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COVER STORY

07-05-1999

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Briefing

'Go back to Vajpayee, or to the voter'

cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Stunned by the defeat of the confidence motion, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are doing everything possible to keep the remaining flock together. The minor contradictions that are manifesting themselves among other parties that are seeking to provide an alternative government seem to offer solace to the dispirited political formation that has been voted out. BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu spoke to V. Venkatesan about what went wrong, and how the BJP expects the political scene to unfold. Excerpts:

You were confident of victory in the vote of confidence. What went wrong?

Two things upset our calculations - the BSP, and Saifuddin Soz.

The BSP is not a reliable party. It made a categorical statement in the Lok Sabha that it will not vote. Kanshi Ram had assured us that BSP MPs would abstain because he does not want a Congress(I)-Mulayam Singh Yadav regime.

As for Saifuddin Soz, he was present when the National Conference took the decision (to vote in favour of the motion of confidence). He had agreed to abide by the party's decision. For various reasons, he went over to the other side. This made the difference. Otherwise, we had our strategy and our strength. Right from the beginning, we all know that the arithmetic of the Lok Sabha is such that the BJP did not have an absolute majority to form a government on its own. Now, one party - the AIADMK - has ditched us and gone against the mandate. But in spite of that, we have been able to come to the half-way mark in terms of support.

Was Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi wrong in allowing Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang to vote?

Giridhar Gamang had no right to vote. Nobody questioned his right to be a member. Nobody wanted his disqualification... The issue raised by (L.K.) Advani and Rangarajan Kumaramangalam was that persons elected to the Lok Sabha and who were subsequently sworn in as Minister in a State would be holding an office of profit. The rulings given by earlier Speakers on three occasions, and the interpretations given by experts, clearly say that such persons continue to be members, but that they cannot take part in the proceedings of the House.

A person who is sworn in as Chief Minister, and a person who has promised the people of his State that he would perform his responsibilities as the head of the State and follow the Constitution, comes back to the Lok Sabha to decide the fate of the Prime Minister. This is totally unethical, immoral and illogical. They referred to the case of Sushma Swaraj. Nobody is questioning their right to be members. Sushma Swaraj never took part in the proceedings of the House during the period she was Chief Minister of Delhi.

The vote shows that you did not have a majority after the AIADMK withdrew its support.

The other parties are united against us, but they are divided amongst themselves. And there are parties that are ready to change their opinion overnight, like the BSP. A deal was struck overnight. The Congress(I) is notorious, it is known for such manipulations. We did not promise anything to Mayawati. She lied before the House. Her words have no validity at all. She has no credibility. The BSP can tell lies, can change its stand any number of times.

From Day One the BJP has been of the view that the mandate - not fully, but by and large - was for a coalition led by Vajpayee. I stated at that time that it was a choice between a Government under Vajpayee or fresh elections. In the present situation, when the Opposition is totally divided, the only way is to go back to Vajpayee, or to the voter. We have to choose between the two. Vajpayee has shown the country that he is capable of leading the coalition.

Jayalalitha wanted the withdrawal of all cases, dismissal of the DMK Government, institution of cases against M. Karunanidhi, P. Chidambaram, and postings of certain officers against whom cases are pending. We did not agree to them. But we accommodated her demands insofar as they pertained to Tamil Nadu's development. She said on March 25 that Vajpayee was the best leader, but she changed her stand after the tea party hosted by Subramanian Swamy. She must explain the change in her stand. I presume the Congress(I) has promised to fulfil her demands. The Congress(I) is capable of doing anything.

Do you regret having entered into an alliance with the AIADMK?

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No. Our alliance had the people's mandate. We won on the understanding that there should be an able leader and a stable government. She has broken the alliance in Tamil Nadu. We did not say one word against her all these 13 months in spite of all her irresponsible statements. She criticised Pramod Mahajan, George Fernandes, Advani, Jaswant Singh, but the party did not react. Every party has the right to choose its own alliance partners.

Are you sure that your alliance will remain intact?

The other parties can do anything, their history is such. Even Kalpnath Rai, who has problems with the Samata Party, voted in favour of the motion. If you start speculating, then there are people in the Congress(I) who are averse to Sonia Gandhi becoming the leader. There are parties like the RSP and the Forward Bloc which have gone on record that they will not support a Congress(I) government. The TMC says it will oppose the AIADMK being part of the government. Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav say they will be in the government. In that case, the BSP will not agree. There are many inherent contradictions on the other side. The issue is not the BJP. The Opposition has brought down the Government through manipulation and false promises. It is for them to come forward and offer an alternative.

How do you explain your appeal to the President - that he should insist on letters of support from parties representing more than 271 MPs in the Lok Sabha before inviting anyone to form the Government?

We are not asking him to set a precedent. He had asked us to give letters of support. We complied with that. We have just shown that we have a strength of 269-plus (including the Speaker) in the Lok Sabha. Others have proved that there are 270 members against us. They have not proved that they have a strength of 270-plus.

Apart from the RSP and the Forward Bloc, even the Janata Dal is divided over extending support to a Congress(I) government. The President has to play a role not only as a custodian of the Constitution; he should also plan his action so as to ensure stability. His action should not lead to instability. If the other parties are not able to convince him of its majority support, he should call back Vajpayee, who will try to give better stability and tell the President that he enjoys the support of more than 270 MPs in the Lok Sabha. The President should take immediate action, and ask the other parties whether they will be able to form a government.

There was a functioning Government. By bringing down the Government, without an alternative, some parties have taken the country to chaos and confusion. If they had moved a no-confidence motion (and lost), they could not have moved another such motion for six months. Besides, the inherent contradictions among them would have come to the fore. A Congress(I)-inspired no-confidence motion would not have been acceptable to the RSP, the INLD and the Forward Bloc. An AIADMK-inspired no-confidence motion would not have been acceptable to the TMC. That is why they forced us to move a confidence motion. If the President considers the mood of the country - that frequent elections are not good - he should insist today itself that the others show the support of 270-plus members in Lok Sabha. If they cannot do it, he should call back Vajpayee in order to avoid elections. And if Vajpayee too is not able to prove majority support, we can go for elections. The country cannot afford frequent elections. However, simply because the country does not like elections, you cannot allow somebody who has no mandate to rule.

The countdown to collapse

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A series of manoeuvres by AIADMK leader Jayalalitha and her ally, Subramanian Swamy, ensured a nail-biting finish to the political drama that unfolded at the Centre.

WHEN All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalitha arrived in New Delhi on the night of April 12, the purpose of her visit was all too evident. Her parting of ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party was on the cards, and she went about the operation in a measured fashion, weighing the responses from the BJP and Opposition camps before taking the decisive step. She had tested the waters during her sojourn in the national capital from March 26 to 30. Her aim of provoking the BJP further was achieved through calculated outbursts on the Vishnu Bhagwat issue. Her demands were that the former naval chief should be reinstated; Defence Minister George Fernandes should quit or be relieved of his portfolio; and a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe should be ordered.

Close on the heels of the BJP National Executive meeting in Goa, the Union Cabinet met on April 5, and rejected all her demands. The Cabinet met sans the AIADMK Ministers, M. Thambidurai and M.R. Janarthanam, who were in Chennai. The Cabinet decision marked a triumph for the hardliners in the BJP, who wanted Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to call Jayalalitha's bluff. Only two days earlier, Vajpayee had distanced himself from Rangarajan Kumaramangalam's remark that the AIADMK could withdraw from the ruling coalition if it did not agree with the Government's stand. The AIADMK wanted Vajpayee to disapprove of Kumaramangalam's remark, but he merely termed it Kumaramangalam's personal opinion.

The BJP hardliners who urged Vajpayee to take a harsh line against the AIADMK included L.K. Advani, Pramod Mahajan and party president Kushabhau Thakre. The view in party circles was that Kumaramangalam had done nothing wrong and that he had only underlined the Cabinet principle of collective responsibility. It appeared likely that Kumaramangalam, who hailed from Tamil Nadu, was chosen to make the remark with the approval of the party's senior leaders in order to isolate Jayalalitha in the coalition. The remark also stemmed from the perception in the party that she had no option but to continue to support the BJP-led coalition.

The Cabinet decision came as a shot in the arm for Jayalalitha, who held an emergency meeting of her party in Chennai the same day. She decided that Thambidurai and Janarthanam would resign from the Cabinet the next day. She said that the party noted with pain that a Cabinet meeting was hurriedly convened although it was known that the AIADMK Ministers were out of Delhi. "In the 50 years of our democracy, never has a Cabinet met with the single-point agenda of slighting an ally that is responsible for the majority that the Government has thus far enjoyed in the Lok Sabha," she said.

Jayalalitha added that she would discuss with political leaders in Delhi the possibility of creating "structures that will protect national interest and ensure that all Indians feel safe and (are) able to make progress in all spheres of endeavour."

At the AIADMK general council meeting in Chennai on April 5, members spewed venom at the BJP and the AIADMK's erstwhile allies in Tamil Nadu, such as Vaiko, Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy and S. Ramadoss. At the AIADMK meeting, the prospect of Jayalalitha becoming the future Prime Minister was also discussed.

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On April 6, Subramanian Swamy met Jayalalitha in Chennai and reportedly apprised her about the Congress(I)'s reluctance to strike at that point. The Congress(I) leaders felt Sonia Gandhi was averse to taking the initiative to topple the Government until Jayalalitha withdrew support to it. Swamy also told her that the Congress(I) might hesitate to move a no-confidence motion against the Government when Parliament met on April 15. She could set the ball rolling by withdrawing support at the earliest, he indicated.

In the event of a trial of strength, Subramanian Swamy told her, the Government was bound to collapse. The AIADMK, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha, the Left parties and the Congress(I), and a few smaller parties, would together be able to muster a strength of 271 members in the Lok Sabha, whereas the BJP-led alliance would have only 254 seats - so went the calculation. Parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had not made up their mind, had a total of 16 MPs together, and even if this figure was added to the strength of the BJP and its allies, the Opposition would outnumber the ruling alliance by one vote.

Subramanian Swamy thus persuaded Jayalalitha that withdrawal of support before Parliament met would force Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidence. Swamy also apprised Jayalalitha about the confusion in the Congress(I) on whether it should try and lead a coalition government or support from outside an alternative government.

Subramanian Swamy's meeting with Jayalalitha coincided with yet another attack on the ruling coalition by her. She said that Advani and Fernandes were lax in protecting national security. While she flayed Fernandes for allegedly preventing the interception by the Navy of vessels carrying suspected terrorists, she termed as unpardonable Advani's inattention to the developing security threat. She also said that Advani failed to act on vital information about intensified terrorist activity in Tamil Nadu.

Specifically, she claimed that she had informed Advani and Fernandes on October 9 last year that some operatives linked to Osama Bin Laden (the Afghan millionaire who has been accused of masterminding terrorist acts in various parts of the world) had infiltrated Tamil Nadu. Around 200 terrorists, trained in camps in Afghanistan, had entered the southern States, she claimed. The information was suppressed and follow-up action was not taken, she added. She further alleged that emissaries of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had access to senior Cabinet members, and that an individual who was an LTTE agent in Tamil Nadu had recently met a senior Cabinet Minister in Delhi.

THE Prime Minister delayed the acceptance of the resignation letters of the two AIADMK Ministers, leaving open the possibility of a patch-up. At the same time, on April 7 the BJP challenged Jayalalitha to withdraw support to the Government and accused her of extracting a promise from the Congress(I) that the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu would be dismissed if the Congress(I) formed a government at the Centre. Vajpayee forwarded the resignation letters to the President after two days.

Subramanian Swamy met West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu on April 8 in Calcutta, to "seek his wisdom and guidance" on forming an alternative government. Basu made it clear that he was not a candidate for the Prime Minister's post, while Subramanian Swamy said he carried no such request to Basu. The objective of the meeting appeared to be to pave the way for him and the AIADMK to participate in the new government.

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On April 9, the AIADMK announced its decision to withdraw from the coalition's Coordination Committee. Party chairman V.R. Nedunchezhiyan and senior office-bearers, in a joint statement, said that the decision was in "furtherance of Jayalalitha's goal of speedily ensuring a political structure that treats all citizens equally irrespective of region, religion and caste, so that all feel secure and safe."

In a sharp attack on BJP hardliners, the AIADMK accused them of taking the country back to the medieval era, and claimed that their abuses and attacks would not deflect her party from its resolve to give India a government that was both just and effective, in the shortest possible time. The AIADMK repeated Jayalalitha's allegation that the Government was promoting terrorism and accused Advani and Fernandes of patronising the LTTE in Tamil Nadu. It said that the BJP hardliners were not pleased with the condition that the AIADMK had put at the time of forging the alliance that its support would depend on the BJP giving up sectarian demands such as building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the repeal of Article 370, and the enactment of a uniform civil code.

The AIADMK insisted that the dismissal of the DMK Government was not the issue. National security was the issue, especially the demoralisation in the armed forces following the shabby treatment of senior officers and the denial of the best quality equipment.

The BJP dismissed the AIADMK's resignation from the Coordination Committee as being of no consequence. Apart from the 'unauthorised' request of Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi to Jayalalitha over the phone to continue her support to the Government, the party did not send any emissary to Chennai, as it had done in the past, to placate her. Instead, Vajpayee and Advani publicly sought the DMK's support, indicating that all doors of negotiations with Jayalalitha were closed.

A tale of three women

cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Subramanian Swamy, the Janata Party MP from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, is credited with having catalysed the fall of the Vajpayee Government through his deft political moves. In an interview he gave V. Venkatesan in New Delhi, Swamy commended the role of the three women politicians - Jayalalitha, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati - for the defeat of the Government. Excerpts:

What was your role in the collapse of the Vajpayee Government?

It was a massive operation in which many people had many roles. It is for others to talk about my role. What they perceive is good enough for me.

How would you explain the April 17 vote?

It is a happy ending. Industrial houses, some multinationals, and of course, George Fernandes, (Ram) Jethmalani, the PMK, the MDMK and various rebel groups such as the LTTE, the Tibetan secessionists and the Myanmar rebels, had a self-interest in the survival of the Government; a massive combination of corrupt industrialists, terrorists, and an immoral and ruthless RSS. Three people made the maximum contribution - Jayalalitha, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati, in that order. Jayalalitha staked her entire political and physical future. She was in the Government and she sacrificed that position. She ran the risk of opposing the Government. Had the attempt to bring down the Government failed, there would have been DMK participation in the blood-thirsty, ruthless, fascist Government in Delhi. She was immune to the offers by corrupt industrialists. She was incensed by the sacking of Vishnu Bhagwat. It was purely a patriotic reaction, and had nothing to do with the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu or the (corruption) cases against her. She is doing quite fine as far as the cases are concerned. And she has issued a statement saying that the dismissal of the DMK Government was not an issue.

Sonia Gandhi lent a helping hand. Had she not turned up for the tea party that I hosted, the entire plan would have collapsed. But despite the advice of people close to her, she kept her own counsel and acted.

Mayawati's was a case of political bravery. Going by the rates mentioned, the five BSP MPs, according to the gossip mill, would have been entitled to Rs.50 crores. She had no stakes, in the sense that there is no love lost between her and the Congress(I) and the BJP. She was against the BJP continuing in power. She resisted the pressure that was brought to bear on her, including threats against the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh and the offer of chief ministership. They were willing to offer any price, but she resisted. She is a brave lady.

But Mayawati has denied that the BJP made any offers.

Well, there was no need to. The BJP had no nerve to contact her directly. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam approached her in the presence of everybody in the Lok Sabha, and I overheard him offer to fix this or that. I was seated right behind Mayawati.

How did you bring the three women together?

It so happened that I was placed in a position to do so. I have been Jayalalitha's loyal ally. And I am known to the three women personally. They think I am fair and straightforward. That's why I was able to talk to them. Ultimately each of them was motivated by the national interest. They should get the lion's share of the credit.

You have also been Jayalalitha's bitter critic.

She was in power then. I was in the Opposition. There was no personality clash. Vajpayee is on record as having called Prakash Singh Badal a terrorist.

How did you convince Mayawati?

I didn't have to convince anyone. Mayawati made her decision on political grounds. What went unnoticed was that she invited me to address a gathering of BSP members on April 14. No other party leader was invited. That should have given an indication of the shape of things to come.

Did Sonia Gandhi play an active role? She has maintained that her party is not responsible for the downfall of the Government. She did attempt to wean away the TMC and the BSP.

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Yes, she was not responsible. Once the AIADMK support was withdrawn she came into the picture. It is not her responsibility to ensure that the BJP Government remains in power. When a confidence motion is moved, every Opposition party must ensure that it is defeated. She did just that. She did not bring down the Government. Whether she reduced the Government to a minority, I don't know. I don't know what transpired between her and Moopanar.

Sonia Gandhi is supposed to have told the TMC that the AIADMK will not be a part of the new government.

They can claim anything. I can only say that Sonia Gandhi never got into the act until the Government prima facie lost its majority. If she convinced A, B or C, she did what is perfectly acceptable in parliamentary politics.

The TMC has said that it will not support a government which includes the AIADMK.

That is their problem. Who is stopping them?

What will be the profile of the new government?

It will be a broad secular front.

What about the inherent contradictions among the parties opposed to the BJP?

India is full of inherent contradictions. Resolving them is part of democracy.

Do you expect to break the BJP and its allies?

If there is a strong anti-RSS government, within three months we will get 72 MPs out of the BJP. The BJP's allies will split on their own anyway. I don't perceive any problem. I am not going to spell out how we are going to resolve the contradictions. This is the art and science of government-making.

What will be your role?

I don't know. I will certainly try to be helpful.

How do you view the DMK's vote in favour of the confidence motion?

It has destroyed the DMK. For the last 50 years, the DMK has enjoyed a very large chunk of the Christian and Muslim vote and the Scheduled Caste vote to some extent. In one blow, it has destroyed this heritage. The DMK has now emerged as a tool of all that was portrayed as wrong in its propaganda: North Indian party, upper-caste party, party which does not believe in 69 per cent reservation, anti-federalism; it has surrendered them all. Nothing makes me more happy. The AIADMK has recovered lost ground. Of course, the AIADMK did not get the bulk of the Muslim and Christian vote, but it could survive the shock of the electoral alliance with the BJP. It would have won all the 40 seats if it had not entered into an alliance with the BJP. It was a tactical mistake. I did not make this mistake. I was part of the AIADMK front. I expressed my reservations openly. I told Jayalalitha not to enter into an alliance with the BJP. But she did not agree with my analysis. The BJP itself said it had no alliance with the Janata Party. I signed the National Agenda because there was nothing communal in it. It was worded in such a manner that even the Communist parties would have signed it.

Holding court

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

WHEN she arrived at the Delhi airport on April 12, Jayalalitha had reasons not to be pleased about the low-key reception accorded to her: apart from the entire contingent of the 18 MPs of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), there was just Subramanian Swamy to receive her. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vajpayee Government, which had until recently deputed senior leaders to receive her, ignored her arrival. Her friends in the Congress(I) and other parties, some of whom had attended the reception in her honour on March 29, also did not find it necessary to be present.

However, she seemed unfazed. She told mediapersons that she had come to take the final step of withdrawing support to the Vajpayee Government. She regretted the decision to align with the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections, and remarked that she had wasted a whole year, which was marked by non-governance and lack of proper administration. She said that by talking to the DMK, the BJP had closed the doors for negotiations with the AIADMK. She said that she would meet leaders of "like-minded secular parties" including Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi to evolve a viable alternative government.

Jayalalitha checked into the Chandragupta Maurya suite at the Maurya Sheraton hotel, along with nearly two dozen security and secretarial staff. She was dissatisfied with two hotels which she had stayed during earlier trips. Located on the 16th floor, the Maurya suite is the largest in the five-star hotel and consists of a spacious drawing room, study, dining room, two bedrooms and a well-stocked kitchen. The suite is furnished in raw silk and has wall-to-wall carpets.

Jayalalitha's entourage was booked into 16 rooms on the same floor. Media reports said that Jayalalitha had brought 48 pieces of baggage with her, but AIADMK organising secretary M. Thambidurai later denied this. He claimed that this figure included the baggage of members of the entourage. He also said that Jayalalitha was used to five-star comfort since childhood, and that she had sacrificed a successful film career to join politics.

Jayalalitha spent her first day in Delhi at the hotel itself. Subramanian Swamy arranged meetings between her and leaders of some parties, such as G.M. Banatwala and E. Ahmed of the Indian Union Muslim League, P.C. Thomas of the Kerala Congress, and R.S. Gawai of the Republican Party of India. These leaders urged her to withdraw support to the Government. RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav spoke to Jayalalitha over the phone from Patna. She also spoke to Sonia Gandhi over the phone.

Jayalalitha met President K.R. Narayanan at 11 a.m. on April 14 and submitted her formal letter of withdrawal of support to the Vajpayee Government. Outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Jayalalitha told mediapersons that it was up to Vajpayee to decide whether to resign or seek a confidence vote. She said that she would, however, prefer to defeat the Government through a no-confidence motion. She dismissed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's decision to oppose any formation that included the AIADMK.

Jayalalitha's move led to intense political activity. Senior Opposition leaders called on the President with the request that he ask the Vajpayee Government to seek a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha on April 15.

Subramanian Swamy sought to use the occasion of B.R. Ambedkar's birth anniversary celebration in New Delhi on April 14, when a book and a cassette on Mayawati were released, to persuade the Bahujan Samaj Party to go along with the rest of the Opposition. Subramanian Swamy called Kanshi Ram his guru and predicted that Mayawati would one day become Prime Minister. He claimed that he was invited to the function by BSP leaders, and that it was a signal that the BSP would vote against the Government.

Jayalalitha met Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet after she withdrew support to the Government. She sent contradictory signals on whether the AIADMK would join the new government and whether she would be a candidate for the post of Prime Minister. She also met Laloo Prasad Yadav and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala. Surjeet's remarks with regard to DMK chief Karunanidhi pleased her. Surjeet criticised Karunanidhi for having said that Jayalalitha was more dangerous than communalism. Laloo Prasad and Chautala lavished praise on Jayalalitha for her bold stand.

Jayalalitha met Sonia Gandhi on the evening of April 15 at 10 Janpath. After the hour-long meeting, Jayalalitha said that the priority of both the Congress(I) and the AIADMK was to vote out the Vajpayee Government. She was confident that the Government would fall, and wanted the Congress(I) to clarify whether it wanted to head a coalition government. On her part, she offered the AIADMK's support to the Congress(I) whether it went for a coalition government or some other arrangement.

Jayalalitha met Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan at the party headquarters on April 16. She reportedly told him that she did not share the view of AIADMK parliamentary party leader Sedapatti Muthiah - as expressed during the debate on the confidence motion - that the demand for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu was not part of any hidden agenda of the AIADMK but its open demand. "She told us that it is not the party's view, but Muthiah's personal view," said D. Raja, the CPI's national secretary.

When Jayalalitha spoke to Kanshi Ram over the phone, she urged him to vote against the motion and offered to protect the interests of the BSP in an alternative coalition. Mayawati too kept in touch with Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi.

Subramanian Swamy maintained that it would be political suicide for the DMK and the Tamil Maanila Congress to support the BJP. While the six DMK MPs supported the motion, the TMC voted against it. The TMC votes were crucial to the game plan of Jayalalitha and Subramanian Swamy. Had they abstained - as they had promised the DMK they would do - the Vajpayee Government would have survived. The TMC has stated its opposition to the AIADMK's participation in any future government.

Jayalalitha would be in New Delhi probably till a new government is formed and would have to exert herself to sort out the emerging contradictions among those who voted against the motion. For the moment, however, the risk she took in withdrawing support to the Vajpayee Government seems to have been worth it.

The DMK's turnabout

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The circumstances surrounding the fall of the Vajpayee Government may lead to a realignment of political forces in Tamil Nadu, where the ruling DMK finds itself politically isolated.

EVEN as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalitha helped push Vajpayee Government out of power, her principal political rival in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi, stood politically isolated from his erstwhile allies. Karunanidhi's gamble in deciding to support the BJP-led Government in the vote of confidence, breaking ranks with four allies - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Janata Dal - failed.

Indeed, no party in Tamil Nadu has emerged with a creditable image from the latest political battle. Clearly, it was not "national security", as Jayalalitha claimed, but her personal agenda to get the DMK Government dismissed and extricate herself from the corruption cases she faces that in the end drove her to desert the BJP-led Government. On the other hand, the DMK's volte-face and its voting alongside the BJP made a mockery of its claims to upholding the Dravidian legacy of combating communalism; Karunanidhi sought to justify his decision by saying that "Jayalalitha's corruption is more dangerous than communalism."

The TMC seems to have emerged relatively unscathed; the party made known its stand opposing in equal measure the BJP's communalism and the AIADMK's corruption. TMC president G.K. Moopanar did not yield to pressure from the DMK, some other parties and film actor Rajnikant to bail out the Vajpayee Government by voting in support of the confidence motion or abstaining during the vote. Moopanar also reportedly told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi and other Congress(I) leaders that his party would not support a Congress(I)-led Government in which the AIADMK was a partner.

Soon after the Vajpayee Government was voted out, Moopanar, in a clear reference to the AIADMK, said: "Corrupt elements cannot be allowed to go out of one door and re-enter the government through another door... The TMC hopes that the Congress(I) will adhere to the principles contained in the (Pachmarhi) declaration and that the new formation will fight the twin evils of communalism and corruption."

Sources in the Left parties said that the DMK had placed "personal interests above national interests" and had lost out eventually. Informed sources in the TMC and the Left parties said that the DMK had stood on prestige and that its actions were motivated by a desire to see that Jayalalitha did not get the "credit" for toppling the Vajpayee Government. A Left leader said: "If the DMK had joined us, the credit would not have gone to Jayalalitha. She has accomplished what she set out to do."

Karunanidhi shrugged off the defeat of the BJP-led Government, saying: "In a democracy, victories and defeats are common... I do not want to pretend that I do not feel sad about the defeat." He said the reason for the defeat was the "magnanimity" of Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi in allowing Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang to vote on the motion.

