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A pirouette on Pakistan
Through every attack from across the border the government has flipped and flopped. Until India builds a
coherence in its own strategy, it will continue to face such challenges from Pakistan
F R I D AY , S E P T E M B E R 2 3 , 2 0 1 6

Getting Railways
on track


hat it took 69 years after Independence
for India to merge the Railway Budget
with the Union Budget is an indication of
how difficult it can be to junk colonial-era
traditions that may have outlived their utility. In
1924, when the first Railway Budget was presented,
the Railways entailed more funds than India’s expenditure on all other aspects of administration
combined. So it made sense to present a separate
Budget. That equation changed long ago, and now
the Railways’ outlay is just 6 per cent of the total expenditure proposed in the Union Budget for this
year. In fact, revenues from the domestic aviation
business are more than the Railways’ traffic earnings. Nearly Rs.2.5 lakh crore has been planned this
year as defence expenditure, but it found little mention in the Finance Minister’s Budget speech. Yet,
the ritual of the Rail Budget has continued even as
the economy opened up over the past 25 years. A
key reason that it lingered so long is India’s fractured polity and the tendency of coalition partners
to demand Railways as a juicy portfolio with its
possibilities for populist posturing and patronage.
With the luxury of a majority in the Lok Sabha and a
Railway Minister like Suresh Prabhu who has refused to use the Rail Budget as a launchpad for new
trains and railway lines, the NDA has thrown its
weight behind a plan that takes away the annual
temptation to make the Railways a vote-magnet.
India’s annual economic jamboree will now be
over in two days — the tabling of the Economic Survey followed by the Union Budget — instead of
three. Railway Ministers will no longer need to conjure up fancy and often regurgitated promises
about new, improved services for passengers
without charging them the operational costs of reaching their destination. The pressure to hold commuter fares has skewed the Railways’ freight rates,
year after year. Indeed, the change is already being
felt; tweaking of tariffs outside the Budget has begun. Consider the changes in coal freight and the
introduction of flexible pricing on premium passenger trains. However, the Centre needs to now
seriously consider setting up an independent tariff
regulator to depoliticise fares. New lines and trains
should be determined by economic viability rather
than the constituencies covered. Initiatives such as
demand-driven clone trains must be deployed to
boost earnings, and the Rs.37,000-crore tab on social obligations, including concessional ticketing,
must be borne by the exchequer. The Railways’ accounts need to be cleaned up and made bankable.
Scrapping the Rail Budget is a good starting point
to fix the fading utility. Bringing it back safely on
track will take a lot more doing, and undoing.


In February this year, shortly after the attack
in Pampore, Jammu and Kashmir, a diplomat
belonging to a ‘friendly’ country delicately
asked an unusual question. His Foreign
Ministry headquarters were asking if they
should send a message condemning the terrorist attack in which three Army men, two
Central Reserve Police Force personnel and
a civilian had been killed in a siege which
bore resemblance to the Pathankot attack a
month before. The problem, he explained,
was that the Indian government itself was
making no statements on the incident, and
he wasn’t sure if statements of support were
welcome or not. A few days after the Pampore incident on February 20, the Ministry
of External Affairs had sought to play it
down, saying only that the matter was “still
being investigated”. Eventually, the Pampore incident, despite the obvious strains of
evidence linking it to Pakistan-based groups
that officials on the ground pointed to, was
buried. At the time, the Indian and Pakistani
National Security Advisers (NSAs) were
still talking to each other “regularly”, said
the government, and a Pakistani investigation team was coming to Pathankot airbase
to survey evidence.
It is only now, after the Uri tragedy of
September 18, that India has brought up the
number of attacks and attempted infiltrations across the Line of Control (LoC) this
year. “Seventeen such attempts have been
interdicted at or around the LoC, resulting
in the elimination of 31 terrorists and preventing their intended acts of terrorism,”
Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told
Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit
when he summoned him on Wednesday. In
fact, there have also been more than 20 attacks on security force installations in
Jammu and Kashmir in the past two years,
including the Pampore attack; another 15
were foiled.
The incident with the diplomat only
serves as a small indicator of how confusing
the government’s moves on Pakistan have

