SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
O P I N I O N S

Perspective | Oped

PERSPECTIVE

A Tribune Debate
A question of EC’s credibility
President should consult Supreme Court on CEC’s powers, says Jagdeep S. Chhokar
The Election Commission has been in the spotlight since January 31, 2009, when it became known that Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami had recommended the removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla. The issue is critical since it concerns the sanctity of the election process on which the entire edifice of our democracy is built.

Need to restore people’s confidence in the system
by Dharam Vir
In his concluding remarks on the occasion of the adoption of what was described as the nation’s Charter of Liberty — the Constitution — on November 26, 1949, Constituent Assembly President Dr Rajendra Prasad made specific mention of three sentinel institutions prescribed in the Constitution besides the judiciary.









EARLIER STORIES

Habitual offenders
February 21, 2009
Punjab budget
February 20, 2009
Offensive against Naxalites
February 19, 2009
Appeasing the Taliban
February 18, 2009
Carry on, Pranab
February 17, 2009
More open to FDI
February 16, 2009
Pitfalls of democracy
February 15, 2009
One step forward
February 14, 2009
Amarinder’s expulsion
February 13, 2009
Violence in the House
February 12, 2009



OPED

Chidambaram’s carrot
Policy shift favours Tamils, not LTTE
by Shastri Ramachandaran
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s offer that India would facilitate negotiations if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) declared a willingness to lay down arms is the farthest towards an ‘intervention’ that New Delhi has moved. In fact, this is the first time since the IPKF fiasco in the late 1980s that New Delhi has shown interest in taking a direct hand in resolving the Tamil-Sinhala conflict. For that reason alone, Mr Chidambaram’s exhortation — including to the Government of Sri Lanka — to stop the war and create conditions for talks is significant.

Profile
Saraswati Samman for litterateur-scientist

by Harihar Swarup
There are scientists who take to excel in writing — be it in the field of story telling, novels, poetry, fiction or non-fiction. Lakshmi Nandan Bora, Assamese writer, is one of them. A scientist by education and profession, Bora has been aptly selected for the prestigious literary award, Saraswati Samman by the K.K. Birla Foundation. Seventy-seven-year-old Bora has turned out to be one of the foremost literary figures in Assam. He has as many as 56 books to his credit.

On Record
Pak a dysfunctional state, says Singh
by Ashok Tuteja
A veteran diplomat, K.C. Singh, held some key assignments during his long career in the IFS. He was the Indian Ambassador to the UAE and Iran, and Secretary, Economic Relations, Ministry of External Affairs. He also headed the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism (JATM) between India and Pakistan.
He speaks to The Sunday Tribune on the situation in Pakistan and its implications for India. Excerpts:

 


Top









 

A Tribune Debate
A question of EC’s credibility
President should consult Supreme Court on CEC’s powers,
says Jagdeep S. Chhokar 

The Election Commission has been in the spotlight since January 31, 2009, when it became known that Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami had recommended the removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla. The issue is critical since it concerns the sanctity of the election process on which the entire edifice of our democracy is built.

While its short-term impact is detrimental to the EC’s integrity, particularly due to the timing of the recommendation, it can also be argued that such issues need to be taken up promptly. The long-term effects will obviously depend on how it is handled, particularly now that the deed has been done. The pronouncements of the two major political parties do not indicate much hope. Two sections of society seem to have a major responsibility in this regard: the legal fraternity and civil society. They should try to have the issue dealt with in a non-partisan manner.

The story was broken on January 31 by The Hindu in a signed piece. It also expressed disapproval of the CEC’s action. It was reiterated in an editorial on February 1 that held the CEC to be “neither constitutional nor fair.” The Times of India followed, with the CEC’s interview on February 2. The Hindu reiterated its stand on February 3 (“Gopalaswami’s claims on timing of missive are seriously misleading”). The same day, it carried the text of the “Confidential Opinion” given by advocate Ashok Desai on April 12, 2006, in response to a request by the then CEC on whether the CEC can initiate suo motu action for an Election Commissioner’s removal without a reference being made by the President. This opinion had been widely cited and its publication was a distinct contribution to informed public debate.

The Indian Express reported on February 4, in a signed story, that the Gopalaswami sent another two letters to the President on January 16, the same day as the letter recommending Chawla’s removal, suggesting two specific measures to ensure that the CEC and the Election Commissioners are not only neutral, impartial, and non-partisan, but also appear to be so. Like The Hindu did with Ashok Desai’s opinion, The Indian Express published the CEC’s two letters on February 5.

