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COVER STORY

24-04-1998

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Briefing

THE BJP AND THE BOMB

The BJP-led Government's intention to exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons marks a break with India's nuclear policy since 1974 and carries serious security and foreign policy risks for India.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party and its earlier incarnation, the Jan Sangh, have consistently advocated a hawkish line on matters of national security, particularly nuclear-related issues. Possessing the "bomb" is an article of faith with the party that now heads a coalition Government at the Centre. Nuclear weapons have always been viewed as a "currency of power" and the "ultimate weapon" by the BJP and a group of hawks on strategic issues whose contributions to the nuclear debate in India have had more than their fair share of play in the media. The BJP, now in power, finds it difficult to live down its hardline pronouncements of the past.

The party's election manifestoes of 1996 and 1998 supported the concept of a nuclear weapons-free world but reiterated its commitment "to re-evaluate the country's nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons." Both the manifestoes emphasised the party's opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Fissile Material Control Regime (FMCR) and the Missile Technolgy Control Regime (MTCR), which, they said, were discriminatory. When the 1998 election campaign was on, the BJP's foreign policy spokesman, Brajesh Mishra, unequivocally stated that if his party was elected to power, it would make the bomb. Today, Mishra is Principal Secretary to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and is an important adviser to Vajpayee on foreign and strategic affairs. In his comments to the media after he was appointed Principal Secretary, he reiterated his hardline views on the "nuclear option".

The BJP's 1998 manifesto committed the party to the expeditious development of the Agni series of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

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IN the 1980s, BJP ideologues used to talk about the need for a "Hindu" bomb - as opposed to the "Islamic" bomb which, Western conspiracy theories and media reports said, was in the making. The BJP is today the only party which wants to go openly nuclear regardless of whether there is any change in the regional or global strategic environment. It is therefore no surprise that the BJP-led Government has committed itself to changing India's long-standing nuclear policy, which favours global nuclear disarmament. The emphasis now has shifted to "national security", and the argument being advanced is that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is necessary to protect India's security interests.

The National Agenda for Governance, which the BJP drafted in consultation with its alliance partners and which laid out the policy formulations that the coalition Government would take up on a priority basis, stated that a National Security Council would be constituted to undertake India's first-ever Strategic Defence Review. The document said that in the course of the review the Government would "re-evaluate the nuclear policy" and then exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons. Union Home Minister and BJP president L.K. Advani, talking to newspersons before the Government won the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha, emphasised the need for a credible nuclear option.

However, President K.R. Narayanan's address to the joint session of Parliament on March 25 made no mention of nuclear-related issues.

Significantly, in his reply to the debate on the motion of confidence, Vajpayee said: "Our party feels India should have the bomb since it will place the country in a strong position vis-a-vis the outside world. But other political parties apparently have a different view and therefore we have decided to keep the issue aside till a national consensus (is reached)."

Vajpayee's statement in Parliament was made a day after he spoke to U.S. President Bill Clinton on the telephone. India, which has resisted pressure from the U.S. to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is one of the countries whose nuclear programme is under observation in the context of the U.S. arms control agenda.

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Although the Prime Minister has stressed that there would be no change in India's nuclear policy, Defence Minister George Fernandes gives a different impression. He insists that the country could exercise the nuclear option after the "strategic review" (see interview).

THERE is reason to believe that the BJP has already edged back a bit from its hawkish stand on nuclear issues. The party, which was categorical about testing and inducting nuclear weapons, has in more recent times started talking about "putting them on the inventory". The reason for the change could be that any electoral dividend accruing from a radical change in nuclear policy would have to be shared with the smaller parties with which it now shares power. Besides, the sources claim, if any momentous decisions are taken soon, the Government would come under immense pressure from the U.S. and could even be destabilised, particularly given its precarious position in Parliament. (It survived the vote of confidence only with the support of the Telugu Desam Party; the TDP is against India exercising the nuclear option.)

A coherent government policy on the nuclear issue is yet to emerge. Within the security establishment, there are some people who demand that nuclear weapons tests be held; others see no pressing need to do so at this juncture. Those who favour nuclear tests say that that is the only way to have a credible deterrent capability. They argue that no option can be kept open indefinitely and that India cannot forever remain on the "nuclear threshold".

On the issue of missile development (see box), the BJP's stand is not very different from that of other parties. But the BJP, which had talked about the development of Agni in its manifesto, did not include it in the National Agenda. Some analysts believe that this was done after Pakistan temporarily dropped plans to test-fire the medium-range Ghauri missile. However, there is speculation about whether the Vajpayee Government will test a long-range missile soon. Some analysts who are considered close to the present Government argue that one of the important reasons why India should begin nuclear testing is that it would help create a credible missile-based nuclear deterrent.

THE BJP's move to unsheathe the nuclear sword has brought unwelcome international attention. With the CTBT awaiting ratification and the FMCR on the anvil, the attention of the international community is focussed on India. India's position on the CTBT was articulated by Arundhati Ghose, its representative at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in 1996. She had said that India would never sign the treaty, "not now, nor ever." If India does not sign up this year, the treaty cannot come into force by 1999. (India is one of 44 countries listed in Annex 2 of the CTBT that must ratify the treaty for it to come into force.) The Clinton administration will be extremely keen to get India on board before that.

Many leading American writers on strategic affairs, such as Selig Harrison, have argued that Washington should understand India's position on the CTBT, especially its concerns regarding the unequal status granted in perpetuity to the nuclear weapons states and its demand for a time-bound framework for disarmament.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Non-proliferation Robert Einhorn told the U.S. Congress in early February that one of Washington's major goals was to "terminate Chinese assistance to Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear facilities and nuclear explosive programme." According to Einhorn, China has already made such a commitment. At Clinton's meeting with Prime Minister I.K. Gujral in September 1997, the two had agreed that their countries should hold talks on the nuclear issue. Coincidentally, during the debate on the motion of confidence in the Lok Sabha on March 27-28, Vajpayee was all praise for his predecessor's work on the foreign policy front.

The BJP's initial pronouncements on the nuclear issue seem to have sent alarm bells ringing in Washington. Senior U.S. administration officials are making a beeline for India. The chief of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Shirley Jackson, will be in Mumbai and Delhi in April. A U.S. delegation headed by the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Bill Richardson, the most important official in the State Department after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, will visit India in mid-April. Accompanying Richardson will be Assistant Secretary of State Rick Inderfurth and Senior Director in the National Security Council Bruce Reidel, a former intelligence officer who has kept track of the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan for long. Richardson is scheduled to meet Vajpayee.

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It will be a continuation of the "strategic dialogue". High on the agenda will be talks on opening up U.S. civilian nuclear technology for India and restructuring the United Nations Security Council.

Former U.S. Defence Secretary William Perry had, in an address to the New York-based Foreign Policy Association in 1995, signalled a re-appraisal of U.S. nuclear policy in South Asia. "I recognise that the nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan flow from a dynamic that we are unlikely to be able to influence in the near term. Rather than seeking to roll back - which we have concluded is unattainable in these two countries - we have decided, instead, to seek to cap their nuclear capabilities." The Clinton administration seems to have reconciled itself to India's eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons and may have second thoughts on its objective of persuading India to "roll back" its nuclear programme. The Clinton administration has tacitly recognised India as a responsible state with undeclared weapons capacity. According to some Western intelligence reports, India already has an arsenal of 50 to 60 bombs. A recent report, based on U.S. intelligence surveys, estimated that India had enough weapons-ready plutonium for about 20 bombs. Besides, according to intelligence sources, India had conducted simulated laboratory testing of nuclear weapons.

THE BJP's nuclear posture, as reflected in the National Agenda and its election manifesto, has triggered a national debate. The Congress(I), the principal Opposition party, has criticised the BJP's nuclear agenda. Former External Affairs Minister and Congress(I) leader Pranab Mukherjee made a scathing attack on the BJP in the Rajya Sabha. He said that the BJP had gone against the national consensus on the nuclear issue and had made a unilateral announcement which would "trigger an arms race in the subcontinent". The Government, he said, was perhaps not aware of "the serious implications of such rhetoric." Mukherjee said that the consensus among national political parties was that India would not go in for a nuclear deterrent as it favoured a nuclear weapons-free world.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat told Frontline that his party opposed the BJP's position on exercising the nuclear option. The CPI(M), he said, remained firmly committed to the concept of universal nuclear disarmament. "The acquisition of nuclear weapons," Karat said, "would trigger an arms race in South Asia". If the BJP Government exercised the nuclear option, "it would unleash consequences beyond its control," Karat added.

Karat said that the CPI(M) was in favour of retaining the "nuclear option" but this did not mean that his party supported weaponisation. Karat also criticised the nuclear powers for not utilising the opportunities that were available to abolish nuclear weapons after the Cold War period ended. The CPI(M) leader was of the view that the Agni programme should be continued and not "frozen". At the same time, he said, India and Pakistan should try and come to an agreement to stop the missile race in the subcontinent. The CPI(M) fully supported the Gujral Government's efforts to improve relations with Pakistan, he said.

The Janata Dal and the Communist Party of India (CPI) are also against any move to test or induct nuclear weapons. Although the BJP's allies in Government subscribe to the National Agenda, they have evidently not devoted much attention to the issue. The Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Akali Dal favour the induction of nuclear weapons if it is absolutely necessary for the defence of the country. The Samajwadi Party, however, said that the BJP was using the nuclear issue as a political gimmick.

Lt. Gen. (Retd) V. Raghavan, who has considerable combat experience and is currently with the Delhi Policy Group, says that an objective analysis of the security situation shows that the induction of nuclear weapons is not warranted. "It will complicate the management of conflict in more ways than one and will create a completely new strategic environment," he said.

According to Raghavan, the previous Government's stand on the nuclear question provided the country adequate manoeuvring room on issues such as the CTBT and the FMCR. The BJP's position, he said, would reduce this space and could ultimately have an adverse impact on internal stability and economic development. The country, he said, should not back away from taking decisions to protect its national interest for fear of inviting sanctions, but such a decision should be taken only when the situation warrants it.

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Maj-Gen. Dipankar Bannerjee, Director of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, is of the view that a nuclear bomb is not much of a deterrent. A nuclear weapon has been used only once, and the presence of the nuclear-armed USS Enterprise in the Bay of Bengal during the Bangladesh war did not deter the Indian Government from going ahead with its work. The recurring costs would also have to be considered. Each time India develops a new weapons delivery system, new bombs will have to be made, said Bannerjee.

Bannerjee said that nuclear weapons would have no role to play in India-China relations "unless India wants to liberate Tibet. And if China wants to destabilise India, it can do so without firing a shot," said Banerjee. According to him, the Chinese Government has abided by Deng Xiaoping's decision in 1976 that China would not support insurgencies in neighbouring countries. China also has not deployed missiles or nuclear weapons in Tibet, although the Tibetan plateau comprises about 40 per cent of the Chinese mainland. China has repeatedly said that it will not resort to the "first use" of nuclear weapons.

India's immediate neighbourhood is thus strategically benign, but that might change if the Vajpayee Government persists with its nuclear policy. Any overt expression of nuclearisation on India's part could drive Pakistan and China even closer militarily. The cordial working relationship that has been established with China may deteriorate if India were to weaponise, according to some officials in the External Affairs Ministry.

SMALLER South Asian nations may demand a "nuclear umbrella" from the West if "Big Brother India" openly goes nuclear. An Indian bomb would make them see India as expansionist, hegemonistic power. Some officials in the External Affairs Ministry fear that the fallout would be felt from West Asia across to South-East Asia. If they find themselves wedged between two nuclear powers - India and China - the countries of South-East Asia would once again rush into Washington's arms.

The feeling among most parties and strategic thinkers is that no single party has the right to change long-standing nuclear policies. Before such momentous decisions are taken there should be a full-fledged debate in Parliament and a clear consensus should emerge, for the implications of such decisions for the nation extend beyond nuclear issues.

'Action will follow a review'

cover-story

Whether he is in the Opposition or in Government, George Fernandes likes to make his mark. His choice to the Defence Minister's post surprised many people. In an interview, Fernandes told John Cherian that he had been closely following defence and related issues since the early 1980s. In the 1970s he had seemed to have an aversion to nuclear weapons. Today he has become one of the strongest supporters of the idea of India retaining the nuclear option and, if the need arises, exercising it. Excerpts:

How is your Government's position on the nuclear issue different from that of the previous Government? The I.K. Gujral Government also talked about keeping the nuclear option open.

We have gone one step further. What they said in a general kind of a way, we have made specific. We keep our nuclear options open and we cite our national positions on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the CTBT, both of which India refused to sign. Implied in that position is the truth that India, if need be, will go in for a nuclear weapon. All that our National Agenda has said is that at the end of doing a strategic review, which will be the first of its kind, if we come to the conclusion that things have reached a stage with China and Pakistan - one an acknowledged nuclear power and the other claiming to be a nuclear power - and that India now needs to take the plunge, then so be it. What we are saying in so many words is what is implied in the national position. So why are some people now saying "Oh God!", and talking about international sanctions, and posing the question whether poverty alleviation or the weapons programme is more important. All this is a lot of hot air because our national policy implied in no uncertain terms such a development at some point in time. The only question is, has that point in time arrived. We have not said that it has arrived. In the course of the strategic review, if we believe that the time has come, so be it.

If India exercises the nuclear option, sanctions by the United States will come automatically.

Frankly, I have not personally seen any statement from any major nuclear power, whether it is the United States or any European country, that sanctions will be applied against India if such a decision is taken. Therefore, one need not make any comments about speculation.

There is an influential section in the BJP which is more interested in attracting foreign capital than exercising the nuclear option.

Foreign capital is only concerned with profits. Foreign capital will go wherever they can make profits. Western countries, North American Treaty Organisation countries, sell arms to countries that face sanctions.

You have a reputation as a pacifist. If the nuclear option is exercised, will it not trigger an arms race in the region?

I am a pacifist. But it was with the CTBT debate in the Lok Sabha that, after several hours of anguish and introspection, I stood up and said that much against my whole life's convictions and commitments, I am today changing my position. Because the manner in which the CTBT was sought to be imposed on India can some day expose my country to a critical security situation. I stood up and said that India should now oppose the CTBT and should now say that the options are open. So it is not something that has to do with the National Agenda. I am not doing anything under pressure.

Do you agree with the BJP's stance on the nuclear issue as reflected in its election manifesto?

The point today is that we have a National Agenda. Our individual manifestoes no longer figure in our political action or in our governmental action.

The President's speech did not mention the deployment of the Agni missile. After taking over as Defence Minister, you have only talked about the development of Agni. The BJP in its manifesto had talked about expediting the Agni programme.

On Agni our position is that we will test it and at the appropriate time we will go in for its production. At the moment there is no decision to produce Agni in terms of inducting it. My submission is that when people speak about an arms race and so forth, let us sit down together and let everybody talk about it. I said that after the Pokhran explosion or implosion. I was in jail when the test took place and I spent a sleepless night and I wrote an angry pamphlet called "India's bomb and Indira's India".

Weaponisation is not going to be cheap.

I agree that weaponisation is not cheap but there are times when a country has to take certain hard decisions. Today if we come to the conclusion that a hard decision on the nuclear question is called for, then we must be prepared to pay the price. This is where our policy should be understood when we say that following the strategic review of our nuclear policy, we can come to a conclusion. That is when we will have to act. I also believe that on security matters the people of this country should be taken into confidence. I believe that the people will respond when they know the size of the problem and may agree to bear any hardship where national security issues are involved.

There is talk of India declaring itself a nuclear power and then signing the CTBT. Will the West offer a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council as an incentive to sign the CTBT?

These are all speculative writings and not a matter of policy. Our security is not linked to the restructuring of the United Nations and a seat in the Security Council. National security is much bigger than a seat in the Security Council. We have a whole nuclear arsenal sitting across our border. National security is national security. Realities are realities. We should not shy away from realities.

Your Government is reportedly backtracking on the nuclear and missile issues owing to Western pressure...

This Government will not succumb to anybody's pressure. One of the primary tasks of the Government should be to restore the national pride and to announce our security concerns and developmental concerns so that nobody has any misgivings about our intentions.

Is there a time-frame for setting up the National Security Council? When is the Strategic Defence Review expected?

I will approach the Cabinet in a short while. This is not a matter concerning the Defence Ministry alone. It concerns the whole Cabinet.

As of now, the ambiguity in India's nuclear policy continues.

There is no ambiguity as such. On the ground there has not been any shift, but a position has been presented to the country and to the world. The steps towards a review have been taken and action will follow that review.

Is the Government's stand on the nuclear question the same as stated in the National Agenda for Governance, a statement of intent?

Certainly.

If you exercise the nuclear option, the chances are that India will be isolated internationally.

India has, in the last few years, isolated itself on security issues and more so on economic issues. A leader of the developing world, India abdicated its role at some point during the Uruguay Round of talks. With this in mind, I said India has to restore its pride and its place in the world. You are right in saying that we are isolated, but it is an isolation we chose for ourselves. Third World countries that are friendly to us have a feeling of having been let down.

India's missile programme

JOHN CHERIAN cover-story

THERE is a broad consensus among India's political parties on the need to enhance the country's missile defence capabilities. A credible nuclear deterrent has to have a missile-based delivery system. Missiles have also played a very important role in recent conventional wars, notably in the Gulf war. According to strategic analysts, warfare in the future will be heavily dependent on missiles.

India's neighbourhood is bristling with missiles. Pakistan has developed and tested the Hatf-1 (range 80 km) and Hatf-2 (range 300 km) missiles. Western intelligence agencies say that Pakistan possesses 40 Chinese-supplied Silkworm missiles, although they have not yet been deployed. The Silkworms are believed to be Pakistan's answer to India's medium-range missile, the Prithvi.

China is far ahead of others in the missile race in the region. It has completed two-test flights of the Dong-Feng-31 and Julang-2 missiles, a combined ICBM and SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile). U.S. intelligence has said that multiple re-entry vehicles were included in the 8,000 km-range missile.

Maj. Gen. D. Bannerjee of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, says that China has still not been able to develop solid fuel rockets, making its strategic defence capability "extremely limited". All the same, India's defence planners cannot ignore China's arsenal of nuclearised and conventionally armed missiles. Iran and Saudi Arabia also have missile capabilities that have the potential to impact on India's security environment.

For quite some time, India has been in the process of building a reliable ballistic missile system. Developing indigenous tactical missiles is high on the agenda of the Defence Ministry. After the last testing of the intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) Agni four years ago, there were reports that the Government was thinking of shelving the programme. But the Defence Minister in the United Front Government, Mulayam Singh Yadav, speaking to defence correspondents in July 1997, denied such a possibility.

Agni, with a range of 1,500 km, has been test-fired three times. The last "technology demonstration" test took place in 1994. There was a great deal of pressure from the West after the last test. This, many people believed, was the reason why the Narasimha Rao Government kept the programme on hold. However, after the U.F. Government assumed office, there were indications that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was asked to keep pace with technology advancement and to ensure that the Agni was provided with a reliable guidance system.

India's Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP) started in 1993. The programme is responsible for the creation of the short-range surface-to-air missile Trishul, the medium range surface-to-air missile Akash, the anti-tank guided missile Nag, the short-range surface-to-surface missile Prithvi, and the IRBM Agni. The Government announced that it had "inducted" Prithvi into the armed forces. The other missiles of the short range have already been deployed. Some observers predict five more launches of the Agni to complete the development of a 2,500-km-range IRBM. There are reports that India's intercontinental ballistic missile, (ICBM), the Surya, is in an advanced stage of development.

Agni was viewed as a "political" missile by the West and was interpreted as an attempt by India to move into the ranks of the world's military powers. The first Agni test prompted the U.S. to take drastic action with regard to the transfer of military technology to India. Washington also started watching India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geostationary Launch Vehicle (GLV) with suspicion. The abrupt cancellation in 1993 of the $75 million "cryogenic engine deal" that India had signed with a Russian company was owing to Washington's pressure on Moscow. The U.S., France, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, Italy and Australia submitted diplomatic notes to India in 1993 urging that the Agni project be frozen and the deployment of Prithvi halted.

The risks of nuclear hawkishness

N. RAM cover-story

Unilateral conversion, by India or Pakistan, of the nuclear option into weapons backed by a delivery system will have disastrous consequences for peace and security in the South Asian region.

WHETHER the Bharatiya Janata Party-led minority coalition Government will actually go ahead and carry out the promise/threat to weaponise India's long-held nuclear option must remain, at best, speculative during these early days. It may well be, as some BJP insiders suggest, that the nuclear threshold will not be crossed so long as the party leads a coalition government. This means that for now the hawkish rhetoric is a ploy to divert attention from the real decision - to maintain the status quo - and to keep everyone, especially Pakistan, in a state of uncertainty for no sensible reason. But there can and must be no complacency: South Asian nuclear affairs are far too serious a matter to be played around with in a game of dare-and-bluff.

What must be deplored by everyone interested in peace, a sober and forward-looking conduct of foreign policy, and good neighbourly relations is the chauvinistic thinking and adventurism that has underlain the BJP's and the saffron brigade's approach to India's nuclear policy. Historically, this goes back to the sabre-rattling days of the BJP's earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.

In the recent period, the BJP has made the following specific promises in its election manifestoes: to "give our Defence Forces Nuclear Teeth" (1991); to "re-evaluate the country's nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons" and "expedite the serial production of Prithvi and make Agni I operational for the deployment of these missiles... (and) hasten the development of Agni II"(1996); and to "expedite the country's nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons" and "expedite the development of the Agni series of ballistic missiles with a view to increasing their range and accuracy"(1998).

In their National Agenda For Governance (adopted on March 18, 1998), the BJP and its alliance partners have promised/threatened to "re-evaluate the nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons" (presumably as part of, or following, "India's first ever Strategic Defence Review" by a National Security Council). In all fairness, it must be noted that the qualifications introduced by both the Prime Minister ("if necessary") and the Defence Minister ("if need be": see interview on page 10) do amount to softening the image of the minority Government's nuclear posture.

Aside from the saffron brigade and the occasional retired general who argues that it is cost-effective to rely on nuclear weapons and acquire "minimum deterrence", the hawks are drawn from the small community of strategic affairs analysts and a handful of media commentators. Fortunately, neither the atomic energy establishment nor the armed forces have really pushed for weaponisation of the country's nuclear option.

Some strategic affairs analysts have recommended, without giving serious thought to either feasibility or regional and international implication, that India should conduct a short series of nuclear tests, confer on itself the status of a nuclear weapon power, and then join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). A modified version of this prescription is that India should declare itself - and act like - a nuclear weapon power without conducting any further tests (because tests will attract international notoriety), thus presenting a fait accompli to the five member nuclear weapons club. Others talk, less hawkishly, about developing a policy of credible 'recessed deterrence' which can be raised to an 'overt level' if need be - in response to a deteriorating security environment (in other words if there are firm indications that Pakistan is taking the short but steep steps to weaponisation of the nuclear option).

What is clear is that nuclear hawkishness does not serve India's national and democratic interests at all. Specifically, unilateral conversion - by either India or Pakistan - of the nuclear option into weapons backed by a delivery system will have disastrous consequences for peace and security in the South Asian region.

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Post-1974, it has been clear that India is a nuclear weapon capable power. For well over a decade, it has been clear that Pakistan is also a nuclear weapon capable power. One of the problems with strategic affairs analysis in both countries is the sanctimonious distinction made between one's own 'legitimate' nuclear programme and the other's 'illegitimate' nuclear programme. Elements of paranoia are sometimes evident in the debate, especially when it is staged in the media.

Lobbying for weaponisation from within the Indian strategic affairs community has thrown up two core arguments that need to be reckoned with. The first 'expert' argument is (as a newspaper columnist puts it) that "an option unexercised indefinitely is bound to become meaningless." The related argument, based on a clear exaggeration of the (technical-logistical as well as doctrinal) capabilities of Pakistan to the point of suggesting that it is ahead of India with respect to combined nuclear warhead and delivery system capability, is that India's nuclear programme and policy suffer from a dynamic instability and that India is actually at a disadvantage vis-a-vis Pakistan.

Both arguments can be seen to be tendentious if we look at the history of the Indian nuclear programme and policy and comparatively at the range and depth of the two South Asian nuclear programmes and also at the development of delivery capabilities. Over the past decade and a half, leaders of the Indian nuclear energy establishment have been consistently making the point that the Indian nuclear programme has a content and depth which Pakistan's lacks, has been active on both the power and research fronts, and has stayed consistently ahead (despite its problems).

As for the nuclear option, there must be conceptual clarity about what it is, why it has been retained, protected and developed, what are the conditions under which it will not be exercised, and what are its motivations and purpose. From a democratic and progressive standpoint, the pursuit of independence on the nuclear question must go hand in hand with non-hawkishness, self-restraint and a genuine commitment to the global delegitimation and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), concluded in 1968 and brought into force in 1970, was given an indefinite and unconditional 'extension' in May 1995 at a shepherded and stage-managed New York Review and Extension Conference. Its essence is the permanent division of the world into five nuclear weapon powers, the 'haves' - the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China - and the rest, the 'havenots'. By defining a nuclear weapons state as "one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967" and prohibiting any signatory other than the five members of the pre-NPT nuclear weapons club from possessing nuclear weapons, the NPT vests the former with superior vested rights which have been 'immortalised' at least on paper.

Many are the rationalisations and excuses that have been held out over the years on behalf of the unequal global nuclear bargain. In the Cold War era, assumptions of monopoly and absolute superiority had to give way to the doctrines of 'rough equivalence' and 'strategic deterrence', with both the United States and the Soviet Union, the two global nuclear powers, showing zealousness in enforcing the bargain. In their own ways, the three other nuclear weapon powers held firm to the principles of inequality and discrimination that underlie the NPT regime. But what legitimate reason can there be today for not agreeing to eliminate nuclear arsenals if the real goal is global nuclear disarmament?

The implementation of various nuclear arms limitation and reduction agreements and the downsizing of nuclear arsenals that has taken place are no doubt positive developments. But not for one moment can it be forgotten that what remains of the arsenals is of monster proportions.

From the time of Independence, India has been calling for global nuclear disarmament. Over the years it has faced many pressures designed to make it fall in line with the unequal bargain. But it has managed to resist the pressures and refuse to capitulate to the bargain while retaining its original commitment to disarmament. The retention of the nuclear option must be seen in this context.

In the post-1974 period, India's posture and actions on the nuclear option have been characterised by a mixture of conditional self-restraint and resistance towards the arm-twisting 'non-proliferation' efforts spearheaded by the United States. Despite the obstructions and pressures and vacillations, national policy has succeeded in preserving its commitment to the peaceful, non-military uses of nuclear energy while refusing to sign away the sovereignty of national decision-making on the issue. The delicate line separating these two aspects is the political option.

Until the BJP-led minority Government came along, it could be stated as a probability, even a virtual certainty, that the policy would remain committed to a peaceful, non-military orientation subject to the perfectly reasonable condition that Pakistan would not convert its nuclear option into weapons or explosions. This is where the positive element of conditional self-restraint has operated in the post-1974 period.

Among those in India who analyse nuclear issues seriously, the presumption has been that the factor of self-restraint aside, the guaranteed prospect of a cut-off of bilateral and multilateral aid and the imposition of a range of trade and economic sanctions has been a far more effective deterrent than any direct or overt 'non-proliferation' initiative from the enforcers of the unequal global nuclear bargain. To be added to this are the likely international and regional costs of a militarisation of the nuclear options in South Asia.

U.S. Ambassador Richard E. Celeste was not out of line (as a bit of journalistic sensationalism and a somewhat churlish comment from an External Affairs Ministry official suggested) when, in response to my specific questions in an on-the-record Chennai breakfast meeting in early February 1998, he spoke about the "very unsettling consequences" in the neighbourhood that weaponisation of India's nuclear option would produce. His comments, accurately reported in context in The Hindu of February 4, 1998, are worth recalling for the insight they offer into the guaranteed Western, and the likely international, response: "I am sure our government would have deep concerns if India were to go beyond the present position of maintaining the nuclear option."

After registering appreciation of the fact that India had not tested a nuclear device after 1974, had not shared its nuclear technology with other countries, and had not weaponised its option, Ambassador Celeste attempted to put Indo-U.S. differences on the nuclear issue in context. He offered this assessment: "If a government in India chooses to weaponise, declare India a nuclear weapon state and particularly if such a government were to test a nuclear weapon, I believe that would have very unsettling consequences in terms of India's relations in the neighbourhood and would be a great concern to my government. There would be consequences under the laws of my country on things we should do vis-a-vis India. I hope this would be carefully considered before any decision were taken to actually move down that road."

Political and public opinion must be mobilised in support of the position that India's post-1974 nuclear policy with its twin components - the refusal to surrender the nuclear option by acceding to the NPT regime (or an equivalent option), and self-imposed and conditional restraint in not militarising the option - is eminently sustainable. Indeed no other policy can be considered peace-abiding, responsible and feasible, assuming of course that there is no extreme contingency such as Pakistan converting its nuclear option into weapons.

The unravelling of a Front

There remains little sense of expectation that the United Front will reconstruct itself out of the debris.

RULING coalition till the other day, but now a rapidly vanishing entity. Although the signs were apparent in the prelude to the Lok Sabha elections, there is still considerable curiosity centred around the disintegration of the United Front. Having failed to support the burden of public hope that was thrust upon it, there remains little sense of expectation that the U.F. will reconstruct itself out of the debris as a viable alternative to the Congress(I) and the BJP. The Janata Dal, which constituted the core of the U.F., now exists in little else but name. A reconstitution, if at all it takes place, would have to be on an entirely different basis.

The Communist Party of India(Marxist), which played a pivotal role in the formation of the U.F. Ministry and the effort to keep it going, seems resigned to the disintegration of the Front. The relevance and utility of the coalition was limited to the task of keeping the BJP out of government, explains Prakash Karat, member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau. It did not conform to the strict understanding of "united front strategy" in the political terminology of the Left.

In the canonical Left variant, united front coalitions are built up through political campaigns on a variety of issues. Implicit in this conception is the notion of a common political understanding. That was not applicable in the case at hand since the U.F. was held together by little other than the shared threat perception of the BJP. As an adhesive, this ceased to have any relevance when the BJP-led alliance established itself as the only formation with a credible claim to Ministry formation.

A sense of regret is apparent at the failure of the U.F. to hold together as a viable Opposition force to confront the BJP. The difficulty within the coalition is that the perceptions of its constituents stretch across a wide spectrum and embrace the relatively friendly disposition of the Tamil Maanila Congress towards the Congress(I), and the unremitting hostility of the Asom Gana Parishad and the Telugu Desam Party.

U.F. leaders maintained their impassivity of demeanour once Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu led the TDP out of the U.F., and into a tacit alliance with the BJP. The defection from their ranks of a man who had been widely perceived as one of the principal bulwarks of U.F. unity, was a hard blow. The next blow came with TMC leader G.K. Moopanar's carefully calibrated effort to rejoin the Congress(I), from which he had parted ways in 1996. The rapprochement was aided and facilitated by the assumption of the Congress presidency by Sonia Gandhi. To each of Moopanar's overtures, the response from the parent organisation seemed positive and favourable.

Inevitably, the TMC's assimilation into the Congress(I) would imply that its electoral ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, would opt for a wider alliance in Tamil Nadu that could bring on board the residual vote share that the rump Congress enjoys. This may be an immediate compulsion for the ruling DMK, which is clearly threatened by the belligerent postures struck by arch-rival Jayalalitha's allies in the wake of their sweeping election triumph. That would effectively knock out a vital regional prop of the U.F., opening up another yawning gap in its geographical spread.

The U.F. confronts a serious dilemma that touches at the core of its existence - how to merge the diverse compulsions that its participants face in their regional contexts into a common purpose at the national level. In a non-antagonistic situation, it is conceivable that the Congress(I) could enter the U.F. calculations as a viable electoral ally. Even if it was as a junior partner, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party adopted this strategic perspective in Maharashtra with conspicuous success. Laloo Prasad Yadav, an erstwhile luminary of the U.F., also achieved notable results in Bihar, though his Rashtriya Janata Dal was the senior partner in an alliance with the Congress(I).

This pattern was viable because the Congress(I) proved extremely accommodative in Maharashtra and relatively clear-eyed about its vanishing electoral base in Bihar. It is inapplicable elsewhere because these conditions are unlikely to prevail in other States, except in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress(I) is rapidly fading out as a political force. A further factor is that since being bolstered by the resurrection of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the Congress(I) has begun increasingly to work on the assumption that it will be the unique beneficiary of the process of political polarisation that the BJP Government will inevitably engender.

The new mood within the Congress(I) envisages the steady marginalisation of the U.F. constituents, rather than their accommodation in a future electoral context. This has worn down some of the ardour that Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad had earlier displayed towards an arrangement of mutual convenience with the Congress(I).

Mulayam Singh's exertions today are primarily directed towards bringing Laloo Prasad back on board the U.F. The estrangement between the two Yadav chieftains predates Laloo Prasad's rancorous exit from the U.F. last year. Except for a brief truce in 1996, the two have persistently sought to undermine each other's prospects in electoral contests, often to the benefit of the BJP. Today, however, both are fighting for their very political survival.

Laloo Prasad faces the prospect of stricture and possible conviction for the massive defalcation of funds from the Department of Animal Husbandry in Bihar. And without a foothold in power either in Lucknow or Delhi, Mulayam Singh is vulnerable as never before to an all-out offensive by the BJP.

Laloo Prasad's reinduction may well make the U.F. a more significant electoral force, without significantly contributing to a consolidation of its core political values. And if the 18-month tenure of the U.F. Government has any lessons, it is that in a long term political context arithmetical consolidation is of considerably less valuethan evolving a consensus on basic socio-economic commitments.

A Minister killed in Tripura

The killing of Tripura Health Minister Bimal Sinha by the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura is a reflection of the seriousness of the terrorist threat in the northeastern region.

ON March 31, Tripura's Health and Urban Development Minister and Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Bimal Sinha and his younger brother Bidyut Sinha were gunned down by the militants of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT).

The Minister and his brother walked into a trap set by the NLFT. The extremists had offered to release the Minister's adopted brother Bikram Sinha, a contractor of Kamalpur whom they had abducted, and had asked the Minister to come without his guards to a place near Avanga on the Ambassa-Kamalpur road in north Tripura. Accordingly, Bimal Sinha left his car and security personnel behind at Avanga and, along with Bidyut Sinha and a local Congress(I) leader, walked towards the Dhalai river. About 20 NLFT militants who were waiting on the river bank opened fire on the Minister and his brother from close range. The two died on the spot. The security personnel rushed to the spot but it was too late.

Bikram Sinha was kidnapped on February 9, before the elections to the State Assembly in which the CPI(M) was returned to power. Official sources said that there had been no demand for ransom. Bikram Sinha was not a member of the CPI(M).

A statement issued by the State Secretariat of the CPI(M) said that 49-year-old Bimal Sinha was a victim of a "deep-seated" conspiracy. He had apparently been targeted because he was popular among the tribal people of Kamalpur and had organised them to resist the NLFT's campaign of violence; he was elected to the Assembly consecutively for five times from Kamalpur. (In the recent Assembly elections, he campaigned against a poll boycott call given by the militants and went on to win in Kamalpur.) Bimal Sinha was known to have had strained relations with a Congress(I) leader in Kamalpur who is alleged to have links with the NLFT. CPI(M) sources said that Bikram Sinha may have been kidnapped so that the militants could get at Bimal Sinha.

