Monday, July 25, 2011

Pedestrians get it bad every which way

Jude Sessions has been reporting on underdog causes for a while now. It's time to spotlight that most harassed species in today's motor-centric urban cultures - the Pedestrian. With hardly any sidewalks left; and struggling with potholes, speeding traffic, bikers driving on the wrong side, and roads narrowed further by flyovers and metro construction, the average pedestrian in India finds it really hard going. I'm seriously thinking of making car stickers to alert motorists to this endangered species - Save the Walkers!

That the most ordinary of daily life processes - crossing a road - can be quite tough, and downright frightening at times, became obvious through an interesting experiment yesterday in Bangalore called “Come Cross the Road” by the Hasiru Usiru. During the peak hour between 5.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m., the organisation studied the issues facing pedestrians, who were crossing the road at three different points of the city.  The event was part of the study being conducted by the organisation to collate data and present it to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and traffic authorities to improve pedestrian safety in Bangalore.

It was seen that it takes five minutes for pedestrians to cross the busy Old Airport Road near Domlur flyover. On the suggestion of the children living in a Jayanagar slum, a similar experiment was conducted around the Sanjay Gandhi hospital and it was seen that it takes over six minutes to cross the road in front of Sanjay Gandhi hospital in Jayanagar IV Block. Volunteers found that the average waiting time before starting to cross the road was four minutes. Most pedestrians were forced to wait on the median for almost a similar time after crossing one carriageway. On the Old Airport Road, the pedestrians were stuck because of the lack of zebra crossings or traffic signals to facilitate pedestrian crossing. The absence of footpaths added to their inconvenience, according to volunteers. The signal-free corridor in front of Sophia's school near the Golf Course had a skywalk, but many pedestrians chose to run across the road. “One has to climb up the skywalk with 58 steps, and many disabled and senior citizens cannot use it,” said Vinay, a volunteer from Hasiru Usiru. “The city is made for cars and not pedestrians,” he lamented. Through the experiments, volunteers felt that skywalks are not a solution to address pedestrian woes. Instead, they advocated use of pelican lights - traffic lights operated by pedestrians when they need to cross the road. However, noting the inefficacy of these lights in places such as Chowdiah Road in Guttahalli, Shridhar Raman of the organisation, said, “Since motorists don't stop even at pelican lights, we either need a traffic constable present or even something as radical as a lever arm that comes down and forcibly stops motorists, like at a railway level crossing.”

Defensive Walking 
It's not a problem of the Third World alone though. Sustainable Streets, a nonprofit organization that encourages “active transportation” like walking and biking, feels senior citizens can especially benefit  from walking - and not just because it's the ultimate green mode of transportation. Alison Kendall, who conducts sessions with senior members of the community, feels that older people stand to gain from the increased mobility and balance walking brings them. It's also proven to increase longevity as it helps reduce depression, heart disease and diabetes. 

But disturbingly - the same population is far more likely to be victims of traffic fatalities. The American town of Santa Monica had 86 accidents involving pedestrians last year and two pedestrian fatalities since December. Of Santa Monica's 35 pedestrian fatalities from 2000 through 2010, 17 were over 65 years old, and of those, 12 were 80 or older, according to Santa Monica Police Department. The disquieting statistics have three causes: Pedestrian behavior, driver behavior, and the walking environment. While many of the same directions we all learned as children still apply to senior walkers, there are some additional caveats for them. Impaired vision and hearing, coupled with slower walking speeds and cognitive delays make it harder for seniors navigate traffic. As one senior quipped, “Streets are a lot wider than when I was younger.” A signal time that makes sense for a 30-year-old is far too short for those over 70. By the time the red flashing hand signal comes on, many seniors are just approaching the middle of the intersection, causing some to freeze and even turn around and go back, a move that's much more dangerous than continuing on. But the danger is highest before they get that far. Stepping off the curb is actually the riskiest part of the crossing.

Drivers often pay more attention to other vehicular traffic than to pedestrians, and walkers often have a hard time seeing around cars that have inched forward in hopes of a quick turn. Kendall urged seniors to look up and keep their “heads on a swivel,” hanging back until they're sure the coast is really clear. Crosswalks are no guarantee of safety, she said. People are often lulled into a false sense of security because they think they have the right-of-way.” And parked cars can't be assumed to be a safe bet. Listen for engine noises, look for parking lights and people in the drivers' seats. It's all part of “defensive walking.” Driveways are especially hazardous, as often both the pedestrian and driver can't see what's going on. It's another situation where the walker should hang back, but avoid hugging the wall, staying closer to the street where the driver has a better chance of seeing her. Be especially careful at the driveways to city parking lots downtown, where drivers “come barrelling out,” warned Principal Transportation Engineer Sam Morrissey. Wear light, bright colors, especially at night, and, it should go without saying, don't even think about jaywalking.

