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Last updated : WEDNESDAY 31 DECEMBER 2008

A Year of Terror
Today is the last day of this year, and the year will be remembered as the one that witnessed the worst of criminal terrorism with the government still caring more for votes than for the lives of ordinary citizens. Before Mumbai 26/11, the country had already been attacked at several of its places, which ought to have served as a lesson for the government to smarten up its security regime and shape the intelligence architecture accordingly. But nothing was done; it was as if the government itself had not chosen to learn anything with an effete Home Minister, Shivraj Patil, presiding over the anarchy and yet making promises — tall but empty — to the country that terrorists would not be allowed to succeed even though it was there for all to see that the terrorists were indeed succeeding because the government itself had allowed them that scope. And when Mumbai 26/11 happened, it was proved beyond doubt how unresponsive the intelligence machinery was, and how callous and irresponsible the government had allowed itself to be just because it had to be politically correct in the fight against jihadi terrorism.
Asom, on October 30, saw the ghastliness of terror. Nine serial blasts rocked four places in the State, with the State capital bearing the worst brunt. Even today it shocks the people of the State because the crime was so enormous that it is difficult for the peace-loving people to imagine of such terror unleashed on an innocent humanity. With such heinous designs allowed to succeed, the people feel that they are not only unsafe but also being sacrificed at the altar of politics in the name of a very perverse brand of secularism. And when the crime began to be investigated, there was so much confusion — of course orchestrated by the State government — that it was virtually impossible for the people to believe anyone because there were different versions of the probe and there was no convergence of the grand theories anywhere. An artist was brought in from Kolkata to draw sketches of the terror suspects, but only one of the sketches has so far been released and no one knows how the other suspects look like. The blame game continues. The government says it is the NDFB that helped carry out the strikes with a ‘‘third force based in Bangladesh’’ being the real mastermind, while the NDFB has denied its involvement in the attacks and says that the government is deliberately trying to profile the organization and the community it represents.
Given the frequency of terror attacks in the country and the kind of mayhem let loose on the people by the exported variety of terror from Pakistan and Bangladesh, it is indeed time that we forced the government of the day — both at the Centre and in the States that have fallen victims to terror — to do a reality check and ensure that the security and intelligence framework would now be foolproof so that innocent lives are not lost any more. But, again, the question is whether the government has learnt any lessons. True, there are signs of belated awakening, such as the strengthening of the anti-terror law in vogue and passing of a Bill to create a federal investigative agency (National Investigative Agency or NIA). However, a mere agency, however well-intentioned and well-planned, would mean little or nothing if it were to operate under political pressure mounted on it by the ruling party and politicians. Can the government promise us of a really autonomous federal investigative agency, and keep that promise too? And how about reforming the police and bringing about a change in its colonial mindset? One can only hope that 2009 would be a little bit different, our life a little bit secure, and the government a little bit concerned about ordinary citizens — if not more. We wish you all a safe and secure 2009.


Introspect Tonight
How we conduct ourselves tonight as we bid adieu to the year gone by and welcome the new one, will point to our own character — how conscientious, responsible, mature and civilized we are, in the midst of so many tragedies the country has suffered from this year. ‘Celebrating’ this night has become too routine and mundane by the day, especially in societies like ours where there is nothing at all to celebrate but everything to rue and mourn. True, we should welcome the new year, but on that welcoming spirit should reflect our resolve to rid our society from the many ills it is afflicted with. There should be a great deal of introspection tonight as we ‘celebrate’: whether we should celebrate just because everyone else seems to be celebrating, or whether it should be a night of intelligent pondering, resolutions and determination to contribute to the society and country. In fact we should examine our individual contribution to the society and country this year, and if we have not contributed anything, we should humbly accept that we too are a burden on the system that helps us sustain.