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Bimal Sinha entered politics during the students' movement in 1967-68. As a general secretary of a college union that was controlled by the Students Federation of India (SFI), he came in contact with Marxist leader Nripen Chakraborty, who shaped his views and groomed him politically. A member of the CPI(M) since 1970, Bimal Sinha became a member of the party's State Committee in 1978. He later became Deputy Speaker and then Speaker of the Assembly. A poet and novelist, he directed a Kokborok-language film, Longthorai. Based on one of his five novels, the film deals with the life of the tribal people in the Longthorai hills.

In 1984, when Bimal Sinha was Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, militants of the Tripura National Volunteers (TNV) attempted to ambush his vehicle near the Baramura hill range.

In the past six years, Bimal Sinha, who was vice-president of the State unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), had attempted to organise mass resistance against militancy in areas inhabited by tribal people. The TNV later renounced violence and joined mainstream politics to participate in elections as an ally of the Congress(I).

Bimal Sinha had on several occasions been cautioned by the security forces against venturing into areas where the militants operated, but he continued to move around in those areas as part of his efforts to organise the tribal people. He helped secure the release of senior CPI(M) leaders in Kamalpur, including Ranjit Ghose, who had been kidnapped by the NLFT in October last year. While he was negotiating with the extremists to secure Ghose's release, Bimal Sinha was targeted again. Ghose was released after 10 days in captivity.

In his attempt to secure Bikram Sinha's release, Bimal Sinha contacted some overground collaborators of the NLFT, including a few local Congress(I) leaders. Reports published in the CPI(M)'s Bengali-language newspapers Ganashakti (from Calcutta) and Desher Katha (from Agartala) alleged that some local Congress(I) leaders were directly involved in the conspiracy to kill Bimal Sinha. The reports named a few Congress(I) functionaries in this regard.

AT 10 a.m. on March 31, Bidyut Sinha, a schoolteacher, informed Bimal Sinha over the telephone that a local Congress(I) leader had told him to go to the Samthung crossing across the Dhalai to secure Bikram Sinha's release. Bimal Sinha and Bidyut Sinha rushed to Avanga. There they went to the house of a Congress(I) activist who is alleged to have links with the NLFT. The Minister and his brother were told that Bikram Sinha was waiting on the bank of the Dhalai but that they should proceed there without security personnel. Accordingly, Bimal Sinha directed his bodyguards to stay back. The local Congress(I) leader accompanied the two to the river bank, where Bimal Sinha met two armed NLFT militants. He asked them about Bikram Sinha's whereabouts and was told that he was in the jungles across the river. Sensing trouble, Bimal Sinha refused to go further. As he turned back, about 20 militants who had been hiding in the bushes opened fire. As Bidyut Sinha fell dead, the Minister tried to take cover - in vain.

Police sources said that about a week before he was killed, Bimal Sinha had sent the local Congress(I) leader Rs.1.7 lakhs to be paid to the NLFT as ransom for the release of Bikram Sinha.

THE NLFT was formed in 1991 under the leadership of Dhananjay Reang. The outfit was blacklisted after it carried out a series of violent attacks on non-tribal people. Reang was ousted following a revolt in 1994. In recent months, the NLFT stepped up attacks on unarmed non-tribal people; in this it appears to have joined the ranks of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF), another banned organisation which targets non-tribal people.

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The fact that an armed bunch of people could strike with impunity at a State Minister is a reflection of the seriousness of the terrorist threat in parts of the northeastern region. the kidnapping of MLAs or the relatives of prominent politicians by insurgents has become common in Tripura. There have been counter-insurgency operations but these have not had much success, as the few offensives by militants after the recent elections showed. On March 20, the ATTF gunned down Major Santosh Pravakar and Naik Khot Shivajee Tukaram in an ambush. Two days later the NLFT killed six jawans of the Tripura State Rifles at Dhoopcherra in Khowai subdivision.

A 24-hour Statewide bandh was called on April 1 to protest against the killing of Bimal Sinha. It evoked a total response.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in a message condemning the killing, said violence had no place in a civilised society. In a message to the Tripura Government, West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu condemned the murder and expressed concern over the rise of secessionist and extremist forces in Tripura.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar requested Union Home Minister L.K. Advani to send adequate security forces to Tripura. It was decided that 22 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force, which were withdrawn from the State last month for election duty in Jammu and Kashmir, would be sent back to the State.

A new ferment

With SGPC chief G.S. Tohra and Akal Takht Jathedar Ranjit Singh battling each other for exclusive control of Sikh religious authority and leadership of right-wing forces within and around the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, the Golden Temple has once again become the stage for revivalist adventures.

ALMOST one and a half decades after Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took control of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the shrine has once again become the stage for revivalist adventures. Although the play that is being enacted now is not as dramatic as the one in the 1980s and its actors do not carry assault rifles as props, one should not underestimate its seriousness. The key protagonists this time are Gurcharan Singh Tohra, chief of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), and Ranjit Singh, the Jathedar of the Akal Takht, the highest seat of spiritual and temporal authority of the Sikh faith. The two men are battling each other for exclusive control of Sikh religious authority and the leadership of right-wing forces within and around the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which leads the alliance that rules Punjab.

Ranjit Singh took charge of the Akal Takht last year after the SAD, with the assistance of its alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, secured the remission of the life sentence he was serving. He had been convicted for the murder of Gurbachan Singh, leader of the minority Nirankari sect, a grouping that many orthodox Sikhs believe is heretic. Over the past few months Ranjit Singh has played an increasingly activist role in the affairs of the Sikh community, seeking to extend the direct control of the Akal Takht over the affairs of gurdwaras and the rites and institutions of civil society. The effort is a thinly veiled attempt to assert the primacy of religious authority over the elected SGPC, although the Jathedar is notionally an SGPC employee. Tohra's control of the SGPC, and with it the Golden Temple, is central to the influence he wields in SAD politics.

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Ranjit Singh's recent pronouncements are disquietingly reminiscent of Bhindranwale's efforts to regulate civil society within an orthodox paradigm. On March 16, the Akal Takht banned the conduct of Sikh marriages in hotels and wedding halls. The decision was made after a Phagwara-based religious leader, Rajinder Singh, petitioned the Akal Takht, stating that such weddings violated Sikh tenets. (Under orthodox Sikh ritual, marriages are normally carried out in gurdwaras.) The Akal Takht's ruling was on the ground that Sikh marriages have to be conducted at place sanctified by the presence of five raagis (hymn singers) performing rituals daily. At a press conference a week later, Ranjit Singh told journalists that he was also considering demands to restrict the number of baraatis (wedding guests) to 51 and to end the practice of dowry.

THE Akal Takht's decision is significant for the choice of areas of intervention in civil affairs by religious authority. The Akal Takht has not, for example, inveighed against the practice of caste, repugnant for the Sikh faith. For this would alienate the religious right's constituency among the rural and urban upper-caste elite. Indeed, the envisaged restrictions on weddings mirror those imposed by some terrorist groups affiliated with the Panthic Committee. Some observers argued that such restrictions were liberative, but this analysis fails to take into consideration the religious right's agenda. The purpose of banning marriages in wedding halls and hotels appears to be aimed at strengthening the controls exerted by religious power over society.

Even more disturbing are the Akal Takht's recent adventures vis-a-vis the minority sects. On March 25, Ranjit Singh ordered the representatives of the Neel Panthi group to explain why the Guru Granth Sahib was placed over the crypt of their guru, Sant Harnam Singh. (The body of the Neel Panth founder has been mummified in the sect's headquarters in Gurdaspur.) Orthodox opinion holds that this practice is derogatory to the holy Sikh scripture, but it is still not clear why the issue has surfaced now, after 18 years of apparent peace between the Neel Panthis and orthodox Sikhs. No one is entirely certain what Ranjit Singh will say on May 30, when Neel Panth representative Gurbax Singh Bhandari is due to appear before him. But the bloody consequences of the Akali-Nirankari feud bear witness to the dangers of sectarian confrontation. This controversy follows a bitter spat that followed Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal's use of the term satguru (true guru) for the living guru of the Namdhari sect during an election rally at Malerkotla. The notion of a living guru is heretical to orthodox Sikhs.

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Finally, the Akal Takht, under Ranjit Singh, is seeking to extend active control over gurdwaras and political bodies. Gurdwara trusts, like the religious bodies of other faiths, are prone to factional disputes that often make their way to the court. Ranjit Singh is seeking to use the Akal Takht's powers to resolve all feuds through the medium of the World Sikh Council (WSC), a body set up two years ago to regulate Sikh communal affairs by the clergy. His position is that since donations to gurdwaras are used to settle internal disputes, taking religious feuds to civil courts would amount to the misuse of funds. Rather, the heads of all sects and societies should be incorporated under the umbrella of the WSC, through which they would be directly accountable to the Akal Takht. Mohinder Singh Matharoo of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, an elected body created by law, was excommunicated for an alleged assault on a 1984 riot victim, besides malpractices.

THIS expansion of religious authority is mirrored by similar forays for political control. One of the early signs is the proceedings instituted against Gurcharan Singh Babbar, head of the New Delhi-based Babbar Akali Dal, by the Akal Takht for allegedly refusing to make over the affidavits of the 1984 riot victims that he recorded for use during the ongoing trial. While any effort to obstruct evidence that could lead to the conviction of those who organised the genocidal riots is condemnable, this task lies in the domain of the courts and civil political activity.

Tohra's early efforts to regain control of the Jathedar's office, which has in the past been a platform for his ambitions in the SAD, have been largely unsuccessful. He issued a circular demanding that the Jathedar, the head priest, other priests and the raagis account for all gifts and donations received from the public. However, this backfired after Ranjit Singh pointed out that the allegations that led to the circular did not concern him. Tohra did not contest the issue after Ranjit Singh told him that the SGPC's responsibility was confined to administering gurdwaras and did not extend to religious affairs.

Whether Tohra succeeds in asserting his authority over the Jathedar remains to be seen. What is, however, certain is that the signals emanating from the Akal Takht mirror a new ferment in the far right of Sikh politics. The mentality of these new groupings leave little doubt about their agenda. A new, glossy religious magazine, The Spokesman, which is broadly supportive of Ranjit Singh's agenda, recently carried articles about an alleged conspiracy hatched by a fertile brain of Delhi that has resulted in Hindu students in Punjab's schools and colleges persuading their Sikh classmates to take to smoking.

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Elsewhere, the magazine claimed that former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral had criticised the visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Amritsar because she had refused to visit the Durgiana Temple. Badal himself was criticised for violating, during his election campaign, orthodox strictures against idol worship and paying obeisance at Hindu temples.

Some people argue that the 'centrist communalism' of the SAD-BJP combine, if it can be called that, was the sole force that could contain hard-line Hindu and Sikh revanchists. As the growing stridency of the Sikh far right illustrates, it has had precisely the opposite effect. These groupings have responded to the rise of a centrist SAD by aggressively seeking to consolidate their constituency. The Punjab unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, no mean contributor to the polemic that laid the foundations for Punjab's decade of carnage, is for the moment quiet, bowing to the exigencies of sharing power. However, that quietness is unlikely to last long. Unless there is a genuine movement to combat communalism and unless secular voices in the State begin to be heard with clarity, the future of Punjab's peace could soon be called into question.

Learning from Cuba

MYTHILY SIVARAMAN world-affairs

The Cuban Government's efforts to counter the United States-imposed economic blockade have strengthened over the years the people's resolve to put up with enormous difficulties.

IT will probably call for extraordinary naivete to believe that today's global political order is governed by ethical or moral standards. The aphorism that might is right continues to be the norm for most nations despite the civilising progress claimed by humankind. The exceptions to this rule represent a microscopic minority and Cuba has the distinction of being in the vanguard of such nations. Its four-decade-old revolution retains its vigour and its egalitarian and democratic aspirations. Precisely for this reason, Cuba is up against the brutal face of its formidable northern Big Brother, the United States, which has imposed an economic blockade, made more rigorous over the years.

In recent years the U.S. blockade has taken the shape of a frontal attack on the nutritional and health needs of the Cuban people. The tiny island is fighting back, drawing strength from its abundant reserves of humanitarianism, spirit of independence and self-respect. In such a situation, Cuba needs support from all quarters, and the recent visit of Pope John Paul II did provide some such support when the pontiff called the U.S. embargo "ethically unacceptable". But ironically he also faulted Cuba for its "moral poverty, rooted in unjust inequalities". This extraordinary statement calls for a detailed examination.

When the revolutionaries took control of the government in 1959, Cuba had one million people who were illiterate and over a million who were semi-literate and 60,000 children who were out of school. Church-run schools catered mainly to the children of the wealthy. After the revolution, things changed dramatically. Illiteracy was wiped out in record time with the involvement of every literate person; now a substantial majority of the people have received education up to the eighth grade. Today Cuba has the highest literacy rate in Latin America and the highest teacher ratio of one per 37 inhabitants. The main thrust of the Government's effort was on the elimination of exclusivism and the cultivation of international revolutionary solidarity. Stress was laid on collective success rather than on individual material success as motivation for hard work in academics. Above all, the development of a sense of belonging to Cuba as a revolutionary society was emphasised. These efforts have strengthened the people's endurance and resolve to put up with enormous difficulties - such as in gaining access to everyday essentials such as milk, soap, footwear, oil and fuel - and still not yielding to the starvation blockade of the U.S.

Cuba's national health system - a network of institutions providing entirely free coverage to 100 per cent of the population - and the discoveries made to fight many illnesses are amazing feats for a new-born revolutionary state that had to start from scratch because of the desertion of half of its doctors, who were wooed away by U.S. attempts to drain the island of professionals in every field. The rural areas, which have been historically underserved in Cuba, were given urgent attention first and the rural-urban divide was broken. Cuba's many health indicators testify to this.

15080571jpg Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Cuba's infant mortality rate at 7.1 per 1000 live births (end-1997) is way ahead of Brazil's 31 and Mexico's 42; it is ahead of even the U.S.' 7.5. The maternal mortality rate is 44 per 100,000 live births for Cuba compared to 220 and 110 respectively for Brazil and Mexico, two countries heavily funded by international aid agencies with U.S. blessings. Obviously, access to resources has not been the prime determinant of the quality of social services provided. The Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Hiroshi Nakagima, during a visit to Cuba to attend the sixth seminar on primary health care, called upon countries whose "health care systems are trapped in a process of deterioration to study carefully the Cuban experience and the reasons why Cuba has had so much success." He said: "Top among those reasons has been the political commitment of the Government." The source of this commitment is the perception that health is not a commodity to be sold with a price tag but is a basic service to which all citizens have equal entitlement. Commenting on the economic reforms the Cuban Government had initiated, the WHO Director said: "Cuba's noteworthy efforts to reform its own health care system in line with the island's recent macro-economic measure have been undertaken without jeopardising human equity and solidarity."

It is this health system of Cuba that the U.S. is hell-bent on destroying through its several acts - the latest among them being the Helms-Burton Act restricting the activities of third countries doing business with Cuba. The World Federation of Public Health Associations in a resolution (May 1994) expressed concern that the "impressive advances achieved over the past three decades in the health of the Cuban people are in jeopardy due, in part, to the U.S. embargo" and urged member-associations to encourage their governments to trade with Cuba.

The situation in the U.S. is in sharp contrast with that in Cuba. The U.S. First Lady, Hillary Clinton, has acknowledged that in that country there are 40 million persons without adequate health care because of lack of medical insurance, apart from a considerable number underinsured persons, and 22 per cent of pregnant women receive no pre-natal care. The lack, obviously, is not of resources but of "political commitment", to quote the WHO Director.

Children born in the beleaguered little island that reels under a 37-year-old "war without bombs" - "a thousand times smaller David confronting a mammoth Goliath with a sling of biblical times," to use Fidel Castro's analogy - fare incomparably better than six million children below the age of six in the U.S. who live in poverty, half of them in extreme poverty. After a study, two U.S. academicians concluded that the "poor U.S. children are worse off than their counterparts in 16 out of 18 nations studied. Our high-income children are better off than their counterparts in every nation studied...a reflection of our overall income inequality." The study notes an important difference between the reaction of the European countries and the U.S. to child poverty. The former attempts to lower poverty levels by instituting child support measures while the latter has produced an intolerably low standard of living for a large number of children by sounding a "social policy retreat". (Professor Lee Rainwater, Harvard University and Timothy Smeeding, Syracuse University in Child Poverty News and Issues, Fall 1995).

In the U.S., according to a Blue-Ribbon Commission of the State Boards of Education and the American Medical Association, "Never before has one generation of children been less healthy, less cared for or less prepared for life than their parents were at the same age." It is not surprising that the U.S. has the distinction of being one of the only two countries that have not yet ratified the United Nations Convention on Child Rights; the other is Somalia.

As for the children of the rest of Latin America a report of the Inter American Human Rights Commission of 1993 says that a majority of them live in conditions of extreme poverty: "There are frequent cases of murder, torture and exploitation of every kind, sexual abuse, abandonment and the use of children as involuntary organ-donors and for prostitution." Such evidence, characteristic of urban "development" is seen in varying degrees in the developing and even in some developed countries. But Cuba is an exception, as acknowledged by many U.N. organisations.

The gains made by Cuban workers after the revolution have been phenomenal. In a world plagued by unemployment in developed as well as developing countries, Cuba offers higher levels of pension to those willing to work after retirement. The Cuban Constitution assures protection to every worker who is unable to work because of age, illness or disability. The inequality in income between people in town and country has also been greatly reduced - the average wage in agriculture, which was only 49 per cent of the average wage in industry in 1962, improved to 86 per cent in 1980.

The gender gap in employment has greatly narrowed. Forty per cent of the labour force consists of women. Fifty per cent of all women of working age are economically active, up from 25 per cent in 1970. Half the number of physicians and half the number of directors of hospitals are women. Fifty-three per cent of advanced scientific workers are women. A quarter of the parliamentarians are women and women's political representation in Cuba is the third highest in the developing world.

"Violence is as American as apple pie," said a militant black American once. Violence is built into all structures in the U.S., from the family to the state. The gun lobby is so strong that a law for the compulsory licensing of firearms could not be passed - one result is the proliferation of Godfathers and gangsters. Another country where the people are armed is Cuba. But what is its impact there? Are people killing each other? Are the roads, casinos and bars unsafe for women? Is the Government being attacked? Is there lawlessness and senseless violence? Fidel Castro states it graphically: "Everywhere, throughout history, the government is the embodiment of the people's strength. What would become of the Cuban Government if the people weren't armed? It couldn't exist." Then he goes on to ask: "What would happen in Europe if the workers, students and all the other sectors that are constantly repressed whenever they demand something or mobilise for something, were armed? What would happen in any of those societies of exploiters and exploited if the people were armed? ...Nowhere else in the world are the people and government so closely identified as in our country...this is eloquent proof of the essence of democracy...which can exist only in a fair social system."

The entire process of electing representatives to various levels of political organisation in Cuba is geared to the empowerment of the people. Unlike in India, where the highly hierarchical socio-economic foundation nullifies, in practice, some legislative measures that remain on paper, the egalitarian foundation created by the revolution and strengthened over the years in Cuba has invigorated its legislative process immensely. New proposals are widely debated at work sites and other places at different levels, and the experience of and insights provided by every individual benefits the Government. Candidates for elections are nominated by the people of a neighbourhood and not by the political party. Such a process activates the people politically, giving them a sense of power and control over their own lives. This, among others, has prevented the process of alienation of the people from the political power structure, a phenomenon common in most countries.

Even those who admit that the revolution has made a qualitative difference to the lives of the people wonder at the absence of a multi-party system in Cuba. This needs to be seen in the context of the historical circumstances in which the Communist Party gained ascendancy. The party enjoys a unique position: it symbolises the nation's anti-colonial and anti-imperialist traditions and unifies the people around preserving and enhancing the nation's "main conquest" - the dignity which even the poorest Cuban has acquired. Multi-partyism has been discarded not merely as irrelevant but as harmful to realising the objective of creating a new way of life in which "nobody is forsaken". As Fidel Castro explains it, "We are not against people having opinions that differ from ours. In Cuba the main thing is the battle between the nation of the Cuban people and imperialism. There is not any third position here - you are either with the revolution or against it, nobody is neutral." In the existing crisis situation, Castro said, the Cubans decided not to play around with the country's security and independence, "pretending that circumstances are ideal and dreaming up idealised forms of leadership and political organisation that cannot be applied in the present circumstances."

He spelt out the condition under which Cubans might seek "different political formulas" for the country: the end of the "war without bombs" that the U.S. had unleashed against Cuba. Cubans claim that their form of democracy more than works and that it is effective in fulfilling the main need of the revolution's survival - creating a politically aware and united people. It is this democratic system which has kept the morale of the people from hitting the bottom during the nearly four decades of economic blockade by the U.S., the many attempts to topple the Government and assassinate its charismatic leader and the collapse of socialism in Europe and with it the end of all beneficial trade and financial arrangements with the erstwhile socialist countries. Cubans' constant refrain is "unity is the main thing for us." It is in this context that the single party system must be comprehended and evaluated.

The Cuban values of political governance are reflected in the relatively high morale of the people despite the severe shortages of essentials that make everyday life an ordeal. Timothy White, a U.S. Professor who visited Cuba last year, commented:"Despite hardships caused by the blockade, Cubans appear resilient and willing to tolerate rationing or shortage during this 'special period' because they understand that this is a way of guaranteeing basics to everyone." His observations on his later visit to Cancun and Mexico City also emphasised the uniqueness of Havana as compared to other metropolises of Latin America. Cancun and Mexico City, he noted, appeared in comparison prosperous but "millions of Mexicans live in abject poverty. Every day brings revelations of new corruption, crime is up to 700 per cent in Mexico City and there are two bank robberies per day in the world's largest city....and the Mexican army is engaged in arresting and killing unarmed peasants in virtual combat zones." (The Latin American Alliance l997)

The Cuban people's grit and egalitarian spirit despite Havana's dilapidated look and the run-down conditions of just about everything and despite all this come through in an article written by Dr. Alvarez in response to Linda Robinson's comments in the U.S. News and World Report. Contrasting what success means to Americans - a better car and a larger house - and to Cubans - greater social recognition and a pride in the achievements of the people -, he writes that the Cuban scientific community "...is not ashamed of getting to work by bus or bicycle, or living through the same difficulties as the rest of our people".

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Alvarez also notes how Cubans have avoided "falling into the mortal sin of poor countries...attempting to imitate the consumer society created as a model by the U.S. Neither did we commit the error of pouring our scant resources into extravagant articles or luxury cars".

That there is a significant lesson in this for India is an understatement. The total manipulation of the individual's needs, desires and greed in the Western "democracies" by the multi-billion-dollar media industry selling consumer products and expensive tailor-made lifestyles, leaving little scope for expressing one's individual identity and preferences, is well known. In this sense Cubans enjoy more freedom and power over their own lives than their enviably rich northerners. If not the enjoyment of a high material standard of living, what else serves to keep the Cuban morale high? To quote Alvarez again, "...the satisfaction of living every day in a country without political corruption, without drugs, without illiteracy, without poverty fulfils our spiritual aspirations".

The U.N. has declared poverty - defined not just as poverty of income but as poverty from a "human development perspective i.e., a denial of choices and opportunities for living a tolerable life" - as a denial of human rights. Applying this criterion, the U.S. is more of a human rights offender - with 14 per cent of its population under poverty against Cuba's 5 per cent. What is probably crucial for making life tolerable is whether the polity is governed by the morality of the market or is of the humane kind. Noam Chomsky points out:"Outrage peaked during the Pan-American games held in the United States, when Cuban athletes failed to succumb to a huge propaganda campaign to induce them to defect, including lavish financial offers to become professionals; they felt a commitment to their country and its people, they told reporters. Fury knew few bounds over the devastating impact of Communist brainwashing and Marxist doctrine."

It is the firm refusal of a great majority of the Cuban people to be seduced by material prosperity - barely 145 km away - and to betray their revolution, that played a key role in compelling the U.S. administration to ease some of the restrictions on "humanitarian asssistance" to Cuba recently. While the impact of the move is yet to be assessed fully, it is also indicative of the pressures exerted by the national and international sources on the U.S. to lift the blockade. (Frontline, April 17, 1998)

Cuba holds many lessons for the world. It is a pity that those who would listen are getting fewer in this unipolar world.

Suicide stories

Exaggerated claims about suicides by farmers in Punjab appear to be part of an agenda to attack state controls on the rural economy and to pave the way for outright control of agriculture by feudal landlords.

CHOTIAN, in Lehra block of southern Punjab's Sangrur district, is an untidy cluster of 600-odd mud-and-brick homes where some 3,000 people live. A decaying monument built a century ago adding to its slightly decrepit air, Chotian is typical of the villages that dot the region. Although the region is considered backward, the residents of Chotian village own 96 tractors that serve the lands of the Jat, Saini and other upper-caste Hindu families in the area.

Farm rents for a hectare of land range between Rs. 13,000 and Rs. 15,000, and the income from a plot of this size ranges between Rs.40,000 and Rs.42,000 a year. These figures conform to the State average. The Dalits in the village largely work in Jakhal, a town in Haryana, where wages for unskilled workers touch Rs.100 a day and those for skilled workers are twice the amount.

Poor is not a word anyone would use to describe the people of Chotian. But since late-February the village has been at the centre of a debate over rural poverty in Punjab, amidst claims that Chotian is a symbol of all that has gone wrong with the State's agricultural sector.

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In letters written to the National Human Rights Commission and Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, the convener of the Movement Against State Repression (MASR), Inderjeet Singh Jaijee, said that Chotian saw 23 cases of poverty-driven suicide between 1994 and 1997, and that the adjoining village of Bangan saw 13 such cases. Jaijee's letters stated that the pattern suggested a crisis similar to that of the cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh who were recently driven to suicide. Reports about the causes of the deaths opened a debate on whether the Green Revolution that once changed the face of Punjab was collapsing inwards.

According to Jaijee, farmers and farm labourers in Punjab were unable to make ends meet and there were thousands of suicide cases in the past decade. In his letter to the Chief Minister, he was explicitly political. According to Jaijee, the State Government has encouraged the cultivation of grain and the price of grain has been pegged at a level that enables the weaker sections in other States to buy it at subsidised cost. This practice of price control, he conjectured, amounted to colonial exploitation, for there was no justice in depriving one's own family to fatten another family.

In addition to relatively non-controversial measures such as the introduction of crop insurance, Jaijee's annexures to the letters recommend among other things the removal of the 14-acre land ceiling on the ground that this prevented efficient farmers from expanding their operations. However, what is ignored is the fact that the disintegration of the joint family system and the growth in the population should logically lead to the fragmentation of holdings into smaller parcels.

HOW accurate are Jaijee's claims? Investigations at Chotian showed that it was far from clear whether any case of suicide had actually taken place. Village sarpanch Leela Singh looked bemused when asked about media reports of cases of suicide in his village. "I have not seen what has been written," he said, "but no one here has killed himself." Asked for a possible explanation for the reports, he speculated that deaths caused by accidents might have been misrepresented as cases of suicide.

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He said: "There was a case of electrocution a few months ago. Over the past eight years, 14 people have died as a result of inhaling pesticides while spraying crops." Pesticide-related deaths are common in Punjab, as few farmers use protective masks and gloves. Other deaths in the village, farmer Teja Singh told Frontline, were the result of alcoholism and addiction to poppy husk, a problem endemic to southern Punjab.

Official evidence of too many cases of suicide was equally thin. At Munak police station, within the limits of which Chotian, Bangan and adjoining areas come, 26 deaths were recorded during the period from 1994 to 1997 under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which deals with all forms of accidental death where no blame is attributable to other individuals. Only one was an evident case of suicide - a Home Guards jawan shot himself in 1996. In another case, a heavy dose of a drug led to the death of a farmer whose wife had left him for another man. Five other deaths were attributable to the overuse of drugs or to exposure to pesticides.

Station House Officer Sukhwinder Singh said that as a matter of practice, cases of suicide were not explicitly recorded unless there was suspicion that a member of the family or other people drove someone to death. He said: "If a family insists, for example, that the use of an overdose of a drug was accidental, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, we record the death under Section 174, to save the family social humiliation and legal harassment."

Most damning of all were the records of deaths maintained by village chowkidars Ajmer Singh and Rabbi Singh for the office of the Chief Medical Officer, Sangrur. The records, which detail the 80 deaths in Chotian between 1994 and 1997, contradict Jaijee's claims. When Frontline tallied the ages of the 23 persons who, according to Jaijee, committed suicide during the period, only 12 of these were even loosely reconcilable with the data in the village death register (see table). And many of the deaths were not cases of suicide prima facie. For instance, Hansa Singh, 22, who died on March 8, 1994, actually died along with his friend Krishan Ram when a tractor they were riding overturned. While Jaijee has listed Hansa Singh as a suicide victim, his record makes no mention of Krishan Ram.

Several similar cases of inaccuracy emerged in an analysis of the chowkidar's data. The ages of several young people who died in the village approximated the ages listed by Jaijee. For example, the 21-year-old victim listed by Jaijee could be 25-year-old Amrik Singh, son of Atma Ram, who died on August 29, 1996 or 20-year-old Sukhpal Singh, son of Govind Singh. Amrik Singh died in a traffic accident and Sukhpal Singh died after inhaling pesticide fumes during spraying operations. Their inclusion in the list of cases of suicide is inexplicable. The chowkidars admitted that they had not recorded two possible cases of suicide that had taken place in the village in order to protect the honour of their families and the community. Neither of the names they provided was on Jaijee's list. One of these two deaths occurred after the victims consumed a pesticide, and the other was that of a woman who jumped from the roof of a house in 1996.

Jaijee's record lists neither the specific causes of deaths nor the names of the claimed suicide victims. He said: "I kept the identities concealed to protect families from social stigma." The dates of the deaths tally broadly with the dates recorded in the register of births and deaths maintained by the village chowkidar. By Jaijee's own admission, the families in question do not attribute these deaths to suicide. He argued that this was natural given the social context, but the entire village knows what really happened.

The residents of Chotian themselves, however, believe otherwise. "Things have been bad over the past five years," said Roop Lal, a resident. He said that debts had increased, expenses had gone up, habits had changed, but incomes had not kept pace with the changes. Farmers with less than 10 acres (four hectares) of land find it increasingly difficult to keep going and their children cannot find government or industrial jobs, according to him. However, he denied that anyone in the village had committed suicide because of poverty.

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If the data offered by Jaijee for Chotian and Bangan were assumed to be true, can they, as he has done, be construed as reflecting the situation in Punjab at large?

In 1992, Chennai-based psychiatrist Lakshmi Vijaykumar wrote in the journal Health Administrator that official data showed that Pondicherry recorded the country's highest rate of suicide, 56.30 per 100,000 population per annum. Expressed in similar terms, the cases of suicide that Jaijee claims to have occurred at Chotian and Bangan would have constituted a staggering rate of 149.94 per annum. If Punjab recorded, say, even half this rate, it would certainly figure in the list of States with high suicide rates. But Lakshmi Vijaykumar's article makes it clear that Punjab does not have such a rate. The article says that poverty is a relatively infrequent ground for suicide, ranking sixth behind incurable disease, troubles with in-laws, quarrels with spouses, love affairs and insanity. This data, too, appear irreconcilable with the picture outlined in Jaijee's report.

WHAT, then, is the real state of rural poverty in Punjab today? A recent survey by the economist H.S. Shergill and the Institute for Communication and Development found that the rapid modernisation of agriculture in the State had resulted in a considerably higher growth in cash expenditure on farm inputs in comparison with the growth of output. The compound rate of growth of cash expenditure on various crops between 1974-1975 and 1991-1992 ranged from 8.97 per cent to 11.17 per cent, while the growth of yields per acre of key crops such as rice and wheat was below 4 per cent.

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Growth in per capita income, according to the Shergill-IDC study, has been absorbed mostly by the growth in per capita consumption expenditure and the rising living and consumption standards of the farming community. Very little surplus cash is left with farmers to finance the heavy cash expenditure on modern, market-supplied farm inputs. As a consequence, farmers have to borrow regularly and routinely huge amounts to finance cash expenditure on modern farm inputs.

The sheer scale of these borrowings leaves little room for complacency about the long-term security of agriculture in Punjab. The debt per operated acre of farmland, the Shergill-IDC findings suggest, stood at Rs.5,721, of which Rs.727.49 consisted of long-term non-productive credit. Small and semi-medium farmers bore the worst burden of agricultural debt. Debt per acre for farmers with small holdings stood at almost twice the State-wide figure, Rs.10,105. Semi-medium farmers' debt per operated acre was Rs.7,941, of which Rs.370.89 consisted of unproductive credit. Considerable sums were borrowed from arthiyas and other informal-sector moneylenders to meet social expenditures.

The highest proportion of surveyed farmers, 36.10 per cent, attributed their indebtedness to excessive expenditure on domestic consumption and social ceremonies, while 30.80 per cent attributed it to abnormally high prices of farm inputs, the study noted.

Medium and large farmers, by contrast, borrowed less per acre to finance their operations, and tended to have surpluses that did not necessitate borrowing for consumption. This finding of the Shergill-IDC report affirmed long-standing fears that small farmers face a slow process of extermination. Pressures on small farmers have been particularly intense in the recent past; one-third of the farmers surveyed by the IDC reported an actual decline in wheat and paddy output over the last three years. Over time, large farmers with considerable cash surpluses seem certain to spearhead a process of land consolidation in Punjab.

The entry of multinational corporations into Punjab's agriculture sector, notably the presence of Pepsi Foods, also suggests that in the long run, small and medium farmers will simply be unable to match the technological and financial muscle of the new entrants. Unless agriculture is able to forge forward linkages in industry that are capable of absorbing those who move from the farmland to the cities, considerable social dislocation could take place.

NONE of this, however, should give the impression that the countryside in Punjab is getting impoverished. In a 1997 paper for the IDC, Shergill and Gurmail Singh have shown that rural and urban poverty in Punjab has steadily declined, despite the large influx of immigrants from other States. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of the poor and the ultra-poor in the State are recent immigrants. Rural indebtedness in the State is currently more a long-term threat rather than an immediate source of poverty, according to the paper.

Jaijee's real agenda, for which the claim of mass suicides is merely a medium, appears to be to attack state controls on the rural economy and to pave the way for outright control of agriculture by feudal landlords. In key senses, this attack is wholly disingenuous. Policies like the minimum support price (MSP) structure have served to protect farmers from market fluctuations, and not to deprive them of legitimate earnings.

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Although right-wing ideologues argue that the wholesale price index rose higher than the MSP until 1990, they ignore the fact that the incomes of farmers increased steadily throu-gh state support for higher productivity. Ex-perts such as Shergill and Jawaharlal Nehru Uni-versity's G.S. Bhalla are unanimous that restructuring the countryside around predatory capitalism will in the long run be disastrous for farmers.

Claims like those made by the Jaijee, though polemically eff-ective, are founded on a misuse of data to serve a political agenda. It is not coincidental that the claims regarding a high suicide rate have come from a representative of the MASR. Along with other Punjab-based chauvinistic groups claiming to represent the cause of human rights, the MASR has consistently sought to discredit the peace of 1992, alleging that it was founded on genocide. The new claims of mass poverty and deprivation in the countryside serve the same reactionary politics in important ways. Jaijee wrote to Chief Minister Badal that there was no justice in bleeding one's own State to benefit another, and that the agricultural economy of Punjab had been brought to the point of disaster. This attitude smacks of colonialism at its worst. For an illustration of the mentality of the far right in Punjab, one need look no further. Serious academic research, of the kind Shergill, Gurmail Singh and others have undertaken and the IDC has sponsored, tells the truth.

