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Wednesday, September 2, 1998
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Czar Boris in last war
IT is a naked power struggle in Moscow, with only a dim chance of a ceasefire. From the looks of it, President Boris Yeltsin is the most likely loser and the Russian Parliament the likely winner.
Reverse exodus
ELECTION time is transfer time. Party hopping becomes as frenzied as holiday tours during this period. The season has begun in right earnest as the November elections in four states draw near.
Tackling tax disputes
THE universally acceptable image of the tax collector is that of a black-robed, masked and axe-carrying executioner.

Edit page articles

An unending conflict
by Kuldip Nayar
THE Afghans and the Indians were too close to one another for centuries. Even after the formation of Islamic Pakistan, Kabul had far better relations with New Delhi than Islamabad.
The forgotten
economic plan

by Vinod Mehta
SPEAKING at the annual meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry in April last, the Prime Minister enunciated his government’s plan to recharge the economy in 90 days.

News reviews

Secular parties must
come together

EBRAHIM SULAIMAN SAIT of Kerala has been one of the tallest post-Independence Muslim leaders in the country with a very long track record as a parliamentarian with a six-year stint in the Rajya Sabha and an unbroken 29 years in the Lok Sabha.


Onions and opinions
by O. P. Bhagat

“DO roti, chutney aur pyaz”, says a Dev Kohli film song. In short, rhythmic lines it sums up the secret of the Punjabi’s simple, hard-working and exuberant nature.

75 Years Ago

Fire insurance case
KHAN Sahib Shaikh Munir Hussain, Additional District Magistrate, Lahore delivered judgement this afternoon in the Fire insurance case in which M. Amar Nath BA, LLB was being tried for burning down a shop on the Mall, in which he carried on his business as the Proprietor of Alexandra Cigarette Company, in order to cheat Messrs Arbuthnot and Gillanders of Lahore, the local agents of the London Assurance Corporation, of a sum of Rs 30,000 for which the contents of the shop were insured with the said Messrs Arbuthnot and Gillanders.

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50 years on indian independence


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Czar Boris in last war

IT is a naked power struggle in Moscow, with only a dim chance of a ceasefire. From the looks of it, President Boris Yeltsin is the most likely loser and the Russian Parliament the likely winner. He can surrender his powers or even bow out now with a decent pension and immunity from prosecution or stay on, force a parliamentary election on the country and see his opponents romp home riding on the crest of his huge unpopularity. A hostile Duma, the lower house of parliament, will mean a grave risk. Either way it is one hour before midnight for the President and his men. He will thus be the biggest casualty of the crippling economic crisis, with the rouble depreciating by 50 per cent, prices skyrocketing, banks and shops remaining closed waiting for the price of money and goods to stabilise. But he will still be only the second casualty, the first being the Russian version of capitalism. Everyone agrees that it is the headlong plunge into unchartered capitalism that has left the country and its people in deep debt and demeaningly poor. It is the second major failure of President Yeltsin. In 1993, when he sent army tanks to crush dissent among MPs, he promised a better future through economic reforms and a better society through democratic institutions. He has ended up being whimsical and authoritarian, most of the time a national embarrassment.

The Duma vote against the nomination of Mr Viktor Chernomyrdin as Prime Minister on Monday is only the surface symptom of the five-year-old fight for power sharing. At present the President has all the powers and Parliament none, except the right to confirm the appointment of the head of government. Even here, the President can send the same name three times, as he did in the case of the sacked Mr Sergei Kiriyenko, and if rebuffed, can dismiss the House and call for election, which he may now do if his choice, Mr Chernomyrdin, fails to win approval. But there is a big difference this time. Today Mr Yeltsin has no moral authority or political legitimacy, having squandered the enormous goodwill he accumulated by bringing down the previous system. In 1993 he could order bombing of the parliament building and both the army and broad mass of people were with him. Now soldiers are chafing at nonpayment of wages for some months and the citizens are impatient for change of leadership and an end to the nightmare that living has become. Until now Mr Yeltsin could always scare his western friends and supporters to lend him billions by pointing to the nuclear stockpile and wrong people coming to power and controlling the deadly missiles. This threat has worn thin and anyway, the recent default has meant a loss of $ 40 billion to foreign investors. What this means is that Mr Yeltsin has no elbow room inside the country or outside. The two-day summit with President Clinton from Tuesday does not even have the merit of photo opportunity. It is Czar Boris’s saddest hour.top