Getting cities to be pedestrian-friendly
There's a lot the city traffic engineers can do too. Well marked, highly visible crosswalks with median “pedestrian refuges” in the middle of wider streets help a lot. And smooth, obstruction-free sidewalks with wide buffer zones between sidewalk and street are safe and inviting to seniors who may be especially intimidated by traffic roaring by right next to them. No right turn on red intersections, slower speed zones, speed humps and countdown signals are all planning improvements that can make things a lot safer. Expanding curbs into the intersection at many corners, moving parking away from the corner could help to slow down traffic and improve visibility.

Redesigning transport systems to focus on pedestrian safety issues is also necessary. Dunu Roy, who runs the Hazard Centre in New Delhi, feels the new Bus Rapid Transport’ (BRT) system in Delhi "goes several steps further than merely designing a dedicated corridor for buses. It also provides for pedestrian and cycle paths that are obstacle-free, well-illuminated, properly-serviced, and disabled-friendly, thus catering to the primary needs of over 80 per cent of the commuters on the road. It has allocated space for utilities, rickshaws, and vendors; made it possible for Indian companies to build modern low-floor buses at a significantly lower price than foreign manufacturers; given priority to emergency vehicles to use the bus corridors", all of which have helped decrease the number of accidents on the road.

Despite these advantages, car owners now want another lane for themselves ‘to avoid congestion’, while providing over-bridges for pedestrians ‘to avoid accidents’; while pedestrians and bus commuters view the ‘indisciplined’ driver as the biggest hazard and do not think that the BRT has been able drill ‘traffic sense’ in them. This finally is the biggest problem. Pedestrians continue to be at greater risk simply because drivers of motorised transport just do not think that walkers have the right of way. And changing this attitude is the first step towards greater safety of those on foot.

The information for this post has been sourced from The Hindu, The Business Standard and the Lookout News, Santa Monica. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Snatching away farmers’ land for industries is also corruption

“In the last six years, the union government has waived corporate income tax worth Rs 3,74,937 crore, over double the 2G spectrum scam”

Social activist Medha Patkar on Saturday said that the definition of corruption should be given broader view. According to her, it ought to include not just embezzlement of money, but also corporate corruption and snatching away farmers’ land for industries. Participating in a programme organized by the National Alliance of People’s Movements, Karnataka chapter, a day after visiting Halligudi in Gadag where farmers are agitating against acquisition of land for POSCO, she stressed the need for repealing the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. She said the Act should be replaced by Development Planning Act, with a community-led development module. Successive land acquisition laws had acquired fertile agricultural lands for corporate purposes in the name of public benefit. Supporting the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, said that any people’s movement must address the fraud perpetrated upon people and their livelihoods by legitimately handing over resources to big business interests. Any anti-corruption law should also address manipulation of laws by the corporate, builder, politician and bureaucrat nexus, she said. Taking a reference from the Economic Survey of India, Ms Patkar said between 1990 and 2005 about 60 lakh hectares of agricultural land had been diverted for non-agricultural purposes, even as huge tracts of land acquired were lying unused, she added.

The battle between communities and corporates was on everywhere, she added. She said that there was a need to obey the voice of the people if democracy had to survive.

Source: Deccan Chronicle.
Also read: Agitating farmers rain stones on NICE officials near Kengeri

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Supreme Court declares Salwa Judum illegal

"The primordial value is that it is the responsibility of every organ of the State to function within the four corners of constitutional responsibility. That is the ultimate rule of law. Indeed, we recognise that the State faces many serious problems on account of Maoist/Naxalite violence.Notwithstanding the fact that there may be social and economic circumstances, and certain policies followed by the State itself, leading to emergence of extremist violence, we cannot condone it. Effectiveness of the force "ought not to be, and cannot be, the sole yardstick to judge constitutional permissibility. Whether SPOs have been effective against Maoist/Naxalite activities in Chhattisgarh would seem to be a dubious, if not a debunked, proposition given the state of affairs in Chattisgarh. Even if we were to grant, for the sake of argument, that indeed the SPOs were effective against Maoists/Naxalites, the doubtful gains are accruing only by the incurrence of a massive loss of fealty to the Constitution, and damage to the social order."