Nothing upsets the elements of
the Pakistani establishment that
carry out terror attacks against
India more than a consistent
dialogue process
been, even to close watchers and friendly
governments. In fact, India’s moves on
Pakistan in the past few years have been a
series of such missteps, misperceptions and
a complete misunderstanding of the
Pakistani responses to them.
Missing the signs
To begin with, the on-again, off-again dialogue process that began with Prime
Minister Narendra Modi’s grand gesture of
inviting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz
Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony is perplexing. When the government called off
talks between the Foreign Secretaries over
the Pakistan High Commissioner’s talks a
few months later with the Hurriyat leadership, it played the move as the drawing of a
“redline”. But in a turnaround in March this

year, that redline was erased, and the government posed no objection to the High
Commissioner meeting the Hurriyat a few
days before the Foreign Secretary-level talks
in Delhi. What the government failed to notice between those two dates in 2014 and
2016 was a hardening of the Pakistani military’s position on the India policy. Another
missed sign was the clear targeting of NSA
Ajit Doval, India’s main interlocutor with
Pakistan, by the military establishment’s
propaganda wing, as the mastermind of terror attacks in Pakistan.
As a result, when Mr. Modi met Mr. Sharif
in Paris and suggested restarting talks beginning with NSA Doval and the newly appointed Pakistani NSA Gen. Nasser Khan
Janjua, it was far from a match made in
heaven. For his part, Mr. Doval was viewed
with deep suspicion by Pakistan. Indian government officials drew false comfort as they
viewed Gen. Janjua as a “military man” with
the ear of Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel
Sharif. But they should have asked more
closely about Gen. Janjua’s nebulous role in
the Pakistani power structure, as he seemed
to only be deputed for relations with India:
when Prime Minister Sharif went to Saudi
Arabia, Gen. Sharif to Afghanistan, and
Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz to the
U.S., Gen. Janjua was nowhere in the picture.
Neither war-war nor jaw-jaw
Yet the government pressed on with the
initiative with Pakistan, and both External
Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Mr.
Modi have paid visits to Pakistan. They both
gave the same message: this time they would
not allow terrorism to derail talks between
the two countries. “We want to ensure we
are not provoked by saboteurs who want to
stop the dialogue process,” Ms. Swaraj told
Parliament about the government’s new
plans with Pakistan. Yet provoked they
were, and the government took another
turn, calling off the Foreign Secretary-level
dialogue process shortly after the Pathankot
attack in January. NSA talks, however, persisted and led to the curious precedent that
saw Pakistani intelligence operatives get access to look at the very base India accused
their groups of attacking. Through every attack from Pakistan, the government has


The curious death
of Ramkumar


he alleged suicide of murder suspect P.
Ramkumar in the high-security Puzhal
Central Prison in Chennai has given rise
to many questions and doubts. The claim
that Ramkumar, the alleged lone assailant who
stalked and killed young Swathi, took his own life
by biting a live wire pulled out from a switchboard
inside the prison is unusual. His lawyer alleges he
was murdered. Even without questioning the
suicide theory, it is clear that the prison administration has much to answer for. Ramkumar had suicidal tendencies, going by the police claim that he
tried to slash his own throat when he was about to
be arrested. Prison authorities say he was indeed
under continuous watch by warders, and that he
had been given psychological counselling. More
ought to have been done to prevent the incident, as
the case had become unusually sensitive, with the
public debate assuming strong caste and communal overtones. It is surprising that the closely
watched suspect had easy access, at a moment
when he was conveniently alone, to a switchboard
near the prison dispensary. It also so happened that
the CCTV cameras installed in the modern prison
did not cover that particular area where he chose to
end his life. If he did commit suicide, there has been
undoubted lapse in monitoring his movements.
Prison suicides set off questions about the conditions of incarceration in our jails, often seen as
overcrowded and understaffed. Suicide by electrocution is rare, as it is not difficult to deny prisoners
any form of access to live electrical cables. There is
truth in the theory that it is difficult to prevent a
person determined to commit suicide, even if some
correctional psychologists disagree. There ought
to be an initial evaluation of incoming prisoners to
identify those with a high risk of suicide. Thereafter, periodic assessments of their state of mind
should be made. While continuous watch is inescapable, designing ‘suicide-resistant cells’ and auditing jails to identify and remove possible anchoring points for attempts to die by hanging are other
necessary measures. When Ramkumar was arrested there was a sense of reassurance among the
public, even though a few demanded a CBI investigation based on a few purported lacunae in the police version. The police were expected to put an
end to all speculation about whether he was the
‘real culprit’ by bringing him to trial. It is a pity this
did not happen. The Tamil Nadu government
should order a judicial probe in order to credibly allay any impression, false though it may well be, that
the case was sought to be closed extra-judicially.

