Editorial 1 / Ogre of control
Editorial 2 / Cabinet cake
Acting in concert
An ominous verdict
Document / It�s a long road to recovery
Letters to the editor

An unsatisfactory resolution of the Tata-Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited imbroglio seems to be in the offing. In February, the Tatas bought a 25 per cent stake in VSNL for Rs 1,439 crore, considerably outbidding Reliance and subsequently bought 20 per cent more through an open offer. Rupees 2,600 crore for 45 per cent of VSNL was far more than what anyone else offered and Mr Pramod Mahajan went to town, proclaiming that the Tatas were his favoured groom, having acquired the VSNL bride through a swayamvar. As every father-in-law knows, once a marriage is solemnized, marital peace requires non-interference by the father-in-law. Such was not to be, because despite Mr Mahajan�s attempts to cultivate a pro-reform image, his mindset is not one that is willing to give up control. Hence all hell broke loose when, in May, VSNL decided to invest Rs 1,200 crore over four years in Tata Teleservices Limited for a 20 to 26 per cent stake. Admittedly, the Tatas probably committed a strategic mistake and would conceivably have limited the political fallout had they only announced the Rs 300 crore investment decision for the first year. However, the accusations of asset stripping that Mr Mahajan levels will not wash. If anything, the communications ministry had indulged in asset stripping before VSNL was privatized. VSNL�s reserves dropped from Rs 6,299 crore to Rs 2,000 crore because of dividend payouts and VSNL lost lucrative real estate. In any case, no clauses in the shareholders� agreement or safeguards were violated and an investment decision could hardly be construed as asset stripping. Once a public sector undertaking has been privatized, investment and other decisions are best left to the board.

If this principle is not rigidly followed, the government�s future disinvestment plans are likely to be jeopardized. Mr Mahajan claims that as long as the government owns 26 per cent of VSNL, he has the right to question VSNL�s investment decisions. This is correct in so far as it goes and is precisely the reason why the government has a director on the board. Had the communications ministry proceeded to sack this director, no one would have objected. Instead, Mr Mahajan opted for a storm and brought in the Bharatiya Janata Party�s economic cell. In the unsatisfactory solution that is now proposed, the investment decision in TTL stands. But a committee, with at least one government director, will decide the volume and tranches of investment. The deadline of August 15 given to the committee is no doubt significant. Irrespective of the independence August 15 signifies for India, the communications ministry has unambiguously indicated that a disinvested PSU will never be independent of government scrutiny and interference.

The disinvestment ministry has been remarkably successful and has much more than Modern Foods to show. Since October 2001, 25 PSUs have been disinvested. If some of this interest now wanes, Mr Mahajan will have himself to blame, because he has demonstrated to prospective buyers that the government will continue to rule through committees rather than boards. The father-in-law will not let the bride go, thus sowing the seeds for marital discord.


Small government, good governance. That was touted as the prescription of the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, for the party�s governments in the states. In approving the plan of the Assam chief minister, Mr Tarun Gogoi, to expand his cabinet, the party high command seems to have gone back on its own formula. It is difficult to justify the size of Mr Gogoi�s new cabinet, which has grown from 17 to 37, in view of the state�s acute financial crisis. The government has been struggling for the past few months to pay salaries on time to its employees and to school and college teachers. Financial problems forced the government to cut even ministers� salaries by 25 per cent and do away with some of their perks. But the cabinet expansion, which saddles the state exchequer with an additional monthly burden of Rs 1 crore, will weaken the government�s financial firefighting. To be fair to Mr Gogoi, much of the financial mess is a legacy inherited from the previous Asom Gana Parishad regime. However, the people of Assam, who voted in a Congress government last year, had expected that the new chief minister would bring about some degree of financial discipline as part of the much-needed economic reforms.

Obviously, the economic argument had to take the back seat once more in the face of political compulsions. Mr Gogoi seemed to have bowed to pressures from interest groups within his party as well as minority leaders who had been insisting on a larger slice of the cabinet cake. Even the argument of adequate representation to different ethnic groups, which some Congress leaders put foward to justify the cabinet�s size, is clearly untenable. The state�s economic development, and not the party�s internal politics, should have been Mr Gogoi�s first priority. Since Assam�s development funds are woefully inadequate, the additional cost of a large cabinet will not help proper implementation of important projects. The development issues are of special significance in a state where insurgent groups exploit poverty to spread hatred of the government. Mr Gogoi urgently needs to cut down unnecessary government expenditure rather than add to it. He needs to reduce the bloated government workforce, but an oversized cabinet has added to it.