Reverse exodus

ELECTION time is transfer time. Party hopping becomes as frenzied as holiday tours during this period. The season has begun in right earnest as the November elections in four states draw near. If it was the Congressmen who left their party in droves before the 1998 general elections, this time the movement is in the reverse direction: from the Bharatiya Janata Party and others to the Congress. For most of the passengers, it is a sort of homecoming. Six of the Independents who have now joined the Congress in Rajasthan had rebelled against the Congress at the time of the last elections. The move to bring them back was in the air for quite some time but the final ceremony was carefully delayed to coincide with the coming elections. The Congress hopes to draw considerable psychological advantage from the switchover, by projecting the Shekhawat government as a sinking ship but the analogy is not exactly true. The two BJP MLAs who have now joined the Congress, Mr Gopi Chand Gujar and Mr Moti Lal Kharera, had already been expelled from the BJP though not from the Legislature Party. Despite the setback, there is hardly any scope of a change in Rajasthan because of two reasons. One, the number tally is still in favour of the BJP. And two, the Congress is not likely to attempt any toppling so close to the elections lest the BJP gains some sympathy. Party spokesperson Girija Vyas has said as much: "We don't want to waste our energy on this now but will motivate people to join the Congress". Still, Monday's developments should ring alarm bells in the BJP loud and clear. It is in dire straits, with glaring failures on social, political as well as economic fronts all over the State. Its morale has no doubt been boosted by the recent Sankalp rally but that was more a sign of effective crowd collection than general popularity. It should not forget the humiliating defeat that it suffered during the February Lok Sabha elections.

Two former Union Ministers, Mr Sis Ram Ola and Mr Sat Pal Maharaj, who have also joined the Congress, had walked out from the parent party on the eve of the 1995 general elections to join the breakway Congress (Tiwari) group. Mr Ola and Mr Maharaj joined the Deve Gowda government but refused to follow their leaders, Mr Narain Dutt Tiwari and Mr Arjun Singh, back to the Congress and floated an independent party, Indira Congress (Secular) and remained in the I.K. Gujral government. Their decision has completed the merger of the Tiwari Congress in the parent party. The ostensible reason for this flocking back is the "charismatic leadership of Mrs Sonia Gandhi". But the real reason could very well be the promise of tickets for the forthcoming elections. That is where the Congress has to be rather wary of the likely negative fallout of the latest acquisitions. By giving them a special treatment, the party may end up annoying its loyalists. Murmurs are already being heard that if some candidates are imposed from above, those who have been supporting the party in a steadfast manner all along may raise a banner of revolt. That can be a dangerous proposition. Even in the 1993 Assembly elections when the congress was in much better shape, those foisted by the high command had performed badly.top


Tackling tax disputes

THE universally acceptable image of the tax collector is that of a black-robed, masked and axe-carrying executioner. Tax collection is indeed an unpleasant job and in India it has become doubly difficult because the average tax-payer is not convinced that his contribution to the national kitty is being put to good use. What is needed is a scheme which would inspire one to pay one’s taxes on time and willingly. Without evolving a system which would make the government of the people give an account of every paisa it spends, before asking for more money, the long overdue reform in the tax collection procedures is not possible. Unfortunately, under the existing arrangement even an honest tax-payer is made to look like a cheat while filing his returns. Mr P. Chidambaram as Union Finance Minister introduced the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme to mop up black money, instead of introducing a procedure which would discourage the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth. From yesterday Mr Yashwant Sinha’s brainchild, the Kar Vivad Samadhan Scheme, has come into force with the stated objective of securing the release of Rs 52,000 crore locked up in tax disputes. It is a hairbrained scheme and the way it is being sold gives the impression that it is another VDIS under a different label. It defies logic why the Finance Ministry has introduced a fixed-term scheme instead of creating a permanent body for the out-of-court settlement of tax disputes. The scheme is applicable only in cases where showcause or demand notices were issued before March 31, 1998 and those who want to seek relief under it would have to do so within the next four months. Those who have been issued notices on or after April 1 are not covered by the scheme. Why?