THE fall of the Vajpayee Government and the circumstances that led up to it may lead to a realignment of political parties in Tamil Nadu. The TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI may part company with the DMK and forge a new front, and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Vaiko, which was a constituent of the BJP-led coalition, may join it. The Congress(I) and the AIADMK may formalise an alliance and may be joined by the PMK led by Dr. S. Ramadoss.

When it became clear that the AIADMK was preparing to withdraw support to the Vajpayee Government, the BJP set in motion efforts to win the DMK's support. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Vajpayee spoke to Karunanidhi on the phone on April 9 and 10 respectively and sought his party's support. Informed sources in the BJP and the DMK said that Karunanidhi told them that the DMK's ideology was opposed to that of the BJP's Hindutva, and that in any case only the party executive could take a decision.

The first indication that the DMK might strike out on its own came on April 11, when newspersons asked Karunanidhi what strategy the DMK would adopt in the light of the political developments in New Delhi. Karunanidhi asked: "How can we be in a front in which Jayalalitha is a part?" The DMK also came under pressure from the BJP, which pointed out that over the past year the Prime Minister had not yielded to the AIADMK's repeated demands for the dismissal of the Karunanidhi Government. Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi of the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress too spoke to Karunanidhi and told him that even if the DMK did not support the BJP, it should do nothing that would assist Jayalalitha in her efforts to topple the Government.

Even after the DMK indicated that it would go with the BJP, Moopanar stuck to his stand. "We will always work against corruption and communalism," he said. When Moopanar met Congress(I) leaders in the first week of April, he put forward only one condition: a Congress(I) government should not include the AIADMK.

DMK leaders Murasoli Maran, MP, and Health Minister Arcot N. Veerasamy met Moopanar on April 12 in order to explain their party's stand. But Moopanar made it clear that the TMC would have nothing to do with either the AIADMK or the BJP and that it expected the DMK to take a similar stand. No such assurance came from Maran and Veerasamy.

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Jayalalitha left for New Delhi on April 12, ruling out the possibility of a rapprochement with the BJP because Vajpayee and Advani had spoken to Karunanidhi.

On April 13 the DMK executive met and passed a resolution which said that since Jayalalitha posed "the biggest threat to the State and the nation, the DMK will not support any formation in which Jayalalitha found a place directly or indirectly." Karunanidhi summed up his party's intention when he said: "Jayalalitha's corruption is a bigger threat than communalism." The resolution added that Jayalalitha was bent on toppling the Government not because she opposed communalism but because she wanted to extricate herself from the corruption cases she was facing. Besides, the "one and only item on her agenda" was to get the DMK Government dismissed, it said.

The DMK's stand shocked the Left parties. State CPI secretary R. Nallakannu and State CPI(M) secretary N. Sankariah issued a joint statement asking the DMK to reconsider its stand and take "a political position which will be firmly against the BJP Government."

When Frontline met Nallakannu and Sankariah separately, they assailed the DMK line that "Jayalalitha's corruption is more dangerous than communalism." They agreed that Jayalalitha was monumentally corrupt and that she had tried to extricate herself from the corruption cases against her and that the BJP had aided her in this. But, they noted, the five parties in the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu had fought this. However, when the AIADMK had withdrawn its support to the Vajpayee Government because of "internal contradictions" and the Government was about to fall, the five parties should back that move, they said. Jayalalitha's corruption could be tackled later, after the Government fell, they reasoned.

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Sankariah said: "We will not protect anybody who is corrupt. The law will take its own course."

Both Nallakannu and Sankariah squelched the DMK's fears that if the Congress(I) formed a coalition government with the AIADMK as a partner, the DMK Government would again be dismissed. Nallakannu said that in the absence of a majority, the Congress(I) would not be able to dismiss the DMK Government, and that in any case the Communist parties would firmly oppose any such move. Nallakannu said that the DMK's decision to support the BJP at this juncture "does not behove Tamil Nadu's political background because the legacy of the Dravidian parties is to oppose sectarian politics."

Informed sources said that Karunanidhi felt "insulted" that CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet met Jayalalitha in Delhi on April 14. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan too met her the next day.

Karunanidhi accused the CPI(M) and the CPI of initiating steps that "certainly fragmented" the Third Front. He said: "I do not know what prompted Mr. Surjeet to ignore the DMK and talk to Jayalalitha." He wondered what had become of the assurances from West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu and Surjeet that the DMK and the TMC were very much a part of the Third Front and that a collective decision would be taken. He accused the CPI(M) and the CPI of not consulting the DMK on the fast-moving developments in New Delhi. He said he was sure that the political parties which had lined up behind Jayalalitha now would see her in her true colours at the appropriate time.

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CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury refuted Karunanidhi's allegation that he had not been consulted by the Left parties. He said the Central and State leadership of the CPI(M) had been in constant touch with the DMK. If the DMK wanted to change its position, the Left should "not be used as an excuse," he said.

With the defeat of the Vajpayee Government, the DMK, which is without friends, may face tough days ahead in the political arena. Karunanidhi admitted as much when he said that the DMK had been isolated from the Left parties. "But we will not be isolated from the people," he added.

THE ARMS RACE

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

In its final days in office, the BJP-led Government test-fires the nuclear-capable Agni-II missile, and the Pakistan Government responds with launches of the Ghauri-2 and Shaheen missiles.

ON April 11, even as it became increasingly clear that its days were numbered, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government took another step towards implementing its high-risk agenda of nuclear weaponisation by test-firing the Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile Agni-II, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Taken with the Pokhran-II series of nuclear tests in May 1998, the move marked a break from the political consensus that existed earlier favouring the development of nuclear and missile technology independent of each other.

In a televised address to the nation on the same day, a politically embattled Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee claimed that the test was a "purely defensive step" and that the missile was not meant to be used for aggression against any nation. Agni, he said, "is proof of our determination to strengthen our national security so comprehensively that we can defend ourselves." India, he added, remained committed to retaining a credible minimum deterrence.

Defence Minister George Fernandes said that the missile, which had a range in excess of 2,000 km and a solid-fuel propulsion system, had "reached the point of operationalisation as a weapons system and also demonstrated our mobile launch capacity." No country, he added, could now threaten India.

A day before the test, the Indian Government informed the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and the governments of Germany, Japan and Pakistan, of its intention to conduct the test. Under the Lahore Agreement signed by India and Pakistan in February, the two countries had pledged to give advance notice of tests of ballistic missiles.

The test-firing of Agni-II drew a swift response from Pakistan, which on April 14 tested Ghauri-2, an improved version of the IRBM Ghauri-1 which was test-fired in April 1998, and followed it up the next day by launching the shorter-range Shaheen. Pakistan claimed that both the missiles "can be tipped by any kind of warhead". A statement issued by the Pakistan Foreign Office said that the flight tests had "strengthened national security and will help in maintaining strategic balance in South Asia."

AGNI-II had been in the pipeline for quite some time. In late-1997, when the United Front was in power at the Centre, Defence Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav had informally told mediapersons that work on the project had reached an advanced stage. After the BJP-led Government took over, there were expectations that Agni-II would be tested by end-1998, given the BJP's nuclear hawkishness and its stated commitment to putting in place a credible nuclear deterrent force. But the ongoing "nuclear dialogue" with the United States apparently forced the Government to put its plans on hold. In January 1999, some neighbouring countries were intimated about possible missile tests over the Bay of Bengal, and a prototype of Agni-II was displayed at this year's Republic Day parade. However, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was to visit Delhi at the end of January, and the Americans were throwing tantalising hints that some of the sanctions imposed on India would be lifted. Following this, the launch was pushed pack to February, but for unstated reasons it was again deferred.

In addition to pressure from the West, the Government also had to contend with the stated opinion of the Indian External Affairs and Finance Ministries that conducting the missile tests at this juncture would not be well-received by foreign governments and investors. Indian Foreign Secretary K. Raghunath, who was in Tokyo in February, was told that Japan would react adversely if India carried out new missile tests. The Japanese Government is worried about an escalation in the missile race in the Asia-Pacific region; Japan itself is under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The Japanese Government also believes that missile tests in the Asian subcontinent will make it difficult for Tokyo and Washington to cap North Korea's missile arsenal. North Korea has in recent times demonstrated its missile technology, which has the capacity to target Japanese cities. It also claims that its long-range missiles can target the U.S. west coast.

Nuclear hawks and strategists in India who sought to rationalise the Pokhran-II tests had been calling for the testing of Agni-II. Many of them alleged that the BJP-led Government had put the test on hold under pressure from Washington. With time running out, and with the prospect of the collapse of the Government becoming very real, the Government finally gave the go-ahead for the Agni-II test. It perhaps felt that it could project the test as an "achievement", but as West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu said, it was no more than a "political stunt".

The timing of the launch also coincided with the crisis in the Balkans, which left the Clinton administration preoccupied with the U.S.-led air strikes on Yugoslavia. Further, the administration seems to have assured India and Pakistan that both countries could acquire "minimum deterrence" capability provided they signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This may explain Washington's comparatively mild response to the missile tests. The Indian Defence Ministry's Annual Report for 1998-99 states that "there is greater international acceptance of India's need for developing a credible minimum deterrent." Even so, the Vajpayee Government's action in linking the Agni-II test with the declared policy of nuclear weaponisation has heightened the prospect of a missile and nuclear arms race in the region. Pakistan's response only confirmed this fear.

THE Pakistan Government initially reacted adversely to the Agni-II test. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that his country would immediately test-fire its own missiles to restore parity and that India was to blame for triggering another arms race in the subcontinent. Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Pervez Musharraf said that the Agni-II test warranted an immediate response and that Pakistan had the defensive and offensive capability for "frustrating aggressive designs". His Indian counterpart, Gen. Ved Prakash Mallik, had said that Agni-II was not a threat to any country, including Pakistan, and that the test was aimed only at strengthening India's "defence capabilities".

Musharraf told newspersons that Pakistan would not try to match India in respect of the number of missiles produced, but would retain just enough missile capacity to reach "anywhere in India and destroy a few cities, if required".

On April 14, Pakistan test-fired what it called the Ghauri-2 missile from a site near Jhelum city. Islamabad claims that Ghauri-2 has a potential range of 2,300 km, but the range achieved during the test was only 1,500 km. On April 15, Islamabad tested Shaheen, which has a range of 800 km. A Pakistan Foreign Office statement said that the Shaheen ballistic missile test had concluded "for the time being" and congratulated the scientists and engineers who had "mastered the sophisticated technology and skills necessary for the production of such missiles."

After Pakistan's missile tests of April 14 and 15, Musharraf claimed that a "proper command and control system" for the nuclear and missile programmes had been evolved.

Not all the rhetoric emanating from Pakistan was, however, belligerent. After the Ghauri-2 test, Nawaz Sharif said that "for 50 years we have wasted our resources and time. Pakistan and India should settle all their problems, including Kashmir."

Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said that Pakistan and India should stop the "tit-for-tat" missile tests and instead focus on their respective economies. "Pakistan should not let India dictate its foreign policy," she stressed, criticising India for re-starting an arms race in the subcontinent.

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In the wake of the tests, influential sections in the Pakistani media commented that the new arms race is risky and unnecessary. An editorial in Dawn said: "Both countries should be concentrating on other things and improving their economic performance, instead of pursuing chimerical and quixotic notions of power and global importance."

A spokesperson for the Pakistan Foreign Office told mediapersons after the missile tests that India was not amenable to concluding a strategic restraint agreement with Pakistan; such an agreement, he said, had acquired "greater validity" after the recent tests of ballistic missiles. The "restraint regime", the spokesperson said, was intended to define "the minimum deterrence, both nuclear and conventional", required for the security of the two countries.

India's reaction to Pakistan's missile tests was characterised by restraint. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said that the tests by the two countries would neither accelerate a regional arms race nor hinder peace talks. Indian officials had conveyed to their Pakistani counterparts an assurance that Agni-II is not "Pakistan-centric" and that one reason why the Dhanush, the naval variant of the Prithvi, had not been tested was that the shorter-range version could be construed as being "Pakistan-centric".

THE Clinton administration expressed its happiness over the "positive" statements from Indian and Pakistani leaders after the tests. Briefing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the wake of the tests, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Karl Inderfurth said that India had a "special responsibility" in starting a missile and nuclear race in the subcontinent. "Clearly, Pakistan is responding to Indian actions, not only in terms of the missile tests but also in terms of the nuclear tests," he said. The State Department also "regretted" the tests conducted by Pakistan. It said: "We remain concerned that the cycle of action and reaction of missile tests could lead to an accelerated arms competition in South Asia." U.S. congressional sources indicated that the missile tests are likely to delay the legislation in the U.S. Congress to lift the sanctions against both the countries.

Japan expressed its apprehensions and "extreme regret" with regard to the tests. "The missile testing could be detrimental to peace and stability in the region," a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. The suspicion that Pakistan's missile programme is based on North Korean technology has given Japan additional cause for worry. If the allegations are true, Japan fears that considerable amounts of money are certain to have changed hands and some of the money could have been diverted to enhance the already formidable North Korean missile programme.

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China's reaction to the missile tests was also somewhat muted. Expressing regret and concern, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson who briefed newspersons after India's test said that the Agni-II test "could trigger a new round of arms race in South Asia" and that it had violated the spirit of the U.N. resolution calling on India to stop the development of nuclear-capable missiles.

Beijing also expressed the hope that India and Pakistan would "continue a meaningful dialogue with patience and sincerity" and resolve their differences peacefully. News of the Agni-II test was featured only on the inside pages of leading official Chinese newspapers. Interestingly, the Indian Defence Ministry's Annual Report, prepared when George Fernandes was Defence Minister, states that "India does not regard China as an adversary but as a great neighbour". The report goes on to add that "while China's assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme and the transfer of missiles and missile technology to Pakistan affect the security situation in South Asia, India would like to develop mutually beneficial and friendly relations with China."

Developing a delivery system

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The development of Agni-II is of a piece with the nuclear weaponisation process undertaken by the Vajpayee Government.

THE launch of Agni-II on April 11, nearly a year after the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, would seem to be the logical extension of the nuclear weaponisation process that has been set in motion in India. The argument that the country needed to go nuclear for reasons of national security, in the face of a potential nuclear threat from across the borders - namely from Pakistan and China - would demand the development of a delivery system that would be nuclear-capable - which means a payload capacity of about a tonne and capability to reach deep into China. Irrespective of the reality (or lack of it) of the threat from China, having gone nuclear ostensibly on that premise without developing and deploying such missile delivery systems, the argument would lack credibility.

From the above perspective, therefore, the development of Agni-II, with a range capability of 2,500 km, much greater than the 1,000-km-plus of Agni-I, constitutes an essential component of building a credible minimum deterrent against an assumed nuclear threat from China. The Agni-II test, in that sense, marks a shift in the development of this intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) into an operational mode. In fact, until its last test flight in February 1994 as part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Agni was being touted as a 'Technology Demonstrator', and that too one meant to carry only conventional warheads. Then its development was put on hold and its hibernation was perceived in political and strategic circles as being demonstrative of a lack of political will. The recent test would seem to have altered all that.

The launch of Agni-II was carried out from an entirely new launch site on an island, called Wheeler Island, about 2 sq km in area and about 20 km off Orissa's Chandipur coast.

There were reports earlier this year that the Agni-II launch had been scheduled but had been called off owing to external pressures. According to DRDO sources, the launch was on the anvil since January, awaiting a go-ahead from the Government, which came in early March. The marine and aviation agencies were accordingly intimated. At a press conference after the April 11 launch, Defence Minister George Fernandes cited a "technical problem" as a reason for the delay. DRDO sources confirmed that there was a minor technical problem, but said that they could have gone ahead if the Government had wanted them to. According to them, the launch window was available till April 14; if the launch had not been underaken by then, the Meteorological Department would have been required to give another window. The advancing monsoon winds would have made it difficult to give another window.

There had for long been considerable political pressure to operationalise the missile. In August 1996 the DRDO appears to have sent in a proposal to the H.D. Deve Gowda Government to revive the Agni project (into Phase II) following the Prime Minister's Independence Day address in which he stated that the Agni project would be revived. However, the Deve Gowda Government fell within months and the Government headed by I.K. Gujral seems to have put the project on hold. Soon after the BJP-led Government took office in March 1998, a new thrust was given to the project. The Ghauri-1 test by Pakistan in April 1998, which pointed to external assistance for that country's missile technology, coupled with the nuclear tests in May 1998, seems to have proved decisive. A DRDO brochure on the IGMDP, issued in mid-1998, said: "The Agni IRBM has been successfully developed and successfully evaluated in flights, establishing re-entry, guidance and control. Operationalisation is progressing."

Agni-II marks a critical change in the basic rocketry technology it uses. Agni-I was developed as a two-stage vehicle whose first (booster) stage (S1) was essentially the solid-fuel first stage of the Satellite Launch Vehicle SLV-3 and the second stage (S2) is derived from the liquid-fuel short-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile Prithvi, developed as part of the IGMDP. The SLV-3 had been developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in its efforts to acquire an autonomous satellite launch capability. Its efforts since then have led to the development of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV); ISRO is moving towards achieving geostationary launch capability by the turn of the century.

One of the critical technologies ISRO mastered in its launch vehicle programme was the solid propellant and solid motor technology. This was the heritage which the ISRO derived from its earlier sounding rocket programme using Scout rockets and solid fuel called Polybutadiene Acrylic Nitrate (PBAN) imported from the United States. During the development of the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) after the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) came into force in 1987, the export of PBAN stopped and ISRO had to develop the solid propellant technology on its own. One of the most promising and successful propellants developed was Hydroxy-Terminated Polybutadiene (HTPB), which has come to be the mainstay solid propellant for ISRO's programme.

When Agni was conceived in 1983 as a vehicle based on SLV-3, the choice of solid fuel in its first stage became automatic. However, its second stage is essentially the Prithvi missile, which was being concurrently developed, whose origins went back to the liquid-fuel Devil missile that had been obtained from the Soviet Union. But as an operational system, this solid-liquid mix of propulsion of the missile was a matter of considerable controversy and debate. Simply put, a solid-fuel launcher is a "fire-and-forget" type of system; once ignited, the entire propellant load will have to burn out.

In the liquid fuel system, on the other hand, the propulsion can be controlled by shutting off the supply of fuel to the combustion chamber. For a controlled and guided trajectory, with mid-course corrections and so on, it was argued that liquid-fuel stages were better. However, as an operational system, liquid-fuel missile stages have storage and handling problems. Liquid fuels are corrosive and highly toxic; they are also hypergolic (that is, they do not require ignition but burn immediately on contact with an oxidiser chemical). All these pose operational hazards. Moreover, loading the missile with liquid fuel could take a few hours before each launch which, in a battle-field situation, could render operations ineffective. The debate, however, continues because both kinds of missile systems exist.

From the Indian perspective, however, with an established mastery over solid propellants, it was logical to go in for solid propellants right from the start because even solid propellants, concepts and technologies for thrust termination had emerged. The DRDO seems to have waited to validate other critical technologies in the missile, such as the carbon-composite heat shield, manoeuvrable re-entry of the warhead carrying re-entry stage, homing technologies as well guidance and control systems, before deciding to go fully solid with Agni. This happened once the Technology Demonstrator phase of Agni (Agni-I) was completed and there was a hiatus before the solid second-stage motor was developed. Indeed, the DRDO appears to be well on its way to using solid fuel in a big way; it has, somewhat belatedly, established a facility to produce solid propellants, and the unit is likely to go on stream very soon. It would also seem to make sense to make Prithvi a soild-fuel missile. As of now, however, the solid motors for the missile programme come from ISRO's facilities.

One of the main features of Agni-II, therefore, is that it is a completely solid-fuel missile. According to DRDO sources, the second-stage (roughly 3 m x 1 m) solid motor has been designed anew specifically for the missile. As against the three-segment S1 motor, the S2 motor is a single segment. For manoeuvrability and thrust control, the second stage has a "flex nozzle" which enables small changes in the thrust vector direction in flight. The flex nozzle can be manipulated with the help of an on-board closed-loop guidance and control system. Till now, the flex nozzle has been used only in the third-stage motor of the PSLV. The DRDO would seem to have adopted this technology for flight control of Agni in a newly designed motor. Agni-I's second stage, being liquid-propelled, used gimballing of the nozzle for thrust vector control, a concept that cannot be used in case of solids.

THE range achievable in a missile launch is a function of the propellant used and the parameter that describes it is called 'specific impulse' (Isp). Isp is a measure of the thrust generated per unit mass of the propellant burnt. Isp for liquid fuels is considerably higher than for solid propellants; this is one more reason why using liquid propellants to launch satellites yields a payload advantage. Also, it depends on the fraction of the propellant loading for a given mission. That is, the higher this fraction, as the fuel gets consumed, the mass to be lifted over a given range is smaller. At the present levels of technology, this fraction is as high as 90 per cent in the best solid motor launchers. The capability in India (going by ISRO's figures) is close to 86 per cent, which is extremely good.

The stated flight time and range for the Agni-II test launch are 11 minutes and 2,000-plus km respectively. However, according to experts, both Indian and foreign, a back-of-the-envelope analysis based on the dimensions of the missile and assuming 86 per cent propellant loading, indicates that the range is likely to have been lower than claimed. However, if a higher loading (say close to 90 per cent) was achieved, a greater range would have been possible. Of course, a higher range can also be achieved by reducing the payload mass. However, DRDO officials confirm that the tested payload was more than one tonne and therefore they claim that the range capability of Agni-II is even more by 200-300 km. But experts discount this claim.

According to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who heads the DRDO and the IGMDP, what is unique about Agni is the trajectory shaping and guidance that is possible through software. This is a feature of Agni-I as well as Agni-II. For the liquid-propelled Agni-I, this shaping was conceivably simpler; for Agni-II, it calls for appropriate on-board thrusters on the second stage of the missile. This is because the solid fuel is allowed to burn fully, which means that the velocity increment achieved before re-entry could be more or less from the mission perspective. Further, there is considerable dispersion in the burn time of solid fuels.

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Any compensation that is given to the missile during its ballistic phase (which happens once the second stage is fully burnt out) should be based on on-board sensor data and should be amenable to being adjusted reactively. These small force thrusters are liquid-fuel-driven and provide small increments in appropriate directions to shape the trajectory depending upon the target of the mission. It is these thrusters that give manoeuvrability during the re-entry phase. This has apparently been optimised through on-board software which, based on the initial trajectory fed in, does an appropriate "velocity trimming".

An altogether new concept has been adopted for the on-board navigation system. The earlier hard-wired part of the system was apparently not the most optimal, according to DRDO sources. In Agni-II, the standard that is adopted in civilian aircraft (circuit routing and device mounting) has been used. It is known as 1553 Data Bus; all the software have been designed around this bus. DRDO sources claim that this is the first time anyone has used the 1553 Bus on a missile; this, the sources say, not only reduces the number of connectivities but it also makes the missile a little more rugged. However, some missile analysts feel that this may not be the best path to follow. They say that a customised bus is better because in a standard bus one tends to use off-the-shelf electronic devices whose performance may not be optimal.

THERE have been media reports that Agni-II uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) for control during re-entry. Abdul Kalam, however, denied this; such a system, he said, depends on several external influencing factors and would make the system vulnerable to external interference. However, many missiles the world over do use GPS. Sources say that the use of GPS had been considered for Agni-II at some point of time.

Another major departure in terms of operational configuration is that Agni-II is designed to be launched from a rail-mobile launcher - one that can move on a standard broad-gauge rail system. Agni-I, on the other hand, had been designed as a road-mobile system. There are pluses and minuses to the change. DRDO officials feel that it reduces vulnerability and lends operational flexibility. Critics feel that the cost of rail-mobile systems could be higher and that they greatly increase the time for moving from one place to another. Considering that except in some parts - for instance, the northeastern region - road infrastructure is available wherever rail tracks are available, the decision to become rail-mobile could mean, in strategic terms, that deployment in the northeastern region is to be considered seriously.

However, even assuming that Agni-II is to be deployed in the northeastern region and even given a 2,000-km-plus range, Agni can still not reach vast parts of China - including Beijing, which is over 3,000 km away. Therefore, a longer-range Agni may well be required if the need for a deterrent against China is being seriously felt. The Agni programme does not otherwise make much sense, since Prithvi is an adequate deterrent against a threat from Pakistan. While a new system can certainly be developed if the Services require it, the present configuration is in operational mode, said Kalam. Range, he said, could be optimised by appropriately configuring the payload mass. According to Abdul Kalam, the road mobile version would also be available and it would be left to the Services to choose according to their operational convenience. According to him, no more tests are needed to operationalise Agni-II.

Experts contest this claim, pointing out that the new Russian Topol-M had to go through nine launches before being inducted. Failures, they say, are inevitable in a new system. Some DRDO scientists feel that at least one more test towards the end of the year may be required.

In any case, user agencies have so far not been involved in operationalising the system. In fact, it is not clear which Service - white, blue or olive green - will use Agni. Then, as was the case with Prithvi, user trials have to be undergone; this will certainly call for at least a few test firings. In addition, the solid propellant facility has to go into a production mode. It can be assumed, of course, that Bharat Dynamics Ltd will get into Agni production as well but it does not have the capability to handle solid-fuel motors. The two units have to be appropriately coordinated and all this will take time. Last, but not the least, a credible minimum deterrent is yet to be defined in strategic terms; precisely what the strategic considerations are has not been made clear. Clearly, the Agni-II launch has demonstrated an operational capability; the actual operationalisation of the missile is at least five years away.

Pakistan's ballistic response

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Pakistan's ballistic missile development programme, which started as a response to India's missile programme, has followed a twin-track approach - of importing missile systems and subsystems and pressing ahead with indigenous development.

PAKISTAN'S prompt response on April 14 to India's testing of its 2,500-km range Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Agni-II was only to be expected considering its longstanding missile development programme, which reached a high point on April 6, 1998, with the testing of the 1,000-km range IRBM, Ghauri-1. The missile tested on April 14 was called Ghauri-2, claimed to be an improved version of Ghauri-1. This was followed the very next day by the launch of a 600-km range surface-to-surface Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM), Shaheen (Eagle).

