A side show
Taj corridor case
Riots and wrongs
The troubled neighbourhood
A bumpy drive on Punjab roads
A side show
RESULTS of the various exit polls conducted by media companies are at so much variance with one another that it is difficult to make sense of them. This is not at all surprising as results of such polls in the past were no different. The reason why they are so is not far to seek. Psephology is still in its infancy in the country. Between opinion and exit polls, the latter is supposed to be more convincing as voters are asked which party they voted for as they come out of the polling booths. Yet, why is it that one exit poll shows that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance has improved on its 1999 performance in the 140 constituencies that went to the polls on Tuesday while all others say the combine has lost some seats? To be reliable, an exit poll has to fulfil two conditions: the sample size should be large and the voters truthful. If either of these parameters is not in place, the results will be awfully inadequate.
We have in these columns argued against publishing the results of exit polls before the last round of polling is over for fear that the results of one round would affect another. Our objective was to obviate the chances of some of the voters casting their franchise in favour of the “winning” party. Caught between two divergent viewpoints on the question, the Election Commission found it expedient not to impose any restrictions on exit polls. This is better than imposing a ban which the commission could not enforce as had happened during the previous elections. In retrospect, no harm has been done to the fairness of the polling process by the exit polls. Had there been only one poll, its results could have exerted an undue influence on the voters.
The multiplicity of the exit polls and the divergent results will convince the voters that the pollsters are as clueless and opinionated as they themselves are. So the likelihood of their getting influenced by the results is remote under the circumstances. This is as it should be. The voters should rather be guided by the performance of the parties concerned and the quality of their candidates. As regards the exit polls, they should treat them as no more than a side show that they should enjoy to their heart’s content. After all, the exit poll results are not the results of the day’s polling.
Taj corridor case
THE UP government deserved the dressing down it has got from the Supreme Court in the Taj Heritage Corridor project case. The court has rightly taken a serious view of the reinstatement of the senior bureaucrats — former Chief Secretary D. S. Bagga, former Principal Secretary to the then Chief Minister P. L. Punia and ex-Environment Secretary V. K. Gupta — who had been suspended for their role in the Rs 175-crore scam when Ms Mayawati was UP's Chief Minister. How could such a step be taken when the CBI enquiry into the case was yet to be concluded? The state Chief Secretary, who has been asked to explain to the court the government's conduct on April 26, may be reprimanded severely if he tries to defend what is indefensible. The state government's efforts to help the tainted officers in the manner it has done amounts to subverting the process of law.
Obviously, the Mulayam Singh Yadav government is mainly interested in Ms Mayawati getting punished for her role in the scam. That is why, besides reinstating the suspended bureaucrats, it deferred the departmental proceedings against former Principal Environment Secretary R. K. Sharma, who was blamed by the former Chief Minister for the clearance of the controversial project. Ms Mayawati has escaped arrest following a stay order issued by the Allahabad High Court, which asked the CBI not to take such a step till the completion of the scam-related investigation. The Central government too appeared to be opposed to her arrest before the elections because of political reasons, and hence its advice to the CBI not to go in appeal to the Supreme Court against the High Court's order.
The situation may take an interesting turn after the elections. Ms Mayawati is most likely to be on the side of those forming the government at the Centre. But her bete noire, Mr Mulayam Singh, may not agree to any bailout plan for Ms Mayawati. As things stand today, proceedings in the multi-crore scam have become hostage to the politics in UP and at the Centre.
Riots and wrongs
ONE killing is a crime, mass murder a statistic. By extension, a person guilty of homicide is punished, but perpetrators of genocide escape by taking refuge in politics. While it remains to be seen whether those behind the massacres in Gujarat two years ago are brought to account, it is astounding that nearly 20 years after the anti-Sikh riots, the killers remain unpunished. Worse, the guilty are supremely confident that the law will not catch up with them to meet the ends of justice. So much so that the Congress party, which presided over 1984 riots that claimed nearly 2800 lives, is brazen enough to field Messrs Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler for the Lok Sabha elections from Delhi. These two were implicated in the 1984 riots and kept out of elections all these years, but now the Congress feels that the stains have washed off enough for them to contest the polls.
There could not be a more cynical exploitation of justice denied as well as thwarted. True, no evidence has been found against Messrs Sajjan Kumar and Tytler despite the agonisingly protracted judicial process. Three commissions - the Ranganath Mishra, the Jain-Banerjee and, now, the Nanavati — have probed the riots, and none of those widely perceived to be guilty of the violence have been convicted. Instead of pursuing the case with greater resolve, last December, the Delhi Police sought withdrawal of the cases; on the grounds that these cases were old, that there was no adequate evidence and that withdrawal would help maintain communal harmony.
