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COVER STORY

17-07-1998

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Briefing

Relevant constitutional provisions

cover-story

Article 355: It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Article 356 (1): If the President, on receipt of a report from the Governor of a State or otherwise, is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, the President may by Proclamation -

(a) assume to himself all or any of the functions of the Government of the State and all or any of the powers vested in or exercisable by the Governor or any body or authority in the State other than the Legislature of the State;

(b) declare that the powers of the Legislature of the State shall be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament;

(c) make such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the President to be necessary or desirable for giving effect to the objects of the Proclamation, including provisions for suspending in whole or in part the operation of any provisions of this Constitution relating to any body or authority in the State;

Provided that nothing in this clause shall authorise the President to assume to himself any of the powers vested in or exercisable by a High Court, or to suspend in whole or in part the operation of any provision of this Constitution relating to High Court.

Article 256: The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State, and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.

Article 365: Where any State has failed to comply with, or to give effect to, any directions given in the exercise of the executive power of the Union under any of the provisions of this Constitution, it shall be lawful for the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Who's afraid of Article 356?

More than any particular State government, it is the BJP-led Government at the Centre that finds its survival to be at stake because of the politics of Article 356.

THERE would seem to be nothing more futile than seeking enlightenment from ongoing controversies over the invocation of Article 356 of the Constitution to dismiss elected State governments well before their full term. They suggest little else than restive politicians of unbridled ambitions and acute insecurity trampling upon the foundations of constitutional rule.

Coalition government is known to induce a sense of restraint among the principals - a tacit recognition of the proprieties involved in mutual association. Harmony arises from a willingness to engage coalition partners in dialogue in an environment of sobriety and restraint.

Yet a paralysis of dialogue appears to be the most distinctive feature of the 100-day-old coalition Government at the Centre. The early clamour of competing demands from the coalition partners was met through the simple expedient of pressing the nuclear trigger, blasting the nation into a future of ethical confusion and multiplying strategic hazards. Dissent was silenced for a while, but did not take long to resurface.

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Once Pakistan established that far from attaining the exalted status of a nuclear weapon power, India had only managed to achieve a deadly strategic symmetry with a smaller and much weaker neighbour, the old litany of partisan demands from coalition partners was quick to emerge again. Although numbing in their triviality, transparent in their motivations and fraught with enormous dangers for the foundations of constitutional rule, these demands have already paralysed the task of governance and brought the Atal Behari Vajpayee Ministry perilously close to the brink.

The mood was sombre when the Coordination Committee of the ruling coalition met for only the second time on June 27. Jayalalitha, leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who has the presumptive loyalty of no fewer than 29 members in the Lok Sabha, stayed away. She had been engaged in a war of words with the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership over the preceding week, but had seemed to relent when Prime Minister Vajpayee spoke personally to her a few days ahead of the planned meeting of the Coordination Committee. It was obvious that Jayalalitha needed a decisive intervention from the Union Government that would at least partly assuage her political insecurities. After Vajpayee's telephonic conversation, it seemed a possibility that she would settle for a deal that did not go so far as to dismiss the elected State Government of Tamil Nadu a full three years ahead of its term.

Jayalalitha cited health grounds in crying off from participation in the Coordination Committee. But her disinclination to participate in any collective political body which fails to accord her the pre-eminence that she views as a unique prerogative was apparent. The failure of collective functioning in the ruling coalition bears ominous portents for its future. But its tendency to play along partly with the irrational demands of its alliance partners suggests more immediate dangers to constitutional well-being and political federalism.

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OTHER constituents of the ruling coalition have receded to the background only because Jayalalitha has taken the forward position in demanding the use of Article 356. But the Samata Party in Bihar and the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal are deeply disaffected by their inability to use leverage at the Centre to get their way in the respective States. The Samata Party clearly believes that its internal cohesion can only be assured by the proximity of power at the State level.

At the Coordination Committee meeting, Samata Party representative Nitish Kumar did reiterate his demand that the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar be dismissed and fresh elections ordered. He was met with a reiteration of the BJP's position that Article 356 enshrined an emergency power which was not obviously invoked in the case at hand. Nitish Kumar did not press the point, but his sense of vulnerability is acute. His political constituency in Bihar is yet to partake of the fruits of power, and his bitter adversary, Laloo Prasad Yadav, has begun an assiduous courtship to win them over.

The Samata Party's constituency does not have a natural affinity with the BJP brand of politics, and its susceptibility to Laloo Prasad's appeal - particularly when it is buttressed by the apparatus of power in the State - cannot be underestimated. For the Samata Party, removing Laloo Prasad's proxy Government in Bihar is clearly a matter of self-preservation. Till Jayalalitha queered the pitch for them, they seemed to have a receptive audience within the BJP. No less a leader than Vajpayee had repeatedly during the recent election campaign referred to Bihar as an appropriate case for the exercise of Article 356. But with Jayalalitha having reduced the emergency power of 356 to little more than an instrument of political vendetta, the Samata Party's case also lost much of its credibility.

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Jayalalitha and her allies won overwhelmingly in Tamil Nadu in the last Lok Sabha elections. The Samata Party in alliance with the BJP won fairly substantially in Bihar. The Trinamul Congress, which performed modestly in West Bengal, completes the trio of Article 356 militants which is making things awkward for the Vajpayee Ministry.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee failed to work out an acceptable modus vivendi with the BJP for the elections to local bodies in West Bengal in May. Any hopes that she may have entertained of breaking into the ruling Left Front's bastions of rural strength were quickly dispelled. This impelled her to raise the stakes and demand the use of Article 356 in West Bengal. The underlying intent is obviously to simulate the conditions of repression that prevailed in 1972, which was the last occasion when the Congress party won an election in West Bengal.

IT is tempting to read deep democratic scruple in the BJP's refusal to entertain the demands of its recalcitrant allies. But perhaps the truth is that it is deterred by the various practical difficulties involved. Any precipitate action using Article 356 would unsettle the loyalty of various partners of the ruling coalition, such as the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. Once the debits are added up, there is unlikely to be much accruing to the credit of the BJP from the utilisation of the draconian powers under Article 356.

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A further factor is the virtual impossibility of getting a proclamation of President's Rule in any State approved by both Houses of Parliament within the stipulated period of two months. Passions have always run high over Article 356, but the Congress had, all through its years of comfortable ascendancy, no reason to believe that Parliament would actually exercise a power of scrutiny. In today's more fragmented political milieu, that can no longer be taken for granted. A certain degree of zeal in the exercise of parliamentary scrutiny, especially in a cause with such deep partisan resonances, is an integral part of current realities.

A peculiar feature of the present situation, however, is that any proclamation of President's Rule may not even reach the stage of parliamentary scrutiny. Since the tumultuous events in Uttar Pradesh in February, the possibility of the higher judiciary imposing an interim injunction on the dismissal and appointment of Ministries has become a factor to reckon with. That followed a grossly mala fide exercise of authority by the Governor of the State, Romesh Bhandari, in dismissing the Kalyan Singh Government on the strength of his subjective satisfaction that it had lost its legislative majority. This was under the scope of Articles 163 and 164 of the Constitution, which accord the Governor a limited power of "discretion" in the appointment of a Ministry.

The Supreme Court laid down in S.R. Bommai versus the Union of India that any proclamation under Article 356 is subject to judicial review. The argument that the imposition of President's Rule belongs to a special category of emergency powers that cannot be the subject matter of litigation has long since been thrown out of court. Jayalalitha may have done her political adversaries in Tamil Nadu the greatest favour by announcing that the dismissal of the Tamil Nadu Government was an integral part of an agreement that she had struck with the BJP prior to the Lok Sabha elections. This makes any invocation of Article 356 in the foreseeable future a highly colourable exercise of power for reasons that have no legitimacy in the constitutional scheme. Jayalalitha has, unwittingly or otherwise, already laid sound foundations for the judicial quashing of the decision she seeks with such fervour from the Central Government.

CALCULATIONS of realpolitik are obviously a decisive element in the BJP Government's current posture of reticence as far as Article 356 is concerned. Moreover, citing law and order as a basis for dismissing elected State governments would cut the BJP's Ministries in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan very close to the bone. It would also unsettle the Andhra Pradesh Government, and leave Farooq Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir with little reason to remain in office.

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Since the Supreme Court ruling in Bommai, further judicial interventions have been rare. This is partly because there have been few cases of a State Governor or the Central Government invoking the power of dismissal. The events in Uttar Pradesh in November 1997, and then again in February 1998, may have turned the tide. Arbitrary exercises of power can now be challenged in higher judicial forums and if a reaffirmation of the Bommai findings were to be sought, the BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan would be extremely vulnerable to stricture.

It is one of the fundamental principles of Bommai that secularism, like the process of judicial review, is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The recent manoeuvres of the BJP affiliates - notably the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - over the Ayodhya controversy perhaps invite constitutional action on this count. Legal scholars are divided on the practical consequences of the Supreme Court's finding on secularism. Rajeev Dhavan, senior advocate in the Supreme Court, feels, for instance, that the formulation is much too vague for any functional purpose.

B.K. Chandrasekhar, Professor at the National Law School of India, Bangalore, has a different interpretation. "The coercive power of Article 356," he says, "cannot be allowed to hack away at the substance of the federal arrangement." Yet, its abolition may not quite be warranted on the basis of current experience. One of the instances that might warrant the application of the Article would be where a State government works against secularism or some other basic feature of the Constitution. "In the case of the present Uttar Pradesh Government," says Chandrasekhar, "there may be a good case to examine whether any part of their activities would amount to promoting anti-secular activity, such as their promises and indirect help on the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya when the judiciary is yet to make a pronouncement on the dispute."

THESE border-line transgressions are compounded by the BJP's recently stated intention to legislate an outcome of its choice to the Ayodhya dispute if the judicial process fails to deliver one. This effort to play fast and loose with fundamental principles will almost certainly invite scrutiny on grounds of the preservation of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Clearly, a party that has embarked upon a perilous journey along the main fault-lines of the constitutional scheme has no reason to invite further trouble for itself by overturning the popular will in a number of major States of the Union. To say that the State governments in Tamil Nadu and Bihar have lost the popular mandate will have little legitimacy in a constitutional scheme that prescribes secure five-year terms for all elected governments. Moreover, it should in a strictly federal interpretation lead to the logical conclusion that all Members of Parliament from a State should quit in the event that Assembly elections in that State turn out adverse for the party they belong to.

Coalition rule has necessitated a culture of mutual respect and accommodation among political parties. Inured to the confrontational mode and heady on the electoral rewards that the Ayodhya campaign brought it, the BJP has had little inclination to develop this skill. Buffeted about by the conflicting priorities of its partners, it finds itself devoid of the latitude to deliver on its promise of good governance. Article 356, as it was enacted, enshrined the final responsibility of the Union Government for the preservation of peace, security and the rule of law in the entire country. As it was used, the constitutional provision became a coercive power that could be used to silence dissent and opposition. Today, with a party in power that has repeatedly expressed its disdain for the rule of law, the inherent hazards to the States from Article 356 seem to have receded. Rather, it is the Central Government itself that stands exposed and vulnerable to baneful legacy and the inherent iniquities of this constitutional provision.

Coordination challenges

AS the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government completed its first hundred days in office, it became apparent that the mechanism it had devised to keep its disparate constituents in check had become ineffective. This was clear at the second meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies held in New Delhi at Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's residence on June 27.

Five of the BJP's allies - the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katch, the Lok Shakti and the Trinamul Congress - did not attend the meeting. AIADMK general secretary Jayalaitha cancelled her visit to Delhi citing ill-health and did not depute any of her Ministers or representatives to attend the meeting. PMK leader Dr. S. Ramadoss faxed a statement to the meeting, in which he demanded the imposition of President's Rule in Tamil Nadu. The statement said that leaders of the AIADMK-led front, including Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko, supported the dismissal demand. Vaiko, the only representative of the AIADMK-led front at the meeting, did not deny this when the statement was read out at the meeting. Vaiko was earlier reported to be against the use of Article 356 to dismiss the State Government.

Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde deputed his representative, Jeevraj Alva, to the meeting. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who recently suspended her support to Vajpayee Government only to restore it later, also did not attend.

The first meeting of the committee was held in May. The June 27 meeting was held in the backdrop of a war of words between the BJP and some of its allies. Appeals by BJP leaders to its allies not to air their differences in public, but to raise them at the Coordination Committee meeting, had had no impact.

Strains between the AIADMK and the BJP cast a shadow over the meeting. Faced with fresh demands from the AIADMK-led front for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu and from the Samata Party for the dismissal of the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar, Vajpayee told the meeting: "Article 356 does exist in the Constitution. It is not redundant, nor will it never be used."

However, he said, the Government was not in favour of sacking democratically elected State governments unless there was a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. The Prime Minister took the stand that keeping in view the positions taken by President K.R. Narayanan and the Supreme Court on the issue, the Centre should not take recourse to this constitutional provision without adequate reason.

THE vulnerability of the Government, in view of the strident demands from some of the coalition partners, emboldened other small parties to make their own demands, including huge monetary demands, at the meeting. Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal, whose Haryana Vikas Party has just one member in the Lok Sabha, wanted the Centre to waive loans to the State amounting to Rs.2,500 crores, as had been done for Punjab by the United Front Government; he said that Haryana too had to cope with the consequences of insurgency in Punjab. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal sought an increase in border area allocations. Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal wanted more funds allocated for Orissa.

Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha briefed the BJP's allies on the steps being taken to face the sanctions following the nuclear tests. He referred to the turnaround in the position of the World Bank on loans to India, evidence of re-thinking in the U.S. on the sanctions, and a modification in the position of the Group of 8 developed nations. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh, who visited a number of Western capitals to present India's reasons for conducting the tests, claimed after the meeting that the allies endorsed the BJP leadership's decisiveness in conducting the tests.

The meeting did not discuss the recent controversies surrounding the AIADMK's "friendly warning" to the BJP and the despatch of Central teams to West Bengal and Bihar.

Life at the edge

The formation of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha spurs efforts to build a secular front that will be ready to take over should the Vajpayee Government collapse under pressure from the BJP's disparate allies.

PLAYERS on the political stage are frequently required to wear a mask in order to present a stoic front even in the face of overwhelming and all-round adversity. Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, buffeted by a string of adversities in the 100-plus days that the Hindutva party has headed a coalition Government at the Centre, would seem to don just such a mask, but it is an increasingly transparent camouflage. In their estimation, perhaps, the show - of being able to bear the many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with Hamletian fortitude - must go on. But even among the prompters who provide the political cues from the wings, the realisation seems to have dawned that, the players having strutted and fretted their hour on the stage, the time for the final curtain is near at hand.

Addressing newspersons at the end of a meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies in New Delhi on June 27, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh said: "There is no threat to the Government." Few, even among the activists of the other constituents of the Hindutva combine, took his statement at its face value. For the meeting had been virtually boycotted by three of the BJP's alliance partners from Tamil Nadu whose support is crucial for the survival of the Government: the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), whose general secretary, the combative Jayalalitha had only days earlier sounded a "friendly warning" to the BJP; the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK); and the Tamil Nadu Rajiv Congress (TRC). In fact, soon it was announced that Jaswant Singh, who is Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission besides being political firefighter par excellence for the BJP, would be off to Chennai yet again on a mission to mollify Jayalalitha.

The leader of a fourth ally, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress, who too has directed a fair dose of "friendly fire" at the BJP, also did not make it to the meeting, ostensibly having missed her flight to Delhi.

And, worse for the BJP, barely 100 days after a decidedly wobbly take-off, barely three months into what has proved to be a most turbulent ride, word is going around that the cockpit crew is preparing for a crashlanding that seems inevitable.

According to Hindutva combine workers in Uttar Pradesh, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the Parivar of which the BJP is a constituent, has sent instructions to its units in northern India asking its cadre to be prepared for general elections anytime after October 1998. Some of the units received the communication on the very day that the Coordination Committee met in Delhi and Jaswant Singh expressed supreme confidence in the survival of the government.

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A senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader from Uttar Pradesh told Frontline that the RSS message was a directive to the cadre to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. "We are still trying," the leader said, "to solve the differences with the AIADMK and we hope it will work. But we also know that we cannot go on compromising and will have to take a position sooner or later. In such a situation, we should not be caught unawares if something happens. Which is why the missive was sent out."

The primary factor that underlies this apprehension within the BJP and the rest of the Hindutva combine is the uncertainty over Jayalalitha's continued support. Leaders of the combine say that they are aware that Jayalalitha has been in constant touch with sections of the Congress(I) ever since the Vajpayee Government took office. In their perception, the discussions between the Congress(I) and the AIADMK might take a critical turn any moment now.

BUT, by all indications, this is not the only factor that was behind the RSS missive. The coming together of the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Laloo Prasad Yadav to form the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (National Democratic Front, or NDF), as well as former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar's exhortation to the Congress(I) to bring down the Vajpayee Government, also heightened worries in the Hindutva combine, which was already besieged by unrelenting pressure from some of its regional allies. The warm responses of some constituents of the United Front (U.F.), including the Left parties, and the Congress(I), to the formation of the NDF too weighed on the minds of leaders of the Hindutva combine. Just as important, the BJP nurses serious doubts about how long it can count on the support of some of its other allies - such as the Biju Janata Dal, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party - which are exhibiting symptoms of restiveness over the coalition Government's record so far.

Many BJP leaders see the formation of the NDF as a clever political ploy; they believe that the NDF can act as a catalyst that will help the U.F. and the Congress(I) get over their differences and join hands. In their reckoning, even if the U.F. and the Congress(I) do not come together as part of a coalition arrangement, they may both agree to support a mutually acceptable third entity, such as the NDF. The S.P. was, after all, one of the U.F. constituents until the NDF was born; and the RJD was a key constituent of the alliances that were formed by the Congress(I) ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Rajnath Singh, president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP, said: "If the U.F. constituents and the Congress(I) are committed to political principles, they should have seen the formation of the NDF as an act of betrayal. But that is not the case. Even Janata Dal leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda has welcomed the new alliance, despite the fact that both Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad have declared that the Congress(I) should be given the first option to form a non-BJP government. Obviously, they are not bothered about principles but want to prop up the new political entity that will help them rally forces against the BJP."

Ever since March, the BJP leadership, as part of its strategy for the survival of the Vajpayee Government, has sought to accentuate the differences between the U.F. and the Congress(I) to prevent their coming together on an anti-BJP platform. The manner in which the Congress(I) used the Jain Commission's Interim Report on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to pull down the U.F. Government headed by I.K. Gujral was used as ammunition in this campaign. Clearly, the NDF's formation has upset the BJP's applecart even further.

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Reports that NDF leaders have held consultations with some constituents in the BJP-led coalition have caused concern in the Hindutva party. According to sources in the S.P. and the RJD, the formation of the NDF was preceded by discussions with the AIADMK and sections of the BJD, the Samata Party and the Lok Shakti. These sources add that sections of the BJD and the Samata Party are disenchanted with the Vajpayee Government's record in office as well as the leadership of their respective parties and are ready to join hands with the NDF.

The turmoil in the BJD over the cross-voting in the recent Rajya Sabha elections and the expressions of resentment among a group of Samata Party MPs against the leadership of Defence Minister George Fernandes and Railway Minister Nitish Kumar lend credence to such reports. According to NDF sources, five of the nine BJD MPs and seven of the 12 Samata Party MPs are ready to leave the BJP alliance. Buta Singh, who was forced to resign from the Vajpayee Ministry under pressure from Jayalalitha, has joined forces with the NDF. In addition, Laloo Prasad is believed to have held talks with Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde, with whom he has had a good rapport since their days in the Janata Dal.

The NDF leadership hopes that the realignment of political forces that is taking shape will trigger its own set of dynamics that will lead to the collapse of the Vajpayee Government and the formation of a broad anti-BJP grouping at the Centre. S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav told Frontline that in its 100 days in office, the Vajpayee Government had proved that the BJP is incapable of providing good governance. "There is growing realisation that the BJP is pushing a communal agenda, which is detrimental to the country. Laloo Prasad and I are only channelling this realisation and giving it political shape."

HOWEVER, the NDF leadership is not sure just how and when these efforts will crystallise. According to NDF leaders, all the objective political factors for bringing down the Vajpayee Government are in place, with the AIADMK, the PMK, the TRC and sections of the BJD and the Samata Party ready to walk out of the ruling coalition. However, certain subjective factors still stand in the way of the fruition of the process. Most of these relate to doubts among Congress(I) leaders, especially its president Sonia Gandhi, about the efficacy of the proposed alternative to the Vajpayee Government and the impact that the formation of a broad non-BJP grouping will have on her own authority over the party.

The Congress(I) is sceptical of such a new arrangement at two levels: the political and the personal. A senior member of the Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) member confided that the party was not sure that with allies like the AIADMK, which is driving a hard bargain with the BJP to force the Hindutva party to concede its unreasonable demand for the dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, it would be able to perform better than the Vajpayee Government. "If we come to power with the AIADMK's support, that party may create the very same problems it is causing the Vajpayee Government," the CWC member said.

At a personal level too, Sonia Gandhi is believed to be uncomfortable about taking the support of Jayalalitha, who had criticised Sonia Gandhi's entry into politics and had even stated that the people of India would not accept "a foreigner" as their leader. Although Jayalalitha subsequently sought to make amends by praising former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the distrust persists, the CWC member said.

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Some Congress(I) leaders are of the view that if the proposed alternative to the Vajpayee Government fails to perform creditably, it will only strengthen the BJP. CWC members such as Arjun Singh and A.K. Antony argued that for the Congress(I) to participate as one of many disparate entities in a secular alliance at this juncture would not serve its long-term agenda, which is to revive the organisation at a national level. Sources close to Arjun Singh said that he believed that running a government with regional parties such as the S.P. and the RJD would not advance the Congress(I)'s aim of national revival.

Arjun Singh is reported to have argued at recent meetings of party leaders that the revival of the Congress(I) in the politically pivotal States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is central to its rejuvenation at the national level, and that this purpose would not be well served by entering into alliances with the S.P. and the RJD, which have a strong base in this region. In his opinion, teaming up with these parties would only help them consolidate their strengths.

An MP from Madhya Pradesh who is considered close to Arjun Singh told Frontline: "The mass base of the S.P. and the RJD was once with the Congress(I). We have to win that back. This cannot be done by joining hands with the very same parties. We have a better chance of achieving our objective by sitting in the Opposition and fighting consistently against the BJP and these forces."

Sources in the Congress(I) say that although Sonia Gandhi herself is personally inclined towards this view, she is unable to pursue it vigorously because a majority of the CWC members, including leaders such as Sharad Pawar, Manmohan Singh, R.K. Dhawan and Ghulam Nabi Azad, wants the Vajpayee Government to be brought down at the earliest. In fact, Pawar has been in constant touch with Jayalalitha since the early days of the Vajpayee Government.

As part of another initiative, former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with leaders of Left parties such as Somnath Chatterjee and Jyoti Basu. These discussions were intended to gauge the extent to which the Left would go to support the Congress(I). According to Congress(I) sources, the Left leaders were ready even to support a Congress(I)-led government. A Youth Congress(I) office-bearer told Frontline: "These discussions have given Manmohan Singh the strength to advance his case for forming a non-BJP government."

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HOWEVER, the Sonia Gandhi camp is also apprehensive that a stint in government in the company of parties such as the S.P. and the RJD may erode the Congress(I) president's command over her party. Leaders such as Pawar and Sitaram Kesri have better equations with the leaders of the S.P. and the RJD and, according to an apolitical associate of Sonia Gandhi, they might use the coalition partners in a prospective government to reduce the influence of the Sonia Gandhi camp. That Sonia Gandhi's leadership is already being indirectly challenged, as was made clear by the defeat of her nominee Ram Pradhan in the Rajya Sabha biennial elections in Maharashtra, has aggravated this worry.

The NDF leadership's response to the Congress(I)'s doubts about the administrative efficacy of the proposed alternative to the Vajpayee Government has not satisfied Sonia Gandhi loyalists. NDF leaders are reported to have told the Congress(I) that if the latter "does not want to take the blame for bad governance, the NDF is ready to take the flak and lead the proposed alternative." Mulayam Singh's statement that if the Congress(I) is unwilling to head a non-BJP government it should support the NDF in this endeavour is significant in this context. However, the Sonia Gandhi camp reckons that even this is not a satisfactory arrangement.

Torn by conflicts and doubts, the Congress(I) has so far failed to make a commitment to bringing down the Vajpayee Government. A party statement issued after the CWC meeting of June 23, a day after Chandra Shekhar exhorted the Congress(I) to bring down the Vajpayee Government and form an alternative, reflected the leadership's dilemma. Briefing the media after the meeting, Arjun Singh merely said: "The suggestions that an alternative government be formed at the Centre have been noted; the consolidation of all secular forces remains an important issue for us." He added that the Congress(I) would keep a close watch on the situation, but could not be asked to respond to a situation that was still in the realm of conjecture. The closest that Arjun Singh came to making some kind of a commitment was when he said: "In case the Government collapses under its own weight, the Congress(I) will definitely discharge its responsibility."

However, given the pace of consolidation of anti-BJP forces in the Opposition as well as among some constituents of the BJP-led front, the Congress(I) cannot afford to prevaricate for long. Sonia Gandhi's statements during her tour of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in the last fortnight seemed to indicate that the Congress(I) had come around to this realisation. Talking to party workers in Humnabad in Karnataka on June 28, Sonia Gandhi ruled out the possibility of the Congress(I) supporting any front to come to power, and added that once an alternative to the Vajpayee Government emerges, the Congress(I) would lead it. With this she appears to have made it clear that the NDF proposal that it be allowed to lead the prospective alternative is unacceptable. Political observers see a subtle change towards a pro-active policy in this declaration as compared to the irresolute nature of the statement after the June 23 CWC meeting.

The most important question now is when and how Sonia Gandhi and other leaders in the Congress(I) will get over their evident diffidence about pulling down the Vajpayee Government and pursue the anti-BJP line to its logical conclusion. For now, there are no clear indications of the timing and the method. A section of the Congress(I) leadership says that Sonia Gandhi would not like to do anything to dislodge the Government until the Finance Bill is passed "so that the country's economy has some direction, even if it is faulty and limited." But sources close to the AIADMK are of the view that the Finance Bill will not be passed by the Vajpayee Government.

As for the Hindutva combine leadership, it seems to be convinced that irrespective of whether the Government survives the Budget session of Parliament and whether an alternative government is formed, elections are inevitable around October.

The myth of deterrence

FOR the more than 1.1 billion people of India and Pakistan, the nuclear nightmare is neither distant nor something to be merely imagined. They are amidst it. The threat of megadeath hangs over the subcontinent. It is a real, felt, danger. New Delhi's epochal blunder, indeed crime, in putting India on the course of overt nuclearisation, duly replicated by Islamabad, has suddenly made a nuclear attack or war a ghastly, awesome, but wholly realisable possibility. The thought is chilling.

Some of the hawks who have for years egged on the two governments to cross the nuclear threshold - they include defence and nuclear scientists - are now counselling "restraint" and warning against jingoism and triumphalism. But the restraint they advocate is of a peculiar variety. It has less to do with a genuine effort to pull back from the nuclear brink, than with deterrence-based mutual understanding between India and Pakistan after they have already gone over the brink and become full-fledged nuclear weapon states (NWSs).

A profound contradiction lies at the heart of this position. On the one hand, it is they who first played the jingoistic card and started flag-waving and tub-thumping about India's right - and the dire need - to make nuclear weapons, in faithful imitation of the P-5. On the other, they now want to sever the jingoism from what Robert Jay Lifton calls nuclearism. Jingoism is inseparable from, and indeed lies at the root of, nuclearism. On the one hand, they advised, chided, jeered and begged Pakistan to go nuclear, and were relieved when Islamabad finally tested. On the other, they now have no compunction about underlining the "threat" from a nuclear Pakistan, and simultaneously advocating that India meet the threat through the deplorably cynical means of deterrence. This is the same inverted logic that Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee deployed when he declared that Pakistan's tests had vindicated India's stand!

Curiously, not one of these hawks has thought it fit to warn against or criticise the specifically communal spin that the BJP has quite naturally put on its decision to make nuclear weapons. Although many of the hawks are self-professedly secular, they fail to see, or turn a blind eye to, the link between the bomb and communalism; for the advocates of Hindutva, that link has been explicit right from 1951, regardless of India's security environment or external relations. Suddenly, for them, "security" provided by the bomb has become overwhelmingly important. What is a little sacrifice of democracy or secularism when the very security of the state is at stake?

Their concern, like that of those whom Noam Chomsky targets in his classic American Power and the New Mandarins, has been to invent, in the fashion of the true intellectual supplicant to power, ex post rationalisation for the bomb, and fanciful arguments about how nuclearisation will enhance security. However, so absurd does this proposition seem under the shadow of a mushroom cloud over India and Pakistan that the hawks have to concede that special, elaborate, measures are essential to combat the insecurity created by nuclearisation. This is tantamount to first inflicting an injury upon oneself and then prescribing expensive treatment for it! Here comes the argument for "sobriety" and "restraint" while dealing with nuclear weapons. Its function is to make these instruments of mass destruction seem inevitable, respectable and "normal", and perpetuate them exactly in the manner of the five NWSs - by relying on nuclear deterrence and creating a panoply of high-technology measures to prevent their accidental, unintended or unauthorised use.

NOT only is the intention behind this exercise questionable but it is deeply fraught with grave risks that defy technology fixes, however sophisticated. To start with, contrary to what our hawks say, India (rightly) opposed nuclear deterrence for 50 years not because NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries pursued it without "political engagement", but because nuclear deterrence is morally "abhorrent", illegal, and strategically unacceptable and irrational. The concept of nuclear deterrence uncritically and dogmatically assumes that nuclear adversaries always know and rationally calculate the risk of inviting an "unacceptable" level of damage and therefore forever behave "responsibly". However, if this were true of strategic planners and generals, that is, if they never make a strategic miscalculation, then there would not be so many conventional wars and violent conflicts. It simply makes no sense to assume that what holds true for conventional wars does not, cannot, apply to nuclear conflicts. After all, although nuclear weapons pose a far graver danger, the mindsets, the men and the decision-making processes that operate in the two cases are the same. As are the criteria to determine what constitutes "provocation", cause for retaliation or grade of response.

For mutual deterrence to succeed between two adversaries, both must pursue identical strategic policies (of relying on threats to protect their security). More, they must agree on levels of armed preparedness that can effectively deter. Deterrence must work 100 per cent of the time. Or it is no good. And breakdown means catastrophe. In reality, there is no such congruence and no shared understanding on policy or preparedness. For instance, one side might seriously believe that in a situation where war seemed inevitable, the best course would be to strike pre-emptively. The other side might not. In 1965, Ayub Khan really thought that the people of Kashmir would rise in revolt against New Delhi if Pakistani troops infiltrated into the Valley, and hence it was strategically logical to start a pre-emptive war with India. The result is history. The Bangladesh war and the operation of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka too are examples of strategic miscalculation. Again, in countries that have run clandestine or semi-clandestine weapons and technology acquisition programmes - both Pakistan and India fall in this category - there are serious gaps in information on each other's capabilities, weapons stocks and potentials. Therefore, there may be no shared understanding on the levels of arming adequate for deterrence.

Thus, Indian leaders, advised by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and nuclear scientists, have consistently underestimated Pakistan's capabilities. Some of them even dismissed the possibility that Pakistan could have mastered uranium enrichment to produce quantities large enough for a number of bombs: after all, its technology was "stolen" and that technology can never be fully absorbed. Underlying this misjudgment is neither solid information nor intelligent guesswork. It is pure hubris: if India could not (and until recently it probably did not) master enrichment, how could Pakistan? This masks the fact that a great deal of nuclear technology now in India's possession came from abroad, including the Cirus reactor, the source of the plutonium for Pokhran-I. Nuclear technology everywhere is one of the world's most transferred and traded commodities. Many claims of indigenisation are hollow. But let that pass.

INDIA may be making a similar mistake about Pakistan's missile capabilities too. Many Indian media reports - and these do influence generals - about Ghauri, for instance, claimed without substantiation first that this was a Chinese missile, and then that it was North Korean. Some reports said a test never took place at all. Meanwhile, what is forgotten is that Pakistan can inflict more or less assured damage on India with its (more reliable) Hatf-I and Hatf-II missiles. It does not need an intermediate missile. Again, the Agni's claimed success appears to have been exaggerated. What has been tested so far does not quite amount to a prototype: it is only a "technology demonstrator", not a missile that flies and lands reasonably accurately anywhere.

Further, deterrence is fraught with a runaway arms race, and is inherently unstable and degenerative in character. If rationality were so unfailingly central to it, the world would not have seen such an obsession with "more is better" as to amass an overkill capacity of 69,000-plus weapons of assorted sizes and lethality during the Cold War. The plea that India and Pakistan will be "different" is altogether lame. The logic of nuclearism and nuclear deterrence rarely makes national distinctions. In the absence of full information, and a common understanding on just how much force is necessary to deter the adversary, deterrence as it is practised is subjective and unilateral, and usually based on the enemy's intentions as well as capabilities. The adversary's reaction too is subjective and unilateral. Such unilateralism contains the seeds of a fight for superiority - just that technological edge that will make you supposedly invincible. That edge becomes all-important to the very concept of security. That is exactly what happened with "Star Wars". This spells a situation of mutual confrontation, permanent instability and perpetual hostility - the opposite of what deterrence theory says.

Most hawks and supposed "realists", who root for deterrence despite all this, usually acknowledge one problem: there is a real, serious risk of accidental, unauthorised or unintended use of nuclear weapons, and that very special - and very expensive - measures are necessary to reduce that risk. For instance, a group of fanatical officers might want to attack the "enemy" with nuclear weapons. Pakistan has had a history of attempted coups by Islamic zealots. Or, a nuclear weapon might be fired in assumed retaliation for a nuclear attack - which night not be one at all. Or there might be confusion about the line of command. Who authorises the use of nuclear weapons? Through what process? How is this communicated to those in the battlefield? How are the triggers actually activated? What precautionary measures are instituted to ensure that nothing is done hastily or in a cavalier manner?

Such measures involve close surveillance through expensive satellites, radars and early-warning systems; PALs (permissive action links) or computer-chip-based safety devices to prevent assembled weapons from being armed unless all necessary procedural requirements are fulfilled): establishment of launch authorities with an unambiguous line of command; special weapons configuration so that local commanders or missile crews cannot pull the trigger; alternative structures in case of decapitation of existing military commands; multiple hot lines at different levels of the hierarchy; regular exchange of information about some aspects of each other's weapons disposition and crisis avoidance precautions, and transparency about strategic doctrines.

THIS is neither cool nor simple as it may sound. It is frightfully expensive, accounting for one-half or more of the costs of nuclear programmes - over $2,500 billion in the U.S. alone. It is typically associated with fear and nervousness, and proneness to panic. Robert S. Norris of the National Resources Defence Council of the U.S., which has published authoritative Nuclear Weapons Databooks, says: "The U.S. did all the war avoidance stuff ... with a vengeance for 40 years." "It's a miracle that we made it through" without a catastrophic accident... "It was a gigantic and very expensive enterprise."

However, accidents there have been, and frightful ones at that, despite the billions spent on their prevention. It is pure luck that they were not more catastrophic than anticipated. For instance, according to Greenpeace, as many as 51 nuclear warheads (44 Soviet and seven U.S.) were lost at sea. Seven nuclear reactors (five Soviet, two U.S.) from nuclear-powered submarines are under water.

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In his book The Hidden Cost of Deterrence: Nuclear Weapons Accidents (Brassey's, London, 1990) Shaun Gregory painstakingly documents with cited sources no fewer than 224 accidents involving nuclear weapons. These include four categories. Group 1 is the accidental or unauthorised detonation or possible detonation of a nuclear weapon, which could create a war risk; Group 2 ranges from accidental detonation without a war risk to radioactive contamination. Group 3 involves accidents to vehicles which are carrying or may have been carrying nuclear weapons. Group 4 includes other significant accidents.

By Gregory's reckoning, there were as many as 10 Group 1 accidents, 59 Group 2 accidents and 137 Group 3 accidents. Group 4 claims 18. Within Group 2, as many as 17 involved radioactive contamination, five involved accidental detonation of a weapon and 112 seizures, theft or loss of a nuclear weapon or weapon component.

Recent disclosures about the Cuban missile crisis are hair-raising. Right at the start of it, in October 1962, the U.S. Strategic Air Command secretly deployed nuclear warheads on nine of the ten test Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles at the Vandenberg Air Force Base and then launched the tenth missile on a pre-scheduled test over the Pacific. Had Soviet intelligence learnt of the warhead deployment and mistaken the test launch for an attack, the consequence would have been a full-scale nuclear war. In yet another incident, the North American Air Defence Command was told that a nuclear-tipped missile was launched from Cuba and was headed for Florida. When the detonation failed to occur, it was discovered that a radar operator had inserted a test tape simulating an attack from Cuba into the system, confusing control room officers. Had the mistake not been detected, there could have been a catastrophe.

The point is simple. No amount of technological sophistication could eliminate the risk of a nuclear attack/war even among the most advanced NWSs. Such risks are particularly, in fact frightfully, high in the case of India and Pakistan. They lack the technological and financial means for creating even the kind of imperfect war- and crisis-prevention infrastructure that the five NWSs have. To do so would be economically ruinous. These are countries that have repeatedly failed to set up strategic authorities like the National Security Council and establish regular communications on the hot lines between their directors-general of military operations. Both have entered a phase of deep political instability, economic uncertainty and increased social turmoil.

This spells a grave danger, which must worry all sane, well-informed people. India and Pakistan face a critical choice: to take the high-risk NWS route to nuclear deployment and create highly imperfect, inadequate and super-expensive crisis-prevention mechanisms while relying on a doctrine which we rightly rejected for 50 years; or stop their nuclear preparations and refuse to produce nuclear weapons. The first means courting disaster. The second means maintaining a firebreak between testing and weapons production, which allows a return to sanity. If we do not wish to be incinerated into particles of radioactive dust, we should make that choice now.

From Hiroshima to Pokhran

A three-member Japanese delegation visited Pokhran as part of a 10-day tour of India and Pakistan aimed at raising public awareness about the devastating effects of nuclear war.

"I WONDER for what purpose she came into this world," said Hiroshima survivor Yasuhiko Taketa, referring to his elder sister who died in agony at the age of 16. She was 1.4 km away from "ground zero" when a nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. She was brought home, 7 km from ground zero, the next evening. "Her arrival is," said Taketa, "a very sad memory for me." "She was lying on a cart, severely burnt. Her clothes were glued to her skin. We wanted to spread oil on her skin, but we could not remove her clothes. So we had to cut the clothes away from the skin with scissors, causing her horrendous pain. She died on August 9, crying 'Mother, help me, mother help me'. There was nothing we could do to help her. There were no medicines, no doctors." Thus spoke Yasuhiko Taketa in Pokhran on June 17, 1998. Also present were two other Japanese citizens: Masa Takubo, international consultant of Japan's Gensuikin (Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs) and Ken Sakamoto, secretary-general of Gensuikin's Hiroshima branch.

The team's visit to Pokhran was part of a 10-day tour of India and Pakistan aimed at raising public awareness about the devastating effects of nuclear war.

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The people of Pokhran gave a warm reception to the Japanese delegation. When the visitors arrived around 9.30 p.m., accompanied by a small group of concerned Indian citizens, hundreds of local people were waiting for them at Gandhi Chowk. They listened patiently until close to midnight, despite the frustration of double translation (from Japanese to English and then to Hindi). The audience was deeply moved by the delegation's testimonies, which included an exhibition of photographs from Hiroshima and a short film. Taketa's closing plea for a world-wide abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests was greeted with loud applause.

Taketa spoke with calm and dignity, despite the obvious emotions stirred by memories of the dreadful events that followed the explosion:

"My name is Yasuhiko Taketa. I come from Hiroshima, where an atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945, for the first time in history. I was 12 years old at that time, and a first grader in junior high school. We received a militaristic education and were told that we should give up our lives for the Emperor and for the country. Japan was losing its power day by day. By early 1945, it had lost control of the sea as well as of the sky.