Pakistan has followed a twin-track and a twin-institutional approach for the development of its missile capability. It has resorted to import - in terms of complete missile systems and subsystems - as well as indigenous development. The two institutions involved are the Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), under the guidance of the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), which is under Dr. Samar Mubarakmand. Indeed, some analysts have said that the traditional rivalry between the two organisations has also spurred the missile programme. While Ghauri was a project of the KRL, Shaheen come from the PAEC.

Ghauri-2 is a liquid-fuel, two-stage missile while Ghauri-1 is a liquid-fuel, single-stage missile. The former is stated to have a range of 2,300 km but the test itself was designed for a range of only 1,500 km. The actual range achieved may have been less as in the case of Ghauri-1 where the claimed range was 1,000 km but the range achieved seems to have been 700 to 800 km.

However, the photograph of Ghauri-2 that was released officially is not distinguishable from that of Ghauri-1, in terms of the dimensions and the structure. For example, the two stages of Ghauri-2 cannot be discerned. Interestingly, Pakistan has used the Hatf-5 label for both Ghauri-1 and 2. Hatf is the name given to the family of missiles planned when Pakistan started its indigenous missile development programme. This now appears to have given way to borrowed technology and a new nomenclature.

An analysis by Dr. S. Chandrashekar, formerly a scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), of the data on the Ghauri-1 launch released by Pakistan (in the scientific journal Current Science of February 10, 1999) has conclusively established that Ghauri-1 is nothing but the North Korean No Dong-1 missile. This is the conclusion of many Western analysts as well, notably Dr. David Wright, a missile technology analyst for the Defence and Arms Control Study Programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This missile has been deployed by North Korea in large numbers along its northeastern coast.

North Korea is believed to have supplied to Pakistan 12 No Dong-1 missiles and equipped it with the means to manufacture more. The bought-off missiles would be deployable in the next couple of years or so. If means to manufacture them in Pakistan have also been transferred, it will, of course, take five to seven years before indigenous production can begin and the missiles can be validated and deployed. The Washington Post reported on May 14 that North Korea had earned "millions of dollars from this sale to Pakistan".

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Another missile from the North Korean stable that would match Ghauri-2's claimed range and characteristics would be the Taepo Dong-1, but it is still to be fully validated by North Korea. According to Wright, the "satellite launch" claimed by North Korea in August 1998 was the maiden launch of Taepo Dong-1. It is, therefore, unlikely that Taepo Dong-1 would have been exported to Pakistan. Given the actual range of 1,500 km during the test (assuming that the claim is correct), it is possible that Ghauri-2 is actually No Dong-2, which is a variant of No Dong-1 with a weight-reducing aluminium structure. However, from a strategic point of view it would make more sense for Pakistan to buy Taepo Dong-1, and the claim made that it was a new missile Ghauri-2, may have been meant just for domestic political consumption.

ON the other hand, Shaheen, the single-stage, solid-fuel SRBM, which was fired on April 15 over a range of 600 km, is most likely to be based on the Chinese M-9 missile (which has a range of 600 km for a 500-kg payload) or a variant of the two-stage, solid fuelled 300-km range M-11 (but with a reduced payload). A typical nuclear warhead would have a weight of around 500 kg. Shaheen is perhaps the same missile that was called Hatf-3 when it was first launched in mid-1997. The launch was widely believed to have been a failure.

Since the United States had imposed only Category II MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) related sanctions on China and Pakistan in 1993 for missile transfers, Pakistan, in all likelihood, procured subsystems and engineered Shaheen on its own with perhaps some Chinese assistance. Indeed, evidence gathered by U.S. spy satellites and intelligence agencies suggest that China has helped Pakistan set up an M-11 fabrication plant near Rawalpindi. According to Pakistani media reports, 84 M-11s with 12 to 20 mobile launchers cost $185 million and the technology cost another $516 million.

This would seem plausible given the capability that Pakistan has built up in solid propellant technology (akin to India) from the sounding rocket programme. Without a well-developed civilian launch vehicle programme, Pakistan may be lacking in an industrial base for liquid fuel technology, on which the North Korean missiles (whose lineage comes from the liquid-fuel Scud B missiles of the 1950s from the Soviet Union) are based, and hence may have opted to buy entire missile systems from North Korea. Indeed, the MTCR-related sanctions imposed on North Korea and Pakistan on April 17, 1998, following the Ghauri-1 launch, would also corroborate that assumption.

THE Pakistani missile programme can be traced to the time-frame 1986-87 after the French transferred sounding rocket technology for atmospheric research in the mid-1980s. Pakistan's quest for ballistic missiles could have been triggered by India's own Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) that got under way in 1982-83. The programme began with the development of three solid-fuelled missiles, Hatf-1, 2 and 3, with ranges (for a 500-kg payload) of 60 km, 280 km and 800 km respectively. Contrary to the opinion widely expressed then, which is still being held in some quarters in the wake of M-11 transfers, the initial Pakistani efforts would seem to have been wholly indigenous, based on the sounding rocket technology acquired from the French company Aerospatiale.

Hatf-1, a single-stage vehicle, and Hatf-2, a two-stage vehicle (with Hatf-1 as the upper stage), were successfully developed and tested in 1989 and deployed during the 1992-93 time-frame. However, Hatf-3 would seem to have run into difficulties in the staging of the missile with its large diameter motor required for the greater envisaged range. With the imminent induction of Prithvi across the border, Pakistan shopped for missile technology and acquired it from China first and North Korea in recent years. While Ghauri has been called Hatf-5, there does not seem to be a Hatf-4 in the series.

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According to a study of early Pakistani missiles by Chandrashekar (Missile Monitor, March 1993), the dimensions and capabilities of Hatf-1 indicated that it was based on the French Dauphin or Dragon-III. Since Hatf-1 and 2 had a diameter of 0.55 metre, the study argued that it could not have been based on the Chinese M-series which has a diameter of 1 m. Shaheen/Hatf-3 has a diameter of 1 m. According to Chandrashekar, Pakistan is likely to have built up an infrastructure for solid propellant manufacture, evolved capabilities in re-entry technology, critical raw materials, guidance systems and telemetry technology on its own as well as with some external assistance, including from China.

Immediately following the Ghauri test, Pakistani leaders and scientists claimed that they were working on another series of missiles and specifically named them "Ghaznavi", "Babri" and "Abdali". Ghaznavi has been described as having a range of 2,000 km. No other details have been made public except for Khan stating that the development of these missiles "is going on in full swing". This also seems to suggest that Ghauri-2 probably does not have a range of 2,000 km as claimed and that Ghauri-2 is either the same as Ghauri-1 or a minor variant of it. It is also possible that the North Korean Taepo Dong-1, once fully validated, will be renamed Ghaznavi. According to a July 19, 1998, report in Islamabad's Urdu daily, Al-Akhbar, Abdali has a range of 3,500 km. Abdali could also be drawing on North Korean technology; for example, it could be Taepo Dong-2, which is under development in North Korea.

In terms of strategic implications, Ghauri-1, assuming a range of 700 km with a payload of one tonne, the reach for a south and southeastern launch from Pakistan's border is already as far as Hyderabad, the Andhra Pradesh capital. With the acquisition of Taepo Dong-1 capability (Ghaznavi), which seems imminent once North Korea validates the missile, nearly the whole of India could be reached.

A fusion of politics and religion

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

It is illustrative of a certain political environment that all the leaders who attended the inauguration of the Khalsa tercentennial celebrations seemed oblivious to the dangers of communalism.

PRAVEEN SWAMI in Chandigarh

THE paintings at the media centre in Anandpur Sahib, helpfully put up by the Public Relations Department of the Punjab Government, recount the Shiromani Akali Dal's (SAD) authorised instant history of the Sikh faith. Starting from Guru Gobind Singh, they illustrate the defining moments of the religion, a narrative that for the SAD seems to consist largely of violent battles. Revanchist preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the figure at the heart of Punjab's ten-year-long carnage, is predictably excluded from this narrative. The last picture in the row is that of Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, who is staring out with a suitably epic gaze.

The celebration at Anandpur is more than just a commemoration of the formation of the Khalsa panth by Guru Gobind Singh 300 years ago. It is also a platform on which political legitimacy is being interrogated and established. If Badal has sought to represent himself as the heir to an unbroken Sikh tradition, the deposed chairman of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), Gurcharan Singh Tohra, has attacked the Chief Minister as a traitor to the traditions of the faith. Bhindranwale's seminary, the ultra-conservative Damdami Taksal, has used the opportunity to hawk posters of the preacher and tapes of his speeches, while maverick Akali politician Simranjit Singh Mann chose to call for a renewed struggle for Khalistan, this time through peaceful means.

A colourful array of unconventional figures have also entered the polemical fray. Hail Hair!, a book authored by Birendra Kaur and published by the Institute for Sikh Studies in Chandigarh, has put science at the service of faith. Writing in the institute's journal, Abstracts of Sikh Studies, reviewer Harkishan Singh claimed that the book comprehensively debunked the practice of shaving and described it as a "shibboleth created from trillions of dollars from the shaving industry and the like to perpetuate human lives against the dictates of nature." "It is time", Harkishan Singh proclaims, "to sound the bugle and say: 'Like Smoking; Like Shaving'."

If the tercentenary celebration provided a stage for politicians to construct a religious identity in their own image, their performances at Anandpur Sahib provide insights into the continuing battle of the Sikh Right, if such a monolithic entity does in fact exist, to represent the interests of the community. In all major mainstream political forces in Punjab, the language of the shrine and of faith appear to have decisively displaced secular discourse.

Badal's own representation of his place in Sikh history was perhaps the most interesting of those on display through the celebrations. On April 13, the penultimate day of the celebrations, he committed his Government to the creation of a new, "ultra-modern" city between Chandigarh and Anandpur. This new city, which would emerge from a fusion of high technology and Khalsa architectural heritage, would be home to sunrise industries, including information technology and biotechnology. Badal also announced a Rs.500-crore grant for the creation of an information technology facility at Anandpur Sahib, which he said would be "on a par with the most advanced institutes in Washington and New York."

While Badal's monumental ambitions have aroused more than a few sniggers from sceptics, the Chief Minister has clearly chosen to cast himself as a visionary figure. One of the SAD's key election themes was the re-creation of a modern version of Ranjit Singh's empire, a motif from which the Anandpur Sahib commitments have evidently emerged. The symbolic resonance of a new religious city close to Chandigarh, an icon of post-Independence secular modernity, was not lost on observers. Interestingly, Badal's notion of Sikh history rests on the appropriation of a wide variety of figures. Bhagat Singh, for example, was honoured with the Order of the Khalsa despite his commitment to atheism and radical socialism. The architect of the 1985 Punjab Accord, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, Planning Commission member Montek Singh Ahluwalia and industrialist Bhai Mohan Singh, were also honoured.

Yet, Badal's position as a moderniser is not an unambiguous one. In his struggle to marginalise Tohra, he acted like other SAD centrists in the past who were pushed to assert their religious credentials. Jagir Kaur, the new SGPC president, has for example adopted conservative postures in order to avoid attacks from the Right. In the course of her Women's Day address on March 8 in Jalandhar, she stunned her audience by asserting that the solution to sexual violence was for young women to dress more conservatively and keep their heads covered.

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Badal himself has been forced to flirt with the religious Right. On January 30, for the first time since taking office, Badal shared a platform with a group associated with the Khalistan movement, the Sikh Students Federation (SSF), a faction of the All India Sikh Students' Federation (AISSF). At the meeting, Badal lavished praise on SSF leader Harminder Singh Sandhu, a terrorist who was killed in a police encounter in 1990.

Such contradictions are certain to sharpen in the months to come: a commitment to economic modernisation will coexist, however uneasily, with a similar commitment to social reaction. Although Badal's domination of the Akali political apparatus is undisputed, Tohra has in important senses succeeded in defining the terms of future engagement. The terrain of this engagement is expressly religious, and Badal could well find himself pushed to adopt Right-wing postures on issues perceived to concern the affairs of the panth, a category ranging from the future of the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal to Tohra's demand for a separate Sikh personal law.

Tohra and the suspended Akal Takht Jathedar, Ranjit Singh, have carved out a more simple task for themselves. Both have defined their politics by assaulting the religious credentials of the SAD centrists. Both ensured a massive mobilisation of cadre for a march from the Akal Takht in Amritsar to Anandpur, culminating with a rally on April 13 to parallel Badal's show. Ranjit Singh told the rally that Badal had in essence betrayed the Sikh panth by undermining the authority of the Akal Takht Jathedar. Nonetheless, he continued, the Chief Minister would be forgiven if he "surrendered" before the Akal Takht. Ranjit Singh was removed as Akal Takht Jathedar on February 10, in the wake of a protracted battle with Badal, but continues to maintain that he still holds the office. Tohra was sacked as SGPC president a month later.

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Frontal campaigns against Badal's supposed lack of commitment to the Sikh faith have formed the core of the Tohra faction's mobilisation. In media interviews, Tohra said that the SAD constitution required the party president, and all working committee members to be Amritdhari (baptised) Sikhs. He claimed that Badal and his close aides did not meet this qualification. Most members of the Anandpur Sahib Foundation, which is managing the tercentenary, Tohra alleged, drank liquor in violation of orthodox Sikh tenets. He called Jagir Kaur a mahantni (priestess), a derogatory reference to the pre-1925 control of gurdwaras by hereditary priests. He described the celebration itself as a "sarkari tamasha (government-sponsored show) which violates Sikh maryada (tradition)."

Opposition to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee inaugurating the celebration on April 8 was a central theme in Tohra's protests. Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, he said, had backed Operation Bluestar. Tohra also asserted that the inaugural proceedings had not adhered to tradition, including the manner in which the Guru Granth Sahib was displayed. Other pro-Tohra figures were less subtle in their protests against Vajpayee's presence. On April 6, SGPC member Sarup Singh Dhesi moved the Sikh Judicial Commission, a body with powers of judicial review over the conduct of the community's religious affairs against the Prime Minister's visit. Dhesi claimed that Vajpayee ought to have been invited only if he conceded that Sikhs constituted a separate qaum (nation), and called for all Sikhs to undertake baptism in the course of the tercentenary.

That Tohra is emerging as a focal point for a wide variety of anti-Badal Akalis has become clear. His Anandpur rally was graced by the presence of Union Minister Surjit Singh Barnala, who for the first time signalled his explicit opposition to Badal. Mann too shared the platform, although Tohra made clear that the politician's call for Khalistan was not endorsed by him. The Sant Samaj, a Right-wing apex organisation of clerics led Sarabjot Singh Bedi, along with the Damdami Taksal, represented by Bhindranwale's successor Baba Thakar Singh, joined Tohra's Anandpur gathering. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar also spoke at Tohra's rally, asserting that whenever sants (priests) and the state had been in confrontation, the sants had always triumphed. Finally, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Kanshi Ram's arrival signalled that he is open to an alliance with the Tohra faction.

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Should these events sustain their momentum, the tercentenary rally could mark the beginning of a new political formation in Punjab politics. The coalescing of the religious Right behind Tohra has underlined his plans to represent himself as the voice of a besieged Sikh minority. Six resolutions passed by the alliance around Tohra call for, among other things, the SAD to be led by Amritdhari Sikhs and for an apology from Badal to the Akal Takht for his action against Ranjit Singh. Tohra's ability to mobilise the religious establishment and its supporters was in stark contrast to the miserable failure of the official SGPC rally to Anandpur from Amritsar. Badal-affiliated religious figures, including Keshgarh Takht Jathedar Manjit Singh and Akal Takht Jathedar Puran Singh were nearly invisible during the celebrations.

The principal beneficiaries of the stand-off between Badal and Tohra have been marginal far-Right groups, who are scrambling to occupy the political space that has opened up for them. The AISSF assumed renewed visibility when it demanded that an invitation to singer Lata Mangeshkar to perform at the inauguration be withdrawn. Lata Mangeshkar eventually declined the invitation, citing health reasons. The Amritsar unit of the World Sikh Council (WSC) has also backed Tohra in his fight against Badal and demanded that the Chief Minister seek pardon from the Akal Takht. WSC president and former Supreme Court Judge Kuldip Singh refused to receive the Order of the Khalsa award, citing what he believes is government apathy to human rights violations committed by the state while combating the Khalistan insurgency.

In addition to the competitive communalism of the Akali factions, the Congress(I) has contributed its own effort to harvest religiosity. State Congress(I) chief Amarinder Singh chose a more popular idiom for the party's procession to Anandpur. Weapons of Guru Gobind Singh which belong to his family, the feudal rulers of Patiala, were taken through villages across Punjab. Large crowds gathered to witness the display of the historic weapons, a sign that the Congress(I) had succeeded in capitalising on the cultural climate of the tercentenary celebrations. Congress(I) leader Meira Kumar extended something of an apology for the party's role in the genocidal anti-Sikh violence of 1984, regretting unspecified "errors" which she promised would not be repeated.

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However, the Congress(I)'s tactics could have disturbing long-term consequences. In 1972, Zail Singh, who later became Punjab Chief Minister and President of India Zail Singh, began to deploy the Akalis' own religious instruments against them. On one key occasion, during Zail Singh's chief ministership, horses believed to have come from the same lineage as Guru Gobind Singh's horse were paraded throughout Punjab in a display of state patronage. Hindu members of the Congress(I), in turn, sought to subvert the Jan Sangh by aggressively mobilising communal sentiments. The Akalis, pushed to the wall, responded by escalating their revanchist programmes. These events laid the foundations for the rise of Bhindranwale and Punjab's decade of carnage.

It is perhaps illustrative of a certain political environment that none of the national and regional political leaders who attended the inauguration of the tercentenary celebrations saw any reason to warn of the dangers of communalism. The privileging of religion as the principal political idiom in Punjab is even more tragic. For all its prosperity, an estimated 50 per cent of women in the State are illiterate. Communist Party of India MP Geeta Mukherjee said that Punjab also has the highest rate of female foeticide nationwide. Caste oppression and economic iniquity are rampant. Sadly, no major party in Punjab appears interested in placing the everyday secular concerns of the State's people at the centre of its political existence.

Faith and identity

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

PRAVEEN SWAMI

Sturdy independence and patient vigorous labour are perhaps the strongest characteristics.... No one can rival him as a landowner and yeoman cultivator. He is rather expensively inclined in his food, and likes rum, meat and sugar; his fondness for the first of these three sometimes outruns his discretion....

- A.E. Barstow, The Sikhs: An Ethnology, 1928, cited in Brian P. Caton "Sikh Identity Formation and the British Rural Idea, 1880-1930" in Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, eds. Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald Barrier.

MEDIA coverage of the tercentennial celebrations of the Khalsa panth show how little perceptions about Sikhs have changed since Barstow's Orientalist account of the Sikh peasantry. "This is not a creed for the self-conscious nor for the fainthearted," wrote one glossy national magazine. "Sikhs", author Khushwant Singh asserted in a recent article, "have an enormous resilience and self-confidence born of the convictions that anything others do, they can do better." Khushwant Singh proceeded to attribute to the creation of the Khalsa what he asserts is a miraculous absence of beggars among Sikhs.

The proliferation of essentialist themes rooted in colonial discourse - the inherent entrepreneurship, valour, hedonism, irrationality, humanism of the Sikhs - has done little to explain for ordinary Sikhs the significance of the tercentenary celebrations. Much of the discourse seems to be plagued by a search for what might constitute an authentic Sikh identity. Debates over young Sikh men trimming their hair and beards, and the religion's sometimes troubled relationship with Hinduism, have emerged in mainstream discourse over several years. Many of these debates have an explicitly political resonance, connected with the battle for legitimacy in the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Curiously, these anxieties and tensions were almost invisible at the Anandpur Sahib celebrations themselves. The crowds at Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal's enormous tented pavilion outside the gurdwara, and that of deposed Akal Takht Jathedar Ranjit Singh a short distance away, were dwarfed by the numbers of ordinary pilgrims who showed a casual indifference to the politics of the day. Dark predictions of violence between Akali centrists and Right-wing Akalis neither deterred pilgrims nor excited their interest. Even the promises made by the Punjab Police to frisk each pilgrim were broken soon in the face of the mass of visitors from India and abroad.

Efforts to revive themes of the Khalistan movement found no audience at all. Right-wing organisations which sought to place alleged human rights abuses carried out during the anti-terrorist operations between 1985 and 1992 found few takers. Even the resurfacing of the formerly banned Dal Khalsa International provoked only mild curiosity. The organisation staged demonstrations on the last day of the celebrations against the Chief Minister for the release of Sikh prisoners held under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and controversial human rights activist Jaspal Singh Dhillon, who was recently arrested for his alleged role in a bomb plot.

Popular religious sentiment in the State appears to have little to do with the aggressively communal themes that have emerged from political players. The tercentenary had led many Sikh believers to take the final step of becoming Amritdhari (baptised) members of the Khalsa panth and adopting the way of life laid out by Guru Gobind Singh on Baisakhi day in 1699. Keshgarh Sahib Takht Jathedar Manjit Singh told Frontline that he estimated that some 1.25 lakh people had been baptised at Anandpur Sahib during the celebrations, which perhaps is a conservative estimate. Yet, the process of baptism was shorn of the ugly ultra-conservative political resonance the practice had been vested with at the outset of the Khalistan movement: it was a simple engagement between individuals and their faith.

The devotion and good humour of ordinary pilgrims were evident as they patiently dealt with arrangements that at times seemed made exclusively for the convenience of VIP visitors. Excruciating traffic snarls, the thick crush of visitors, and even the furnace-like April heat did little to fray tempers or deter the pilgrims. On occasion, the celebration almost acquired a carnival atmosphere. Fireworks and a laser display on April 13 led many to throng the site late, while displays of traditional arts during the inauguration again provided a riveting spectacle.

Early government estimates suggest that more than 70 lakh pilgrims from Punjab and around the world attended the Anandpur Sahib celebrations.

THE creation of the Khalsa panth by Guru Gobind marked a defining moment in Sikh history. The Panj Piare, five volunteers from different castes and regions, were the first recruits to a new spiritual order based on complete self-surrender and trust in God and the Guru. The five were taken into a tent, the legend goes, where they underwent a death-like experience. Clad in yellow robes and blue turbans, they were then brought out before the congregation. Along with the new ceremony of consecration through amrit (nectar) came the five distinctive signs of uncut hair, the comb, the steel bracelet, the drawers and the sword that would set the Khalsa followers apart from their milieu.

The creation of the Khalsa, scholar Gurdharam Singh Khalsa has argued, marked a movement "from a non-syncretic orientation to an active anti-syncretic one", a disengagement from both Hindu and Muslim traditions. Others dispute the proposition. For instance, Harjot Oberoi says that "considerable ambiguity and fluidity when it came to religious identities in India." Whatever the truth, the second phase of sharpening of the Khalsa identity took place in the late 19th century, driven by British administrative moves and Army regulations premised on the notion of the community as a suitably loyal class of peasant proprietors. Sikh organisations like the Singh Sabha, born in opposition to Arya Samaj conversions to Hinduism, also drove the religious revival.

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Many Sikh believers took the final step of becoming Amritdhari (baptised) members of the Khalsa panth. The rituals in progress.

Post-Independence politics has also been argued to have had a role in the shaping of the Khalsa as it exists now. Historian Attar Singh wrote: "The cumulative effect of various Sikh religious and social reform movements had emphasised Sikh distinctiveness from Hindus, but the admissibility of the Sikh sects other than the Khalsa order, such as the Udasis, the Nirmalas, the Sewa Panthis, the Sahajdharis, the Namdharis, Nirankaris, etc., had never been questioned or restrained." He added: "But in actual practice, the working of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee marginalised all these sects and cults, some of which were even pushed out, like the Sant Nirankaris." The changing character of class in Punjab, including the rise of the Jat peasantry, was enmeshed with these developments.

Apart from the role it may have in the making of a community, the Khalsa tercentenary is certain to have a dramatic short-term impact in the State. With the construction of the Khalsa memorial at Anandpur Sahib, scheduled to be completed early in the next century, the city will have a major new physical space for the Sikh devout. The Union Government and the Punjab Government, which have cumulatively spent some Rs.300 crores on the celebrations, hope that the memorial will emerge as a major tourist destination in the future. The celebrations have transformed Anandpur town, which has been "renovated" and painted white, to the irritation of conservationists who have challenged Government-led development in court.

The real significance of the Anandpur Sahib celebrations, however, will be decided by Sikhs in Punjab and around the world. If the celebratory ambience is any indication, the community is considerably better equipped to cope with the challenges a changing world poses to faith than at least some of the politicians and intellectuals who claim to represent it. Within the State itself, a consideration of Guru Gobind Singh's egalitarian premises will hopefully lead to greater public participation in efforts to eradicate caste and gender oppression.

Adoption as a deal

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The busting of a racket involving the sending of infants of the Lambada tribe in adoption to the West has kicked up a controversy in Andhra Pradesh.

LAMBADA, a hamlet in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh, populated by a tribal community of the same name, has in the past two years been the centre of a flourishing trade in the export of infants, mainly female, to the United States and Europe for adoption, it has been revealed. The racket, which operated through some organisations that offered children for adoption, was busted by the police after a Telugu daily reported the sale of an infant from Lambada. The details that emerged from the police investigations were shocking.

A breakthrough in the investigation came when Kheri, a tribal woman, told the police that she had 'brokered' six months earlier the sale of three children from Janareddy Colony and Srirampalli village under Halia mandal. This information led investigators to the Good Samaritan and Evangelical Welfare Association (GSEWA), run by Peter Subbaiah, who hails from Sathyavedu in Chittoor district.

The police raided a creche run by Subbaiah in the Mahendra Hills area of Secunderabad. This led to the discovery of 56 infants, all of them brought from thandas (tribal hamlets) in the Devarakonda and Chandampet areas of the backward Nalgonda district. Home Minister A. Madhava Reddy personally led the raid.