Between the lines
Not his own Master

Kuldip Nayar
Tensions, if prolonged, burst into consequences which are hard to handle. A warlike atmosphere comes to develop.
Nations are sucked into jingoism because they feel insecure. In the process, people restrict their liberty willingly. New Delhi has enacted a new, harsher law on detention. And all know who calls the shots in Pakistan. Still, for Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee to ask with whom India should deal is meant only to score a point. It is the army which has been operating for more than 50 years, often overtly and some time behind the democratic façade. If New Delhi has done business with the governments which the army guided then why ask President Asif Ali Zardari to prove his credentials? However weak and wanting, his is a democratically elected set-up. The voters queued up before polling booths to elect their representatives.
General Pervez Musharraf, chief of the army staff, ruled Pakistan for some nine years. New Delhi never questioned his legitimacy. Why in the case of Zardari? True, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto enjoyed all powers as Prime Minister of a democratic country. But he came in the wake of Bangladesh formation. Then the army was blamed for having lost half of Pakistan. The circumstances are different now. Zardari too assumed that like Bhutto he had all the power. But he found out it was not so when he wanted to send the ISI chief to Delhi after having accepted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s request. What should he have done: Admit his helplessness in public? No ruler does so. He blamed the media, as governments do, for misquoting him. He could have resigned but Pakistan does not have the tradition of doing so.
Knowing all this, Mukherjee should have refrained from asking who rules in Pakistan. This has further exposed the Zardari government. But then New Delhi’s problem is that it is under a lot of pressure to act after the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Yet, India might have strengthened Zardari if it had not posed the question that Mukherjee did. Top brass in Pakistan might have realized that New Delhi preferred to do business with the democratically elected government even though the real power was in the hands of the army. The suo moto statement by General Asfaq Parvez Kiyani that Pakistan would retaliate within minutes was meant to underline the point.
The question to ask from Islamabad is not who governs Pakistan, but how it can be helped to get back to democracy which the country enjoyed for a few years after its birth? Yet the Zardari government should understand and appreciate the extent of anger which is sweeping India. However helpless, Pakistan has to deliver. It cannot be party to the cover-up job. Why should Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gillani and his master’s voice Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi go on saying that the terrorists who attacked Mumbai were not Pakistanis? Ajmal Amar Kasab, the terrorist caught alive, has sought legal assistance from the Zardari government. Former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose prestige is going up day after day, was quite right when he said that Kasab’s case gave the impression as if Pakistan was a failed state. Why should Islamabad go on repeating that India had not given any credible proof on the terrorists being Pakistanis?
Zardari’s embarrassment is understandable. It is apparent that he came to know about the attack on Mumbai only after it had taken place. After all, Nawaz Sharif did not know Musharraf sending troops to Kargil till the operation began. However, once Nawaz Sharif became aware of it he made clean breast of it before the world through President Bill Clinton. It cost Nawaz Sharif his prime ministership because when he tried to take action against army chief Musharraf, the latter took over the government.
A respected Pakistani expert, Ahmed Rashid, has said that the attack on Mumbai is the handiwork of the Pakistani Taliban who are said to have become part of the Al-Qaida Taliban. It is possible that the Taliban and the jehadi straddling over Pakistan and Afghanistan have jointly conducted the Mumbai carnage. This development is as much disturbing for Pakistan as it is for India. Yet Zardari cannot run away from the fact that the Pakistan territory was “used” for planning and executing the attack. He, who has made friendly statements, should have taken not only measures to expose but also curb the terrorists and those behind them. Had he done so, he would have sustained the goodwill he evoked in India within the first few weeks of his taking over. Even now it is not too late. The mood in India is nasty and the Parliament session has shown that Zardari will have to come really hard on terrorists in Pakistan. The LeT chief should have been tried by this time. He was responsible for the attack on the Indian Parliament House in 2001. He is at the back of what happened in Mumbai.
Surely, Zardari and his colleagues do not entertain the thesis which even some Indian Muslims and Urdu newspapers adumbrate that the entire operation was that of certain elements in the Indian government, helped by the BJP extremists. The very idea is preposterous: India killing nearly 200 people of its own, causing a loss of at least $2 billion and exposing its ineptness before the world. (It took 60 hours to kill nine militants.)
The thesis was built after the killing of Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare who found the Vishwa Hindu Parishad hand in the Malegaon blasts. It was assumed that he was silenced because he had a lot more to say. A high-level police inquiry has proved that Karkare was killed by the terrorists. Doubts had unnecessarily arisen when AR Antulay, Union Minister for Minority Affairs, posed the question: On whose direction did Karkare go towards the Cama Hospital when the operation was at the Taj and the Oberoi? Antulay did not realize that the terrorists first went to the Cama Hospital. Ultimately he did when Home Minister P Chidambaram made a detailed statement in Parliament. But his remark, untimely as it was, created a furore. Muslim clerics also came on the side of Antulay, giving the happening a communal colour.
What is disconcerting is the attitude of Islamabad which believes that it has no explanation to offer. It has not even dismantled the training camps, a worldwide demand. The whole thing is getting messier and messier. True, the two countries have to sit across the table to reconstruct the whole attack, from the beginning to the end and see where the blame lay. Weak as the Zardari government is, it looks weaker and gives the impression of not being its own master. Rhetoric can make it worse.