If the problems of rural Punjab are to be addressed meaningfully, what is needed is scientific research, and not polemical posturing.

Muslim women's rights

The Empowerment of Women in Islam: With Special Reference to Marriage and Divorce, by Zeenat Shaukat Ali; Vakils, Feffer and Simons Ltd., Bombay; pages 462, Rs. 650.

Women and Islam: An Historical and Theological Enquiry, by Fatima Mernissi; Kali for Women, New Delhi, pages 228, Rs. 225.

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Women in the Quran, Traditions and Interpretation, by Barbara Freyer Stowasser; Oxford; pages 206, $29.95.

LAST year, P. K. K. Ahmed Kutty Moulavi, the head Imam of the Palayam Jumma Masjid in Thiruvananthapuram, created a stir by issuing a fatwa (ruling) permitting women to enter the mosque and offer prayers, including the late evening prayers during the month of Ramzan. Soon, a section of the Imam's Council in the city issued a counter fatwa denying women such entry: It speaks for the conservatism of the community and the moral bankruptcy of its so-called leaders that the example of the progressive Imam was ignored. He reacted to the Council's fatwa by pointing out that gender parity was central to the virtues of Islam. Prophet Muhammad, his foster son, Anas, and the Hadith (traditions and sayings of the Prophet) had all said in various contexts that women eager to pray in mosques should be allowed to do so. He said the Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih al-Muslim texts too had emphasised that women could pray in places of worship. These two are regarded as leading works of Hadith.

Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, Professor of Islamic Studies at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, cites that very collection of the Prophet's tradition (Hadith), Sahih al-Bukhari, on this point. "Some examples of women's participation in various activities, as the early history of Islam and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad point out, are the following: Women took part in national activities, acted as advisors and while they were efficient managers of the household, nonetheless joined in congregational prayers in the mosque (Bu. 10:162,164)"

There is ferment among Muslim women, especially the intellectuals, which has not been much noticed. Faezeh Hashemi is a member of Iran's Parliament, chairperson of the Islamic Women's Olympics Committee and, incidentally, daughter of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi. She had some sharp comments to make on the subject in a little noticed interview to a Western news agency (DPA). It will come as a surprise to many. She said that Islam had always been interpreted by men in a way that secured their own interests. "Men have always been the main Islamic scholars, those who interpreted the Islamic laws and implemented these interpretations." She added: "Men manipulated Islamic laws during the course of history and implemented them to secure their own interests. What we are doing in the Majlis (Parliament) right now is to separate this and get some advantages for women."

Terming Islam as a very progressive religion, she observed that traditions had become enmeshed with the Muslim religion. "That was the reason why the West considers our religion not as today's Islam but that of 1,400 years ago. We must make use of the positive things (in the West) and make them compatible with our own Islamic values." (The Times of India, February 11, 1997).

All these three books are written by women, the first two by particularly devout Muslims. All are scholars of impeccable credentials. Fatima Mernissi is Professor of Sociology at the University of Rabat, Morocco. Barbara Freyer Stowasser is Director of the Centre for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University and Professor of Arabic. The authors' concern is with Islam and the woman's place in it. They have studied the Koran, the Prophet's sayings and tradition (Hadith, the second source of law in Islam) and are familiar with modern literature on gender equality. Stowasser, unlike the other two, is not concerned in her book with advocacy of women's rights as much as with a deep analysis of women's issues in the Koran and the Hadith and the strands in modern Muslim thinking.

Fatima Mernissi may well shock many Muslims in India. An Arab intellectual, she has carefully but critically read through volumes of commentaries on the Koran and of the Hadith. She has not hesitated to challenge the most respected compiler of Hadith, Al-Bukhari himself. "This Hadith is the sledgehammer argument used by those who want to exclude women from politics." Zeenat Shaukat Ali is no less ardent in her advocacy of reform. But nothing in her work will offend the feelings of the devout. She draws on her erudition to compel them to reflect on cherished but wholly groundless and harmful beliefs about women's rights in Islam.

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A powerful appeal to Indian Muslims was also made by Turan Jamshidian Ghaleh Sefidi, editor of the Iranian magazine Muhjubah. Seventy-eight per cent of Iranian women are literate, she noted. The national literacy rate was 80 per cent. She appealed to Muslim men to motivate their women to learn and to Muslim women to take more interest in education. Addressing a press conference in Kozhikode in Kerala on January 30, 1997, Sefidi said: " We attend all mosques in Iran and women form almost half of the congregations there". (The Hindu, January 31, 1997).

There is little interest in India about the reform of Muslim law even in avowedly Islamic countries like Iran. In 1986, the Muslim leadership collaborated with Rajiv Gandhi to nullify the Supreme Court's ruling in the Shah Bano case (on divorced Muslim women's right to maintenance). It was a sordid alliance. Having agreed with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1985 to unlock the gates of the Babri Mosque, he sought to mollify Muslims. They sought to legitimise their leadership. In 1996 the Bangaladesh High Court ruled on the same lines as did the Supreme Court of India. It has ruled also that Islam does not approve of polygamy.

In a Friday sermon by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, head of the judiciary at Teheran University, on November 18, 1994, he declared: "If a man wished to divorce his wife, the court can, or must, investigate the amount of wealth which they have accumulated during the period from the start of their joint life to the time of divorce, and at the discretion of the court, up to half of that wealth should be given unconditionally by the man to that woman, before being able to use his right to divorce her... the same court which deals with divorce and which issues the certificate of divorce should also deal with the issue of defining the amount of income and the amount that should be paid to the wife. The court should issue the verdict and should enforce it."

Islamic law is based on scripture. Arabic, the language of the Koran, is rich in nuances. Riffat Hassan, Professor of the Religious Studies programme at the University of Louisville in the U.S. and author of Woman and the Quran said: "A single word in Arabic can have many meanings. But as the translators have always been men, the Quranic translations have always made a male bias. Take Chapter 4, Verse 34, which is always quoted when the issue of equality crops up. In this verse, the Koran uses the word qawwamun to describe the man. This word has always been translated as ruler or master. But I believe that it means breadwinner - which immediately changes the meaning of the verse. There are scores of such examples."

For historical reasons, conservatism has held sway, in recent decades, among the Muslims of the sub-continent. Mohamed Heikal, one of the Arab world's most distinguished journalists, notes with dismay that far from learning from other Muslims, they "exported" their conservatism to Arab lands. "Islam was always a political as well as religious movement, and it also had its cultural and social side. By 1980 it was beginning to feel the influence of Muslims from Pakistan and India, where Islam had acquired a different flavour. Asian Muslims tended to take the Koran literally, while Arabs were more inclined to interpret it. Reading the texts in their own language enabled Arabs to set it in historical context, keeping in mind observations by Arab religious authorities, but Asians were less able to look beyond it - partly because other works had not been translated into their languages, but more importantly because the Arabic language was the tongue of Islam. Deprived of linguistic context the Koran inevitably takes on a slightly different character, forcing non-Arab readers to rely more on the texts than on the way the ideas are expressed." (Illusions of Triumph; HarperCollins; page 57, emphasis added, throughout).

Mernissi proceeds systematically to take each verse from the Koran which has been misinterpreted to deny the rights of Muslim women and describes its context, the situation it was concerned with. She deals not only with "occasions of revelation" but also "occasions for revelation." She, likewise, takes up major pronouncements on women's status in Hadith and shows how little credence some of them deserve.

Zeenat Shaukat Ali does not go so far. But in her own meticulous manner she also links Koranic verses to the context. The one on the hijab (veil), for instance: " O Prophet, tell thy wives and daughters that they should cast their outer garments over their persons when abroad, that is most convenient that they should be known as such and not molested.' (H.Q. 33:59). Two points seem to be made in the above verses: One, if the women did not go out where lay the necessity for prescribing a distinctive dress or occasion for their harassment? Second, it seems that this particular injunction was required by special circumstances which then prevailed in Medina, where the hypocrites would molest a woman and feign innocence by suggesting that they thought that the woman was a person of ill-repute. This is plainly hinted in the following verse: 'Truly if the hypocrites and those who stir up sedition in the city desist not, We shall make thee stand up against them' (H.Q. 33:60). Such a dress was therefore a kind of protection and not meant for suppression."

Zeenat Shaukat Ali blends history, theology and the law in one erudite whole in a work of enormous labour. She proves to the hilt that: (a) the Koran does not sanction polygamy, (b) the triple pronouncement of divorce in one sitting is un-Islamic. An English Judge of the Bombay High Court aptly described it as "good in law, though bad in theology" and (c) the wife is equally entitled to divorce the husband. This is known as khula.

It is not Islamic law, the Shariat, that is practised in India but Anglo-Muhammedan law as it evolved during British rule. The Privy Council ruled early in the day against reference to the Koran or original texts of Hadith. It preferred, instead, certain commentaries of dubious worth. Muslim personal law in Pakistan grew in a progressive direction because its Supreme Court abandoned that rule of interpretation and consulted the texts themselves.

Zeenat Shaukat Ali's work is of enormous practical value. She has appended texts of modern marriage contracts which fully protect the wife's rights in respect of divorce by her as well as by her husband, rule out his second marriage and guarantee her other rights. All these, the book establishes, are rooted in Islamic law.

In the lectures he delivered in Chennai nearly 70 years ago, the poet-philosopher Iqbal posed a pertinent question: "Did the founders of our schools ever claim finality for their reasonings and interpretations? Never." He upheld the claim of "the present generation of Muslim liberals to re-interpret the foundational legal principles in the light of their own experience." Iqbal's remarks, made 70 years ago, are relevant now: "In view of the intense conservatism of the Muslims of India, Indian judges cannot but stick to what are called standard works. The result is that while the peoples are moving, the law remains stationery." (The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam by Sir Muhammad Iqbal, page 168).

Muslims alone are responsible for the disgraceful and un-Islamic state of personal law in respect of marriage and divorce. As the Koran says: "Verily God does not change the state of a people until they change the state of their own lives." (13:11).

Music with feeling

7

D.K. Pattammal, who has entered her eightieth year, broke orthodox tradition to become a performing singer; in her music she is a traditionalist who blazed new trails.

"I AM like a grandmother to all of you." The elderly woman sitting on the dais, surrounded by a typical Carnatic music ensemble, affectionately addresses a few hundred schoolchildren sitting in front of her. She has just finished rendering a magnificent composition of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Little do the children realise that they have had the privilege of listening to a musician who, in her days, was among the top-ranking Carnatic vocalists and is today acknowledged as a musician whose achievements and contribution to Carnatic music have been multi-dimensional. All this, even as she remains an unassuming woman simply in love with music.

The musician is Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal (known as DKP among the Carnatic music fraternity), performing with as much involvement and depth for this group of uncomprehending school-goers as she would at the Madras Music Academy for seasoned rasikas and experts.

Having entered her 80th year on March 28, D.K. Pattammal can legitimately look back at her achievements with pride. But that is not for her. "I am still trying to fathom fully the depths of music. One birth is not enough for it," she says.

Pattammal was born in an orthodox Brahmin family to Damal Krishnaswamy Dikshitar and Rajammal. She was named Alemelu, but was fondly called "Patta" or "Pattammal" and the name stuck. Patta, growing up in Kancheepuram, showed considerable musical talent quite early. Her father was deeply interested in music and her mother was a talented singer who, however, was not permitted to sing even for friends and relatives, in line with orthodox tradition. Pattammal too would not have sung but for her unstoppable talent and deep love for music and the role of a few people who influenced the course of her life.

Pattammal's talent and interest in music were nurtured by concerts at the music festivals hosted by Kancheepuram Naina Pillai, regarded as one of the all-time greats among Carnatic musicians. Little Patta would sit through the concerts and imitate the musicians on returning home. She would also sing simple devotional hymns and songs that her father had taught her. One such "performance" at a wedding fetched her a loving teacher. Recalling this man, Pattammal says: "I only refer to him as the 'Telugu teacher', since he was Telugu speaking. On hearing me sing, he offered to teach me a few songs." She had had no formal training, but the 'Telugu teacher' straightaway taught her major musical compositions. It was her precocious talent and musical sensibility that enabled her to handle them without having to go through the drill of basic lessons. Later she trained under many teachers to acquire a rich repertoire not only of the compositions of the Trinity of Carnatic music - Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri - but also Tamil kritis of Muttutandavar, Arunachala Kavi, Gopalakrishna Bharati, Subramania Bharati and songs from Tamil devotional genres such as Tiruppugazh, Thevaram and Arutpa.

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Pattammal sang despite her orthodox background which forbade women from being seen in public. In the movement against such social constraints, her role is somewhat comparable to that of Kamala, the dancer, who too came from an orthodox family; Kamala took to Bharatanatyam and became a role model for many young women of her generation.

While Krishnaswamy Diksh-itar must have been proud of his daughter's musical talent, he was equally apprehensive about inviting social stigma by encouraging Pattammal to perform in public. And he would have perhaps let these fears dictate his decisions about Pattammal taking to music seriously but for Ammukutti Amma, the headmistress of the school where Pattammal studied. Ammukkutti Amma, who was alive to the inequities that stood in the way of women seeking self-fulfilment in roles other than that of daughter or wife, recognised Pattammal's talent and also realised the dilemma faced by Krishnaswamy. Pattammal says unhesitatingly: "If I am singing today, I would say it is because of her. She would fight with my father, argue with him to convince him that I should be allowed, even encouraged, to sing in public."

The turning point came when the play "Satyavan Savitri", was staged in the school. Pattammal was given the role of Savitri, which she carried off beautifully through her soulful singing. When Pattammal's photograph appeared in the local newspaper as part of the coverage of the show, it was as if a catastrophe had befallen Krishnaswamy. He agonised over what he saw as the highly diminished prospects of getting his daughter married into a respectable family. And to make matters worse, a recording company came forward with an offer to cut a disc of Pattammal's music. She was barely 12 years old then. It was Ammukutti Amma again who convinced her father that he should not refuse the offer. And Pattammal's career was launched.

The year 1933 saw Pattammal give her first public concert at the Mahila Samajam (the Egmore Ladies Club). The people who had come to see the spectacle of a Brahmin girl singing in public, went away admiring her. Soon Pattammal had many concert offers coming her way, and to facilitate her career, the family moved to Chennai. Thus began her long career of concert performances. She was conferred the Sangita Kalanidhi title by the Madras Music Academy (1970) and the Padma Bhushan (1971). Pattammal herself cherishes the title Gana Saraswathi conferred on her by the redoubtable "Tiger" Varadacharyar.

Assessing her career and contributions as a musician, a writer once described her as a trailblazing traditionalist. This is the paradox of Pattammal's career: a traditionalist who blazed new trails. Pattammal's music is noted for its adherence to the musical tradition as she received it from her teachers and as represented in the music of the masters of the past and in the compositions of the great composers. Her respect for tradition is evident in the way she handles the compositions - taking great care with regard to the words and their pronunciation, with unflinching fidelity to the raga bhava and the artha bhava. And yet, in her very act of singing in public, she defied an aspect of tradition. She charted out a new course, and challenged traditional attitudes, not by argument, but simply by singing.

When the world of music was still trying to adjust itself to, and cope with, the idea of women entering the profession of singing, Pattammal started presenting Pallavis in her concerts. Pallavi-singing is among the biggest challenges before a Carnatic musician, for it calls for great skill and a high degree of concentration to handle the rhythmic complexities involved. Padams - lyrical poems set to fine, sensuous music - and not pallavis, were deemed to be within a woman's ken. But Pattammal sang pallavis and complex pallavis at that. Naina Pillai was a veteran in the art of pallavi singing and it was his influence that led Pattammal to explore this genre. Her deft handling of complex talas has astonished connoisseurs and fellow musicians alike. A leading musician of yesteryear is said to have advised her to take on less complex Pallavis since it is possible that one may lose one's concentration and thereby the grip over the Pallavi. "How can such a thing happen when you are one with the music? How can you allow yourself to lose concentration?" Pattammal wonders.

"I had had enough of the heady excitement of laya and after I turned 50, I slowly moved away from it and more and more towards bhava, singing with feeling, singing so as to let the music touch you deep inside." As she sings Enraiku Siva kripai varumo (when will I receive Siva's compassion?), you find yourself in the presence of a music whose power lies not in virtuosity or vocal gymnastics, but in feeling. The fervent yearning in these words is all that you experience after a point - not the words, not the notes, not the musician, not yourself. Such an experience is possible only when the musician feels the feeling.

Meeting Pattammal, you realise that her capacity for feeling is indeed immense. She recalls the kindness and the love showered on her by many people - her father, mother, her Telugu vadhiyar, her headmistress, her teachers - and always she breaks down. What pent up feelings are finding vent here! Meeting her leaves you deeply moved, for having met a woman in love with her art, aspiring to catch further glimpses of its depth and majesty, a woman who has suffered much, but bears it all with a smile.

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Pattammal married R. Iswaran when she was 20 years of age and, alongside a hectic performing career, she has performed the responsibilities of wife and mother, never expecting any concessions in consideration of her career demands.

Pattammal is remembered by many old-timers for her rendition of patriotic songs, especially those of Subramania Bharati. To say that Pattammal sang these songs in deliberate defiance of British rule would perhaps be incorrect. "Among the values my father inculcated in me was desha bhakti, love and veneration for one's motherland... I sang Tamil songs out of my love for Tamil, not to make any ideological statement. Again, I sang Bharatiyar's songs simply because I loved his language and the sentiments of love for our country..."

But she does think of her own destiny. In a life fraught with the challenges of concert performances and also family life, and having faced prejudices against women, music alone has offered her solace. "There is nothing to equal music and I only pray that I should be able to sing as long as I live." A devout Hindu, she asks that she have no more births:

How many fathers, how many mothers How many births am I still to have Would I that I had no more births But if born, to be born with music.

This is her prayer as she enters her 80th year.

Of the study of brain function

Since neurology and psychiatry evolved as independent medical disciplines in the 1960s, the level of understanding of the functions of, and diseases afflicting, the brain has increased manifold. One major development is the acceptance of the "connectionist model" (any brain function is activated by more than one part of the brain) as against the "modular model"(a function by any one part of the brain).

Another important development is the recognition of the dominance of the right hemisphere of the brain, which was for long thought to be a dormant or silent region. More important is the realisation of the link between the right hemisphere and the language function. This was earlier thought to be linked only to the left hemisphere.

A significant contribution to the "connectionist model" and to the understanding of the role of the right hemisphere in brain functions has been made by Dr. Michael R. Trimble, Professor of Behavioural Neurology, Institute of Neurology, London, who specialises in neuropsychiatry and behavioural neurology.

After completing his graduate studies in medicine in Birmingham, England, Prof. Trimble obtained a B.Sc. (Hons) degree in neuro anatomy, an M.Phil and an M.D. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), London and a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Then he went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, United States. The research unit that he heads at the Institute of Neurology in London specialises in neuropsychiatry and behavioural neurology. The main area of research in his unit relates to epilepsy, especially the effects of seizures on neural patterns in the brain, and the impact of epilepsy treatment on human behaviour. Dr. Trimble has published over 300 papers and authored six books. He has also edited 21 books on neuropsychiatry and behavioural neurology.

Dr. Trimble now works on the relationship between depression and literary creativity as also the dominant role played by the right hemisphere of the brain, which, he says, "is much more linguistic, more appreciative of music and melody." His research has revealed that the right hemisphere is involved in the emotional aspects of language, as also in metaphors, which are central to poetic expression.

Dr. Trimble was in Chennai recently to deliver the T.S. Srinivasan endowment lecture organised under the auspices of the T.S. Srinivasan Department of Clinical Neurology and Research (which provides comprehensive neurological care for patients from the lower middle class and middle class). Dr. Trimble spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on various aspects of brain functioning, diseases, drugs, and his research. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you define neuropsychiatry and behavioural neurology? Are they interdependent?

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In the last century there were neither neurologists nor psychiatrists. There were only those who dealt with what are loosely called nervous diseases. This really meant diseases of the nervous system.

As the speciality of neurology developed, clinical skills also developed, and with this developed the skill of identifying lesions and abnormalities in the central nervous system. From this it gradually became clear, for example, that Parkinson's disease could be distinguished from multiple sclerosis. And this was aided by the development of psychiatry, particularly for patients who did not exhibit symptoms of neurological problems. So conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease became identified with neurology. Various conditions that you could not find in patients when you examined them clinically became identified with psychiatry. So neurology became brain-orientated and psychiatry became psychology-orientated. Thus, the famous comment about the two specialities: "Neurology deals with a mindless brain and psychiatry, with a brainless mind."

By the 1960s you had neurologists who dealt only with brain problems, particularly of the nervous system. And psychiatrists dealt with what used to be called neurosis and psychosis.

But there were a number of patients who had many diseases but displayed only psychiatric problems. With new methods of investigation, these patients could be shown to have neurological problems. An example of a neurological problem with psychiatric symptoms would be epilepsy. You could also have patients with psychiatric problems, for example schizophrenia, but underlying the psychosis of schizophrenia you could find brain changes. The big revolution in this area was the advent of brain imaging.

When did this distinction between the two disciplines emerge? And what did it mean to the understanding of neurology?

This happened mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. And it has accelerated ideas (research) with regard to the way the brain functions. In the past, people very much thought in what I call the modular way. That is, that one part of the brain represents a certain function and that function is represented only in that part of the brain. But gradually people recognised what is called the connectionist view of how the brain works - that there are circuits within the many different brain sites that are involved in overall functions.

Do neurology and psychiatry overlap or are they interdependent?

Neurology and psychiatry are clearly related to each other. The brain is the seat of neural behaviour - all emotions, all passions, hallucinations and delusions and speech and so on. So, clearly, there cannot be psychiatric symptoms without a brain representation. But much of traditional neurology has ignored some important aspects of the brain function. The brain has four lobes. By far the largest are the frontal lobes. For many years the frontal lobes were called the silent area of the brain. People thought they did nothing. Neurological symptoms, such as the loss of the use of an arm, sensory disturbances in the arm or leg and even speech disturbances, were largely related to lesions in the parietal and occipital regions on which traditional neurology concentrated. But it has become quite clear that many of our most important social functions are linked to the frontal lobes. It is now called the region of the brain related to executive functions. It acts as a sort of central control. It not only knows what is going on in the brain but reports back and decides about what should happen next.

Many psychiatric symptoms have to do with the frontal and temporal lobes. So if you stimulate the temporal lobes you probably hallucinate and if you damage it you get memory disturbance or amnesia. If you damage the frontal lobes, you will lose your ability to plan your activities effectively. Central lobe damage will lead to inappropriate social behaviour.

Now, what happened to the other side of psychiatry? Sigmund Freud, whom most people identify as the founder of modern psychiatry, was a neurologist, extremely capable and able. But he was not a psychiatrist. He developed a new psychology - one which goes with psychiatric illness and a psychological treatment that you employ for people with stress-related disorders, which people with disorders such as schizophrenia are susceptible to.

What has tended to happen is that even with a biological approach to the treatment of patients, which alters neural transmitters with chemicals to regulate brain functions, overriding importance has been given to the role of management. This development occurred in the 1970s, and certainly now in the 1990s, when we have a lot of new, powerful, specialised drugs which offer considerable hope, particularly for severe psychiatric and neurological illnesses.

But do these specialised drugs not also have side-effects?

Yes, most drugs are dirty as they have multiple action. And the intent in neuro-psycho-pharmacology has been not to eliminate side-effects but to enhance the therapeutic effects. This does not always work. For example, a breakthrough drug in treating schizophrenia was found to block dopamine receptor, a major transmitter in the brain. If you impair brain dopamine you end up with a disease similar to Parkinson's disease. And to treat Parkinson's disease you give Eldopa, which could lead to the patient developing psychosis, which in some cases is like schizophrenia. Most traditional drugs have this kind of a problem.

In the last few years, drugs have been developed, which have fewer side-effects but still are anti-psychotic. So, there is a tendency to refine the old-fashioned medication. But the old-fashioned medication is still important, particularly in a country like India, as it is considerably cheaper and still effective.

So far only the left hemisphere of the brain has been emphasised. Why is it that now a lot of importance is being given to the right hemisphere?

In the European tradition, which is, of course, the Christian tradition - maybe in your tradition too - God could not be seen to be creating anything asymmetrical. So the brain was considered symmetrical. The right and the left sides of the brain had to be equal. Then, Brola, an anthropologist and neurologist, found patients with left-side brain lesions who could not speak. And, then, gradually it became clear that the left side of the brain regulated speech.

It was also found that there is some link between the dominance of the right side of the body (which is controlled by the left side of the brain) and language function. As it is easy to test language skills, this testing became part of clinical practice, as also paying attention to the left hemisphere of the brain. Difficulties with regard to writing, reading and speaking, which are functions of the left hemisphere, were investigated thoroughly.

The right hemisphere was thought of as non-dominant. There was a failure to appreciate that the right hemisphere had considerable language ability.

Now people are into two things: first, to examine the functions of the right hemisphere by brain-imaging techniques. This has shown that the right hemisphere is activated in normal speech as well as in certain specific situations which had to do more with figurative rather than literal aspects of speech.

That it is clinically important to understand the right brain is a different issue; more important is to understand how the brain works in relationship to human activity as a whole. As I mentioned, the right hemisphere is much more linguistic, more appreciative of melody and music. So, some people have tried music therapy for those who have had a stroke of the left hemisphere.

Through musical intonation maybe you could regenerate some speech in aphasic (speech impairment) patients. This has been tried with some success. It is called music therapy. So, if the left side of the brain is damaged and the right side is not, then we work on the right side by tapping into such musical potential.

In your T.S. Srinivasan endowment lecture you spoke about the association between depression and literary creativity. Can you give an account of the various hypotheses about this association? Why is this association stronger in patients who specialise in the arts rather than in the sciences?

I was looking at associations between the brain and literary creativity. It became clear to me that people who write good prose, on the whole, do not write good poetry. And people who write good poetry, on the whole, do not write good prose. Then I started looking at the distinctions between the two.

The first conclusion I came to was that poetry is a different way of expression. I tried to find out the disease associations of poetry. There is considerable literature that suggests that manic depressive illness is associated with poetry; not with the visual arts, not with being a scientist or a politician.

Now what does this mean? Not that all poets are manic depressives, nor that all manic depressives are poets. I am only using manic depressive illness to understand which part of the brain may be linked more to poetry, in the same way that aphasia is a link between the left side of the brain and the faculty of speech.

And, it just so happens that manic depressive illness is over-represented in poets. To me this means that if you can get to the neurology of manic depressive illness, that is, what brain lesions occur, there can be clues to the link between manic depressive illness and poetry.

If you damage the right side of the brain in some way then it leads to mania. If you damage the right hemisphere you lose the ability to speak with musical rhythms, tones and expressions.

First, it is clear that the right side is associated with poetry and music. Second, by implication, the right side is related to manic depressive illness. When people become manic they often become more musical in their speech and rhyme and repeat as poets do. So there are some links between the manic depressive's language and a poet's.

Is there any study on the evolution of language? Does it have anything to do with the importance given to the right hemisphere of the brain so far?

Anthropologists have written about it. Language must have evolved for emotional purposes - to warn people, to bring groups together, to bind them. The early languages were musical and much of the early transmission of text was in the form of oral tradition.

As our culture became dominated by writing and reading, and now by television and so on, maybe we are retreating from the specific development of the right hemisphere and also from the enjoyment of poetry. With the development of television and radio, we have virtually forgotten poetry.

How does brain imaging work?

You can give somebody an injection of a radioactive material, take a picture of the radioactivity of the brain, wait a few moments and then do exactly the same again. But the second time, have the person doing something like reciting a poem. Then, by comparing one image with the other, you can highlight those parts of the brain that are related to certain activities. That is how people have been identifying the distributive circuits within the brain.

The new imaging techniques based on magnetism and magnetic resonance are really leading to fantastic advances in looking at the brain and its functioning. These techniques will also become much cheaper over time and much more widely available, even for countries such as India.

What are the issues at the frontier of research in the field of neuropsychiatry?

The two main issues of research are: what is going on in the brains of patients with depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and so on. And this is being unravelled, mainly with the brain imaging techniques. The other question is, what is the chemistry of these conditions.

One grey area we are trying to understand is what it means to have a lesion in one part of the brain for the neurotransmitters to regulate behaviour. This now takes you to altering the neurotransmitters to try to equip the brain into better order. So, that is why research on neurotransmitters is being done now.

People are looking at alterations. How do you put back into order a neurotransmitter system which is out of order? The most interesting example in the last few years has been the development of alteration for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

The major issue of research at present is neurochemistry and the development in treating Alzheimer's disease and the related dementia.

Have developments in pharmacology kept pace with research in neuropsychiatry? Is there any research on to reduce the side-effects of the drugs used on neuro-psychiatric patients?

There are hundreds of neurotransmitters being developed. But the development of drugs is limited.

But I think there is great hope for the future. The development of better psychopharmacological and neurological drugs and the knowhow, as far as I can see, is going to come from targeting the drugs. For the moment, we take a drug by mouth-first, it goes all over the body - your heart, lungs and so on - and so you get side-effects all over your body, and second, it goes all over your brain.

Now, the idea of targeting a drug is that it goes nowhere else. But, then, the selector is in the brain. This is going to be the way of the future. This may initially mean surgically implanting substances in specific parts of the brain. This is the kind of things drug companies generally are looking at, which may reduce side-effects and increase therapeutic effects.

Between theory and practice

The BJP's policy pronouncements on science and technology are Nehruvian in tone, but the party's record in the matter of inculcating a scientific temper gives cause for concern in the long term.

SCIENCE and technology policy has never quite been a serious election issue or the focus of media and public attention during campaign time in India. With a Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition set to govern the country at least for some time, it is worth examining what one may expect from the new dispensation on this front.

The National Agenda for Governance adopted by the BJP and its allies mentions the subject briefly. It promises the "integration of efforts in the field of science and technology with development efforts in various socio-economic sectors." It also promises greater support to national laboratories, the strengthening of research and development and the setting up of centres of excellence. The Agenda is rather more explicit on information technology. While hailing the "new revolution sweeping the globe - that of Information Technology," the document promises a National Informatics Policy to develop India into a software superpower.

These brief remarks appear to be based on the more detailed statement on Science and Technology that appears in the BJP manifesto. Chapter 15 of the manifesto, which deals with science and technology policy, is impeccably Nehruvian in tone, bolstered perhaps by the presence of a recent entrant to the saffron party, Prof. M.G.K. Menon, on the manifesto drafting committee. The extent of detail in these sections was of a piece with the BJP's conviction of being the ruling-party-in-waiting.

The chapter, which begins with a clear endorsement of the Scientific Policy Resolution of 1958 and the Technology Policy Statement of 1983 (of the Indira Gandhi era), would have done the Congress party of an earlier era proud. Science and technology, the BJP asserts, must be harnessed to "improve the lot of vast sections of our society living below the poverty line." Science and technology, the manifesto solemnly intones, "is also a vital component in enriching the mind, enlarging the human spirit and creating a thinking society."

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What follows is a 15-point agenda that, if indeed implemented, would undoubtedly make India a scientific superpower in short order. The BJP plumps for, among other things, promoting a scientific temper, improving scientific infrastructure in the university and national laboratories, stimulating private investment in research and development, working to promote science as a career choice among the youth and launching science and technology missions in several areas.

The manifesto turns lyrical on the subject of information technology, in a separate chapter (Chapter 16). Among the benefits of "Ram Raj" will be the provision by the year 2000 (no less) of computer facilities "in all schools, including in remote and rural areas, that already have proper building and power." In its Bill Gates-like vision of information technology in India, there is much that is promised, but little is said of how these grandiose visions are to be realised.

Even before the Vajpayee Ministry won the vote of confidence in Parliament, sections of the computer industry were on the trail of the gold-mine that seemed within their reach. The executive director of NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service Companies) and a BJP associate, Devang Mehta, began intensive lobbying and claimed that the resources for the plans in the manifesto could be found in the existing budgets of the various Ministries.

It is interesting to read these sections alongside those on economic policy, especially on the telecommunications sector where complete internal privatisation is promised. How exactly is the BJP to realise its vision of India's future in information technology through a private sector that has historically paid little attention to indigenous research and development? The BJP's agenda on national economic policy is less than clear on how self-reliant development is to be sustained. On the one hand, the manifesto promises complete internal liberalisation of and disinvestment in public sector undertakings. On the other hand, it promises increased government spending on infrastructure and grandiose investments in telecom and information technology, all this while supporting social sector expenditure (including the spending of 6 per cent of Gross National Product on education) and anti-poverty programmes. How and where the surplus needed for this kind of expenditure is to be generated is far from clear.

Some standard Hindutva items are, however, missing in the Science and Technology section of the manifesto. There was no sign of that favourite item on the agenda of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - "Vedic mathematics". This hotch-potch of school-level mathematical tricks laced with Sanskrit aphorisms of dubious antiquity has often been forced into mathematics education by State governments run by the BJP (Frontline, October 22 and November 5, 1993). There are also no indications of the BJP favouring "Indian science" (as opposed to "Western science"), a favourite of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and its satellites (for instance, the Chennai-based Patriotic Peoples Science and Technology Foundation).

Any analysis of the BJP's attitude to science and technology must begin by recalling that the saffron party is alone among the major political streams in this country in never having seriously engaged with science and technology issues or questions of scientific temper in its entire history. One is referring here not only to concrete questions of science and technology policy, but also to a general perspective regarding the role of science, scientific temper and a rational world-view in the making of a modern India. In recent times the BJP has had some interest in matters pertaining to patent rights and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but more as a handy propaganda slogan in the swadeshi package than anything else.

It is therefore unsurprising, that the BJP's manifesto mouths the Nehruvian line on science and technology while understanding nothing of the relationship between the public sector in the economy and the development of indigenous capabilities in science and technology. The fascination with information technology as a sort of universal panacea to the problems of education is very much part of the style of the BJP's middle-class following, especially the non-resident Indian (NRI) component. This fascination is, in practice, low in content and is confined largely to a good appreciation of the Internet as a propaganda medium.

IT is worth recalling too that on the question of scientific temper and rationalism the BJP's record has been singularly abysmal. Beginning with the wildly unscientific theories of the founding fathers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), through the years of anti-cow-slaughter campaigns, and continuing into the Ram mandir phase, together with the mobilisation of assorted Hindu religious fanatics under its banner, the BJP has been continually associated with the worst kind of obscurantism. The only rationalism that it has demonstrated has been in the coldly cynical manipulation and conflation of religious and nationalist symbols to further its political agenda.

In the matter of scientific temper, it would seem that the BJP needs to clarify its position in detail in an apology mode if its protestations are to be taken seriously. Will the practice of scientific thinking be extended to cover history and other social sciences? Will 'kar sevak' archaeology be disowned? Will the BJP guarantee that textbooks will not be re-written to project a communal picture of the history of science in India (as has been attempted by BJP-ruled State governments)? Will the BJP leadership disown the stand of its Tamil Nadu unit that attacks Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for his rationalist attitude to the ritual of fire-walking?

On such issues, the indications are not encouraging. Key positions concerned with science and technology have gone to elements of the Hindutva-RSS hard core of the BJP. Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati control the Ministry of Human Resource Develop-ment while Joshi has additional charge of the Department of Science and Technology.