Soon afterwards, three centres of another adoption agency, Action for Social Development (ASD), run by N. Sanjeeva Rao, were raided in Gandhinagar in Hyderabad. As many as 124 infants were found in these places. It is estimated that the ASD has despatched 172 babies to foster parents in the U.S., Australia, Germany, Norway and Spain since 1991 and the relatively new GSEWA more than 200 children to the U.S., United Kingdom, Belgium and other European countries. In all, nearly 400 babies have been procured by these agencies for adoption in foreign countries.

THE operation has been so fine-tuned that often the deal is of a "from the womb to the West" nature. In many cases foetuses are 'booked' by brokers and an advance is paid for the nourishment of the pregnant women. Immediately after birth, the infant is shifted to Hyderabad and the documentation is prepared for its adoption outside the country.

The first recorded case of adoption from the Lambada community can be traced to a humanitarian deal made in 1997 when one Sabhavath Ramu Chouhan, who was on a visit to his village Teldevarapally in Chandampet mandal, was informed that a cousin of his did not want to bring up her newborn female twins. Chouhan persuaded her to give away the infants to a voluntary organisation for adoption and arranged for a visit to Teldeverapally by representatives of the adoption agency at Sanjeevareddynagar in Hyderabad.

The woman's husband, however, demanded money for handing over the babies. His demand was refused. His father, however, visited the adoption centre and urged the missionaries to accept the babies on humanitarian grounds. The organisation accepted the twins and, out of sympathy for the poor family, paid Rs.1,500 towards the woman's medical expenses.

This incident set off a wave of adoptions in the poverty-stricken region. Several parents were eager to give away their girl children, and Chouhan's services were used to send three more newborns of tribal parents to the Sanjeevareddynagar adoption centre. The missionaries obtained consent letters from the parents and allowed them the option of taking their children back within three months in case they changed their minds.

What started off as an act of service by missionaries soon became a money-spinner for clever operators who floated what they claimed were voluntary organisations. On the face of it, it would seem that parents who live in penury were volunteering to offer their children for adoption in the hope that at least the children would lead better lives. But a disturbing fact is that money played a major role in persuading poor families to part with their babies.

Invariably the deals were weighted in favour of the adoption centres which paid Rs.5,000 or less to the parents for each child and charged $2,500-3,000 (between Rs.1.05 lakhs and Rs.1.06 lakhs) from the foster parents. "The racket was quite widespread. Lambada children are preferred because of their fair complexion, sturdy features and resistance to infections," said Ch. Rajakumari, president of the Andhra Pradesh Mahila Samakhya.

PREDICTABLY, the controversy has developed a political angle, with the major political parties in the State trying to gain mileage from it. Peter Subbaiah, director of the GSEWA, is a Congress person. As secretary of the Chittoor District Congress(I) Committee, he played a prominent role in making arrangements for AICC(I) president Sonia Gandhi's public meeting at Tirupati on January 28 this year. Members belonging to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) flaunted in the Assembly posters showing Subbaiah in the company of APCC(I) president Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and former Chief Minister N. Janardhana Reddy. This was to hit back at the Congress(I) which had produced in the Assembly posters showing Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu with Ramakrishna Gowd, an accused in a case relating to counterfeit currency.

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The TDP was further embarrassed when Congress(I) MLAs displayed posters showing Minister for Women Development and Child Welfare Padala Aruna in the company of Peter Subbaiah. The Minister denied any links with Subbaiah but admitted having visited the office of Subbaiah's organisation.

MORE embarassment was in store for the Government. Six of the rescued children died in quick succession, five of them in the government-run Niloufer Hospital in Hyderabad, owing to ailments ranging from measles to bronchopneumonia and diarrhoea. Public outrage over the ham-handed manner in which the hospital treated the children put the Government on the defensive.

Chandrababu Naidu visited the hospital, with mediapersons in tow, and ended up sparking another row. He rapped the hospital's Superintendent, Dr.M.M. Reddy, and questioned the competence of its paediatricians. Chandrababu Naidu's was an emotional outburst prompted by an unrelated incident in which an infant died, allegedly because of the negligence of the hospital staff. The wailing mother had brought the child's body to the Chief Minister.

Doctors went on strike protesting against the Chief Minister's remarks and his decision to shift all the infants to corporate hospitals which had air-conditioned neo-natal units. The strike focussed public attention on the State Government's failure to improve its public hospitals in spite of all its emphasis on hi-tech and information technology. "What is the point in saying that you spend Rs.1,300 crores on primary health care with World Bank assistance when you cannot take care of Niloufer Hospital, a premier paediatric institute which attracts patients from all over Andhra Pradesh and some districts of Karnataka?" asked Janardhana Reddy.

Congresspersons submitted a memorandum to Governor C. Rangarajan demanding the dismissal of the Home Minister and the Child Welfare Minister on the grounds they had prior knowledge of the child trafficking. They said that the police had raided the ASD office a few years ago and submitted a report about its activities but the Government had renewed the organisation's licence. Jamuna, who works with Gramya, a voluntary organisation in Chandampet mandal of Nalgonda district, said: "This business is not new. We had brought this to the notice of the Government two years ago but it took no action."

Even in respect of the GSEWA, the State Government had issued an order on May 14, 1998, declaring it "a fit institution" for dealing with cases under the Juvenile Justice Act. The Government justified its action on the grounds that the GSEWA had already secured recognition from the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), which comes under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and is the national regulatory body in matters of adoption, thus enabling itself to approach competent courts to get foreigners declared as guardians of Indian children.

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CARA's role in the episode has been questioned by the State Government because it is the latter that grants permission to institutions to pick up infants abandoned in government hospitals by mothers, while CARA gives only permission for adoption. It is clear that the adoption centres bypassed CARA guidelines, which stipulate that no one, including Indian or foreign agencies, should make monetary profits out of the adoption process. Yet CARA granted recognition to the GSEWA. It also failed to act when the U.S. Consulate in Chennai expressed its dissatisfaction over the poor documentation made available for the adoption of children by U.S. citizens.

According to Tejavat Bellaiah Nayak, convener of Nangara Bheri, an organisation that fights for the rights of Lambadas, the issue of child trafficking boils down to the problem of abject poverty in the Lambada tribe. Of late, members of the community have shunned their traditional culture and adopted modern ways. "This has led to new problems such as dowry, owing to which they view the girl child as a burden," he said.

The adoption centres have displayed photographs of well-dressed children living abroad in happiness with their foster parents. People like Peter Subbaiah justify the activity saying that biological mothers would have resorted to infanticide if the adoption centres had not intervened. But this hardly justifies attempts to make money out of the tribal people's compulsion to tear infants away from their mothers' laps.

A community's plight

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

PEOPLE of the Lambada tribe lead peripheral lives in thandas (hamlets) sprinkled across Andhra Pradesh. Some of them still follow a nomadic lifestyle. But whether they are on the move or settled in a hamlet in the poverty-ridden Telengana region, life has always been harsh for them.

Lambadas hardly own anything in terms of land or property. Their culture is different from the mainstream cultures. Lambada rituals have nothing in common with the rituals of the plains people. Traditionally, Lambadas or Banjaras have moved in groups.

Community celebrations were in vogue. Hardworking and sincere, they depended on forest produce and odd jobs for a living. Work was equally shared between husband and wife. A strong family bond and a strong thanda bond were the hallmarks of Lambada life.

Oli or bride fee was prevalent in the earlier days. Each Banjara youth had to pay both in cash and in kind to secure the hand of a girl. A couple of milch animals often served as bride fee.

All this changed in the last decade when thousands of Lambada families transformed themselves into agricultural workers and adopted the ways of the mainstream population. Lambada labour comes cheap and they never shy away from work. Often they take up annual contracts at low rates. Landowners find in them a hardworking and undemanding workforce.

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A Lambada employed as a farmhand earns less than Rs.3,000 a year. A little paddy, maize or jowar and a set of new clothes once or twice a year are enough to make a Lambada worker content. Lambada women supplement the family income by working in fields and as domestic help. Illiteracy and ignorance about family planning practices among the Lambadas result in large families. Curiously, most of them have female children. The anaemic and ailing mothers find it difficult to take care of their children. Infanticide was known to be practised by members of the tribal group.

The Lambadas have benefited from very few welfare programmes implemented by the government. Neither social workers nor non-governmental organisations (NGOs) paid attention to their plight until recently. The literacy rate is an abysmal 1.8 per cent among females; among males it is at best five times that figure. Teachers absent themselves from schools for Lambadas, ration cards are not issued to them (even if they are issued, local merchants appropriate them for a paltry sum) and health workers rarely work with them.

Living in remote rural areas - Katravat thanda, Palepalli thanda, Peddamungala thanda, Kuralakshmi thanda, Dubba thanda and so on - the Lambadas of Devarakonda, Dindi and Chandampet mandals of Nalgonda district have not gained from the community welfare programmes that have been launched in the past 50 years.

Hundreds of Lambada families, which settled down in these areas after the completion of the Nagarjunasagar project, were promised that they would be rehabilitated by the State Government. But so far nothing has come of the rehabilitation package.

Efforts to attain social acceptability began after the Lambadas settled down in Nalgonda district. Tribal culture and rituals gave way to non-tribal and brahminical rituals and along with this came financial burdens. The oli system gave way to dowry and the demand for boys, who were far outnumbered by girls, rose steeply. A dowry of Rs.30,000 and more is in vogue now. Educated Lambadas turn away from the lifestyle of their families and seek respectability elsewhere.

The girl child soon became an expendable commodity and the arrival of racketeers doubling as social workers began around the same time. Adoption agencies, which needed little by way of investment, mushroomed in the region. All that they needed was a few social workers to go about the thandas convincing Lambadas to sell their infants. The offers constituted a source of income for the poverty-stricken community, and many parents struck deals with the agencies. Children became commodities to be booked in the womb.

The business flourished and kept both sides happy. But for the Lambada girl child, it was a choice between going from her mother's lap to the cradle of the NGO or to the grave.

The pains and pleasures

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A look at changing trends on the adoption scene.

JUST a few months before the furore over the alleged adoption rackets broke out in Hyderabad, a brief classified advertisement appeared in a leading Chennai-based newspaper. It said: "Brahmin baby available for adoption. Contact (telephone number) after 10.00 a.m." A prospective adoptive parent contacted the telephone number in Chennai and a woman at the other end offered to hand over the baby for a consideration of Rs.75,000. The police, who were informed, raided the woman's house and found evidence of collusion between her and a nurse in a city hospital. A letter allegedly written by the nurse asked the woman to find adoptive parents for the child soon. "There is great demand for the baby because it is a boy born to a Brahmin," she wrote.

The Hyderabad and Chennai instances point to the commercialisation that has crept into the adoption process. These also raise questions on the relinquishment process by biological parents. The decision, it would seem, is increasingly influenced by offers of money.

The number of children adopted in India is still quite small, compared to the number, particularly of girls, abandoned at birth or soon afterwards by parents. While the number of children adopted by Indian parents is only about 1,700 a year, thousands are in orphanages if not on the streets. India has 11 million street children, one-third of them in the 6-10 age group.

Despite the evolution of a more congenial atmosphere for adoption in recent years, commercialisation of the adoption process, government procedures and inherent biases in the law are stumbling blocks to wider social acceptance of the practice.

Social workers say that the social stigma attached to adoption is less prevalent now. Couples are now more open about adoptions. The increase in the number of adoptions has been gradual - not dramatic or sharp as some agencies would like people to believe.

Figures obtained from the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), the regulatory body under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, reveal that the number of in-country adoptions increased from 1,409 in 1994 to 1,746 in 1998. Inter-country adoptions increased from 1,128 to 1,406 during the period.

In 1996, one-third of all in-country adoptions took place in Maharashtra. One-third of all inter-country adoptions were through agencies based in West Bengal. Half of all the adoptions - in-country as well as inter-country - were made through agencies in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta.

One of the factors that has impeded the growth of adoptions is the commercialisation of the process. The financial terms stipulated by some adoption agencies - up to Rs.40,000 for a child in some cases - have meant that adoption remains outside the reach of lower middle class couples. The absence of secular national legislation on adoption has also deterred minority communities from adopting children. The present laws do not allow couples from the minority communities to become full-fledged 'parents' but only 'guardians'. Guardianship means that the adopted children will not enjoy inheritance rights, unlike children adopted by parents who are Hindus.

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Adoption is no longer a secretive process; it is now open and transparent. A social worker at Bala Mandir, a Chennai-based charitable trust dealing in adoptions, says that 15 years ago people would quietly slip into the institution and speak in hushed tones about their mission. Adoption agencies say that couples who face the problem of infertility are now more willing to adopt. Andal Damodaran, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW), says that growing awareness about adoption has contributed to the higher numbers in recent years. "Earlier," she says, "people were more rigid about the caste of the child, for instance. Now they believe that a child is a child."

As a result, in-family adoptions have increasingly given way to adoptions from recognised institutions. Andal Damodaran thinks that this trend has been influenced by the "two-child norm" which means that fewer children within the family are available for adoption. Earlier, couples adopted children so that they would have someone to take care of them in old age and also to perform their last rites. Social activists say that such purely functional motives have given way to other, more 'progressive' motives.

Many parents now consciously go in for adoption even though they have or may decide to have a biological child of their own. There are some couples who decide to adopt out of a social conscience. These are people who, despite being able to have a biological child, take in an abandoned child. There are also women who prefer adoption to going through the pains of child-bearing.

AT present the laws governing adoption in India are the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA) and the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 (GWA). HAMA is the only codified law on adoption and it equates the status of the adopted child to a biological child born in the same family. Muslims, Parsis, Jews and Christians come within the purview of the GWA.

A landmark Supreme Court judgment in 1984 laid the basis for the adoption process becoming more child-centred. In 1982, Laxmi Kant Pandey, a lawyer, filed a public interest petition before the Supreme Court, alleging malpractices, including child trafficking, in the guise of adoption. The judgment, which established a regulatory framework for adoption, was delivered by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati. It emphasised the need to safeguard the interests of the child. It prescribed systems and procedures regulating inter-country adoptions and norms for adoption agencies.

The Supreme Court guidelines allow agencies to apply to the competent authority directly for inter-country adoption of children above the age of five. A source in the ICCW says that adoption agencies increasingly prefer giving children to parents overseas because this is more rewarding financially. Although Indian parents are now more willing to accept older children, there are fewer children available for them to adopt. There are also children with special needs, children with mental and physical impairment. Adoptive parents abroad often have no problem accepting them.

One of the consequences of the Supreme Court order was the establishment of CARA at the apex of the regulatory system governing adoptions. At the State level, there are Voluntary Coordinating Agencies (VCAs) serving as a link between prospective adoptive parents and adoption agencies. At the bottom are agencies that handle the actual adoption. There are now 80 recognised agencies in India handling inter-country adoptions, and 278 agencies in 25 countries enlisted to sponsor inter-country adoptions.

The ICCW and the Indian Council for Social Welfare (ICSW) are the scrutinising agencies for inter-country adoptions, but they are not directly engaged in aiding adoptions. The ICCW and the ICSW scrutinise the adoption papers submitted by the agencies to the courts and ensure that all norms and guidelines are adhered to and that the adoption is in the child's best interest.

CARA acts as a clearing house of information on children available for in-country and inter-country adoption and it regulates, monitors and develops programmes for the rehabilitation of children through adoption. Adoption agencies have to obtain a "no objection" certificate from CARA before processing applications for inter-country adoptions.

Another important consequence of the 1984 order was the licensing of agencies. While agencies dealing in inter-country adoptions are licensed by CARA, State governments license those working on in-country adoptions. The Supreme Court wanted strict separation of the scrutinising agencies, the VCAs and the adoption agencies.

The children available for adoption are those relinquished or abandoned. In case of relinquishment, the parents have to sign a letter which gives them 30 days to reconsider their decision. Ideally the social worker should first try and counsel parents to keep the child, offering material assistance if needed. Vidya Shankar, secretary of the Adoptive Parents Association, thinks that the development of alternative methods such as foster care and training of women for employment can help reduce the number of children abandoned for reasons of poverty.

Parents who wish to adopt have to register themselves with one of the licensed adoption agencies or the VCA. They are interviewed by social workers on their motives, and their family environment is assessed. Then a search for a child begins. Agencies try, as far as possible, to match the physical appearance of a child with that of the prospective parents. All children in the adoption agencies undergo comprehensive medical tests for congenital defects and developmental problems. Prospective parents also have to undergo medical tests.

When a suitable child is found, it is shown to the prospective adoptive parents. Upon acceptance, the child is placed in pre-adoptive care for three to six months while the adoption is registered in court by the agency. The court decides the period of post-adoptive study, during which agencies maintain contact with the adoptive parents. But the shortage of skilled social workers often means that this study, as important as the pre-adoptive study, is seldom done.

When an adoption agency is unable to find a suitable home for a child, the case is referred to the VCA. If the VCA is not able to find parents for the child within 30 days, the child is listed for inter-country adoption. CARA introduced this deadline so that children could be moved out of institutional care and into a family environment at the earliest. Couples from abroad who choose a child have to pay for its maintenance till the adoption is validated by a court.

A social worker at VCA, Tamil Nadu, says that about 50 per cent of the couples registered at the VCA in Chennai are from rural areas such as Neikarapatti near Palani, Dadagapatti near Salem and Chittiyappanoor near Vaniyambadi. These people are mostly small farmers or traders. "Rural folk," says a social worker, "make far less demands about the child's colour, sex and caste than urban couples." However, the 30-day period is too short a time to communicate with prospective parents in rural areas.

After a child is registered with the VCA, social workers visit the child in the adoption agency and select a couple from their list. The parents are sent a picture of the child and given two days to decide. This process takes a week or more. The child's medical tests take up to 10 days. If a child is rejected by the couple at this stage, the VCA will have difficulty finding another couple before the deadline. Vidya Reddy, VCA secretary, says that the change made by CARA has only "prevented a large number of Indian couples from becoming parents."

The Supreme Court judgment allows parents between the ages of 25 and 45 to adopt. It stipulates that the average age of parents wishing to adopt a baby below the age of one must be 45 years or less.

ALTHOUGH the number of adoptions has increased, the picture is far from rosy. Biases concerned with gender, complexion and looks are prevalent. A source at Karna Prayag, an adoption agency in Chennai, says that a few years ago, when adoption was still not very common, parents believed that they could choose from among several babies. Although parents are aware that it is not possible to select a 'dream baby', they still list out specifications. Sheila Jayanthi of Karna Prayag adds that some parents look for a "porcelain doll", not realising that children cannot be "made to order" here. Agencies lay stress on pre-adoptive counselling to prepare parents to accept the children as they are.

To solve the problems of adoptive parents the Adoptive Parents Association was formed in Tamil Nadu four years ago. With a strength of 90 members, it acts as a support system. Vidhya Shankar believes that adoptive parents and adopted children have problems quite unlike others.

Why NATO has failed

EQBAL AHMAD world-affairs

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Kosovo represents yet another tragedy of a world out of balance and without order. Only a worldwide, militant anti-imperialist movement can change this state of affairs.

BILL CLINTON may well declare one day yet another 'achievement' in the Balkans, as he did in 1995 after the Dayton Accord. In fact, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's intervention and its sequel underline the abject failure of American and European policy. The developments expose their pretensions to power as being devoid of the will to wield power, and their claims to a moral motivation as being hollow.

Success entails the attainment of defined objectives. NATO's objectives in starting the raids were two-fold. One was to induce President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the Rambouillet Plan, the minimalist agenda of which was to restore Kosovo's autonomy abrogated by Milosevic in 1989. The other objective was to save the civilians of Kosovo from imminent 'ethnic cleansing', a recently-coined euphemism for genocide. NATO has failed to achieve these stated objectives.

Within days of the beginning of the air strikes, Milosevic had rendered Rambouillet a dead letter, and escalated his campaign of slaughter and expulsion. Entire villages and towns were destroyed or emptied of their inhabitants. As of April 10, half a million Kosovars had been expelled from their homes and had taken refuge in resource-poor Albania and Macedonia. The exit of 700,000 more refugees was blocked by the Serb military. These hapless people were starting to die of cold and starvation. Reports said that Kosovo's capital Pristina had been "cleansed" of its inhabitants. Because the superpower and its cherished alliance are locked in the tragedy, newspapers and television screens are filled with horrid images of the carnage.

Euro-American leaders acknowledge rather coyly that the plan promoted from Rambouillet is past its prime. As for the assault on the Kosovars, the NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea, says that "even we have been shocked by the sheer enormity of what is going on in Kosovo..." His words betray the extent to which NATO's leaders had miscalculated Belgrade's will to escalate atrocities. The Clinton White House speaks of "genocide" and "abhorrent, criminal action on a massive scale." By the end of a week's time NATO had extended its bombing target beyond Kosovo to Serbia including Belgrade.

"Political will is building," General Wesley K. Clark, NATO's top Commander, told reporters wistfully. But it was not really happening. "On the seventh day, Serb resilience (sic) gives NATO leaders pause," reported The New York Times. "They are struggling to figure out what to do next if the bombing does not work." Two weeks after the air strikes began, they still had not figured out.

Even the air strikes lack the seriousness of purpose that was so extravagantly on display during the Gulf War of 1991. "Belgrade is not Baghdad," a NATO spokesman says bluntly. Tactical aircraft were not used to inhibit the Serb forces which were doing the ethnic cleansing. When approval was granted - two weeks later, after half of Kosovo's people were pushed out and thousands killed - for deploying two dozen Apache helicopters, the Pentagon said that it will take a month to get them ready. These failures were predictable and revealed once again the vulnerability of the contemporary international system to manipulation, aggression and genocide. One may draw certain conclusions from the tragedy of the Kosovars.

"Humanitarian intervention" often signals diplomatic negligence and a feeble structure of keeping the peace. Kosovo offers a textbook case of this. Slobodan Milosevic, by any definition a fascist demagogue, began his climb to power by starting his ethnic hate campaign in Kosovo. He suspended Kosovo's autonomous status in 1989, imposed a harsh discriminatory regime upon the ethnic Albanians who constitute 90 per cent of Kosovo's inhabitants, and laid the foundations of the current carnage. For a decade, diplomats, experts and observers had been pointing at this international powder keg and urging a vigorous effort to prevent the catastrophe that was waiting to happen. But the United States and its allies in Europe, which control the reins of world power and the working mechanisms of the United Nations, were too busy promoting globalisation, encircling Russia, controlling world resources, and expanding the reach of NATO, to be able to attend meaningfully to the crisis in Kosovo. In order to maintain NATO's monopoly over peacemaking in Europe, the U.N. was discouraged from taking any initiative on Kosovo. Yet NATO and the U.S. attended to the simmering crisis too late in the day to be able to avert the worst.

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Bombs cannot compensate for the absence of seriousness and resolve. Since the end of the Cold War, the "sole superpower" has tended to monopolise the role of the world's Field Marshal. Fair enough, it is in the nature of power to seek dominance and a leadership role. But these entail costs which the U.S. and the alliance it leads are unwilling to incur. During the three months that they contemplated launching the air strikes, most analysts had pointed out that historically air raids have not significantly changed enemy behaviour or capabilities unless an air force was aiding ground forces. As Eliot Cohen, a strategic affairs expert, put it, "Air war, like modern courtship, appears to court gratification without commitment."

If NATO was unwilling to send ground forces to Kosovo, where 90 per cent of the people could be presumed to be friendly, then Serbia may not give in and will certainly escalate its inhumane ethnic agenda. Among others, Mary Kaldor, an influential British expert, had warned that unless troops were placed in Kosovo, bombings will "lead to ethnic cleansing on a large scale." Instead, on March 23 the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) withdrew from Kosovo, leaving its people, as Kaldor wrote in The Guardian, "without even the fig-leaf of international protection." NATO wants war without death, play policeman without risking injury which, to paraphrase Lenin, is like seeking to make omelettes without breaking eggs.

When a required decision is evaded, the problem compounds. The one period in recent memory when air strikes might have been effective in discouraging genocide and also prevented Milosevic's current outrage started in April 1992 and lasted for three and half years. Kamal Kurspahic, then the Editor of the daily Oslobodenje, recalls how the Serb artillery on the hills surrounding the city destroyed Sarajevo bit by systematic bit, killing 10,600 inhabitants including 1,800 children. The Serb artillery emplacements were visible targets, easy to silence from the air. Yet the big powers looked on year after year. George Bush, then the U.S. President and Commander-in-Chief, who gave us Desert Storm, would pretend not to understand. Every other day or so he would ask Brent Scowcroft, his National Security Adviser, "Tell me again what this is all about."

Appeasement nourishes evil ambition. Bill Clinton came to the White House promising to "lift and strike", that is, he would lift the arms embargo on Bosnia and launch air strikes on Serbia's artillery emplacements. He dithered, as months after tragic months added up to years. It was twelve hundred and sixty days, a quarter million lives and unaccounted sufferings later - after a U.N. safe haven was run over, the blue helmets were chained to their armour, and thousands of people were massacred in Srebrenica - that NATO intervened, and the U.S. claimed kudos for forging the Dayton Accord.

It legitimised ethnic cleansing by partitioning Bosnia along unstable ethnic boundaries. This dubious 'achievement' required an excessive appeasement of Slobodan Milosevic who deserved then, as he does now, to be tried as a war criminal. Instead, he remained an indulged partner in 'peacemaking', and like Nemesis, has returned to haunt his benefactors.

Evidence of "good faith" is essential to the credible exercise of humanitarian intervention. In a New York Times article, Josef Joffe, a German international relations expert popular in the American foreign policy establishment, asserts that this is "a war of conscience, not of interest". He adds: "The attack on Yugoslavia is aimed at saving lives, and for purely moral reasons." Why it took the West's much vaunted conscience so long to be aroused, he does not explain. After all, Milosevic suspended Kosovo's autonomy, which NATO is belatedly attempting to restore, in 1989, then proceeded to wage war with Croatia and commit crimes against humanity in Bosnia. Joffe's is just the kind of unsubstantiated assertion that dailies like The New York Times favour and such 'un-publishable' intellectuals as Noam Chomsky demolish, in obscure publications like the Z-Magazine.

