Print edition : February 27, 1999

The article on the distribution of foodgrains to the vulnerable sections of the population was interesting and thought-provoking ("Tinkering with PDS prices", February 26). It may be right to argue that subsidies, while necessary in the short term, cannot be maintained indefinitely as they tend to stretch the country's resources to breaking point. But then, considerations other than the demands of the market economy arise when it comes to the well-being of people living below the poverty line. "National security" must necessarily include other forms of security - food security, for instance.

Food security cannot be achieved by merely producing large quantities of foodgrains; grain must be made available to all sections of the population at affordable prices. Herein lies the crux of the matter. About 35 per cent of India's population is estimated to live below the poverty line.

It is a matter of shame that poverty has not been eradicated even after 50 years of Independence. The trickle-down theory has clearly failed. Poverty can be removed only when politicians work towards this goal, burying their partisan differences, and the affluent become more altruistic. It is amazing that no political party has found a way to distribute foodgrains free to the most vulnerable sections of society.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Durham, United States Salman Rushdie

It is highly probable that the granting of a visa at the present juncture to Salman Rushdie by the BJP-led Government is only a part of its agenda to provoke Indian Muslims, or rather the lunatic fringe of the community, and thereby paint the whole community as one undifferentiated mass of bigots and fanatics. This, it hopes, will not only further crystallise and reinforce the 'Hindu' identity it is out to build, but also deflect national and international attention from - and significantly downplay - the horrific crimes being perpetrated by the Hindutva brigade. That is why the vicious outbursts of the Naib Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari - a self-proclaimed community leader with doubtful following - against the proposed visit of Rushdie to India are all the more deplorable. The support extended to him by Jai Bhagwan Goyal, the leader of the Delhi unit of the Shiv Sena, only goes to show how fanatics of all hues speak the same language of violence and intolerance.

Our commitment to secular, pluralist and democratic values impels us to uphold unequivocally Rushdie's right to visit India unhindered and to call upon all fellow Indians to frustrate the nefarious design of the Hindutva brigade by treating the calls of Syed Ahmed Bukhari and Jai Bhagwan Goyal with the contempt that they deserve.

Vivek Monteiro, Ammu Abraham, Irfan Engineer, Uday Mehta, Jayant Diwan, Jatin Desai, P.R. Ram, Alfio Miranda, Steve Rocha, Sukla Sen.

Kumble's feat

Congratulations to Anil Kumble for the historic feat of claiming all the ten wickets in an innings ("Twin victories", February 26). He bowled splendidly throughout the innings, keeping the free-stroking Pakistani batsmen on a tight leash. Over the years Kumble has done well in both Test and one-day cricket. His cool temperament has helped India in times of crisis. He is a perfect 'team man' who always encourages younger members of the team.

M. Goutam Prakash Khariwal Bangalore * * *

Actually, the fight was between cricket and communalism and not between Indian and Pakistani cricket teams. In the end, cricket won.

K.S. Rama Iyer Pondicherry Undermining India

Sitting here in our village home, keeping in touch with the world through the Internet, the newspapers and magazines like yours, we ask ourselves, how many fires can we fight? And yet it appears that there is really no option except to keep fighting them and to stand up for what we see as the values and beliefs which are intrinsic to the foundations on which this civilisation (if indeed we can use that term any longer) is based.

We have been reading the comprehensive coverage in your magazine of the ghastly and inhuman murder of members of the Staines family in Manoharpur and the hard-hitting articles on the politics of hate ("Undermining India", February 12). We have also read (on the Internet) the highly slanted report of the murders (from Rashtradeep - Orissa) with its not so oblique insinuations that Staines and his family deserved what they got. What a coincidence that the Santhals and the Kolhas apparently lost their patience 34 years after Graham Staines came to work and live in Keonjhar and decided to attack him when there is a BJP Government at the Centre, and the Sangh Parivar has targeted Christians as the new enemies! It is hard to believe that the so- called educated people hold these views and, more sinister, use their power and technology to propagate these views in the most dangerous fashion on the Internet from their comfortable spaces in American universities. It is also interesting that the fact that millions of dollars are sent by non-resident Indians to support fascist activities in the name of Hindutva is not questioned or attacked.