Disputes are built into the system of taxation and people seek relief from the courts only when their case is not heard by the taxation authority concerned. In exchange for the withdrawal of appeals pending before courts and appellate tribunals, the scheme offers settlement of disputes of direct tax arrears at reduced rates, waiver of interest and immunity from prosecution. If this does not sound suspiciously like another VDIS, what does? Otherwise, if the objective of the scheme is what has been officially stated, only those who have a weak case would avail of the so-called package of concessions. Why should an honest tax-payer, who believes that the assessment of his tax liabilities is based on wrong calculations, join the long queue of those who have raised a dispute only because they want to stall the process of tax-collection? A more absurd provision of the scheme is the one which exudes from consideration cases in which no appeal is pending before any tribunal or court. Is it fair to presume that a large number of people whose tax liabilities may have been wrongly computed — the taxation authority is not a model of efficiency — have no case to plead simply because they did not question the showcause or demand notice before a court of law? Mr Sinha should explain how the Kar Vivad Samadhan Scheme is different from the unpopular VDIS of Mr Chidambaram — unpopular, because it offered relief to those who had committed economic offences? Surely, “kar vivad samadhan” cannot and should not be a one-time exercise. Or, does the Finance Minister believe that what he has offered is the mother of all tax dispute settlement schemes and that four months from now the tax assessment and collection system would have become so efficient that no tax payer would feel the need to seek relief from a court of law? The only difference between Kar Samadhan and VDIS is that the former is expected to help known defaulters while the latter was meant for faceless cheats.top


An unending conflict
India’s stakes in Afghanistan
by Kuldip Nayar

IN his book, “Discovery of India,” Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “More correctly, the Afghans should be called the Indo-Afghans. They behaved, to begin with, as conquerors over a rebellious people and were cruel and harsh. But soon they toned down. India became their home and Delhi their capital. The process of Indianisation was rapid and many of them married women of the country.”

The Afghans and the Indians were too close to one another for centuries. Even after the formation of Islamic Pakistan, Kabul had far better relations with New Delhi than Islamabad. As late as September 18-20, 1978,when Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Kabul as the External Affairs Minister of India, President Amin told him: “Let us have a secret pact; you take one part of Pakistan and we take the other part.” He was referring to the NWFP. Pushtoonism had been an emotional problem for them.

Relations between Kabul and New Delhi nosedived in 1980 when we sided with the then Soviet Union at the time of invasion of Afghanistan. I recall when I visited Kabul that year, I saw even close friends turning their back on me. They felt betrayed. One remark I heard again and again was: “How could you do so, you have been our friends.” I feel India has not been able to win back the Afghans since.

Islamabad made good use of the space we vacated. Gen Zia-ul-Haq, then the Pakistan Chief Martial Law Administrator, opened camps in Pakistan for the Afghan refugees and allowed the Jammat-e-Islamia, financed by contributions from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to preach among them and through them in Afghanistan that Muslims belonged to one ummat (brotherhood) and what hurt the Afghans hurt the Pakistanis.

General Zia got his lifetime chance when Washington chose Islamabad as a conduit to send arms and money to mujahideen so as to bleed the then Soviet Union. Pakistan reached them weapons and planned their strategy and warfare. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) coordinated all the activities. New Delhi was nowhere in the picture. Nor did it care to keep contact with any rebel leader even later. One of them, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, then living in Peshawar, complained to me that no Indian, not even an academic, ever tried to meet him.

When Moscow accepted the defeat and withdrew its forces from Afghanistan, Islamabad considered it its own victory, recognising the role of the mujahideen only cursorily. Washington was interested only in humiliating Moscow. The USA quit the moment the Russian soldiers left.Top

Tearing a leaf from the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s book, General Zia, or more so the ISI, tried to force Kabul to look towards Islamabad for guidance. This came both as a surprise and as a shock to the Afghans, who were looking for friends, not masters. They had defeated the Soviet Union to be free. They could not accept Pakistan’s tutelage.

New Delhi should have taken the initiative at that time to win over the estranged Kabul. But India sat pretty, feeling confident that Afghanistan would ultimately approach it for reconstruction. For that it was too soon. At that time there was no Afghanistan as such. There were only chieftains and commanders. So much so that Kabul’s writ did not run beyond a few kilometres. India could have helped individual commanders economically and militarily. But it did not want to get involved.

Pakistan was in a position to play the role of an honest broker and bring around the same table different tribal chiefs and commanders. But its interest was confined to making Afghanistan a part of the territory under its influence. It wanted to convert the defiant Afghanistan into a satellite.

For years Islamabad had nurtured Hikmatyar, a Pushtoo and a fundamentalist. But when Pakistan wanted to induct him in Afghanistan, it found him a staunch Afghan. He could not be trusted all the way. The plan was deferred till the ISI produced a dependable alternative, the Taliban, the students who had been intensively indoctrinated in fundamentalism in madarsas (schools). They were willing to accept beliefs and ideas which knew no moderation, no tolerance. Some of them were in Pakistan as refugees, and some were in Afghanistan studying at the feet of mullahs. The ISI helped them group, train and arm themselves. It is an open secret that the Pakistan army backed them and at times fought by their side. Ms Benazir Bhutto’s Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar, and ISI chief Hamid Gul are the creators of the Taliban force.

