Monday, December 18, 2000,
Chandigarh, India

E D I T O R I A L   P A G E


Reforms talk again 
N A calculated move the Prime Minister has set the reforms cat among the labour force pigeons and in the days to come there are bound to be ruffled feathers.

Rajnath Singh ‘‘Taliban’’
TTAR Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh’s directive against the holding of beauty contests in the territory of which he by default is currently the political lord and master should not be allowed to go unchallenged.


The visible clarity of direction
by Bharat Wariavwalla
EYOND doubt the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy is highly successful. Except for Pakistan, we have good-to-excellent relations with those who can help or harm us: the USA, Russia and China. We even have sound working relations with our prickly neighbours.


Global concern over children’s plight
December 17, 2000
A ritual with meaning
December 16, 2000
Bush and court ambush
December 15, 2000
Disadvantage public
December 14, 2000
Problems can wait, we are parliamentarians!
December 13, 2000
Custodial violations
December 12, 2000
Thaw in PM’s stand
December 11, 2000
Bhopal gas disaster
December 10, 2000
Paralysed Parliament
December 9, 2000
Sharpening a controversy
December 8, 2000
Enron’s power burden
December 7, 2000


Nawaz Sharif, Saudis and Pakistan
by V. Gangadhar
EMOCRATICALLY elected leaders, however, unpopular or incompetent, were not scared to be thrown out of power. 


Bristling beauties
by O. P. Bhagat
HE cactus was small. But it bristled with hair, needle-sharp hair. This gave its green an off-white look. More than that it looked awesome.


Dissent is right, not majority
by Anupam Gupta

T is, without doubt, one of the worst decisions in American judicial history. A decision so intellectually poor and so legally insubstantial on a matter so vitally important for the American people and polity that the court which delivered it will never be the same again in the public eye. 


Fate of the girl child
I used to work with two lady doctors in Sitamarhi. Whenever a family does not want the second or third girl child, it approaches the doctor and her doctor husband. 




Reforms talk again 

IN A calculated move the Prime Minister has set the reforms cat among the labour force pigeons and in the days to come there are bound to be ruffled feathers. He told the annual meeting of FICCI on Saturday that he wanted to rewrite the labour laws and prune them of all pro-worker provisions. Essentially he agrees with the long-held perception of the Indian industry that these regulations drafted during the erstwhile socialistic era have hindered generation of jobs even while making it rather difficult for employers to sack any employee. The assumption is that these stringent pro-labour Acts had frightened entrepreneurs and with new factories coming up at a very slow pace, new jobs had become scarce. There is no clear-cut evidence to support this conclusion and mammoth plants like Reliance and Maruti fly in the face of this facile theory. The big business is out to use the threat of massive imports from China, driving small units out of business to buttress its old demand for stringent labour laws. It is holding these as the sole obstacle in this country’s ability to face competition successfully. This is a specious argument as shown by a speaker at the FICCI meeting who offered to pay higher wages if the government lifts the present restrictions on summary dismissal. He can achieve this goal without any amendments to various labour laws. Of late, contract employment is catching on and that takes away the protection the worker enjoys in return for an increased salary. Further the government plans to get rid of at least 10 per cent of the workforce in four years time. One way out is to come up with a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) and hope that the staff will rise to the bait. They should if the success of two public sector banks is any indication. Both are offering 60 days salary for every completed year of service or full pay for the remaining period of service, whichever is less. Around 10 per cent of the officers and assistants of Punjab National Bank and Bank of India have sought early retirement not so much by the generous scheme but due to the fear that they may suddenly lose their jobs and have no gain. This apprehension took root after a business daily published an apparently planted report that the government was thinking of reducing the retirement age from 60 years to 58 and as the VRS offer came within days, there was a huge rush for early exit. In one bank eight of the 13 chief general managers have accepted the offer, proving that it is mostly those above 55 years of age who are in the queue. The government too may succeed but it will not be downsizing but buying out resignations. Not a wise economic move.