The above sequence of events strikes a lay reader as curious — how and by whom were these confidential letters made available to the media; why do the newspapers seem to be taking such clearly politically aligned sides. On the first issue, since the CEC sent the letters to the President, and the President is reported to have sent the letter recommending Mr Chawla’s removal to the government for its views, it is anybody’s guess as to who made the letter available to the media. The most porous link in this chain appears to be the faceless entity called “the government” but in these days of intrigue, there is no knowing where the “leak” was sprung.

The second issue is more critical. While a free and unfettered media is a pre-requisite to democracy, the question is whether it also has the responsibility to promote balanced and dispassionate debate on issues of critical importance.

Ashok Desai’s opinion is revealing. A sentence quoted very often is “If … the power were to be exercisable by the CEC as per his whim and caprice, the CEC himself would become an instrument of oppression and would destroy the independence of the Election Commissioners…” Interestingly, the next sentence reads, “It is, therefore, needless to emphasise that the CEC must exercise this power only when there exist valid reasons...”

A fair and just interpretation of the latter sentence could be that if valid reasons exist, the CEC must exercise this power. In a hypothetical case, if an EC is in league with the government and undermines the working of the commission to the benefit of that government, and since the President is to act under the advice of the executive, the government, being a beneficiary of the actions of the apparently erring the commission, might not advise the President to make a reference to the CEC, and thus there will be no check whatsoever on such an commissioner. This would put the delicately balanced structure of checks and balances completely out of action.

Yet another curious phenomenon is the non-availability in the public domain of the CEC’s full recommendation for removal of Mr Navin Chawla. It seems obvious that some sections of the media, possibly The Hindu, have access to it, and as Soli Sorabjee has said (The Indian Express, Feb 4), “There is no apparent reason why the CEC’s recommendations for Chawla’s removal be not disclosed,” still why is that letter being kept hidden from public view remains a mystery.

Now to the possible ways of dealing with this fait accompli. Dismissing the CEC’s recommendation on procedural and technical legalities would amount to shooting the messenger for conveying a message one does not like. Going by the Union Law Minister’s pronouncements, preempting collective decision-making by the Cabinet and an application of mind by the President, that is precisely what the government is reported to be planning to do.

The critical question then becomes: Is the President bound to follow the constitutional provision of following the advice of the government in this case? At least one authoritative opinion says “in order to ensure that the paramount objective of insulating the Election Commission from the influence of the government of the day is not frustrated, it would follow that the President is not bound by ministerial advice in the matter of removal of an EC.” (The Indian Express, Feb 4, 2009).

The appropriate course of action is for the President to make a reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 (1) of the Constitution. This is justified since during the hearings of a petition filed by BJP leader Jaswant Singh, the Supreme Court Bench had said that it was keeping all the issues raised in the petitions open and was not expressing any opinion on merits. The Bench had specifically said, “We are not saying whether the CEC has the power or not.”

It seems, therefore, most prudent that before taking any decision which may be dragged to the court, the President seek a clarification from the Supreme Court, not only on procedural issues but also on substantive issues raised in the CEC’s recommendation.

While history will judge the actions of all the actors, we should rise above the din of mundane partisanship, and look for the national well-being. The supreme responsibility, of course, is with the President who is under oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law”. n

The writer, a former Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, is a founding member of the Association for Democratic Reforms

Top

 

Need to restore people’s confidence in the system
by Dharam Vir

In his concluding remarks on the occasion of the adoption of what was described as the nation’s Charter of Liberty — the Constitution — on November 26, 1949, Constituent Assembly President Dr Rajendra Prasad made specific mention of three sentinel institutions prescribed in the Constitution besides the judiciary. These are the Election Commission, the Public Service Commissions and the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India.

The Election Commission would conduct, supervise and ensure free and fair elections to give real meaning to the concept of universal suffrage based on adult franchise. In Dr Prasad’s prophetic words, “one of the dangers which we will have to face arises out of any corruption which parties, candidates or the government in power may practise…The danger of corruption is not imaginary. It is therefore as well that our Constitution guards against this danger and provides for an honest and straightforward election by voters.”