EQUALLY unsurprisingly, the one aspect of science that the BJP takes to immediately is the link between science and military power. The BJP seeks to set aside a well-tested policy line on the nuclear issue, which combined a principled opposition to arm-twisting by the nuclear superpowers (embodied in the refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehe-nsive Test Ban Treaty) with a refusal to exercise the nuclear option in immediate military terms. The deviations from this line in the Indira Gandhi era, when the Pokhran nuclear explosion was conducted, were disastrous in foreign policy terms. That piece of political adventurism cost India the moral high ground in nuclear disarmament policy, worsened relations with neighbours and engendered fresh suspicions, and cost the nation dear in terms of lost scientific collaborations, not only in reactor research and technology but in other areas too.

The BJP, it would seem, has learnt nothing from this experience. To make matters worse, there is the added component of the link between the BJP's hawkish stand on Pakistan and its communal agenda internally. Any exercising of the nuclear option (it is not clear what the current ambiguities in the BJP Government's stand amount to) would be particularly harmful to international collaborations in the scientific arena. It would also amount to undermining the vision of science as a tool of development and democratic empowerment that is part of the legacy of the early years of Independence.

Undoubtedly the current momentum in science and technology in India would ensure a certain continuity with progress in some areas, provided no disastrous tinkering is resorted to by the new Government. However, the prospect of increasing communalisation of public and media space and public discourse, which is definitely part of the BJP agenda, is cause for serious concern in terms of the long-term perspective for science in this country.

One may safely leave to Prof. M.G.K. Menon the pipe-dream that the BJP would "restore the elan of a resurgent India". The facts and the record instead point to the distinct possibility of difficult times for science in India in the near future.

Dr. T. Jayaraman is a theoretical physicist working at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.

ONGC: coping with competition

V. SRIDHAR economy

The conferment of Navaratna status on the ONGC was accompanied by promises of greater autonomy and flexibility, but there are no signs yet of policy and financial support being given to the company to re-establish self-reliance as the basic feature of its mission.

THE Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC), one of the Navaratna public sector companies, is India's national oil exploration and production company. It was established in 1956 as the Oil and Natural Gas Commission as an immediate consequence of the Industrial Policy Resolution of 1956, which laid the basis for industrial development in free India with emphasis on public sector-led growth.

Inspired by the spirit of self-reliance and backed by government policies, the ONGC enabled India to break the shackles of the international oil majors whose exploration and production goals in India were determined by their global interests rather than by any interest in finding, developing and producing from oilfields in India.

In India, oil was first discovered in Digboi, Assam, in the late 19th century. In 1921, the United Kingdom-based Burmah Oil Company took over the Assam Oil Company, which controlled the oilfields and the only refinery in India, which was situated in the area. In 1931, about 2.5 lakh tonnes of oil was produced from the fields there. After Independence, multinational companies such as Royal Dutch Shell, Standard Oil and Burmah Oil were invited to explore for oil but they insisted that there was no oil available outside the Assam tracts.

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The ONGC's first discovery was in the Cambay basin in 1958. In 1960 it struck oil in Ankleshwar in Gujarat. Through the 1960s, the ONGC made a string of oil discoveries in Assam. The then Union Minister for Natural Resources K.D. Malaviya, who also headed the ONGC, provided the political clout to counter the foreign oil companies. In the early 1960s when Caltex, Burmah Shell and Standard-Vaccum Oil Company stated that they would rather invest in oil refining, Malaviya insisted that since the profits were concentrated in the crude supply chain, India's priority should be the establishment of indigenous oil production.

The ONGC also ventured overseas fairly early. In the 1950s it participated in oil exploration in the Persian Gulf. This led to the discovery of the giant Raksh and Rustam fields off the coast of Iran. It also ventured to Tanzania where the Songo Songo gas field was discovered. In fact, foreign oil companies refused to process the crude that was the ONGC's share in the venture in the Persian Gulf. The ONGC acquired the status of a corporation in 1993.

An important aspect of the ONGC programme was the use of Soviet and Romanian assistance in oil exploration projects. An agreement with the Soviet Union for an offshore seismic survey enabled the collection of data from the Gulf of Cambay, the Arabian Sea and the east coast. Oil was struck in Bombay High in February 1974. Production from Bombay High stabilised in 1976-77 and increased rapidly until 1983-84, but has declined since then.

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Between 1980 and 1986, the Government offered foreign and private companies geographical blocks in India for exploration, but this did not draw a favourable response in three rounds of bidding. In 1992, the Government offered a more attractive option to foreign and private companies. The result was the controversial production-sharing contracts with private companies in 1994.

The New Exploration and Licensing Policy (NELP), announced in March 1997, stipulated that the ONGC and Oil India Ltd (OIL), which earlier had first rights to production from blocks discovered by them, would have to bid with other private companies for oil and gas production rights. In effect, it abolished the principle that state presence was mandatory in oil exploration and production. Under the NELP, companies were offered international prices for crude produced from new projects instead of prices fixed under the Administered Prices Mechanism (APM).

Ironically, many multinational companies that were hostile to India's efforts at indigenous development of the petroleum industry after Independence have been attracted by the Government's controversial liberalised policy framework for oil exploration since 1991.

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TWO major aspects of government policy threaten to undermine the basic character of the ONGC as the country's national oil exploration and production company. The first relates to the terms under which foreign and private companies are allowed to exploit oilfields that were discovered and developed by the ONGC. The most controversial of these is the ONGC's contract with a consortium comprising Enron Oil and Gas India Ltd and Reliance Industries Ltd for the production of oil and gas from the Panna-Mukta (Gujarat offshore) fields. Ravva, in the Krishna-Godavari offshore basin (Frontline, July 29, 1994), was offered to a consortium led by Videocon and Marubeni of Japan. Although the ONGC had a 40 per cent stake in these unincorporated joint ventures, there have been allegations that the ONGC has not been compensated for the investment that it has made in these projects.

In fact, the joint venture for producing crude oil from the Panna-Mukta oilfields came under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) following a public interest petition filed in the Delhi High Court (Frontline, March 20, 1998). In December 1996, the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) observed that the terms of the joint venture between the ONGC and the consortium did not compensate the ONGC for the costs (nearly Rs. 700 crores) that it had incurred in prospecting.

The second aspect of the policy is the dismantling of the APM for oil which will allow oil prices in India to be put on a free float along with international prices. The Government has initiated a phased dismantling of the APM, which would be complete by the year 2001-2002. The terms of the NELP will enable the ONGC to realise international prices for oil produced from new fields. However, there have been no major fresh discoveries since Bombay High; and whatever was discovered by the company was passed on to private companies.

While the terms of the production-sharing contracts under the liberal policy regime have caused financial losses to the ONGC, moves towards the dismantling of the APM threaten to undermine its national character, although the ONGC will stand to benefit financially from such a move. The dismantling of the APM is likely to lead to higher oil prices. While this may boost the ONGC's profits, it will have a negative impact on the economy in general. The delinking of the ONGC's commercial interest from the strategic national objective of a self-reliant oil industry is likely to be a major consequence of such a move. Of course, the improved profitability of the company will enable the Government to increase substantially its realisation from disinvestment, if and when it happens in the future.

The Government announced recently that public sector oil companies could opt for a market-determined pricing mechanism or for a floor price. ONGC Chairman B.C. Bora told newspersons in New Delhi on April 1 that considering the current low level of international oil prices, the ONGC would opt for the retention price.

Bora also sought a "level playing field" in the matter of levy of customs duty on goods and services that are used in oil and gas exploration and production. Whereas private companies are exempted from paying customs duty, the ONGC pays Rs.450-500 crores as duty.

ALTHOUGH the conferment of the Navaratna status has been accompanied by promises of greater autonomy and increased flexibility for the company, there are no signs that policy and financial support is being given to the ONGC to re-establish self-reliance as the basic feature of the ONGC's mission. Such support has acquired urgency because the demand for petroleum is projected to double in the Ninth Plan period - from 607 million tonnes in 1996-97 to 1,100 million tonnes in the year 2001. Moreover, producible reserves have remained stagnant: reserves were at 739 million tonnes in 1995-96 - the same level that they were at in 1989-90. Experts have argued that the ONGC needs to improve its reserves-production ratio to offer a safe margin in the long term. Accretion to reserves will, however, require new finds, and making new finds will need substantial investments.

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The ONGC produces more than 90 per cent of India's crude oil production and about 95 per cent of its natural gas. (OIL, operating mostly from fields in Assam, produces most of the remaining oil and natural gas.) The ONGC made a net profit of Rs.2,034 crores in 1996-97, the highest among all public or private sector companies in India. (RIL, India's largest private sector company, made a net profit of Rs.1,323 crores in 1996-97.) In 1997-98, the ONGC's net profit increased further to Rs.2,425 crores, buoyed by higher natural gas prices.

THE ONGC's finest hour so far came in the mid-1970s when oil was discovered at Bombay High. Production from the wells there enabled India to face up to the second global oil crisis of the early 1980s and enabled the country to withstand a balance of payments crisis. In the mid-1980s, production from Bombay High enabled indigenous production to meet about 70 per cent of India's oil requirements; now the country is self-sufficient on this front to the extent of about 50 per cent.

Although the ONGC operates under rather more unfavourable conditions in India as compared to companies that operate in oilfields in West Asia, the cost of crude oil produced by the ONGC is only about 40 per cent of that of imported crude. Critics of the Government's petroleum policy have said that the Government's failure to transfer funds from the Oil Industry Development Board (OIDB) has hampered the search for new fields and the development of oilfields already discovered by the ONGC. The critics blame this for the stagnation in crude output.

By the end of the 1996-97 financial year, a cess on oil had created a cumulative accumulation of nearly Rs.29,000 crores in the OIDB account. About Rs.902 crores had been transferred to the domestic oil industry until 1991-92; since then no transfers were made to the oil companies. However, the oil pool account has itself been in deficit because successive governments have used funds from the account to finance revenue expenditure, and the oil companies have not received funds to invest in exploration projects. This pushed the ONGC into joint ventures with private and foreign companies for oil production from fields that it had discovered and developed. The terms of some of these joint ventures have been criticised as being commercially disastrous for the ONGC.

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IN recent years, production problems in the offshore wells in Bombay High and Neelam (southwest of Bombay High) and in wells in eastern India have adversely affected the ONGC's crude output. Crude production fell from 31.64 million tonnes in 1995-96 to 29 million tonnes in 1996-97 and further to 27.73 million tonnes in 1997-98. An expert committee appointed by the ONGC to suggest remedial measures to arrest the fall in production confirmed that the decline was caused by the "flogging" of Bombay High oil wells. It advised the ONGC to cut production in the short term to safeguard oil reservoirs.

The ONGC's consultant, Vam Poolen Associates, suggested a 25 per cent cut in production to rehabilitate Bombay High. Cutting output by this magnitude will result in a serious shortfall in crude oil availability - by at least five million tonnes. Critics say that the ONGC is paying the price for not having paid attention to protecting the long-term health of the wells in Bombay High. They also say that the ONGC had overestimated the oil reserves in the Neelam field.

In an attempt to break out of the tight situation in India, the ONGC and its international wing, ONGC Videsh, have acquired large exploration acreage in Kazakhstan. The Kazakh national oil company, Munaygaz, has offered the ONGC a large oil refinery for revamping and management. The ONGC has also been urging the formation of a "loose consortium" of Indian public sector oil companies for such projects. The Indian Oil Corporation Ltd and the ONGC have reached an agreement to explore, develop, produce, refine, market and distribute petroleum products on a global basis.

The ONGC, which has not drilled below 200 metres offshore until now, plans to venture into deeper waters. It has been awarded three deep-water sites in the Cauvery, Krishna-Godavari and Kerala-Konkan basins. Although the ONGC's critics have said that the company does not have the technology for deep-water drilling, the Sunderrajan Committee's report has observed that technology in the oil industry is fairly well diffused. This implies that induction of new technology is marked by incremental refinements rather than dramatic jumps. Thus, its standing as an active player for a long time could well enable the ONGC to access new technologies.

The ONGC plans to invest Rs. 19,000 crores in expansion and diversification programmes, including in projects abroad, by 2001-2002. Bora has called for a four-pronged strategy for the future. First, to focus more closely on the major basins in which the company is operating; second, to explore "frontier areas" for new finds; third, acquire acreages for exploration overseas; and fourth, to improve oil recovery methods to increase productivity. He has also said that the Navaratna package will provide "greater flexibility and freedom to make investment decisions" and enable the company to grow into a global giant.

Since February 1997 the ONGC has implemented the Organisation Transformation Project in association with McKinsey and Company. Bora has said that the project will enable the ONGC to prepare itself for the opening up of the oil exploration and production business.

Dear wheat

The United Front Government's decision to import two million tonnes of wheat from Australia turns out to be an expensive proposition in a good year for the wheat crop in India.

THERE is as yet no official word on whether or not the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government will go ahead with the import of two million tonnes of Australian wheat contracted by the previous Government. Food Ministry officials maintain that the imports will proceed as scheduled since the present Government has not issued a directive to the contrary. The State Trading Corporation (STC), the canalising agency for wheat imports, is reported to have hired 15 ships to transport the first consignment of 1.5 million tonnes.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is, however, reported to have called for a status report on the stock, supply and requirement position of wheat. Based on the feedback, the Cabinet is expected to take a decision on the import.

Meanwhile, the rabi crop has started coming in. According to Union Food Secretary N.N. Mookerjee, wheat production this year is expected to be higher than earlier estimates - around 66.5 million tonnes - thanks mainly to increased acreage and favourable spells of rain. Procurement is also expected to be good since market prices, already depressed, are expected to go down further with the arrival of the new crop. As against last year's open market price of Rs. 700 a quintal, the current price is less than Rs. 500 a quintal. Even at last year's minimum support price of Rs. 455 (inclusive of bonus), farmers should find the prospect of pooling attractive. Union Food Minister Surjit Singh Barnala is reported to have asked for an additional bonus of Rs. 40, taking the procurement price to Rs. 495 a quintal.

Mookerjee estimates that the procurement in 1998 will be around nine million tonnes as against 8.3 million tonnes needed for the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). Experts, however, believe that it could be in the region of 10.5 million tonnes. Even if a higher offtake on account of the shortfall in coarse grain production is accounted for, the supply position appears to be comfortable. Buffer stocks are also at a comfortable five million tonnes, well above the normative 3.7 million tonnes.

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DOES India still need to import wheat? Imports do not come cheap. Although STC Chairman S.M. Dewan declined to confirm the price at which the wheat has been contracted, press reports put it at $142.50 a tonne free on board. Add to this around $20 for freight and insurance, the landed price will be $160 a tonne (about Rs. 6,320 at the current exchange rate). Two million tonnes at this price will deprive the exchequer of more than Rs. 1,200 crores. In addition to this, there are unloading and storage costs. According to experts, the STC could have driven a harder bargain, especially since it was contracting for a large quantity.

The costs involved would not have mattered if the wheat was meant to help stave off starvation in a lean year or to replenish depleted buffer stocks. Since these circumstances did not exist when the import was contracted in uncharacteristic haste in February end, one must assume that the I.K. Gujral Government wanted to enhance the supply through the Public Distribution System (PDS).

The decision was taken by the U.F. Government during its last days in power, reportedly without any prompting by the Food Ministry. The execution of the decision was stayed until after the elections in Punjab, the home State of Prime Minister Gujral. The STC reportedly concluded the deal with remarkable speed - in a week's time. The questions that are raised now are whether the decision to import was warranted; whether it could have waited until an estimate of the requirement was made after a clear idea of the production and procurement was available; and whether the delivery could not have been scheduled for September-October since the imported wheat was not required urgently.

How much of the import cost will translate into subsidy? As it is, the 83 million tonnes distributed through the TPDS involves a subsidy of Rs. 7,500 crores. Additional quantities supplied through the PDS will involve additional subsidies unless the Central Issue Price (CIP) is raised - a difficult decision for any government. Besides, any increase in the CIP, curtailing the purchasing power of the vulnerable sections, may result in lower off-take and become counter-productive.

Under the circumstances, most of the import cost will directly inflate the subsidy bill. At the Above Poverty Line (APL) price of Rs. 4.50 a kg, the additional two million tonnes of imported wheat, involving an additional subsidy of around Rs. 600 crores, will fetch no more than Rs. 900 crores when sold through the PDS.

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In addition, the problem of storage has not been taken into consideration. According to sources, Australian wheat consignments are infested with an exotic weed and therefore cannot be shipped to the wheat-growing northern States. This leaves only the rice-eating South. Since the monthly consumption of wheat in the southern States is not more than one lakh tonnes, the total annual requirement of this region is no more than 1.2 million tonnes. The Food Corporation of India's (FCI) existing storage capacity in the South is reported to be no more than four lakh tonnes. The FCI is reported to have informed the Government that it does not have the capacity to store the imported wheat also because the new crop would start coming in around the same time.

Speaking to Frontline, Dewan said that the Australian wheat was headed for six ports in South India. However, when he was asked about what would happen to the wheat if it could not be unloaded or stored for want of space, Dewan said: "We acted according to the instructions of the Government. Our job is to contract, purchase and transport. Storage is not our concern."

Dewan said that the import was contracted in accordance with the laid-down procedure. According to him, the STC had tendered for the wheat and followed the Government's instructions while placing the order. Dewan maintained that the prices had been competitive at the time of contracting. He denied reports about the STC's board refusing to ratify the "overpriced" contract and said that no intermediary had been engaged to facilitate the import. (The United States Ambassador to India, Richard Celeste, is reported to have expressed his country's unhappiness over the failure of the Government to provide an opportunity to U.S. wheat traders.)

Food Ministry officials were at pains to emphasise that the BJP-led Government had the authority to review the contract entered into by the U.F. Government. Naturally, the cost of cancelling the contract in terms of the expenses incurred on the transshipment of the wheat and the penalty clauses in the contract will have to be weighed against the risk of the inflationary impact of releasing the stock through open market sales on a cost plus basis, especially if the Government does not want to bear the cost of the additional subsidy. There may not be any takers for the wheat at that price. The possibility of staggering the arrival of the wheat and the consequent storage/demurrage costs that may be incurred at the port of loading should also be factored into the final decision. Barnala, who hails from Punjab, is well-equipped to judge the matter.

Tricky tasks ahead

The Interim Budget has revealed the true state in which P. Chidambaram had left the country's finances.

THE timing of the elections had made a vote-on-account inevitable. With a Prime Minister in place only by the middle of March, parliamentary approval for expenditures needed to carry on the business of government had to be obtained before the vote-of-confidence. Even if the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies were certain of winning the confidence of the House, they needed time before assessing the state of the nation's finances and presenting a budget that reflected their priorities. Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha took the opportunity and a leaf out of Manmohan Singh's book to present an 'Interim Budget', which sounds more significant than what it actually is - an exercise which cannot win approval if it seeks to impose new taxes or undertake expenditures rendered routine by history.

However, Yashwant Sinha did manage to throw in one 'initiative' into the vote-on-account. The outgoing Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, had promised to transfer 77.5 per cent of the collections made till end-December 1997 under the much-touted Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme (VDIS). He justified that partial transfer on the grounds that deferred payments under the scheme would flow in slowly and are best shared in 1998-99. In practice, the partial transfer would have allowed him to retain in his kitty funds which were not rightfully the Centre's, and present a better picture of "revenues" and the deficit in 1997-98 than was the case. Yashwant Sinha chose to devolve to the States the required 77.5 per cent of VDIS collections for the full year 1997-98, taking the sum involved from Rs.4,379 crores to Rs.7,594 crores. This not only helped the BJP please its allies from the States, whose assistance it needed when the crucial confidence vote was taken, but also allowed it to reveal the true state in which Chidambaram had left the country's finances.

That state is parlous indeed. If we exclude the Rs.10,050 crores collected through the VDIS, which did not feature in the budgeted figures, the gross tax revenues of the Centre stood at Rs.132,420 crores in 1997-98 as compared with the revised estimate of Rs.132,319 crores in 1996-97 and an originally budgeted Rs.153,647 crores for 1997-98. That is, despite the growth in nominal income by 10 per cent or more in 1997-98, tax revenues have been virtually stagnant between 1996-97 and 1997-98, pointing to a significant fall in the tax-GDP ratio in the Union Budget. If the tax-GDP ratio had remained the same, we should have expected that gross tax revenues would have risen by an additional Rs.13,000 crores. The decline in the ratio is the result of large shortfalls in tax revenues under most major heads during 1997-98. Income tax collections, which were budgeted to yield Rs.21,700 crores are down 14 per cent at Rs.18,700 crores; customs duties budgeted at Rs.52,550 crores are down 22 per cent at Rs.41,000 crores; and Union excise duties budgeted at Rs.52,200 crores are down by close to 9 per cent at Rs.47,700 crores.

But that is not all. Reports coming on March 31 suggested that income tax collections are likely to touch only Rs.17,000 crores, which is way below the figure provided in the Interim Budget. If that figure is right, collections from both income tax and the VDIS, which offered an unprecedented set of concessions to tax defaulters who declared past black incomes, just add up to the budgetary estimate for income tax alone.

THE shortfalls in tax collections are owing to three factors. The first one is the across-the-board cut in direct and indirect taxes resorted to by Chidambaram in pursuit of his belief in the non-existent "Laffer curve", which is supposed to show that tax cuts lead to larger revenues. The second factor is, the recession in industry which has affected domestic production and therefore imports, resulting in a fall in Customs and excise duties. This has occurred despite the devaluation of the rupee which would have increased the rupee value of a given volume of imports, and therefore the rupee base on which customs duties would have been calculated. The third factor is a decline in the international prices of oil, which aggravated the fall in customs duty collections.

Chidambaram could argue that the last of these was an unforeseen event which he could not be faulted for. But the first two reasons for the decline in tax revenues is clearly the result of his desire to bend over backwards and provide the tax-paying rich with concessions. These concessions have had three consequences. First, the point of view advocated, on the basis either of just poor economic knowledge or of plain duplicity, that tax concessions to the rich would yield higher revenues, has once more proved wrong. The Government's resource mobilising capacity has virtually collapsed, and the state of the stock market that has meant disinvestment of prime public equity has not helped neutralise that collapse. In fact, 'receipts' from disinvestment are, at Rs.906 crores, less than a fifth of what had been budgeted for under this head.

Secondly, with the bonanza handed over to the tax-payers in a year when revenue expenditures were expected to rise substantially because of the inevitable acceptance of the recommendations of the Pay Commission, the Government has had to curtail substantially its capital expenditures, resulting in a recession in the non-agricultural sector. Not only is budget support for the Central Plan, at Rs.33,629 crores, Rs.2,500 crores short of the relatively low budgeted figure, but virtually there is not a single significant sector where outlays have fallen short. These shortfalls, which would not have mattered if private investment had 'responded' to the tax incentives as expected, explains in part the deceleration in growth last year. That deceleration in turn has adversely affected direct and indirect tax revenues. Slower growth induced by spending cuts necessitated by lower taxes have eroded the resource-mobilising capacity of the Government even further.

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Thirdly, despite all this, and despite the launch of the ethically reprehensible VDIS, the fiscal deficit has risen to 6.1 per cent of GDP, as compared with the 4.5 per cent budgeted for by Chidambaram in his 'bravado budget', that has won him little other than a nomination as Asia's best Finance Minister of the year from a glossy representing the interests of international finance.

WHAT is most damaging is that almost all of this increase in the fiscal deficit is attributable to an increase in the revenue deficit of the Government rather than an increase in capital expenditures financed with additional borrowing. The deficit on the current account of the Centre's Budget rose from 0.6 per cent of GDP in 1996-97 to 1.5 per cent last year. What we have here is another instance of a failure of perception on the part of the previous Finance Minister. Through his exhortation to his tax-paying constituency that people should spend till they drop, he made it clear that he expected that a combination of tax concessions and higher salaries would spur a consumption-led boom. That, we know now was not to be.

Growth is related not to the current expenditures of the state or the post-tax incomes of the private sector, but to the capital expenditures the state can sustain. The corollary is that if Chidambaram had the gumption to reduce his revenue deficit with additional taxes and less tax concessions, but increase his fiscal deficit with larger borrowing aimed at raising capital expenditure, he and, more important, the economy would have gained much more from his budgetary exercise. What the revised figures for 1997-98 have done is to call the bluff on the kind of 'voodoo economics' promoted in recent times. That kind of economics suggests that more concessions to business and less revenues for and expenditures by the state is the appropriate panacea for a nation searching for a strategy that delivers growth with a degree of equity.

Chidambaram and his advisers in the Finance Ministry obviously took cognisance of these conclusions delivered by an exercise in school-boy arithmetic, even if they had not digested it in full. As a result, in one more instance of the use of sleight of hand that has come to characterise the style of functioning of the Finance Ministry in recent years, they chose to retain, on specious grounds, part of the money derived from the VDIS as revenues on the current account of the government's budget. This would have inflated the 'net' tax revenues of the Centre, and kept both its revenue and fiscal deficits down to levels that are acceptable, even if not befitting of a prize-winning Finance Minister.

Unfortunately for them, circumstance and politics ensured that this was not to be. Yashwant Sinha's decision to use the opportunity of a vote-on-account to present an interim budget has helped reveal all. This despite the fact that Finance Ministry officials decided to do away with a separate document on the Revenue Budget, which makes comparisons between actual 1996-97, budgeted 1997-98 and revised 1997-98 revenue collection figures easier to make than the revised budgetary documents bundle they have decided to provide allows.

GIVEN the figures, Yashwant Sinha has a tricky task at hand. Taxes are not buoyant enough, while current expenditures would remain high. Demands from the BJP's allies for expenditures in different States would have to be met.

Interest payments on past debt are an unavoidable burden. And higher defence expenditures are a likely outcome of the 'militarist agenda' of the BJP. In the face of these likely expenditures, Yashwant Sinha has chosen to reveal half his hand by declaring that it is necessary to reverse the rise in the fiscal deficit. If revenue expenditures rise while the fiscal deficit is reined in, there are only two options: either incomes on the revenue account must rise to reduce the revenue deficit, or capital expenditures must be put on hold. Reversing the decline in the direct tax-GDP ratio is bound to be difficult for a Government with an unstable 'majority' that values the pre-election support it has won from big business.

This leaves only indirect taxes as a source of revenue. Much has therefore been made of the fact that the Finance Minister chose to single out the shortfall in customs revenues in his Budget speech. Would the BJP, with its swadeshi rhetoric, opt for a hike in customs tariffs, so as to pursue with one instrument the twin objectives of higher revenues and greater protection for domestic business? Yashwant Sinha, interestingly, attributed the shortfall in customs duties to "lower volume and lower unit price of imports" rather than to low tariffs. So there is too little to indicate that his full Budget would reverse the moves undertaken in recent times to fulfil the overgenerous commitments made by previous governments to the World Trade Organisation.

If revenues do not rise and the fiscal deficit is to be reduced, then capital expenditures would have to be reined in. But the BJP has repeatedly promised much by way of new infrastructural investment, which requires either a hike in taxes or an even higher fiscal deficit. The fact that Yashwant Sinha has chosen to be ambivalent on this score suggests that he is a 'liberaliser' among the swadeshis, who is more concerned about the fiscal deficit than with the need to revive capital expenditures by the state. All this would make the budgetary exercise as difficult as the Ministry-making one. But for the moment, it is he rather than Chidambaram who has had the last 'Laffer'.

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other
E.M.S. Namboodiripad

May I join the millions of people mourning the death of E.M.S. Namboodiripad by sharing the following information with readers and continuing a debate with EMS although he is no more with us ("Farewell to EMS", April 17).

In his column of April 3, 1998 in this magazine, he reviewed my book Ideological Choices in Post-Soviet Russia. EMS and I were not personally acquainted, our only meeting having taken place 28 years ago. I had not sent him this book, I had not asked anybody to request him to review it; I had merely suggested to the publishers that they send him a complimentary copy as he would certainly be interested in it. Yet he sent me an advance copy of his review, both in English for Frontline and in Malayalam for the Deshabhimani weekly, with a personal letter informing me of his disagreement with me.

I was deeply moved by this act of exquisite courtesy by one who was four decades my senior; I was about to send him a reply when I saw the newsflash announcing his death. Let me then share with the readers of Frontline what I was about to write to EMS, and let us thereby share the illusion, for a brief moment through debate which he would have welcomed, that he is still with us.

I had written the book as four chapters, one on each of the ideologies - Communism, liberalism, nationalism and Eurasianism. According to EMS' reading of it, I have argued that the choice before Russia is between a return to Soviet Communism and one of the other ideologies. However, I had argued that there was no question of restoring Soviet Communism, that a transformed Communism was now evolving, but that it would continue to play a most important role in post-Soviet Russian politics by absorbing many features from other ideologies. EMS and I are therefore in agreement that (a) there can be no restoration of Soviet Communism and (b) Communism would absorb significant postulates of the other ideologies. I am sure we are in disagreement as to what was to be absorbed and the manner of absorption; sadly however, we cannot pursue the dialogue any further.

Madhavan K. Palat New Delhi

The articles and editorial on EMS were a fitting tribute to a truly great son of India. My brother and myself were active in the student movement in Travancore State from 1945 to 1949 and had the opportunity to know EMS fairly closely. I vividly recollect a few incidents that illustrate his noble character and commitment to the cause he espoused.

We were the first, along with P.K. Vasudevan Nair and other friends, to convey the news of Gandhiji's assassination to EMS, who was staying in a modest hostel in Thiruvananthapuram. He was stunned, but recovered his poise in a few minutes and started consulting his party colleagues such as K.C. George on the action to be taken to meet the situation. The Communist Party then organised big demonstrations against communalism.

A couple of days earlier, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) men, armed with sticks, had attacked students who were demonstrating peacefully against a rally addressed by M.S. Golwalkar. In those days, the RSS had no soft front. It was virulently anti-Muslim. The student community was thirsting for revenge and an opportunity presented itself when the RSS links of the assassin became known. Quite a few RSS men were roaming in Thiruvananthapuram and a large contingent was at the railway station. But for the restraint exercised by EMS and his colleagues such as K.C. George, the attacks on the RSS men would have been severe and widespread.

Another incident relates to an Assembly election in Alappuzha. The CPI candidate was T.V. Thomas, a popular labour leader, and the Congress had put up K. Ramakrishna Pillai, a political heavyweight. In a fair election Thomas would have won. Around noon on polling day CPI workers rushed to the party office and wanted permission to resort to the same foul tactics that were being employed by Congress workers to rig the election. EMS and K.C. George, however, said 'No'. I was witness to this incident.

Despite a stammer EMS had a great ability to hold the attention of his audience.

Those who differed from him and even those who were strongly opposed to his views held him in high esteem because of his spartan simplicity, high integrity, awesome scholarship and other qualities. The spontaneous outpouring of grief in Kerala on his death is proof of this.

J.N. Iyer Chennai

You have done justice to E.M.S. Namboodiripad, one of the most illustrious and distinguished sons of India, by featuring his demise as a Cover Story.

All that I knew about EMS was through my parents and through the highly informative columns of Frontline. The "glorious and multifaceted" life of EMS was revealed to me only after I read this issue of Frontline.

Fathima Diana Mohin Bangalore

"For the intellectual the task, I believe, is explicitly to universalise the crisis, to give greater human scope to what a particular race or nation suffered, to associate that experience with the sufferings of others." This is how Edward W. Said helps us to understand an intellectual. EMS belongs to the group of moral agents named intellectuals. He was never a servant of power.

EMS was, as your Cover Story has put it, an "anti-imperialist and freedom fighter, social reformer, historian, writer, journalist, thinker and theoretician". He was indeed sui generis. He is something more than the father of the radically organised social structure of the modern State of Kerala. He was to Kerala what Antonio Gramsci was to Italy.

Acting his role as the only consciously reflective social analyst in Kerala, he gave us a very particular specimen of social movement, which was solely responsible for the cultural formation of present-day Kerala. He made us immune to the virtual world of "strange realities", whether it is post-Holocaust amnesia, Disneyland, cyberspace or Fukuyama.

Although Kerala is the largest consumer State in India in the age of mass consumerism, it has better immunity to the mono-cultural prevalence of free market capitalism. Thank EMS.

Now EMS, the activist intellectual, is history. There are numerous intellectuals, as well as endless interpreters of Marxist thought. But EMS was different.

I would like to thank you for your special EMS coverage. The apt tribute from Frontline was as expected.

Kamal Ram Sajeev Kozhikode

The news of the demise of the towering Left leader came as a shock to the readers of his highly relevant and contemporary articles in each issue of Frontline.

Namboodiripad served the CPI(M) as well as the country's politics untill he breathed his last (as, according to Prakash Karat, he was dictating articles just before his death). The country has lost a leader of unparalleled qualities.

His article about 'reformed Communism' ("Ideological choices", April 3, 1998) is an indication of his deep-rooted belief in the eternal relevance of Communism as an ideal.

Sheojee Singh Patna EMS on river waters

I read with interest E.M.S Namboodripad's article "Centre, State and river waters" (April 17). What strikes the mind first is the fact that he does not deny that the waters of Kerala rivers are not utilised fully and that much of it flows into the sea. His argument is that diversion of Kerala rivers would result in the saline water of the Arabian Sea getting into the freshwater of Kerala rivers which would turn paddyfields into deserts. It is not clear whether there is any scientific study to support this argument. It would be good if an expert in river water management can throw light on the truth or otherwise of this theory.

Namboodiripad has wondered how the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which stands for State autonomy and opposes centralisation, can demand the transfer to the Centre of the existing rights of the States over the utilisation of river waters. As far as I know, the AIADMK has not made any serious demand for the transfer of more powers to the States. It is the DMK that has been persistently demanding State autonomy, and not the AIADMK. However, assuming that the AIADMK also stands for State autonomy, it is not clear how the demand for making the Centre the authority to decide on the distribution of river waters to different States would amount to surrendering States' rights? Where interests clash it is but natural that there should be an independent authority to settle the issues arising thereby.

P.V. Velu Chennai Gundupatti

The atrocities unleashed by the police on the people of Gundupatti is a sad commentary on the style of governance in Tamil Nadu ("Mayhem in Gundupatti", April 17).

When people demanded basic amenities the Government turned a deaf earto it. To show their displeasure they decided to boycott the recent parliamentary elections. The elected representatives of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and bureaucrats could have tried to meet their demands at least before the elections.

The Government's decision to send a four-member committee to the village and order a judicial inquiry is commendable. The Government should ensure justice to the victims of Vidhuthalai Nagar and Bharathi Nagar. Besides providing immediate relief to them, it should initiate long-term measures to create an atmosphere that will help the people live in dignity.

A.M.A. Raja Chennai Thein Pe Myint

"The Professor's predicament", the Burmese story by Thein Pe Myint, translated by Usha Narayanan (April 17), made interesting reading. The writer depicts a few moments from the routine life of the professor, and the emotion that unbalances the character in that particular situation.

T.V. Jayaprakash Palakkad Government by default

The Cover Story ("Government by default", April 3) gave an excellent account of the post-poll situation. Only the mutual dependence of coalition partners will provide stability. If they learn from past mistakes and learn to be interdependent instead of resorting to deceit and threat, then quite possibly history will not be repeated. "The hard and mighty shall fall; the flexible and yielding shall prevail" goes the saying. Is that not true?

R. Ramasami Tiruvannamalai

The poll strategists of the BJP deserve to be congratulated on hammering out a strategic alliance with the regional parties. The Congress party strategists miscalculated badly. The United Front constituents were also at loggerheads with one another at least in nine States. Barring the Left parties, the U.F. constituents failed abysmally to put up a meaningful challenge to their political adversaries wherever they were in a position to do so. The Congress(I) and U.F., instead of forging a pre-poll alliance on the basis of issues, are trying to close the stable door after the horses have bolted.