The labour force is restive these days. After the telecom agitation it is the postal sector that is in ferment. Bank employees will go on a countrywide work stoppage on December 21 to protest against the reduction of public equity to 33 per cent. The two reforms the Prime Minister has announced will only add to the labour worries. Mr Vajpayee has timed his announcement partly to divert public attention from the mandir issue and partly as a pep talk to big business which has been complaining of an economic slowdown and stalled liberalisation. He also found a speed-breaker in the path speedier reforms. It is the bureaucracy! He claimed that the government had the political will but there was no corresponding commitment from the officialdom. He did not link this up with the proposed VRS but did not rule it out either. But the bit about political will and bureaucratic obstruction is sure to evoke a protest from opposition parties and retired officers. The opposition to disinvestment from his Cabinet colleagues does not show political will. A large number of legal measures to give effect to broadly acceptable reforms are awaiting Cabinet clearance or introduction in Parliament. There is thus a need to reform the reform process itself. The Prime Minister says it is not the government’s job to provide jobs and in the same breath has asked big business to take an active part in providing education, healthcare and infrastructure. Are these the tasks of the private sector? Reform idea is slowly getting deformed. 


Rajnath Singh ‘‘Taliban’’

UTTAR Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh’s directive against the holding of beauty contests in the territory of which he by default is currently the political lord and master should not be allowed to go unchallenged. Even those who are in principle opposed to the public display of the female body should join the protest. Mr Rajnath Singh evidently does not know that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan is universally unpopular for doing precisely what he has sought to do in UP. Like most Sangh Parivar political and social acolytes he too has forced a national debate on yet another non-issue. Unhappily the administration, which usually takes ages to complete the formalities for implementing policies for improving the lot of the socially and economically disadvantaged sections of the people, has shown rare speed in implementing the “anti-body show” order. According to a report, the Lucknow administration withdrew permission for holding a beauty show in the city, known and respected for its appreciation of the different and diverse aspects of “husn”. However, the authorities have linked the cancellation to the likelihood of tension because of the rallies which members of the mutually hostile Sunni and Shia sects may take out on specific dates during the month of Ramzan. How the tension generated by the street protests in one corner of the city could have resulted in chaos at the venue of the beauty show is difficult to understand. Credit should go to the organisers for having agreed to postpone the function. However, “if the administration denies us permission even after Ramzan”, the organisers hinted at seeking legal remedy. And why not? After all, there is little difference between the fundamentalist agenda of the Taliban and that of the Sangh Parivar. Both seek to place unreasonable curbs on the freedom of expression of individuals. Is the ban on beauty shows by any chance a disguised ploy for impressing the hardliners among the Muslims with an eye on the Assembly elections in UP next year? The ban on beauty contests in any case is wrong, and should be opposed. Mr Rajnath Singh has slapped the ban for precisely the same reasons which resulted in Salman Rushdie’s book, “The Satanic Verses”, being withdrawn from public sale in India. But he must remember that Rajiv Gandhi ended up losing the support of the Muslims after taking not one but several retrograde steps. Rushdie’s book in difficult English could not have triggered street riots unless someone with evil intentions were to instigate the illiterate and ignorant Muslims. Yes, the author himself could have started a riot if he were to read out in public a faithful Hindustani translation of some of the most offensive passages in the book. Mr Rajnath Singh has no business, legal or moral, to dictate to women in UP how they should conduct themselves. The ban should be opposed because holding beauty contests is not public policy and neither does the state fund such shows. It is a private business of individuals and organisations who see merit in organising them. He is free to decide public policy, but has no right to restrict private conduct of individuals and non-government organisations so long as they do not transgress the legal limits of decent behaviour. In any case, who has given him the right to interpret “Bharatiya parampara” and Indian culture? Today he has banned beauty contests, tomorrow he may withdraw permission to screen films in which women are not properly clad. The exquisitely carved sculptures of Khajuraho and Konarak can be brought into the argument to expose his poor knowledge of Indian traditions and culture. A close scrutiny of the controversial order may, in fact, reveal a totally different story. An over-enthusiastic administration may have taken as “order” the Chief Minister’s public expression of displeasure over the proliferation of beauty contests not only in his home state but also all over the country. The phenomenal growth of the beauty industry is a post-liberalisation development. It calls for a more informed debate for creating public opinion in favour of examining at least the credentials of the sponsors. Why? Because for every winner of the Miss India, Miss World or Miss Universe crown there are countless innocent participants who end up losing both their beauty and innocence and lack the courage to blow the whistle. 