"My home town was outside Hiroshima, but my school was in Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, we had been given a day off. In the morning, I was asked to deliver some food to my elder sister's house. A little after 8 a.m., I was waiting for the train at the railway station. Suddenly, there was an intense flash. Everything looked bluish white. Then there was a thunder-like sound. I felt as if my stomach had been cut open and my intestines were coming out. Then I felt extreme heat on my cheek. Looking in the direction from where the heat was coming, I saw a white spot, which became yellow and then red, and turned into a huge fireball, seemingly coming towards me. It was a horrendous sight. I felt like choking. I was looking at this 7 km away from ground zero.

"Later, I learnt that Enola Gay had released the bomb at a height of 9,000 metres, and that the bomb had exploded at a height of 600 metres. The surface temperature at ground zero rose to 6,000 oC. The diameter of the fireball was 200 metres. Under the fireball, those who had not been killed instantly were running around, trying to escape. After a while, we saw people fleeing Hiroshima towards our town. They looked like ghosts. Many were burnt, almost naked, with swollen faces, or had their skin peeled by the heat. Some were holding their intestines.

"Two days after the explosion, I walked into Hiroshima with some friends. The city was totally destroyed. There were dead bodies everywhere. Our school was devastated. The second graders who were at school that day were killed, all 183 of them. All around us, people were still dying. Some were crying, 'Give me water, give me water'. I saw a child groping for his mother's breast, but she was already dead. There were no facilities for cremation, so people dug holes and threw the bodies in them and then burnt them. There was a smell of charred bodies everywhere.

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"At that time, Hiroshima's population was 400,000, of which 140,000 died by the end of 1945, 90 per cent of them within a week of the explosion. Of the city's 76,000 buildings, 70,000 were completely destroyed or burnt down.

"People continue to die even today, from the after-effects of radiation. The dreadfulness of nuclear war is that even if you survive the bombing, you can suffer much later. As of last year, there were 202,118 registered deaths due to the Hiroshima bombing. Survivors are faced with suffering and the fear of death every day. I would like you to remember this.

"Today's bombs are far more powerful than the bomb that fell on Hiroshima. Imagine what would happen in the event of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Governments talk of nuclear deterrence, but nuclear weapons cannot bring security. In a nuclear war, there are no winners. Security comes from peaceful relations between nations.

"I don't know how long I will live, but however long I live, I want to continue working for peace. I also call on the people of India and Pakistan to work together for peace. That is my dream. As the Japanese philosopher Ichiro Moritaki said, 'We have to stop the chain reaction of atoms through the chain reaction of human beings'. Let us work together for peace, so that we may leave a peaceful world behind us for our children and grandchildren. That is my plea, and the message I have brought from Hiroshima."

EARLY the next morning, the delegation proceeded to Khetolai village near the test site. The reception they received there was overwhelming. The villagers had erected a large shamiana and had prepared a colourful welcome ceremony. In his opening remarks, the deputy sarpanch reminded the audience that at the time of the creation of the test site in 1965, the village had signed a petition against it. While greeting the Japanese visitors, he said that he wished they had come earlier, implying that the recent tests may have been averted.

The villagers watched the exhibition of photographs from Hiroshima with solemn interest. Already concerned about the possible side-effects of nuclear tests in the area, they were in total sympathy with the team's mission. Many of them were quick to point out that the Government should spend its money on schools and health centres, rather than on nuclear weapons. They felt even more strongly about it after Taketa's speech. As in Pokhran, his call for world peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons was received with roaring applause.

At the end of the programme, a local resident drafted a resolution, calling for universal nuclear disarmament and an immediate end to all nuclear tests. The resolution also demanded that the Government inform and consult citizens before any use of nuclear energy. The resolution was unanimously endorsed by a show of hands, and signatures from those who could sign in the rush that followed.

THE Khetolai declaration and the gatherings that preceded it raise interesting questions about the popular attitude towards the development of nuclear weapons. According to a much-cited "opinion survey" that was published in The Times of India on May 13, 90 per cent of the population approved of the recent tests. This survey was, however, conducted by telephone in eight major cities and is therefore confined to the privileged urban classes. The fact that the responses of telephone owners in the major cities were used to represent the views of the entire population speaks volumes about the political marginalisation of the underprivileged majority. It may be argued that ordinary people are not sufficiently aware of the facts to have an informed view on these issues. This is correct, but the solution to this is to inform them, rather than to rely on others to represent their views. The Pokhran and Khetolai gatherings show that when people are adequately informed, their views on nuclear weapons are far less enthusiastic than what the survey suggests.

That the people of Khetolai should turn out to be strong critics of nuclear weapons and nuclear testing is not surprising, given their concern about the possible effects of radiation in the area. More interesting is the public response in Pokhran, a BJP stronghold, where, according to earlier press reports, the nuclear tests were greeted with jubilation. The warm reception given to the Japanese delegation in Pokhran is not inconsistent with the possibility that many local residents consider the recent tests as being justified. However, the Pokhran gathering brings out another aspect of the public mood: when presented with the facts, most people strongly support universal nuclear disarmament and an immediate end to all nuclear tests. It remains to be seen whether the Government's nuclear strategy will do justice to this overwhelming popular concern.

The Khetolai declaration

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Today, June 18, 1998, a meeting was held at Khetolai village near the Pokhran field firing range, where the Indian Government conducted nuclear tests on May 11 and 13. At this meeting, we discussed the growing arms race in the world and its dangerous consequences. The meeting was also attended by Japanese citizens, including some of those who had personally experienced the tragedy of a nuclear holocaust in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War, when the United States dropped nuclear bombs on the two cities.

When we heard their testimonies and eye-witness accounts, we felt very sorry that the growing arms race in the world is so disastrous for humanity.

Keeping in view these feelings, the gram sabha unanimously passed the following resolutions:

* All nuclear weapons should be destroyed at once all over the world so that human beings may live fearlessly and peacefully.

* The government should not take any decision regarding nuclear energy without consulting the citizens of India and providing full information to those who are directly affected.

* There should be no nuclear tests anywhere in the world.

'Nuclear deterrence, in general, is not a sound strategy'

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Gensuikin (Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs) is Japan's leading anti-nuclear organisation. Founded in the 1950s after the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Bikini atoll, it opposes nuclear tests and nuclear weapons all over the world. Gensuikin's international consultant, Masa Takubo, spoke to Jean Dreze after his visit to Pokhran and Khetolai. Excerpts from the interview:

It is often argued that had Japan possessed a nuclear bomb in 1945, Hiroshima would not have happened. What is your response?

It is difficult to say what would have happened had Japan possessed a nuclear bomb in 1945. Different scenarios are possible, depending on the assumptions one makes. So there is no single answer. One plausible answer, however, is that Japan would have used its own bomb first. This would have been quite irrational, but Japan was already pursuing an irrational military strategy, for instance, allowing the destruction of Tokyo and other cities through conventional bombing even though it had clearly lost the war. If Japan had used its own nuclear bomb, a nuclear war would have followed, with even more devastating consequences than the destruction of Hiroshima.

What about the general principle of nuclear deterrence?

Nuclear deterrence, in general, is not a sound strategy. This is especially so in an authoritarian system, as in war-time Japan, where there was no accountability. But even in other contexts, there is absolutely no guarantee that opponents will correctly anticipate each other's moves and act rationally. The fact that war did not break out between the Soviet Union and the United States is a miracle.

If Japan is so opposed to nuclear weapons, then why does it accept the U.S. nuclear umbrella?

Let me clarify that Gensuikin is not the Government of Japan. We are an anti-nuclear organisation, which has made demands on many countries, including Japan. As far as the U.S.-Japan security treaty is concerned, we have asked the Japanese Government to request the U.S. not to include nuclear weapons among the means that might be used to defend Japan. So far, the Japanese Government has refused, arguing that it cannot tell the U.S. which weapons should or should not be used to protect Japan.

Do you support Japan's sanctions against India?

My own view is that some response is essential, although I would like to think that it need not be sanctions. I wish people here would tell us what is the best way to influence the Indian Government. Then we could work towards that. What we cannot do is ignore the tests. We support India's demand for total abolition of nuclear weapons, and we have lots of demands on the U.S. in this respect. But at the same time, we need some way of dealing with the problem of proliferation. If the Indian people show their power to oppose nuclear weapons and say, 'Leave it to us', that is fine.

In one of your talks, you described the position of the Indian Left on nuclear weapons as "peculiar". What did you mean?

The Indian Left has a sharp understanding of the military-industrial complex in the U.S., but it is slow to recognise a similar problem in India itself. Under the military-industrial complex, I include laboratories involved in military research and their scientists. The labs are a very powerful lobby in the U.S., and they are always keen to test. In India, one sees the beginning of this kind of system. So if you think this complex is important in the U.S., then you should also analyse it in India. Given the nature of this complex, we have to conclude that what has happened was bound to happen. If you advocate a policy of 'keeping the nuclear option open', you have to wonder who is going to keep that lobby in check. A Left-wing analyst should always be ready for uncomfortable results of future elections, even for the possibility of an authoritarian regime emerging at some stage. No country or political system can be trusted to ensure future restraint. To say, 'we will develop the capability but not weaponise' is a very risky option. Nuclear technology is a time bomb. It has to be fought at every stage.

What struck you most, on this visit to India?

Perhaps just the sight of daily life in the streets, simple people going around on bicycles and crowded buses, and then the thought, 'This country is developing nuclear weapons'. It seems unreal. I ask myself, 'Do these people really want to have nuclear weapons? Would they really want to throw nuclear bombs on other people?' I find this hard to believe. Also, when we visited Pokhran and Khetolai, I was impressed to see how many people turned up. Of course, it is hard for me to guess what they think. But the least I can say is that they did want to listen to what Taketa had to say. And they are not at all like the people we saw on television screens, greeting the nuclear explosions with loud cheers. This seems to contradict the claim that 90 per cent of the Indian people support the tests. We never got the feeling of a chauvinistic people telling us to go away and mind our own business. On the contrary, people always listened patiently, often for hours on end. This friendly reception is heartening, and gives me hope.

Diplomatic fire-fighting

For more than a month, senior Indian diplomats have been making efforts to contain the fallout of Pokhran but they have not been quite successful.

THROUGHOUT June, Indian diplomats have been busy fire-fighting on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government at the Centre. Senior diplomats were sent to West Asia to explain the rationale behind the nuclear explosions in May. The special emissary of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh, went to Washington to soothe the anger of the Clinton administration, but the mission was not very successful. Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje Scindia visited three South-East Asian countries in the third week of June. Before the month ended, she was off again, this time to the Caucasus, visiting Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, was cordially welcomed in Moscow and Paris, where he went as the Prime Minister's special envoy and met top officials. He also had a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. In the capital of all the three countries, the refrain was that India should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) immediately.

New Delhi's complaints regarding the economic sanctions got a sympathetic hearing in Paris and Moscow. Russia is party to the G-8 and P-5 stand on international sanctions against India and Pakistan. However, senior Russian officials have emphasised that the sanctions tend to be counterproductive. India has described the sanctions as "coercive and counterproductive". New Delhi is obviously worried about Washington's success in internationalising the sanctions and the growing Sino-American contacts.

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French President Jacques Chirac suggested to Brajesh Mishra that India unilaterally announce a moratorium on nuclear tests and make it a permanent commitment. The Vajpayee Gover-nment seems to have taken this suggestion seriously. Announcement of a permanent moratorium is a necessary step before signing the CTBT. This is a clear indication that the BJP-led Government is considering the option of signing the CTBT despite the blatantly discriminatory nature of the treaty. However, some senior External Affairs Ministry officials claim that as far as India is concerned the argument that the CTBT is discriminatory is no longer valid as it has conducted its nuclear tests successfully. India, they say, has enough data and technology to conduct sub-critical tests, which are not banned under the CTBT. The U.S. State Department has said that the sanctions would be lifted only if New Delhi announces a halt to further testing and signs the CTBT.

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Diplomats have also been trying to allay the fears of India's immediate neighbours. South Asian countries feel threatened by the prospect of a looming missile and nuclear arms race. Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom, who had an excellent rapport with the previous Government in New Delhi, cancelled his state visit to India, which was scheduled for May. As the outgoing Chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Gayoom was due to make customary visits to Islamabad and New Delhi. He cancelled his visit to Islamabad as well. Indian diplomats have worked overtime to ensure that the SAARC meeting in Colombo does not become a forum for India-baiting. President K.R. Narayanan's visit to Nepal in May helped clear apprehensions in the Himalayan kingdom about an Indian bomb. Brajesh Mishra was also in Kathmandu to explain the Indian position.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was in New Delhi in June. Sri Lanka has expressed its apprehensions about a nuclear and missile race in the subcontinent. Pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sentiments expressed by some of the BJP's coalition partners have also alarmed Colombo. Kadirgamar's primary task in New Delhi was to ensure that the SAARC summit took off without major hiccups.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came on a one-day "working visit" to New Delhi in the month. Bangladesh expressed its concerns about the accelerating missile and nuclear race in the subcontinent. Vajpayee assured Sheikh Hasina that the Pokhran tests were not directed at any specific country and reiterated New Delhi's serious interest in normalising relations with Pakistan under a bilateral framework in order to de-escalate the tensions in South Asia. Sheikh Hasina, however, expressed her country's apprehensions about the impact that the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan will have on the South Asian economy.

The Indian Government's decision in the last week of June to convey to the United Nations that a high-level U.N. team led by Alcaro de Soto, Assistant Secretary-General and the Secretary-General's special envoy, was not welcome to India, came as a surprise. The decision was taken at the eleventh hour, when the team was already in Dhaka, and could send the wrong signals to the international community. The U.N. team was sent following a Security Council decision: the Security Council had concluded that tensions had increased considerably in the South Asian region since the two countries carried out their nuclear tests.

De Soto carried a personal letter to the Indian Prime Minister from the Secretary General Kofi Annan.

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The Foreign Ministry has evidently concluded that the U.N. team's proposal to discuss matters relating to "regional tensions and issues" would end up focussing on Kashmir, and that its visit would only serve to internationalise the Kashmir issue further. A U.N. spokesman had said that De Soto had no intention to act as a mediator on the issue.

However, the External Affairs Ministry has said that it would welcome the proposed visit of the Secretary-General. An official in the Ministry said that Kofi Annan was "always welcome to visit India for discussions on global issues, including global nuclear disarmament."

Islamabad, meanwhile, has welcomed the U.N. team's visit. A Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman said that it "was absolutely necessary that the U.N. Secretary-General gets personally involved in South Asia."

However, the major diplomatic outcome of Pokhran has been the renewed international focus on Kashmir. Eqbal Ahmad, a prominent Pakistani academic and journalist, is of the view that the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan have virtually ruled out the possibility of a conventional war between the two countries. Ahmad, speaking at a round table organised by the Delhi Study Group in the last week of June, said that proxy wars could intensify unless the trend of making peace prevailed. He said that many people in the Pakistani establishment were surprised when India conducted its nuclear tests; he added that they were not too unhappy either. From the Pakistani perspective, India's tests negated the significant strides New Delhi had made in its relations with Beijing.

Before Pokhran, Ahmad said, visiting Chinese leaders advised Pakistan to settle all its disputes with India, including Kashmir, bilaterally. Ahmad pointed out that the fact that President Jiang Zemin came to New Delhi before going to Islamabad during his last state visit to the two countries was a signal that Beijing no longer had a "special relationship" with Islamabad. Now, after the provocative statements of Defence Minister George Fernandes and the nuclear tests, China was once again tilting towards Pakistan, he said.

Secretary-level talks between the two countries are likely to start after the SAARC summit at the end of July. Vajpayee and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are scheduled to have a meeting in Colombo during the summit, and indications are that Secretary-level talks will once again be kick-started. At the last SAARC summit, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral gave an assurance that a joint working group on Kashmir would be set up. Ahmad said that it was more important to get talks started on Kashmir, even though that was not the solution in itself.

Any outright refusal by India to discuss Kashmir will send the wrong signals to the international community. Islamabad, with some encouragement from the G-8 and the P-5, has demanded third-party mediation on Kashmir. India should now show that it is serious about de-escalating the tensions in South Asia and starting a sincere dialogue with Pakistan.

The Hindutva takeover of ICHR

The reconstitution of the Indian Council of Historical Research giving positions of authority to three VHP luminaries betrays a deep political design on the part of the BJP-led Government.

The force that separates most is a particular view of history. Groups and communities are formed principally through the view they hold of what has happened. Hindus and Muslims of India hold separate views of their common history. ...The Hindu and Muslim views of their common history have differed in the past as they do today and that is a cause of their separation in identity and action.

- Ram Manohar Lohia, The Guilty Men of India's Partition.

MEETING at Brac in Croatia in May, the World Archaeological Congress (WAC) adopted a resolution denouncing the infusion of "racial, religious or national chauvinist claims" into the profession. It specifically condemned the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya, deplored the failure to prevent it, and resolved that WAC would "turn its attention to the malicious destruction of archaeological heritage in the world."

In attendance at the WAC session was an array of participants from India, notably B.B. Lal, former Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India, B.R. Grover, former Director of the Indian Council of Historical Research, and S.P. Gupta, former Director of the Allahabad Museum. When the resolution was put to vote, all three chose to walk out. They had made a futile effort to contest the relevance of the resolution, but finding themselves outnumbered, chose to vote with their feet against it.

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Earlier, they had sat through an extended session of the Congress which dealt with the ramifications Ayodhya had for the archaeological profession. K.M. Shrimali, Professor of Ancient Indian History at Delhi University, made an impassioned plea for introspection by the community of archaeologists. The saga of the community's participation in the Ayodhya controversy was one of persistent violation of all the canons of field archaeology, he argued. Shrimali ended with the fervent hope that Indian archaeologists would steer clear of the course their German counterparts had adopted in legitimising Nazi notions of racial and cultural superiority in the 1930s.

The substantial gathering of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-sponsored archaeologists and historians sat through Shrimali's presentation with little substantive interventions. Devendra Swaroop of the Deendayal Research Institute, Delhi, only chose to question whether Shrimali really had the credentials to call into question Lal's professional record.

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LESS than a month later, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) reconstituted the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). Featured in the list of members were Lal and Grover. Although Gupta did not figure in it, his influence in drawing up the list was palpable to all who follow these matters.Three luminaries of the VHP campaign for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, who had left WAC in some disrepute, were, with little lapse of time, triumphantly assuming positions in the premier body of research sponsorship in India.

Lal and Gupta were among the principal organisers of an earlier WAC session held in New Delhi in December 1994. A group of historians and archaeologists had then urged WAC to adopt a resolution condemning the "fraudulent manipulation of evidence and the destruction of historical structures" carried out to further the "infusion of racial, religious or national-chauvinist claims into archaeology." Rather than permit a discussion, Lal and Gupta had contrived to disrupt the WAC session. The Congress ended in disarray and chaos, causing enormous damage to the professional image of Indian archaeology.

The rehabilitation of the VHP luminaries in positions of authority betrays a deep political design on the part of the Union Government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is an agenda over which the HRD Ministry has not sought even to maintain an appearance of subtlety. Four of its 18 nominees in the ICHR were part of the VHP's panel of historians that sought to establish the existence of a temple at the site of the Babri Masjid. Another five were actively associated with the effort to discredit opposing viewpoints.

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A further factor is the preponderance of superannuated historians in the newly constituted council - no fewer than 10 of the nominees have retired from active academic engagements. This is an unprecedented situation, not merely in the severance of an active linkage between sponsorship and research, but also in the influence that outmoded habits of historical thinking will have in funding decisions.

The first Chairman of the ICHR and an eminent historian, R.S. Sharma, sees two departures from convention in the reconstitution of the council. First, he says, it has been a convention with the ICHR that a degree of continuity is ensured by renominating certain members for a second term. And second, there has been a practice of accommodating different viewpoints in the council. Today, the ICHR presents a picture of doctrinal homogeneity - even if alternative viewpoints are expressed, they are likely to be drowned out in the numerical preponderance of the VHP camp-followers.

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One of the newly nominated members of the council, K.S. Lal, challenges this perception. The ICHR has always been dominated by historians of a Left-wing persuasion, he argues. This situation has been reversed by the present Government. The current controversy is, says Lal, merely the outcome of an exaggerated sense of pique on the part of the excluded Left wing.

Irfan Habib, another former Chairman of the council, is not quite convinced. Aside from the question of ideology, he says, there are fundamental reasons of a professional nature, to object to the constitution of the ICHR. The practice is to have historians of stature as members and there is little of that commodity on view today, says Habib. K.S. Lal may have written a worthwhile work of history in the distant past, but his more recent works - which have focussed almost exclusively on the supposed historical injuries suffered by Hindus - have been tendentious, communal and deeply objectionable.

Habib also seeks to debunk the notion that historians of the Left have had undue dominance in the affairs of the council. "Grover was a senior Director of the ICHR for ten years," he points out, "and M.G.S. Narayanan was Member-Secretary under my chairmanship." Both these individuals were associated with the propaganda campaign over Ayodhya on behalf of the VHP. And neither has shown the slightest hint of a Left-wing commitment in recent years.

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Jawaharlal Nehru University historian K.N. Panikkar points out that the council as it existed till recently, was a body of distinctly mixed views. "The last council, of which I was a member, had in it practitioners of almost all trends within the discipline," he says. "It was chaired by a liberal historian and was composed of liberals, conservatives, Marxists and also supporters of the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign."

ICHR chairman S. Settar chooses to put things with a certain measure of delicacy. "Yes," he concedes, "the council ,as it is constituted today is tilted towards older scholars, or scholars of greater maturity - however, you would choose to put it." The ideological influence, though, is not likely to be decisive in his estimation. "B.B. Lal's recent commitment to the Ayodhya issue," says Settar, "is of no consequence to his professional integrity." And whatever fears there may be over the possible skewing of scholarship is unfounded: "Not more than four or five of the members have links with any political party. And I am sure that the profession of historical scholarship will be strong enough to resist any invasion into their liberties."

Normal practice in the past has been that the Chairman initiates the process of reconstituting the council. Habib recalls that he used to send a list of over 20 names, of which a good number used to win the assent of the Government. This time around, it is learnt that of Settar's list of 18 sent to the Government, only two names were approved.

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The Hindutva takeover of the ICHR comes at a time when the organisation is passing through a serious crisis. Of a grant of Rs. 2 crores that it receives every year, over Rs. 1.25 crores is utilised in overheads, leaving relatively a paltry sum for research sponsorship. A regional centre has been established in Bangalore, in accordance with a decision made in 1974. But the character of the centre departs from the original conception and entails a further heavy drain on the depleted resources of the ICHR. The second proposed regional centre at Guwahati may well have to bear the burden of adjusting to the heavy financial demands that Bangalore centre has been placing on the organisation.

"Cultural nationalism" is the unique political platform of the BJP, which few others share in the omnibus coalition it heads. And if culture is a lived-in ensemble of social practices and traditions, history is the quarry from which the elements of this nationalism have to be assembled. If Hindutva is a manifesto of cultural exclusion, then its buttresses have to be crafted by a sectarian interpretation of history. The ailing institutional framework of scholarship is clearly designated as the first target in this quest.

'The boot is on the other leg'

the-nation

Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi speaks to Sukumar Muralidharan on the reconstitution of the Indian Council for Historical Research. The following is a verbatim account:

There is a view that only historians of one particular persuasion have been accommodated in the reconstituted ICHR.

Each one of them is a highly qualified historian. Each one of them is either a Professor or an ex-Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. None of them is a member of any political party.

Some of them do have an association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, perhaps not formally, since the RSS does not maintain membership rolls.

No. Nobody has been attending their programmes or shakhas. Because somebody has a different view from you or me, therefore he becomes persona non grata - this is not a correct view.

What is being said is that earlier all viewpoints used to be accommodated, whereas now only one has been...

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No, no. Earlier, there was a predominance of one viewpoint. The boot is on the other leg.

That, people say, is not quite correct.

The ICHR is a body which should contain persons of high academic qualifications. It is not a body of a particular political view or a particular 'ism'.

Four of the new members of the council were associated with the panel of historians of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which submitted evidence to the Chandra Shekhar Government. Another four were actively involved in the campaign.

This is all very myopic and untrue.

B.P. Sinha, B.R. Grover, B.B. Lal, K.S. Lal...

They were all Directors-General of the ASI much before the BJP was born.

But they were all associated with the VHP's panel of historians.

So somebody else could be associated with some other panel. That does not mean I should condemn him.

Yes, but the point is made that earlier there were both Mandir and Masjid historians in the ICHR. Now there are only Mandir historians.

All this is false. Somebody could say that formerly there were only Masjid historians.

That is incorrect.

That is correct. Because nobody in that group has ever supported Mandir.

Professor M.G.S. Narayanan was Member-Secretary of the ICHR...

But he never came out openly.

He has. He is on record in Frontline in 1992 (issue dated September 11, 1992).

You now interview them, they might come out openly. In history, the basic thing is that persons who are fully qualified, they should be there. I can understand any criticism on the basis of academic incompetence.

The question is not of incompetence but of bias. B.B. Lal, for instance, was accused of the suppression and falsification of evidence.

That was by some people. Also by the World Archaeological Congress.

That is again a body. If you accept that there are groups of historians, then one group says something, the other group says something else. In another conference somebody else could be castigated for something else.

As a physicist yourself, you should be aware of how the scientific community deals with these differences. These are normally dealt with in a spirit of openness, all the evidence is shared - it is all placed on the table.

Yes, we are dealing with it. It has been placed on the table. But it is up to you whether you close your eyes or keep your eyes open.

B.B. Lal, for instance, has refused to submit his site notebooks and excavation records from Ayodhya for scrutiny by other historians.

Is this an interview or are you entering into a debate? You may have your own personal view, but as a correspondent you should be conducting an interview.

The BJP's projects

Its eyes set firmly on the temple project, the BJP plans to go to the electorate on the planks of the Bomb and Ayodhya; it is up to the Opposition to show that there is an alternative.

THE Sangh Parivar's frenetic drive to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya regardless of the judiciary and the law, has justifiably aroused national concern. But, what is no less sinister, the drive exposes the fraud played on the electorate by the Parivar's political unit, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its allies in Government, the farce of the so-called "National Agenda" as distinct from the BJP's manifesto and the party's inherent incapacity for moderation. In consequence, there is an inherent compulsion to deceive. As in the past, it is the mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which calls the shots.

The national press has publicised the drive in rich detail. That has tended to obscure the fact that the lead was given by the Parivar's organ, Organiser, in its April 5, 1998 issue, which was on the stands a week earlier, a mere ten days after the BJP Government was sworn in on March 19. The headline proclaimed: "Workshops busy preparing material for temple at Ayodhya." It reported: "Three workshops in Ayodhya and Rajasthan are working regularly preparing material which will be used in the reconstruction. According to an activist of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, material for 32 ft. height of the temple (total height 132 ft.) is almost ready... the stones after being carved are sent to the main workshop at Ayodhya" - not far from the site of the demolished Babri Masjid (emphasis added throughtout).

But, why did Organiser think it necessary to publicise the drive? It was in order to assure the cadres that the BJP had not abandoned its stand on the Ram temple despite its omission in the National Agenda. Months before the polls, its then president L. K. Advani had intensified his campaign for the temple with an eye on the BJP's vote bank. "The solution to Ayodhya lies either in negotiation or in legislation, not in litigation. This has been the BJP's consistent stand... There is no dispute about the site," he told The Times of India (May 18, 1997). He was quite clear on his aims. "Ram temple is an issue which will be finally sorted out when the BJP comes to power at the Centre... We will construct the temple through proper law and legislation."

In plain words, if Muslims do not agree to this course in the "negotiation", the BJP would use its brute majority in Parliament to usher in the "legislation". The political flaw is obvious. A party with such a narrow appeal cannot secure a stable majority in both Houses of Parliament. The legal flaw is as obvious. Such legislation would be utterly unconstitutional (vide the writer's article, "The temple pledge" Frontline, March 20, 1998). The BJP knows that but, true to form, practises deceit.

Advani used the idiom of the early 1990s. "Indian cultural nationalism" is "assimilative" and Ram was a "symbol of India's culture and civilisation." None outside the Parivar had ever made such a demand of the minorities (The Times of India, June 16, 1997). At Ayodhya on July 3, 1997, he said that the BJP would not be content till a temple was built there.

Advani thought of a new idea in his campaign. "Sri Ram Lalla is actually in prison. The sooner he is released the better." (September 20, 1997). This implied that the legal curbs on the ramshackle temple at the site built illegally and immorally immediately after the demolition of the mosque, must be removed.

Meanwhile, on November 25 the RSS supremo, Rajendra Singh, said that "Ayodhya-type solutions were necessary for the Kashi and Mathura shrines." He warned that "Muslims should once and for all give up claims to the Kashi and Mathura shrines" (The Telegraph, November 26, 1997).

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This gave Advani an opportunity to play the moderate by reviving his August 1990 offer before a Muslim audience on December 4, 1997. "If Muslims honour the feelings of Hindus and give up claims on Ayodhya, I promise to persuade the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to give up their claim on Kashi and Mathura." The thought of respecting Muslim feelings was altogether absent from his mind. Note that he spoke avowedly, explicitly as a leader of the Hindu community alone.

BY December 1997, the BJP was deeply mired in realpolitik. The party's National Executive, which met on December 19, did not refer to Ayodhya. But the next day, Atal Behari Vajpayee said that a Ram temple would be built by legislation. While gradually coming to terms with the realities, the BJP prepared to push through its own plans, the allies', reservations notwithstanding. None of them apparently noted the Advani Doctrine on Coalitions: "I believe that for a coalition to function and to endure, there has to be a dominant partner in the coalition" (Sunday, November 2, 1997). And, the BJP, of course, was to be that dominant partner.

That explains its reservations on a minimum common programme. Why should it compromise if it could bag a majority by itself? Its spokesperson, Sushma Swaraj, emphatically declared on January 2, 1998: "There will be no CMP (sic.) before elections." Vajpayee said the same thing on January 10: "The question of having a CMP will come after the elections."

By now a two-track effort was on. The BJP's manifesto (February 3) clung to its hobby horses of Ayodhya, Article 370 and a uniform civil code. There would be references to them in some speeches, but the word was spread, eagerly picked up by admirers in the media, that these issues would be "under freeze". The RSS boss, Rajendra Singh, approved of these tactics (on January 10, in Nagpur). The BJP approved of the VHP's seeming divergence from the BJP line and its pursuit of the old settled agenda.

Advani gave the game away when he said: "Hindu anger related to vote-bank politics can now express itself through the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's movement, or even (sic.) through the ballot box, in favour of the BJP" (The Hindu, February 5, 1998). The BJP, thus, banked on the Hindu vote and it was privy to the division of labour between the BJP and the VHP ordained by the RSS, the common mentor.

The BJP was, of course, free to continue singing the old refrain. At Faizabad, near Ayodhya, Advani lauded the Ayodhya "movement" (The Hindu, February 7). However, in all the Lok Sabha constituencies around Ayodhya, the BJP's candidates lost and its supporters became restive at what they feared was the abandonment of the credo (The Hindu, March 16). Statements such as the one by Advani on March 28 left them confused. "This is a Government of alliance partners and the BJP manifesto is not applicable." Only the Agenda of March 18 applied.

IT was in this context that Organiser publicised the temple construction work in its issue of April 5 which was out on March 29. As if on cue, the VHP became more active in concert with the Bajrang Dal, as Giriraj Kishore, the VHP's secretary-general, indicated on April 7. "It will take two years to complete the stone-carving work which is already well under way. After that is finished, no government can stop us from building the temple." The Bajrang Dal's convener, Surendra Kumar Jain, said: "Yuva shakti (youth power) will be made strong and competent enough to reply to all attacks and assaults on Hindu sentiments. We will ensure Hindus are trained properly in self-defence and are not dependent on the state for protection." The state, under the BJP's control, will look the other way.

The VHP convened a meeting of its apex body at Hardwar on April 10 and 11. On the other hand, an RSS activist and hardliner, Kushabhau Thakre, became the BJP president. The resolution which its National Executive passed on April 12 contained these significant needs: "It is a verdict that vindicates our stand on national issues and gives us the responsibility of setting right the grievous wrongs of the past." In the BJP's lingo, Ayodhya, Article 370, and a uniform civil code are "national issues".

The reference to the "grieveus wrongs of the past" betrays the BJP's revivalist, vindictive outlook. How is one to reconcile Advani's statement on the non-applicability of the BJP's manifesto to the Government with Vajpayee's announcement on April 12 that "the party has to run the Government"? The era of coalitions was a temporary phenomenon, he added. The BJP must emerge a clear winner in the next round.

The VHP's working president, Ashok Singhal, pacified the Hardwar convention. So did the Union Minister of State for Culture, of all things, Uma Bharati, "A temple in Ayodhya will be the first thing that we will do when we come (to power) with an absolute majority." Singhal explained that the construction work would take two years "and we can build the temple immediately." The Ram janmabhoomi Trust chairman, Ram Chandra Paramhans, swore by the Government: "I will not allow anyone to shake this Government. India's Home Minister, L. K. Advani, came all the way to Hardwar to wash the sadhus' feet - something that has never happened for centuries in India. I am sure the Prime Minister will get us the temple through some law."

Evidently, Advani had done his bit to give assurances to the convention with renewed pledges. The familiar ploy of 1990-92 was revived. The BJP passed the buck, ostensibly to the VHP, and the VHP to the sadhus - all under the RSS' tutelage. BJP president Kushabhau Thakre said on June 2: "We are in favour of a temple but it is the VHP's job to do it, not ours."

Prime Minister Vajpayee's calculated ambiguities in Parliament and outside have been noted (see Neena Vyas in The Hindu, June 9). But there was no mistaking the fact that the die had been cast. RSS boss Rajendra Singh asserted on June 8 in Nagpur that the Ram temple would be built at the very site in Ayodhya. Those who opposed this had a "perverted mentality". The BJP's vice-president and spokesman, K. L. Sharma, went on the offensive in tones and terms directly opposed to Vajpayee's sweet words on April 7 and 8. Sharma said on June 9 that the Ram temple "remains on our agenda, though it is not a part of the national agenda." He repeated on June 15: "We are committed to it and the temple will be constructed on the site," adding that it was a mere structure. "There was no Babri Masjid." Where then was the constraining force of the so-called National Agenda? Advani "pulled him up" only because his candour revealed the game for all to see.

Ashok Singhal revived the blackmail tactics of 1992. "The Constitution does not have any provision to punish the judiciary but religious leaders have," he said on June 16. Any delay in the construction of the temple could break the patience of the sadhus who "can then take any decision" (The Asian Age, June 18). His threats to the courts and to the Government were not condemned by Vajpayee.

The record yields an irresistible conclusion. The BJP has not abandoned its plans to build the temple at Ayodhya. It knows that that cannot be accomplished in the present conditions. It knows, also, that its present regime cannot last for long. An article by V. P. Bhatia in Organiser of May 31, 1998 provides a clue. It was entitled "Babri to Big Bang" - from national to international awakening". If the Government can survive for some time, it will dig in its heels deeper. If not, the Prime Minister will advise the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha. The advice will, of course, not be binding on him - unless no alternative government is possible.

The onus is, therefore, squarely on the Opposition. The BJP plans to go to the electorate on the planks of the Bomb and Ayodhya. It is for the Opposition parties to formulate a secular agenda and demonstrate that an alternative does exist, ready to take over from this discredited and disrespectable Government. The alternative is to let Vajpayee conduct his election campaign with all the advantages and facilities of a Prime Minister in office.

Time is fast running out. It is the Sangh Parivar, not the secular Opposition, which makes the running. The Opposition only reacts and in varied ways, fragmented as it is. The VHP's 160-member Marg Darshak Mandal is due to meet in Delhi on July 6. Shortly before that its important office-bearers will have to attend the meeting of the RSS Prant Pracharaks (provincial activists) at Kota as summoned by the RSS. It will be as important as the RSS' Ujjain conclave in 1992 shortly before the Babri Mosque was demolished. We have Rajendra Singh's clear declaration on June 22 that the temple will be built "at all costs" (sic), even by overturning an adverse judicial verdict.

Mea culpa, in my article, "The politics of crime" (Frontline, May 22, 1998) there was an unfortunate oversight. The resume ended with the Special Judicial Magistrate, Mahipal Sirohi's order of August 27, 1994 committing Advani and Co. to trial in the Sessions Court in the Ayodhya case. However, matters do not rest with a police charge-sheet. Charges were framed against the accused on September 9, 1997 by Special Judge J. P. Srivastava in a 48-page order. This, then, is also a case of Ministers against whom charges have been framed by a court of law. They have no right to continue in office; least of all, L. K. Advani one who has the Home portfolio, and controls the CBI which filed the charge-sheet and which will conduct the prosecution, provide the witnesses and instruct counsel. Only a man utterly indifferent to proprieties would cling on to the office of Union Home Minister in such circumstances as Advani does.

The court observed clearly enough: "The analysis shows that in the proposed case, the criminal conspiracy to demolish the disputed structure of Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi was hatched from 1990 onwards and culminated on December 6, 1992." This is a judicial finding made prima facie as the court itself framed the charges. The honourable course is to resign and to face the trial, not to cling to public office.

The "Ram temple" drama

S. P. UDAYAKUMAR

AYODHYA had better be seen as a theatre where the mythical lore is translated into modern metaphors, and the metaphorical translations are transformed into various but related action-projects. Having invoked a communal understanding of "national history", established its validity by back-projecting it onto a popular story, and mobilised its adherents through insidious political manoeuvres, the Hindu communalists have set the stage for the actual enactment of their drama. At this crucial juncture, the ideology, the ideologues, and their cherished dream come together. This potent mix occupies the centre stage and the entire drama begins to revolve around it. The name of the drama is Ram Temple.

For most of the pre-Independence era, the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya did not simply exist for the majority of Indians. The mosque emerged as the most bitterly contested terrain since Partition primarily because the issue was built up carefully by the Hindutva forces with an eye on appropriating it for use in contemporary politics. The controversy is more mythological than historical, and hence it is a matter more of faith than fact. Since the issue stands on popular culture and not on recorded history, it becomes even more prone to manipulation and politicisation. The Hindutva groups have turned the disadvantages of the unspecificities and ambiguities of the legendary problem into clear advantages. The conflict cannot be considered more concrete even from 1528, when the Babri Masjid was actually constructed, because the Hindutva groups claim that the mosque replaced an existing Ram temple for which there has never been any tangible evidence.

Although much has been written about this controversy rather recently, some of these works are drenched in "Hindu" piety and bias, and some other works are the Hindu communalists' own propaganda. Being a secular voice, Gyanendra Pandey's chronological scheme1 could be followed to explain and describe the Ayodhya controversy. A brief discussion of Ayodhya and the legends surrounding it would be an appropriate start. It is not just the symbolic significance of the Babri Masjid but also the larger mythical context of Ayodhya that provides a perfect setting for this communal drama. Ayodhya is considered a holy place by both Hindus and Muslims. While for Hindus it is the birthplace of Ram, Muslims believe that it is in the cemetery by the Saryu river in Ayodhya where Shea, the grandson of Adam, is buried.2

The Ayodhya of Ram is believed to have existed in the Tretha yuga 3 of the Hindu calendar, that is, some 900,000 years ago. According to traditional history, Ayodhya was the capital of the kingdom of Kosala, and with the rise of Buddhism in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, it was displaced as the capital city. Scholars agree that Ayodhya was identical with Saketa, where the Buddha is said to have resided for some time4Ayodhya is said to have been "rediscovered" by "Vikramaditya", who is identified by many scholars as Skandagupta of mid-5th century CE, when Buddhism began to decline as a result of a brahmanical resurgence5 While Romila Thapar maintains that "Chandra Gupta II took the title of Vikramaditya or Sun of Prowess,"6 Sher Singh ascertains that the claim that Skandagupta shifted his capital to Saketa (Ayodhya) is baseless.7 No matter how contentious the historicity of Ayodhya is, it is nonetheless one of the seven holy places of "Hindus" because of its association with Ram. Of the 6,000 Hindu shrines in Ayodhya, more than 4,000 are connected with Ram.8 This religious importance coupled with contemporary political significance leads the Hindu communalists to conclude: "Ayodhya is the centre of our Hindu nationhood, and Lord Rama our national leader. Without Ayodhya, this nation cannot be a nation in the fullest sense of the word, just as there can be no Christendom, which is what Europe is, without the Vatican."9

YET another controversy is over the exact location of Ayodhya. Archaeological excavations at Ayodhya, which is on the right bank of the Saryu river in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh, reveal that "the earliest settlement at Ayodhya did not go back prior to the early stage of the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW), Culture", which could be assigned to circa 700 BCE. Thus if the Ramayana episode is historical, it could not have taken place earlier.10 Based on Valmiki's Ramayana and a few other sources, Sher Singh contends that if Valmiki's description of Ayodhya is correct, it must be some 22 km south of the river Saryu in Nepal.11 The traditional lack of interest in cartography in India is not helpful in solving this riddle in any way.