For the BJP, this Pyrrhic victory is the beginning of its woes. There is no common bond among the BJP and its coalition partners - where the BJP is the big brother whose hands are tied by the allies. Sooner or later these allies will turn out to be the proverbial millstones around the party's neck. Even the politically astute A.B. Vajpayee will not be able to contain these small parties' growing demands. The developments also give the non-BJP parties an opportunity to cooperate with one another.

Bichu Muttathara Pune

Many mistakes have been committed during the course of India's long history. Many stupas and other structures were either converted into or demolished and reconstructed as temples. The Babri Masjid is but one such example. In fact, there are historians who believe that a Buddhist stupa existed at the disputed site in Ayodhya. That does not mean that you should give undue publicity for the BJP.

You have been writing unfairly against the BJP. The Cover Story is a standing example. Leave alone the contents of the articles, the legend on the cover, "Government by default", is revealing. You had praise for the United Front Government. Yet you could not save it from disunity. When it came to power, coalition was the mandate. But when the BJP leads a coalition, it is by default. How can you defend Harkishan Singh Surjeet who opposed support to the Congress(I) before the elections but is prepared to join hands with the party after the elections? Who forced this election? Was it is the BJP or the Congress(I)? Or the United Front - its partners?

All the propaganda carried out by your clan in the name of secularism only made the people think: "Why not a chance to the BJP?"

K.C. Kalkura Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh

Blood on the Chenab

The killing of four Muslims in Karara village in Doda district points to a "creeping communalisation" of the security forces and to the failure of the National Conference to confront Hindu communalism.

IT was almost dusk when Yoginder Kaul finally discovered the trail of blood, covered up with a thin layer of grit. It led past a Border Security Force (BSF) machine-gun post and the troops' barracks and on to the main road. The rocks on the way had dried blood, skin and hair on them. The trail ended on the banks of the Chenab, near a cremation ground. The Indian Police Service probationer was shaken to the core, but what he did not immediately realise the import of the evidence before him. Later it emerged that the blood was that of four men who were killed in a communal reprisal inspired by local politicians affiliated to a Hindu extremist organisation.

At 10.15 a.m. on March 19, the Doda Police had responded to a distress call from Karara village, along National Highway 1B from Doda to Kishtwar. The caller said that five Muslims had been killed by a Hindu mob and that their bodies had been thrown into the Chenab. The claim seemed improbable, for Karara was guarded not only by a platoon of the BSF's 75 Battalion, but also by a company of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), brought in for the Udhampur Lok Sabha election held a day earlier. But trouble could not be ruled out, for Karara was where Suresh Kumar, who was beaten to death by Muslim villagers at Panasa village for allegedly molesting a local girl on March 17, was to be cremated. The local unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that Suresh Kumar was a BJP worker, and his death in hospital the next day generated tension in the Doda-Kishtwar belt.

When an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police reached Karara at 11.30 a.m., he found nothing amiss. A crowd proceeded with Suresh Kumar's cremation, but all else seemed peaceful. BSF officials whom the ASI spoke to insisted that there had been no trouble. The police officer reported his findings to the police headquarters at Doda. But the anonymous caller who had reported the incident phoned again, insisting that he was telling the truth. This time, Senior Superintendent of Police Farooq Khan drove down to Karara and ordered a search. Yet, until the dried blood was found in the evening, the personnel of neither the BSF nor the ITBP volunteered to explain just had happened. The trail of blood, which was found to begin near the ITBP Company Commander's forest hut, move down to the National Highway, and then split into two before ending on the river bank, remained unexplained. It was only the next morning, when villagers who stood by and watched the killings were questioned, that the truth began to emerge.

Suresh Kumar was, according to the police, a badmaash, the archetypal rural lumpen, with a history of minor crime and violent behaviour. For Hindu residents in Panasa, he was something of a hero, a defender of the faith against terrorists in particular and Muslims in general. It is unlikely that the beating he received on March 17 was intended to kill, for when he was moved to hospital that evening he showed few signs of life-threatening external injury.

The political deployment of the assault was prompt. Chaman Lal Gupta, BJP candidate from Udhampur who was widely tipped to become an MP, promptly let it be known that Suresh Kumar was to have acted as a polling agent for his party the next day. "The National Conference," he insists, "engineered the incident to intimidate our voters and ensure that they did not come out to the polling booths. The area's Hindu villagers evidently agreed, although there is no evidence that any of those who assaulted Suresh Kumar had any political links.

Suresh Kumar died in hospital of internal haemorrhage on March 18: the internal injuries were diagnosed too late for the limited medical facilities on offer to deal with. Under other circumstances, the cremation should have been heavily policed. "Our problem," says Farooq Khan, "was that all our people were busy with moving ballot boxes and securing their storage. We assumed that since there was a large presence of the BSF around the cremation site, nothing much could go wrong."

And so, on the morning of the cremation, people from several villages on the mountains above the highway began to make their way down to the cremation ground at Karara, located just 50 metres from the BSF barrack's last machine-gun post. There were no signs of a murder in the making. No speeches had been made, no calls for vengeance given. Yet the assumption of the police that all would remain peaceful, although reasonable, was soon to be proved wrong.

EIGHT Muslim villagers from Kothi Pain, three women and one old man, were unfortunate enough to choose that morning to make their way down to the highway using a bridle-path cut through the hillside. At Thalela village, they encountered mourners from nearby villages. Surrounded, the group of Muslims was abused and threatened. The women were told that they would be raped; the men were told to prepare themselves for death. A large group of villagers assembled near the BSF bunker on the heights above the road to witness the spectacle. As the eight Muslims were marched down towards the forest hut, beating began. It is possible that the mourners expected a prompt response from the BSF troopers, for they let the women go, and the beating was in the beginning hesitant. But the BSF did nothing. The crowd read this as a signal that it could do what it wished.

The aged Rahman Malik was the first target. Severely beaten and bleeding, he was pushed down the steep slope along the path into a rocky mountain stream. Amazingly, he survived the fall. Malik dragged himself across the stream and fled. Today he is a key witness to the sequence of events. From his position, he could see that the crowd had chosen not to follow him for it had turned its attention to the four young men. They were beaten with sticks and pelted with rocks until they reached the highway. There, Abdul Qayoom attempted to run to the safety of the ITBP camp to his left. One group of mourners followed him along the camp, and the beating continued. The path beside the camp ended abruptly; ahead lay a precipice facing the Chenab. Police sources said that Qayoom was still alive when he was thrown into the fast-flowing water. None in the ITBP intervened to end the violence.

The second group of mourners frog-marched Ghulam Qadir, Abdul Ghani and Ghulam Mustafa down the highway. They headed for the cremation ground, walking past the 75 Battalion's barracks, past a machine-gun post. Although the blood trail makes it clear that the beating must have continued through this stretch, there was again no intervention, not even a single warning shot. The last group of three was beaten to death next to the Chenab and, like Abdul Qayoom, thrown into its waters. The purpose of this last set of murders was to make clear that the killing was collective reprisal for Suresh Kumar's death. Suresh Kumar's body was cremated just a few metres from where the three were killed.

Its work done, the mob set about covering its tracks. The pools of blood that had formed were covered with grit from a stone-crushing unit. By 9.15 a.m., just half an hour after the beatings had begun, all was quiet again.

The killings provoked surprisingly little outrage and were not reported at all, at least not in the national media. The State police, however, promptly recorded a first information report and commenced an investigation. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah then weighed in, bluntly condemning the inaction of the BSF and the ITBP. "Unfortunately," he told Frontline, "there has been a creeping communalisation of a section of the security forces. I blame it squarely on politicians who have turned Hindus against Muslims and Muslims against Hindus." Abdullah ordered strict action against those involved, and 18 persons, including local activists of the RSS, were arrested. The BSF, for its part, has offered no meaningful explanation of its conduct, other than to offer the bizarre proposition that maintaining law and order is not its job.

Chaman Lal Gupta is wholly unrepentant. "What happened in Doda was wrong," he says, "but why investigate only this killing? Has anyone investigated the killings of dozens of Hindus and punished the guilty?"

The Hindu right-wing's obliteration of the distinction between killings by terrorists and during communal violence serves both its electoral and ideological interests in the Jammu region as a whole. Disturbingly, growing sections of the BSF, in particular, have come to see themselves as defenders not of citizens but of a religious community. Days after the January 1996 massacre of 15 Hindus at Barshalla, nine Muslims of a single family were killed in a BSF action ( Frontline, February 23, 1996). The BSF had evidently been led by members of a local Village Defence Committee (VDC), predominantly Hindu vigilante groups set up to help villagers defend themselves against terrorist attacks, into believing that two visitors to the Muslims' home were terrorists. They turned out, along with their seven relatives, to have been wholly innocent of this charge. On Id day this year, Army troops led by Subedar Major Shankar Singh opened indiscriminate fire on Muslim protesters at Qadrana village in Doda (Frontline, March 6, 1998), an action widely read as reprisal for the earlier massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Wandhama in the Kashmir Valley (Frontline, February 20, 1998).

Successive massacres of Hindus, adroitly exploited by Hindutva forces, have helped harden the divide. More disturbingly, there are signs that communal fractures are deepening in the Rajouri-Poonch belt, as terrorists expand their operations in that region. In August 1997, Manzoor Hussain, a Gujjar Muslim schoolteacher posted at Sewari Buddal village, married a Hindu girl, Rita Kumari. The girl came from an impoverished home, and the two evidently married with the blessings of her mother. Hindu communal reaction was prompt. Tension built up and the couple were arrested at Reasi on the charge that the girl had been abducted. Released, they married again at a civil court in Jammu and returned home. This time, the authorities refused to intervene. Three dominant feudal Rajput Hindu families in the village stepped in to enforce tradition and punish the couple's rebellion. Rita Kumari was abducted and taken to a women's home in New Delhi. Both Hussain and his mother-in-law were severely beaten.

What happened next laid the foundation for resentments that continue to simmer. Hussain, according to police investigators, subsequently approached the Farid Khan group of the Hizbul Mujahideen for help. Vengeance was, indeed, prompt. Eight members of the three families who had organised Rita Kumari's abduction were killed. This, in turn, was used by local Hindu extremists to provoke a communal riot. "Some people ensured that the bodies were not cremated for 36 hours," says Rajouri Superintendent of Police Hemant Lohia, "and the large crowd that assembled for the cremations could have been easily provoked. We had to come down very hard to ensure that no further killings of innocent people took place."

Manzoor Hussain is now in jail, facing charges of conspiracy to murder. Rita Kumari remains in Delhi, in a home run by a Hindu religious group, unable to return because of the threat to her life.

"All this is happening because of these two-bit thugs for hire from Pakistan," says Rajouri MLA Chowdhury Mohammad Hussain bitterly. That is the truth, but only part of it. Hindu communalism in Doda and Rajouri-Poonch is driven by massacres carried out by Muslim terrorists but given form and shape by the activities of Hindu extremist organisations. The representation of Muslims as collective aggressors is central to the Hindu right's propaganda platform.

The National Conference has been reluctant to take on Hindu communalism head on. For some Kashmir Valley politicians, the persistence of Hindu commmunalism is convenient; it reinforces their status as spokespersons for Kashmiri Muslims and diverts attention from their developmental and administrative failures. Terrorist groups, the secessionist All-Party Hurriyat Conference and the Indian state too derive their legitimacy from the atrocities of their opponents. Communalism pays: a few dead bodies of unknown villagers in a forgotten region are no price at all for power.

A Rent Act under review

The Maharashtra Government is in a bind over the Bombay Rent Act.

THE controversy over the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act 1947, popularly known as the Bombay Rent Act, has landed the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Maharashtra in an unenviable situation.

The Supreme Court, while delivering its judgment on December 19, 1997 on appeals filed by several property owners in Mumbai, said that the existing provisions of the Act that related to the determining and fixing of the "standard rent" (the highest rent the Act permits a landlord to charge) was "no longer reasonable". The court also said that the extension of these provisions beyond March 31, 1998 (the last day of the previous extension) would be "invalid" and "of no consequence".

The apex court expressed the hope that the State legislature would enact a new rent control Act with effect from April 1, 1998 taking into consideration, among other things, the model rent control legislation the Union Government circulated among the States in 1992. The Bench, comprising Justice J.S. Verma (the then Chief Justice) and Justices B.N. Kirpal and N. Srinivasan, said that there would have to be "very good and compelling reasons" for the Government to depart from the model law. It noted that counsel for the State Government had given it an assurance that the provisions of the model law would be taken into account while framing the new Act.

Since then, the State Government has come under criticism from tenants' lobbies. The Shiv Sena-BJP Government has been accused of having defended the Bombay Rent Act only half-heartedly in the court in order to facilitate the introduction of a piece of "pro-landlord" legislation.

The model law, besides providing for much higher rents than what is payable under the Bombay Rent Act, makes the eviction of tenants easier by providing for the setting up of a parallel judicial process with only one court of appeal after removing the civil courts' jurisdiction over the matter and summary litigation procedure. It also provides for severe curbs on the right of inheritance of tenancies.

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During the Lok Sabha election campaign, the Congress(I) made the question of the Rent Act an electoral issue, particularly in the Mumbai South constituency, in an attempt to woo the tenants' lobbies. For their part, Chief Minister Manohar Joshi and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray gave the tenants assurances that were plainly untenable in the light of the Supreme Court judgment.

On March 16, the Action Committee for Protection of Tenants' Rights, a powerful group consisting of tenants' and traders' associations and central trade unions, including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), observed a bandh in Mumbai.

On January 19, the State Government filed a petition in the Supreme Court pleading for a review of the December 19 judgment. The petition stated that the March 31, 1998 deadline set by the Supreme Court for the enactment of a new law was "too close" and prayed for the grant of "adequate time". Review petitions and intervention petitions have been filed by the Federation of Old Buildings Cooperative Housing Societies, the Action Committee for Protection of Tenants' Rights and other organisations.

After hearing the matter on March 19 and 24, the Supreme Court declined to pass orders on the Government's request for permission to continue with the existing Rent Act beyond March 31. The Bench, comprising Chief Justice M.M. Punchhi and Justices Kirpal and Srinivasan, made it clear that the court would keep the Government's review petition pending until April 17, the date of the next hearing. This forced the Government to bring new legislation into effect by the end of March lest there be a legal vacuum on the rent question between April 1 and 17, if not beyond that date. The Government has therefore taken recourse to a temporary legislative measure that was passed by the State Assembly on March 26 pending the enactment of a unified rent control law applicable to all the regions of Maharashtra. (The Bombay Rent Act is applicable only to specified areas in those parts of Maharashtra that correspond to the Bombay State prior to its reorganisation; there are different rent control Acts for Vidarbha and Marathwada.) The new legislation, which expires on March 31, 1999, differs in only one aspect from the existing Act. It has an additional section that reads as follows: "On the date of the commencement of the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control (Extension of Duration and Amendment) Act, 1998, a landlord shall be entitled to make an increase of five per cent in the rent of premises let before the first day of October 1987." However, whether the Supreme Court finds the temporary legislation acceptable or not remains to be seen.

WHAT is the "standard rent", which is at the centre of the controversy? Except in cases where it has been fixed under the rent control Acts of 1939 and 1944, and in special cases by the court under the 1947 Act, standard rent indicates the rent at which the premises were let on September 1, 1940. Where they were not let on that date, it means the rent at which they were last let before that date; where they were first let after that date, it means the rent at which they were first let.

The Bombay Rent Act, which applies only to private premises, provides that rent in excess of the standard rent is illegal except where an agreement entered into before September 1, 1940 provides for periodic increases. However, it does permit rent increases subject to certain conditions in the case of premises that receive the benefit of improvements or special additions, and premises that are subjected to special or heavy repairs.

With effect from 1987, a landlord has been permitted, subject to certain conditions, to increase the rent on premises in respect of which he or she is required to pay the government, a local authority or a statutory authority any fresh levies (or increase in existing levies) such as "rates, cess, charges, tax, land assessment and ground rent of land."

An amendment to the Act in 1987 provides for an exception to the rule of standard rent. Broadly speaking, this means that the provisions relating to the standard rent and permitted increases do not apply for five years to any premises, the construction or reconstruction of which was completed on or after October 1, 1987. On the expiry of the five-year period, the standard rent applicable to the premises would be an amount equivalent to a "net return of 15 per cent on the investment in the land and building and all outgoings in respect of such premises."

The life of the Bombay Rent Act has been extended around 20 times. In its December 19 judgment, the Supreme Court observed that a perusal of extracts from documents placed on record by the appellants, including reports of several committees and resolutions adopted at the All India Housing Ministers' Conference in 1987 and the Chief Ministers' Conference in 1992, "clearly demonstrates that the pegging down of rents to the pre-War stage and even thereafter is no longer reasonable." The reports referred to by the Supreme Court included those made by the Rent Act Inquiry Committee (1977), the Maharashtra State Law Commission (1979) and the Economic Administrative Reforms (L.K. Jha) Committee (1982).

Some of the points made by the reports and the resolutions were:

* The freezing of rents had deprived property owners of a reasonable return on their properties commensurate with the increase in the cost of living and the cost of building materials. Small property owners who had invested their lifetime savings in houses, partly for earning an income through rents, were hit particularly hard. According to one estimate, in the 1970s, 75 per cent of the landlords were people who were dependent on rent from their properties for their livelihood.

* If rents had not been frozen, new buildings would have been constructed and the proliferation of slums could have been contained in cities such as Mumbai.

* Old and frozen rents bear little relation to present-day maintenance costs, the current returns from alternative forms of investment or the prevailing market rents in respect of new accommodation.

* In cases where rents had remained frozen for five years or more, half the inflation that had taken place since the time of their initial determination should be neutralised.

* The rent control laws had led to the neglect of repairs and maintenance and had virtually frozen the municipal bodies' income from property taxes, which are based on rateable values, which in turn are a function of the prevailing rents.

* The freezing of rents has led to the emergence of practices such as 'key money' (payment of large deposits) that make rented housing less accessible to those who are less privileged.

The Supreme Court judgment cited the hypothetical case, presented by counsel for the appellants, of a landlord who was getting a rent of Rs. 1,200 a year, exclusive of municipal taxes, on September 1, 1940. According to the counsel's calculations, this landlord would receive only Rs. 800 a year in 1996 or 1997 and, as the value of the rupee in 1996 or 1997 was only 1/66th of what it was in 1940, in real terms the annual accrual to the landlord would have fallen from Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 12.12.

The judgment also cited the case of Ram Mahal, a building with 20 residential flats, in Mumbai. The building was bought by one of the appellants in 1955. "According to the appellant... the (present) total gross rent of the building which he receives is Rs. 1,72,032 per annum, while it incurs an annual expenditure of Rs. 1,92,235, consisting of BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) taxes, repairs, ground rent, maintenance charges... and the insurance premium. He is... suffering a loss of Rs. 21,213 every year."

The Supreme Court cited another hypothetical case to make the point that "tenants are, by and large, getting an unwarranted benefit." An assistant of the Union Government posted in Mumbai in 1948 would have received monthly emoluments totalling Rs. 485.50; the same person would be drawing Rs. 11,900 a month in 1997 after the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission. If it is assumed that the rent he was paying in 1948 was Rs. 100 a month exclusive of repairs, he would be paying Rs. 170 a month in 1997. In other words, his liability on account of rent, reckoned as a proportion of his emoluments, would have fallen from about 20 per cent to 0.9 per cent over these 49 years.

However, the judgment also took note of the fact that landlords who were receiving "unreasonably low" rents took recourse to methods that were "slowly giving rise to a state of lawlessness" and expressed concern over the possibility of this "extra-judicial backlash" gathering momentum.

Unfortunately, the tenants' case appears to have been poorly presented before the court. The State Government was represented by only one advocate at the hearing of the appeals. According to an intervention petition filed by the Action Committee for the Protection of Tenants' Rights, the State Government "did not think it fit to brief the Attorney-General, the Advocate-General or the Solicitor-General (all of whom hail from Mumbai and are personally aware of the situation prevailing in Mumbai) to plead its case."

The Shiv Sena-BJP Government appears to have realised now that it would be politically costly to ignore the interests of the tenants. The statement of objects and reasons annexed to the Rent Control Bill that was introduced in the State Assembly on March 26, 1997 and received the President's assent on March 31, 1997 seems to bear this out. It says: "The conditions requiring control of rents and protection from eviction of all protected tenancies continue to exist." The significance of this assertion can be gleaned from an extract from the statement of objects and reasons annexed to the 1947 Bombay Rent Bill: "The latter Act (the Bombay Rents, Hotel Rates and Lodging House Rates (Control) Act, 1944)... was intended to check an inflationary rise in rents... in areas in which, owing to war conditions, there was an acute scarcity of accommodation... The conditions which led to the enactment of these measures continue... and it is, therefore, essential that effective control should be continued until sufficient progress has been made with building operations to provide adequate and suitable accommodation for the largely increased population of the areas..."

Mumbai's population rose from 29,94,444 in 1951 to 99,25,891 in 1991. Given a population increase of this magnitude and the fact that the availability of land in Mumbai for housing purposes is severely limited by virtue of it being an island, it is difficult to envisage the population of the metropolis being "adequately and suitably" accommodated in the foreseeable future.

The 1998 statement of objects and reasons says:

"It is imperative that... rent control and protection against eviction must continue in a just and fair manner, otherwise there will be enormous social unrest, social strife and disruption... The escalations of rent as structured in the Model Rent Control Legislation cannot be regarded as a fair and just solution to the problem of acute scarcity of accommodation, especially in cities such as Mumbai, Pune...

"The effect of these escalations would increase the burden on protected tenants/occupants... the rent itself would become more than 22 times... if the present burden of property and other taxes, which is on the tenants, is taken into account, the burden... would increase manifold.

"Adopting the rates and structure for escalation together with a rate of return of even 6 per cent would result in an overwhelming body of protected tenants/occupants being unable to meet the increased burden...."

The model rent control legislation provides for fixing the standard rent on the basis of a certain percentage return on the total cost - the market value of land when construction began plus the cost of construction and the cost of any renovations or major repairs that may have been undertaken.

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To arrive at the standard rent for any given year, the rent so calculated is to be increased by a certain specified percentage - 4 per cent between 1950 and 1960, 6 per cent between 1960 and 1970 and 8 per cent from 1970 onwards being suggested for Delhi. Charges relating to maintenance, amenities and taxes payable are to be added on a pro rata basis. The neutralisation of inflation to the extent of between 25 and 100 per cent over a period of up to seven years is also envisaged. This would call for a phased increase of the standard rent.

The model law would exempt from rent control all tenancies where the lease extends beyond 20 years and premises carrying more than such monthly rental value (ranging from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,500) as may be specified by a given State. It provides for exemption for 15 years for newly constructed or reconstructed premises and all premises that have been lying untenanted for seven years or more.

The premise that the income earned by Mumbai's landlords from their property has been decreasing as a result of rent control needs to be examined more closely. The pugree system, under which a landlord receives an illicit lump sum payment (which is related to the market value of his premises) every time there is a transfer of tenancy, is prevalent in Mumbai. Besides, landlords have made enormous gains by creating additional floor space and converting residential premises into commercial ones, authorised or otherwise, and the sale of development rights.

The intervention application filed by the Action Committee for the Protection of Tenants' Rights notes that most of the land in the island city (corresponding roughly to the southern two-fifths of Mumbai) is leasehold, the lessors being the State Government, the Brihanmum-bai Mumbai Corporation, the Mumbai Port Trust and other state agencies. The lease rents paid by landlords have increased only marginally, if at all. Property values in the island city appreciate because of the value of land, and this is not the case with old buildings "whose economic life is virtually over," the application says.

As regards the case of Ram Mahal that was cited by the appellants to prove that landlords were getting a raw deal under the rent control regime, the application filed by the Action Committee has an interesting story to tell. According to the application, the present landlord bought the building for Rs. 5 lakhs in 1955; between 1970 and 1998 he permitted ten transfers of premises. "It may fairly be assumed that pugree was received by the landlord," the application states. Also, the landlord has converted two ground-floor flats into commercial premises; one is occupied by a restaurant and the other has been given on tenancy to a relative of the landlord, who has in turn sub-let it to a bank. "Under these circumstances," the application states, "it may be fair to assume that the landlord... has recovered over Rs. 5 crores on the investment of Rs. 5 lakhs."

EMS of 1957 vintage

The transformation which EMS strove to bring about was true to the Marxian observation that men do not make history under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past.

E.M.S. NAMBOODIRIPAD is mortally no more with us. But it is blasphemy to say he is dead. He lives in the hearts and minds of millions of his countrymen and a large number of admirers abroad. Tidal waves of tributes, crores of bosoms in grief and obituary references from all over the globe testify to the great visionary's matchless contribution to revolutionary thought and his dynamic leadership luminously spanning over a semi-centennial space. But a dialectical scan of the historic stem of EMS' governance in Kerala in 1957 that stunned the world as the first democratically elected Communist Party government through constitutional parameters and courageous ballotry may well reveal the ideological mastery and adroit ability of EMS to advance a radical administration, with a margin of a single vote giving him the majority in the House.

He administered the State flawlessly according to the rules of the game, running a radical government with people's support despite hostile vested interests, including the Congress bosses who were in a hurry, waiting in vain to intervene and dismiss him from power on the pretext of constitutional breakdown, democracy being in jeopardy and the rule of law being in peril. EMS, with the versatile vision of a Communist statesman and the flexible realism of a political activist, conformed to the constitutional paradigm and political compulsion of the Nehru era.

What was the secret of this masterpiece of statecraft which held at bay the reactionary cabals and cliques and enabled this radical leader to push through his socialistic programmes? He adopted a strategy that dumbfounded his adversaries in politics by declaring that his government would implement the progressive policies of the Nehru Congress and the Avadi thesis which the Congress high command professed and consistently betrayed. He insisted that land reforms, which was the nation's pledge on gaining Independence, would be implemented without delay, that peasants would not be evicted by latifundists with clout, that labour would be assured of a fair deal and that the police would not interfere in peasant struggles and labour strikes on the side of the landlords and industrial magnates. Social justice in many dimensions would be accomplished for the people and promotion of agriculture and industry would be given high priority. People's participation would be a policy imperative.

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These items on the agenda were supplemented by the liberation of education from the stranglehold of vested interests and radical reforms in this field were brought about. Electricity generation and tapping of irrigation potential, legal aid to the poor and easy access to justice found high place in the contemplated transformation of the economic order. Administrative reforms, which would simplify bureaucratic processes, decentralise the system to bring the people closer to government, were also integral parts of the EMS perspective. His dynamism, clarity of thought and leftist dialectic enabled him to carry his party and progressive sections of people with his line of thinking. A leader of light and learning was at the wheel with firm ideological grip.

Here at last was an awakening of people's power, inspired by a leader whose integrity, credentials of struggles and sacrifices were above suspicion and whose life of simplicity and accessibility was a marvellous model for the rest of the country. He drew a monthly salary of Rs. 350; so did his partymen in the Ministry, although the statutory entitlement was higher. Small wonder that he could command collective reverence and shared responsibility from his colleagues in the Cabinet and the legislators and members of his party.

What was remarkable about this legendary figure in power was that his imaginative grasp of the changes necessary, and their priorities were impeccable. All of us, Ministers, agreed with our obligations as suggested by the leader. We had disagreements no doubt, but not on fundamentals. Wherever minds differed or new policies were launched, there were informal discussions and creases of differences were ironed out. EMS would listen with respect and consent to modifications if convinced, and a consensus was always evolved. We were equals, with EMS being more equal than the rest since, obviously, he had a higher stature, a nobler perception and a longer political experience.

He was among the rarest of the rare in power.

There was a healthy practice cultivated during those days among the members of the Cabinet and leaders of the party - meeting informally almost every week to exchange views and arrive at a community of thought in executing policies. The Left ideology was never forsaken, but the constitutional and other legal limitations were always complied with. The towering personality of EMS made this epic story of Communist rule in Kerala a legend for the country as a whole. Of course, as a Marxist he knew that people, not leaders, make history. He proved, under the difficult circumstances of a Nehru at the Centre, communal forces and Congress politicians in subversive hunger for power, that "men make their own history but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past." The transformation which EMS strove to produce was true to this Marxian observation.

I DISTINCTLY recollect Dhebar as Congress president complaining to me about Namboodiripad's police policy of non-interference in peasant and labour struggles. I explained to him that whenever there was violence, the police would be vigilant, but whenever goondas of employers and landlords threatened workers and peasants with violence, the police would prevent such traditional tactics which distorted social justice and foiled the just claims of workers and peasants. Dhebar could not remonstrate anymore.

Land reforms were integral to social change as India was still feudal in the countryside and the people were asphyxiated by casteist and communal oppression. National liberation had to begin with the land and our edifice of freedom was to be built on the slogan of "land to the tillers". EMS knew the pulse of the people and gave broad guidelines for the transformation process. Thus a pioneering adventure in distributive agrarian justice was given statutory shape. All that the Revenue Minister and Law Minister did was to implement the clear ideas of EMS. Whenever there was doubt, all of us discussed together, hammered out differences and reached an agreed solution. Thus came into being the Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill. Of course, the Supreme Court struck down the Bill on a technical ground. The court could knock down a Bill but could not wipe out a militant demand of the people. So land reforms reincarnated substantially in the same form and no one can refuse to attribute this glorious achievement to EMS who was leading Kerala - in essence, the nation - from its feudal slumber. Regrettably, many parts of India still remain primitive and under the heels of de facto landlordism.

In the field of education, Prof. Joseph Mundassery, the Education Minister, under the guidance and intrepid backing of EMS, started educational reforms which remind one today of the colossal blunder of the hostile forces that conspired to create nightmares among their followers about the Bill which was introduced in the Assembly and passed. Of course, the Church and other reactionary establishments started 'Operation Overthrow'. It must be remembered that with the tacit connivance of the Congress high command and Central government departments, this upsurge took a violent turn, throwing the rule of law to the winds and violating all norms of democracy and constitutional order. The State Government desisted from using the police and insisted on minimal force where engineered clashes threatened the peace of the State. I was Home Minister and can claim that never in free India's history was so little force used against so large a violent turbulence masterminded by the Church, the Nair Service Society (NSS) and other vested interests supported by motivated dollars from abroad and concealed support from the Congress leadership. Political memory may be short and so, I may remind the present generation of Indians that, aided by American dollars, para-military training was being imparted in several Church compounds for the battle to oust the legally constituted EMS Government. I had condemned this Christoper's movement in the House as Home Minister. And yet not one was put in preventive detention and prisons were reformed to comport with human dignity - the best then in the country and I was the Minister for Prisons.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had held a conference in Delhi in late 1958 and eminent jurists gathered there were misled into the impression that there was a breakdown of the Constitution in Kerala State. So the Secretary-General of the ICJ visited Kerala to see for himself whether there was violation of the rule of law and departure from the norms of democracy. I spent hours with him and discussed every facet of the law and order situation. He was thoroughly satisfied that the police policy of the State was in harmony with the norms of democracy. He visited Chennai the next day and, addressing a gathering in the Cosmopolitan Club there, presided over by Justice A.S.P. Aiyar, said how he had met and held long discussions with the Home Minister of Kerala and added a passage pregnant with meaning: "Either the Home Minister was a mota Communist and he did not know that; or I was a Communist and did not know that; so complete was the identity of views on the democratic situation in Kerala." This passage was communicated to me by Justice Aiyar the very next day.

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Congress general secretary Sucheta Kripalani came with similar grievances and so I called her for tea and explained to her our position. She left with no answer. The violent crisis persisted, fertilised by instigation from abroad and from Delhi. The Congress party in the State conveniently fished in troubled waters and gave leadership to this movement of chaos and anarchy. Namboodiripad requested me to apprise Nehru of the shocking developments, organised by the vested interests of Kerala and abetted aggresively by the Congress party. Many within the Congress, like V. K. Krishna Menon, did not agree with this unconstitutional programme of action. Under the direction of EMS, I met Nehru at Ooty and explained to him that under the hegemony of his party (of which Indira Gandhi was then president) the Church, the NSS and other reactionary forces were conspiring to tear up the Constitution of India and the Kerala regime which implemented the great promises of its Preamble. Nehru seemed stunned and asked 'Indu' to discuss the matter with me. That formality was a ritual and Nehru's condemnation was formal. EMS and his Government were unconstitutionally overthrown by the misuse of the obnoxious Article 356, invoking a theory of a wall of separation between the people and the government.

HISTORY, when retold with authenticity, will reveal the great developmental work executed by the EMS Ministry. New industries were started, false charges were resisted and dauntlessly we marched on without fear of honest contradiction. I may claim that so much was done in so short a span to put Kerala on the map of dynamic socialist advance under the luminous and dialectically guided leadership of one man, EMS. There was no personality cult and there was no pomp or propaganda either. I could and did sometime disagree, and frank exchange of views resolved friction.

In every field we acted collectively. New medical and engineering colleges, new irrigation projects and hydel plants were constructed. There were many agricultural reforms. On the whole the Legislative Assembly itself was lively and constructive. Many new courts were started; many legal aid programmes were initiated. Party cadres never interfered in judicial matters. The Chief Justice of Kerala was asked in high secrecy by G.B. Pant, the then Union Home Minister, whether the Communist cells were influencing crime investigations and his reply was clearly in the negative. Chief Justice K.T. Koshi himself told me this.

Nehru came to Thiruvananthapuram to see for himself what all the ballyhoo was about. He told the Cabinet that he had three points to raise with us. First, he wanted a certain section of the Education Bill to be suspended. Secondly, he wanted a case of police firing to be judicially investigated (Florey's case). And, thirdly, he desired that the 32 charges Asoka Mehta had raised in Parliament against the Kerala Government - an outrageously novel stratagem - should be inquired into. We took a day's time, had consultations among ourselves and with the party and met Panditji to tell him that we were willing to suspend a section of the Education Bill, were prepared to order a judicial probe into the police firing and finally, were agreeable to Jawaharlal Nehru himself looking into the Asoka Mehta charges; and if he found us guilty we were willing to resign. Nehru was astonished and perplexed and went back to report to his partymen who would be satisfied with nothing short of a death sentence on the Ministry, that is, the dismissal of the Government. When I met Nehru the next day he looked pale and almost comatose. I have a photograph of a dazed Panditji with me near him. Later, in Delhi, he surrendered and President's rule was imposed.

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EMS was a great statesman and took this contra-constitutional action with the firmness of a profound Communist. Later he came back to power. Still later, he shone in India's sky as a great thinker, a prolific writer and speaker, a spotless statesman who will be remembered for long as one like whom few have lived in free India.

V.R. Krishna Iyer, a former Judge of the Supreme Court was a Minister in the Communist Government in Kerala led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, which assumed office in 1957.

The challenges of strategic defence

JASJIT SINGH cover-story

India has so far pursued a policy of keeping the nuclear option open, which essentially is a policy of restraint. And it is important that restraint remains the central element of India's nuclear policy.

THE debate on India's strategic policy, especially the nuclear option, has been going on for decades. So far India has pursued a policy of keeping the option "open". This essentially is a policy of restraint. And it is important that restraint remains the central element of its nuclear policy.

The option could be closed by shifting to either end of the spectrum, that is, either becoming formally a non-nuclear weapons state (which could be done by signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)), or going in for weaponisation. In the 1990s, there has been increased pressure to move towards the second choice in spite of the deep-rooted abhorrence of most Indians for nuclear weapons. During the past three years there have also been demands for carrying out a nuclear test. The BJP, which has been advocating a hard line on nuclear weapons for long, is now in power at the Centre with a declared intention to re-evaluate India's nuclear policy and exercise the option. Statements made by the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister soon after assuming power indicate that any change of policy would be based on a fresh evaluation and a strategic review. This makes it all the more necessary to examine the issues once again.