In a recent article Chomsky discusses NATO's intervention in Kosovo with the unsparing logic and empiricism that is his hallmark. He notes a tension between "two pillars of world order": the United Nations Charter prohibits the forcible violation of state sovereignty while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the individual's rights against state oppression. The notion of 'humanitarian intervention' arises out of this tension. Legal scholars differ over when such intervention is permissible or necessary. A common and reasonable conclusion is that its determination rests on the "good faith" of those who intervene. "Good faith" is determined not on one's rhetoric but on one's record of adherence to international law. Thereupon follows Chomsky's devastating and totally accurate listing of the United States' violations of international law and the U.N. Charter. The evidence of 'good faith', he demonstrates conclusively, is entirely absent in this case. The wolf has appointed itself to guard the chicken coop.

As Noam Chomsky recognises, his indictment "leaves un-answered" the question of "what to do in Kosovo". Outside of the U.N. framework, the legality of NATO's intervention is dubious. The air strikes have provided an excuse for the Serb nationalists to augment the enormous suffering of the Kosovars. Yet, it promises the victim population at least "some protection from a predatory state." So how does one react to the event? One answer, readily offered by the Left during the Second World War, is that when history forces a choice between fascism and imperialism, often a choice between oppression and annihilation, one has to support imperialism's war against fascism. But then one expects such a battle to be fought seriously, with clarity of purpose.

The dilemma that such events pose cannot be resolved by mere affirmations and negations, for and against great power interventions. Kosovo represents yet another tragedy of a world out of balance and without order, a world system so rigged in favour of the rich and powerful that even such international laws as the Convention on Genocide cannot be enforced unless the enforcement serves the interests of a decisive power or group of powers.

In effect the big powers, especially the U.S., obstruct the emergence of a framework of world order. Thus the U.S. has defied the rulings of the International Court of Justice, NATO has not seriously cooperated with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (established in 1993), and Washington continues to oppose the treaty to establish an International Criminal Court in Rome. It will take a worldwide, militant, and visionary anti-imperialist movement to change this inhumane state of affairs.

A complex verdict

D.B.S. JEYARAJ world-affairs

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The fractured verdict in the Provincial Council elections in Sri Lanka appears to have upset the calculations of the ruling People's Alliance.

THE April 6 elections to the five Provincial Councils - Western, Central, North-Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa - in Sri Lanka have produced a result that is complex in many ways. Overall it indicates a clean sweep by the ruling People's Alliance (P.A.), which polled the largest number of votes. The prevailing system of proportionate representation has, however, made the P.A's majority in four of the Councils rather narrow. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)-led P.A. enjoys an absolute majority only in the North Central Province, where it won 19 of the 33 seats. It may be able to cobble together an alliance with some Tamil parties and secure a slender lead in three Councils in the highlands; in the Western Province, which includes Colombo, it is not in a position to secure a majority even with the help of minority parties in a hung Council. Although it won only 26 of the 58 seats in the Central Province, the P.A. can put together a legislature group of 34 members with the support of eight representatives of Tamils of Indian origin. Likewise, in Uva and Sabaragamuwa, where it has won only 17 of the 34 and 22 of the 44 seats, it can manage to have razor-thin majorities with the help of a Tamil representative in each Province.

In the Western Province, in the country's largest Council, the P.A. faces bleak prospects as it has won only 46 of the 104 seats, and cannot hope to achieve a working majority with the help of just two members belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities. It is to be seen whether the Opposition will allow the administration to function smoothly. Frantic negotiations are on between the P.A. and other parties in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the Council. Talks are also on between P.A. leaders and upcountry Tamil leaders on the modalities of power-sharing in the highland Councils.

THIS complex state of affairs has thoroughly undermined the impact of the P.A's five-nil victory. But for the narrow victory margins, the P.A's performance could have been deemed impressive for two reasons: first, it was the United National Party (UNP) that was in power in all but the Western Province, and second, the P.A. Government in Colombo, elected in August 1994, is now in its last lap, with elections expected to be announced any time after August this year. In view of the anti-incumbency factor in the national context, many analysts had predicted a massive swing of votes against the P.A. Several pollsters had predicted that the UNP would win three Councils in tight contests. Instead, it appears that the anti-incumbency factor was at work at the Council level against the UNP.

There was, however, near-unanimity of opinion that if the polls were free and fair, the margins of victory for either side would be extremely narrow. This part of the forecast has proved true. The P.A. won 53.39 per cent of the votes in the North-Central Province, while the UNP won 39.46 per cent. In the Western Province, it was an even contest, with the P.A. securing 43.68 per cent and the UNP 43.23 per cent. In the Central, Uva and Sabaragamuwa Provinces, the P.A. won 43.17 per cent, 44.88 per cent and 47.82 per cent respectively, while the UNP won 40.10 per cent, 43.98 per cent and 44.85 per cent.

The narrow difference in vote-shares was reflected in the tally of seats. Under the system followed in the provincial polls, the party that garners the highest number of votes in a Province gets two additional or bonus seats. In the April 6 elections, the P.A. won 10 bonus seats. Before the allocation of these seats it had 120 seats and the UNP 112. Including the bonus seats, the P.A's tally rose to 130 in a grand total of 273. The break-up of seats prior to the allocation of bonus seat was: North-Central - P.A. 17 and UNP 12; Western - P.A. 44 and UNP 44; Central - P.A. 24 and UNP 23; Uva - P.A. 15 and UNP 14; and Sabaragamuwa - P.A. 20 and UNP 19.

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CRITICS of Ranil Wickremasinghe, UNP leader and Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, argue that he lacks the charisma of his chief adversary President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and that he is incapable of leading the party to victory. Wickremasinghe's attempts to reform and modernise the party has angered the old guard. Subtle moves have been afoot to replace him with either former party secretary Sirisena Cooray or Karu Jayasuriya, the newly elected Opposition leader in the Western Province. Normally, a defeat in all the five Provincial Councils would have considerably weakened the position of the UNP leader. The fractured verdict in which the UNP appears to have lost only by a short head has, however, prevented this from happening. In fact, it has even kept alive the hopes of a UNP renaissance under Wickremasinghe.

The provincial polls attracted a great deal of attention because they were expected to provide a clue to the pattern of voting in the future. Had the UNP won a handsome majority, the writing on the wall would have been clear for the P.A.. The SLFP's political allies in Parliament would have started deserting the Government and the UNP would have gained in confidence. Besides, being in control of the provincial administrative apparatus would have helped the UNP in the parliamentary or presidential elections.

On the other hand, a victory for the P.A. would have bolstered its image and President Kumaratunga would have called for an early presidential election, which she could win in such a context. Thereafter, it would have been possible for the P.A. to conduct parliamentary elections and gain a significant majority. However, now with the recent polls throwing up neither victors nor losers, the situation is not conducive to decision-making on these issues.

With the two main political formations more or less evenly placed, it is doubtful whether the P.A. will call for early elections. It may be content to complete its term in office, in the meantime attempting a breakthrough on both the political and military fronts vis-a-vis the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Also, it is likely to introduce a series of populist measures with an eye on the elections. In any case, the P.A. Government is likely to take decisive measures on this issue only after the elections to the predominantly Sinhala Southern Provincial Council take place. Filing of nominations for this crucial round of elections will begin on April 22.

Sections of the state-controlled press have been publishing glowing accounts of the P.A's victory in the Council elections and predicting that on the basis of this, Chandrika Kumaratunga would emerge winner in the presidential election. The truth, however, is somewhat different. In spite of winning the largest number of votes, the P.A's performance leaves much to be desired. This assessment is based on two factors.

PRIOR to the introduction of proportionate representation, Sri Lanka followed, like India, the "first past the post" system. Instead of a radical overhaul of the system, the system of proportionate representation was merely superimposed on the existing structure. Although elections were district-wise, each electoral district in turn was a conglomerate of electoral divisions that corresponded to the earlier single electorates. This was for administrative convenience. Political parties played along and began appointing organisers on the basis of electoral divisions. In the 1994 general elections, the P.A. won all but one of the southern "Sinhala" electoral divisions. In the April elections, of the 95 electoral divisions in the five Provinces, the P.A. won 61 while the UNP won 33 and the National Union of Workers (NUW) one. The significance of the result is that 10 Cabinet Ministers and three Deputy Ministers "lost" the electoral divisions they were assigned to as organisers. They included "war" Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte (Senkadagala) and "devolution" Minister G.L. Peiris. The fact that Cabinet Ministers are slipping on their home turf does not augur well for the P.A.

Secondly, the prospects of a P.A. sweep in an envisaged presidential election are not bright. In 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga scored a grand 63 per cent vote on a national basis. This comprised 50 per cent of the Sinhala votes and 13 per cent of the minority votes. If the Tamils of the Northern Province were able to vote in large numbers, she would have got 70 per cent of the vote. The recent polls indicate that the P.A's share in the south is only around 45 per cent as against the UNP's 43 per cent. It is rather unlikely that the minority communities will vote for Chandrika Kumaratunga, in view of the ongoing war and the consequent hardships. Thus, she may not garner 50 per cent of the votes on the first count as required in a presidential poll.

The Council elections have also brought into sharp focus the growing rift between the minorities and the Kumaratunga Government. The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and the Up Country People's Front (UCPF), which represent Tamils of Indian origin, are components of the P.A. Government, with their leaders S. Thondaman and P. Chandrashekaran holding office as Minister and Deputy Minister respectively. Yet both parties refrained from contesting under the P.A. banner as Tamil sentiment in the plantation areas did not favour the ruling party. The UCPF contested alone and won two seats. The CWC, in association with 19 Tamil organisations, formed an umbrella organisation called Inthiya Vamsavali Makkal Perani (Indian Origin People's Front). In view of a legal dispute over its election symbol, the cockerel, the CWC adopted the peacock symbol of the NUW. The Front won nine seats (the CWC won eight and the Democratic Workers Congress one) in four Councils. The CWC's strength has been reduced to eight from 17 mainly owing to its association with the present Government. Yet, the Tamil representatives are now sought after by the P.A. to form an administration.

The situation is true of Sri Lankan Tamils too. Unlike Tamils of Indian origin, they are concentrated in sufficient numbers in Colombo and its suburbs. In the April polls, the voting pattern of Sri Lankan Tamils fell into four categories: voting for the UNP, abstaining from voting, rendering their votes invalid, or voting for the New Leftist Front. Since the CWC contested under the banner of the Indian Tamil Front, Sri Lankan Tamils did not vote for the party. But their support for the UNP was evident from the large majority of preference votes received by chief UNP candidate Karu Jayasuriya. The New Leftist Front won only one seat, and that too in Colombo. The victory is attributed to the Tamils' support for Wickremabahu Karunarathne, who has consistently stood up for their rights. The unusually large number of invalid votes and the comparatively low voter turnout are also attributed to the attitude of Sri Lankan Tamil voters.

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The situation is somewhat similar in the case of Tamil-speaking Muslims. In the 1994 elections, the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress was with the P.A. In the recent Wayamba provincial polls, there was considerable pressure from the rank and file on the party leadership to contest independently. But its leader, Ashroff, decided that the party would contest on a common list with the P.A.. None of the Muslim Congress' candidates was returned (the system of proportionate representation entails voting for a party's list of names and then indicating individual preferences). The Muslim Congress contested on its own in Kalutara district of the Western Province, and along with the P.A. in other areas. The Congress won just one seat in the Province. Also, the P.A. lost electoral divisions that were under the purview of senior Muslim Ministers such as Fowzie and Alavi Mowlana.

It is clear from the results that the minority communities are getting alienated from the Government. The P.A. cannot hope to ignore this development as it is the minority vote that propelled it to power in 1994. The fact that the Tamil parties, despite their reduced strength, are still able to play the kingmaker further underscores the importance of the minority vote.

Another phenomenon was the resurrection of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). This ultra leftist organisation contested in all the Councils and won 15 seats. By winning eight seats in the Western Province, it proved that it had made deep inroads into Gampaha district, the stronghold of Chandrika Kumaratunga. If the JVP is willing to align itself with the P.A. or even the UNP, then a viable administration is possible. But the JVP has announced that it will neither support any party nor adopt a case-by-case approach towards the issue. The crux of the matter is that the JVP has arrived on the national scene as a third force.

Ironically, the Provincial Council scheme, which was introduced primarily as a device to realise the aspirations of the Tamil people, is defunct in the North-Eastern Province while being functional in the south where no demand was raised for devolution of powers. The scheme is yet to prove its worth to the Sinhala people. Provincial elections continue to be perceived as an instrument to ascertain the public mood rather than as a tool of development. The fact that the P.A. Government, which is committed to greater devolution, is in control of most Councils may bring about an attitudinal change towards them. Already some Cabinet Ministers are preparing to take over as Chief Ministers. It remains to be seen whether the Provincial Councils will use the powers devolved to them to usher in meaningful development in their respective spheres of control.

A precious heritage

PANKAJ SEKHSARIA social-issues

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

THE ethnobotanical knowledge of the Onge tribal community is staggering. Italian anthropologist Lidio Cipriani, who studied the community in the 1950s, was among the first of many experts to acknowledge this Onge heritage. He wrote in 1966: "In their continual search for food the Onges have acquired botanical and zoological knowledge which seems almost innate, and they know of properties in plants and animals of which we are quite unaware. Nearly every day on Little Andaman I came across this. I had only to draw a rough sketch of an animal and they knew at once where it could be found; it was only thanks to them that I was able to find the various amphibia, which subsequently proved to be new species."

Among the best-known examples of Onge knowledge is the method Onges use to extract honey from the hives of the giant rock bee. In order to ward off the bees, they use the leaves of a plant, which they call 'tonjoghe' (Orphea katshalica). To quote Cipriani again: "...the juice of a certain plant they call tonjoghe... has the power of deterring bees, and this knowledge (which) has been handed down from generation to generation, is applied with delightful simplicity...There are bushes of tonjoghe everywhere...the Onges simply grab a handful of leaves and stuff them into the mouth. With some vigorous chewing they are quickly reduced to a greenish pulp, which is smeared all over the body...another huge mouthful is chewed on the way up and spat at the bees to make sure that they will be deterred... the bees fly away from the comb without stinging and the honey can be cut out..." causing harm neither to the collector of honey nor to the bees.

Disregarding such knowledge, attempts are made to impart modern technology to the Onge people. A few years ago the Fisheries Department posted a fisheries inspector and two fishermen at Dugong Creek to teach Onges modern methods of fishing. The fishermen admitted later that they had much to learn from the tribal community about fishing in the waters of the island.

More recently, a controversy erupted when senior researchers from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) tried to patent a discovery that would probably lead to a cure for cerebral malaria. The issue attracted international attention. The source of the medicine in question is a plant that the Onge use to treat fever and stomach disorders.

The size and nature of the wealth that lies in the island home of the Onge people are largely unknown. What is more important is that if the present situation continues, the Onge people may not survive for too long and with them will go a huge bank of invaluable knowledge.

Little Andaman: a chronology

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1901: Population of the Onge 672.

1911: Population of the Onge 631.

1921: Population of the Onge 346.

1931: Population of the Onge 250.

1951: Population of the Onge 150.

1952: Italian anthropologist visits Little Andaman to study the Onge tribe.

1957: Declaration of the island of Little Andaman as a tribal reserve.

1961: Population of the Onge 129.

1965: Report by the 'The Inter-departmental Team on Accelerated Development

Programme for the A&N Islands', Ministry of Rehabilitation, Government of India. 1970: Timber extraction begins.

1971: Population of the Onge 112.

1972: First amendment to the tribal reserve on Little Andaman.

1974: Forest Department assesses the timber productivity of the forests of the island.

1975: Forest Department initiates work on the red oil palm plantation.

1976: The Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS) is created.

1976: Presentation of the Forest Corporation proposal for logging and forestry operations in Little Andaman.

1977: The Forest Corporation starts fuctioning.

1977: Second denotificaton of the tribal reserve on Little Andaman.

1977-79: More outside families settled on Little Andaman.

1981: Population of the Onge 100.

1983: Study of the Onge by anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya.

1988: Formulation of the National Forest Policy which makes a special case for the protection of the rainforests of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

1991: Population of the Onge 101.

1995: Patenting controversy related to Onge knowledge.

1996: Supreme Court order on forests.

1999: Two Onge youths found dead.

A people in peril

PANKAJ SEKHSARIA social-issues

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The Onge tribal community of Little Andaman, which is on the verge of extinction, faces a serious threat from ill-conceived development plans and their attendant maladies.

ON February 26, 1999, Andaman Herald, a Port Blair newspaper, reported that the bodies of two young members of the Onge tribal community were found floating in a creek near their Dugong Creek settlement on the Little Andaman island. The young men had been missing for a few days apparently after having gone turtle-hunting. The cause of the deaths was not known, but drowning was ruled out. The Onge people are excellent swimmers and sailors and there is no record of an Onge drowning in a creek. The newspaper said that foul play was suspected as the post-mortem and the cremation were done with undue haste. One of the dead men was a constable with the Andaman and Nicobar Police, according to the newspaper report.

This piece of news was inconsequential except to a few concerned people. This incident, however, assumes extraordinary importance in the light of the fact that the Onge issue has a complex background and history.

THE Onge community is one of the four Negrito tribal communities that still survive in the Andaman islands. Its population today is around a hundred individuals; the 732 sq km of the thickly forested island of Little Andaman is the only area they inhabit. The community is on the brink of extinction. Additionally, one of the dead youths had reportedly complained to an adviser to the Planning Commission, who visited the island in the recent past, about the resource depletion that the community faced owing to illegal timber logging and poaching in the forests.

The Onge community had flourished in the Andaman islands for centuries. Not much is known about the community, but whatever is known is proof enough of the astonishing depth and diversity of its knowledge.

A powerful two-pronged attack - on the natural resource base that sustains the community and on the culture of the community - has over the past three decades slowly but surely pushed Onges to a point of no return. Recent investigations in Little Andaman have brought to light some glaring irregularities, and the two reported deaths are believed to be the latest and the most obvious consequence of the process.

The story of the Onge people's alienation begins in the late 1960s, when the Government of India planned a massive development and colonisation programme for the union territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in complete disregard of the fragile environment of the islands and the rights of the tribal communities. A 1965 plan, prepared specifically for Little Andaman, proposed the clear-felling of nearly 40 per cent of the island's forests, the bringing in of 12,000 settler families to the area and the promotion of commercial plantations, such as those of red oil palm, and timber-based industries in order to support the settler population.

Had the plan been implemented fully, it would have destroyed Little Andaman and caused the extinction of the Onge tribe. Logistical problems, lack of infrastructure and a revision of policies over time ensured that the destruction was not complete. However, in the conception and planning of the development programme, the Onges were sidelined and the violations started.

The government team that suggested the development programme ignored the Andaman and Nicobar Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation (ANPATR), which had in 1957 accorded the status of a tribal reserve to the entire island of Little Andaman. Further, about 20,000 hectares (roughly 30 per cent) of the island was denotified from its tribal reserve status in two stages, in 1972 and 1977, still leaving 52,000 ha as an inviolable tribal reserve. Many of the proposed projects were also taken up for implementation. These included a 1,600-ha red oil palm plantation and a major timber extraction operation that continues even today.

The Forest Department leased out 19,600 ha from the denotified area to the Andaman and Nicobar Forest Plantation and Development Corporation (ANFPDC), which is the sole agency responsible for timber extraction here. In 1976, the ANFPDC presented its Project Report for Logging and Marketing of timber from the forests of Little Andaman. It was estimated that a total of 60,000 ha of the island was available for logging and that 60,000 cubic metres of timber could be extracted annually from 800 ha.

Here again was another clear violation of the Onge tribal reserve. When 52,000 ha of the island's total area of 73,000 ha was already a tribal reserve, how could 60,000 ha be made available for logging? The Corporation should have limited its operations to the 19,600 ha that had been leased out to it. With 1,600 ha being under red oil palm plantation, the actual area for logging was even less, at 18,000 ha. This meant that the Corporation should have logged only 18,000 cu m of timber from an area of 240 ha annually. The average for the actual logging over the last two decades, however, is much higher, at 25,000 cu m of timber from an area of 400 ha annually.

Furthermore, a working plan has not been prepared for the logging operations on Little Andaman. Besides, the continued logging contravenes a Supreme Court order of 1996 stopping all logging in the absence of a working plan. The Forest Department has justified the logging on the basis of its 1976 project report. However, the legality and validity of this report are open to question.

Significantly, the Deputy Conservator of Forests - Working Plan (DCF-WP) of the Andaman and Nicobar Forest Department is now reportedly preparing a working plan for the forests of Little Andaman. This clearly contradicts the present stand of the Department, which claims that the equivalent of a working plan already exists.

As if this was not enough, the Corporation has gone a step further; it is logging within the tribal reserve, making a mockery of the law and also the rights of the Onges. Maps available with the ANFPDC and the Forest Department have logging coupes dated 1990 onwards marked clearly within the tribal reserve.

Even as these violations occurred, thousands of outsiders were settled in Little Andaman. The settler population grew rapidly; from a few hundreds in the 1960s to 7,000 in 1984 and over 12,000 in 1991, displacing Onges from some of their most preferred habitats. Hut Bay, the main town in the island, is an example.

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The Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS), the official tribal welfare body of the administration, introduced welfare measures that were completely unsuitable for the Onges. Foodstuffs such as rice, dal, oil and biscuits were introduced to a community whose traditional food included the meat of the wild boar and turtle, fish, tubers and honey. The agency even offered each adult 250 gm of tobacco as a "welfare" measure. In a blatant attempt to move the forestry operations deeper into the forests of Little Andaman, authorities have sought to settle the nomadic Onges at Dugong Creek in the northeast of the island and at South Bay at the southern tip. Wooden houses on stilts and with asbestos roofing were constructed for them at these places. These structures were not suited for the hot and humid tropical environment of the islands and the Onge people preferred to live in their traditional huts in the forest nearby.

Simultaneously, attempts were made to introduce a cash economy in the community, which did not have even a barter system. Ill-conceived schemes, such as the raising of a coconut plantation (in which the Onge people were made workers), cattle-rearing (the community does not consume milk) and pig-breeding, were introduced. All of them failed. Environmentalist Bittu Sahgal noted that during one of his visits to the Onge settlement a few years ago, the Onge people were found being used to do menial chores, such as fetching water for welfare workers appointed by the administration.

A visit to the Onge settlement of Dugong Creek has become mandatory on many a VIP itinerary. Not only are the Onge people expected to perform for the pleasure and entertainment of the VIP, but they are put to work weeks in advance to tidy up the settlement.

The settler communities, which have been handed over the lands and resources of the Onge people, have not treated them any better. They exploit and look down upon the tribal people. Alcohol was introduced and many Onges have become addicts. This addiction is now exploited - the Onge people exchange with the settlers valuable resources such as honey, turtle eggs, wild boar meat and ambergris for liquor.

Logging operations have also helped open up the forests, encouraging further encroachments into the tribal reserve. Consequently, illegal activities such as poaching have become rampant - resulting in a drastic decline of rare creatures such as the monitor lizard, the dugong and the endemic Andaman wild pig. All these creatures are not only important sources of food and nutrition for the Onge people, but play an integral role in their culture and society. Their unavailability leaves gaps that cannot be filled.

It is clear now that the survival of the Onges can only be ensured if the present policies vis-a-vis development and the tribal people are reviewed with sensitivity. Serious attention must be paid to what the tribal people have to say and an honest attempt made to find out what they want. There are no signs however of that being done.

At a meeting of the District Planning Committee held in Port Blair in November 1998, the Onge representative, Tambolai, complained that settlers living in the areas near their settlement were troubling them. A major point he made was that finding wild pigs in the forests was becoming difficult and hence the timber extraction operations should be stopped.

If the responses of the authorities are anything to go by, Tambolai may well have been talking to the wind.

An extraordinary team

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A Touch of Tennis: The Story of a Tennis Family by Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan, with Nirmal Shekar; Penguin Books, 1999; pages 173, Rs.250.

THIS is the story of a tennis family - Ramanathan Krishnan and his son Ramesh Krishnan - written in collaboration with Nirmal Shekar, Tennis Correspondent, The Hindu.

I have seen first class tennis since my Oxford days over six decades ago. The first Wimbledon final I saw was in 1936 when Fred Perry completed his hat-trick and turned professional. I have watched every U.S. Open since my United Nations days in New York from 1960, and reviewed many of them for The Sportstar and for Frontline. During all these years I have seen some sisters playing competitive tennis, for example, the Maleeva sisters and, more recently, the potential world-beaters from the U.S., Venus and Serena Williams. I have also seen John McEnroe and brother Patrick McEnroe, the latter becoming a fine doubles player. But I have not come across a father-son combination such as Krishnan and Ramesh, both of whom won a critical fifth rubber to take India into a Davis Cup final. That unusual record belongs to us.

The Krishnan saga begins with his father T.K. Ramanathan who came from humble beginnings to become No.3 in India in the early 1930s. I saw him win a match in the City Club, Tiruchi, in 1932. He was a baseliner, with fine speed of foot, amazing stamina and rock-like steadiness. But while his game was effective, it was not attractive to watch.

One must read the book and marvel at the sacrifices TKR made, and the total dedication he showed, to make his son Krishnan, born in 1937, develop into a top tennis player. Thanks to his father's coaching, Krishnan became a junior champion, and went on to become India's top player of his era. At one time he was ranked No.3 in the world. Playing for India in the Davis Cup, he played a total of 97 matches, and won 69 of them. His record in singles includes victories against Jaroslav Drobny, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. He regards as his finest match the Davis Cup match in 1966 when he beat Thomas Koch of Brazil in five sets after being two sets down. He took India to the Davis Cup final once. But he was never destined to bring home the Davis Cup.