The "Muslim conquest" sets the next and most important stage in the controversy. Emperor Babar's general, Mir Baqi, is believed to have destroyed a Ram temple and built the Babri Masjid on the same spot around 1528 CE. Whether there really existed a temple before the mosque was built is the core of the controversy now. B.B. Lal, who initiated and headed an archaeological survey of Ayodhya since 1975 and never once mentioned any evidence of a temple at the dispute site, made a surprising claim in the Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS) magazine Manthan in October 1990 of having found the pillar-bases of what may have been a temple at the site. 12 As historical and archaeological "evidence" fail to tell us anything concrete or even remotely convincing, so do the voices of faith. As Rajeev Saxena asks, if there was an actual demolition of a Ram temple, how come the famous poet Tulsidas, who sang the glory of his beloved Ram during the early part of the 17th century, kept silent on this issue. After all,the poet wrote about secular subjects such as massive deaths in Banaras due to epidemic and unemployment, his arthritis problem, Brahmins' attack on him for his "low caste" status and so forth.13

In the 18th century, Ayodhya once again became a major centre of Hindu pilgrimage under the patronage of the Nawabs of Avadh, Shuja-ud-daulah and Asaf-ud-daulah. Hindu revivalism, which took root in Avadh, consolidated its position after the British takeover of Ayodhya. At this time the Nirmohis, a Hindu sect who had their establishment at Ram Ghat and Guptar Ghat, lay their claim over the Babri Masjid. They contended that the mosque stood on the spot of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple, which was destroyed by Babar. These claims led to the violent conflict of 1853-55. 14 In May 1883 the Deputy Commissioner of Faizabad refused permission to Hindus to construct a temple on the chabutara (platform) just outside on the left side of the gate following objections raised by Muslims. In 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das filed a suit in the court of the sub-judge at Faizabad seeking permission to build the temple and in March 1886, the sub-judge turned down the plea for permission to construct a temple and appeals were dismissed.15 Tensions mounted and Muslim shaheeds (martyrs) gathered in the fortified Babri Masjid and their Hindu counterparts thronged the nearby Hanuman Garhi. Following a battle that left some 75 Muslims dead, Hindus took the Babri Masjid.16

It is only in the 19th century that the temple-demolition/ mosque-construction story gets recorded. In 1822, Hafizullah, an official of the Faizabad law court, claimed that "(t)he mosque founded by emperor Babar is situated at the birth-place of Ram" and then the story gets into the records such as P. Carnegy's historical sketch of Faizabad (1870), H. R. Nevill's Faizabad District Gazetteer, and as a footnote in Mrs. A. S. Beveridge's English translation of Babur's Memoirs (1922).17 The British often referred to the mosque in their files as the "Janmasthan Mosque of Ajoodhia" and put up a notice board in front of the iron railings calling the monument wiwad grast (disputed). When the mosque was under the control of Muslims through the 1920s and 1930s, it was mismanaged and neglected, and the Waqf (Muslim endowment board) Commissioner of Faizabad condemned the muttwalii as an opium addict in a report dated September 16, 1938.18

The installation of idols inside the mosque on the night of December 22, 1949 led to the attachment and closure of the building for both Muslims and Hindus by an administrative order. Contrary to the "Ram's miraculous appearance" theory, the First Investigation Report of the Station House Officer of the Ayodhya police station, dated December 23, 1949, stated that three individuals (Abdy Ram Das, Ram Shukla Das, Sudarshan Das) and some 50 to 60 people had "desecrated (napak kiya hai) the mosque by trespassing (sic) the mosque through rioting and placing idol in it. Officers-on-duty and many other people have seen it." Later some 5,000 to 6,000 people tried to enter the mosque raising religious slogans and singing kirtans but were stopped.19

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A civil suit was filed on January 16, 1950 by an individual, Gopal Singh Visharad, for a declaration of the right to worship. The judge restrained the removal of the idols and ordered no interference with the puja (worship). The State of U.P. filed an appeal against the injunction on April 24, 1950. According to historian Sushil Srivastava, "from 1951 to 1986, things remained relatively quiet in Faizabad." 20 Just as there was a lull between 1886 and 1950 without any street or court battles, the period between 1951 and 1986 passed without any major incidents. Although the All India Hindu Mahasabha and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh had included Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi on their programmes ever since their inception, the present-day Sangh Parivar stumbled upon the powerful symbols of Ram, Ram Janmabhoomi and Babri Masjid only in the late 1980s. Throughout 1983, for instance, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), along with leaders of some 85 major sects of Hinduism, was drifting aimlessly with the Ekatmata Yagna (integration rite), which projected the picture of Bharatmata (Mother India) and the kalas (brass vessel) of "holy" water from different rivers.

In October 1984 the VHP tried to make the mosque-temple question a national issue through its Sri Rama Janma Bhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti. The Samiti was formed on July 27, 1984 with the sole aim of "liberating" the disputed site. A 130-kilometre march was started on October 8, 1984 from Ayodhya to Lucknow, the State capital. The yatra (march) participants reached Lucknow on October 14, organised a public meeting, and called on the Chief Minister "to fulfil the long outstanding demand of the Hindus." The next day a "Sri Rama Janaki Ratha" (Ram-Sita chariot) began to tour major U.P. towns so as to mobilise public opinion and to administer a "Janmasthan Mukti Pledge" to the public. Although the "ratha" reached Delhi on October 31 to join a "Hindu Convention" on November 2, Indira Gandhi's assassination forced the cancellation of the programme.21

As the Shah Bano controversy22 was raging across India in late 1985, the District and Sessions Judge of Faizabad, K. M. Pandey, ordered that the locks of the mosque be opened, and he indirectly allowed the priests to enter it. The padlocks were removed on the order of the District Judge on February 1, 1986. After giving in to Muslim fundamentalism on the Shah Bano case, the Rajiv Gandhi Government was keen on playing the "Hindu card" for presumed electoral gains. N. Ram contends that the assurances given to the Hindu communalists before the court decision and the failure to appeal against the order revealed the collusive hand of Rajiv Gandhi's Government.23 An explosive situation emerged almost all over the country with Muslims protesting and VHP elements celebrating and criticising the "Muslim objection to the judicial order on the Babri Masjid." Rajiv Gandhi's Minister for Wakf, Rajindra Kumari Bajpai, advised Muslims to "take recourse to law and not to create disturbance." 24

The Sangh Parivar's "National Thinkers Conferences", organised in various places across the country in 1987, and the Bharatiya Janata Party's Palampur Resolution of June 1989 consolidated the Ayodhya movement. The most critical stage of the conflict, however, was the build-up to the 1989 elections, which witnessed the preparation and mobilisation to demolish the mosque and build a Ram temple with consecrated bricks brought from all over India and other countries. As N. Ram points out, just a few days before the 1989 general elections, the desperate Rajiv Gandhi regime allowed the VHP to perform shilanyas (laying of the foundation stone) for the Ram temple on November 9, 1989 on the disputed land which was temporarily declared to be undisputed. This action boosted the VHP-BJP-RSS combine to advance its Ram Janmabhoomi campaign through changes of regime.25

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The November 22-24, 1989 general elections witnessed the worst ever communal violence in independent India's electoral history and took a massive toll of 800 lives in the Hindi belt. V. P. Singh became Prime Minister with the support of the BJP, which won 88 seats in the new Lok Sabha. The V. P. Singh regime ushered in the judicial process by getting a special Bench established at the Allahabad High Court on January 8, 1990 and pleading for a ban on construction until the title to the disputed site could be decided and the site plan approved. The Special Court called upon the U.P. Government to clarify the status of the site. A Hindu priest filed a writ petition seeking permission to construct the temple at the spot of the shilanyas that was performed on November 9, 1989. Having been directed by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court to file a counter-affidavit, the Central Government maintained that no construction could be allowed unless all the civil suits pending before the special bench of the High Court were decided.26

On January 12, 1990, the Supreme Court allowed the "Hindu" representatives to raise a preliminary issue before the full Bench of the High Court that the suit by the Sunni Waqf on behalf of Muslims was not maintainable. The Bench, however, decided that it would not interfere with the October 23, 1989 order of the Lucknow Bench before taking evidence for the trial of all the five suits which were 28 to 39 years old in their pendency in the District Court. The VHP appealed to the Supreme Court that the Sunni Waqf suit filed on December 18, 1961 be dismissed on the grounds it cited.

Meanwhile, the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) revived its earlier demand made at its December 25, 1989 meeting that if a negotiated settlement failed, the dispute should be decided by High Court judges "of some South Indian State, none of whom should be either Hindu or Muslim." The RSS mouthpiece, Organiser of January 14, 1990 took exception to this revived claim and V. P. Singh's meeting with Muslim leaders and claimed that it "was not a case about the title of a place but of undoing a historical wrong and for that matter no court could decide it." They would rather follow the guidance of the Dharmacharya Sammelan (gathering of religious heads) to be held on January 27-28, 1990 at Allahabad.27

The "auspicious" February 14 was chosen to begin temple construction, and V.P. Singh managed with great difficulty to get the date changed by pointing out the grave situation in Kashmir and Punjab. As the Hindutva groups' June 8 deadline passed without any settlement plan from the Government, the VHP meeting in Hardwar decided to begin construction from October 30.

With this backdrop, V. P. Singh introduced the reservation bill in the Lok Sabha on August 7, 1990 and "upper caste" Hindus rose in revolt. With Brahmin youth immolating themselves in northern India, L.K. Advani set out in September on his 10,000-km "rath yatra" (chariot procession) to carry out the Ayodhya construction and to force the Government to hand over the site to the Hindutva forces. When Advani and his cohorts were arrested in Bihar on October 23, the BJP withdrew its support to the Government and the V. P. Singh Ministry fell on November 9.

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Chandra Shekhar, who was Prime Minister from November 1990 to early March 1991, made a breakthrough by bringing both the VHP and the AIBMAC to the negotiating table. Representatives of the two organisations met first on December 1, 1990, presented the "evidence" of their sides to the Union Government on December 23, obtained copies of the "evidence" of the other side from the Government, and met again on January 10, 1991. At that meeting they decided to set up four committees of experts nominated by both parties to examine the historical and archeological evidence and revenue and legal records collected as evidence. The VHP released the summary of its "evidence" to the public, turned down the demand of the other side for more time to study and evaluate the "evidence" , and made it known that it was not interested in an amicable solution. 28

The ultimate stage of the conflict was the Narasimha Rao Government's inaction even after the virtual announcement by the Hindu communalists in late October 1992 of their plan to demolish the mosque.

As N. Ram puts it: "If there is one 'theory' that this devotee of drift has contributed to national political life, it is the non-secular rule of not opposing 'Hindu religious sentiment' under any circumstances and of avoiding 'confrontation' with the saffron gentry and their lay allies."29

According to P.V. Narasimha Rao's statement on Ayodhya, which he was not allowed to make in Parliament, about 70,000 kar sevaks (volunteers) had assembled at the Ram Katha Kunj for a public meeting and 500 sadhus and sants (religious figures) at the foundation terrace for pooja. Between 11.45 a.m. and 11.50 a.m. some 150 kar sevaks managed to break the cordon on the terrace and pelted stones at the police. About 1,000 kar sevaks broke into the Babri Masjid structure and some 80 of them managed to climb on the domes of the mosque and started demolishing them. In the meantime, they had damaged the outer boundary wall.

At around 12.20 p.m. about 25,000 kar sevaks had gathered in the complex and by 2.40 p.m. a crowd of 75,000 was surrounding the structure, and many in it were engaged in demolition.30 Cases were registered against Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati of the BJP (all of whom are now Ministers in the Union Government), Ashok Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia of the VHP, and Vinay Katiyar of the Bajrang Dal. They were all arrested and remanded to judicial custody.

In an elusive statement on December 8, Advani retorted: "(When) an old structure which ceased to be a mosque over 50 years back is pulled down by a group of people exasperated by the tardiness of the judicial process, and the obtuseness and myopia of the executive, they are reviled by the President, the Vice-President and political parties as betrayers of the nation, destroyers of the Constitution and what not! ...I wish to caution the Government against this approach... Their pronouncements against kar sevaks are only strengthening the movement.31 Quite evidently, the Babri Masjid demolition was part of the Ayodhya movement.

The Narasimha Rao Government passed the Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act 1993, a belated measure that preserved the post-demolition status quo. The ordinance stipulated, among other things, that the disputed land would be handed over to a trust formed only after the promulgation of the Act. On October 24, 1994, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the presidential reference upholding the acquisition of the disputed 67 acres of land in Ayodhya and empowering the Government to delegate a trust to manage the property and to enable Hindus to worship in the makeshift temple on the basis of the "comparative user" principle (namely, Muslims were praying less often than Hindus in the disputed structure before demolition). However, the judgment struck down as unconstitutional Section 4(3) of the Ayodhya Act which abated any pending "suit, appeal or other proceeding". This decision revived the proceedings pending in the Allahabad High Court, which will decide if Muslims had the right to worship in the disputed area.32

(To be concluded)

S.P. Udayakumar is Research Associate and Co-Director of Programmes, Institute of Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States.

See Gyanendra Pandey, "Ayodhya and the State," Seminar 364 (December 1989). p. 40. M. J. Akbar, Riot After Riot: Reports on Caste and Communal Violence in India. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1988. p. 133. In the Hindu cyclic theory of time, the cycle was called a kalpa equivalent to 4,320 million earthly years. The kalpa is divided into 14 periods; each of these periods is divided into 71 Great Intervals; and every GI is divided into four yugas (period of time), krutha, tretha, dwapara, and kali. The yugas contain 4,800, 3,600, 2,400, and 1,200 god-years (one god-year being 360 human years) with a corresponding decline in the quality of civilisation. We are at present in the seventh of the 14 periods of the present kalpa and in the fourth yuga called kaliyuga when the world is full of evil and wickedness. Although we have several millennia before the end of the world, it is nonetheless imminent. Romila Thapar, A History of India (Volume I). Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin, 1968. p. 161 "The Babri Masjid Dispute," Spotlight on Regional Affairs 10/7-8 (July-August 1991). p. 8. Pandey, 1989, p. 40. Thapar, 1968, p. 140. Sher Singh, "What History Says About Ayodhya," in Asghar Ali Engineer, Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Controversy. Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1990. pp. 79-80. Spotlight on Regional Affairs, July-August 1991, pp. 7-9. Jay Dubashi, The Road to Ayodhya. New Delhi: Voice of India, 1992. p. 57. See "B. B. Lal's Report on Archaeology of Ramayana Sites Project," in Asghar Ali Engineer, Politics of Confrontation: The Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Controversy Runs Riot. Delhi: Ajanta, 1992. pp. 268-9. P. S. Sridhara Murthy, Rama, Ramayana and Babar. Bangalore: Dalit Sahitya Akademy, 1988. p. 30. The excavated site has been filled in and a re-excavation of the same site has become very difficult as the filling has disturbed the sequential layers. See "On Archaeological Evidence of Demolition of 'Mandir': Joint Statement of Thapar, Gopal and Panikkar of JNU," in Engineer, 1992, pp. 273-4. See also "Romila Thapar on Archaeological Finding in Ayodhya," in ibid., pp. 277-8. See Rajeev Saxena, "Tulsidas' Silence on Ram Mandir at Ayodhya," Mainstream, January 9, 1993. pp. 33-4. Sushil Srivastava, The Disputed Mosque: A Historical Inquiry. New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 1991. pp. 43-4. K. L. Chanchreek and Saroj Prasad, eds., Crisis in India. Delhi: H. K. Publishers, 1993. p. 77. See Akbar, 1988, pp. 126-134. Harbans Mukhia, "Ayodhya Dispute: Historical Evidence and BJP's Aim," in Engineer, 1992, p. 19. Akbar, 1988, pp. 126-134. J. C. Aggarwal and N. K. Chowdhry, Ram Janmabhoomi Through the Ages: Babri Masjid Controversy. New Delhi: S. Chand & Company Ltd., 1991. pp. 81-2. Srivastava, 1991, p. 17. "Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Liberation Agitation," in Asghar Ali Engineer, ed., Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Controversy. Delhi: Ajanta, 1990. pp. 228-30. When the Supreme Court ruled that the divorce of a Muslim woman, Shah Bano, on the basis of Islamic custom was not valid, it gave rise to anger and resentment among Muslim groups. In May 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi Government introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill in order to please and retain its Muslim vote bank. N. Ram, "The Great Catastrophe", Frontline, January 1, 1993. p. 23. "Events of February 1986-Seizure of Babri Masjid," in Engineer, 1990, pp. 201-4. N. Ram, 1993, p. 23. Spotlight on Regional Affairs, July-August 1991, pp. 82, 85-6. Ibid., pp. 86-8. The VHP gives its own account of the talks in History Versus Casuistry: Evidence of the Ramjanmabhoomi Mandir Presented by the Vishva Hindu Parishad to the Government of India in December-January 1990-91. New Delhi: Voice of India, 1991. pp. i-iv. For the VHP's evidence, see pp. 1-75. A member of the VHP team engaged in the dialogue with the AIBMAC, Harsh Narain, has come up with more "evidence"'from Muslim historical sources for the alleged "existence and desecration" of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple and its replacement with the Babri mosque. See Harsh Narain, The Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Dispute: Focus on Muslim Sources. Delhi: Penman Publishers, 1993. N. Ram, "Hindutva's Challenge," Seminar 402 (February 1993). p. 25. Chanchreek and Prasad, 1993, p. 109. ibid., p. 250. For the official stand of the BJP, see BJP's White Paper on Ayodhya and the Rama Temple Movement. New Delhi: BJP, 1993. Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. pp. 544-46.

Chapnari's terror

The latest massacre in Doda points once again to a planned bid to transform Kashmir's insurgency into a Hindu-Muslim communal confrontation, a prospect with all-India political consequences.

The man with the long beard opened fire first, and I fell down. Many people fell on top of me. I lay there for a long time, until I was sure they had gone. When I got up, I saw that all the people who had died were lying down, asleep. Only a few woke up.

- 14-year-old Pishori Lal, survivor of the June 19 Chapnari massacre.

CHAPNARI is situated 10 km from Doda, along the poorly maintained and winding mountain road to Bhagwa. Ever since Bhagwa was cut off following a landslip early this year, Chapnari has been the last stop for the occasional bus service from Doda. The more affluent passengers wishing to travel in comfort paid Rs. 15 for a seat on a van owned by an enterprising Doda resident, Vijay Shah. Two tea-stalls met the needs of passengers.

But after 25 members of a marriage procession were butchered there by terrorists on June 19, both the tea shops have been abandoned. Shah's van, hijacked by terrorists to carry out their attack and then escape, has also stopped plying on the route. Pools of dried blood on the road was yet to merge with the dust. Each conversation with a stranger begins with a cautious negotiation of his or her religious identity, and few people will pause to talk for long. The stop on the road has become a metaphor for Doda.

Its status as an icon might account for Chapnari's elevation to one of the most important shrines of pilgrimage for media-savvy politicians now. After Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, along with high officials from New Delhi and Srinagar, flew into Doda in three helicopters, he was driven down the road to Chapnari in a 24-vehicle convoy. Thousands of police and security force personnel had been deployed to sanitise the route to Chapnari, and from there to Advani's public meeting venue at Prem Nagar. The process included three inch-by-inch deep-search mine detection sweeps.

No one will say what the VIP visit cost, but its ironies were evident. Advani was informed that there was no money available for the Village Defence Committees (VDCs), local self-protection groups armed with obsolete .303 Lee Enfield rifles. Some of these rifles were so worn out that they had been locally re-bored to use 7.62 mm cartridges. Special Police Officers (SPOs) hired for counter-terrorist work received just Rs. 1,500 a month to risk their lives; from this money they had to pay for food and uniforms. Long-standing demands for troop and police strength upgradation, and for new weapons, vehicles and communications systems, had been forced on ice for want of money.

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WHAT actually happened at Chapnari? The accounts of the shattered survivors from Chapnari are, unsurprisingly, clear only in their broad contours, and the physical descriptions of the terrorists and their weapons vary considerably in detail. Early on the morning of June 19, Om Prakash's wedding procession set out from Kadlal village to Korda, near Prem Nagar, where his bride Bimla Devi waited. Two sets of newly-weds were with the procession. Khem Raj, Bimla Devi's brother, had married Om Prakash's sister Leela Devi at Kadlal a day earlier, and was taking his wife back with him in the traditional doli (palanquin). Sesh Ram, Om Prakash and Leela Devi's brother, and Dugdi Devi whom he had married three days before, also tagged along. The procession was to have been met by a hired bus at Chapnari, from where they were to drive to Prem Nagar, the roadhead to Kadlal. All the families were marginal single-crop maize farmers. The new grooms were wearing plastic slippers, and the procession's sole concession to wedding ostentation was a small village band.

The procession reached Chapnari at 12-30 p.m. For reasons that are not clear, the hired bus had not arrived, and the group was forced to wait. Most of the men made their way to the two tea-stalls, while the two women waited some distance away along with the doli. The only other people at the bus stand were three schoolteachers, two Muslim and one Hindu, as well as the tea-stall employees. Three people on a pilgrimage to the shrine at Vaishno Devi, who had travelled with the wedding party up to Chapnari, negotiated with the driver of Shah's van for a ride to Doda, but were put off by the price he demanded. The van left, only to return a few minutes later. "We only saw it when it took the sharp bend after the tea-stalls," recalls survivor Janak Raj, "and five armed men got out."

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"There was no time to run. They asked all the baraatis (participants in the wedding procession) to gather on one side and throw their money, identity cards and other possessions on the ground. They then asked the VDC members to step aside, but though I was one, I did not do so. At that time, we thought they would rob us, perhaps beat us, and then let us go."

The women at the doli sensed more serious trouble. Leela Devi has not spoken more than a few words since the killing, but Dugdi Devi told Frontline about the events at the doli. "One man," she said, "who looked like a local, came up and asked us to throw our jewellery on the ground. Then he told us that after they had killed the men they would kill us too. He walked away towards the baraatis, and we readied ourselves to run downhill." Seconds later, gunfire rang out. "A man with a long beard opened fire first," says 14-year-old Pishori Lal, who was drafted in as a band member because one of the regular dhol-drum players had fallen ill. "The gunfire continued for a long time, or at least it seemed like that. They gave no warning before shooting." The women fled downhill, where they remained until they heard police vehicles and Army trucks arriving at Chapnari half an hour later. Most of the survivors had by that time begun to make their way to the Army camp at Bhagwa, taking theinjured with them.

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Some speculation has linked the Chapnari killings to the murder of four Muslims at Karara on March 19 by a group of Hindu villagers, with the connivance of a Border Security Force (BSF) picket ('Blood on the Chenab'', Frontline, April 24). This theory appears implausible for the simple reason that none from Kadlal village were involved in the Karara killings, located some distance away from the roadhead on the opposite side of the river.

Another possible cause is that the VDC in Korda was engaged in exchange of fire with terrorists for three weeks before the Chapnari massacre. One VDC member in adjoining Banol, Paras Ram, was murdered along with his wife Sabhawati Devi. Frustrated by their inability to eliminate resistance at Korda, this theory suggests, the terrorists extracted vengeance at Chapnari. This version of events, however, does not explain why Khem Raj and others travelling with them from Korda were not ambushed on their way to Kadlal.

The most plausible explanation is that the terrorists were simply looking to carry out a communal massacre, and found a soft target. From the van driver's account it is clear that the terrorists made their way down to the road through the Bijarni nallah 2 km from Chapnari. The bend on the road before the terminus ensured that they remained unseen until the last moment, and the arrival of the van saved them the trouble of walking the distance. However, given the fact that three Army camps surround the area, and patrols are frequent, it is unlikely that the terrorists would have waited for more than a day in the area. This suggests that the group had at least some advance information of the baraat's travel plans.

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In this context, investigators are interested in the testimony of Deep Singh, the band leader. For example, Deep Singh told Frontline that he had seen two men open fire in succession, a somewhat improbable display of courage. Local people claim that the band leader had previously been arrested by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) for aiding terrorists, a charge that he denies.

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THEN what were the terrorists' motives? Despite Advani's claims that the killings were intended to effect ethnic cleansing, it is unlikely that even the most mindless terrorist would believe that this incident would bring about what the six previous massacres in the region since 1993 have failed to do. Indeed, classified information available with Frontline shows that in each year except in 1995, more Muslims have been killed than Hindus, this year's current post-Chapnari status being a temporary phenomenon (see table). These facts have not prevented some security personnel from seeing themselves as protectors of Hindus alone. (However, since 1993 seven massacres have taken place in Doda district including the Chapnari massacre of June 19. Sixteen bus passengers were killed at Kishtwar on August 14, 1993. In 1996, 15 villagers were massacred at Barshalla on the night of January 5/6; nine people were killed at Kamlari on the night of June 8/9; and 13 were killed at Sarodhar on July 25. In 1997, six members of a village defence committee were killed at Kud Dhar on the night of October 14/15. Two massacres have taken place this year. The first one was on the night of April 5/6. The other one was the Chapnari massacre. In all these incidents, Hindus were the victims.)

On January 30, Id day, 10 unarmed Muslim villagers were shot dead by an Army patrol at Qadrana village in Doda's Kishtwar tehsil, the worst single massacre of its kind since the Bijbehara killings in 1995. And increasingly, Hindu-dominated VDCs are being hijacked by communal tendencies. On June 23, in the latest of a string of such incidents, VDC members at Chilad village beat to death two Muslims and set fire to dozens of homes in reprisal for Hindu homes having been burned down by terrorists a day earlier.

On the contrary, massacres are an enterprise that the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party members, ably aided by their new backer, the National Conference, are complicit in - considering their own role in communalising Doda. At the Prem Nagar public meeting that followed Advani's visit to Chapnari, Jammu BJP chief D.K. Kotwal claimed that the killings were intended to "drive out patriots from Doda". What he meant by "patriots" was left in no doubt, since banners at the meeting called on Advani to "save Hindus". BJP youth wing leader Anil Parihar justified such rhetoric while speaking to Frontline, claiming that local MLA Khalid Suhrawardy had called for the elimination of "10 Hindus for each Muslim killed at Karara." This is not the truth, but that call was indeed made by Jamaat-e-Islami workers chanting slogans at a post-Karara protest in Doda. Suhrawardy, evidently motivated by the desire to keep his communal credentials intact, chose to share a platform at that meeting with the Jamaat-e-Islami's Sayyidullah Tantrey. Given his party's implacable historic opposition to the Jamaat in Kashmir, this action can only be described as wholly immoral.

BJP-RSS theories have it that the rise of violence in Doda has to do with the withdrawal of Army troops from the region. Deployment data prepared for Advani show that the Army's current strength of nine battalions is higher than its pre-1996 levels, and down by just two battalions from the election period in 1996-1997. More precipitate reductions have come in other forces. The personnel levels of the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police have fallen from one battalion in August 1995 to two companies today. All six BSF battalions present in 1996, as well as 10 CRPF companies deployed last year, were pulled out.

Indeed, it is possible to argue that Doda's security problems are the outcome not just of reduced numbers, but of operational failures as well. The Chapnari belt, for example, was protected by three Army outposts in a 1.5 km triangle. None responded to the fire by launching search operations, a fact for which there has been no official explanation. One villager who spoke to Advani at Chapnari attributed this to incompetence. He said that the Rashtriya Rifles troopers who replaced Gurkha Rifles personnel this year were simply unfit for the demands of Doda's high-altitude jungle war.

But the most serious problems of all are political. The massacres in Doda since 1993 have had two principal objectives. The first has been to underline the presence and power of the terrorists, despite their inability to hit military and political targets in a significant way. The second, and more important, one has been to transform Kashmir's insurgency into a Hindu-Muslim communal confrontation, a prospect which has all-India political consequences. Troops will do little to prevent this objective from transforming itself into a reality.

Among those who survived Chapnari were the three primary school teachers. The two Muslims among them, not identified for security reasons, successfully begged the terrorists at Chapnari for the life of their Hindu colleague, Raj Bishan, refusing to leave without him. Politicians like the BJP's Kotwal or the National Conference's Suhrawardy seem intent on sabotaging this kind of unity.

Elastic standards

cover-story

It is a selective inquisition of the law and order situation in States that the Vajpayee Government is indulging in. Consider Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, for example.

PRAVEEN SWAMI T.K. RAJALAKSHMI VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN

DECIPHERING the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government's criteria to determine just what a breakdown of law and order constitutes might defeat the most skilled cryptographer. The aggressive demands of the BJP's allies in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Bihar for the dismissal of the governments in these States have been built on claims that they have proved incompetent in containing growing criminal and terrorist activity. The BJP's obfuscatory response to these demands itself makes clear the limited credibility of its allies' claims. But the Union Government's despatch of Central teams to investigate these claims is enough proof of the BJP's belief that should evidence of a deterioration in law and order be found, that would in principle legitimise the use of Article 356. But study of the law and order situation in States ruled by the BJP and its allies illustrates the absurd yardsticks on which the Union Government's inquisition is based.

The case of Jammu and Kashmir under the National Conference makes clear that the BJP's understanding of a law and order problem is founded not on fact, but on political expediency. The party participated in the parliamentary elections of 1996, which paved the way for the coming to power of the National Conference later that year, with great reluctance. BJP leaders had at the time argued that circumstances were not conducive to elections and that Central rule offered the best prospects for containing terrorism. This position did not change after Farooq Abdullah took power. The massacres of Kashmiri Pandits at Sangrampora in early 1997, and the butchery at Wandhama last year, were both deployed by the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the BJP to call for the dismissal of the National Conference Government. Senior party leaders, including Chaman Lal Gupta, who now represents Udhampur in the Lok Sabha, and president of the State unit of the BJP D.K. Kotwal, repeatedly claimed that the law and order situation in the State had deteriorated significantly since 1996.

With the United Front ruling in New Delhi, such charges served a clear political purpose: it enabled the BJP to occupy the principal oppositional space in the Jammu region and benefit from the communal polarisation brought about by terrorist attacks. The rise of terrorist activity in the Jammu belt became a central agitational issue for the State unit of the BJP. Massacres in the Rajouri, Poonch and Udhampur areas were used as evidence of the National Conference's inability to protect the lives of citizens. One campaign last year, in which L.K. Advani, now Union Home Minister, was a star participant, demanded that Doda be declared a Disturbed Area and "handed over to the Army". At the local level, BJP leaders claimed that the National Conference was a covert participant in assaults on Hindus in the Jammu region and demanded with monotonous regularity the dismissal of its government.

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It is significant that such charges were made despite evidence that State-wide killings in 1997 had in fact declined compared to the previous year. But after the coming to power of the BJP, the National Conference's command of two precious Lok Sabha seats led the BJP to execute a neat volte-face. Abdullah and Advani jointly visited Prankote in the wake of the April 17 massacre there, leaving BJP activists in Jammu more than a little confused. During Advani's rally at Prem Nagar, held shortly after he visited the site of the Chapnari massacre, both Gupta and Kotwal demanded that he meet his previous commitment to declare Doda a Disturbed Area. An embarrassed Union Home Minister, who had earlier told villagers at Chapnari that the use of the Disturbed Areas Act would not in itself bring about a "miracle", could only promise his audience that their "sentiments would be respected".

That the Jammu unit of the Congress(I) called for the Abdullah Ministry's dismissal in the wake of the Chapnari killings makes clear just how little such calls have to do with any kind of serious assessment of the law and order situation. At the Prem Nagar rally, when Kotwal held Abdullah responsible for the communal massacres in Doda and reminded the Union Home Minister of his role in the agitation to have Doda declared a Disturbed Area and his support for calls to dismiss the National Conference Government, Advani remained silent. "A king who cannot protect his citizens does not deserve to rule," Advani said, leaving the question of which 'king' he was referring to suitably vague. At a subsequent press conference in Srinagar, Advani studiously refused to answer questions calling on him to explain why Central teams were not despatched to Srinagar to study the supposedly deteriorating law and order situation there, when senior bureaucrats were sent to a few other States for the sole reason that his party's allies needed to be appeased.

THE BJP's amorality on Article 356 does not improve with altitude and climate. If the party's stand on developments in the Kashmir heights has been wholly hypocritical, it has shown a positively alarming lack of concern for lawlessness on the Rajasthan sands. The problem here is not terrorism, but a war unleashed by criminals against women, the minorities and Dalits. In 1996, according to figures given by the State Home Department, the total number of atrocities committed against women stood at 10,566. Between 1990 and 1996, cases of eve-teasing and molestation went up by a staggering 83 per cent while the number of cases of rape shot up by 56 per cent. More recent statistics relating to incidents of rape show that while the figure stood at 1,036 in 1995, it went up to 1,162 the next year and further to 1,255 in 1997. The numbers of women victims of sexual crimes, interestingly, are not dissimilar to the numbers of lives claimed by terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir each year.

What is most noticeable about crime in Rajasthan is the alleged direct and indirect involvement of BJP MLAs in cases relating to sexual exploitation or rape. The most recent example of this pattern was the alleged gang-rape of a woman pilgrim in Karauli district by an MLA along with a BJP-affiliated sarpanch, a block member and a fourth person. In another significant case, an acid attack on a young girl, the victim, Shivani Jadeja, is reported to have named the son of a Minister.

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Kavita Srivastava, an activist of the Mahila Atyachar Virodhi Jan Andolan, told Frontline that the Bhairon Singh Shekhawat Government and its agencies were working against the victims as well as those representing their cause. Srivastava said that one-fourth of all rape cases filed in 1997 were proclaimed to have been false by the State police. About 20 per cent of dowry-related deaths in 1996 were also declared false. "We look to the state for justice," she said, "but find the Government abdicating its responsibility."

Events in the seven days between May 20 and May 27 this year are typical of what Rajasthan now routinely experiences. A 16-year-old student, Neelu Rana, was murdered in Kota, allegedly after being raped. It took protests against poor investigation, by local residents as well as Opposition parties, to force the transfer of the Rana rape-murder case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Rana's murder was followed by the gang-rape at Karauli. One day later, allegations that the victim in the infamous case of rape and sexual exploitation at J.C. Bose hostel was subjected to gang-rape again surfaced. (Later she retracted her statement and denied that rape had been committed.) That same week, a young girl in Alwar was murdered after her family protested against the eve-teasing she was subjected to. The public outrage generated by these incidents has done little to make the State Government act to protect women. Two Dalit women in Marauli village of Chittorgarh district were hung by their feet to extract a confession from them on a theft charge.

The Shekhawat Government has also been hauled up for excessive use of force by trigger-happy policepersons, especially when dealing with minority groups. In December 1997, the police fired upon people protesting against encroachments on a graveyard in Jaipur (Frontline, January 23, 1998); six persons died and several were injured. Three months later, the police in Ajmer opened fire on a crowd, ostensibly to quell some local skirmishes. Persons belonging to the minority community were seriously injured in the firing. The latest and most gruesome incident was reported in April in a village in Chittorgarh district, where one cleric was burnt alive in the presence of the police (Frontline, May 8). Opposition groups have cited these incidents, and those of crimes against women, to demand the dismissal of the Shekhawat Government. Predictably, the BJP has not responded.

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UTTAR PRADESH provides similarly graphic examples of the BJP's elastic standards on Article 356. Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, whose commitment to upholding the law and the Constitution was made hilariously clear by his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, has been struggling to ward off credible charges that Uttar Pradesh under his rule has become something of a playground for criminals. On July 21, Kalyan Singh told the State Assembly that the law and order situation in the State was, in fact, improving. According to him, there has been a decline of 10 per cent in the number of murders, 5 per cent in the number of cases of rape and 15 per cent in the number of dacoities over the last two months as compared to the corresponding period last year. Kalyan Singh added that only 5 per cent of the offenders have not been "brought to book". These figures, however, appear to be at variance with the lived realities of citizens.

The answer, independent observers argue, lies in Kalyan Singh's manipulation of statistics. According to independent estimates, there has been an increase of approximately 20 per cent in the number of serious crimes such as kidnapping, dacoity and rape over the last four months compared with the corresponding period last year. Recent cases of kidnapping indicate that the central area of mafia operations has shifted from western Uttar Pradesh to Lucknow. As many as six major incidents of kidnapping and killing have been reported from Lucknow in the past four months. Among the most gruesome of these was the killing of businessman C.K. Rastogi while he was trying to save his son Kunal from kidnappers. Kunal was kidnapped while taking a morning walk in the Botanical Gardens, situated in the middle of the city. The police response to the killing and kidnapping bordered on the farcical: citizens were warned not to take morning walks.

NONE of this is necessarily a case for the dismissal of the State governments concerned. These case studies merely illustrate the obvious: that the BJP-led Central Government's position on the law and order situation in the States emerges not from any serious engagement with the issues, but from its desperate need to placate its allies. In the process, it has shown itself willing to sacrifice principle and the most elementary political scruple. The problems of Jammu and Kashmir, which emerge from terrorist activity, are considerably more serious than those cited to press for the dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, the war against women in Rajasthan has involved atrocities far more gruesome than those the Left Front's detractors allege have taken place in West Bengal. Uttar Pradesh, too, suffers from organised crime, political and economic, in a manner similar to Bihar.

In lawless Maharashtra

P. SAINATH cover-story

Welcome to this BJP-Shiv Sena-ruled State to find out all about law and order.

WHEN the many fact-finding committees of the Central Government get over their jet lag from visiting so many States at such short notice, they might want to drop in at Maharashtra. Apart from the additional frequent flyer points they will notch up, they might find useful benchmarks against which to test their findings in other States.

If flying fatigue has already set in, they could first spend a while collecting clippings from newspapers available to them right in Delhi. They would, in fact, have to do this. Simply because Mumbai's newspapers often black out very, very important issues, the reason being good, old-fashioned terror. Even that finding - the severe curbs on freedom of press - ought to make them wonder about which country they are in. But more of that later.

If they just looked at the February 14 edition of The Times of India, Delhi, for instance, here is what they would find:

Home Ministry figures showed that Maharashtra was far and away the worst State in the country in terms of custodial deaths. The country as a whole registered an alarming increase in such deaths. A total of 888 in 1997. There were 308 reported in 1996, and 207 in 1995.

The lion's share of this increase was in two States - Maharashtra, ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine (the State Home Minister is Gopinath Munde of the BJP), and Uttar Pradesh, also ruled by the BJP. In Maharashtra, the 200 custodial deaths in 1997 represented an increase of 506 per cent in a single year. The 170 such deaths in U.P. meant a 347 per cent increase over the previous year.

Incidentally, the other States that registered significant increases in the number of custodial deaths were Gujarat (50 deaths; 150 per cent rise) and Rajasthan (30 deaths; 66.7 per cent), both BJP-ruled States.

Together, the four BJP-ruled States accounted for over half the total custodial deaths in the country. But within this dismal tally, Maharashtra led the rest.

(Your chances of dying in custody increase exponentially if you are poor. There is an added risk in being a Dalit or belonging to some other minority segment. However, if you are a powerful ganglord, you tend to do well in Maharashtra's jails.)