Just as it happened during the Kargil settlement three years ago, New Delhi�s terms for diffusing the latest India-Pakistan crisis were set out by national security adviser and principal secretary to the prime minister, Brajesh Mishra. With a clarity which has been part of Mishra�s public persona since his famous enunciation of the Indian position in the United Nations on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 33 years ago as South Block�s permanent representative in New York, Mishra drew the lakshmanrekha on Kashmir during his one-day air-dash to Moscow from Almaty last week. The media blitz around the high profile involvement of the United States of America�s envoys, Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Armitage, has somewhat obscured the important role that Russia played in lowering the temperature in south Asia in the last few days.

A crucial 10-minute meeting on Thursday between Mishra and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who had just returned home from Almaty, resulted in a chain of events without which Armitage�s visit to Islamabad and New Delhi would not have produced any results. For the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who had a two-hour meeting with Putin in Almaty, it was history repeating itself. Three years ago, Bill Clinton, another honest broker between India and Pakistan, had created a dilemma for Vajpayee. Clinton had invited Pakistan�s then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to the US and he wanted Vajpayee to join the duo in working out a settlement on Kargil. Vajpayee could not be seen as agreeing to Clinton�s mediation � or any mediation � on what was a clear case of Pakistani invasion of Indian territory. Apart from the principle involved, there was politics. With elections just round the corner, Sonia Gandhi would have attempted to make electoral mince-meat of the Bharatiya Janata Party on that one issue alone.

So it was left to Mishra to tell Clinton�s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, why Vajpayee could not accept the White House invitation, howsoever well-intentioned it may have been. Last week, there was an uncomfortable resurrection of the same dilemma. This time, its author was Putin, who asked the Indian prime minister if he would join the Russian and Pakistani presidents for a meeting in Moscow similar to the one Clinton had proposed in 1999.

Putin is a keen follower of history, and in making decisions he looks to the past as a valuable guide in his efforts to restore Russia�s glory. The Russian president was only 13 when the Soviet prime minister, Alexei Kosygin, mediated between Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan in what was then a breakthrough for Soviet diplomacy in south Asia. Putin�s personal interest in India has grown since his years as deputy mayor in St. Petersburg, and after becoming president, he has talked to some of those still in the Kremlin, who were associated with the Tashkent declaration.

Vajpayee knows that Putin is eager to play a greater role in world affairs, and if anything was tailor-made for that role, it was the subcontinental crisis, given Moscow�s history at Tash- kent three and a half decades ago.

Putin met Pervez Musharraf before his talks with Vajpayee, and put it to the Pakistani president that a trilateral Moscow summit could be arranged. Musharraf eagerly seiz- ed on the idea. But when the proposal was mooted with Vajpayee, the prime minister had exactly the same reaction that he had when Clinton extended the invitation to Washington three years ago. And yet, Putin�s enthusiasm had to be checked without appearing to be dismissive. After all, Russia has been the staunchest supporter of India on the global stage since the fight against terrorism became everybody�s war, and has repeatedly equated America�s fight against terrorism post-September 11 with India�s own struggle against cross-border terrorism at his meetings with world leaders. And as recently as last fortnight, when Pakistan threatened to take its crisis with India to the security council, Moscow had communicated to New Delhi a readiness to use its veto in the UN if it came to that.

But these were not the only reasons why Mishra was detained to draw the lakshmanrekha in Moscow. Putin�s proposal for a trilateral summit and Musharraf�s reaction to the idea in Almaty gave the Indian delegation a valuable insight into Pakistan�s thinking on the crisis. Because Musharraf had rushed to the media with Putin�s suggestion of a trilateral peace summit in Moscow without leaving the Russian president � as etiquette demanded � to announce invitations to India and Pakistan, Vajpayee�s delegation concluded that India�s stern messages were not getting through to the core of the Pakistani establishment. By pre-empting Putin and announcing the invitation to himself and to Vajpayee, Musharraf was proclaiming his genuine belief that Vajpayee would not turn down the idea of a Moscow summit. This, in turn, signalled Pakistan�s belief that India was looking for a way out of the current military stalemate.

