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EDITORIALS

Advance of the Taliban
US must exert more pressure on Pakistan
T
aliban militants continue to strengthen their position after establishing control over the Swat valley in the NWFP. Last week they captured two more districts —Buner and Shangla — with the Pakistan Army remaining content with issuing statements. Islamabad claims that the Taliban fighters have retreated from Buner, 100 km from Islamabad, but their spokesman Muslim Khan has asserted that the local militants are staying put.

Left turn
Blow hot, blow cold towards Congress
When CPM general secretary Prakash Karat insisted on Friday that there was no question of the Left lending outside support to the Congress and said condescendingly that he would not mind accepting the outside support of the Congress, he was pre-supposing that a Third Front government was as good as in place. That is rather presumptuous of him, considering that at the moment, even the very existence of the so-called Third Front is nebulous.






EARLIER STORIES

Qualification for MPs
April
26, 2009
Pakistan worries US
April
25, 2009
The electoral odyssey
April
24, 2009
Saving Tamil refugees
April
23, 2009
Eye in the sky
April
22, 2009
Threat to Kashmir voters
April
21, 2009
Aid for Pakistan
April
20, 2009
Voting for democracy
April
19, 2009
Democracy alive and well
April
18, 2009

Polls now, tie-ups later
April
17, 2009

Now oil spillage
No end to pollution of rivers
Even if it had been an accidental oil spill from a pipe of the Ropar thermal plant, it would have been unpardonable, especially because the Punjab rivers and rivulets in general and the Satluj in particular are already so heavily polluted that any fresh addition is inexcusable. Far from being apologetic for sullying the Satluj or feeling guilty about not replacing the worn-out pipes carrying furnace oil, the Punjab State Electricity Board authorities instead blamed the media for “blowing up matters”.

ARTICLE

Polls and pollsters
Time to work for stability
by B.G. Verghese
T
he polls and possible outcomes have understandably gripped the nation and, indeed the world. There is nothing else like it, with 730 millions eligible to cast their votes. A front page photograph in a national daily captured the extraordinary quality and romance of this democratic exercise. It depicted a polling party fording a stream in the forests of Chhattisgarh driving a caravan of donkeys laden with electronic voting machines!

MIDDLE

What’s in a name?
by A.N. Suryanarayanan
H
as the bard rightly said so? I am not sure! Take my own name, “Suryanarayanan”, generally shortened to “Surya” in the Army. What fun my North Indian ‘seniors’ at the IMA used to have while ragging me to spell it out, expanding the initials (A.N.) also: all 26 letters! Eleven years later at the Staff College, Ann Gordon, wife of a fellow student from Australia, took pains to memorise the spellings against my bet for a small whisky; I had lost many such smalls!

OPED

Groping in the dark
Poverty, illiteracy deny Muslims a say in politics
by Vijay Sanghvi
P
olitical pundits in the country are seeking to definitively know more about the imponderable factor that the Muslim vote has become. They do not know whether it swings on an all-Indian pattern or it is a similar pattern in different states or it functions as a region or a party specific response in different states.

Martyrs of the marshes
by Patrick Cockburn
O
ne of the few successes of the Iraqi governments since the fall of Saddam Hussein has been reversing one of his great crimes: the draining of the marshes of southern Iraq and the destruction of the unique water-born civilisation which had survived there for thousands of years.

Chatterati
Main parties field criminals
by Devi Cherian
As many as 63 candidates with criminal records are contesting India’s elections, with 39 having serious charges against them. The parties fielding “tainted” candidates include the BSP, the BJP, the Congress, the CPM and the SP. Because of fear created by such people, elections have changed for worse.