Later figures also show that the State tops in the number of custodial rapes. Incidentally, Bihar is far behind Maharashtra in both respects.

BUT there are other facts for the committee to find - although, if it lived a week in Mumbai, it might get nervous about going out to find them. No other city has so many gangland killings every day. Even Mumbai's newspapers cannot help but reflect that reality. Here, a large number of species from jewellers and film industry icons to trade union leaders are at high risk.

Not a day passes without reports of extortion killings of one or the other jeweller or real estate developer.

Then there are the 'encounter deaths' which have become the subject of a court-ordered investigation. The state of law and order in Mumbai is best reflected in statements from senior police officials regretting that 'encounter deaths' are slowing down because of meddling by human rights advocates.

But there is more. Even the BJP's delegations (should the party decide to send one to Maharashtra, as it did to West Bengal) will not forget the contract killing of Gulshan Kumar, the music magnate, that shook Mumbai for months (Frontline, August 12, 1997). A BJP delegation could spend unquestionably useful time in the Mumbai North-East Lok Sabha constituency from where Pramod Mahajan was routed in the last election. It might learn that a casteist, trigger-happy police force shot dead 11 unarmed Dalits (Frontline, August 8, 1997). And that it was this law and order situation that cost Mahajan the seat he earlier held.

A leader of the stature of Datta Samant could have his life snuffed out with very little fuss (Frontline, February 7, 1997). So the minor bureaucrats comprising these committees may be forgiven a little healthy fear - a fear that might get enhanced when they learn that the Leader of the Opposition in the State believes that his life is in great danger.

Chhagan Bhujbal's belief is not without basis. Despite being the Leader of the Opposition in the House (equivalent to a Cabinet Minister in rank, in many States) he had to lock himself in a bathroom to save his life. That was when a Shiv Sena mob attacked his residence (under government protection, officially) and ransacked the place while the Mumbai Police watched.

There cannot be too many States where law and order has reached a point where the Leader of the Opposition has to lock himself in the loo to save his life.

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APART from top leaders like Dr. Samant and Bhujbal, it might be worth looking at those lower down the food chain.

Maharashtra has few rivals when it comes to attacks on journalists and newspaper offices. The Sena-BJP's record in this regard was always bad. The situation worsened after the Sena-BJP came to power.

On December 20, 1996, the office of the Marathi daily Mahanagar in Mumbai was ransacked. It's crime? Publishing a speech by suspended Deputy Municipal Commissioner G.R. Khairnar. His crime? Daring to criticise Bal Thackeray in that speech. Subsequently, the paper's Aurangabad edition was ransacked, its editor's face blackened with charcoal, and equipment worth Rs. 2 lakhs destroyed.

The State Government then registered cases - against the newspaper! For "creating tension and unrest in society" by using words like "anti-national" to describe Mr. Thackeray. That is a term he frequently uses to describe others in his paper, Saamna. But similar cases were not filed against him. This should not surprise anyone. Maharashtra is run by the one politician who explicitly claimed 'credit' for the destruction of the Babri Masjid, Bal Thackeray ("My boys did it"). But it is very difficult to apply the laws of mere mortals to him.

On June 30, 1997, the office of the publication Pratidin in Amravati was ransacked. Those alleged to be behind the attack included the town's BJP Mayor and 16 Sena corporators. On the same day, Pramod Bhagwat, a journalist of the Maharashtra Times was brutally attacked in Thane. Bhagwat, who had written extensively on construction and building rackets in Thane, named Sena leader Anand Dighe in a first information report (FIR). Nothing happened.

On July 26 the same year, it was the turn of the Marathi daily newspaper Deshonatti in Akola. Supporters of Minister of State for Irrigation Gulabrao Gawande led the attack on the paper's office.

WHAT does the press do when those in Government are directly involved in the attacks?

The crunch came last year when an editorial in Thackeray's Saamna virtually called for the head of Loksatta editor Arun Tikekar. In one of the most shameful displays of cowardice, most of Mumbai's newspapers remained silent, preferring not to report the issue. Loksatta is part of the Indian Express Group. Yet, the Express itself remained silent for a month despite the threat to its editor.

It looked ridiculous. The Express building was swarming with policemen sent by the Chief Minister and Home Minister (no less) to protect Tikekar from Sainiks responding to a call by Thackeray to punish him! And none of this was reported in The Indian Express. The Times of India, too, remained silent.

The fact-finders might realise that this is at least one reason why attacks on individuals identified by the Sena-BJP as enemies have been stepped up. The attack on M.F. Husain's house, the intimidation of other artists, the disruption of Ghulam Ali's concert, the cancellation of squash champion Jansher Khan's visit to India...

THAT then, is a small part of the situation in Maharashtra: the shooting of unarmed Dalits; record-breaking numbers of people dying in custody; highest number of custodial rapes; largest numbers of gangland killings; open operation of powerful mafias; possibly the worst part of the country for attacks on journalists and newspaper offices; assassinations of trade union leaders; attempts on the lives of top political leaders. Unquestionably, the period under BJP-Sena rule has been disastrous for Maharashtra.

On the whole, though, despite Maharashtra being much worse off than many, many other States in India, the fact-finding committee might notice another thing: that people mostly prefer to deal with these problems through their own exercise of their democratic rights and not with Article 356. As they did in the last parliamentary polls when they thrashed the Sena-BJP and humbled Pramod Mahajan.

But the committee could collect all this useful information and hand it over to the Union Home Minister. As an accused in a criminal case himself (one of the biggest ever to rock this country after Independence), he must surely have an interesting perspective on law and order in Maharashtra.

Relevant constitutional provisions

cover-story

Article 355: It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Article 356 (1): If the President, on receipt of a report from the Governor of a State or otherwise, is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution, the President may by Proclamation -

(a) assume to himself all or any of the functions of the Government of the State and all or any of the powers vested in or exercisable by the Governor or any body or authority in the State other than the Legislature of the State;

(b) declare that the powers of the Legislature of the State shall be exercisable by or under the authority of Parliament;

(c) make such incidental and consequential provisions as appear to the President to be necessary or desirable for giving effect to the objects of the Proclamation, including provisions for suspending in whole or in part the operation of any provisions of this Constitution relating to any body or authority in the State;

Provided that nothing in this clause shall authorise the President to assume to himself any of the powers vested in or exercisable by a High Court, or to suspend in whole or in part the operation of any provision of this Constitution relating to High Court.

Article 256: The executive power of every State shall be so exercised as to ensure compliance with the laws made by Parliament and any existing laws which apply in that State, and the executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.

Article 365: Where any State has failed to comply with, or to give effect to, any directions given in the exercise of the executive power of the Union under any of the provisions of this Constitution, it shall be lawful for the President to hold that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

Who's afraid of Article 356?

More than any particular State government, it is the BJP-led Government at the Centre that finds its survival to be at stake because of the politics of Article 356.

THERE would seem to be nothing more futile than seeking enlightenment from ongoing controversies over the invocation of Article 356 of the Constitution to dismiss elected State governments well before their full term. They suggest little else than restive politicians of unbridled ambitions and acute insecurity trampling upon the foundations of constitutional rule.

Coalition government is known to induce a sense of restraint among the principals - a tacit recognition of the proprieties involved in mutual association. Harmony arises from a willingness to engage coalition partners in dialogue in an environment of sobriety and restraint.

Yet a paralysis of dialogue appears to be the most distinctive feature of the 100-day-old coalition Government at the Centre. The early clamour of competing demands from the coalition partners was met through the simple expedient of pressing the nuclear trigger, blasting the nation into a future of ethical confusion and multiplying strategic hazards. Dissent was silenced for a while, but did not take long to resurface.

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Once Pakistan established that far from attaining the exalted status of a nuclear weapon power, India had only managed to achieve a deadly strategic symmetry with a smaller and much weaker neighbour, the old litany of partisan demands from coalition partners was quick to emerge again. Although numbing in their triviality, transparent in their motivations and fraught with enormous dangers for the foundations of constitutional rule, these demands have already paralysed the task of governance and brought the Atal Behari Vajpayee Ministry perilously close to the brink.

The mood was sombre when the Coordination Committee of the ruling coalition met for only the second time on June 27. Jayalalitha, leader of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, who has the presumptive loyalty of no fewer than 29 members in the Lok Sabha, stayed away. She had been engaged in a war of words with the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership over the preceding week, but had seemed to relent when Prime Minister Vajpayee spoke personally to her a few days ahead of the planned meeting of the Coordination Committee. It was obvious that Jayalalitha needed a decisive intervention from the Union Government that would at least partly assuage her political insecurities. After Vajpayee's telephonic conversation, it seemed a possibility that she would settle for a deal that did not go so far as to dismiss the elected State Government of Tamil Nadu a full three years ahead of its term.

Jayalalitha cited health grounds in crying off from participation in the Coordination Committee. But her disinclination to participate in any collective political body which fails to accord her the pre-eminence that she views as a unique prerogative was apparent. The failure of collective functioning in the ruling coalition bears ominous portents for its future. But its tendency to play along partly with the irrational demands of its alliance partners suggests more immediate dangers to constitutional well-being and political federalism.

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OTHER constituents of the ruling coalition have receded to the background only because Jayalalitha has taken the forward position in demanding the use of Article 356. But the Samata Party in Bihar and the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal are deeply disaffected by their inability to use leverage at the Centre to get their way in the respective States. The Samata Party clearly believes that its internal cohesion can only be assured by the proximity of power at the State level.

At the Coordination Committee meeting, Samata Party representative Nitish Kumar did reiterate his demand that the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar be dismissed and fresh elections ordered. He was met with a reiteration of the BJP's position that Article 356 enshrined an emergency power which was not obviously invoked in the case at hand. Nitish Kumar did not press the point, but his sense of vulnerability is acute. His political constituency in Bihar is yet to partake of the fruits of power, and his bitter adversary, Laloo Prasad Yadav, has begun an assiduous courtship to win them over.

The Samata Party's constituency does not have a natural affinity with the BJP brand of politics, and its susceptibility to Laloo Prasad's appeal - particularly when it is buttressed by the apparatus of power in the State - cannot be underestimated. For the Samata Party, removing Laloo Prasad's proxy Government in Bihar is clearly a matter of self-preservation. Till Jayalalitha queered the pitch for them, they seemed to have a receptive audience within the BJP. No less a leader than Vajpayee had repeatedly during the recent election campaign referred to Bihar as an appropriate case for the exercise of Article 356. But with Jayalalitha having reduced the emergency power of 356 to little more than an instrument of political vendetta, the Samata Party's case also lost much of its credibility.

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Jayalalitha and her allies won overwhelmingly in Tamil Nadu in the last Lok Sabha elections. The Samata Party in alliance with the BJP won fairly substantially in Bihar. The Trinamul Congress, which performed modestly in West Bengal, completes the trio of Article 356 militants which is making things awkward for the Vajpayee Ministry.

Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee failed to work out an acceptable modus vivendi with the BJP for the elections to local bodies in West Bengal in May. Any hopes that she may have entertained of breaking into the ruling Left Front's bastions of rural strength were quickly dispelled. This impelled her to raise the stakes and demand the use of Article 356 in West Bengal. The underlying intent is obviously to simulate the conditions of repression that prevailed in 1972, which was the last occasion when the Congress party won an election in West Bengal.

IT is tempting to read deep democratic scruple in the BJP's refusal to entertain the demands of its recalcitrant allies. But perhaps the truth is that it is deterred by the various practical difficulties involved. Any precipitate action using Article 356 would unsettle the loyalty of various partners of the ruling coalition, such as the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh. Once the debits are added up, there is unlikely to be much accruing to the credit of the BJP from the utilisation of the draconian powers under Article 356.

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A further factor is the virtual impossibility of getting a proclamation of President's Rule in any State approved by both Houses of Parliament within the stipulated period of two months. Passions have always run high over Article 356, but the Congress had, all through its years of comfortable ascendancy, no reason to believe that Parliament would actually exercise a power of scrutiny. In today's more fragmented political milieu, that can no longer be taken for granted. A certain degree of zeal in the exercise of parliamentary scrutiny, especially in a cause with such deep partisan resonances, is an integral part of current realities.

A peculiar feature of the present situation, however, is that any proclamation of President's Rule may not even reach the stage of parliamentary scrutiny. Since the tumultuous events in Uttar Pradesh in February, the possibility of the higher judiciary imposing an interim injunction on the dismissal and appointment of Ministries has become a factor to reckon with. That followed a grossly mala fide exercise of authority by the Governor of the State, Romesh Bhandari, in dismissing the Kalyan Singh Government on the strength of his subjective satisfaction that it had lost its legislative majority. This was under the scope of Articles 163 and 164 of the Constitution, which accord the Governor a limited power of "discretion" in the appointment of a Ministry.

The Supreme Court laid down in S.R. Bommai versus the Union of India that any proclamation under Article 356 is subject to judicial review. The argument that the imposition of President's Rule belongs to a special category of emergency powers that cannot be the subject matter of litigation has long since been thrown out of court. Jayalalitha may have done her political adversaries in Tamil Nadu the greatest favour by announcing that the dismissal of the Tamil Nadu Government was an integral part of an agreement that she had struck with the BJP prior to the Lok Sabha elections. This makes any invocation of Article 356 in the foreseeable future a highly colourable exercise of power for reasons that have no legitimacy in the constitutional scheme. Jayalalitha has, unwittingly or otherwise, already laid sound foundations for the judicial quashing of the decision she seeks with such fervour from the Central Government.

CALCULATIONS of realpolitik are obviously a decisive element in the BJP Government's current posture of reticence as far as Article 356 is concerned. Moreover, citing law and order as a basis for dismissing elected State governments would cut the BJP's Ministries in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan very close to the bone. It would also unsettle the Andhra Pradesh Government, and leave Farooq Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir with little reason to remain in office.

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Since the Supreme Court ruling in Bommai, further judicial interventions have been rare. This is partly because there have been few cases of a State Governor or the Central Government invoking the power of dismissal. The events in Uttar Pradesh in November 1997, and then again in February 1998, may have turned the tide. Arbitrary exercises of power can now be challenged in higher judicial forums and if a reaffirmation of the Bommai findings were to be sought, the BJP governments in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan would be extremely vulnerable to stricture.

It is one of the fundamental principles of Bommai that secularism, like the process of judicial review, is part of the basic structure of the Constitution. The recent manoeuvres of the BJP affiliates - notably the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - over the Ayodhya controversy perhaps invite constitutional action on this count. Legal scholars are divided on the practical consequences of the Supreme Court's finding on secularism. Rajeev Dhavan, senior advocate in the Supreme Court, feels, for instance, that the formulation is much too vague for any functional purpose.

B.K. Chandrasekhar, Professor at the National Law School of India, Bangalore, has a different interpretation. "The coercive power of Article 356," he says, "cannot be allowed to hack away at the substance of the federal arrangement." Yet, its abolition may not quite be warranted on the basis of current experience. One of the instances that might warrant the application of the Article would be where a State government works against secularism or some other basic feature of the Constitution. "In the case of the present Uttar Pradesh Government," says Chandrasekhar, "there may be a good case to examine whether any part of their activities would amount to promoting anti-secular activity, such as their promises and indirect help on the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya when the judiciary is yet to make a pronouncement on the dispute."

THESE border-line transgressions are compounded by the BJP's recently stated intention to legislate an outcome of its choice to the Ayodhya dispute if the judicial process fails to deliver one. This effort to play fast and loose with fundamental principles will almost certainly invite scrutiny on grounds of the preservation of the basic structure of the Constitution.

Clearly, a party that has embarked upon a perilous journey along the main fault-lines of the constitutional scheme has no reason to invite further trouble for itself by overturning the popular will in a number of major States of the Union. To say that the State governments in Tamil Nadu and Bihar have lost the popular mandate will have little legitimacy in a constitutional scheme that prescribes secure five-year terms for all elected governments. Moreover, it should in a strictly federal interpretation lead to the logical conclusion that all Members of Parliament from a State should quit in the event that Assembly elections in that State turn out adverse for the party they belong to.

Coalition rule has necessitated a culture of mutual respect and accommodation among political parties. Inured to the confrontational mode and heady on the electoral rewards that the Ayodhya campaign brought it, the BJP has had little inclination to develop this skill. Buffeted about by the conflicting priorities of its partners, it finds itself devoid of the latitude to deliver on its promise of good governance. Article 356, as it was enacted, enshrined the final responsibility of the Union Government for the preservation of peace, security and the rule of law in the entire country. As it was used, the constitutional provision became a coercive power that could be used to silence dissent and opposition. Today, with a party in power that has repeatedly expressed its disdain for the rule of law, the inherent hazards to the States from Article 356 seem to have receded. Rather, it is the Central Government itself that stands exposed and vulnerable to baneful legacy and the inherent iniquities of this constitutional provision.

Article 356, Bommai and fair play

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Bommai

IT is an irony of contemporary politics that Article 356 - a knife placed in the hands of the Centre for use against State governments in claimed defence of the Constitution - seems to pose a more real threat to the life of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition at the Centre than to any particular State government. Therefore, the answer to the question, 'Who is afraid of Article 356?' seems to be: 'No one as much as the BJP.'

The tantrum-backed one point demand for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu pressed on the Centre by the AIADMK supremo, former Chief Minister Jayalalitha, and to a lesser extent the demands made by the Samata Party for the dismissal of the Rashtriya Janata Dal Government of Bihar, and by Mamata Banerji's Trinamul Congress for some form of Central action in Left Front-ruled West Bengal, make for a great deal of uncertainty, chaos and volatility. They have virtually destroyed the political credibility of the Vajpayee regime within four months of its taking office.

To be fair, the BJP has thus far resisted intense pressure to wield the knife of Article 356 in the face of the clear injunctions handed down by the Supreme Court in its majority judgment in the Bommai case. This contrasts with the appalling record of the Congress(I) in the pre-Bommai political era and, in fact, with the record of every Central government without exception. But how long this resistance can be maintained, and with what effects and implications, is one of the interesting questions of evolving Indian politics.

It must also be noted that while resisting the demand to use Article 356, the Vajpayee regime has not been above making some unedifying noises to put State governments on the defensive, if not to intimidate them, and sending Central fact-finding teams in situations where they are clearly unwarranted and represent transparent exercises in political opportunism. What, other than political exigency, can be the explanation for despatching a Central team to West Bengal and not undertaking such exercises in the case of Jammu & Kashmir or Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra or even Andhra Pradesh (as the Congress(I) president, Sonia Gandhi, has pointed out)?

There can be little doubt today that provisioning a supposedly federal Constitution with the knife of Article 356 was a blunder of the first order committed by the founding fathers. Since 1950, the knife has been used more than a hundred times, which strongly suggests that cheating has been the rule and fair play the exception in the quasi-federal game the Centre has played, for nearly half a century, against the States in the name of the Constitution. Article 356 abuse can be characterised as perhaps the grossest and most persistent form of violation of democracy in independent India. And more often than not, the head of the State concerned, the Governor, has played the role of dalal, even hatchetman, in the collusive and fraudulent misuse of Central powers.

While moving the Draft Constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, one of its principal architects, explained that the form of the Constitution was federal and that it instituted a dual polity, with the Union at the Centre and the States at the periphery, each endowed with sovereign powers to be exercised in the field assigned to it by the Constitution. An important point underlined by him was that the Union was not a league of States, united in a loose relationship, nor were the States agencies of the Union, deriving powers from it. There was no question of one being "subordinate to" the other in its own field and indeed the authority of one was to "coordinate with" that of the other. Dr. Ambedkar identified the basic principle of federalism as the partitioning of legislative and executive authority between the Centre and the States - not by any law made by the Centre, but by the Constitution itself. Grasping this principle is vital to any serious attempt to correct and revitalise the performance of democratic institutions in India.

Article 356 (as Soli Sorabjee, the present Attorney-General, has pointed out in a critique) was shaped by historical circumstances that cast "a deep shadow on the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly." The widespread perception that India was going through a time of troubles and that a grave threat to the unity and integrity of India might arise at any time convinced the Constitution makers that a strong Centre was needed to deal with emergency situations.

In justifying the provisions for a strong central authority in the Constituent Assembly debate, Dr. Ambedkar pointed to then-prevailing tendencies everywhere in the world towards a centralism of powers at the expense of the constituent units. Conceptually, he offered this insight: the Indian Constitution would work as a federal system in 'normal times' but in times of 'emergency' it could be worked as though it were a unitary system. Admitting the charge that the Centre had been given authority to override the States, he pleaded the defence that these were not the normal features of the Constitution. He placed on record the expectation that Article 356 would "never be called into operation" and would "remain a dead letter." Unfortunately, the vision behind this constitutional compromise which assumed moderation, democratic goodwill and fair play in a liberal sense was dishonoured repeatedly in republican India.

The higher judiciary must be criticised for failing - until March 11, 1994 - to perform its role as constitutional umpire. Dr. Ambedkar's nuanced advocacy of the quasi-federal scheme before the Constituent Assembly underscored the idea of judicial review as an imperative in making the scheme work properly. But the record shows that the judiciary failed to use this power to prevent, counter and correct the ceaseless misuse of Article 356. Fortunately, this situation changed quite profoundly with Bommai.

The nine-member Constitution Bench took up two of the critical issues before Indian politics, secularism and federalism, and came up with a powerful determination that, if put to work, could make a real difference to the working of the political system. In practical terms, it full-throatedly upheld the dismissal of the BJP State governments of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh in December 1992 - because their anti-secular actions were inconsistent with the secular Constitution. Upholding the priority of secularism as part of the basic structure of the Constitution, it laid down the principle that Article 356 use in the defence of secularism against communal threats and challenges was perfectly justified. The majority, however, held as unconstitutional the Centre's use of the knife of Article 356 in Nagaland (1988), Karnataka (1989) and Meghalaya (1991), although there was no possibility of reversing the effects of these unconstitutional actions.

In arriving at these politically important verdicts, the apex court undertook a de novo and partly radical exploration of Article 356. In making up its mind at the end of the exploration, the court placed on high ground and beyond constitutional question the power of judicial review over Centre-State relations generally and, in particular, over the resort to Article 356 by the Centre. Without such a power, the written constitutional scheme, and any question of fairness and justice subsisting in the federal aspect of the scheme, would be a fraud. The majority judgment served notice on the system that, in future, the constitutionality of the use of Article 356 would be eminently justiciable.

The key operative part of the Supreme Court's landmark judgment lies in the majority agreement reached on the following points:

* The correct interpretation of the expression in Article 356, "a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution," is a constitutional breakdown and impasse. Article 356 cannot be invoked in situations that can be remedied, that do not create an impasse, that do not make governance of a State in accordance with the Constitution impossible.

* The validity of the proclamation issued by the President under Article 356(1) is "judicially reviewable to the extent of examining whether it was issued on the basis of any material at all or whether the material was relevant or whether the proclamation was issued in the mala fide exercise of power." When a prima facie case is made out in the challenge to the proclamation, "the burden is on the Union Government to prove that the relevant material did in fact exist." The material may be the report of the Governor or something else, but it must meet the new test.

* Article 74(2), which bars judicial review so far as the advice given by the Council of Ministers to the President is concerned, is "not a bar against the scrutiny of the material on the basis of which the President had arrived at his satisfaction."

* The Constitution places a check on executive power exercised in the name of the President by requiring parliamentary approval of a presidential proclamation issued under Article 356. Therefore, "it will not be permissible for the President" to exercise powers under sub-clauses (a), (b) and (c) of Article 356(1) and to "take irreversible actions" until "at least both the Houses of Parliament have approved of the proclamation." In other words, the Legislative Assembly of a State cannot be dissolved until "at least" both the Houses of Parliament approve the executive action. (As Sorabjee points out appreciatively: "The plain language of the provision does not impose any such restriction. The impelling consideration for reading into the article such limitation was the anxiety to place a check on the executive and also to ensure that grant of final relief does not become difficult if not infructuous. Historical realism prevailed over literalism.")

* Article 365 being"more in the nature of a deeming provision," the directions given under it "must be lawful" and "their disobedience must give rise to a situation contemplated by Article 356(1)." It is not as though "each and every failure" to comply with Central directions "ipso facto gives rise to the requisite situation." Thus the executive cannot have recourse to Article 365 for imposing President's Rule if the situation contemplated by Article 365(1) has not arisen.

* Except in the rarest of rare cases, the floor of the House is the sole constitutionally ordained forum for testing the strength of a Ministry and determining whether it has lost or retains the confidence of the House.

* If the presidential proclamation is held invalid, "then notwithstanding the fact that it is approved by both Houses of Parliament, it will be open to the Court to restore the status quo ante" and to bring back to life the Legislative Assembly and the Ministry.

* While the court "will not interdict" the issuance of a presidential proclamation or the exercise of any other power under the proclamation, in appropriate cases it will have the power by an interim injunction to restrain the holding of fresh elections to the Legislative Assembly pending the final disposal of the challenge to the validity of the proclamation. This it can do to avoid a fait accompli and to prevent "the remedy of judicial review (from) being rendered fruitless."

* Violation of any basic feature of the Constitution by a State government is a valid ground for the exercise of Article 356. Secularism being part of the basic structure of the Constitution, its violation will justify use of Article 356. (This was the unanimous opinion of the nine judges, not just the majority opinion.)

This detailed and progressive interpretation of Article 356 and State rights is now the law of the land - and will remain so unless the majority judgment of a larger Supreme Court bench changes it. Bommai is not an absolute guarantee against Article 356 misuse, and indeed after the apex court's decision the Central executive has made attempts to misuse the knife. But getting rid of Opposition State governments through this technique has become incomparably more difficult -to a point where it seems to threaten the fragile existence of the Vajpayee Government more than it does the State governments targeted. But the real place where the issue must be won is the arena of democratic public opinion and mass politics.

Coordination challenges

AS the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government completed its first hundred days in office, it became apparent that the mechanism it had devised to keep its disparate constituents in check had become ineffective. This was clear at the second meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies held in New Delhi at Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's residence on June 27.

Five of the BJP's allies - the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katch, the Lok Shakti and the Trinamul Congress - did not attend the meeting. AIADMK general secretary Jayalaitha cancelled her visit to Delhi citing ill-health and did not depute any of her Ministers or representatives to attend the meeting. PMK leader Dr. S. Ramadoss faxed a statement to the meeting, in which he demanded the imposition of President's Rule in Tamil Nadu. The statement said that leaders of the AIADMK-led front, including Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko, supported the dismissal demand. Vaiko, the only representative of the AIADMK-led front at the meeting, did not deny this when the statement was read out at the meeting. Vaiko was earlier reported to be against the use of Article 356 to dismiss the State Government.

Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde deputed his representative, Jeevraj Alva, to the meeting. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who recently suspended her support to Vajpayee Government only to restore it later, also did not attend.

The first meeting of the committee was held in May. The June 27 meeting was held in the backdrop of a war of words between the BJP and some of its allies. Appeals by BJP leaders to its allies not to air their differences in public, but to raise them at the Coordination Committee meeting, had had no impact.

Strains between the AIADMK and the BJP cast a shadow over the meeting. Faced with fresh demands from the AIADMK-led front for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu and from the Samata Party for the dismissal of the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar, Vajpayee told the meeting: "Article 356 does exist in the Constitution. It is not redundant, nor will it never be used."

However, he said, the Government was not in favour of sacking democratically elected State governments unless there was a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. The Prime Minister took the stand that keeping in view the positions taken by President K.R. Narayanan and the Supreme Court on the issue, the Centre should not take recourse to this constitutional provision without adequate reason.

THE vulnerability of the Government, in view of the strident demands from some of the coalition partners, emboldened other small parties to make their own demands, including huge monetary demands, at the meeting. Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal, whose Haryana Vikas Party has just one member in the Lok Sabha, wanted the Centre to waive loans to the State amounting to Rs.2,500 crores, as had been done for Punjab by the United Front Government; he said that Haryana too had to cope with the consequences of insurgency in Punjab. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal sought an increase in border area allocations. Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal wanted more funds allocated for Orissa.

Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha briefed the BJP's allies on the steps being taken to face the sanctions following the nuclear tests. He referred to the turnaround in the position of the World Bank on loans to India, evidence of re-thinking in the U.S. on the sanctions, and a modification in the position of the Group of 8 developed nations. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh, who visited a number of Western capitals to present India's reasons for conducting the tests, claimed after the meeting that the allies endorsed the BJP leadership's decisiveness in conducting the tests.

The meeting did not discuss the recent controversies surrounding the AIADMK's "friendly warning" to the BJP and the despatch of Central teams to West Bengal and Bihar.

Coordination challenges

AS the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government completed its first hundred days in office, it became apparent that the mechanism it had devised to keep its disparate constituents in check had become ineffective. This was clear at the second meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies held in New Delhi at Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's residence on June 27.

Five of the BJP's allies - the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katch, the Lok Shakti and the Trinamul Congress - did not attend the meeting. AIADMK general secretary Jayalaitha cancelled her visit to Delhi citing ill-health and did not depute any of her Ministers or representatives to attend the meeting. PMK leader Dr. S. Ramadoss faxed a statement to the meeting, in which he demanded the imposition of President's Rule in Tamil Nadu. The statement said that leaders of the AIADMK-led front, including Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko, supported the dismissal demand. Vaiko, the only representative of the AIADMK-led front at the meeting, did not deny this when the statement was read out at the meeting. Vaiko was earlier reported to be against the use of Article 356 to dismiss the State Government.

Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde deputed his representative, Jeevraj Alva, to the meeting. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who recently suspended her support to Vajpayee Government only to restore it later, also did not attend.

The first meeting of the committee was held in May. The June 27 meeting was held in the backdrop of a war of words between the BJP and some of its allies. Appeals by BJP leaders to its allies not to air their differences in public, but to raise them at the Coordination Committee meeting, had had no impact.

Strains between the AIADMK and the BJP cast a shadow over the meeting. Faced with fresh demands from the AIADMK-led front for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu and from the Samata Party for the dismissal of the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar, Vajpayee told the meeting: "Article 356 does exist in the Constitution. It is not redundant, nor will it never be used."

However, he said, the Government was not in favour of sacking democratically elected State governments unless there was a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. The Prime Minister took the stand that keeping in view the positions taken by President K.R. Narayanan and the Supreme Court on the issue, the Centre should not take recourse to this constitutional provision without adequate reason.

THE vulnerability of the Government, in view of the strident demands from some of the coalition partners, emboldened other small parties to make their own demands, including huge monetary demands, at the meeting. Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal, whose Haryana Vikas Party has just one member in the Lok Sabha, wanted the Centre to waive loans to the State amounting to Rs.2,500 crores, as had been done for Punjab by the United Front Government; he said that Haryana too had to cope with the consequences of insurgency in Punjab. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal sought an increase in border area allocations. Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal wanted more funds allocated for Orissa.

Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha briefed the BJP's allies on the steps being taken to face the sanctions following the nuclear tests. He referred to the turnaround in the position of the World Bank on loans to India, evidence of re-thinking in the U.S. on the sanctions, and a modification in the position of the Group of 8 developed nations. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh, who visited a number of Western capitals to present India's reasons for conducting the tests, claimed after the meeting that the allies endorsed the BJP leadership's decisiveness in conducting the tests.

The meeting did not discuss the recent controversies surrounding the AIADMK's "friendly warning" to the BJP and the despatch of Central teams to West Bengal and Bihar.

Life at the edge

The formation of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha spurs efforts to build a secular front that will be ready to take over should the Vajpayee Government collapse under pressure from the BJP's disparate allies.

PLAYERS on the political stage are frequently required to wear a mask in order to present a stoic front even in the face of overwhelming and all-round adversity. Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, buffeted by a string of adversities in the 100-plus days that the Hindutva party has headed a coalition Government at the Centre, would seem to don just such a mask, but it is an increasingly transparent camouflage. In their estimation, perhaps, the show - of being able to bear the many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune with Hamletian fortitude - must go on. But even among the prompters who provide the political cues from the wings, the realisation seems to have dawned that, the players having strutted and fretted their hour on the stage, the time for the final curtain is near at hand.

Addressing newspersons at the end of a meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies in New Delhi on June 27, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh said: "There is no threat to the Government." Few, even among the activists of the other constituents of the Hindutva combine, took his statement at its face value. For the meeting had been virtually boycotted by three of the BJP's alliance partners from Tamil Nadu whose support is crucial for the survival of the Government: the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), whose general secretary, the combative Jayalalitha had only days earlier sounded a "friendly warning" to the BJP; the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK); and the Tamil Nadu Rajiv Congress (TRC). In fact, soon it was announced that Jaswant Singh, who is Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission besides being political firefighter par excellence for the BJP, would be off to Chennai yet again on a mission to mollify Jayalalitha.

The leader of a fourth ally, Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress, who too has directed a fair dose of "friendly fire" at the BJP, also did not make it to the meeting, ostensibly having missed her flight to Delhi.

And, worse for the BJP, barely 100 days after a decidedly wobbly take-off, barely three months into what has proved to be a most turbulent ride, word is going around that the cockpit crew is preparing for a crashlanding that seems inevitable.

According to Hindutva combine workers in Uttar Pradesh, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the Parivar of which the BJP is a constituent, has sent instructions to its units in northern India asking its cadre to be prepared for general elections anytime after October 1998. Some of the units received the communication on the very day that the Coordination Committee met in Delhi and Jaswant Singh expressed supreme confidence in the survival of the government.

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A senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader from Uttar Pradesh told Frontline that the RSS message was a directive to the cadre to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. "We are still trying," the leader said, "to solve the differences with the AIADMK and we hope it will work. But we also know that we cannot go on compromising and will have to take a position sooner or later. In such a situation, we should not be caught unawares if something happens. Which is why the missive was sent out."

The primary factor that underlies this apprehension within the BJP and the rest of the Hindutva combine is the uncertainty over Jayalalitha's continued support. Leaders of the combine say that they are aware that Jayalalitha has been in constant touch with sections of the Congress(I) ever since the Vajpayee Government took office. In their perception, the discussions between the Congress(I) and the AIADMK might take a critical turn any moment now.

BUT, by all indications, this is not the only factor that was behind the RSS missive. The coming together of the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Laloo Prasad Yadav to form the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha (National Democratic Front, or NDF), as well as former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar's exhortation to the Congress(I) to bring down the Vajpayee Government, also heightened worries in the Hindutva combine, which was already besieged by unrelenting pressure from some of its regional allies. The warm responses of some constituents of the United Front (U.F.), including the Left parties, and the Congress(I), to the formation of the NDF too weighed on the minds of leaders of the Hindutva combine. Just as important, the BJP nurses serious doubts about how long it can count on the support of some of its other allies - such as the Biju Janata Dal, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party - which are exhibiting symptoms of restiveness over the coalition Government's record so far.

Many BJP leaders see the formation of the NDF as a clever political ploy; they believe that the NDF can act as a catalyst that will help the U.F. and the Congress(I) get over their differences and join hands. In their reckoning, even if the U.F. and the Congress(I) do not come together as part of a coalition arrangement, they may both agree to support a mutually acceptable third entity, such as the NDF. The S.P. was, after all, one of the U.F. constituents until the NDF was born; and the RJD was a key constituent of the alliances that were formed by the Congress(I) ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Rajnath Singh, president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP, said: "If the U.F. constituents and the Congress(I) are committed to political principles, they should have seen the formation of the NDF as an act of betrayal. But that is not the case. Even Janata Dal leader and former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda has welcomed the new alliance, despite the fact that both Mulayam Singh and Laloo Prasad have declared that the Congress(I) should be given the first option to form a non-BJP government. Obviously, they are not bothered about principles but want to prop up the new political entity that will help them rally forces against the BJP."

Ever since March, the BJP leadership, as part of its strategy for the survival of the Vajpayee Government, has sought to accentuate the differences between the U.F. and the Congress(I) to prevent their coming together on an anti-BJP platform. The manner in which the Congress(I) used the Jain Commission's Interim Report on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi to pull down the U.F. Government headed by I.K. Gujral was used as ammunition in this campaign. Clearly, the NDF's formation has upset the BJP's applecart even further.

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Reports that NDF leaders have held consultations with some constituents in the BJP-led coalition have caused concern in the Hindutva party. According to sources in the S.P. and the RJD, the formation of the NDF was preceded by discussions with the AIADMK and sections of the BJD, the Samata Party and the Lok Shakti. These sources add that sections of the BJD and the Samata Party are disenchanted with the Vajpayee Government's record in office as well as the leadership of their respective parties and are ready to join hands with the NDF.

The turmoil in the BJD over the cross-voting in the recent Rajya Sabha elections and the expressions of resentment among a group of Samata Party MPs against the leadership of Defence Minister George Fernandes and Railway Minister Nitish Kumar lend credence to such reports. According to NDF sources, five of the nine BJD MPs and seven of the 12 Samata Party MPs are ready to leave the BJP alliance. Buta Singh, who was forced to resign from the Vajpayee Ministry under pressure from Jayalalitha, has joined forces with the NDF. In addition, Laloo Prasad is believed to have held talks with Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde, with whom he has had a good rapport since their days in the Janata Dal.

The NDF leadership hopes that the realignment of political forces that is taking shape will trigger its own set of dynamics that will lead to the collapse of the Vajpayee Government and the formation of a broad anti-BJP grouping at the Centre. S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav told Frontline that in its 100 days in office, the Vajpayee Government had proved that the BJP is incapable of providing good governance. "There is growing realisation that the BJP is pushing a communal agenda, which is detrimental to the country. Laloo Prasad and I are only channelling this realisation and giving it political shape."

HOWEVER, the NDF leadership is not sure just how and when these efforts will crystallise. According to NDF leaders, all the objective political factors for bringing down the Vajpayee Government are in place, with the AIADMK, the PMK, the TRC and sections of the BJD and the Samata Party ready to walk out of the ruling coalition. However, certain subjective factors still stand in the way of the fruition of the process. Most of these relate to doubts among Congress(I) leaders, especially its president Sonia Gandhi, about the efficacy of the proposed alternative to the Vajpayee Government and the impact that the formation of a broad non-BJP grouping will have on her own authority over the party.

The Congress(I) is sceptical of such a new arrangement at two levels: the political and the personal. A senior member of the Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) member confided that the party was not sure that with allies like the AIADMK, which is driving a hard bargain with the BJP to force the Hindutva party to concede its unreasonable demand for the dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, it would be able to perform better than the Vajpayee Government. "If we come to power with the AIADMK's support, that party may create the very same problems it is causing the Vajpayee Government," the CWC member said.

At a personal level too, Sonia Gandhi is believed to be uncomfortable about taking the support of Jayalalitha, who had criticised Sonia Gandhi's entry into politics and had even stated that the people of India would not accept "a foreigner" as their leader. Although Jayalalitha subsequently sought to make amends by praising former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the distrust persists, the CWC member said.

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Some Congress(I) leaders are of the view that if the proposed alternative to the Vajpayee Government fails to perform creditably, it will only strengthen the BJP. CWC members such as Arjun Singh and A.K. Antony argued that for the Congress(I) to participate as one of many disparate entities in a secular alliance at this juncture would not serve its long-term agenda, which is to revive the organisation at a national level. Sources close to Arjun Singh said that he believed that running a government with regional parties such as the S.P. and the RJD would not advance the Congress(I)'s aim of national revival.

Arjun Singh is reported to have argued at recent meetings of party leaders that the revival of the Congress(I) in the politically pivotal States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is central to its rejuvenation at the national level, and that this purpose would not be well served by entering into alliances with the S.P. and the RJD, which have a strong base in this region. In his opinion, teaming up with these parties would only help them consolidate their strengths.

An MP from Madhya Pradesh who is considered close to Arjun Singh told Frontline: "The mass base of the S.P. and the RJD was once with the Congress(I). We have to win that back. This cannot be done by joining hands with the very same parties. We have a better chance of achieving our objective by sitting in the Opposition and fighting consistently against the BJP and these forces."