So, when the Supreme Court came down heavily on the authorities for the withdrawal of the cases, it was expected that this would have some effect on the guilty and their patron-protectors. Far from that happening, the Congress, which has been crying hoarse over the massacres in Gujarat, is now seeking to make political capital out of an awesome injustice. Those who masterminded the mass murders in Gujarat can take heart. All that they have to do in such a dispensation is wait for the cases to become "old" while ensuring that witnesses do not give evidence which would indict the guilty.
The troubled neighbourhood
THE recent SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit in Islamabad witnessed the signing of important documents like the Social Charter, the South Asian Free Trade Agreement and an Additional Protocol on Terrorism. Despite all the bonhomie displayed and noble sentiments expressed by SAARC leaders, the political dynamics within South Asian countries is such that terrorism and violence are only going to increase in the region unless New Delhi adopts a much more dynamic and pro-active policy than it has followed in recent years.
Pakistan has been and will remain the epicentre of global terrorism for a number of years despite New Delhi’s Herculean exertions and often misplaced hype and optimism. But what has happened in recent years as a result of the excessively Pakistan-centric fixation of our political elite and media is that scant attention has been paid to the serious problems posed by the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, the increasing support for Islamic fundamentalist organisations and Indian insurgent groups in Bangladesh and the spiralling Maoist violence in Nepal that has the potential to spill across the border into the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. New Delhi’s claims to be a major regional power will lack credibility if it fails to address these developments in its own backyard.
With people across the nation remaining glued to their television sets watching the absorbing India-Pakistan cricket series and our political leadership engrossed in its election campaigns, momentous developments were taking place across the Palk Straits. The Sri Lankan government has decided to build a memorial in Colombo for Indian soldiers of the IPKF who laid down their lives for preserving Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity. Colombo expects us to play a more pro-active role in resolving its ethnic crisis and moderating the LTTE. India will have to respond more pro-actively to this expectation than it has done in the recent past.
With New Delhi virtually sleeping, Colombo involved in the formation of a new government after the recent elections resulted in a virtually hung Parliament and the Norwegian-led Monitoring Mission again showing its notorious pro-LTTE tilt, Velupillai Prabhakaran struck militarily by attacking the Tamil leadership in the Eastern province and forcing the ouster of his rival “Colonel” Karuna. Unlike Prabhakaran, Karuna was prepared to respect the unity of Sri Lanka, realised the folly of the LTTE involvement in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and showed sensitivity to Indian concerns and strategic imperatives. On the other hand, the LTTE had participated in an orgy of violence and killings in the run up to the elections.
On April 2, rivalries among the security organisations in Bangladesh led to the revelation that the port authorities in Chittagong were busy unloading a huge consignment of arms that included around 1500 rifles of various types, 150 rocket launchers and two million rounds of ammunition. There is growing evidence to establish that members of the ruling alliance that includes parties like the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami were involved in what was evidently not the first instance of such arms inflows. Following the ouster of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan several members of Osama bin Laden’s international Islamic front from outfits like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, the Rohingyas in Myanmar and the Jemayah Islamiyah in Indonesia sought and found refuge and support in Bangladesh. Begum Khaleda Zia has also given a free hand to the ISI to step up support for insurgent groups like ULFA in India’s Northeast. Bangladesh is, therefore, becoming a destabilising force not only for India but also for its ASEAN neighbours like Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.
While Nepal has shown understanding of India’s concerns on the ISI’s activities on its soil, the kingdom is itself unfortunately caught in a vortex of domestic violence by Maoist groups — violence that has claimed over 8000 lives in the past eight years. India and the United States have provided military assistance to Nepal. However, Nepal is ruled under the State of Emergency declared on November 26, 2001. Three rounds of peace talks between the government and the Maoists last year yielded no results.
King Gyanendra has also not helped matters by curtailing democratic freedoms and appointing only hardcore royalists as Prime Minister. Even though the present Prime Minister, Mr Surya Bahadur Thapa, is an experienced and capable administrator, there can be no solution to Nepal’s Maoist menace unless the monarch realises that he needs widespread political support to succeed. New Delhi has to move dexterously and expeditiously in its diplomacy in Nepal. The King has to be persuaded to set up a government that enjoys wide political support. Absolute monarchies are anachronisms in the twenty-first century. Long overdue socio-economic reforms need to be expedited. India will also have to back up its political and diplomatic initiatives with substantially increased economic and military assistance to the Himalayan kingdom.
