Sir — The question, “Why is this happening to us” (August 20), which occurred to one of the many United Nations employees in Iraq, may not be difficult to answer. To the people of Iraq, UN symbolizes the United States of America, its attacker, and hence the target of as much hostility as the US marines. On its part, the UN does not have much to recommend itself to Iraqis either. For one, it has singularly failed to stop the unilateral seige of the country by the allied forces under the pretext of removing Iraq’s maker of weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein. If the UN now thinks that it can make do just by providing the healing touch to this war-ravaged country, it is fooling itself. The association with the US is too strong to live down. Not only in Iraq, it has been the target of similar attacks for the same reason in other parts of the world also. Which is why despite their humanitarian role, people like Sergio Vieira de Mello are sitting ducks for terrorist attacks.
M. Sarkar, Calcutta
Power and glory
Sir — In his article, “Republic and empire” (August 15), Swapan Dasgupta has covertly tried to sell the sangh parivar line under a scholarly cover. I do not doubt Dasgupta’s intellect, I am only critical of his intent. Dadabhai Naoroji in his Poverty and UnBritish rule in India castigated the colonial economic intervention, but Dasgupta wants us to believe that British rule after 1857 blessed India with “su-raj (good government), if not swaraj (self-government)”. Is this not a brazen travesty of truth' Perhaps Dasgupta is trying to market the David Kopf-J.H. Broomfield argument that there was no “national movement” at all.
The sangh parivar, especially the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Dasgupta cannot deny it, never directed its followers to take part in the freedom struggle but, like the Muslim League, made full use of the raj’s policy of divide and rule. Naturally, sangh stalwarts always bore a grudge against national leaders like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In fact, they still do, as evinced from Dasgupta’s own statement on Gandhi — “his overall celebration of meekness, masquerading as moral superiority, continues to overwhelm a part of the Indian mind.
Dasgupta’s understanding of swaraj too reflects his half-baked understanding. By swaraj, Gandhi had said that he meant Ramrajya. Obviously, his idea of Ramrajya was very different from the sangh’s chauvinistic and dollar-inspired concept of Ramrajya. Dasgupta thinks Gandhi’s ideas on celibacy and his anti-industrialization were quirky. Is the sangh’s support of the introduction of astrology in college and university syllabi any less quirkier'
Siddhartha Ghosh Dastidar, Calcutta
Sir — In his inimitable style, Swapan Dasgupta has provoked his readers once again. In his article, “Republic and empire”, he laments that Indians have for too long taken an extremely limited view of their national experience, often to their own detriment. Fair enough. But what should be the way towards a more “expansive” view' For Dasgupta, it clearly begins with the denigration of Gandhi. This supposedly would help prepare the way for a more dispassionate view of the nationalist movement as a whole. We could then take a more charitable view of our colonial past, focussing not on facts of “plunder and loot” but on its “su-raj”. We should then, by an extension of Dasgupta’s logic, acknowledge the contribution of Lord Curzon, who should in the true sense be regarded as the father of the nation. But would India’s acknowledgement of the good deeds of the raj be enough to reinvent itself'
Sharmila Sen, Calcutta
Sir — Swapan Dasgupta seems to have chosen his target with care. In both his articles, “Witnessing Ayodhya” (August 1) and “Republic and empire”, Dasgupta has heaped insults on Gandhi. In the first, Dasgupta defends L.K. Advani’s role in the Babri Masjid demolition by comparing his with Gandhi’s role in the non-cooperation movement which ended in the violence of 1922. But Chauri Chaura was the result of mass passion directed against an alien government. In contrast, Advani led a movement which unleashed a vitriolic campaign against our own Muslim brethren. Advani has capitalized on the Hindu religious sentiment shamelessly. The seeds of hatred sown in Hindu minds in the guise of cultural nationalism was responsible for the destruction of the masjid, the gory Mumbai riots of 1992-93 and the Gujarat carnage of 2002. While Gandhi played an instrumental role in liberating India from foreign tyranny, Advani lay the base for the greatest civic strife in independent India.
K. Chatterjee, Sodepur
Sir — The defence of the raj in Swapan Dasgupta’s “Republic and empire” is risible. The British Indian government was singularly responsible for creating artificial famines that ravaged the country several times over. It provoked communal riots that killed Indians and drove a permanent wedge among the people, apart from dividing the country into two. There is no doubt that India benefitted from the introduction of the railways, the post and telegraph and other modern facilities. But remember, these were introduced to facilitate the functioning of the British government in India. They are only a fraction of a bitter legacy that the raj left for its colony.
K. Poddar, Calcutta
Sir — Perhaps we need a change in perspective while looking at India’s history under the British rule. Gandhi has already been debunked before, so Swapan Dasgupta’s comments do not surprise. Neither does his avowal of Nirad C. Chaudhuri, who has always had a steady band of admirers. What does surprise is Dasgupta’s suggestion that India join the American bandwagon. And why does India have to latch on to one imperialist nation or the other to create its own ideals'
C. Acharya, Calcutta
Sir — There is much sense in what Swapan Dasgupta argues. India has been deluded to believe in the heroism of the Congress leaders fighting for independence for too long. It is time we stopped viewing imperialism as a negative force. Even the Mauryas were imperialists once. But the cultural change it affected in India’s neighbourhood can never be underestimated.
J. Haldar, Calcutta