Sources in the Congress(I) say that although Sonia Gandhi herself is personally inclined towards this view, she is unable to pursue it vigorously because a majority of the CWC members, including leaders such as Sharad Pawar, Manmohan Singh, R.K. Dhawan and Ghulam Nabi Azad, wants the Vajpayee Government to be brought down at the earliest. In fact, Pawar has been in constant touch with Jayalalitha since the early days of the Vajpayee Government.

As part of another initiative, former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with leaders of Left parties such as Somnath Chatterjee and Jyoti Basu. These discussions were intended to gauge the extent to which the Left would go to support the Congress(I). According to Congress(I) sources, the Left leaders were ready even to support a Congress(I)-led government. A Youth Congress(I) office-bearer told Frontline: "These discussions have given Manmohan Singh the strength to advance his case for forming a non-BJP government."

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HOWEVER, the Sonia Gandhi camp is also apprehensive that a stint in government in the company of parties such as the S.P. and the RJD may erode the Congress(I) president's command over her party. Leaders such as Pawar and Sitaram Kesri have better equations with the leaders of the S.P. and the RJD and, according to an apolitical associate of Sonia Gandhi, they might use the coalition partners in a prospective government to reduce the influence of the Sonia Gandhi camp. That Sonia Gandhi's leadership is already being indirectly challenged, as was made clear by the defeat of her nominee Ram Pradhan in the Rajya Sabha biennial elections in Maharashtra, has aggravated this worry.

The NDF leadership's response to the Congress(I)'s doubts about the administrative efficacy of the proposed alternative to the Vajpayee Government has not satisfied Sonia Gandhi loyalists. NDF leaders are reported to have told the Congress(I) that if the latter "does not want to take the blame for bad governance, the NDF is ready to take the flak and lead the proposed alternative." Mulayam Singh's statement that if the Congress(I) is unwilling to head a non-BJP government it should support the NDF in this endeavour is significant in this context. However, the Sonia Gandhi camp reckons that even this is not a satisfactory arrangement.

Torn by conflicts and doubts, the Congress(I) has so far failed to make a commitment to bringing down the Vajpayee Government. A party statement issued after the CWC meeting of June 23, a day after Chandra Shekhar exhorted the Congress(I) to bring down the Vajpayee Government and form an alternative, reflected the leadership's dilemma. Briefing the media after the meeting, Arjun Singh merely said: "The suggestions that an alternative government be formed at the Centre have been noted; the consolidation of all secular forces remains an important issue for us." He added that the Congress(I) would keep a close watch on the situation, but could not be asked to respond to a situation that was still in the realm of conjecture. The closest that Arjun Singh came to making some kind of a commitment was when he said: "In case the Government collapses under its own weight, the Congress(I) will definitely discharge its responsibility."

However, given the pace of consolidation of anti-BJP forces in the Opposition as well as among some constituents of the BJP-led front, the Congress(I) cannot afford to prevaricate for long. Sonia Gandhi's statements during her tour of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in the last fortnight seemed to indicate that the Congress(I) had come around to this realisation. Talking to party workers in Humnabad in Karnataka on June 28, Sonia Gandhi ruled out the possibility of the Congress(I) supporting any front to come to power, and added that once an alternative to the Vajpayee Government emerges, the Congress(I) would lead it. With this she appears to have made it clear that the NDF proposal that it be allowed to lead the prospective alternative is unacceptable. Political observers see a subtle change towards a pro-active policy in this declaration as compared to the irresolute nature of the statement after the June 23 CWC meeting.

The most important question now is when and how Sonia Gandhi and other leaders in the Congress(I) will get over their evident diffidence about pulling down the Vajpayee Government and pursue the anti-BJP line to its logical conclusion. For now, there are no clear indications of the timing and the method. A section of the Congress(I) leadership says that Sonia Gandhi would not like to do anything to dislodge the Government until the Finance Bill is passed "so that the country's economy has some direction, even if it is faulty and limited." But sources close to the AIADMK are of the view that the Finance Bill will not be passed by the Vajpayee Government.

As for the Hindutva combine leadership, it seems to be convinced that irrespective of whether the Government survives the Budget session of Parliament and whether an alternative government is formed, elections are inevitable around October.

A threat in Chennai

There is no end in sight to the face-off between the BJP and the AIADMK over the dismissal of the Karunanidhi Government.

EVER since there was a change of government at the Centre in mid-March, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) have been engaged in a war of attrition, with AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha mounting pressure on the coalition Government to get the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government in Tamil Nadu dismissed and the BJP leadership refusing to yield. Watching the developments anxiously is Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi.

The tussle between the BJP and the AIADMK has placed the Vajpayee Government at grave risk since the AIADMK and its Tamil Nadu allies together have 28 seats in the Lok Sabha, not an insignificant number, given the Government's razor-thin majority.

Jayalalitha has pursued her goal in an unrelenting manner. In her latest move, after announcing that she would attend the Coordination Committee meeting of the coalition in New Delhi on June 27 and meet Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani to sort out differences, she chose not to go to New Delhi. She claimed on June 26 that she suffered from "ill-health" and had been advised rest. On June 23, she accused the BJP leadership of suffering from "selective amnesia" and said that "it is painful that Advani, who is not bothered about national security, should be the Union Home Minister." This was in the context of Advani's denial of her claim, made on June 19, that there was "an explicit understanding" between the AIADMK and the BJP that the DMK Government would be dismissed if the BJP came to power at the Centre.

Advani had said of her claim: "I do not recall any occasion, even in our private conversations, when she mentioned that (the dismissal of the DMK Government). This may be her feeling or the feeling of some people in Tamil Nadu, but so far as the Government is concerned, it has been clear on this issue before and after the elections (that there would be no dismissal)."

Other BJP leaders also denied that there was any such agreement. Party president Kushabhau Thakre said: "As far as my knowledge goes, it is not true." According to vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy, there was no suggestion that the DMK Government should be dismissed. "I can say with confidence because I negotiated the agreement," he added. Earlier, Advani asserted that the Vajpayee Government would not dismiss any State Government under "pressure" from a coalition partner.

Other BJP leaders saw a "hidden, personal agenda" behind Jayalalitha's persistent demand: to get rid of a host of corruption cases filed against her by the DMK Government and Central agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department.

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THIS is the third time that a DMK Government headed by Karunanidhi is facing the threat of dismissal. On January 31, 1976, the Indira Gandhi Government , dismissed his Government after he had challenged the imposition of the Emergency in 1975. The stated charges against the State Government were "corruption, maladministration and misuse of power."

On January 30, 1991, the second Karunanidhi Government was removed from office after Jayalalitha joined forces with Congress (I) president Rajiv Gandhi. The minority Chandra Shekhar Government at the Centre, heavily dependent on the Congress(I) for survival, dismissed the Karunanidhi Government.

The reasons that Jayalalitha cites for her demand are as baseless as they were when she forced the hand of the Chandra Shekhar Government. They include allegations that the Pakistani agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has infiltrated Tamil Nadu; that Al-Umma and Jihad Committee, both Islamic extremist organisations, operate with ISI support; and that there has been a resurgence in the activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the State. The DMK Government had banned Al-Umma and the Jihad Committee within hours of a series of bomb blasts that killed about 60 persons in Coimbatore on February 14. Jayalalitha also cites the caste clashes in southern Tamil Nadu in April 1997 and the protest by police personnel in Coimbatore after Al-Umma terrorists murdered a traffic constable in November 1997 as evidence for the breakdown of law and order. The Centre had banned the LTTE in May 1991, following the murder of Rajiv Gandhi.

Karunanidhi characterised Jayalalitha's demand as "blackmail". He said that she believed that if the DMK Government was removed, the "corruption cases against her involving hundreds of crores of rupees will be dismissed.'

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ALTHOUGH the BJP has not conceded her demand for the dismissal of the State Government, it has tried to appease her on other counts. The BJP-led Government replaced 33 standing counsel for the various Central Government agencies in Tamil Nadu with advocates known to have AIADMK sympathies. It is these counsel who would now argue the cases of the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax Department against Jayalalitha and her close associates. Besides, Justice D. Raju of the Madras High Court was promoted as Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court. This has necessitated a re-hearing of the writ petitions filed by Jayalalitha and her former Ministers challenging the validity of the setting up of special courts to try the cases of corruption against them. Chief Justice of the Madras High Court M.S. Liberhan and Justice Raju had heard the petitions and reserved the judgment on February 4. The judgment was yet to be pronounced when Justice Raju's promotion came in the last week of June.

Jayalalitha's "hidden agenda" came into the open in April when Sedapatti R. Muthiah of the AIADMK was forced to resign as Union Surface Transport Minister after a special court in Chennai framed charges against him in a case of amassing wealth beyond his known sources of income when he was the Speaker of the Tamil Nadu Assembly. An angry Jayalalitha demanded that Union Ministers Ramakrishna Hegde and Ram Jethmalani too should be dropped because there were allegations of corruption against them. Jethmalani then demanded that Vajpayee "call her bluff"; he also said, "I do not see any legal basis for the dismissal of the DMK Government."

Jayalalitha suffered a setback when a two-member team from the Union Home Ministry observed, after a visit to Chennai on April 16, that the overall law and order situation had improved as a result of the steps taken by the State Government. In a sharp reaction, Jayalalitha alleged that the team members had not stepped out of the State Secretariat before preparing the report. Advani was unhappy about one of the team members, Ashok Kumar, meeting the press and airing his views. Ashok Kumar was transferred to the Union Planning Commission. Jayalalitha demanded that another Central team be sent to Tamil Nadu.

On June 2, at a press conference in New Delhi, Tamil Nadu Governor M. Fathima Beevi gave a clean chit to the State Government in the matter of law and order. She did this after meetings with President K.R. Narayanan, Vajpayee and Advani. Advani had to ring up Jayalalitha in Chennai to assuage her embarrassment.

However, the AIADMK and its allies stepped up their campaign. They staged walk-outs in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, alleging that the law and order situation in Tamil Nadu had broken down. The BJP too stuck to its position. On June 11, BJP leader Jaswant Singh said in a television interview that the situation in Tamil Nadu did not warrant the imposition of President's Rule and that the DMK Government would not be dismissed. State BJP general secretary L. Ganesan said on June 17 in Madurai that "it is the clear view of the BJP that no State Government will be dismissed using Article 356." He also said that the AIADMK's threats would not work, and that "people will not forgive the AIADMK if it withdraws support to the BJP-led Government."

Ganesan's remarks, his meeting with Karunanidhi on June 3, the latter's 75th birthday, Karunanidhi's visit to ailing BJP legislator C. Velayudham in hospital and the Chief Minister's presence at the wedding reception of Ganesan's niece in May made the AIADMK deeply suspicious of a tie-up between the BJP and the DMK.

Ganesan's remarks enraged Jayalalitha. Former AIADMK Minister K.A. Sengo-ttaiyan first unleashed a vicious attack on Ganesan, calling him the "unassailable leader of a party without cadres", "a lackey of Karunanidhi" and so on.

On June 19, Jayalalitha herself stepped in with a "friendly warning" to the BJP not to take her for granted on the dismissal issue. She claimed that there was "an explicit understanding" between the BJP and the AIADMK "while finalising the alliance" before the February elections that the DMK would be dismissed if the BJP came to power. "Why is the BJP singing a different tune now?" she asked. She said that the dismissal issue was not negotiable. She alleged that "anti-national activities were once again flourishing in Tamil Nadu," and claimed that in 1989, the DMK "actively encouraged the LTTE and gave them a free run." It was now "not only aiding and abetting the LTTE but encouraging the rise of the ISI-backed Al-Umma and Jihad Committee,"she said, and added, "the results are there for all to see." She demanded the dismissal of the DMK Government because, she claimed, "the security of the nation is not negotiable."

Jayalalitha also made a series of allegations against the BJP: that it had "planted reports in the media against me", that it had "a hidden and secret understanding with Karunanidhi to save him from his commissions and omissions because Karunanidhi is close to the BJP and RSS leaders", that it was "creating dissensions among the (AIADMK's) partners" and that it was trying "to split the AIADMK". However, she held out an olive branch: she "will not do anything hasty", such as withdrawing support to the BJP-led Government, which would invite the anger of the people. "My actions will be measured and in the interests of people of Tamil Nadu and the nation," she claimed.

Sources in the BJP characterised her allegations as "an emotional outburst" born out of "desperation". The BJP leadership apparently did not take her "friendly warning" seriously because she had backed down during earlier confrontations with the BJP. She delayed giving the letter of support to the BJP but ultimately gave it. She said that the AIADMK MPs would not join the Ministry but changed her mind later. She demanded that Hegde and Jethmalani be dropped from the Cabinet but resiled from that stand. "She is child-like and she can be easily pacified," a BJP leader said.

Her warning has not been taken seriously for several reasons as well. There has been dissension among her allies over the question whether the DMK Government should be dismissed. Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko has been opposed the use of Article 356; he maintains that "people's power should be mobilised" to dislodge it. Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leader Dr. S. Ramadoss, who initially said that Karunanidhi should resign on his own because the DMK had been defeated in the polls, later claimed that "since an extraordinary situation prevailed in Tamil Nadu", Article 356 could be used. Tamilaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) leader and Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi has always insisted on using Article 356 against the DMK Government.

In the reckoning of BJP leaders, the MDMK, the PMK and the TRC will not approve of the AIADMK withdrawing support to the BJP-led Government. They argue that Ramamurthi and Dalit Ezhilmalai of the PMK would not like to lose their ministership. As for the MDMK, which is not a partner in the Union Ministry, they point out that it is not prepared to face another round of elections.

In the BJP's calculation, Jayalalitha has "no choice" but to stick with the BJP. If she withdraws her support, whatever chances she had of the cases against her being soft-pedalled on would have gone. Her overtures to the Congress(I) have brought no enthusiastic response: the Congress(I) knows that it cannot concede her demands. Jayalalitha's claims on June 19 that she could help the BJP muster the support required in the Lok Sabha to ratify dismissal indicated that she had sidled up to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But apparently the Congress(I) was not impressed.

Assembly elections are to be held towards the end of 1998 in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. Sources in the BJP said: "If we resile from our principled stand and dismiss the DMK Government, the Opposition will make use of it. This will adversely affect our electoral fortunes."

There are the practical difficulties as well. First, Governor Fathima Beevi may not recommend dismissal. Secondly, even if she does, the President may not approve of it. The BJP, the sources say, will not be able to muster enough support in Parliament to get the dismissal ratified because the Akali Dal, a BJP ally, the Telugu Desam Party, which offers crucial support to the Government, and the MDMK will oppose it. Karunanidhi has declared that he would take constitutional and legal steps to challenge the dismissal. Besides going by the Bommai case verdict, the Supreme Court could strike down any such decision by the Centre.

Unmindful of all these, Jayalalitha went on the offensive again when Thakre, Advani and Jana Krishnamurthy denied that there was any "explicit understanding" on the dismissal. In a sharply worded, 13-page statement on June 23, she claimed that after the Coimbatore blasts, Advani had instructed the BJP candidate for the Tiruchi Lok Sabha constituency, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam (now Union Minister for Power), to announce at a press conference that if the BJP came to power, the DMK Government would be dismissed. Kumaramangalam had informed Jayalalitha of this the next day, she claimed.

According to her, Advani had also told him to inform her that he would announce at the public meeting in Tiruchi that the DMK Government would be dislodged if the BJP was voted to power. However, Advani later asked Kumaramangalam to tell Jayalalitha that since he was in a state of shock after the blasts and had to wind up the meeting before 10 p.m., he had forgotten to mention this in his speech.

Then came her decision on June 26 to stay away from the Coordination Committee meeting slated for the next day. Informed sources said that she did not go to New Delhi because it had been made clear to her that there would be no dismissal of the DMK Government.

ON June 27, BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu flew into Chennai and met State BJP leaders. He advised them to "restrain themselves from making any public statements" on the relationship between the two parties and on contentious issues such as using Article 356.

Venkaiah Naidu told Frontline: "There are some problems with regard to the AIADMK and the BJP. There are certain perceptional differences on some issues. I have come here basically to discuss these with my State unit because as per media reports some unnecessary controversy has arisen here between the BJP and the AIADMK. The State unit told me that it had decided not to make any statements with regard to the relationship between the AIADMK and the BJP, and the contentious issues, but leave the matter to the central party. I told them that the political rivals of our alliance are taking advantage of this controversy."

Informed sources in the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) said that Jayalalitha's abstention was "the height of blackmail". Sources in the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that in that party's understanding, her keeping away from the meeting was another form of pressure, and now she would wait for the BJP's reaction. They added: "What is clear is that Jayalalitha cannot get along with anybody. It (the latest developments) shows her sheer opportunism."

According to AIADMK sources, Jayalalitha has three options: allow the AIADMK to continue to be part of the BJP-led Government; ask the AIADMK Ministers to resign but lend issue-based support to the Government from outside; or withdraw support to the Government and plunge it into a crisis. What she will do is anybody's guess.

Bracing for battle in Bihar

The Samata Party and the State unit of the BJP have stepped up their demand for the Rabri Devi Government's dismissal following the killings of two MLAs, but the ruling RJD is far from daunted.

OF the three States - Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal - in respect of which the Bharatiya Janata Party's different regional allies are pressing for the use of Article 356 to dismiss the respective State governments, it is in the case of Bihar that the most serious threat of the application of the knife exists. The Opposition parties in the State - principally the BJP and the Samata Party - have for some time now raised the demand for the dismissal of the Rashtriya Janata Dal Government headed by Chief Minister Rabri Devi on the ground that law and order has collapsed. Citing instances of violence - the most recent of them being the killing of two members of the Legislative Assembly on June 12 and 14 - State leaders of the two parties have painted a grim picture of the situation to build up a case for dismissal.

The RJD - and in particular its president and former Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav - has not been daunted by the Damocles' sword of Article 356 that hangs over the State Government. The RJD has gone on the offensive, criticising the BJP-led coalition Government at the Centre, which it says is seeking to pull down a democratically elected State Government on "flimsy grounds" in order to appease its coalition partners, on whom it depends for its survival. The RJD has resolved to face the threat of dismissal politically. Laloo Prasad dared the Centre to dismiss the Government, and said that the people of Bihar were prepared to face any political eventuality.

The appointment of former BJP vice-president Sundar Singh Bhandari as Governor of the State in April was seen by many observers as being part of a "sinister plan" to prepare the ground for the use of Article 356. The appointment of an active and full-time politician to the key office in a crucial State which is ruled by a party that is in opposition to the ruling coalition at the Centre, and which has largely resisted the advance of communal forces, drew criticism from several quarters. And in his two months as Governor, Bhandari has shown himself to be an industrious compiler of "special reports" on the situation in Bihar. He has despatched three such reports to the Centre and, in the wake of the killings of the two MLAs, has hinted that one more report is in the offing. His pronouncements on the law and order situation too have contributed to the suspicion that the BJP-led Government is preparing the ground for resort to Article 356.

The despatch of a three-member team from the Union Home Ministry, ostensibly to make an on-the-spot assessment of the law and order situation in the wake of the killings of RJD MLA Brij Behari Prasad in Patna and Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA Ajit Sarkar in Purnea, seems to fit into this pattern. (Home Minister L.K. Advani said on June 20 that he had had a brief talk with the team and: "I am told the situation is bad." He said that the Centre would not hesitate to dismiss a State government "if the situation so desired.")

Behari Prasad, who had resigned from the Rabri Devi Ministry following an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into his alleged role in a scandal regarding admissions to engineering colleges, was gunned down by unidentified persons at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (IGIMS) in Patna on June 13. He was under judicial custody and undergoing treatment at the IGIMS, and the Government had claimed that he had been provided adequate security. (A security guard too was killed in the shooting.)

Behari Prasad's murder while he was in custody seriously embarrassed the RJD Government. Just as embarrassing is his widow Rama Devi's charge that some State Ministers were responsible for his killing. Rama Devi barged into Rabri Devi's official residence and staged a dharna. Sources alleged that Behari Prasad may have been killed by influential RJD leaders who too were involved in the admission scandal and who were afraid that he would spill the beans. The sources dismissed as "diversionary" reports that Behari Prasad was killed to avenge the slaying of Samajwadi Party MLA Devendra Dubey. (Behari Prasad was named in the first information report filed after Dubey's murder.)

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Ajit Sarkar and two of his supporters were shot dead by unidentified persons in Purnea, his home constituency, on June 14. In identical statements, the CPI(M) Polit Bureau and the CPI Central Secretariat said that Sarkar's killing was "the handiwork" of landlords. The statements said that in recent times, an agitation against illegal possession of land by the BJP MP from Purnea had intensified. The Left parties observed a 24-hour Bihar bandh on June 17 to protest against the "political murder".

Immediately after Sarkar's killing, the State units of the CPI(M) and the CPI demanded the dismissal of the RJD Government, but they retracted from this stand on the advice of their respective central leaders. The central leadership said that it was politically imprudent to demand dismissal since the BJP-Samata Party combine would gain a tactical advantage from such a development. Instead, they pressed for a judicial inquiry into Sarkar's killing. CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said: "We want a judicial inquiry, not imposition of President's Rule."

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: "We are not demanding the RJD Government's dismissal." He added: "Our State unit took an emotional stand. We understand their sentiments. But at the central level, we have to take a political decision. And we are against the use of Article 356 in Bihar."

REPRESENTATIVES of the State units of the BJP, the Samata Party and the Janata Dal submitted a memorandum to the Governor in which they said that the RJD Government had no moral right to continue in office in the wake of the killings of the two MLAs. Talking to the delegation, Bhandari hinted that he would soon send a report to the Centre. Asked if he would recommend imposition of President's Rule, he did not respond. But he described the situation as "grim".

Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly, Sushil Modi of the BJP, told Frontline that his party would continue to demand the dismissal of the RJD Government. The Samata Party maintains the same stand. Railway Minister and Samata Party leader Nitish Kumar said that the law and order situation in the State was "at its lowest ebb" and that the administration was steeped in "financial anarchy, mismanagement, corruption and plunder of the treasury." He said: "Even the Patna High Court has observed that there is no government worth the name and that jungle raj prevails in the State."

Nitish Kumar said that the situation in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, where another of the BJP's allies, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, is pressing for the dismissal of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Government were not the same.

IT was under intense pressure from the Samata Party and the State unit of the BJP that the Centre despatched the three-member team. During a tour of the State on June 17 and 18, the team, headed by Additional Secretary R.D. Kapoor, met Bhandari, Rabri Devi and top State officials, including Chief Secretary S.N. Biswas, Director-General of Police K.A. Jacob and Home Secretary R.K. Singh.

Besides Patna, the team visited Muzaffarpur and Purnea and spoke to State police and intelligence officials about the killings. It also met several political leaders and party functionaries.

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Sources said that Rabri Devi had told the team that contrary to Opposition propaganda, the law and order situation in the State was well under control. She said that a judicial commission had been set up to investigate the killings of the two MLAs; it had been asked to submit its report within three months.

Laloo Prasad told the team that the Centre was "plotting to dismiss the Bihar Government merely to keep the BJP's allies in good humour." He told Frontline that he had given the team a copy of a "secret" letter from the Joint Secretary in the Union Home Ministry, V.K. Malhotra, to the Cabinet Secretary, which, the former Chief Minister said, "exposed the sinister plan" at the Centre to dismiss the RJD Government. The letter said: "... with systematically erratic and destructive command (in Bihar) the senior civil service is clueless... they badly need support and their umbilical cord may perhaps have to be temporarily shifted from (the) State to the Centre."

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Laloo Prasad appreciated the West Bengal Government's refusal to cooperate with the Central team that was sent to assess the law and order situation in that State. He said that the RJD Government had met the members of the team to Bihar only to avoid further controversies and convey its stand that the BJP and the Samata Party were seeking to make political capital from the killings of the two MLAs.

The former Chief Minister said: "I am guilty of arresting L.K. Advani during his rath yatra, for which the Centre now wants to wreak vengeance." He said that the BJP and the Samata Party were trying to create an atmosphere conducive to the use of Article 356. The killing of the two MLAs was "part of a deep-rooted conspiracy," he added. "Many MPs and MLAs were killed in the past in Bihar, but no such hue and cry was heard then," he said.

Laloo Prasad has been holding regular meetings with senior State Ministers to prepare them for any political eventuality. Sources say that Laloo Prasad is thinking of "staging a comeback to save the RJD Government from harm."

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THE State unit of the Congress(I) stood by its ally, the RJD, and charged the BJP and its allies with attempting to "politicise" the killings of the two MLAs and "setting the stage for the imposition of President's Rule."

State Congress(I) leaders refused to meet the Central team on the ground that they were unhappy with the level of representation: political leaders, they said, could hardly be expected to present themselves before an officer of the rank of Additional Secretary. "If the Centre was serious about assessing the law and order situation, it should have sent a team of MPs," State Congress(I) president Sarfraz Ahmed said.

In private, Congress(I) sources said that the law and order situation was "on the verge of collapse" and that corruption at the political and bureaucratic levels had ruined the State's economy. However, the Congress(I) is unwilling to part ways with the RJD, which backed Congress(I) candidates in the recent Rajya Sabha elections. Senior party members said that supporting the demand for Central rule would be seen as an act of "perfidy" and would not help the Congress(I) electorally.

To Bengal and back

The team of officials despatched by the Centre to Calcutta returns empty-handed, and the Trinamul Congress-inspired bid to target the West Bengal Government comes a cropper.

IT was a confrontation between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government at the Centre and the Left Front Government in West Bengal over the Centre's blatant interference in matters that come under the States' purview. The Central Government's moves gave rise to apprehensions in the Left Front about a potential threat to invoke Article 356 to dismiss the State Government under pressure from the Trinamul Congress, an ally of the BJP.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) and other constituents of the Left Front, which recently completed a historic 21 years in office, assailed the despatch of official teams from the Union Home Ministry to certain States ostensibly to assess the law and order situation. The Left Front suspects that the teams' reports might be used to prepare the ground for the imposition of President's Rule in these States, which are ruled by parties or groups that are opposed to the BJP.

The Left Front Government headed by Chief Minister Jyoti Basu called the despatch of a Central team to West Bengal an "unconstitutional act" and said that the manner in which the team was sent "threatened the balance of Centre-State relations." The Centre retaliated by claiming that it was well within its rights to send such a team under Article 355, which says that it is the "duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution."

The three-member team headed by P.D. Shenoy, Additional Secretary in the Union Home Ministry, arrived in Calcutta on June 17. But the State Government refused to extend its cooperation to the members of the team, whom it described as "unwanted guests". The team-members called on State Chief Secretary Manish Gupta, but he declined to reply to their queries about law and order, particularly the situation during the run-up to and immediately after the May 28 elections to the local bodies. The Chief Secretary firmly told the visitors that under the Constitution, law and order was strictly a State subject and that he would therefore not discuss it with them. The team-members gave up their bid after an hour-long meeting.

Over three days, the team gathered a handful of reports from Trinamul Congress activists, who alleged that Left Front cadres were targeting them. Before leaving for Delhi on June 19, the team submitted the reports to State Home Secretary Lina Chakravarty and asked her to inform the Union Home Ministry "without delay" what action had been taken on them.

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Shortly after the team left Calcutta, Jyoti Basu wrote a two-sentence note to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee requesting him to convene a meeting of the Inter-State Council at the earliest to discuss the scope of Article 355. His Government, which considers the despatch of Central teams to assess the law and order situation in the States as "misuse of Article 355", has been encouraged by the support it received from Chief Ministers of States with non-BJP governments.

State Home (Police) Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya told Frontline that the State's stand was that law and order was a State subject. "The Centre has interpreted Article 355 in its own way; we do not accept that interpretation," Bhattacharya said.

Jyoti Basu told Frontline that the manner in which the Home Ministry sent the team was "most unconstitutional". Law and order was a State subject and the Centre should not interfere in State subjects, he added. Accusing Union Home Minister L.K. Advani of having failed to put down terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, he wondered why Advani was not concentrating his attention on the troubled State and was instead "threatening the Left Front Government". Responding to Advani's remark that Basu should "read the Constitution", the Chief Minister said: "Am I to learn about the Constitution from him? Advani has scant regard for the Constitution and is an accused in the Barbri Masjid demolition case."

Jyoti Basu said that the Vajpayee Government was "afraid" of the Left Front Government and was therefore targeting it. "But," he said, "we have seen lots of threats and withstood semi-fascist terror. The Left Front will not bow down to any threats. We will fight them everywhere - in the Assembly and in Parliament."

Describing the law and order situation in the State as "the best in the country", Jyoti Basu said that Advani should find out how many people had been killed in Delhi since the BJP came to power there.

He asked: "Are threats to State governments a sign of good governance?" Instead of strengthening Centre-State relations, as promised, the Vajpayee Government was doing just the opposite, he said. "West Bengal must be prepared for any eventuality."

Bhattacharya said that the State Government was surprised at the sudden announcement about the despatch of the Central team because only a week earlier it had submitted a report on the law and order situation. "It appears that the entire exercise is being conducted at the behest of the Trinamul Congress of Mamata Banerjee. The survival of the Vajpayee Government depends on a number of small political groups like the Trinamul Congress, which are resorting to political blackmail." He added: "If the Centre is really worried about law and order, it should send a team to Uttar Pradesh" (a BJP-led alliance runs the government in Uttar Pradesh).

THE Home Ministry team's visit to West Bengal is seen as a small victory for Mamata Banerjee in her tussle with State-level leaders of the BJP. She raised the demand for such a visit soon after the elections to local bodies, in which her party fared badly (Frontline, July 3). She alleged that in the run-up to the elections, activists of the Trinamul Congress and the BJP had been singled out for attacks by Left Front cadres.

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However, Mamata Banerjee suffered loss of face when a delegation of BJP MPs concluded after a visit to the State on June 13 and 14 that there was "no need to impose President's Rule." The six-member BJP team comprised Shanta Kumar, T.N. Chaturvedi, K.R. Malkani, Sumitra Mahajan, Major General (Retd) Khandauri and Tapan Sikdar. At the end of their visit, team leader Shanta Kumar told mediapersons that the situation was normal and there was no need to push the panic button.

Mamata Banerjee, clearly upset, is believed to have told central leaders of the BJP that unless they acceded to her demand for a Central team, she would recoonsider her decision to support the Vajpayee Government. It was then, as part of damage-control efforts, that a decision was taken to send a team of bureaucrats from the Home Ministry.

Representatives of the Trinamul Congress and the BJP met the Central team and painted a grim picture of the situation in the State. In a memorandum submitted to team leader P.D. Shenoy, the BJP said that the CPI(M) had "unleased organised violence" on its political rivals. Trinamul Congress MP Sudip Banerjee alleged that the CPI(M) was seeking to maintain its dominance by resorting to "large-scale violence", particulalry in the rural areas. Tapan Sikdar, State BJP president and the party's lone MP from West Bengal, said that the violence was a fallout of the new polarisation of political forces. He alleged that 93 people belonging to parties other than the CPI(M) were killed in the run-up to and immediately after the elections to the local bodies. Most of them, he said, belonged to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes or minority communities or were women.

The Trinamul Congress and BJP leaders criticised the Left Front Government's refusal to cooperate with the Central team. They said that the Centre had a duty to intervene if the weaker sections of society were persecuted. Mamata Banerjee said that the State Government's attitude towards the Central team was "undemocratic"; by treating the team "shabbily," the State Government had confirmed her allegations, she claimed.

It was reported that members of the Central team had admitted in private that they were in a dilemma owing to the tug-of-war between the BJP and the Trinamul Congress. On the one hand, they were in no position to suggest that there was a total breakdown of law and order in the State. Such a report, they felt, would embarrass the Vajpayee Government. On the other, if the team made a mild observation about the law and order situation, it would anger Mamata Banerjee further.

It looks increasingly likely that, following the visit of the Central team, the BJP and the Trinamul Congress may be driven further apart by their differences over the use of Article 356. Ironically, it is not the State Government that is imperilled right now; it is the BJP-led coalition Government that seems in greater risk of collapse over the issue of invoking Article 356.

'Left parties are not afraid of Article 356'

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Buddhadev Bhattacharya, who is in charge of the Home (police) portfolio in West Bengal's Left Front Ministry, took a tough stand when the Vajpayee Government sent a team of three bureaucrats to the State in June for an on-the-spot study of the State's law and order situation. He instructed State officials not to cooperate with the members of the Central team as they were "unwanted guests" whose visit was unconstitutional. Kalyan Chaudhuri met the Minister for an interview. Exerpts:

Since 1950 President's Rule under Article 356 has been imposed over 100 times by the Union Government. Do you think that the Centre has been just in all these cases?

No. Every time it was for narrow political gains that the Centre imposed President's Rule and dislodged governments of Opposition parties. The injustice began in 1959 when Article 356 was applied to dismiss the world's first elected Communist government, which was headed by E.M.S. Namboodiripad in Kerala. This was engineered by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the behest of his daughter Indira Gandhi who was then Congress president, alleging a breakdown of law and order in the State. We in West Bengal were also a victim of the Centre's foul political game. In 1969, the United Front Government, in which the CPI(M) was a partner, was thrown out of power following the imposition of President's Rule by the Congress Government at the Centre. That in many cases the Central Government has misused the emergency provision has been pointed out by the Supreme Court.

What in your assessment is the essential difference between the situation before and after the Supreme Court judgment in the Bommai case?

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The judgment in the Bommai case asserted that secularism is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution and that religion and politics cannot be mixed. Secondly, it held that a proclamation under Article 356 is judicially reviewable. The judicial review has the scope to examine whether the proclamation was issued on the basis of any material at all, whether the material was relevant or extraneous or whether the proclamation was issued in mala fide exercise of power. Thus this judgment, said to be a landmark one, placed secularism on a high pedestal and brought about transparency in the exercise of the power of the Centre under Article 356. This is the essential difference between the pre-Bommai and post-Bommai situations.

*Even after the Supreme Court judgment governments at the Centre could not always resist the temptation to misuse the power conferred on them by Article 356. Do you think Article 356 should be abolished?

We do not want the abolition of Article 356. Central rule could be imposed only when national security is threatened and an emergency situation arises. For the last one year the Left parties have been trying to define Centre-State relations at the Inter-State Council and demanding that the emrgency factor enshrined in Article 356 be clearly and objectively stated without letting any subjective prejudice to creep in. It was for the purpose of clarifying Centre-State relations that the Sarkaria Commission was set up. When he came to know that the Vajpayee Government had justified the recent visit of a Central team to West Bengal for an on-the-spot study of the law and order situation under Article 355, our Chief Minister Jyoti Basu wrote a letter to the Prime Minister seeking a definition of the meaning and scope of this Article of the Constitution. Article 356 should be used in an extremely non-partisan manner. Otherwise the federal character of the nation will be destroyed and the unity of the country will be in peril.

How can the Bommai case judgment be enforced when there remains a tendency to violate the standards and restrictions laid down by the Supreme Court?

The Bommai judgment is a big impediment to the BJP, to the cause of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra and to every other brand of communalism. A momentous victory for the forces of secularism, it has now turned the tide definitely against the forces of communalism. The stage is now set for the introduction of an intelligently targeted and tough legislation against the mixing of religion and politics, whether by the state or by any political party. Parliament should now establish credible institutional safeguards to check the abuse of religion in the electoral process. This is the unfinished task, and all secular forces in the country should work, either in Parliament or outside through people's movement, to bring about legislative safeguards to enforce the Bommai judgment.

* Do you not think that the demands from the BJP's allies such as the AIADMK, the Samata Party and the Trinamul Congress for the imposition of President's Rule in some States with elected governments are unconstitutional?

These regional allies of the BJP are parties of opportunists with the least regard for political ethics. There is no constitutional or legal basis for the damand to use Article 356 against State governments led by their rivals. Their demands are based on their party interests and are directed against their political opponents. This is a clear effort to misuse constitutional powers to serve narrow party interests. No government in its senses can agree to such unconstitutional demands.

* Your comment on the visit of the Central fact-finding team to West Bengal.

The sending of central teams to Tamil Nadu, Bihar and West Bengal, which have non-BJP governments, was again politically motivated. Law and order is a State subject and I can say from my experience that this is a part of an unfair process initiated by the Vajpayee Government. The reports of the Central team might be used as a ground for dismissing governments in States with non-BJP governments. It is unfortunate that the minority Vajpayee Government should be toying with the idea of using Article 356 to dismiss governments elected with overwhelming majorities. I told the three-member Central team to study the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh and report about the clandestine acitivity to construct a temple at Ayodhya.

Is anyone afraid of Article 356 today?

Since this emergency provision has been misused several times in the past, it has lost its credibility and effectiveness. The Left parties are not at all afraid of Article 356 because they know how to deal with it by resorting to organised political movement.

'Bommai verdict has checked misuse of Article 356'

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The demands pressed by some of the Bharatiya Janata Party's coalition partners for using Article 356 and related constitutional provisions against State governments run by opponents have introduced a great deal of uncertainty, chaos and volatility into national politics. The Vajpayee Government has thus far resisted the pressures, presumably because it is convinced that undemocratic dismissal will backfire. Article 356 has been used on more than a hundred occasions, but the Supreme Court majority judgment of March 1994 in the Bommai case has brought about a quite profound change in the rules of the game.

To offer an in-depth analysis of the post-Bommai situation relating to the use of Article 356, Frontline interviewed five constitutional experts and four political leaders. The experts comprised three distinguished retired Supreme Court Judges, two of whom wrote key judgments that became part of the majority opinion in the Bommai case, one of India's top lawyers, and a constitutional scholar and writer.

Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy, former judge of the Supreme Court, had a key role in the March 11, 1994 judgment in the Bommai case. He was part of the apex court's majority opinion and wrote an eloquent judgment, along with Justice S.C. Agrawal, dealing with both federalism and secularism that is widely appreciated. He was interviewed in Hyderabad by R.J. Rajendra Prasad:

* What in your assessment is the essential difference between the situation pre-Bommai and post-Bommai?

What Bommai did was to lay down certain guidelines and certain standards in exercising power under Article 356. In fact, it is the case where we elucidated the meaning of the Article, consistent with the spirit of the Constitution and the background in which the Article was enacted. It was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court, and it was an undeniable fact, that the Article was used indiscriminately, or misused as one may call it, on a number of occasions, before the judgment in the Bommai case. Even at that time, it was said that on more than 90 cases, the power was exercised; and in most of the cases, it appeared to be of doubtful constitutional validity.

That power was exercised to dismiss the State Governments controlled by a political party opposed to the ruling party at the Centre. The Supreme Court wanted to introduce a certain clarity to regulate the power, by defining the power, by laying down standards according to which the power is to be exercised.

Since the judgment of the Supreme Court becomes the law of the land, it is obvious that the Central Government is bound by the judgment. It is therefore clear that after the Bommai case, the governments have been more careful, more on guard, more wary of exercising this power, lest their exercise should be set aside by the Courts.

As we all know, in the case of the dismissal of the Uttar Pradesh Government, the proclamation by the President was set aside by the Allahabad High Court following the Bommai judgment. But for the Bommai judgment, it is obvious the High Court could not have set aside the order of the President. That is the difference between pre-Bommai and post-Bommai.

*Do you think Article 356 should be abolished?

I don't think Article 356 should be simply abolished. Maybe it can be amended to make it more difficult for the President, or the Union Council of Ministers, to dismiss State Governments. But abolishing the Article itself is not advisable. You cannot say what situation, which cannot be conceived today, may arise in the future, in which the Central Government will have to step in in the larger interests of the nation. But we must develop a constitutional culture in which any power given by the Constitution to any Authority should be used only for the purpose intended, and not to achieve some other extraneous purpose.

*Can you explain what amendment would be in order?

By the Constitution 44th Amendment, this Article has been tightened a little. The amendment can be on the lines of the judgment in the Bommai case, in which the President, soon after issuing the Proclamation dismissing a State Government, was required to place it before Parliament for approval.

*Looking at it historically, under what circumstances would the use of Article 356 be just, if at all?

It is not possible to catalogue the grounds under which the power may be exercised. The standard is that the situation exists in which the State Government cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The particular situation cannot be identified.

