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COVER STORY

26-02-1999

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Briefing

DISINTEGRATING COALITION

Conflict within the Bharatiya Janata Party-led ruling coalition is clearly sharpening. And as the contradictions ripen, they are likely to impinge deeply on the inner mechanisms of the Sangh Parivar.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party had spent years priming itself in the belief that Congress rule was only an interlude - that it was only a matter of time before its own manifest destiny as the vehicle of cultural nationalism and the natural ruling party of India would be realised. Once in power, however, it has taken less than a year for the pretence to unravel.

Two days after the BJP called a meeting of all its partners to defuse the crisis over administered prices that had beset the ruling coalition, Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi made her most definitive statement yet that the days of the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government were numbered. At the same time, Defence Minister and Samata Party leader George Fernandes, presenting the picture of a man whose responsibilities have been reduced to safeguarding the security of the ruling coalition, was on a visit to Chennai. His mission was to persuade the BJP's truculent ally, Jayalalitha, that she should append her signature to the joint statement that the Coordination Committee of the governing coalition had arrived at on February 2. He came away with the mission unfulfilled but played down the magnitude of differences within the coalition in a style that has become uniquely his.

Fernandes' nonchalance, it turned out, was only intended to mask a deal of far-reaching political implications. Three days after his mission, it was revealed that the Central Government had, through an extraordinary gazette notification on February 5, reallocated the cases of corruption pending in three specially designated courts in Chennai to different Sessions Judges in the city. Although worded in the neutral tones of an administrative decision, the notification was suffused with the BJP-led Government's survival imperatives. It overrode a ruling of the High Court, which upheld the constitution of special courts to hear the cases of corruption that had been made out against Jayalalitha, and preempted an appeal on the matter before the Supreme Court. It was issued without even the courtesy of a reference to the Chief Justice of the High Court. It was a manouevre of stunning disingenuousness by a ruling coalition that had just two days earlier been congratulating itself for a record of supposed probity in office.

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As the leading party of the coalition, the BJP is stretched on a rack. Its attentions are focussed on keeping together an alliance of diverse political elements united only by the exigencies of the 1998 elections. Incumbency has, at the same time, sharpened the conflict within its ranks between the pragmatists and the ideologues. The pretence of good governance has collapsed, and in Maharashtra, the Hindutva alliance has had to effect a precipitate change of leadership for reasons that remain shrouded in the rather opaque political and pecuniary interests of the Bal Thackeray family.

The weakening of central authority has led to an upsurge of social strife and especially of atrocities against minorities. Ideological diehards within the BJP's ranks, when not stoking these fires, would seem to advocate a policy of non-intervention, further eroding the authority of the state. Conflicting ideological pulls have, at the same time, led to a paralysis of administration and policy formulation. In being the first to walk out of the Government in protest at its patently untenable situation, Madan Lal Khurana has sharply focussed public attention on the incoherence in thinking that has beset the BJP.

The joint statement embodied a significant concession to popular sentiment by the BJP - an acknowledgment of its culpability for the excesses of its political affiliates. On behalf of the BJP, the statement was signed by Prime Minister Vajpayee, party president Kushabhau Thakre, Home Minister L.K. Advani and a few others. As the "core" of the ruling alliance, the BJP pledged itself in the agreed pact with its allies to make "every effort to ensure that the prestige and cohesiveness" of the ruling alliance were not jeopardised by "organisations belonging to its ideological fraternity".

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In an earlier day, it would have been inconceivable for the BJP to admit that there was anything untoward in the agenda that its associates in the wider fraternity of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were pursuing. This concession could not have been an easy one to make for Home Minister Advani, whose primary identity remains that of the man who spearheaded the Ayodhya movement - the man who was so unrepentant as to disavow last month any link between his ideological fraternity and the latest excesses against the minorities.

BUT if this element of sobriety and political responsibility was induced by the pressure of the BJP's allies in governance, its ideological partners were indicating quite a different course. Indeed, events in Ahmedabad seemed to mock at the BJP's effort to don the mantle of a party responsive to its coalition partners' sensitivities. At a meeting of the Dharma Sansad which commenced on February 5, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) ventilated a diversity of views on the further pursuit of the agitational programme over a temple at Ayodhya. One section was wary of jeopardising the stability of the Central Government over an issue that seemed devoid of further potential for political mobilisation. But the alternative view also gained currency - that temple construction should be pursued to its logical conclusion, considering that a quarter of the work was already completed. If past is prelude, then the most extreme view is finally likely to prevail. For in the competitive radicalism of the VHP, voices of relative moderation have often been known to be quickly isolated.

Further trouble seems inherent in the items that the VHP has added to its agitational programme for the near future. Among other things, the trumped-up religious parliament of the VHP has demanded a White Paper on religious conversions effected by Christian missionaries, which supposedly threaten the unity and integrity of the country. "Conversion" is to be banned, since it violates the basic spirit of the Constitution, though "re-conversion" should be encouraged since that was a way to win the flock back to the original faith of the nation.

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The additional demands - that the construction of churches be restrained, that the "Christian conspiracy" to infiltrate the nation be thwarted and that autonomy be granted to all Hindu temples - promise the BJP little respite from the agenda of ideological extremism that it used as a convenience in its own ascent to power.

IN thrall to the demands of the extremist fringe, the BJP today seems to have little inclination to engage with the justified requirements of its partners in governance. The process of dialogue and consultation has been the first casualty. Indecision was read as the principal cause of the BJP's massive erosion of electoral goodwill between two rounds of electoral trials in 1998. In the effort to remedy this impression, the party has tilted so strongly in the direction of arbitrariness that the coalition has itself been unsettled.

It is difficult to believe that the BJP leadership could have been so oblivious to the political sensitivities involved in the administered price changes it announced at the end of January as to decree them unilaterally without a discussion within the consultative forum of the coalition. The consequence was the expected storm of outrage from the coalition partners, with some of them making it evident that they would not hesitate to review the question of support to the Ministry if the prices were not rolled back.

Interests within the coalition itself were deeply torn by the price increases. In Punjab, the Akali Dal was perturbed over the sharp increase in the price of urea, though it could possibly have been mollified by a compensating increase in the grain procurement price. The attitude of Om Prakash Chautala's Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya) in Haryana was similar. But the formula to buy peace with the coalition partners from Punjab and Haryana in turn, necessitated the raising of issue prices of foodgrains through the public distribution system - a formula which touched upon the interests of all the regional parties that were in alliance with the BJP.

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When the issue prices of foodgrains were themselves raised, the coalition virtually erupted in discord. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerji sharply criticised the disdainful attitude towards the BJP's coalition partners and swore to begin an agitation against the price increases. And from Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu demanded the immediate reversal of course.

The Government's immediate reaction was defiant. Finance Secretary Vijay Kelkar made an appearance before the press - itself an extraordinary step for an official who should be entering the seclusion of the budget formulation process - to reject any notion that the price hikes would be reversed. It took just two days for the bravado to vanish. At the Coordination Committee meeting on February 2 it was decided that the food prices effective for the Targeted Public Distribution System - meant for the population below the poverty line - would remain at pre-existing levels.

THIS retreat by the BJP leadership coincided with the turmoil that had erupted with the resignation of Minister for Tourism and Parliamentary Affairs Madan Lal Khurana from the Union Cabinet and the National Executive of the party. His grievance was quite simply that the Government was being hobbled by the ideological fraternity of the RSS. For one who had been for all his adult life a member of the RSS, it was an extraordinary act of self-indictment. But it highlighted the growing conflict within the Central Government between the pragmatists who would like to proceed with the job of governance and the ideologues who insist that there should be no yielding on the programme of social engineering that the RSS has nurtured its constituency on.

Riven by internal dissensions and unable to maintain the basic civilities of political association with its coalition partners, the BJP and its principal apologists, such as Fernandes, have been reduced to a desperate rearguard action. Each action of the Central Government is interpreted as an effort to remedy a situation inherited from many years of Congress misrule. Thus, the joint statement issued by the Coordination Committee talks of the economic policy measures taken by the Government as an effort to repair the "gravely damaged economy" which was in itself the result of "wrong policies and gross mismanagement by previous governments". It overlooks the fact that this Government has been devoid of any new initiatives in this realm, and has instead confined itself to the reiteration - in a particularly gross form - of all the failed recipes of earlier regimes. In this context, the obligation that the joint statement enjoins on all coalition partners, that they will support this "remedial action plan and propagate it effectively among the people", is hardly likely to win their durable allegiance.

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The statement seeks to make every constituent of the ruling coalition an equal partner in the task of implementing the National Agenda for Governance that was agreed upon soon after the Vajpayee Government was sworn in. But it evades the responsibility of evaluating the recent record of the Government and bringing to account the BJP Ministers who have repeatedly chosen a unilateral course of action, unmindful of the sensitivities of the coalition partners.

Unable to elicit the applause of its partners, the BJP has been reduced to the role of the single hand clapping. The nuclear tests of May 1998, which have engendered a conflict-ridden aftermath, have been upheld as a triumph of the Government's tenure. Yet few of the partners of the ruling coalition are willing to go along with the strategic perspectives that the BJP has laid down as the logical culmination of the nuclear tests. The otherwise faithful Fernandes is himself at odds with the perspective that has been authored by Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh. And even Jayalalitha, whose concerns are normally limited to regional issues, debunked the approach of the Government as a hazard for national security.

Add on the motivated agenda that Murli Manohar Joshi has been implementing as Minister for Human Resource Development, and Advani's exculpation of the Bajrang Dal for the recent acts of violence against Christians even as Mamata Banerji was laying the moral responsibility right at his doorstep - and there is little room to believe that an established pattern of discord among the coalition partners will give way to more harmonious mutual engagement. While yielding nothing in terms of its own conduct, the BJP leadership has sought to enjoin a degree of restraint on its coalition partners. A critical clause of the joint statement of the Coordination Committee stipulates that no constituent of the alliance would "publicly voice (its) differences and/or opposition to any policy or action of the Government." As a reciprocal concession, the statement commits the Government to strengthening the Coordination Committee to "facilitate regular interaction and dialogue" aimed at resolving differences among the partners in governance.

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Considering its authorship and underlying motivations, it was appropriate that the statement won few signatories. Union Law Minister M. Thambi Durai attended the meeting of the Coordination Committee on behalf of Jayalalitha's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, but left the onus of signing the statement to his leader. Jayalalitha, in her turn, brusquely turned down Fernandes' effort to obtain her accession to the new pact of mutual association that the BJP has drafted for its political allies. Other partners have been partly mollified by the partial rollback of administered prices, though they remain equally disinclined to sign away their latitude for future action by signing the new compact.

This leaves the BJP as the sole votary of the model of coalition management that the joint statement embodies. The obligations it has taken on are onerous - to control the obstreperous elements of the RSS constellation and to engage the political allies in a constructive process of dialogue. Both these run contrary to the grain of the Hindutva proponents. Conflict within the ruling coalition is clearly sharpening. And as these contradictions ripen, they are likely to impinge deeply on the inner mechanisms of the Sangh Parivar. On encountering the inflexible inner core of the Hindutva ideology, they are further likely to recoil, leading to the rapid and acrimonious unravelling of the ruling coalition at the Centre.

To appease an ally

The Union Government arbitrarily notifies the transfer of corruption cases pending against Jayalalitha and others from special courts to regular courts - a move that could slow down the progress of the proceedings.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government at the Centre issued a surprise notification as a gazette extraordinary on February 5. This notification transferred to regular sessions judges 46 cases of corruption against All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary Jayalalitha, her former Ministers and some bureaucrats pending before three special judges in Chennai. It was issued by the Union Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension (Department of Personnel and Training), which is under the charge of R. Janardhanan, who belongs to the AIADMK. (Union Law Minister M. Thambi Durai also belongs to the AIADMK.) The notification was issued under powers conferred by Section 4(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1988 to specify "special judges in the City of Chennai... to be the judges who shall try the offences" specified under Section 3(1) of the PCA.

Legal experts said the Centre's notification was aimed at scuttling the law and that it may well amount to contempt of the Supreme Court as the matter was sub judice. The notification virtually superseded the trial under way before three special judges hearing the cases. These experts feared that it might precipitate a stalemate in the judicial process. They said that the Centre had no right to transfer the cases under Section 4(2) of the PCA.

Most political parties in Tamil Nadu reacted angrily to the notification. They said that it amounted to the BJP-led Government surrendering before Jayalalitha. The notification was meant to appease Jayalalitha and to ensure the survival of the BJP-led Government in office, they said. Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M. Karunanidhi said that the Centre's action was mala fide and politically motivated. His Government would explore legal avenues to counter it. Karunanidhi said he could not recall any other instance of the Union Government interfering with judicial proceedings launched by the investigating agencies of a State Government, especially those involving cases of corruption. The State Government's Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption (DVAC) and the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) had filed the cases in question.

The Centre's controversial manoeuvre promises to trigger a battle between the judiciary and the executive. The first signs of this were available on February 8, when two special judges, V. Radhakrishnan and S. Sambandham, rejected memos from three of the accused in the cases, challenging the special judges' competence to try the cases after the Centre's notification was issued. Special Judge Radhakrishnan said the Centre's notification did not have "legal force" since it had no legal sanction. It "is not worth the paper on which it is written," he said. He said that the notification transferring the cases during the pendency of a special leave petition in the Supreme Court might amount to contempt of court. Special Judge Sambandham said that the three special judges worked at the pleasure of the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court, and only these two entities could issue instructions and guidance to them. The memos were filed by Jayalalitha, former Union Minister Sedapatti R. Muthiah and former Additional Director-General of Police E. Hariharane. Jayalalitha's counsel A. Jenasenan and N. Jyoti filed the memos before the special judges.

The Supreme Court was to hear again on February 15 arguments on the admissibility of a special leave petition (SLP) filed by Jayalalitha challenging the Madras High Court order of November 3, 1998, which upheld the constitutional validity of appointing the three special judges. Then Chief Justice of the Madras High Court M.S. Liberhan and Justice E. Padmanabhan had passed this order, saying that the appointment of the special judges was "not vitiated by mala fide, either factual or legal". The Supreme Court had declined to stay the trial of these cases before the three special judges, and the examination of witnesses was under way.

Under the notification, the special judges, namely XI, XII and XIII additional city civil and sessions judges, have been exclusively assigned to try cases filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This has been done, the notification said, under exercise of powers under Section 3(1) of the PCA. It said the CBI cases shall stand assigned to the three special judges on a rotational basis.

There are eight cases of corruption filed against Jayalalitha alone. In the "disproportionate wealth", "colour television sets" and "Pleasant Stay Hotel" cases, the special judges have framed charges against her. In the "granite" and "Meena Advertisers" cases, charge-sheets have not been filed. In the "coal" case and two "TANSI" (Tamil Nadu Small-scale Industries Corporation) cases involving Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises, the police have filed charge-sheets but the judges are yet to frame charges against the accused.

Ever since the BJP-led coalition came to power at the Centre, Jayalalitha has been seen to be exerting pressure on the Centre to dismiss the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu and to extricate herself from the corruption cases. The 18 AIADMK Lok Sabha MPs hold the key to the Government's survival. The Centre has been seen as seeking to appease her on the legal front. This included the Centre appointing advocates who support the AIADMK as Central Government prosecutors in the cases filed earlier by the Central agencies against Jayalalitha.

Justice D. Raju of the Madras High Court was made Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court in June 1998 after he and Justice Liberhan had heard arguments for eight months on writ petitions filed by Jayalalitha and others on the validity of the appointment of the three special judges. The transfer led to the cases being heard afresh by Justice Liberhan and Justice Padmanabhan. After these two judges quashed Jayalalitha's and others' petitions, Justice Liberhan was transferred as Chief Justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court. A group of advocates sent a memorandum to President K.R. Narayanan alleging that the transfer, in the absence of any compelling reason, amounted to a threat to the independence of the judiciary.

Various strategems have been put to work to delay the proceedings before the three special judges. In the TANSI cases, Jayalalitha filed petition after petition seeking copies of the material placed before the Governor who had accorded sanction to prosecute her. She also wanted two TANSI cases involving Jaya Publications and Sasi Enterprises to be merged into one. Jayalalitha's close friend and one of the accused, Sasikala Natarajan, filed petitions demanding that the documents, which are in English, be made available in Tamil because she knew only Tamil. Justice A. Raman of the Madras High Court ruled that the documents should be made available to her in Tamil. Jayalalitha promptly filed a petition that until the documents were furnished to Sasikala in Tamil, the cases should not be proceeded with. When the State Government initiated the process to appoint temporary-tenure translators, two AIADMK MPs, R. Dalavai Sundaram and R. Rajarathinam, filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court pleading that the recruitment should be done on the basis of reservation. Taking the cue from the order that documents should be made available in Tamil, other accused requested that documents be made available to them in their mother-tongue. These include Malayalam and Gujarati.

WHAT are the implications of the Centre's latest notification? While advocate A. Jinasenan, who appears for Jayalalitha, declined to discuss "the effects of the G.O." (Government Order), other legal sources said the aim behind it was to delay the trial inordinately. While the three special judges were conducting the trial speedily and examining witnesses, the IV and VII additional sessions judges might not be able to conduct such speedy day trial because they are already overburdened with other cases. Advocates belonging to the AIADMK themselves admitted as much. Karunanidhi said on February 8 that the courts to which the Centre had transferred the cases were already overburdened with cases, including a number of murder cases. It might take at least three years for cases against Jayalalitha to come up for hearing, he said.

Advocate K.S. Natarajan said that "the legal process is being scuttled" by the notification. He said the Centre was "trying to bring about a stalemate". Natarajan pointed out that while the Madras High Court had appointed the three special judges and also allocated the 46 cases to them, the Centre was trying to circumvent the law by re-allocating the cases.

Other legal sources said the transfer of the cases amounted to contempt of court. "The Centre has definitely interfered with the cases allotted to the three special judges, whose appointment has been upheld by the Madras High Court. We have to see how the Supreme Court views this," one source said.

On November 3, 1998, Justice Liberhan and Justice Padmanabhan had dismissed a batch of writ petitions filed by Jayalalitha challenging the appointment of three additional courts presided over by three special judges. Justice Liberhan and Justice Padmanabhan said that the relevant notifications, one dated April 17, 1997 setting up three additional courts and another dated April 30, 1997 appointing three special judges to preside over these courts, "are not vitiated by mala fide, either factual or legal." The High Court upheld Section 3(1) of the PCA, which empowers the Central Government and State governments to appoint special judges to try corruption cases.

Section 3(1) of the PCA reads: "The Central Government or the State Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, appoint as many special judges as may be necessary for such area or areas for such a case or a group of cases as may be specified in the notification to try... any offence punishable under this Act."

Upholding the constitutional validity of the section, Justice Liberhan and Justice Padmanabhan observed that the expression "such a case or a group of cases" was not violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The Bench rejected the argument that the appointment of three special judges was "a supertrack trial" or "a regime trial." (Article 14 guarantees equality before law and Article 21 ensures protection of life and personal liberty.)

The High Court also rejected the contention of one of the petitioners, former AIADMK Minister R. Indira Kumari, that only the Central Government had the power under Section 4(2) of the PCA to appoint special judges and allocate cases to them. Section 4(2) of the PCA reads: "Every offence specified in Sub-section (1) of Section 3 shall be tried by the special judge for the area within which it was committed, or as the case may be, by the special judge appointed for the case, or where there are more special judges than one for the area, by such one of them as may be specified in this behalf by the Central Government."

Jayalalitha filed an SLP in the Supreme Court challenging the Madras High Court order. Then came a new turn in the Centre's stand. On December 17, 1998 the Centre submitted before the Supreme Court that the DMK Government had no power to transfer the corruption cases against Jayalalitha and others to additional courts that were set up in 1997 if there was more than one court for the area. Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee told a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justice G.T. Nanavati and Justice S.P. Kurdukar that Section 4(2) of the PCA, 1988 vested power in the Central Government, not the State Government, to specify the special judges (who would try the corruption cases against Jayalalitha and others) if there was more than one special judge for the area. Sorabjee further said that the Government of India reserved its right to pass appropriate orders in accordance with law and in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court regarding the transfer of corruption cases against Jayalalitha and others. This was the power that the Centre exercised to issue the controversial notification.

The Centre's stand marked a stunning volte-face; it had earlier told the High Court that the State Government was empowered to set up additional courts to try Jayalalitha, her former Ministers and the bureaucrats. Karunanidhi alleged on December 19 that the Vajpayee Government "has come out in the open to rescue the Jayalalitha group" even while it proclaimed that the BJP was committed to battling corruption.

The following points emerged from a discussion Frontline had with senior counsel N. Natarajan. The Centre's notification was aimed at pleasing Jayalalitha but in law it could not be sustained because the notification, it appeared, was not issued with the approval of or in consultation with the Madras High Court. The Madras High Court had approved the appointment of the three special judges to try a group of cases (against Jayalalitha and others), not for an area or areas. According to Natarajan, the Central Government had no control over any court appointed for a group of cases. If at all the Centre had any jurisdiction, it was only over special judges appointed for an area or areas. When the Madras High Court had approved the setting up of the three additional courts presided over by special judges for a group of cases, the Centre had no right to pass the notification without consulting the High Court.

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The notification had been issued even as Jayalalitha's SLP was due to come up for hearing before the Supreme Court on February 15. The apex court had earlier refused to stay the trial pending before the three special judges. Besides, Additional Solicitor-General C.S. Vaidyanathan had reportedly told the Supreme Court that the Centre was not interested in transferring the cases. The issue of the notification at this juncture made clear the pressures at work and the motives at play. Indeed, issuing the notification when the matter was pending before the Supreme Court might amount to contempt of court.

Former Tamil Nadu Law Minister and DMK leader S. Madhavan said the Centre could not exercise its power to issue the notification because the matter was sub judice. Madhavan said: "The Government Order does not say that the Madras High Court's consent has been obtained for the transfer of cases. So the notification is not valid." He pointed out that the State Government's notification appointing the three special judges had specifically said that they were appointed after consultation with the High Court. The draft notification of the State Government was prepared by the High Court in consultation with the judges of the High Court but it was issued by the State Government.

Madhavan pointed out that in November 1998 the High Court had rejected the argument of one of the petitioners that only the Centre had the power under Section 4(2) of the PCA to appoint special judges and allocate cases to them. The High Court had said: "It was further submitted that judges being appointed for the area or a group of cases under Section 4(2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, the allocation of cases should have been made only by the Central Government. In my considered opinion, the argument on the face of it cannot be sustained."

POLITICAL parties reacted angrily to the issue of the notification. They said that it was a blatant attempt by the BJP-led Government to rescue Jayalalitha from the corruption cases she faced.

State Education Minister and DMK general secretary K. Anbazhagan said that the BJP leaders who claimed that they were apostles of dharma were bending the law to rescue Jayalalitha from corruption cases.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) State secretary N. Sankaraiah said that the transfer of cases was a blatant attempt by the BJP-led Government to abet corruption and rescue Jayalalitha and her former Ministers from corruption cases. Sankaraiah said the BJP-led Government had done this to survive in office. It was genuflecting under pressure from Jayalalitha, he said.

Tamil Maanila Congress leader A. Gopanna said that it was not proper for the Centre to issue the notification when the apex court was seized of the matter.

S. Tirunavukkarasu, MGR-ADMK leader, said: "The Centre's plight has deteriorated to such an extent that one wonders who the Prime Minister is, Vajpayee or Jayalalitha." Tirunavukkarasu alleged that ever since Thambi Durai became Union Law Minister, efforts had been made to bend the law. The BJP had surrendered to Jayalalitha in order to survive in office, he added.

R.M. Veerappan, MGR Kazhagam founder, said that the notification amounted to contempt of court. Veerappan added, "The mystery behind George Fernandes saying hello to Jayalalitha has now been unravelled." (Defence Minister Fernandes who met Jayalalitha in Chennai on February 5, had said that he had come to say hello to her).

There were indications that the Centre was up to something. On January 30, Karunanidhi hit out at the Vajpayee Government by saying that "the Centre has furiously intensified its efforts to bend the law in order to rescue the Jayalalitha group, which wallowed in corruption." This happened even as the BJP proclaimed that it would root out corruption, he pointed out. The Chief Minister wondered whether all this was happening with the knowledge of Vajpayee.

With the special judges throwing out the petitions challenging their competence to try the corruption cases after the Centre's notification, attention is now riveted on the Supreme Court when it would hear the SLP on February 15.

A question of survival

cover-story
T.S. SUBRAMANIAN

VISITS to Chennai by Samata Party leader and Defence Minister George Fernandes have become a periodic political ritual. For the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition at the Centre, Fernandes' missions to mollify All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalitha have been a matter of survival. Although Fernandes and the other special emissaries from Delhi, Jaswant Singh and Dilip Ray, have managed to placate Jayalalitha on several occasions, this time she appears to have exacted her price.

First, she boycotted the February 2 meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies in New Delhi. In fact she called the Coordination Committee "a mere eyewash which the Central Government does not take seriously". She, however, authorised AIADMK Member of Parliament and Union Law Minister M. Thambi Durai to participate in the meeting as an observer. Then she refused to sign the Coordination Committee's joint statement, which was faxed to her without a covering letter.

The joint statement had enjoined the BJP and its allies to follow "scrupulously the tenets of dharma of coalition", such as not airing opinions in public but speaking only at Coordination Committee meetings. Jayalalitha, however, had other plans. She was unhappy that the Centre had decided on January 28 to increase the prices of essential commodities without consulting the BJP's coalition partners. She asked: "What was the compelling reason to hike the prices of essential commodities in such haste, even before the Coordination Committee meeting scheduled for February 2 could take place?"

Unlike occasions in the past, Jayalalitha did not threaten to deliver the "knock-out blow'' to the BJP-led Government this time. On February 3, she merely announced that she would take "an appropriate decision at the appropriate time''.

However, Jayalalitha's public protestations made it imperative for Fernandes to visit Chennai. He had a 45-minute meeting with Jayalalitha at her Poes Garden residence on February 5 but failed to persuade her to sign the statement. Making light of the situation, he said that "it is not important" for her to sign it. He explained: "She had no fundamental objections, but only reservations... Mere expression of reservation should not be read as confrontation."

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The joint statement, Fernandes said, was "only a declaration of intent" that the BJP and its allies would not project their own agenda or air their views publicly. Taking it upon himself to defend her actions, he said: "She was not present at the meeting. There is no remote-signing device." When asked why he flew in as a trouble-shooter whenever she created trouble, he said that the question was "unfair" both to him and to her.

L. Ganesan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP, said that a coalition partner had every right to express dissent and he believed that all Jayalalitha wanted to do was to record her protest. He was confident that "nothing special will happen" and her "support to the BJP-led Government will continue".

In a statement, Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) leaders D. Sudarsanam and S. Peter Alphonse accused Jayalalitha of "double-speak" because AIADMK Ministers were present at the Cabinet meeting when the decision on the price increase was taken. They said that if the AIADMK was sincere about the issue its Ministers should quit the Government.

According to sources, Jayalalitha's refusal to sign the statement was part of a strategy to pressure the Government to dismiss the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government so that she could extricate herself from the corruption cases against her. But she was chary of withdrawing support to the Vajpayee Government without an alternative in its place. The sources added: "She is worried because the Tamil press is publishing in detail the cross-examination of witnesses in the corruption cases. Her intentions will be suspect if she did not create problems now and then."

Hindutva and 'moth-eaten' governance

PRAFUL BIDWAI cover-story

As the sordid drama of internal rivalry in the Sangh Parivar unfolds, it should be clear that Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is himself part of the 'farce' he complains about.

IN some ways the Bharatiya Janata Party is like the Bourbons: it forgets nothing, learns nothing. Nearly 20 years after the Janata Party broke up bitterly on the "dual membership" issue, the question of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's relationship with the political party to which most of its members belong has again come to the fore - in as decisive and potentially catastrophical a way as earlier. Madan Lal Khurana's resignation, the most dramatic manifestation of internal rivalry in the Sangh Parivar, is nothing if not a virtual replay of the same moves, with the same inevitability about them. The only difference is that the site now is the party of Hindutva itself, not a conglomeration of different currents as the Janata Party was. The erupting struggle within the Hindutva camp could well mark the beginning of the end of this Government.

This is not because Khurana is a heavyweight or a politician of high national stature. He is essentially a Delhi leader with strong local roots, although he played a crucial role in negotiating the alliance between the BJP and the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Haryana Lok Dal led by Om Prakash Chautala. His potential for creating trouble for the BJP at the national level will remain relatively limited unless the party's top leadership precipitates matters by taking severe disciplinary action against him. What makes his "martyrdom" (as Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee put it) important is the fact that it highlights the serious tensions that have grown within the Sangh Parivar, which have led to the "hollow" and "moth-eaten" governance of which Vajpayee publicly complained on January 31.

The "farce" that Vajpayee talked about is something he himself is very much a part of. Or else he would not have gone on a fast on Martyrs' Day partly to express his helplessness as the head of the government, and partly to protest against the "extreme" elements in the Parivar which are making life miserable for him. On law and order the Vajpayee Government is under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, which are hell-bent on cleansing the country of the "evil" influences of Christianity. On economic policy, the swadeshi lobby remains recalcitrant. On international issues, the Prime Minister has to fight his friends in the VHP and the RSS who are resisting nuclear restraint and who want India never to be out of the international media headlines on Christian-bashing. On culture, his Government faces the likes of K.N. Govindacharya, who has already declared that India is "geo-culturally" a "Hindu Rashtra" (The Times of India, January 30).

The Government is beleaguered by its own ideological mentors and organisational gatekeepers. And yet, it is hard to sympathise with Vajpayee and Khurana. They still remain committed to the RSS ideology and "the-Sangh-is-my-soul" perspective. As Khurana said in his letter to BJP president Kushabhau Thakre, "I have been associated closely with the Sangh Parivar, Jan Sangh, Janata Party and BJP for the last 54 years. I have spent my childhood and youth for this party with dedication." He has since reiterated his loyalty to the RSS and "the party to which I remain dedicated." Vajpayee too has repeatedly affirmed his faith in the RSS' leadership role. Both of them fail to relate what the RSS and its sister organisations are doing to what they are - formations driven by agendas which they have never condemned, namely, to alter Indian society and politics by violent means to establish the primacy and domination of Hindus as a permanent majority. Both subscribe devotedly to "cultural nationalism" - just as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal do. So it is strange that they should complain about the "excesses" of the Parivar's "fringe".

In reality, those committing the "excesses" do not belong to the "fringe" but to the mainstream of the Parivar - such as Govindacharya, the BJP's ideologue and "social engineering" architect, or L.K. Advani who proudly told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the BJP is a "Hindu party". Vajpayee has often endorsed mainstream Hindutva thinking. For instance, in response to the "Rashtriya Ekatmata Puraskar" (national integration award) conferred on him in 1995, he declared that "national integration is a matter of upbringing, not a subject of awards". This upbringing is, for him, rooted in Hinduism: Hindutva is synonymous with Hinduism, secularism and nationalism.

TRUTH to tell, it is the minority Vajpa-yee faction which is the Parivar's fringe. The RSS has never left any doubt about this reality. To accept its leadership, "guidance", hegemony - call it what you will - is to endorse its core ideology and its basic political project. It also means you buy into the myth that the RSS is only a "cultural", not a political, organisation. But surely, no cultural body anywhere in the world lays down a political party's agenda, its security agenda, the economic agenda, the agenda for women, in the minutest detail. Surely, it cannot decide, as the RSS did last year, that all top State party posts are to be filled only by its full-time pracharaks. Surely, no organisation devoted to culture, however defined, can issue diktats to a government - whether on the issue of patents and insurance, or on relations with neighbours, or on whom to include in the Cabinet.

The RSS claims that it is only a "cultural" organisation simply because this claim allows it to evade all accountability, external or internal. Not being a party, a trade union, or even a non-governmental orga-nisation that must win votes or acceptance from the larger public, it is not answerable, even indirectly or in the long run, to the public. The RSS derives its hegemony from the brain-washed and unswerving loyalty of the swayamsevak-turned-BJP leader: remember Khurana in khaki shorts in 1997 or Kalyan Singh's entire Cabinet paying obeisance to the saffron flag? The RSS' power and authority in the BJP comes prior to such minor details as elections, or the political skills or merit of its nominees. It does not rest on internal democracy. The RSS has the last word in the BJP. It also has the first.

No one in the BJP can question the RSS, or ask why it has never held internal elections, why all its nominations are made from the top and why, almost three-quarters of a century after inception, it still functions like a secret society or clandestine brotherhood although it was unbanned by Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel on condition that it democratise itself. Given its unquestioned hegemonic status, the RSS is naturally laying down the agenda for the BJP. This is wholly unsurprising. What else would it do when the party it dominates is in power after decades of being at the margins of Indian politics, with just five to seven per cent of the vote? Is it not only natural for the RSS to tell the BJP that it has grown to the position and stature it has, primarily because of the Ayodhya mobilisation, which was launched by the RSS-led Parivar as a whole, not exclusively by the BJP?

VAJPAYEE does protest too much. Instead of criticising, and fighting against, the BJP's abject dependence on the RSS, he has set out to characterise Indian democracy itself as "hollow". He said: "The outer shell of democracy is, no doubt, intact but it appears to be moth-eaten from inside." Vajpayee is right when he says "politics is becoming increasingly criminalised", but wrong when he stops short of admitting that Hindutva has given that criminalisation a sharp, vicious edge, and that the BJP, the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena are India's most criminalised parties. Vajpayee is, again, wrong when he projects the BJP's special internal crisis on to the country's party system as a whole by saying that it is "getting eroded".

What distinguishes Vajpayee from his brothers in the Sangh Parivar is not "liberalism" or "secularism", but that being in power he understands the importance of damage control, and has been practising it, albeit ham-handedly. Ironically, this has in many ways had the opposite effect. Take the Government's recent economic decisions. Its decision to raise the issue prices of rice and wheat through the public distribution system by as much as 30 to 64 per cent at one go and jack up cooking gas cylinder prices by Rs.16 has hit the poor and the lower middle class hard. The partial rollback of food prices has hardly mitigated the effect of the hike. This callous move will cost the BJP many votes. It has deeply antagonised its own allies. But evidently, the BJP, like the Bourbons, has learnt nothing from the onion price disaster and its impact on the Assembly elections last November.

Again, the Government's desperate effort to dress down and somehow reduce the wayward fiscal deficit has only encouraged profligacy in other ways: equity swaps and buyback of shares of public sector companies to mop up Rs.7,500 crores, and misusing the $4.2 billion (Rs.17,600 crores) mobilised through the Resurgent India Bonds - not to build the infrastructure, as promised, but to finance its own deficit. Ironically, this involves investing the money abroad at 5 to 7 per cent interest, while paying out 12 per cent to bond-holders. Economically, this is gross stupidity. Politically, it makes a mockery of the Budget. If decisions on postal rates and food prices are made before the Budget, there is little value left in a fiscal exercise so important to the Westminster system.

Damage control at the international level has involved negotiating security and nuclear matters with the United States, while shouting from the rooftops that these are solely India's sovereign concerns, not "negotiable", not open to explanation - "India," as External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh put it with manufactured bravado, "does not explain." So what were the eight rounds of talks, and frantic missions to France and Britain, all about? The truth is that the Government is compromising with those whom it accused of practising "nuclear apartheid", so that it is allowed to have its "nuclear deterrent" under conditions which essentially perpetuate the existing global nuclear order, not transform it.

The BJP's damage control on conversions has meant either pure tokenism - a judicial inquiry into the barbaric killing of Graham Staines and his two sons - or disinformation and outright denial, namely, the preposterous claim that Dara Singh is not a Bajrang Dal member because there is no Bajrang Dal unit in Keonjhar. But several newspapers have quoted sources from the district confirming Dara Singh's links with the Bajrang Dal. Official first information reports mention him as a "BJP supporter". And who is going to be impressed by the Wadhwa Inquiry Commission? What is needed is not inquiry, but punishment. Clearly, the BJP is being disingenuous, in addition to being disgustingly communal, in the anti-minorities campaign.