To start with, it is necessary to answer the question: does India need nuclear weapons (or an option to make them)? If so, why?

INDIA does not require to possess nuclear weapons for status or prestige. In the ultimate analysis, its status will be determined by how its problems - ranging from poverty eradication to socio-economic change and human development - are solved. Nuclear weapons are relevant only in relation to nuclear weapons and should not be expected to solve other problems, such as militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. The nuclear dilemma is only one part of the challenges and problems that the country must address, although it is a crucial one.

The nuclearisation of India's security environment took place in the early 1960s and intensified in the late 1980s when Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons. The Cold War and much of the articulated doctrines of the nuclear weapons states, especially the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia, during the Cold War period, were focussed on nuclear warfighting and blindly building up tens of thousands of weapons in their stockpiles. Much of this was merely to prove "superiority". This approach must be rejected. An objective analysis of the history of nuclear weapons indicates that:

1. There is no credible defence against nuclear weapons. The maximum that can be achieved is defence through deterrence. Nuclear weapons have a horrendously high level of destructive capability. Deterrence, therefore, does not require the creation of arsenals and weapons stocks equal or superior to that of the potential adversary; it is sufficient that they deter the other side from initiating a threat of use or actual use. The prospect of a retaliation that would cause grievous damage would provide the necessary deterrence. This is why the U.S., in spite of its overwhelming superiority of nuclear weapons at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, reconciled itself to a negotiated settlement: even though the U.S. could have annihilated the Soviet Union, some nuclear weapons would have got through to American cities, and that was deterrent enough.

2. As against only one incident of actual use (of two bombs) since 1945, there have been over 46 identifiable incidents of nuclear weapons threat being held out in ways that were more explicit than the threat implicit in mere possession of such weapons. All these cases occurred when the threatening power enjoyed a favourable asymmetry in nuclear weapons capability. Thus, nuclear asymmetry is the core of the problem that affects the conduct of states, their relations, foreign policy choices and military equations.

3. Asymmetry has allowed nuclear weapons states to indulge in political coercion in pursuit of their own interests. China had acquired nuclear weapons and is modernising them to safeguard itself against nuclear "blackmail". But nuclear coercion is not the prerogative of any one nuclear power. It may be recalled that during the Bangladesh liberation war in December 1971, the U.S. despatched a nuclear-armed task force led by USS Enterprise in order to coerce New Delhi. The then President Richard Nixon stated 14 years later that he had considered using nuclear weapons during that war. India's willingness to include the security clause in the 1971 Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty was no doubt motivated by the need to build insurance against possible actions by other nuclear weapons states. And while the 1974 Pokhran test was driven by other goals, it also provided a signal to Moscow that India would not need to depend on the security clause in that treaty any more.

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NUCLEAR weapons thus represent a powerful political tool that has been used in the pursuit of foreign policy rather than in military operations. In India's case, nuclear asymmetry that is adverse to its interests and security exists and impacts on its security environment. There is a long-standing territorial (not merely border) dispute with China, and no solution to it seems to be in sight. Bilateral agreements commit both sides to peace and tranquillity along the borders. Relations are improving across the board. But so did they in the 1950s. Eight years after the Panch Sheel agreement was signed, the two countries were at war, and the consequences of that war still remain. China still claims parts of India, including Arunachal Pradesh. China talks of "re-unification" as a sacred duty, and it is not clear whether Arunachal Pradesh is included in the concept of reunification. At the same time, Tibet continues to be a sensitive issue for China. It was a revolt in Tibet in 1959 that triggered a significant deterioration of Sino-Indian relations, which led to the war about two years later. Such contingencies have to be planned for well in time even if they are unpleasant to contemplate during a period of improving relationship.

China is the biggest military power in Asia, and its power is growing. There are many strategic uncertainties that India will have to contend with in the coming years and decades. But it is clear that China does not pose a threat in a way that India cannot adequately deal with. The issue thus is not a question of a threat from China, but the fact that if India has to maintain its independence of policy and action, it must have adequate means of self-defence, whether conventional or nuclear. The challenge is in ensuring the autonomy and strength to deal with future coercion or military pressure. It is in this context that India will require a nuclear deterrent. China and India have signed agreements in recent years to maintain peace and tranquillity based on the principle of mutual and equal security. The concept of equal security could become meaningless, or worse, a mirage, if nuclear asymmetry is perpetuated.

A similar, though lesser, problem exists vis-a-vis Pakistan, although it entered into the nuclear equation only recently. A Pakistani nexus in the matter of nuclear-missile proliferation continues to pose its own challenges, and Pakistani civilian and military leaders of the past are now substantively on record as having said that all the wars against India were initiated by that country. Its present leaders frequently brandish their nuclear deterrent. Even pro-Pakistan U.S. thinktanks are of the view that the gap between India and Pakistan is widening and this strategic divergence could lead to some desperate adventure by the Pakistani leadership, especially if its internal ethno-sectarian conflict and economic crisis continue. This leaves little confidence in the Pakistani leaders' intentions. At the same time, there is no guarantee that a nuclear weapons state will not again seek to apply political coercion on the strength of its nuclear capability, especially if India remains a state of adverse nuclear asymmetry.

THERE are only three possible ways in which the challenges of this asymmetry can be resolved: 1. India gets security through extended deterrence linked to an alliance with a nuclear weapons state; 2. global nuclear disarmament, or 3. India acquires an independent nuclear deterrent.

The first choice is not really a choice since it goes against the very principles of independent India. In any case, no security guarantee by a nuclear weapons state would be credible in the post-Cold War period. Any security assurance by the United Nations Security Council is meaningless since the chances are that the threatening power will be a nuclear weapons state with a veto power in the Council.

Obviously, the second option is the most desirable one since it protects India's interests and security while being in consonance with its values and principles. This is the reason why India sought disarmament from the very beginning. Unfortunately, while the accumulation of nuclear weapons stockpiles were being justified during the Cold War as being necessary for peace between the two blocs, after the Cold War ended everything points to the unwillingness of nuclear weapons states to give up nuclear weapons. The focus, on the other hand, has shifted from disarmament to non-proliferation. Indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT has legitimised the nuclear weapons status of five states for an indefinite period.

India has made disarmament a more urgent (and time-bound) goal, but concern is growing that actual progress will take decades. It was hoped that at least after the Cold War was over, progress on nuclear disarmament would be more visible. But arms control agreements such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty-2 (START-2) have not been ratified and schedules for the implementation of earlier agreements have slipped. Everything points to the fact that nuclear weapons states will retain their nuclear weapons well into the next century. Russia has reversed its earlier position of supporting disarmament and now seeks to retain nuclear weapons against the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But notwithstanding the task of progress, disarmament is the real durable solution to the security dilemma.

But nothing short of global disarmament can provide tangible results in resolving the adverse asymmetry that India faces. This leaves hardly any choice but to look seriously at acquiring a nuclear deterrent at least until nuclear disarmament becomes an established reality. The issue is how (and when) to exercise the option to create the necessary deterrent capability. India's relations with China have been improving for quite some time now. There is a window of opportunity for further improvement. Yet it would be prudent to keep an insurance policy for unforeseen reversals.

The question then shifts from whether India should exercise the option, to how and when it should do so. This is where serious consideration needs to be given to the isues involves on a non-partisan basis.

THERE are many ways of looking at how to "exercise" the nuclear option. But three points need attention. While India does need an independent nuclear deterrent, there is no hurry to get it. Nuclear threats do not arise overnight, and some advance indication of the likely situation which could demand such capability in self-defence would normally be available. While it can be argued that Pakistan's behaviour has been quite hostile even in recent times, this is not what should drive urgent action. That this has been the underlying assumption is reflected in the fact that India has not allowed the situation to get out of hand in spite of severe provocation and transnational terrorism and militancy in India for over 15 years which have resulted in nearly 40,000 deaths. This was the period when Pakistan acquired its nuclear weapons and rattled that capability often in aggressive ways.

The second issue is that the progress toward acquiring a nuclear deterrent must not be guided by emotions but by a carefully calculated process that weighs the costs and benefits of a policy. For example, should India test a nuclear bomb to demonstrate that it is going nuclear? The answer is, obviously, no. The test in 1974, though carried out for different reasons, provided sufficient demonstration of India's scientific ability to design and fabricate a fission bomb. A test would inevitably invite sanctions from the U.S. because its national laws decree it. And many other countries may be expected follow suit. Therefore, the issue really is that of the balance of cost and benefit of carrying out a test. A thermonuclear bomb may require a test. But does India need a thermonuclear device at this stage for deterrence for self-defence? The answer is: not at the cost it carries.

THE third point is that India needs to be clear about the doctrine (and hence the strategy and posture) to be followed if it acquires nuclear weapons. It needs to learn from the actions of the five nuclear weapons states, but there is no need to follow them blindly. It has to evolve its own solutions. The foregoing discussion makes it clear that the only reason for acquiring nuclear weapons would be to deter nuclear weapons threat and use at a future date. Thus, the maximum posture that India would ever require is that of minimum deterrence. This obviously is a worst-case scenario. The Chinese posture with necessary modifications (since India's requirements will be of a significantly lower order) becomes a relevant example. But the more reasonable and optimum posture would be based on what may be termed as "recessed deterrence". This posture would not require weaponisation as such; however, all elements of the deterrent (warheads, delivery systems and infrastructure) are kept at a level of preparedness which allows for their rapid shift to a deployed status. This is not a doctrine of ambiguity, but one that seeks to define capabilities that can be rapidly transformed into an operational arsenal of a certain minimum level. This would provide an additional level of deterrence against escalation of tensions into a conflict since the adversary would know, and should be told, that India will move towards an operational arsenal if the security environment deteriorates.

WHAT does a recessed deterrence posture require? To start with, it needs an adequate amount of fissile material for weapons purposes. International experts believe that India will have upwards of 250 kg of weapons-grade plutonium (enough to make 50-odd bombs) by A.D. 2000. There is no doubt that India has the wherewithal to make plutonium-based 15 to 30 kiloton-yield nuclear warheads. A thermonuclear bomb would be desirable but will require testing. India has the sovereign right to test, but the costs of the likely international response outweigh the benefits, at least at this stage. The 1974 peaceful explosion provided India with enough basis for a credible capability. It also needs to be remembered that the Hiroshima bomb was not tested; yet it was not any less effective because of that. A nuclear test, therefore, remains a desirable measure but not a necessity. A test will define the quality of the deterrent, but not its credibility.

It is in the area of delivery system that work is required. Such a system will need to be missile-based if it has to cover ranges of up to 5,000 km (which is perhaps the maximum limit of India's requirement). Aircraft will remain subject to risks of interception. This is why the weapons states maintain a triad. Reliable operational deployment of ballistic missiles will take time. If India goes by the experience of other countries, two dozen or more tests may be needed before adequate operational reliability can be ensured. The last test of the intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) was carried out more than four years ago. While the three Agni tests successfully demonstrated the technology, they are not adequate for a deployable option. An operational IRBM system in requisite numbers, therefore, could be as much as 10 years away at this stage, especially when the restrictive technology denial regimes instituted by the West are taken into account. But it is clear that the priority, and the path to "exercising the option", lies in expediting the development of intermediate range ballistic missiles.

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Although all the 16,000 ballistic missiles used in wars since 1944 were armed with conventional warheads, the missile programme is the key to credible nuclear capability. The advantage of investments in missiles is that they can be used with conventional warheads also. The Indian Government stated in 1996 that a decision on further development of the IRBM would be taken depending on the security environment obtaining at that time. But that would be too late. India must get out of the Panipat syndrome of national defence. It is necessary to take steps to carry out four to six IRBM tests a year on a priority basis. Then the process of keeping the option open will be more credible and progress will be made toward exercising the option when necessary. Meanwhile India should be willing to forgo ballistic missiles if all countries are willing to abolish them since this will be a major step toward nuclear disarmament.

WHAT will be the costs of a recessed deterrence strategy? One is that this may prove to be too late at a crucial time. But planning on the basis of worst-case scenarios should be avoided. Usually, nuclear threats emerge linked to a conventional war, and the utility of nuclear weapons will continue to come down rather than increase, in the coming decades. Fewer weapons are required for deterrence as states and societies become more industrialised and integrated. Even a small arsenal would provide adequate deterrence capability and function as a political tool on a par with large arsenals.

The other cost is financial, which must be looked at seriously, especially since precious resources will be invested. Here India has some advantage in that the peaceful nuclear programme for civilian purposes has already absorbed most of the costs involved in creating a deterrent. The nuclear programmes of South Africa and Pakistan did not grow out of any civilian programmes and the costs, therefore, were high. South Africa spent a total of $250 million for its six bombs, and Pakistani leaders claim that their programme cost a similar amount by 1996. What India will have to cater for is the missile development cost and the incremental costs of weaponisation if and when India needs to resort to it.

In terms of international political and economic costs, no violation of international commitment would be involved. The international community has already been sensitised to what many of them term as the "quasi-nuclear" weapons capability of India. As long as India moves incrementally and with due restraint, international reaction is not likely to harm its interests in any significant way.

Air Commodore Jasjit Singh is Director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.

Appearance of unconcern

NOBODY in the Clinton administration lost sleep over the possible electoral outcome when India went to the polls, nor has the Bharatiya Janata Party's assumption of power left anybody scratching his or her head. The initial statements of the United States Government were, if anything, on thelines of the statements that had been put out on a routine basis over the last two years or so: Washington was prepared to work with any government that emerged in New Delhi.

As a matter of fact, the point has been made in some quarters that the U.S. should not have any problem with the BJP at least from an ideological viewpoint. In terms of international policy, the BJP was one of the first to call for "genuine non-alignment", or India distancing itself from the Soviet Union. In the present scheme of things, the assessment has been that the BJP, as the leader of the coalition Government, will be forced to scale down its domestic and foreign policy platforms. In the realm of foreign affairs these include the policies on nuclearisation and economic reforms and liberalisation.

Knowledgeable people in the U.S. had come to believe that one reason why the BJP was upping the ante on the nuclear issue was that the party had been forced to give up much of its rhetoric on domestic issues given the nature of the coalition arrangement. The same holds good as far as the toughened stance on economic reforms and liberalisations is concerned.

To say that the Clinton administration is worked up over the recent utterances by BJP leaders on the nuclear issue - the need to keep the nuclear option "open"- would be to give too much credit to the single-agenda specialists who wish, for obvious reasons, to see both New Delhi and Washington tied down to this problem. The fact of the matter is that the Clinton administration has come to believe that there is nothing much different in what the BJP is saying now from what has been said by previous Indian governments. It would be too naive on the part of the U.S. to believe that a new government in New Delhi would say that the nuclear option cannot be kept open.

It is for this consistency on the part of successive governments in New Delhi that no one in the Clinton administration is talking about "sanctions", although there can be no illusion that India will be spared of puntive measures if it actually decides to pursue a nuclear weapons programme. The response would be firm and take different forms: it would go beyond bilateral action. The U.S. would try to involve multilateral forums and try to persuade its allies to move in the same direction as it moves.

The critical point to note is that no one in Washington talks about sanctions "if" India goes nuclear. Discussing hypothetical situations would poison an environment that has shown signs of positive development in the last several months, and the inclination in Washington has been to avoid harping on issues that could hamper such developments. In fact, senior U.S. officials have stated that South Asia is not on the brink of a nuclear war and that the nuclear issue was one of many issues that the U.S. pursued in the region.

There is also the realisation that harping on the "irrationality" of South Asians will serve little purpose: some people would consider this as bordering on racism - which would hardly enhance the image of Washington in South Asia. The reasoning is that the U.S.' interest in India goes far beyond preaching nuclear non-proliferation or human rights. A case in point is the recently started strategic dialogue, in which the two countries are addressing a range of bilateral, regional and global issues that goes beyond the traditional agenda.

Of course, there are those who believe that the U.S. and India could strike a mutually beneficial bargain on the nuclear question. One suggestion is that India emulate the example of China in seeking U.S. technology and the help of U.S. companies for civilian nuclear power. Another suggestion is that if nations that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but have not abided by them have received incentives, surely there must be something for nations such as India, which have not signed them but behaved.

The view from Islamabad

Pakistan sees the Vajpayee Government's nuclear policy pronouncement as a serious threat and has warned that it would review its own nuclear policy to safeguard its national security.

PAKISTAN'S reaction to the BJP-led coalition Government's commitment to "exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons" has been on expected lines. Even as careful scrutiny of the statements made by the new leaders in New Delhi continued, Pakistan came out with a sharp response.

A statement released by the Foreign Office said that the policy pronouncement was a "dangerous development for the region as well as for the world". Pakistan, it said, was "very seriously disturbed" at the assertion and its implications, which, it said, "threaten the peace and stability of South Asia." The statement claimed that India's missile and nuclear programmes had "no relevance, in their enormity, to genuine Indian defence needs."

The statement further said that the "open threat" to exercise the nuclear option had created a "fearsome situation" and heightened the threat to Pakistan's security. It also dealt a "grievous blow" to global and regional efforts at nuclear non-proliferation, the statement said. "It flies in the face of all nuclear non-proliferation efforts and contemporary trends for disarmament, arms control and conflict resolution through peaceful means."

Significantly, the statement added: "In this situation, if the need arises, we shall review our policy to safeguard our sovereignty, territorial integrity and national interests. We urge the international community to take serious note, as it deserves, of Indian intentions and to exert pressure on India to show restraint, and refrain from endangering regional and global peace and security."

PAKISTAN'S concerns are obvious. For the first time, an Indian Government has officially declared its intention to consider the induction of nuclear weapons after a strategic defence review. Although subsequent statements from New Delhi have qualified this intention, Islamabad would obviously base its response and policy options on the worst-case scenario.

Concerns about India's "nuclear ambitions" and "hegemonistic ambitions" have always been a part of Pakistan's propaganda framework. Islamabad has never let slip an opportunity to score propaganda points against New Delhi. Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan, while making a statement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), told the National Assembly on February 25: "Totally isolated, India not only tried to torpedo the CTBT at Geneva but also spared no effort to block the U.N. General Assembly resolution in New York." India's "nuclear ambitions" had been once again confirmed, he said.

Gohar Ayub Khan further said that it was "unfortunate" that India had shown no sign of giving up its "hegemonistic nuclear designs and great power ambitions." He claimed that in addition to its "nuclear weapons development and large-scale weaponisation," India had deployed nuclear-capable missiles along the border. Pakistan, he said, could not remain indifferent to the "spiralling arms build-up" across the border and would have to take steps to safeguard its defence and national security. An arms race, said Gohar Ayub Khan, was detrimental to regional peace and stability, and the onus for "this unhappy and unsatisfactory situation clearly rests with India."

In another statement made in Parliament, the Foreign Minister said that "new and more lethal weapon systems" were being inducted in the region. A massive militarisation drive was on and long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and "Pakistan-specific" missiles were being developed and deployed across the border, he said. Pakistan's security was endangered, and it could not remain indifferent to it, he went on. "Pakistan will bend its resources and its own indigenous capacities and capabilities to provide an equal response."

One of Pakistan's leading scholars, Eqbal Ahmed, told Frontline: "If India decides to weaponise, Pakistan will follow suit." Ahmed was of the opinion that the BJP's nuclear position was a "policy" and not mere rhetoric contained in an election manifesto.

Asked about his assessment of Pakistan's nuclear capability, Ahmed said that Islamabad was capable of producing at short notice six to 10 Hiroshima-type nuclear devices. However, Ahmed was of the opinion that Pakistan was not capable of producing devices that were small enough to be launched from missile heads.

Ahmed said he believed that Western intelligence agencies had exaggerated Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, but he disagreed with the position of "informed hawkish elements" in India that Islamabad's capability was a "bluff". In his opinion, Pakistan would be better off maintaining a posture of "nuclear ambiguity". However, he stated that if India did exercise the weapons option, it would "test" whether or not Pakistani capability in the field existed.

WHATEVER the precise status of Pakistan's nuclear capability, Islamabad is certain to seek to "weaponise" immediately in response to any move by India to induct nuclear weapons into its arsenal. Also, it is felt that Pakistan does not have to come out with a "matching" response to India.

Former Foreign Secretary Tanvir Ahmed Khan argued: "Unlike India, Pakistan has no global compulsions; its deterrence can be pegged at the minimal level as long as its credibility and quality are insured against erosion caused by Indian advances in pre-emption and interception. Deterrence does not require matching numbers."

Ahmed Khan said the Indian nuclear programme was spurred primarily by "three compulsions". First, India's ambitions, he said, went beyond Pakistan and China and recognised no restraints short of universal nuclear disarmament. Second, the technical momentum of India's nuclear and missile development projects had become "virtually unstoppable". And thirdly, there was a great political dividend in the induction of second-generation nuclear weapons and the production of Agni, the celebrated demonstrator of India's Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme, Ahmed Khan added.

THERE appears to be little doubt that Pakistan will go in for the weapons option in case India decides to do so. Of course, Islamabad is well aware of the difference between putting out a statement and formulating a policy. However, the state of its delivery systems remains in doubt despite the "test" of the Hatf-III surface-to-surface missile on July 3, 1997. The Hatf-III, which is akin to the Chinese-made M-9 missile, reportedly has a 600-km range. However, credible sources said that the Hatf-III test was an "engine test" conducted by the Karachi-based Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO).

In recent weeks, Pakistani newspapers have spoken of "scheduled" - and later "postponed" - tests of the 1,500-km-range Ghauri missile. The test was to have been witnessed by political leaders and the top brass of the military, but has not taken place.

For Pakistan, one complicating factor is that it must constantly appease the hawks in its own establishment. On India, the Pakistani establishment faces the pressure of being not-too-friendly, which almost always results in hostile propaganda against its eastern neighbour.

THE "first round" of statements and responses on the weaponisation issue is over. Pakistan will carefully look at future statements; it will also examine statements such as that there is no time-frame for inducting nuclear weapons. And based on its assessment, Pakistan will come out with its own policy which, by all accounts, would be to go in for the weapons option.

For the moment, in bilateral relations the focus could well shift to the stalled Foreign Secretary-level dialogue. Pakistan, which accused India of resiling from its commitments in the dialogue process, is expected to react to the proposals presented to break the impasse in the dialogue in Dhaka on March 15. As expected, warm messages have been exchanged by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee. Even so, the Indian Government's stated nuclear intentions will prompt a close Pakistani vigil.

Seeking a paradigm shift

PRAFUL BIDWAI cover-story

The BJP's nuclear policy is an unprincipled, violent break with long-established consensus. It will degrade India's security and legitimise horror weapons. The Government has no mandate for this.

WHATEVER compromises the Bharatiya Janata Party may have made with its allies to string together hastily the National Agenda for Governance (NAG), the party has yielded nothing whatsoever on the question of nuclear weapons. It has imposed on them, word for word, the precise formulation of its election manifesto: it will "re-evaluate the country's nuclear policy, and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons." The BJP agreed to put in abeyance the manifesto's obsession with Ayodhya, Article 370 and a Uniform Civil Code, as also many other demands. But its inflexibility on the nuclear issue, and the appointment of the hawkish Murli Manohar Joshi as the Minister in charge of Atomic Energy, shows that it is dead serious about nuclearisation.

This is not a result of its allies' informed and principled agreement, as opposed to hollow consensus: they at best discussed nuclear weapons desultorily before the release of the National Agenda on March 18; most parties in this ragtag band are not known for an informed stand on security issues. The National Agenda's formulation directly reflects the BJP's views. This has not attracted the attention it deserves because of the soft attitude of much of the media towards the BJP, and the attempt of the hawkish segment in the "strategic community" to play down the significance of the new orientation. Some commentators have sought to present this as a continuation of earlier nuclear ambiguity. After all, the Government has not said that India is about to test a weapon, so what is the fuss? Why raise an alarm after Vajpayee has tried to "soften" his stand by saying that India will go nuclear only "if necessary"?

IN reality, the BJP-led Government's stated nuclear policy is a major, unconscionable, violent departure from the earlier official posture. Both in essence and practice, and in its premises and conclusions, it puts India on the path to overt nuclearisation. This, as we shall soon see, is disastrous for national security. Of course, the BJP has not clearly defined what exercising "the option" means. The statement is open to interpretation. Does it mean that India already has the weapons, and will now formally "induct" them? Is this a declaration of intent or a definite plan? What is the distinction between manufacture/possession of nuclear weapons and their deployment? Will India test such weapons, or "induct" them without testing?

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The fact that there are such ambiguities does not mean that there is no fundamental clarity about one proposition: namely, that the BJP wants India to cross the nuclear threshold and end the basic ambiguity in a policy that left the nuclear weapons capability (that is, technological potential) untranslated into a weapons arsenal (a tangible military asset). This, surely, is a paradigm shift from the policy that New Delhi has followed since 1974.

Underlying this shift are two premises: first, that nuclear weapons are legitimate instruments of war; and second, that India needs them for its security. Neither premise bears scrutiny. Both violate the Indian stand on this issue for five decades - namely, that nuclear weapons, being particularly horrifying weapons of mass destruction, are morally indefensible, legally impermissible, and strategically irrational. They are fundamentally illegitimate. If there is one thread of continuity in New Delhi's stated stand on nuclear weapons through all its vacillations, shifts of nuance, and varying degrees of ambiguity through the past 50 years, it is this: it has never conceded their legitimacy This was true in the 1950s, when it wanted them declared "a crime against humanity"; in the 1980s, when it advanced the Rajiv Gandhi abolition plan; or in 1995-96, when, even amidst the heated debate over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), it argued spiritedly before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for their outlawing.

India's plea was upheld by the ICJ's July 1996 "advisory opinion" declaring the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons as being in violation of international law and international humanitarian law. Nuclear weapons are quintessentially offensive, and liable to wreak indiscriminate devastation over vast areas through intense shock-waves, scorching heat, firestorms, and ionising radiation - with their effects lasting across generations. They are the first human invention with the awesome potential to exterminate the human race, indeed all life. They violate all principles of justice in war (jus in bello), including military necessity, proportionality (of violence), sparing of non-combatants, and avoidance of cruel and inhuman methods.

Nuclear weapons are also astrategic. According to distinguished generals - including Lee Butler, who headed the United States Strategic Command - they are strategically irrational, and associated with excessive risks and large-consequence accidents. Indeed, only insane strategists endorse nuclear war-fighting. But even the threat of their use, or deterrence, is wholly indefensible: it is illegitimate to threaten to scorch millions of people to instant death. Thus New Delhi has always argued that nuclear deterrence is an "abhorrent" and "repugnant" doctrine.

The BJP violates this sound logic. Needless to say, it does not state its own reasoning, such as it might be, for doing so. All one can glean from its leaders' statements is that India should have nuclear arms because others have them, because of the size of its population, or because they are unlikely to be abolished in the near future. None of this constitutes a valid reason. Rather, it is no more than a mere statement of the crude logic of retribution which should shock any civilised conscience. New Delhi's stated policy has, again, soundly held that nuclear weapons are "not essential to the security of any state". Indeed, they create not security but insecurity. The whole history of the four decades-long global nuclear arms race was the story of states amassing more and more such weapons and building increasingly sophisticated warheads and delivery vehicles - only to add to their own insecurity. Built into the logic of nuclear deterrence is an arms race - a profoundly irrational, runaway competition which destabilises security balances and generates more insecurity. One irrefutable lesson of the past half-century is that insecurity or threats produced by nuclear weapons cannot be met by nuclear weapons.

Nothing has recently happened in India's security environment that warrants even a mild qualification of this proposition. It is irrelevant to cite, as some of India's hawks do, Sino-Pakistani nuclear cooperation. Apart from being old hat, such cooperation is of a limited, non-strategic nature. No state has recently threatened India with nuclear weapons or acted more belligerently than before. The global prospect for nuclear weapons elimination has not remained static or deteriorated. On the contrary, since the end of the Cold War, the world has witnessed a weak, uncertain, halting, reversible but nevertheless authentic, new momentum favouring nuclear disarmament. The end of the Cold War knocked out the principal rationale for nuclear arsenals. This is being increasingly recognised by policy-makers and -shapers. Thousands of nuclear weapons have been taken off alert, and there has been some progress in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process despite greater U.S.-Russian asymmetry and the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). There is growing pressure on the nuclear weapons states (NWSs) to disarm - in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review process, in the Conference on Disarmament, in the United Nations General Assembly, and in other forums. The end to testing, and the signing of the CTBT (with all its imperfections and problems with entry-into-force), represent a sizable gain, as does the denuclearisation of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and the dismantling of the capabilities of Argentina, Brazil and South Africa.

The moral-legal-political norm against nuclear weapons has been strengthened with the fruition of a number of recent initiatives. Among them are the ICJ verdict, itself the result of a global campaign by a now-reinvigorated peace movement; the 1996 Canberra Commission report, by an independent expert group, including Nobel laureate Joseph Rotblat and, at another extreme, such former establishment hawks as Robert MacNamara, calling for the complete abolition, not just reduction, of nuclear weapons; and most important, a December 1997 statement by 61 former generals and admirals from the world over, including India, which powerfully indicts nuclear weapons-based strategic thinking and demands their abolition on strategic grounds that even hard-nosed generals will find difficult to refute.

No less significant has been the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention last year, which faced stiff resistance from the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate, the Russian Duma, and New Delhi (which delayed depositing the instrument of ratification by a year, and even threatened to withdraw it), apart from Pakistan. This strengthens the norm against weapons of mass destruction and, with its tough intrusive verification procedures, creates a useful precedent. True, there have been some setbacks, for example, three sub-critical tests in the U.S. and the impasse on fissile materials cutoff in Geneva. But opinion in favour of nuclear restraint, arms reduction and eventual elimination (not just arms control or management) is growing. For instance, polls show that 68 per cent of U.S. citizens and 87 per cent of British citizens want their governments to negotiate complete nuclear disarmament. The climate remains favourable for serious multilateral initiatives for nuclear disarmament. That is why even former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Stansfield Turner calls for decoupling nuclear warheads from delivery vehicles and putting them into an "escrow" account.

South Asia alone defies the world trend. And it is only in India that a party in power espouses a rabid nuclear policy - just when the country should be campaigning for disarmament. The BJP evidently thinks overt nuclearisation will enhance India's security. However, it will lead to a deterioration in India's security matrix. Not only will it draw a uniformly hostile international response and isolate India - as had happened when India lost to Japan its bid for a temporary Security Council seat by 142 to 40 votes owing to its refusal to sign the CTBT. Nuclearisation will provide justification for a Pakistani bomb and induce China to target India as a nuclear adversary - for the first time. Thus, India will be simultaneously plunged into two nuclear arms races, in one of which (vis-a-vis China) it lacks a credible deterrent. China and Pakistan could enter into serious strategic nuclear cooperation. All this will degrade, not enhance, India's security.

Nuclearisation will mean diverting scarce resources away from rational priorities and urgent social tasks. Nuclear weapons rarely replace or substitute for conventional arms; they mean additional military spending. Their deployment needs a huge command, control, communications and intelligence infrastructure which alone accounts for half the cost of a nuclear weapons programme. Conservative calculations suggest that such a programme would soak up one-half to one per cent of GDP (gross domestic product), raising India's defence budget by a quarter or more.

If India exercises the nuclear option, it will vitiate the global climate for nuclear restraint, and make abolition much more difficult to achieve. But India's security lies in a nuclear weapons-free world. By nuclearising, New Delhi will strengthen the position of hawks in the NWSs and ensure the perpetuation of the present dangerous global nuclear status quo, which is a menace to world - and India's own - security. Quite apart from the penalties that would follow nuclearisation - which could be onerous if a test is conducted - reduced security itself should warn against nuclear adventurism. And yet, the BJP wants to put India on the slippery slope of nuclear deterrence followed by the NWSs in bringing the world to the present, sorry, pass.

The BJP's success in imposing its nuclear agenda on its 20-something allies is not the result solely of manipulation, itself real. It has two sources related to changes in elite attitudes. First, the CTBT debate of 1995-96 highlighted as never before some deep incoherences in the particular brand of nuclear ambiguity New Delhi follows as policy. Having characterised the CTBT as worthless, New Delhi also made it out to be a mere non-proliferation measure specifically directed at perpetuating the NWSs' nuclear hegemony. Thus, it added fuel to the hawkish anti-CTBT argument: why should India defy the CTBT and then act as if it were in place, by not exercising the nuclear option? This argument was only weakly opposed by the "middle ground", majority opinion and most political parties. The BJP seized on that argument and has developed it further.

Had India tried to justify its anti-CTBT stand by invoking a particular perception of national security, matters would have been somewhat different. But South Block could not resist the temptation, common to nuclear elites everywhere, to paint realpolitik motivations in the colours of a "genuine", universal commitment to disarmament. Hence the hype about how New Delhi alone was prepared to defy nuclear hegemonic aspirations with its "principled" position, while states which wanted the CTBT (some of them with even stronger provisions than eventually emerged) were being taken for a ride. Had India said that its deemed national security interests prevented it from acceding to a treaty which, with all its limitations, is an important, effective global restraint measure, then it could have better resisted the hawkish argument that defying the CTBT is logically the first step in a process leading to overt nuclearisation.

The other source for the hardening of the Indian elite's nuclear posture is that fifty years after Independence, its nationalism has become uneasy, tension-filled, restless and insecure. The Nehruvian consensus, centred strongly on non-alignment, has collapsed. Today, no alternative vision adequately overcomes the resultant ideological vacuum. What exists by way of a general foreign policy perspective is an uneasy amalgam of components of shifting weight: neo-liberalism in economic thinking, passive acceptance of unequal globalisation, traditional realpolitik reflexes favouring the pursuit of India's "natural" regional "pre-eminence" and future global status, coupled with a lingering Third Worldism. In two domains - cultural and military - this increasingly insecure nationalism has produced an aggressive orientation. Having badly failed to solve basic problems of poverty, destitution and illiteracy, the elite is looking for military shortcuts to high global stature. It is no coincidence that the growing external attraction for the elite of nuclearism is paralleled internally by the growing attraction of Hindutva. The BJP, which most vociferously demands nuclearisation, is also the party most associated with bellicose communal politics.

True, given the complex global context, the BJP-led Government will have to think twice before actually deciding to go overtly nuclear. But by imposing its agenda upon its alliance partners, it has managed to push the terrain of the nuclear debate dangerously close to crossing the nuclear threshold. India's uneasy, restless nationalism has found its nuclear expression. It should be firmly opposed by all secular and progressive parties and people. After all, the BJP, with its 25 per cent vote, and its shaky, ragtag government, has no mandate to make long-term, possibly irreversible, policy changes.

The unravelling of a Front

There remains little sense of expectation that the United Front will reconstruct itself out of the debris.

RULING coalition till the other day, but now a rapidly vanishing entity. Although the signs were apparent in the prelude to the Lok Sabha elections, there is still considerable curiosity centred around the disintegration of the United Front. Having failed to support the burden of public hope that was thrust upon it, there remains little sense of expectation that the U.F. will reconstruct itself out of the debris as a viable alternative to the Congress(I) and the BJP. The Janata Dal, which constituted the core of the U.F., now exists in little else but name. A reconstitution, if at all it takes place, would have to be on an entirely different basis.

The Communist Party of India(Marxist), which played a pivotal role in the formation of the U.F. Ministry and the effort to keep it going, seems resigned to the disintegration of the Front. The relevance and utility of the coalition was limited to the task of keeping the BJP out of government, explains Prakash Karat, member of the CPI(M) Polit Bureau. It did not conform to the strict understanding of "united front strategy" in the political terminology of the Left.

