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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 21

An Immeasurable Tragedy


Wednesday 14 May 2008, by SC


Beyond all trivialities in the domestic field the tabling in the Rajya Sabha on May 6 of the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill that guarantees one-third reservation of seats for women in Parliament and State Legislatures is indeed a significant development and that it was made possible due to rare solidarity among different shades of our political spectrum makes it all the more a striking feature on the contemporary scene. One cannot, however, be blind to the challenges the legislation is bound to face, as its predecessors did in Parliament in the not-too-distant past, from opponents of the Women’s Reservation Bill. It is now to be seen what novel methods they adopt to stall the latest version of the same legislation once it is subjected to rigorous and comprehensive scrutiny by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice.

As far as national security is concerned, of exceptional importance was the flawless flight of Agni-III on May 7; as is quite obvious, with a 3500-km range, the missile assures the Indian strategic forces a striking capability much beyond the immediate neighbourhood. What is more, as has been aptly pointed out in The Hindu, “Agni-III and its future variants... will be the first Indian missiles having the potential to be equipped with Multiple Independently-Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs)” that can carry several nuclear warheads. Given the country’s long-term commitment to the concept of no-first-strike, there is much strength in the strategic experts’ argument that this missile would go a long way towards ensuring peace and security in our region.

Meanwhile the international scenario has been marked by the pillars of the US Administration—President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—attributing the rising food prices across the globe to the growing consumption in India and China. This has evoked natural indignation across the board from politicians in India and they have not wasted any time in lambasting the Bush team for such outrageous pronouncements. Howsoever much the US head of state and his foreign policy chief try to explain this phenomenon by pointing to the emergence of the 350 million-strong Indian missile class, the figures speak for themselves: in 2007 the cereal consumption in the US increased from 227 million tonnes in the previous year to 310.4 million tonnes (a rise of 11.8 per cent)—the highest in the world; the US Agricultural Department’s data also show that every American consumes 1046 kg of grains per annum as against 178 kg consumed by every Indian. In fact there is no comparison between the two. Thus the natural inference to be drawn from such statements is that the mounting economic problems compelled Bush and Condoleezza to deflect attention from the actual reasons to imaginary causes.

However, such nonsensical remarks from the highest authorities of the US and the virtual end of the road for Hillary Clinton in her quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the US presidency do not constitute genuine news in the global sphere. What has really jolted sensitive people the world over is the unprecedented and mind-boggling crisis in Myanmar following Cyclone Nargis that devastated the country last weekend. Its hapless people, already groaning under the jackboots of a military junta constituting the most ruthless regime in the current international environment, have suffered untold misery. The Burmese authorities have now been forced to concede that 22,000 people have died and 41,000 are missing. These figures are far higher than what the junta initially admitted, and given its habit of concealing facts one can justifiably presume that the actual death toll and casualties are on a much bigger scale than what the Generals would ever concede. But what is most surprising is their call for outside assistance, something they have scrupulously avoided in the past—an indication of the severity of nature’s fury the ever-resilient Burmese had to silently endure. Yet that is precisely why leaving aside all other considerations the world must organise a massive humanitarian assistance for the battered and the bruised there going through hell under abominable conditions of life and livelihood. As humanitarian aid worker Conor Foley, writing in The Guardian, observes while quoting a UN official, “we simply cannot delay providing assistance until a viable political situation evolves. The human costs for the Myanmarese people will be too high.”

It is time the Government of India extended solid, concrete assistance on a large scale to the citizens next door, but perhaps it is more appropriate that all of us as a people mobilise massive aid for our unfortunate Burmese brothers and sisters bravely fighting death and destruction with superhuman courage amidst the heaviest of odds. Is it not our bounden duty to help them with all our ability and resources in their hour of trial when natural havoc and man-made atrocities have conspired to heighten their tragedy to a level that remains unsurpassed in the contemporary global scenario, comparable as it is to what nations went through in the Second World War the sixtythird anniversary of whose end we are observing this week?

May 9 S.C.

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