flipped and flopped, explaining itself unconvincingly to even its well-wishers.
There is enough evidence to show that
Ms. Swaraj’s instincts were correct. Nothing
upsets the elements of the Pakistani establishment that carry out terror attacks
against India more than a consistent dialogue process, and in the past too, it is when
India and Pakistan have come closest to a
breakthrough that their attack is the hardest.
The last few years, however, have seen neither what Winston Churchill famously
called jaw-jaw (talks), nor has there been an
outright war-war, and it’s that situation of
disorder that empowers those destructive
elements the most.
Not setting the agenda
Equally confusing are the steps the government has taken on the international
stage. At the G20, ASEAN and East Asian
summits, and every possible international
forum, Prime Minister Modi has made statements about Pakistan’s link to the violence
in Kashmir. Yet the government rejoiced
this week when UN Secretary General Ban
Ki-moon omitted any references to Kashmir, saying this reaffirms India’s traditional
position that it is a bilateral, not international, issue. The damage is twofold: not only does this allow Pakistan to set the agenda
for India at international fora as Mr. Sharif’s
speech calling Kashmir an “intifada” did, it
also gives rise to ambiguities on the status of
Kashmir that other countries draw upon.
Meeting Mr. Sharif this week, U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry, for example,
expressed “strong concern with recent violence in Kashmir — particularly the Army
base attack”, and then added the “need for
all sides to reduce tensions”, as if there was
some equivalent responsibility for both India and Pakistan. Similarly, France issued a
statement condemning the Uri attack, but
also called for a resolution of the Kashmir
dispute, drawing a link between the two that
India would like to avoid.
Finally, there is an inconsistency between
the government’s rhetoric and the actions it
is prepared to take in the wake of an attack.
Initial indications after the Uri attack suggest the government and the armed forces
are not in favour of a “knee-jerk” air strike or
cross-border raids at this point. It is
counterproductive to issue statements on
“befitting punishment” to Pakistan or exchanging a tooth for a full set of dentures if
the plan is to exhaust diplomatic options
The truth is, the world understands India
is the victim, and Pakistan the perpetrator of
terror. While the government keeps producing evidence of each attack it traces to the
Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-eTaiba, as it has done post-Uri as well, the obvious evidence should be the original case
against them: that JeM leader Masood Azhar
was exchanged for hostages during the
IC-814 hijack in 1999, and Hafiz Saeed has
been identified by at least three people involved in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks of 2008
as its mastermind, and is wanted not just by
India but the UN as well. If that’s not enough
for Pakistan, nothing will ever be, and the
fact that both terrorists roam freely and run
flourishing empires within the country
should be enough to show Pakistan’s complicity. But until India builds a coherence in
its own strategy, and unity in focus and purpose, it will continue to face such challenges
from across the border, as well as comforting but empty words of solidarity from the
rest of the world.

Letters emailed to must carry the full postal address and the full name or the name with initials.

The Uri aftermath
As expected, Pakistan Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif devoted
most of his speech at the UN
General Assembly session to the
events in Kashmir (“Sharif seeks
probe into Kashmir ‘killings’, Sept.
22). Foreign Minister Sushma
Swaraj, in her speech later, is likely
to make India’s stand clear, that
Kashmir is an internal matter and
no one should meddle in it. She may
also highlight the human rights
violations in Balochistan and
Pakistan occupied-Kashmir as well
as Pakistan’s role in terror attacks
against India. So far, India has been
busy on the diplomatic front,
building up pressure to declare
Pakistan as a ‘terror-sponsor state’.
Some may think that India’s
response has been mild so far, but
the country has done the right thing
in not resorting to direct military
action that could have serious
repercussions on the peoples of
both sides. It is important that we
improve our intelligence and
security along vulnerable areas
near the Line of Control and in
Jammu and Kashmir. It is lack of
intelligence and security that have
been highlighted as the main
reasons for terror strikes in both the
Pathankhot and Uri attacks.
D.B.N. Murthy,