  • Women to shape new govt

  • Saris for women in politics


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EDITORIALS

Advance of the Taliban
US must exert more pressure on Pakistan

Taliban militants continue to strengthen their position after establishing control over the Swat valley in the NWFP. Last week they captured two more districts —Buner and Shangla — with the Pakistan Army remaining content with issuing statements. Islamabad claims that the Taliban fighters have retreated from Buner, 100 km from Islamabad, but their spokesman Muslim Khan has asserted that the local militants are staying put. Reports have it that only some of the Swati militants who came to fight alongside those belonging to Buner might have withdrawn as a tactical move, but they may come back again, as certain Pakistani newspapers have commented. The Taliban’s morale remains as high as ever. They have stopped Pakistani troops from entering Swat, asserting that it is the Taliban’s writ that runs in the valley and the other parts of Malakand division — one-third of the NWFP.

The Pakistan Army is unwilling to confront the Taliban head on because of its own game plan. Going by the Army’s record, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani’s statement that “victory against terror and militancy will be achieved at all costs” cannot be taken seriously. Pakistan continues to stick to its soft policy towards the Taliban when the world community is feeling extremely alarmed. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Fox News on Saturday that Washington was worried more about Pakistan abdicating its responsibility of tackling the Taliban because of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. She had also scolded Pakistan while expressing her views before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In the opinion of Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, things are “moving closer to tipping point”.

Time is running out for Pakistan. It must concentrate on fighting the enemy within, “the miscreants in western Pakistan”, as US Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has reminded Islamabad. There is nothing to worry about its borders with India or “India in Afghanistan”. The US needs to exert more pressure on its “key ally” in the war on terror to make it act quickly and decisively against all kinds of militants threatening peace in South Asia and the rest of the world.

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Left turn
Blow hot, blow cold towards Congress

When CPM general secretary Prakash Karat insisted on Friday that there was no question of the Left lending outside support to the Congress and said condescendingly that he would not mind accepting the outside support of the Congress, he was pre-supposing that a Third Front government was as good as in place. That is rather presumptuous of him, considering that at the moment, even the very existence of the so-called Third Front is nebulous. Whether it is Mayawati or Jayalalithaa, they are all sizing up their own chances of easing into the prime ministerial gaddi and will have something to do with the Front only if it serves their personal purposes. Under the circumstances, talking of the Third Front government is still in the domain of day dreams.

Even if the dream does come true, much will depend on what kind of strength the Left manages to muster. According to current reckoning, there is every possibility that it may find its representation shrinking. Whether it is West Bengal or Kerala, the left parties are on the retreat and it will be no surprise if they enter the Lok Sabha with fewer MPs than they had in the outgoing House. To that extent, the Left may find its influence diminished. Interestingly, other CPM leaders like West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and West Bengal party secretary Biman Bose have taken a more balanced view on relations with the Congress after the elections.

This blow hot, blow cold attitude indicates that the Congress is no longer seen as untouchable by the Left. Whatever the public posture may be, the communist leaders are shrewd enough to know that the Congress is too significant a party to be kept outside the government. Such experiments have been tried in the past, whether in the case of Deve Gowda, Chandra Shekhar or I. K. Gujaral. A large party supporting small parties from outside is a recipe for failure. By insisting that the Left would not go with the Congress even if it chose someone other than Dr Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, Mr Karat has narrowed down its own options.

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Now oil spillage
No end to pollution of rivers

Even if it had been an accidental oil spill from a pipe of the Ropar thermal plant, it would have been unpardonable, especially because the Punjab rivers and rivulets in general and the Satluj in particular are already so heavily polluted that any fresh addition is inexcusable. Far from being apologetic for sullying the Satluj or feeling guilty about not replacing the worn-out pipes carrying furnace oil, the Punjab State Electricity Board authorities instead blamed the media for “blowing up matters”. It is this attitude that is condemnable. And it is not confined to one official or one board.

Such indifference towards water resources, right from the top to the bottom, has surfaced frequently in Punjab. Despite the Punjab and Haryana High Court orders, there has been no stopping of the discharge of toxic waste into Buddha Nullaha at Ludhiana. The rivers not only provide drinking and irrigation water to villages along their banks, but also support local flora and fauna. Ropar boasts of an international wetland, which attracts migratory birds from various countries in winter. That there is widespread insensitivity towards the preservation of water resources is obvious.