No amount of public relations effort at shoring up the BJP-led Government's sinking image is going to change the reality: this is the worst government India has had in 50 years. It is communal, crooked and venal; it lacks in credibility and legitimacy and, worse, is destructive and corrosive of institutions. The kind of damage control it is doing is no better than the Shiv Sena's effort at refurbishing its image in Maharashtra by replacing one non-performer with another. At best, Narayan Rane might gain a little sympathy on account of his quasi-OBC (Kunabi-Maratha) identity, in contrast to Manohar Joshi's Brahmin background. But that will not alter the Sena-BJP's dismal fate. The same seems true of the Central Government's future. Which is just as well. The sooner it goes, the better.

The coalition experience

The BJP strives to discuss the tenets of "coalition dharma" with its allies without learning the lessons from the past.

IT is difficult to understand certain assertions contained in the February 2 joint statement issued after the meeting of the Coordination Committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in New Delhi. The statement, among other things, makes two important points regarding coalition politics. One, "the Congress party has never hidden its contempt for coalition and cooperative politics and its disdain for regional parties." Two, if the Congress(I) chose to destabilise the present setup at the Centre, "it will be a great setback to Indian democracy in general and to coalition politics in particular."

As observer of coalition politics in practice, particularly in Kerala, I find this statement unacceptable. Coalition politics has come to stay in Kerala. The signatories to the statement were either unaware of or chose to overlook the fact that Kerala has never had a single-party government since 1959, and that it was the Congress(I) that ushered in coalition politics in the country for the first time. All governments that have ruled Kerala since 1959 have been coalitions led either by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the Congress(I), barring a few exceptions. These coalitions have been hailed as role models by several national leaders while pointing out the shortcomings at the Centre.

In the 1970s, the Congress(I) formed the Bombay Municipal Corporation with the support of the Shiv Sena. The Congress(I) worked out arrangements also with the Akalis in Punjab. The Congress(I)-led alliance in Kerala includes the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). "Disdain for regional parties" would not have brought the Congress(I) close to the IUML in Kerala. To say that the Congress(I) has contempt for coalitions is untenable. The Congress(I) was prepared to have an alliance with any party to gain power at any time and had a different explanation to offer each time. Probably, the signatories to the statement were oblivious of what has happened in the South. The BJP has never had a single seat in Kerala Assembly nor has it won a single Lok Sabha seat from Kerala.

It is the Congress(I) which sustained the Governments of Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral at the Centre. "Coalition dharma," which the statement speaks of, was not applicable in these cases as they were not coalitions: they were based only on an understanding.

The statement has also not taken into account the existence of a successful coalition government in West Bengal under the leadership of Jyoti Basu.

The statement observers that "the collective mandate that sustains the Central Government demands that we resolve the differences in the spirit of internal democracy and by scrupulously following the tenets of coalition dharma." It is coalition dharma that has sustained and still sustains coalition governments in Kerala. Scant regard for that "dharma" has become a bane of the BJP-led alliance at the Centre and the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh and the BJP government in Gujarat. The failure "to resolve the differences in the spirit of internal democracy" has been a continuing problem for the BJP-led Government at the Centre. The utterances of Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma when they were removed from their posts and the circumstances that led to the non-inclusion of Sushma Swaraj in the Union Cabinet after the BJP's defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections can be cited as examples.

"Contempt for coalition and cooperative politics" would not have prompted the Congress(I) to extend support to a Government led by the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Kerala in 1970. Later the Congress(I) joined the CPI-led Ministry. In 1967, the CPI(M) formed a coalition government with the cooperation of regional parties in Kerala. The IUML and the Kerala Congress became partners in the CPI(M)-led coalition. Later, when these parties returned to the Congress-led coalition, they were treated like prodigals returning home. There was no sign of contempt on either side. Which political party, including the BJP, does not follow this approach? Despite the coalition partners airing their grievances in public and issuing threats to the Government almost every day, the BJP shows no "disdain" for these parties, which have come to play an important role in national politics.

Therefore, it cannot be said that if the present ruling coalition at the Centre is destabilised it will be a setback to "democracy and coalition politics". Leaders of different national parties have admitted that single-party rule is a thing of the past and the future will see only coalition governments at the Centre.

Coalition governments of different hues and ideologies have been in power in the States and at the Centre and they were brought down through undemocratic means before their full terms were completed. Of course, the coalition dharma observed in Kerala and West Bengal has helped governments complete their terms. And democracy has survived along with coalition politics. If the Congress(I) was a pioneer in coalition politics, then E.M.S. Namboodiripad was its architect.

The joint statement appeals to all parties in the coalition to resolve their differences. The BJP should practice what it preaches. It has not been able to control the dissent in its own ranks. The statement continues: "Our coalition has not yet evolved to this basic standard." It is a frank and honest admission. The irony is that each partner extends it support and lends it stability, but continues to issue threats.

In other words, the statement is not an expression of solidarity by the alliance partners, but one of confession. The alliance partners insisted on naming the forces that defame the Central Government and make the BJP-led coalition unstable. The statement contended that "sometimes negative utterances and positions by certain elements perceived to be close to the nucleus of our coalition, the BJP, have also undermined the prestige of our Government."

All partners of the alliance have not signed the joint statement and do not agree with the formulations. Understand-ably so. The formulations in the statement reflect the BJP's inability to take the ground realities into consideration.

The war within

The struggle for supremacy in the Bharatiya Janata Party has intensified, with the hardliners, supported by the rest of the Sangh Parivar, striking an aggressive posture.

THE tug-of-war between the moderates and the hardliners is intensifying in the Bharatiya Janata Party as the party finds itself faced with turmoil within it as well as vis-a-vis its coalition partners in government. The hardline Sangh Parivar ideology may have met with widespread condemnation for the Parivar's recent campaign of hatred against Christians, but within the BJP it is the 'liberal' voice that is being stifled. With the hardliners striking aggressive postures in order to retain their hold on the party, the BJP moderates are worried about the erosion of their support base.

The resignation of two middle-rung Muslim members from the party dealt the first serious blow to the moderates. Abrar Ahmed from Rajasthan, who had joined the BJP recently, quit the party and returned to the Congress(I) last year. Aslam Sher Khan, former Congress(I) Member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh and former captain of the national hockey team, followed suit. When Ahmed and Aslam Sher Khan joined the BJP, they were projected as symbols of the party's secular image. Now Khan has accused the BJP of ignoring the minorities. Although he is yet to return to his parent party, he said that he was pleased with the corrective steps taken by Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi to win back the support of the backward classes, the minorities and the weaker sections.

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By contrast, former Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Tourism Madan Lal Khurana, whose dramatic resignation in January spelled much more trouble for the BJP, has been no stranger to the ways of the Sangh Parivar. A BJP heavyweight, Khurana was removed from the chief ministership of Delhi in 1997 after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) decided to charge-sheet him in the Jain hawala case. Khurana was peeved by the fact that the party did not reinstate him after the court dismissed the charges against him. The faction feud between Khurana and his successor, Sahib Singh Verma, forced the BJP to install a compromise candidate, Sushma Swaraj, as Chief Minister on the eve of the elections to the Assembly last year.

Although Khurana longed to return to the hurly-burly of Delhi politics, where his roots lie, he was left occupying an uncomfortable berth in the Union Cabinet. He proved a misfit in the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry; it is rumoured that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee planned to shift him to a low-profile Ministry in the next Cabinet reshuffle.

It is widely believed that Khurana's punctuated fall was engineered by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Even when it had become apparent that Verma could not steer the BJP to an electoral victory in Delhi, the RSS resisted attempts to unseat him. Staunchly opposed to Khurana, the RSS was eager to neutralise the powerful Punjabi lobby that stood by Khurana. Eventually Sushma Swaraj, an "outsider" to Delhi politics, was brought in at the eleventh hour. Clearly, Khurana's return as Chief Minister of Delhi would have made him too powerful for the Sangh Parivar to feel comfortable.

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Since Kushabhau Thakre took over the reins of the party from L.K. Advani, Khurana found himself at greater odds with a new dispensation that danced to the RSS' tune. The party's rout in the Assembly elections apparently created in Khurana the fear that his continuance in the Union Ministry would lead to the loss of his support base. He decided to air his fears at the BJP National Executive meeting in Bangalore, but he was not given a chance to speak. His undelivered statement, a copy of which was obtained by Frontline, revealed that he had prepared for a no-holds-barred attack on the Sangh Parivar.

Upset that the Sangh Parivar had diminished the credibility of the Government, he wrote: "The Parivar has declared war against the policies of the Government." He referred to statements made by some prominent Parivar members such as Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh leader Dattopant Thengdi on the insurance and patents bills. He quoted some of them as saying that this Government was selling the nation; this Government was coming out with anti-national policies; history would remember the Finance Minister as the 'Wrongful Policy Minister'. He denounced the statement made by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Ashok Singhal that the award of the Bank of Sweden Prize to Amartya Sen by the Nobel Committee was part of a worldwide Christian conspiracy and that the money would be used to convert Hindus to Christianity.

Lamenting the power struggle in the organisation since the formation of the Government, he wrote: "The members of the Sanghatan and the top leaders of the BJP were always available for advice. Today where do we go with our grievances and problems?...Today, we are feeling the loss of a guide, a mentor." Khurana also seemed quite aware of the consequences of his actions. He wrote: "Perhaps I have to pay a price for... stating certain... hard truths but I am ready to do so."

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Party sources said that Vajpayee had granted Khurana permission to read his speech at the National Executive meeting and that it was Thakre who prevented him from doing so. Sources said that the sight of a senior leader being denied an opportunity to speak at the party forum had embarrassed several delegates. Khurana is known to be a Vajpayee loyalist.

Although Khurana eventually resigned at Vajpayee's behest, it seems that he has some regrets. Lately, he has been more circumspect about linking the Bajrang Dal to the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Steward Staines and his sons in Orissa (see interview). He has also denied that he claimed that the Vajpayee Government would collapse in the near future. He now says that he would not have resigned had the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies resolved earlier to ensure that the cohesiveness and prestige of the coalition would not be affected by the activities of the BJP's fraternal organisations. Thakre and Advani signed a resolution to the effect on February 2.

CLOSE on the heels of Khurana's exit came the resignation of Mohan Guruswamy, adviser to Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. His action was reportedly in protest against the Government's failure to implement the party manifesto and the attacks against Christians. The BJP's choice for the post, Guruswamy was close to Advani. However, Yashwant Sinha accepted Guruswamy's resignation, which was sent from the United States where he was on a visit. Sinha was reportedly provoked by Guruswamy's meddling in matters that were not under his purview. The BJP, which had relied on Guruswamy to draft its election manifesto, now prefers to disown him.

Guruswamy was appointed Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the Finance Ministry and enjoyed the same status as his predecessor, Jairam Ramesh, who was adviser to P. Chidambaram when he was Finance Minister. The convener of the BJP's economic cell, Jagdish Shettigar, claimed that Guruswamy had pursued a personal agenda from the beginning. He said that Guruswamy used his friendship with S. Gurumurthy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and journalist-turned-BJP member of the Rajya Sabha Dina Nath Mishra to gain Advani's trust. Advani in turn got him the coveted post for which, on record, Guruswamy was paid a monthly salary of just one rupee.

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It appears that Guruswamy was asked to put in his papers on January 22. However, he requested Yashwant Sinha to permit him to attend the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited's (VSNL) road show in the U.S., Shettigar said. He also sought help for medical treatment in the U.S. But he sent a "nasty" resignation letter from the U.S., a copy of which was released to the press. The Prime Minister's Office intervened and the Finance Minister ousted him on February 3. Shettigar said that Guruswamy had no links with the pro-swadeshi groups. The official organ of the SJM, Swadeshi, had criticised his appointment as OSD in the Finance Ministry in view of his "U.S. links". SJM convener Muralidhar Rao even questioned Gurumurthy for recommending Guruswamy's name to Advani. Shettigar said that Guruswamy did not hold any party post and had ceased to be a member of the party after he had accepted the government appointment.

Party insiders say that the BJP lacks a mechanism to sort out internal dissent. Some party persons say that the present schism has been aggravated by the cold war between Vajpayee and Advani, although publicly both of them deny any differences between them.

Advani, who generally enjoys a good rapport with the other organisations of the Sangh Parivar, has been unable to stop the shrill Hindutva rhetoric that has embarrassed the Government on several occasions. One such organisation, the Adivasi Van Kalyan Ashram, has announced plans to reconvert 2,000 Christians in Dindori district in Madhya Pradesh on February 14. Dilip Singh Judev, BJP member of the Rajya Sabha who hails from Raigarh in M.P., and Baburao Paranjpe, BJP MP from Jabalpur, have expressed their support for the reconversion plan.

THE VHP's three-day Dharma Sansad, which concluded in Ahmedabad on February 7, deferred plans for the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya by two years. Senior VHP leaders, however, voiced their opposition to Vajpayee's desire to normalise relations with Pakistan and his disinclination to introduce legislation banning conversions.

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The Dharma Sansad appealed to the BJP to return to the Hindutva agenda that had enabled it to emerge as the single largest party. The VHP has outlined a 40-point "Hindu" agenda and announced plans to mobilise opinion and create a "Hindu vote bank" in order to free the BJP from its "crutches". International vice-president of the VHP Acharya Giriraj Kishore said that the BJP was currently unable to implement the 40-point Hindu agenda as it was dependent on the support from its allies for survival in power. He declared that when the agenda was implemented, the country would become a Hindu nation. Another VHP leader, Acharya Dharmendra, ridiculed the Prime Minister's symbolic gesture to normalise relations with Pakistan; he suggested that Vajpayee ride a tank to Lahore instead of going there by bus.

The pressure from the VHP was evident from the statements of Advani and BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur. Advani clarified that there was no softening of India's approach to Pakistan. Mathur said that the party had no "illusions" that the bus ride and the cricket matches would prevent Pakistan-instigated terrorism on Indian soil. Although he described Dharmendra's remarks as irresponsible, it was not clear whether the BJP would condemn the general thrust of the deliberations at the Dharma Sansad.

In response to the call to implement the 40-point Hindu agenda, Mathur said that the Government would pursue only the goals mentioned in the National Agenda for Governance.

VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia declared that the VHP had no objection to Christians if their loyalties did not lie outside the country. He said: "If Christians and Muslims remember that they were of the same ethnic stock as us and did not deny the historical fact that we shared common forefathers, all problems will be solved."

All told, it is indisputable that elements of the extremist fringe within the Sangh Parivar have an agenda beyond keeping the BJP in power. The message of the Dharma Sansad to the BJP-led Government at the Centre seems to be: let us have our way, or you step down. There is no evidence as yet that the rhetoric of the Parivar will become less shrill in the near future.

'I will fight within the party'

cover-story

The resignation of Madan Lal Khurana from the Union Cabinet and the Bharatiya Janata Party National Executive in January exposed the fissures within the BJP. Khurana had earned the displeasure of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in recent months by questioning the organisation for its criticism of the A.B. Vajpayee-led coalition Government. Khurana was largely instrumental in the BJP's growth in Delhi. He was replaced by Sahib Singh Verma as the Chief Minister of Delhi in 1997 when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) decided to charge-sheet him in the Jain hawala case. He tried in vain to get himself reinstated as Chief Minister after the court dismissed the charges against him.

In this interview to V. Venkatesan, Khurana speaks of the attempts he made to make himself heard. However, he was isolated within the party by the Sangh Parivar and was left with no choice but to resign from the posts he held. Now he challenges the party leadership to expel him from the party. Excerpts:

Could you explain the circumstances that led to your resignation?

At the BJP National Executive meeting in Bangalore on January 2 and 3, I tried to make a speech, a copy of which I have given you. That was not allowed. At the BJP National Executive meeting in Jaipur in August last year I was not allowed to speak. After being successively denied an opportunity to speak, I tendered my resignation to Kushabhau Thakreji. I sent a letter saying: "I am not allowed to speak, so what is the use of my sitting here?" These were the issues. I met Vajpayeeji and told him that after I resigned from the BJP National Executive, it was possible that he would be under pressure to remove me from the Cabinet. I told him that I would give my resignation so that he need not remove me.

From January 7 (when I gave the resignation letter) to January 24 (when I announced the resignation to the media), no one sought to dissuade me. I am a senior leader and it was their duty to talk to me and find out what the problem was. But no one talked to me. I had sent the resignation letter to Thakreji with copies to Vajpayeeji and Advaniji. Then Thakreji said that I had given the letter on January 7 but withdrawn it later. Why should I do that? If I had withdrawn the letter from him, I would have withdrawn the copies given to Vajpayeeji and Advaniji too. Even if Thakreji thought that I had withdrawn the letter, why did he not ask me?

On January 24, the media reported the murder of the Australian missionary (Graham) Stewart Staines in Orissa, allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists. This forced me to act. On the same day I told them that my resignation letter sent on January 7 should be accepted. On January 26, the newspapers did not publish any news of my resignation. It was reported that I wanted permission from Thakreji to atone for the incidents of violence against Christians. By "atonement" I meant "resignation"; hence I expressed my desire to atone (for the mistakes) and I wrote in that letter that I wanted to resign. On January 30, Vajpayeeji told me that he was facing pressure to drop me from the Cabinet and that he wanted to know whether I would resign. I told him that my resignation letter was already with him and he could accept it if he was under pressure.

Who was putting pressure on Vajpayee? You know and I know. Was it Thakre?

From wherever it was, this was the fact. But don't call me a dissident. Dissidence refers to opposition to the establishment, for the sake of power and position. I am still in the party after quitting my posts in the party and the Government. I am only against some people whose actions during the last nine months have achieved one thing: raising the esteem of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi in the country. In the first six months, Jayalalitha was front page news. For the next three months, our family members' (read Sangh Parivar) statements against the Prime Minister - that he was selling the country, that he was engaged in anti-national activities, and that he was the most incompetent Prime Minister the country had seen - got media attention. Another report quoting a Parivar member from Calcutta said that Vajpayee was all right but his advisers were "foreign agents". All these reports appeared on the front pages of newspapers.

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Do the different organs of the Sangh Parivar not have functional autonomy? Each one is supposed to have different functions.

True, but the Sangh was our guide and philosopher. I have never spoken out against the Sangh. But if the Sangh Parivar acts like this as part of day-to-day functioning, then this should not happen. The Government should be the centre of power. Two parallel centres of power create problems like the ones we are facing here. You remember, in 1977 the issue of 'dual membership' was raised. I am not against dual membership, as I have been a member of the RSS and a member of the BJP for 54 years. Dual membership can remain, but the centre of power should not be split: you cannot say that we have the responsibility to govern, but orders will come from them. This cannot happen.

Were orders coming from the RSS?

Pressure is there on many fronts. Who ordered all these campaigns? Who issued the order against me? Vajpayeeji cannot ever have ordered them. There was an order that Jaswant Singh should not be taken into the Cabinet after the list that included him was sent to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Where did that order come from?

Why did you not protest then?

Look, there was no issue then. The Government was being formed after the elections. Had I protested then, people would have blamed me for creating a crisis. But now the situation is different. The country's image has been sullied. I get so many calls from my friends abroad, especially NRIs (non-resident Indians), because the media there have been publishing news daily about the attacks on Christians. I thought there should not be any backbiting. I have taken guidance from the Sangh on general matters, for instance the number of candidates we should field in Delhi. I would ask the Sangh to give us the list. The Sangh cannot complain about our failure to follow its principles and policies.

I would like to underline that the issues that I raised were repeated at the meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies. Why did they raise them? If they wanted to sort out the issues, they could have discussed them with Vajpayeeji. If he could agree, he would; otherwise he would have said so frankly.

Do you think Vajpayee is a weak Prime Minister?

I cannot say that. I cannot answer this question. I have not ever said that he is weak. But the situation is such that it makes one weak. He told me that people told him that I was made a scapegoat instead of him. I cannot say whether he is under pressure.

The party leadership has said that it could take action against you if you violate discipline.

Look, I have already quit the Cabinet post and the National Executive. If they want to take away my party membership, let them do it. I am not worried. After all, I have already given up many bigger posts. I have received huge appreciation for my decision from everywhere. I have never received such appreciation earlier in my life. NRIs tell me that I saved them. They cite my example and say that I am the real BJP. So, I will fight within the party.

Your critics say that you did not protest when there were atrocities against Muslims, allegedly by the Sangh Parivar. You did not oppose the Babri Masjid demolition, for instance.

In 1992 it was a communal clash, whereas the 1984 riots against Sikhs were one-sided killing of innocents. I organised protests against the 1984 riots and compiled the number of Sikhs killed then. Similarly I mobilised opinion against the killing of innocent Hindus by Sikh extremists in Punjab.

Do you regret the demolition of the Babri Masjid?

I don't want to talk about it now. No regretting. You may remember that I had described the incident as unfortunate at a few public meetings and in Parliament immediately after it happened.

You have alleged that the Bajrang Dal had a role in the Orissa incident.

I read the statement of the I.G. of Police (Orissa) in the newspaper alleging the involvement of the Bajrang Dal. A senior official of the Union Home Ministry also told me that the main accused, Dara Singh, had campaigned for the BJP in the last general elections as a Bajrang Dal activist. I told the official and the media that even if Dara Singh was involved, it was not fair to declare the entire organisation to which he belonged guilty. Since a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court is inquiring into the incident, it is not proper to comment on whether or not the Bajrang Dal was involved.

On the one hand, you want to atone for the mistakes and quit the Cabinet and the party body in the wake of the Orissa incident, but you are not prepared to blame the Bajrang Dal because an inquiry is on.

No. I wanted to atone for the incidents in Gujarat, where the involvement of members of the Sangh Parivar was clear from the arrests made by the police. I named these persons in my speech, which was not allowed to be made at the Bangalore meet. Then there was the statement criticising the missionaries, issued by Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad from Jaipur. This created the impression that Singhalji was supporting the attacks against Christians.

'The party can suggest, only the Government can decide'

cover-story

Even though Madan Lal Khurana's resignation has shaken the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership, senior leaders are averse to taking any immediate action lest it should precipitate a crisis. They prefer to wait and watch. Party vice-president and Member of Parliament representing Outer Delhi, Krishan Lal Sharma, spoke to V. Venkatesan about Khurana's resignation, the internal problems of the BJP, the party's uneasy relations with the Sangh Parivar and its troubles with some allies. Excerpts:

What are the current problems faced by the BJP-led coalition?

This coalition is proving better than any other coalition at the Centre in the past. We are dealing with our organisational problems firmly and there is no problem that is unsurmountable.

Is action likely to be taken against Madan Lal Khurana?

The appropriate procedure is to be followed. Our first effort is to make everybody realise that they should work under the discipline of the party. We take disciplinary action only when this becomes ineffective. At the moment we are not thinking in terms of issuing a show-cause notice to him. We don't find any reason for any further action because his resignation from the Cabinet and the National Executive has been accepted. The matter ends there as far as the present situation is concerned. If a necessity arises in the future, it will be dealt with accordingly.

What about Khurana's allegation, which he made quoting a senior official of the Home Ministry, that Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh, the main suspect in the Staines killing case, campaigned for the BJP in Orissa?

He has tried to explain that, and in a way he has contradicted himself. Although he has quoted a Union Home Ministry official, the statement has to be ascertained. His remarks have been overplayed by the media.

What is your opinion about Khurana's anguish at the Sangh Parivar's criticism of the Government?

The Sangh Parivar consists of different organisations and they have their own style of functioning. There is normal dissent within the Parivar. In a democracy, there can be no objection to their criticism of the Government.

By hindsight, was Khurana's removal as Chief Minister of Delhi a mistake?

There is no need to read too much between the lines. Every decision was taken after consultations. And Khurana was also involved in the process of consultations. Even after the decisions were taken, he chose to abide by them.

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Have the recent events compelled the Government to dissociate itself from extremist elements in the Sangh Parivar?

Both the Sangh Parivar and the Prime Minister have a right to disagree with each other. There is already a distance between the BJP and the other organs of the Sangh Parivar. We work in different spheres. Even according to the thinking of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), to which all organs of the Sangh Parivar have their original affiliation, every organisation is independent in its own way. There are consultations, but decision-making is left to the National Executive and the Cabinet. The party can suggest, but only the Government can decide. The organs of the Sangh Parivar differ from one another, but there is no tension.

What is your response to the indictment of the Gujarat Government by the National Commission on Minorities (NCM)?

Dangs is a small district in Gujarat and the incidents taking place there are isolated. They did not spread. Peace committees have been constituted and normalcy has been restored. The same Commission has not said anything about Madhya Pradesh after the rape of nuns in Jhabua. It reveals the Commission's bias.

The Centre has taken the Manoharpur incident in Orissa seriously and instituted a judicial inquiry. What more can the Centre do? There have been no riots anywhere in the country after the BJP-led Government took over at the Centre. There is a conspiracy. Extraordinary importance should not be given to these allegations. The country saw worse incidents when the Congress(I) ruled it. Is there any parallel to the 1984 riots or the Kashmir incidents? I will emphatically deny that there is an anti-Christian atmosphere or feeling in the country.

What about the bickering between the BJP and its allies?

We are trying to instil a sense of belonging and collective responsibility in the BJP's allies. After all, we have to run a government.

How do you perceive Jayalalitha's refusal to sign the joint declaration of the BJP and its allies after the recent Coordination Committee meeting?

We will see. After all, signing the document is not like signing a bond.

A bitter aftermath

The pattern set in the aftermath of the Staines killing shows that there are enough voices in positions of authority willing to justify heinous crimes committed in the name of religion.

SENSITIVITY to public opinion was at a premium in the aftermath of the grisly murder of Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two young boys by a lynch mob in Orissa on January 23. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani put on record his strong condemnation of the event, as did Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh, the latter describing it as a "crime against humanity". But for each such concession to the demands of rectitude, there was a gesture that tended to work to the contrary purpose. One such act was Advani's preemptive exculpation of the Bajrang Dal - his claim that he had authoritative information that the organisation was not involved in the crime. Another was BJP president Kushabhau Thakre's assertion that Christian missionaries were inviting trouble through their activities. He said: "I appeal to the missionaries that they are sitting on a stack of hay. They better be careful."

Thakre's remarks conformed to a pattern of morally dubious conduct by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate organisations after the Staines murder. In what could only be construed as a gross act of dishonouring the dead, Vishwa Hindu Parishad vice-president Giriraj Kishore asserted that the work of Graham Staines amidst leprosy sufferers was a facade, since there were no such people within a wide radius of where he lived and worked. As an intervention in an emotionally fraught situation, this was only slightly less coarse than that of Hindu Jagran Manch's Orissa unit president Subhash Chouhan. He said that Graham Staines was killed because he was engaged in proselytisation. The pattern set in the aftermath of the killing was very clear. Adherents to the RSS worldview who happen to be in the Government felt obliged to issue deprecatory noises. But those outside the Government felt few such restraints.

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A three-member team of Cabinet Ministers visited the site of the murder as part of the Government's crisis management strategy. Prior to his departure to the spot, Union Minister for Steel and Mines Naveen Patnaik made it clear that he looked at the event through the miasma of his antagonism to the Orissa unit of the Congress(I). Defence Minister George Fernandes and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi chose a strategy of prudence in advance of their visit - the former because he is a key member of the BJP-led Government's crisis management effort and the latter because of his well-advertised proximity to hardline elements in the RSS.

The ministerial trio spent one hour at the scene of the crime. On its return to Delhi, the team issued a statement which ascribed responsibility for the crime to an "international conspiracy" by "forces which would like this Government to go". If this effectively ruled out the culpability of the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates, the team also urged that a judicial commission of inquiry be constituted to look into the murder in order to uncover the conspiracy.

Shortly afterwards the Government announced, on the advice of the Chief Justice of India, that a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice D.P. Wadhwa, had been appointed as a one-man commission of inquiry into the Staines killing. Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Cabinet spokesman Pramod Mahajan said that the inquiry report would be completed by April, so that it could be placed in Parliament in its next session.

The Director-General for Investigations in the National Human Rights Commission, D.R. Karthikeyan, visited the scene of the crime. His report is expected to be submitted by the middle of February, though with the appointment of the judicial commission it could become an input for the broader inquiry. Certain suggestions that he made in the context of the local police investigation, such as entrusting it to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the State police and putting an officer of the rank of Superintendent in charge of it, have been accepted.

A two-member team from the National Commission on Minorities comprising James Massey and N. Neminath also went to the site. Its report is also expected to be an important input into the inquiries of the judicial commission.

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IN the midst of these exertions, the ambivalence of official utterances continues to cause disquiet. It is well known that the Bajrang Dal - as in the case of most organisations in the RSS constellation - does not maintain membership rolls. Established in 1984, just when the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was beginning to take shape in the strategies of the RSS, the Bajrang Dal honed its agitational and inflammatory skills in the lethal campaign to bring down the mosque in Ayodhya. The slogans it crafted as part of this campaign still ring with menace and were often chanted by the riotous mobs which took a heavy toll of human life during the six years leading up to the demolition.

Many modern legal systems have a category of offence known as "hate speech". Slogans and declamations that tend to engender a sense of antipathy towards any group of people are an offence in themselves. And if they are issued in close temporal or spatial connection with actual incidents of violence against these groups, a direct association is drawn. The onus is then on those who raise the inflammatory slogans to prove that there is no connection with the actual act of violence.

By this reasonable benchmark, the BJP spokesmen who have, at every juncture since the cycle of anti-Christian violence began, exerted themselves in the cause of strife rather than harmony bear a share of the blame for the Staines killing. And their conspicuous lack of remorse after the event has certainly contributed to the sustenance of an atmosphere of violence. This has been most recently exemplified in the alleged gang-rape of a Catholic nun on February 3 in Mayurbhanj district in Orissa. Heinous crimes have been justified by the supposed sense of rage at the incursions of alien religions into what is deemed to be Hindu territory. For the BJP leaders who today represent governmental authority, this has concurrently become an alibi for a complete abdication of responsibility.

A tenuous peace

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

A semblance of normalcy has been restored in South Gujarat, but the Christian community is yet to regain its sense of security.

ALTHOUGH the series of violent attacks on Christians in South Gujarat, which began on Christmas day, have subsided following widespread protests by secular groups, the State Government has done little to convince the minority community about any resolve to prevent further attacks by Hindu zealots who continue to enjoy official patronage because of their links with the Sangh Parivar. While Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal activists continue to spew venom on the minorities, the Bharatiya Janata Party Government headed by Keshubhai Patel has turned a blind eye to the larger issue of the threat to communal harmony. Shaken by all-round condemnation but reluctant to act against members of the Parivar, the Government sought to give a local angle to the issue and considered local solutions to effect a truce.

In Dangs district, which first reported cases of violence, normalcy returned, thanks to the persistent efforts of the district administration. The Government, prodded by an over-anxious Centre, appointed former District Collector of Dangs S.K. Nanda, now Secretary with the State Government, secretary in charge of the district. The Government transferred Bharat Joshi, the Collector, to the State Secretariat in Gandhinagar, after a fact-finding committee of the Union Home Ministry indicted him for permitting a Hindu Vikas Manch rally at Ahwa on December 25. Nanda, along with J.P. Gupta, the new Collector, and Manoj Shashidar, the Superintendent of Police, ensured that normalcy was restored.

Tracing the roots of the district's current crisis to poverty, Nanda persuaded the Government to evolve a Rs.446-lakh development package with the accent on employment generation, micro watershed management, salt conservation projects, promotion of horticulture and the filling up of teachers' posts in schools. The district administration involved both Hindu and Christian tribal people in repairing or rebuilding the places of worship that were damaged or destroyed and organised rallies of schoolchildren to promote communal harmony. The administration also persuaded both the communities to forget and forgive and stop encouraging outsiders to meddle in matters related to religion in the district.

"We advised the poor tribal people to bury their differences. The results are encouraging," Nanda told Frontline. He averred that the "outsiders" who had instigated tension in the district had been asked to leave. Swami Asheemanand of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram at Waghai is among those who have left the district.

The approach of the local administration has been to fix the responsibility for the attacks on leaders of both the communities (although the attacks were mostly one-sided) and appeal to them to avoid contentious issues that tend to divide the communities. In other words, the administration has refrained from taking stringent action against the guilty or ordering an impartial inquiry into the incidents, perhaps for fear of reviving tensions. The guilty, who were mainly people who came from other districts, have by and large gone scot-free although a few members of the Sangh Parivar have been arrested. Normalcy first, investigation and punishment of the guilty later - this appears to be the attitude of the authorities in Gandhinagar and Ahwa.

The priority the Government accorded to the restoration of peace is the result of severe strictures that came from unexpected quarters. The State Government suffered a major embarrassment on January 10 when its counsel in the Supreme Court in the Narmada dam dispute, Fali S.Nariman, decided not to represent the State any more, in protest against its failure to protect the minorities. The State Government tried to persuade him to reverse his decision, but the eminent lawyer stood his ground. In 1975 Nariman had resigned as Additional Solicitor-General in protest against the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi.

GUJARAT Governor Anshuman Singh was transferred to Rajasthan on January 13 amid reports that relations between him and Keshubhai Patel had come under severe strain following the concern he expressed about the State Government's failure to prevent the attacks on Christians. Anshuman Singh had also promised a Christian delegation that he would exercise his powers to protect the minorities. His transfer has raised questions about the Centre's motives.

Opposition parties such as the Congress(I) and the Rashtriya Janata Party have criticised the Governor's transfer, accusing Keshubhai Patel of demanding it. Dr. Tahir Mahmood, Chairman of the National Commission on Minorities (NCM), described the transfer as "politically unwise".

On January 5, the NCM constituted a special bench to sit in Gandhinagar on January 7 and examine under oath representatives of both the communities. In view of a meeting of the full Commission scheduled for January 11, the Commission rejected the State Govern-ment's request to postpone the sitting of the bench. In its interim report on the violence, which was released on January 11, it expressed its doubts over the effectiveness and impact of the actions stated to have been taken to control the situation.

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The Commission urged political parties to desist from looking at the Gujarat situation from a political perspective, in view of the dangers involved in politicising a communal problem. In particular, it was convinced that there was a prima facie case for the Union Government to use its powers under Article 256 of the Constitution, to give necessary "directions" to the Gujarat Government for the exercise of executive power so as to ensure compliance with existing laws (including the constitutional provisions on Fundamental Rights, the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure) in the context of the communal situation in the State.

The NCM also expressed its conviction that the situation in Gujarat qualified for description as "internal disturbance" as mentioned in Article 355 and that it is the "duty of the Union" to protect the States under the Article. Under the NCM Act, 1992, the Centre has to place the statutory recommendation of the Commission before Parliament with an action-taken memorandum. However, the Centre has sought clarifications from the Commission on its recommendations. The NCM has refrained from recommending the use of Article 356 to dismiss the Keshubhai Patel Government. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha has demanded President's Rule in the State and the Congress(I) has supported the demand.

The NCM has since submitted its final report to the Government. According to media accounts, the report has attributed the spurt in the violence to Hindu fundamentalist organisations' attempt to reconvert the tribal people who had converted to Christianity. Blaming the Government for its inept handling of the situation, it called for stringent action against the guilty. The Commission also reportedly referred to the State Government's reply to it stating that it had no evidence of forced conversions in the region although the increase in the Christian population in Dangs district between 1981 and 1991 was abnormal.

Despite the NCM's strictures, the Centre continued to adopt an unfriendly attitude with regard to Christian missionaries. Asked about the Gujarat incidents, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani said on January 16 that more than 70 per cent of privately made foreign donations that had come into the country between October and December 1998 were for Christian missionaries.