In a blow to both the Chhattisgarh government and the Centre, the Supreme Court has declared as illegal and unconstitutional the deployment of tribal youths as Special Police Officers - either as 'Koya Commandos', Salwa Judum or any other force - in the fight against the Maoist insurgency and ordered their immediate disarming. The ruling - issued on Tuesday by Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar on the writ petition filed by social anthropologist Prof. Nandini Sundar and others - strongly indicted the State for violating Constitutional principles in arming youth who had passed only fifth standard and conferring on them the powers of police.

The Bench said “the State of Chhattisgarh shall forthwith make every effort to recall all firearms issued to any of the SPOs, whether current or former, along with any and all accoutrements and accessories issued to use such firearms. The word firearm as used shall include any and all forms of guns, rifles, launchers etc., of whatever calibre.” Writing the order, Justice Reddy directed the State of Chhattisgarh to immediately cease and desist from using SPOs in any manner or form in any activities, directly or indirectly, aimed at controlling, countering, mitigating or otherwise eliminating Maoist/Naxalite activities in the State of Chhattisgarh.

The court directed the Centre and the State of Chhattisgarh to provide appropriate security forthwith, and undertake such measures “as are necessary, and within bounds of constitutional permissibility, to protect the lives of those who had been employed as SPOs previously, or who had been given any initial orders of selection or appointment, from any and all forces, including but not limited to Maoists/Naxalites.”

The Bench made it clear that the State of Chhattisgarh should take all appropriate measures to prevent the operation of any group, including but not limited to Salwa Judum and Koya commandos, that in any manner or form seek to take law into private hands, act unconstitutionally or otherwise violate the human rights of any person. The Bench said “the measures to be taken by the State of Chhattisgarh shall include, but not be limited to, investigation of all previously inappropriately or incompletely investigated instances of alleged criminal activities of Salwa Judum, or those popularly known as Koya Commandos.”

The Bench held that the policy of the State violated the rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of those being employed as SPOs in Chattisgarh and used in counter-insurgency measures against Maoists/Naxalites, as well as of citizens living in those areas.

Source: The Hindu. Also Read:
BBC: A key question is how effectively the Supreme Court ruling will be implemented. Monitoring the process will not be easy in the state's remote forests.
Lawrence Liang: A beacon of light in the heart of darkness.
Full Text of the Court's decree

We never thought that our work could kill us

Yesterday, India's health minister created a furore at an HIV/AIDS conference with his remarks on MSMs as a vulnerable group. Though he clarified his stance later, the uproar shows no signs of ceasing. In response, Anjali Gopalan, from the HIV/AIDS campaign group Naz Foundation, pointed out that "It's women who are in marriage who are more at risk because they cannot negotiate safer behaviour from their husbands who are infecting them". She added that as it was much easier for a man to infect a woman than a woman a man, and as it was common practice among female sex workers to use condoms, they were not the group most vulnerable to infection. It seems appropriate at this point for us to look at this story by Priyanka Borpujaria, about a community of sex workers that has shown remarkable courage in negotiating safe behaviour from their clients. 

Sangli is clean. It begins with the railway station, which has been awarded the second cleanest station’s title in Maharashtra. A five-minute auto-rickshaw ride takes you to Dusshera Chowk. Through clean roads canopied by huge trees, you arrive at a small junction. A clean swept road from there leads to Sangli’s red light area. Pink doors on pink walls flank the street. There are no open drains with floating condoms in them. A decorative rangoli adorns the doorstep of every house. A few young girls stand next to a door, waiting for customers. Most others are busy with the chores that keep any housewife busy every morning—washing utensils and clothes, running after children, cooking meals, and taking dried clothes off the clothesline.

Two decades ago, when Madam was just 18, she eloped with a boy, but he was too scared to marry her. She couldn’t go back to her parents and so she decided to stay on in Dusshera Chowk, doing sundry jobs. Eventually, she became a sex worker. Seven years into the business, she saw contemporaries suddenly falling ill, developing blisters in their mouth and on their tongue, and then becoming just a memory sooner than expected. “The fat girls suddenly became sticks. Then someone said it was AIDS. We had never heard of it before. We never thought that our work could kill us,” she says.