That he may have been encouraged in this belief by the statements and actions of other leading nations also became clear at Musharraf�s press conference. He asked India to shed its hypocrisy about third party involvement in the Kashmir dispute. What are the envoys from Britain, America, Russia and many other governments doing if not mediating, he sarcastically asked at his press conference.

Vajpayee�s team in Almaty concluded that it was necessary to put the record straight, and that unless this was done, India�s message would not get through to Musharraf, just as it did not get through to Nawaz Sharif during Kargil until India used its air force against the Pakistani invaders. Then too, it was Mishra who firmly and persistently argued for the use of the air force in Kargil.

So, during his talks in Moscow, Mishra carefully outlined the parameters of Indian cooperation with the international community, including Russia, on the efforts to diffuse the crisis in south Asia. He said Vajpayee was grateful to Russia and other friends of India for what they were doing to bring peace; but a distinction needed to be made between international involvement in the current military crisis and any global role in facilitating a settlement between New Delhi and Islamabad. India, he enunciated, was all for an international role in checking, choking off and altogether eliminating the terrorist menace coming out of Pakistan.

India also welcomed any outside role in avoiding a war in south Asia. But when it came to working out any broader or permanent equations with Islamabad, third parties could have no role. Kashmir, Siachen, Wullar barrage, whatever, has to be settled bilaterally between India and Pakistan. Whether it was the US, Britain or Russia, they will be kept out and this was non-negotiable.

Mishra�s elucidation of the Indian position has already had, and will continue to have, very significant repercussions on the course of Indo-Pak relations in the months and years to come. An immediate fall-out of this clarification was Musharraf�s realization that neither he nor the international community could bend India to suit their plans. That became clear when the much-touted US-British proposal for monitoring infiltration � which in any case had received a negative reaction from New Delhi � went flying out of the window as soon as Mishra made the Indian position clear in Moscow.

But Mishra�s Moscow parleys also made Musharraf realize that his game was up: he could no longer pursue his double-talk and subterfuge. A clever survivor, Musharraf realized that he could be the casualty of any continuing Indian hardline stance against Pakistan. Soon after Mishra finished his meetings in Mos- cow, the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, spoke to his counterparts in London, Paris, Tokyo and Washington. The contents of the briefing of the defence minister, Sergei Ivanov, for Rumsfeld, his US counterpart, in Brussels the following day changed considerably in the light of the national security adviser�s talks. The Russian foreign minister�s phone calls prepared the ground for a 20-minute phone conversation between Putin and George W. Bush the following day: the Kremlin admitted that the conversation was almost entirely devoted to south Asia.

The Russian defence minister�s subsequent briefings to the media party which accompanied him from Moscow to Brussels have been very revealing. He said there was complete understanding among Russia, China and the US on the India-Pakistan situation and that the three countries were acting in concert. Therefore, Mishra�s discussions in Moscow were not Russia-centric. They influenced the attitudes of everyone who was trying to make peace, including Armitage.

Ivanov also told Russian reporters in Brussels that the south Asian scenario was linked to Musharraf�s ability to control the internal situation in Pakistan. It was an acknowledgement that the military crisis was the direct result of Pakistan having become the fountainhead of global terrorism. Ivanov hinted that Russia, China, India and the US were making common cause against this terrorist threat when he hoped al Qaida, the Chechens and the Uighurs of China would not find shelter in Pakistan. For the Vajpayee government, it is the second major gain in the last four years in its efforts to tame Pakistan. Any composite dialogue with Pakistan in future will not have the same structure as before of eight subjects even if those eight subjects may continue to be reiterated in communiqu�s.

Peace, security and terrorism are no longer bilateral subjects. New Delhi has succeeded in internationalizing this issue. It comes three years after the Vajpayee government�s earlier success of making the world accept that the line of control is sacrosanct even if it is not an international border.


Since the dawn of June 2, Dumka walked a tightrope between saffron and green. As counting of votes progressed, the air turned thick with anticipation. The mood at the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha camp was upbeat for the initial rounds indicated an early lead. But the Bharatiya Janata Party held on. �The morning trends cannot be the deciding factor. The clincher will come later in the day,�� suggested an insider.

