

In any case, there were no restrictions on anyone wanting to go inside. At the Iqbal Primary School camp, the administration was giving them rations and also helping them with first information reports. There were people from the rural areas of Panchmahal and Dahod districts. They have faxed 300 FIRs to the police thanas but are not aware how many have been registered by the police authorities.

While the situation in the town seemed comparatively under control, the situation in the rural areas is serious with about 6,000 people fleeing their homes and taking shelter in various camps. The delegation met some of the victims from the rural areas in Iqbal Primary School camp and in the hospital who are from Panchmahal and Dohad districts.

B�s story:

B, wife of Y from Randhikpur village (district Dahod) is 21 years old, five months pregnant...We meet her in the camp. Frail, motionless, drained of all expression, she tells her story in a monotone as though she is speaking of someone else. Muslim houses in her village were attacked by upper caste people from her own village along with outsiders on March 1.

She and several of her family members fled. She names them: my baby girl Saleha, my mother, Halima, my sisters, Mumtaz and Munni, my brothers, Irfan and Aslam, my maternal uncle, Majeed, two of my father�s sisters, Sugra and Amina, one of their husbands, Yusuf, Amina�s son, and three daughters, Shamim, Mumtaz and Medina and Shamim�s son Husain. Shameem she says was nearing her full term. It was difficult for both of them to run.

to be concluded



Happier returns of the day

Sir � No so very happy birthdays for Indian politicos this season. Two days after he celebrated his 75th birthday, Chandra Shekhar had his farm in Bhondsi snatched away from him by Supreme Court orders (�Shekhar loses his farm�, April 20). And on the eve of his birthday, N. Chandrababu Naidu was greeted with the Centre�s announcement to shelve his ambitious Sankhya Vahini project (�Delhi buries Naidu pet project on birthday-eve�, April 20). The thousand crore rupees database project could have been revived even after IUnet, the company entrusted with the responsibility, had withdrawn. That the Centre never made an effort to resuscitate the project is surely to teach Naidu a lesson for threatening to topple the government. The difference between the two birthday �gifts� is impossible to miss. While the Supreme Court had the interests of the landless peasants in mind, the Centre shamelessly put its own interests above the technological advancement of the country.
Yours faithfully,
Shekhar Sinha, Calcutta

What about us?

Sir � On March 14 and 15, The Telegraph Northeast carried two reports. The first was about a namghar in East Jyotinagar, Guwahati, built on a plot of land donated by a Muslim. The Namghar Committee still incudes several Muslims (�Amity in troubled times�, March 14). The second was about a temple and a mosque standing side by side in the same compound since independence at Pandu port in Guwahati (�Twin shrines bind communities�, March 15). The reports hailed the three structures as �indestructible symbols of religious amity�.

And yet, when it came to the main edition of The Telegraph, it was the Guru ke Maseet in Gurdaspur, Punjab, that made it to the front page, in spite of being reported on much later. It also received an editorial comment (�Goodwill in the gloom�, March 31), while our �models of religious concord� were not found fit for national exposure. The Northeast has shown that it does not require an authoritarian diktat to generate communal harmony. Anyone visiting the Hajo in Kamrup district can see how Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist places of worship thrive together. Is this what is meant by the frequently heard complaint about the Northeast being given step-motherly treatment?

Yours faithfully,
Mrinmoy Goswami, Nagaon, Assam

Sir � Assam, and the Northeast in general, has always been deprived of major development projects. The reasons most frequently cited are of the region being surrounded by so-called enemy countries, the region being prone to earthquakes and the threat of extremists. By the same counter, Delhi and its surrounding industrial belt can be said to be closer to Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir than most other industrial areas of the country. But the government has not denied funds to these areas on this ground. Also, after 1950, there has been no major earthquake in Assam while Maharashtra and Gujarat have been devastated by killer quakes. Extremist activities have increased all over India, and there is no reason why Assam should be picked out and penalized for this.

It is sad that no united protest has been registered by the people of Assam, or of the other northeastern states. The people�s representatives from this region also seem to forget the problems of their constituencies once they reach Delhi. Given the Centre�s apathy and the lack of unity among the states, the future of the Northeast seems bleak.

Yours faithfully
Pranab Bharali, Guwahati

Fire spreads

Sir � A Hindu doctor was reportedly stabbed by a youth in his clinic in Juhapura, Ahmedabad, the day it opened after the riots (�Medical divide after stabbing�, April 12). Several hundred miles away, a senior official in the West Bengal minority affairs department commented, �The undercurrent of communalism that we now see in the state [West Bengal] has, unfortunately, never been witnessed before� (�Gujarat schism scars Bengal�, April 12). Is any more proof required to show what a communal cauldron India has become? Much as we would like to believe the contrary, states like West Bengal are as susceptible to communal flare-ups as Gujarat and Maharashtra. Things can change only if political parties display a sincere effort to establish secularism. But the possibility becomes more distant each day.
Yours faithfully,
Biren Saha, Titagarh

Sir � Sunando Sarkar�s report,�Gujarat schism scars Bengal� confirms some of our worst fears. Communal feelings have finally managed to make inroads into the bhadralok psyche. The Left Front government�s handling of certain issues is partly responsible for this. Two examples will make this clear. First, the Calcutta high court ruling on sound pollution meant mandirs, churches, gurdwaras had to follow the court guidelines. Only the imams refused to follow them. Instead of coming down heavily upon them, the state government remained silent, claiming that clamping down in this case would give rise to law and order problem.

Second, the all-parties resolution in the West Bengal assembly condemned only the Gujarat riots, and not the Godhra massacre. Only at the insistence of the Trinamool Congress did the final resolution include Godhra. As a result of such injudiciousness, what used to be a relationship based on mutual respect and amity has suddenly turned into one of suspicion and hatred. Taking care of the minorities does not mean appeasing them or giving them the status of a privileged class. It is about treating them on par with the majority community.

Yours faithfully,
Chittaranjan Nag, Calcutta

Killer zone

Sir � The accident on the Kona Expressway was a shocking reminder of the sorry state of traffic awareness and enforcement of traffic rules in West Bengal (�Traffic control scheme on anvil for killer highways�, April 16). As a daily commuter from Uluberia, I have some experience of these �killer highways�. It is a wonder that accidents do not occur more frequently. In the name of generating employment, irresponsible and inexperienced drivers are allowed to drive cars and even heavy vehicles. Mindless overtaking, driving in double lanes, speeding bring them great joy. Add to this the absence of brake lights and tail lights as well as the indiscriminate use of high intensity beams and unlawful parking, and you have a recipe for daily disasters. If huge resources can be spent to improve highways, should there not be a commensurate emphasis on enforcement of driving norms?
Yours faithfully,
Dhrubo Mukerjee, Calcutta

Sir � Rash driving and rampant violation of traffic rules have made Calcutta streets danger zones for pedestrians and users of public transport. Buses hardly ever stop at the designated stops, picking up people from the middle of the road instead. Passengers also seem to be oblivious of the risks. These violations have already claimed many lives. Unless the authorities take some stringent action, accidents will continue to be the first thing Calcuttans read about every morning.

Yours faithfully,
G. Ghosh, Calcutta

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