Advani's remark drew sharp protests from John Dayal, national secretary of the All India Catholic Union, and Dr. Ambrose Pinto, Director of the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. They alleged that false data of the kind Advani provided were responsible for the incidents that rocked Dangs district. They urged the Home Minister to make public the amounts and the names of all those who had received foreign funds in India. They also deplored the use of the term "missionaries" while referring to varied organisations, including human rights movements and non-governmental organisations, as it gave the impression that all foreign funds were being used for religious conversions.

A subsequent press release issued by the Home Ministry gave the details of funds received between October and December 1998 by what it called 'Christian organisations'. During this quarter, foreign contribution amounting to approximately Rs.19.80 crores were received in the country; of this Rs.14 crores was received by 'Christian organisations', the press note said. However, the Ministry neither gave details of the activities of the 'Christian organisations' nor provided evidence about the use of such funds for forcible conversions.

MEANWHILE, there are allegations that Hindu sugar mill owners owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar are refusing to employ Christian tribal workers unless they reconverted to Hinduism. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, a front organisation for the Sangh Parivar, is reportedly engaged in reconversion efforts although the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has taken a public stand against reconversion. According to reports, efforts to impart training in martial arts to Hindus among the tribal people in Uchhal and Vyara taluks of Surat district and the fear of further attacks on churches there have forced Christians in the area to guard their religious places in the night. On the surface normalcy has returned to South Gujarat; but a sense of security and confidence among the minorities are far from achieved.

A musical genius

Pandit Ravi Shankar, arguably the most outstanding sitar artist, is truly a musician of the entire nation, a true Bharat Ratna.

THE conferring of the Bharat Ratna on Pandit Ravi Shankar, arguably the most outstanding sitar artist the country has produced, begs the question: why did it take so long in coming? Given that the majority of the 34 winners of the award so far are politicians of various hues, if at least a good number had been from the arts and the sciences it would have helped add value to this highest civilian award of the nation. However, only three from the arts, including Ravi Shankar, have won the award so far, the other two being the Carnatic vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi and the renowned film-maker Satyajit Ray. But even this recognition came when all the three were well past their creative best - in the case of Satyajit Ray, in fact, posthumously.

The award to Ravi Shankar comes as he turns 80. Even though it is not the same Panditji today that his millions of fans and followers have known for the last five decades, his inventive genius is still at work. This was seen in ample measure during his Swarna Jayanti Concert in New Delhi last year on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Independence. His latest Compact Disc 'The Chants of India' is evidence that he is still far from the twilight of his creativity. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that this is one more instance of state recognition following various international recognitions of high order. Last year, Ravi Shankar was given along with Ray Charles, the Polar Music Award of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, regarded as the "Nobel Prize for Music": the citation described him as the "Music Bridge Builder Between East and West". In some sense, therefore, the award of Bharat Ratna to someone like Ravi Shankar is merely a stamp of the Government on his eminence, which the nation and the world have known for long.

IF there is a greater understanding today of Indian music and its underlying philosophy around the world (whose benefits a good number of present-generation artists of both North and South would seem to be reaping with their musical tours abroad) and there is a pervasive influence of Indian music on the global musical conscience and, by extension, on Indian culture itself, it is in no small measure owing to Ravi Shankar. His "cultural ambassadorship" can be said to have begun with his performance along with Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris exactly five decades ago. Since then his urge to experiment and to spread the soul and spirit of Indian music resulted in his association with the Beatles in the 1960s and flirtation with pop and rock groups and performances at Monterey and Woodstock Festivals during the 1970s on the one hand and association with major musical figures of the day, such as Menuhin, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Hasan Yamamoto and Mushimi Miyashita, on the other.

Writing the preface to Ravi Shankar's autobiographical My Music, My Life (1969), Yehudi Menuhin says: "To the Indian quality of serenity, the Indian musician brings an exalted personal expression of union with the infinite, as in infinite love. Few modern composers in the West have achieved this quality, though we revere it in the works of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. If the Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar, who are so graciously beginning to bring this genius to us, can help us find this quality again, then we shall have much to thank them for."

Indeed, Ravi Shankar himself saw this as his main mission when he carried Indian music to the West at a time when few would have dared to do this given the political and economic turmoil that India was in. "I have given the West the soul of our music. Not the skill or virtuosity (taiyyari) alone - the West has an abundant measure of that in their own tradition. With taiyyari, you can get an instant response, applause. After that they will forget you. The true soul of our music is in adhyatmikata, its spiritual quality. The West had it in the past."

His deep rootedness in the tradition of Indian music - being the disciple of the legendary Ustad Allauddin Khan enabled him to imbibe, absorb and live this tradition - helped him achieve this. He could delve into the depths of Indian music and present its quintessence to Western audiences in a manner that it could be enjoyed and assimilated.

While this musical mission to the West - where he has spent most of his life - did catapult Ravi Shankar to a world celebrity status and, in some sense, even a cult figure in the West, his contribution to Hindustani classical music itself has also been immense. It is to him that music lovers owe the elevation of the status of sitar as a concert instrument of great versatility and range. Indeed, he has influenced instrumental Hindustani music in general, not just the sitar, and raised the sophistication in the structural format of the instrumental performance - a systematic and structured exposition of the alap, jor, jhala and the various tempos of the gat.

With his egalitarian outlook in music, Ravi Shankar drew inspiration from Carnatic music's vast repertoire of ragas as well. In that sense he is truly a musician of the entire nation, a true Bharat Ratna. He enjoyed Carnatic music and, like vocalists Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Amir Khan, was deeply influenced by it. He popularised many Carnatic ragas in the Hindustani system - notably, Charukesi, Janasammodh-ini, Keerawani, Malayamarutam, Revati (which he called Bairagi), among others.

The experimentalist and the innovator in him also led him to compose in many Indian and foreign films though he laments that he could not devote as much time in composing for films as he would have liked to. His music for Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy stands supreme amongst his scores for films. Among his scores for Hindi films, Anuradha is a gem, the other noteworthy scores being for Godan, Dharti Ke Lal and Meera.

Ravi Shankar's versatility has extended to ballets, musicals, dance dramas (like "Ghanashayam'') and orchestral performances.

What does Ravi Shankar feel about his own achievements? "In music," he said a few years ago, "I wasted a lot of time. I spent energy in doing new things, in experiments. Maybe if I had been completely focussed on one single aspect, on the purely classical approach to the sitar, I am sure I would have gone further, much deeper. I do feel that. But the truth is that even as I am saying this, I want to do so many other things. Audiovisual ideas keep crowding my mind. I have to admit that I have not changed. I cannot change...I have to be myself." If he had changed, the world of music would have been that much the poorer.

And this story of his self again finds expression in his recently released autobiography Ragamala, an updated version of his My Music, My Life.

Exit Manohar Joshi

The replacement of Manohar Joshi with Narayan Rane as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra indicates the Shiv Sena's intention to pursue an aggressive programme of communal mobilisation, which the party hopes will help it retain power in next year's Assembly elections.

MANOHAR JOSHI'S removal from the office of Maharashtra Chief Minister resembled nothing as much as the tossing of an unwanted machine on to a scrap yard. The way in which he had to leave office cannot perhaps be described as surprising. Shortly after Joshi assumed office in March 1995, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had made it clear that the Chief Minister would act on the commands served by his metaphorical "remote control". For four years, Joshi's studied geniality served the Shiv Sena's strategy of projecting itself as a responsible party of governance. However, with the March 2000 Assembly elections fast approaching, that strategy had to change. Now, Narayan Tatu Rane, the new Chief Minister, will preside over an aggressive programme of communal mobilisation the Shiv Sena hopes will keep it in power.

The coup to depose Manohar Joshi was executed with finesse. On January 30, Joshi himself did not appear to be aware of the fact that he was about to be removed from office. He spent most of the day in Pune, meeting Marathi literary figures involved in a writers' conference. On his return to Mumbai late in the afternoon, a curt fax message from Thackeray demanding his resignation was waiting for him at the Chief Minister's residence. Joshi promptly told Thackeray on the telephone that he would honour the demand. At 6-45 p.m., Joshi drove to the Raj Bhavan and handed over his resignation letter to Governor P.C. Alexander. Members of the Legislative Assembly were informed of the resignation and of Rane's appointment at a previously scheduled legislature party meeting that night.

The demand for Manohar Joshi's resignation had been building up since the Nagpur session of the State legislature. At a dinner meeting of Shiv Sena MLAs, Rane had accused Joshi of using the threat of defection from the party to secure his own position. Sources told Frontline that the final move was, however, made after an intense campaign within Matoshree, Bal Thackeray's residence. Both Smita Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo's daughter-in-law, and Raj Thackeray, his nephew, had been pushing Rane's case. Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav Thackeray also made his dislike for Joshi and his son Unmesh clear. The three are believed to have told Bal Thackeray that incompetent governance had eroded the Shiv Sena's constituency almost beyond repair and that he had to act before it was too late.

The choice of a successor was, however, not simple. Rane's case received a boost because of his proximity to Raj and Smita Thackeray, whom he has cultivated assiduously since the mid-1980s. Some people believed that being a Maratha, Rane would be able to counter the Congress(I)'s influence in the politically decisive community. Among the other contenders for the Chief Minister's post was Trade and Commerce Minister Diwakar Raote. According to rumours circulating in the Shiv Sena, Raj, a long-time party worker who has begun to feel alienated following his uncle's growing patronage of his son Uddhav, was also pushing for elevation to office. Whatever the truth, Rane emerged as the consensus candidate.

BJP leaders were told of the decision to replace Joshi with Rane only on January 29. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan, the central figure in mediating the BJP's growing differences with the Shiv Sena, was by most accounts delighted to see the last of Joshi. Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde, who had been in the forefront of the State BJP's war with the Shiv Sena, was equally euphoric. Their reasons were anything but altruistic. A Brahmin identified with a centre-right political position, Joshi appealed to an important segment of the BJP's own constituency. More important, he was instrumental in thwarting the BJP's desire to play a central role in the process of governance.

For Thackeray, the conflict with the BJP does not appear to have been a major consideration. Joshi had offered to resign after the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance's debacle in the State in the last Lok Sabha elections. However, Thackeray turned down the offer. On March 23, 1998, Thackeray publicly criticised Joshi for corruption within his government and for his supposed friendship with Congress(I) leader Sharad Pawar. Joshi again offered to resign, but the offer was again rejected. In August, Joshi sought to mend fences with the Shiv Sena chief and launched an uncharacteristically aggressive attack on the findings of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry on the role played by Bal Thackeray in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. Joshi made it clear that he would resign rather than order the arrest of the Shiv Sena chief.

However, even this desperate display of loyalty proved inadequate. In December, Rane launched his assault on Joshi. He said that an anti-Shiv Sena political mobilisation by Ganesh Naik, Suresh Nawale and Gulabrao Gawande, Shiv Sena Ministers who had been dropped from the Government, had served to keep Joshi in power. Rane concluded that the possibility of a split in the Shiv Sena was kept alive by Joshi for this very reason. The fact that Bal Thackeray did not reprimand Rane for this outburst was lost on no one. Later, Bal Thackeray said that if the Bombay High Court passed any strictures against Joshi in the course of an ongoing litigation over a property transaction involving Joshi's son-in-law Girish Vyas, he would be removed from his post immediately.

Around the same time, the BJP began a flanking operation against Joshi. Munde tabled the contents of a Criminal Investigation Department inquiry into a controversial Sahara India resort project in which Joshi appeared to have shown more than a little personal interest (Frontline, January 9, 1998). The BJP made clear its displeasure with regard to the allegations of corruption against Welfare Minister Babanrao Gholap, who was alleged to have embezzled funds meant for the development of members of backward castes. Thackeray's pet projects, including the supply of electricity free of cost to farmers and housing for 40 lakh slum residents and a massive wage increase for teachers, were systematically scuppered by the BJP. Joshi's inability to push through these proposals infuriated Thackeray.

However, Joshi's worst crime as perceived by the Shiv Sena chief was his failure to aid the Shiv Sena's pre-election mobilisation. As Thackeray's campaign against the India-Pakistan cricket series gathered momentum, Joshi was expected to use the State's resources to extend support. But when Munde ordered the arrest of 14 Shiv Sena workers for vandalising the office of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in Mumbai, Joshi proved powerless to respond. This is believed to have provoked Bal Thackeray's anger at a January 28 meeting of Shiv Sena Ministers. There was no point in having a Shiv Sena Government, he is said to have shouted, if the party cadre could not be protected from arrest. Sources told Frontline that Joshi's efforts to attribute responsibility to Munde only provoked the Shiv Sena chief further.

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In retrospect, the January 28 meeting sealed Joshi's fate. Bal Thackeray made clear his displeasure over the arrests of the party cadre and what he felt was the inability of Shiv Sena Ministers to push through the party agenda.

If Bal Thackeray expected a new aggression from Joshi, he was to be disappointed. At a meeting of the coordination committee of the BJP and the Shiv Sena on January 29, which was attended by Bal Thackeray, Pramod Mahajan, Uddhav Thackeray, Manohar Joshi, State BJP president Suryabhan Wahadane and the BJP's former general secretary Sharad Kulkarni, Munde ensured that his party got its way. Earlier, Shiv Sena-inspired directives such as raising the age of retirement for government employees from 58 years to 60 years were revoked. A separate department for the welfare of nomadic tribes was created, and Munde's demand for a hike in the procurement prices of cotton was accepted in principle. Thackeray's proposal to supply electricity to farmers free of cost failed to get through after the BJP questioned the feasibility of a Rs. 800-crore budgetary provision required to implement the plan. The ease with which the BJP triumphed at the coordination committee meeting may have been the proverbial last straw.

RANE'S first action after taking over as Chief Minister was to strip Joshi's confidants of important portfolios and empower Ministers perceived as being close to the Thackeray family. Independent MLAs who support the Government emphasised their centrality to the survival of the regime by securing 10 ministerial berths, two more than what they had during Joshi's tenure. A spate of transfer orders have been issued to bureaucrats too.

Besides, decision-making in the government itself is in the process of being transformed. Cabinet meetings will now be preceded by a meeting of four Ministers, in which Rane, Munde and Finance Minister Mahadev Shivankar will, in consultation with the Minister concerned, arrive at a decision on issues. The subsequent Cabinet meeting will serve only to authorise this decision formally.

Perhaps the most significant of all will be the political consequences. Although the BJP reacted with smug satisfaction when it heard of Joshi's dismissal, it is not clear for how long the complacency will last. Much of the BJP's political strategy is premised on ensuring that the factions of the Republican Party of India do not ally with the Congress(I). This alignment proved catastrophic for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. The appointment of Sanghpriya Gautam, a one-time associate of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as the general secretary of the Maharashtra BJP unit also signals the party's determination to find a Dalit constituency. Leaders of the BJP believe that if Joshi's exit will enable them to win back their upper-caste constituency from the Shiv Sena, Rane's Maratha credentials will leave them free to pursue their programme of expansion among Dalits.

Rane could, however, turn the tables on the BJP. For one, the Shiv Sena seems set to return to a more sharply communal agenda than what it pursued in its first four years in power. Its vitriolic attacks on Dilip Kumar and Shabana Azmi during its campaign seeking a ban on the screening of Deepa Mehta's film Fire and its agitation against the India-Pakistan cricket series appear to be mere rehearsals for bigger mobilisations. Such mobilisations would attract much of the BJP's core Hindutva constituency and sabotage its hopes of emerging as the principal party of the political Right in Maharashtra. Secondly, Rane is unlikely to be as ineffectual as Joshi was in resisting the BJP's claims to a large share of power. Finally, Rane could succeed in strengthening the Shiv Sena by bringing back dissidents such as Ganesh Naik into its fold.

CURIOUSLY, the Congress(I) appears to be wholly ineffectual in its response to latest developments. Both Madhukar Pichad and Chhagan Bhujbal, leaders of the party in Maharashtra's Assembly and Legislative Council respectively, have promised to lobby with independents and Shiv Sena dissidents in the build-up to the confidence vote Rane will face in the Assembly on February 17. However, Bhujbal left for Kerala on February 3 to undergo ayurvedic treatment there - a sign that is not indicative of energetic political resolve. Sharad Pawar too is believed to be hurt by party president Sonia Gandhi's apparent endorsement of forces hostile to him during her recent campaign in Maharashtra. Except for ritual condemnations of the Government's conduct, the Congress(I) does not appear to have a coherent plan.

That could prove to be costly in the months to come. Many people believe that Rane's rise to power could enable the Shiv Sena to strengthen further its presence in Maharashtra's politics. Signs of a strengthening of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance are already evident. Twenty-six of the 44 independent MLAs (the highest number so far to support the Government formally) have written to the Governor, expressing their support for Rane. These developments have come at a time when the Congress(I) appears unlikely to sustain its successful Lok Sabha alliances with the Samajwadi Party and the factions of the RPI for the Assembly elections in 2000. If Rane provides a reasonably efficient government and if the Shiv Sena succeeds in generating communal polarisation, the Congress(I) may just be in for an unpleasant surprise in March 2000.

The real face of the Shiv Sena

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LYLA BAVADAM

THE first press conference Narayan Tatu Rane addressed as Chief Minister of Maharashtra lasted just 30 minutes. Rane looked impassively at the gathering of journalists. No bluster, no laughter, no bonhomie: he pointedly ignored even the laughter that followed a joke cracked by Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde. Rane was clearly not interested in emulating the genial image nurtured by his predecessor Manohar Joshi. He had chosen to portray the Shiv Sena's real face.

When the 47-year-old Maratha leader, a native of the coastal district of Sindhudurg, was sworn in Chief Minister on February 1, no one doubted the fact that his appointment was the result of his absolute loyalty to the Thackeray family.

Rane's 'career' in the Shiv Sena began more than 25 years ago. After passing his Secondary School Certificate examination in 1970, Rane got a job as a clerk in the Income Tax Department. Around the same time he joined the Shiv Sena and remained an active member of the party's branch in Chembur in north Mumbai. He was made a shakha pramukh in 1984. The following year he was given the party ticket for the Bombay Municipal Corporation.

During his years as a corporator, Rane's loyalty to the Thackerays started bearing fruit. With a little help from Raj Thackeray, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's nephew, Rane became the Chairman of the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking with an annual budget of Rs. 1,500 crores. The three years he spent in the coveted post helped him hone his administrative skills. In 1995, when the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition came to power in the State, Rane's loyalty finally paid off again. He was made Minister for Dairy Development and Fisheries. Later he was given the Revenue portfolio.

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In a manner of speaking, Rane has been a Chief Minister-in-waiting for nearly two years. He almost achieved his goal about six months ago, but a stroke of tactical genius on the part of Manohar Joshi delayed his moment of glory. The rift between Joshi and Bal Thackeray was public knowledge and the axe was expected to fall on Joshi any time. However, Joshi pre-empted the move to sack him by floating a rumour that implied that Thackeray's decision to dismiss him was being guided by the BJP. This move, however, lengthened Joshi's tenure by only a few months.

Rane's appointment has been welcomed by the Shiv Sena cadre, bureaucrats and the BJP. He is said to be a good administrator, a quality which, bureaucrats say, Joshi did not possess. At his first press conference, Rane told mediapersons that he was determined to start his working day early and ensure that efficiency became a byword in Mantralaya - a work ethic that seems to be at odds with the Shiv Sena's style of functioning.

In 1991 Rane was named an accused in the case relating to the murder of a Sindhudurg district Youth Congress leader, Sridhar Naik. He was acquitted, but his political opponents allege that he is not unfamiliar with the underworld. In the 1980s, when the Shiv Sena fought the State elections, Rane campaigned in the Konkan region and succeeded in garnering the support of a few districts for the Shiv Sena.

Joshi was nominated Chief Minister in March 1995 after the Shiv Sena-BJP combine came to power mainly owing to his polish and poise. He was the presentable face of the Shiv Sena. In contrast, Rane is more representative of the Shiv Sena. For its part, the BJP appears to be willing to turn a blind eye to this fact. As one leader remarked: "Joshi was an armchair politician. Rane has risen from the ranks, he has taken part in street agitations."

Rane's administrative abilities and grassroots-level work are expected to strengthen his position as Chief Minister. Added to this is the fact that he is backed by the entire Thackeray family, including its latest power wielder, Smita Thackeray, Bal Thackeray's daughter-in-law. Clearly, with so many godfathers to please, Rane will toe their line and not repeat the mistakes of Joshi.

'We will work with Rane'

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Interview with Gopinath Munde.

The euphoria in the Bharatiya Janata Party in the wake of the sacking of Manohar Joshi appears to have given way to a mood of reflection. The party at first saw in Joshi's removal from the chief ministership an opportunity to reassert its authority, which had diminished considerably after humiliation was heaped on it recently by the Shiv Sena over the India-Pakistan cricket series. Some BJP leaders, however, believe that the party only stands to lose from its association with a controversial Chief Minister. And more important, an aggressive Shiv Sena consolidation could erode the BJP's own political constituency.

In this interview to Praveen Swami, BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde, a central figure in his party's battles with Manohar Joshi, discussed the issues in the context of the Assembly elections that are due in Maharashtra next year. His replies were guarded and there were few signs of the glee that his party had expressed days earlier on the political developments. Excerpts:

The BJP seems delighted that Narayan Rane has become Chief Minister. What is the reason for this?

There is no question of us being either happy or unhappy. The appointment of the Chief Minister is the Shiv Sena's prerogative. We have no role to play in it. We were working with Manohar Joshi, and we will work with Narayan Rane.

There has been a great deal of speculation in the media about whether the BJP was consulted on the decision to remove Joshi, and whether it pressed for the decision. What are the facts?

People imagine a lot of things. The BJP was told one day before Joshi was removed that the Shiv Sena had decided on a leadership change. There were no consultations before the Shiv Sena pramukh (Bal Thackeray) made his decision. He informed (Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting) Pramod Mahajan of the decision, so we knew what was going to happen. Joshi himself had not, I think, been told at that stage.

One of the reasons offered for Rane's appointment as Chief Minister is that it will help end the BJP-Shiv Sena conflict. Do you agree? Have the basic reasons for the conflict been solved?

There were three basic issues. Two of them have been solved. The first was whether or not cotton procurement prices should be raised. They have been raised, to our satisfaction. Then, we were demanding a separate secretariat for backward caste communities' development. That issue has also been resolved as we asked. The pending dispute is over the pricing of electricity supplied to farmers. When the other two issues could be solved, this one can be resolved as well. It will be dealt with in the coordination committee and an answer found.

There were also other issues, notably Bal Thackeray's campaign against the India-Pakistan cricket series. Joshi was not responsible for that dispute.

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That has also been resolved, hasn't it? Thackeray refused to let Pakistan play, and then he suspended his decision. He has agreed to let them play here for one year. In that year, I believe we will work together, and come to a better understanding through dialogue. Narayan Rane and I will work well together.

Another important allegation against Joshi was that he was shielding corrupt Ministers, notably Babanrao Gholap. But Gholap, whom your party has criticised, continues in the Cabinet. And the Chief Minister was an accused in a murder case.

There were certainly allegations against Gholap. When there is no final evidence in the matter, how can he be acted against? If there is evidence of corruption, the Minister will of course be removed. Allegations are one thing and conviction is another. And, in any case, the Shiv Sena's Ministers are their responsibility. Our Ministers are our responsibility. As for Rane, the court acquitted him and said he had nothing to do with the murder. To argue otherwise is to insult the court.

In some ways, the decision to remove Joshi seems reminiscent of Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma's fate in Delhi. That move backfired on the BJP. Could that happen with the Shiv Sena here?

The situation in Maharashtra is not like the situation in Delhi. There the problem was not the Chief Minister, but the prices of onions and so on. And the other important factor is that the new Chief Minister came to power after the elections were notified and the code of conduct was operational. She had no time to work. Here the new Chief Minister has a year until the elections. Here the Chief Minister has an opportunity to do something positive.

Elections seem to be on the BJP's mind as well. That the new State party chief, Sanghapriya Gautam, was an associate of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has obvious symbolism.

I am delighted that Gautam has been placed in charge of our party, and this has a positive message for society. That an associate of Dr. Ambedkar leads our party is an honour for us. In this coming election I believe that unlike in 1996 the Congress(I) will not be able to forge a united front with the Samajwadi Party and the Republican Party of India (RPI). It seems clear that after Sonia Gandhi entered politics, she has rejected the earlier policy of allying with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In fact, she seems to have rejected alliances of any kind. They cannot have an alliance here when they do not have one there. And the RPI itself has split. Prakash Ambedkar has set up a separate party, which won seats against the combined might of the Congress(I) and Ramdas Athavle's RPI group in the recent zilla parishad polls. This makes clear that the name of Ambedkar has great force among the Dalit masses. It seems to me that Prakash Ambedkar and other parties could put together a strong third force. The success he had at Akola could be replicated State-wide.

Which will benefit the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance...

(Munde laughs, but does not reply.)

Massacre in Shankarbigha

The Republic Day-eve massacre of 23 Dalits by the Ranbir Sena has further intensified the strife between upper-caste landlords and naxalites in central Bihar and strengthened the political mobilisation against the Rabri Devi Government.

TWENTY-THREE residents of Shankarbigha village in Bihar's Jehanabad district, all from families of landless agricultural workers belonging to the backward communities of Paswan, Chamar, Dushads and Rajwar, were murdered in cold blood on January 25. The killers were members of the outlawed Ranbir Sena, a private army of upper-caste Bhumihar landlords. Five women and seven children, including a 10-month-old, were among those killed.

The incident is but part of a series of massacres that mark the recent history of the central Bihar districts. Killings have occurred with frightful regularity - in Arwal and Kansara in 1986, Golakpur (1987), Malibigha (1988), Lakhawar (1990), Sawanbigha (1992), Aiara (1994), Khadasin (1997), Lakshmanpur-Bathe (1997) and Chouram and Rampur (1998).

Shankarbigha is located near Lakshmanpur-Bathe where the Ranbir Sena killed 61 agricultural workers belonging to backward communities in December 1997. To the east of Shankarbigha is Dhobibigha, a village dominated by upper-caste Bhumihars. To its north is Chouram, another Bhumihar village, where a landlord was killed by naxalites in retaliation for the Lakshmanpur-Bathe massacre. Consi-dering the intense caste and class struggles that go on in central Bihar, Shankarbigha's 68 households were clearly vulnerable. It was more so after the Ranbir Sena's self-styled chief, Brahmeshwar Singh, told a local Hindi daily that his army had planned a genocide much larger in scale than the one it carried out in Lakshmanpur-Bathe, to avenge the killing of seven persons belonging to an upper caste by naxalites at Rampur in November 1998. He stated that the site of the massacre had been chosen and the targets identified. Preparations for the operation were under way, he said.

On the eve of Republic Day, about 100 Ranbir Sena activists carrying firearms descended on Shankarbigha, 126 km from Patna, around 10-30 p.m. They broke into huts and opened fire on people who were asleep. The objectives of the killers were, first, to terrorise the residents, who were getting attracted to the ideology of two prominent naxalite groups - the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity - and, second, to seek to establish the supremacy of landlords.

According to reports, the killers entered Shankarbigha, which is not accessible by road, by crossing a canal branching off from the Sone river. Ramnath, whose sister and her three children were killed, said: "The toll would have been higher had people from neighbouring villages such as Dhebai, Rupsagarbigha and Karamchebigha not opened fire. Before fleeing the village, the killers shouted 'Ranbir Baba ki jai' (Long live Ranbir Baba) and 'Ranbir Sena jinda rahenge' (Ranbir Sena will remain alive)." Brahmeshwar Singh had declared in the wake of the Rampur killings: "Hum saat ka badla shatak se lenge" (we will avenge the murder of seven of our men by killing 100 people).

Eyewitnesses said the assailants came from the villages of Dhobibigha and Shahbajpur and escaped towards Dhobibigha. They took just 20 minutes for the operation. The survivors were too numb to react. Six-year-old Tarania said she crept under bundles of hay with her one-year-old brother while her mother was shot in the chest. Sonadhari lost her only son and a daughter. The six-member family of Mohali Paswan was wiped out. Jagmohan Sah, his wife and one of their two sons were killed. Bindheswar is among the 14 persons who were seriously injured and are being treated at the Patna Medical College Hospital. He scaled a mud wall and hid himself in a mustard field.

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At the break of dawn, people from nearby villages made a beeline for Shankarbigha. The bodies were strewn around, and the villagers did not allow the police to remove them until Chief Minister Rabri Devi visited the village. "Give us guns, not compensation. We do not want your money. We want to fight with those who have been killing us and moving around freely," Ramwatia Devi told Rabri Devi when she visited the village along with her husband and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav the following day.

Rabri Devi promised to bring the guilty to book. But the villagers pointed out that the perpetrators of the Lakshmanpur-Bathe carnage were yet to be arrested. The Chief Minister announced a compensation of Rs.1.4 lakhs, free rations for six months, a government job and pucca houses for the victims' kin. She also announced that a special court would be set up to try the accused: 24 of them have been identified and six arrested from Dhobibigha village. The administration imposed a collective fine on Dhobibigha village.

Describing the attack as a mindless massacre, police officials of Magadh range said that they had no information about Shankarbigha's residents having links with naxalite groups. Some of them might be supporters of the CPI(M-L) Liberation and the CPI(M-L) Party Unity, but they are poor landless people earning their livelihood by toiling in the fields of the Bhumihars. There were no reports of any land dispute either. Ramjatan Sharma, secretary of the Bihar unit of the CPI(M-L), which claims a marginal following in the village, said: "The villagers are not actively involved in naxalite politics, and we are not leading a movement at Shankarbigha."

THE killings at Shankarbigha and Lakshmanpur-Bathe have focussed attention on the Ranbir Sena and Brahmeshwar Singh. The Ranbir Sena was formed in August 1994 by the landlords of Bhojpur district with the objective of wiping out the naxalite movement in the State by killing their supporters and sympathisers. No important member of the Sena has been arrested till date. Brahmeshwar Singh - a farmer who owns 97 bighas of land - was arrested on two occasions earlier but was released.

Brahmeshwar Singh, a graduate from the Jain College in Arra, along with Dharicharan Chowdhury, a prosperous landlord of Belaur village in Bhojpur district, organised the Ranbir Sena and started the mass killing of Dalits and the landless in order to terrorise them into staying away from naxalites. The Ranbir Sena has 300 well-trained Bhumihar youths as its members and has sophisticated arms in its possession. The Sena has insured the lives of its activists and provides them monthly allowances and other benefits. It depends on the Bhumihar community for financial support. That political patronage, cutting across party and caste lines, is available to the Sena is evident from the fact that despite an official ban no major crackdown has been launched against it.

The situation in central Bihar has become grim with the outlawed naxalite group, the CPI(M-L) People's War, retaliating against the Shankarbigha killings. The People's War is a new, ultra-Left outfit formed with the merger of the People's War Group of Andhra Pradesh and the CPI(M-L) Party Unity of Bihar. An eye for an eye being the guiding principle of politics in Bihar, the CPI(M-L) PW killed two suspected associates of the Ranbir Sena - Bageswar Sharma, a leader of the Jehanabad district unit of the Communist Party of India, and his son Lalan - at Usri Kharia village on January 27, barely 8 km from Shankarbigha.

The retaliatory action is likely to worsen the Ranbir Sena-naxalite strife. Issuing a press statement over telephone, Ranbir Sena's spokesman Shamsher Bahadur Singh claimed responsibility for the Shankarbigha massacre and said that it was a warning to the naxalites. He said that blood would continue to flow unless naxalites restrained themselves.

The CPI(M-L) PW has, meanwhile, come out with a hit list; it has vowed to eliminate the Ranbir Sena and its chief. It said that it had chosen 119 Ranbir Sena targets, which included 35 hideouts and 32 villages. "We will impose capital punishment on the killers and their sympathisers in a ruthless manner," the State secretary of the CPI(M-L) PW, who calls himself Shravana, told journalists.

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Shravana said his party would continue a sustained campaign against the Sena. As part of this, the CPI(M-L) PW has urged agricultural workers to widen and deepen their economic blockade against rich landlords. Land disputes are at the core of the strife between the Ranbir Sena and the naxalites. "We are going to take drastic steps. We will deliver death to people who carried out the massacres," he said.

THE Shankarbigha massacre drew a chorus of condemnation from various quarters. President K.R. Narayanan virtually ticked off the Bihar Government for laxity and called for "stringent and urgent action" against persons responsible for the slaughter. "Law-enforcing agencies have a responsibility, by timely and decisive intervention, to prevent recurrence of such acts and obvious reprisal action," President Narayanan said in a statement.

On January 30, the Janata Dal and the Left parties, including the CPI(M-L) Liberation, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the CPI observed a bandh in Bihar.

Using the Shankarbigha massacre as another piece of evidence of lawlessness in Bihar, Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari has presented to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, a fresh case for the dismissal of the Rabri Devi Government. Nearly five months ago Bhandari had made out a case for dismissing the State Government on the grounds of constitutional breakdown in the State, but the President returned for reconsideration a recommendation to this effect by the Union Cabinet.

The massacre has made the detractors of Laloo Prasad renew their demand for President's Rule in Bihar. The Bharatiya Janata Party-Samata Party alliance, which has consistently demanded the imposition of President's Rule, has been joined by the Janata Dal's sole Member of Parliament from Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan. A Janata Dal delegation met the President and submitted a memorandum seeking the dismissal of the RJD Government.

However, the BJP's efforts to gain political mileage from the carnage and put the Rabri Devi Government on the mat have been undermined by the intense power struggle in the party's State unit. While the pro-Mandal and pro-Other Backward Classes (OBC) sections in the Bihar BJP, led by Sushil Modi, Sarju Rai and Nand Kishore Yadav, are believed to be keen to use the Shankarbigha killings to win over the OBCs, the Central leader in charge of the State BJP, Kailashpati Mishra, does not want to antagonise Bhumihars and Thakurs. Besides, the Bihar BJP is a weaker force incapable of planning an effective campaign against the RJD Government. The party suffers from groupism and rivalry following the recent expulsion of three of its leaders - Tarakant Jha, former State president, Yashodanand Singh, former State vice-president, and Kameshwar Paswan, former MP.

THE Left parties' fresh campaign against the growing lawlessness in Bihar under Rabri Devi seems to be an uncomfortable development for Laloo Prasad as it stands in the way of his efforts to make an entry into the proposed Third Front. The CPI and the CPI(M) are not inclined to share a platform with the RJD chief against whom the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is preparing fresh charge-sheets in the fodder scam cases. Laloo Prasad's joy on being released on interim bail on January 8 appears to be short-lived as the CBI has completed the field work for filing charge-sheets in at least three cases - RC-5A/98, RC-42A/96 and RC-38A/96. The first case deals with possession of assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and the second and third pertain to the conspiracy aspect of the Rs.950-crore fodder scam.

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Laloo Prasad may be remanded to judicial custody again once the CBI charge-sheets him in RC-5A/98 and the designated court takes cognizance of it. Laloo Prasad has secured bail in RC-20A/96 and RC-64A/96. U.N. Biswas, Joint Director of the CBI, has submitted a progress report on the investigations into the various cases to the Patna High Court Bench which monitors the case.

The RJD chief, who is lying low for now, is not politically comfortable. He has virtually lost an ally: the Congress(I) is on the verge of withdrawing support to the Rabri Devi Government.

Assembly elections in Bihar are due by March 2000. With several fodder scam cases pending against him, Laloo Prasad is not too sure if he would be able to campaign for his party then.

Challenge and opportunity

An international meeting of economists convened at the initiative of Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana considers the question of neoliberal globalisation and searches for ways to cope with its inevitable consequences and social and human costs.