*In the 90-plus instances where the power under Article 356 was exercised till now, were there any instances where the power was exercised in a just manner?

We did not go into a review of the earlier cases, but generally, in most cases, it appears that the power was exercised arbitrarily.

*How can Bommai be better enforced in the rough and tumble of Indian politics?

The Governor has no power to dismiss a State Government. It is only the power of the President, which means the Union Council of Ministers. So far as the exercise of the power by the Union Council of Ministers is concerned, the Constitution is itself meant to regulate and to determine, to standardise, the political conduct. Politicians should learn to conduct themselves according to the spirit of the Constitution. Otherwise there is no purpose for the Constitution. If you want to act, you must act in accordance with the Constitution.

Take the example of the United Kingdom. It is a very developed country but the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, they all function in accordance with the constitutional provisions. That is why we speak of the need to develop a political culture of functioning in accordance with the Constitution. We should develop such a culture.

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*Would use of Article 356 be mala fide if there is an agreement to dismiss an elected Government as part of a pre-electoral understanding?

It is a political question. I do not want to answer it.

*What do you think can be done about the problem of a Governor being a political agent of the Centre?

Governors do not realise the importance, significance and the functions of the office they hold. They think they are merely the agents of the Centre. No. The State Government is his Government. When the Governor speaks in the Assembly, he talks of "his" Government. At the same time, he has taken the oath to uphold the Constitution. When he discovers that the State Government is not functioning according to the Constitution, it is his duty to report the matter to the Central Government.

As we said in the judgment on Bommai, the Governor is like a person wearing two hats. With one hat, he is the head of the State Government and with the other, he is a representative of the President. He is not a mere agent of the President.

That is why we made some strong comments against the Governor of Karnataka in the Bommai case. We said that the President's proclamation should be placed in Parliament within two months and approved. These are all the checks, placed in the interests of the Constitution, in the interests of the nation, and for the public good.

'It must be retained, but its abuse prevented'

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Justice P.B. Sawant, now the Chairman of the Press Council of India, was part of the apex court's majority opinion and wrote a judgment along with Justice Kuldip Singh in the Bommai case. In an interview to V. Venkatesan in New Delhi, Justice Sawant discusses issues relating to the use and abuse of Article 356. Excerpts:

Has the Supreme Court's judgment in the Bommai case been able to limit the abuse of Article 356 by the Centre? Is Article 356 relevant today?

I would like to begin with the appointment of Governors. In my view, appointments to all constitutional posts should be made by an independent body. The President has to appoint Governors in accordance with the advice given by this body, and not by the Cabinet. The trouble arises when Governors are appointed by the party in power. Many a time, these Governors have acted as nothing but agents of the party in power. Often, reports sent by Governors to the Centre have been tendentious and motivated. People have lost confidence in the impartiality of these reports. Therefore, we must begin by examining the genuineness or truthfulness of a report. If a Governor submits a report, the Union Cabinet should scrutinise it impartially. The fact that a State is ruled by an Opposition party should not come into it. The members of a Cabinet must realise that they have a major responsibility in ensuring that they have scrutinised the report in a fair manner. They can also send a team to find out if the facts presented in a report are correct or not. The Government has several sources from which they can gather information about what is going on in a State. The Constitution empowers the Government to satisfy itself completely about the relevant facts from sources other than the Governor.

The Governor should also be impartial and take the necessary precautions before sending a report to the Centre. Much depends on the political integrity of Governor. He should not allow himself to be misled by vested interests.

Just because Article 356 is often misused, it should not be deleted. It serves a constitutional purpose, and must be retained. At the same time, precautions should be taken to prevent it from being abused. The Governors, the Cabinet and the President, all have a duty to prevent its abuse. The President has the power to ask the Cabinet to reconsider its advice on imposing President's Rule in a State if he is not satisfied with it. Of course, if the Cabinet gives the same advice again, his hands are tied.

Article 355 requires the Centre to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and ensure that State governments function in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Can the Centre invoke this Article to interfere with the federal set-up and encroach on the States' domain? What are the consequences of the Centre making a subjective interpretation suggesting that the constitutional machinery in a State has broken down, thus warranting the use of Article 356?

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The facts have to be objective. If the facts are objective, then the interpretation also has to be objective. You cannot manipulate facts. There may be some differences here and there while interpreting, but the conclusions should be objective. The courts can look for evidence to see whether the decision taken by the party in power would have been taken by any other party, given the facts.

There is a lot of difference between the failure of law and order and internal disturbance. Unless a State Government is not in a position to cope with law and order problems, you cannot conclude that its constitutional machinery has broken down. Only if the constitutional organs of a State refuse to cooperate, if a State government is unable to take any steps to correct the situation, if a State government is unable to manage its day-to-day affairs, if the police go on strike, if industries are unable to work, and if the entire economy is paralysed or is unable to move, can the constitutional machinery be said to have broken down.

How can the imposition of President's Rule improve the situation?

That issue should also be raised. If the constitutional organs refuse to cooperate because a particular government is in power in a State because they have grievances against it, supposing criminals are in power and the people refuse to cooperate, such situations can be corrected by Central intervention.

With a coalition Government in power at the Centre, the pulls and pressures from its allies have resulted in further strains to the federal set-up. The Centre appears to be unable to cope with the political dynamics of a coalition that has made strident demands for the imposition of President's Rule in a few States. In fact, one of the allies of the BJP-led coalition Government has demanded that President's Rule be imposed in a particular State because there was a pre-election understanding on this matter.

If a Government is dismissed because of an earlier understanding that the Central Government would dismiss a particular State Government in return for support extended by an ally from the same State, that itself will spell out mala fide in dismissing. No greater proof is necessary to set aside the order dismissing the State Government. You cannot ignore the background of a decision. The courts can certainly go into the political background of a decision. If the courts don't, they are guilty of dereliction of duty.

'Article 356 should be abolished'

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Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, former judge of the Supreme Court, has been one of India's most distinguished and original constitutional thinkers since Independence. He was interviewed by R. Krishnakumar in Thiruvananthapuram:

*The Supreme Court's majority judgment of March 11, 1994 in the Bommai case is considered a landmark judgment with respect to Centre-State relations in general and Article 356 in particular. What, in your assessment, is the essential difference between the situation pre-Bommai and post-Bommai?

Before the Bommai decision was rendered, the constitutional position was understood to mean excluding the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court when Article 356 was applied. But now the law is clear that it is possible for the court, it is proper for the judges, to examine whether the relevant power has been misused in the sense that it is arbitrary, mala fide or such that there is no reasonable material to support such a conclusion as the breakdown of the Constitution.

Indeed it must be acknowledged that even the Pakistan Court has taken a somewhat similar, view, even earlier than the Indian Court. Now, therefore, it is clear that reckless exercise of Article 356 power will meet with its Waterloo in the Court.

* Since experience, even in the post-Bommai period, suggests that few Central governments are able to resist the temptation to misuse the exceptional power conferred by Article 356 (and also related powers), do you think Article 356 should be abolished?

Speaking for myself, Article 356 deserves to be abrogated. The founding fathers were under the impression that this provision would be used only in the rarest of rare cases, that it would be virtually a sword which would never be taken out of its sheath, except in a flagrant case under Article 365. This latter Article states that if any particular State defies a Central direction validly given, it shall be lawful for the President, that is the Cabinet, to hold that the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. That is to say, if an Article 365 situation arises, Article 356 may be attracted. But the Court will go into the question whether the direction given by the Union to the State was itself valid. Only in a case of such valid direction within the competence of the Union being ignored by the State, can Article 356 come into operation.

My submission is that in over 100 cases, starting with the outrage perpetrated in Kerala in 1959, there has never been a legitimate use of Article 356. If the temptation to use this presidential power is perennial, as is seen by its continual abuse, the time has come for a change in constitutional perspective. In short, Article 356 should be kept in cold storage, or even formally abolished.

The daring way in which the AIADMK is demanding the dismissal of the DMK Ministry in Tamil Nadu under Article 356 shows that political terrorism is apt to overpower constitutional propriety. What is still more shocking is that the AIADMK alleges an earlier agreement with the BJP that, if the latter came to power, President's Rule would be imposed in Tamil Nadu. This very statement is sufficient to hold that any exercise of Article 356 by the Centre is utterly untenable.

Madam Jayalalitha, innocent of Constitutional law, is guilty of the goofy demand for President's Rule not knowing that her very allegation of an antecedent understanding is sufficient to shoot down any stultifying exercise of Article 356 power!

* Article 356, which was sold to the Constituent Assembly as an emergency provision to deal with highly exceptional cases, has (as you have pointed out) been used over 100 times since the Republican Constitution was adopted in 1950. Looking at it historically, under what circumstances would the use of Article 356 be just, if at all?

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The Sarkaria Commission has condemned the exercise of Article 356 power as almost always motivated or induced by extraneous considerations. It is time Article 356 power was handcuffed in the way Sarkaria has suggested, although personally I might go further to hold that only after Parliament passes a resolution in both Houses should President's Rule be used against a State.

Why? Because it is a sabotage of federalism to usurp State power by the Centre and such a grave frustration of the basic structure of the Constitution needs strong limitations to be put on the exercise of the power. So it is that I demand a prior resolution by both Houses as a check on misuse.

* Constitutionally, new standards and restrictions have been laid down for the application of Article 356 (and at least by implication, the Governor's power to dismiss an elected State Government without recourse to Article 356). But between this new constitutional standard ordained by the Supreme Court and actual political conduct, there seems to be some kind of credibility gap. How can Bommai be better enforced in the rough and tumble of Indian politics?

The Bommai ruling is a severe warning to the Union Government. It must be open to the affected or intimidated State to move the Supreme Court by a quia timet action to stay hasty intervention in case there is clear indication of such a proposed action. It must be remembered that the State Cabinet is answerable to the State legislature and so long as it commands its confidence the pleasure of the Governor is a mere constitutional euphemism. The powers of the Governor as well as of the President have been explained at some length in Shamser Singh's case (Shamser v. State of Punjab, 1974). The President as well as the Governor are bound by the Cabinet's advice and to act in excess of such advice is to violate the Constitution and invite the Court's interdict.

* Would you like to comment on the constant demands made not only by the AIADMK, but also by other regional allies of the BJP such as the Samata party and the Trinamul Congress for Central action against elected State governments run by parties in opposition to the BJP and its allies? Also, would the pre-election agreement or understanding which Jayalalitha claims AIADMK had with the BJP for the dismissal of the Tamil Nadu Government render the use of Article 356 mala fide?

I have no doubt in my mind that demands by regional or even national parties to overthrow State-level democracy under Article 356 cannot be acceded by the Centre. This is not a matter of political vendetta or hostility or estrangement. Constitutional values must regulate the President's conscience when exercising Article 356 power. Noises made by regional parties or others cannot affect the voice of the Constitution. This applies to the Tamil Nadu party's demand as well as the clamour made against the West Bengal Government.

* When all is said, the Governor under the Indian Constitution seems to be nothing but a political agent of the Centre. What do you think can be done about this problem in a federal set-up?

The Governor under the Indian Constitution is a dubious functionary. He is a ceremonial figure as the head of the State and has solemn functions in that capacity. Some of them are really effective powers. As a rule, the Governor is bound by the advice of his Cabinet. He cannot be Janus-faced, looking in both directions. He cannot be a Central spy or an agent to carry out the Union's mandate.

Unfortunately he is in a very embarrassing position. Appointed by the Centre but obedient to the State Cabinet, he can be a pathetic functionary sometimes asked to perform pathetic measures by the Centre. He has to be an independent authority, his allegiance being wholly to the Constitutional obligations to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. He may, as in England, caution, encourage, or otherwise give advice, but ultimately must abide by his Cabinet's recommendation for action. That is why sometimes it has been said that a Governor is a glorified cipher. So too the President.

But this is not wholly true. They have power to ask for information, explanation and reconsideration. Wisely used, these functions plus the power to refer Bills to the President, for consideration and assent, may make the Governor a factor to be reckoned with.

So it is that I hold the view that the Governor is more than a glorified cipher. He reigns, but does not rule. He advises, but is bound by the advice of his Ministers. He is an elder statesman but not an authority as the executive head of the State. Such is the delicate constitutional balance.

Of President's Rule and trigger-happy politicians

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Rajeev Dhavan, senior advocate in the Supreme Court, has been involved in a number of cases with a bearing on the fabric of relations between Centre and State in a federal polity. He is the author of an authoritative book on the legal rationale, political purposes and ethical foundations of President's Rule in the States. He shared with Sukumar Muralidharan his perceptions of the current controversies over Article 356. Excerpts:

* What is your understanding of the function of President's Rule, and the circumstances in which it may be imposed?

May I just go back a little? President's Rule was inherent in the Government of India Act of 1919, but came into its own in 1935. When the debate in the House of Commons took place, Winston Churchill asked cheekily, why don't you arrange for a breakdown of law and order right now? This is essentially what has been happening. Central governments have been arranging breakdowns since the beginning. The most scandalous case was the imposition of President's Rule in Kerala in 1959. It opened up a new avenue - that the breakdown of law and order could be the basis for the imposition of President's Rule. Earlier, in the British days, law and order was the only reason where the Constitution permitted intervention. This law and order clause was in fact removed from the Constitution on Independence, because it is the imperial reason for intervention. It was allowed back in by Nehru in the Kerala case.

President's Rule is supposed to be invoked when there is a breakdown of the constitutional machinery - in other words, a paralysis so severe that it is impossible for the State government to handle it in any way. There are two tests for the imposition of President's Rule involved here, both of which must be met. You should note that after the 42nd Amendment, President's Rule can be imposed on a part of a State. Therefore, if you have internal disturbances in a part of a State, it is possible to use emergency powers without dissolving democracy in the State.

* It seems that a process of judicial review has been instituted since the case of S.R. Bommai versus Union of India was decided by the Supreme Court in 1994.

Unfortunately, the judiciary has not developed any jurisprudence on the purpose of President's Rule. Why is it there at all? As soon as the judiciary says that this is a matter of political judgment, it throws the baby out with the bathwater.

When the Supreme Court first took up the matter of President's Rule in 1977, they said they were not deterred by the political question doctrine. The fact that it is a political decision will not oust judicial review. In Bommai in 1994, the Bench is divided and it is not clear what the width of judicial review will be. But on the width of the power both the judgments have in fact said nothing. One would have expected the Supreme Court to turn around and say: enough is enough, we are not going to intervene just in perverse cases, but we are going to interpret the Constitution to say what a breakdown is.

* Would you say that finally the abolition of Article 356 would be warranted?

If parliamentary government can be managed at the Centre without President's Rule, then surely it can be managed in the States. But the possibility of invoking President's Rule makes politicians trigger-happy at the Centre. Today the judiciary must say that Article 356 was not meant for certain purposes. It was not meant to be for purposes of law and order, because that imperial provision was thrown out. But on this whole question, we have a very clumsy jurisprudence.

* Why do you say that the existing Supreme Court rulings - State of Rajasthan in 1977 and Bommai in 1994 - do not define adequately the principles of judicial review?

The scope of judicial review has been left wide. For example, Justice P.N. Bhagwati's justification in 1977 was that the Emergency was such a cataclysmic event that the loss of national mandate was a reason for President's Rule. In other words, such an imposition for loss of mandate was not permissible in other circumstances. And certainly, looking back, that judgment was an unmitigated disaster - because the scope of 356 was too wide and the scope of judicial review was mangled. The second aspect of that decision was that once a State legislature is dissolved, it is too late for further intervention.

Both these aspects come under review in Bommai. Picking up a cue from the Pakistan courts, Bommai overturns the Rajasthan precedent on the second question. There is a declaratory courage in saying that we will reinstate legislatures, but whether they will ever have the courage in a real-life situation to do this is doubtful. The main reason is that it would require in most cases an interim order by the courts, and they rarely do this.

Secondly, on the scope of judicial review, Bommai is nowhere near as wide as it is thought to be. What the judges are agreed on is that mala fide is always a ground for judicial review. Where there is a wide difference of opinion in Bommai is in the scope of judicial review. Only Justice P.B. Sawant's judgment says that there is a full-fledged review for reasonableness. Justice J.S. Verma and A.M. Ahmadi confine the grounds for judicial review. Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy's judgment, which is the lead judgment, has an extremely awkward test - that is, if some grounds exist for the imposition which are sound, then the judges will not intervene. That is, you could have one sound ground and several perverse grounds, and there will be no judicial intervention. This takes away what it gives.

* Bommai also pronounces a certain opinion in terms of the "basic structure" of the Constitution. What are the practical consequences of this?

What Bommai said is that the preservation of the basic structure is a constitutional duty. Consider the implications of this for 356, because the basic structure today remains undefined.

* Certain of its elements are well understood - such as secularism, federalism, the rule of law, the process of judicial review...

Then the basic structure is what is there in the Preamble. If secularism is a part of the basic structure, then so is socialism, because they were introduced together. Rule of law is a part of basic structure, as is sovereignty, and we know that judicial review also is. But then, would any breakdown of the rule of law mean President's Rule? If violation of secularism is considered a reason, then secularism is as wide or as narrow as we want to make it. Justice Jeevan Reddy's judgment is eclectic and does not quite define what secularism is. The breakthrough in Bommai is that the basic structure has to be kept in mind while exercising constitutional power. Till then, the basic structure was only used to test constitutional amendments. But Union governments can still run riot on the plea of protecting the basic structure.

* But each invocation of 356 has to be justified in a process of judicial review in terms of a threat to the basic structure.

Justified to whom? This is where we run into the other problem. What is 356 for? If it is now also to protect the basic structure, then the narrower test I was proposing, which is a paralysis that makes it impossible for the State government to discharge its duties, disappears completely.

* Preservation of the basic structure is also a part of the constitutional duties.

Indubitably. But the Constitution has more than one provision to deal with the obligations of the State. In law and order we have 355, and we have a whole chapter to deal with administrative relations between Centre and States.

* So Article 356 can be dispensed with? 15140261jpg

Article 356 would have been relevant if it had been kept within its parameters. Nehru breached these parameters in 1951 and 1953, he smashed them in 1959, and Indira Gandhi proceeded to make mincemeat of them in her years in power. We should not think that Article 356 is the only possible defence of the Constitution. We must work on one assumption - that Indian federalism is cooperative and not confrontational in nature. The use of Article 356 has unfortunately been to treat the States as principalities, to confront them with the powers of the Union, and destroy them at will. Cooperative federalism means giving them a direction, bearing in mind that even these directives must be handled with rectitude and restraint. Today we send out teams to Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Bihar. Now, these teams must be backed by some reason but there is none.

* Can you conceive of a situation in which the invocation of Article 356 would be just and reasonable?

We should construct these Articles in a manner that they can only be exercised for a particular purpose. This would require a complete restructuring of the text, new procedural safeguards, and a very rigorous and timebound process of judicial review. But unfortunately we know that our political and legal community is so agile that even the strictest of provisions acquires the most bountiful of perverse interpretations. We should be asking ourselves what are the contingencies under which we need President's Rule in States. If those contingencies are otherwise met by the Constitution, then there is no justification for 356. The most important contingency is insurrection in a part of India. This I believe has been dealt with most plentifully in the Constitution, in Article 352 which deals with a part of the State, in Article 355 which deals with internal disturbances, and in the cooperative federalism which exists in the second chapter of Part XI.

* How would you view this kind of clamour over Article 356 - among other things, it is being said that there was a pre-existing deal to dismiss a State government.

Any use of Article 356 by pre-arrangement and for political reasons is mala fide. If it is for political rather than constitutional purposes, it is ex facie perverse. And then, you cannot have a present decision for the future use of President's Rule, because 356 is not there to make promises. It is there to be used in an exigent situation, which by definition you cannot predict.

* Does the abuse of 356 have any implications for the role of Governors in the States?

Today Governors are appointed by politicians for political purposes. There is not even a shred of fairness about gubernatorial office. He is the Union's spy and hit-man in the States. Governors are partly to blame for not standing up to the Union. A Governor can never forget that he is the Governor of that State, and not an agent of the Union. As soon as he takes his or her oath of office, he or she becomes the head of the State, to be advised by the Cabinet of the State.

* But is there any linkage between the use of Article 356 and the Governor's role?

There is, because it is the Governor's constitutional duty to provide a neutral report, which today almost all Governors are incapable of. This crucial power of reporting rests with the Governor, who with access to all the information, comes to a suitable decision. The key to all this is cooperative federalism.

'Strengthen the institution of the Governor'

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Fali S. Nariman is widely regarded as India's top lawyer. The eminent constitutional expert made it clear at the outset that he wished to concentrate on what he called a "philosophical approach" to the Constitution rather than specific issues or questions relating to the current turmoil over the application of Article 356 or the Supreme Court's judgment in the Bommai case. He preferred to look at the issue "holistically" so that the "spirit of the Constitution" could be addressed.

The essence of Nariman's argument is that the institution of the Governor needs to be strengthened as also the procedures for gubernatorial appointment. Deploring the lack of "people of known prominence and known integrity in public life" in gubernatorial posts, Nariman concludes interestingly that "a person who does not want the office is the only person who is fit to be appointed to it."

As for the role of the higher judiciary with regard to the application of Article 356, Nariman commented: "No mechanical means can strengthen anything. By enacting laws you cannot strengthen anything. You need to strengthen personalities. They have to be more inspired. There have to be better people as governors. If you have useless people who are toadies of the Centre then no Constitution can be run. Better to scrap the whole thing instead."

Lyla Bavadam met F.S. Nariman in Mumbai to seek his views:

Fali Nariman: The philosophical basis of Article 356 must be considered in the context of the overall provisions of one of the world's longest constitutions. It was intended only to be worked in the background of preserving the Union of India - which is a quasi-federal Union of States. The fact that it has been misused or perverted cannot detract from its essentialities. A constitution has to be looked at holistically, not piecemeal and as such, in my judgment, (Article) 356 is an essential part of the Constitution. I am totally opposed to a deletion of this provision because absent 356, the Union can only fall apart.

The manner in which Article 356 can be utilised in the next 50 years is: strengthen the institution of the Governor. This does not require any amendment to the Constitution but only the laying down of guidelines for the appointment of proper and independent persons as Governor. The reason why the Governor's office was not an elected office was precisely for this purpose: that important persons in public life who have fulfilled a role and have a commitment to the country as a whole and its continued unity would be appointed by the Centre as Governor.

In my view, the President can and should play a role in the appointment of Governor. Although constitutionally all acts done in the name of the President are the acts of the Central Government and therefore necessarily the acts of the Council of ministers, there needs to be much more rethinking into the position of an elected President. The recent instance which averted the crisis in Uttar Pradesh during the Prime Ministership of Mr (I.K.) Gujral and the role played by President (K.R.) Narayanan illustrates the importance of associating the President more and more with the appointments and determination of appointments of Governors.

The fact that Article 356 has been misused and therefore should be deleted or amended is a totally erroneous way of going about the provisions of a written constitution. The effort should be to prevent such misuse maintaining the original intendment and purpose of Article 356. A failure of constitutional machinery in the State - an essential precondition to the exercise of power under Article 356 - has not been properly understood. In my view, it means really a complete breakdown or attempted secession of a State within the Union and does not apply to machinations of politicians and temporary and temporary political instability in States. Governors should be instructed or 'educated' into the ethos and the wisdom of the framers of the Constitution when they included Article 356. None of our great institutions under the Constitution can ever survive if the persons who man them fail to be inspired by the idealism of their provisions.

The suggestion made in certain quarters and the interpretation of Bommai (correct or erroneous) arises because of the divergence of opinions of judges in that case. The facile assumption that every problem can be resolved by the highest judiciary only serves to diminish the responsibility of persons manning constitutional positions of power - and that is why Justice Verma along with Justice Yogeshwar Dayal said (in my opinion, correctly) that it was extremely difficult for courts to assess the various facets of "failure of constitutional machinery envisaged in Article 356." If this had been the majority view it would have put the ball squarely in the court of politicians and policy makers who would then have had to decide how to better strengthen the institutions of the Governor and associate more closely the President of India with the functions of the Governor under Article 356. It is implicit in the provisions of Article 356 (or if necessary could be so read into them) that the President of India to whom Governors periodically, under administrative practice, submit reports (I believe, monthly reports) could not possibly make a report without consulting the President - and here I mean consulting the President as President.

There are judgments of the Supreme Court that seem to take the view that all and any functions of the President can only be exercised on the advice of the Council of Ministers. Here again the court was stating the proposition too broadly. The President is not a mere figurehead or a rubber stamp and this point was made out years ago by the late Mr Minoo Masani and also by the first President of India, Rajendra Prasad. There are areas where the wisdom of the elected head of state must be put to use if the governance of the country is not to go completely off the rails.

My conclusion therefore is that the strengthening of the position of Governors, if necessary by an instrument of instructions passed by a resolution of Parliament - which would make it therefore a binding authority - would help the right person being appointed who would, after consulting the President in the case of a grave breakdown of constitutional machinery, report to him. And on the basis of that report, the Council of Ministers would be entitled to act. The decision, of course, to dismiss a government of a State or not to dismiss it would be, and must remain, the decision of the Central government and not a personal decision of a President. But the process by which this decision is to be reached cannot avoid the drawing upon of the courage, wisdom and idealism of an elected President. It is only then that we will see some glimmer of hope in what appears, to me at least, to be a pretty hopeless situation. Abolishing Article 356 is only throwing the baby out with the bathwater and will not solve anything. It will only weaken the federal structure.

Therefore my conclusion is that 356 is necessary in our Constitution as it stands. It must remain but the institutions that are entrusted with its working must be strengthened; particularly the office of Governor who must resist the machinations of politicians, whether in the Centre or in the State. He can only do so if he has the necessary integrity in public life. There is no dearth of persons of integrity in public life who have in the past filled various positions in various forms of activity. Each one can make his own list and the office of Governor should not be a pensioned office for a politician or a retired politician. Which does not mean that a politician is necessarily not suited to be a Governor. And if that is borne in mind and if we are to see that the Constitution functions, then I see no difficulty in 356 working in the future. Of course, it is going to be a long toil since we have all of us demeaned ourselves and all constitutional authorities have done the same. There are very few outstanding exceptions.

If you ask me my own view, it is that ever since a former President of India signed the Proclamation of Emergency in June 1975 without waiting for Cabinet approval - a patently unconstitutional or at least unwise act - the rot has set in. There is no way in which we can revitalise Article 356 except by improving the sort of persons we appoint as high constitutional functionaries in the State and at the Centre. That's all I have to say.

* You spoke of instruments of instruction. What would this involve?

How the right man in the right place should exercise his power under 356 cannot be laid down in any specifics; but there can certainly be a draft instrument of instructions which a group of inspired persons in the country could draft and submit to the government for Parliament's approval. The government is never going to do this. Only public spirited individuals can do this. They would only help furnish the guidelines on the basis of which action, or no action, would be taken on 356. And if you have the right man in the right place, nine times out of ten you can trust him to take the right decision.

* You had spoken of "outstanding exceptions" among constitutional authorities who had not "demeaned" themselves. Could you elaborate on this.

I mentioned the present President as an outstanding example and by way of contrast, Fakhruddin Ahmed who signed the proclamation without a Cabinet meeting.

There have been governors in the past who have acted with integrity and independence and to recall only one instance: Dharam Vira who was Governor of Bengal, who took the view that opening speeches in the Legislative Assembly should not contain derogatory references to the Governor's position and refused to read it - though the Governor's speeches at the opening of a session are generally considered to be the policy of the government of the time - shows what independent persons can do and how political pressures can and are resisted. In fact, there is one celebrated example regarding Dharam Vira. When he was a bureaucrat - a Cabinet Secretary - he had gone with a delegation abroad for the purchase of aircraft and at the conclusion of the deal he was asked where the usual commission was to be deposited for him. He said, "Make out a cheque in the name of the Government of India" and he brought it back and gave it to Panditji at which Panditji exploded and said " What! You accepted a commission for the deal,". And DharamVira said,"What did you expect me to do? Take the money in my name and put it into a Swiss account?"

These are the sort of men we do not have today. It is most unfortunate. Short of idealism, I don't think you can work any provision of the Constitution.

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* There is an opinion that says that the nature of Article 356 is such that it is conducive to misuse. I think Karunanidhi said that even if Gandhiji were Prime Minister Article 356 would be misused.

He's absolutely right. That is why the personalities have to be there. Judicial control is impossible. The reason why I say this is because I do not believe that it is good constitutional policy for the judiciary to bring back to life a government that has been dismissed which must be the necessary consequence of judicial interference under Article 356 - and that in my view is the rationale of the decision of the minority in Bommai's case. Therefore we have to look elsewhere. We cannot expect the judiciary to resolve all the problems of the country - and they should not. And that's where the right Governors are important.

If Bhandari had not been appointed, all this would not have happened. All this hobnobbing with this fellow and that fellow. You must have a man with some gumption, who can say 'No' to the Chief Minister. All this has to be done in conclave. You can't do it publicly. These are where personal relations of the Chief Minister and the Governor come into play. The Constitution can't prescribe the personal relations between the two. The Chief Minister calls on the Governor at regular intervals and that's the time for discourse. There are a lot of grey areas but you have to have the right sort of people, with the right sort of approach, the right sort of integrity... people who won't be bought.

* There seems to be enough cause for apprehension as to how the BJP will handle Article 356. On the one hand, Advani says Article 356 will not be misused and on the other, Bhandari, a BJP stalwart, is appointed Governor - political opportunism would you say ?

Their record is as bad as anybody else's. They are political opportunists and they appoint opportunists who are appointed as Governors.

* What about the fact-finding teams that are being sent out from the Centre to the States?

Totally unnecessary. * It goes against federalism? Of course it does.

* Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Mahanta had said that 356 is inimical to federalism and should therefore be removed.

356 is the lynchpin of federalism. It preserves federalism. Let's not try to excise provisions of the Constitution because we can't work it. (laughs).

* So the present situation can be summed up as a poor interpretation of Article 356?

Not poor. Wrong. The interpretation of 356 is very badly done. It is a crisis of the gravest order.

'Article 356 cannot continue in the present form'

cover-story

Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), states that by its very nature Article 356 of the Constitution lends itself to immense misuse. Hence, Karat says, the CPI(M) is of the view that it should be replaced in a suitable manner. In an interview to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, he explains the reasons for the CPI(M)'s opposition to Article 356 and the party's proposals for replacing it. Excerpts:

The question of using Article 356 as an instrument to settle political scores has once again come to the fore with the demand from some of the allies of the BJP to use the provision against their political rivals. How do you look at this?

The nature of that constitutional provision invites misuse constantly. In most cases, the use of Article 356 has been undemocratic and unjustified. The most reprehensible aspect of the provision is that there is no redress. The only thing since 1994, that is, after the Bommai judgment, is that it has been made open to judicial scrutiny. There is probably some restraint or check on account of this.

Do you think that there has been any qualitative change in the use of Article 356 apart from this on account of the Bommai judgment?

The significance of the Bommai judgment is that it laid down certain parameters for the use of Article 356. It pointed out that Article 356 is not meant to be used by the ruling party at the Centre to settle scores with political rivals. It has tried to puts limits on draconian provision as such. Judicial intervention has contributed to checking misuse. But it cannot eliminate misuse.

So what is the solution?

The real solution is to amend the Constitution suitably to replace Article 356. There is no doubt that Article 356 in the present form cannot continue. We have been proposing in various forums that the constitutional provision be so amended that a State government can be removed only in the case of a grave threat to national unity arising from the actions of the State government or a separatist movement by that government. This is our position after the experience of December 6, 1992, when the BJP State governments did pose a threat to national unity.

But there are other situations in which Article 356 becomes relevant; for instance, when an election throws up a hung Assembly and none of the participants is able to work out a post-election alliance that can form a government. Or when a government loses its majority on account of the withdrawal of support of an alliance partner.

Situations like these have arisen repeatedly in Uttar Pradesh in recent times. In our opinion, these situations need not strictly fall under the proviso of Article 356. It is a question of not having or losing majority in the Assembly. For that you can work out some other method and guidelines that Governors can follow; you do not need Article 356. Article 356 refers essentially to the breakdown of the Constitution but also speaks about other situations. It is this open-ended thing that has been used even to bypass a Governor's report and dismiss a government. As they did in Tamil Nadu when the earlier DMK Government was dismissed. We are for changing this constitutional provision. That will settle the controversy.

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But how to go about it? The BJP does not seem to be serious about this now despite having been very vocal against the provision in the past. This is because of the internal problems of the ruling coalition and the incessant demand from many of the BJP's allies to use Article 356. The Inter-State Council has set up a sub-committee to go into the subject and it has prepared some formulation or report, which has given suggestions to replace Article 356. This committee includes Chief Ministers of the BJP, the Congress(I), the CPI(M), and so on. What will be required of the BJP Government is to convene the Inter-State Council and complete this work started by the United Front Government. Then we can have an agreement on how to replace Article 356 because any proposal requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament to be passed.

The role of Governors has also come into question in the context of the misuse of Article 356.

The Sarkaria Commission recommendations are well intended in this matter. The Commission had said that people in active politics, especially leaders of the ruling parties, should not be appointed Governors. But in practice it is happening. It has happened now also with the appointment of senior BJP leader Sunder Singh Bhandari as the Governor of Bihar, that is, in a State that is ruled by a Government that the BJP considers hostile. We have to go beyond the Sarkaria Commission. When we discuss the whole gamut of Centre-State relations, the role of the Governor becomes crucial. At present the role of the Governor is detrimental to the federal structure.

We can work out various methods to get over this. One option is to rule that the Centre should take the consent of the State government before appointing the Governor. The other option is to suggest a panel of names and accept one person, in consultation with the State government concerned. It should not be the prerogative only of the ruling party to appoint a Governor.

AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha has said that there was a political agreement between her party and the BJP before the Lok Sabha elections that Article 356 would be used against the Tamil Nadu Government. How do you look at this purported political deal?

It is quite possible that a deal like this was there. Many political parties think that the use of Article 356 to suit their own interests is all right. What we are saying is a more basic thing: get rid of this Article in the present form and amend it suitably to solve the problem of its misuse.

'A threat to our democratic process'

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Rajesh Pilot was one of the few Congress(I) leaders who questioned Governor Romesh Bhandari's recommendation to the President to dismiss the Kalyan Singh Government in Uttar Pradesh in October 1997. His stand was that if the Ministry had a majority in the Assembly, it could not be dismissed. The Governor's recommendation, according to him, was an attempt to misuse Article 356. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Pilot to seek his opinion on issues related to Article 356 in the context of recent demands by the BJP's allies to invoke the constitutional provision against many State governments they are opposed to. Excerpts from the interview:

What is your opinion on the demands by the BJP's allies to dismiss the governments in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Bihar by invoking Article 356?

These demands from parties like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the way they have been raised and the response of the BJP - all highlight the degeneration of our polity, especially with regard to the use of a sensitive constitutional provision like Article 356. It is both unfortunate and ridiculous to make the invocation of Article 356 against a particular State government the basis for a party's support to the Central Government. That is what the AIADMK is doing. It is equally unfortunate and ridiculous to think that a party that leads a Central Government would give an assurance to a particular party that Article 356 would be used against its rival if it joined the alliance. That is what the BJP is supposed to have done. The present controversy over this is extremely unseemly and reflects poorly on our political practice.

But this is not the first time Article 356 is at the centre of a political dispute. Virtually every Central Government has invoked it against State governments run by parties in the Opposition. In this background, would you agree that as far as the application of Article 356 is concerned, political vendetta has been the rule and fair play the exception?

Unfortunately, the misuse of Article 356 has increased in recent times. Most politicians seem to have the only priority of somehow coming to power. It is this lust for power that is responsible for the collapse of most constitutional institutions in our country. Certainly, this is a major threat to our democratic process. A commitment from all parties to stick to their ideology and not madly run after power is the only method to tackle this.

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The 1994 Supreme Court judgment in the Bommai case is considered a landmark in the judicial interpretation of Article 356. Do you think that there has been any change in the pattern of use of Article 356 after the judgment?

I cannot perceive any significant change. Attempts to misuse the Article have continued even after the judgment.

What is your view on the demand that Article 356 should be abolished?

I would like to state categorically that I am opposed to the abolition of Article 356. The founding fathers of our Constitution envisaged this provision to deal with situations in which a State government is seen to be violating the Constitution and the rule of law. In our federal system, the provision envisions a strong Centre too; this check is required. How else could you deal with a situation like the one that existed in States like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh after the demolition of the Babri Masjid? Communal violence had broken out in these States and we had BJP-led governments there, whose commitment to the Constitution was suspect, especially because they were aggressively pursuing an anti-secular political agenda. One has to analyse each situation objectively and take a decision.

I supported the dismissal of the BJP governments after the demolition of the Babri Masjid because I felt there was a need for that. But I opposed the recommendation to dismiss the Kalyan Singh Government in Uttar Pradesh in 1997 because I was convinced there was no ground for that. It is not the constitutional provision that is problematic, but they way it is used by us politicians.

The role of the Governor is also in focus in the context of the misuse of Article 356.

Here again, I will only blame politicians. Once you adorn the office of the Governor you are supposed to behave impartially and objectively. But when you have Governors who are ready to discuss with the media their reports to the Centre, which are considered to be confidential, how can you expect impartiality and objectivity?

What is the solution?

I might sound old-fashioned, but the time has come for deep introspection by all political parties on how they are upholding the Constitution to better the lot of the country. Commitment to institutions and ideals should form part of the political and moral core of every party. But obviously this cannot be done by winning over regional allies with the promise to dismiss one Opposition government or the other.

'I don't find anything wrong in our allies' demand'

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BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu says that this party "is not against using Article 356" but feels that it "has to be used only in extreme situations where there is a constitutional breakdown." According to him, the BJP opposes the abolition of Article 356, but favours its amendment to introduce safeguards against its misuse. Excerpts from an interview he gave T.S. Subramanian in Chennai on June 27:

Will you agree that so far as the application of Article 356 is concerned, political cheating has been the rule? The Congress(I) has in the past dismissed many State governments, including those of the Communist Party, the DMK and the BJP?

The Congress has set a very bad precedent by misusing Article 356 a number of times. The BJP is of the view that Article 356 has to be used in an extreme situation where there is a constitutional breakdown. We are not against using Article 356. Parties like the DMK, the Telugu Desam and even the Janata Dal and the CPI(M) have been talking of abolishing Article 356. But when it suited them, they were using it against us (the BJP). They were abusing Article 356. As far as the BJP is concerned, we promised the people that we would never misuse Article 356 for political purposes. But our stand is that if tomorrow a situation develops in a particular State where the State is not run in accordance with the constitutional provisions, the Centre will definitely intervene and use Article 356.

Even after the Bommai case judgment of 1994, Central governments have not been able to resist the temptation to use Article 356. For example, the Kalyan Singh Government in Uttar Pradesh was dismissed by the Gujral Government. Do you think that Article 356 should be abolished?

No. The BJP is against the abolition of Article 356 because if some States say tomorrow that they want to secede from India, you cannot accept that position simply because the State Assembly has passed a resolution. Fissiparous tendencies are evident in various parts of the country. We are against the abolition of Article 356. But we are for safeguards against its misuse. Certain safeguards have to be evolved to see to it that Article 356 is used only in the case of a constitutional breakdown.

What kind of safeguards do you envisage?

If you specify the circumstances under which Article 356 can be used rather than leaving it in vague terms, its misuse will be automatically minimised. It is not so easy (now) to use Article 356 because the President has to be convinced and Parliament has to approve it. Even if the presidential proclamation is made, it has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. Besides, there is judicial scrutiny. (Then), there is the precedent set by the Allahabad High Court where the Government which was dismissed was put back in office. With these precedents, we can go for certain safeguards. We need a broader, wider discussion on these in Parliament.

How can the Bommai case judgment be enforced in the rough and tumble of the Indian politics?

Even after the judgment, there were instances where State governments were dismissed. But the outcry against the misuse (of Article 356) is so strong now that there is a broad agreement that this should be used sparingly and that it should be used in extreme situations. So keeping that in mind, the BJP Government is very serious to bring about a sort of amendment to Article 356.