However, by evening, the hues had changed. The saffron confidence ebbed, making way for the plucky JMM green. Dumka, located deep in the tribal heartland of the Santhal Pargana, found itself awash with green following the victory of Shibu Soren, the JMM chief, in the May 31 Lok Sabha bypoll. The elections had been necessitated by the foray of Babulal Marandi, chief minister of Jharkhand and former member of parliament from Dumka, into the forefront of Jharkhand politics.

The Dumka mandate is significant in more ways than one. For the JMM stalwart, Shibu Soren, known as guruji or the disam guru (leader of the tribal world), who trounced his nearest BJP rival, Ramesh Hembrom, by a margin of 95,205 votes, it was a personal triumph. It was his victory against those who had written him off in state politics. It absolved him of a plethora of charges, including bribery and alleged murder, in the eyes of the electorate. He seemed to have been given a clean chit by the people themselves, that is, by those �who matter the most to guruji�, as his party put it.

But for Jharkhand, the verdict had deeper connotations. It was a slap on the face of the ruling National Democratic Alliance government, a blot on its welfare agenda. The media billed the JMM victory as a �referendum against the NDA misrule�. Soren�s victory established beyond doubt that Marandi had failed to deliver for Jharkhand, despite pumping in millions of rupees for the development of his home turf.

The defeat of Hembrom, the BJP candidate and a Congress defector, by over 90,000 votes in a constituency where barely 50 per cent of the electorate cast its ballot, speaks volumes about the state government�s commitment to �tribal welfare��. Had Dumka, often seen as symbolizing Jharkhand�s ethnicity, enjoyed its fair share of government �bounty�, the electorate would have voted for the government.

The needs were basic: infrastructure, food, education, healthcare and a general improvement in the standard of living. But the funds � Rs 100 crore according to a rough estimate � channelled into the constituency under Marandi�s direct supervision could not create any magic. The issue of 73 per cent reservation for tribals rubbed salt on festering wounds, leading to a sharp polarization in non-tribal and minority votes. According to statistics, the JMM even cut into the Muslim votebank which traditionally belonged to the Congress. This it did apart from winning over the Bengali non-tribals who are seething over the �quota� issue.

A desperate BJP, which had lined up star campaigners, including 21 ministers from the Marandi cabinet, placed the onus of �tardy progress� on bureaucrats at the fag end of an exhaustive campaign. An attempt to intimidate voters by �blatant use of muscle power� and an abortive bid on Shibu Soren�s life, which received substantial media attention, worked in favour of the JMM. The BJP�s communal rhetoric left Dumka cold.

The ballot arithmetic indicated a regional resurgence. The BJP, which had won the 1999 Lok Sabha polls by a margin of 13,000 votes with Marandi as its candidate, this time relinquished a lead of 6,192 votes. It gave the JMM an edge of 20,000 votes over the last election tally.

Though it may be too premature to say that Dumka has �irrevocably� altered the course of Jharkhand politics, it has definitely set a process of change in motion. The scenario appears fluid, if not volatile, given the possibility of a realignment of forces.

Disenchanted by the BJP�s performance, dissidents within the NDA are raring to go. If the grapevine in Ranchi is to be believed, the old cracks are showing once again. The anti-Marandi faction, led by the Union agro-industries minister, Karia Munda, seems to be waking up after having laid dormant for nearly a year. Munda reportedly got in touch with his aides in Ranchi to get an idea of the level of resentment against the chief minister.

The stage appears ripe for a revolt. Four Samata Party ministers � Ramchandra Kesri (water resources), Jaleshwar Mahato (public health engineering department), Madhu Singh (revenue), Ramesh Singh Munda (excise) � who had recently put the alliance in a spot with a nail-biting resignation drama over the Rajya Sabha elections, met Durga Soren, son of the JMM chief and legislator from Jama, to congratulate his father and reportedly �pledged greater support� in his crusade against �communal forces�.

The Samata Party may not dump the alliance at this juncture for its ministerial berths are at stake. But it may strike a hard bargain with the BJP for the Rajya Sabha seat vacated by Soren. The party is making plenty of disgruntled noises too. In a recent media interface, the water resources minister, Ramchandra Kesri, blamed the BJP for the Dumka debacle. �The BJP made the Dumka bypoll a prestige issue and sidelined its allies, but the humiliating defeat has now cast a shadow on the NDA government,� Kesri said.