She began to work with Sangram, an organisation in Sangli promoting awareness about HIV and AIDS. That’s where she first encountered the condom. “I thought ‘What kind of weird sticky rubber is this?’ But then, since we were getting it free, I decided to try it,” she says, “I eventually understood that it was for my protection as a sex worker.” She took it upon herself to teach other girls how to use condoms. And also the customers who strode in. “Sex workers saw condoms as a hurdle not just to the sexual act, but to their business,” she says, “The girls would argue that asking the man to wear a condom was as good as showing him the door and not earning anything. They thought that the pleasure of sex would be lost if a condom was worn.”

Since most of the girls were from next-door Karnataka, they spoke only Kannada. Talking about condoms in Marathi or broken-Kannada was not really helping her get the message across to other sex workers. So she had an innovative idea. “I bought two huge plastic buckets and put them in an intersection of the lanes. I told the girls to throw used condoms into the buckets. Around midnight, I would ask the girls about the number of customers they’d had. Then, I would thrust my hand into the bins, pull out the used condoms, and count them. If it did not tally with the number the girls had told me, it meant someone did not get her customer to use a condom. I just had to call out once, and the errant girl would apologise. If they address me as ‘Maa’, then I have every right to scold them.” She is the boss of about 200 girls now, most of whom are from Karnataka’s Devdasi tradition, with tiny white beads on a red cord around their necks identifying their lineage.

Madam’s efforts took three years to come good. Today, none of the women will ‘bithao’ (seat—for sex) a customer who refuses to wear a condom. But are the men willing to oblige? “Not if they are very drunk,” says Madam. So she does what a good mother will do for her daughters—she screens the customers. By 6 pm, Madam settles herself under a big tree at the entrance of her territory. Every prospective customer has to pass her screening—essentially, an assessment of his level of inebriation. “No man comes to a brothel unless he has had some alcohol,” she says, “I look at a man and I can tell how drunk he is. If he is too drunk, then obviously he won’t be able to wear the condom. Then I send him back, even if that means shouting and pushing him away. For the rest, I ask if they are carrying condoms, though my girls are well stocked in any case.”

Many a times, girls have had to show the door to rich customers who try offering more money for condomless sex. “My man asks me, ‘Why do I have to wear the condom even after being with you for so many years? Don’t you trust me?’ I say that this is the way it needs to be, because I do not want him to bring in diseases from his wife,” she says.

Source: Open Magazine

UID is problematic

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was created as an attached office under the Planning Commission, with a mandate to develop and implement the necessary institutional, technical and legal infrastructure to issue unique identity (UID) numbers to Indian residents.

Aadhaar, or the Unique Identification Project, is today expected and ‘loosely’ positioned to be the sole panacea that will transform governance, make Bharat part of the growth process, plug leakages and slippages into welfare schemes and bring about prosperity all around. What is essentially an identity number has been over-romanticized as an ‘enabler’ to put India on a fast-track growth path by virtue of becoming a pivot around which all anti-poverty measures will rotate and also deliver. From poverty alleviation to education, it seems to be holding answers to all problems that have plagued India since independence. While (Chairman UIDAI) Nandan Nilekani's contention is that he has not promised any such thing, the fact is that he has also never denied the frenzied media reports on UID as a fix all solution.

It is feared that UID is attempting to impose technology to foster centralisation rather than promote de-centralisation and coming up with magical remedies in technology for problems that perhaps have solutions only in governance reform and institutional regeneration. Sometimes, technology can even be used as a quick bypass to constitutional provisions. Panchayati Raj Institutions being deprived of their right to 'identify' its people as the main UID registrars is a case in point. Focus is instead on 'identifying the already identified' who open bank accounts or have ration cards or even PAN cards. Arguments for conditional fund transfers instead of unconditional fund transfers and technology duplication efforts like the Aadhar enabled RuPay card to do exactly what all cards do anyway are some of the cases in point. There is also little clarity as to how the government will integrate the UID with the National Population Registrar (NPR). Considering the multifarious agencies and the issues involved in the work of capturing biometrics and digitizing the demographic information it certainly is a gigantic task. Is does not seem to have happened at least in Tembhli where the information captured by private enrolment agency for the card is not quite at par with the details earlier collected by the census enumerators.

To end on a lighter note, a close associate of mine who hails from Kumaon hills was recently given an Aadhaar card. His biometrics, photo and other details were captured at the time of application. The person who delivered the card demanded a photo identity to match the photo on the Aadhaar card and handed over the card on seeing his PAN Card ! So much for biometric technology.