The financial loss from the oil spillage may not be much, but harm done to the environment and animal and human health is incalculable. People living along the rivers increasingly complain of liver, renal, skin and gastro diseases. There has been an alarming rise in the number of cancer cases. Villagers near the Ropar thermal plant have to live with the flyash menace. Earlier in 2005 and 2002, there were large inflows of flyash into the Satluj. Industrial units at Nangal and down the line discharge untreated effluents into the Satluj. Media reports have off and on pointed to dead fish floating on the river waters. Yet, all this has not disturbed the sleep of the pollution control board authorities.

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Thought for the Day

Labour without joy is base. Labour without sorrow is base. Sorrow without labour is base. Joy without labour is base. — John Ruskin

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ARTICLE

Polls and pollsters
Time to work for stability
by B.G. Verghese

The polls and possible outcomes have understandably gripped the nation and, indeed the world. There is nothing else like it, with 730 millions eligible to cast their votes. A front page photograph in a national daily captured the extraordinary quality and romance of this democratic exercise. It depicted a polling party fording a stream in the forests of Chhattisgarh driving a caravan of donkeys laden with electronic voting machines! One may laugh but must marvel, and shed tears too to learn on the morrow of the first day of polling that 29 people, mostly security and polling personnel, had lost their lives to Naxal violence. One must salute those who risk much to defy a variety of anti-democratic forces and those others who make it possible for you and me to exercise our franchise.

Jammu and Kashmir is witness to this same robust trend. Sajjad Lone must be congratulated for taking the bold step of defying the separatist ideology and standing for election. He has compelled the Hurriyat to give up the fetish of poll boycott and to snub Salahuddin and the United Jihad Council in Muzaffarabad who wished it to denounce the elections. Lone's candidature symbolises a new beginning in reconciliation and democratic dialogue. Should he win, it would be a vindication of what his father, Abdul Gani Lone, stood and paid the price for with his life.

It would also bring closure to the supreme folly of the 1987 poll that was needlessly rigged to ensure what was in any case a foregone conclusion, namely, an overall victory for the nationalist forces. Whoever takes office in Delhi in May, an internal J&K settlement must be the first order of business in relation to this troubled state.

Dr Manmohan Singh elucidated the Congress position on the party's major thrust areas in his interaction with Editors in Delhi recently. Alleviating and then eliminating poverty through a high rate of inclusive growth with safety nets for the weakest sections of the population was central to his thesis. In order to achieve this, he said, one needed a political environment that shunned regionalism, sectarianism, and internal and external violence and terror. The remark on regionalism was misunderstood to imply antipathy towards regional parties which are a natural corollary to a federal structure.

However, there is an obvious distinction between regional parties and regionalism in the sense of narrow parochialism. It is the latter that Dr Manmohan Singh deplored as it comes in the way of national purpose. One must outrightly condemn Mr Karunanidhi's thoroughly irresponsible statement certifying the LTTE and Prabhakaran for good conduct, when the organisation is proscribed and its leader wanted in India.

Objection was taken by the BJP to Dr Singh's endorsing Sonia Gandhi's statement that communalism, rather than external terrorism, represents the greatest threat to the country's security and integrity. This is surely an unexceptionable statement. The kind of communalism preached by some is utterly divisive and anyone familiar with Indian history must know that time and again the country has succumbed to foreign invasion or has faced internal collapse when divided. So, Sonia Gandhi was only uttering a truism.

One has only to listen to some of the Parivar-Sena and allied rhetoric to see just how provocative and divisive this is, witness Ashok Sahu in Kandhamals, Narendra Modi (who has again raked up the dead issue of Mrs Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins), Varun Gandhi, the Ram Sene and many more. Hate and falsification is found in textbooks analysed in "RSS, School Texts and the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi: The Hindu Communal Project", by Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee and Sucheta Mahajan (Sage 2008), which also eulogises Hitler and Nazism in Gujarat Std X texts.