The Public Service Commissions would ensure that “there is no room as far as is humanly possible for jobbery, nepotism and favouritism” in making appointments to civil services.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General of India would be the financial watch-dog who will keep an eye on the finances and see to it that no part of the government revenues is used for purposes and on items without due authority.

The founding fathers have written appropriate provisions in the Constitution that ensure that the members of the sentinel institutions function in an impartial and unbiased manner, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, the most important of which is the security of tenure. Thus, the Chief Election Commissioner and the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India shall not be removed from office except in like manner and on like grounds as a member of the apex judiciary through impeachment.

A member of a Service Commission can be divested of his office only on grounds of misbehaviour after a Supreme Court inquiry. Similarly, an Election Commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner. The terms and conditions of service of the members of the sentinel institutions cannot be altered to their disadvntage.

Additionally, while the CAG and the UPSC Chairman are not eligible for any further office under the government, the eligibility of members of other members of the UPSC and the Chairman and members of a state PSC for further government employment is severely restricted within the PSC set up only. This is intended to keep them beyond allurement and temptation.

Curiously, however, while the Constitution has prescribed stringent safeguards for the free and independent functioning of the sentinel institutions after the incumbents are appointed, it is silent about the initial appointments. Neither the manner of selection nor the qualifications for eligibility for appointment to the august offices are prescribed. This is in marked contrast to the appointments to higher judiciary for which appropriate qualifications are laid down in the Constitution. Besides, the judiciary has successfully ring-fenced itself from the influence of the executive in the matter of judges’ appointment.

In November 2007, a PIL had sought the Supreme Court’s intervention for evolving policy guidelines for appointment of the CAG and the mode of selection through a wide-based independent manner. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition in July 2008 after the government pleaded that there was no such requirement in the Constitution.

The total lack of transparency in the appointment of members of the sentinel institutions exposes these authorities to the risk of a double whammy. On the one hand, there is the real danger of appointment of wrong type of persons as has happened in the case of some PSCs. On the other, even the bonafide appointments and their subsequent decisions run the risk of being suspect and are subjected to unfair criticism as being motivated and informed by partisan considerations.

The ultimate casualty is the public confidence in the system. Recently, a former senior bureaucrat claimed that apoliticial officers stood very little chance of being appointed to sentinel institutions since they would be too objective. A sad commentary indeed!

There is urgent need to guard the guardians. The collegium system has been prescribed for appointments to statutory bodies like the Central Vigilance Commission, the National Human Rights Commission and the Central and State Information Commissions. The collegium invariably includes the Leader of the Opposition. A recent proposal for appointment of an Information Commissioner was withdrawn on account of objections raised by the Leader of the Opposition.

The association of the Leader of the Opposition in the selection process has the salutary effect of insulating the appointments to these statutory bodies against criticism of partisan considerations and favouritism. For the same reason, little scope is left for criticism on grounds of political bias in their functioning.

During the Constituent Assembly debates, it was suggested that the CEC’s appointment should be subject to the confirmation of both Houses of Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission has recommended that a collegium headed by the Prime Minister, with the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Law Minister and the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha should recommend persons for the President’s consideration for appointment of the CEC and the Election Commissioners.

A similar recommendation had been made in 2002 by the Constitution Review Commission which had suggested that the collegium should comprise of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the Lok Sabha Speaker and the Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman. It had also recommended that the Lok Sabha Speaker should be consulted as matter of convention while appointing the CAG. These recommendations need serious consideration.

Alongside, there should be estoppel on further appointment in the case of the CEC and the eligibility of the Election Commissioners for further appointment should be restricted only to the CEC. In all cases, the estoppel should extend to all appointments which are controlled by the executive so that such estoppel is not circumvented on the technicality that certain offices like those of the Governor are not under the government.

The debate triggered by the CEC’s recent recommendation for an Election Commissioner’s removal needs to transcend beyond personalities and narrow partisan considerations and should lead to the requisite systemic changes that would restore public confidence in the system.