In the canonical Left variant, united front coalitions are built up through political campaigns on a variety of issues. Implicit in this conception is the notion of a common political understanding. That was not applicable in the case at hand since the U.F. was held together by little other than the shared threat perception of the BJP. As an adhesive, this ceased to have any relevance when the BJP-led alliance established itself as the only formation with a credible claim to Ministry formation.

A sense of regret is apparent at the failure of the U.F. to hold together as a viable Opposition force to confront the BJP. The difficulty within the coalition is that the perceptions of its constituents stretch across a wide spectrum and embrace the relatively friendly disposition of the Tamil Maanila Congress towards the Congress(I), and the unremitting hostility of the Asom Gana Parishad and the Telugu Desam Party.

U.F. leaders maintained their impassivity of demeanour once Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu led the TDP out of the U.F., and into a tacit alliance with the BJP. The defection from their ranks of a man who had been widely perceived as one of the principal bulwarks of U.F. unity, was a hard blow. The next blow came with TMC leader G.K. Moopanar's carefully calibrated effort to rejoin the Congress(I), from which he had parted ways in 1996. The rapprochement was aided and facilitated by the assumption of the Congress presidency by Sonia Gandhi. To each of Moopanar's overtures, the response from the parent organisation seemed positive and favourable.

Inevitably, the TMC's assimilation into the Congress(I) would imply that its electoral ally, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, would opt for a wider alliance in Tamil Nadu that could bring on board the residual vote share that the rump Congress enjoys. This may be an immediate compulsion for the ruling DMK, which is clearly threatened by the belligerent postures struck by arch-rival Jayalalitha's allies in the wake of their sweeping election triumph. That would effectively knock out a vital regional prop of the U.F., opening up another yawning gap in its geographical spread.

The U.F. confronts a serious dilemma that touches at the core of its existence - how to merge the diverse compulsions that its participants face in their regional contexts into a common purpose at the national level. In a non-antagonistic situation, it is conceivable that the Congress(I) could enter the U.F. calculations as a viable electoral ally. Even if it was as a junior partner, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party adopted this strategic perspective in Maharashtra with conspicuous success. Laloo Prasad Yadav, an erstwhile luminary of the U.F., also achieved notable results in Bihar, though his Rashtriya Janata Dal was the senior partner in an alliance with the Congress(I).

This pattern was viable because the Congress(I) proved extremely accommodative in Maharashtra and relatively clear-eyed about its vanishing electoral base in Bihar. It is inapplicable elsewhere because these conditions are unlikely to prevail in other States, except in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress(I) is rapidly fading out as a political force. A further factor is that since being bolstered by the resurrection of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the Congress(I) has begun increasingly to work on the assumption that it will be the unique beneficiary of the process of political polarisation that the BJP Government will inevitably engender.

The new mood within the Congress(I) envisages the steady marginalisation of the U.F. constituents, rather than their accommodation in a future electoral context. This has worn down some of the ardour that Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad had earlier displayed towards an arrangement of mutual convenience with the Congress(I).

Mulayam Singh's exertions today are primarily directed towards bringing Laloo Prasad back on board the U.F. The estrangement between the two Yadav chieftains predates Laloo Prasad's rancorous exit from the U.F. last year. Except for a brief truce in 1996, the two have persistently sought to undermine each other's prospects in electoral contests, often to the benefit of the BJP. Today, however, both are fighting for their very political survival.

Laloo Prasad faces the prospect of stricture and possible conviction for the massive defalcation of funds from the Department of Animal Husbandry in Bihar. And without a foothold in power either in Lucknow or Delhi, Mulayam Singh is vulnerable as never before to an all-out offensive by the BJP.

Laloo Prasad's reinduction may well make the U.F. a more significant electoral force, without significantly contributing to a consolidation of its core political values. And if the 18-month tenure of the U.F. Government has any lessons, it is that in a long term political context arithmetical consolidation is of considerably less valuethan evolving a consensus on basic socio-economic commitments.

Agendas and ambitions

Although the Opposition is far from mounting a united challenge, the BJP will be constrained in its bid to consolidate its position owing to the pursuit of sectoral agendas by its partners in government.

ITS precarious majority of 13 in the Lok Sabha is only a partial indicator of the A.B. Vajpayee Ministry's prospects. The more crucial factors are likely to be qualitative in nature. As Parliament adjourned after a brief sitting in which it granted the Ministry a vote of confidence and adopted a motion of thanks for the President's address, the BJP-led Government seemed more secure than its slender margin of votes in the Lok Sabha indicated.

Nothing can be said with certainty in a context where a host of bit players could exert an influence over the fortunes of the Ministry. Each of these participants in the BJP alliance is, however, inhibited by a dearth of choices. Walking out of the alliance would mean surrendering the rewards of association with the ruling dispensation without any immediate benefits accruing from the other side. An alignment with either the Congress(I) or the United Front is ruled out for most constituents of the alliance owing to the adversarial presence of certain other parties ranged with the Congress(I) and the U.F. The Samata Party, for instance, cannot walk into an alliance that affords the Rashtriya Janata Dal any weight.

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At the same time, the state of gridlock that has seized the Opposition and prevented any kind of an engagement between its two main components, remains. Certain elements within the U.F. are receptive to the idea of active political collaboration with the Congress(I). Others remain lukewarm, but see association with the Congress(I) as a necessary evil in the struggle against the BJP.

If these factors should contribute to the internal solidarity of the ruling coalition, there are a number of fissiparous tendencies arising from the relentless pursuit of sectional agendas by the partners. Jayalalitha remains the most immodest in projecting these demands at the national level, though others are unlikely to lag behind for very long.

The unprecedented division of labour within the Finance Ministry is the first outcome of the BJP's compulsion to accommodate Jayalalitha's demands. Other monitory warnings by members of the Union Cabinet - Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy's dismissive statement that the corruption cases against Jayalalitha would be taken care of by the Central Government, Rangarajan Kumaraman-galam's remark that the people of Tamil Nadu would soon be afforded their "relief" from the DMK Government - point to pressures within the ruling coalition that may not easily be contained.

One of Jayalalitha's key demands has been rejected by Vajpayee himself on at least two occasions - the last one being his reply to the debate on the President's address in the Rajya Sabha. The AIADMK leader, who was in Delhi that day, made it clear that she remained undeflected from her basic demand. She could prove accommodative on the question of timing, though the outer limit of her patience could be set by her own volatility and by the vigour with which the DMK administration in her State pursues the multiplicity of cases against her.

OF the many blocs that are conjoined in governance, only a handful could exert a decisive influence over the fortunes of the Vajpayee Ministry. The Samata Party and the Akali Dal are partners of relatively long vintage, which have stakes in regional politics that may necessitate a continuing alliance with the BJP. But the Samata is also impatient to regain a firm foothold in the politics of Bihar. Its eagerness to pursue the criminal indictment of Laloo Prasad Yadav in the animal husbandry scam may establish an uncomfortable asymmetry with the BJP's need to go slow on the investigations against Jayalalitha.

The Akali Dal, for its part, is likely to remain focussed on the agrarian economy of Punjab, perhaps even to the exclusion of the wider necessities of financial prudence. The Minister in charge of Food, Surjit Singh Barnala, is keen to offer a generous bonus to the farm sector in the food procurement season that has just begun. In the prevailing fiscal situation, this would almost axiomatically translate itself into an extra price burden for the consumer, with attendant political pressures from State governments.

Figures recently unveiled by Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha reveal a fiscal apparatus that has been strained by a legacy of miscued calculations over the years. This is a circumstance that hobbles the BJP Government at its moment of birth, and severely constricts its ability to respond to the sectional pressures it is subject to (see separate story).

This may not have been the fundamental concern behind Vajpayee's dramatic disavowal of any further part in electoral politics. Rather, it may be more accurate to read this as one of the flourishes that he is prone to, as a part of his oratorical style. And the context in which Vajpayee made clear his renunciatory intent - his reply to the debate on the President's address in the Lok Sabha - seems to suggest that he was overwhelmed not by the bleak fiscal situation, but by the deep-seated structural maladies in the political system. In particular, the Prime Minister seemed discomfited by the manoeuvres that he had been compelled to undertake as part of the process of assuming office.

Yet the eagerness with which BJP members sought to placate their leader seemed to suggest that there was considerable substance in pre-election speculation that Vajpayee's tenure in office was merely a stop-gap arrangement. The "mask" was a recurrent metaphor of the parliamentary debate as a characterisation of Vajpayee's role in the BJP. In throwing up his arms in despair at the state of political activity in the country, Vajpayee allowed the mask of equanimity to slip momentarily.

Significantly, Vajpayee chose to put his personal credibility on the line, rather than his party's image, as he sought to dispel apprehensions that his Ministry would be governed by an unstated agenda. Invoking his long years of political experience, he asked the Lok Sabha whether it appeared that a "hidden agenda" could be executed under his authority.

These possibly represent a precursor to growing discord within the BJP over its course of coalition government. Increasingly, as it goes along on the path of conciliation and accommodation, it is likely to run the risk of a collision with the inflexible core of its ideology. The room for manoeuvre is limited both in the economic and political domains - in the former by the hard realities of fiscal arithmetic and in the latter by the curious mesh of cross-ideological loyalties that underpin the ruling alliance. On various occasions in the past, the BJP has shown that it remains an unreconstructed advocate of an adventurist as the most convenient escape from these irksome constraints. If its ideological mentors prove true to form, then the BJP may soon be impelled into gambling away the promise of stability in a climactic effort to win the unchallenged status of India's ruling party.

Between theory and practice

The BJP's policy pronouncements on science and technology are Nehruvian in tone, but the party's record in the matter of inculcating a scientific temper gives cause for concern in the long term.

SCIENCE and technology policy has never quite been a serious election issue or the focus of media and public attention during campaign time in India. With a Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition set to govern the country at least for some time, it is worth examining what one may expect from the new dispensation on this front.

The National Agenda for Governance adopted by the BJP and its allies mentions the subject briefly. It promises the "integration of efforts in the field of science and technology with development efforts in various socio-economic sectors." It also promises greater support to national laboratories, the strengthening of research and development and the setting up of centres of excellence. The Agenda is rather more explicit on information technology. While hailing the "new revolution sweeping the globe - that of Information Technology," the document promises a National Informatics Policy to develop India into a software superpower.

These brief remarks appear to be based on the more detailed statement on Science and Technology that appears in the BJP manifesto. Chapter 15 of the manifesto, which deals with science and technology policy, is impeccably Nehruvian in tone, bolstered perhaps by the presence of a recent entrant to the saffron party, Prof. M.G.K. Menon, on the manifesto drafting committee. The extent of detail in these sections was of a piece with the BJP's conviction of being the ruling-party-in-waiting.

The chapter, which begins with a clear endorsement of the Scientific Policy Resolution of 1958 and the Technology Policy Statement of 1983 (of the Indira Gandhi era), would have done the Congress party of an earlier era proud. Science and technology, the BJP asserts, must be harnessed to "improve the lot of vast sections of our society living below the poverty line." Science and technology, the manifesto solemnly intones, "is also a vital component in enriching the mind, enlarging the human spirit and creating a thinking society."

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What follows is a 15-point agenda that, if indeed implemented, would undoubtedly make India a scientific superpower in short order. The BJP plumps for, among other things, promoting a scientific temper, improving scientific infrastructure in the university and national laboratories, stimulating private investment in research and development, working to promote science as a career choice among the youth and launching science and technology missions in several areas.

The manifesto turns lyrical on the subject of information technology, in a separate chapter (Chapter 16). Among the benefits of "Ram Raj" will be the provision by the year 2000 (no less) of computer facilities "in all schools, including in remote and rural areas, that already have proper building and power." In its Bill Gates-like vision of information technology in India, there is much that is promised, but little is said of how these grandiose visions are to be realised.

Even before the Vajpayee Ministry won the vote of confidence in Parliament, sections of the computer industry were on the trail of the gold-mine that seemed within their reach. The executive director of NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Service Companies) and a BJP associate, Devang Mehta, began intensive lobbying and claimed that the resources for the plans in the manifesto could be found in the existing budgets of the various Ministries.

It is interesting to read these sections alongside those on economic policy, especially on the telecommunications sector where complete internal privatisation is promised. How exactly is the BJP to realise its vision of India's future in information technology through a private sector that has historically paid little attention to indigenous research and development? The BJP's agenda on national economic policy is less than clear on how self-reliant development is to be sustained. On the one hand, the manifesto promises complete internal liberalisation of and disinvestment in public sector undertakings. On the other hand, it promises increased government spending on infrastructure and grandiose investments in telecom and information technology, all this while supporting social sector expenditure (including the spending of 6 per cent of Gross National Product on education) and anti-poverty programmes. How and where the surplus needed for this kind of expenditure is to be generated is far from clear.

Some standard Hindutva items are, however, missing in the Science and Technology section of the manifesto. There was no sign of that favourite item on the agenda of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - "Vedic mathematics". This hotch-potch of school-level mathematical tricks laced with Sanskrit aphorisms of dubious antiquity has often been forced into mathematics education by State governments run by the BJP (Frontline, October 22 and November 5, 1993). There are also no indications of the BJP favouring "Indian science" (as opposed to "Western science"), a favourite of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and its satellites (for instance, the Chennai-based Patriotic Peoples Science and Technology Foundation).

Any analysis of the BJP's attitude to science and technology must begin by recalling that the saffron party is alone among the major political streams in this country in never having seriously engaged with science and technology issues or questions of scientific temper in its entire history. One is referring here not only to concrete questions of science and technology policy, but also to a general perspective regarding the role of science, scientific temper and a rational world-view in the making of a modern India. In recent times the BJP has had some interest in matters pertaining to patent rights and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), but more as a handy propaganda slogan in the swadeshi package than anything else.

It is therefore unsurprising, that the BJP's manifesto mouths the Nehruvian line on science and technology while understanding nothing of the relationship between the public sector in the economy and the development of indigenous capabilities in science and technology. The fascination with information technology as a sort of universal panacea to the problems of education is very much part of the style of the BJP's middle-class following, especially the non-resident Indian (NRI) component. This fascination is, in practice, low in content and is confined largely to a good appreciation of the Internet as a propaganda medium.

IT is worth recalling too that on the question of scientific temper and rationalism the BJP's record has been singularly abysmal. Beginning with the wildly unscientific theories of the founding fathers of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), through the years of anti-cow-slaughter campaigns, and continuing into the Ram mandir phase, together with the mobilisation of assorted Hindu religious fanatics under its banner, the BJP has been continually associated with the worst kind of obscurantism. The only rationalism that it has demonstrated has been in the coldly cynical manipulation and conflation of religious and nationalist symbols to further its political agenda.

In the matter of scientific temper, it would seem that the BJP needs to clarify its position in detail in an apology mode if its protestations are to be taken seriously. Will the practice of scientific thinking be extended to cover history and other social sciences? Will 'kar sevak' archaeology be disowned? Will the BJP guarantee that textbooks will not be re-written to project a communal picture of the history of science in India (as has been attempted by BJP-ruled State governments)? Will the BJP leadership disown the stand of its Tamil Nadu unit that attacks Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi for his rationalist attitude to the ritual of fire-walking?

On such issues, the indications are not encouraging. Key positions concerned with science and technology have gone to elements of the Hindutva-RSS hard core of the BJP. Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati control the Ministry of Human Resource Develop-ment while Joshi has additional charge of the Department of Science and Technology.

EQUALLY unsurprisingly, the one aspect of science that the BJP takes to immediately is the link between science and military power. The BJP seeks to set aside a well-tested policy line on the nuclear issue, which combined a principled opposition to arm-twisting by the nuclear superpowers (embodied in the refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehe-nsive Test Ban Treaty) with a refusal to exercise the nuclear option in immediate military terms. The deviations from this line in the Indira Gandhi era, when the Pokhran nuclear explosion was conducted, were disastrous in foreign policy terms. That piece of political adventurism cost India the moral high ground in nuclear disarmament policy, worsened relations with neighbours and engendered fresh suspicions, and cost the nation dear in terms of lost scientific collaborations, not only in reactor research and technology but in other areas too.

The BJP, it would seem, has learnt nothing from this experience. To make matters worse, there is the added component of the link between the BJP's hawkish stand on Pakistan and its communal agenda internally. Any exercising of the nuclear option (it is not clear what the current ambiguities in the BJP Government's stand amount to) would be particularly harmful to international collaborations in the scientific arena. It would also amount to undermining the vision of science as a tool of development and democratic empowerment that is part of the legacy of the early years of Independence.

Undoubtedly the current momentum in science and technology in India would ensure a certain continuity with progress in some areas, provided no disastrous tinkering is resorted to by the new Government. However, the prospect of increasing communalisation of public and media space and public discourse, which is definitely part of the BJP agenda, is cause for serious concern in terms of the long-term perspective for science in this country.

One may safely leave to Prof. M.G.K. Menon the pipe-dream that the BJP would "restore the elan of a resurgent India". The facts and the record instead point to the distinct possibility of difficult times for science in India in the near future.

Dr. T. Jayaraman is a theoretical physicist working at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai.

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other
E.M.S. Namboodiripad

May I join the millions of people mourning the death of E.M.S. Namboodiripad by sharing the following information with readers and continuing a debate with EMS although he is no more with us ("Farewell to EMS", April 17).

In his column of April 3, 1998 in this magazine, he reviewed my book Ideological Choices in Post-Soviet Russia. EMS and I were not personally acquainted, our only meeting having taken place 28 years ago. I had not sent him this book, I had not asked anybody to request him to review it; I had merely suggested to the publishers that they send him a complimentary copy as he would certainly be interested in it. Yet he sent me an advance copy of his review, both in English for Frontline and in Malayalam for the Deshabhimani weekly, with a personal letter informing me of his disagreement with me.

I was deeply moved by this act of exquisite courtesy by one who was four decades my senior; I was about to send him a reply when I saw the newsflash announcing his death. Let me then share with the readers of Frontline what I was about to write to EMS, and let us thereby share the illusion, for a brief moment through debate which he would have welcomed, that he is still with us.

I had written the book as four chapters, one on each of the ideologies - Communism, liberalism, nationalism and Eurasianism. According to EMS' reading of it, I have argued that the choice before Russia is between a return to Soviet Communism and one of the other ideologies. However, I had argued that there was no question of restoring Soviet Communism, that a transformed Communism was now evolving, but that it would continue to play a most important role in post-Soviet Russian politics by absorbing many features from other ideologies. EMS and I are therefore in agreement that (a) there can be no restoration of Soviet Communism and (b) Communism would absorb significant postulates of the other ideologies. I am sure we are in disagreement as to what was to be absorbed and the manner of absorption; sadly however, we cannot pursue the dialogue any further.

Madhavan K. Palat New Delhi

The articles and editorial on EMS were a fitting tribute to a truly great son of India. My brother and myself were active in the student movement in Travancore State from 1945 to 1949 and had the opportunity to know EMS fairly closely. I vividly recollect a few incidents that illustrate his noble character and commitment to the cause he espoused.

We were the first, along with P.K. Vasudevan Nair and other friends, to convey the news of Gandhiji's assassination to EMS, who was staying in a modest hostel in Thiruvananthapuram. He was stunned, but recovered his poise in a few minutes and started consulting his party colleagues such as K.C. George on the action to be taken to meet the situation. The Communist Party then organised big demonstrations against communalism.

A couple of days earlier, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) men, armed with sticks, had attacked students who were demonstrating peacefully against a rally addressed by M.S. Golwalkar. In those days, the RSS had no soft front. It was virulently anti-Muslim. The student community was thirsting for revenge and an opportunity presented itself when the RSS links of the assassin became known. Quite a few RSS men were roaming in Thiruvananthapuram and a large contingent was at the railway station. But for the restraint exercised by EMS and his colleagues such as K.C. George, the attacks on the RSS men would have been severe and widespread.

Another incident relates to an Assembly election in Alappuzha. The CPI candidate was T.V. Thomas, a popular labour leader, and the Congress had put up K. Ramakrishna Pillai, a political heavyweight. In a fair election Thomas would have won. Around noon on polling day CPI workers rushed to the party office and wanted permission to resort to the same foul tactics that were being employed by Congress workers to rig the election. EMS and K.C. George, however, said 'No'. I was witness to this incident.

Despite a stammer EMS had a great ability to hold the attention of his audience.

Those who differed from him and even those who were strongly opposed to his views held him in high esteem because of his spartan simplicity, high integrity, awesome scholarship and other qualities. The spontaneous outpouring of grief in Kerala on his death is proof of this.

J.N. Iyer Chennai

You have done justice to E.M.S. Namboodiripad, one of the most illustrious and distinguished sons of India, by featuring his demise as a Cover Story.

All that I knew about EMS was through my parents and through the highly informative columns of Frontline. The "glorious and multifaceted" life of EMS was revealed to me only after I read this issue of Frontline.

Fathima Diana Mohin Bangalore

"For the intellectual the task, I believe, is explicitly to universalise the crisis, to give greater human scope to what a particular race or nation suffered, to associate that experience with the sufferings of others." This is how Edward W. Said helps us to understand an intellectual. EMS belongs to the group of moral agents named intellectuals. He was never a servant of power.

EMS was, as your Cover Story has put it, an "anti-imperialist and freedom fighter, social reformer, historian, writer, journalist, thinker and theoretician". He was indeed sui generis. He is something more than the father of the radically organised social structure of the modern State of Kerala. He was to Kerala what Antonio Gramsci was to Italy.

Acting his role as the only consciously reflective social analyst in Kerala, he gave us a very particular specimen of social movement, which was solely responsible for the cultural formation of present-day Kerala. He made us immune to the virtual world of "strange realities", whether it is post-Holocaust amnesia, Disneyland, cyberspace or Fukuyama.

Although Kerala is the largest consumer State in India in the age of mass consumerism, it has better immunity to the mono-cultural prevalence of free market capitalism. Thank EMS.

Now EMS, the activist intellectual, is history. There are numerous intellectuals, as well as endless interpreters of Marxist thought. But EMS was different.

I would like to thank you for your special EMS coverage. The apt tribute from Frontline was as expected.

Kamal Ram Sajeev Kozhikode

The news of the demise of the towering Left leader came as a shock to the readers of his highly relevant and contemporary articles in each issue of Frontline.

Namboodiripad served the CPI(M) as well as the country's politics untill he breathed his last (as, according to Prakash Karat, he was dictating articles just before his death). The country has lost a leader of unparalleled qualities.

His article about 'reformed Communism' ("Ideological choices", April 3, 1998) is an indication of his deep-rooted belief in the eternal relevance of Communism as an ideal.

Sheojee Singh Patna EMS on river waters

I read with interest E.M.S Namboodripad's article "Centre, State and river waters" (April 17). What strikes the mind first is the fact that he does not deny that the waters of Kerala rivers are not utilised fully and that much of it flows into the sea. His argument is that diversion of Kerala rivers would result in the saline water of the Arabian Sea getting into the freshwater of Kerala rivers which would turn paddyfields into deserts. It is not clear whether there is any scientific study to support this argument. It would be good if an expert in river water management can throw light on the truth or otherwise of this theory.

Namboodiripad has wondered how the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which stands for State autonomy and opposes centralisation, can demand the transfer to the Centre of the existing rights of the States over the utilisation of river waters. As far as I know, the AIADMK has not made any serious demand for the transfer of more powers to the States. It is the DMK that has been persistently demanding State autonomy, and not the AIADMK. However, assuming that the AIADMK also stands for State autonomy, it is not clear how the demand for making the Centre the authority to decide on the distribution of river waters to different States would amount to surrendering States' rights? Where interests clash it is but natural that there should be an independent authority to settle the issues arising thereby.

P.V. Velu Chennai Gundupatti

The atrocities unleashed by the police on the people of Gundupatti is a sad commentary on the style of governance in Tamil Nadu ("Mayhem in Gundupatti", April 17).

When people demanded basic amenities the Government turned a deaf earto it. To show their displeasure they decided to boycott the recent parliamentary elections. The elected representatives of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and bureaucrats could have tried to meet their demands at least before the elections.

The Government's decision to send a four-member committee to the village and order a judicial inquiry is commendable. The Government should ensure justice to the victims of Vidhuthalai Nagar and Bharathi Nagar. Besides providing immediate relief to them, it should initiate long-term measures to create an atmosphere that will help the people live in dignity.

A.M.A. Raja Chennai Thein Pe Myint

"The Professor's predicament", the Burmese story by Thein Pe Myint, translated by Usha Narayanan (April 17), made interesting reading. The writer depicts a few moments from the routine life of the professor, and the emotion that unbalances the character in that particular situation.

T.V. Jayaprakash Palakkad Government by default

The Cover Story ("Government by default", April 3) gave an excellent account of the post-poll situation. Only the mutual dependence of coalition partners will provide stability. If they learn from past mistakes and learn to be interdependent instead of resorting to deceit and threat, then quite possibly history will not be repeated. "The hard and mighty shall fall; the flexible and yielding shall prevail" goes the saying. Is that not true?

R. Ramasami Tiruvannamalai

The poll strategists of the BJP deserve to be congratulated on hammering out a strategic alliance with the regional parties. The Congress party strategists miscalculated badly. The United Front constituents were also at loggerheads with one another at least in nine States. Barring the Left parties, the U.F. constituents failed abysmally to put up a meaningful challenge to their political adversaries wherever they were in a position to do so. The Congress(I) and U.F., instead of forging a pre-poll alliance on the basis of issues, are trying to close the stable door after the horses have bolted.

For the BJP, this Pyrrhic victory is the beginning of its woes. There is no common bond among the BJP and its coalition partners - where the BJP is the big brother whose hands are tied by the allies. Sooner or later these allies will turn out to be the proverbial millstones around the party's neck. Even the politically astute A.B. Vajpayee will not be able to contain these small parties' growing demands. The developments also give the non-BJP parties an opportunity to cooperate with one another.

Bichu Muttathara Pune

Many mistakes have been committed during the course of India's long history. Many stupas and other structures were either converted into or demolished and reconstructed as temples. The Babri Masjid is but one such example. In fact, there are historians who believe that a Buddhist stupa existed at the disputed site in Ayodhya. That does not mean that you should give undue publicity for the BJP.

You have been writing unfairly against the BJP. The Cover Story is a standing example. Leave alone the contents of the articles, the legend on the cover, "Government by default", is revealing. You had praise for the United Front Government. Yet you could not save it from disunity. When it came to power, coalition was the mandate. But when the BJP leads a coalition, it is by default. How can you defend Harkishan Singh Surjeet who opposed support to the Congress(I) before the elections but is prepared to join hands with the party after the elections? Who forced this election? Was it is the BJP or the Congress(I)? Or the United Front - its partners?

All the propaganda carried out by your clan in the name of secularism only made the people think: "Why not a chance to the BJP?"

K.C. Kalkura Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh

Blood on the Chenab

The killing of four Muslims in Karara village in Doda district points to a "creeping communalisation" of the security forces and to the failure of the National Conference to confront Hindu communalism.

IT was almost dusk when Yoginder Kaul finally discovered the trail of blood, covered up with a thin layer of grit. It led past a Border Security Force (BSF) machine-gun post and the troops' barracks and on to the main road. The rocks on the way had dried blood, skin and hair on them. The trail ended on the banks of the Chenab, near a cremation ground. The Indian Police Service probationer was shaken to the core, but what he did not immediately realise the import of the evidence before him. Later it emerged that the blood was that of four men who were killed in a communal reprisal inspired by local politicians affiliated to a Hindu extremist organisation.

At 10.15 a.m. on March 19, the Doda Police had responded to a distress call from Karara village, along National Highway 1B from Doda to Kishtwar. The caller said that five Muslims had been killed by a Hindu mob and that their bodies had been thrown into the Chenab. The claim seemed improbable, for Karara was guarded not only by a platoon of the BSF's 75 Battalion, but also by a company of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), brought in for the Udhampur Lok Sabha election held a day earlier. But trouble could not be ruled out, for Karara was where Suresh Kumar, who was beaten to death by Muslim villagers at Panasa village for allegedly molesting a local girl on March 17, was to be cremated. The local unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed that Suresh Kumar was a BJP worker, and his death in hospital the next day generated tension in the Doda-Kishtwar belt.

When an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police reached Karara at 11.30 a.m., he found nothing amiss. A crowd proceeded with Suresh Kumar's cremation, but all else seemed peaceful. BSF officials whom the ASI spoke to insisted that there had been no trouble. The police officer reported his findings to the police headquarters at Doda. But the anonymous caller who had reported the incident phoned again, insisting that he was telling the truth. This time, Senior Superintendent of Police Farooq Khan drove down to Karara and ordered a search. Yet, until the dried blood was found in the evening, the personnel of neither the BSF nor the ITBP volunteered to explain just had happened. The trail of blood, which was found to begin near the ITBP Company Commander's forest hut, move down to the National Highway, and then split into two before ending on the river bank, remained unexplained. It was only the next morning, when villagers who stood by and watched the killings were questioned, that the truth began to emerge.

Suresh Kumar was, according to the police, a badmaash, the archetypal rural lumpen, with a history of minor crime and violent behaviour. For Hindu residents in Panasa, he was something of a hero, a defender of the faith against terrorists in particular and Muslims in general. It is unlikely that the beating he received on March 17 was intended to kill, for when he was moved to hospital that evening he showed few signs of life-threatening external injury.

The political deployment of the assault was prompt. Chaman Lal Gupta, BJP candidate from Udhampur who was widely tipped to become an MP, promptly let it be known that Suresh Kumar was to have acted as a polling agent for his party the next day. "The National Conference," he insists, "engineered the incident to intimidate our voters and ensure that they did not come out to the polling booths. The area's Hindu villagers evidently agreed, although there is no evidence that any of those who assaulted Suresh Kumar had any political links.

Suresh Kumar died in hospital of internal haemorrhage on March 18: the internal injuries were diagnosed too late for the limited medical facilities on offer to deal with. Under other circumstances, the cremation should have been heavily policed. "Our problem," says Farooq Khan, "was that all our people were busy with moving ballot boxes and securing their storage. We assumed that since there was a large presence of the BSF around the cremation site, nothing much could go wrong."

And so, on the morning of the cremation, people from several villages on the mountains above the highway began to make their way down to the cremation ground at Karara, located just 50 metres from the BSF barrack's last machine-gun post. There were no signs of a murder in the making. No speeches had been made, no calls for vengeance given. Yet the assumption of the police that all would remain peaceful, although reasonable, was soon to be proved wrong.

EIGHT Muslim villagers from Kothi Pain, three women and one old man, were unfortunate enough to choose that morning to make their way down to the highway using a bridle-path cut through the hillside. At Thalela village, they encountered mourners from nearby villages. Surrounded, the group of Muslims was abused and threatened. The women were told that they would be raped; the men were told to prepare themselves for death. A large group of villagers assembled near the BSF bunker on the heights above the road to witness the spectacle. As the eight Muslims were marched down towards the forest hut, beating began. It is possible that the mourners expected a prompt response from the BSF troopers, for they let the women go, and the beating was in the beginning hesitant. But the BSF did nothing. The crowd read this as a signal that it could do what it wished.

The aged Rahman Malik was the first target. Severely beaten and bleeding, he was pushed down the steep slope along the path into a rocky mountain stream. Amazingly, he survived the fall. Malik dragged himself across the stream and fled. Today he is a key witness to the sequence of events. From his position, he could see that the crowd had chosen not to follow him for it had turned its attention to the four young men. They were beaten with sticks and pelted with rocks until they reached the highway. There, Abdul Qayoom attempted to run to the safety of the ITBP camp to his left. One group of mourners followed him along the camp, and the beating continued. The path beside the camp ended abruptly; ahead lay a precipice facing the Chenab. Police sources said that Qayoom was still alive when he was thrown into the fast-flowing water. None in the ITBP intervened to end the violence.

The second group of mourners frog-marched Ghulam Qadir, Abdul Ghani and Ghulam Mustafa down the highway. They headed for the cremation ground, walking past the 75 Battalion's barracks, past a machine-gun post. Although the blood trail makes it clear that the beating must have continued through this stretch, there was again no intervention, not even a single warning shot. The last group of three was beaten to death next to the Chenab and, like Abdul Qayoom, thrown into its waters. The purpose of this last set of murders was to make clear that the killing was collective reprisal for Suresh Kumar's death. Suresh Kumar's body was cremated just a few metres from where the three were killed.

Its work done, the mob set about covering its tracks. The pools of blood that had formed were covered with grit from a stone-crushing unit. By 9.15 a.m., just half an hour after the beatings had begun, all was quiet again.

The killings provoked surprisingly little outrage and were not reported at all, at least not in the national media. The State police, however, promptly recorded a first information report and commenced an investigation. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah then weighed in, bluntly condemning the inaction of the BSF and the ITBP. "Unfortunately," he told Frontline, "there has been a creeping communalisation of a section of the security forces. I blame it squarely on politicians who have turned Hindus against Muslims and Muslims against Hindus." Abdullah ordered strict action against those involved, and 18 persons, including local activists of the RSS, were arrested. The BSF, for its part, has offered no meaningful explanation of its conduct, other than to offer the bizarre proposition that maintaining law and order is not its job.

Chaman Lal Gupta is wholly unrepentant. "What happened in Doda was wrong," he says, "but why investigate only this killing? Has anyone investigated the killings of dozens of Hindus and punished the guilty?"

The Hindu right-wing's obliteration of the distinction between killings by terrorists and during communal violence serves both its electoral and ideological interests in the Jammu region as a whole. Disturbingly, growing sections of the BSF, in particular, have come to see themselves as defenders not of citizens but of a religious community. Days after the January 1996 massacre of 15 Hindus at Barshalla, nine Muslims of a single family were killed in a BSF action ( Frontline, February 23, 1996). The BSF had evidently been led by members of a local Village Defence Committee (VDC), predominantly Hindu vigilante groups set up to help villagers defend themselves against terrorist attacks, into believing that two visitors to the Muslims' home were terrorists. They turned out, along with their seven relatives, to have been wholly innocent of this charge. On Id day this year, Army troops led by Subedar Major Shankar Singh opened indiscriminate fire on Muslim protesters at Qadrana village in Doda (Frontline, March 6, 1998), an action widely read as reprisal for the earlier massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Wandhama in the Kashmir Valley (Frontline, February 20, 1998).

Successive massacres of Hindus, adroitly exploited by Hindutva forces, have helped harden the divide. More disturbingly, there are signs that communal fractures are deepening in the Rajouri-Poonch belt, as terrorists expand their operations in that region. In August 1997, Manzoor Hussain, a Gujjar Muslim schoolteacher posted at Sewari Buddal village, married a Hindu girl, Rita Kumari. The girl came from an impoverished home, and the two evidently married with the blessings of her mother. Hindu communal reaction was prompt. Tension built up and the couple were arrested at Reasi on the charge that the girl had been abducted. Released, they married again at a civil court in Jammu and returned home. This time, the authorities refused to intervene. Three dominant feudal Rajput Hindu families in the village stepped in to enforce tradition and punish the couple's rebellion. Rita Kumari was abducted and taken to a women's home in New Delhi. Both Hussain and his mother-in-law were severely beaten.