If only we can learn from history, we would see that we are moving inexorably towards fascism - and the silence of the majority can only hasten this process.

We too are Hindus, comfortable in the freedom of thought that it provides, and because of this we can also look at our own tradition critically and see and understand all the warts and distortions that it accommodates. But what is propagated in the name of Hinduism is a far cry from the philosphy to which we subscribe. Had we been born Dalits or tribal people, or experienced oppression and discrimination in the name of religion, we too might have opted for Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or any faith which promised us a better deal and the hope of social justice and dignity. Certainly, India's Constitution guarantees each of us that freedom.

In all the polemics and passion that we see around us, one hears little, if any, questioning or critiquing of the built-in inequities of Hinduism - only the shrill and fearful howls of the advocates of Hindutva with its distorted and dangerous ideology of linking religion with nationalism and patriotism. If we believe that it is the spirit of inquiry and search for truth that is the hallmark of both science and religion, then let us stop blaming others and begin looking inwards in the real quest for self-knowledge and encourage our people to bring about the changes within, rather than demonising other faiths, other denominations. But the politics of hate is so much easier to practise than the quest for truth. It has always been convenient to mobilise mobs - be it against masjids or mandirs, Dalits, tribal people, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, 'Madrasis', 'Bangladeshis', 'Pakistanis'. We continue to rely on fanning the flames of hatred for 'the other', to exercise power instead of coming to grips with the real issues of this country - poverty, education, employment and all-pervasive inequality. The issue is not one of conversions or Christianity, but of how to exploit people who have no identity or no hope of getting a space under the sun, as the foot soldiers in the service of the armies of destruction and mayhem who can terrorise, garner votes when needed, and ensure political power at all costs. Ultimately, it is through economic policy decisions and the right kind of education in our classrooms that we can hope to build the kind of India that our Constitution has promised. For now, we can only ask and hope that the right-thinking majority of people in this land, regardless of their religious affiliations, will speak up before it is too late.

Admiral Ramu Ramdas (former Chief of the Naval Staff) Lalita Ramdas Bhaimala, Maharashtra

* * *

Your crusade against the diabolical designs of the Sangh Parivar is commendable.

The riots in Suratkal, the persecution of Christians in Gujarat, and the outrage against a missionary in Orissa expose the Parivar's game plan. When the Babri Masjid was demolished, people in authority remained passive spectators. They remain so when the minorities are attacked. As long as the minorities have insufficient representation in the police force and secular values are not instilled in the guardians of law, there is no hope.

The biggest irony is that L.K. Advani, one of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, has become the Home Minister of this country. A.B. Vajpayee has proved to be the weakest Prime Minister of India. During his visit to Gujarat, instead of assuaging the hurt feelings of Christians, he suggested a national debate on conversions. With this he dropped his mask of moderation.

Ubedulla Mysore * * *

It was with a sense of dismay and shame that one watched the Home Minister making a humiliating trip to Mumbai to pacify the Shiv Sena's "paper tiger". It is a pity that the BJP Government with all the power at its command could not counter the threat to a visiting cricket team. The Shiv Sena's attack on the BCCI's office or threats to release poisonous snakes into the playground only proved its cowardice. If India is to progress, the culture of violence and terrorism should give way to goodwill, harmony and peace.

Dr. A.K. Tharien Oddanchatram, Tamil Nadu * * *

January 23, the day Graham Stewart Staines and his two young sons were burnt alive, was the blackest day in the history of our country. One is at a loss to understand why such a harrowing punishment was meted out to the missionary who had served leprosy patients in India since 1965.

Why does the Prime Minister hesitate to take stringent action against Bal Thackeray, at whose instigation the cricket pitch at the Ferozeshah Kotla stadium was damaged and the BCCI office in Mumbai was ransacked? Is the Sena chief so indispensable?

Mani Natarajan Chennai * * *

It was a unique and informative Cover Story. The need of the hour is unity, integrity and peaceful coexistence of various communities. We should uphold our secular values and fulfil the hopes and aspirations of every citizen.