Janata Dal (United), the otherwise reticent ally, is also peeved. The energy minister, Lalchand Mahato, and party president, Gautam Sagar Rana, held Marandi�s �poll managers� � the mines minister, Ravindra Rai, and the rural development minister, Pradeep Yadav � responsible for the drubbing the BJP received. �If nothing else, the lieutenants should be punished,� was the JD(U) verdict.

Marandi, who had clammed up after the defeat for a �thorough soul-search�, surfaced last week to admit �faulty planning�. Putting up a brave face, he said, �My poll managers are responsible. There has been a communication gap.� The admission, though terse, was loaded with meaning as it hinted at a reshuffle in the coterie and a head-hunt. The chief minister is apparently intent on identifying the black sheep to keep the alliance working.

Amid all the tumult, the JMM chose to maintain a strategic calm. Though Soren had issued an �oust-Marandi� call just after the results, the �aggression� has been replaced with tact. �We don�t want to topple the government at this juncture. But we are trying to pave the way for an early poll,�� said Soren. A no-trust motion against the NDA government at the moment can spell doom for the opposition which is still handicapped in the numbers game. The JMM has 12 members, the Rashtriya Janata Dal 9 and the Congress 11 in the 81-member Jharkhand house. Though five Samata Party ministers have pledged support to the JMM, their recent wheeling-dealing has made the JMM wary. �We still cannot trust them. There may be divisions in the state NDA unit, but the alliance will not crack unless the high-command wills so,� confided a party spokesman.

So the JMM prefers to go it alone. The party will unveil its future agenda at its working committee meeting slated for June 15. �But we are in no hurry. Dumka showed that Marandi is on a sticky wicket, we want to make it more difficult for him till he is forced to order fresh polls,� Soren maintained. A tough choice, but the party�s primary target now is the �rampant corruption� among ministers and bureaucrats in the NDA government. The JMM seems to have learnt from past mistakes. So it prefers to take things easy � consolidate its regional support, lobby for a fair reservation policy and preach ethnic amity to project its populist face till the panchayat polls, scheduled for December.

As for Marandi, this is a trying time. Dumka has shown the chinks in his armour. The allies are crying for their pound of flesh and New Delhi is frowning. It will require all his juggling skills to rein in the disparate forces. Perhaps, this is baptism by fire for his 18-month-old government. The period between November 15, 2000, and May 31, 2002, was a cakewalk. The real battle for survival starts now.


At best, the police would take a crowd of frightened Muslims and dump them in safer Muslim majority areas. The message was clear � �Protecting Muslims is not our responsibility; other Muslims can look after them�. Muslims were no longer citizens of the state. In no instance did the fact-finding team hear of mahila police being deployed in areas where women were being brutalized. In a vast majority of the cases, first information reports have not been lodged...

Victims of sexual violence do not even have the confidence to approach the police, let alone walk the long path to evidence-gathering, and getting justice. In the words of one Muslim woman, �Yeh to Hinduoan ki police hai� (This is a Hindu police).

Muslim women surviving in relief camps across the state are not the only ones who dread the police. Outside the camps, in several Muslim dominated areas in Ahmedabad, they live in forced imprisonment and constant terror of another kind. Curfew has been imposed in these areas, including Millat Nagar, visited by the fact-finding team. Under the guise of �combing operations� the police are picking up young Muslim boys at random...

In order to protect their men, women are being forced to venture out of their homes for daily chores, and encountering the police. The fact-finding team heard specific accounts of continuing police atrocities � of women being severely beaten or killed in police firing.

However, even in its worst moment, there remained in Gujarat isolated pockets of calm where the police and the administration stood firm, giving the lie to the theory that the post-Godhra carnage was an unstoppable case of spontaneous communal combustion. For example, no casualties have been reported from Panchmahals district since March 5, including in Godhra town where the spiral of violence first started ... The fact-finding team believes that this is in large part due to the sincere efforts of the district collector, Jayanti Ravi, in ensuring that law and order is maintained.