AHEAD of the Davos summit on global finance which has hogged media headlines in recent weeks, the Cuban capital Havana was host to an unusual conference. Between January 18 and 22, while the real crisis in Brazil unfolded, more than 1,000 participants from 51 countries, with a predominantly Latin American representation, gathered to discuss the challenge of globalisation. The International Meeting of Economists on Globalisation and the Problems of Development was remarkable for its timing and scale. What was more significant was that through the five-day conference, with three daily sessions stretching well into the night, sat Fidel Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Councils of State and Ministers. As Roberto Verrier Castro, President of the National Association of Economists of Cuba and the Association of Economists of Latin America and the Caribbean, made clear in his inaugural address, it was Fidel's anguish over the problems generated by globalisation and his search for ways to face up to them that led to the convening of an international meeting of economists to debate the issue. Not surprisingly, Fidel listened, questioned, argued and preached. All with one intent: to advance, sharpen and propagate with the help of the economists present his convictions regarding the current international conjuncture.

These convictions have been in the making for quite some time, as evidenced by Castro's speeches through 1998. Central to them is the view that while technological changes had rendered globalisation inevitable, the specific form - of "neoliberal globalisation" - that the process has taken in the context of an unequal world order, is unsustainable. To affirm this perception one requires, according to Castro, no great economic knowledge, but merely the skills children acquire at the elementary school "to add, subtract, multiply and divide". The real question then is how the transition to an alternative form of globalisation - which "couldn't be any other than jointly shared, socialist, communist or whatever you want to call it" - is going to occur. That is the uncertainty. Would it be, Castro asks, "through widespread violent revolutions or great wars?" That in his view is improbable, irrational and suicidal. Would it be "through profound and catastrophic crises?" "Unfortunately that seems the most likely, almost inevitable, outcome, and it will come about in many diverse ways and through many forms of struggle." The essential weapons in that struggle would be "ideas, minds".

Given these convictions, the motivation for hosting an international meeting of economists is obvious. It was partly aimed at developing the argument regarding the nature of neoliberal globalisation, its logic, and its consequences, all of which render reversal imperative. It was also aimed at mobilising those who would "sow these ideas, cultivate them and make them invincible". It is only natural that the leader of a country that is weary with actual and proxy wars, which directly suffers the consequences of the United States' hegemony and which, in the wake of the collapse of erstwhile friend and partner, the Soviet Union, has had to choose to integrate with the capitalist world system, should lead such an initiative. It has known the consequences of isolation within the present global order and now the effects of attempting to integrate, however gradually and cautiously. In its view, the reversal of a process of global economic evolution with devastating social and human costs, while inevitable, has to be struggled for, since "nature and with it the human species" cannot survive for long in the absence of such change. But that change must occur in ways that would preclude widespread war and revolutions, which are also costly in human terms.

THREE kinds of issues were focussed on in the papers presented and the discussions that followed. First, the nature of the process of globalisation. Second, the reasons why the logic of that process inevitably leads to worldwide crisis. And, finally, the consequences of that crisis for humanity, and especially for poor countries and the 4.5 billion people who live in poverty within an unequal world order.

The analysis of the nature of economic globalisation focussed on both real and financial trends. Some, like Paul Bairoch from the University of Geneva, emphasised real processes of integration through trade and foreign investment. Others stressed the role of financial flows in defining the process of contemporary globalisation as well as in understanding the logic and the inner contradictions of the process. While the value of goods and services produced on the planet amount to about $222 billion a day, trading in stocks and currencies amounted to $1.8 trillion a day. Since the latter is dominated by speculative trades, it is the speculative factor which becomes the driving force for contemporary growth, as exemplified by the nature of the growth process in the U.S., which dominates the world order. There, "paper wealth" created by a stock market bubble is encouraging ordinary citizens to consume more today in the belief that they are well endowed to deal with the future. As a result growth remains high, the trade deficit widens and international capital flows in to finance that deficit and sustain an illogical stock market boom. In the event, while countries elsewhere suffer the consequences of the crisis in the form of recession and massive deflation, the U.S. continues to prosper. However, the contradiction between such uneven development and greater economic integration renders the system vulnerable to periodic and widespread crises.

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Tracing the rapid increase in integration to the post-oil shock trade boom and the subsequent boom in foreign direct investment (FDI) flows triggered by the depreciation of the dollar, Bairoch pointed to the fact that this however is not a unique experience in the history of capitalism. Rather, in the years before 1913, some countries recorded an even higher export-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio than the current ratio as well as a higher rate of increase in that ratio. What is interesting, according to Bairoch, is the fact that the current period of rapid integration has been accompanied by (a) a slowdown in the rate of growth of world output during the 1980s and 1990s compared with earlier decades; (b) a widening of the income gap between the developed and developing countries, especially the developing countries in the West.

However, as Frederic Clairmonte, a veteran of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and contributor toLe Monde Diplomatique, repeatedly stressed, it is not just the coincidence of greater integration and slower growth that needs to be noted. More distressing was the sharp increase in centralisation and the concentration of capital, epitomised by a wave of intra-country and cross-border mergers and amalgamations. In this context, terms such as globalisation serve as propaganda weapons to help conceal the concentration of economic power that touches on "the vertebral column of sovereignty".

This damage to national sovereignty coming from the real realm is aggravated by the limits on the manoeuvrability of the state resulting from financial flows. As Theotonio Dos Santos (President, Association of Political Economy, Brazil) argued, elites in countries like Brazil sought to use the phenomenon of neoliberal globalisation as an alternative to unworkable capitalist growth strategies based on domestic markets constrained by structural bottlenecks. Capital inflows inevitably lead to "overvalued" currencies or even currency appreciation that undermines export competitiveness and widens the trade deficit. External capital is accessed to finance that deficit using the carrot of a high interest rate.

Analysing the same mechanism in other contexts, Jan Kregel, the UNCTAD representative in New York, argued that even countries which were successful exporters, like many in East Asia, found that success leads to voluntary or forced goods market liberalisation and contributes to currency appreciation, both of which undermine export competitiveness and worsens the balance of trade. Financial liberalisation is then resorted to in order to obtain the foreign exchange needed to finance the balance of payments. And given the relatively sound fundamentals in these countries, capital flows are easy to come by, leading to excessive dependence on foreign financial flows. However, such flows undermine national sovereignty over economic policy and can, as experiences in Asia and Latin America indicate, soon undermine the very success which led to increased financial flows. Speakers like Arturo Huerta, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Harkishan Singh Surjeet, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), indicated how in widely varying contexts, the macroeconomic (and therefore social) impact of globalisation has been debilitating.

Although he was in agreement with this analysis of the threat to sovereignty, Castro was not convinced. He queried the idea that there is much sovereignty left with nation states. Implicitly, he argued, there is a world government in place today. "Why is it that American companies across the world cannot sell even a screw in Cuba?" And how is it possible for one country to enact the Helms-Burton Law which constrains a range of companies - Swiss, Spanish, Italian and so on - from trading with Cuba. This indicates that there is in place a world government, manned by the greatest economic, political, military and technological power in history. Cuba fights back, through the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 and in collaboration with a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries, because it is not worth giving up that which is called sovereignty for the sake of humanity. But the reality is still to change.

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THERE were indeed some people at the gathering who were optimistic about the current process of globalisation, including Andres Solimano from the World Bank and Patrick Low from the World Trade Organisation. This triggered a lively debate. But it was clear that the majority of those present had the arguments and the evidence at hand to question such optimism. "I am not against globalisation. I am only against the globalisation they have imposed on us," Castro declared. And at the centre of that neoliberal globalisation is an insistence on the primacy of the market in developing countries, and on rendering the dollar the currency of forced circulation. "What is the market?" asks Castro. "Is it a historical stage or is it eternal? Is it a social law, a physical law or a religion?" And is speculative profit and capital just fetishistic capital, or real surpluses garnered from the people? The tone of his question suggested that his mind is made up. Which is why, he argues, we must conceive of a form of globalisation without imperialism; why we need to advance the embryo of world government which exists in the United Nations, which in turn needs to be democratised. In the final analysis, sovereignty at the national level has to be sacrificed for world sovereignty. "Humanity can be a great homeland for all," said Castro.

In this context, many participants at the meet held that three factors provided an opportunity to ensure the transition. First, the fact that even the developed metropolitan centres are not immune to the crises created by the current process of globalisation. Unemployment in Europe has been at unsustainable levels for many years now. Japan is in the midst of a prolonged and deepening recession. And financial markets in the U.S. have begun to feel the tremors of worldwide crisis, with even hedge funds like Long Term Capital Management being driven to bankruptcy. Secondly, developing country governments across the globe have begun to realise that they cannot ignore the massive human costs in terms of rising unemployment, increasing poverty and deteriorating quality of life indicators that their voluntary or forced integration into the world system implies. Third, the crisis of globalisation indicates that even the alternative offered by countries in East Asia, for example, which were held up as models for the Third World is both unsustainable and, in any case, too late to replicate.

James Crotty and Gary Dymski from the University of Massachusetts stressed this in their paper with a revealing title, "Can Neoliberal Globalisation Survive its Victory in Asia?" The ability of the international financial institutions and the interests they represent to change development trajectories in Asia has only worsened the contradiction of neoliberal globalism which results in continued capacity growth driven by desperate competition even while global demand growth slows because of the assault on labour and an increasingly restrictive budgetary policy.

These developments, according to Castro, provide an opportunity which must be seized. "We need to change the correlation of forces in our countries, in order to change the correlation of forces internationally. We need both. Events have gone beyond ideas, and we can expect a crisis that will change the correlation of forces. But we cannot wait for the crisis. We have to prepare the people to act when that crisis takes place." There were few, it appeared, who disagreed.

A victory for People's Alliance

The People's Alliance has wrested control of the North-Western Provincial Council from the UNP in a poll that witnessed instances of violence and rigging and a campaign that skirted provincial-level issues.

A FEW hours after polling closed in Sri Lanka's North-Western Province on January 25, there was tight security around the district headquarters building at Kurunegala. As we drove down deserted roads, military police took up positions, signalling impending curfew restrictions.

With voting taking place in over 1,000 polling booths spread across two districts, the day was tense. According to the Commissioner of Elections, clashes between supporters of rival parties had affected polling at some 200 booths. Night curfew, which was imposed soon after the elections, ensured that the situation did not go out of hand.

The results were announced in the next couple of days, and the ruling People's Alliance (P.A.) won 30 of the 52 seats. Its S.B. Nawinna later took over as Chief Minister. The Opposition, and also "independent observers" of non-governmental organisations funded by foreign agencies, said that the elections were the "most violent" the island had ever had.

Instances of rigging were obvious. On the way to Anamaduwa town in Puttalam district, which had witnessed rising inter-party rivalry during the run-up to the polls, the Frontline team saw a police patrol party stop a van and seize from it weapons such as knives, sickles and axes. The policemen loaded the weapons on to a lorry. A constable approached the officer, who oversaw the operations, with election materials seized from the van. Obviously, rigging had taken place during the day.

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When Wayamba went to the polls, the entire island anxiously awaited the outcome, for it was crucial for a variety of reasons. Issues ranging from the future course the P.A. and the Opposition United National Party (UNP) would take in national politics to the nuances thrown up by the participation of smaller contestants such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) are expected to be influenced by the outcome.

The post-poll configuration of the 52-member Provincial Council is: P.A. 30, UNP 19 and JVP 3. While the P.A. wrested control of the Province from the UNP, the JVP entered the Provincial Council through a clearly articulated avoidance of its earlier penchant for violence. Its 4 per cent vote share, seen together with the one per cent vote share of the New Left Front (NLF), perhaps points to a future for these Left parties in a polity that is moving towards a situation in which the electorate is increasingly impatient with the mainstream political parties.

During the campaigning, a middle-aged couple in Kurunegala town, who were supporters of the P.A., said: "There is really no clear choice between the P.A. and the UNP, and this could lead to more votes going to the JVP." This evaluation appeared reasonable, given the near-total absence of political debate during the run-up to the polls on issues concerning the Province.

The results are reassuring for the ruling party; however, they have put the Government on the defensive in the wake of widespread allegations of violence and electoral malpractices. The UNP has gone to court challenging the results and has threatened to stay away from the Provincial Council.

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In terms of vote-share, the UNP does not have much to be dismayed about as its support base has not shrunk significantly. It won 38 per cent of the popular vote; it would have made further gains if it had focussed on its provincial-level experience. (The UNP was in charge of the administration in the North-Western Province.)

The stage for a victory by default for the P.A. was set even before active campaigning began, with the UNP predicting that the elections would be "the most violent since independence". The UNP's campaign focus remained fixed on fearful scenarios; it did not shift to matters such as falling procurement prices, which are crucial for a predominantly agricultural province. "In Sri Lanka everything is looked at in the larger context," reasoned a senior UNP leader when asked why the UNP had not chosen to focus on issues concerning the people of the Province.

While allegations of violence and evidence of rigging exist, it is difficult to conjecture that the polls would have yielded a considerably different result if they had been held in a calmer atmosphere. A senior Member of Parliament said: "A few seats would have gone the other way, but the basic nature of the mandate would have remained."

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The overplay on violence, while signifying the sensitivity of the nation to the "disruption" of democratic processes, however, led to important issues being ignored. Some Sri Lankans were quick to react, comparing the situation to that in certain areas in India that witness violence during elections. However, the two situations do not merit comparison. A sampling of the "violent" incidents reported from the North-Western Province are: "cutting down of banners", "tearing down of posters", "threat and intimidation" and "clashes between party supporters". The inter-party clashes did not, however, spill over to the streets. But the overplay on violence was sufficient to make people wary of the nasty turn events could take.

The results could also be seen as providing crucial pointers to the future as they come in the latter half of Chandrika Kumaratunga's presidency. Although it may come under a cloud of suspicion, the P.A.'s victory should serve as a shot in the arm for the Government which was facing a crisis of confidence following continued impasse on the political and military fronts. However, much of the validity of the election results has now been left to be decided by the courts, with a case relating to fundamental rights being filed by a UNP supporter. If the P.A. were to disregard the genuine concerns expressed about the violations of the electoral procedures, a situation could be created in which the image it has built up as a party trying to fulfil the democratic aspirations of the people would be at stake.

For the UNP, while the impact of much of its reversals has been cushioned by suspicions on the fair conduct of elections, it would stand to suffer further if it does not recognise the political reasons for the setback at Wayamba. The P.A. rode to power in 1994 by invoking images of the "years of terror" under the UNP. There were shades of a similar campaign in Wayamba, where the P.A. put up posters portraying the UNP's chief ministerial candidate as a 'spotter' who identified suspected insurgents during the 1980s.

Violence or perceptions of violence apart, the UNP had the advantage of having held the administrative reins of the island for much of the post-Independence period. Given this, the party could in the next few months start an introspection on its showing in the North-Western Province.

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The most impressive performance, however, was that of the JVP, which until a decade ago was known for acts of insurgency. Conceding that it stood to gain from the disillusionment of the electorate with the two main political parties, it should be recognised that the very purpose for which the JVP came into being as a political entity was to provide a political alternative to Sri Lankans. Its gains at Wayamba are modest, but it has the potential to emerge as a player that could throw up some surprises.

Beyond the political implications, it became apparent during the elections that political parties as well as opinion-makers tend to ignore local issues in preference to "larger issues". The immediate needs and concerns of the people are yet to emerge as factors that decide governance in the Provinces. Such a situation, could lead to the questioning of the need for democratic participation at the provincial level.

To avoid such a turn of events, the two major political parties would have to embark on a provincial-level campaign, with increased attention to local issues, in the coming elections.

A landmark judgment

world-affairs
V.S. SAMBANDAN

TWO days after the conclusion of the North-Western Provincial Council elections, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court passed a judgment with far-reaching implications for the interpretation of the country's Constitution.

The verdict was delivered in a case relating to Provincial Council polls to five Provinces - North-Central, Central, Western, Uva and Sabaragamuva - which had been postponed. A three-member Bench headed by Chief Justice G.P.S. De Silva held that the postponement of the polls was "arbitrary and unreasonable" and "infringed" the "fundamental rights of the petitioners".

The immediate significance of the verdict, however, was somewhat diluted by the fact that the Government had already declared its intention to conduct the elections. Yet, in the long run, the judgment is likely to clear up certain nebulous notions about the powers of the Executive Presidency. For one, by pulling up the Commissioner of Elections for not seeking a judicial review, the court placed a check on the implementation of presidential proclamations and regulations.

The court clearly defined what was perceived as wide-ranging presidential immunity from courts under Article 35 of the Constitution by stating that the Article "neither transforms an unlawful act into a lawful one nor renders it one which shall not be questioned in any court. It does not exclude judicial review of the lawfulness or propriety of an impugned act or omission, in appropriate proceedings against some other person who does not enjoy immunity from suit; as, for instance, a defendant or a respondent who relies on an act done by the President, in order to justify his own conduct."

In effect, the judgment curbs the powers that can be exercised by an Executive President under Emergency regulations with regard to the conduct of elections. Moreover, by holding that franchise is a fundamental right of expression, the court gave judicial protection to the right to vote. The verdict firmly held that the Commissioner of Elections had "infringed" the respondents' (Varuna Karunatilaka and Sunanda Deshapriya) "fundamental rights under Article 12 (1) that is, 'All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law') and Article 14 (1) (a) (under which 'every citizen is entitled to the freedom of speech and expression, including publication') by failing to take steps to enable the taking of the poll..."

Considering whether the right to vote constituted a form of speech and expression, the court said that "concepts such as 'equality before the law', 'the equal protection of the law' and 'freedom of speech and expression, including publication', occurring in a statement of constitutionally entrenched fundamental rights, have to be broadly interpreted in the light of fundamental principles of democracy and the Rule of Law..."

The verdict speaks in clear terms about franchise when it says: "A Provincial Council election involves a contest between two or more sets of candidates contesting for office. A voter has the right to choose between such candidates, because in a democracy it is he who must select those who are to govern - or rather, to serve - him. A voter can therefore express his opinion about candidates, their past performance in office, and their suitability for office in the future. The verbal expression of such opinions, as for instance, that the performance in office of one set of candidates was so bad that they ought not to be re-elected, or that another set deserved re-election - whether expressed directly to the candidates themselves, or to other voters - would clearly be within the scope of 'speech and expression'; and there is also no doubt that 'speech and expression' can take many forms besides the verbal. But although it is important for the average voter to be able to speak out in that way, that will not directly bring candidates into office or throw him out of office; and he may not be persuasive enough even to convince other voters. In contrast, the most effective manner in which a voter may give expression to his views, with minimum risk to himself and his family, is by silently marking his ballot paper in the secrecy of the polling booth. The silent and secret expression of a citizen's preference as between one candidate and another by casting his vote is no less an exercise of freedom of speech and expression than the most eloquent speech from a political platform. To hold otherwise is to undermine the very foundation of the Constitution."

On the Commissioner of Election's role and on whether he should have "insisted on the poll being held as scheduled", the verdict said: "While I appreciate the difficult situation in which he was, nevertheless it is necessary to remember that the Constitution assures him independence, so that he may fearlessly insist on due compliance with the law in regard to all aspects of elections - even, if necessary, by instituting appropriate legal proceedings in order to obtain judicial orders. But the material available to this court indicates that he made no effort to ascertain the legal position, or to have recourse to legal remedies."

Yet another definitive interpretation of the 1978 Constitution was the delinking of the immunity granted to the Executive President from immunity from suit and from immunity for persons who implement orders of the Executive President.

Making it clear that judicial reviews were not inconsistent with Article 35, which gives the Executive President immunity from suit, the Supreme Court ruled: "It is the respondents who rely on the Proclamation and Regulation and the review thereof by the court is not in any way inconsistent with the prohibition in Article 35 on the institution of proceedings against the President." By holding that those who implement the orders of the President could be held legally responsible for their actions, the Supreme Court has, in effect, placed a check on the Executive Presidency.

Constitutional lawyer and Member of Parliament representing the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam, describing the judgment as one that "has far-reaching legal and constitutional implications", pointed out that the court "very clearly and unambiguously defined the powers of the Commissioner of Elections who had been accorded independence and should therefore not act arbitrarily in the exercise of his powers. The court held that the Commissioner not only erred in postponing the elections upon the enactment of an Emergency Regulation of the President, but also tamely acquiesced, without examining the legality of the regulation."

He added: "The court also held that the Commissioner did not act in good faith when he suspended postal voting even before the regulation had been enacted. This is the first instance when such strong strictures questioning the judgment and the good faith of the Commissioner of Elections has been passed by the apex court."

Yet another important consequence of the verdict, Dr. Tiruchelvam pointed out, was that the court held that the Emergency Regulations could not be invoked to postpone indefinitely the holding of Provincial Council elections. The court further held that "Emergency Regulations are subordinate legislation, which cannot override the provisions of the Constitution, nor can they take the form of an administrative order or direction."

State of Sri Lankan art

The 1940s and 1950s marked the most significant period in the history of painting and sculpture in 20th century Sri Lanka. A new anti-colonial group of artists became active during this period of political and cultural revival.

IN attempting to locate in perspective the position of the fine arts in Sri Lanka, I would like to draw attention to two events that took place in February 1998 - two art exhibitions organised by two different groups to mark 50 years of Sri Lankan Independence. The state, acting through the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, was responsible for one exhibition, while the other was organised by a group of young artists.

These two events captured and displayed starkly the past and present failures, successes and hopes of the fine arts in Sri Lanka. The exhibition organised by the state included 256 works by well-known artists from the past as well as the present. It also included the works of lesser-known contemporary artists. All this work quite literally covered much of the wall space of the National Art Gallery in Colombo, where the exhibition took place. The other exhibition was held at another well-known art venue, the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery, Colombo, where the works of only 11 contemporary artists were exhibited. The demands and challenges of present realities were reflected in the ideology, methodology and content of the works of these artists. Both these exhibitions drew critical evaluations from numerous sources for different reasons. While the state-sponsored exhibition was critiqued for its unprofessional management and total lack of curatorial sense, the other one was faulted for its lack of conventional aestheticism that could be called truly Sri Lankan. The bottom line is that while one was located on a conventional ideological premise, the other was placed in a context that searched for new concepts in art, which challenged the established and over-hacked conventions. To assess this dichotomous position of the Sri Lankan art scene and its prevailing politics, one has to go beyond the contemporary and trace the history of its evolution in the post-Independence era.

At this point, I would suggest that the art history I attempt to trace is the history of modern art in Sri Lanka. One should also note that the practice of traditional art continues alongside modern art. By traditional art I mean artistic production based - at least to some extent - on conventions of pre-colonial traditions, styles and methodologies, which have also much to do with religion and ritual. However, contemporary mainstream art in the secular sense in Sri Lanka is derived from the European art traditions that were introduced by the British in the latter part of the 19th century.

The history of modern visual arts in Sri Lanka in the post-Independence era cannot be discussed without going further back into moments and processes in the pre-Independence period. This is for the simple reason that most of the changes and new developments in art in the post-Independence era, if there were any, were either initiated or were the outcome of events that took place before 1948. At the beginning of the century, the most influential art body was the Ceylon Society of Arts, established in 1891 under British patronage. It focussed mainly on promoting painting, sculpture and photography that was representative of Victorian academism of the European art tradition. In 1920, the Ceylon Art Club was established by the painter C.E. Winzer, an Inspector of Art in Schools who was appointed by the colonial British Government. It promoted an outlook on art different from the orthodox views of the Ceylon Society of Arts. It had considerable impact on the painters and their work at the time, which was later manifested in the 43 Group in the 1940s. Another art body, the Arts Council of Ceylon, was established in 1951 to promote and revive traditional art forms in regional areas. The post-Independence political elite believed that such art forms existed in these areas in a "purer" form. The majority of cultural events that took place during this time were sponsored, organised or initiated by the council. The present-day National Art Gallery, where a permanent collection of works by well-known Sri Lankan artists is on display, was initiated by the enthusiastic support of the Ceylon Society of Arts and its charismatic members. If there was an art awareness and revival in the immediate post-Independence period, much of the credit for that goes to the visionary capabilities of these art bodies and their enthusiastic members. The effects of the trends they created along with their ideologies and politics are felt to date in the field of art in Sri Lanka.

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The main institution for art education in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 20th century was the Colombo Technical College, which was established in the latter part of the 19th century and where courses in drawing and painting were conducted, among others. In 1949, a separate and autonomous body called the Government College of Fine Arts was created specifically to teach fine arts. In addition, independent ateliers maintained by different artists, offering a variety of art education, also existed. One such famous atelier was that of the artist A.C.G.S. Amerasekera under whose guidance most of the early members of the modern art movement, especially members of the 43 Group, got their initial art education.

THE 1940s and 1950s marked the most significant period in the history of painting and sculpture in 20th century Sri Lanka. In 1943, a group of artists, as a reaction to the prevailing ideology of painting which promoted restrictive academism, pseudo-oriental impersonations and imitations of the Victorian naturalism of Western art, established the 43 Group. The political and cultural revivals that were taking place in the country at the time did provide a backdrop for the formation of an ideological position for the group, which was a-colonial and anti-Victorian. The struggle for Independence was high in the political agenda of the local elite at the time, and nationalist sentiments were quite obvious on the cultural scene as well.

However, many of these artists were not opposed to contemporary art trends in Europe. For instance, the 43 Group absorbed inspiration from art movements in Paris and London as well as influences from India (some of the members had affiliations with Santiniketan). Coming from upper and upper-middle class families, these artists had the opportunity and the financial capability to have access to education that went far beyond national art education. Most of them at one time or another had had their art education in Paris and London where their works were exhibited regularly. They successfully fused the indigenous draughtsmanship and colour schemes with the idioms of the West in an original way that paved the way for a new hybrid form of painting to emerge. They created a secular painting tradition that was palatable within a Sri Lankan context, unlike the restrictive and culturally alien easel painting tradition introduced by the British and promoted by the Ceylon Society of Arts. Of the members of the 43 Group, painters such as George Keyt, Justin Daraniyagala, Richard Gabriel and Ivan Peries became well known beyond the borders of Sri Lanka. Lionel Wendt was a photographer and musician; he was also the formulator of the 43 Group. His death at the age of 44 cut off the source of energy behind the group. Then onwards the responsibility of mobilising the group fell on another member, Harry Pieris, who later donated his house and studio, now called the Sapumal Foundation, for the advancement of art in Sri Lanka.

In the immediate post-Independence era, there was a culmination of activities which tried to create, promote and give effect to an awareness of Sri Lankan art. These were part of a process of finding and building a cultural identity that could be called truly Sri Lankan, which was perhaps needed at the time. However, once the euphoria caused by Independence was over, the enthusiasm and grand visions for the advancement of art fizzled out. The influence, paradigms and premises of the 43 Group remained intact within modern art in Sri Lanka for a long time. They still continue to seduce artists as well as viewers within the contemporary art scene. This longstanding dependency on the 43 Group for inspiration in a way illustrates the stagnation experienced by the community of artists. Since the 43 Group, there has been no evidence of any major group or movement that pushed art into new ideological grounds. In this barren situation, artists like Tissa Ranasinghe, who initiated a style of sculpture equivalent to Alberto Giacometti, and painters Stanley Abeysinghe and H.A. Karunaratne did provide hope at certain moments. Nevertheless such moments merely remained sporadic, and they were unable to rescue Sri Lankan art from its paralysing slumber.

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If one tries to locate the state's intervention and contribution to art in the post-Independence period, certain important initiatives come to mind. These include the establishment of the Government College of Fine Arts (which later became the Institute of Aesthetic Studies of the University of Kelaniya) and the establishment of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The Ministry was supposed to promote cultural activities with the help of the Arts Council of Ceylon. Even with such bureaucratic structures in place, the state failed to give an impetus to or create an atmosphere for the growth of arts or to conceive a vision for the future. Unfortunately, this state of affairs typifies much of post-Independence politics in Sri Lanka. The only school created for fine arts failed to produce artists who were capable of independent thought and action. Moreover, the rest of the state structures failed to bring about an awareness of art in society, which in turn produced an institutional base that was deaf, dumb and blind to art. Schools continue to give only minor attention to art education, while socialisation in the wider society represents art merely as a hobby. For some, painting was simply a decorative craft that adorned temple walls. This lack of art awareness among the general public prevented the emergence of progressive and interventionist structures that are necessary to support and promote art. No system of art galleries, art patrons, critics and dealers developed. Neither the private sector nor the public state sector came forward to establish an art museum or large, private or public collections. Without a supporting and endorsing apparatus and stuck with a public that is oblivious to art and a state that is without a vision, most local artists worked within their own confined spaces for the larger part of the 50 years after Independence.

THIS situation started changing to some extent in the 1980s, and at the moment there is a certain current that seems to stir and kindle innovativeness in the art community. In recent times a few artists have emerged, entertaining new ideological directions. Although the absence of a sophisticated operative structure in endorsing, promoting and marketing art persists, an interest has been created in certain sections of the public. It could be owing to many factors. For instance, even on a small scale some changes are happening in the Institute of Aesthetic Studies with the recruitment of a handful of lecturers who have been able to give a different ideological perspective to art. Consequently, in recent times the institute has produced a few promising artists. On the other hand, organisations such as the German Cultural Institute, the George Keyt Foundation, Alliance Francaise, the Heritage Gallery and the British Council began to provide significant patronage to local artists, particularly in terms of sponsoring and organising exhibitions. Similarly, the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts, an art institute initiated by Chandragupta Thenuwara, one of the new wave of artists, has been able to provide alternative art education that functions on an ideological position different from the conventional. More recently, a few private galleries have also emerged, opening up spaces for young artists to exhibit their work. One such gallery is the Heritage Gallery where the new wave of young artists regularly exhibit their work.

The culmination of all these factors has brought about a small but visible change in the community of local artists. Particularly, a group of young painters and sculptors, mostly based in Colombo, have been bold enough to formulate radical methodologies and ideologies that have allowed some of them to break away from the situation of stagnation referred to above. Some of the artists associated with this progressive group are Chandragupta Thenuwara, Jagath Weera- singhe, Druvinka, Balbir Bodh and Kingsley Goonetilleke. They have undertaken, quite successfully, to take Sri Lankan fine arts in new ideological directions. Being a practising painter and sculptor myself, I have close affinity with their work, beliefs and expectations. These artists represent a diverse set of aesthetic principles and methdologies but are united in their belief in creating an ideological perspective that goes beyond the modernist conventions established by their predecessors, the 43 Group. Based on a physical context located in the present sociality rather than the metaphysical and the spiritual of modernist art, these artists represent a different project. It is a project that enunciates their narratives about their own experiences in a way those very narratives demand. This project challenges the conventional aesthetics of modern art that have been popularised for nearly 50 years since the emergence of the 43 Group.

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Such derailment of popular acceptance and appreciation of aesthetics does not always bring in endorsement of the masses or the art connoisseurs in Colombo. The works of these artists have often drawn severe criticism and ridicule. It is obvious that a vast gap exists between this new art and the art consumers in their tastes as well as in their aesthetic epistemology. It would take much effort by these artists and those who endorse them to convince the masses into accepting their work as art, and bridge the divide that exists in the appreciation of art.

Anoli Perera is a sculptor and painter whose works have been exhibited in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Aspects of the English theatre

other

Covert cultural codes, priorities and preoccupations of the English-speaking elite in Sri Lanka manifested themselves in the changing theatre scene.

RUWANTHIE DE CHICKERA

The atmosphere was one of heavy anticipation. The audience was a slightly apprehensive English-speaking upper class, struggling to adjust to the withdrawal of colonial apron strings. "Cultured" cultural aliens in their land of birth, they were bent on constructing for themselves their own representative, public cultural agenda. An entire theatrical art form had to be created - ranging from language, through dress code and themes to presentation. The covert cultural codes, priorities and preoccupations of the English-speaking Sri Lankan bourgeoisie were about to manifest themselves in the type of theatre that it would or would not produce.

WHEN the curtain first went up on local English theatre in the 1940s, it was to reveal a rather sparse stage setting. The score was only a tentative tuning of a transplanted theatrical tradition. With no indigenous legacy and no exposure to parallel forms of local theatre, audiences were more than content to applaud rhapsodically the existing parochial British theatre. The most outstanding productions during this time were by the legendary Lyn Ludowyk, whose grasp of stagecraft and understanding of European drama made him the most successful and popular director of that era. He staged a number of established European dramas and also a few local farces. Unfortunately, the dividing line between stimulating theatre and mere entertainment seemed to be synonymous with the distinction between foreign and local drama. As Regi Siriwardena once said, the reason for this was probably an assumption that Ludowyk shared with the audience of his time - that "if you wanted to explore life deeply in the theatre, then you had to go to Shakespeare or Ibsen or Brecht, but if you wanted to present the local life on the stage, that could be material only for farce and caricature." However, Ludowyk played his part in setting the stage for the growth of Sri Lankan English theatre. A group of actors and actresses introduced by him trod the boards for several decades thereafter.

During the 1960s, Ernest MacIntyre, hailed as the most prolific and successful of Sri Lankan English playwrights, took the centrestage. The performing group formed by him, Stage and Set, presented established international plays in addition to MacIntyre's original plays. Treated to the sophisticated craftsmanship of his productions and provoked by the thematic relevance of his plays, the expanding English-speaking audience developed a taste for political and social drama and grew to proportions that could easily sustain a play for several days at the Lionel Wendt Theatre in Colombo. During this time there was an encouraging growth in the interaction between the English and Sinhala theatrical worlds.

MacIntyre's emigration in the 1970s brought a lull of about seven years. The ethnic riots of 1983 and the intervening cultural changes saw a depletion of the size of the audiences and the number of performers alike. Many theatre people emigrated, and those who stayed on either hovered about off-stage, or, like Iranganie Serasinghe, channelled their talents towards the English theatre's bigger and more courageous cousin - the Sinhala theatre. Mention must be made of the brilliant cameo performance by Richard de Zoysa, who charmed and challenged his audience by his outstanding talents as an actor and as a director. In addition to his brilliant theatrical prowess, de Zoysa possessed a sensitivity to social change and a desire to communicate across class and cultural barriers, a combination that placed him securely in the limelight until his tragic exit.

AFTER an unduly prolonged intermission, audiences were lured back into the theatre to the overtures of the established local comedies of the 1930s and 1940s like "Well", "Mudaliyar" and "He comes from Jaffna". Although hackneyed, these farces, sustained essentially by racist and classist innuendoes, proved immensely popular. It seemed that the 621 members of the bourgeoisie seated in the Lionel Wendt Theatre derived much delight from a village yokel fumbling his way through the play and the Queen's English. But these comedies, however reliable crowd-pullers they may have been, could only serve as appetisers. The main course would have to be considerably more substantial and creative if it were to sustain its audience.

However, these comedies succeeded in bringing audiences back to the theatre once again. Directors became confident enough to find their own speciality and variation within the widening theatre scene. Making entrances at this stage were directors such as Mohammed Adamaly, who introduced a series of established British farces and thrillers, Indu Dharmasena, who has written and produced a series of local satirical plays, and Jerome L. de Silva, who established an amateur theatre group, The Workshop Players, which showed a strong inclination towards well-known musicals such as "Oliver", "Cats" and "Les Miserables".

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Although these were definite attempts to throw back the curtains of English theatre, the improvisations tended to remain within certain "safe" zones. Siriwardena articulates the reality bluntly when he says, "English-language theatre is dying of a surfeit of spectacular foreign musicals and trivial local farces." Over the past few years, local English theatre has been the platform for a disproportionately large number of musicals and comedies. This diffidence could be because audiences have come to expect theatre to snuggle up within the plush comfort zones of "entertainment". What is interesting is that though the composition of the audience had changed considerably, expectations of the theatre appeared to have remained unchanged and unchallenging. The aversion towards more serious theatre could stem from lack of interest; or it could be due to a need for release from stress in everyday life. Far worse was perhaps the suggestion in a review of a recent political drama ("Widows") that this sort of drama fails to make an impact within an environment of tension and suffering: "Sometimes we've heard their tragic accounts too often for their agony to register beyond a mere nodding sympathy. We have become blase about husbands, brothers, lovers, sons lost to their women as casualties of war. Thus the play was at most a chord but only tangentially."