India woke up to the presence of the Taliban too late. It sensed the danger when a few of them came to Kashmir to fight by the side of militants. It did little to help the opponents on the plea that it had no land route to Afghanistan. Mr Inder Kumar Gujral, as Foreign Minister, did visit Teheran to have closer ties with Iran and some Central Asian countries. But things did not go far. Iran was interested only in the Shia population. And Moscow was too weak after the Cold War to be a serious threat.

America’s bombing, though in violation of the principles of sovereignty, is understandable because the parts of Afghanistan under the Taliban have become a sanctuary for terrorists. The presence of training camps in Afghanistan is old news. They were established in 1982-83, near the border of Pakistan in the province of Khost, Afghanistan, as President Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger has confirmed. The CIA and British intelligence built them as training grounds for anti-Soviet war machine. America was then promoting Islamic jihad against communist kafirs (infidels). Osama bin Laden, now number one on Washington’s wanted list, is a mujahid trained by American taxpayers.Top

Afghanistan in particular, and the Afghans in general have never been part of terrorist activity outside their borders. During the 11 years of war against the Soviet Union, there was not even one incident of terrorism against the Soviet nationals outside Afghanistan. Over 1.5 million Afghans and approximately 50,000 Soviet nationals were killed; it all happened inside Afghanistan.

The future scenario does not look bright. Afghanistan may become a centre of terrorists, who will go to any place in the world to destroy or kill. Islamabad will encourage them, as it has done in the past to infiltrate into India, particularly Jammu and Kashmir. An unending proxy war can assume serious proportions. New Delhi may have then very few options left, although it rules out a hot pursuit.

In due course, Pakistan will also face the Frankenstein in the Taliban it has created. Their society particularly women, will face the onslaught of fundamentalism. There may be more violence in the country. The Pukhtoonistan movement may get another lease of life since the Taliban are themselves Pushtoons. The 1893 Durand Line, which separated the NWFP from Afghanistan, has got erased over the years.

However, to imagine that the members of the Taliban are the future rulers of Afghanistan is unreal. They have a limited base and that too among the Pushtoons. The other tribes like the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazars are hostile to the Taliban. They will not sit quiet. They will carry on the war.

From whichever angle one may look at the situation, there is no go from a composite government at Kabul. All tribes have to be participants in the governance. Islamabad is well placed to bring about such a situation. But it does not want to lose its control. This is a shortsighted policy. Whatever it involves and how much time it takes, the Afghans will free themselves from outside control. Few people have been more distinctively shaped by their land and tradition than the Afghans.Top


The forgotten economic plan
by Vinod Mehta

SPEAKING at the annual meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in April last, the Prime Minister enunciated his government’s plan to recharge the economy in 90 days. He also assured continuation of the reservation policy for the small-scale sector before a gathering of small-scale producers. At that time, I pointed out that all these pronouncements taken together do not add up to a policy which could revive the economy in the quickest possible time. The fact is that far from recharging the economy, the government at the Centre has pushed it towards recession.Top

The Prime Minister announced at the CII gathering that his government would be unveiling a 90-day 13-point action plan for the revival of the economy. The envisaged measures included mobilisation of investible funds like PF for investment purposes and reduction of the NPAs of banks and financial institutions, setting up of a commission to review administrative laws, rules and regulations governing industry, overhauling of FERA and the Companies Act, directly monitoring of the Rs 100 crore-plus infrastructure projects, increasing of the savings rate from 26 to 30 per cent FIPB to give a definite response to every FDI proposal within 60-days, as well as transparent policies governing FDI.

It was pointed out that these proposals were not action-oriented which the government could initiate to recharge the economy in 90 days, but were more of the nature of setting up some committees and task forces (hopefully) to suggest amendments or overhauling, etc, of the existing scheme of things to spur the economy. As experience shows, with the time taken by such committees to suggest amendments, etc, as well as the time taken by the government to accept or reject such recommendations, it was doubtful if this miracle could be performed even within nine months! This is evidently coming true.

For instance, to make the Provident Fund resources available for infrastructure development, the PF provisions will have to be changed drastically. As of today, 100 per cent of the PF funds go to the government which pays a steady 12 per cent rate of interest; but with a part of the funds going into infrastructure and other projects, the earning could be more or less than 12 per cent. Will this be acceptable to the PF members. Some have expressed fear that their money could sink also.

Therefore, the government will have to first ensure that the PF subscribers agree to a part of their funds being used for the development of infrastructure, etc. This is not going to be an easy task. However, even after 150 days of promise to recharge the economy in 90 days, not even a committee has been set up to look into the part utilisation of the PF funds for infrastructure projects; there is no move to take the PF subscribers into confidence.

