The President speaks
The trans-Atlantic drift
Baat kursi ki
The return of Milon Banerji
The President speaks
In his first address to both Houses of Parliament after the elections, President A P J Abdul Kalam has struck the right note, which ought to be adhered to as an agenda for action by the new government. Expectedly, the address encompasses the concerns and priorities of the diverse political strands represented by the United Progressive Alliance and yet, at the same time, reassures sections that were apprehensive of an economic reforms being rolled back. The economic agenda unveiled in the President's address promises massive public investment in agriculture and industry, encouraging foreign direct investment, selective privatisation and comprehensive tax reforms to achieve 7 to 8 per cent growth. "For boosting the growth rate of GDP, the rate of investment has to be pushed up by rejuvenating the capital markets”, Mr Kalam said. This should be music to the ears of those who are driving the market and were beset by anxieties because of the mixed signals sent out by certain sections of the Left.
The political messages, such as the repeal of the draconian POTA without compromising in the fight against terrorism is heartening. It means that there would be continuity of policy in areas such as Jammu and Kashmir and the North-East, but no resort to partisan excesses of the kind witnessed in the use of POTA. On the vexed and divisive Ayodhya issue, the UPA government is also committed to await the outcome of the judicial process but inclined to resolve the conflict through negotiations acceptable to all parties. Contentious issues like the creation of a separate Telengana state are kept in view, but clearly not a priority.
The UPA's resolve to undo the institutional havoc wreaked by the previous HRD minister - be it in riding roughshod over the autonomy of the IIMs or packing academic bodies with saffron sympathisers — would be widely welcomed, provided matters are not taken to a vengeful extreme. In sum, there is much promise held out by the President's address, but the true test of commitment will be the performance.
Happily, the change of government in New Delhi has had no negative impact on the ongoing dialogue between the Centre and the Kashmiri separatists. The process set in motion by the previous government is expected to continue at its own momentum with Mr N. N. Vohra as the Centre’s interlocutor. The new government’s decision to make use of the services of Mr Vohra, who was assigned this responsibility by the Vajpayee government, signifies that there is a national consensus on continuing the dialogue with the Hurriyat and others. His presence as a “special representative of the government” will represent a link between what happened during NDA rule and the developments that may follow now. This is bound to help the next round of talks, expected to be held in July.
It is interesting to note that the two factions of the Hurriyat Conference — one led by Moulvi Abbas Ansari and the other by hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani — are showing signs of coming together with Mirvaiz Moulvi Umer Farooq likely to replace Mr Ansari as the chief of the principal Hurriyat group. Mirvaiz Farooq, who is easily acceptable to all separatist leaders, has been the most vocal advocate of ending the Kashmir crisis through talks. This is the main reason why he has been on the hit list of militants, who first killed his father and then his uncle recently. But this has only added to his following, as the people in general too want the problem to end through dialogue.
The atmosphere in the valley is as congenial as it was in the past for taking the dialogue process to its logical conclusion. Most separatist groups, including the Ansari-led Hurriyat, have expressed their appreciation of Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil declaring his resolve to do everything possible for the success of the talks. The Centre is, perhaps, inclined to allow Hurriyat leaders to meet the Kashmiri separatists in Pakistan if this helps the dialogue. But all efforts should be made to bring every valley-based separatist group to the negotiating table. Broad-based talks may lead to isolating the militant leaders who refuse to acknowledge that the people are fed up with their activities and the violence they have wrought on the state.
The alarming rise in the cases of gastroenteritis was avoidable if more alertness had been shown by the authorities. Gastroenteritis is the irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, headache, low-grade fever and muscle aches. If prompt medical aid is given, it is not usually life-threatening. Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Faridkot districts have been mainly affected by the recent outbreak, which has led to many deaths. As usual, economically weaker sections of society have been most hit, as they have no access to safe and clean drinking water. The slow, knee-jerk response of the health authorities — municipal and state — is inexcusable.
Public health authorities have failed to provide clean drinking water. In certain areas, water has been found to have been contaminated with sewage. It is really shameful that 57 years after Independence people have to live without safe drinking water. This results in several deaths every year because of water-borne diseases like gastroenteritis and cholera. Sometimes officials point out that handpumps are being used in certain areas, and thus untreated water is being consumed. This is happening because of the dismal failure of the administration in providing safe piped drinking water to such areas.