The visible clarity of direction
by Bharat Wariavwalla

BEYOND doubt the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy is highly successful. Except for Pakistan, we have good-to-excellent relations with those who can help or harm us: the USA, Russia and China. We even have sound working relations with our prickly neighbours.

What explains our foreign policy success? Two recent moves tell us something about the underlying basis of the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy. They are Iraq-India deals by which Iraq supplies us with oil and we supply Iraq with foodgrains, and the exchange of detailed maps between India and China concerning the middle sector of their disputed boundary. Quiet assertion of national interest lies behind the oil-for-foodgrains exchange deal between Iraq and India. Our energy and security interests demand that we have a secure supply of oil. Iraq fulfils our demands. Iraq, crushed under American and British sanctions, which are so cruelly enforced as to cause the death of thousands of children and old people, needs to break the embargo and find some diplomatic freedom. We can provide the oil-rich Iraq not only the foodgrains it needs but also international respectability.

On a recent visit to India, the Iraqi Vice-President, Mr Taha Yassin, well explained the purpose of his visit: “ We want to establish long-term strategic relations with India in all areas and not just oil.” The Vajpayee government, often bayed for being pro-American, establishes friendly relations with Iraq whose regime America loathes. Compare this demarche with Mr I.K. Gujral’s call on Mr Saddam Hussein just after the latter occupied Kuwait in August, 1990, and you would know the difference between good and bad diplomacy. Hard realism is behind our exchanging the detailed maps of the middle sector of our boundary with China. In the near future we may exchange with China detailed maps of the entire border and thus may begin a process that could ultimately end in a negotiated border settlement with China. Russia has pretty much arrived at a settlement of its border dispute with China.

When one recalls the extreme jingoist outbursts of the then Jan Sangh against any deal on the borders with China in 1962, one wonders whether it is the same party that is today toying with the idea of a negotiated border settlement. If left to himself Mr Vajpayee may agree to making the LoC the basis of an agreement with China and even Pakistan.

Let us return to a discussion on the basis of the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy. The oil-for-foodgrains deal with Iraq shows that the government pursues national interests and is prepared to face the consequences of such pursuits. If the USA disapproves of our policy toward Iraq, I am sure the Vajpayee government will ignore the US reaction, so long as the gains of a deal with Iraq outweigh the losses of an American disapproval of the deal.

Hard realism dictates our policy towards China. There were moments when realism dawned on Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Both were inclined to a settlement with China, but none had the courage to sell such a settlement to the people at home. Besides, there was the unfortunate Sunderongju incident of 1983, created by that adventurous General Sundarjee. Mr Narasimha Rao, undoubtedly the most erudite Prime Minister we have had, is said to have said privately whether a few hundred kilometres of territory here or there is worth a prolonged hospitality with China. I wish he were as courageous as he was erudite.

Any nation pursues its national interests. But it’s only a few nations that have a fairly clear idea of their national interests and have the will to pursue them. Will is very important. Take, for example, the Pokhran II tests of May, 1998. You had to have the will to conduct these tests and the precariously balanced Vajpayee government had the will to do them. All the previous governments wanted to carry out these tests but were afraid of international sanctions.

It is now disclosed by our security analysts how every Prime Minister since 1974, the year in which we tasted forbidden fruit, had wanted to test our nuclear capability but was too scared to do it because they feared international repercussions. Mr Rao backed out of the nuclear weapons test planned in the winter of 1995 because the Americans came to know about it and they aborted his plans.