Will the amendments include the safeguards?

Yes. The BJP is talking in terms of setting up a committee to review the Constitution. The experience of the past 50 years shows that there are certain problems with regard to the use of Article 356, the powers of the States vis-a-vis the Centre, the powers of the Governor, his appointment, his responsibilities and his removal. This is another important issue because Governors function whimsically nowadays. They try to sit in judgment on the performance of popular, elected governments. At times, they act arbitrarily.

The States are clamouring for more powers in certain areas. However, they are not ready to devolve powers to zilla parishads, municipalities and panchayats. In these areas, our Constitution-framers never imagined that such situations would arise and such Governors would be appointed. That being the case, keeping in view the (past) experience, we feel that there is a need to review the Constitution...

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The AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal, the Samata Party in Bihar and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa have been demanding the dismissal of the State Governments.

They have every right to make such a demand. They are responding to situations in their respective arenas of functioning. But it is the sacred duty of the Central Government to assess the situation and act as per the Constitution. So I don't find anything wrong in the regional parties or (our) allies making any demand. With regard to the dismissal also, political parties have been making such demands. At the same time, some of these parties which are now making the demand (for dismissal) were victims of Article 356. That being the case, we understand their problems.

At the same time, our submission is that our party goes by the Constitution, I go by the consensual approach of the coalition partners and I go by the commitment made to the people that we will run the country in accordance with the Constitution. The coalition partners should understand our limitations.

Often, the Governor seems to be an agent of the ruling party at the Centre. How do you tackle this problem?

Unfortunately, a precedent has been set - of appointing people who are regular politicians... Even if a person voluntarily adopts high standards and morals in politics, if others do not do so, he will be at a disadvantage. What I suggest is that there should be a total review of the appointments, functions and powers, including the procedure for the removal of the Governors.

'The boot is on the other leg'

the-nation

Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi speaks to Sukumar Muralidharan on the reconstitution of the Indian Council for Historical Research. The following is a verbatim account:

There is a view that only historians of one particular persuasion have been accommodated in the reconstituted ICHR.

Each one of them is a highly qualified historian. Each one of them is either a Professor or an ex-Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India. None of them is a member of any political party.

Some of them do have an association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, perhaps not formally, since the RSS does not maintain membership rolls.

No. Nobody has been attending their programmes or shakhas. Because somebody has a different view from you or me, therefore he becomes persona non grata - this is not a correct view.

What is being said is that earlier all viewpoints used to be accommodated, whereas now only one has been...

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No, no. Earlier, there was a predominance of one viewpoint. The boot is on the other leg.

That, people say, is not quite correct.

The ICHR is a body which should contain persons of high academic qualifications. It is not a body of a particular political view or a particular 'ism'.

Four of the new members of the council were associated with the panel of historians of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which submitted evidence to the Chandra Shekhar Government. Another four were actively involved in the campaign.

This is all very myopic and untrue.

B.P. Sinha, B.R. Grover, B.B. Lal, K.S. Lal...

They were all Directors-General of the ASI much before the BJP was born.

But they were all associated with the VHP's panel of historians.

So somebody else could be associated with some other panel. That does not mean I should condemn him.

Yes, but the point is made that earlier there were both Mandir and Masjid historians in the ICHR. Now there are only Mandir historians.

All this is false. Somebody could say that formerly there were only Masjid historians.

That is incorrect.

That is correct. Because nobody in that group has ever supported Mandir.

Professor M.G.S. Narayanan was Member-Secretary of the ICHR...

But he never came out openly.

He has. He is on record in Frontline in 1992 (issue dated September 11, 1992).

You now interview them, they might come out openly. In history, the basic thing is that persons who are fully qualified, they should be there. I can understand any criticism on the basis of academic incompetence.

The question is not of incompetence but of bias. B.B. Lal, for instance, was accused of the suppression and falsification of evidence.

That was by some people. Also by the World Archaeological Congress.

That is again a body. If you accept that there are groups of historians, then one group says something, the other group says something else. In another conference somebody else could be castigated for something else.

As a physicist yourself, you should be aware of how the scientific community deals with these differences. These are normally dealt with in a spirit of openness, all the evidence is shared - it is all placed on the table.

Yes, we are dealing with it. It has been placed on the table. But it is up to you whether you close your eyes or keep your eyes open.

B.B. Lal, for instance, has refused to submit his site notebooks and excavation records from Ayodhya for scrutiny by other historians.

Is this an interview or are you entering into a debate? You may have your own personal view, but as a correspondent you should be conducting an interview.

'Nuclear deterrence, in general, is not a sound strategy'

other

Gensuikin (Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs) is Japan's leading anti-nuclear organisation. Founded in the 1950s after the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Bikini atoll, it opposes nuclear tests and nuclear weapons all over the world. Gensuikin's international consultant, Masa Takubo, spoke to Jean Dreze after his visit to Pokhran and Khetolai. Excerpts from the interview:

It is often argued that had Japan possessed a nuclear bomb in 1945, Hiroshima would not have happened. What is your response?

It is difficult to say what would have happened had Japan possessed a nuclear bomb in 1945. Different scenarios are possible, depending on the assumptions one makes. So there is no single answer. One plausible answer, however, is that Japan would have used its own bomb first. This would have been quite irrational, but Japan was already pursuing an irrational military strategy, for instance, allowing the destruction of Tokyo and other cities through conventional bombing even though it had clearly lost the war. If Japan had used its own nuclear bomb, a nuclear war would have followed, with even more devastating consequences than the destruction of Hiroshima.

What about the general principle of nuclear deterrence?

Nuclear deterrence, in general, is not a sound strategy. This is especially so in an authoritarian system, as in war-time Japan, where there was no accountability. But even in other contexts, there is absolutely no guarantee that opponents will correctly anticipate each other's moves and act rationally. The fact that war did not break out between the Soviet Union and the United States is a miracle.

If Japan is so opposed to nuclear weapons, then why does it accept the U.S. nuclear umbrella?

Let me clarify that Gensuikin is not the Government of Japan. We are an anti-nuclear organisation, which has made demands on many countries, including Japan. As far as the U.S.-Japan security treaty is concerned, we have asked the Japanese Government to request the U.S. not to include nuclear weapons among the means that might be used to defend Japan. So far, the Japanese Government has refused, arguing that it cannot tell the U.S. which weapons should or should not be used to protect Japan.

Do you support Japan's sanctions against India?

My own view is that some response is essential, although I would like to think that it need not be sanctions. I wish people here would tell us what is the best way to influence the Indian Government. Then we could work towards that. What we cannot do is ignore the tests. We support India's demand for total abolition of nuclear weapons, and we have lots of demands on the U.S. in this respect. But at the same time, we need some way of dealing with the problem of proliferation. If the Indian people show their power to oppose nuclear weapons and say, 'Leave it to us', that is fine.

In one of your talks, you described the position of the Indian Left on nuclear weapons as "peculiar". What did you mean?

The Indian Left has a sharp understanding of the military-industrial complex in the U.S., but it is slow to recognise a similar problem in India itself. Under the military-industrial complex, I include laboratories involved in military research and their scientists. The labs are a very powerful lobby in the U.S., and they are always keen to test. In India, one sees the beginning of this kind of system. So if you think this complex is important in the U.S., then you should also analyse it in India. Given the nature of this complex, we have to conclude that what has happened was bound to happen. If you advocate a policy of 'keeping the nuclear option open', you have to wonder who is going to keep that lobby in check. A Left-wing analyst should always be ready for uncomfortable results of future elections, even for the possibility of an authoritarian regime emerging at some stage. No country or political system can be trusted to ensure future restraint. To say, 'we will develop the capability but not weaponise' is a very risky option. Nuclear technology is a time bomb. It has to be fought at every stage.

What struck you most, on this visit to India?

Perhaps just the sight of daily life in the streets, simple people going around on bicycles and crowded buses, and then the thought, 'This country is developing nuclear weapons'. It seems unreal. I ask myself, 'Do these people really want to have nuclear weapons? Would they really want to throw nuclear bombs on other people?' I find this hard to believe. Also, when we visited Pokhran and Khetolai, I was impressed to see how many people turned up. Of course, it is hard for me to guess what they think. But the least I can say is that they did want to listen to what Taketa had to say. And they are not at all like the people we saw on television screens, greeting the nuclear explosions with loud cheers. This seems to contradict the claim that 90 per cent of the Indian people support the tests. We never got the feeling of a chauvinistic people telling us to go away and mind our own business. On the contrary, people always listened patiently, often for hours on end. This friendly reception is heartening, and gives me hope.

Diplomatic fire-fighting

For more than a month, senior Indian diplomats have been making efforts to contain the fallout of Pokhran but they have not been quite successful.

THROUGHOUT June, Indian diplomats have been busy fire-fighting on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government at the Centre. Senior diplomats were sent to West Asia to explain the rationale behind the nuclear explosions in May. The special emissary of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh, went to Washington to soothe the anger of the Clinton administration, but the mission was not very successful. Minister of State for External Affairs Vasundhara Raje Scindia visited three South-East Asian countries in the third week of June. Before the month ended, she was off again, this time to the Caucasus, visiting Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, was cordially welcomed in Moscow and Paris, where he went as the Prime Minister's special envoy and met top officials. He also had a meeting with British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. In the capital of all the three countries, the refrain was that India should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) immediately.

New Delhi's complaints regarding the economic sanctions got a sympathetic hearing in Paris and Moscow. Russia is party to the G-8 and P-5 stand on international sanctions against India and Pakistan. However, senior Russian officials have emphasised that the sanctions tend to be counterproductive. India has described the sanctions as "coercive and counterproductive". New Delhi is obviously worried about Washington's success in internationalising the sanctions and the growing Sino-American contacts.

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French President Jacques Chirac suggested to Brajesh Mishra that India unilaterally announce a moratorium on nuclear tests and make it a permanent commitment. The Vajpayee Gover-nment seems to have taken this suggestion seriously. Announcement of a permanent moratorium is a necessary step before signing the CTBT. This is a clear indication that the BJP-led Government is considering the option of signing the CTBT despite the blatantly discriminatory nature of the treaty. However, some senior External Affairs Ministry officials claim that as far as India is concerned the argument that the CTBT is discriminatory is no longer valid as it has conducted its nuclear tests successfully. India, they say, has enough data and technology to conduct sub-critical tests, which are not banned under the CTBT. The U.S. State Department has said that the sanctions would be lifted only if New Delhi announces a halt to further testing and signs the CTBT.

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Diplomats have also been trying to allay the fears of India's immediate neighbours. South Asian countries feel threatened by the prospect of a looming missile and nuclear arms race. Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom, who had an excellent rapport with the previous Government in New Delhi, cancelled his state visit to India, which was scheduled for May. As the outgoing Chairman of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Gayoom was due to make customary visits to Islamabad and New Delhi. He cancelled his visit to Islamabad as well. Indian diplomats have worked overtime to ensure that the SAARC meeting in Colombo does not become a forum for India-baiting. President K.R. Narayanan's visit to Nepal in May helped clear apprehensions in the Himalayan kingdom about an Indian bomb. Brajesh Mishra was also in Kathmandu to explain the Indian position.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was in New Delhi in June. Sri Lanka has expressed its apprehensions about a nuclear and missile race in the subcontinent. Pro-Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sentiments expressed by some of the BJP's coalition partners have also alarmed Colombo. Kadirgamar's primary task in New Delhi was to ensure that the SAARC summit took off without major hiccups.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came on a one-day "working visit" to New Delhi in the month. Bangladesh expressed its concerns about the accelerating missile and nuclear race in the subcontinent. Vajpayee assured Sheikh Hasina that the Pokhran tests were not directed at any specific country and reiterated New Delhi's serious interest in normalising relations with Pakistan under a bilateral framework in order to de-escalate the tensions in South Asia. Sheikh Hasina, however, expressed her country's apprehensions about the impact that the nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan will have on the South Asian economy.

The Indian Government's decision in the last week of June to convey to the United Nations that a high-level U.N. team led by Alcaro de Soto, Assistant Secretary-General and the Secretary-General's special envoy, was not welcome to India, came as a surprise. The decision was taken at the eleventh hour, when the team was already in Dhaka, and could send the wrong signals to the international community. The U.N. team was sent following a Security Council decision: the Security Council had concluded that tensions had increased considerably in the South Asian region since the two countries carried out their nuclear tests.

De Soto carried a personal letter to the Indian Prime Minister from the Secretary General Kofi Annan.

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The Foreign Ministry has evidently concluded that the U.N. team's proposal to discuss matters relating to "regional tensions and issues" would end up focussing on Kashmir, and that its visit would only serve to internationalise the Kashmir issue further. A U.N. spokesman had said that De Soto had no intention to act as a mediator on the issue.

However, the External Affairs Ministry has said that it would welcome the proposed visit of the Secretary-General. An official in the Ministry said that Kofi Annan was "always welcome to visit India for discussions on global issues, including global nuclear disarmament."

Islamabad, meanwhile, has welcomed the U.N. team's visit. A Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman said that it "was absolutely necessary that the U.N. Secretary-General gets personally involved in South Asia."

However, the major diplomatic outcome of Pokhran has been the renewed international focus on Kashmir. Eqbal Ahmad, a prominent Pakistani academic and journalist, is of the view that the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan have virtually ruled out the possibility of a conventional war between the two countries. Ahmad, speaking at a round table organised by the Delhi Study Group in the last week of June, said that proxy wars could intensify unless the trend of making peace prevailed. He said that many people in the Pakistani establishment were surprised when India conducted its nuclear tests; he added that they were not too unhappy either. From the Pakistani perspective, India's tests negated the significant strides New Delhi had made in its relations with Beijing.

Before Pokhran, Ahmad said, visiting Chinese leaders advised Pakistan to settle all its disputes with India, including Kashmir, bilaterally. Ahmad pointed out that the fact that President Jiang Zemin came to New Delhi before going to Islamabad during his last state visit to the two countries was a signal that Beijing no longer had a "special relationship" with Islamabad. Now, after the provocative statements of Defence Minister George Fernandes and the nuclear tests, China was once again tilting towards Pakistan, he said.

Secretary-level talks between the two countries are likely to start after the SAARC summit at the end of July. Vajpayee and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are scheduled to have a meeting in Colombo during the summit, and indications are that Secretary-level talks will once again be kick-started. At the last SAARC summit, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral gave an assurance that a joint working group on Kashmir would be set up. Ahmad said that it was more important to get talks started on Kashmir, even though that was not the solution in itself.

Any outright refusal by India to discuss Kashmir will send the wrong signals to the international community. Islamabad, with some encouragement from the G-8 and the P-5, has demanded third-party mediation on Kashmir. India should now show that it is serious about de-escalating the tensions in South Asia and starting a sincere dialogue with Pakistan.

The BJP's projects

Its eyes set firmly on the temple project, the BJP plans to go to the electorate on the planks of the Bomb and Ayodhya; it is up to the Opposition to show that there is an alternative.

THE Sangh Parivar's frenetic drive to build a Ram temple at Ayodhya regardless of the judiciary and the law, has justifiably aroused national concern. But, what is no less sinister, the drive exposes the fraud played on the electorate by the Parivar's political unit, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its allies in Government, the farce of the so-called "National Agenda" as distinct from the BJP's manifesto and the party's inherent incapacity for moderation. In consequence, there is an inherent compulsion to deceive. As in the past, it is the mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which calls the shots.

The national press has publicised the drive in rich detail. That has tended to obscure the fact that the lead was given by the Parivar's organ, Organiser, in its April 5, 1998 issue, which was on the stands a week earlier, a mere ten days after the BJP Government was sworn in on March 19. The headline proclaimed: "Workshops busy preparing material for temple at Ayodhya." It reported: "Three workshops in Ayodhya and Rajasthan are working regularly preparing material which will be used in the reconstruction. According to an activist of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, material for 32 ft. height of the temple (total height 132 ft.) is almost ready... the stones after being carved are sent to the main workshop at Ayodhya" - not far from the site of the demolished Babri Masjid (emphasis added throughtout).

But, why did Organiser think it necessary to publicise the drive? It was in order to assure the cadres that the BJP had not abandoned its stand on the Ram temple despite its omission in the National Agenda. Months before the polls, its then president L. K. Advani had intensified his campaign for the temple with an eye on the BJP's vote bank. "The solution to Ayodhya lies either in negotiation or in legislation, not in litigation. This has been the BJP's consistent stand... There is no dispute about the site," he told The Times of India (May 18, 1997). He was quite clear on his aims. "Ram temple is an issue which will be finally sorted out when the BJP comes to power at the Centre... We will construct the temple through proper law and legislation."

In plain words, if Muslims do not agree to this course in the "negotiation", the BJP would use its brute majority in Parliament to usher in the "legislation". The political flaw is obvious. A party with such a narrow appeal cannot secure a stable majority in both Houses of Parliament. The legal flaw is as obvious. Such legislation would be utterly unconstitutional (vide the writer's article, "The temple pledge" Frontline, March 20, 1998). The BJP knows that but, true to form, practises deceit.

Advani used the idiom of the early 1990s. "Indian cultural nationalism" is "assimilative" and Ram was a "symbol of India's culture and civilisation." None outside the Parivar had ever made such a demand of the minorities (The Times of India, June 16, 1997). At Ayodhya on July 3, 1997, he said that the BJP would not be content till a temple was built there.

Advani thought of a new idea in his campaign. "Sri Ram Lalla is actually in prison. The sooner he is released the better." (September 20, 1997). This implied that the legal curbs on the ramshackle temple at the site built illegally and immorally immediately after the demolition of the mosque, must be removed.

Meanwhile, on November 25 the RSS supremo, Rajendra Singh, said that "Ayodhya-type solutions were necessary for the Kashi and Mathura shrines." He warned that "Muslims should once and for all give up claims to the Kashi and Mathura shrines" (The Telegraph, November 26, 1997).

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This gave Advani an opportunity to play the moderate by reviving his August 1990 offer before a Muslim audience on December 4, 1997. "If Muslims honour the feelings of Hindus and give up claims on Ayodhya, I promise to persuade the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to give up their claim on Kashi and Mathura." The thought of respecting Muslim feelings was altogether absent from his mind. Note that he spoke avowedly, explicitly as a leader of the Hindu community alone.

BY December 1997, the BJP was deeply mired in realpolitik. The party's National Executive, which met on December 19, did not refer to Ayodhya. But the next day, Atal Behari Vajpayee said that a Ram temple would be built by legislation. While gradually coming to terms with the realities, the BJP prepared to push through its own plans, the allies', reservations notwithstanding. None of them apparently noted the Advani Doctrine on Coalitions: "I believe that for a coalition to function and to endure, there has to be a dominant partner in the coalition" (Sunday, November 2, 1997). And, the BJP, of course, was to be that dominant partner.

That explains its reservations on a minimum common programme. Why should it compromise if it could bag a majority by itself? Its spokesperson, Sushma Swaraj, emphatically declared on January 2, 1998: "There will be no CMP (sic.) before elections." Vajpayee said the same thing on January 10: "The question of having a CMP will come after the elections."

By now a two-track effort was on. The BJP's manifesto (February 3) clung to its hobby horses of Ayodhya, Article 370 and a uniform civil code. There would be references to them in some speeches, but the word was spread, eagerly picked up by admirers in the media, that these issues would be "under freeze". The RSS boss, Rajendra Singh, approved of these tactics (on January 10, in Nagpur). The BJP approved of the VHP's seeming divergence from the BJP line and its pursuit of the old settled agenda.

Advani gave the game away when he said: "Hindu anger related to vote-bank politics can now express itself through the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's movement, or even (sic.) through the ballot box, in favour of the BJP" (The Hindu, February 5, 1998). The BJP, thus, banked on the Hindu vote and it was privy to the division of labour between the BJP and the VHP ordained by the RSS, the common mentor.

The BJP was, of course, free to continue singing the old refrain. At Faizabad, near Ayodhya, Advani lauded the Ayodhya "movement" (The Hindu, February 7). However, in all the Lok Sabha constituencies around Ayodhya, the BJP's candidates lost and its supporters became restive at what they feared was the abandonment of the credo (The Hindu, March 16). Statements such as the one by Advani on March 28 left them confused. "This is a Government of alliance partners and the BJP manifesto is not applicable." Only the Agenda of March 18 applied.

IT was in this context that Organiser publicised the temple construction work in its issue of April 5 which was out on March 29. As if on cue, the VHP became more active in concert with the Bajrang Dal, as Giriraj Kishore, the VHP's secretary-general, indicated on April 7. "It will take two years to complete the stone-carving work which is already well under way. After that is finished, no government can stop us from building the temple." The Bajrang Dal's convener, Surendra Kumar Jain, said: "Yuva shakti (youth power) will be made strong and competent enough to reply to all attacks and assaults on Hindu sentiments. We will ensure Hindus are trained properly in self-defence and are not dependent on the state for protection." The state, under the BJP's control, will look the other way.

The VHP convened a meeting of its apex body at Hardwar on April 10 and 11. On the other hand, an RSS activist and hardliner, Kushabhau Thakre, became the BJP president. The resolution which its National Executive passed on April 12 contained these significant needs: "It is a verdict that vindicates our stand on national issues and gives us the responsibility of setting right the grievous wrongs of the past." In the BJP's lingo, Ayodhya, Article 370, and a uniform civil code are "national issues".

The reference to the "grieveus wrongs of the past" betrays the BJP's revivalist, vindictive outlook. How is one to reconcile Advani's statement on the non-applicability of the BJP's manifesto to the Government with Vajpayee's announcement on April 12 that "the party has to run the Government"? The era of coalitions was a temporary phenomenon, he added. The BJP must emerge a clear winner in the next round.

The VHP's working president, Ashok Singhal, pacified the Hardwar convention. So did the Union Minister of State for Culture, of all things, Uma Bharati, "A temple in Ayodhya will be the first thing that we will do when we come (to power) with an absolute majority." Singhal explained that the construction work would take two years "and we can build the temple immediately." The Ram janmabhoomi Trust chairman, Ram Chandra Paramhans, swore by the Government: "I will not allow anyone to shake this Government. India's Home Minister, L. K. Advani, came all the way to Hardwar to wash the sadhus' feet - something that has never happened for centuries in India. I am sure the Prime Minister will get us the temple through some law."

Evidently, Advani had done his bit to give assurances to the convention with renewed pledges. The familiar ploy of 1990-92 was revived. The BJP passed the buck, ostensibly to the VHP, and the VHP to the sadhus - all under the RSS' tutelage. BJP president Kushabhau Thakre said on June 2: "We are in favour of a temple but it is the VHP's job to do it, not ours."

Prime Minister Vajpayee's calculated ambiguities in Parliament and outside have been noted (see Neena Vyas in The Hindu, June 9). But there was no mistaking the fact that the die had been cast. RSS boss Rajendra Singh asserted on June 8 in Nagpur that the Ram temple would be built at the very site in Ayodhya. Those who opposed this had a "perverted mentality". The BJP's vice-president and spokesman, K. L. Sharma, went on the offensive in tones and terms directly opposed to Vajpayee's sweet words on April 7 and 8. Sharma said on June 9 that the Ram temple "remains on our agenda, though it is not a part of the national agenda." He repeated on June 15: "We are committed to it and the temple will be constructed on the site," adding that it was a mere structure. "There was no Babri Masjid." Where then was the constraining force of the so-called National Agenda? Advani "pulled him up" only because his candour revealed the game for all to see.

Ashok Singhal revived the blackmail tactics of 1992. "The Constitution does not have any provision to punish the judiciary but religious leaders have," he said on June 16. Any delay in the construction of the temple could break the patience of the sadhus who "can then take any decision" (The Asian Age, June 18). His threats to the courts and to the Government were not condemned by Vajpayee.

The record yields an irresistible conclusion. The BJP has not abandoned its plans to build the temple at Ayodhya. It knows that that cannot be accomplished in the present conditions. It knows, also, that its present regime cannot last for long. An article by V. P. Bhatia in Organiser of May 31, 1998 provides a clue. It was entitled "Babri to Big Bang" - from national to international awakening". If the Government can survive for some time, it will dig in its heels deeper. If not, the Prime Minister will advise the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha. The advice will, of course, not be binding on him - unless no alternative government is possible.

The onus is, therefore, squarely on the Opposition. The BJP plans to go to the electorate on the planks of the Bomb and Ayodhya. It is for the Opposition parties to formulate a secular agenda and demonstrate that an alternative does exist, ready to take over from this discredited and disrespectable Government. The alternative is to let Vajpayee conduct his election campaign with all the advantages and facilities of a Prime Minister in office.

Time is fast running out. It is the Sangh Parivar, not the secular Opposition, which makes the running. The Opposition only reacts and in varied ways, fragmented as it is. The VHP's 160-member Marg Darshak Mandal is due to meet in Delhi on July 6. Shortly before that its important office-bearers will have to attend the meeting of the RSS Prant Pracharaks (provincial activists) at Kota as summoned by the RSS. It will be as important as the RSS' Ujjain conclave in 1992 shortly before the Babri Mosque was demolished. We have Rajendra Singh's clear declaration on June 22 that the temple will be built "at all costs" (sic), even by overturning an adverse judicial verdict.

Mea culpa, in my article, "The politics of crime" (Frontline, May 22, 1998) there was an unfortunate oversight. The resume ended with the Special Judicial Magistrate, Mahipal Sirohi's order of August 27, 1994 committing Advani and Co. to trial in the Sessions Court in the Ayodhya case. However, matters do not rest with a police charge-sheet. Charges were framed against the accused on September 9, 1997 by Special Judge J. P. Srivastava in a 48-page order. This, then, is also a case of Ministers against whom charges have been framed by a court of law. They have no right to continue in office; least of all, L. K. Advani one who has the Home portfolio, and controls the CBI which filed the charge-sheet and which will conduct the prosecution, provide the witnesses and instruct counsel. Only a man utterly indifferent to proprieties would cling on to the office of Union Home Minister in such circumstances as Advani does.

The court observed clearly enough: "The analysis shows that in the proposed case, the criminal conspiracy to demolish the disputed structure of Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi was hatched from 1990 onwards and culminated on December 6, 1992." This is a judicial finding made prima facie as the court itself framed the charges. The honourable course is to resign and to face the trial, not to cling to public office.

The "Ram temple" drama

S. P. UDAYAKUMAR

AYODHYA had better be seen as a theatre where the mythical lore is translated into modern metaphors, and the metaphorical translations are transformed into various but related action-projects. Having invoked a communal understanding of "national history", established its validity by back-projecting it onto a popular story, and mobilised its adherents through insidious political manoeuvres, the Hindu communalists have set the stage for the actual enactment of their drama. At this crucial juncture, the ideology, the ideologues, and their cherished dream come together. This potent mix occupies the centre stage and the entire drama begins to revolve around it. The name of the drama is Ram Temple.

For most of the pre-Independence era, the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya did not simply exist for the majority of Indians. The mosque emerged as the most bitterly contested terrain since Partition primarily because the issue was built up carefully by the Hindutva forces with an eye on appropriating it for use in contemporary politics. The controversy is more mythological than historical, and hence it is a matter more of faith than fact. Since the issue stands on popular culture and not on recorded history, it becomes even more prone to manipulation and politicisation. The Hindutva groups have turned the disadvantages of the unspecificities and ambiguities of the legendary problem into clear advantages. The conflict cannot be considered more concrete even from 1528, when the Babri Masjid was actually constructed, because the Hindutva groups claim that the mosque replaced an existing Ram temple for which there has never been any tangible evidence.

Although much has been written about this controversy rather recently, some of these works are drenched in "Hindu" piety and bias, and some other works are the Hindu communalists' own propaganda. Being a secular voice, Gyanendra Pandey's chronological scheme1 could be followed to explain and describe the Ayodhya controversy. A brief discussion of Ayodhya and the legends surrounding it would be an appropriate start. It is not just the symbolic significance of the Babri Masjid but also the larger mythical context of Ayodhya that provides a perfect setting for this communal drama. Ayodhya is considered a holy place by both Hindus and Muslims. While for Hindus it is the birthplace of Ram, Muslims believe that it is in the cemetery by the Saryu river in Ayodhya where Shea, the grandson of Adam, is buried.2

The Ayodhya of Ram is believed to have existed in the Tretha yuga 3 of the Hindu calendar, that is, some 900,000 years ago. According to traditional history, Ayodhya was the capital of the kingdom of Kosala, and with the rise of Buddhism in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, it was displaced as the capital city. Scholars agree that Ayodhya was identical with Saketa, where the Buddha is said to have resided for some time4Ayodhya is said to have been "rediscovered" by "Vikramaditya", who is identified by many scholars as Skandagupta of mid-5th century CE, when Buddhism began to decline as a result of a brahmanical resurgence5 While Romila Thapar maintains that "Chandra Gupta II took the title of Vikramaditya or Sun of Prowess,"6 Sher Singh ascertains that the claim that Skandagupta shifted his capital to Saketa (Ayodhya) is baseless.7 No matter how contentious the historicity of Ayodhya is, it is nonetheless one of the seven holy places of "Hindus" because of its association with Ram. Of the 6,000 Hindu shrines in Ayodhya, more than 4,000 are connected with Ram.8 This religious importance coupled with contemporary political significance leads the Hindu communalists to conclude: "Ayodhya is the centre of our Hindu nationhood, and Lord Rama our national leader. Without Ayodhya, this nation cannot be a nation in the fullest sense of the word, just as there can be no Christendom, which is what Europe is, without the Vatican."9

YET another controversy is over the exact location of Ayodhya. Archaeological excavations at Ayodhya, which is on the right bank of the Saryu river in Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh, reveal that "the earliest settlement at Ayodhya did not go back prior to the early stage of the Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW), Culture", which could be assigned to circa 700 BCE. Thus if the Ramayana episode is historical, it could not have taken place earlier.10 Based on Valmiki's Ramayana and a few other sources, Sher Singh contends that if Valmiki's description of Ayodhya is correct, it must be some 22 km south of the river Saryu in Nepal.11 The traditional lack of interest in cartography in India is not helpful in solving this riddle in any way.

The "Muslim conquest" sets the next and most important stage in the controversy. Emperor Babar's general, Mir Baqi, is believed to have destroyed a Ram temple and built the Babri Masjid on the same spot around 1528 CE. Whether there really existed a temple before the mosque was built is the core of the controversy now. B.B. Lal, who initiated and headed an archaeological survey of Ayodhya since 1975 and never once mentioned any evidence of a temple at the dispute site, made a surprising claim in the Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS) magazine Manthan in October 1990 of having found the pillar-bases of what may have been a temple at the site. 12 As historical and archaeological "evidence" fail to tell us anything concrete or even remotely convincing, so do the voices of faith. As Rajeev Saxena asks, if there was an actual demolition of a Ram temple, how come the famous poet Tulsidas, who sang the glory of his beloved Ram during the early part of the 17th century, kept silent on this issue. After all,the poet wrote about secular subjects such as massive deaths in Banaras due to epidemic and unemployment, his arthritis problem, Brahmins' attack on him for his "low caste" status and so forth.13

In the 18th century, Ayodhya once again became a major centre of Hindu pilgrimage under the patronage of the Nawabs of Avadh, Shuja-ud-daulah and Asaf-ud-daulah. Hindu revivalism, which took root in Avadh, consolidated its position after the British takeover of Ayodhya. At this time the Nirmohis, a Hindu sect who had their establishment at Ram Ghat and Guptar Ghat, lay their claim over the Babri Masjid. They contended that the mosque stood on the spot of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple, which was destroyed by Babar. These claims led to the violent conflict of 1853-55. 14 In May 1883 the Deputy Commissioner of Faizabad refused permission to Hindus to construct a temple on the chabutara (platform) just outside on the left side of the gate following objections raised by Muslims. In 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das filed a suit in the court of the sub-judge at Faizabad seeking permission to build the temple and in March 1886, the sub-judge turned down the plea for permission to construct a temple and appeals were dismissed.15 Tensions mounted and Muslim shaheeds (martyrs) gathered in the fortified Babri Masjid and their Hindu counterparts thronged the nearby Hanuman Garhi. Following a battle that left some 75 Muslims dead, Hindus took the Babri Masjid.16

It is only in the 19th century that the temple-demolition/ mosque-construction story gets recorded. In 1822, Hafizullah, an official of the Faizabad law court, claimed that "(t)he mosque founded by emperor Babar is situated at the birth-place of Ram" and then the story gets into the records such as P. Carnegy's historical sketch of Faizabad (1870), H. R. Nevill's Faizabad District Gazetteer, and as a footnote in Mrs. A. S. Beveridge's English translation of Babur's Memoirs (1922).17 The British often referred to the mosque in their files as the "Janmasthan Mosque of Ajoodhia" and put up a notice board in front of the iron railings calling the monument wiwad grast (disputed). When the mosque was under the control of Muslims through the 1920s and 1930s, it was mismanaged and neglected, and the Waqf (Muslim endowment board) Commissioner of Faizabad condemned the muttwalii as an opium addict in a report dated September 16, 1938.18

The installation of idols inside the mosque on the night of December 22, 1949 led to the attachment and closure of the building for both Muslims and Hindus by an administrative order. Contrary to the "Ram's miraculous appearance" theory, the First Investigation Report of the Station House Officer of the Ayodhya police station, dated December 23, 1949, stated that three individuals (Abdy Ram Das, Ram Shukla Das, Sudarshan Das) and some 50 to 60 people had "desecrated (napak kiya hai) the mosque by trespassing (sic) the mosque through rioting and placing idol in it. Officers-on-duty and many other people have seen it." Later some 5,000 to 6,000 people tried to enter the mosque raising religious slogans and singing kirtans but were stopped.19

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A civil suit was filed on January 16, 1950 by an individual, Gopal Singh Visharad, for a declaration of the right to worship. The judge restrained the removal of the idols and ordered no interference with the puja (worship). The State of U.P. filed an appeal against the injunction on April 24, 1950. According to historian Sushil Srivastava, "from 1951 to 1986, things remained relatively quiet in Faizabad." 20 Just as there was a lull between 1886 and 1950 without any street or court battles, the period between 1951 and 1986 passed without any major incidents. Although the All India Hindu Mahasabha and the Bharatiya Jan Sangh had included Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi on their programmes ever since their inception, the present-day Sangh Parivar stumbled upon the powerful symbols of Ram, Ram Janmabhoomi and Babri Masjid only in the late 1980s. Throughout 1983, for instance, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), along with leaders of some 85 major sects of Hinduism, was drifting aimlessly with the Ekatmata Yagna (integration rite), which projected the picture of Bharatmata (Mother India) and the kalas (brass vessel) of "holy" water from different rivers.

In October 1984 the VHP tried to make the mosque-temple question a national issue through its Sri Rama Janma Bhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti. The Samiti was formed on July 27, 1984 with the sole aim of "liberating" the disputed site. A 130-kilometre march was started on October 8, 1984 from Ayodhya to Lucknow, the State capital. The yatra (march) participants reached Lucknow on October 14, organised a public meeting, and called on the Chief Minister "to fulfil the long outstanding demand of the Hindus." The next day a "Sri Rama Janaki Ratha" (Ram-Sita chariot) began to tour major U.P. towns so as to mobilise public opinion and to administer a "Janmasthan Mukti Pledge" to the public. Although the "ratha" reached Delhi on October 31 to join a "Hindu Convention" on November 2, Indira Gandhi's assassination forced the cancellation of the programme.21

As the Shah Bano controversy22 was raging across India in late 1985, the District and Sessions Judge of Faizabad, K. M. Pandey, ordered that the locks of the mosque be opened, and he indirectly allowed the priests to enter it. The padlocks were removed on the order of the District Judge on February 1, 1986. After giving in to Muslim fundamentalism on the Shah Bano case, the Rajiv Gandhi Government was keen on playing the "Hindu card" for presumed electoral gains. N. Ram contends that the assurances given to the Hindu communalists before the court decision and the failure to appeal against the order revealed the collusive hand of Rajiv Gandhi's Government.23 An explosive situation emerged almost all over the country with Muslims protesting and VHP elements celebrating and criticising the "Muslim objection to the judicial order on the Babri Masjid." Rajiv Gandhi's Minister for Wakf, Rajindra Kumari Bajpai, advised Muslims to "take recourse to law and not to create disturbance." 24

The Sangh Parivar's "National Thinkers Conferences", organised in various places across the country in 1987, and the Bharatiya Janata Party's Palampur Resolution of June 1989 consolidated the Ayodhya movement. The most critical stage of the conflict, however, was the build-up to the 1989 elections, which witnessed the preparation and mobilisation to demolish the mosque and build a Ram temple with consecrated bricks brought from all over India and other countries. As N. Ram points out, just a few days before the 1989 general elections, the desperate Rajiv Gandhi regime allowed the VHP to perform shilanyas (laying of the foundation stone) for the Ram temple on November 9, 1989 on the disputed land which was temporarily declared to be undisputed. This action boosted the VHP-BJP-RSS combine to advance its Ram Janmabhoomi campaign through changes of regime.25

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The November 22-24, 1989 general elections witnessed the worst ever communal violence in independent India's electoral history and took a massive toll of 800 lives in the Hindi belt. V. P. Singh became Prime Minister with the support of the BJP, which won 88 seats in the new Lok Sabha. The V. P. Singh regime ushered in the judicial process by getting a special Bench established at the Allahabad High Court on January 8, 1990 and pleading for a ban on construction until the title to the disputed site could be decided and the site plan approved. The Special Court called upon the U.P. Government to clarify the status of the site. A Hindu priest filed a writ petition seeking permission to construct the temple at the spot of the shilanyas that was performed on November 9, 1989. Having been directed by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court to file a counter-affidavit, the Central Government maintained that no construction could be allowed unless all the civil suits pending before the special bench of the High Court were decided.26

On January 12, 1990, the Supreme Court allowed the "Hindu" representatives to raise a preliminary issue before the full Bench of the High Court that the suit by the Sunni Waqf on behalf of Muslims was not maintainable. The Bench, however, decided that it would not interfere with the October 23, 1989 order of the Lucknow Bench before taking evidence for the trial of all the five suits which were 28 to 39 years old in their pendency in the District Court. The VHP appealed to the Supreme Court that the Sunni Waqf suit filed on December 18, 1961 be dismissed on the grounds it cited.

Meanwhile, the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) revived its earlier demand made at its December 25, 1989 meeting that if a negotiated settlement failed, the dispute should be decided by High Court judges "of some South Indian State, none of whom should be either Hindu or Muslim." The RSS mouthpiece, Organiser of January 14, 1990 took exception to this revived claim and V. P. Singh's meeting with Muslim leaders and claimed that it "was not a case about the title of a place but of undoing a historical wrong and for that matter no court could decide it." They would rather follow the guidance of the Dharmacharya Sammelan (gathering of religious heads) to be held on January 27-28, 1990 at Allahabad.27

The "auspicious" February 14 was chosen to begin temple construction, and V.P. Singh managed with great difficulty to get the date changed by pointing out the grave situation in Kashmir and Punjab. As the Hindutva groups' June 8 deadline passed without any settlement plan from the Government, the VHP meeting in Hardwar decided to begin construction from October 30.

With this backdrop, V. P. Singh introduced the reservation bill in the Lok Sabha on August 7, 1990 and "upper caste" Hindus rose in revolt. With Brahmin youth immolating themselves in northern India, L.K. Advani set out in September on his 10,000-km "rath yatra" (chariot procession) to carry out the Ayodhya construction and to force the Government to hand over the site to the Hindutva forces. When Advani and his cohorts were arrested in Bihar on October 23, the BJP withdrew its support to the Government and the V. P. Singh Ministry fell on November 9.

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Chandra Shekhar, who was Prime Minister from November 1990 to early March 1991, made a breakthrough by bringing both the VHP and the AIBMAC to the negotiating table. Representatives of the two organisations met first on December 1, 1990, presented the "evidence" of their sides to the Union Government on December 23, obtained copies of the "evidence" of the other side from the Government, and met again on January 10, 1991. At that meeting they decided to set up four committees of experts nominated by both parties to examine the historical and archeological evidence and revenue and legal records collected as evidence. The VHP released the summary of its "evidence" to the public, turned down the demand of the other side for more time to study and evaluate the "evidence" , and made it known that it was not interested in an amicable solution. 28

The ultimate stage of the conflict was the Narasimha Rao Government's inaction even after the virtual announcement by the Hindu communalists in late October 1992 of their plan to demolish the mosque.