The writer is a former Deputy Comptroller and Auditor-General of India. The previous articles on the subject on the Edit Page were by B.G. Verghese (Feb 9), Ramaswamy R. Iyer (Feb 11), N.H. Hingorani (Feb 12), K.N. Bhat (Feb 17) and P.P. Rao (Feb 18)

(Concluded)

Top

 

Chidambaram’s carrot
Policy shift favours Tamils, not LTTE
by Shastri Ramachandaran

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s offer that India would facilitate negotiations if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) declared a willingness to lay down arms is the farthest towards an ‘intervention’ that New Delhi has moved. In fact, this is the first time since the IPKF fiasco in the late 1980s that New Delhi has shown interest in taking a direct hand in resolving the Tamil-Sinhala conflict. For that reason alone, Mr Chidambaram’s exhortation — including to the Government of Sri Lanka — to stop the war and create conditions for talks is significant.

It has to be assumed that Mr Chidambaram has weighed his words carefully before delivering them at a public meeting in Chennai on February 15. He is reported to have said: “The Centre’s stand on the Sri Lankan Tamils issue is clear. Let the LTTE declare its willingness to lay down arms. India can mediate the peace process in Sri Lanka tomorrow itself”.

Predictably, nothing happened on the morrow, except for an LTTE spokesman clutching at Mr Chidambaram’s offer to add to the force of opinion against Colombo pursuing its military campaign to the point of exterminating the Tamil Tigers. The war against the LTTE is too far gone. The military campaign unleashed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has gained a momentum all its own; and, advanced to a stage where the LTTE could survive as a guerrilla force, but as a military organisation, its back has been broken decisively.

At this stage of the war, Mr Rajapaksa is unlikely to relent in the least and allow any opening that may provide a breather to the besieged LTTE. He has taken the battle to where none of his predecessors could in the last 20 years. The appetite for an outright military victory has grown by the successes it has fed on, and he appears bent on pushing ahead, regardless of the political consequences.

Doubtless, President Rajapaksa’s resolve to press on without paying heed to calls for a ceasefire — as a mechanism to clear the ground for negotiations — is bad news. Yet it is significant that, at last, New Delhi has risen to recognise, accept and show willingness to take on its inevitable role for the resolution of the 26-year-old conflict.

There appears little reason to doubt that Mr Chidambaram’s statements represent the position of the Union Government as well as the Congress party. The shift in New Delhi’s policy towards Sri Lanka was made known in President Pratibha Patil’s address to Parliament before Mr Chidambaram did so in Chennai. Thereafter, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, too, said in Parliament that the LTTE must lay down arms. He minced no words in saying that the LTTE has done much damage to the Tamil community; and, that the interest of Tamils would be best served by the LTTE releasing all civilians and laying down arms.

President Rajapaksa appears to have overcome his initial consternation arising out of New Delhi calling for a ceasfire. This was first seen in Colombo as India adding its voice to that of the powerful international lobbies pressing for a halt to the war. Now, Mr Chidambaram’s statements in Chennai, reinforced and elaborated upon by Mr Mukherjee in Parliament, appear to have cleared any misconceptions in Colombo about India’s intentions.

The public articulation of the all too evident but hitherto unstated reality — that the conflict in Sri Lanka cannot be resolved without Indian mediation — is now viewed as formal notice of New Delhi’s intent by Colombo and interested parties including the international community.

Now that the decimation of the LTTE looks certain, this could be New Delhi’s way of preparing for a post-conflict political settlement. Parties in India, particularly Tamil Nadu, will have to reconcile themselves to the end of the LTTE both as a militaristic force and as a representative of the Sri Lankan Tamils. In fact, now is the time to make a clear distinction between the LTTE and the interests of the Tamil minority. If Tamil Nadu’s parties refuse to do so, they will render themselves ineffective to that extent in defending the rights and aspirations of the minority across the Palk Straits.

The Tamils of Sri Lanka are twice oppressed: by the militaristic LTTE to which they are hostage and the Sri Lankan armed forces for which they are cannon fodder. Once the LTTE is gone from the scene, in the absence of a representative Tamil leadership it may devolve on New Delhi to negotiate the interests of a minority against the triumphalism of the Sinhala majority. In the course of its rise to supremacy in the island’s northeast, the LTTE literally killed all other Tamil voices. In the circumstances, parties in Tamil Nadu have to choose between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Tamils as two separate entities.

All sections, including the government in Sri Lanka recognise that the Tamil-Sinhala conflict cannot be ended without New Delhi taking a hand. Political parties of every hue have, at one time or other, sought ‘Indian intervention’. Needless to recall, every one of these forces have also criticised India’s “hegemonic designs” whenever any perceived move by New Delhi did not serve their partisan purposes. However, the failure to sustain the 1987 accord and the IPKF misadventure made New Delhi extremely wary of resuming any kind of direct role. Norway’s emergence as the honest broker between Colombo and the LTTE was with New Delhi’s sanction.