How did he do this? It was by sheer artistry. His service was never a powerful weapon. "You can be sure I won't serve any aces. Nor will I serve double faults. I am just going to put in my 'Ye Bhagwan' serve." He had no lethal ground strokes either. He won by consistency and placing with fine stop and angled volleys, and a graceful half volley drop shot now and again. His tennis was "a thing of beauty" to watch.

As I commented in a letter to the editor in The Hindu recently, his court manners were impeccable. He was a sportsman through and through. His modesty became him well. I regard him as a perfect role model for all aspiring youngsters.

On pages 86 to 90, Krishnan has given a personal list of the top ten players among his contemporaries. The remarkable thing about this list is that six of them, led by Rod Laver, the greatest of them all, are Aussies. Thanks are due, no doubt, to Harry Hopman.

THE story now goes on to son Ramesh, as much an artist with the racquet as his father. I have seen many of Ramesh's victories, including his victory on the Centre Court at Wimbledon against the Swedish ace, Joakim Nystrom, and practically all his matches at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. He developed a remarkable mid-court game, playing his best shots and bewildering his opponents from the so-called "no man's land". He too began his tennis tutelage under grandpa TKR, but did not take too kindly to TKR's over-strict and somewhat dictatorial ways. He too represented his country with distinction in Davis Cup competition, first under his father Krishnan's captaincy, and later under Vijay Amritraj.

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On pages 168 to 173, Ramesh lists his top ten contemporaries. What a change from father Krishnan's list! There are six Americans, three Swedes and one German, nary an Aussie.

LIKE the Krishnans, father and son, Vijay Amritraj was also a fine sportsman, with perfect court manners. These three were our true tennis ambassadors - models of deportment, courtesy and modesty. I have never once seen any of them use "body language", which our young players have now started using, aping some American players.

Ramesh retired officially in 1993. Both father and son now devote their talents and energies to the coaching of young tennis hopefuls at the Krishnan Tennis Centre in Chennai. I wish them the best of luck and hope that in my life-time India will produce a world No. 1.

The book owes much to the cooperation extended by our top tennis reporter, and a fine writer too, Nirmal Shekar.

I am finishing this review just before leaving India later today, April 11. It is Krishnan's birthday. I called him this morning to wish him all the best, not just at the personal level, but as our Harry Hopman of the next millennium. "Ye Bhagwan": God bless!

New trends in poetry

M. PONNAMBALAM literature

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

THE origins of Sri Lankan Tamil poetry can be traced as far back as the Sangam period, which speaks of a Sri Lankan Tamil poet called Eelattu Poothanthevanar. But in the strict sense, modern poetry in Sri Lanka begins only in the 1940s with the emergence of marumalarchi (renaissance) writers such as Mahakavi, A. Kandasamy and Varadar. The two anthologies published in the 1980s, Pathinoru Eelattu Kavignargal (Eleven Sri Lankan Poets) and Maranathul Valvom, clearly show the trends in modern Sri Lankan Tamil poetry since the time it sprouted in the 1940s up to the early part of the 1980s. But with the dawn of the 1990s, Sri Lankan Tamil poetry begins to show some signs of new development. The younger poets who have been bathed in the bloodstained waters of Eelam War II and III have given an impetus and new dimensions to Tamil poetry.

In order to have a clear view of these trends in Sri Lankan Tamil poetry, we must see these poets as poets belonging to six generations on the basis of the time they started writing. To the first generation belongs Mahakavi, who started writing in the 1940s. Murugaiyan and Neelavanan, who began writing in the early 1950s, belong to the second generation. Mu. Ponnambalam, M.A. Nuhman, Shanmugam Sivalingam and Tha. Ramalingam, who began writing in the 1960s, form the third generation. The Marxist-oriented poets such as Sivasegaram, Jesurajah and Pushparajah come to the forefront in the 1970s and form the fourth generation. Jeyapalan, Cheran, S. Vilvaratnam, Elaval, Vijayendran and Sabesan belong to the fifth generation. The rest of the younger poets, who form the sixth generation, are Solaikkili, Vasuthevan, Jabaar, Nilanthan, Aswagosh, Jeyasankar, Atma, Rashmy, Elaiya Abdulla and Ahilan. While taking into account the exile poets such as Natchathiran Sevvinthiyan, K.P. Aravinthan, Balaganesh, S.P. Kaneshan, Siththivinayagam, Govarthanan, A. Kandasamy and Chakravarthi, Vanni poets who live outside the army-controlled areas in Sri Lanka have also to be taken note of. Even though it remains a closed area owing to various military operations and bombardment, literary activity is still in progress in the Vanni region. An anthology of poems (Kaalam Ezhuthum Varikal - The Lines that Time Writes) which was published in the early part of the 1990s speaks of Vanni's valour; and the poets who contribute to this valour are Kasianandan, Puthuvai Rathnathurai, S. Karunakaran, Maithili Arulaiya, Eyalvanan, Major Bharathy, Captain Kasthuri, M. Mylan, S. Umajibran, Elanthiraiyan, Chandra Bose, Suthakar, P. Thayalan, Saththurukkan, Thuzhi, Akila, Suthamathi and Uthayaledchumy.

Sri Lankan Tamil poetry proper starts only with Mahakavi. Until then it remained a reproduction of what was written in Tamil Nadu. Mahakavi, being a realist of the first order, makes use of the spoken language of the Jaffna person and makes the poetry stand firm on its own soil, cutting off the unwanted link with Tamil Nadu. His great work Oru Satharana Manithan Sarithiram (History of an Ordinary Man) will, no doubt, stand the test of time. Although Murugaiyan and the late Sillaiyoor Selvarajan are also considered major poets of the 1950s, they are not as prolific as Mahakavi. They can be taken as poets who are good at employing satire, sarcasm and parody in their work.

Neelavanan, on the other hand, stands apart from his contemporaries by blending both realism and a metaphysical touch in his works. His poems reflect flashes of his spiritual inquiry.

Ponnambalam, Nuhman, Shanmugam Sivalingam, Jesurajah, Sivasegaram and Pushparajah are the poets of the 1960s and 1970s. Except for Ponnambalam, the others are Marxist-oriented. What is fascinating is that they give a metaphysical touch to their poems of "socialist realism", which until then remained simply a barren juxtaposition of empty slogans. Ponnambalam greatly differs from these with his spiritual philosophy and the experiments he does in chaining not only the old verse forms but also the modern ones.

While the older poets remain traditionalists as far as form is concerned, the younger poets are bent on breaking it to free themselves from the shackles of traditional forms. Although Ponnambalam, Shanmugam Sivalingam and Tha. Ramalingam belong to the older group, it is they who take the initiative to break the old verse forms. Ramalingam's two collections of poems (Puthumaikkavithaigal and Kanikkai) can be taken as a breakthrough in this direction.

With the publication of Cheran's Erandavathu Sooriya Uthayam, Jeyapalan's Sooriyanodu Pesuthal, Vilvaratnam's Ahankalum Mugangalum and Solaikkili's Eddavathu Naragam, the traditionalists who had been dominating Sri Lankan Tamil poetry with their old verse forms were left far behind and the free verse form which had been ridiculed by traditionalists (specially by Murugaiyan) as broken verse has come to stay as a new force.

The poets of the 1990s belong to the sixth and the present generation who are very articulate and dynamic in the sense that they speak of the experiences that are thrust on them. While Solaikkili camouflages these experiences in his poetic allegories, others take these as an inquiry into the self of the Tamil-speaking society as a whole. This results in new poems filled with new kind of "image philosophy".

The philosophy of the late M. Thalayasingham is gaining ground in the Sri Lankan Tamil literary field. Thalayasingam speaks about a new literature and art which are going to destroy all the present art and literary forms and this destruction would eventually lead to every piece of work being seen as art.

'Go back to Vajpayee, or to the voter'

cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Stunned by the defeat of the confidence motion, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies are doing everything possible to keep the remaining flock together. The minor contradictions that are manifesting themselves among other parties that are seeking to provide an alternative government seem to offer solace to the dispirited political formation that has been voted out. BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu spoke to V. Venkatesan about what went wrong, and how the BJP expects the political scene to unfold. Excerpts:

You were confident of victory in the vote of confidence. What went wrong?

Two things upset our calculations - the BSP, and Saifuddin Soz.

The BSP is not a reliable party. It made a categorical statement in the Lok Sabha that it will not vote. Kanshi Ram had assured us that BSP MPs would abstain because he does not want a Congress(I)-Mulayam Singh Yadav regime.

As for Saifuddin Soz, he was present when the National Conference took the decision (to vote in favour of the motion of confidence). He had agreed to abide by the party's decision. For various reasons, he went over to the other side. This made the difference. Otherwise, we had our strategy and our strength. Right from the beginning, we all know that the arithmetic of the Lok Sabha is such that the BJP did not have an absolute majority to form a government on its own. Now, one party - the AIADMK - has ditched us and gone against the mandate. But in spite of that, we have been able to come to the half-way mark in terms of support.

Was Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi wrong in allowing Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang to vote?

Giridhar Gamang had no right to vote. Nobody questioned his right to be a member. Nobody wanted his disqualification... The issue raised by (L.K.) Advani and Rangarajan Kumaramangalam was that persons elected to the Lok Sabha and who were subsequently sworn in as Minister in a State would be holding an office of profit. The rulings given by earlier Speakers on three occasions, and the interpretations given by experts, clearly say that such persons continue to be members, but that they cannot take part in the proceedings of the House.

A person who is sworn in as Chief Minister, and a person who has promised the people of his State that he would perform his responsibilities as the head of the State and follow the Constitution, comes back to the Lok Sabha to decide the fate of the Prime Minister. This is totally unethical, immoral and illogical. They referred to the case of Sushma Swaraj. Nobody is questioning their right to be members. Sushma Swaraj never took part in the proceedings of the House during the period she was Chief Minister of Delhi.

The vote shows that you did not have a majority after the AIADMK withdrew its support.

The other parties are united against us, but they are divided amongst themselves. And there are parties that are ready to change their opinion overnight, like the BSP. A deal was struck overnight. The Congress(I) is notorious, it is known for such manipulations. We did not promise anything to Mayawati. She lied before the House. Her words have no validity at all. She has no credibility. The BSP can tell lies, can change its stand any number of times.

From Day One the BJP has been of the view that the mandate - not fully, but by and large - was for a coalition led by Vajpayee. I stated at that time that it was a choice between a Government under Vajpayee or fresh elections. In the present situation, when the Opposition is totally divided, the only way is to go back to Vajpayee, or to the voter. We have to choose between the two. Vajpayee has shown the country that he is capable of leading the coalition.

Jayalalitha wanted the withdrawal of all cases, dismissal of the DMK Government, institution of cases against M. Karunanidhi, P. Chidambaram, and postings of certain officers against whom cases are pending. We did not agree to them. But we accommodated her demands insofar as they pertained to Tamil Nadu's development. She said on March 25 that Vajpayee was the best leader, but she changed her stand after the tea party hosted by Subramanian Swamy. She must explain the change in her stand. I presume the Congress(I) has promised to fulfil her demands. The Congress(I) is capable of doing anything.

Do you regret having entered into an alliance with the AIADMK?

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No. Our alliance had the people's mandate. We won on the understanding that there should be an able leader and a stable government. She has broken the alliance in Tamil Nadu. We did not say one word against her all these 13 months in spite of all her irresponsible statements. She criticised Pramod Mahajan, George Fernandes, Advani, Jaswant Singh, but the party did not react. Every party has the right to choose its own alliance partners.

Are you sure that your alliance will remain intact?

The other parties can do anything, their history is such. Even Kalpnath Rai, who has problems with the Samata Party, voted in favour of the motion. If you start speculating, then there are people in the Congress(I) who are averse to Sonia Gandhi becoming the leader. There are parties like the RSP and the Forward Bloc which have gone on record that they will not support a Congress(I) government. The TMC says it will oppose the AIADMK being part of the government. Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav say they will be in the government. In that case, the BSP will not agree. There are many inherent contradictions on the other side. The issue is not the BJP. The Opposition has brought down the Government through manipulation and false promises. It is for them to come forward and offer an alternative.

How do you explain your appeal to the President - that he should insist on letters of support from parties representing more than 271 MPs in the Lok Sabha before inviting anyone to form the Government?

We are not asking him to set a precedent. He had asked us to give letters of support. We complied with that. We have just shown that we have a strength of 269-plus (including the Speaker) in the Lok Sabha. Others have proved that there are 270 members against us. They have not proved that they have a strength of 270-plus.

Apart from the RSP and the Forward Bloc, even the Janata Dal is divided over extending support to a Congress(I) government. The President has to play a role not only as a custodian of the Constitution; he should also plan his action so as to ensure stability. His action should not lead to instability. If the other parties are not able to convince him of its majority support, he should call back Vajpayee, who will try to give better stability and tell the President that he enjoys the support of more than 270 MPs in the Lok Sabha. The President should take immediate action, and ask the other parties whether they will be able to form a government.

There was a functioning Government. By bringing down the Government, without an alternative, some parties have taken the country to chaos and confusion. If they had moved a no-confidence motion (and lost), they could not have moved another such motion for six months. Besides, the inherent contradictions among them would have come to the fore. A Congress(I)-inspired no-confidence motion would not have been acceptable to the RSP, the INLD and the Forward Bloc. An AIADMK-inspired no-confidence motion would not have been acceptable to the TMC. That is why they forced us to move a confidence motion. If the President considers the mood of the country - that frequent elections are not good - he should insist today itself that the others show the support of 270-plus members in Lok Sabha. If they cannot do it, he should call back Vajpayee in order to avoid elections. And if Vajpayee too is not able to prove majority support, we can go for elections. The country cannot afford frequent elections. However, simply because the country does not like elections, you cannot allow somebody who has no mandate to rule.

The countdown to collapse

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A series of manoeuvres by AIADMK leader Jayalalitha and her ally, Subramanian Swamy, ensured a nail-biting finish to the political drama that unfolded at the Centre.

WHEN All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalitha arrived in New Delhi on the night of April 12, the purpose of her visit was all too evident. Her parting of ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party was on the cards, and she went about the operation in a measured fashion, weighing the responses from the BJP and Opposition camps before taking the decisive step. She had tested the waters during her sojourn in the national capital from March 26 to 30. Her aim of provoking the BJP further was achieved through calculated outbursts on the Vishnu Bhagwat issue. Her demands were that the former naval chief should be reinstated; Defence Minister George Fernandes should quit or be relieved of his portfolio; and a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe should be ordered.

Close on the heels of the BJP National Executive meeting in Goa, the Union Cabinet met on April 5, and rejected all her demands. The Cabinet met sans the AIADMK Ministers, M. Thambidurai and M.R. Janarthanam, who were in Chennai. The Cabinet decision marked a triumph for the hardliners in the BJP, who wanted Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to call Jayalalitha's bluff. Only two days earlier, Vajpayee had distanced himself from Rangarajan Kumaramangalam's remark that the AIADMK could withdraw from the ruling coalition if it did not agree with the Government's stand. The AIADMK wanted Vajpayee to disapprove of Kumaramangalam's remark, but he merely termed it Kumaramangalam's personal opinion.

The BJP hardliners who urged Vajpayee to take a harsh line against the AIADMK included L.K. Advani, Pramod Mahajan and party president Kushabhau Thakre. The view in party circles was that Kumaramangalam had done nothing wrong and that he had only underlined the Cabinet principle of collective responsibility. It appeared likely that Kumaramangalam, who hailed from Tamil Nadu, was chosen to make the remark with the approval of the party's senior leaders in order to isolate Jayalalitha in the coalition. The remark also stemmed from the perception in the party that she had no option but to continue to support the BJP-led coalition.

The Cabinet decision came as a shot in the arm for Jayalalitha, who held an emergency meeting of her party in Chennai the same day. She decided that Thambidurai and Janarthanam would resign from the Cabinet the next day. She said that the party noted with pain that a Cabinet meeting was hurriedly convened although it was known that the AIADMK Ministers were out of Delhi. "In the 50 years of our democracy, never has a Cabinet met with the single-point agenda of slighting an ally that is responsible for the majority that the Government has thus far enjoyed in the Lok Sabha," she said.

Jayalalitha added that she would discuss with political leaders in Delhi the possibility of creating "structures that will protect national interest and ensure that all Indians feel safe and (are) able to make progress in all spheres of endeavour."

At the AIADMK general council meeting in Chennai on April 5, members spewed venom at the BJP and the AIADMK's erstwhile allies in Tamil Nadu, such as Vaiko, Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy and S. Ramadoss. At the AIADMK meeting, the prospect of Jayalalitha becoming the future Prime Minister was also discussed.

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On April 6, Subramanian Swamy met Jayalalitha in Chennai and reportedly apprised her about the Congress(I)'s reluctance to strike at that point. The Congress(I) leaders felt Sonia Gandhi was averse to taking the initiative to topple the Government until Jayalalitha withdrew support to it. Swamy also told her that the Congress(I) might hesitate to move a no-confidence motion against the Government when Parliament met on April 15. She could set the ball rolling by withdrawing support at the earliest, he indicated.

In the event of a trial of strength, Subramanian Swamy told her, the Government was bound to collapse. The AIADMK, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha, the Left parties and the Congress(I), and a few smaller parties, would together be able to muster a strength of 271 members in the Lok Sabha, whereas the BJP-led alliance would have only 254 seats - so went the calculation. Parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had not made up their mind, had a total of 16 MPs together, and even if this figure was added to the strength of the BJP and its allies, the Opposition would outnumber the ruling alliance by one vote.

Subramanian Swamy thus persuaded Jayalalitha that withdrawal of support before Parliament met would force Vajpayee to seek a vote of confidence. Swamy also apprised Jayalalitha about the confusion in the Congress(I) on whether it should try and lead a coalition government or support from outside an alternative government.

Subramanian Swamy's meeting with Jayalalitha coincided with yet another attack on the ruling coalition by her. She said that Advani and Fernandes were lax in protecting national security. While she flayed Fernandes for allegedly preventing the interception by the Navy of vessels carrying suspected terrorists, she termed as unpardonable Advani's inattention to the developing security threat. She also said that Advani failed to act on vital information about intensified terrorist activity in Tamil Nadu.

Specifically, she claimed that she had informed Advani and Fernandes on October 9 last year that some operatives linked to Osama Bin Laden (the Afghan millionaire who has been accused of masterminding terrorist acts in various parts of the world) had infiltrated Tamil Nadu. Around 200 terrorists, trained in camps in Afghanistan, had entered the southern States, she claimed. The information was suppressed and follow-up action was not taken, she added. She further alleged that emissaries of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had access to senior Cabinet members, and that an individual who was an LTTE agent in Tamil Nadu had recently met a senior Cabinet Minister in Delhi.

THE Prime Minister delayed the acceptance of the resignation letters of the two AIADMK Ministers, leaving open the possibility of a patch-up. At the same time, on April 7 the BJP challenged Jayalalitha to withdraw support to the Government and accused her of extracting a promise from the Congress(I) that the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu would be dismissed if the Congress(I) formed a government at the Centre. Vajpayee forwarded the resignation letters to the President after two days.

Subramanian Swamy met West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu on April 8 in Calcutta, to "seek his wisdom and guidance" on forming an alternative government. Basu made it clear that he was not a candidate for the Prime Minister's post, while Subramanian Swamy said he carried no such request to Basu. The objective of the meeting appeared to be to pave the way for him and the AIADMK to participate in the new government.

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On April 9, the AIADMK announced its decision to withdraw from the coalition's Coordination Committee. Party chairman V.R. Nedunchezhiyan and senior office-bearers, in a joint statement, said that the decision was in "furtherance of Jayalalitha's goal of speedily ensuring a political structure that treats all citizens equally irrespective of region, religion and caste, so that all feel secure and safe."

In a sharp attack on BJP hardliners, the AIADMK accused them of taking the country back to the medieval era, and claimed that their abuses and attacks would not deflect her party from its resolve to give India a government that was both just and effective, in the shortest possible time. The AIADMK repeated Jayalalitha's allegation that the Government was promoting terrorism and accused Advani and Fernandes of patronising the LTTE in Tamil Nadu. It said that the BJP hardliners were not pleased with the condition that the AIADMK had put at the time of forging the alliance that its support would depend on the BJP giving up sectarian demands such as building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the repeal of Article 370, and the enactment of a uniform civil code.

The AIADMK insisted that the dismissal of the DMK Government was not the issue. National security was the issue, especially the demoralisation in the armed forces following the shabby treatment of senior officers and the denial of the best quality equipment.

The BJP dismissed the AIADMK's resignation from the Coordination Committee as being of no consequence. Apart from the 'unauthorised' request of Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi to Jayalalitha over the phone to continue her support to the Government, the party did not send any emissary to Chennai, as it had done in the past, to placate her. Instead, Vajpayee and Advani publicly sought the DMK's support, indicating that all doors of negotiations with Jayalalitha were closed.

A tale of three women

cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Subramanian Swamy, the Janata Party MP from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, is credited with having catalysed the fall of the Vajpayee Government through his deft political moves. In an interview he gave V. Venkatesan in New Delhi, Swamy commended the role of the three women politicians - Jayalalitha, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati - for the defeat of the Government. Excerpts:

What was your role in the collapse of the Vajpayee Government?

It was a massive operation in which many people had many roles. It is for others to talk about my role. What they perceive is good enough for me.

How would you explain the April 17 vote?

It is a happy ending. Industrial houses, some multinationals, and of course, George Fernandes, (Ram) Jethmalani, the PMK, the MDMK and various rebel groups such as the LTTE, the Tibetan secessionists and the Myanmar rebels, had a self-interest in the survival of the Government; a massive combination of corrupt industrialists, terrorists, and an immoral and ruthless RSS. Three people made the maximum contribution - Jayalalitha, Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati, in that order. Jayalalitha staked her entire political and physical future. She was in the Government and she sacrificed that position. She ran the risk of opposing the Government. Had the attempt to bring down the Government failed, there would have been DMK participation in the blood-thirsty, ruthless, fascist Government in Delhi. She was immune to the offers by corrupt industrialists. She was incensed by the sacking of Vishnu Bhagwat. It was purely a patriotic reaction, and had nothing to do with the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu or the (corruption) cases against her. She is doing quite fine as far as the cases are concerned. And she has issued a statement saying that the dismissal of the DMK Government was not an issue.

Sonia Gandhi lent a helping hand. Had she not turned up for the tea party that I hosted, the entire plan would have collapsed. But despite the advice of people close to her, she kept her own counsel and acted.

Mayawati's was a case of political bravery. Going by the rates mentioned, the five BSP MPs, according to the gossip mill, would have been entitled to Rs.50 crores. She had no stakes, in the sense that there is no love lost between her and the Congress(I) and the BJP. She was against the BJP continuing in power. She resisted the pressure that was brought to bear on her, including threats against the Scheduled Castes in Uttar Pradesh and the offer of chief ministership. They were willing to offer any price, but she resisted. She is a brave lady.

But Mayawati has denied that the BJP made any offers.

Well, there was no need to. The BJP had no nerve to contact her directly. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam approached her in the presence of everybody in the Lok Sabha, and I overheard him offer to fix this or that. I was seated right behind Mayawati.

How did you bring the three women together?

It so happened that I was placed in a position to do so. I have been Jayalalitha's loyal ally. And I am known to the three women personally. They think I am fair and straightforward. That's why I was able to talk to them. Ultimately each of them was motivated by the national interest. They should get the lion's share of the credit.

You have also been Jayalalitha's bitter critic.

She was in power then. I was in the Opposition. There was no personality clash. Vajpayee is on record as having called Prakash Singh Badal a terrorist.

How did you convince Mayawati?

I didn't have to convince anyone. Mayawati made her decision on political grounds. What went unnoticed was that she invited me to address a gathering of BSP members on April 14. No other party leader was invited. That should have given an indication of the shape of things to come.

Did Sonia Gandhi play an active role? She has maintained that her party is not responsible for the downfall of the Government. She did attempt to wean away the TMC and the BSP.

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Yes, she was not responsible. Once the AIADMK support was withdrawn she came into the picture. It is not her responsibility to ensure that the BJP Government remains in power. When a confidence motion is moved, every Opposition party must ensure that it is defeated. She did just that. She did not bring down the Government. Whether she reduced the Government to a minority, I don't know. I don't know what transpired between her and Moopanar.

Sonia Gandhi is supposed to have told the TMC that the AIADMK will not be a part of the new government.

They can claim anything. I can only say that Sonia Gandhi never got into the act until the Government prima facie lost its majority. If she convinced A, B or C, she did what is perfectly acceptable in parliamentary politics.

The TMC has said that it will not support a government which includes the AIADMK.

That is their problem. Who is stopping them?

What will be the profile of the new government?

It will be a broad secular front.

What about the inherent contradictions among the parties opposed to the BJP?

India is full of inherent contradictions. Resolving them is part of democracy.

Do you expect to break the BJP and its allies?

If there is a strong anti-RSS government, within three months we will get 72 MPs out of the BJP. The BJP's allies will split on their own anyway. I don't perceive any problem. I am not going to spell out how we are going to resolve the contradictions. This is the art and science of government-making.

What will be your role?

I don't know. I will certainly try to be helpful.

How do you view the DMK's vote in favour of the confidence motion?

It has destroyed the DMK. For the last 50 years, the DMK has enjoyed a very large chunk of the Christian and Muslim vote and the Scheduled Caste vote to some extent. In one blow, it has destroyed this heritage. The DMK has now emerged as a tool of all that was portrayed as wrong in its propaganda: North Indian party, upper-caste party, party which does not believe in 69 per cent reservation, anti-federalism; it has surrendered them all. Nothing makes me more happy. The AIADMK has recovered lost ground. Of course, the AIADMK did not get the bulk of the Muslim and Christian vote, but it could survive the shock of the electoral alliance with the BJP. It would have won all the 40 seats if it had not entered into an alliance with the BJP. It was a tactical mistake. I did not make this mistake. I was part of the AIADMK front. I expressed my reservations openly. I told Jayalalitha not to enter into an alliance with the BJP. But she did not agree with my analysis. The BJP itself said it had no alliance with the Janata Party. I signed the National Agenda because there was nothing communal in it. It was worded in such a manner that even the Communist parties would have signed it.