�There is clearly a long road ahead to justice, rehabilitation and recovery for the victims of Gujarat. The fact-finding team tried to meet Kumaraswami, who is in charge of the human rights cell in the office of the director-general police. Although too busy to meet the team because of the prime minister�s impending visit, he agreed to a phone interview. He was asked to comment on the charge made by almost every victim met by the team that the police was aiding, abetting and colluding with the ...marauding mobs � what action was being taken on these charges? What action was the human rights cell proposing on the evidence of several cases of rape? What... should have been the role of the mahila police in preventing sexual violence? Kumaraswami�s responses were that he was simply a part of the DGP�s office, working as a bridge between the National Human Rights Commission and the DGP. His office merely laid down the policy about women police, and about other human rights aspects. Since he was not a field officer he did not have answers for the rest of the questions.

The fact-finding team was concerned that...there was no alternative institutional mechanism in Gujarat through which women could seek justice. Gujarat does not have a state commission for women, and until the writing of this report, the national commission for women had chosen not to visit the state.

The violence in Gujarat has left in its wake deprivation, despondency, and desperation, islands of survivors huddled together across the state in miserable relief camps... They have become a truly ghettoized people, in body and mind. Betrayed by neighbours and friends, left for dead by the state, they trust only each other. Ghettoization, once only an urban scourge, is now the rural future as well. Sudden economic destitution is hitting women hard � those who have lost the family income earner look at their children with despair and fear for the future.

Single women and widows, who had acquired economic independence, now rely on community patriarchs for survival...Women activists who need to be out there, helping rape survivors, speaking to widows, giving relief, lodging FIRs, work under constant threat to their lives. And a discredited government speaks of setting up peace committees.

To be concluded



For the love of animals

Sir � In a country that has still not been able to identify, let alone cure, all the diseases plaguing its millions, the last thing we need are obstacles to medical research. Obviously, Maneka Gandhi, does not share this view (�Claws out in minister� war�, June 4). Our minister of state for statistics and programme implementation has just woken up to the fact that medical institutions in the country keep the animals they use for experiments in extremely unhygienic conditions. And topping her list of erring institutions is the National Institute of Virology in Pune. In its defense, NIV has said that the animals are in a poor condition because the institute is relocating in order to improve research conditions. But that�s not good enough for the minister � NIV should have relocated earlier, she says. Maneka Gandhi has got hold of the wrong end of the stick here: she should uphold NIV as an example to other institutes. It is Maneka Gandhi�s inability to see the bigger picture which explains why she and her various causes have always gone up in a cloud of dust.

Yours faithfully,
Tapati Das, Cochin

Strike a warning bell

Sir � The Calcutta high court�s decision not to pass an injunction against the Trinamool Congress for calling a bandh on June 7 is shocking (��Shame� verdict on bandh state�, June 6). The court claimed that it could not stop the bandh as it did not have the �machinery at its disposal� to do so. It has of course placed all blame on the political parties in the state who have been routinely calling strikes and putting the image and economy of the state at risk.

But we citizens are also partly responsible for the bandh culture in the state. Instead of censuring political parties for calling bandhs, we support them by sitting at home on bandh days. There can be a two-fold solution to this problem. First, it is for the citizens to resist such bandhs. Instead of sitting at home and watching the World Cup football matches as we did on June 7, we should have gone to work. By being so laid-back and ever ready to take a day off work, we only play into the hands of political parties which can then claim that the bandh had been successful.

Second, the Supreme Court should issue a more stringent ruling against bandhs, instead of merely calling them �illegal and unconstitutional�. It should declare that any party which calls a bandh would be barred from contesting the next elections and also de-registered. Not only that, the leader of the political party which calls a bandh would also be arrested. It is only such methods that will help us deal with such political parties.

Yours faithfully,
Asheem Kapoor, Calcutta

Sir � I was surprised to see the editorial, �Late but right� (June 4), pat the Congress on the back for withdrawing its bandh call on June 14. The Congress called off its bandh only because the Trinamool Congress managed to beat it in the bandh race, by announcing that its bandh would take place a week earlier, on June 7. The Congress knew that the Trinamool Congress bandh would be successful � and it was. The party obviously dreaded that its bandh would not be as successful and hence decided that it was better to withdraw the strike. To say that the Congress recalled its strike call, keeping in mind public convenience, is giving the party way too much credit.