The Manmohan Singh-Advani exchange left the latter "hurt". The fact is that Advani and his colleagues persistently vilified the Prime Minister personally over the past several years in a most uncivil manner. They ultimately got the worst of the exchange when Dr Manmohan Singh finally replied with brutal frankness, saying enough is enough.

Media and public chatter has, of late, been replete with worry over no political party or formation winning a "majority" in the Lok Sabha polls and the dread possibility of fresh elections within a couple of years. This popular analysis completely ignores the immense diversity and social dynamics of India as historically dispossessed millions are steadily empowered and organise their own identity formations to assert their long-dispossessed rights.

This is not necessarily a tidy or polite process and vested interests battle hard and loud to maintain the status quo and preserve the established order while the newcomers demand accommodation and change. This is the real battle being fought in and for India and it is this process of social transformation and churning that many do not understand and would suppress or denounce as a destabilising tendency. This is a somewhat elitist and arrogant view.

We need social reform and an economic and political revolution to build fraternity and a more inclusive society. Elections and coalition building for consensual progress are part of that process. We must appreciate the difference between stability of the government and social stability. The latter is ultimately more important and provides a stronger foundation for democratic governance and fundamental stability over the longer term.

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MIDDLE

What’s in a name?
by A.N. Suryanarayanan

Has the bard rightly said so? I am not sure! Take my own name, “Suryanarayanan”, generally shortened to “Surya” in the Army. What fun my North Indian ‘seniors’ at the IMA used to have while ragging me to spell it out, expanding the initials (A.N.) also: all 26 letters! Eleven years later at the Staff College, Ann Gordon, wife of a fellow student from Australia, took pains to memorise the spellings against my bet for a small whisky; I had lost many such smalls!

On a holiday in Australia in Nov-Dec 2008, my name in the manifest of many planes/ship/tour buses created funny laughs and grimaces at the counters with an invariable question: “How do you pronounce that?” I counter-questioned each of them, if they could pronounce Arnold Schwarzenegger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ottavio Quattarochi. They pronounced all correctly! I then told them to say ‘SURYA’, they did; then ‘NARAYAN’; again they did. “Now say Suryanarayanan”; they did.

I said it was that simple! They said ‘the first time we saw so many As and Ns we got confused’! In some airline counters/buses, I just used to say: “Don’t take the trouble. The long Indian name is mine”; I used to be waved on with a smile! I used to have a naughty thought as to how they would pronounce such easy names as “Sheikh Mehboob” or “Seema Bhatt”, but never asked them to!

As a South Indian, many Punjabi/Sikh names used to amuse me too, as a Gentlemancadet, as they meant something else in Tamil: Kalra (Cholera); Sandhu (a lane); Bedi (loose motions). Even the name Grover made me look up for a European but it was a burly Sardar-ji always! Many British names amused me, when I went on a holiday to Europe in 2004: Daag, Stone, Carpenter etc!

I am amused at how the Jaffna Tamils spelt their names in Ceylon: Natarajan as Nadarasa; Mahesh as Magesh; Dinesh as Thinesa etc, because pure Tamil language does NOT have sha and ja! Similarly, a Tamilian Army Capt whom I met for the first time with the name: “Seyasangarane” told me he was from Pondicherry (now, Puducherry) and the French insisted Jayashankaran was to be spelt this way!

In Karnataka, I had met a naval officer with the name Balekai (meaning raw banana); he explained to me how his forefathers owned banana orchards and had been so named! I was then reminded of the way how Nehru’s ancestors had that surname, because of a “nehar” (a channel) flowing next to his forefathers’ place in Kashmir! We all know enough Parsis with surnames as Batliwala, Daroowala, Mistry and so on.

