Missile defence or offence?

Published : Aug 05, 2000 00:00 IST

This refers to your well-researched articles on the United States' National Missile Defence system (Cover Story: "Towards a new arms race", August 4).

"Give the dog a bad name and hang him," goes the saying. President Bill Clinton is practising this adage in letter and spirit by branding countries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq "rogue" states. The project apparently is not for a defence system but for an offence system aimed as a deterrent in the case of the U.S.' potential rival, China. The U.S. is trying to cultivate India as a geopolitical counter to China. In view of the possibility of the U.S. emerging as a threat worldwide, the logical cours e for India, China and Russia is to join hands to thwart its designs.

K.P. Rajan MumbaiKashmir

"Kashmir conundrum" (August 4), by Aijaz Ahmad, is an incisive analysis of the problem. A point on which Professor Ahmad may like to elaborate in some subsequent article concerns the communal and ethnic card that he describes as the imperialists' surest means to break up the larger unities of class and nation. It is the ideologically conservative and regressive expression of ethnicity, and its equation with nationalism, that is disruptive and dangerous. What the article would be referring to in the case of Yugoslavia is the U.S. policy of support to ethnic and fascist nationalisms, a policy continued with their undeclared support for a Kosovo that would be de facto independent, although within the framework of an official autonomy within Serbia.

From the Indian situation it could be argued that ethnicity has or could have another, a progressive, dimension, expressed through demands for a more federative system of governance, representation and autonomy. Whereas in India the unity of the nation i s being sought to be refounded using the "ethno-religious card", federalist assertion in a progressive form would be a way to meet the challenge of fascist nationalism.

Samir Jena New DelhiSyrian succession

Your coverage of Hafez al-Assad's death ("The Syrian succession," July 21)) missed out entirely on its effect on the foreign policy of Syria, barring a tail-end mention of Israel. There is another angle which is much more important.

In fundamentalism-ridden West Asia, there are only two countries, Syria and Iraq, that are totally secular; one has got a Christian Deputy Prime Minister in Tariq Aziz and the other has large Christian and Druze populations. They are also the two countri es in the region that have water. They are both controlled by the Baath party. With so much in common, Syria and Iraq should have been the best of friends. But, the "ego" of the two leaders did not permit it to happen.

Now, with Hafez-al-Assad gone, Saddam Hussein will try his best to normalise trade relations, which he very much needs. A land corridor to the Mediterranean Sea is all that Iraq needs to complete the mockery of United Nations sanctions. He has built a ra ilway right up to the border fence at Hsaiba and the highway too is there.

Syria too has a lot to gain: for instance, cheap oil. All that is needed is for the two Presidents to shake hands.

M. Seshagiri Rao BangaloreParsis' contribution

India cannot forget the contributions of the Parsi community to its progress ("Survivors through history", July 21). Dadabhai Naoroji, Firozshah Mehta, J.R.D. Tata, Homi Jahangir Bhabha, S.P. Godrej and various other leaders/persons of this community are remembered in this respect. This community has had a powerful presence in almost every field, be it science, literature, social service, cinema, art, business or politics.

Jay Prakash Kumar Gupta Dehri-on-Sone, BiharWomen and welfare

The National Profile on Women, Health and Development, jointly produced by the Women Health Development Cell of the World Health Organisation and the Voluntary Health Association of India, establishes that there is a close link between the improvement in women's health and their overall development in various fields ("Of women and welfare", July 21).

In India, the state and society have neglected the health of women. Marriage at a very young age, early motherhood and frequent pregnancies create multiple health hazards for women. Female infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are high. The probl ems are compounded by nutritional deficiency in pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Education plays a crucial role in women's development, as has been established by the Kerala model of development.

The report rightly focusses on the declining sex ratio as a major cause for concern. A strong preference for male babies leads to female foeticide and infanticide. The girl child is by the family seen as a source of financial burden mainly because of the dowry system.

Formulating more programmes and creating institutions for the welfare of women is not the answer. It is the non-implementation or half-hearted implementation of welfare programmes that has kept women's status low on indices of socio-economic development, such as literacy and health. This is mainly because of the patriarchal social environment in the country.

To set right the situation, the state's efforts should be supplemented by community-level initiatives and by changing social attitudes towards women. Since women constitute 50 per cent of the population, their development is essential for India's develop ment.

Sanjai Kumar Hazaribagh, BiharIodisation of salt

Several million Indians do not consume the required amount of iodine ("Dilemma over iodisation," July 7). Small quantities (150 microgrammes a day) of iodine in combined form have to be taken for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Iodine defici ency causes goitre and other disorders. Iodisation of salt is a convenient method to fight iodine deficiency. The major outlets of salt, such as grocery stores, should be allowed to sell only iodised salt. It has been stated that consuming excess iodine causes health problems in some people. Hence there is a need to have a few special outlets, such as medical shops, for the restricted sale of non-iodised salt.

