Volume 16 - Issue 23, Nov. 06 - 19, 1999
India's National Magazine on indiaserver.com
from the publishers of THE HINDU
Table of Contents
"Managing to lose" (November 5) analyses the reasons for the worst ever performance of the Congress(I) in Lok Sabha elections. Blaming it on Sonia Gandhi, the party's star campaigner, is too simplistic. A combination of factors put paid to the party's dream of returning to power. Organisational weakness still plagues the party. Although large crowds attended the election meetings addressed by Sonia Gandhi, the lack of follow-up action resulted in the party winning fewer seats than last time. Three Chief Ministers campaigned for the party in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but the majority of people in these States voted for the BJP. The Kargil factor and Sonia's inexperience in politics may have weighed with the voters, who chose to play it safe by preferring an experienced leader like Vajpayee.
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The results are seen as a major setback for the Congress(I), and Sonia Gandhi's "immature leadership" is blamed for it. The ground reality is totally different. The Congress(I) has come back to power in Karnataka and Maharashtra. Earlier, under Sonia's leadership, it wrested Rajasthan and Delhi from the BJP. The best course for the Congress(I) now is to work as a responsible Opposition in Parliament, reposing faith in Sonia.
This has reference to the article, "Standing up for a right" (November 5).
It is undeniable that the Supreme Court rulings (August and September 1999) and the office memorandums of the Department of Personnel and Training amount to social discrimination in a refined form to deprive the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of their constitutional right to reservation in educational institutions and government jobs. In the long term, such actions will perpetuate and reinforce social inequality which is at the root of political, economic and other inequities.
The higher judiciary and administration are manned by people from privileged castes and classes. These sections have always felt that it was because of reservations that their youth do not get jobs. They also feel that their hold over the higher echelons of the power structure is under threat. Hence the attempt to dilute the benefits of reservation and block the rise of the S.C.s and S.T.s in institutions of science, technology and medicine.
Over the years the entire issue of reservations has been raised and debated in public and in courts. It has been recognised that social groups that have suffered atrocities, indignities, injustices and exploitation over the centuries need the support of the government and society as a whole. Even today the problems of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy are widespread among S.C.s and S.T.s. They continue to be exploited and discriminated against and deprived of even their political right to vote ("Targeting Dalit voters", October 8).
In this situation it is necessary for the S.C.s and S.T.s, as also non-governmental organisations, to come together and launch a campaign to protect the right to reservation.
It is the duty of the Ministry of Law and Justice to ensure that this constitutional right is not hijacked. The media should also highlight these problems.
It is appropriate that Frontline covered the 50th anniversary of the formation of the People's Republic of China as a Cover Story ("People's China at 50," October 22).
The world is keenly watching the experiment conducted by Chinese society in its march towards egalitarianism. Some people say that the reforms undertaken by the country mark a clear break from its traditional path of socialism. But, as Prabhat Patnaik argues, the economic development that has taken place in China in the past 20 years has its foundation in the policies pursued prior to the reform period. I also share the opinion of Utsa Patnaik that during the transition to market socialism China has lost some of the gains it made in the first three decades after the Revolution. It is to be hoped that the Chinese leaders will take steps to counter this trend.
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In the past, China has struggled a lot but today it is emerging as the only power that is capable of challenging U.S. hegemony. China has realised that a strong economy is the foundation of a powerful nation.
India has two lessons to learn from China. First, China employs market economy but it is not controlled by the market. Secondly, it has adopted a prudent economic policy with regard to foreign investments and government expenditure.
For decades India has adopted a negative attitude towards China. It should take a pragmatic approach. China is not an expansionist dragon but a loving and friendly one. Thanks to some of the pronouncements of the Vajpayee government, the relations between India and China are at a new low. While hostilities and a proxy war continue on the western border of India, there is peace and tranquillity on the eastern side. If only Vajpayee had directed his bus towards Beijing instead of Lahore, India would have benefited a lot.
In 1995, it was Chief Election Commissioner T.N. Seshan. In 1999, it is the Election Commission itself.