Even now at 67 years, I take offence if someone mispronounces my name and tell him/her: “That is given to me at birth and I hope will stay after my death!”

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OPED

Groping in the dark
Poverty, illiteracy deny Muslims a say in politics
by Vijay Sanghvi

Political pundits in the country are seeking to definitively know more about the imponderable factor that the Muslim vote has become. They do not know whether it swings on an all-Indian pattern or it is a similar pattern in different states or it functions as a region or a party specific response in different states.

It can swing on a national pattern only if the Muslims make up their political mind on the basis of their faith. If it is not, then it becomes apparent that other considerations also play a vital role in the making up of their political mind. It is not a national pattern and there is enough evidence to support such an assumption.

There are many predictions about how the Muslims would vote. Many pundits believe that the Muslims would tag along their support to the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayavati after the stern hands with which she dealt a blow to Varun Gandhi for his venom-pouring speech against the Muslims and the Sikhs in Pilibhit even before he became the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

There were celebrations in the state when she had locked him up after slapping the National Security Act to detain him for a long duration and deprive him the right to seek bail for his release from detention.

But those who came back from the eastern parts of the state had different impressions. They believe after their chat with several individuals and groups that they would not waste their vote by voting for unmarked candidates.

Their purpose would be solely to defeat the BJP candidate where they could assert their strength. That leaves them a little option.

The Muslims in UP have three choices, Mayavati, Mulayam and the Congress. But many believe that the Congress was at the ebb and the vote would be wasted if the Congress was preferred.

Many claim that the Muslims were unhappy with Mulayam Singh because he took Kalyan Singh, a former BJP chief minister, on his wagon in a bid to consolidate the OBC group.

The OBC group matters even to the Muslims as they are equally and sharply divided in a caste system as the majority society is. They have more affinity with those who are engaged in same vocation that they inherited as their caste than with upper castes in their society.

The doors of the Syeds, Pathans and Khans, who are landed property owners in the state, always remain to them as the doors of the upper castes in the majority community remain closed to OBCs in their society.

If Mulayam can manage to consolidate them under his flag, the OBCs among the Muslims would also follow the route.

But will that happen? It did not during the assembly elections in June 2007 and Mulayam was defeated by Mayavati, though both kept the two other major parties on lower rungs in the state. The same was also result in the Lok Sabha 2004 elections.

The choice for OBCs among the Muslims is slightly difficult for their choice is between the two OBC leaders — Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. But the BJP lurking from the shoulders of Nitish can become a scare crow though Nitish had strived hard to win them over in the last one year.

He brushed aside all objections to his efforts. His terse comment about the BJP manifesto that it was the party manifesto and not that of the NDA was well received in the state as it indicated that Nitish can part company with the BJP if there was a need.

There are persistent reports from the two Left-ruled states of Bengal and Kerala where the Muslim population touches nearly one-fourth of the electorate that the Muslims were no longer happy to vote for the Left parties.

Among the various objections they have raised is their unhappiness that despite 30-year support, the Left government has done little to improve their literacy rate and definitely not to reach the level that Muslims have achieved in the Narendra Modi-ruled state of Gujarat.

Little do they know that the improvement in the literacy rate of Muslims in Gujarat was not an achievement of the state government but was due to the change of direction of life that Muslims in Gujarat sought for fear of Narendra Modi and his dictatorial attitude towards the minorities?

The Muslims in Gujarat feared that if their children were caught in wrongful activities, which were a normal pattern earlier, the state administration would be much harsher towards them.

To avoid it, they began sending their children to modern schools so that they would learn vocations to stand in life without wrongful activities. The enrolment figures clearly establish the fact.

And if Muslims of Gujarat can turn their children to modern education without any interference in the observance of their faith and religious practices, why do others in different states not follow it?

The Centre of Islamic Studies at Vadodara has become a model institute even for Arab countries. And many have sought expertise from the centre to establish similar institutes in their countries also.