This may be too brash a generalisation, but nonetheless English-language dramatists in Sri Lanka seem to have produced a popular formula for escapism that appeals to the majority. English-language theatre has been out of sync with the volatile backdrop that the country represents today. There has been apparent apathy on its part to the contemporary political and social realities of Sri Lanka.

The stage-fright that directors seem to have developed with regard to staging political drama is tied up with the bleak funding prospects available for this type of theatre. English theatre is low priority and receives no financial support from the state. Producers depend either on their own funds or on corporate sponsorship, which is of course driven by the box-office. The narrower the target audience, the less likely is the chance of breaking even. So, to keep the plays afloat, the tastes of the mainstream audience need to be catered to. Imported theatre, musicals and comedies seem to be what bring the audience back to the theatre.

If political drama of any sort is accepted, it goes down best when it is hidden within the folds of the British Council auditorium or is presented metaphorically, with universalised issues, ambiguous connections and diluted responsibility. There are directors who have subscribed to this; most markedly, Feroze Kamardeen, who is making his mark as a director who deals with political and social issues. A politically charged and highly revamped production of "Julius Caesar: An Anatomy of an Assassination" and a production of Ariel Dorfman's political play "Widows" were both set in foreign countries of political unrest, and though the insinuations and parallels were painfully explicit the punch was padded when it fell. A review that appeared in the Sunday Leader on May 24, 1998 dealt with this aspect (perhaps a little too dismissively). "While the issues treated in 'Widows' became universally relevant, they became socially ineffectual. Perhaps to treat it as if it happened here would have made it a valid work of art. Instead it was a valid production of drama in that it observed theatrical norms within contemporary expectations."

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With the production of "Widows", however, a point has been notched up in favour of serious or political drama. The encouraging ticket sales and the impassioned response such plays provoke suggested there was an audience yearning for political theatre.

The English-language theatre appears to be on the threshold of change. Recent productions have boasted a high level of technical competence, and the limits of the theatre appear to be only in the imagination of the directors and the abilities of the performers. A young and enthusiastic group of people waiting impatiently in the wings for the cue, coupled with experienced directors, willing sponsors and a potentially adventurous audience - the cast seems well equipped to treat its audience to a sterling performance. Whether the enthusiasm of directors, performers and the audience would be able to give a lift to the standards and jostle the boundaries of the existing theatrical traditions will determine either the growth or the demise of a theatre that has remained in an embryo stage for far too long.

Ruwanthie de Chickera is an actress and a playwright. She has performed in several English-language plays staged in Colombo. She won the best South Asian play award in the British Council International Playwriting Competition in 1997.

The coalition experience

The BJP strives to discuss the tenets of "coalition dharma" with its allies without learning the lessons from the past.

IT is difficult to understand certain assertions contained in the February 2 joint statement issued after the meeting of the Coordination Committee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in New Delhi. The statement, among other things, makes two important points regarding coalition politics. One, "the Congress party has never hidden its contempt for coalition and cooperative politics and its disdain for regional parties." Two, if the Congress(I) chose to destabilise the present setup at the Centre, "it will be a great setback to Indian democracy in general and to coalition politics in particular."

As observer of coalition politics in practice, particularly in Kerala, I find this statement unacceptable. Coalition politics has come to stay in Kerala. The signatories to the statement were either unaware of or chose to overlook the fact that Kerala has never had a single-party government since 1959, and that it was the Congress(I) that ushered in coalition politics in the country for the first time. All governments that have ruled Kerala since 1959 have been coalitions led either by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the Congress(I), barring a few exceptions. These coalitions have been hailed as role models by several national leaders while pointing out the shortcomings at the Centre.

In the 1970s, the Congress(I) formed the Bombay Municipal Corporation with the support of the Shiv Sena. The Congress(I) worked out arrangements also with the Akalis in Punjab. The Congress(I)-led alliance in Kerala includes the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). "Disdain for regional parties" would not have brought the Congress(I) close to the IUML in Kerala. To say that the Congress(I) has contempt for coalitions is untenable. The Congress(I) was prepared to have an alliance with any party to gain power at any time and had a different explanation to offer each time. Probably, the signatories to the statement were oblivious of what has happened in the South. The BJP has never had a single seat in Kerala Assembly nor has it won a single Lok Sabha seat from Kerala.

It is the Congress(I) which sustained the Governments of Chandra Shekhar, H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral at the Centre. "Coalition dharma," which the statement speaks of, was not applicable in these cases as they were not coalitions: they were based only on an understanding.

The statement has also not taken into account the existence of a successful coalition government in West Bengal under the leadership of Jyoti Basu.

The statement observers that "the collective mandate that sustains the Central Government demands that we resolve the differences in the spirit of internal democracy and by scrupulously following the tenets of coalition dharma." It is coalition dharma that has sustained and still sustains coalition governments in Kerala. Scant regard for that "dharma" has become a bane of the BJP-led alliance at the Centre and the BJP-led government in Uttar Pradesh and the BJP government in Gujarat. The failure "to resolve the differences in the spirit of internal democracy" has been a continuing problem for the BJP-led Government at the Centre. The utterances of Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma when they were removed from their posts and the circumstances that led to the non-inclusion of Sushma Swaraj in the Union Cabinet after the BJP's defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections can be cited as examples.

"Contempt for coalition and cooperative politics" would not have prompted the Congress(I) to extend support to a Government led by the Communist Party of India (CPI) in Kerala in 1970. Later the Congress(I) joined the CPI-led Ministry. In 1967, the CPI(M) formed a coalition government with the cooperation of regional parties in Kerala. The IUML and the Kerala Congress became partners in the CPI(M)-led coalition. Later, when these parties returned to the Congress-led coalition, they were treated like prodigals returning home. There was no sign of contempt on either side. Which political party, including the BJP, does not follow this approach? Despite the coalition partners airing their grievances in public and issuing threats to the Government almost every day, the BJP shows no "disdain" for these parties, which have come to play an important role in national politics.

Therefore, it cannot be said that if the present ruling coalition at the Centre is destabilised it will be a setback to "democracy and coalition politics". Leaders of different national parties have admitted that single-party rule is a thing of the past and the future will see only coalition governments at the Centre.

Coalition governments of different hues and ideologies have been in power in the States and at the Centre and they were brought down through undemocratic means before their full terms were completed. Of course, the coalition dharma observed in Kerala and West Bengal has helped governments complete their terms. And democracy has survived along with coalition politics. If the Congress(I) was a pioneer in coalition politics, then E.M.S. Namboodiripad was its architect.

The joint statement appeals to all parties in the coalition to resolve their differences. The BJP should practice what it preaches. It has not been able to control the dissent in its own ranks. The statement continues: "Our coalition has not yet evolved to this basic standard." It is a frank and honest admission. The irony is that each partner extends it support and lends it stability, but continues to issue threats.

In other words, the statement is not an expression of solidarity by the alliance partners, but one of confession. The alliance partners insisted on naming the forces that defame the Central Government and make the BJP-led coalition unstable. The statement contended that "sometimes negative utterances and positions by certain elements perceived to be close to the nucleus of our coalition, the BJP, have also undermined the prestige of our Government."

All partners of the alliance have not signed the joint statement and do not agree with the formulations. Understand-ably so. The formulations in the statement reflect the BJP's inability to take the ground realities into consideration.

The war within

The struggle for supremacy in the Bharatiya Janata Party has intensified, with the hardliners, supported by the rest of the Sangh Parivar, striking an aggressive posture.

THE tug-of-war between the moderates and the hardliners is intensifying in the Bharatiya Janata Party as the party finds itself faced with turmoil within it as well as vis-a-vis its coalition partners in government. The hardline Sangh Parivar ideology may have met with widespread condemnation for the Parivar's recent campaign of hatred against Christians, but within the BJP it is the 'liberal' voice that is being stifled. With the hardliners striking aggressive postures in order to retain their hold on the party, the BJP moderates are worried about the erosion of their support base.

The resignation of two middle-rung Muslim members from the party dealt the first serious blow to the moderates. Abrar Ahmed from Rajasthan, who had joined the BJP recently, quit the party and returned to the Congress(I) last year. Aslam Sher Khan, former Congress(I) Member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh and former captain of the national hockey team, followed suit. When Ahmed and Aslam Sher Khan joined the BJP, they were projected as symbols of the party's secular image. Now Khan has accused the BJP of ignoring the minorities. Although he is yet to return to his parent party, he said that he was pleased with the corrective steps taken by Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi to win back the support of the backward classes, the minorities and the weaker sections.

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By contrast, former Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Tourism Madan Lal Khurana, whose dramatic resignation in January spelled much more trouble for the BJP, has been no stranger to the ways of the Sangh Parivar. A BJP heavyweight, Khurana was removed from the chief ministership of Delhi in 1997 after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) decided to charge-sheet him in the Jain hawala case. Khurana was peeved by the fact that the party did not reinstate him after the court dismissed the charges against him. The faction feud between Khurana and his successor, Sahib Singh Verma, forced the BJP to install a compromise candidate, Sushma Swaraj, as Chief Minister on the eve of the elections to the Assembly last year.

Although Khurana longed to return to the hurly-burly of Delhi politics, where his roots lie, he was left occupying an uncomfortable berth in the Union Cabinet. He proved a misfit in the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry; it is rumoured that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee planned to shift him to a low-profile Ministry in the next Cabinet reshuffle.

It is widely believed that Khurana's punctuated fall was engineered by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Even when it had become apparent that Verma could not steer the BJP to an electoral victory in Delhi, the RSS resisted attempts to unseat him. Staunchly opposed to Khurana, the RSS was eager to neutralise the powerful Punjabi lobby that stood by Khurana. Eventually Sushma Swaraj, an "outsider" to Delhi politics, was brought in at the eleventh hour. Clearly, Khurana's return as Chief Minister of Delhi would have made him too powerful for the Sangh Parivar to feel comfortable.

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Since Kushabhau Thakre took over the reins of the party from L.K. Advani, Khurana found himself at greater odds with a new dispensation that danced to the RSS' tune. The party's rout in the Assembly elections apparently created in Khurana the fear that his continuance in the Union Ministry would lead to the loss of his support base. He decided to air his fears at the BJP National Executive meeting in Bangalore, but he was not given a chance to speak. His undelivered statement, a copy of which was obtained by Frontline, revealed that he had prepared for a no-holds-barred attack on the Sangh Parivar.

Upset that the Sangh Parivar had diminished the credibility of the Government, he wrote: "The Parivar has declared war against the policies of the Government." He referred to statements made by some prominent Parivar members such as Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh leader Dattopant Thengdi on the insurance and patents bills. He quoted some of them as saying that this Government was selling the nation; this Government was coming out with anti-national policies; history would remember the Finance Minister as the 'Wrongful Policy Minister'. He denounced the statement made by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) president Ashok Singhal that the award of the Bank of Sweden Prize to Amartya Sen by the Nobel Committee was part of a worldwide Christian conspiracy and that the money would be used to convert Hindus to Christianity.

Lamenting the power struggle in the organisation since the formation of the Government, he wrote: "The members of the Sanghatan and the top leaders of the BJP were always available for advice. Today where do we go with our grievances and problems?...Today, we are feeling the loss of a guide, a mentor." Khurana also seemed quite aware of the consequences of his actions. He wrote: "Perhaps I have to pay a price for... stating certain... hard truths but I am ready to do so."

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Party sources said that Vajpayee had granted Khurana permission to read his speech at the National Executive meeting and that it was Thakre who prevented him from doing so. Sources said that the sight of a senior leader being denied an opportunity to speak at the party forum had embarrassed several delegates. Khurana is known to be a Vajpayee loyalist.

Although Khurana eventually resigned at Vajpayee's behest, it seems that he has some regrets. Lately, he has been more circumspect about linking the Bajrang Dal to the murder of the Australian missionary Graham Steward Staines and his sons in Orissa (see interview). He has also denied that he claimed that the Vajpayee Government would collapse in the near future. He now says that he would not have resigned had the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies resolved earlier to ensure that the cohesiveness and prestige of the coalition would not be affected by the activities of the BJP's fraternal organisations. Thakre and Advani signed a resolution to the effect on February 2.

CLOSE on the heels of Khurana's exit came the resignation of Mohan Guruswamy, adviser to Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. His action was reportedly in protest against the Government's failure to implement the party manifesto and the attacks against Christians. The BJP's choice for the post, Guruswamy was close to Advani. However, Yashwant Sinha accepted Guruswamy's resignation, which was sent from the United States where he was on a visit. Sinha was reportedly provoked by Guruswamy's meddling in matters that were not under his purview. The BJP, which had relied on Guruswamy to draft its election manifesto, now prefers to disown him.

Guruswamy was appointed Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the Finance Ministry and enjoyed the same status as his predecessor, Jairam Ramesh, who was adviser to P. Chidambaram when he was Finance Minister. The convener of the BJP's economic cell, Jagdish Shettigar, claimed that Guruswamy had pursued a personal agenda from the beginning. He said that Guruswamy used his friendship with S. Gurumurthy of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) and journalist-turned-BJP member of the Rajya Sabha Dina Nath Mishra to gain Advani's trust. Advani in turn got him the coveted post for which, on record, Guruswamy was paid a monthly salary of just one rupee.

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It appears that Guruswamy was asked to put in his papers on January 22. However, he requested Yashwant Sinha to permit him to attend the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited's (VSNL) road show in the U.S., Shettigar said. He also sought help for medical treatment in the U.S. But he sent a "nasty" resignation letter from the U.S., a copy of which was released to the press. The Prime Minister's Office intervened and the Finance Minister ousted him on February 3. Shettigar said that Guruswamy had no links with the pro-swadeshi groups. The official organ of the SJM, Swadeshi, had criticised his appointment as OSD in the Finance Ministry in view of his "U.S. links". SJM convener Muralidhar Rao even questioned Gurumurthy for recommending Guruswamy's name to Advani. Shettigar said that Guruswamy did not hold any party post and had ceased to be a member of the party after he had accepted the government appointment.

Party insiders say that the BJP lacks a mechanism to sort out internal dissent. Some party persons say that the present schism has been aggravated by the cold war between Vajpayee and Advani, although publicly both of them deny any differences between them.

Advani, who generally enjoys a good rapport with the other organisations of the Sangh Parivar, has been unable to stop the shrill Hindutva rhetoric that has embarrassed the Government on several occasions. One such organisation, the Adivasi Van Kalyan Ashram, has announced plans to reconvert 2,000 Christians in Dindori district in Madhya Pradesh on February 14. Dilip Singh Judev, BJP member of the Rajya Sabha who hails from Raigarh in M.P., and Baburao Paranjpe, BJP MP from Jabalpur, have expressed their support for the reconversion plan.

THE VHP's three-day Dharma Sansad, which concluded in Ahmedabad on February 7, deferred plans for the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya by two years. Senior VHP leaders, however, voiced their opposition to Vajpayee's desire to normalise relations with Pakistan and his disinclination to introduce legislation banning conversions.

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The Dharma Sansad appealed to the BJP to return to the Hindutva agenda that had enabled it to emerge as the single largest party. The VHP has outlined a 40-point "Hindu" agenda and announced plans to mobilise opinion and create a "Hindu vote bank" in order to free the BJP from its "crutches". International vice-president of the VHP Acharya Giriraj Kishore said that the BJP was currently unable to implement the 40-point Hindu agenda as it was dependent on the support from its allies for survival in power. He declared that when the agenda was implemented, the country would become a Hindu nation. Another VHP leader, Acharya Dharmendra, ridiculed the Prime Minister's symbolic gesture to normalise relations with Pakistan; he suggested that Vajpayee ride a tank to Lahore instead of going there by bus.

The pressure from the VHP was evident from the statements of Advani and BJP vice-president J.P. Mathur. Advani clarified that there was no softening of India's approach to Pakistan. Mathur said that the party had no "illusions" that the bus ride and the cricket matches would prevent Pakistan-instigated terrorism on Indian soil. Although he described Dharmendra's remarks as irresponsible, it was not clear whether the BJP would condemn the general thrust of the deliberations at the Dharma Sansad.

In response to the call to implement the 40-point Hindu agenda, Mathur said that the Government would pursue only the goals mentioned in the National Agenda for Governance.

VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia declared that the VHP had no objection to Christians if their loyalties did not lie outside the country. He said: "If Christians and Muslims remember that they were of the same ethnic stock as us and did not deny the historical fact that we shared common forefathers, all problems will be solved."

All told, it is indisputable that elements of the extremist fringe within the Sangh Parivar have an agenda beyond keeping the BJP in power. The message of the Dharma Sansad to the BJP-led Government at the Centre seems to be: let us have our way, or you step down. There is no evidence as yet that the rhetoric of the Parivar will become less shrill in the near future.

'I will fight within the party'

cover-story

The resignation of Madan Lal Khurana from the Union Cabinet and the Bharatiya Janata Party National Executive in January exposed the fissures within the BJP. Khurana had earned the displeasure of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in recent months by questioning the organisation for its criticism of the A.B. Vajpayee-led coalition Government. Khurana was largely instrumental in the BJP's growth in Delhi. He was replaced by Sahib Singh Verma as the Chief Minister of Delhi in 1997 when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) decided to charge-sheet him in the Jain hawala case. He tried in vain to get himself reinstated as Chief Minister after the court dismissed the charges against him.

In this interview to V. Venkatesan, Khurana speaks of the attempts he made to make himself heard. However, he was isolated within the party by the Sangh Parivar and was left with no choice but to resign from the posts he held. Now he challenges the party leadership to expel him from the party. Excerpts:

Could you explain the circumstances that led to your resignation?

At the BJP National Executive meeting in Bangalore on January 2 and 3, I tried to make a speech, a copy of which I have given you. That was not allowed. At the BJP National Executive meeting in Jaipur in August last year I was not allowed to speak. After being successively denied an opportunity to speak, I tendered my resignation to Kushabhau Thakreji. I sent a letter saying: "I am not allowed to speak, so what is the use of my sitting here?" These were the issues. I met Vajpayeeji and told him that after I resigned from the BJP National Executive, it was possible that he would be under pressure to remove me from the Cabinet. I told him that I would give my resignation so that he need not remove me.

From January 7 (when I gave the resignation letter) to January 24 (when I announced the resignation to the media), no one sought to dissuade me. I am a senior leader and it was their duty to talk to me and find out what the problem was. But no one talked to me. I had sent the resignation letter to Thakreji with copies to Vajpayeeji and Advaniji. Then Thakreji said that I had given the letter on January 7 but withdrawn it later. Why should I do that? If I had withdrawn the letter from him, I would have withdrawn the copies given to Vajpayeeji and Advaniji too. Even if Thakreji thought that I had withdrawn the letter, why did he not ask me?

On January 24, the media reported the murder of the Australian missionary (Graham) Stewart Staines in Orissa, allegedly by Bajrang Dal activists. This forced me to act. On the same day I told them that my resignation letter sent on January 7 should be accepted. On January 26, the newspapers did not publish any news of my resignation. It was reported that I wanted permission from Thakreji to atone for the incidents of violence against Christians. By "atonement" I meant "resignation"; hence I expressed my desire to atone (for the mistakes) and I wrote in that letter that I wanted to resign. On January 30, Vajpayeeji told me that he was facing pressure to drop me from the Cabinet and that he wanted to know whether I would resign. I told him that my resignation letter was already with him and he could accept it if he was under pressure.

Who was putting pressure on Vajpayee? You know and I know. Was it Thakre?

From wherever it was, this was the fact. But don't call me a dissident. Dissidence refers to opposition to the establishment, for the sake of power and position. I am still in the party after quitting my posts in the party and the Government. I am only against some people whose actions during the last nine months have achieved one thing: raising the esteem of Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi in the country. In the first six months, Jayalalitha was front page news. For the next three months, our family members' (read Sangh Parivar) statements against the Prime Minister - that he was selling the country, that he was engaged in anti-national activities, and that he was the most incompetent Prime Minister the country had seen - got media attention. Another report quoting a Parivar member from Calcutta said that Vajpayee was all right but his advisers were "foreign agents". All these reports appeared on the front pages of newspapers.

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Do the different organs of the Sangh Parivar not have functional autonomy? Each one is supposed to have different functions.

True, but the Sangh was our guide and philosopher. I have never spoken out against the Sangh. But if the Sangh Parivar acts like this as part of day-to-day functioning, then this should not happen. The Government should be the centre of power. Two parallel centres of power create problems like the ones we are facing here. You remember, in 1977 the issue of 'dual membership' was raised. I am not against dual membership, as I have been a member of the RSS and a member of the BJP for 54 years. Dual membership can remain, but the centre of power should not be split: you cannot say that we have the responsibility to govern, but orders will come from them. This cannot happen.

Were orders coming from the RSS?

Pressure is there on many fronts. Who ordered all these campaigns? Who issued the order against me? Vajpayeeji cannot ever have ordered them. There was an order that Jaswant Singh should not be taken into the Cabinet after the list that included him was sent to Rashtrapati Bhavan. Where did that order come from?

Why did you not protest then?

Look, there was no issue then. The Government was being formed after the elections. Had I protested then, people would have blamed me for creating a crisis. But now the situation is different. The country's image has been sullied. I get so many calls from my friends abroad, especially NRIs (non-resident Indians), because the media there have been publishing news daily about the attacks on Christians. I thought there should not be any backbiting. I have taken guidance from the Sangh on general matters, for instance the number of candidates we should field in Delhi. I would ask the Sangh to give us the list. The Sangh cannot complain about our failure to follow its principles and policies.

I would like to underline that the issues that I raised were repeated at the meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies. Why did they raise them? If they wanted to sort out the issues, they could have discussed them with Vajpayeeji. If he could agree, he would; otherwise he would have said so frankly.

Do you think Vajpayee is a weak Prime Minister?

I cannot say that. I cannot answer this question. I have not ever said that he is weak. But the situation is such that it makes one weak. He told me that people told him that I was made a scapegoat instead of him. I cannot say whether he is under pressure.

The party leadership has said that it could take action against you if you violate discipline.

Look, I have already quit the Cabinet post and the National Executive. If they want to take away my party membership, let them do it. I am not worried. After all, I have already given up many bigger posts. I have received huge appreciation for my decision from everywhere. I have never received such appreciation earlier in my life. NRIs tell me that I saved them. They cite my example and say that I am the real BJP. So, I will fight within the party.

Your critics say that you did not protest when there were atrocities against Muslims, allegedly by the Sangh Parivar. You did not oppose the Babri Masjid demolition, for instance.

In 1992 it was a communal clash, whereas the 1984 riots against Sikhs were one-sided killing of innocents. I organised protests against the 1984 riots and compiled the number of Sikhs killed then. Similarly I mobilised opinion against the killing of innocent Hindus by Sikh extremists in Punjab.

Do you regret the demolition of the Babri Masjid?

I don't want to talk about it now. No regretting. You may remember that I had described the incident as unfortunate at a few public meetings and in Parliament immediately after it happened.

You have alleged that the Bajrang Dal had a role in the Orissa incident.

I read the statement of the I.G. of Police (Orissa) in the newspaper alleging the involvement of the Bajrang Dal. A senior official of the Union Home Ministry also told me that the main accused, Dara Singh, had campaigned for the BJP in the last general elections as a Bajrang Dal activist. I told the official and the media that even if Dara Singh was involved, it was not fair to declare the entire organisation to which he belonged guilty. Since a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court is inquiring into the incident, it is not proper to comment on whether or not the Bajrang Dal was involved.

On the one hand, you want to atone for the mistakes and quit the Cabinet and the party body in the wake of the Orissa incident, but you are not prepared to blame the Bajrang Dal because an inquiry is on.

No. I wanted to atone for the incidents in Gujarat, where the involvement of members of the Sangh Parivar was clear from the arrests made by the police. I named these persons in my speech, which was not allowed to be made at the Bangalore meet. Then there was the statement criticising the missionaries, issued by Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad from Jaipur. This created the impression that Singhalji was supporting the attacks against Christians.

'The party can suggest, only the Government can decide'

cover-story

Even though Madan Lal Khurana's resignation has shaken the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership, senior leaders are averse to taking any immediate action lest it should precipitate a crisis. They prefer to wait and watch. Party vice-president and Member of Parliament representing Outer Delhi, Krishan Lal Sharma, spoke to V. Venkatesan about Khurana's resignation, the internal problems of the BJP, the party's uneasy relations with the Sangh Parivar and its troubles with some allies. Excerpts:

What are the current problems faced by the BJP-led coalition?

This coalition is proving better than any other coalition at the Centre in the past. We are dealing with our organisational problems firmly and there is no problem that is unsurmountable.

Is action likely to be taken against Madan Lal Khurana?

The appropriate procedure is to be followed. Our first effort is to make everybody realise that they should work under the discipline of the party. We take disciplinary action only when this becomes ineffective. At the moment we are not thinking in terms of issuing a show-cause notice to him. We don't find any reason for any further action because his resignation from the Cabinet and the National Executive has been accepted. The matter ends there as far as the present situation is concerned. If a necessity arises in the future, it will be dealt with accordingly.

What about Khurana's allegation, which he made quoting a senior official of the Home Ministry, that Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh, the main suspect in the Staines killing case, campaigned for the BJP in Orissa?

He has tried to explain that, and in a way he has contradicted himself. Although he has quoted a Union Home Ministry official, the statement has to be ascertained. His remarks have been overplayed by the media.

What is your opinion about Khurana's anguish at the Sangh Parivar's criticism of the Government?

The Sangh Parivar consists of different organisations and they have their own style of functioning. There is normal dissent within the Parivar. In a democracy, there can be no objection to their criticism of the Government.

By hindsight, was Khurana's removal as Chief Minister of Delhi a mistake?

There is no need to read too much between the lines. Every decision was taken after consultations. And Khurana was also involved in the process of consultations. Even after the decisions were taken, he chose to abide by them.

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Have the recent events compelled the Government to dissociate itself from extremist elements in the Sangh Parivar?

Both the Sangh Parivar and the Prime Minister have a right to disagree with each other. There is already a distance between the BJP and the other organs of the Sangh Parivar. We work in different spheres. Even according to the thinking of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), to which all organs of the Sangh Parivar have their original affiliation, every organisation is independent in its own way. There are consultations, but decision-making is left to the National Executive and the Cabinet. The party can suggest, but only the Government can decide. The organs of the Sangh Parivar differ from one another, but there is no tension.

What is your response to the indictment of the Gujarat Government by the National Commission on Minorities (NCM)?

Dangs is a small district in Gujarat and the incidents taking place there are isolated. They did not spread. Peace committees have been constituted and normalcy has been restored. The same Commission has not said anything about Madhya Pradesh after the rape of nuns in Jhabua. It reveals the Commission's bias.

The Centre has taken the Manoharpur incident in Orissa seriously and instituted a judicial inquiry. What more can the Centre do? There have been no riots anywhere in the country after the BJP-led Government took over at the Centre. There is a conspiracy. Extraordinary importance should not be given to these allegations. The country saw worse incidents when the Congress(I) ruled it. Is there any parallel to the 1984 riots or the Kashmir incidents? I will emphatically deny that there is an anti-Christian atmosphere or feeling in the country.

What about the bickering between the BJP and its allies?

We are trying to instil a sense of belonging and collective responsibility in the BJP's allies. After all, we have to run a government.

How do you perceive Jayalalitha's refusal to sign the joint declaration of the BJP and its allies after the recent Coordination Committee meeting?

We will see. After all, signing the document is not like signing a bond.

A bitter aftermath

The pattern set in the aftermath of the Staines killing shows that there are enough voices in positions of authority willing to justify heinous crimes committed in the name of religion.

SENSITIVITY to public opinion was at a premium in the aftermath of the grisly murder of Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two young boys by a lynch mob in Orissa on January 23. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani put on record his strong condemnation of the event, as did Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh, the latter describing it as a "crime against humanity". But for each such concession to the demands of rectitude, there was a gesture that tended to work to the contrary purpose. One such act was Advani's preemptive exculpation of the Bajrang Dal - his claim that he had authoritative information that the organisation was not involved in the crime. Another was BJP president Kushabhau Thakre's assertion that Christian missionaries were inviting trouble through their activities. He said: "I appeal to the missionaries that they are sitting on a stack of hay. They better be careful."

Thakre's remarks conformed to a pattern of morally dubious conduct by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate organisations after the Staines murder. In what could only be construed as a gross act of dishonouring the dead, Vishwa Hindu Parishad vice-president Giriraj Kishore asserted that the work of Graham Staines amidst leprosy sufferers was a facade, since there were no such people within a wide radius of where he lived and worked. As an intervention in an emotionally fraught situation, this was only slightly less coarse than that of Hindu Jagran Manch's Orissa unit president Subhash Chouhan. He said that Graham Staines was killed because he was engaged in proselytisation. The pattern set in the aftermath of the killing was very clear. Adherents to the RSS worldview who happen to be in the Government felt obliged to issue deprecatory noises. But those outside the Government felt few such restraints.

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A three-member team of Cabinet Ministers visited the site of the murder as part of the Government's crisis management strategy. Prior to his departure to the spot, Union Minister for Steel and Mines Naveen Patnaik made it clear that he looked at the event through the miasma of his antagonism to the Orissa unit of the Congress(I). Defence Minister George Fernandes and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi chose a strategy of prudence in advance of their visit - the former because he is a key member of the BJP-led Government's crisis management effort and the latter because of his well-advertised proximity to hardline elements in the RSS.

The ministerial trio spent one hour at the scene of the crime. On its return to Delhi, the team issued a statement which ascribed responsibility for the crime to an "international conspiracy" by "forces which would like this Government to go". If this effectively ruled out the culpability of the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates, the team also urged that a judicial commission of inquiry be constituted to look into the murder in order to uncover the conspiracy.

Shortly afterwards the Government announced, on the advice of the Chief Justice of India, that a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice D.P. Wadhwa, had been appointed as a one-man commission of inquiry into the Staines killing. Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Cabinet spokesman Pramod Mahajan said that the inquiry report would be completed by April, so that it could be placed in Parliament in its next session.

The Director-General for Investigations in the National Human Rights Commission, D.R. Karthikeyan, visited the scene of the crime. His report is expected to be submitted by the middle of February, though with the appointment of the judicial commission it could become an input for the broader inquiry. Certain suggestions that he made in the context of the local police investigation, such as entrusting it to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the State police and putting an officer of the rank of Superintendent in charge of it, have been accepted.

A two-member team from the National Commission on Minorities comprising James Massey and N. Neminath also went to the site. Its report is also expected to be an important input into the inquiries of the judicial commission.

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IN the midst of these exertions, the ambivalence of official utterances continues to cause disquiet. It is well known that the Bajrang Dal - as in the case of most organisations in the RSS constellation - does not maintain membership rolls. Established in 1984, just when the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was beginning to take shape in the strategies of the RSS, the Bajrang Dal honed its agitational and inflammatory skills in the lethal campaign to bring down the mosque in Ayodhya. The slogans it crafted as part of this campaign still ring with menace and were often chanted by the riotous mobs which took a heavy toll of human life during the six years leading up to the demolition.

Many modern legal systems have a category of offence known as "hate speech". Slogans and declamations that tend to engender a sense of antipathy towards any group of people are an offence in themselves. And if they are issued in close temporal or spatial connection with actual incidents of violence against these groups, a direct association is drawn. The onus is then on those who raise the inflammatory slogans to prove that there is no connection with the actual act of violence.

By this reasonable benchmark, the BJP spokesmen who have, at every juncture since the cycle of anti-Christian violence began, exerted themselves in the cause of strife rather than harmony bear a share of the blame for the Staines killing. And their conspicuous lack of remorse after the event has certainly contributed to the sustenance of an atmosphere of violence. This has been most recently exemplified in the alleged gang-rape of a Catholic nun on February 3 in Mayurbhanj district in Orissa. Heinous crimes have been justified by the supposed sense of rage at the incursions of alien religions into what is deemed to be Hindu territory. For the BJP leaders who today represent governmental authority, this has concurrently become an alibi for a complete abdication of responsibility.

A tenuous peace

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

A semblance of normalcy has been restored in South Gujarat, but the Christian community is yet to regain its sense of security.

ALTHOUGH the series of violent attacks on Christians in South Gujarat, which began on Christmas day, have subsided following widespread protests by secular groups, the State Government has done little to convince the minority community about any resolve to prevent further attacks by Hindu zealots who continue to enjoy official patronage because of their links with the Sangh Parivar. While Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal activists continue to spew venom on the minorities, the Bharatiya Janata Party Government headed by Keshubhai Patel has turned a blind eye to the larger issue of the threat to communal harmony. Shaken by all-round condemnation but reluctant to act against members of the Parivar, the Government sought to give a local angle to the issue and considered local solutions to effect a truce.

In Dangs district, which first reported cases of violence, normalcy returned, thanks to the persistent efforts of the district administration. The Government, prodded by an over-anxious Centre, appointed former District Collector of Dangs S.K. Nanda, now Secretary with the State Government, secretary in charge of the district. The Government transferred Bharat Joshi, the Collector, to the State Secretariat in Gandhinagar, after a fact-finding committee of the Union Home Ministry indicted him for permitting a Hindu Vikas Manch rally at Ahwa on December 25. Nanda, along with J.P. Gupta, the new Collector, and Manoj Shashidar, the Superintendent of Police, ensured that normalcy was restored.

Tracing the roots of the district's current crisis to poverty, Nanda persuaded the Government to evolve a Rs.446-lakh development package with the accent on employment generation, micro watershed management, salt conservation projects, promotion of horticulture and the filling up of teachers' posts in schools. The district administration involved both Hindu and Christian tribal people in repairing or rebuilding the places of worship that were damaged or destroyed and organised rallies of schoolchildren to promote communal harmony. The administration also persuaded both the communities to forget and forgive and stop encouraging outsiders to meddle in matters related to religion in the district.

"We advised the poor tribal people to bury their differences. The results are encouraging," Nanda told Frontline. He averred that the "outsiders" who had instigated tension in the district had been asked to leave. Swami Asheemanand of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram at Waghai is among those who have left the district.

The approach of the local administration has been to fix the responsibility for the attacks on leaders of both the communities (although the attacks were mostly one-sided) and appeal to them to avoid contentious issues that tend to divide the communities. In other words, the administration has refrained from taking stringent action against the guilty or ordering an impartial inquiry into the incidents, perhaps for fear of reviving tensions. The guilty, who were mainly people who came from other districts, have by and large gone scot-free although a few members of the Sangh Parivar have been arrested. Normalcy first, investigation and punishment of the guilty later - this appears to be the attitude of the authorities in Gandhinagar and Ahwa.

The priority the Government accorded to the restoration of peace is the result of severe strictures that came from unexpected quarters. The State Government suffered a major embarrassment on January 10 when its counsel in the Supreme Court in the Narmada dam dispute, Fali S.Nariman, decided not to represent the State any more, in protest against its failure to protect the minorities. The State Government tried to persuade him to reverse his decision, but the eminent lawyer stood his ground. In 1975 Nariman had resigned as Additional Solicitor-General in protest against the imposition of the Emergency by Indira Gandhi.

GUJARAT Governor Anshuman Singh was transferred to Rajasthan on January 13 amid reports that relations between him and Keshubhai Patel had come under severe strain following the concern he expressed about the State Government's failure to prevent the attacks on Christians. Anshuman Singh had also promised a Christian delegation that he would exercise his powers to protect the minorities. His transfer has raised questions about the Centre's motives.