Source: Sameer Kochhar in Inclusion 

Middle Class Nationalism and the Censorship Question

Democracy has created a middle class, most of whom are not adequately socialised to norms vital to creativity and innovativeness in an open society, says Ashis Nandy.

It is the hearts and minds of the new middle class—those who have come up in the last two decades from almost nowhere and are middle class by virtue of having money rather than middle-class values—that both parties are after. This new middle class wants to give meaning to their hollow life through a violent, nineteenth-century version of European-style ‘nationalism’. They want to prove—to others as well as to themselves—that they have a stake in the system, that they have arrived. They are afraid that the slightest erosion in the legitimacy of their particularly nasty version of nationalism will jeopardise their new-found social status and political clout. They are willing to fight to the last Indian for the glory of Mother India as long as they themselves are not conscripted to do so and they can see, safely and comfortably in their drawing rooms, Indian nationalism unfolding the way a violent Bombay film unfolds on their television screens. Hence the bitterness and intolerance, not only towards Arundhati Roy (read her defence), but also towards all other spoilsports who defy the mainstream imagination of India and its nationalism.

The trend of harassing political dissenters for their “seditious” writings and actions started early. It started with the breakdown of consensus on national interest in the mid-’70s. Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency and introduced serious censorship and surveillance, she claimed, to protect national interest, democracy and development. The difference between the 1970s and the first decade of the 21st century is that millions are now acting out their dissent and speaking out of their radical differences with mainstream public opinion. The whole tribal movement—wrongly called the Naxal movement, because the Naxals have taken advantage of the tribal problem—is an example of this. Even Gandhians fighting for their cause non-violently are not spared. Himangshu Kumar’s ashram at Dantewada has been destroyed not by the Maoists but by the police. I would have thought that writers and artists would be exempt from censorship in an open society. As we well know, they are not. The CPI(M) and the Congress ganged up to shut up Taslima Nasreen by saying she was not an Indian. As though if you are a non-Indian in India, your rights don’t have to be governed by the Constitution of India!

There are times when a national consensus is neither possible nor desirable. The best one can do is to contain the violence and negotiate with those who act out their dissent. That may not be easy in the case of the Kashmiris because their trust in us is now close to zero. Psychologically speaking, the Kashmiris are already outside India and will remain there for at least two generations. The random killings, rapes, torture and the other innovative atrocities have brutalised their society and turned them into a traumatised lot. If you think this is too harsh, read between the lines of psychotherapist Shobhna Sonpar’s report on Kashmir.

What is it about the culture of Indian politics today that it allows us to opt for a version of nationalism that is so brutal, self-certain and chauvinist? Have we been so brutalised ourselves that we have become totally numb to the suffering around us? What is this concept of Indian unity that forces us to support police atrocities and torture? How can a democratic government, knowing fully what its police, paramilitary and army is capable of doing, resist signing the international covenant on torture? How can we, sixty years after independence, countenance encounter deaths? Could these practices have survived so long and become institutionalised if we had a large enough section of India’s much-vaunted middle class fully sensitive to the demands of democracy?

The answers to these questions are not pleasant. We know things could not have come to this pass if those who are or should be alert to these issues in the intelligentsia, media, artistic community had done their job. Here I think the changing nature of the Indian middle class has not been a help.

We are proud of our democracy—the consensus on democracy still survives in India—but unaware of a crucial paradox in which we are caught. The democratic process has created a new middle class, a large section of which is not adequately socialised to democratic norms in sectors not vital to the survival of democratic politics but vital to creativity and innovativeness in an open society. The thoughtless, non-self-critical ultra-nationalism, intolerant of anyone opposed to the mainstream public opinion, is shared neither by the poor nor the more settled middle class. Ordinary Indians, accustomed as they are to living with mind-boggling diversity, social and cultural, have no problem with political diversity. Neither does the settled middle class. Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, for instance, wrote an essay savaging the middle class in mid-nineteenth century. We had to study this in our school and it has remained a prescribed text in Bengal for more than a century. Today you cannot introduce such a text in much of India without probably precipitating a political controversy and demands for censorship.

Recently, at a lecture organised by the Information Commission of India, I claimed that the future of censorship and surveillance in India was very bright. It’s not only the government that loves it but a very large section of middle-class India too would like to silence writers, artists, playwrights, scholars and thinkers they do not like. In their attempt to become a globalised middle class, they are willing to change their dress, food habits and language but not their love for censorship. We should thank our stars that there still are people in our midst—editors, political activists, NGOs, lawyers and judges—to whom freedom of speech is neither a value peripheral to the real concerns of Indian democracy nor a bourgeois virtue but a clue to our survival as a civilised society.