Mr Vajpayee was prepared to face international displeasure and Western sanctions in May, 1998. Mr Brajesh Misra, long before he stepped into his present job, had always thought that it was better to face the Western wrath once and for all than to persist in the meaningless policy of “keeping the nuclear option open”. You simply cannot keep an option open indefinitely in the nasty world of international politics.

Clarity of our foreign and security policy objectives and the will to pursue them has paid off. We were almost seen as a rogue state in Western eyes after Pokhran II. Today we are seen to be a responsible nuclear weapons state. Kargil has amply demonstrated how responsible we are to the present possessors of nuclear weapons.

Now all this is not because we have greatly gained by openly going nuclear or because this foreign policy establishment has projected our image internationally better than previous establishments. It is the same bureaucracy though today it is better directed politically than in previous years. Of course , the presence of Mr Vajpayee makes a great difference to the conduct of our foreign relations, for he has acquired the image of a world leader in the West.

The Vajpayee government has greatly succeeded in projecting India’s image as not only the world’s largest democracy but also a successful one. It has also projected the power that Bangalore represents today: a top generator of information technology. To North America, the European Union and Japan, which among themselves command much of the world’s economic and military power, India appears a global power in the making.

For Russia we are today, as we were in the Cold War years, a strategic partner. We have also gained internationally by relieving by ourselves of the regional role. This government has told Colombo to do what it pleases with the LTTE: fight them or come to peace with them; it’s their business and we won’t spend a rupee or shed a drop of our blood for them. Rajiv Gandhi did that for the joy of becoming a regionally dominant power. Soon joy turned into tears.

So far so good. The real test of the Vajpayee government’s foreign policy is Kashmir. It is no more possible to keep the Kashmir problem frozen.


Nawaz Sharif, Saudis and Pakistan
by V. Gangadhar

DEMOCRATICALLY elected leaders, however, unpopular or incompetent, were not scared to be thrown out of power. They knew they could always come back to power because it was quite possible that the leaders who succeeded them turned out to be more unpopular and incompetent! This kind of game was often played in nations like India. The Congress was in power, was then defeated in the polls and its place taken over by a BJP-led coalition. But Congress leaders were not cowed down. All they had to do was wait till the BJP rulers became unpopular. Then it would be once more their turn.

A military dictator who came to power, overthrowing a democratically-elected government and imprisoning its leaders, was often more scared of losing power. He might use his authoritarian power to put down dissent and all kinds of opposition. But in his heart of hearts, the dictator always knew that he could not hang on to power for-ever and could be thrown out in a violent process. He had offended too many people, and retribution would certainly come.

The Pakistani military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, was no exception to this kind of thinking. He knew that one day or the other he would have to confront his major political opponents, Mr Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League and Ms Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party. General Musharraf saw to it that Mr Sharif was sent to jail on a long prison term over treason charges, which, though flimsy, were accepted by the court. As for Ms Bhutto, she was out of the country and was certain to be arrested on corruption charges when she returned home. The military government held another trump card. Ms Bhutto’s husband was behind bars on charges of murder.

The Pakistan military ruler may have felt comparatively safe with both his leading political opponents taken care of. Mr Nawaz Sharif’s health and spirits might have been broken after a long prison term but under such circumstances he might turn out to be a martyr. Or someone from his family might assume leadership of the Muslim League and launch a movement against the ruler. Such a person would have more international backing and acceptance because he would be trying to save democracy in Pakistan. General Musharraf’s action in ousting Mr Sharif over the cooked up charges of aerial hijack and massive corruption had not impressed the West. The USA, a former ally of Pakistan military rulers, was on a different track now. It no longer needed military basis in Pakistan to contain communist infiltration. It was also angry with Pakistan for its support to the Taliban Islamic fundamentalists and lack of positive action against militants who had attacked US personnel and property.