Opposition parties such as the Congress(I) and the Rashtriya Janata Party have criticised the Governor's transfer, accusing Keshubhai Patel of demanding it. Dr. Tahir Mahmood, Chairman of the National Commission on Minorities (NCM), described the transfer as "politically unwise".

On January 5, the NCM constituted a special bench to sit in Gandhinagar on January 7 and examine under oath representatives of both the communities. In view of a meeting of the full Commission scheduled for January 11, the Commission rejected the State Govern-ment's request to postpone the sitting of the bench. In its interim report on the violence, which was released on January 11, it expressed its doubts over the effectiveness and impact of the actions stated to have been taken to control the situation.

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The Commission urged political parties to desist from looking at the Gujarat situation from a political perspective, in view of the dangers involved in politicising a communal problem. In particular, it was convinced that there was a prima facie case for the Union Government to use its powers under Article 256 of the Constitution, to give necessary "directions" to the Gujarat Government for the exercise of executive power so as to ensure compliance with existing laws (including the constitutional provisions on Fundamental Rights, the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure) in the context of the communal situation in the State.

The NCM also expressed its conviction that the situation in Gujarat qualified for description as "internal disturbance" as mentioned in Article 355 and that it is the "duty of the Union" to protect the States under the Article. Under the NCM Act, 1992, the Centre has to place the statutory recommendation of the Commission before Parliament with an action-taken memorandum. However, the Centre has sought clarifications from the Commission on its recommendations. The NCM has refrained from recommending the use of Article 356 to dismiss the Keshubhai Patel Government. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha has demanded President's Rule in the State and the Congress(I) has supported the demand.

The NCM has since submitted its final report to the Government. According to media accounts, the report has attributed the spurt in the violence to Hindu fundamentalist organisations' attempt to reconvert the tribal people who had converted to Christianity. Blaming the Government for its inept handling of the situation, it called for stringent action against the guilty. The Commission also reportedly referred to the State Government's reply to it stating that it had no evidence of forced conversions in the region although the increase in the Christian population in Dangs district between 1981 and 1991 was abnormal.

Despite the NCM's strictures, the Centre continued to adopt an unfriendly attitude with regard to Christian missionaries. Asked about the Gujarat incidents, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani said on January 16 that more than 70 per cent of privately made foreign donations that had come into the country between October and December 1998 were for Christian missionaries.

Advani's remark drew sharp protests from John Dayal, national secretary of the All India Catholic Union, and Dr. Ambrose Pinto, Director of the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. They alleged that false data of the kind Advani provided were responsible for the incidents that rocked Dangs district. They urged the Home Minister to make public the amounts and the names of all those who had received foreign funds in India. They also deplored the use of the term "missionaries" while referring to varied organisations, including human rights movements and non-governmental organisations, as it gave the impression that all foreign funds were being used for religious conversions.

A subsequent press release issued by the Home Ministry gave the details of funds received between October and December 1998 by what it called 'Christian organisations'. During this quarter, foreign contribution amounting to approximately Rs.19.80 crores were received in the country; of this Rs.14 crores was received by 'Christian organisations', the press note said. However, the Ministry neither gave details of the activities of the 'Christian organisations' nor provided evidence about the use of such funds for forcible conversions.

MEANWHILE, there are allegations that Hindu sugar mill owners owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar are refusing to employ Christian tribal workers unless they reconverted to Hinduism. The Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, a front organisation for the Sangh Parivar, is reportedly engaged in reconversion efforts although the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has taken a public stand against reconversion. According to reports, efforts to impart training in martial arts to Hindus among the tribal people in Uchhal and Vyara taluks of Surat district and the fear of further attacks on churches there have forced Christians in the area to guard their religious places in the night. On the surface normalcy has returned to South Gujarat; but a sense of security and confidence among the minorities are far from achieved.

Tinkering with PDS prices

economy
SUDHA MAHALINGAM

ON January 28, the Government announced a steep increase in the Central issue prices of foodgrains distributed through the public distribution system (PDS). The increase ranged from 29 per cent to 64 per cent. This decision hit hard the poorest of the poor households that draw just 10 kg of foodgrains a month from the PDS. The issue price of wheat for consumers below the poverty line (BPL) was increased from Rs.2.50 to Rs.3.25 a kg; for those above the poverty line (APL) the increase was from Rs.4.50 to Rs.6.50 a kg. The price of rice was increased from Rs.3.50 to Rs.4.52 a kg for consumers in the BPL category and from Rs.7 to Rs.9.05 for those in the APL category. The price of levy sugar was increased from Rs.11.40 to Rs.12 a kg. Consequently, the total quantum of subsidy on sugar went down from Rs.647 crores to Rs.275 crores. The food subsidy bill, estimated to be around Rs.8,500 crores, would come down by Rs.2,900 crores for 1998-99, it was announced. Simultaneously, the price of urea, a key fertilizer, was increased from Rs.183 to Rs.200 for a bag of 50 kg.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry, which usually seek lower duties and taxes and more concessions and reliefs, welcomed the decision.

The Opposition parties reacted sharply to the price hike. The Congress(I) said that it would coordinate with other parties to formulate an effective response although the more cynical would say that its response was prompted by political imperatives rather than any real concern for the poor. The Left parties, which have taken a consistent stand against any cut in the food subsidy, called for a nationwide agitation on February 9 to press for the withdrawal of the price hike. The Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha announced that it would organise two rallies, in Varanasi and in Lucknow, in protest against the price rise. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi condemned the price increase; the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) called it an attempt by the Centre to pass on its financial burden to the poor. TMC president G.K. Moopanar criticised the Government for its reluctance to tax the rich. To reduce expenditure, he said, the Government should cut down on foreign visits by Ministers and officials.

However, it was resistance from its constituents and allies that forced the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government to announce a partial rollback of the price hike a week after it was announced. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu demanded that the decision to increase the prices be kept in abeyance until a meeting of Chief Ministers discussed the issue. Andhra Pradesh, which adds its own subsidy component to the Central subsidy on PDS supplies, would have been hit hard with its subsidy burden going up by some Rs.440 crores if it wanted to maintain earlier price levels. With the Trinamul Congress, the Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya) and the National Conference joining the Samata Party, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena in a chorus of protest in the coalition's Coordination Committee meeting on February 2, the BJP was forced to agree to a partial rollback which left the subsidy on foodgrains supplied to the BPL consumers untouched. On February 4, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers (with additional charge of Food) Surjeet Singh Barnala said that the rollback would cost the Government Rs.692 crores; that is, the subsidy bill which would have gone down by Rs.2,900 crores had the Government adhered to its earlier decision would now go down by Rs.2,200 crores. The National Development Council will discuss the issue of administered prices, among other things, at its meeting on February 19.

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Economists believe that the PDS price increase will result in a significant fall in the offtake of foodgrains from the PDS. They point out that earlier increases in the Central issue prices had failed to lower the subsidy burden because, with prices for the APL category approaching market prices, the offtake from the PDS by this category declined and the Government was left holding excess stocks. Last year, the shortfall in the offtake of rice was two million tonnes and of wheat, four million tonnes. This year it could be even higher, if the APL population decides to keep off the PDS.

As against a buffer requirement of 18 million tonnes, the Government already has a stock of 25 million tonnes of foodgrains - 11.6 million tonnes of rice and 14 million tonnes of wheat. Wheat cannot be exported since Indian wheat is priced out of the international market. As long as the stocks last, the Government cannot hope to realise the targeted reduction in subsidy and as such the move is counterproductive, they point out.

Also, while many States have identified consumers in the BPL category and issued them distinctive cards, there is no mechanism to ensure that the cheaper foodgrains meant for the poor actually reach them. The incentive for corruption increases as the gap between BPL and APL prices widens. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the entire grain lifted is targeted at the BPL while 90 per cent of the households in Kerala are APL consumers. In Andhra Pradesh the APL section constitutes 84 per cent of the population, in Gujarat 70 per cent and in West Bengal and Karnataka 62 per cent each.

Finally, with every increase in the Central issue price there is usually a clamour for an increase in the minimum support price, the price at which the Government buys foodgrains from farmers. If that happens, the projected subsidy cuts will actually trigger further price rises.

The pain killer

other
R.K. LAXMAN

I WAS dashing to Delhi on work as usual. My boss asked me to call on one of the Ministers he knew. This meeting was supposed to sort out the mess he was in, created by a new amendment to excise duty provisions on the export of cotton. I was just a catalyst. I knew nothing about the nature of the problem or its solution, not even remotely. My boss had the right contacts everywhere in the country and made use of them without their knowing it. He was clever, devious and discreet.

At Delhi I phoned the Minister's secretary, identified myself and sought an appointment. I proceeded to the Minister's house carrying a plastic bag containing an antique piece of bronze Nataraja to be handed over to the Minister. Once again I was an ignorant agent carrying out my boss' orders.

I stood outside the huge ornate gate of the Minister's bungalow while the security guard telephoned from his booth asking for clearance to let me in. Then through a side gate I stepped in and walked towards the bungalow. It seemed miles walking on the road lined with trimmed and tended avenue trees before I reached the steps to the veranda. There stood officials cast in the mould of similar types in short closed coats and white pants seen around any ministerial residence.

I was conducted into an inner room where more of the same characters were seated at tables of various sizes that indicated the degree of their importance in the set-up. I was given a slip of paper which I filled in with my name, address and so on and handed over to one person sitting in front of a computer. He studied it closely, tapped the keys, studied the screen and then led me to a narrow side room for a security check as in an airport, frisking and brushing all over me with a metal detector. The bronze Nataraja also went through the test like a piece of hand luggage. When they were satisfied that there was no security risk in letting me go close to the Minister, I was escorted to a car parked in the garden and whisked away in the direction of the main building at a short distance.

The reception room of this place was crowded with people waiting to see the Minister. But I was taken to an inner chamber which was vast, empty and well furnished. I sat buried in a commodious sofa gazing at life-size portraits of the Prime Minister and the President of India in gold-hued frames.

It was quite some time before I noticed another person sitting in a corner at the far end, lost among the furniture, curios and flower pots. He smiled and made his way over to my side and sat down. He asked for my name, about the nature of my work, from where I came and so on. I gave suitably edited and camouflaged replies. In my turn I asked him what he was doing in the Minister's drawing room.

"I live here," he replied proudly, and added: "I am his astrologer. He always consulted me even when I was employed in one of the public sector units. It was I who predicted that he would become a Minister. When it came true he asked me to take premature retirement and come over here and stay with him." I clucked my tongue and marvelled at the strange ways in which the destiny of men worked! Encouraged, he was about to launch on his philosophical observations on the subject when a head peeped into the room and announced the Minister's arrival.

The room was full of visitors. They were seated around an unoccupied chair. They were conversing in low whispers punctuated by suppressed laughter. The Minister took his own time making his appearance.

Finally we saw him ambling down the corridor. All of us stood up respectfully with folded hands to receive him. He seemed bored, tired and ill except for a flicker of a smile of courtesy. He plunked down in the reserved chair, looked around and gave a slight nod of recognition to a few in the crowd.

The visitors took turns to sit close to him to pay their respects and explain the purpose of their visit in a confiding tone. The Minister listened without expression and automatically handed over to his secretary whatever papers were left in his hand.

Then my turn came. I took out the Nataraja from the plastic bag and displayed it for his inspection and appreciation, turning it this way and that. He stared at it with a deadpan face. All eyes in the room were on the Nataraja and there was an expectant silence in the room for the Minister's reaction. He said, "Nataraja!" At once I began to describe the finer points of the antique, the delicacy of the dancing pose and the exquisite craftsmanship of the ornaments. He nodded and said, "My house is full of such pieces presented by my well-wishers. I do not know what to do with them..." and waved it towards his secretary's receiving hands.

He seemed extremely tired. I was impelled to enquire: "Are you not feeling well, sir?"

"Backache! Backache!" he said with difficulty, trying to touch his back.

"The U.P. Chief Minister was here and I had to..."

I ventured to suggest, "Why don't you rub Novoo, sir? It will give immediate relief, sir."

"What's that?" 16041121jpg

"Novoo. It's an ayurvedic preparation, sir. Novoo."

"Heard of it, Novoo?" he asked the assembled group. Everyone stood around repeating "Novoo, Novoo." "I think it comes in tubes," someone said. "Also in jars," someone else added his voice which drowned in the murmur of "Novoo, Novoo" that filled the room.

"Anyway, get me a tube," the Minister said.

"All shops are closed tomorrow due to an indefinite strike declared by drug dealers. Don't worry sir, I will courier it to you when I get back tomorrow, sir..."

"Thanks," he said feebly. His secretary moved briskly towards me to brief me about the procedure to send the consignment to the Minister.

On the flight back I was surfing over the newspaper headlines - scams, crimes, strikes, train accidents, IT raids, Cabinet expansions, bilateral talks, bomb blasts and so on.

The next morning I met the boss to report about the meeting. He was in high spirits and cheerful. He had already got a call from the Minister. Probably the problem had been sorted out.

I told him about the Minister's back pain and the need for applying Novoo and told him about the difficulty in getting it there.

"Buy half a dozen tubes and send them immediately. Poor man must be really suffering."

The following morning, newspapers carried a report which stated that the Cabinet had been expanded and some Ministers dropped, my boss' patron being one among them, for anti-party activities.

I asked my boss what I was to do now with the half a dozen tubes of Novoo which I had procured. He looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "Keep them with you till the matter clears up..."

Culture and politics

other

Sumathi Ramaswamy's article ("The politics of prayer", January 15) displays in ample measure her considerable command of recent South Indian history. Like her, I too am dismayed by the politics of the Sangh Parivar largely because the Parivar has an impoverished view of the culture it claims to defend and the threat it so palpably poses to India's diversity. I, like Prof. Ramaswamy, dread its attempts to legislate a cultural agenda.

But it seems to me that the premises behind her characterisation of the Saraswati Vandana issue have a lot more in common with the Sangh Parivar's premises than she realises and are perhaps equally facile. I agree with her contention that the status of deities and the labile boundaries between religion and culture are immensely difficult issues in any context. The Sangh Parivar has ominously levelled that complex religio-cultural heritage by converting them into facile tokens of a majoritarian identity. Instead of articulating and discussing the diverse strivings that culture has to offer, it has stifled dissent and creativity.

One unfortunate consequence of this has been that it has now become impossible to talk about the diverse strivings of that culture without risking identification with the Parivar. It has managed to flatten an entire culture into totems of identity. It has managed to acquire proprietary rights over Sanskrit language, aesthetics, philosophy, semiotics, tantra, moral philosophy, history and all those modes of experience that are an ineluctable part of South Asia. The manner in which Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy articulates her position has aided and abetted that appropriation.

The ease with which Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy uses 'Sanskritic' as a term of abuse is astounding. I understand her motives in doing so. Cultures - and Sanskritic culture is no exception - are often a form of exercise of power and hegemony. But to reduce all cultures to that dimension, as is fashionable in current social theory, is to do exactly what the Sangh Parivar has done: flatten a debate over culture to a contest over power. Cultures can be a means of exercising power: but they are much more. They are the grammar in which experiences are conceptualised, the best of human aspirations are represented and the world is made sense of.

I wonder why we are so eager to eviscerate this dimension of Indian culture (or cultures). Both Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy and I teach in universities in the West. It is almost mandatory that students in these universities will encounter Locke or Descartes, Kant or Hegel, all in their own ways significant Christian thinkers (and sectarian to boot), and who also in their own ways contributed to certain ideologies of domination. But we teach them and study them critically, but unapologetically. There is a space for treating them as repositories of an important set of arguments that we need to understand, appropriate and transcend for our purposes.

The question is: can such a space be made for Indian culture(s) without descending rapidly into identity politics? It seems to me that the Sangh Parivar has closed that space from one direction by self-consciously deploying it for identity politics. But Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy, like many on the Left, is closing that space from the other direction by seeing culture only in terms of relations of power. (Then it is simply a matter of whose side one is on.) Her characterisation of Saraswati as just a sectarian goddess closes just this space. Why cannot it be understood as one important cultural form in which the importance of knowledge is enshrined? The Saraswati Vandana at least has the potential of reminding us to transcend our contingent and parochial obsessions and identities for the sake of something larger.

What would be the implications of exorcising Saraswati from the public space? Should the state not patronise Tyagaraja concerts because he composed in honour of Saraswati? Should Kalidasa be exorcised for the same reason? Or should M.S. Subbulakshmi's Bharat Ratna be withdrawn because most of the compositions she renders can be classified as sectarian from one point of view or the other? Precisely because culture and religion are interlinked in a complicated manner, Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy's position runs the risk of making a thoughtful appropriation of culture impossible.

I am not advocating compulsory singing of the Saraswati Vandana. The point is, we should all resist the Sangh Parivar's attempts to designate as universal that which is, at least in a political sense, contestable. But the way to resist its cultural machinations is not by buying into its designation of what Indian culture means, by accepting the idea that cultures are mere ruses of power in the service of the domination of one group and by conceding that we have allowed the Parivar to interpret that culture as it pleases. Rather than designating everything indiscriminately as sectarian, we should be asking the question: how can this rich and complex cultural sensibility be mobilised in the service of higher aspirations? For it is the hallmark of all great cultures that they help you transcend your quotidian identities as much as they help define them.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta Associate Professor of Government and Social Studies, Harvard University Sumathi Ramaswamy writes:

I found Professor Mehta's response to my article thoughtful and provocative, but also ultimately puzzling and ironic. He raises significant questions about the relation of "culture" to "politics" and "power", however broadly or narrowly we may construe these complex categories. He has also drawn attention to the profound dilemmas that confront concerned citizens as they struggle to protect the space within which a liberal and diverse "Indian" culture(s) survives the onslaught of global capitalism, religious fundamentalism and majoritarian politics - a space that allows scholarly exchanges like this one, as indeed a wider public debate over the Saraswati Vandana. However, rather than "closing" the debate on Saraswati and "buying into" the Sangh Parivar's designation of what "Indian culture" means, I believe that my essay actually exemplifies what Professor Mehta advocates, namely, that we ought to treat cultural forms as "repositories...that we need to understand, appropriate and transcend for our purposes." Tamizhthai represents one such historical appropriation of Saraswati as she was fashioned by Tamil speakers into a figure who would satisfy their purposes in the face of what they experienced as the dominance of Sanskrit, Hinduism, and India. Not surprisingly, given this history, Tamizhthai remains a Saraswati-like figure, even as her followers have tried to bestow on her a secular persona that "transcends" (to borrow Professor Mehta's vocabulary) Saraswati's association with a scriptural Hinduism that to them appeared limiting, even parochial. Indeed, Tamizhthai's chequered career amply demonstrates, if only in a specific regional and historical context, the dangers of patronising Hindu deities in a secular public realm in the name of "Indian culture".

In retrospect, therefore, it is remarkable that Professor Mehta's response does not engage at all the real protagonist of my essay who is Tamizhthai, and not Saraswati, her Other as it were. Indeed it is ironical that an article on Tamil and the cultural politics of Tamil Nadu elicits a response that does not even once refer to either. Instead the response appears to dismiss these Tamil struggles as "contingent" and "quotidian", and as belonging to the realm of "parochial obsessions and identities" that "we" have to "transcend" in favour of "something larger" that is located in Saraswati. The latter is a figure with whom many speakers of Tamil would not as sanguinely identify as Professor Mehta does, precisely because of their history of experience of Sanskritic and scriptural Hinduism. I do not want (or even mean) this response to turn into a "Tamil nationalist" defence of "Tamil" against "Sanskritic" culture; to do so would be to simply replicate the very terms of the discourse that I have written against on other occasions. But I am wary of any position that assumes the vantage point of "Indian culture" to dismiss the many local and regional "identities" and "aspirations" within India as "parochial". Because Professor Mehta does not really engage my discussion of the complex cultural politics surrounding the figure of Tamizhthai, he is also able to characterise my essay as "reducing culture to politics". While he is right in noting that culture cannot be simplistically reduced to politics (which is not to say that cultural forms can exist outside the realm of power relations), it seems to me that he is operating with an unduly narrow (and ultimately negative) conception of "politics" that allows him to make his charge.

For me, in turn, politics cannot be reduced to "ruses of power", but instead represents "a necessarily undeterminable field of human agency, a space of constantly competitive, strategic and practical action, undertaken in conditions of imperfect and partial information", to borrow from Sunil Khilnani's recent formulation. As Khilnani notes, "politics is at the heart of India's passage to and experience of modernity... Politics at once divides the country and constitutes it as a single, shared, crowded space, proliferating voices and claims and forcing negotiation and accommodation..." (The Idea of India, page 9). On the one hand, Professor Mehta rightly wants to rescue "Indian culture(s)" from the Sangh Parivar and make it available for continued dialogue, debate and contestation; on the other, he also appears to be disparaging of the very realm of "politics", which has enabled, and will enable, this process. For this reason as well, I find his response puzzling, problematic and ironically disabling for all concerned.

LETTERS

The Cover Story ("", February 12) is an indictment of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government.

Father Damien was canonised for his selfless service to the dying and the sick, whereas fundamentalists in India have torched a missionary who worked among leprosy patients.

Perhaps that is their way of honouring a noble soul. With their heinous act, the fundamentalists have not only attacked the ideals of Albert Schweitzer, Father Damien and Mother Teresa but also torn to pieces India's tradition of tolerance.

When fanatics in India exhibited their narrow-mindedness, Pakistan showed its magnanimity by sending its cricket team to India.

Rohit Ramarao Mumbai * * *

I am an Indian. I love my country, its traditions of tolerance and forbearance and the human values it stands for. Today I am ashamed and angry at the actions and statements of a group of people who call themselves patriots and nationalists.

The Shiv Sena and its supporters have appointed themselves guardians of our morality. With scant regard for the law and the institutions enforcing it, they target specific communities and seek to suppress those who raise their voices against their atrocities.

The Shiv Sena is trying to extend to the whole nation the code of conduct it has laid down for the residents of Mumbai. This particular type of morality frowns at women who wear Western-style clothes but looks the other way when criminal gangs go on a killing spree or loot or attack suburban train travellers in Mumbai; it sees Western music as a threat to our culture, but sees nothing wrong in the culture of violence, intolerance, nepotism and corruption that it fosters and breeds.

A person who has not been elected by the people to any position of responsibility is the de facto ruler of Maharashtra. He parades himself as a patriot, he abets pogroms and riots, secure in the knowledge that the state machinery will stand by him.

I refuse to condone the violence let loose in the name of "protecting" me from films that spread ideas that run counter to the narrow world-view of the Shiv Sena and its leader. I refuse to accept the Sena's diktats on whom my country's sportsmen should compete with in hockey, cricket or any other game. I refuse to learn the meaning of patriotism from a bunch of unprincipled hooligans. I refuse to let my silence be taken for assent and my patience for cowardice.

Rohini Oomman Received on e-mail Singing apes

The feature on wildlife ("Singing apes", February 12) was beautiful and the pictures were excellent, especially the one showing a leaping hoolock gibbon. I was particularly happy to read about wildlife after having read so many articles on politics. I look forward to more wildlife coverage in Frontline.

Mangesh Ingle Nasik Girish Karnad

I read with great interest your tribute to Girish Karnad, winner of the Jnanpith Award ("The multi-faceted playwright", February 12). Girish Karnad has acted in one Malayalam film also (Neelakurunji Poothappol, directed by Bharathan).

G. Prasannan Kozhuvalloor, Kerala Culture and politics

Sumathi Ramaswamy's article ("The politics of prayer", January 15) displays in ample measure her considerable command of recent South Indian history. Like her, I too am dismayed by the politics of the Sangh Parivar largely because the Parivar has an impoverished view of the culture it claims to defend and the threat it so palpably poses to India's diversity. I, like Prof. Ramaswamy, dread its attempts to legislate a cultural agenda.

But it seems to me that the premises behind her characterisation of the Saraswati Vandana issue have a lot more in common with the Sangh Parivar's premises than she realises and are perhaps equally facile. I agree with her contention that the status of deities and the labile boundaries between religion and culture are immensely difficult issues in any context. The Sangh Parivar has ominously levelled that complex religio-cultural heritage by converting them into facile tokens of a majoritarian identity. Instead of articulating and discussing the diverse strivings that culture has to offer, it has stifled dissent and creativity.

One unfortunate consequence of this has been that it has now become impossible to talk about the diverse strivings of that culture without risking identification with the Parivar. It has managed to flatten an entire culture into totems of identity. It has managed to acquire proprietary rights over Sanskrit language, aesthetics, philosophy, semiotics, tantra, moral philosophy, history and all those modes of experience that are an ineluctable part of South Asia. The manner in which Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy articulates her position has aided and abetted that appropriation.

The ease with which Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy uses 'Sanskritic' as a term of abuse is astounding. I understand her motives in doing so. Cultures - and Sanskritic culture is no exception - are often a form of exercise of power and hegemony. But to reduce all cultures to that dimension, as is fashionable in current social theory, is to do exactly what the Sangh Parivar has done: flatten a debate over culture to a contest over power. Cultures can be a means of exercising power: but they are much more. They are the grammar in which experiences are conceptualised, the best of human aspirations are represented and the world is made sense of.

I wonder why we are so eager to eviscerate this dimension of Indian culture (or cultures). Both Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy and I teach in universities in the West. It is almost mandatory that students in these universities will encounter Locke or Descartes, Kant or Hegel, all in their own ways significant Christian thinkers (and sectarian to boot), and who also in their own ways contributed to certain ideologies of domination. But we teach them and study them critically, but unapologetically. There is a space for treating them as repositories of an important set of arguments that we need to understand, appropriate and transcend for our purposes.

The question is: can such a space be made for Indian culture(s) without descending rapidly into identity politics? It seems to me that the Sangh Parivar has closed that space from one direction by self-consciously deploying it for identity politics. But Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy, like many on the Left, is closing that space from the other direction by seeing culture only in terms of relations of power. (Then it is simply a matter of whose side one is on.) Her characterisation of Saraswati as just a sectarian goddess closes just this space. Why cannot it be understood as one important cultural form in which the importance of knowledge is enshrined? The Saraswati Vandana at least has the potential of reminding us to transcend our contingent and parochial obsessions and identities for the sake of something larger.

What would be the implications of exorcising Saraswati from the public space? Should the state not patronise Tyagaraja concerts because he composed in honour of Saraswati? Should Kalidasa be exorcised for the same reason? Or should M.S. Subbulakshmi's Bharat Ratna be withdrawn because most of the compositions she renders can be classified as sectarian from one point of view or the other? Precisely because culture and religion are interlinked in a complicated manner, Prof. Sumathi Ramaswamy's position runs the risk of making a thoughtful appropriation of culture impossible.

I am not advocating compulsory singing of the Saraswati Vandana. The point is, we should all resist the Sangh Parivar's attempts to designate as universal that which is, at least in a political sense, contestable. But the way to resist its cultural machinations is not by buying into its designation of what Indian culture means, by accepting the idea that cultures are mere ruses of power in the service of the domination of one group and by conceding that we have allowed the Parivar to interpret that culture as it pleases. Rather than designating everthing indiscriminately as sectarian, we should be asking the question: how can this rich and complex cultural sensibility be mobilised in the service of higher aspirations? For it is the hallmark of all great cultures that they help you transcend your quotidian identities as much as they help define them.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta Associate Professor of Government and Social Studies, Harvard University

Sumathi Ramaswamy writes:

I found Professor Mehta's response to my article thoughtful and provocative, but also ultimately puzzling and ironic. He raises significant questions about the relation of "culture" to "politics" and "power", however broadly or narrowly we may construe these complex categories. He has also drawn attention to the profound dilemmas that confront concerned citizens as they struggle to protect the space within which a liberal and diverse "Indian" culture(s) survives the onslaught of global capitalism, religious fundamentalism and majoritarian politics - a space that allows scholarly exchanges like this one, as indeed a wider public debate over the Saraswati Vandana. However, rather than "closing" the debate on Saraswati and "buying into" the Sangh Parivar's designation of what "Indian culture" means. I believe that my essay actually exemplifies what Professor Mehta advocates, namely, that we ought to treat cultural forms as "repositories...that we need to understand, appropriate and transcend for our purposes." Tamizhthai represents one such historical appropriation of Saraswati as she was fashioned by Tamil speakers into figure who would satisfy their purposes in the face of what they experienced as the dominance of Sanskrit, Hinduism, and India. Not surprisingly, given this history, Tamizhthai remains a Saraswati-like figure, even as here followers have tried to bestow on her a secular persona that "transcends" (to borrow Professor Mehta's vocabulary) saraswati's association with a scriptural Hinduism that to them appeared limiting, even parochial. Indeed, Tamizhthai's chequered career amply demonstrates, if only in a specific regional and historical context, the dangers of patronising Hindu deities in a secular public realm in the name of "Indian culture".

In retrospect, therefore, it is remarkable that Professor Mehta's response does not engage at all the real protagonist of my essay who is Tamizhthai, and not Saraswati, her Other as it were. Indeed it is ironical that an article on Tamil and the cultural politics of Tamil Nadu elicits a response that does not even once refer to either. Instead the response appears to dismiss these Tamil struggles as "contingent" and "quotidian", and as belonging to the realm of "parochial obsessions and identities" that "we" have to "transcend" in favour of "something larger" that is located in Saraswati. The latter is a figure with whom many speakers of Tamil would not as sanguinely identify as Professor Mehta does, precisely because of their history of experience of Sanskritic and scriptural Hinduism. I do not want (or even mean) this response to turn into a "Tamil nationalist" defence of "Tamil" against "Sanskritic" culture; to do so would be to simply replicate the very terms of the discourse that I have written against on other occasions. But I am wary of any position that assumes the vantage point of "Indian culture" to dismiss the many local and regional "identities" and "aspirations" within India as "parochial". Because Professor Mehta does not really engage my discussion of the complex cultural politics surrounding the figure of Tamizhthai, he is also able to characterise my essay as "reducing culture to politics". While he right in noting that culture cannot be simplistically reduced to politics (which is not to say that cultural forms can exist outside the realm of power relations), it seems to me that he is operating with an unduly narrow (and ultimately negative) conception of "politics" that allows him to make his charge.

For me, in turn, politics cannot be reduced to "ruses of power", but instead represents "a necessarily undeterminable field of human agency, a space of constantly competitive, strategic and practical action, undertaken in conditions of imperfect and partial information", to borrow from Sunil Khilnani's recent formulation. As Khilnani notes, "politics is at the heart of India's passage to and experience of modernity... Politics at once divides the country and constitutes it as a single, shared, crowded space, proliferating voices and claims and forcing negotiation and accommodation..." (The Idea of India, page 9). On the one hand, Professor Mehta rightly wants to rescue "Indian culture(s)" from the Sangh Parivar and make it available for continued dialogue, debate and contestation; on the other, he also appears to be disparaging of the very realm of "politics", which has enabled, and will enable, this process. For this reason as well, I find his response puzzling, problematic and ironically disabling for all concerned.

A musical genius

Pandit Ravi Shankar, arguably the most outstanding sitar artist, is truly a musician of the entire nation, a true Bharat Ratna.

THE conferring of the Bharat Ratna on Pandit Ravi Shankar, arguably the most outstanding sitar artist the country has produced, begs the question: why did it take so long in coming? Given that the majority of the 34 winners of the award so far are politicians of various hues, if at least a good number had been from the arts and the sciences it would have helped add value to this highest civilian award of the nation. However, only three from the arts, including Ravi Shankar, have won the award so far, the other two being the Carnatic vocalist M.S. Subbulakshmi and the renowned film-maker Satyajit Ray. But even this recognition came when all the three were well past their creative best - in the case of Satyajit Ray, in fact, posthumously.

The award to Ravi Shankar comes as he turns 80. Even though it is not the same Panditji today that his millions of fans and followers have known for the last five decades, his inventive genius is still at work. This was seen in ample measure during his Swarna Jayanti Concert in New Delhi last year on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Independence. His latest Compact Disc 'The Chants of India' is evidence that he is still far from the twilight of his creativity. Nevertheless, it is pertinent to note that this is one more instance of state recognition following various international recognitions of high order. Last year, Ravi Shankar was given along with Ray Charles, the Polar Music Award of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, regarded as the "Nobel Prize for Music": the citation described him as the "Music Bridge Builder Between East and West". In some sense, therefore, the award of Bharat Ratna to someone like Ravi Shankar is merely a stamp of the Government on his eminence, which the nation and the world have known for long.

IF there is a greater understanding today of Indian music and its underlying philosophy around the world (whose benefits a good number of present-generation artists of both North and South would seem to be reaping with their musical tours abroad) and there is a pervasive influence of Indian music on the global musical conscience and, by extension, on Indian culture itself, it is in no small measure owing to Ravi Shankar. His "cultural ambassadorship" can be said to have begun with his performance along with Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris exactly five decades ago. Since then his urge to experiment and to spread the soul and spirit of Indian music resulted in his association with the Beatles in the 1960s and flirtation with pop and rock groups and performances at Monterey and Woodstock Festivals during the 1970s on the one hand and association with major musical figures of the day, such as Menuhin, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Hasan Yamamoto and Mushimi Miyashita, on the other.

Writing the preface to Ravi Shankar's autobiographical My Music, My Life (1969), Yehudi Menuhin says: "To the Indian quality of serenity, the Indian musician brings an exalted personal expression of union with the infinite, as in infinite love. Few modern composers in the West have achieved this quality, though we revere it in the works of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. If the Indian musicians like Ravi Shankar, who are so graciously beginning to bring this genius to us, can help us find this quality again, then we shall have much to thank them for."

Indeed, Ravi Shankar himself saw this as his main mission when he carried Indian music to the West at a time when few would have dared to do this given the political and economic turmoil that India was in. "I have given the West the soul of our music. Not the skill or virtuosity (taiyyari) alone - the West has an abundant measure of that in their own tradition. With taiyyari, you can get an instant response, applause. After that they will forget you. The true soul of our music is in adhyatmikata, its spiritual quality. The West had it in the past."

His deep rootedness in the tradition of Indian music - being the disciple of the legendary Ustad Allauddin Khan enabled him to imbibe, absorb and live this tradition - helped him achieve this. He could delve into the depths of Indian music and present its quintessence to Western audiences in a manner that it could be enjoyed and assimilated.

While this musical mission to the West - where he has spent most of his life - did catapult Ravi Shankar to a world celebrity status and, in some sense, even a cult figure in the West, his contribution to Hindustani classical music itself has also been immense. It is to him that music lovers owe the elevation of the status of sitar as a concert instrument of great versatility and range. Indeed, he has influenced instrumental Hindustani music in general, not just the sitar, and raised the sophistication in the structural format of the instrumental performance - a systematic and structured exposition of the alap, jor, jhala and the various tempos of the gat.

With his egalitarian outlook in music, Ravi Shankar drew inspiration from Carnatic music's vast repertoire of ragas as well. In that sense he is truly a musician of the entire nation, a true Bharat Ratna. He enjoyed Carnatic music and, like vocalists Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Amir Khan, was deeply influenced by it. He popularised many Carnatic ragas in the Hindustani system - notably, Charukesi, Janasammodh-ini, Keerawani, Malayamarutam, Revati (which he called Bairagi), among others.

The experimentalist and the innovator in him also led him to compose in many Indian and foreign films though he laments that he could not devote as much time in composing for films as he would have liked to. His music for Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy stands supreme amongst his scores for films. Among his scores for Hindi films, Anuradha is a gem, the other noteworthy scores being for Godan, Dharti Ke Lal and Meera.

Ravi Shankar's versatility has extended to ballets, musicals, dance dramas (like "Ghanashayam'') and orchestral performances.