It is shocking that Mr. Sharif has
glorified the terrorist, Burhan Wani,
killed in a recent encounter in
Kashmir as a “young leader”.
Militants and militant states have
one language, and civilised society
has another language for
expression. A hero for the militants

is not a hero for normal civilised
Vanka Venkata Ramdas,

that place. What is the point in
changing that?
P.R.V. Raja,

Tanuku, Andhra Pradesh

Pandalam, Kerala

Changing names
Whether Lutyens’ Delhi’s iconic
Race Course Road, where the Prime
Minister’s residence is located, will
now be known as Lok Kalyan Marg
or by some other name makes no
difference to the common man
(“PM’s new address: 7 Lok Kalyan
Marg”, Sept. 22). It seems as though
our politicians have no other
capability apart from renaming
historic roads. Former Jammu and
Kashmir Chief Minister Omar
Abdullah rightly said on Twitter:
“It’s so good to know that
everything is alright with the world
& we can focus on the stuff that
really matters — renaming roads.
#7LKM”. The Delhi government
seems unable to control the spread
of dengue and chikungunya in the
capital but seems to have all the
time on its hands to rename roads.
Even if roads have to be named, why
not make new roads and name
those? Why tinker with historical
Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee,

BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi wants
Race Course Road to be named
Ekatma Marg; Delhi Chief Minister
Arvind Kejriwal wants it to be
named after Guru Gobind Singh.
What difference does all this make
to the Prime Minister who is away
from 7, Race Course Road, most of
the time anyway?
P.G. Menon,

and water supply in the Cauvery
basin is declining. As the editorial
stated, there is an urgent need to
both conserve water and change the
crop patterns based on availability
and not on traditional or historical
H.N. Ramakrishna,

This refers to the article,
“Karnataka decides not to release
water till Sept. 23” (Sept. 22.) That
the Karnataka Cabinet has decided
not to implement the SC’s directive
sets a dangerous precedent.
Confrontation with the highest
judicial authority is not at all a
healthy trend in a democratic
country. The Karnataka
government should explore other
legal steps instead of disobeying the
apex court’s order.
R. Sekar,


Cauvery dispute


Public welfare should reflect in
government policies, not in the
renaming of roads.
Politicians ignore the historical and
geographical importance of roads,
institutions, and government
programmes in their eagerness to
boost their party image. If a race
course exists, Race Course Road
gives the location; if not, at least the
name gives us some history about

Judicial intervention in the Cauvery
dispute has only aggravated the
issue of sharing water from a
dwindling reservoir. This is mainly
because of the failure of the
monsoons in the catchment area of
the Cauvery. Hopefully the setting
up of a Cauvery Management Board
will help us adopt a more scientific
approach to the issue. What is
important is the need to appreciate
that rainfall patterns are changing

Varkala, Kerala


The Karnataka government’s direct
challenge to the authority of the
highest court may send wrong
signals to other areas of conflict.
This obdurate tendency will
undoubtedly encourage unrest. The
executive is bound to obey the
dictates of the judiciary. It cannot
afford to distance itself from the
judiciary. Such a possibility may
force the judiciary to resort to
extreme steps to ensure
implementation of its orders. This
will, in turn, lead to further
If the Karnataka government feels
that the Supreme Court’s fiat need
not be obeyed, it runs the risk of
exposing itself to graver situations.
There is the possibility of dismissal
of the existing government and
ordering President’s rule.
V. Lakshmanan,


separate Railway Budget. The
anxiety that the merger would pave
way for privatisation of the Indian
Railways is baseless as the Cabinet
is competent to implement it even if
it is part of the General Budget.
B. Prabha,

No more rail budget
The Railway Budget becoming a
part of the General Budget is just
like transferring water contained in
a smaller vessel to a bigger one.
There is nothing more to this
(“Centre to do away with rail
budget from next year”, Sept. 22 ).
The only notable factor is that the
Railway Ministry has lost its 92year-old privilege of presenting a

Advancing the presentation of the
Budget to allow Parliament to vote
on tax and spending proposals
before the beginning of the new
financial year on April 1 is a good
idea. It will turn the focus back to
the Indian Railways’ crying need to
boost its capital expenditure over
the next few years. I understand
that the demand for merging the
Railway Budget with the General
Budget had come from the Railways
Minister as a solution to addressing
the railways’ revenue deficit and
capital expenditure needs. Having
given away its budgeting powers,
the Railways will now have to show
the resolve for implementing
reforms if it expects the Finance
Ministry to loosen its purse strings.
C. Seshagiri,

The origin of the Railway Budget
can be traced to the Acworth
Committee, appointed in the early
1920s, to deal with railway finances
(“Railway Budget, a vanishing
trick”, Sept. 22). It was only after
careful study that a separate Rail
Budget was proposed.
Integrating the Railway Budget
with the General Budget in the
name of reforms is tantamount to
ignoring the true course of
historical facts.
N. Sadasivan Pillai,
Kollam, Kerala