As N. Ram puts it: "If there is one 'theory' that this devotee of drift has contributed to national political life, it is the non-secular rule of not opposing 'Hindu religious sentiment' under any circumstances and of avoiding 'confrontation' with the saffron gentry and their lay allies."29

According to P.V. Narasimha Rao's statement on Ayodhya, which he was not allowed to make in Parliament, about 70,000 kar sevaks (volunteers) had assembled at the Ram Katha Kunj for a public meeting and 500 sadhus and sants (religious figures) at the foundation terrace for pooja. Between 11.45 a.m. and 11.50 a.m. some 150 kar sevaks managed to break the cordon on the terrace and pelted stones at the police. About 1,000 kar sevaks broke into the Babri Masjid structure and some 80 of them managed to climb on the domes of the mosque and started demolishing them. In the meantime, they had damaged the outer boundary wall.

At around 12.20 p.m. about 25,000 kar sevaks had gathered in the complex and by 2.40 p.m. a crowd of 75,000 was surrounding the structure, and many in it were engaged in demolition.30 Cases were registered against Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati of the BJP (all of whom are now Ministers in the Union Government), Ashok Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia of the VHP, and Vinay Katiyar of the Bajrang Dal. They were all arrested and remanded to judicial custody.

In an elusive statement on December 8, Advani retorted: "(When) an old structure which ceased to be a mosque over 50 years back is pulled down by a group of people exasperated by the tardiness of the judicial process, and the obtuseness and myopia of the executive, they are reviled by the President, the Vice-President and political parties as betrayers of the nation, destroyers of the Constitution and what not! ...I wish to caution the Government against this approach... Their pronouncements against kar sevaks are only strengthening the movement.31 Quite evidently, the Babri Masjid demolition was part of the Ayodhya movement.

The Narasimha Rao Government passed the Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act 1993, a belated measure that preserved the post-demolition status quo. The ordinance stipulated, among other things, that the disputed land would be handed over to a trust formed only after the promulgation of the Act. On October 24, 1994, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the presidential reference upholding the acquisition of the disputed 67 acres of land in Ayodhya and empowering the Government to delegate a trust to manage the property and to enable Hindus to worship in the makeshift temple on the basis of the "comparative user" principle (namely, Muslims were praying less often than Hindus in the disputed structure before demolition). However, the judgment struck down as unconstitutional Section 4(3) of the Ayodhya Act which abated any pending "suit, appeal or other proceeding". This decision revived the proceedings pending in the Allahabad High Court, which will decide if Muslims had the right to worship in the disputed area.32

(To be concluded)

S.P. Udayakumar is Research Associate and Co-Director of Programmes, Institute of Race and Poverty, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States.

See Gyanendra Pandey, "Ayodhya and the State," Seminar 364 (December 1989). p. 40. M. J. Akbar, Riot After Riot: Reports on Caste and Communal Violence in India. New Delhi: Penguin Books, 1988. p. 133. In the Hindu cyclic theory of time, the cycle was called a kalpa equivalent to 4,320 million earthly years. The kalpa is divided into 14 periods; each of these periods is divided into 71 Great Intervals; and every GI is divided into four yugas (period of time), krutha, tretha, dwapara, and kali. The yugas contain 4,800, 3,600, 2,400, and 1,200 god-years (one god-year being 360 human years) with a corresponding decline in the quality of civilisation. We are at present in the seventh of the 14 periods of the present kalpa and in the fourth yuga called kaliyuga when the world is full of evil and wickedness. Although we have several millennia before the end of the world, it is nonetheless imminent. Romila Thapar, A History of India (Volume I). Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin, 1968. p. 161 "The Babri Masjid Dispute," Spotlight on Regional Affairs 10/7-8 (July-August 1991). p. 8. Pandey, 1989, p. 40. Thapar, 1968, p. 140. Sher Singh, "What History Says About Ayodhya," in Asghar Ali Engineer, Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Controversy. Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1990. pp. 79-80. Spotlight on Regional Affairs, July-August 1991, pp. 7-9. Jay Dubashi, The Road to Ayodhya. New Delhi: Voice of India, 1992. p. 57. See "B. B. Lal's Report on Archaeology of Ramayana Sites Project," in Asghar Ali Engineer, Politics of Confrontation: The Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Controversy Runs Riot. Delhi: Ajanta, 1992. pp. 268-9. P. S. Sridhara Murthy, Rama, Ramayana and Babar. Bangalore: Dalit Sahitya Akademy, 1988. p. 30. The excavated site has been filled in and a re-excavation of the same site has become very difficult as the filling has disturbed the sequential layers. See "On Archaeological Evidence of Demolition of 'Mandir': Joint Statement of Thapar, Gopal and Panikkar of JNU," in Engineer, 1992, pp. 273-4. See also "Romila Thapar on Archaeological Finding in Ayodhya," in ibid., pp. 277-8. See Rajeev Saxena, "Tulsidas' Silence on Ram Mandir at Ayodhya," Mainstream, January 9, 1993. pp. 33-4. Sushil Srivastava, The Disputed Mosque: A Historical Inquiry. New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 1991. pp. 43-4. K. L. Chanchreek and Saroj Prasad, eds., Crisis in India. Delhi: H. K. Publishers, 1993. p. 77. See Akbar, 1988, pp. 126-134. Harbans Mukhia, "Ayodhya Dispute: Historical Evidence and BJP's Aim," in Engineer, 1992, p. 19. Akbar, 1988, pp. 126-134. J. C. Aggarwal and N. K. Chowdhry, Ram Janmabhoomi Through the Ages: Babri Masjid Controversy. New Delhi: S. Chand & Company Ltd., 1991. pp. 81-2. Srivastava, 1991, p. 17. "Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Liberation Agitation," in Asghar Ali Engineer, ed., Babri-Masjid Ramjanmabhoomi Controversy. Delhi: Ajanta, 1990. pp. 228-30. When the Supreme Court ruled that the divorce of a Muslim woman, Shah Bano, on the basis of Islamic custom was not valid, it gave rise to anger and resentment among Muslim groups. In May 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi Government introduced the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill in order to please and retain its Muslim vote bank. N. Ram, "The Great Catastrophe", Frontline, January 1, 1993. p. 23. "Events of February 1986-Seizure of Babri Masjid," in Engineer, 1990, pp. 201-4. N. Ram, 1993, p. 23. Spotlight on Regional Affairs, July-August 1991, pp. 82, 85-6. Ibid., pp. 86-8. The VHP gives its own account of the talks in History Versus Casuistry: Evidence of the Ramjanmabhoomi Mandir Presented by the Vishva Hindu Parishad to the Government of India in December-January 1990-91. New Delhi: Voice of India, 1991. pp. i-iv. For the VHP's evidence, see pp. 1-75. A member of the VHP team engaged in the dialogue with the AIBMAC, Harsh Narain, has come up with more "evidence"'from Muslim historical sources for the alleged "existence and desecration" of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple and its replacement with the Babri mosque. See Harsh Narain, The Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Dispute: Focus on Muslim Sources. Delhi: Penman Publishers, 1993. N. Ram, "Hindutva's Challenge," Seminar 402 (February 1993). p. 25. Chanchreek and Prasad, 1993, p. 109. ibid., p. 250. For the official stand of the BJP, see BJP's White Paper on Ayodhya and the Rama Temple Movement. New Delhi: BJP, 1993. Christophe Jaffrelot, The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. pp. 544-46.

Chapnari's terror

The latest massacre in Doda points once again to a planned bid to transform Kashmir's insurgency into a Hindu-Muslim communal confrontation, a prospect with all-India political consequences.

The man with the long beard opened fire first, and I fell down. Many people fell on top of me. I lay there for a long time, until I was sure they had gone. When I got up, I saw that all the people who had died were lying down, asleep. Only a few woke up.

- 14-year-old Pishori Lal, survivor of the June 19 Chapnari massacre.

CHAPNARI is situated 10 km from Doda, along the poorly maintained and winding mountain road to Bhagwa. Ever since Bhagwa was cut off following a landslip early this year, Chapnari has been the last stop for the occasional bus service from Doda. The more affluent passengers wishing to travel in comfort paid Rs. 15 for a seat on a van owned by an enterprising Doda resident, Vijay Shah. Two tea-stalls met the needs of passengers.

But after 25 members of a marriage procession were butchered there by terrorists on June 19, both the tea shops have been abandoned. Shah's van, hijacked by terrorists to carry out their attack and then escape, has also stopped plying on the route. Pools of dried blood on the road was yet to merge with the dust. Each conversation with a stranger begins with a cautious negotiation of his or her religious identity, and few people will pause to talk for long. The stop on the road has become a metaphor for Doda.

Its status as an icon might account for Chapnari's elevation to one of the most important shrines of pilgrimage for media-savvy politicians now. After Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, along with high officials from New Delhi and Srinagar, flew into Doda in three helicopters, he was driven down the road to Chapnari in a 24-vehicle convoy. Thousands of police and security force personnel had been deployed to sanitise the route to Chapnari, and from there to Advani's public meeting venue at Prem Nagar. The process included three inch-by-inch deep-search mine detection sweeps.

No one will say what the VIP visit cost, but its ironies were evident. Advani was informed that there was no money available for the Village Defence Committees (VDCs), local self-protection groups armed with obsolete .303 Lee Enfield rifles. Some of these rifles were so worn out that they had been locally re-bored to use 7.62 mm cartridges. Special Police Officers (SPOs) hired for counter-terrorist work received just Rs. 1,500 a month to risk their lives; from this money they had to pay for food and uniforms. Long-standing demands for troop and police strength upgradation, and for new weapons, vehicles and communications systems, had been forced on ice for want of money.

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WHAT actually happened at Chapnari? The accounts of the shattered survivors from Chapnari are, unsurprisingly, clear only in their broad contours, and the physical descriptions of the terrorists and their weapons vary considerably in detail. Early on the morning of June 19, Om Prakash's wedding procession set out from Kadlal village to Korda, near Prem Nagar, where his bride Bimla Devi waited. Two sets of newly-weds were with the procession. Khem Raj, Bimla Devi's brother, had married Om Prakash's sister Leela Devi at Kadlal a day earlier, and was taking his wife back with him in the traditional doli (palanquin). Sesh Ram, Om Prakash and Leela Devi's brother, and Dugdi Devi whom he had married three days before, also tagged along. The procession was to have been met by a hired bus at Chapnari, from where they were to drive to Prem Nagar, the roadhead to Kadlal. All the families were marginal single-crop maize farmers. The new grooms were wearing plastic slippers, and the procession's sole concession to wedding ostentation was a small village band.

The procession reached Chapnari at 12-30 p.m. For reasons that are not clear, the hired bus had not arrived, and the group was forced to wait. Most of the men made their way to the two tea-stalls, while the two women waited some distance away along with the doli. The only other people at the bus stand were three schoolteachers, two Muslim and one Hindu, as well as the tea-stall employees. Three people on a pilgrimage to the shrine at Vaishno Devi, who had travelled with the wedding party up to Chapnari, negotiated with the driver of Shah's van for a ride to Doda, but were put off by the price he demanded. The van left, only to return a few minutes later. "We only saw it when it took the sharp bend after the tea-stalls," recalls survivor Janak Raj, "and five armed men got out."

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"There was no time to run. They asked all the baraatis (participants in the wedding procession) to gather on one side and throw their money, identity cards and other possessions on the ground. They then asked the VDC members to step aside, but though I was one, I did not do so. At that time, we thought they would rob us, perhaps beat us, and then let us go."

The women at the doli sensed more serious trouble. Leela Devi has not spoken more than a few words since the killing, but Dugdi Devi told Frontline about the events at the doli. "One man," she said, "who looked like a local, came up and asked us to throw our jewellery on the ground. Then he told us that after they had killed the men they would kill us too. He walked away towards the baraatis, and we readied ourselves to run downhill." Seconds later, gunfire rang out. "A man with a long beard opened fire first," says 14-year-old Pishori Lal, who was drafted in as a band member because one of the regular dhol-drum players had fallen ill. "The gunfire continued for a long time, or at least it seemed like that. They gave no warning before shooting." The women fled downhill, where they remained until they heard police vehicles and Army trucks arriving at Chapnari half an hour later. Most of the survivors had by that time begun to make their way to the Army camp at Bhagwa, taking theinjured with them.

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Some speculation has linked the Chapnari killings to the murder of four Muslims at Karara on March 19 by a group of Hindu villagers, with the connivance of a Border Security Force (BSF) picket ('Blood on the Chenab'', Frontline, April 24). This theory appears implausible for the simple reason that none from Kadlal village were involved in the Karara killings, located some distance away from the roadhead on the opposite side of the river.

Another possible cause is that the VDC in Korda was engaged in exchange of fire with terrorists for three weeks before the Chapnari massacre. One VDC member in adjoining Banol, Paras Ram, was murdered along with his wife Sabhawati Devi. Frustrated by their inability to eliminate resistance at Korda, this theory suggests, the terrorists extracted vengeance at Chapnari. This version of events, however, does not explain why Khem Raj and others travelling with them from Korda were not ambushed on their way to Kadlal.

The most plausible explanation is that the terrorists were simply looking to carry out a communal massacre, and found a soft target. From the van driver's account it is clear that the terrorists made their way down to the road through the Bijarni nallah 2 km from Chapnari. The bend on the road before the terminus ensured that they remained unseen until the last moment, and the arrival of the van saved them the trouble of walking the distance. However, given the fact that three Army camps surround the area, and patrols are frequent, it is unlikely that the terrorists would have waited for more than a day in the area. This suggests that the group had at least some advance information of the baraat's travel plans.

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In this context, investigators are interested in the testimony of Deep Singh, the band leader. For example, Deep Singh told Frontline that he had seen two men open fire in succession, a somewhat improbable display of courage. Local people claim that the band leader had previously been arrested by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) for aiding terrorists, a charge that he denies.

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THEN what were the terrorists' motives? Despite Advani's claims that the killings were intended to effect ethnic cleansing, it is unlikely that even the most mindless terrorist would believe that this incident would bring about what the six previous massacres in the region since 1993 have failed to do. Indeed, classified information available with Frontline shows that in each year except in 1995, more Muslims have been killed than Hindus, this year's current post-Chapnari status being a temporary phenomenon (see table). These facts have not prevented some security personnel from seeing themselves as protectors of Hindus alone. (However, since 1993 seven massacres have taken place in Doda district including the Chapnari massacre of June 19. Sixteen bus passengers were killed at Kishtwar on August 14, 1993. In 1996, 15 villagers were massacred at Barshalla on the night of January 5/6; nine people were killed at Kamlari on the night of June 8/9; and 13 were killed at Sarodhar on July 25. In 1997, six members of a village defence committee were killed at Kud Dhar on the night of October 14/15. Two massacres have taken place this year. The first one was on the night of April 5/6. The other one was the Chapnari massacre. In all these incidents, Hindus were the victims.)

On January 30, Id day, 10 unarmed Muslim villagers were shot dead by an Army patrol at Qadrana village in Doda's Kishtwar tehsil, the worst single massacre of its kind since the Bijbehara killings in 1995. And increasingly, Hindu-dominated VDCs are being hijacked by communal tendencies. On June 23, in the latest of a string of such incidents, VDC members at Chilad village beat to death two Muslims and set fire to dozens of homes in reprisal for Hindu homes having been burned down by terrorists a day earlier.

On the contrary, massacres are an enterprise that the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-Bharatiya Janata Party members, ably aided by their new backer, the National Conference, are complicit in - considering their own role in communalising Doda. At the Prem Nagar public meeting that followed Advani's visit to Chapnari, Jammu BJP chief D.K. Kotwal claimed that the killings were intended to "drive out patriots from Doda". What he meant by "patriots" was left in no doubt, since banners at the meeting called on Advani to "save Hindus". BJP youth wing leader Anil Parihar justified such rhetoric while speaking to Frontline, claiming that local MLA Khalid Suhrawardy had called for the elimination of "10 Hindus for each Muslim killed at Karara." This is not the truth, but that call was indeed made by Jamaat-e-Islami workers chanting slogans at a post-Karara protest in Doda. Suhrawardy, evidently motivated by the desire to keep his communal credentials intact, chose to share a platform at that meeting with the Jamaat-e-Islami's Sayyidullah Tantrey. Given his party's implacable historic opposition to the Jamaat in Kashmir, this action can only be described as wholly immoral.

BJP-RSS theories have it that the rise of violence in Doda has to do with the withdrawal of Army troops from the region. Deployment data prepared for Advani show that the Army's current strength of nine battalions is higher than its pre-1996 levels, and down by just two battalions from the election period in 1996-1997. More precipitate reductions have come in other forces. The personnel levels of the Jammu and Kashmir Armed Police have fallen from one battalion in August 1995 to two companies today. All six BSF battalions present in 1996, as well as 10 CRPF companies deployed last year, were pulled out.

Indeed, it is possible to argue that Doda's security problems are the outcome not just of reduced numbers, but of operational failures as well. The Chapnari belt, for example, was protected by three Army outposts in a 1.5 km triangle. None responded to the fire by launching search operations, a fact for which there has been no official explanation. One villager who spoke to Advani at Chapnari attributed this to incompetence. He said that the Rashtriya Rifles troopers who replaced Gurkha Rifles personnel this year were simply unfit for the demands of Doda's high-altitude jungle war.

But the most serious problems of all are political. The massacres in Doda since 1993 have had two principal objectives. The first has been to underline the presence and power of the terrorists, despite their inability to hit military and political targets in a significant way. The second, and more important, one has been to transform Kashmir's insurgency into a Hindu-Muslim communal confrontation, a prospect which has all-India political consequences. Troops will do little to prevent this objective from transforming itself into a reality.

Among those who survived Chapnari were the three primary school teachers. The two Muslims among them, not identified for security reasons, successfully begged the terrorists at Chapnari for the life of their Hindu colleague, Raj Bishan, refusing to leave without him. Politicians like the BJP's Kotwal or the National Conference's Suhrawardy seem intent on sabotaging this kind of unity.

Controversy over a dam

There has been no meaningful dialogue between the promoters of the Maheshwar dam and the district administration on the one side and the people and the Narmada Bachao Andolan on the other.

THE controversy over the dams being built across the Narmada has once again surfaced with work starting on the 400 MW Maheshwar hydel power dam in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. The Rs. 1,569-crore project, the first private hydel project in the country, is being constructed by the Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation Ltd and is one of the 30 big dams on the river.

It appears that the absence of proper communication between the textile company S. Kumars and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is the major factor that has heightened the controversy.

The controlling equity stake of Shree Maheshwar Hydel Power Corporation is vested with the S. Kumars group, whose business interests have so far been confined to textiles. According to the director of S. Kumars Synfabs Ltd, Vikas Kasliwal, whose family hailed from the area, the group entered the power sector because "it is the biggest thing in infrastructure development." Other equity holders are Bayernwerk Group, VEW Energie, Siemens AG and ABB.

The Maheshwar dam is located in the Nimar region, which is populated by Patidar and Rajput farmers who have modest but prosperous landholdings. They refer to the river as Narmadaji. Since 1996, the NBA and the residents of the 61 villages that will be affected by the dam have resisted its construction. The NBA demands complete information about the dam and a review of the project based on the cost-benefit ratio, the displacement and resettlement of families, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) and so on.

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Rallies and other forms of agitation, including a hunger strike by activists of the NBA, resulted in intervention by the State Government. In February, it passed an order to halt work temporarily at the site until a task force presented a report on June 30. S. Kumars appealed to the Government against the order saying that a wall was essential at the site to prevent silting of the pit dug for the powerhouse by monsoon floods. In March, the Government granted permission to build the wall, and since then the wall has become the focus of a dispute. The NBA says the wall is actually a part of the powerhouse's wall, while S. Kumars maintains that only a part of the wall is meant for this powerhouse and the rest is for the security of the pit. NBA activists say that local residents squatted at the site in protest on April 23 and were arrested and beaten. The police deny this but the NBA has produced photographs of injured protesters as well as their discharge certificates from a local dispensary.

Following the incident, the local residents set up seven checkpoints on the way to the project site. Men and women kept a round-the-clock vigil. They have stopped the entry of construction materials into the area. When truck drivers resisted, they poured water on the cement bags. Sub Divisional Officer K.L. Anjna warned that there would be action against the "illegal" checkpoints. On May 31, those who guarded the checkpoints were arrested and 60 trucks carrying the cement were allowed to enter the site. The NBA estimated that 500 persons were arrested. A press release that it issued claimed that NBA leader Medha Patkar and activist Chittroopa Palit were beaten and dragged to the Mandleshwar jail.

There has been no meaningful dialogue between the promoters of the dam and the district administration on the one hand and the local residents and the NBA on the other. The confusion is compounded by the different agendas of the protesters. The NBA protests against the existence of the dam while the residents of the villages, although they support the NBA, have indicated that they would settle for a better relief and rehabilitation package.

Kasliwal says that "the NBA is trying to prevent any overt dialogue." He says that he attempted in vain to meet Medha Patkar through her father and also through Shabana Azmi, actress, activist and Rajya Sabha member. At present there appears to be no meeting ground since the NBA is firm on preventing work on the dam and S. Kumars is determined to go ahead with it. S. Kumars inserted full-page advertisements in the local English and Hindi newspapers detailing "the truth behind the project".

Officials of the district administration say that the NBA has no local support and that protestors are brought in from outside. Anjna, however, told Frontline that he believed that the NBA had influenced the local residents. Lakshman Patidar, a farmer from Sulgaon village, said: "We would have never been able to band together all the villages, organise rallies and set up checkpoints on our own. Tan, man, dhan se hum andolan ke sath hai. (We are wholeheartedly with the Andolan)."

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Early this year, Kasliwal addressed a rally attended by more than 1,000 protesters at the dam site. He said that he tried to clarify their doubts and allay their fears about the dam.

RELIEF and rehabilitation seem to be at the core of the dispute. Protesters quote a Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board (MPEB) resettlement report, which says that S. Kumars has not provided the required amount for relief and afforestation. However, S. Kumars says that Rs. 177.80 crores will be spent on relief and rehabilitation and 'catchment area treatment'. Claiming that its relief and rehabilitation package is "comprehensive and liberal", S. Kumars says that a reputed Delhi architectural firm has been commissioned to plan the villages, where the displaced families would be resettled. The company promises to provide public utilities, roads and electricity to the villages.

However, the situation on the ground does not tally with these claims. Residents of the villages say that notifications for land acquisition have not been issued and a survey has not been done. The NBA says that the first notice was served in February 1997, to acquire land for the company's housing colony. According to the NBA, no notices were served with respect to the land that was acquired for the dam site. Several local residents alleged that the land was acquired in 1986 by force. According to Dasratbhai of Jalud village, a part of his field was occupied and his irrigation pipes were filled with cement in order to prevent him from cultivating the field. The price offered for the land is also a contentious issue. Local residents say that the market rate is about Rs. 1 lakh an acre (Rs. 2.5 lakhs a hectare) while the Government offers only Rs. 20,000.

The farmers are also angry that that their fields have been enclosed by a barbed wire fence. A resident of Jalud village said that he had lost Rs. 20,000 because he was barred from entering his vegetable field.

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OF the 61 villages that will be affected, 13 will be submerged totally and nine partially. As per government rules, villages that will be fully submerged should be rebuilt near their original sites and those that will be partially submerged should be located in the same area above the maximum water level.

Dr. N.B. Jain, the company's director for relief and rehabilitation, says that the rehabilitation plan will benefit the landless since the government's policy is that every adult should get 5,400 square feet of land. For instance, Jalud village is spread over 2.6 ha but the new village will be 13 ha. However, although the company will pay for the transportation of construction materials, the actual cost of construction must be borne by the residents themselves.

Cost escalation owing to the delay in implementing relief and rehabilitation measures will also become a major issue. In his notes prepared for a Cabinet meeting, Deputy Chief Minister Subhash Yadav said: "The Government will not bear the cost of delays in relief and rehabilitation and measures to protect the environment. These will have to be borne by the MPEB."

At present, for the residents of Jalud, which will be the first village to be submerged, relief and rehabilitation work is under way. They will be relocated 3 km from their present village; they will be provided buildings for a school, a dispensary and a panchayat office.

Although the new site is acceptable to Jalud's residents, they have rejected the fields that are being offered to them in a rocky hill. S. Kumars, which says that the land was selected with the approval of the sarpanch, proceeded to level the area and crush the rocks. The farmers, however, claim that the first rain will wash away their efforts. Fertile black earth is being spread on the barren land, but this had led to trouble. The black soil is brought from a dry lake bed nearby. The Dalits who raise crop on the lake bed have protested against the depletion of their cultivable land.

ACCORDING to the S. Kumars' schedule, the reservoir will be filled in 2002. The displaced persons will be rehabilitated a year prior to this. The process of relief and rehabilitation calls for a resurvey of the earlier report by the MPEB, but S. Kumars says that the schedule is affected because the company is prevented from entering the villages. According to officials at the dam site, surveying has been undertaken only on an area that extends 15 km on both sides of the river.

In an effort to educate the displaced persons about their rights, the NBA took them to meet families similarly displaced by the Bargi and Tava dams. The relief and rehabilitation work in these cases has turned out to be disastrous because the backwaters of these dams submerged even the resettlement sites. However, Jain says: "There is absolutely no chance of the new areas being submerged." Explaining the lay of the land, an engineer at S. Kumars said: "There will be no submergence since 60 to 70 per cent of the width of the dam is within the natural flood plain." Going by the contour maps examined by this correspondent, submergence levels will be in the range of 50 to 100 metres on either bank from the existing high water level of the river.

One complaint of the families that would be displaced was that they were not aware of the level of submergence. Kasliwal said that in an effort to allay this fear the company had attempted to construct footpaths on either bank to indicate the submergence level. However, he said, the local residents prevented the work with threats of assault.

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To bolster its case, the NBA cites the instance of the withdrawal of PacifiCorp, an investor in the project, in early 1996. In response to a letter from the NBA, which detailed the destruction of a sustainable economy, Dennis Quinn, vice-president of PacifiCorp, says in his letter dated May 7, 1998, that his company withdrew because of a policy decision "not to pursue energy infrastructure investments in India". Quinn says: "We regard the issues described in your letter very seriously. We have much respect for the S. Kumars organisation but we also respect the concerns of the people expressed in your letter to us." He adds that "if PacifiCorp were to re-evaluate an investment position in the project in future, it would only be under the condition that the needs of the mass of affected people be properly addressed and consensus regarding how the project proceeds is reached by all stakeholders, including the Narmada Bachao Andolan."

The protesters also quote from a survey conducted by the Department of Earthquake Engineering of the University of Roorkee, which says that the dam lies in the tectonically disturbed Narmada-Son-Damodar region. The report says: "The fault can be reactivated at any time given the recurrence of nearby quakes." It mentions a 1938 earthquake, which measured 6.25 on the Richter scale with its epicentre only 70 km from the dam site. However, Girish Bakre, senior vice president of S. Kumars Power Corporation Ltd, claimed that the dam had been designed to withstand an earthquake that measured 7 on the Richter scale.

THE Maheshwar dam is crucial to the Narmada Valley Development Authority's scheme of things. It will be part of a complex comprising the Maheshwar, Indira Sagar and Onkareshwar dams. Apart from generating power, Maheshwar will be the key project for water regulation and the maintenance of water use account for Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

An MPEB cost analysis report highlights the key role of the Maheshwar dam when it states that "the project is viable even if the upstream Indira Sagar and Onkareshwar projects are not constructed." The NBA objects to this "haphazard planning" and questions the Government's judgment in constructing a terminal dam (that is, Maheshwar) before tapping the source waters (that is, completing Indira Sagar). Serious questions are being raised about the one lakh hectacres of land that will be submerged by Indira Sagar as well as the inadequate relief and rehabilitation for 249 villages. It is imperative that Maheshwar be constructed prior to Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat. The filling of Sardar Sarovar will mean that its backwaters - extending up to 214 km - would submerge the foundations of the Maheshwar dam, according to the NBA.

The NBA has also protested against the Narmada being virtually turned into a series of backwaters. After the 214-km stretch of Sardar Sarovar backwaters, there will be a series of three dams, which will also form backwaters. This dam-backwater series will occupy about 400 km of the river. This, say farmers, will cause waterlogging in the black alluvial soil and destroy its vitality. The NBA says that this fact was pointed out by a former Chief Engineer of the Madhya Pradesh Government, R.L. Gupta.

The PPA is also a matter of dispute. Being a hydel power station, Maheshwar will only provide peaking power, that is, power required during the maximum demand period. This period is usually late in the morning and at night. Thus the station will be functional only for between five and six hours a day and the MPEB will purchase and distribute the entire 400 MW produced. An MPEB report on "necessity and cost-benefit analysis" says that the shortfall in the peak demand of the State is 1,500 MW.

The PPA was not made available to Frontline, but according to the NBA, the MPEB has a 35-year agreement to purchase 90 per cent of the power generated. Pointing at the low water capacity in the dry season and hence the low power production, the NBA argues that the PPA disproportionately favours the project.

S. Kumars says: "Maheshwar has been found viable at a dependability of 90 per cent" (It argues that hydel power stations work on the concept of dependability while thermal power stations work on the concept of Plant Load Factor). It is an accepted fact that for a hydel power project to be viable, it has to maintain its dependability (or power production) at 90 per cent of the installed capacity. S. Kumars believes that this will work favourably for the tariff. Thus, in the best case scenario the simple average of 35 years' tariff works out to Rs. 1.61 a unit and in the worst case scenario it will be Rs. 2.33 a unit. Currently, power is available in the State at Rs. 1.70 a unit.

In a paper entitled "Maheshwar Dam: Loot of Public Money", Girish Sant and Shantanu Dixit of the Pune-based Prayas present the flip side: "The project is mainly justified on the basis of its ability to generate power during the period of system peak. But as the calculations based on the detailed reports clearly indicate, the project will generate over 60 per cent of its peak power (or 78 per cent of total power) in the four months of monsoon, when power demand is relatively low."

Sant and Dixit also argue that many projections for the Maheshwar dam presume the completion of the Indira Sagar dam without taking into account that this project suffers from a deficiency of funds. Prayas' calculations raise the tariff to a whopping Rs. 7 to 9 a unit. Opposition to the PPA also comes from Deputy Chief Minister Subhash Yadav, who reportedly described the PPA as "suicidal".

The Maheshwar hydel project appears to be a case in which the pros and cons are balanced. Arguments for the saving of the sustainable economies around it are arguments against increasing power demands. The absence of a dialogue makes the search for solutions all the more difficult.

Project Profile

other

* Length of the Narmada from its source to its estuary: 1,310 km.

* Number of dams envisaged on the river by the Narmada Valley Development Plan: 3,165.

* Height of the Maheshwar dam: 23 metres (plus 7 metres underground and 6 metres free board at the top)

* Length of the Maheshwar reservoir: 40 km * Number of affected villages: 61

* Private agricultural land under submergence: 873 ha.

* Total submerged land: 5,510 ha.

* Cost of relief and rehabilitation and Catchment Area Treatment: Rs. 177.80 crores.

* Land identified for cultivation by the displaced: 1,185 ha.

* Land identified for housing: 285 ha.

PANKAJ SEKHSARIA

other

OF the six aboriginal tribal communities that originally inhabited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, at least two - the Great Andamanese and the Onge - fell victim to the march of civilisation and everything that came with it.

The Great Andamanese, who had lived in an insular world for centuries, were the first tribal community with whom the British established contact. The Onge, who lived on the Little Andaman, were the next. Both communities suffered the ill-effects of this influence. Epidemics of diseases such as pneumonia (which broke out in 1868), measles (1877), influenza (1896) and syphilis killed hundreds of Great Andamanese. The tribal people had no resistance to these diseases, which they contracted from outsiders.

The Great Andamanese are today virtually extinct. In the early part of the 19th century, their population was estimated to be around 5,000; today, there are only 28 of them.

The Onge have fared only marginally better. Their population has dwindled from 600 in 1901 to about 100 today. Since the 1960s the Onge homeland in Little Andaman was cleared of its verdant forests to house thousands of settlers from mainland India. A large-scale timber extraction operation was also started. Attempts are on even today to confine the Onge people to two small settlements so that the rest of the island, which is still a tribal reserve, can be opened up further.

Alcohol, which was introduced to the Onge people by the settlers, has extracted a heavy toll. Settlers use alcohol, to which many among the Onge people have become addicted, to exploit them. The Onge give away resources such as honey, ambergris, and turtle eggs for the ubiquitous bottle, popularly known as 180.

Thus two hardy races, which flourished for centuries in these islands, have been swept aside by the tides of "civilisation".

The BJP's own goal

letters

The Cover Story, ("The BJP's own goal", July 3), reminded me of Satan's words in Paradise Lost. Satan, the Prince of Darkness, said: "Spite, then with spite is best repaid." John Milton found the fit person for these words. Only Satan could speak like that and work for the loss of Paradise. Is it diplomacy to counter discourtesy with discourtesy, evil with more evil?

The linkage between India's nuclear capability and the sensitive Kashmir issue is disastrous. Do the BJP's allies extend unconditional support to the coalition Government only to plunge peaceful India into a nuclear war and make the world more adversarial, suitable only for the survival of satanic forces?

R. Ramasami Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu Criticism and slander

This has reference to the letter by Mrs. Vedavati R. Jogi published in Frontline (July 3, 1998). I regret your decision to publish such canards. While criticism is welcome, slander is not. Although the write-up reveals a particular mindset as pointed out by you, such mindsets, if encouraged, may lead to a situation similar to the one prevailing in Sri Lanka. I recall the article by D.B.S. Jeyaraj, written some time ago in Frontline, about the LTTE terrorists' threats to attacks on the writer.

If some people become fanatics and spew venom at others, it is the duty of the press to campaign against their fanaticism.

I am fully on your side in your struggle against the religious fanaticism of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. You may be surprised to note that most of the ordinary people are against the Hindutva ideology being aggressively propagated by the BJP and many people are against the atom bomb. When thousands of Indians, including Hindus, die of starvation, of malnutrition, and are deprived of basic education, is there any need for a war?

I think only a few people even amongst the 'e-mailers' will support the nuclear misadventures of the BJP Government. Please carry on with the holy war against the anti-people policies of the BJP and keep the flag of Frontline high.

V. Chandrasekhar Palayamkottai, Tamil Nadu.

I was greatly shocked to read the letter. The writer's puerile, philistine remarks have only amounted to a brazen exhibition of her bigoted self. If, according to Marx, religion is the opium of the masses, then Mrs. Jogi richly deserves to be called the Baroness of Bigotry.

I am 20 and my family has been reading The Hindu group of publications for over 25 years. I have more than a dozen non-Hindu friends who all read The Hindu. Mrs. Jogi needs to polish her knowledge of history. She ought to know that The Hindu played a pivotal role in our freedom struggle. She has resented the event of Partition, when actually the BJP leaders endorse it. On which side of the fence does she belong?

One of the real dangers the BJP Government has created is the rise of intolerant and bellicose people who bumptiously air their views. Mrs. Jogi's letter reinforced the timelessness of the saying, "Empty vessels make the most noise."

Prabhu Rangarajan Coimbatore

Responding to the letter from Mrs. Vedavati R. Jogi, you have mentioned about a particular mindset. Please read through all your articles and editorials so far on the BJP and its Government. I hope you will realise the mindset behind them and also publish articles expressing a different mindset.

Rams Rams@auroville.org.in Nuclear mess

"The South Asian Nuclear Mess" (June 14) was interesting and reflected the truth. The BJP's nuclear adventurism has landed us in a mess and we are caught up in competitive jingoism in South Asia. In the same manner, one fine morning they may invite us to a Sita-Rama wedding at the new Ram temple they have promised to build at the site where the Babri Masjid stood. Any such development will have grave implications for India.

D. Ravi Kumar Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh The Divided Self Dev Kumar Vasudevan Mhow, Madhya Pradesh

Frontline has played, true to my anticipation and expectation, a commendable part in bringing out clearly the inherent danger and consequences of the recent nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan. It has analysed all the dimensions of the problem - social, political, economic, diplomatic, moral and, above all, human.

The BJP and its sister organisations had earlier tarnished the image of the Hindu religion and the nation in the eyes of the world by demolishing the Babri Masjid. With the latest provocative, adventurous and childish action of nuclear explosions, they have repeated the slander and created a crisis on the diplomatic front, which succeeding governments will find difficult to address. Patriotism lies in protecting all citizens from the dangers of malnutrition, illiteracy and unemployment.

Sultan Ali Ahmed Guwahati

Terry Templest Williams' article "The Clan of the One- Breasted Women" is a passionate piece of literature that needs to be read by all those concerned with the nuclear race in South Asia. Her mother and grandmothers and six aunts have all had mastectomies. Seven of them are dead. The two who survive have just completed rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She too has had two biopsies for breast cancer and a small tumour between her ribs diagnosed as a 'borderline malignancy'. This she says is her family history, with anger and frustration - emotions released after years of passively accepting her fate and that of her women relatives, a quiet acceptance that was expected of all Mormon women.

Above-ground testing in Nevada, United States, took place between 1951 and 1962 during which wind blowing north dropped radioactive dust on Utah where Williams and her family live. "When the Atomic Energy Commission described the country north of the Nevada test site as 'virtually uninhabited desert terrain', my family and the birds at the Great Salt Lake were some of the 'virtual inhabitants', " she writes.

Kirkpatrick Sale, former Editor of the New York Times magazine, notes that only two bombs were exploded over Japan, but since 1945, approximately 670 nuclear bombs were exploded above and below ground in the United States. A head of the Atomic Energy Commission during this period said, "Gentlemen, we must not let anything interfere with this series of tests, nothing." If you were against testing, you were on the other side and hence a Communist supporter.

Repeatedly, the American public was told by its government, in spite of burns, blisters and nausea: "It has been found that the tests have been conducted with adequate assurance of safety under conditions prevailing at the bombing reservations."

A news release typical at that time stated, "We find no basis for concluding that harm to any individual has resulted from radioactive fallout." This refrain is heard today from both sides of the Indian and Pakistan border, with each side declaring its tests "safe".

And even if the tests were "safe", what right do the rulers of South Asia have to desecrate the deserts and mountains of the region? And what of the scientists and technologists garlanded for their terrifying deeds and the mobs that applaud them?

They seem guided by a warped sense of history and blinded by the arrogance of their deadly acts - acts which the Greeks thought only their violent gods were capable of. Or was it that they too were lured by such a destructive project merely because it was "technically sweet" - a reason given by Manhattan Project Leader Robert Oppenheimer for he and other brilliant scientists taking part in it.

Finally, a quote from an article that my friend Susan Adkins wrote for Ms magazine after her own mastectomy: "This woman cries for a country that in 1991 pour(ed) $2.2 billion into each B-2 bomber while it invested only $ 92.7 million in breast cancer research." Today India and Pakistan rightly highlight America's hypocritical stand against nuclear bombs in South Asia. But aren't they themselves a lot worse at caring for their own citizens, most of whom lack even basic social services?

So, while criticising the U.S. Government, which has consistently refused to cut back significantly on nuclear and conventional arms, it is essential that the South Asians set their house in order.

Q. Isa Daudpota Islamabad, Pakistan At South Block

I would like to bring to your notice two mistakes in the June 19 issue of Frontline. The caption for the photograph on page 21 informs the reader that Gen. Dennis J. Reimer is at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Actually, the photograph shows him outside South Block, which houses important government organisations. It is situated on the southern side of Rajpath - the road that leads from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.

The second mistake is even more glaring. On page 95, another picture of South Block is featured. The caption says it is the Supreme Court of India.

Nibhi Verma New Delhi.

Editor's Note: The errors are regretted. We thank the reader for exposing them.

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