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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.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
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
The condition of child shelters in India would make a Dickens novel appear cheerful.
With reference to Hell Is Here (Aug 27), at this stage it is clear that merely making laws can never create a secure social environment for women and children. Therefore, unorthodox measures are needed to create exemplars and deterrents, such as separate fast-track courts for cases of sexual crime, and placing NGOs under the strict vigil of district authorities. Governments should also change the concept of transferring errant government officials; instead, the officials’ services should be terminated.
Indu S. Dube, Varanasi
Some blame for the rampant abuse that goes on in these shelter homes should also be laid at the doors of the people’s representatives—our members of Parliament. Some time back, Maneka Gandhi, minister for women and child development, wrote to all Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs, asking them to visit such shelters in their constituencies periodically. But it appears hardly any of them heeded her advice. Had they taken it seriously, incidents such as Muzaffarpur and Deoria might have been averted. The attitude of our representatives remains condemnable, even though there has been uproar in Parliament during the monsoon session about these two shelters.
P.S. Kaur, On E-Mail
I wonder why the TISS team led by Mohammad Tariq is apparently not being considered for any awards. In spite of obvious obstacles, they managed to bring out the rot in shelter homes.
Krishnan, On E-Mail
I refer to Swing On The Silk Route (Aug 27). It is true that no nation invests enormous amounts in another country for benign reasons. The stakes are high for China, as this corridor will provide easy access towards safeguarding vital flows of oil from the Gulf nations and eventually a naval base—although China denies any military role for the corridor project. The major complaint that Pakistanis have about this project is the lack of transparency on the financial implications; they question the need for secrecy. Some even suggest that it is a rebranded East India Company. For India to trade with Pakistan, CPEC is not a prerequisite. There is the port at Karachi and many cross-border overland and train routes. China did invite India to be part of this project, and India was right in rejecting the offer as the road passes through turbulent areas of Balochistan and Xinjiang. Additionally, CPEC passes through the disputed territory of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and India signing up to it would amount to legally accepting the infringements made by both Pakistan and China. China’s long-term geostrategy for the past two decades has been to displace the US by becoming the major regional power and trading partner. The belt and road project is designed to create part of the physical connections by way of ports and military alliances, as a recent Pentagon report suggests.
H.N. Ramakrishna, Bangalore
I write this letter without much hope that it will be published, for fairly obvious reasons.
In 2001, in the middle of the third Vajpayee ministry, Outlook published a story—Rigging the PMO (March 5, 2001). This caused so much consternation in the government that a series of income tax raids was launched on the premises of Outlook, as the magazine’s founder-editor Vinod Mehta recounts in his book, Lucknow Boy: A Memoir.
What confuses me, therefore, is the complete omission of the affair in your latest issue (as far as I can tell). Either the story was false, in which case it is most disappointing that Outlook has not yet issued a retraction, or, for some reason, it was seen as too insignificant to report. I should think that a crackdown on press freedom of this sort is exactly the sort of thing that Outlook would dredge up and remind an Indian public that increasingly wishes to ignore such matters.
I cannot blame you for picking your battles, or even throwing in the towel; I have been fortunate enough to avoid even having to make such difficult choices. Present conditions are not particularly conducive to good journalism. But the omission was, nevertheless, a disappointment.
Joshua Loo, London
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