Holding court

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

WHEN she arrived at the Delhi airport on April 12, Jayalalitha had reasons not to be pleased about the low-key reception accorded to her: apart from the entire contingent of the 18 MPs of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), there was just Subramanian Swamy to receive her. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vajpayee Government, which had until recently deputed senior leaders to receive her, ignored her arrival. Her friends in the Congress(I) and other parties, some of whom had attended the reception in her honour on March 29, also did not find it necessary to be present.

However, she seemed unfazed. She told mediapersons that she had come to take the final step of withdrawing support to the Vajpayee Government. She regretted the decision to align with the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections, and remarked that she had wasted a whole year, which was marked by non-governance and lack of proper administration. She said that by talking to the DMK, the BJP had closed the doors for negotiations with the AIADMK. She said that she would meet leaders of "like-minded secular parties" including Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi to evolve a viable alternative government.

Jayalalitha checked into the Chandragupta Maurya suite at the Maurya Sheraton hotel, along with nearly two dozen security and secretarial staff. She was dissatisfied with two hotels which she had stayed during earlier trips. Located on the 16th floor, the Maurya suite is the largest in the five-star hotel and consists of a spacious drawing room, study, dining room, two bedrooms and a well-stocked kitchen. The suite is furnished in raw silk and has wall-to-wall carpets.

Jayalalitha's entourage was booked into 16 rooms on the same floor. Media reports said that Jayalalitha had brought 48 pieces of baggage with her, but AIADMK organising secretary M. Thambidurai later denied this. He claimed that this figure included the baggage of members of the entourage. He also said that Jayalalitha was used to five-star comfort since childhood, and that she had sacrificed a successful film career to join politics.

Jayalalitha spent her first day in Delhi at the hotel itself. Subramanian Swamy arranged meetings between her and leaders of some parties, such as G.M. Banatwala and E. Ahmed of the Indian Union Muslim League, P.C. Thomas of the Kerala Congress, and R.S. Gawai of the Republican Party of India. These leaders urged her to withdraw support to the Government. RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav spoke to Jayalalitha over the phone from Patna. She also spoke to Sonia Gandhi over the phone.

Jayalalitha met President K.R. Narayanan at 11 a.m. on April 14 and submitted her formal letter of withdrawal of support to the Vajpayee Government. Outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Jayalalitha told mediapersons that it was up to Vajpayee to decide whether to resign or seek a confidence vote. She said that she would, however, prefer to defeat the Government through a no-confidence motion. She dismissed Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's decision to oppose any formation that included the AIADMK.

Jayalalitha's move led to intense political activity. Senior Opposition leaders called on the President with the request that he ask the Vajpayee Government to seek a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha on April 15.

Subramanian Swamy sought to use the occasion of B.R. Ambedkar's birth anniversary celebration in New Delhi on April 14, when a book and a cassette on Mayawati were released, to persuade the Bahujan Samaj Party to go along with the rest of the Opposition. Subramanian Swamy called Kanshi Ram his guru and predicted that Mayawati would one day become Prime Minister. He claimed that he was invited to the function by BSP leaders, and that it was a signal that the BSP would vote against the Government.

Jayalalitha met Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet after she withdrew support to the Government. She sent contradictory signals on whether the AIADMK would join the new government and whether she would be a candidate for the post of Prime Minister. She also met Laloo Prasad Yadav and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala. Surjeet's remarks with regard to DMK chief Karunanidhi pleased her. Surjeet criticised Karunanidhi for having said that Jayalalitha was more dangerous than communalism. Laloo Prasad and Chautala lavished praise on Jayalalitha for her bold stand.

Jayalalitha met Sonia Gandhi on the evening of April 15 at 10 Janpath. After the hour-long meeting, Jayalalitha said that the priority of both the Congress(I) and the AIADMK was to vote out the Vajpayee Government. She was confident that the Government would fall, and wanted the Congress(I) to clarify whether it wanted to head a coalition government. On her part, she offered the AIADMK's support to the Congress(I) whether it went for a coalition government or some other arrangement.

Jayalalitha met Communist Party of India general secretary A.B. Bardhan at the party headquarters on April 16. She reportedly told him that she did not share the view of AIADMK parliamentary party leader Sedapatti Muthiah - as expressed during the debate on the confidence motion - that the demand for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu was not part of any hidden agenda of the AIADMK but its open demand. "She told us that it is not the party's view, but Muthiah's personal view," said D. Raja, the CPI's national secretary.

When Jayalalitha spoke to Kanshi Ram over the phone, she urged him to vote against the motion and offered to protect the interests of the BSP in an alternative coalition. Mayawati too kept in touch with Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi.

Subramanian Swamy maintained that it would be political suicide for the DMK and the Tamil Maanila Congress to support the BJP. While the six DMK MPs supported the motion, the TMC voted against it. The TMC votes were crucial to the game plan of Jayalalitha and Subramanian Swamy. Had they abstained - as they had promised the DMK they would do - the Vajpayee Government would have survived. The TMC has stated its opposition to the AIADMK's participation in any future government.

Jayalalitha would be in New Delhi probably till a new government is formed and would have to exert herself to sort out the emerging contradictions among those who voted against the motion. For the moment, however, the risk she took in withdrawing support to the Vajpayee Government seems to have been worth it.

The DMK's turnabout

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The circumstances surrounding the fall of the Vajpayee Government may lead to a realignment of political forces in Tamil Nadu, where the ruling DMK finds itself politically isolated.

EVEN as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalitha helped push Vajpayee Government out of power, her principal political rival in Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M. Karunanidhi, stood politically isolated from his erstwhile allies. Karunanidhi's gamble in deciding to support the BJP-led Government in the vote of confidence, breaking ranks with four allies - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Janata Dal - failed.

Indeed, no party in Tamil Nadu has emerged with a creditable image from the latest political battle. Clearly, it was not "national security", as Jayalalitha claimed, but her personal agenda to get the DMK Government dismissed and extricate herself from the corruption cases she faces that in the end drove her to desert the BJP-led Government. On the other hand, the DMK's volte-face and its voting alongside the BJP made a mockery of its claims to upholding the Dravidian legacy of combating communalism; Karunanidhi sought to justify his decision by saying that "Jayalalitha's corruption is more dangerous than communalism."

The TMC seems to have emerged relatively unscathed; the party made known its stand opposing in equal measure the BJP's communalism and the AIADMK's corruption. TMC president G.K. Moopanar did not yield to pressure from the DMK, some other parties and film actor Rajnikant to bail out the Vajpayee Government by voting in support of the confidence motion or abstaining during the vote. Moopanar also reportedly told Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi and other Congress(I) leaders that his party would not support a Congress(I)-led Government in which the AIADMK was a partner.

Soon after the Vajpayee Government was voted out, Moopanar, in a clear reference to the AIADMK, said: "Corrupt elements cannot be allowed to go out of one door and re-enter the government through another door... The TMC hopes that the Congress(I) will adhere to the principles contained in the (Pachmarhi) declaration and that the new formation will fight the twin evils of communalism and corruption."

Sources in the Left parties said that the DMK had placed "personal interests above national interests" and had lost out eventually. Informed sources in the TMC and the Left parties said that the DMK had stood on prestige and that its actions were motivated by a desire to see that Jayalalitha did not get the "credit" for toppling the Vajpayee Government. A Left leader said: "If the DMK had joined us, the credit would not have gone to Jayalalitha. She has accomplished what she set out to do."

Karunanidhi shrugged off the defeat of the BJP-led Government, saying: "In a democracy, victories and defeats are common... I do not want to pretend that I do not feel sad about the defeat." He said the reason for the defeat was the "magnanimity" of Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi in allowing Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang to vote on the motion.

THE fall of the Vajpayee Government and the circumstances that led up to it may lead to a realignment of political parties in Tamil Nadu. The TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI may part company with the DMK and forge a new front, and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Vaiko, which was a constituent of the BJP-led coalition, may join it. The Congress(I) and the AIADMK may formalise an alliance and may be joined by the PMK led by Dr. S. Ramadoss.

When it became clear that the AIADMK was preparing to withdraw support to the Vajpayee Government, the BJP set in motion efforts to win the DMK's support. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani and Vajpayee spoke to Karunanidhi on the phone on April 9 and 10 respectively and sought his party's support. Informed sources in the BJP and the DMK said that Karunanidhi told them that the DMK's ideology was opposed to that of the BJP's Hindutva, and that in any case only the party executive could take a decision.

The first indication that the DMK might strike out on its own came on April 11, when newspersons asked Karunanidhi what strategy the DMK would adopt in the light of the political developments in New Delhi. Karunanidhi asked: "How can we be in a front in which Jayalalitha is a part?" The DMK also came under pressure from the BJP, which pointed out that over the past year the Prime Minister had not yielded to the AIADMK's repeated demands for the dismissal of the Karunanidhi Government. Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthi of the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress too spoke to Karunanidhi and told him that even if the DMK did not support the BJP, it should do nothing that would assist Jayalalitha in her efforts to topple the Government.

Even after the DMK indicated that it would go with the BJP, Moopanar stuck to his stand. "We will always work against corruption and communalism," he said. When Moopanar met Congress(I) leaders in the first week of April, he put forward only one condition: a Congress(I) government should not include the AIADMK.

DMK leaders Murasoli Maran, MP, and Health Minister Arcot N. Veerasamy met Moopanar on April 12 in order to explain their party's stand. But Moopanar made it clear that the TMC would have nothing to do with either the AIADMK or the BJP and that it expected the DMK to take a similar stand. No such assurance came from Maran and Veerasamy.

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Jayalalitha left for New Delhi on April 12, ruling out the possibility of a rapprochement with the BJP because Vajpayee and Advani had spoken to Karunanidhi.

On April 13 the DMK executive met and passed a resolution which said that since Jayalalitha posed "the biggest threat to the State and the nation, the DMK will not support any formation in which Jayalalitha found a place directly or indirectly." Karunanidhi summed up his party's intention when he said: "Jayalalitha's corruption is a bigger threat than communalism." The resolution added that Jayalalitha was bent on toppling the Government not because she opposed communalism but because she wanted to extricate herself from the corruption cases she was facing. Besides, the "one and only item on her agenda" was to get the DMK Government dismissed, it said.

The DMK's stand shocked the Left parties. State CPI secretary R. Nallakannu and State CPI(M) secretary N. Sankariah issued a joint statement asking the DMK to reconsider its stand and take "a political position which will be firmly against the BJP Government."

When Frontline met Nallakannu and Sankariah separately, they assailed the DMK line that "Jayalalitha's corruption is more dangerous than communalism." They agreed that Jayalalitha was monumentally corrupt and that she had tried to extricate herself from the corruption cases against her and that the BJP had aided her in this. But, they noted, the five parties in the DMK-led front in Tamil Nadu had fought this. However, when the AIADMK had withdrawn its support to the Vajpayee Government because of "internal contradictions" and the Government was about to fall, the five parties should back that move, they said. Jayalalitha's corruption could be tackled later, after the Government fell, they reasoned.

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Sankariah said: "We will not protect anybody who is corrupt. The law will take its own course."

Both Nallakannu and Sankariah squelched the DMK's fears that if the Congress(I) formed a coalition government with the AIADMK as a partner, the DMK Government would again be dismissed. Nallakannu said that in the absence of a majority, the Congress(I) would not be able to dismiss the DMK Government, and that in any case the Communist parties would firmly oppose any such move. Nallakannu said that the DMK's decision to support the BJP at this juncture "does not behove Tamil Nadu's political background because the legacy of the Dravidian parties is to oppose sectarian politics."

Informed sources said that Karunanidhi felt "insulted" that CPI(M) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet met Jayalalitha in Delhi on April 14. CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan too met her the next day.

Karunanidhi accused the CPI(M) and the CPI of initiating steps that "certainly fragmented" the Third Front. He said: "I do not know what prompted Mr. Surjeet to ignore the DMK and talk to Jayalalitha." He wondered what had become of the assurances from West Bengal Chief Minister Jyoti Basu and Surjeet that the DMK and the TMC were very much a part of the Third Front and that a collective decision would be taken. He accused the CPI(M) and the CPI of not consulting the DMK on the fast-moving developments in New Delhi. He said he was sure that the political parties which had lined up behind Jayalalitha now would see her in her true colours at the appropriate time.

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CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury refuted Karunanidhi's allegation that he had not been consulted by the Left parties. He said the Central and State leadership of the CPI(M) had been in constant touch with the DMK. If the DMK wanted to change its position, the Left should "not be used as an excuse," he said.

With the defeat of the Vajpayee Government, the DMK, which is without friends, may face tough days ahead in the political arena. Karunanidhi admitted as much when he said that the DMK had been isolated from the Left parties. "But we will not be isolated from the people," he added.

Faith and identity

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

PRAVEEN SWAMI

Sturdy independence and patient vigorous labour are perhaps the strongest characteristics.... No one can rival him as a landowner and yeoman cultivator. He is rather expensively inclined in his food, and likes rum, meat and sugar; his fondness for the first of these three sometimes outruns his discretion....

- A.E. Barstow, The Sikhs: An Ethnology, 1928, cited in Brian P. Caton "Sikh Identity Formation and the British Rural Idea, 1880-1930" in Sikh Identity: Continuity and Change, eds. Pashaura Singh and N. Gerald Barrier.

MEDIA coverage of the tercentennial celebrations of the Khalsa panth show how little perceptions about Sikhs have changed since Barstow's Orientalist account of the Sikh peasantry. "This is not a creed for the self-conscious nor for the fainthearted," wrote one glossy national magazine. "Sikhs", author Khushwant Singh asserted in a recent article, "have an enormous resilience and self-confidence born of the convictions that anything others do, they can do better." Khushwant Singh proceeded to attribute to the creation of the Khalsa what he asserts is a miraculous absence of beggars among Sikhs.

The proliferation of essentialist themes rooted in colonial discourse - the inherent entrepreneurship, valour, hedonism, irrationality, humanism of the Sikhs - has done little to explain for ordinary Sikhs the significance of the tercentenary celebrations. Much of the discourse seems to be plagued by a search for what might constitute an authentic Sikh identity. Debates over young Sikh men trimming their hair and beards, and the religion's sometimes troubled relationship with Hinduism, have emerged in mainstream discourse over several years. Many of these debates have an explicitly political resonance, connected with the battle for legitimacy in the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Curiously, these anxieties and tensions were almost invisible at the Anandpur Sahib celebrations themselves. The crowds at Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal's enormous tented pavilion outside the gurdwara, and that of deposed Akal Takht Jathedar Ranjit Singh a short distance away, were dwarfed by the numbers of ordinary pilgrims who showed a casual indifference to the politics of the day. Dark predictions of violence between Akali centrists and Right-wing Akalis neither deterred pilgrims nor excited their interest. Even the promises made by the Punjab Police to frisk each pilgrim were broken soon in the face of the mass of visitors from India and abroad.

Efforts to revive themes of the Khalistan movement found no audience at all. Right-wing organisations which sought to place alleged human rights abuses carried out during the anti-terrorist operations between 1985 and 1992 found few takers. Even the resurfacing of the formerly banned Dal Khalsa International provoked only mild curiosity. The organisation staged demonstrations on the last day of the celebrations against the Chief Minister for the release of Sikh prisoners held under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and controversial human rights activist Jaspal Singh Dhillon, who was recently arrested for his alleged role in a bomb plot.

Popular religious sentiment in the State appears to have little to do with the aggressively communal themes that have emerged from political players. The tercentenary had led many Sikh believers to take the final step of becoming Amritdhari (baptised) members of the Khalsa panth and adopting the way of life laid out by Guru Gobind Singh on Baisakhi day in 1699. Keshgarh Sahib Takht Jathedar Manjit Singh told Frontline that he estimated that some 1.25 lakh people had been baptised at Anandpur Sahib during the celebrations, which perhaps is a conservative estimate. Yet, the process of baptism was shorn of the ugly ultra-conservative political resonance the practice had been vested with at the outset of the Khalistan movement: it was a simple engagement between individuals and their faith.

The devotion and good humour of ordinary pilgrims were evident as they patiently dealt with arrangements that at times seemed made exclusively for the convenience of VIP visitors. Excruciating traffic snarls, the thick crush of visitors, and even the furnace-like April heat did little to fray tempers or deter the pilgrims. On occasion, the celebration almost acquired a carnival atmosphere. Fireworks and a laser display on April 13 led many to throng the site late, while displays of traditional arts during the inauguration again provided a riveting spectacle.

Early government estimates suggest that more than 70 lakh pilgrims from Punjab and around the world attended the Anandpur Sahib celebrations.

THE creation of the Khalsa panth by Guru Gobind marked a defining moment in Sikh history. The Panj Piare, five volunteers from different castes and regions, were the first recruits to a new spiritual order based on complete self-surrender and trust in God and the Guru. The five were taken into a tent, the legend goes, where they underwent a death-like experience. Clad in yellow robes and blue turbans, they were then brought out before the congregation. Along with the new ceremony of consecration through amrit (nectar) came the five distinctive signs of uncut hair, the comb, the steel bracelet, the drawers and the sword that would set the Khalsa followers apart from their milieu.

The creation of the Khalsa, scholar Gurdharam Singh Khalsa has argued, marked a movement "from a non-syncretic orientation to an active anti-syncretic one", a disengagement from both Hindu and Muslim traditions. Others dispute the proposition. For instance, Harjot Oberoi says that "considerable ambiguity and fluidity when it came to religious identities in India." Whatever the truth, the second phase of sharpening of the Khalsa identity took place in the late 19th century, driven by British administrative moves and Army regulations premised on the notion of the community as a suitably loyal class of peasant proprietors. Sikh organisations like the Singh Sabha, born in opposition to Arya Samaj conversions to Hinduism, also drove the religious revival.

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Many Sikh believers took the final step of becoming Amritdhari (baptised) members of the Khalsa panth. The rituals in progress.

Post-Independence politics has also been argued to have had a role in the shaping of the Khalsa as it exists now. Historian Attar Singh wrote: "The cumulative effect of various Sikh religious and social reform movements had emphasised Sikh distinctiveness from Hindus, but the admissibility of the Sikh sects other than the Khalsa order, such as the Udasis, the Nirmalas, the Sewa Panthis, the Sahajdharis, the Namdharis, Nirankaris, etc., had never been questioned or restrained." He added: "But in actual practice, the working of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee marginalised all these sects and cults, some of which were even pushed out, like the Sant Nirankaris." The changing character of class in Punjab, including the rise of the Jat peasantry, was enmeshed with these developments.

Apart from the role it may have in the making of a community, the Khalsa tercentenary is certain to have a dramatic short-term impact in the State. With the construction of the Khalsa memorial at Anandpur Sahib, scheduled to be completed early in the next century, the city will have a major new physical space for the Sikh devout. The Union Government and the Punjab Government, which have cumulatively spent some Rs.300 crores on the celebrations, hope that the memorial will emerge as a major tourist destination in the future. The celebrations have transformed Anandpur town, which has been "renovated" and painted white, to the irritation of conservationists who have challenged Government-led development in court.

The real significance of the Anandpur Sahib celebrations, however, will be decided by Sikhs in Punjab and around the world. If the celebratory ambience is any indication, the community is considerably better equipped to cope with the challenges a changing world poses to faith than at least some of the politicians and intellectuals who claim to represent it. Within the State itself, a consideration of Guru Gobind Singh's egalitarian premises will hopefully lead to greater public participation in efforts to eradicate caste and gender oppression.

Adoption as a deal

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

The busting of a racket involving the sending of infants of the Lambada tribe in adoption to the West has kicked up a controversy in Andhra Pradesh.

LAMBADA, a hamlet in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh, populated by a tribal community of the same name, has in the past two years been the centre of a flourishing trade in the export of infants, mainly female, to the United States and Europe for adoption, it has been revealed. The racket, which operated through some organisations that offered children for adoption, was busted by the police after a Telugu daily reported the sale of an infant from Lambada. The details that emerged from the police investigations were shocking.

A breakthrough in the investigation came when Kheri, a tribal woman, told the police that she had 'brokered' six months earlier the sale of three children from Janareddy Colony and Srirampalli village under Halia mandal. This information led investigators to the Good Samaritan and Evangelical Welfare Association (GSEWA), run by Peter Subbaiah, who hails from Sathyavedu in Chittoor district.

The police raided a creche run by Subbaiah in the Mahendra Hills area of Secunderabad. This led to the discovery of 56 infants, all of them brought from thandas (tribal hamlets) in the Devarakonda and Chandampet areas of the backward Nalgonda district. Home Minister A. Madhava Reddy personally led the raid.

Soon afterwards, three centres of another adoption agency, Action for Social Development (ASD), run by N. Sanjeeva Rao, were raided in Gandhinagar in Hyderabad. As many as 124 infants were found in these places. It is estimated that the ASD has despatched 172 babies to foster parents in the U.S., Australia, Germany, Norway and Spain since 1991 and the relatively new GSEWA more than 200 children to the U.S., United Kingdom, Belgium and other European countries. In all, nearly 400 babies have been procured by these agencies for adoption in foreign countries.

THE operation has been so fine-tuned that often the deal is of a "from the womb to the West" nature. In many cases foetuses are 'booked' by brokers and an advance is paid for the nourishment of the pregnant women. Immediately after birth, the infant is shifted to Hyderabad and the documentation is prepared for its adoption outside the country.

The first recorded case of adoption from the Lambada community can be traced to a humanitarian deal made in 1997 when one Sabhavath Ramu Chouhan, who was on a visit to his village Teldevarapally in Chandampet mandal, was informed that a cousin of his did not want to bring up her newborn female twins. Chouhan persuaded her to give away the infants to a voluntary organisation for adoption and arranged for a visit to Teldeverapally by representatives of the adoption agency at Sanjeevareddynagar in Hyderabad.

The woman's husband, however, demanded money for handing over the babies. His demand was refused. His father, however, visited the adoption centre and urged the missionaries to accept the babies on humanitarian grounds. The organisation accepted the twins and, out of sympathy for the poor family, paid Rs.1,500 towards the woman's medical expenses.

This incident set off a wave of adoptions in the poverty-stricken region. Several parents were eager to give away their girl children, and Chouhan's services were used to send three more newborns of tribal parents to the Sanjeevareddynagar adoption centre. The missionaries obtained consent letters from the parents and allowed them the option of taking their children back within three months in case they changed their minds.

What started off as an act of service by missionaries soon became a money-spinner for clever operators who floated what they claimed were voluntary organisations. On the face of it, it would seem that parents who live in penury were volunteering to offer their children for adoption in the hope that at least the children would lead better lives. But a disturbing fact is that money played a major role in persuading poor families to part with their babies.

Invariably the deals were weighted in favour of the adoption centres which paid Rs.5,000 or less to the parents for each child and charged $2,500-3,000 (between Rs.1.05 lakhs and Rs.1.06 lakhs) from the foster parents. "The racket was quite widespread. Lambada children are preferred because of their fair complexion, sturdy features and resistance to infections," said Ch. Rajakumari, president of the Andhra Pradesh Mahila Samakhya.

PREDICTABLY, the controversy has developed a political angle, with the major political parties in the State trying to gain mileage from it. Peter Subbaiah, director of the GSEWA, is a Congress person. As secretary of the Chittoor District Congress(I) Committee, he played a prominent role in making arrangements for AICC(I) president Sonia Gandhi's public meeting at Tirupati on January 28 this year. Members belonging to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) flaunted in the Assembly posters showing Subbaiah in the company of APCC(I) president Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and former Chief Minister N. Janardhana Reddy. This was to hit back at the Congress(I) which had produced in the Assembly posters showing Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu with Ramakrishna Gowd, an accused in a case relating to counterfeit currency.

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The TDP was further embarrassed when Congress(I) MLAs displayed posters showing Minister for Women Development and Child Welfare Padala Aruna in the company of Peter Subbaiah. The Minister denied any links with Subbaiah but admitted having visited the office of Subbaiah's organisation.

MORE embarassment was in store for the Government. Six of the rescued children died in quick succession, five of them in the government-run Niloufer Hospital in Hyderabad, owing to ailments ranging from measles to bronchopneumonia and diarrhoea. Public outrage over the ham-handed manner in which the hospital treated the children put the Government on the defensive.

Chandrababu Naidu visited the hospital, with mediapersons in tow, and ended up sparking another row. He rapped the hospital's Superintendent, Dr.M.M. Reddy, and questioned the competence of its paediatricians. Chandrababu Naidu's was an emotional outburst prompted by an unrelated incident in which an infant died, allegedly because of the negligence of the hospital staff. The wailing mother had brought the child's body to the Chief Minister.

Doctors went on strike protesting against the Chief Minister's remarks and his decision to shift all the infants to corporate hospitals which had air-conditioned neo-natal units. The strike focussed public attention on the State Government's failure to improve its public hospitals in spite of all its emphasis on hi-tech and information technology. "What is the point in saying that you spend Rs.1,300 crores on primary health care with World Bank assistance when you cannot take care of Niloufer Hospital, a premier paediatric institute which attracts patients from all over Andhra Pradesh and some districts of Karnataka?" asked Janardhana Reddy.

Congresspersons submitted a memorandum to Governor C. Rangarajan demanding the dismissal of the Home Minister and the Child Welfare Minister on the grounds they had prior knowledge of the child trafficking. They said that the police had raided the ASD office a few years ago and submitted a report about its activities but the Government had renewed the organisation's licence. Jamuna, who works with Gramya, a voluntary organisation in Chandampet mandal of Nalgonda district, said: "This business is not new. We had brought this to the notice of the Government two years ago but it took no action."

Even in respect of the GSEWA, the State Government had issued an order on May 14, 1998, declaring it "a fit institution" for dealing with cases under the Juvenile Justice Act. The Government justified its action on the grounds that the GSEWA had already secured recognition from the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), which comes under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and is the national regulatory body in matters of adoption, thus enabling itself to approach competent courts to get foreigners declared as guardians of Indian children.