Most water samples taken by health officials in the affected areas in Punjab have been found to be unfit for human consumption. Unfortunately, even the guardians of the nation are not safe from contaminated water. BSF jawans and their families at a camp near Mohali have been suffering from the ill-effects of contaminated water. There is a dire need for ensuring the supply of safe water to all, and of taking prompt remedial steps when disease hits a certain area. It will make a great difference if only the government takes the essential tasks of governance more seriously than it has done so far.
The trans-Atlantic drift
THE sixtieth year of the Normandy landings, observed in France with much fanfare, provided an occasion for resolving the vexed issue of trans-Atlantic relations. But for all the bonhomie shown by President George W. Bush as he breezed through Italy, the Vatican and France, Europe and the United States were no nearer a true rapprochement than they were since the divisive Iraq issue accentuated the divide across the Atlantic.
True, there were efforts by both sides to put the Iraq issue behind them and there was some tactical mending of fences by President Bush and his European counterparts, with Britain’s Tony Blair uncomfortably suspended in mid-air. But the basic reasons for the falling out between the traditional Atlantic allies are too complex and dependent upon a more sociable and more considerate United States to be resolved in a hurry.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union, the trans-Atlantic relationship was bound to change. Western Europe no longer needed American protection to live in peace and whatever its failings, the European enterprise has been a striking success in building a new Europe and the remarkable transfer of sovereignty from national governments to Brussels, the seat of the European Union. Arguments about how much more sovereignty to part with in foreign policy and security fields are legitimate and will take time to resolve.
For a Europe at peace with itself, but for the turmoil in the Balkans, the advent of President Bush was bad news. An administration dominated by neoconservatives grasped Nine Eleven with both hands to lay out their scheme for world domination. They claimed the right to strike any nation pre-emptively and preventively and the differences in their ranks concerned only the type of imperialism they wished to create — of the missionary Wilsonian variety or one grounded in realpolitik of the Jacksonian kind.
There is enough evidence to suggest that the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime was a priority agenda for President Bush before the Nine Eleven tragedy struck the American mainland. For personal and historic reasons, the Bush neoconservatives were raring to go to implement their fantasy vision of a world dominated by America acting as the Second Roman Empire. The neoconservative philosophy is that there is little point in amassing unsurpassed military power if America cannot mould the world according to its desires and interests
The Iraq war represented a breaking point in trans-Atlantic relations because the United States not merely revelled in unilateralism but also sought to divide Europe into “old” and “new”. The neoconservatives had little patience or time for dissenters at home or abroad, and the very success of the military operation in Iraq bolstered their belief in their vision.
As things worsened in Iraq, with a growing insurgency and increasing numbers of deaths of American soldiers, the US priorities underwent changes, advancing the date for returning sovereignty, in however limited a fashion, to Iraqis. More spectacularly, the contempt displayed by the Bush administration towards the United Nations was suddenly replaced by an eager wooing of the world organisation to gain a measure of legitimacy. The Bush administration at the same time sought to control events by getting their favourite envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as the UN representative in Iraq to help with government formation. The squabbling over the presence of occupation forces after the transfer of sovereignty is an indication of US efforts to retain a dominant position in Iraq.
The 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings was an attempt by President Bush to try to smooth over ruffled European feathers without giving away anything of substance. At the Vatican, Mr Bush had to endure listening to the Pope decry America’s Iraq policies. And in Paris, President Jacques Chirac rejected the comparison made by Mr Bush between the events of 60 years ago to the “war on terror”. On his part, Mr Bush continued to maintain an optimistic view of America and the world.
What stands out is that Europe and the United States have been drifting apart because they are being divided by the American goal of repudiating aspects of the Enlightenment that bound the two societies. The secularism preferred by Europe is coming into increasing conflict with the religiosity so favoured by Mr Bush for personal and tactical reasons. Americans refuse to give up enforcing the death penalty while its abolition is an article of faith for the European Union. Besides, the repudiation of the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto treaty on the environment has not endeared the neoconservatives to Europeans.
For US neoconservatives, Europe has gone soft. Europe’s response is that the use of force can be justified as a last resort and is bound to prove counter-productive if it is used as a first option. Europe argues with justification that raw power has its limits, unless tempered by diplomacy and legitimised by the consent of partners and allies and the only representative world organisation, the United Nations. The Iraq mess and America’s blundering ways have registered on the American screen but has failed to change the neoconservative vision.