Similarly, the question of reducing the non-performing assets (NPAs) of banks has become extremely difficult because the government is not willing to carry forward the financial sector reforms. Neither the government is willing to allow mergers for the emergence of world class mega banks nor is it willing to disinvest in the nationalised banks so that these could be run on commercial lines, which will ultimately help them to reduce their NPAs.

There are two opinions about a proposal that the domestic rate of savings needs to be stepped up from the current 26 per cent of the GDP to 30 per cent. This, however, requires appropriate fiscal measures coupled with the development of the necessary sensitivity among the corporate bodies and the general public to save more, followed by some sort of a national campaign for the purpose. One cannot achieve a 30 per cent growth rate in the savings overnight; it is a slow process and only at the end of the financial year could one know if the rate of savings, in a particular year, has increased or decreased. But the current year’s Budget totally ignored this aspect. There is nothing in the Budget which will help step up the rate of domestic savings. Another observation of the Prime Minister ignored.

The Prime Minister’s 13-point programme was totally mum over the reforms in the financial sector as well as the follow-up steps on the disinvestment proposals. It is astonishing that these two important areas on which hinges the revival of the primary and secondary capital markets as well as the survival of the financial sector itself in the competitive environment, are being ignored even today when Sensex is ruling below the 3,000 level. In fact, these were the two areas where some swift action on the part of the government could have yielded positive results in the next 180 days, if not 90 days.Top


Onions and opinions

by O. P. Bhagat

“DO roti, chutney aur pyaz”, says a Dev Kohli film song. In short, rhythmic lines it sums up the secret of the Punjabi’s simple, hard-working and exuberant nature.

It also implies that the onion is a common, low-priced vegetable. It is another matter, if now and then, by some vagaries of weather or quirks of demand and supply, its price shoots up and sends shock waves about.

The onion has always been the poor man’s vegetable, though the rich have used it no less for its spicy and other virtues.

Old, very old, is the onion story. It is the first herb and one of the first vegetables cultivated by man. And it has been among his favourites since. The Bible mentions it. Sanskrit has more than one name for it.

Homer also refers to it. He compares the fine tunic of Odysseus with the onion’s “thin skin”.

The Egyptians offered onions to their gods. They kept onions among the grave gifts for the use of the dead in the afterlife. The first pictures of the onion are found painted in the Egyptian tombs.

Some Indian sects keep away from onions. It is for what is called its tamsik qualities. But this has by no means diminished its popularity. Millions eat it daily in salads and sauces and in dal and other dishes. Also as pickle, pakora and other savouries and specialities.

In Swift’s lyrical cries of market women the vendor’s fulsome praise for it is fit praise when she says:

For this is every cook’s opinion,

No savoury dish without an onion.

Nothing is wrong with onions, say its votaries. Nothing, except its smell.

But the onion’s smell is no ordinary smell. It is a strong, almost offensive, odour. Remember the TV ad in which a picnicking girl turns her nose from her boy? The guy has eaten a burger, garnished, among other things, with onions. He needs the breath freshener the ad is about.Top

It was in such a context that J.M. Bailey said, “When a couple of young people strongly devoted to each other commence to eat onions, it is safe to pronounce them engaged.”

Much before him, Bottom, in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, sounded the same note when he said, “And, most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath.”

The onion’s odour comes from the sulphur in it. It is this sulphur that makes you cry while peeling or slicing the bulbs. To quote Shakespeare again, this time from “The Taming of the Shrew”:

If the boy has not a woman’s gift

To rain a shower of commanded tears,

An onion will do well for such a gift.

However, J.G. Huneker goes philosophical — or, is it cynical? — when he says, “Life is like an onion; you peel off layer after layer and then you find there is nothing in it.”

Being the people’s vegetable, the onion is rich in folklore. And its strong aroma takes a sweet, romantic turn there. To dream of onions means good luck. Put an onion under your pillow on St Thomas eve, and you will dream of your future spouse.

In folk medicine the onion is a cure for almost every ill. It relieves colds, earache, phlegm in the throat, even diphtheria. It makes childbirth easy. A 12th century Jewish physician recommended it for family planning.

Merely keeping an onion also does good. In Europe they carry a red onion in the lefthand or the left pocket to ward off disease. In our country carrying an onion is considered a sure shield against the ill effects of the hot summer wind.

The great London plague terrorised the whole city. The only places said to be immune from it were the onion and garlic shops.