The judgment of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upholding publication/telecast of opinion and exit poll results during the election process has dealt a major blow to the Election Commission, which has been working tirelessly to provide a 'level playing field' to political parties and thus achieve the goal of free and fair elections ("Polls and opinions," October 8). The Election Commission has rightly observed that the Indian electorate, being largely poor and uneducated, is likely to be influenced by these surveys. They also provide an opportunity to political parties to influence media organisations and have survey results that are in their favour published. The spirit behind the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression should not be misused.
The Election Commission does not have the power to enact laws, but as a watchdog it surely can exercise the option to bark if not bite. As suggested by the Chief Election Commissioner, such sensitive issues should be debated at the national level before they are legislated upon.
The nuclear question
The Indian voter, who would vote out a government when the price of onions rises and then vote against the newly elected government if he finds his water tap dry, cares little for the danger posed by nuclear weapons. He worries little about the prospect of his children and grandchildren being turned into ashes instantaneously or left alive with radiation-induced cancer.
Now that the Vajpayee Government is relatively stable, it can afford to unwind itself of its aggressively populist posture on the nuclear issue. The first step is to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). India's decision on signing the treaty should be linked only with that of Pakistan, for which that country is agreeable. It will be unwise to think that all nuclear weapon powers are our potential enemies and that we should have arms to deter all of them. No one can dispute that our technical capability is above that of Pakistan and by stopping tests at this stage we shall be able to maintain our superiority. Pakistan may be more backward than India, but if India begins testing for the purpose of achieving weapons sophistication, Pakistan will do the same. This will result in a disastrous nuclear arms race in the subcontinent.
Minorities and the BJP
The students of Vidyajyoti Jesuit College of Theology, New Delhi, have written that the killing of Fr. Arul Doss and Sheikh Rehman took place in Orissa "on the eve of the general elections" ("Letters," October 22). I am not a supporter of the BJP, nor do I sympathise with fundamentalists, whether they are Hindus, Muslims or Christians. But is it not ironical that a party branded as the Saffron Brigade and a Hindu party would mastermind such a heinous crime on the eve of the elections? While all political parties try to improve their image prior to elections, how could a national party like the BJP have committed such a mistake?
If at all there is any political support given to the killers of Fr. Arul Doss and Sheikh Rehman, it is by the so- called secular forces. This is done with the intention of arousing the religious sentiments of people, for obvious reasons.
Mukesh Mohan Sinha
It is a great misfortune of our country that when one part of it is submerged in floods another is in the grip of drought ("The Kosi untamed", September 25).
In a country where 75 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for livelihood, provision of water should get priority. Owing to the absence of a proper water policy, we are not able to take advantage of the 4,000 trillion litres of rain water the country is estimated to get every year. Priority should be give to the transfer of water from water-surplus areas to other parts of the country.
For nearly 50 years, I have shed tears for the young, bright persons who became vegetables after suffering brain injury in accidents involving two-wheelers. Young widows with children evoke our sympathy, but it is more distressful to see young women struggling to support brain-damaged husbands and young children. Similar is the plight of elderly parents who are left with a son or a daughter who has suffered brain injury in a two-wheeler accident.
I invite the members of the public to visit with me the hospital wards in Tamil Nadu to see parents and young wives weeping for their sons and husbands. This will convince them not to worry about minor inconveniences caused by the wearing of helmets. People avoid wearing helmets on the ground that their hair style would be disturbed. But only if there is a head can there be hair or a hairstyle. If hair really falls off owing to the use of helmets, most of the bike-riders in the West, Japan and South-East Asia and even New Delhi would be bald by now.
Some people say that it is difficult to wear helmets in hot weather. This is true but people in Delhi, West Asia and many places in South-East Asia, which are hotter than Chennai, for instance, wear helmets for safety. The headache that a helmet causes is temporary and certainly less intense than the pain resulting from fractures of the skull or brain injury.
Nobody denies that carrying a helmet and keeping it safe are inconveniences. But if you had shed one thousandth of the tears I have shed for my patients and their wives and parents, you will immediately demand that wearing crash helmets be made compulsory for two-wheeler riders.
Dr. B. Ramamurthi
Correction: In the Maharashtra Assembly elections, the BJP won 56 seats and the Shiv Sena 69 seats. The seats position with regard to these two parties got interchanged erroneously in the table accompanying "Fractured mandate in Maharashtra" (November 5).