Problems in Sri Lanka have been compounded by external powers like Norway and Japan that give far too much consideration to the views of the LTTE and even equate the LTTE with the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka. In June 2003 the Tokyo Donors’ conference pledged $ 4.5 billion as aid to Sri Lanka. But the Japanese have made the disbursement of such aid conditional on progress in talks between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE. They have thus, in effect, made aid to Sri Lanka conditional on the progress that country’s elected government makes in talks with a terrorist outfit, with an avowedly separatist agenda.
Further, unlike the United States, the British government appears to be far too relaxed in its links with pro-LTTE outfits and NGOs in Sri Lanka.
Finally, domestic developments in both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh affect ASEAN countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. New Delhi should work with its partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to devise mechanisms for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to interact with members of the ARF, as the spread of terrorist and separatist violence in the Bay of Bengal Region is a matter of direct interest to these
HE was my "newspaperman", though the dictionary meaning of the term does not extend to a newspaper agent or hawker. From the day I moved into my Chandigarh house, almost exactly three months before he was brutally strangled to death, Hari Singh ensured delivery of newspapers at my doorstep. And, in over 30 years of subscribing to newspapers, I have not met a more gentle and dignified "hawker", as he called himself. The acquaintance was fleeting but surely not forgettable for that reason.
I had met him twice. The first occasion was on April 6. I had been away for a few days and did not find the pile of papers at my doorstep. I am one of those junkies who read even back issues. I insist on the papers being brought even in my absence. I complained about irregular delivery and, the next morning, Hari Singh was at my door.
He said the delivery boy had told him I was away. It was a misunderstanding: it was my neighbour who was on a longish holiday. "You needn't complain against my service because I would never give cause for complaint. You will always get your papers, whether I am away or you are out of town," Hari Singh said. The man's sincerity and earnestness was unmistakable. I felt admonished and somewhat ashamed at the unfairness of my complaint. The tall, turbaned Sikh, with his flowing white beard, walked away with an air of pleasant resignation to the ways of the world.
No sooner had he left than my wife, who'd never set eyes on the man, said that I shouldn't have complained. "He seems such a good and gentle soul". Before I could quiz her, our domestic help also joined in to say that he was a very respected, bhala, achha aadmi, well known in the neighbourhood. "If you have any problem, you tell me. He's my neighbour. He works so hard." Obviously, the woman had briefed my wife about him
Minutes later Hari Singh returned with back issues of the newspapers. They were arranged date-wise, in a neat bundle. Never have newspapers that accumulated in my absence at home been kept in such condition by my family — after all, once read, it was raddi. I think Hari Singh shamed them too.
The second, and last, time I saw him was on Monday, the day he was murdered. I had asked our maid to tell him that I'd missed a Sunday newspaper and a magazine. "Don't worry or complain. I will get it for you," she said on her way out. Some minutes later the elderly man was there with the publications. "I am sorry. I know that no one can bear to miss his papers in the morning. Maybe the boy forgot," he said before walking away with a sad smile.
I got my quota of newspapers on Tuesday morning. Nothing seemed amiss, until I heard in the evening that he had being killed. My children, who had glimpsed the soft-spoken man just once, were horrified. "Such a sweet, nice man. Why would anybody want to murder him?" And thus he must have touched many lives.
A bumpy drive on Punjab roads
ROADS are like arteries that carry blood to all parts of the body and the former keep the economy, as also life, ticking. If that be so, Punjab’s arteries are in bad shape, damaged and battered. There are even ‘“missing’” links without a trace of roadbed. The continued neglect of national and state highways as also village link roads will make these disappear, sooner than later.
This was the experience at the end of a gruelling 1,484 km journey across the state from Gurdaspur down to Khuian Sarver, near Abohar, undertaken to capture the mood of the electorate in the coming Lok Sabha elections. One returned with a first-hand experience of the condition of the state’s roads and what it meant to drive at night or in the day.
For most of the time and on most of the stretches, one navigated over unending and omnipresent small potholes, big craters, damaged berms, unsuspecting bumps and humps that kept getting on the nerves. Add to this harrowing driving nightmare, the road hogs. Driving, a pleasure? It is a pain in the neck!
Before driving out to Punjab from Chandigarh, a bureaucrat slipped a file into my hands. It contained an eight-page computer pullout, neatly stapled. It was titled, “Punjab: New Goals and Bold Initiatives”. As if he had any premonition, he said, ‘“See, if you can use some portions of it”.