Secular parties must come together

EBRAHIM SULAIMAN SAIT of Kerala has been one of the tallest post-Independence Muslim leaders in the country with a very long track record as a parliamentarian with a six-year stint in the Rajya Sabha and an unbroken 29 years in the Lok Sabha. After parting company with the Indian Union Muslim League, Sulaiman Sait launched his own outfit, the Indian National League, and remains its President now. Sulaiman Sait is now on a mission to unite all the secular forces behind the Congress and effectively challenge the BJP and its allies. He was in New Delhi recently for this mission when K. Vaidiyanathan met him to discuss the present political scenario in the country and know his views on various issues confronting the nation and the Muslim community. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: What are the changes you see in the social and political atmosphere of the nation between 1947 and now.

A: The country was then being led by leaders of great stature, who had sacrificed their profession, wealth and life for the freedom of the nation. That situation cannot be compared with that of today. What we see now is a scenario where we only have leaders who run after power, money and political clout. There are no ethics, morality, principles or ideologies in the game. I do agree that the post-independent scenario does not demand the kind of sacrifices that was needed during the freedom movement. But that does not mean one should function without any principles and ideologies. Top leaders change parties and sacrifice their principles for the sake of power. It is unbelievable that leaders like George Fernandes, Ramakrishna Hegde, Dr Farooq Abdullah, Ms Mamata Banerjee and Bhagwat Jha Azad, known for their secular credentials, could strike a common ground with the BJP.

Q: Does it mean that the BJP has diluted its strident pro-Hindu stance and tries to project a secular face.

A: They have not diluted their strident pro-Hindu stance but are acting very cleverly to make them acceptable to the secular minded population of the country. But for the pre-poll alliance forged by the BJP with secular parties like the Samata Party in Bihar, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, the Lok Shakti in Karnataka and the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, they would not have come anywhere near the majority mark in the last elections. If their alliance with the Janata Dal helped them to gain a phenomenal parliamentary strength in 1989, it is the wooing of these secular parties to their side that has helped them form a government at the Centre this time.

Q: Is it not because the so-called non-Congress secular forces like the different Janata formations and the Leftists failed to stand by the Congress in fighting the BJP and were more eager to destroy the Congress and take over its place.Top

A: That is why I say that the present day political leaders are more interested in pushing up their own personal political clout than stick to their principles. It is very obvious that the Janata formations and the Leftists who have many things in common with the Congress did not act responsibly and sensed the danger of the BJP coming to power. Ideologically there are only two parties, the Congress and the BJP, now. It is pertinent that all the smaller parties should align with either the communal BJP or the secular Congress.

Q: When you blame the BJP as being communal, they in turn blame the so-called secular parties of pursuing a policy of pseudo-secularism and adopting the policy of appeasement of Muslims. What have you to say to that.

A: Where has been that appeasement, I just cannot understand. Did the Muslims in India have security so far? The BJP blames the Muslims for communal riots and the RSS propaganda machinery has been working all the while to spread false rumours and concocted stories to further their arguments. The reality of the situation is that more Muslims have been killed in communal riots and it has always been their properties that have been damaged most in these riots. With every riot you will find the BJP gaining ground in that area. Once the BJP comes to power in that State, the communal riots stops all of a sudden and there is no trouble. What does all these mean?

Q: That is a debatable question. But on what basis do you blame that the Muslims in India do not have security.

A: I am not making any false accusations. We have not been able to give the Muslims a perfect security to their lives, property or even to their place of worship. Babri Masjid demolition stands testimony to it. Muslims constitute nearly 13 per cent of the population but there are only 2 per cent to 3 per cent Muslims in the services.Top

Q: Is it not because of the failure of the leaders from the Muslim community to educate them and provide them encouragement to merge with the national mainstream.

A: I accept it to some extent. But what steps has the Government taken in creating awareness among the Muslims to get educated and what sort of encouragement has been given in the form of incentives to the Muslims? Has there not been discrimination in admission and in services against the Muslims? Things are different in the South. In the North, there have been continuous riots and the Muslims were never allowed to sit in peace even for a period of two years. One issue or the other will be raked up to keep them perpetually under a fear psychosis so that they will not equip themselves educationally, economically or socially.

Q: One major issue of irritation against the Muslims for the majority community has been the community’s opposition to the common civil code, which the BJP is making an issue. What is your opinion on it.