The Bush administration and the US must understand that their ability to browbeat others to follow an American agenda is limited by the inability of any one power to run the globe and the need for a consensual approach.
Unless Mr Bush and the neoconservatives learn the lessons of Iraq, they will provoke further crises. New words of endearment will be taken as empty words unless President Bush matches his new rhetoric with action.
Few in Europe believe that President Bush was sufficiently contrite or even fully aware of his mistakes to win friends and influence people. Perhaps the United States needs to endure further knocks to understand the world, once the fog of the American Presidential campaign lifts. The Democratic contender for the Presidency, Mr John Kerry, is hewing close to the Bush line for electoral reasons. The world must wait to find out if there will be more than a difference of tone, should Mr Kerry win the White
Baat kursi ki
It is not enough to be a director in a company — or head of department — to be important unless one’s job involves public dealing of substance.
My friend Rohtas, now retired, related to me his own story. While serving as a Superintending Engineer in an administrative office at Vishakhapatnam he happened to meet Mr Gibson who was carrying out a large and costly contract of dredging out silt, mud and sand from the harbour bottom in connection with expansion of harbour facilities.
There was considerable bonhomie between the two families. The relationship was purely on the social level as my friend dealt with maintenance and repairs to servicemen’s accommodation and offices and contracts like harbour dredging was not in his domain.
As time passed Gibson made trips to Scotland — his wife was Scottish — and there was no social interaction between my friend and Gibsons. Meanwhile, my friend, in a routine manner, got transferred locally to the dockyard expansion project in the same rank. The new job required responsibilities pertaining to dredging, equipment, boiler shop, machine shop, pipelines, heavy dockside cranes, etc. This change of place of duty of my friend went unnoticed by the Gibson family.
About a month after this new appointment my friend remembered Gibsons and decided to call on them. One Sunday morning he had to go to the Palm Beach Hotel close to Gibson’s bungalow on the beach. It was 8.30 in the morning when my friend and his wife were welcomed by Mrs Gibson and ushered into their sitting room. During all this time Mr Gibson was having his morning bath in the adjoining bathroom, the door of which was half cut from below to have privacy as well as free flow of fresh air.
Mrs Gibson and Mr Rohtas exchanged pleasantries and recalled their common links with Scotland. Mrs Gibson was informed that the purpose of this unannounced visit was just to call on an old friend like Gibson and nothing more.
The design of the bathroom door enabled him to listen to all the conversation taking place in the sitting room. The Rohtas couple sat there and continued to talk on various subjects for about half an hour while Mr Gibson continued to have his quiet Turkish Bath musing at the loud conversation between the Rohtas couple and his wife.
After a cup of tea eventually both got up to leave. The Rohtas thanked Mrs Gibson saying, “Thank you for your kind hospitality. Regret we could not meet Mr Gibson. Please convey to him that Superintending Engineer Rohtas from Directorate General, Dockyard Expansion, had called on him.”
Hardly had Mr Rohtas completed the last word of his sentence when he saw the door of the adjoining bathroom fling open with a loud thud. It appeared as if door planks had come out of their hinges. Simultaneously, he saw Mr Gibson rushing out of the bathroom with traces of soap on his wet body and a towel wrapped around him, barefooted. As he closed on Mr Rohtas he apologised profusely for not attending to him and thanked him for informing him about his new appointment. He also said that soon he would be calling on him in his office.
The return of Milon Banerji
Milon Kumar Banerji may not be entirely surprised over his appointment as the Attorney-General of India. He had held the post of the topmost law officer of the country for four years during the P.V. Narasimha Rao regime from 1992 to 1996. Banerji’s appointment as the AG has come at a time when the Manmohan Singh government is facing litigation on many vexed issues in the Supreme Court and the High Courts.
His vast experience of working with various governments at the Centre as Additional Solicitor-General, especially as the Solicitor-General, the second top law officer of the country, for three years from 1986 and in 1989 when the Rajiv Gandhi government faced the Bofors onslaught, is believed to have gone in his favour. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government brought him back to the constitutional post even as several top advocates were in the race.
Born on September 27, 1929, to the country’s distinguished academician, Prof A.C. Banerji, who had been the Vice-Chancellor of Allahabad University and President of the Indian Science Congress, Milon, a brilliant student, passed his B.Sc in 1948 and LL.B in 1950 from Allahabad University. He got his LL.M degree in 1953 from Clare College of Cambridge University. His mother, Probha Banerji, was appointed the first honorary lady magistrate in India.