Source: Democracy’s new torchbearers would brook no lenience to ‘sedition’

Should only politicians have the right to express political opinions?

Recalling the Nehru-JP debate in the late 1950's brings back some interesting points that could be relevant to the current brouhaha around the proposed LokPal Bill

Jayaprakash Narayan, known more familiarly as JP, had been an active Congressman, and a hero of the Quit India movement of 1942, when he eluded the police for months on end and then, when captured, endured solitary confinement and torture in jail. A staunch critic of Jawaharlal Nehru’s policies, JP helped form a new Socialist Party in 1948 as a Left-wing alternative to the party in power. He served as the president of all-India unions of railway, postal and defence workers, thus being, in effect, the leader of more than a million men. After the Congress defeated all comers in the 1952 elections, Nehru called JP for talks to explore the possibility of the socialists rejoining the Congress. The talks failed, but by this time JP was losing interest in organised politics altogether. He had become increasingly attracted to the programmes of the Gandhian Vinoba Bhave, who was campaigning for rich landlords to donate, to the poor, excess land ( bhoodan) and, where possible, entire villages (gramdan). JP was inspired to do a jivandan, namely, to offer his own life to the service of this social movement.

In 1957, when India held its second general elections, Jayaprakash Narayan was not formally associated with any political party. However, he retained a strong interest in the present and future of democratic institutions. While the campaigning for the elections was on, JP wrote an extraordinary letter to Nehru, who was both the serving prime minister and the chief vote-getter of the ruling Congress party. In this letter, JP suggested that the prime minister function as a “national rather than a party leader”; that, even while he ran the government, he should “encourage the growth of an Opposition” so as to “soundly lay the foundations of parliamentary democracy” in India. During the elections, JP had tried, and failed, to get Opposition parties to avoid three-cornered contests in individual constituencies, since a division of the vote would benefit only the Congress. “In doing so,” JP told Nehru he was: not guided by dislike of or hostility to the Congress as you have repeatedly been suggesting but merely by certain dispassionate political principles. According to parliamentary democracy theory it is not necessary for the opposition to be better than the ruling party. Equally bad parties in opposition are a check on one another and keep the democratic machine on the track… [A]s a Socialist my sympathies are all with the British Labour Party, but I concede that when Labour is in power the Conservatives perform a valuable democratic function without which the Labour government might become a menace to the people. So, I realise that if my advice had been followed by the opposition parties, it would have led to some undesirable parties gaining somewhat in strength. I was prepared, however, to take that risk on the ground (a) that between the two evils of absoluteness of power and a little increase in the strength of certain undesirable parties, the former was the greater evil and (b) that there would be five years after the election in which a sound opposition party could be created. 

In one of his speeches, Nehru had chastised JP for “playing hide-and-seek” between the pillars of politics and social service. The younger man, he said, “claim[ed] to have given up politics” but “continue[d] to dabble in it.” JP replied that he did “not see why only active party and power politicians should express political opinions and no others. Politics would then be reduced to a sordid party game with which the citizen would have no concern.” There was a particular responsibility for Gandhian “constructive workers” to speak out. These workers, insisted JP, would: betray their ideals if they did not boldly play a corrective role, offering friendly, constructive, non-partisan advice and criticism and, if need be, even opposition in the form of non-cooperation and the like. Nor can eschewing of party politics mean indifference to the manner and outcome of elections. True, those who have eschewed party politics are not expected to take any partisan stand, but they may, with complete consistency, raise general political and ideological issues for the guidance of the electorate, the parties and the candidates.

JP ended his letter on a somewhat despairing note. Whatever the outcome of the elections, he remarked: the verdict is inescapable that the present political system has proved a failure. Therefore, the need after the elections is for the leaders of the country to get together in order to find out if there is a better alternative. I think there is and, in the larger interest of the country, we must seek it out. It is here that your leadership is most needed, because without you this cannot be done. Narayan’s letter extended over six typed pages; Nehru’s reply was even longer. He had “quite failed to understand” what JP meant “by my becoming a national leader, rather than a party leader.” What does a national leader do?” asked Nehru.

Read on: A Dangling Conversation By Ramachandra Guha