A: Muslim personal law is part and parcel of the Islam religion. The government has given an assurance that it will not tamper with it and enforce a common civil code until the community demands it. Muslims opposed common civil code even in the Constituent Assembly. Then Dr Ambedkar made it clear that only a mad man will try to do it, for, it will plunge the country into anarchy. The Constitution has very clearly spelt that the Fundamental Rights are the crux of it. It clearly specifies that one can profess, practice and propagate his religion. One might cite the Directive Principles in favour of an argument against the Muslim personal law. But, the Directive Principles are definitely subservient to the Fundamental Rights. Have we implemented all the Directive Principles to say that the only issue that remains in common civil code? What about prohibition, primary education for all, and drinking water facility to all the villages, which are also enshrined in the Directive Principles?

Q: Unlike Pakistan, India gave the minorities equal rights after Partition. Does it not imply that the Muslims should accept the common civil code.

A: It is a hypothetical question as to what would have been the position of the minorities had India, like Pakistan, opted to be a theocratic state. This is our country and we are part and parcel of the Indian nation. We want to live peacefully here under the present Constitution which guarantees secularism, that is, freedom to practice one’s religion. Shariat is a divine law that cannot be changed and it is part and parcel of our religion. Personal law is limited to the life of a person and it is only proper that it is based on the religious beliefs of a person. I just do not understand why so much fuss should be made about the common civil code when the country has very many social and economic issues to confront.

Q: When you accuse the BJP of being communal, where is the place for a Muslim League, which is communal right from its name.

A: Immediately after Partition, the All-India Muslim League was dissolved in 1948 and a new party was formed with a different name, the Indian Union Muslim League. It openly accepted the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution. The new party recognised the Indian Union and accepted the Constitution wholeheartedly. The necessity for the existence of the party cannot be faulted because the Constitution itself has guaranteed the right of the minorities to have their own political forum to protect their rights. The minorities need a political forum but I do not understand why and for what reason the majority community which has the major share in administration and also in legislative forums should have a political party.

Q: What exactly was the reason for a confrontation between you and others in the IUML.

A: I had been the President of the IUML for 22 years after the death of Ismail Saheb. I was president of the party at the time of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The Masjid demolition was a national catastrophe and a very vital issue. I was convinced that we must not support a government that was responsible for the Masjid demolition by not protecting it. At that time the IUML was a constituent of the Congress led UDF Government in Kerala. The state unit of the IUML wanted me to vote in favour of the Narasimha Rao Government since I was elected from Kerala. Even though I was the national president of the party, I had to abide by the decision of the state unit, which my conscience did not permit. I voted against the Government by defying the whip. I had to part company with the party which I nurtured for 22 years and from the Indian National League.Top

Q: Don’t you regret your decision now, because your party has not been electorally successful like the IUML.

A: What sort of a success have they achieved, let me ask. One major reason for the failure of the UDF in the last Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha elections is the anger of the Muslims, who refused to vote for the UDF led by the Congress, despite the IUML being a constituent in it. One must understand the pain, agony and feelings of the community and if the party is not willing to recognise it for the sake of power and a few seats in the elected bodies, it is not worth its existence. I was not willing to betray my community and do not regret forming the INL. May be I have lost financially or even politically. But, my conscience is clear and I am only happy that unlike other Muslim League MPs I did not vote in favour of the Narasimha Rao Government in the no-confidence motion and reflected the anger and agony of the community.

Q: Why do you blame the Narasimha Rao regime for the demolition of the Masjid when it was actually done by the BJP.

A: I am personally convinced that the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was responsible for the demolition. The National Integration Council had entrusted the job of protecting the Masjid to him and he failed to act. We gave all powers to the Prime Minister and he even could have dismissed the Kalyan Singh Government to prevent the demolition of the Masjid.

Q: How could the Centre dismiss the Kalyan Singh Government then, when the Chief Minister himself had given an assurance to both the National Integration Council and the Supreme Court that he would protect the structure.

A: Lakhs and lakhs were gathering in Ayodhya, and what were the intelligence agencies under the Government were doing? Had the Prime Minister wanted he could have dismissed the Government on the pretext of the breakdown of law and order and saved the Masjid structure. Whenever the Home Ministry officials went and apprised him of the grave situation brewing in Ayodhya, he was restraining them, one understands from the observations of both the then Home Minister and the Home Secretary. Narasimha Rao could have saved the Masjid, but failed. At least after that he could have prevented the construction of the make-shirt temple. I hold Narasimha Rao personally responsible for the demolition of the Masjid and the construction of the make-shift temple there.

Q: What in your opinion is the solution for the Ayodhya tangle which remains unresolved even after the demolition of the structure and continues to remain a major political issue.