Shaik Rafeeq Ahamed Rayachoty, Andhra Pradesh * * *

The expectation that the experience of heading a government in a modern democracy will soften Hindu fundamentalists, has been belied. With the assumption of power by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the process of undermining India started. The aim is to throw the country back into an era when power, wealth and education were concentrated in the hands of people who belonged to the upper strata of society. But we have come a long way. A government which owes allegiance to the Constitution has to go by the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

A. Jacob Sahayam Vellore, Tamil Nadu Arundhati Roy

Indian culture is rich and vibrant and Dalits' contribution to it is no less than that of any other section of our society. Unless this aspect is researched and brought out, Dalits will not get the kind of respect they deserve. In this context, Arundhati Roy's proposal to the Dalit Sahitya Akademi on the publication of the Malayalam translation of her novel was really pathbreaking ("In solidarity", February 12).

Dhiraj Kumar Delhi Role of bureaucrats

I read with great interest A.G. Noorani's article on Admiral Bhagwat's case in your February 12 issue. As usual Noorani's article is very scholarly and unbiased and would serve as reference material. I would, however, like to point out two references made to me in the article.

First, Noorani should have mentioned that I had also said in my letter to The Times of India that "he will therefore have to look for another Cabinet Secretary". This would have clarified that my intention was that I would rather vacate the post of Cabinet Secretary than sign the notification.

Secondly, the reference to the 1989 general elections. I do not know the basis on which it is mentioned that "and that the announcements in that behalf should be made by the Commission forthwith and before 2.00 p.m. on that date, in any case". This was not my belief at all. In an article I wrote on T.N. Seshan, published in November 1994, I have said that "I can only write about late Peri Shastri because I knew him well. It required a lot of courage to stand up to a strong Prime Minister like Rajiv Gandhi who decided to appoint two Election Commissioners obviously to control Peri Shastri. Seshan may say that he was not consulted here but he went out of his way to force the Law Ministry to issue the notification urgently. When Rajiv Gandhi decided to announce the general elections, an urgent Cabinet meeting was held when the Cabinet approved the proposal. Seshan as Cabinet Secretary should have been sent to Peri Shastri to convey the decision, but Rajiv Gandhi said, 'let us not send the bull into the China shop. Let Deshmukh go and settle it in his own quiet way.' I accordingly went across after sending a message to Peri Shastri. When I entered his room, I found him agitated, saying that he would not be dictated to by the Government in fixing the dates for the elections. There was a sharp exchange between us and tempers rose. I then decided to keep quiet and let Peri Shastri blow off steam. When he quietened down I convinced him that the Government was right in suggesting the dates as it had to make various administrative arrangements. Ultimately, the notification was issued accordingly."

This should make it clear that I was not the "civil servant who was sent as an errand boy". My brief was to persuade Peri Shastri to agree to the Government's suggestion. It should also be added that at that time I was not a serving civil servant but was re-employed to hold the post in the Prime Minister's Office.

B.G. Deshmukh Mumbai A.G. Noorani writes:

I was not called upon to mention, as B.G. Deshmukh insists, that he had asked the President "to look for another Cabinet Secretary". His intimation to President Zail Singh that he would not notify any order dismissing Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 as Prime Minister, was wrong enough. It was not his place to do so; least of all ask the President "to look for" a substitute especially since the office is in the bounty of the Prime Minister.

As for the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, the words in quotes are taken from Justice P.B. Sawant's judgment in the case brought by one of the two Election Commissioners whom Rajiv Gandhi appointed to overrule Peri Shastri, the CEC (S.S. Dhanoa vs Union of India & Ors. (1991) 3 Supreme Court Cases 567 at pages 581-582, para 22).

Deshmukh confirms my comment. It was based on Justice Sawant's reference to his mission as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. It is pointless to shift the blame to T.N. Seshan, then Cabinet Secretary, when he himself carried out an order he knew to be illegal and politically immoral. On his own showing, there was "a sharp exchange" between him and the CEC Peri Shastri and "tempers rose".