India appears to be no longer shy of taking on a role in resolving an issue within its sphere of influence. Unlike in the past, when it opted to act from behind the scenes and provide the required impulses to the Norwegian facilitators, the message being beamed now is that any mediation can only be with New Delhi’s sanction; and that Indian concerns — which include the democratic rights of the Tamil minority — will have to be reckoned with in paving the way for talks, choosing facilitators and setting the terms of engagement.

Colombo has always been averse to any western power ‘meddling’ in its internal affairs. Norway, with the other Nordic countries, was acceptable because of its involvement in development cooperation. However, the space opened up by Norway’s emergence as a trusted facilitator brought in a number of western donor countries with their own ‘development’ agenda, which did not contribute much to the peace process. This spurred others, such as Japan, to seek a role despite New Delhi’s aversion to the donor nations spawning a plethora of busybodies who were contemptuous of Sri Lanka’s political sovereignty and flourished in the name of the peace process.

Not all sections in Sri Lanka would welcome New Delhi seeking to influence the timing and the terms for a ceasefire. Yet President Rajapaksa is all too aware that New Delhi deciding to mediate or facilitate mediation is a major departure; and, that without Indian support no negotiations can go forward. The stark truth is that any plan for the resolution of the conflict cannot be implemented unless it is in accord with New Delhi’s expectations. That India is committed to a solution within the framework of Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity and sovereignty may be a positive of value to President Rajapaksa who — while fighting the LTTE — has had to battle the negative effects of the “internationalisation” of the conflict.

Top

 

Profile
Saraswati Samman for litterateur-scientist
by Harihar Swarup

There are scientists who take to excel in writing — be it in the field of story telling, novels, poetry, fiction or non-fiction. Lakshmi Nandan Bora, Assamese writer, is one of them. A scientist by education and profession, Bora has been aptly selected for the prestigious literary award, Saraswati Samman by the K.K. Birla Foundation. Seventy-seven-year-old Bora has turned out to be one of the foremost literary figures in Assam. He has as many as 56 books to his credit.

The panel of jurists headed by former Chief Justice of India G.B. Patnaik, considered the works published in 22 Indian languages during 1998-2007 and zeroed on Bora’s masterpiece novel, Kayakalpa for the award. Published in 2002, the novel covers a wide range of canvas, ranging from modern technology and science to ancient thoughts and philosophy of great saints of India.

The novel is considered unique because of its unusual theme, evocation of scientific ambience, characters and situation throwing light on some of the fundamental values of life and society.

 Bora’s yet another work, The Protectors, has been translated in other languages. An excerpt: “Sompaguri is a well-knit village. People are honest. There are no thieves among the residents. The government decides to open a thana (police station) to protect the village. The villagers are amused. Do they need one? They think, they do not, but the establishment thinks, they do…”

Bora’s genius was recognised as far back as 1986 when the Sahitya Akademi gave him the award for his novel Patal Bhairvi. The Akademi has undertaken an ambitious programme to provide extensive support to uplift 20 languages of ethnic minorities in the North-Eastern region.

The Akademi enlisted 20 languages of ethnic minorities in the region. The literary works in these languages would be translated into other Indian languages. In the North-Eastern region, around 200 ethnic groups have contributed to create a strong tradition of social, culture and literary identity. The groups have come to be known as a “literary store-house of India”.

Bora, too, feels that without the development of the literary works in the north-eastern region, the Indian literature cannot develop. Convener of the Sahitya Akedemi’s Eastern Regional Board, he believes that “there is a huge scope to develop the literary works of small ethnic groups of the region as their culture, language and traditions are different”. The crises the region faces could also contribute to develop the literary works, he says.

The compilation of stories created by Assam’s writers is a remarkable volume. The introduction to the volume, says in simple terms what is so apparent in the northeast. The seven sisters are held together and geographically tied to the rest of India, as if, it were through a loop knot, a sphere of life and space, where perception are of the “unknown”, because history and topography, of the region, physicality of the people — their dress and cuisine are different, incomprehensible to the other people who traverse their sphere of life and find their worldview diverse and similar.