Yours faithfully,
Sush Kocher, Calcutta

Sir � It is obvious that the Calcutta high court�s condemnation of political parties which call bandhs made no difference to Mamata Banerjee since she went ahead with her bandh call on June 7. While political parties keep stressing on the many reasons for their bandh call, their motives might actually be very simple. Government employees and state-employed teachers form a major chunk of the membership of political parties. In 2002, these government servants missed out on five holidays which fell on weekends � Republic Day, Saraswati Puja, Id ul Zoha, Fateha Dohaz Dham and Buddha Jayanti. Since we all know how fond government employees are of a day�s rest, they wanted to be compensated. And how better to do this than by calling a bandh. And since only three bandhs have been called this year, however much the high court might feel ashamed or popular sentiment rebel against it, we can expect two more bandhs to be called by the end of this year.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Howrah

Sir � The Calcutta high court�s ruling on the June 7 Bangla bandh � especially the reason cited for it � is disappointing. The court said that there was no use passing an injunction against the bandh since it did not have the machinery to enforce its order. Since when have judicial pronouncements started to depend on the infrastructure at the judiciary�s command? If even the judiciary cannot be depended upon to bring a semblance of order back to the state, the common man has no choice but to resign himself to the diktat of various political parties.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

Emissary from Gujarat

Sir � The All India Muslim Students� Federation has done well to invite Qutubuddin Ansari to Calcutta to relate his experiences of the Gujarat carnage to a gathering of prominent persons in the city (�Back from dead to talk of life�, June 3). Ansari�s is the face that appeared in newspapers all over the country, tearfully pleading with the police and Rapid Action Force to save him and his family from the attacking mobs.

Even though he suffered at the hands of the marauding Hindu mobs, Ansari still wants to tell people how his Hindu neighbours helped him and that not all Hindus are responding to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad�s call to boycott Muslims.

Such testimonies by victims of the Gujarat riots, who have not turned against the community their attackers belonged to, will provide the much-needed healing touch in the communally fraught atmosphere in the country today. It will also let people judge for themselves the veracity of the picture that has been portrayed by certain quarters of the media and the government.

Your faithfully,
Sanjoy Ganguly, Calcutta

Sir � Thanks to the first information report filed by the Gujarat police in connection with the Naroda Patia violence, we now know that not all the victims of the February 28 massacre in which 83 people died were Muslims � there were some Hindus as well (�23 charged in Naroda case under arrest�, June 5). This is important since the media, which seemed to have ganged up against the Bharatiya Janata Party governments in the state and at the Centre, had fostered the impression that it was only Muslims who lost their lives in the Gujarat riots. It is only by filing FIRs and publishing the lists of victim�s names will we get the true picture about the atrocities perpetrated on both the Hindu and Muslim communities in the state.

It is time the media accepted that Hindus too suffered in Gujarat, Hindus too became refugees in Gujarat and Hindu women too gave birth in refugee camps in Gujarat.

Yours faithfully,
Udita Agrawal, New Delhi

Bumpy ride

Sir � The Taratalla road from Tractor India to Zinjiria bazaar has been under repair for several months. This road belongs to the Calcutta Port Trust, which has not shown any inclination to speed up its repairs. Consequently, ambulances from Garden Reach and Meti-abruz have a lot of problems driving to the nursing homes in the area. The port authorities should take its responsibility a little more seriously.

Yours faithfully,
I.Khan, Calcutta

Sir � It has become difficult to travel in upper class compartments of trams in Calcutta because of the large number of seats designated �ladies only�. Over and above these, two seats are reserved for senior citizens and the handicapped. Either way, male passengers are not allowed to sit on these seats by female passengers. It is extremely irritating having to stand throughout the journey even though the seats reserved for ladies are unoccupied. Calcutta Tramways Co. should provide more seats for passengers who are not ladies, handicapped or old.

Yours faithfully,
P.C. Mukherjee, Calcutta

Parting shot

Sir � Simon Parkes�s comment that the current craze for Bollywood in Britain is a Trojan horse kind of occurrence may be true in a way, but this craze is certainly not one that will disappear in a hurry (�London dreams of Bombay�, June 9). The West�s fascination with all things Indian is because of the vibrancy of it�s culture and the exotic ambience it provides. Of course, the prices of some of the stuff being sold at Selfridges does seem ludicrous, but whoever said celebrity couture was cheap? Instead of being astounded at this India mania, we should congratulate Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Abu Jani, Sandeep Khosla and others like them for managing a marketing coup.

Yours faithfully,
Gauri Warudi, Pune

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