The fear of internal uprising someday in the future and lack of popularity among the West were matters of concern to the Pakistan military ruler. Perhaps, it would be wise to get rid of one of his enemies. Unexpected help and cooperation came from the rulers of Saudi Arabia, who offered 10-year political asylum to Mr Nawaz Sharif and his family. Under a hush-hush agreement, the Sharif family was packed off to Riyadh, leaving at least one flank clear for General Musharraf.

Why and how did Saudi Arabia agree to this arrangement? Mr Nawaz Sharif had been convicted for treason, and accepting him as a political exile could create complications. Over the years Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had shared a peculiar friendship. The rulers of the oil-rich kingdom had found more empathy with Pakistan, who, according to them, was doing its best to hold up Islamic ideals in the subcontinent. That was why over the years the Saudi royal family had preferred friendship with Pakistan to close relations with India.

Saudi Arabia is the most powerful and influential Muslim country in the entire world. Even the USA had acknowledged this and took pains not to offend the actions of the ruling royal family. There were hardly any protests over the public executions, religious intolerance and human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. The USA knew the value of Saudi oil. Further, the Saudis were the principal customers for the American arms industry, buying billions of dollars worth of arms, with the specific understanding that they would not be used against Israel!

Pakistan had benefited immensely from its friendship with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis for their part, regarded Pakistan as their reliable “Islamic ally”. Saudi Arabia, which had one of the most rigid and authoritarian governments in the world, found it easier to deal with a Pakistan when it was ruled by military dictators. They got along famously with General Ayub Khan and later General Zia. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia felt a bit uneasy while dealing with democratic movements in Pakistan.

“Democracy” in Pakistan is a qualified term. Even when ruled by “elected” governments led by Benazir or Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan kind of democracy had always been of a diluted variety and had no real grassroot-level strength. The real power lay with the army, which, when it found things getting a bit messy, was ever ready to step in. The Saudis shared these misgivings and never wanted Pakistan to become a liberal Muslim state, if such an entity was possible. They were happier with a military ruler on the saddle.

Though it was never publicised, the Pakistan military rulers must have had previous talks with the Saudi royal family on the future of Mr Nawaz Sharif. The former Pakistan Prime Minister had been close to the Saudi rulers. He may lose some million dollars in cash and kind by leaving Pakistan, but could be adequately compensated by the largesse of the richest oil kingdom in the world.

Ten years of exile is a long period. How will Mr Nawaz Sharif spend his time in Riyadh? Saudi Arabia offers very little entertainment and the cricket loving Nawaz Sharif will not get to see any cricket in his new home.

Of course, Mrs Kulsoom Nawaz has denied the political asylum concept. She maintained before leaving Pakistan that her husband was going to Riyadh only for medical treatment and would be back once he was all right. But this was just wishful thinking. Personal freedom, even in a nation which was not really free, was preferable to being locked inside a room with guards standing outside. Mr Nawaz Sharif must have weighed the pros and cons and accepted that some freedom was better than no freedom.

General Musharraf is a shrewd leader and knows what is good for him. He had promised that power would go back to the people in due course but had not mentioned any exact dates for the transfer. The exile of Mr Nawaz Sharif could be an indication that the transfer of power could be postponed by some years. And if by some strategy, General Musharraf gets rid of Ms Bhutto, he may opt for permanent military rule on the grounds that Pakistan did not have experienced rulers for the job cut out for them.Top


Bristling beauties
by O. P. Bhagat

THE cactus was small. But it bristled with hair, needle-sharp hair. This gave its green an off-white look. More than that it looked awesome

“What do you do about the spines?” I asked.

Mr Deshaprabhu laughed. “I am not afraid of them,” he said. To prove it, he touched the spines with his fingers. “I used to wear gloves while gardening, now I don’t. I treat the cacti like children.”

In his house garden — he lives in New Delhi — Mr S.B. Deshaprabhu has scores of cacti and quite many succulents. In fact, the cacti are all over his house — in the corners, in the windows and on the tables. But wherever they are, they seem to belong there.

Most of the plants grow in pots or among the rocks arranged on the lawn in front. If you are interested, Mr Deshaprabhu will tell you the names of all the large and small and curiously shaped cacti.