After enriching his legal knowledge by specialising in the field of International Law and the jurisdiction on the High Seas under the supervision and guidance of Cambridge University Professors Hersch Lauterpacht and Robert Jennings, respectively, Banerji was called to Bar in 1953 in London by Loncoln’s Inn. On return to India, he was enrolled as an advocate in the Allahabad High Court in January 1955, the Calcutta High Court in March 1956 and in the Supreme Court in May 1960.
Banerji’s first reaction on being given the responsibility of carrying the burden of the new government’s legal problems as Attorney-General was that he would ensure speedy disposal of the cases pending in the courts, especially those affecting the interests of the common man. He said his endeavour would be to advise the government to speed up the appointment of Judges in the High Courts so that the burden of pending cases is reduced.
The legal acumen of Banerji, who represented the Centre in the vexed Ayodhya case in 1992 before the demolition of the Babri Masjid would again prove to be a testing ground for him on the same issue when it would come up for hearing before the Supreme Court after the current summer vacation. However, the plea this time relates to various legal questions about the trial procedure being followed in the cases against top BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders in the Ayodhya demolition.
Soon after taking over, Banerji has to engage himself in a very important contitutional matter relating to the deletion of the mandatory domiciliary condition for the Rajya Sabha members after the Supreme Court had stayed the election process for electing 57 MPs to the Upper House on June 4.
At the request of the Union Government and the Election Commission, the Supreme Court has now fixed the hearing of their petition for vacation of the stay on June 9.
Banerji’s experience in handling the Ayodhya matter may come handy to the Manmohan Singh government. It may be noted that he had in clear terms cautioned the Supreme Court during the all-important hearing on November 24, 1992, when kar sevaks had started arriving at Ayodhya, that “the situation there had reached a boiling point and any inaction by the court would make the situation irreversible and the court will be faced with a fait accompli.”
His warning came true as the huge assembly of kar sevaks in Ayodhya became uncontrollable both for the security forces and the organisers, resulting in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, complicating the issue further.
But the credit goes to him for astute handling of the case in the aftermath of the demolition, as he strongly defended the Union Government’s decision in acquiring a certain area adjacent to the disputed Ram Janambhoomi- Babri Masjid site under the Ayodhya Act, 1993. This had prevented the Ayodhya issue from escalating tension in the country, which had witnessed communal riots in various parts.
Another significant contribution of Milon Banerji was the apt handling of a communally sesitive case arising out of a petition before the Calcutta High Court, seeking a ban on the “Koran”. His strong arguments had resulted in the dismissal of the petition. Similarly, he also had stoutly dealt with another sensitive case relating to the alleged mixing of “beef tallow” in “vanaspati ghee” in the early eighties by defending the ban on its import after the controversy broke out.
More to the point, he had immensily contributed in getting verdicts from the courts in favour of improving the environment, especially with regard to quarrying in famous tourist destinations of Dehra Dun and Mussoorie.
Other important cases handled by him during his previous tenure as the Attorney-General include the Judges’ Appointment case, Article 356, national awards and powers and functions of the Election Commission.
Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptullah finds herself precariously placed after having thrown her weight behind the BJP and favouring Atal Bihari Vajpayee thus opposing Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Her hopes of getting a Rajya Sabha ticket appear slim. This is particularly so with more than one score BJP heavyweights and Vajpayee’s erstwhile ministerial colleagues losing the Lok Sabha elections. This includes Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Ram Naik among others who are now eyeing the Rajya Sabha. Considering the compulsions in the BJP, Najma is worried that she might have to wait her turn which might not materialise and send her into political oblivion. She has been attacked by a group of Urdu poets and scholars for supporting the BJP and wonder what is in store for her now.
Considering the compulsions in the BJP, Najma is worried that she might have to wait her turn which might not materialise and send her into political oblivion. She has been attacked by a group of Urdu poets and scholars for supporting the BJP and wonder what is in store for her now.