The eight-page official dossier listed “achievements” under 18 sub-heads, including “Infrastructure Development”. It was as interesting piece to read as it was an ambition of the government that dreams of a Rs 1,500 crore infrastructure upgradation programme to be completed in the next two-and-a-half years. It spelt out ‘’prestigious’’ projects like constructing 40 railway over-bridges or upgrading 879 km of high traffic corridors or building three new high-level bridges on the Sutlej and the Beas or widening of 300 km major roads, including four-lane roads.
It made a reference to both rural and urban sectors, which had received “greater impetus” during the last two years! The state claims to have invested Rs 308 crore on 365 km state and district roads, while the plan is to invest Rs 500 crore on additional 850 km of roads, again in the next two years.
It was also mentioned that in rural areas, 5,200 km link roads would be repaired at a cost of Rs 218 crore by April 30, 2003 (sic). Also that the state would repair another 14,200 km of rural link roads at a cost of Rs 747 crore next year.
The “note” almost flew out of my hands as the driver braked hard to slow down to avoid jumps and navigate a string of cracked patches near Mukerian. My dream of good smooth roads woven by the official handout and promising to spend huge money, the state does not have, crashed, as a tyre went flat on a link road to Khadoor Sahib near Tarn Taran.
Name any key road, Jalandhar to Hoshairpur via Bhogpur and onward to Mukerian or across the Naushehra Pattan to Gurdaspur or from Harike to Ludhiana via Kot Isekahan or Ludhiana to Bathinda via Raikot-Barnala or Malout to Abohar or to Muktsar, the story is the same. Often, one travels on kutcha patches. To give you company are rash drivers, particularly drivers of private buses, ever in a hurry to pick up passengers and compete with rivals.They drive recklessly not just raising clouds of dust and blinding you but also making travel unsafe.
There is virtually no road from Batala to Rayya. The only relief was the Batala-Amritsar section, whereas, branch or link roads to Kalanaur or Dera Baba Nanak or along the Dhusi bundh are in a pitiable condition. Yet people do not protest. They just suffer, silently and curse. That driving was one nightmarish experience, holds true of almost all districts in Majha, Doaba and Malwa.
The link road that took off from Dharmpura to Patti Billa was somewhat better than some of the district roads. But one could not get over the experience of driving on battered defence roads.
One wondered when will the Chief Minister, Capt. Amarinder Singh, travel by road to experience how ordinary Punjabis travel.
The worst roads are within the municipal limits in most of the small towns, including sub-divisional headquarters. Even in a city like Bathinda, the main road leading to the district courts from the Thermal lakes is an apology for a road.
On certain stretches of the roads, say near the Harike barrage, one saw roadmen marking out depressions or humps. In places like Khadoor Sahib, where at least six major radial roads have been done up, or in parts of Muktsar, close to village Serai Nanga, roads have been repaired, as these are linked to the 500th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Angad Dev.
In the name of “strengthening, widening, raising”, it takes ages to complete a road. One came across ‘’work in progres’’ on some roads.
Punjab does have some good roads that have been spruced up by the Infrastructure Board, say the Ropar-Phagwara stretch. But the state is no longer a picture postcard of prosperity or good infrastructure.
One observation during the long drive was the squalor, filth and stink emanating from choked open drains, sewerage lines and garbage dumps in all towns and cities. Also, these places are ever under a canopy of a cloud of dust and haze. These ramshackle cities and towns, congestion, encroachments, chaotic traffic and mad rush point to only one thing: Punjab is slipping and sinking, as today’s Neros — the politician and the bureaucrat—fiddle.
PAKISTAN SUKKUR: An All Parties Majlis-i-Amal Tahafuz-i-Khatam-e-Nabuwat conference has called upon the government to desist from the policy of controlling the activities of religious institutions, including madarsas. The conference, which concluded here on Sunday, was attended by thousands of workers of religious parties from all over the cuntry. It strongly condemned the military operation in Wana and Waziristan and through a resolution asked the government to stop the operation immediately. -
SUKKUR: An All Parties Majlis-i-Amal Tahafuz-i-Khatam-e-Nabuwat conference has called upon the government to desist from the policy of controlling the activities of religious institutions, including madarsas.
The conference, which concluded here on Sunday, was attended by thousands of workers of religious parties from all over the cuntry. It strongly condemned the military operation in Wana and Waziristan and through a resolution asked the government to stop the operation immediately. - Dawn
Troops for Iraq
ISLAMABAD: Though Pakistan has been approached by the United Nations and the United States for sending its armed forces for duty in Iraq, it has not sent any troops yet nor has it made any commitment. The UN request, a Foreign Office spokesman said on Monday, was still under consideration. Addressing the weekly Foreign Office press briefing, the spokesman, in reply to questions, reaffirmed that so far Pakistan had received from the UN a request for Pakistani troops for the protection of its mission in Iraq when it was established. Pakistan would respond to it after due deliberations, he said and added, "we have not as yet said yes or no to the UN request." —
ISLAMABAD: Though Pakistan has been approached by the United Nations and the United States for sending its armed forces for duty in Iraq, it has not sent any troops yet nor has it made any commitment. The UN request, a Foreign Office spokesman said on Monday, was still under consideration.