A: We could not succeed in negotiating the issue because both sides are unwilling for any kind of compromise. Being a religious issue, the Government also cannot impose a decision. The only way out in the present situation is to leave the matter to be decided by the courts. Let the judiciary give a verdict and let that verdict be binding on both parties. The matter has to be settled somehow and should not be allowed to vitiate the political and social atmosphere of the country for ever creating more and more ill-feelings between the two communities. From the very beginning I have been pleading that a special Bench be constituted to go into the matter on a day-to-day sitting and give an early verdict. Even if the judicial verdict goes against us we are willing to accept it. We have said it earlier also. We have a water-tight case and are sure that the verdict will be in our favour. But the BJP and the VHP know that they have a poor case and that is the reason why they are unwilling to leave the matter to be decided by the judiciary.Top

Q: Now what is the stand of the Indian National League in the present political situation.

A: There is an urgent need for all the secular parties to come together, including the Congress and the Leftists, to fight the fascist forces represented by the BJP. The Congress had lost its secular credentials when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. I was the first to openly say that the Congress could no longer be considered a secular party, at that time. Now, the situation has drastically changed. Narasimha Rao has been thrown out, Mrs Sonia Gandhi has taken over as the party president and the party has openly apologised for its failure to protect the Babri Masjid. It is regaining its secular credentials once again, after the entry of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. That is the reason why I am insisting for the last two years on the coming together of all the secular parties including the Congress to fight the BJP.

Q: Do you see any perceptible change in the attitude of the Congress after the entry of Mrs Sonia Gandhi.

A: There is a very big change. She wants to strengthen the Congress and prevent the BJP from gaining more strength. Had not Mrs Sonia Gandhi come at that time, things would have been very different and the election verdict would have gone totally in favour of the BJP. She changed the trend and did a very great service to the nation by rekindling its secular ethos.

Q: Will not her foreign birth go against her.

A: She has married an Indian and has accepted Indian citizenship. That is also something that has to be considered. How can one say that she is a foreigner? Whether she should be a Prime Minister or not is a question that should be decided by the people of India and not a few people sitting in the drawing rooms. Elections will be there and the party will elect its leader. In a democracy, it is the people who should decide on it. Our Constitution is very clear that any Indian citizen can contest elections and it does not talk about the country of the birth of that citizen.

Q: What in your opinion is the reason why the secular parties have not come together? Is it because of the inhibitions of the non-Congress parties in joining hands with a party that they have been opposing for the last five decades.

A: Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav have openly extended support to an alternate arrangement led by the Congress. So have Jyoti Basu and Surjeet. The initiative now lies with the Congress and if they take courage to topple this BJP arrangement, I have no doubt that they will automatically get a majority. If the BJP regime is allowed to continue for some more time the damage caused to the administration and the education system will be irreparable. They will infiltrate into the administrative machinery and tamper with everything, including the judiciary, with their handpicked RSS cadres, I am afraid the Congress cannot afford to wait any longer.

Q: All of them are interested only in toppling the BJP alliance and give shape to another arrangement headed by the Congress. But are they prepared to go to the polls in alliance with the Congress.

A: I think all of them have learnt a lesson after the last elections. Had all of them forged an electoral alliance last time, the BJP would not have come to power at all. Take for instance the results from Uttar Pradesh. If you combine the votes polled by the Samajwadi Party, the BSP, the Congress, the Janata Dal and the Leftists, they would have won 60 Lok Sabha seats there. I think the coming together of all the secular forces to fight the BJP in the next elections will be inevitable.


Fire insurance case

KHAN Sahib Shaikh Munir Hussain, Additional District Magistrate, Lahore delivered judgement this afternoon in the Fire insurance case in which M. Amar Nath BA, LLB was being tried for burning down a shop on the Mall, in which he carried on his business as the Proprietor of Alexandra Cigarette Company, in order to cheat Messrs Arbuthnot and Gillanders of Lahore, the local agents of the London Assurance Corporation, of a sum of Rs 30,000 for which the contents of the shop were insured with the said Messrs Arbuthnot and Gillanders.

The main defence of the accused was that he was absent from Lahore on the day of the occurrence.

The Magistrate, before pronouncing his orders, expressed sorrow that he was compelled to award punishment to the accused.

The offence that he was proved to have committed was very serious, continued the Magistrate, and, in his written statement submitted to court, the accused has not been able to establish his defence but had only been beating about the bush.

Considering that he had been kept in the lock-up for a long period, the Magistrate awarded a sentence of four years’ rigorous imprisonment for arson under Sec. 436 (IPC) and a sentence of two years’ rigorous imprisonment under Sec. 420 (IPS) read with Sec 511 (IPC) for an attempt to cheat the insurance company, to two sentences to run concurrently.Top

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