Natwar and Mani Shankar In most cases, diplomats are blessed with the gift of the gab and a superb sense of humour. Sample this. K Natwar Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer — both currently union ministers, former career diplomats, alumni of Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College and, above all, old pals. At an old boys’ meet of St. Stephen’s College some years back, both Natwar and Mani were present. A thick register was kept on a table where the former Stephanians were supposed to write their comments. Natwar wrote: “Whatever I am today, that is because of St. Stephen’s College.” After him, Mani scribbled four words: “Why blame the college?” The open trial of the fake killings resorted to by some of the Indian soldiers at the world’s highest battlefield in Siachen has evoked reactions of a different kind in defence circles. As the details of the fake killings and blowing up of the bunkers are coming out at the trial in Jodhpur, defence circles are abuzz with rumours and jokes. While the rumours go that this kind of fake killings has been resorted to earlier by the army officers with the involvement of other ranks, the jokes however take the cake. One such joke going around is that army officers involved in the fake killings were able to pull off the stunt because of the specialised training they receive from theatre experts. It is because of the one week specialised training that the cadets at the IMA receive from artistes of the National School of Drama, commented a wag. However, in this instance, the officers seem to have left the theatre experts far behind.
In most cases, diplomats are blessed with the gift of the gab and a superb sense of humour. Sample this. K Natwar Singh and Mani Shankar Aiyer — both currently union ministers, former career diplomats, alumni of Delhi’s St. Stephen’s College and, above all, old pals.
At an old boys’ meet of St. Stephen’s College some years back, both Natwar and Mani were present. A thick register was kept on a table where the former Stephanians were supposed to write their comments. Natwar wrote: “Whatever I am today, that is because of St. Stephen’s College.” After him, Mani scribbled four words: “Why blame the college?”
The open trial of the fake killings resorted to by some of the Indian soldiers at the world’s highest battlefield in Siachen has evoked reactions of a different kind in defence circles. As the details of the fake killings and blowing up of the bunkers are coming out at the trial in Jodhpur, defence circles are abuzz with rumours and jokes. While the rumours go that this kind of fake killings has been resorted to earlier by the army officers with the involvement of other ranks, the jokes however take the cake.
One such joke going around is that army officers involved in the fake killings were able to pull off the stunt because of the specialised training they receive from theatre experts. It is because of the one week specialised training that the cadets at the IMA receive from artistes of the National School of Drama, commented a wag. However, in this instance, the officers seem to have left the theatre experts far behind.
Vaiko sore about Dixit Tamil Nadu’s MDMK leader Vaiko is sore about former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit’s appointment as the National Security Adviser. He believes that Dixit had misled the late Rajiv Gandhi about the ethnic crisis in neighbouring Sri Lanka, especially the Tamils. It is no secret that Vaiko supports the cause of the Tamils in Lanka as well the LTTE. Vaiko has refused to join the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre because the MDMK does not want to compromise its policies, the foremost being the repeal of POTA under which he was jailed by the AIADMK government in the southern state. Contributed by Rajeev Sharma, Girja Shankar Kaura and Prashant Sood
Tamil Nadu’s MDMK leader Vaiko is sore about former foreign secretary J.N. Dixit’s appointment as the National Security Adviser.
He believes that Dixit had misled the late Rajiv Gandhi about the ethnic crisis in neighbouring Sri Lanka, especially the Tamils. It is no secret that Vaiko supports the cause of the Tamils in Lanka as well the LTTE.
Vaiko has refused to join the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre because the MDMK does not want to compromise its policies, the foremost being the repeal of POTA under which he was jailed by the AIADMK government in the southern state.
Contributed by Rajeev Sharma, Girja Shankar Kaura and Prashant Sood
Utter the word Gita, in quick succession, a number of times Gi-ta-gi-ta-gi-tagi. It is then virtually pronounced as ‘Tagi’, ‘Tagi’, which means one who has renounced the world for the sake of God. Thus, in one word, the Gita teaches, “Renounce, ye world-bound men! Renounce everything, and fix the mind on the Lord. — Sri Ramakrishna He who controls the senses and passions and concentrates on the self through meditation and scriptural study definitely practises austerity. — Lord Mahavira The hunger of the devotees is the praise of God, and His true name is their sustenance. — Guru Nanak Enter your closet, shut the door, and pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees you in secret shall reward you openly. — Jesus Christ The borrower runs in his own debt. — Emerson
— Sri Ramakrishna
He who controls the senses and passions and concentrates on the self through meditation and scriptural study definitely practises austerity.
— Lord Mahavira
The hunger of the devotees is the praise of God, and His true name is their sustenance.
— Guru Nanak
Enter your closet, shut the door, and pray to your Father in secret; and your Father who sees you in secret shall reward you openly.
— Jesus Christ
The borrower runs in his own debt.