This would not have happened unless a zealous Deshmukh had tried to force the upright Peri Shastri to accept the election dates peremptorily urged by Rajiv Gandhi. He relented because the two Election Commissioners had been appointed to overrule him. "The bull in the China shop" could hardly have performed worse than Deshmukh himself did at the meeting. Significantly, Deshmukh has not a word of criticism of the man who sent him, Rajiv Gandhi. His Cabinet's decision was palpably illegal and politically immoral.

Judging by his own account, Deshmukh was far worse than the "civil servant who was sent as an errand boy". Both Seshan and Deshmukh carried out an illegal order with competitive enthusiasm. Servitors while in service, lecturers on retirement. The Constitution makes the CEC an umpire between the ruling party and the others. It is his prerogative to fix the dates. Two of the foremost civil servants of the day tried to suborn him.

Ban all Senas

The twin massacres by the Ranvir Sena in Jehanabad district are a testament to V.D. Savarkar's call to "'militarise Hinduism". As the blood of 12 Dalits (from Khoja Narayanpur, February 10) and of 23 Dalits (Shankarbigha, January 25) flows in central Bihar, the Sangh (more like, Jang) Parivar offers its regret from one side of its mouth, while it is gleeful on the other.

The Progressive Forum of India (PFI) condemns the Ranvir Sena for its violence as well as the Jang Parivar (notably the BJP) and the erstwhile Bihar Government for their studied negligence.

The Ranvir Sena, like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra three decades earlier, was set up in 1994 to counter the growth of Left organisations in central Bihar. From the first, the organisation was prone to violence. Before its formation, landlords (many of whom are Bhumihars) formed private militias that massacred, for instance, seven Dalits in Sawanbigha village in Jehanabad in 1991. In December 1997, the Ranvir Sena killed over 60 people in Lakshmanpur-Bathe, again in Jehanabad. Further, on January 9, 1999, a Ranvir Sena leader announced that his fascist band planned to conduct a massacre larger than that in Lakshmanpur in the near future. Neither the State Government nor the Jang Parivar did anything against him. Progressive forces in Bihar and elsewhere underscored the danger, but nothing was done. In fact, The Times of India reported that Vinod Sharma (Ranvir Sena) travelled with a police officer to Arwal at the time of the massacre. The PFI condemns this nexus between the landlord militia, the Jang Parivar and the institutions of the state.

The Ranvir Sena has been set up to undermine popular movements. It resorts to violence and to authoritarian acts against the oppressed. The PFI offers its support to those who feel the strong arm of such organisations and we call upon all progressive people to condemn and challenge such fascist bands.

Vijay Prashad (for the Progressive Forum for India) received on e-mail

Malaysia and the LTTE

With reference to Professor V. Suryanarayan's article (Frontline, January 29), let me point out that Malaysia has never banned the LTTE. The head of the counter-terrorist unit of the Royal Malaysian Police remarked recently that "since there is no LTTE in Malaysia, we therefore cannot ban it".

The fact that Tamils in Malaysia are generally sympathetic to the LTTE is well-known to the Malaysian state. The Government is not interested in taking any action in this regard because Tamils in Malaysia are loyal to the country and have contributed to its development immensely over the years. Unlike some of the elitist sections of the Tamil community here and elsewhere, the vast majority of the Tamil diaspora continue to provide humanitarian aid for their brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka. What is so terrible about this?

Prof. P. Ramasamy Department of Political Science National University of Malaysia received on e-mail

Unjust dismissal

The feature on Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat ("Unjust dismissal", January 29) made shocking revelations. Any communalisation of the defence forces owing to political and bureaucratic ineptitude will prove disastrous.

A Service chief deserves far better treatment from the civilian set-up. Disciplinary action should be taken against all officers who go against the ethos of their Service. A more interactive institutional set-up to enable joint decision-making is the need of the hour.

Sanjeev Kumar Agra, Uttar Pradesh * * *

This Government has seldom done anything that is not controversial. The Government reversed some of its decisions in the face of protests in the press and in Parliament, but in the case of the dismissal of the Navy chief its decision is irreversible. By sacking the head of one of our armed forces, the BJP-led Government has shown that it has learnt nothing from history.

Harihar Agra

A letter from the Editor

Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.


R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

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