A small row is all roses. A curtain creeper provides a natural screen to the small verandah. There is a bougainvillaea too, spreading exuberantly. And two bird boxes, one of which is occupied.

As he shows you around, the garden will remind you of a newspaper story which, after a splash on page one, goes on to another page. The rocks and the plants spill out of the lawn. From the gate they turn and trail along the parapet of the house.

When I first met Mr Deshaprabhu, I was told that he was a retired man. For the love of it, he taught children in a school how to make pretty or picturesque things from waste material.

He also likes to do tie-and-dye work. It is like that of Rajasthani dyers. But Mr Deshaprabhu does it a bit in his own way. The result is like batik.

He has other interests as well. He plays the sitar and tabla. He does some cooking too. Drawing was his line, and he still makes pictures and graphics. But gardening is his passion.

His garden looks at once wild and artistic. By crowding them, Mr Deshaprabhu has made some of his cacti look like strangely gossiping groups. Grafting has given some of the exotics a more exotic look.

Ball-like cacti grafted on thick stems seem to be rooted maces. How the epic or medieval warriors would have envied Mr Deshaprabhu’s stout, spiny arsenal!

To keep a garden of this size and kind is no joke. The task becomes all the more difficult when you have to tend it yourself. Mr Deshaprabhu does the planting, weeding, watering and other chores with his own hands.

Actually, not much watering has to be done. For the cacti do well when they are “starved”. But you have to guard against their getting more water. If the monsoon is too wet, Mr Deshaprabhu has a busier time.

Anyway, the man is equal to the job. He is up around five. He listens to the BBC news. Morning tea, and the work in his garden starts. Sometimes it goes on for hours.

Evening. Some more work in the garden. Then dinner. Mr Deshaprabhu is fresh yet. He listens to music on his radio. He may even read for a while.

At 72 Mr Deshaprabhu does not look as most other pensioners do — weak, ailing or grumbling. He is tall and stands erect. He has always been careful about his diet. But he has a weakness for tea. He drinks many cups a day. This helps him recoup his energy, he says.

A good talker, Mr Deshaprabhu tells you many interesting anecdotes. “Excuse me,” he says, and goes in. He returns with an old photo or graphic or some such thing. And he tells you a new story.

Then the talk veers round to his first love — cacti. And he has something more to tell you about the bristling beauties.Top


Dissent is right, not majority
by Anupam Gupta

IT is, without doubt, one of the worst decisions in American judicial history. A decision so intellectually poor and so legally insubstantial on a matter so vitally important for the American people and polity that the court which delivered it will never be the same again in the public eye. In quashing all manual recounts and declaring, virtually declaring, George W. Bush Jr as the next President of the United States, the Supreme Court of the USA has inflicted a wound on itself that will take decades, if not centuries, to heal.

Mercifully for history, and for millions outside America curious to know how the world’s most powerful nation selects the world’s most powerful man, four of the nine Judges who constitute the Supreme Court acted as judges and refused to surrender judgement to the political pressure of the contest before them.

Their four dissents are the only redeeming feature of a performance that reeks otherwise of a partisanship totally unbecoming of an independent judicial body.

Two of those four dissents — the one by Justice John Paul Stevens and the other by Justice Stephen Gerald Breyer — make compelling reading for the searing acidity of their reaction to the majority opinion.

Appointed 25 years ago, the Supreme Court’s oldest member, Justice Stevens’ words have already acquired a permanent place in history.

Petitioner George Bush’s position, he said, and his “federal assault” on the Florida election procedures is wholly without merit. “The endorsement of that position by the majority of this Court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land.”

It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system, he said, that is the true backbone of the rule of law. “Time will one day heal the wound to that confidence that will be inflicted by today’s decision”.

In the interest of finality, the majority effectively orders, he pointed out, the disenfranchisement of an unknown number of voters whose ballots reveal their intent — and are therefore legal votes under state law — but were for some reason rejected by ballot-counting machines. There is no reason to think that the guidance provided by the “intent of the voter” standard for the manual recount is any less sufficient, or will lead to results any less uniform, than, for example, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard employed everyday by ordinary citizens in courtrooms across America.