And that raises the most important question: why has the Muslim community not thrown up a leader who can be a motivating force for social reform without affecting its religion?

There have been several social reformers in the South and also Jotiba Phule in Maharashtra who have brought about a change of outlook in life of the socially and educationally backward classes.

But no name emerges from the Muslim community. No Kashi Ram has emerged from among them to consolidate their strength through a social reform movement in recent times. Social reforms are must to move ahead in life in modern times where economic betterment is a greater objective than religious practices.

After Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, no formidable Muslim political leader has emerged. Scholars like Dr. Zakir Hussain worked in the field of education as also those leaders who established an Aligarh Muslim University.

Why did reforms in education of the community did not expand, though needs did increase manifold?

Unless there is an emancipation from the abyss of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation, which is more acute among poor Muslims, they would not be able to act in a decisive manner to have their voice heard in the political arena.

Muslims are in a greater need for a social reformer than a political ruler. But do they have to wait for another Narendra Modi to rise in each state and force them to the course that the Gujarat Muslims had to take. This election would certainly not answer that question. But it can lead them to think in that direction, at least.

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Martyrs of the marshes
by Patrick Cockburn

One of the few successes of the Iraqi governments since the fall of Saddam Hussein has been reversing one of his great crimes: the draining of the marshes of southern Iraq and the destruction of the unique water-born civilisation which had survived there for thousands of years.

Now this achievement is in doubt. A prolonged and devastating drought, combined with the building of dams on the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Syria, Turkey and Iran, is reducing the water flow once again and the marshes risk disappearing, possibly forever.

Once double the size of the Everglades in Florida and home to 300,000 people, the marshes nearly vanished in the 1990s when they were drained by Saddam Hussein to stop them being used as hideouts by anti-government guerrillas. But as soon as the Iraqi dictator was toppled in 2003, the marsh people tore down the earth ramparts his engineers had built and water once again flowed into the lakes and reed beds.

The marshes revived surprisingly quickly as their people returned from the slums of Basra to rebuild their old villages, fish in the shallow lakes and tend their water buffalo.

The rebirth of the marshes, fed by the Tigris and Euphrates and close to the legendary site of the Garden of Eden, seemed to be one of the few undoubted successes of post-Saddam Hussein governments. By the end of 2006, more than half the marshlands had been restored. The success did not last.

Over the last two years the marsh people have once again seen the water which they need to survive become shallower and more brackish.

"A few years ago, the marshlands were green and full of reeds and papyrus but now they are almost dry," Abdul-Khadum Malik, the mayor of Chibaiesh town in the marshes near the city of Nassariyah, told the UN.

"If the situation continues like this, all life in the marshlands will quickly die out." He said that dozens of families were already leaving because they could not find fresh water to drink or fresh reeds for their cattle and buffalos to eat. The same pattern is being repeated across the marshes as thousands of people once again take flight.

The reason this time why the survival of the marshes and their inhabitants is threatened is that Turkey, Syria, Iran – and to a lesser degree Iraq itself – have been diverting water from the Tigris and Euphrates for agriculture and to use in cities. More dams have been built across the upper reaches of the rivers, on which the civilisation of the Mesopotamian plain has always depended. That diversion of water has been exacerbated by a prolonged drought.

The Greater Zaab river, which flows out of the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, is one of the main tributaries of the Tigris, joining it just south of the city of Mosul.

At this time of year the Kurdish mountains should be white with snow and the hills and plains beginning to sprout green grass. Instead the lack of snow and rain means that the mountains are bare rock and fields and pastures lower down are a dusty brown. Annual rainfall in Iraq, as a whole, is down by 50 per cent in recent years.

As a final solution to the problem of controlling the marsh people, Saddam Hussein decided to destroy their habitat. Canals and waterways were driven through the marshes to drain off the water, and the land was given to Saddam loyalists and sown with crops.

In the course of a decade, an entire ecosystem was destroyed. Using satellite images, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) found that by 1991, about 90 per cent of the marshlands had been lost thanks to Saddam's scheme.