What does Ravi Shankar feel about his own achievements? "In music," he said a few years ago, "I wasted a lot of time. I spent energy in doing new things, in experiments. Maybe if I had been completely focussed on one single aspect, on the purely classical approach to the sitar, I am sure I would have gone further, much deeper. I do feel that. But the truth is that even as I am saying this, I want to do so many other things. Audiovisual ideas keep crowding my mind. I have to admit that I have not changed. I cannot change...I have to be myself." If he had changed, the world of music would have been that much the poorer.

And this story of his self again finds expression in his recently released autobiography Ragamala, an updated version of his My Music, My Life.

Exit Manohar Joshi

The replacement of Manohar Joshi with Narayan Rane as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra indicates the Shiv Sena's intention to pursue an aggressive programme of communal mobilisation, which the party hopes will help it retain power in next year's Assembly elections.

MANOHAR JOSHI'S removal from the office of Maharashtra Chief Minister resembled nothing as much as the tossing of an unwanted machine on to a scrap yard. The way in which he had to leave office cannot perhaps be described as surprising. Shortly after Joshi assumed office in March 1995, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had made it clear that the Chief Minister would act on the commands served by his metaphorical "remote control". For four years, Joshi's studied geniality served the Shiv Sena's strategy of projecting itself as a responsible party of governance. However, with the March 2000 Assembly elections fast approaching, that strategy had to change. Now, Narayan Tatu Rane, the new Chief Minister, will preside over an aggressive programme of communal mobilisation the Shiv Sena hopes will keep it in power.

The coup to depose Manohar Joshi was executed with finesse. On January 30, Joshi himself did not appear to be aware of the fact that he was about to be removed from office. He spent most of the day in Pune, meeting Marathi literary figures involved in a writers' conference. On his return to Mumbai late in the afternoon, a curt fax message from Thackeray demanding his resignation was waiting for him at the Chief Minister's residence. Joshi promptly told Thackeray on the telephone that he would honour the demand. At 6-45 p.m., Joshi drove to the Raj Bhavan and handed over his resignation letter to Governor P.C. Alexander. Members of the Legislative Assembly were informed of the resignation and of Rane's appointment at a previously scheduled legislature party meeting that night.

The demand for Manohar Joshi's resignation had been building up since the Nagpur session of the State legislature. At a dinner meeting of Shiv Sena MLAs, Rane had accused Joshi of using the threat of defection from the party to secure his own position. Sources told Frontline that the final move was, however, made after an intense campaign within Matoshree, Bal Thackeray's residence. Both Smita Thackeray, the Shiv Sena supremo's daughter-in-law, and Raj Thackeray, his nephew, had been pushing Rane's case. Bal Thackeray's son Uddhav Thackeray also made his dislike for Joshi and his son Unmesh clear. The three are believed to have told Bal Thackeray that incompetent governance had eroded the Shiv Sena's constituency almost beyond repair and that he had to act before it was too late.

The choice of a successor was, however, not simple. Rane's case received a boost because of his proximity to Raj and Smita Thackeray, whom he has cultivated assiduously since the mid-1980s. Some people believed that being a Maratha, Rane would be able to counter the Congress(I)'s influence in the politically decisive community. Among the other contenders for the Chief Minister's post was Trade and Commerce Minister Diwakar Raote. According to rumours circulating in the Shiv Sena, Raj, a long-time party worker who has begun to feel alienated following his uncle's growing patronage of his son Uddhav, was also pushing for elevation to office. Whatever the truth, Rane emerged as the consensus candidate.

BJP leaders were told of the decision to replace Joshi with Rane only on January 29. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan, the central figure in mediating the BJP's growing differences with the Shiv Sena, was by most accounts delighted to see the last of Joshi. Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde, who had been in the forefront of the State BJP's war with the Shiv Sena, was equally euphoric. Their reasons were anything but altruistic. A Brahmin identified with a centre-right political position, Joshi appealed to an important segment of the BJP's own constituency. More important, he was instrumental in thwarting the BJP's desire to play a central role in the process of governance.

For Thackeray, the conflict with the BJP does not appear to have been a major consideration. Joshi had offered to resign after the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance's debacle in the State in the last Lok Sabha elections. However, Thackeray turned down the offer. On March 23, 1998, Thackeray publicly criticised Joshi for corruption within his government and for his supposed friendship with Congress(I) leader Sharad Pawar. Joshi again offered to resign, but the offer was again rejected. In August, Joshi sought to mend fences with the Shiv Sena chief and launched an uncharacteristically aggressive attack on the findings of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry on the role played by Bal Thackeray in the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. Joshi made it clear that he would resign rather than order the arrest of the Shiv Sena chief.

However, even this desperate display of loyalty proved inadequate. In December, Rane launched his assault on Joshi. He said that an anti-Shiv Sena political mobilisation by Ganesh Naik, Suresh Nawale and Gulabrao Gawande, Shiv Sena Ministers who had been dropped from the Government, had served to keep Joshi in power. Rane concluded that the possibility of a split in the Shiv Sena was kept alive by Joshi for this very reason. The fact that Bal Thackeray did not reprimand Rane for this outburst was lost on no one. Later, Bal Thackeray said that if the Bombay High Court passed any strictures against Joshi in the course of an ongoing litigation over a property transaction involving Joshi's son-in-law Girish Vyas, he would be removed from his post immediately.

Around the same time, the BJP began a flanking operation against Joshi. Munde tabled the contents of a Criminal Investigation Department inquiry into a controversial Sahara India resort project in which Joshi appeared to have shown more than a little personal interest (Frontline, January 9, 1998). The BJP made clear its displeasure with regard to the allegations of corruption against Welfare Minister Babanrao Gholap, who was alleged to have embezzled funds meant for the development of members of backward castes. Thackeray's pet projects, including the supply of electricity free of cost to farmers and housing for 40 lakh slum residents and a massive wage increase for teachers, were systematically scuppered by the BJP. Joshi's inability to push through these proposals infuriated Thackeray.

However, Joshi's worst crime as perceived by the Shiv Sena chief was his failure to aid the Shiv Sena's pre-election mobilisation. As Thackeray's campaign against the India-Pakistan cricket series gathered momentum, Joshi was expected to use the State's resources to extend support. But when Munde ordered the arrest of 14 Shiv Sena workers for vandalising the office of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in Mumbai, Joshi proved powerless to respond. This is believed to have provoked Bal Thackeray's anger at a January 28 meeting of Shiv Sena Ministers. There was no point in having a Shiv Sena Government, he is said to have shouted, if the party cadre could not be protected from arrest. Sources told Frontline that Joshi's efforts to attribute responsibility to Munde only provoked the Shiv Sena chief further.

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In retrospect, the January 28 meeting sealed Joshi's fate. Bal Thackeray made clear his displeasure over the arrests of the party cadre and what he felt was the inability of Shiv Sena Ministers to push through the party agenda.

If Bal Thackeray expected a new aggression from Joshi, he was to be disappointed. At a meeting of the coordination committee of the BJP and the Shiv Sena on January 29, which was attended by Bal Thackeray, Pramod Mahajan, Uddhav Thackeray, Manohar Joshi, State BJP president Suryabhan Wahadane and the BJP's former general secretary Sharad Kulkarni, Munde ensured that his party got its way. Earlier, Shiv Sena-inspired directives such as raising the age of retirement for government employees from 58 years to 60 years were revoked. A separate department for the welfare of nomadic tribes was created, and Munde's demand for a hike in the procurement prices of cotton was accepted in principle. Thackeray's proposal to supply electricity to farmers free of cost failed to get through after the BJP questioned the feasibility of a Rs. 800-crore budgetary provision required to implement the plan. The ease with which the BJP triumphed at the coordination committee meeting may have been the proverbial last straw.

RANE'S first action after taking over as Chief Minister was to strip Joshi's confidants of important portfolios and empower Ministers perceived as being close to the Thackeray family. Independent MLAs who support the Government emphasised their centrality to the survival of the regime by securing 10 ministerial berths, two more than what they had during Joshi's tenure. A spate of transfer orders have been issued to bureaucrats too.

Besides, decision-making in the government itself is in the process of being transformed. Cabinet meetings will now be preceded by a meeting of four Ministers, in which Rane, Munde and Finance Minister Mahadev Shivankar will, in consultation with the Minister concerned, arrive at a decision on issues. The subsequent Cabinet meeting will serve only to authorise this decision formally.

Perhaps the most significant of all will be the political consequences. Although the BJP reacted with smug satisfaction when it heard of Joshi's dismissal, it is not clear for how long the complacency will last. Much of the BJP's political strategy is premised on ensuring that the factions of the Republican Party of India do not ally with the Congress(I). This alignment proved catastrophic for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in the Lok Sabha elections. The appointment of Sanghpriya Gautam, a one-time associate of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, as the general secretary of the Maharashtra BJP unit also signals the party's determination to find a Dalit constituency. Leaders of the BJP believe that if Joshi's exit will enable them to win back their upper-caste constituency from the Shiv Sena, Rane's Maratha credentials will leave them free to pursue their programme of expansion among Dalits.

Rane could, however, turn the tables on the BJP. For one, the Shiv Sena seems set to return to a more sharply communal agenda than what it pursued in its first four years in power. Its vitriolic attacks on Dilip Kumar and Shabana Azmi during its campaign seeking a ban on the screening of Deepa Mehta's film Fire and its agitation against the India-Pakistan cricket series appear to be mere rehearsals for bigger mobilisations. Such mobilisations would attract much of the BJP's core Hindutva constituency and sabotage its hopes of emerging as the principal party of the political Right in Maharashtra. Secondly, Rane is unlikely to be as ineffectual as Joshi was in resisting the BJP's claims to a large share of power. Finally, Rane could succeed in strengthening the Shiv Sena by bringing back dissidents such as Ganesh Naik into its fold.

CURIOUSLY, the Congress(I) appears to be wholly ineffectual in its response to latest developments. Both Madhukar Pichad and Chhagan Bhujbal, leaders of the party in Maharashtra's Assembly and Legislative Council respectively, have promised to lobby with independents and Shiv Sena dissidents in the build-up to the confidence vote Rane will face in the Assembly on February 17. However, Bhujbal left for Kerala on February 3 to undergo ayurvedic treatment there - a sign that is not indicative of energetic political resolve. Sharad Pawar too is believed to be hurt by party president Sonia Gandhi's apparent endorsement of forces hostile to him during her recent campaign in Maharashtra. Except for ritual condemnations of the Government's conduct, the Congress(I) does not appear to have a coherent plan.

That could prove to be costly in the months to come. Many people believe that Rane's rise to power could enable the Shiv Sena to strengthen further its presence in Maharashtra's politics. Signs of a strengthening of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance are already evident. Twenty-six of the 44 independent MLAs (the highest number so far to support the Government formally) have written to the Governor, expressing their support for Rane. These developments have come at a time when the Congress(I) appears unlikely to sustain its successful Lok Sabha alliances with the Samajwadi Party and the factions of the RPI for the Assembly elections in 2000. If Rane provides a reasonably efficient government and if the Shiv Sena succeeds in generating communal polarisation, the Congress(I) may just be in for an unpleasant surprise in March 2000.

The real face of the Shiv Sena

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LYLA BAVADAM

THE first press conference Narayan Tatu Rane addressed as Chief Minister of Maharashtra lasted just 30 minutes. Rane looked impassively at the gathering of journalists. No bluster, no laughter, no bonhomie: he pointedly ignored even the laughter that followed a joke cracked by Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde. Rane was clearly not interested in emulating the genial image nurtured by his predecessor Manohar Joshi. He had chosen to portray the Shiv Sena's real face.

When the 47-year-old Maratha leader, a native of the coastal district of Sindhudurg, was sworn in Chief Minister on February 1, no one doubted the fact that his appointment was the result of his absolute loyalty to the Thackeray family.

Rane's 'career' in the Shiv Sena began more than 25 years ago. After passing his Secondary School Certificate examination in 1970, Rane got a job as a clerk in the Income Tax Department. Around the same time he joined the Shiv Sena and remained an active member of the party's branch in Chembur in north Mumbai. He was made a shakha pramukh in 1984. The following year he was given the party ticket for the Bombay Municipal Corporation.

During his years as a corporator, Rane's loyalty to the Thackerays started bearing fruit. With a little help from Raj Thackeray, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's nephew, Rane became the Chairman of the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking with an annual budget of Rs. 1,500 crores. The three years he spent in the coveted post helped him hone his administrative skills. In 1995, when the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition came to power in the State, Rane's loyalty finally paid off again. He was made Minister for Dairy Development and Fisheries. Later he was given the Revenue portfolio.

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In a manner of speaking, Rane has been a Chief Minister-in-waiting for nearly two years. He almost achieved his goal about six months ago, but a stroke of tactical genius on the part of Manohar Joshi delayed his moment of glory. The rift between Joshi and Bal Thackeray was public knowledge and the axe was expected to fall on Joshi any time. However, Joshi pre-empted the move to sack him by floating a rumour that implied that Thackeray's decision to dismiss him was being guided by the BJP. This move, however, lengthened Joshi's tenure by only a few months.

Rane's appointment has been welcomed by the Shiv Sena cadre, bureaucrats and the BJP. He is said to be a good administrator, a quality which, bureaucrats say, Joshi did not possess. At his first press conference, Rane told mediapersons that he was determined to start his working day early and ensure that efficiency became a byword in Mantralaya - a work ethic that seems to be at odds with the Shiv Sena's style of functioning.

In 1991 Rane was named an accused in the case relating to the murder of a Sindhudurg district Youth Congress leader, Sridhar Naik. He was acquitted, but his political opponents allege that he is not unfamiliar with the underworld. In the 1980s, when the Shiv Sena fought the State elections, Rane campaigned in the Konkan region and succeeded in garnering the support of a few districts for the Shiv Sena.

Joshi was nominated Chief Minister in March 1995 after the Shiv Sena-BJP combine came to power mainly owing to his polish and poise. He was the presentable face of the Shiv Sena. In contrast, Rane is more representative of the Shiv Sena. For its part, the BJP appears to be willing to turn a blind eye to this fact. As one leader remarked: "Joshi was an armchair politician. Rane has risen from the ranks, he has taken part in street agitations."

Rane's administrative abilities and grassroots-level work are expected to strengthen his position as Chief Minister. Added to this is the fact that he is backed by the entire Thackeray family, including its latest power wielder, Smita Thackeray, Bal Thackeray's daughter-in-law. Clearly, with so many godfathers to please, Rane will toe their line and not repeat the mistakes of Joshi.

'We will work with Rane'

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Interview with Gopinath Munde.

The euphoria in the Bharatiya Janata Party in the wake of the sacking of Manohar Joshi appears to have given way to a mood of reflection. The party at first saw in Joshi's removal from the chief ministership an opportunity to reassert its authority, which had diminished considerably after humiliation was heaped on it recently by the Shiv Sena over the India-Pakistan cricket series. Some BJP leaders, however, believe that the party only stands to lose from its association with a controversial Chief Minister. And more important, an aggressive Shiv Sena consolidation could erode the BJP's own political constituency.

In this interview to Praveen Swami, BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde, a central figure in his party's battles with Manohar Joshi, discussed the issues in the context of the Assembly elections that are due in Maharashtra next year. His replies were guarded and there were few signs of the glee that his party had expressed days earlier on the political developments. Excerpts:

The BJP seems delighted that Narayan Rane has become Chief Minister. What is the reason for this?

There is no question of us being either happy or unhappy. The appointment of the Chief Minister is the Shiv Sena's prerogative. We have no role to play in it. We were working with Manohar Joshi, and we will work with Narayan Rane.

There has been a great deal of speculation in the media about whether the BJP was consulted on the decision to remove Joshi, and whether it pressed for the decision. What are the facts?

People imagine a lot of things. The BJP was told one day before Joshi was removed that the Shiv Sena had decided on a leadership change. There were no consultations before the Shiv Sena pramukh (Bal Thackeray) made his decision. He informed (Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting) Pramod Mahajan of the decision, so we knew what was going to happen. Joshi himself had not, I think, been told at that stage.

One of the reasons offered for Rane's appointment as Chief Minister is that it will help end the BJP-Shiv Sena conflict. Do you agree? Have the basic reasons for the conflict been solved?

There were three basic issues. Two of them have been solved. The first was whether or not cotton procurement prices should be raised. They have been raised, to our satisfaction. Then, we were demanding a separate secretariat for backward caste communities' development. That issue has also been resolved as we asked. The pending dispute is over the pricing of electricity supplied to farmers. When the other two issues could be solved, this one can be resolved as well. It will be dealt with in the coordination committee and an answer found.

There were also other issues, notably Bal Thackeray's campaign against the India-Pakistan cricket series. Joshi was not responsible for that dispute.

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That has also been resolved, hasn't it? Thackeray refused to let Pakistan play, and then he suspended his decision. He has agreed to let them play here for one year. In that year, I believe we will work together, and come to a better understanding through dialogue. Narayan Rane and I will work well together.

Another important allegation against Joshi was that he was shielding corrupt Ministers, notably Babanrao Gholap. But Gholap, whom your party has criticised, continues in the Cabinet. And the Chief Minister was an accused in a murder case.

There were certainly allegations against Gholap. When there is no final evidence in the matter, how can he be acted against? If there is evidence of corruption, the Minister will of course be removed. Allegations are one thing and conviction is another. And, in any case, the Shiv Sena's Ministers are their responsibility. Our Ministers are our responsibility. As for Rane, the court acquitted him and said he had nothing to do with the murder. To argue otherwise is to insult the court.

In some ways, the decision to remove Joshi seems reminiscent of Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma's fate in Delhi. That move backfired on the BJP. Could that happen with the Shiv Sena here?

The situation in Maharashtra is not like the situation in Delhi. There the problem was not the Chief Minister, but the prices of onions and so on. And the other important factor is that the new Chief Minister came to power after the elections were notified and the code of conduct was operational. She had no time to work. Here the new Chief Minister has a year until the elections. Here the Chief Minister has an opportunity to do something positive.

Elections seem to be on the BJP's mind as well. That the new State party chief, Sanghapriya Gautam, was an associate of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar has obvious symbolism.

I am delighted that Gautam has been placed in charge of our party, and this has a positive message for society. That an associate of Dr. Ambedkar leads our party is an honour for us. In this coming election I believe that unlike in 1996 the Congress(I) will not be able to forge a united front with the Samajwadi Party and the Republican Party of India (RPI). It seems clear that after Sonia Gandhi entered politics, she has rejected the earlier policy of allying with Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In fact, she seems to have rejected alliances of any kind. They cannot have an alliance here when they do not have one there. And the RPI itself has split. Prakash Ambedkar has set up a separate party, which won seats against the combined might of the Congress(I) and Ramdas Athavle's RPI group in the recent zilla parishad polls. This makes clear that the name of Ambedkar has great force among the Dalit masses. It seems to me that Prakash Ambedkar and other parties could put together a strong third force. The success he had at Akola could be replicated State-wide.

Which will benefit the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance...

(Munde laughs, but does not reply.)

Massacre in Shankarbigha

The Republic Day-eve massacre of 23 Dalits by the Ranbir Sena has further intensified the strife between upper-caste landlords and naxalites in central Bihar and strengthened the political mobilisation against the Rabri Devi Government.

TWENTY-THREE residents of Shankarbigha village in Bihar's Jehanabad district, all from families of landless agricultural workers belonging to the backward communities of Paswan, Chamar, Dushads and Rajwar, were murdered in cold blood on January 25. The killers were members of the outlawed Ranbir Sena, a private army of upper-caste Bhumihar landlords. Five women and seven children, including a 10-month-old, were among those killed.

The incident is but part of a series of massacres that mark the recent history of the central Bihar districts. Killings have occurred with frightful regularity - in Arwal and Kansara in 1986, Golakpur (1987), Malibigha (1988), Lakhawar (1990), Sawanbigha (1992), Aiara (1994), Khadasin (1997), Lakshmanpur-Bathe (1997) and Chouram and Rampur (1998).

Shankarbigha is located near Lakshmanpur-Bathe where the Ranbir Sena killed 61 agricultural workers belonging to backward communities in December 1997. To the east of Shankarbigha is Dhobibigha, a village dominated by upper-caste Bhumihars. To its north is Chouram, another Bhumihar village, where a landlord was killed by naxalites in retaliation for the Lakshmanpur-Bathe massacre. Consi-dering the intense caste and class struggles that go on in central Bihar, Shankarbigha's 68 households were clearly vulnerable. It was more so after the Ranbir Sena's self-styled chief, Brahmeshwar Singh, told a local Hindi daily that his army had planned a genocide much larger in scale than the one it carried out in Lakshmanpur-Bathe, to avenge the killing of seven persons belonging to an upper caste by naxalites at Rampur in November 1998. He stated that the site of the massacre had been chosen and the targets identified. Preparations for the operation were under way, he said.

On the eve of Republic Day, about 100 Ranbir Sena activists carrying firearms descended on Shankarbigha, 126 km from Patna, around 10-30 p.m. They broke into huts and opened fire on people who were asleep. The objectives of the killers were, first, to terrorise the residents, who were getting attracted to the ideology of two prominent naxalite groups - the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity - and, second, to seek to establish the supremacy of landlords.

According to reports, the killers entered Shankarbigha, which is not accessible by road, by crossing a canal branching off from the Sone river. Ramnath, whose sister and her three children were killed, said: "The toll would have been higher had people from neighbouring villages such as Dhebai, Rupsagarbigha and Karamchebigha not opened fire. Before fleeing the village, the killers shouted 'Ranbir Baba ki jai' (Long live Ranbir Baba) and 'Ranbir Sena jinda rahenge' (Ranbir Sena will remain alive)." Brahmeshwar Singh had declared in the wake of the Rampur killings: "Hum saat ka badla shatak se lenge" (we will avenge the murder of seven of our men by killing 100 people).

Eyewitnesses said the assailants came from the villages of Dhobibigha and Shahbajpur and escaped towards Dhobibigha. They took just 20 minutes for the operation. The survivors were too numb to react. Six-year-old Tarania said she crept under bundles of hay with her one-year-old brother while her mother was shot in the chest. Sonadhari lost her only son and a daughter. The six-member family of Mohali Paswan was wiped out. Jagmohan Sah, his wife and one of their two sons were killed. Bindheswar is among the 14 persons who were seriously injured and are being treated at the Patna Medical College Hospital. He scaled a mud wall and hid himself in a mustard field.

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At the break of dawn, people from nearby villages made a beeline for Shankarbigha. The bodies were strewn around, and the villagers did not allow the police to remove them until Chief Minister Rabri Devi visited the village. "Give us guns, not compensation. We do not want your money. We want to fight with those who have been killing us and moving around freely," Ramwatia Devi told Rabri Devi when she visited the village along with her husband and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav the following day.

Rabri Devi promised to bring the guilty to book. But the villagers pointed out that the perpetrators of the Lakshmanpur-Bathe carnage were yet to be arrested. The Chief Minister announced a compensation of Rs.1.4 lakhs, free rations for six months, a government job and pucca houses for the victims' kin. She also announced that a special court would be set up to try the accused: 24 of them have been identified and six arrested from Dhobibigha village. The administration imposed a collective fine on Dhobibigha village.

Describing the attack as a mindless massacre, police officials of Magadh range said that they had no information about Shankarbigha's residents having links with naxalite groups. Some of them might be supporters of the CPI(M-L) Liberation and the CPI(M-L) Party Unity, but they are poor landless people earning their livelihood by toiling in the fields of the Bhumihars. There were no reports of any land dispute either. Ramjatan Sharma, secretary of the Bihar unit of the CPI(M-L), which claims a marginal following in the village, said: "The villagers are not actively involved in naxalite politics, and we are not leading a movement at Shankarbigha."

THE killings at Shankarbigha and Lakshmanpur-Bathe have focussed attention on the Ranbir Sena and Brahmeshwar Singh. The Ranbir Sena was formed in August 1994 by the landlords of Bhojpur district with the objective of wiping out the naxalite movement in the State by killing their supporters and sympathisers. No important member of the Sena has been arrested till date. Brahmeshwar Singh - a farmer who owns 97 bighas of land - was arrested on two occasions earlier but was released.

Brahmeshwar Singh, a graduate from the Jain College in Arra, along with Dharicharan Chowdhury, a prosperous landlord of Belaur village in Bhojpur district, organised the Ranbir Sena and started the mass killing of Dalits and the landless in order to terrorise them into staying away from naxalites. The Ranbir Sena has 300 well-trained Bhumihar youths as its members and has sophisticated arms in its possession. The Sena has insured the lives of its activists and provides them monthly allowances and other benefits. It depends on the Bhumihar community for financial support. That political patronage, cutting across party and caste lines, is available to the Sena is evident from the fact that despite an official ban no major crackdown has been launched against it.

The situation in central Bihar has become grim with the outlawed naxalite group, the CPI(M-L) People's War, retaliating against the Shankarbigha killings. The People's War is a new, ultra-Left outfit formed with the merger of the People's War Group of Andhra Pradesh and the CPI(M-L) Party Unity of Bihar. An eye for an eye being the guiding principle of politics in Bihar, the CPI(M-L) PW killed two suspected associates of the Ranbir Sena - Bageswar Sharma, a leader of the Jehanabad district unit of the Communist Party of India, and his son Lalan - at Usri Kharia village on January 27, barely 8 km from Shankarbigha.

The retaliatory action is likely to worsen the Ranbir Sena-naxalite strife. Issuing a press statement over telephone, Ranbir Sena's spokesman Shamsher Bahadur Singh claimed responsibility for the Shankarbigha massacre and said that it was a warning to the naxalites. He said that blood would continue to flow unless naxalites restrained themselves.

The CPI(M-L) PW has, meanwhile, come out with a hit list; it has vowed to eliminate the Ranbir Sena and its chief. It said that it had chosen 119 Ranbir Sena targets, which included 35 hideouts and 32 villages. "We will impose capital punishment on the killers and their sympathisers in a ruthless manner," the State secretary of the CPI(M-L) PW, who calls himself Shravana, told journalists.

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Shravana said his party would continue a sustained campaign against the Sena. As part of this, the CPI(M-L) PW has urged agricultural workers to widen and deepen their economic blockade against rich landlords. Land disputes are at the core of the strife between the Ranbir Sena and the naxalites. "We are going to take drastic steps. We will deliver death to people who carried out the massacres," he said.

THE Shankarbigha massacre drew a chorus of condemnation from various quarters. President K.R. Narayanan virtually ticked off the Bihar Government for laxity and called for "stringent and urgent action" against persons responsible for the slaughter. "Law-enforcing agencies have a responsibility, by timely and decisive intervention, to prevent recurrence of such acts and obvious reprisal action," President Narayanan said in a statement.

On January 30, the Janata Dal and the Left parties, including the CPI(M-L) Liberation, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the CPI observed a bandh in Bihar.

Using the Shankarbigha massacre as another piece of evidence of lawlessness in Bihar, Governor Sunder Singh Bhandari has presented to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, a fresh case for the dismissal of the Rabri Devi Government. Nearly five months ago Bhandari had made out a case for dismissing the State Government on the grounds of constitutional breakdown in the State, but the President returned for reconsideration a recommendation to this effect by the Union Cabinet.

The massacre has made the detractors of Laloo Prasad renew their demand for President's Rule in Bihar. The Bharatiya Janata Party-Samata Party alliance, which has consistently demanded the imposition of President's Rule, has been joined by the Janata Dal's sole Member of Parliament from Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan. A Janata Dal delegation met the President and submitted a memorandum seeking the dismissal of the RJD Government.

However, the BJP's efforts to gain political mileage from the carnage and put the Rabri Devi Government on the mat have been undermined by the intense power struggle in the party's State unit. While the pro-Mandal and pro-Other Backward Classes (OBC) sections in the Bihar BJP, led by Sushil Modi, Sarju Rai and Nand Kishore Yadav, are believed to be keen to use the Shankarbigha killings to win over the OBCs, the Central leader in charge of the State BJP, Kailashpati Mishra, does not want to antagonise Bhumihars and Thakurs. Besides, the Bihar BJP is a weaker force incapable of planning an effective campaign against the RJD Government. The party suffers from groupism and rivalry following the recent expulsion of three of its leaders - Tarakant Jha, former State president, Yashodanand Singh, former State vice-president, and Kameshwar Paswan, former MP.

THE Left parties' fresh campaign against the growing lawlessness in Bihar under Rabri Devi seems to be an uncomfortable development for Laloo Prasad as it stands in the way of his efforts to make an entry into the proposed Third Front. The CPI and the CPI(M) are not inclined to share a platform with the RJD chief against whom the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is preparing fresh charge-sheets in the fodder scam cases. Laloo Prasad's joy on being released on interim bail on January 8 appears to be short-lived as the CBI has completed the field work for filing charge-sheets in at least three cases - RC-5A/98, RC-42A/96 and RC-38A/96. The first case deals with possession of assets disproportionate to his known sources of income and the second and third pertain to the conspiracy aspect of the Rs.950-crore fodder scam.

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Laloo Prasad may be remanded to judicial custody again once the CBI charge-sheets him in RC-5A/98 and the designated court takes cognizance of it. Laloo Prasad has secured bail in RC-20A/96 and RC-64A/96. U.N. Biswas, Joint Director of the CBI, has submitted a progress report on the investigations into the various cases to the Patna High Court Bench which monitors the case.

The RJD chief, who is lying low for now, is not politically comfortable. He has virtually lost an ally: the Congress(I) is on the verge of withdrawing support to the Rabri Devi Government.

Assembly elections in Bihar are due by March 2000. With several fodder scam cases pending against him, Laloo Prasad is not too sure if he would be able to campaign for his party then.

State of Sri Lankan art

The 1940s and 1950s marked the most significant period in the history of painting and sculpture in 20th century Sri Lanka. A new anti-colonial group of artists became active during this period of political and cultural revival.

IN attempting to locate in perspective the position of the fine arts in Sri Lanka, I would like to draw attention to two events that took place in February 1998 - two art exhibitions organised by two different groups to mark 50 years of Sri Lankan Independence. The state, acting through the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, was responsible for one exhibition, while the other was organised by a group of young artists.

These two events captured and displayed starkly the past and present failures, successes and hopes of the fine arts in Sri Lanka. The exhibition organised by the state included 256 works by well-known artists from the past as well as the present. It also included the works of lesser-known contemporary artists. All this work quite literally covered much of the wall space of the National Art Gallery in Colombo, where the exhibition took place. The other exhibition was held at another well-known art venue, the Lionel Wendt Art Gallery, Colombo, where the works of only 11 contemporary artists were exhibited. The demands and challenges of present realities were reflected in the ideology, methodology and content of the works of these artists. Both these exhibitions drew critical evaluations from numerous sources for different reasons. While the state-sponsored exhibition was critiqued for its unprofessional management and total lack of curatorial sense, the other one was faulted for its lack of conventional aestheticism that could be called truly Sri Lankan. The bottom line is that while one was located on a conventional ideological premise, the other was placed in a context that searched for new concepts in art, which challenged the established and over-hacked conventions. To assess this dichotomous position of the Sri Lankan art scene and its prevailing politics, one has to go beyond the contemporary and trace the history of its evolution in the post-Independence era.

At this point, I would suggest that the art history I attempt to trace is the history of modern art in Sri Lanka. One should also note that the practice of traditional art continues alongside modern art. By traditional art I mean artistic production based - at least to some extent - on conventions of pre-colonial traditions, styles and methodologies, which have also much to do with religion and ritual. However, contemporary mainstream art in the secular sense in Sri Lanka is derived from the European art traditions that were introduced by the British in the latter part of the 19th century.

The history of modern visual arts in Sri Lanka in the post-Independence era cannot be discussed without going further back into moments and processes in the pre-Independence period. This is for the simple reason that most of the changes and new developments in art in the post-Independence era, if there were any, were either initiated or were the outcome of events that took place before 1948. At the beginning of the century, the most influential art body was the Ceylon Society of Arts, established in 1891 under British patronage. It focussed mainly on promoting painting, sculpture and photography that was representative of Victorian academism of the European art tradition. In 1920, the Ceylon Art Club was established by the painter C.E. Winzer, an Inspector of Art in Schools who was appointed by the colonial British Government. It promoted an outlook on art different from the orthodox views of the Ceylon Society of Arts. It had considerable impact on the painters and their work at the time, which was later manifested in the 43 Group in the 1940s. Another art body, the Arts Council of Ceylon, was established in 1951 to promote and revive traditional art forms in regional areas. The post-Independence political elite believed that such art forms existed in these areas in a "purer" form. The majority of cultural events that took place during this time were sponsored, organised or initiated by the council. The present-day National Art Gallery, where a permanent collection of works by well-known Sri Lankan artists is on display, was initiated by the enthusiastic support of the Ceylon Society of Arts and its charismatic members. If there was an art awareness and revival in the immediate post-Independence period, much of the credit for that goes to the visionary capabilities of these art bodies and their enthusiastic members. The effects of the trends they created along with their ideologies and politics are felt to date in the field of art in Sri Lanka.

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The main institution for art education in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 20th century was the Colombo Technical College, which was established in the latter part of the 19th century and where courses in drawing and painting were conducted, among others. In 1949, a separate and autonomous body called the Government College of Fine Arts was created specifically to teach fine arts. In addition, independent ateliers maintained by different artists, offering a variety of art education, also existed. One such famous atelier was that of the artist A.C.G.S. Amerasekera under whose guidance most of the early members of the modern art movement, especially members of the 43 Group, got their initial art education.

THE 1940s and 1950s marked the most significant period in the history of painting and sculpture in 20th century Sri Lanka. In 1943, a group of artists, as a reaction to the prevailing ideology of painting which promoted restrictive academism, pseudo-oriental impersonations and imitations of the Victorian naturalism of Western art, established the 43 Group. The political and cultural revivals that were taking place in the country at the time did provide a backdrop for the formation of an ideological position for the group, which was a-colonial and anti-Victorian. The struggle for Independence was high in the political agenda of the local elite at the time, and nationalist sentiments were quite obvious on the cultural scene as well.

However, many of these artists were not opposed to contemporary art trends in Europe. For instance, the 43 Group absorbed inspiration from art movements in Paris and London as well as influences from India (some of the members had affiliations with Santiniketan). Coming from upper and upper-middle class families, these artists had the opportunity and the financial capability to have access to education that went far beyond national art education. Most of them at one time or another had had their art education in Paris and London where their works were exhibited regularly. They successfully fused the indigenous draughtsmanship and colour schemes with the idioms of the West in an original way that paved the way for a new hybrid form of painting to emerge. They created a secular painting tradition that was palatable within a Sri Lankan context, unlike the restrictive and culturally alien easel painting tradition introduced by the British and promoted by the Ceylon Society of Arts. Of the members of the 43 Group, painters such as George Keyt, Justin Daraniyagala, Richard Gabriel and Ivan Peries became well known beyond the borders of Sri Lanka. Lionel Wendt was a photographer and musician; he was also the formulator of the 43 Group. His death at the age of 44 cut off the source of energy behind the group. Then onwards the responsibility of mobilising the group fell on another member, Harry Pieris, who later donated his house and studio, now called the Sapumal Foundation, for the advancement of art in Sri Lanka.

In the immediate post-Independence era, there was a culmination of activities which tried to create, promote and give effect to an awareness of Sri Lankan art. These were part of a process of finding and building a cultural identity that could be called truly Sri Lankan, which was perhaps needed at the time. However, once the euphoria caused by Independence was over, the enthusiasm and grand visions for the advancement of art fizzled out. The influence, paradigms and premises of the 43 Group remained intact within modern art in Sri Lanka for a long time. They still continue to seduce artists as well as viewers within the contemporary art scene. This longstanding dependency on the 43 Group for inspiration in a way illustrates the stagnation experienced by the community of artists. Since the 43 Group, there has been no evidence of any major group or movement that pushed art into new ideological grounds. In this barren situation, artists like Tissa Ranasinghe, who initiated a style of sculpture equivalent to Alberto Giacometti, and painters Stanley Abeysinghe and H.A. Karunaratne did provide hope at certain moments. Nevertheless such moments merely remained sporadic, and they were unable to rescue Sri Lankan art from its paralysing slumber.