“Although we may never know with complete certainty (he said), the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

Few judges in the world, with lesser, greater or equal experience on the Bench, have spoken so severely about their own colleagues and of the institution of which they are a part.

The ninth and last Judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court (in August, 1994), Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent bears the imprint of his scholarship as a former Harvard law professor.

Those who caution judicial restraint in resolving political disputes, he said, have described the quintessential case for that restraint as a case marked, among other things, by the “strangeness of the issue”, its “intractability to principled resolution”, its “sheer momentousness... which tends to unbalance judicial judgement”, and (above all) the “inner vulnerability, the selfdoubt of an institution which is electorally irresponsible and has no earth to draw strength from.”

All these characteristics, he said — characteristics first pointed out by one of America’s most highly regarded law academics, Prof Alexander Bickel, in a 1962 classic on the Supreme Court —mark the George Bush vs Al Gore judicial contest.

In intervening in that contest the Supreme Court, he said, was not acting to vindicate any fundamental constitutional principle, such as a basic human liberty. No other strong reason to act was present. Congressional statutes, in fact, obviated the need (for resolution of electoral disputes by federal, as distinguished from state, courts) and nowhere provided for involvement by the US Supreme Court.

The decision of both the framers of the Constitution and Congress to “minimise this Court’s role” in resolving presidential elections is “as wise as it is clear.”

Congress was also fully aware of the danger, he added, dipping into history, that would arise should it ask Supreme Court Judges to resolve a hotly contested presidential election contest.

The reference is to the infamous 1876 contest for the American Presidency between Democrat Samuel J. Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes which, in Prof Bickel’s words, “brought the country as close as it has ever come to a Latin American sort of crisis.”

An early tabulation gave Tilden 184 undisputed electoral votes, with just one more (that is 185) needed to become the President. Hayes was 19 votes behind with 165. Disputes, however, emerged in four States with a total of 20 electoral votes — Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon — and all the four sent dual electoral returns to Congress, one Republican, the other Democrat.

If these 20 votes were added to his tally, Hayes would win and he did. Thanks to a 15-member Electoral Commission appointed by Congress to decide all disputed returns. Five of these 15 were Supreme Court Judges, including Justice Jospeh P. Bradley, a staunch Republican. The other members of the Commission being evenly divided, it fell to Bradley’s lot to cast the deciding vote. Accepting the Republican electoral returns from each of the four States, he awarded the Presidency to Hayes.

The storm that broke loose was described, nay picturised, by Justice Breyer with arresting candour in his dissent last week.

“Justice Bradley (reads the dissent) immediately became the subject of vociferous attacks. Bradley was accused of accepting bribes, of being captured by railroad interests, and of an eleventh-hour change in position after a night in which his house was surrounded by carriages of Republican partisans and railroad officials.”

This history may help to explain, Justice Breyer added on December 12, “why I think it not only legally wrong, but most unfortunate, for the (majority of the) Court to have simply terminated the Florida recount.”

Even as the 1876 contest embroiled the members of the court in a partisan conflict, undermining respect for the judicial process, we do risk (he observed) a self-inflicted wound, a wound that may harm not just the court, but the nation.

The most important thing that we do, he said to conclude, quoting Justice Brandeis, “is not doing. What it does today, the Court should have left undone.”

I doff my cap to these memorable words and to the Judge from whom they have fallen. For they reflect a moral strength and an intellectual disinterestedness that constitute the very essence of ideal judicial conduct.

Alas, they form part of an opinion that is not the law.Top


Fate of the girl child

I used to work with two lady doctors in Sitamarhi. Whenever a family does not want the second or third girl child, it approaches the doctor and her doctor husband. Then instructions are given to the compounder and “mestar” (sweeper) to kill the girl child at birth.