Addressing the weekly Foreign Office press briefing, the spokesman, in reply to questions, reaffirmed that so far Pakistan had received from the UN a request for Pakistani troops for the protection of its mission in Iraq when it was established. Pakistan would respond to it after due deliberations, he said and added, "we have not as yet said yes or no to the UN request." — Dawn
ISLAMABAD: The farmers movement across the country on Monday announced to launch a protest move against what they said unfair policies of both the government and international financial institutions (IFIs) that led to the suppression of their rights. The announcement in this regard was made here at a press conference jointly addressed by Mr Liaquat Ali of the Anjuman Mazarain Punjab, Mian Hekmat Shah, of the Hashtnagar Peasant Movement and others..— The Nation
ISLAMABAD: The farmers movement across the country on Monday announced to launch a protest move against what they said unfair policies of both the government and international financial institutions (IFIs) that led to the suppression of their rights.
The announcement in this regard was made here at a press conference jointly addressed by Mr Liaquat Ali of the Anjuman Mazarain Punjab, Mian Hekmat Shah, of the Hashtnagar Peasant Movement and others..— The Nation
TV channels: new policy
ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the government had taken a policy decision that newspapers might be allowed to operate electronic media in the country. The Information Minister in a statement said the government was going to make the necessary amendments in the Pemra Ordinance, 2002, in the next session of Parliament as the Cabinet had already taken a decision on the matter. He said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) was going to convene a meeting of the authority shortly to make the necessary proposals for amendments in the relevant provisions of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 and the Pemra Rules, 2002.—
The News International
ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the government had taken a policy decision that newspapers might be allowed to operate electronic media in the country.
The Information Minister in a statement said the government was going to make the necessary amendments in the Pemra Ordinance, 2002, in the next session of Parliament as the Cabinet had already taken a decision on the matter.
He said the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) was going to convene a meeting of the authority shortly to make the necessary proposals for amendments in the relevant provisions of the Pemra Ordinance 2002 and the Pemra Rules, 2002.— The News International
Another grand alliance soon
SUKKUR: Maulana Muhammad Ajmal Qadri, President of the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-Qadri), on Monday said a new religio-political alliance was in the offing, and indicated that it would be cobbled together in a couple of months. Qadri told a press conference that a prominent member of the MMA and the chief of the JUI (S), Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, was in contact with several religious and political parties in order to form a grand alliance. He said the "negative" policies of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) had exposed them.—
The News International
SUKKUR: Maulana Muhammad Ajmal Qadri, President of the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-Qadri), on Monday said a new religio-political alliance was in the offing, and indicated that it would be cobbled together in a couple of months.
Qadri told a press conference that a prominent member of the MMA and the chief of the JUI (S), Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, was in contact with several religious and political parties in order to form a grand alliance.
He said the "negative" policies of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) had exposed them.—
The News International
Pray to God morning and evening, and employ the day in your avocations. — Prophet Muhammad Within the body abides the name of God who Himself is the creator and is immortal. — Guru Nanak He is the true disciple and follower of Shri Ramakrishna, whose character is perfect. The formation of such a perfect character is the ideal of this age, and everyone should strive for that alone. — Swami Vivekananda Renunciation is not resignation or retirement. It is growth. When you learn and live the higher values of life, the lower values automatically drop off like the petals drop when a flower grows into a fruit. Renunciation prepares the mind for deeper concentration and meditation. — Swami A. Parthasarathy If common sense has not the brilliancy of the sun, it has the fixity of the stars. — Caballero
— Prophet Muhammad
Within the body abides the name of God who Himself is the creator and is immortal.
— Guru Nanak
He is the true disciple and follower of Shri Ramakrishna, whose character is perfect. The formation of such a perfect character is the ideal of this age, and everyone should strive for that alone.
— Swami Vivekananda
Renunciation is not resignation or retirement. It is growth. When you learn and live the higher values of life, the lower values automatically drop off like the petals drop when a flower grows into a fruit. Renunciation prepares the mind for deeper concentration and meditation.
— Swami A. Parthasarathy
If common sense has not the brilliancy of the sun, it has the fixity of the stars.