A.S. Rao PuneA lesson from Korea

The meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas was indeed a pathbreaking development ("A historic Korean summit", July 7). That they chose to meet is itself significant. If East and West Germany could merge and form a single entity, then there is ever y possibility of the unification of the Koreas, given the peoples' urge to reunite. They have so much in common that they cannot be separated by a barbed wire fence for ever. With the Cold War being a thing of the past, hopefully there will be no outside influences that will come in the way of unification. One day or the other the U.S. forces have to leave South Korea.

The historic summit should open our eyes to the possibility of a long-term solution to the problems that have come in the way of peaceful co-existence between India and Pakistan. The Lahore peace process should be reviewed immediately. Let there be one-u pmanship among the political leaders in dealing with Pakistan. Both countries have suffered enough because of the bitter conflict.

D.B.N. Murthy BangaloreCricket

The article "Blaming it on South Asia" (July 7) aptly drew the readers' attention to the connection between the denials of both the South African authorities and CLP (Cricket Loving Public) and that country's apartheid legacy. The international sports bo ycott was "a powerful weapon against (that) regime"; a revival of international boycott of South African cricket might be in order now. A massive popular boycott would certainly give the jitters to the sponsors who fund the multi-million-dollar telecast rights of international matches and pressure the South African authorities and the CLP to look inward.

Michael Kuttner TorontoDrought

This refers to the letters published on the topic of drought (July 21). It has become the practice of our planners to panic whenever the rainfall becomes scanty. Water conservation and rain harvesting in good monsoon years are the only long-term solution s to the drought. The government should ensure that water is not wasted by the people and establishments. Owing to the lack of planning, a lot of river water is allowed to go into the sea without any use to the common people.

We irrigate our fields with more water than necessary. This was pointed out by Japanese scientists who visited India some years ago. The drip method may be used to irrigate our fields and farms. Instead of building huge dams, lakes should be built to sto re rainwater, as the ancient Tamil kings did.

G. Ramachandran PuneCorrections

* In the article "Under a cloud" (August 4), the year in which the official letter demanding revenue arrears from Sushila Singh was sent was wrongly given as 1973 in three places. The date of delivery of the letter was September 7, 1972, as mentioned els ewhere in the article.

* The Madras Medical College was established in the year 1835, not in 1885 as mentioned in "A leader by tradition" (Special Feature: 'Education in Chennai', July 21).

* The amount allotted for the Functional Genomics programme under Samir K. Brahmachari at the Centre for Biochemical Technology (CBT) is Rs. 8.4 crores, not Rs. 40 lakhs as mentioned in "For a mission approach" (August 4)

V.R. Krishna Iyer

SUSPICION is the upas tree under whose shade reason fails and justice dies, said Ingersoll. Some journalists who 'stoop to conquer' abuse their power and sprinkle noxious suspicion over half-truths and fob off as final conclusions what are unsustainable verdicts. This prurience-persiflage-populism syndrome afflicts rags, not great journals. The gullible public, for whom reading time is short and masala material is morning's pleasure, consume as truth such fact-fiction concoctions without serious reflect ion. News reporters and columnists, at times unwittingly, indulge in exaggerations and even inventions, if the prey is important enough to generate sensationalism or occupies commanding heights of power. Character assassination, cleverly disguised, is al lergy to standard journals and any blend of veracity and mendacity, even if such a touch may capture circulation, is anathema. Tennyson rightly versified the injustice of half-truths being served as whole truths: "That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought with outright,/ But a lie which is part a truth is a harder matter to fight."

There is another class of media literature, sensitive to high standards of journalism and sterling values, progressive perspectives and causes promotive of humanity's tryst with destiny. Such journals are few in number and Frontline is in the fron t line of this class in India and abroad. Thoughtful articles, radical presentations and lofty streams which elevate the human mind and defend the new world democratic order are the hallmark of N. Ram's fortnightly. Frontline has commanded my resp ect because every page I read makes me wiser and more reflective. This response of mine, poignantly written, is designed to bring home my humble view of one 'investigative' article in Frontline (issue of August 4, 2000; page 44).

THE author has transformed available material into journalistic serendipity while it is virtually a rehash of what was published earlier by a weekly called Kalchakra in Delhi. Journalistic grace and media ethics insist on minimum natural justice i n the sense of lending an opportunity for explanation to the target of the article affected by a seeming exposure of something unworthy. She may have a plausible reply. It is not fair to the victim, more so if he/she is available in Delhi (where the arti cle was written) and happens to be the wife of a high functionary.

I have no special brief for the robed brethren, some of whom are guilty of hubris, bias and venal traits. Judges too, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion. Their pontificatory ipse dixits and intimidatory contempt power should not silence < I>truthful disclosure. But the Press is indubitably accountable to society. When great journals, maintaining high principles, jettison restraint and responsibility and walk into the market of popular circulation one wonders whether Oscar Wilde's pres cription has fascinated them: "Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess!" Winston Churchill told the House of Commons that judges "are required to conform to standards of life" and conduct far more severe and restricted than that of ordinary people.

In lesser measure, editors and reporters of noble media may have to abide by this Churchillian prescription. "No public institution, or the people who operate it, can be above public debate" (Warren E. Burger). Press freedom is felonious while abusing pe n power because the pen is more lethal than the gun. The article which appeared in Frontline, made averments that mired the reputation of the Chief Justice of India, A.S. Anand, and is not quite becoming of Frontline. It made no personal im putation on him as Judge but roused suspicion by narrating incidents relating to his wife and some property.