Nepal Waiting for a Bigger Turmoil
Dina Nath Mishra
Once Comrade Ashok Mitra, the then West Bengal minister, said that they were communists and not gentlemen. It is a profound statement. Anything that happened in Russia, China, West Bengal and Kerala can be accommodated in the scope of this statement, including massacre, torture, mass arrests etc. How else can you justify the massacre of 98 million innocent people by communist governments in various countries? The figures are staggering: 20 million in Russia, 60 million in China, one million in Vietnam, two million in Cambodia, two million in North Korea, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, and so on. Compare this figure with about 40 million people (both civilians and soldiers including those killed when two atom bombs were thrown on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan) killed in World War II. It happened recently also in Nandigram and Singur.
For the past few months, due to terrorist attack on Mumbai, events of Nepal have been shadowed in the Indian press. If one goes into the details of Nepal Diary, Nepal appears to have gone back to square one when capturing property, extortion, conscription and killings were routine events. Thanks to Maoist revolution, Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda confessed that to stage a revolution was rather easier than to run a government comprising parties of various hues. This was partly an admission of failure of his government as well as of his frustration. But in more than one way it was a tactical statement coupled with the threat of resigning from the government and going back to bushes. After this phase of revolution, he thinks his party would come back to power with a thumping majority. Communist commitments to democratic rights and comprehensive peace have by now proved to be deceptive, like in other places wherever there has been communist rule.
Prachanda is a man in hurry. He wants to integrate Maoist guerrillas and Nepal state armed forces under the guidance of Chinese military experts. China has agreed to take up this work to perform “neighbourly duty”, of course to consolidate its power in Nepal as quickly as possible. Military is the key to the power of any state apparatus. Maoists want to consolidate it. This would be the most useful strategy to subjugate Nepal totally. Obviously most of the political parties working in tandem to run the government are opposed to it. Prachanda considers it as the biggest stumbling block in the process of building a powerful communist regime. It would be appropriate to recall the statement of former King Gyanendra who admitted that it was a blunder on his kingdom’s part to have relied on China and leaned towards it. But Prachanda may not have to repent, as after all they are all comrades.
The Opposition parties are fighting this move as strongly as they can. They call it integration of Nepali army (with the armed forces of Nepal), including the Royal Nepal Army, which once it was. All this is not undeclared Maoist strategy. They have been calling for it for nearly two years. So far as law and order is concerned, under Prachanda’s rule it is at the mercy of Maoist cadres. From ceasefire accord to post-elections agreement, no agreement was principled; they were tactical. Those who know the pattern of communist behaviour would realize that Nepal is in Maoist trap.
If one goes through Prachanda’s following statement one can draw the picture of Nepal’s immediate future: “…his party had no option but to launch a fresh struggle if attempts were made to thwart army integration and the constitution-drafting processes.’’ Referring to his recent remark on violence, Prachanda said that he just wanted to tell the people to be ready to carry arms for the sake of national well-being as feudal elements were trying to harm the country. The Prime Minister was speaking at a programme organized by his party at Bhakti Namuna Higher Secondary School in Bhote Odar, Lamjung. He, however, said: “I didn’t mean I would raise arms immediately. I said people themselves would raise arms if the peace bid, army integration and constitution processes were stymied.”
On the other hand, non-communist parties, after remaining dormant for a number of years, are also slowly activating themselves. One particular movement is getting momentum. Gyanendra, after being humiliated by the arrival of Maoists, has been touring villages and getting moderate response. He is now thinking of establishing constitutional monarchy. A number of other leaders, including former Prime Minister BP Koirala, are also considering establishment of constitutional monarchy. And Koirala and Gyanendra have already met in this connection.

Education: Some Change Now
Uma Nair
“No failure till Class VIII’’, as enshrined in the Education Bill introduced in Parliament, brings to the fore the huge level of responsibility that schools across the nation face in educating children — all the way till Class VIII. This proposal protects the right of a child to education and also categorically states the importance of school contribution to writing, reading and speaking in the medium of instruction desired.
This runs along parallel to America’s ‘‘No Child Left Behind’’ programme, but that is where the similarity stops. Because American schools have as little as 20-odd kids in a classroom and India has 50 kids in a classroom.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008, introduced in the Rajya Sabha, proposes that both government and private schools across the country not fail students for poor performance until they complete elementary education (Class VIII), nor throw anyone out of school.
Teaching children anywhere requires not just passion for making sure that every child gets educated, but a certain level of acceptance in terms of equipping a student to read, write and speak with proficiency. And we cannot have a system that simply shuffles children through the schools, we need a system that is graded in terms of teaching techniques and goals set.
Teachers across the board must know that their first principle is accountability. Accountability not to the good students, but to the weakest of the class.
Every teacher has a job to do. And that is to teach the basics to the shirkers and teach them well. If we want to make sure no child is left behind, every child must learn to read. And every child must learn to add and subtract. Maths and language skills become critical and crucial tools in learning. Teachers then should also be graded according to how they equip the weak students through the year.
The fundamental principle of this act is that every child can learn, we expect every child to learn, and schools must show us whether or not every child is learning. The story of children being just shuffled through the system is just to move them through. That must not happen.
The first step to making sure that a child is not shuffled through is to test that child as to whether or not he or she can read and write, or add and subtract. All weaknesses must be dealt with and worked upon. This requires everyday labour and constant monitoring. Parents too must cooperate and organize their time with kids at home.
One of the interesting things about this Bill is that you wonder how it affects a school that is performing poorly. Will schools be given time and incentives and resources to correct their problems? If, however, schools do not perform, there must be real consequences. Parents must be given real options in the face of failure in order to make sure reform is meaningful. And so the new role of the schools is to set high standards for all students — weak, average and good — provide resources, hold teachers accountable, and liberate school curriculum so as to meet the standards. But teachers also need to be paid better. They need to be taken care of. A teacher who does not worry about little bills will be a happier person.
Then the government needs to spend more money, more resources, on education and on schools, but they must be directed at methods that work. They should not be superficial feel-good methods, not sound-good methods, but methods that actually work
(The writer is an English teacher at Don Bosco School, New Delhi) (IANS)
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