The tribes of the marshes were among the poorest in Iraq. Evicted from their villages, they mostly went to live in shanty towns in Basra, Nassariyah, Amara and Baghdad, where they swiftly acquired a fearsome reputation for violence and criminality. When the old regime fell, they immediately started demolishing flood gates, dams and embankments to re-flood the area where they once lived.

Three years later UNEP proudly announced that the total surface area of wetland vegetation and water in December 2006 had returned to 58 per cent of what it was in 1973-76 before the draining started. But this turned out to be the high tide of success in reviving the marshes.

The water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has remained notoriously polluted. At one stage, imams forbade the faithful from eating fish on the grounds that they might have been feeding on the thousands of dead bodies thrown into the rivers during sectarian massacres in central Iraq. One of the main causes of death among children is drinking contaminated water. Cholera made a comeback.

The people in the marshes want the government to build dykes down stream to raise the level of the water in the lakes which sometimes have only a foot of water in them.

The government says that holding back the waters is more complicated than the marsh people imagine.

But without drinking water or fresh reeds to feed their buffalos the people of the marshes will soon return to the city slums and abandon their attempt to restore their ancient way of life.

— By arrangement with The Independent

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Chatterati
Main parties field criminals
by Devi Cherian

As many as 63 candidates with criminal records are contesting India’s elections, with 39 having serious charges against them. The parties fielding “tainted” candidates include the BSP, the BJP, the Congress, the CPM and the SP. Because of fear created by such people, elections have changed for worse. How wonderful it would be if the Lok Sabha polls could be conducted in a day and the results declared on third day!

Is it not a shame that even in hinterland states we have four-day and three-day polls? We need armed guards to ensure that voting is smooth and over the years the requirement of the armed police is only growing.

Every muscleman wants to see that in his own area, neutral paramilitary forces are not deployed and that his booths are not declared sensitive. This is because barring 5 per cent of the constituencies, the rest still throw up results on the basis of caste configurations.

After 60 years of Independence, we still see the rise of so-called leaders because of their caste clout and nothing else.

The dream of holding the Lok Sabha polls in the minimum possible time can come true only if criminals are banned from the polls.  At present the impression is that the law is enforced only against little-known politicians and not against the established ones.

One case against a politician could be a case of political animosity. But more than one case of serious nature registered against a candidate must be a ground to bar him from contesting. Conviction alone for debarring a candidate is not enough for many high-profile criminals in the garb of netas circumvent the system using their muscle and money for going in appeals and delaying justice for years.

Women to shape new govt

Four leaders from the fair sex are the flavour of the political season of 2009. Congress president  Sonia Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati, AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa and Trinamul Congress Mamata Banerjee are going to be major players in the formation of the new government.

This will be the first time in independent India that women leaders will hold such sway in a general election. Even the third front, led by the Left parties, is dependant on women power.

Any strategy of Mr Prakash Karat cannot work without Mayawati and Ms Jayalalithaa. The BJP is in a fix because none of these four leaders is openly with it. Ms Banerjee, which was part of the NDA, has broken away.

Interestingly, women leaders dominate in Indian politics even though Parliament has not been able to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill.

Saris for women in politics

Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee and Sushma Swaraj are draped in saris with prints of their political party’s symbols. This seems to be the latest trend in saris for politicians. Political symbols are all over roads, hoardings, television and newspapers. If you are seeing these symbols on a daily basis, it’s only natural to be inspired.

So two designers of Kolkata have put together special saris. They have designed another set for Jayalalithaa, Brinda Karat and Mayawati with symbols of the AIADMK (two leaves), the CPM (the hammer) and the BSP (elephant) respectively.

In the Congress sari, the designer dipped her hands in paint and placed them on the sari. Handloom cotton is the chosen fabric and light beige the popular colour. Well, the new trend seems to be working, at least till the elections.

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