V. Venkatesan, the journalist in question, has displayed superb skill, exalting marshalling of slender facts into the status of a verdict. The title, 'Under a cloud', immediately traps the reader's attention. The next lead sentence is opium: "A case invo lving a land dispute between Mala Anand, the wife of the Chief Justice of India..." But as a potential protective mantle it adds: "although the Chief Justice himself is not directly involved in the matter." Is he indirectly involved and, if so, was his o ffice an influence to achieve an injustice? I am surprised at a needle of suspicion without a plain imputation, which is the concealed object. The purpose is clear from the opening quotation in the article from Chief Justice Anand himself: "If a judge de cides wrongly out of motives of self-promotion, he is no less corrupt than a judge... financial gain." The blunt hint is that the article aims at a corrupt act associated with Chief Justice Anand. Why camouflage the intent in quotes? Why refer to a judic ial code of ethics unless the article is geared to unfolding Anand's alleged quasi-corrupt behaviour?

The writer, aware of a confidential, informal judicial code of ethics, violates the rules of professional journalism in failing to inquire from Mala Anand, who is very much in Delhi, whether she would respond to the allegations he has sourced from Kal chakra. Is it fair play to damn without the charity of asking the lady for her version, if any? If she declines, okay, you go ahead. What is the link between the Chief Justice and Mala Anand's property case? The writer is aware of the contempt power and circumvents it by hitting the lady while he cutely avoids the Judge. Kalchakra, on which he heavily relies, is bold and blunt and ready to face the penalty from the two justices. But this article is a study in contrast.

There is a grave charge, with frightful details, against Justice J.S. Verma made by the same Kalchakra and referred to in Frontline. The Frontline writer narrates the episode and wonders why the court failed to act. His investigative pursuit pauses without research into the alleged Verma bribery anecdote. Afraid? Discrimination? I, for one, know Justice Verma for a few years. His great performance in the hawala cases has made history and him a hero in the annals of the court. Indeed , public interest litigation found its finest hour and acquired a new dimension after Justice Verma made the executive and the mafia remain in panic by his court proceedings. Nevertheless, this article retreats from investigation into Verma while it hunt s for Anand. Why spare one and chase the other is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma!

Indeed, more intriguing is the fact that the article formally exonerates Justice Anand right at the top and chases Mala Anand, who is unable to speak because she is not contacted by the author. His visit to Gwalior is not equal to asking Mala what she ha d to say on the materials gathered. He would then have learned that a suit was filed long ago by Mala Anand against the Madhya Pradesh government regarding the land in dispute. She won the case and the State, dissatisfied, filed an appeal and lost it. Wanting to pursue the matter against Mala Anand, the government filed a second appeal and lost it again, and then a special leave petition was filed, which proved infructuous. It must be noted that all this took place a few years ago. Is it suggeste d that the trial judge, the appellate judge and the High Court were all influenced by Anand? Anand was not a Supreme Court Judge at all then. Is it the case that the Madhya Pradesh government colluded with Mala Anand? In which case why did the government contest the suit, file an appeal and a second appeal and a special leave petition? All these facts baffle one's understanding. The article makes much of a Commission to examine Mala Anand. Those who know the Procedure Code know this to be a simple discr etionary order. It is her evidence, not the Commission, that is relevant.

The effect here is to create irrelevant suspicion. Journalists must remember that jaundice mars one's objective vision. In more than one place, the writer evades positive assertions of his findings and merely states, "according to informed sources" or it is "alleged", and such like expressions which responsible journalism will be allergic to. The 'unkindest cut of all' is that for two years after everything was over and months after Kalchakra has published the charges against the two judges, the writer essentially discovered nothing more than what Kalchakra had mentioned earlier.

PERHAPS I am sad to say these things because Mr. N. Ram is a great human being and Frontline, the marvellous educator of the public.

Before concluding, I must make it perfectly plain that I am not wholly happy with the Mala Anand matter although it is outrageous for anyone to suggest that three courts and the Madhya Pradesh State colluded to help Mala Anand gain enormous wealth throug h some subterranean influence of her husband who was not anywhere in the Supreme Court!

Both Verma and Anand have been great judges. But even Homer nods. There may be black spots in the sun and in the moon. I feel distressed at the Kalchakra saga about these two judges. To my brethren on the Bench may I bend and beg and biblically me ntion: Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? Accountability is applicable and transparency is necessary whenever our public interest is vested - in the journalist or the judge.

The Everest stature of the Indian judicature is the guardian of the constitutional order. To plunge it into an imbroglio, or separate it from the people by an iron curtain, is a misfortune, which we should do our best to avert.

Editor's Note: With reference to the fairness principle in journalism, we wish to point out that Frontline's Special Correspondent contacted Mala Anand's legal counsel for a full response before the publication of the article. The Chief Justice's wife is still free to exercise her right to reply, in a relevant and fact-based way, in these columns.

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