What happened next laid the foundation for resentments that continue to simmer. Hussain, according to police investigators, subsequently approached the Farid Khan group of the Hizbul Mujahideen for help. Vengeance was, indeed, prompt. Eight members of the three families who had organised Rita Kumari's abduction were killed. This, in turn, was used by local Hindu extremists to provoke a communal riot. "Some people ensured that the bodies were not cremated for 36 hours," says Rajouri Superintendent of Police Hemant Lohia, "and the large crowd that assembled for the cremations could have been easily provoked. We had to come down very hard to ensure that no further killings of innocent people took place."

Manzoor Hussain is now in jail, facing charges of conspiracy to murder. Rita Kumari remains in Delhi, in a home run by a Hindu religious group, unable to return because of the threat to her life.

"All this is happening because of these two-bit thugs for hire from Pakistan," says Rajouri MLA Chowdhury Mohammad Hussain bitterly. That is the truth, but only part of it. Hindu communalism in Doda and Rajouri-Poonch is driven by massacres carried out by Muslim terrorists but given form and shape by the activities of Hindu extremist organisations. The representation of Muslims as collective aggressors is central to the Hindu right's propaganda platform.

The National Conference has been reluctant to take on Hindu communalism head on. For some Kashmir Valley politicians, the persistence of Hindu commmunalism is convenient; it reinforces their status as spokespersons for Kashmiri Muslims and diverts attention from their developmental and administrative failures. Terrorist groups, the secessionist All-Party Hurriyat Conference and the Indian state too derive their legitimacy from the atrocities of their opponents. Communalism pays: a few dead bodies of unknown villagers in a forgotten region are no price at all for power.

A Rent Act under review

The Maharashtra Government is in a bind over the Bombay Rent Act.

THE controversy over the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control Act 1947, popularly known as the Bombay Rent Act, has landed the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party Government in Maharashtra in an unenviable situation.

The Supreme Court, while delivering its judgment on December 19, 1997 on appeals filed by several property owners in Mumbai, said that the existing provisions of the Act that related to the determining and fixing of the "standard rent" (the highest rent the Act permits a landlord to charge) was "no longer reasonable". The court also said that the extension of these provisions beyond March 31, 1998 (the last day of the previous extension) would be "invalid" and "of no consequence".

The apex court expressed the hope that the State legislature would enact a new rent control Act with effect from April 1, 1998 taking into consideration, among other things, the model rent control legislation the Union Government circulated among the States in 1992. The Bench, comprising Justice J.S. Verma (the then Chief Justice) and Justices B.N. Kirpal and N. Srinivasan, said that there would have to be "very good and compelling reasons" for the Government to depart from the model law. It noted that counsel for the State Government had given it an assurance that the provisions of the model law would be taken into account while framing the new Act.

Since then, the State Government has come under criticism from tenants' lobbies. The Shiv Sena-BJP Government has been accused of having defended the Bombay Rent Act only half-heartedly in the court in order to facilitate the introduction of a piece of "pro-landlord" legislation.

The model law, besides providing for much higher rents than what is payable under the Bombay Rent Act, makes the eviction of tenants easier by providing for the setting up of a parallel judicial process with only one court of appeal after removing the civil courts' jurisdiction over the matter and summary litigation procedure. It also provides for severe curbs on the right of inheritance of tenancies.

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During the Lok Sabha election campaign, the Congress(I) made the question of the Rent Act an electoral issue, particularly in the Mumbai South constituency, in an attempt to woo the tenants' lobbies. For their part, Chief Minister Manohar Joshi and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray gave the tenants assurances that were plainly untenable in the light of the Supreme Court judgment.

On March 16, the Action Committee for Protection of Tenants' Rights, a powerful group consisting of tenants' and traders' associations and central trade unions, including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), observed a bandh in Mumbai.

On January 19, the State Government filed a petition in the Supreme Court pleading for a review of the December 19 judgment. The petition stated that the March 31, 1998 deadline set by the Supreme Court for the enactment of a new law was "too close" and prayed for the grant of "adequate time". Review petitions and intervention petitions have been filed by the Federation of Old Buildings Cooperative Housing Societies, the Action Committee for Protection of Tenants' Rights and other organisations.

After hearing the matter on March 19 and 24, the Supreme Court declined to pass orders on the Government's request for permission to continue with the existing Rent Act beyond March 31. The Bench, comprising Chief Justice M.M. Punchhi and Justices Kirpal and Srinivasan, made it clear that the court would keep the Government's review petition pending until April 17, the date of the next hearing. This forced the Government to bring new legislation into effect by the end of March lest there be a legal vacuum on the rent question between April 1 and 17, if not beyond that date. The Government has therefore taken recourse to a temporary legislative measure that was passed by the State Assembly on March 26 pending the enactment of a unified rent control law applicable to all the regions of Maharashtra. (The Bombay Rent Act is applicable only to specified areas in those parts of Maharashtra that correspond to the Bombay State prior to its reorganisation; there are different rent control Acts for Vidarbha and Marathwada.) The new legislation, which expires on March 31, 1999, differs in only one aspect from the existing Act. It has an additional section that reads as follows: "On the date of the commencement of the Bombay Rents, Hotel and Lodging House Rates Control (Extension of Duration and Amendment) Act, 1998, a landlord shall be entitled to make an increase of five per cent in the rent of premises let before the first day of October 1987." However, whether the Supreme Court finds the temporary legislation acceptable or not remains to be seen.

WHAT is the "standard rent", which is at the centre of the controversy? Except in cases where it has been fixed under the rent control Acts of 1939 and 1944, and in special cases by the court under the 1947 Act, standard rent indicates the rent at which the premises were let on September 1, 1940. Where they were not let on that date, it means the rent at which they were last let before that date; where they were first let after that date, it means the rent at which they were first let.

The Bombay Rent Act, which applies only to private premises, provides that rent in excess of the standard rent is illegal except where an agreement entered into before September 1, 1940 provides for periodic increases. However, it does permit rent increases subject to certain conditions in the case of premises that receive the benefit of improvements or special additions, and premises that are subjected to special or heavy repairs.

With effect from 1987, a landlord has been permitted, subject to certain conditions, to increase the rent on premises in respect of which he or she is required to pay the government, a local authority or a statutory authority any fresh levies (or increase in existing levies) such as "rates, cess, charges, tax, land assessment and ground rent of land."

An amendment to the Act in 1987 provides for an exception to the rule of standard rent. Broadly speaking, this means that the provisions relating to the standard rent and permitted increases do not apply for five years to any premises, the construction or reconstruction of which was completed on or after October 1, 1987. On the expiry of the five-year period, the standard rent applicable to the premises would be an amount equivalent to a "net return of 15 per cent on the investment in the land and building and all outgoings in respect of such premises."

The life of the Bombay Rent Act has been extended around 20 times. In its December 19 judgment, the Supreme Court observed that a perusal of extracts from documents placed on record by the appellants, including reports of several committees and resolutions adopted at the All India Housing Ministers' Conference in 1987 and the Chief Ministers' Conference in 1992, "clearly demonstrates that the pegging down of rents to the pre-War stage and even thereafter is no longer reasonable." The reports referred to by the Supreme Court included those made by the Rent Act Inquiry Committee (1977), the Maharashtra State Law Commission (1979) and the Economic Administrative Reforms (L.K. Jha) Committee (1982).

Some of the points made by the reports and the resolutions were:

* The freezing of rents had deprived property owners of a reasonable return on their properties commensurate with the increase in the cost of living and the cost of building materials. Small property owners who had invested their lifetime savings in houses, partly for earning an income through rents, were hit particularly hard. According to one estimate, in the 1970s, 75 per cent of the landlords were people who were dependent on rent from their properties for their livelihood.

* If rents had not been frozen, new buildings would have been constructed and the proliferation of slums could have been contained in cities such as Mumbai.

* Old and frozen rents bear little relation to present-day maintenance costs, the current returns from alternative forms of investment or the prevailing market rents in respect of new accommodation.

* In cases where rents had remained frozen for five years or more, half the inflation that had taken place since the time of their initial determination should be neutralised.

* The rent control laws had led to the neglect of repairs and maintenance and had virtually frozen the municipal bodies' income from property taxes, which are based on rateable values, which in turn are a function of the prevailing rents.

* The freezing of rents has led to the emergence of practices such as 'key money' (payment of large deposits) that make rented housing less accessible to those who are less privileged.

The Supreme Court judgment cited the hypothetical case, presented by counsel for the appellants, of a landlord who was getting a rent of Rs. 1,200 a year, exclusive of municipal taxes, on September 1, 1940. According to the counsel's calculations, this landlord would receive only Rs. 800 a year in 1996 or 1997 and, as the value of the rupee in 1996 or 1997 was only 1/66th of what it was in 1940, in real terms the annual accrual to the landlord would have fallen from Rs. 1,200 to Rs. 12.12.

The judgment also cited the case of Ram Mahal, a building with 20 residential flats, in Mumbai. The building was bought by one of the appellants in 1955. "According to the appellant... the (present) total gross rent of the building which he receives is Rs. 1,72,032 per annum, while it incurs an annual expenditure of Rs. 1,92,235, consisting of BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) taxes, repairs, ground rent, maintenance charges... and the insurance premium. He is... suffering a loss of Rs. 21,213 every year."

The Supreme Court cited another hypothetical case to make the point that "tenants are, by and large, getting an unwarranted benefit." An assistant of the Union Government posted in Mumbai in 1948 would have received monthly emoluments totalling Rs. 485.50; the same person would be drawing Rs. 11,900 a month in 1997 after the implementation of the Fifth Pay Commission. If it is assumed that the rent he was paying in 1948 was Rs. 100 a month exclusive of repairs, he would be paying Rs. 170 a month in 1997. In other words, his liability on account of rent, reckoned as a proportion of his emoluments, would have fallen from about 20 per cent to 0.9 per cent over these 49 years.

However, the judgment also took note of the fact that landlords who were receiving "unreasonably low" rents took recourse to methods that were "slowly giving rise to a state of lawlessness" and expressed concern over the possibility of this "extra-judicial backlash" gathering momentum.

Unfortunately, the tenants' case appears to have been poorly presented before the court. The State Government was represented by only one advocate at the hearing of the appeals. According to an intervention petition filed by the Action Committee for the Protection of Tenants' Rights, the State Government "did not think it fit to brief the Attorney-General, the Advocate-General or the Solicitor-General (all of whom hail from Mumbai and are personally aware of the situation prevailing in Mumbai) to plead its case."

The Shiv Sena-BJP Government appears to have realised now that it would be politically costly to ignore the interests of the tenants. The statement of objects and reasons annexed to the Rent Control Bill that was introduced in the State Assembly on March 26, 1997 and received the President's assent on March 31, 1997 seems to bear this out. It says: "The conditions requiring control of rents and protection from eviction of all protected tenancies continue to exist." The significance of this assertion can be gleaned from an extract from the statement of objects and reasons annexed to the 1947 Bombay Rent Bill: "The latter Act (the Bombay Rents, Hotel Rates and Lodging House Rates (Control) Act, 1944)... was intended to check an inflationary rise in rents... in areas in which, owing to war conditions, there was an acute scarcity of accommodation... The conditions which led to the enactment of these measures continue... and it is, therefore, essential that effective control should be continued until sufficient progress has been made with building operations to provide adequate and suitable accommodation for the largely increased population of the areas..."

Mumbai's population rose from 29,94,444 in 1951 to 99,25,891 in 1991. Given a population increase of this magnitude and the fact that the availability of land in Mumbai for housing purposes is severely limited by virtue of it being an island, it is difficult to envisage the population of the metropolis being "adequately and suitably" accommodated in the foreseeable future.

The 1998 statement of objects and reasons says:

"It is imperative that... rent control and protection against eviction must continue in a just and fair manner, otherwise there will be enormous social unrest, social strife and disruption... The escalations of rent as structured in the Model Rent Control Legislation cannot be regarded as a fair and just solution to the problem of acute scarcity of accommodation, especially in cities such as Mumbai, Pune...

"The effect of these escalations would increase the burden on protected tenants/occupants... the rent itself would become more than 22 times... if the present burden of property and other taxes, which is on the tenants, is taken into account, the burden... would increase manifold.

"Adopting the rates and structure for escalation together with a rate of return of even 6 per cent would result in an overwhelming body of protected tenants/occupants being unable to meet the increased burden...."

The model rent control legislation provides for fixing the standard rent on the basis of a certain percentage return on the total cost - the market value of land when construction began plus the cost of construction and the cost of any renovations or major repairs that may have been undertaken.

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To arrive at the standard rent for any given year, the rent so calculated is to be increased by a certain specified percentage - 4 per cent between 1950 and 1960, 6 per cent between 1960 and 1970 and 8 per cent from 1970 onwards being suggested for Delhi. Charges relating to maintenance, amenities and taxes payable are to be added on a pro rata basis. The neutralisation of inflation to the extent of between 25 and 100 per cent over a period of up to seven years is also envisaged. This would call for a phased increase of the standard rent.

The model law would exempt from rent control all tenancies where the lease extends beyond 20 years and premises carrying more than such monthly rental value (ranging from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 3,500) as may be specified by a given State. It provides for exemption for 15 years for newly constructed or reconstructed premises and all premises that have been lying untenanted for seven years or more.

The premise that the income earned by Mumbai's landlords from their property has been decreasing as a result of rent control needs to be examined more closely. The pugree system, under which a landlord receives an illicit lump sum payment (which is related to the market value of his premises) every time there is a transfer of tenancy, is prevalent in Mumbai. Besides, landlords have made enormous gains by creating additional floor space and converting residential premises into commercial ones, authorised or otherwise, and the sale of development rights.

The intervention application filed by the Action Committee for the Protection of Tenants' Rights notes that most of the land in the island city (corresponding roughly to the southern two-fifths of Mumbai) is leasehold, the lessors being the State Government, the Brihanmum-bai Mumbai Corporation, the Mumbai Port Trust and other state agencies. The lease rents paid by landlords have increased only marginally, if at all. Property values in the island city appreciate because of the value of land, and this is not the case with old buildings "whose economic life is virtually over," the application says.

As regards the case of Ram Mahal that was cited by the appellants to prove that landlords were getting a raw deal under the rent control regime, the application filed by the Action Committee has an interesting story to tell. According to the application, the present landlord bought the building for Rs. 5 lakhs in 1955; between 1970 and 1998 he permitted ten transfers of premises. "It may fairly be assumed that pugree was received by the landlord," the application states. Also, the landlord has converted two ground-floor flats into commercial premises; one is occupied by a restaurant and the other has been given on tenancy to a relative of the landlord, who has in turn sub-let it to a bank. "Under these circumstances," the application states, "it may be fair to assume that the landlord... has recovered over Rs. 5 crores on the investment of Rs. 5 lakhs."

EMS of 1957 vintage

The transformation which EMS strove to bring about was true to the Marxian observation that men do not make history under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past.

E.M.S. NAMBOODIRIPAD is mortally no more with us. But it is blasphemy to say he is dead. He lives in the hearts and minds of millions of his countrymen and a large number of admirers abroad. Tidal waves of tributes, crores of bosoms in grief and obituary references from all over the globe testify to the great visionary's matchless contribution to revolutionary thought and his dynamic leadership luminously spanning over a semi-centennial space. But a dialectical scan of the historic stem of EMS' governance in Kerala in 1957 that stunned the world as the first democratically elected Communist Party government through constitutional parameters and courageous ballotry may well reveal the ideological mastery and adroit ability of EMS to advance a radical administration, with a margin of a single vote giving him the majority in the House.

He administered the State flawlessly according to the rules of the game, running a radical government with people's support despite hostile vested interests, including the Congress bosses who were in a hurry, waiting in vain to intervene and dismiss him from power on the pretext of constitutional breakdown, democracy being in jeopardy and the rule of law being in peril. EMS, with the versatile vision of a Communist statesman and the flexible realism of a political activist, conformed to the constitutional paradigm and political compulsion of the Nehru era.

What was the secret of this masterpiece of statecraft which held at bay the reactionary cabals and cliques and enabled this radical leader to push through his socialistic programmes? He adopted a strategy that dumbfounded his adversaries in politics by declaring that his government would implement the progressive policies of the Nehru Congress and the Avadi thesis which the Congress high command professed and consistently betrayed. He insisted that land reforms, which was the nation's pledge on gaining Independence, would be implemented without delay, that peasants would not be evicted by latifundists with clout, that labour would be assured of a fair deal and that the police would not interfere in peasant struggles and labour strikes on the side of the landlords and industrial magnates. Social justice in many dimensions would be accomplished for the people and promotion of agriculture and industry would be given high priority. People's participation would be a policy imperative.

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These items on the agenda were supplemented by the liberation of education from the stranglehold of vested interests and radical reforms in this field were brought about. Electricity generation and tapping of irrigation potential, legal aid to the poor and easy access to justice found high place in the contemplated transformation of the economic order. Administrative reforms, which would simplify bureaucratic processes, decentralise the system to bring the people closer to government, were also integral parts of the EMS perspective. His dynamism, clarity of thought and leftist dialectic enabled him to carry his party and progressive sections of people with his line of thinking. A leader of light and learning was at the wheel with firm ideological grip.

Here at last was an awakening of people's power, inspired by a leader whose integrity, credentials of struggles and sacrifices were above suspicion and whose life of simplicity and accessibility was a marvellous model for the rest of the country. He drew a monthly salary of Rs. 350; so did his partymen in the Ministry, although the statutory entitlement was higher. Small wonder that he could command collective reverence and shared responsibility from his colleagues in the Cabinet and the legislators and members of his party.

What was remarkable about this legendary figure in power was that his imaginative grasp of the changes necessary, and their priorities were impeccable. All of us, Ministers, agreed with our obligations as suggested by the leader. We had disagreements no doubt, but not on fundamentals. Wherever minds differed or new policies were launched, there were informal discussions and creases of differences were ironed out. EMS would listen with respect and consent to modifications if convinced, and a consensus was always evolved. We were equals, with EMS being more equal than the rest since, obviously, he had a higher stature, a nobler perception and a longer political experience.

He was among the rarest of the rare in power.

There was a healthy practice cultivated during those days among the members of the Cabinet and leaders of the party - meeting informally almost every week to exchange views and arrive at a community of thought in executing policies. The Left ideology was never forsaken, but the constitutional and other legal limitations were always complied with. The towering personality of EMS made this epic story of Communist rule in Kerala a legend for the country as a whole. Of course, as a Marxist he knew that people, not leaders, make history. He proved, under the difficult circumstances of a Nehru at the Centre, communal forces and Congress politicians in subversive hunger for power, that "men make their own history but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past." The transformation which EMS strove to produce was true to this Marxian observation.

I DISTINCTLY recollect Dhebar as Congress president complaining to me about Namboodiripad's police policy of non-interference in peasant and labour struggles. I explained to him that whenever there was violence, the police would be vigilant, but whenever goondas of employers and landlords threatened workers and peasants with violence, the police would prevent such traditional tactics which distorted social justice and foiled the just claims of workers and peasants. Dhebar could not remonstrate anymore.

Land reforms were integral to social change as India was still feudal in the countryside and the people were asphyxiated by casteist and communal oppression. National liberation had to begin with the land and our edifice of freedom was to be built on the slogan of "land to the tillers". EMS knew the pulse of the people and gave broad guidelines for the transformation process. Thus a pioneering adventure in distributive agrarian justice was given statutory shape. All that the Revenue Minister and Law Minister did was to implement the clear ideas of EMS. Whenever there was doubt, all of us discussed together, hammered out differences and reached an agreed solution. Thus came into being the Kerala Agrarian Relations Bill. Of course, the Supreme Court struck down the Bill on a technical ground. The court could knock down a Bill but could not wipe out a militant demand of the people. So land reforms reincarnated substantially in the same form and no one can refuse to attribute this glorious achievement to EMS who was leading Kerala - in essence, the nation - from its feudal slumber. Regrettably, many parts of India still remain primitive and under the heels of de facto landlordism.

In the field of education, Prof. Joseph Mundassery, the Education Minister, under the guidance and intrepid backing of EMS, started educational reforms which remind one today of the colossal blunder of the hostile forces that conspired to create nightmares among their followers about the Bill which was introduced in the Assembly and passed. Of course, the Church and other reactionary establishments started 'Operation Overthrow'. It must be remembered that with the tacit connivance of the Congress high command and Central government departments, this upsurge took a violent turn, throwing the rule of law to the winds and violating all norms of democracy and constitutional order. The State Government desisted from using the police and insisted on minimal force where engineered clashes threatened the peace of the State. I was Home Minister and can claim that never in free India's history was so little force used against so large a violent turbulence masterminded by the Church, the Nair Service Society (NSS) and other vested interests supported by motivated dollars from abroad and concealed support from the Congress leadership. Political memory may be short and so, I may remind the present generation of Indians that, aided by American dollars, para-military training was being imparted in several Church compounds for the battle to oust the legally constituted EMS Government. I had condemned this Christoper's movement in the House as Home Minister. And yet not one was put in preventive detention and prisons were reformed to comport with human dignity - the best then in the country and I was the Minister for Prisons.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had held a conference in Delhi in late 1958 and eminent jurists gathered there were misled into the impression that there was a breakdown of the Constitution in Kerala State. So the Secretary-General of the ICJ visited Kerala to see for himself whether there was violation of the rule of law and departure from the norms of democracy. I spent hours with him and discussed every facet of the law and order situation. He was thoroughly satisfied that the police policy of the State was in harmony with the norms of democracy. He visited Chennai the next day and, addressing a gathering in the Cosmopolitan Club there, presided over by Justice A.S.P. Aiyar, said how he had met and held long discussions with the Home Minister of Kerala and added a passage pregnant with meaning: "Either the Home Minister was a mota Communist and he did not know that; or I was a Communist and did not know that; so complete was the identity of views on the democratic situation in Kerala." This passage was communicated to me by Justice Aiyar the very next day.

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Congress general secretary Sucheta Kripalani came with similar grievances and so I called her for tea and explained to her our position. She left with no answer. The violent crisis persisted, fertilised by instigation from abroad and from Delhi. The Congress party in the State conveniently fished in troubled waters and gave leadership to this movement of chaos and anarchy. Namboodiripad requested me to apprise Nehru of the shocking developments, organised by the vested interests of Kerala and abetted aggresively by the Congress party. Many within the Congress, like V. K. Krishna Menon, did not agree with this unconstitutional programme of action. Under the direction of EMS, I met Nehru at Ooty and explained to him that under the hegemony of his party (of which Indira Gandhi was then president) the Church, the NSS and other reactionary forces were conspiring to tear up the Constitution of India and the Kerala regime which implemented the great promises of its Preamble. Nehru seemed stunned and asked 'Indu' to discuss the matter with me. That formality was a ritual and Nehru's condemnation was formal. EMS and his Government were unconstitutionally overthrown by the misuse of the obnoxious Article 356, invoking a theory of a wall of separation between the people and the government.

HISTORY, when retold with authenticity, will reveal the great developmental work executed by the EMS Ministry. New industries were started, false charges were resisted and dauntlessly we marched on without fear of honest contradiction. I may claim that so much was done in so short a span to put Kerala on the map of dynamic socialist advance under the luminous and dialectically guided leadership of one man, EMS. There was no personality cult and there was no pomp or propaganda either. I could and did sometime disagree, and frank exchange of views resolved friction.

In every field we acted collectively. New medical and engineering colleges, new irrigation projects and hydel plants were constructed. There were many agricultural reforms. On the whole the Legislative Assembly itself was lively and constructive. Many new courts were started; many legal aid programmes were initiated. Party cadres never interfered in judicial matters. The Chief Justice of Kerala was asked in high secrecy by G.B. Pant, the then Union Home Minister, whether the Communist cells were influencing crime investigations and his reply was clearly in the negative. Chief Justice K.T. Koshi himself told me this.

Nehru came to Thiruvananthapuram to see for himself what all the ballyhoo was about. He told the Cabinet that he had three points to raise with us. First, he wanted a certain section of the Education Bill to be suspended. Secondly, he wanted a case of police firing to be judicially investigated (Florey's case). And, thirdly, he desired that the 32 charges Asoka Mehta had raised in Parliament against the Kerala Government - an outrageously novel stratagem - should be inquired into. We took a day's time, had consultations among ourselves and with the party and met Panditji to tell him that we were willing to suspend a section of the Education Bill, were prepared to order a judicial probe into the police firing and finally, were agreeable to Jawaharlal Nehru himself looking into the Asoka Mehta charges; and if he found us guilty we were willing to resign. Nehru was astonished and perplexed and went back to report to his partymen who would be satisfied with nothing short of a death sentence on the Ministry, that is, the dismissal of the Government. When I met Nehru the next day he looked pale and almost comatose. I have a photograph of a dazed Panditji with me near him. Later, in Delhi, he surrendered and President's rule was imposed.

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EMS was a great statesman and took this contra-constitutional action with the firmness of a profound Communist. Later he came back to power. Still later, he shone in India's sky as a great thinker, a prolific writer and speaker, a spotless statesman who will be remembered for long as one like whom few have lived in free India.

V.R. Krishna Iyer, a former Judge of the Supreme Court was a Minister in the Communist Government in Kerala led by E.M.S. Namboodiripad, which assumed office in 1957.

Triumphs and lost years

PERHAPS, one wonders, the purer souls are meant for contemplation, and lend themselves to ridicule when they make their transit from pedagogy to praxis. So it was with Comrade E.M.S. Namboodiripad. At the grosser levels, his own admirers spoke of him as the Acharya. It was not meant to hurt, but it denoted the increasing distance between him and the party he once led. Age takes its toll anyway, and it was but natural that the body must give way to the soul. The soul indeed; Comrade EMS would have preferred another word, some lexical boon that could convey the same sense. But there isn't any.

This terminological inadequacy was to frustrate the Master right down the line. Through a lifetime of austerity, he had acquired an aura around himself, but he was anxious to dispel it. He was concerned that there should be no new Marxian 'caste system'; he lent his ears to the least of his little brethren.

This, in a sense, was the erosion of EMS. He ploughed through tracts of arid dogma. Out there was a treasure of fossils, and these he touched and felt, but dusted and put back into their ancient slots again. The result was alarming. Each fossil was an index of history clamouring for the surface lights. These indices, had they been taken as sprouts of history, might have been liberative. What stood in the way?

In Europe, in Latin America, in fact everywhere except the Soviet Union and its satellites, Marxism, unwillingly perhaps, was taking on a lot of lubricants. But the young bibliocracy which was now the Indian Marxist leadership had no different options to offer. The tragedy (it is yet to be recognised as such) begins here. To each according to his need and from each according to his ability; in Comrade EMS the young philosophers found the lexical register, the verbal answer to all problems of ideology.

If an outsider is permitted to comment on what is an internal problem of the Marxist movement, I should like to define this as Comrade EMS' saddest phase. He had withdrawn into what his successors had built for him - a soft sanctuary. Whatever the apparatus decided was acceptable to him. He withdrew into a low profile.

It was distressing to see him devote his profound scholarship to trivia, a scholarship acquired as much by Vedic rote as by theory tested out in practice. His involvement in minor riddles of theory eventually became a horizontal area of arcane interest. Those who were not bound by the Marxist apparatus came to realise what was happening - it was the undoing of a fabulous intellect. Worse, the Patriarch to whom this was being done was doing everything to help the perpetrators of the sacrilege. EMS was letting himself down into the porous earth, becoming one with his little brethren who crawled over the slime. Call it what you will, it is hard to dissociate the Acharya from the intellectual aristocracy that is inherent in the destiny of civilisations. Instead of tinkering with inconsequential issues which his comrades drove him to, he should have celebrated his profound knowledge and wisdom, and he should have stayed on contemplative heights renewing the prophecy, redeeming the dream. Perhaps trying to achieve the equivalent of a Fifth International.

The obscenity of Stalinism notwithstanding, the ethic of socialism continues to live in the higher minds of men. Pitted against it is capitalism's cult of shallow greed. Bureaucratic socialism was never really opposed to it. In fact it pandered to the same lust. The erstwhile bipolarity was a misunderstanding. The pimps and pushers of both the camps have made up. I think of the last lost years of Comrade EMS. He was capable of piloting the re-emergence of the ethic. A new sanyasa. The merging of the strength of Advaita with the vitality of dialectics.

Here, Comrade, for you, a clenched fist.

Literary critic and cultural activist

Rarely in history has a man of action been a man of letters as well. EMS was one such rare combination.

THE new and fast developing discipline of cultural studies and post-modernist insights have accorded greater importance to culture in public life and the power structure of society. The history of the working class and socialist movements testifies to the fact that the pioneers of these movements recognised the decisive role of culture, literature and the arts in the preservation and transformation of social structures.

Although no socialist activist would dare deny this position, we often come across leaders and cadres who are more devoted to cultural activities and, by contrast, others who are rather indifferent to cultural activities. The former - among whom can be counted P.C. Joshi, Muzzaffar Ahmed or Sajjad Saheer - unfortunately constitute a minority. E.M.S. Namboodiripad not only belonged to this illustrious galaxy, but had gone much ahead as a literary critic, cultural activist, organiser and administrator.

EMS began his public career as a student activist and a social reformer who sought to abolish the social abuses in his own Namboodiri Brahmin community. Along with a band of young rebels such as V.T. Bhattathiripad and M.B. Bhattathiripad, EMS took up causes such as widow remarriage and women's education and fought against polygamy and primogeniture. Stories, plays and novels were their tools in this struggle. To the chagrin of conservatives, they staged plays against social abuses and discrimination. EMS organised the staging of plays such as From the Kitchen to the Arena and The Pubescent Girl, which even led to occasional clashes. They also brought out a journal called Unninamboodiri. Most of EMS' early articles, including the literary ones, appeared in this journal. In 1932, a well-known reformist author invited EMS, who was only 23 years old, to write the preface to his novel Uncle's Daughter. By that time EMS was accepted as a literary critic.

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In 1936, the first conference of the All India Progressive Writers' Association (PWA) took place in Lucknow under the chairmanship of the Hindi novelist, Premchand. EMS, who drew inspiration from the Lucknow conference, was the moving spirit behind a conference of young writers and political activists at Thrissur in 1937. Always a theoretician, EMS wrote on the aims and methods of progressive literature in the nationalist weekly, Mathrubhoomi. This is generally considered the first attempt in Malayalam to apply Marxist criteria to literary and art criticism.

Traditional scholars, older than EMS, such as Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, Joseph Mundassery, M.P. Paul and the great nationalist Mahakavi Vallathol gave EMS their support. Outstanding short story writers and novelists such as Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, Muttathu Varkey and P. Kesavadev were drawn to the movement. Young poets who were later hailed as mahakavis such as Changampuzha Krishna Pillai and Vailoppily Sridhara Menon associated themselves with the progressive movement. This led to a cultural efflorescence in Kerala; a late modern era had dawned in Malayalam literature and arts.

All was not smooth, and a fierce controversy began on progressive literature in general and Marxist literary theory and practice in particular. The status quo-ists of culture, supported by the establishment media, declared war on the PWA. Although there were non-Marxist critics to defend the PWA and its activities, it was EMS who led the brigade of the progressives. In 1948-49, controversies between the Marxists and nationalists led to a split in the PWA in Kerala. Although the organisation split, the movement went ahead and committed younger writers of the post-Independence period; O.N.V. Kurup, Vayalar Rama Varma and Thirunelloor Karunakaran came to the forefront.

The 1950s, which historians called the Red Decade in Kerala, witnessed major advances in literature, the performing arts and the new medium of cinema. With inspiration from the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA), the Communist Party of India formed the Kerala People's Theatre Association (KPAC) in 1951. EMS was the mentor and ideological defender of the KPAC.

Thoppil Bhasi's You Made Me A Communist was the most significant play staged by the KPAC. It saw hundreds of performances before the Congress Government in Travancore-Cochin banned it. EMS led the campaign against the ban and questioned the Dramatic Performances Act under which the play was banned. Finally the ban was lifted and the Act abolished. The result was still greater popularity for the play and hundreds of further performances.

When the Communists attained power after the formation of the United Kerala State, many attributed their victory in 1957 to the immense popularity of this play - which of course was an exaggeration. However, the play and a number of other KPAC plays, together with stirring revolutionary songs by O.N.V. Kurup and Vayalar Rama Varma, played a major part in the election of the Communist Party to power and its political campaigns.

The factors that contributed to the demise of the PWA in the 1960s included the dismissal of the EMS Ministry in 1959, the formation of a new anti-Communist front in politics and the arts and the split in the Communist movement. The new wave of modernism in the State's literary circles was strongly anti-Communist. Social commitment in the arts was condemned and elitist theories emerged.

Although the Marxists and progressives were faced with new challenges and needed to search for new cultural idioms, EMS had other urgent political duties such as defending the party, which was attacked as being a "pack of Chinese spies". Most party leaders and cadres were driven underground or thrown into prison. EMS and Jyoti Basu were freed in 1967. In the interim decade, forces of anti-Communism and neo-conservatism became entrenched in the State's cultural arena.

EMS became the Chief Minister of Kerala for the second time in 1967. Again he took up a firm stand against the modernist novelists - O.V. Vijayan, Kakkanadan and M. Mukundan - and poets M. Govindan, K. Ayyappa Panicker and N.N. Kakkad, among others. A group of writers was organised around the Desabhimani daily and weekly. This group became known as the Desabhimani Study Circle and EMS himself wrote a book-length manifesto for it.

During Indira Gandhi's Emergency rule in 1975-77, the Desabhimani Study Circle organised writers and cultural activists against the totalitarian onslaught. Apart from a large number of young writers and artists, senior poets such as Vyloppilly and Kassery and novelist Cherukad responded to the call of revolt by EMS. Outstanding writers such as M.K. Sanu and Thayattu Sankaran, who were until then considered critics of the PWA and opponents of Communism, were drawn to the movement. Thayattu Sankaran, who began his career as a Gandhian critic of EMS in the 1940s and 1950s, later accepted EMS as his mentor. He dedicated his work on Mahakavi Kumaran Asan to EMS. By the end of the 1970s, there was a revival of the PWA. The Desabhimani Study Circle expanded into the Progressive Association of Arts and Letters (PAAL) under the presidentship of Vyloppilly. EMS attended all the major functions of PAAL. Today PAAL is the most vibrant and widespread literary and arts organisation in Kerala.

As Chief Minister, EMS guided the establishment of the Kerala State Institute of Languages, the Kerala Lalita Kala Academy, the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi and a number of institutions in honour of cultural personalities, including Kumaran Asan. EMS has written about every significant literary issue or personality in Kerala. Some of his early writings suffered from sectarian and dogmatic blemishes. In an introduction to a collection of his early essays titled Marxism and Malayalam Literature, which included his seminal work of 1937, EMS frankly admitted the drawbacks. He did not want to drop or amend any essay. His stand was let the people decide. On looking back, we realise that each essay in spite of their drawbacks, contributes to the main thread of ideas and evaluations that marked a turning point in the onward march of progressive literature and the arts in Kerala.

During the last decade and a half, EMS wrote a regular column on contemporary books. He reviewed books of all type - poetry, criticism, novel, shortstories, history and so on. The weekly series was like a running commentary on Kerala's literary panorama. Rarely in history has a man of action been a man of letters as well. EMS was one such rare combination. He said often that the struggle for a new culture and people's literature is as important as the struggle for jobs and wages, land and livelihood. He said that each strand of struggle complements and strengthens another strand.

One of his last wishes was to build a national forum for culture and the arts on the lines of IPTA and the PWA of the 1940s and 1950s. The new forum, he said, should take into consideration the current revolution in the media and the resultant growth and spread of cultural artforms. May we live up to the heritage of the Master and follow his footsteps into a 21st century world of art and letters.

P. Govinda Pillai, a Left intellectual, is a former Editor of the Desabhimani newspaper.

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