Stories in this collection weave a web, so fine-tuned, that the reader flows through a stream of consciousness, which allures to appreciate the uniqueness, multi-ethnicity and aloofness. The maze is so woven that each unique little region is enmeshed showcasing its cultural wealth in spite of being located in the midst of high mountains, impenetrable forests and raging wealth.

Top

 

On Record
Pak a dysfunctional state, says Singh
by Ashok Tuteja

K.C. Singh
K.C. Singh

A veteran diplomat, K.C. Singh, held some key assignments during his long career in the IFS. He was the Indian Ambassador to the UAE and Iran, and Secretary, Economic Relations, Ministry of External Affairs. He also headed the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism (JATM) between India and Pakistan.

He speaks to The Sunday Tribune on the situation in Pakistan and its implications for India. Excerpts:

Q: How do you view Pakistan? Is it a failed state?

A: Pakistan is a dysfunctional state in which the Army occupies excessive security space to the detriment of other constitutional organs. Additionally, right-wing forces, which were encouraged first by President Zia-ul-Haq and then by the Pakistani military, Saudi Arabia and the US to counter the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and finally by President Musharraf, have now turned around and attacked Pakistan’s body polity. A ‘Talibanised’ leadership may capture the Pakistani Army.

Q: What about the Pak govt-Taliban pact on enforcing Sharia law in Swat valley?

A: I would be surprised if the pact can work. Consider its contours. Sufi Mohammed is supposed to convince his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah to lay down arms in lieu of the wishy-washy implementation of Sharia. President Zardari is yet to give assent as he waits to see if Sufi Mohammed’s intervention is successful. The tribesmen would probably hide their arms and the Pakistan government has no machinery to supervise proper disarming.

Experience of such truces in tribal areas has been that militants were able to use the opportunity to regroup and then mount a more serious offensive later. Moreover, Swat is in NWFP, an established Pakistan province where the federal and provincial governments are supported and have full control. If even in this area, the Pakistan Army has had to negotiate terms of judicial administration, then we can imagine the state of seven FATA regions.

Q: How will this affect us?

A: India has criticised it. First, the deal confirms the Pakistan government’s helplessness and the military’s connivance in appeasing fundamentalist forces. This deal will embolden the forces espousing puritanical Islam, which will then target Pakistan’s heartland. Secondly, the Pakistan military, through the ISI, has always been breeding and encouraging these forces and turning the diabolical interpretation of Islam into a terror network aimed at India. So it does not introduce a new factor in Indo-Pak relations. On the contrary, it drops the veil from the Pakistan Army’s face as far as their supporters in the West and China are concerned.

Q: Is Pakistan’s return to democracy good for India?

A: During democratic phases in Pakistan, successive governments in India felt encouraged to engage Pakistan. However, now the Pakistan military holds the veto on the Indo-Pak relations. Had she survived assassination, Benazir Bhutto, with mass appeal, would have restricted the Army’s role to counter the militants. Perhaps that’s why she was assassinated. Pakistan needs another general election.

Q: How does this impinge on Punjab in India?

A: Our Punjab has never fully recovered from the Partition because Lahore’s role as a centre for Punjabi culture and ethos can hardly be rivaled by any city in Punjab today, least of all Chandigarh. It takes a visit to Lahore to realise this. During a visit in 2007, when we were returning from dinner at 1 a.m, Lahore’s streets were teeming with activity. Therefore, the survival of the Punjabi culture, which would have to be a condition precedent to normalisation of Indo-Pak relations, is vital for us as it comes under the onslaught of Pashtun-led Taliban and puritanical Islam.

Q: Should we snap trade and other links with Pakistan?

A: Punjab has a critical interest in the normalisation of Indo-Pak relations because it would then open up the Western frontier for trade through Afghanistan with Central Asia and one day by overland connection and rail link through Pakistan and Iran with Europe. Partition has disrupted these traditional trade routes and distorted the economies of Afghanistan and left Punjab as a largely agrarian state, land-locked and far away from Indian ports. Thus, India should pursue its coercive diplomacy. We shouldn’t disrupt people-to-people contact and trade links but take tough steps to pressurrise the Pak leadership and the Army.

Q: Is the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism with Pakistan relevant today?

A: It was formed to restart the dialogue which was interrupted following the 2006 Mumbai train blasts. It never took off. Certainly, it can’t deal with the kind of cooperation required to punish the perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. A much higher level of intervention is required.

Top

 





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |