The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Letters to Editor

Patchwork democracy

Sir — The precision with which the seat-sharing arrangement is being conducted between Mayavati and the Bharatiya Janata Party shows what a joke the electoral system has become in India (“Mayavati eyes slice of seat-share pie”, April 27). The population is being neatly divided into compartments to facilitate the easy victory of the political leaders. Caste politics, in fact, has been developed into a fine art by parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party which last year decided to forget its Dalit USP for a while and put up an upper caste candidate. Trends such as these could prove to be healthy for the democracy. Unfortunately, such upper caste-lower caste alliances are being used more to create mayhem than to resolve differences. Take the battle in Uttar Pradesh itself, or, in a more shocking light, the BJP’s use of lower-caste help to carry out its pogrom against the minorities in Gujarat. Is the present groundwork in UP being done for a similar experiment'

Yours faithfully,
Jyotish Mahato, Calcutta

Survive without protesting

Sir — The report, “Road and rail sit-ins banned” (April 25), brings welcome news. I applaud the Arjun Munda government’s decision to ban the most popular and damaging form of public protest in the country. It is strange however that the correspondent in this particular case has failed to assess the significance of a popular movement started by the people of the much neglected Kolhan-Lohanchal region against the state government’s colonial policies. This mineral and forest-rich region came into the map of the Indian Railways for the exploitation of the resources. The British kept the then Amda-Jamda (presently Rajkharsawan-Barbil section) rail-route in isolation for an uninterrupted flow of minerals to inflate the colonial economy.

Colonial ethos also supported the marginalization of the local inhabitants by denying them the opportunity of decent passenger traffic. Unfortunately, the same policy of exploitation and marginalization continues in independent India. An impartial observer will be surprised by the fact that while 33 goods trains frequent the rail routes daily, there are only a pair of passenger trains running through the region and that too in a whimsical pattern. That the poor and rustic population of Kolhan-Lohanchal do not deserve better is possibly the governing logic behind the policy.

The people of the region have been silently agitating through petitions and delegations through years, that is till the Chaibasa chamber of commerce and industries formed a Rail Andolan Samiti. Under this banner, leaders of different political parties and social organizations as well as intellectuals united to begin a movement in 2002. Among other things, it demanded provision of EMU service and extension of the Steel Express from Barbil. Petitions were sent to the railway authorities, delegations met the railway officials at Chakradharpur several times, and a delegation of parliamentarians and legislators met Nitish Kumar in New Delhi. Kumar had agreed to concede the above two demands.

On October 13, 2002 Kumar duly announced the opening up of the services in near future, but by a strange case of omission, “human error” as it came to be known as, the project was never included in the budget. Meanwhile, the patent logic of the railway authorities that passenger service is not economically viable has been proved wrong by the reservations amounting to lakhs of rupees at Chaibasa itself.

This forced the sit-in programme of April 12. To a perceptible observer this rail-roko agitation presented a strange yet unprecedented spectacle of the regional, ethnic and ideological barriers being broken down to put forward a common cause. The agitators cut across political and regional lines. This amply speaks of the significance and support base of the rail movement. Unfortunately, the media missed the point.

Arjun Munda may be committed to the development of Jharkhand. But he needs to remember that development should not exclude regions such as Kolhan and Lohanchal.

Yours faithfully,
Asoka Kumar Sen, Chiapas

Sir — Why is Arjun Munda deluding himself' His government has clearly laid out that people with grievances have to first approach the block development officer, circle officer or the subdivisional officer concerned and then the deputy commissioners. If problems remained unsolved, they had to be then taken to Munda’s durbar. Is this a joke, or is Munda trying to play Akbar the Great' First, for the illiterate population of Jharkhand, public forms of protest like rail rokos are the only way to reach the government. When have BDOs and SDOs been sympathetic to the needs of the people they serve' Had they been so, there would be no need for public protest at all. Bureaucrats in India serve their political masters, not the people.

Second, what is the guarantee that such durbars will be able to solve the problems of the people, especially given the fact that it is practically impossible to cover all villages all the time' And wouldn’t some villages, and some districts get preference over the others for their political affiliations' And what is the guarantee that the administration will be able to sustain the present momentum'

Yours faithfully,
C. Bhattacharya, Calcutta

Sir — It is difficult to understand the approach of the Jharkhand administration. The chief secretary, A.K. Mishra, is supposed to have said that the government will sort out the grievances of the unemployed youth, but they will not be allowed to resort to violence. Mishra seems to be threatening the population while assuaging it. The janata durbars initiated in the Ranchi villages which tried to initiate a dialogue between the public and the administration cannot solve the basic problems (“Janata durbar begins in army style”, April 9). If the government had indeed worked seriously since independence, the situation would not have arisen. In the present situation, where only 20 per cent of the people control the resources, how can the common people expect justice' How does the administration expect people to keep quiet when their stomachs are empty' If the Jharkhand government believes it will be able to bring the situation under control by simply issuing a directive banning public protests, they are fooling themselves. Even a Supreme Court ruling has not deterred political parties from staging dharnas and bandhs.

Yours faithfully,
Jang Bahadur Singh, Jamshedpur

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