How is it killed? She demonstrates. The child is held at the waist, then snapped backwards and forwards. The spinal cord breaks. I have seen at least 100 cases.”

Testimony of Sompuri, an old dai (birth attendant) in a September 1994 report complied by Adithi, an NGO working in northen Bihar on the issue of female infanticide.

Now consider this: “On November 14, Kosi was found abandoned near the bank of river Som in Katihar block. It was pulse polio day. A huge crowd just looked on and did nothing till a doctor came and picked her up. Later, one of the village man adopted Kosi. He himself has eight children.

An Adithi worker from a middle class family had no children. He adopted a baby girl. A family in Danapur working with Adithi adopted a girl child. Other two abandoned girl infants found homes for themselves.”

Medha Shekhar working with Adithi, who recounted the above instances, says, “Most of the girl child deaths are termed as “sauirghar” deaths (death in the room of child birth). In our survey we found that mostly dais attend to the birth and are also the ones to kill when commanded. (Grassroots)

Special status assailed

Several Dutch politicians have launched a campaign to protest against the status of the Vatican in the United Nations. The three European Parliament deputies have called on the Netherlands and other European Union countries to break diplomatic relations with the Vatican. They say the Roman Catholic Vatican should not be permitted to block vital decisions on women’s rights and AIDS.

“The consequences of these concessions are especially visible in poor countries where hundreds of millions of women die as a result of illegal abortions and millions are affected by the AIDS virus,” said the three Euro-deputies. They point to the Vatican’s attempts to prevent the use of condoms in Africa, which they say directly contradicts the European Union aids programmes.

Dutch Catholic bishops recently confirmed their opposition to the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS. About a third of the Dutch population is Roman Catholic and many of them are angry at the bishops’ decision. (WFS)

Anxious children

Looking back on “the good old days” through rose-coloured glasses can seem like a grownup’s favorite pastime. But recent findings suggest that in some ways, these adults may be onto something.

According to a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, children and young adults today feel more anxious compared with their counterparts in the 1950s.

In fact, healthy children reported more anxiety during the 1980s than child psychiatric patients reported 30 years earlier.

“Contrary to views that children have nothing to worry about except bullies and Oedipal dynamics, these findings indicate that children’s anxiety strongly reflects what is happening in the society at large,” concludes study author Dr Jean M. Twenge, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

For example, crime and fears of AIDS, as well as social isolation caused by high divorce rates, might underlie higher levels of anxiety among today’s young people. In an interview with Reuters Health, Twenge added that people increasingly say that they do not trust others.
 — (Reuters)



To go into silence is to become God.


There is no healing balm better than silence for those persons who have a wounded heart from failures, disappointments and losses. There is no soothing panacea better than silence for those who have wounded nerves from the turmoil of life, from friction, rupture and frequent domestic quarrels.


In common parlance, to sit quiet without talking to anybody is silence.... What is really wanted is silence of the bubbling mind.
—Swami Shivananda, Bliss Divine, chapter 59


Plug the channels of lust, anger, greed, attachment, pride and egotism, all of which pull you down and draw you out. Man's attention has been scattered outside through these five passions since times immemorial. We have not yet found the Path and have wasted our whole life in straying farther away from our Real Home. Only by attaching ourself to and merging ourselves in something which is permanent and everlasting, do we become immortal.
—Maharaj Jagat Singh,
The Science of the Soul,
chapter I


We feel and know that we are eternal.
—Spinoza, Ethics, 5


Man's life is short and therefore an honourable death, is his immortality.
—Publilius Syrus,
Moral Sayings, 1087


A man has only one way of being immortal on this earth: he has to forget he is a mortal.
—A Jean Giradoux,
Tiger at the Gates, I


Immortality means freedom from death, the fear of which haunts the entire humanity.
— Hardev Singh,
Gems of Truth.

Home | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Editorial |
Business | Sport | World | Mailbag | In Spotlight | Chandigarh Tribune | Ludhiana Tribune
50 years of Independence | Tercentenary Celebrations |
120 Years of Trust | Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |