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This refers to your cover story on the Sangh Parivar’s parent organisation, RSS: Is the Threat Real (Sept 10). It’s easy to find out if an organisation is a threat to democratic values—you just have to find out if it adheres to the country’s constitutional values. How much the RSS follows those values is evident from its open call for turning India into a ‘Hindu rashtra’. It is an indisputable fact that RSS has found a notable place in mainstream politics and its influence is palpable like never before in the policies of the ruling party. But going mainstream doesn’t mean that the organisation has found acceptance among all sections of society. Dalits and minorities have a clear picture of the Sangh as it targets them on several occasions. Can the RSS ever come out of its saffron cell? As a cultural organisation run on the Hindutva ideology, it is near impossible for the RSS to get support from these sections. The question to RSS is that whether it recognises the core values of liberalism and secularism as the basic principles of Indian democracy.
P.A. Jacob, Muscat
The Hindu Right is productive and creative only when it comes to churning out agenda-driven nonsense, phrases which are routinely flung as abuse at all who do not agree with them. We have been hearing the word “pseudo secular” for a long while but so far no one from the Sangh has cared to tell us what it means. When people got tired of that, The term “anti-national” was produced. And now when that too has been countered on all fronts, we have upon us the stubborn, vindictive weight of “Urban Naxal”, being tossed around like toffee. It’s unfortunate that television journalists and even the Pune police are lapping this term up for their own frayed ends.
Mukul Dube, Delhi
I found your story to be biased on multiple fronts. It projects a lopsided picture of the Indian social. You make it look like it’s some Hindus who are trying to spread hatred amongst all. You give examples from the RSS, and most of them are Hindus. You could have named other organisations from other communities doing the same thing, but you have conveniently avoided that. Do you know that if the examples your story mentions get shared on social media, it will turn the general public against the majority!
Varun S.D., On E-Mail
As reported, it was indeed very shocking and disturbing to note that Congress president Rahul Gandhi maligned an established Indian cultural organisation while on foreign tour. He is only focused on the BJP and the RSS and forgets other organisations which are actually closer to the Muslim Brotherhood. This tactic will not fetch him any votes back home.
S.P. Sharma, Mumbai
It is time to accept the RSS as a mainstream organisation. They have been working at the ground level for long. I am a witness to the service the RSS did when the tidal wave hit the coast of Andhra Pradesh in 1977. The RSS doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion in times of calamities, since they believe that everyone in India is anyway a Hindu, historically speaking.
Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao, Vijayawada
The content for your RSS cover is bland as khaki nikkers. The sarsanghchalaks may have replaced their chaddis with trousers but the long and short of the org remains the same. Abhishek Singhvi of the Congress conveniently traces the historical footprints of the RSS in Veer Savarkar and Guru Golwalkar’s inspiration in Adolf Hitler. Seshdri Chari of the RSS says “Rahul Doesn’t Know the RSS”, plainly to hit out at the Congress. Walter Anderson appears to get lost in his scholarly views, devoid of ground realties. The argument that 37 affiliates detailed in the ‘extended family of RSS’ are separate entities is not convincing. It is a clever ploy for marketing their ideology by having multiple signboards.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
The headquarters is really Nagpur, those central Delhi quarters are just its branches.
Richa Juyal, Dehradun
This is about the devastating floods that have hit Kerala (Barrage of Bunglings, sep 3). It was a deluge of such magnitude that it will invoke comparisons with ancient watery cataclysms. On the night of August 15, when the rest of the country was asleep, citizens in Kerala was wide awake, striving to keep their heads above the water creeping up, triggered by the sudden release of water from the Mullaperiyar dam. The fast-flowing water took everything in its way. People of Kerala no fear the likelihood of another catastrophe. They fear the cracks that have shown up on the 123-year-old Mullaperiyar dam. If it breaks, that would lead to a tragic chain: the Idukki dam may burst too, along with others downstream. Tamil Nadu, the state that owns the Mullaperiyar has a cavalier attitude about the dangers facing the structure. Their unfeeling arrogance stems from that fact that if the dam does split open, the three million people living downstream are in Kerala. TN, which reaps the benefits from the dam, have nothing to fear. Kerala and Tamil Nadu can solve their half-century-old dispute justly by building a new dam 1,300 feet downstream at a cost to be borne by Kerala. Indeed, time has come for the two states to unite in investing in preventing disasters. Give up the war of words, protests and litigation. People’s lives are at stake—they are fellow Indians, even if they happen to speak a different language.
V.S. Dharmakumar, On E-Mail
The recent deluge in Kerala and Kodagu in Karnataka owing to incessant rainfall has thrown up a huge rehabilitation challenge. Your article carried several instances of heart-warming rescue experiences by local people and NDRF teams. The lack of preparedness during the calamity though is a cause for grave concern. And, since humans are increasingly finding themselves in conflict with nature because of the rampant exploitation of Earth, we need to be more disaster-prepared than ever. There is an urgent need to increase the fleet of helicopters for civilian purpose. It is also high time to take necessary steps to build helipads at prominent public/civil locations ideal for landing. Such a move will help reach the people in distress quickly.
I have been a long-time reader of Outlook. In fact, my existing subscription runs till 2019. In recent years, however, Outlook has lost much of its charm and energy. There was a time I used to wait for a week to lay my hands on a new issue—for interesting covers, special reports, well-written features and powerful opinion columns. Now, it’s just a compendium of regular news one comes across through the week in newspapers and on the internet in magazine form that is delivered late (not counting postal delays). Alternative and instant sources of news have emerged as a big threat to newsmagazines, but I think there are still people like me who don’t mind waiting for good content. I think it’s time for Outlook to reinvent itself, or else it would be reduced to irrelevance.
Nirupam Hazra, Bankura
I would like to express my appreciation for the selection of letters in the last issue, covering a vast variety of subjects. However, as a reader of Outlook since its inception, I want to make sure that historical facts are given correctly. The fall of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government by one vote (269 vs 270) occurred in September 1999, not 1996 as printed in two letters by M.C. Joshi and J.S. Acharya in the issue dated September 10. Elections were then held in October, and Vajpayee went on to form a government that would last until 2004.
H.C. Pandey, Delhi
Apropos of Bombay Bus Going Bust? (Sept 3), the BEST bus service can reduce losses if it can get more commuters on board. Wouldn’t it be great if commuters could just hail the bus like a taxi! But that is risky business. Immediate reducing of fares would be a welcome move though. All this Uber/Ola share business also works against the interest of the BEST’s future. What else…oh, the staff can be more courteous, that would make for good experience for city dwellers, which is a rare thing these days, and so more of us will want to board the bus. How about coming out with an app, which tracks the movement of buses for potential commuters via GPS?
Kamal Anil Kapadia, Mumbai
I refer to your cover story Barrage of Bunglings (Sep 3). The heavy rainfall and devastating floods in Kerala have resulted in loss of life and property, as well as the dislocation of vast numbers of people. Various states have experienced such disasters over the past few decades, but have no lessons been learnt? The abuse of nature is one cause—as per research, such rains and floods are linked to global warming. Humans cannot fight nature, but can prevent the worst by planning for preventive measures. The government must set up adequate drainage systems to flush out floodwater. With time, this water will go under the earth and will be usable for agricultural purposes.
Mahesh Kumar, Delhi
God’s Own Country became the Devil’s Own because of a series of bunglings by mortal men. When I went to Kerala in 1991, it was a big village from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram: rolling paddy fields, with walls of coconut and banana, and the sea that would ingress at many places, flowing above the land—famous backwaters at one end and hills jotting in between, and more than 40 rivers criss-crossing the state. We were there again in 2016, and the one big village had become one huge metro with concrete stretching for hundreds of miles: multi-storey apartments, malls, multiplexes, metro and posh homes, occupying all riverbeds and floodplains, so much so that even Cochin Airport is built on the floodplains of a stream, Chengal—a tributary of the Periyar, Kerala’s largest river—and just 400 metres from it.
This insatiable greed to earn fast bucks, and an unholy nexus between builders, politicians and industrialists, has destroyed the future of India’s most beautiful state. Environmentalist Madhav Gadgil had warned against this sort of developmental paradigm for the country’s richest biodiversity zone, but short-sighted and greedy policymakers debunked it and didn’t even implement the watered-down Kasturirangan Committee report in its totality—and the result is very much here now!
This small state’s 43 dams are embodiments of destruction, not development—just as in Uttarakhand in 2013, when many dams released water from their overflowing reservoirs. The same game was played again in Kerala: the state’s largest dam, Idduki’s reservoir, was filled by July 31, and it released water when the flood was at its peak, and then the Mullaperiyar dam did the same!
Hence, it is not nature but our greed that has created this disaster, as we can never stop rivers flowing—and when they do, they wash away every impediment in their path; remember the Chennai flood of 2015 and the Uttarakhand flood of 2013?
Rakesh Agarwal, Dehradun
Timely action by the Kerala police and the aid provided by the armed forces and NDRF have controlled the situation to a large extent and avoided a bigger catastrophe. The fishermen who chipped in with their boats also played a major role and need to be applauded. As Kerala focuses on returning to normality, our prayers go out to them. We must all help in whatever way we can. The question remains: could it have been avoided? The answer lies in the indecision about when to open the dams to let excess water flow out, which coincided with the heaviest rainfall seen in many years. Hopefully, we have learnt a lesson and will be more prepared the next time around.
Col Deepak Kher, Pune
The massive 24x7 rescue and relief operation undertaken by all the agencies in the midst of the deluge and thereafter to save as many marooned people as possible was awe-inspiring. The unprecedented dedication shown by fishermen and local people, and the donations in cash and kind from across the world, are heart-warming. Let’s hope this zeal is also maintained by all agencies in the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.
K.P. Rajan, Mumbai
The aftermath of a disaster is often focused on getting back to normal life. But there is a bigger ‘disaster’ perennially playing out in India—politics. Even as Kerala faces the task of rehabilitating its people and rebuilding the state, a huge debate has broken out over whether the floods qualify to be declared a national disaster or not. A national tragedy on this humongous scale has been politicised, treated cavalierly, made yet another channel for the bigotry and hatred sweeping across this country, and last but not least made a point of “national pride” in not accepting foreign donations. As help pours in from all corners of the country for this little state, conveniently dubbed “God’s own country” in good times (when it’s a tourist cash cow pouring shekels into the central government treasury) there are stories that come in, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. From fishermen to administrators to entrepreneurs, from an old couple breaking their fixed deposits to a young woman who saved up for her heart surgery and then donated half of it. Politics over relief work is the worst crisis to befall a nation.
Padmini Raghavendra, Secunderabad
You are confused when you ask questions like “ Why does nearly every natural disaster hit us on such a scale ? What are we doing wrong? Who’s guilty? Kerala’s monster monsoon leaves us with a deluge of questions.” Natural disasters are happening in places like America, Europe, China and Japan. Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes are wreaking havoc in the most developed countries, culminating in the loss of human lives and property. The more developed we become, the more natural calamities we have to face. Kerala’s flood is another example of the fury of nature.
Ashim Kumar Chakraborty, Guwahati
Nature’s fury is more often than not a direct outcome of man’s insatiable rapacity.
Meghana A., New South Wales
It was very disturbing to read your story on the Chilika lake (Before Machine Birds Come In, Sep 3) and how the Centre and the state government are putting at risk the fragile ecosystem. When will the shortsighted and profit-hungry realise the importance of sustainability of natural environs and resources? Ironically, a few pages later comes the report on the Kerala floods. It is as clear as blue skies that the Kerala floods were man-made—we raped and ravaged the environment, which then responded in fury. This is a lesson to all of us. Let the flood report help the policymakers assess what the future will be if we mess with nature.
Ravi, On E-Mail
In Are You Hit by the Pink Tax? (Sep 3), the writer has meticulously covered the issue of women being losers on both the earning and the spending side. The story is full of minute observations regarding their employment in different positions as well as what they are charged for various services and products.
This is about the obituary note for V.S. Naipaul (Bounty of Barbs, Aug 27). A master of expressing the fissures, dislocations and identity crises of a post-colonial world, Naipaul will be known as a supreme stylist of English prose in the second half of the 20th century. Indeed, very few of his contemporary writers in English were as bold, blunt and daring as Naipaul. He could use the English language with rare mastery, every word would be right, in its proper place, advancing the argument or narrative of this major writer. The man could be notoriously difficult, but great art is forged in the turmoil of complicated minds.
Charu Shah, Surendranagar
This refers to your tribute to former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (A Permanent Pause, Aug 27). Vajpayee was a gentleman politician, and there may not be many in this mould in his party, the BJP, these days. He proved to be a fine balancer of nationalism and Hindutva with liberalism in the coalition era of the 1990s. If Vajpayee’s persona nudged the politics of the BJP into larger spaces, his stint as PM will be remembered for big transitions. His deftness shaped our foreign policy. Despite severe US sanctions after Pokhran II, he laid the foundation for a nuclear dialogue with the US. Had he bowed to American pressure in 2003 to send our troops to Iraq, to work alongside the allied forces following the invasion of that country, India would have been in a quagmire and its credibility in West Asia would have taken a nosedive. Long before the BJP under Narendra Modi experimented and failed with the PDP alliance, Vajpayee had made inroads in the Valley with “Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat and Jamhooriyat”. He fought off resistance from outside and within the Sangh Parivar to bring in reforms. There are no other leaders in the BJP of Vajpayee’s stature; if there are a few, they have been marginalised. Yet his playbook will endure, and the BJP may need to take more than a leaf out of it.
Lal Singh, Amritsar
Vajpayee was PM for a full term, after serving two truncated ones. Even as his National Democratic Alliance depended on the outside support of several parties (such as the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh), Vajpayee never lost respect in his coalition, nor did he cravenly submit to partners’ demands. Everyone who has heard him speak talks about his consummate oratory, yet he wasn’t a demagogue. Nor was he cursed, as current politicians are wont to be. Jailed during the Emergency and foreign minister in the Janata government after it, he had the magnanimity to praise Nehru’s Non-Aligned Movement policy. A bitter rival of the Congress, he had no qualms about calling Indira Gandhi ‘Durga’ in her finest hour after the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Atalji was truly beyond petty political enmity. Even though the Ram temple issue had rejuvenated the BJP and triggered a process that won it power at the Centre, PM Vajpayee kept Ayodhya on the backburner; neither did he go about trying to change national institutions, install yes-men in top posts and try to replace icons of the past—all of which the new NDA government is doing in an ungainly hurry.
J. Kishore, Hyderabad
Apropos of your cover package on former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (A Permanent Pause, Aug 27), with Vajpayee’s passing the era of clean politics, mutual respect, trust, and consensus in politics has gone forever. In his speech in the Lok Sabha on his 13-day government losing a trust motion by a single vote, he said that he could not indulge in unfair means to retain power and resigned. No other party was willing to support his government at that time. Subsequently, other parties supported him in a second stint, this time for 13 months. Managing a 24-party coalition for the full term of his third government was no less than miraculous. In one of his poems, Vajpayee has said that he would return, but we all know that it is only a one-way journey. The void created by his departure is forever. Respectful tributes!
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
True statesman, gentleman, great orator, consensus builder, a true democrat, all adjectives are small words for Atal Behari Vajpayee. The true barometer of the success of a politician is how he or she is accepted beyond the party line, and that is where he has no parallel. After his death, it’s Indian politics which has become poorer. He could be remembered for many things, but at the top of the list would be the nuclear test at Pokhran, his engagement with Pakistan, the Golden Quadrilateral, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and the Kisan credit card. He carried on the spirit of economic reforms introduced by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government. The disinvestment in BALCO, Hindustan Zinc, Indian Petrochemicals and VSNL must be mentioned, as well as how VSNL’s monopoly on international telephony was then ended. And on the social front, there was Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Today’s politicians would do well to watch his old videos of parliamentary debate and learn how to behave and function in Parliament.
Bal Govind, Noida
Atal Behari Vajpayee was a marvel, who so effortlessly stepped across the Lakshman rekha of party propriety and ideology, and yet garnered all-round respectability. During his political life, he evoked two dominant reactions— some described him as the ‘right man in the wrong party’ while others argued that his ‘moderate face’ had helped the BJP acquire legitimacy. For someone who had joined active politics back in 1951 upon the founding of the Jana Sangh, and who had suffered several rejections at the ballot box, he showed not a trace of bitterness. He retained equanimity in defeat and victory, never giving up and, eventually, in the late ’90s, he tasted power. That Vajpayee was a democrat to the core was strikingly manifest when he accepted with grace the fall of his government by one vote in 1996. He returned with a bigger mandate and enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Opposition between 1999 and 2004, a miracle when seen in the context of the antagonism today. In Parliament, too, Opposition leaders never fought shy of showing their respect for Vajpayee. The only regret would be that Vajpayee entered South Block 10 years too late, when his health was already on the decline.
J.S. Acharya, Hyderabad
Indian politicians are not particularly well known for their sense of humour. Karunanidhi, however, was an exception (Episodes from the Script, Aug 20). A few years ago, when he had undergone spinal surgery, the doctors had directed the attendant nurse not to give him any water, on medical grounds. When he woke up, the first thing Karunanidhi asked for was a glass of water. When the nurse politely refused, he immediately asked her, “Are you from Karnataka?”
M. Mustafa, Bangalore
Apropos of Self Care In A Blinding State (Aug 13), you have a lot of sympathy for the victims of pellet guns in Kashmir. Kindly ask the victims what they were doing on the streets. See the picture on the other side: a CRPF jawan from a small village in western UP or Bihar surrounded by a mob baying for his blood!
Rajiv Chopra, Jammu
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