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If one tries to locate the state's intervention and contribution to art in the post-Independence period, certain important initiatives come to mind. These include the establishment of the Government College of Fine Arts (which later became the Institute of Aesthetic Studies of the University of Kelaniya) and the establishment of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. The Ministry was supposed to promote cultural activities with the help of the Arts Council of Ceylon. Even with such bureaucratic structures in place, the state failed to give an impetus to or create an atmosphere for the growth of arts or to conceive a vision for the future. Unfortunately, this state of affairs typifies much of post-Independence politics in Sri Lanka. The only school created for fine arts failed to produce artists who were capable of independent thought and action. Moreover, the rest of the state structures failed to bring about an awareness of art in society, which in turn produced an institutional base that was deaf, dumb and blind to art. Schools continue to give only minor attention to art education, while socialisation in the wider society represents art merely as a hobby. For some, painting was simply a decorative craft that adorned temple walls. This lack of art awareness among the general public prevented the emergence of progressive and interventionist structures that are necessary to support and promote art. No system of art galleries, art patrons, critics and dealers developed. Neither the private sector nor the public state sector came forward to establish an art museum or large, private or public collections. Without a supporting and endorsing apparatus and stuck with a public that is oblivious to art and a state that is without a vision, most local artists worked within their own confined spaces for the larger part of the 50 years after Independence.

THIS situation started changing to some extent in the 1980s, and at the moment there is a certain current that seems to stir and kindle innovativeness in the art community. In recent times a few artists have emerged, entertaining new ideological directions. Although the absence of a sophisticated operative structure in endorsing, promoting and marketing art persists, an interest has been created in certain sections of the public. It could be owing to many factors. For instance, even on a small scale some changes are happening in the Institute of Aesthetic Studies with the recruitment of a handful of lecturers who have been able to give a different ideological perspective to art. Consequently, in recent times the institute has produced a few promising artists. On the other hand, organisations such as the German Cultural Institute, the George Keyt Foundation, Alliance Francaise, the Heritage Gallery and the British Council began to provide significant patronage to local artists, particularly in terms of sponsoring and organising exhibitions. Similarly, the Vibhavi Academy of Fine Arts, an art institute initiated by Chandragupta Thenuwara, one of the new wave of artists, has been able to provide alternative art education that functions on an ideological position different from the conventional. More recently, a few private galleries have also emerged, opening up spaces for young artists to exhibit their work. One such gallery is the Heritage Gallery where the new wave of young artists regularly exhibit their work.

The culmination of all these factors has brought about a small but visible change in the community of local artists. Particularly, a group of young painters and sculptors, mostly based in Colombo, have been bold enough to formulate radical methodologies and ideologies that have allowed some of them to break away from the situation of stagnation referred to above. Some of the artists associated with this progressive group are Chandragupta Thenuwara, Jagath Weera- singhe, Druvinka, Balbir Bodh and Kingsley Goonetilleke. They have undertaken, quite successfully, to take Sri Lankan fine arts in new ideological directions. Being a practising painter and sculptor myself, I have close affinity with their work, beliefs and expectations. These artists represent a diverse set of aesthetic principles and methdologies but are united in their belief in creating an ideological perspective that goes beyond the modernist conventions established by their predecessors, the 43 Group. Based on a physical context located in the present sociality rather than the metaphysical and the spiritual of modernist art, these artists represent a different project. It is a project that enunciates their narratives about their own experiences in a way those very narratives demand. This project challenges the conventional aesthetics of modern art that have been popularised for nearly 50 years since the emergence of the 43 Group.

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Such derailment of popular acceptance and appreciation of aesthetics does not always bring in endorsement of the masses or the art connoisseurs in Colombo. The works of these artists have often drawn severe criticism and ridicule. It is obvious that a vast gap exists between this new art and the art consumers in their tastes as well as in their aesthetic epistemology. It would take much effort by these artists and those who endorse them to convince the masses into accepting their work as art, and bridge the divide that exists in the appreciation of art.

Anoli Perera is a sculptor and painter whose works have been exhibited in Sri Lanka and abroad.

Aspects of the English theatre

other

Covert cultural codes, priorities and preoccupations of the English-speaking elite in Sri Lanka manifested themselves in the changing theatre scene.

RUWANTHIE DE CHICKERA

The atmosphere was one of heavy anticipation. The audience was a slightly apprehensive English-speaking upper class, struggling to adjust to the withdrawal of colonial apron strings. "Cultured" cultural aliens in their land of birth, they were bent on constructing for themselves their own representative, public cultural agenda. An entire theatrical art form had to be created - ranging from language, through dress code and themes to presentation. The covert cultural codes, priorities and preoccupations of the English-speaking Sri Lankan bourgeoisie were about to manifest themselves in the type of theatre that it would or would not produce.

WHEN the curtain first went up on local English theatre in the 1940s, it was to reveal a rather sparse stage setting. The score was only a tentative tuning of a transplanted theatrical tradition. With no indigenous legacy and no exposure to parallel forms of local theatre, audiences were more than content to applaud rhapsodically the existing parochial British theatre. The most outstanding productions during this time were by the legendary Lyn Ludowyk, whose grasp of stagecraft and understanding of European drama made him the most successful and popular director of that era. He staged a number of established European dramas and also a few local farces. Unfortunately, the dividing line between stimulating theatre and mere entertainment seemed to be synonymous with the distinction between foreign and local drama. As Regi Siriwardena once said, the reason for this was probably an assumption that Ludowyk shared with the audience of his time - that "if you wanted to explore life deeply in the theatre, then you had to go to Shakespeare or Ibsen or Brecht, but if you wanted to present the local life on the stage, that could be material only for farce and caricature." However, Ludowyk played his part in setting the stage for the growth of Sri Lankan English theatre. A group of actors and actresses introduced by him trod the boards for several decades thereafter.

During the 1960s, Ernest MacIntyre, hailed as the most prolific and successful of Sri Lankan English playwrights, took the centrestage. The performing group formed by him, Stage and Set, presented established international plays in addition to MacIntyre's original plays. Treated to the sophisticated craftsmanship of his productions and provoked by the thematic relevance of his plays, the expanding English-speaking audience developed a taste for political and social drama and grew to proportions that could easily sustain a play for several days at the Lionel Wendt Theatre in Colombo. During this time there was an encouraging growth in the interaction between the English and Sinhala theatrical worlds.

MacIntyre's emigration in the 1970s brought a lull of about seven years. The ethnic riots of 1983 and the intervening cultural changes saw a depletion of the size of the audiences and the number of performers alike. Many theatre people emigrated, and those who stayed on either hovered about off-stage, or, like Iranganie Serasinghe, channelled their talents towards the English theatre's bigger and more courageous cousin - the Sinhala theatre. Mention must be made of the brilliant cameo performance by Richard de Zoysa, who charmed and challenged his audience by his outstanding talents as an actor and as a director. In addition to his brilliant theatrical prowess, de Zoysa possessed a sensitivity to social change and a desire to communicate across class and cultural barriers, a combination that placed him securely in the limelight until his tragic exit.

AFTER an unduly prolonged intermission, audiences were lured back into the theatre to the overtures of the established local comedies of the 1930s and 1940s like "Well", "Mudaliyar" and "He comes from Jaffna". Although hackneyed, these farces, sustained essentially by racist and classist innuendoes, proved immensely popular. It seemed that the 621 members of the bourgeoisie seated in the Lionel Wendt Theatre derived much delight from a village yokel fumbling his way through the play and the Queen's English. But these comedies, however reliable crowd-pullers they may have been, could only serve as appetisers. The main course would have to be considerably more substantial and creative if it were to sustain its audience.

However, these comedies succeeded in bringing audiences back to the theatre once again. Directors became confident enough to find their own speciality and variation within the widening theatre scene. Making entrances at this stage were directors such as Mohammed Adamaly, who introduced a series of established British farces and thrillers, Indu Dharmasena, who has written and produced a series of local satirical plays, and Jerome L. de Silva, who established an amateur theatre group, The Workshop Players, which showed a strong inclination towards well-known musicals such as "Oliver", "Cats" and "Les Miserables".

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Although these were definite attempts to throw back the curtains of English theatre, the improvisations tended to remain within certain "safe" zones. Siriwardena articulates the reality bluntly when he says, "English-language theatre is dying of a surfeit of spectacular foreign musicals and trivial local farces." Over the past few years, local English theatre has been the platform for a disproportionately large number of musicals and comedies. This diffidence could be because audiences have come to expect theatre to snuggle up within the plush comfort zones of "entertainment". What is interesting is that though the composition of the audience had changed considerably, expectations of the theatre appeared to have remained unchanged and unchallenging. The aversion towards more serious theatre could stem from lack of interest; or it could be due to a need for release from stress in everyday life. Far worse was perhaps the suggestion in a review of a recent political drama ("Widows") that this sort of drama fails to make an impact within an environment of tension and suffering: "Sometimes we've heard their tragic accounts too often for their agony to register beyond a mere nodding sympathy. We have become blase about husbands, brothers, lovers, sons lost to their women as casualties of war. Thus the play was at most a chord but only tangentially."

This may be too brash a generalisation, but nonetheless English-language dramatists in Sri Lanka seem to have produced a popular formula for escapism that appeals to the majority. English-language theatre has been out of sync with the volatile backdrop that the country represents today. There has been apparent apathy on its part to the contemporary political and social realities of Sri Lanka.

The stage-fright that directors seem to have developed with regard to staging political drama is tied up with the bleak funding prospects available for this type of theatre. English theatre is low priority and receives no financial support from the state. Producers depend either on their own funds or on corporate sponsorship, which is of course driven by the box-office. The narrower the target audience, the less likely is the chance of breaking even. So, to keep the plays afloat, the tastes of the mainstream audience need to be catered to. Imported theatre, musicals and comedies seem to be what bring the audience back to the theatre.

If political drama of any sort is accepted, it goes down best when it is hidden within the folds of the British Council auditorium or is presented metaphorically, with universalised issues, ambiguous connections and diluted responsibility. There are directors who have subscribed to this; most markedly, Feroze Kamardeen, who is making his mark as a director who deals with political and social issues. A politically charged and highly revamped production of "Julius Caesar: An Anatomy of an Assassination" and a production of Ariel Dorfman's political play "Widows" were both set in foreign countries of political unrest, and though the insinuations and parallels were painfully explicit the punch was padded when it fell. A review that appeared in the Sunday Leader on May 24, 1998 dealt with this aspect (perhaps a little too dismissively). "While the issues treated in 'Widows' became universally relevant, they became socially ineffectual. Perhaps to treat it as if it happened here would have made it a valid work of art. Instead it was a valid production of drama in that it observed theatrical norms within contemporary expectations."

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With the production of "Widows", however, a point has been notched up in favour of serious or political drama. The encouraging ticket sales and the impassioned response such plays provoke suggested there was an audience yearning for political theatre.

The English-language theatre appears to be on the threshold of change. Recent productions have boasted a high level of technical competence, and the limits of the theatre appear to be only in the imagination of the directors and the abilities of the performers. A young and enthusiastic group of people waiting impatiently in the wings for the cue, coupled with experienced directors, willing sponsors and a potentially adventurous audience - the cast seems well equipped to treat its audience to a sterling performance. Whether the enthusiasm of directors, performers and the audience would be able to give a lift to the standards and jostle the boundaries of the existing theatrical traditions will determine either the growth or the demise of a theatre that has remained in an embryo stage for far too long.

Ruwanthie de Chickera is an actress and a playwright. She has performed in several English-language plays staged in Colombo. She won the best South Asian play award in the British Council International Playwriting Competition in 1997.

Between Home and the World

In the decades after Independence, Sinhala drama, which was once relegated to the periphery of cultural life, emerged into the spotlight as a vibrant mode of artistic expression.

SINHALA drama, in common with most other contemporary art forms of Sri Lanka, occupies a bipolar universe characterised by a complex set of tensions and associations occurring between the traditional and the modern, the indigenous and the foreign, or in a Tagorean phrase, between the home and the world. This situation is in large measure the product of certain features that are peculiar to the culture and to the historical circumstances surrounding them. Among these, the most important factor has been the relatively low social status accorded to mimetic and performative arts. Sinhala literature, which has a distinguished tradition going back to early medieval times, eschewed drama altogether. Until almost the beginning of this century, the theatrical arts were confined to the folk domain. And since folk theatre was tied to single texts or a cluster of specific texts concerning myth and legend, dramatic writing remained a virtually unknown craft in Sinhala society.

This situation changed marginally during the latter half of the 18th century with the emergence of a form of theatre known as nadagam. A folk theatre strongly influenced by the Catholic Church, and originally dedicated to the enactment of biblical tales, nadagam progressively turned into a vehicle of popular entertainment divorced from liturgical texts. It thus created a demand for new texts, and the habit of dramatic composition, albeit at a rather crude level, came into being. Writing for nadagam, however, never left the folk stratum.

The arrival of Parsi or 'company' theatre in the penultimate decade of the 19th century marked a major turning point in the history of Sinhala drama. Known in Sinhala as nurti, the Parsi theatre captured audiences in much the same way that another Mumbai product - the Hindi film - was to do several decades later. Nurti was a form of entertainment the likes of which had not been witnessed in the country before. It offered action, costume, song, dance, colour, magic, spectacle - a conflation that proved an immediate hit with the urban, educated Sinhala public as well as with the working classes.

Nurti, an ungainly hybrid with little to recommend it artistically, had a long-lasting impact on Sinhala culture. Its captivating melodies invigorated the process that led to the adoption of the North Indian ragadhari school as their classical music discipline by the Sinhala people. At the same time, nurti also initiated and promoted the activity of formal dramatic composition in the Sinhala language, for the commercial stage had to be fed with new plays.

The pieces written for the nurti stage by Sinhala writers reflected the ethos of the times. Although never openly anti-British, or contemporary in character and situation, these plays gave voice to the rising chorus of nationalist sentiment. The playwrights recalled a glorious past and rallied the people against alien habits and values. Despite its popularity - or rather because of it - nurti was unable to develop into a mature and sinewy dramatic form. An urban-based commercial enterprise, nurti could not survive the challenge of motion pictures, especially that of the products of Mumbai and Chennai. By the 1930s, the curtain had come down on nurti as a regular stage presence. However, the lacuna was filled before long by another species of 'company' theatre - one that followed the basic structure of nurti but dealt with contemporary characters and situations. These plays addressed such social issues as caste and the dowry system, in a manner resembling Hindi and Tamil films.

Once more, however, Sinhala drama was swallowed by film. This time, though, the post-nurti stage establishment volitionally embraced this fate. Beginning in 1947, theatrical professionals gave up the stage altogether and began converting their repertory for the silver screen. (This, incidentally, was how the Sinhala film came into being.) Plays became films, often preserving their inherent theatrical structures. The departure of theatrical personalities and their popular wares to South Indian studios (where the actual conversion was done) spelled the end of the professional Sinhala stage. What took its place, and has been evolving during the 50 years since Independence, is essentially a non-commercial theatre peopled by dedicated amateurs who do not expect to make a living from the stage. Since that time the money and rewards offered by theatre have not sufficed to provide an independent livelihood for its practitioners.

The roots of the Sinhala drama that succeeded the professional stage go back to exercises in translation and adaptation undertaken by the English-educated literati who were inspired by the example of modern Western drama. As in the case of most other Asian countries, there were in Sri Lanka groups of concerned individuals who wished to develop a drama that was both modern and yet accessible to an uninstructed audience. They hoped to achieve this end through the translation and adaptation of suitable Western plays. In Sri Lanka, the choice included Gogol, Chekhov and Moliere.

By the 1950s, this approach appeared to have reached something of a dead end. The modes of realism and naturalism had failed to produce works of substance, and indeed continued to look and sound rather alien to the Sinhala stage. Sinhala drama seemed to have lost all sense of direction and purpose. It was at this point that Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Sri Lanka's greatest playwright, came into the scene.

Sarachchandra, an academic by occupation, was a moderniser who was essentially Tagorean in spirit. Indeed, he had spent some of his formative years at Santiniketan and subscribed to the intercultural philosophy of Tagore. Sarachchandra, convinced that the direct emulation of Western forms was not the way forward for Sinhala drama, sought to attain a viable fusion of the Western and Asian modes. He further believed that drama was a poetic medium which, most properly, should concern itself with perennial themes, and not with quotidian issues. The use of poetry, music, song, dance and stylised gesture on the modern stage was entirely appropriate, he argued.

Sarachchandra's work for the stage followed these principles. Writing and directing the plays himself, he demonstrated outstanding poetic gifts and a sure grasp of modern stagecraft. Always working with 'found material' such as Buddhist Jataka stories and folk tales, he experimented with traditional theatrical forms. For his path-breaking "Maname" (1956), Sarachchandra employed the almost extinct nadagam form. This turned out to be an inspired choice, for the nadagam elegantly accommodated the theatrical vocabulary he favoured.

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"Maname" accomplished several objectives. While offering an exceptionally satisfying theatrical experience, the play validated the path that Sarachchandra sought to follow. It demonstrated that a productive fusion of the traditional and the modern was not only feasible on stage but desirable. As a shining example of new possibilities in theatre, "Maname" brought self-esteem and a mood of self-confidence into the sphere of Sinhala theatrical activity.

Over time, however, "Maname" and Sarachchandra's subsequent dramatic output, along with his general philosophy of theatre, generated an adverse critique. It was argued that Sarachchandra's kind of drama and the theatrical conventions he followed could neither reflect the actualities of contemporary society nor articulate thematic concerns of a social and political nature. It was also pointed out that Sarachchandra's preoccupation with so-called 'eternal values' deflected attention from the real and pressing issues of the day. The view was also expressed that the use of song, music and stylised gesture could lead to unwholesome aesthetic indulgence on stage.

The controversy centring on Sarachchandra's dramaturgy split the Sinhala theatre world into two camps. Although it failed to maintain a high level of understanding or historical knowledge, the debate was a necessary exercise - an evolutionary need, as it were - in a medium that was trying to define itself. However acrimonious at times, the exchanges had a salutary effect in the long run. They led to the realisation that drama and theatre do not permit facile categorisations.

Notwithstanding the authoritative role played by Western models in Sinhala drama, the general movement or progression has been towards the consolidation of a presentation or performative mode of theatre as opposed to the representational. Examples of authentic realism are infrequent on the Sinhala stage, and naturalism is practically unknown.

The thematic scope and the performative range of Sinhala drama palpably broadened after the advent of "Maname". From the 1960s onwards, material of a social and political tendency captured much of the theatrical space. The stage spoke loudly and passionately about problems and conflicts thrown up in a society undergoing rapid change on all fronts. Playwrights rode full tilt against the iniquities and injustices of the social order, the hypocrisies and dissemblings of those who sat in places of power, and the general decline of moral and ethical values. The Sinhala stage functioned as a sprightly forum of debate and discussion, moving away from the contemplative and the lyrical and favouring the rhetorical and the dialectical.

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During the years after "Maname", Sinhala drama enlisted the energies of succeeding generations and established itself as the most exciting and provocative medium of experiment and socio-political utterance in the country. But its artistic growth has hardly kept up the promise of the 1950s. The Sinhala theatre has shown an abundance of individual talent, but weak organisational structures together with the lack of professional commitment have stymied progress. Pre-censorship of texts has also been a discouraging factor for playwrights and producers. Nor has there been a substantial augmentation of the repertoire of plays available for production.

The profile of Sinhala drama changed radically within a decade of Independence. Over the decades, a medium once relegated to the periphery of cultural life emerged into the spotlight as a sinewy and vibrant mode of artistic expression. Two factors lay behind this metamorphosis. One was the confidently affirmative attitude towards traditional arts, which developed in the aftermath of Independence. The other was individual talent. The dissonances between tradition and modernity continue to persist on the Sinhala stage despite its eclectic and liberal approach to the craft. Perhaps these can never be fully resolved, given that drama cannot fail to mirror social and cultural conflict.

A.J. Gunawardena, who died in October 1998, was the Head of the Department of English at Sri Jayawardenapura University and also of the Institute of Aesthetic Studies. He was one of Sri Lanka's leading critics of theatre and film.

Of rewards and remembrances

other

While a sense of yearning and nostalgia continues to mark contemporary Sri Lankan writing in English, some writers have started to convey the intensity and impact of recent mega-events.

B.S. PRAKASH

IN 1992, Michael Ondaatje won the Booker Prize for The English Patient. The next year he gifted the prize money to institute a literary award in Sri Lanka, the Gratiaen Prize, for the country's best creative writing in English. There were some paradoxes in this inspired act of munificence. Ondaatje is from the island, but is a resident and citizen of Canada. While the setting of The English Patient is far removed from the green lusciousness of the Sri Lankan landscape, Ondaatje's poetry as in The Cinnamon Peeler and his celebrated return to his home country in the novel Running in the Family convey his strong sense of love and longing for the "tropical paradise".

Ondaatje's act of instituting an award caused a multiplier effect and has resulted in other diverse rewards. The Gratiaen Prize has steadily received more entries from within the English-reading and -writing community in Sri Lanka. In 1997, there were 37 entries. To look at the award-winning books, their writers and their concerns, then, is one way of focussing on contemporary writing in English in the country.

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At this point a tangential and personal note may be permitted. In an article on Sri Lankan writing in English for The Hindu's special supplement on the Sri Lankan Independence Day (February 4, 1998), I described nostalgia as the leitmotif running through much of Sri Lankan writing. A number of books were looked at briefly in which the narrator goes down memory lane and yearns for the tranquil Ceylon of yesteryear, which reflected "a time of innocent pleasures, intimate friendships and a life well lived". The stories of some of the more famous Sri Lankan writers such as Romesh Gunesekera, author of Reef, or Shyam Selvadurai, author of Funny Boy, now living as expatriates or even as exiles and writing about a home remembered from afar, were touched upon. This article drew mixed responses. Many agreed with the characterisation of Sri Lankan writing as nostalgic. Others felt that even if this was true of Sri Lankans living abroad, there were other more contemporaneous concerns reflected in recent writing.

One way of exploring these trends was to look at the winners of the Gratiaen Prize as they collectively represent both the writing coming from within the country and also current writing in general. Unfortunately not all the award-winning books have been published, nor are those published easily available. But an effort was made to look at what they represent. The result has been the discovery of variety and diversity.

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In 1993, the Gratiaen Prize went to Carl Muller's The Jam Fruit Tree and to Lalitha Witanarachi's The Wind Blows Over the Hills. Since then Carl Muller has written prolifically; his books include a fictionalised account of the mythological history of the Sinhala race, a semi-novel on 'Colombo' containing accounts of its past and present and other varied themes such as one with an enigmatic title: Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Cemetery. The Jam Fruit Tree itself was in a sense the natural inheritor of the Ondaatje tradition as represented by Running in the Family. It is the family story of a rather boisterous community, "the Burghers, who owe their ancestry to mixed marriages between the colonial Dutch or the Portuguese and the local Sinhalas." It is a small community, and as Muller brings out, becoming smaller all the time with members emigrating to Australia or Canada, but the recollections are of the fun that they had, even if it meant fights for wine and women, or for that matter for "boys".

The 1994 prize-winner, Amulet by Punyakante Wijenaike, deals with the bizarre. It is a strange novel, literally so. The story is of spooky happenings in an old Walauve, a large, rambling ancestral manor of the wealthy or the aristocracy, of the kind that still dots the Sri Lankan landscape. The narrative is told twice, first from the perspective of the wife who discovers the dark and deviant secrets of her husband's incestuous relationship and then from the point of view of the husband. It is a tale of abnormalities and sinister deeds, with the amulet worn by the wife acting as the protector. There is no trace of politics or conflict in the novel, and even Colombo is distant.

The same is true of Sybil Wettasinghe's The Child in Me, which shared the 1995 prize with Rajiva Wijesinha's Servants. Wettasinghe is a grandmother and a self-taught artist. The book, which has many sketches by her, is the recollection of an untroubled childhood in a Sinhala village: the smell of kiribath and the sounds of drums during the Avurudu new year festivities.

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Bringing Tony Home by Tissa Abeysekara, the 1996 winner, is also a simple story. The writer is a noted scriptwriter and his propensity to see narration in visual terms comes through. It is a tale of a boy's attachment to his dog, Tony, and, as the family shifts, the lengths to which he goes to bring Tony home form the narrative. Abeysekara uses the story to map the changes in the suburban geography of Sri Lanka, not far from Colombo. Years later the adult returns to the scene of his memories but of course the world has changed. He can still hear the roly-poly fluffy pup yap-yapping but it was now nothing mischievous or joyous; it was "the plaintive cry of a chained dog trying desperately to be free".

In contrast to the homespun authors, Rajiva Wijesinha is a professional English teacher, a part of the academic and artistic establishment of Sri Lanka. Servants is a collection of interrelated short stories or rather vignettes of life in a changing society and the impact of these changes on one of its constituents - the servants. It is an evocative exploration of the changes over decades from a feudal and oligarchic society to one groping towards modernity with all the attendant effects on interpersonal relationships.

Mirage by Gamini Akmeemana, the winner in 1997, takes one closer to today's Sri Lanka than any of the other books does. The novel is not published as yet, but was made available to this writer by Akmeemana, who is also a journalist. The mirage is of the elusive peace. Most of the story is set in contemporary Jaffna and has characters and scenes familiar to those who follow the events there. It has soldiers, Tamil militants, members of Western non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), either bright-eyed with idealism or reconciled to realism, and amidst them ordinary Tamils, trying to survive. The story itself is believed to draw a parallel with the real life of a human rights activist, but Akmeemana does not want his novel to be seen as 'faction'- a mix of fact and fiction.

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Sarojini, the protagonist, is a lecturer in English and also a human rights observer. The world of Chaucer and Dickens seems increasingly unreal against the grime, despair and destruction of everyday life, but Sarojini still believes that literature has value and clings to it with hope. In some moving passages in the book, she tries to impart this love of literature to one of her bright students, Suhasini, but as the story progresses the student cannot connect. Academia is too far removed from the struggle around her. There are also Medics, a French NGO group, and the ICRC, all non-combatants like Sarojini, but very much involved in the struggle. Their escape from the tension and claustrophobia of the peninsula lies in remembering experiences of other places. For Sarojini the memories are of Colombo or Nagadweepa, a little island near Jaffna; for Marcel of the Medics, the memories are of France. But they have always to return to the unrelenting harsh reality. In describing this reality, Akmameena is completely non-judgmental and avoids moralising. Anyone living in contemporary Sri Lanka can see the authenticity of some of the images that the author evokes: roadblocks and searches; despite the tension, shops swirling with people who "went on as if they could enter the shopping complex in Colombo at one end and get off at Singapore at the other"; four-wheel drives of the United Nations agencies in Jaffna; the eerie quiet amidst all the frenzy as if the conflict was thousands of miles away. Peace remains a mirage. A questioning Sarojini is shot and her voice silenced. And yet throughout the novel the death of individuals seems trivial compared to the scale of the tragedy, when so many die often for no reason at all. The novel is absorbing because of the content. The writer has brought in an intensity commensurate with the theme. However, he can hone his skills further and make the narration tighter.

Is Sri Lankan writing likely to see greater intensity and topicality as in Mirage? It would of course be wrong to see any "progression" in the themes of the Gratiaen winners. However, if one is temperamentally inclined to see large patterns, one can see changes: from fun and frolic in Carl Muller to subtle mapping of social changes in Wijesinha to issues of war and peace in Akmeemana. It is perhaps natural and inevitable. The burden of recent history and the impact of mega-events - the rise and fall of regimes; violence, both individual and collective; insurrections and riots - have left their impact on the Sri Lankan consciousness. Even as quieter times are remembered, a sensitive and perceptive writer has to cope with the disquiet and retain the hope for a better tomorrow. In the words of Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy, a noted academic who delivered this year's Gratiaen lecture: "We wait for the day when a great Sri Lankan writer imagines a future where we Sri Lankans live in peace and civility. Such an act of hope will surely deserve the Gratiaen Award."

B.S. Prakash was until recently Deputy High Commissioner for India in Colombo, and during his period of office he took a keen interest in Sri Lankan literature and theatre.

Debunking ethnic labels

Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family is valuable as a springboard to interrogate and deconstruct the hegemonic myths of a pure national identity that are prevalent today.

Everyone was vaguely related and had Sinhalese, Tamil, Dutch, British and Burgher blood in them going back many generations... Emil Daniels summed up the situation for most of them when he was asked by one of the British governors what his nationality was - "God alone knows, Your Excellency."

- from Running in the Family, Ondaatje, 1982.

MICHAEL ONDAATJE, the Booker Prize-winning writer of mixed Tamil and Burgher ancestry, was born in Sri Lanka and left the island at the age of 11. He now lives and works in Canada. The English Patient won him international prestige. This article seeks to examine one of his earlier books, Running in the Family (1982), as a text which explores Ondaatje's concern with identity and historiography and provides an enabling critique of nationalist discourse in contemporary Sri Lanka.1 While Running in the Family reflects Ondaatje's personal claim to a multi-cultural inheritance, it also bears testimony to the island's multi-cultural topography.

Family vignettes in Running in the Family function as a microcosm of the world of the upper-class Burgher. They enact the traumas of finding hitherto accepted realities and identity destabilised in the transitional era of decolonisation. The key events occur in the historical juncture when colonial hierarchies are in the process of being dismantled.

Through the deployment of two recurring metaphors - marriage and the theatre - Ondaatje establishes his own ancestry and inscribes the historical circumstances that have shaped the diverse character of the modern Sri Lankan nation-state.

(Ceylon was) the wife of many marriages, courted by invaders who stepped ashore and claimed everything with the power of their sword or bible or language (emphasis added).

This pendant, once its shape stood still, became a mirror. It pretended to reflect each European power till newer ships arrived and spilled their nationalities, some of whom stayed and intermarried - my own ancestor arriving in 1600, a doctor who cured the residing governor's daughter with a strange herb and was rewarded with land, a foreign wife, and a new name which was a Dutch spelling of his own. Ondaatje.

In both passages, Ondaatje signals the presence of cross-cultural alliances and his personal investment in them. Sri Lanka is located as a mystical paradise conducive to such liaisons. However, this 'exotic' ambience enshrouds the more inimical aspects behind the coloniser's 'civilising' mission. A seemingly innocent comment like 'Ceylon falls on a map and its outline is the shape of a tear' reveals the complexities of interrelations between the coloniser and the colonial subject.

The larger political insecurities that threaten the stability of Ondaatje's protagonists in Running in the Family are reflected in fraught marital relationships. The pressure to adhere to the cultural baggage of identity is exemplified in Bampa's (Ondaatje's grandfather's) obsessive emulation of the manners and habits of the English and its detrimental effect on his marriage as well as his personality. Bampa's excessive dominance lies in the familial domain where the whole family lived in terror of him. Only his death 'liberates' them, particularly his wife, from the shackles of 'English' decorum.

The overtones of disenchantment inscribed within the power-politics of marriage are invested with a symbolic value. The description of Ceylon as 'the wife of many marriages' is more than an oblique reference to the egregious effects of colonialism and, like the marital relationship, foregrounds an antagonistic element. Similarly, in the light of this relationship between marriage and colonialism, the undermining effects of adultery and duplicity within the marriages in the text symbolise moments of pre-Independence resistance. The description of Lalla's position after the death of her husband, as liberated but '(managing) to persuade all those she met into chaos', may be read as a metaphoric enactment of the tensions of the post-Independence nation, carrying also a prophetic note of the state of affairs in 1983, soon after the publication of the text in 1982.

The hierarchical nature of ethnic relations in the pre-Independence period encroaches on the workings of personal relationships. In the text, the snobbery of Ondaatje's family contests the assumption that the Burghers were eager to intermarry into other communities. The episode of Lalla's dismissal of the news of her daughter's engagement to a Tamil reinforces the disinclination towards intermarriage.

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When my mother eventually announced her engagement to my father, Lalla turned to friends and said, 'What do you think, darling, she's going to marry an Ondaatje... she's going to marry a Tamil!'

She then laughs for the duration of the wedding ceremony, marking the 'beginning of a war' between mother-in-law and son-in-law. The comic incidents that ensue capture the irony that neither Mervyn nor Lalla has a claim to ethnic 'superiority', and point to the present-day futility of a war based on ethnic differences. This episode offers useful insights into a broader, more moderate envisioning of the contemporary Sri Lankan nation. Moreover, Ondaatje has already revealed the speciousness of ethnic 'purity' by giving the reader a description of the 'hybrid' ancestry of the protagonists.

The theatricalities of the socialites provide much of the entertainment in Running in the Family. Distinctions between reality and 'acting' are frequently blurred, registering the tenuousness of public and private identity. Almost all of Ondaatje's protagonists exploit the theatre for different reasons, either for entertainment or as a way of defining their identity: the theatre provides them with a means of retreating to and retrieving a halcyon world of make-believe. Theatrical activities are integral to the culture of decadence and insouciance. The Burgher set in Running in the Family is like a tropical avatar of the legendary Jazz Age society.

After the races they would return to Ambalangoda, pick up the oysters "which we swallowed with wine if we lost or champagne if we won". Couples then paired off casually or with great complexity and danced in a half-hearted manner to the portable gramophone beside the cars. Ambalangoda was the centre for devil dances and exorcism rites, but this charmed group was part of another lost world. The men leaned their chins against the serene necks of the women, danced a waltz or two, slid oysters down their partners' mouths.

The protagonists here are a set of dreamlike people who have never calculated the cost of their affluent lifestyle. Yet the menace always hovers beneath the glamour. It is present in the form of devil dances, interweaving the supernatural and the macabre with family experience, revealing how the dream can easily collapse into nightmare. In the context of decolonisation, like the theatrical excesses within marriage, the hedonistic lifestyle and the unquestioning enthusiasm with which 'Western' practices are re-enacted can be read as a masquerade for the insidious disquiet which lurks behind the overt joie de vivre.

Lalla's drowning in the flood in 1947, less than a year before Ceylon became independent, is as theatrical as the fancy dress parties and the drunken revelry. The image of the flood has strong overtones of the biblical flood; it heralds a new era. The final image of Lalla, as 'free as a fish', is interfused with Ondaatje's own version of the events. The element of uncertainty inscribed in the narrative is a manifestation of the protagonists' doubt in a new era which ushers in a different set of parameters. Like the biblical flood, this era cleanses as well as destroys the old structures of dominance. The injustice meted out to the majority Sinhalese could no longer be ignored, and the Burghers as well as the English-speaking elite were aware that the advent of Independence heralded the end of their freedom and privileges.

The theatrical behaviour of the Burgher characters in the novel is thus a protective device that on the one hand conceals the exclusionary practices of other communities and masks the consciousness of being perceived by the majority communities as ethnic anomalies. However, it also bolsters a sense of belonging by acting out the external markers of European identity in a more emphatic form.

In documenting and reclaiming his family history, Ondaatje reveals the blurring of racial distinctions that constitute Sri Lankan identity. Although Running in the Family was written in 1982, a year before ethnic violence erupted, the text is valuable as a springboard to interrogate and deconstruct the hegemonic myths of a pure national identity that are prevalent today. Foregrounding the hybridised nature of the Sri Lankan nation, Ondaatje debunks facile labels such as Sinhalese or Tamil. While attempting to rehabilitate his own past and restore the umbilical cord that was severed by his migration to Canada, Ondaatje makes a plea for the recognition of multiple identities and ethnicities which negate the nationalist or fundamentalist assertion of a homogeneous national self.

Neluka Silva is a lecturer in English at the University of Colombo.

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