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CARA's role in the episode has been questioned by the State Government because it is the latter that grants permission to institutions to pick up infants abandoned in government hospitals by mothers, while CARA gives only permission for adoption. It is clear that the adoption centres bypassed CARA guidelines, which stipulate that no one, including Indian or foreign agencies, should make monetary profits out of the adoption process. Yet CARA granted recognition to the GSEWA. It also failed to act when the U.S. Consulate in Chennai expressed its dissatisfaction over the poor documentation made available for the adoption of children by U.S. citizens.

According to Tejavat Bellaiah Nayak, convener of Nangara Bheri, an organisation that fights for the rights of Lambadas, the issue of child trafficking boils down to the problem of abject poverty in the Lambada tribe. Of late, members of the community have shunned their traditional culture and adopted modern ways. "This has led to new problems such as dowry, owing to which they view the girl child as a burden," he said.

The adoption centres have displayed photographs of well-dressed children living abroad in happiness with their foster parents. People like Peter Subbaiah justify the activity saying that biological mothers would have resorted to infanticide if the adoption centres had not intervened. But this hardly justifies attempts to make money out of the tribal people's compulsion to tear infants away from their mothers' laps.

A community's plight

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

PEOPLE of the Lambada tribe lead peripheral lives in thandas (hamlets) sprinkled across Andhra Pradesh. Some of them still follow a nomadic lifestyle. But whether they are on the move or settled in a hamlet in the poverty-ridden Telengana region, life has always been harsh for them.

Lambadas hardly own anything in terms of land or property. Their culture is different from the mainstream cultures. Lambada rituals have nothing in common with the rituals of the plains people. Traditionally, Lambadas or Banjaras have moved in groups.

Community celebrations were in vogue. Hardworking and sincere, they depended on forest produce and odd jobs for a living. Work was equally shared between husband and wife. A strong family bond and a strong thanda bond were the hallmarks of Lambada life.

Oli or bride fee was prevalent in the earlier days. Each Banjara youth had to pay both in cash and in kind to secure the hand of a girl. A couple of milch animals often served as bride fee.

All this changed in the last decade when thousands of Lambada families transformed themselves into agricultural workers and adopted the ways of the mainstream population. Lambada labour comes cheap and they never shy away from work. Often they take up annual contracts at low rates. Landowners find in them a hardworking and undemanding workforce.

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A Lambada employed as a farmhand earns less than Rs.3,000 a year. A little paddy, maize or jowar and a set of new clothes once or twice a year are enough to make a Lambada worker content. Lambada women supplement the family income by working in fields and as domestic help. Illiteracy and ignorance about family planning practices among the Lambadas result in large families. Curiously, most of them have female children. The anaemic and ailing mothers find it difficult to take care of their children. Infanticide was known to be practised by members of the tribal group.

The Lambadas have benefited from very few welfare programmes implemented by the government. Neither social workers nor non-governmental organisations (NGOs) paid attention to their plight until recently. The literacy rate is an abysmal 1.8 per cent among females; among males it is at best five times that figure. Teachers absent themselves from schools for Lambadas, ration cards are not issued to them (even if they are issued, local merchants appropriate them for a paltry sum) and health workers rarely work with them.

Living in remote rural areas - Katravat thanda, Palepalli thanda, Peddamungala thanda, Kuralakshmi thanda, Dubba thanda and so on - the Lambadas of Devarakonda, Dindi and Chandampet mandals of Nalgonda district have not gained from the community welfare programmes that have been launched in the past 50 years.

Hundreds of Lambada families, which settled down in these areas after the completion of the Nagarjunasagar project, were promised that they would be rehabilitated by the State Government. But so far nothing has come of the rehabilitation package.

Efforts to attain social acceptability began after the Lambadas settled down in Nalgonda district. Tribal culture and rituals gave way to non-tribal and brahminical rituals and along with this came financial burdens. The oli system gave way to dowry and the demand for boys, who were far outnumbered by girls, rose steeply. A dowry of Rs.30,000 and more is in vogue now. Educated Lambadas turn away from the lifestyle of their families and seek respectability elsewhere.

The girl child soon became an expendable commodity and the arrival of racketeers doubling as social workers began around the same time. Adoption agencies, which needed little by way of investment, mushroomed in the region. All that they needed was a few social workers to go about the thandas convincing Lambadas to sell their infants. The offers constituted a source of income for the poverty-stricken community, and many parents struck deals with the agencies. Children became commodities to be booked in the womb.

The business flourished and kept both sides happy. But for the Lambada girl child, it was a choice between going from her mother's lap to the cradle of the NGO or to the grave.

The pains and pleasures

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A look at changing trends on the adoption scene.

JUST a few months before the furore over the alleged adoption rackets broke out in Hyderabad, a brief classified advertisement appeared in a leading Chennai-based newspaper. It said: "Brahmin baby available for adoption. Contact (telephone number) after 10.00 a.m." A prospective adoptive parent contacted the telephone number in Chennai and a woman at the other end offered to hand over the baby for a consideration of Rs.75,000. The police, who were informed, raided the woman's house and found evidence of collusion between her and a nurse in a city hospital. A letter allegedly written by the nurse asked the woman to find adoptive parents for the child soon. "There is great demand for the baby because it is a boy born to a Brahmin," she wrote.

The Hyderabad and Chennai instances point to the commercialisation that has crept into the adoption process. These also raise questions on the relinquishment process by biological parents. The decision, it would seem, is increasingly influenced by offers of money.

The number of children adopted in India is still quite small, compared to the number, particularly of girls, abandoned at birth or soon afterwards by parents. While the number of children adopted by Indian parents is only about 1,700 a year, thousands are in orphanages if not on the streets. India has 11 million street children, one-third of them in the 6-10 age group.

Despite the evolution of a more congenial atmosphere for adoption in recent years, commercialisation of the adoption process, government procedures and inherent biases in the law are stumbling blocks to wider social acceptance of the practice.

Social workers say that the social stigma attached to adoption is less prevalent now. Couples are now more open about adoptions. The increase in the number of adoptions has been gradual - not dramatic or sharp as some agencies would like people to believe.

Figures obtained from the Central Adoption Resource Agency (CARA), the regulatory body under the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, reveal that the number of in-country adoptions increased from 1,409 in 1994 to 1,746 in 1998. Inter-country adoptions increased from 1,128 to 1,406 during the period.

In 1996, one-third of all in-country adoptions took place in Maharashtra. One-third of all inter-country adoptions were through agencies based in West Bengal. Half of all the adoptions - in-country as well as inter-country - were made through agencies in Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta.

One of the factors that has impeded the growth of adoptions is the commercialisation of the process. The financial terms stipulated by some adoption agencies - up to Rs.40,000 for a child in some cases - have meant that adoption remains outside the reach of lower middle class couples. The absence of secular national legislation on adoption has also deterred minority communities from adopting children. The present laws do not allow couples from the minority communities to become full-fledged 'parents' but only 'guardians'. Guardianship means that the adopted children will not enjoy inheritance rights, unlike children adopted by parents who are Hindus.

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Adoption is no longer a secretive process; it is now open and transparent. A social worker at Bala Mandir, a Chennai-based charitable trust dealing in adoptions, says that 15 years ago people would quietly slip into the institution and speak in hushed tones about their mission. Adoption agencies say that couples who face the problem of infertility are now more willing to adopt. Andal Damodaran, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Indian Council for Child Welfare (ICCW), says that growing awareness about adoption has contributed to the higher numbers in recent years. "Earlier," she says, "people were more rigid about the caste of the child, for instance. Now they believe that a child is a child."

As a result, in-family adoptions have increasingly given way to adoptions from recognised institutions. Andal Damodaran thinks that this trend has been influenced by the "two-child norm" which means that fewer children within the family are available for adoption. Earlier, couples adopted children so that they would have someone to take care of them in old age and also to perform their last rites. Social activists say that such purely functional motives have given way to other, more 'progressive' motives.

Many parents now consciously go in for adoption even though they have or may decide to have a biological child of their own. There are some couples who decide to adopt out of a social conscience. These are people who, despite being able to have a biological child, take in an abandoned child. There are also women who prefer adoption to going through the pains of child-bearing.

AT present the laws governing adoption in India are the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (HAMA) and the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 (GWA). HAMA is the only codified law on adoption and it equates the status of the adopted child to a biological child born in the same family. Muslims, Parsis, Jews and Christians come within the purview of the GWA.

A landmark Supreme Court judgment in 1984 laid the basis for the adoption process becoming more child-centred. In 1982, Laxmi Kant Pandey, a lawyer, filed a public interest petition before the Supreme Court, alleging malpractices, including child trafficking, in the guise of adoption. The judgment, which established a regulatory framework for adoption, was delivered by Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati. It emphasised the need to safeguard the interests of the child. It prescribed systems and procedures regulating inter-country adoptions and norms for adoption agencies.

The Supreme Court guidelines allow agencies to apply to the competent authority directly for inter-country adoption of children above the age of five. A source in the ICCW says that adoption agencies increasingly prefer giving children to parents overseas because this is more rewarding financially. Although Indian parents are now more willing to accept older children, there are fewer children available for them to adopt. There are also children with special needs, children with mental and physical impairment. Adoptive parents abroad often have no problem accepting them.

One of the consequences of the Supreme Court order was the establishment of CARA at the apex of the regulatory system governing adoptions. At the State level, there are Voluntary Coordinating Agencies (VCAs) serving as a link between prospective adoptive parents and adoption agencies. At the bottom are agencies that handle the actual adoption. There are now 80 recognised agencies in India handling inter-country adoptions, and 278 agencies in 25 countries enlisted to sponsor inter-country adoptions.

The ICCW and the Indian Council for Social Welfare (ICSW) are the scrutinising agencies for inter-country adoptions, but they are not directly engaged in aiding adoptions. The ICCW and the ICSW scrutinise the adoption papers submitted by the agencies to the courts and ensure that all norms and guidelines are adhered to and that the adoption is in the child's best interest.

CARA acts as a clearing house of information on children available for in-country and inter-country adoption and it regulates, monitors and develops programmes for the rehabilitation of children through adoption. Adoption agencies have to obtain a "no objection" certificate from CARA before processing applications for inter-country adoptions.

Another important consequence of the 1984 order was the licensing of agencies. While agencies dealing in inter-country adoptions are licensed by CARA, State governments license those working on in-country adoptions. The Supreme Court wanted strict separation of the scrutinising agencies, the VCAs and the adoption agencies.

The children available for adoption are those relinquished or abandoned. In case of relinquishment, the parents have to sign a letter which gives them 30 days to reconsider their decision. Ideally the social worker should first try and counsel parents to keep the child, offering material assistance if needed. Vidya Shankar, secretary of the Adoptive Parents Association, thinks that the development of alternative methods such as foster care and training of women for employment can help reduce the number of children abandoned for reasons of poverty.

Parents who wish to adopt have to register themselves with one of the licensed adoption agencies or the VCA. They are interviewed by social workers on their motives, and their family environment is assessed. Then a search for a child begins. Agencies try, as far as possible, to match the physical appearance of a child with that of the prospective parents. All children in the adoption agencies undergo comprehensive medical tests for congenital defects and developmental problems. Prospective parents also have to undergo medical tests.

When a suitable child is found, it is shown to the prospective adoptive parents. Upon acceptance, the child is placed in pre-adoptive care for three to six months while the adoption is registered in court by the agency. The court decides the period of post-adoptive study, during which agencies maintain contact with the adoptive parents. But the shortage of skilled social workers often means that this study, as important as the pre-adoptive study, is seldom done.

When an adoption agency is unable to find a suitable home for a child, the case is referred to the VCA. If the VCA is not able to find parents for the child within 30 days, the child is listed for inter-country adoption. CARA introduced this deadline so that children could be moved out of institutional care and into a family environment at the earliest. Couples from abroad who choose a child have to pay for its maintenance till the adoption is validated by a court.

A social worker at VCA, Tamil Nadu, says that about 50 per cent of the couples registered at the VCA in Chennai are from rural areas such as Neikarapatti near Palani, Dadagapatti near Salem and Chittiyappanoor near Vaniyambadi. These people are mostly small farmers or traders. "Rural folk," says a social worker, "make far less demands about the child's colour, sex and caste than urban couples." However, the 30-day period is too short a time to communicate with prospective parents in rural areas.

After a child is registered with the VCA, social workers visit the child in the adoption agency and select a couple from their list. The parents are sent a picture of the child and given two days to decide. This process takes a week or more. The child's medical tests take up to 10 days. If a child is rejected by the couple at this stage, the VCA will have difficulty finding another couple before the deadline. Vidya Reddy, VCA secretary, says that the change made by CARA has only "prevented a large number of Indian couples from becoming parents."

The Supreme Court judgment allows parents between the ages of 25 and 45 to adopt. It stipulates that the average age of parents wishing to adopt a baby below the age of one must be 45 years or less.

ALTHOUGH the number of adoptions has increased, the picture is far from rosy. Biases concerned with gender, complexion and looks are prevalent. A source at Karna Prayag, an adoption agency in Chennai, says that a few years ago, when adoption was still not very common, parents believed that they could choose from among several babies. Although parents are aware that it is not possible to select a 'dream baby', they still list out specifications. Sheila Jayanthi of Karna Prayag adds that some parents look for a "porcelain doll", not realising that children cannot be "made to order" here. Agencies lay stress on pre-adoptive counselling to prepare parents to accept the children as they are.

To solve the problems of adoptive parents the Adoptive Parents Association was formed in Tamil Nadu four years ago. With a strength of 90 members, it acts as a support system. Vidhya Shankar believes that adoptive parents and adopted children have problems quite unlike others.

Little Andaman: a chronology

other

1901: Population of the Onge 672.

1911: Population of the Onge 631.

1921: Population of the Onge 346.

1931: Population of the Onge 250.

1951: Population of the Onge 150.

1952: Italian anthropologist visits Little Andaman to study the Onge tribe.

1957: Declaration of the island of Little Andaman as a tribal reserve.

1961: Population of the Onge 129.

1965: Report by the 'The Inter-departmental Team on Accelerated Development

Programme for the A&N Islands', Ministry of Rehabilitation, Government of India. 1970: Timber extraction begins.

1971: Population of the Onge 112.

1972: First amendment to the tribal reserve on Little Andaman.

1974: Forest Department assesses the timber productivity of the forests of the island.

1975: Forest Department initiates work on the red oil palm plantation.

1976: The Andaman Adim Janjati Vikas Samiti (AAJVS) is created.

1976: Presentation of the Forest Corporation proposal for logging and forestry operations in Little Andaman.

1977: The Forest Corporation starts fuctioning.

1977: Second denotificaton of the tribal reserve on Little Andaman.

1977-79: More outside families settled on Little Andaman.

1981: Population of the Onge 100.

1983: Study of the Onge by anthropologist Vishvajit Pandya.

1988: Formulation of the National Forest Policy which makes a special case for the protection of the rainforests of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

1991: Population of the Onge 101.

1995: Patenting controversy related to Onge knowledge.

1996: Supreme Court order on forests.

1999: Two Onge youths found dead.

An extraordinary team

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

A Touch of Tennis: The Story of a Tennis Family by Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan, with Nirmal Shekar; Penguin Books, 1999; pages 173, Rs.250.

THIS is the story of a tennis family - Ramanathan Krishnan and his son Ramesh Krishnan - written in collaboration with Nirmal Shekar, Tennis Correspondent, The Hindu.

I have seen first class tennis since my Oxford days over six decades ago. The first Wimbledon final I saw was in 1936 when Fred Perry completed his hat-trick and turned professional. I have watched every U.S. Open since my United Nations days in New York from 1960, and reviewed many of them for The Sportstar and for Frontline. During all these years I have seen some sisters playing competitive tennis, for example, the Maleeva sisters and, more recently, the potential world-beaters from the U.S., Venus and Serena Williams. I have also seen John McEnroe and brother Patrick McEnroe, the latter becoming a fine doubles player. But I have not come across a father-son combination such as Krishnan and Ramesh, both of whom won a critical fifth rubber to take India into a Davis Cup final. That unusual record belongs to us.

The Krishnan saga begins with his father T.K. Ramanathan who came from humble beginnings to become No.3 in India in the early 1930s. I saw him win a match in the City Club, Tiruchi, in 1932. He was a baseliner, with fine speed of foot, amazing stamina and rock-like steadiness. But while his game was effective, it was not attractive to watch.

One must read the book and marvel at the sacrifices TKR made, and the total dedication he showed, to make his son Krishnan, born in 1937, develop into a top tennis player. Thanks to his father's coaching, Krishnan became a junior champion, and went on to become India's top player of his era. At one time he was ranked No.3 in the world. Playing for India in the Davis Cup, he played a total of 97 matches, and won 69 of them. His record in singles includes victories against Jaroslav Drobny, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. He regards as his finest match the Davis Cup match in 1966 when he beat Thomas Koch of Brazil in five sets after being two sets down. He took India to the Davis Cup final once. But he was never destined to bring home the Davis Cup.

How did he do this? It was by sheer artistry. His service was never a powerful weapon. "You can be sure I won't serve any aces. Nor will I serve double faults. I am just going to put in my 'Ye Bhagwan' serve." He had no lethal ground strokes either. He won by consistency and placing with fine stop and angled volleys, and a graceful half volley drop shot now and again. His tennis was "a thing of beauty" to watch.

As I commented in a letter to the editor in The Hindu recently, his court manners were impeccable. He was a sportsman through and through. His modesty became him well. I regard him as a perfect role model for all aspiring youngsters.

On pages 86 to 90, Krishnan has given a personal list of the top ten players among his contemporaries. The remarkable thing about this list is that six of them, led by Rod Laver, the greatest of them all, are Aussies. Thanks are due, no doubt, to Harry Hopman.

THE story now goes on to son Ramesh, as much an artist with the racquet as his father. I have seen many of Ramesh's victories, including his victory on the Centre Court at Wimbledon against the Swedish ace, Joakim Nystrom, and practically all his matches at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. He developed a remarkable mid-court game, playing his best shots and bewildering his opponents from the so-called "no man's land". He too began his tennis tutelage under grandpa TKR, but did not take too kindly to TKR's over-strict and somewhat dictatorial ways. He too represented his country with distinction in Davis Cup competition, first under his father Krishnan's captaincy, and later under Vijay Amritraj.

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On pages 168 to 173, Ramesh lists his top ten contemporaries. What a change from father Krishnan's list! There are six Americans, three Swedes and one German, nary an Aussie.

LIKE the Krishnans, father and son, Vijay Amritraj was also a fine sportsman, with perfect court manners. These three were our true tennis ambassadors - models of deportment, courtesy and modesty. I have never once seen any of them use "body language", which our young players have now started using, aping some American players.

Ramesh retired officially in 1993. Both father and son now devote their talents and energies to the coaching of young tennis hopefuls at the Krishnan Tennis Centre in Chennai. I wish them the best of luck and hope that in my life-time India will produce a world No. 1.

The book owes much to the cooperation extended by our top tennis reporter, and a fine writer too, Nirmal Shekar.

I am finishing this review just before leaving India later today, April 11. It is Krishnan's birthday. I called him this morning to wish him all the best, not just at the personal level, but as our Harry Hopman of the next millennium. "Ye Bhagwan": God bless!

Of water and wars

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Interview with Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Senior Vice-President, World Bank.

"Many of the wars this century were about oil, but those of the next century will be over water." So said World Bank Vice-President Dr. Ismail Serageldin in a 1995 interview to Newsweek in order to, as he says, "ring the alarm bell for the impending water crisis". With 80 countries and 40 per cent of the world's population facing chronic water problems and with the demand for water doubling every two decades, Serageldin's warning is neither ominous nor far-fetched. It is very real.

Rivers, the main source of water, crisscross countries, friends and foes alike. With over half the population living in 250 river basins which are shared by several countries, their potential as a weapon cannot be overstated. For instance, soon after the Gulf war, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein began draining the marshes to the south of the country by constructing a 565-km Third River Canal in a bid to quell the rebellious "marsh" Arabs. The Jordan basin, the fresh water source for four nations, is West Asia's biggest source of dispute.

Nearer home is the long-drawn-out dispute with Bangladesh following the construction of the Farakka Barrage on the Ganga. And within the country, the most notable of disputes is that between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery waters.

Apart from the disputes, the other causes for concern are the enormous waste and pollution of water. In India, for instance, 70 per cent of the water is polluted; only 5 per cent is collected in Class 1 cities; only 25 per cent of the collected water is treated; industrial waste accounts for 25 per cent of waste water and over 50 per cent of the pollution load. While globally agriculture uses two-thirds of all water, in India it is over 80 per cent. This depletes the groundwater supply leading to acute shortage of drinking water.

If these problems are created by human kind, there are others inherent in nature. For instance, of the annual average rainfall of 1,200 mm in India, 90 per cent is lost in seepage, evaporation and run-off to the sea. The water crisis, thus, needs to be tackled at different levels - by focussing on the various issues that impact water-use such as energy, biotechnology, industry and environment, and by bringing together various experts and heads of governments - says Serageldin. And to tackle this huge task, he has not stopped with preaching but set up, some months ago, the World Commission for Water, which he chairs.

Serageldin holds the chairmanship of the Global Water Partnership and is associated with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP). Serageldin, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard University, has served the World Bank in various capacities since 1972.

With over 35 books and monographs, and 200 articles, book chapters and technical papers in various areas - including science, education, economic and human resource development, environment, architecture, Islam and culture - to his credit, Serageldin is a spokesperson for the poor. He has been in the forefront of building partnerships among international organisations, governments, scientists, educationists, communicators and society at large.

Recently in Chennai to participate in a dialogue organised by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation on "Climate, biotechnology and food and water security" - one of the various efforts in preparation for the elaboration of the Global Water Vision - Serageldin spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the coming water crisis, the danger it poses to food security, the role of biotechnology, patents, and the mandate of the World Water Commission. Excerpts from the interview:

Can you give us an idea of the coming water crisis?

A simple fact is that 97.5 per cent of the total volume of water available on this planet is salty. Of the remaining 2.5 per cent, two-thirds are locked up in the ice caps as glaciers and is not available for human use. And of the remaining - one-third of the 2.5 per cent, which is 0.81 per cent - large quantities are far beyond the reach of human settlements. Of the remaining which is accessible, 80 per cent comes in bursts, as monsoons.

Thus the quantity of water you are left with for use is small. Of that we have recaptured and harvested a certain quantity. But we still need approximately 12,000 cubic kilometres of water per annum for sustenance. And over 54 per cent of that quantity is already being used today.

We will have at least three billion more people on this planet before the population stabilises. And the crucial question is: given their water needs, will they have access to enough food? Water is crucial for survival. We need water to grow food, for drinking, for industry... This is basically the dynamics we are talking about. We have been mismanging our scarce water resources and this needs to change.

In what ways is water being mismanaged?

On three grounds. One, we have a fragmented approach to water. There are those who look at it on the basis of its use for irrigation, for industry, for hydro-power, for municipal use, as part of the environment, as wetland, rivers, or lakes. People do not even think of the underground water, the aquifers, how they are recharged and so on. They just assume it is there. But, in fact, nature functions as a comprehensive, interlinked system. And the lower catchment areas of the river systems, the river catchment areas and the aquifers seldom correspond exactly to the administrative boundaries of sovereign states. So, you have multiple users and many decision-makers. That all of us need to use the scarce resource which knows no boundary is one aspect of mismanagement.

The other aspect is that we have always considered it to be freely available. That it will always be there. Therefore, we have not bothered to use it carefully.

Third, we have tended to pollute water not realising that this reduces its use potential.

Do we not have a system to monitor and regulate water use?

Yes. There are what have come to be known as the Dublin principles. These principles were reaffirmed in Rio, Agenda 21, Beijing, Marakkesh and so on. All recognise water as a free commodity which has an economic value. They recognise the economic, ecological and institutional principles of empowering people, the community and so on. All these principles are adopted by sovereign states. But they are not being implemented adequately.

Why are these principles not adopted?

Because most of the problems concerning water seem long-term. And most of the advantages for its use are short-term. This is what I mean by mismanagement.

In most developing countries, agriculture by far makes the largest use of water. And irrigation systems are not as efficient as they should be. Globally, agriculture uses up to two-thirds of the available water. In countries such as India it is close to 90 per cent. So, the efficiency of water use in agriculture becomes an important factor.

Do you think factors such as free electricity, power subsidies and so on play a role in efficient use of water?

Let me give you an example: In my country, the water-scarce Egypt, we have 1,000 cubic metres of water per person a year - half that of India's average. In the oaklands, where water is free, they still follow conventional irrigation methods which use more water than necessary, resulting in water-logging, a common feature in the past. Now as water is a prized commodity in Egypt, most people have invested in drip-irrigation systems in order to conserve water. They are also careful about selecting crops which have high value so that they get more value per crop. These are the kinds of results you get if you are careful about water use. So people have to adopt and adapt technologies that use water in a better way.

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In Egypt, we have a certain advantage in that there is very little evapo-transpiration along the Nile, and all water goes back into the river. So, if water goes into the fields and is not properly used there, it goes back into the Nile and is used again. So, the core word for water is efficiency.

Coming back to your question on subsidies, contrary to general statements, subsidies have been defended in the name of the poor. But they do not, most often, benefit them. Subsidised water rates in cities are, for instance, defended in the name of the poor. Yet, water does not reach everybody. The poorest of the poor usually have no access to piped water. They end up buying water, paying 10-20 times more than those who get water by just opening the tap. And yet, the rates for using tap water is defended in the name of the poor. That is really unfortunate. It will have a dramatic impact on the livelihood of the poor. The rich will manage to insulate themselves in any situation. It is the poor who will suffer.

So these are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed. I am not against helping certain sections. But it should be done efficiently and should also be well-targeted. It should empower people and not destroy the livelihood of the people in the long term.

What are the implications of a water crisis on food security?

I can give you some dramatic numbers to explain this question. Assume three billion more people on this planet - in India it is quite stark at 500 million - before the population stabilises. To meet the food requirements of the three billion more people, assuming that there is no increase in per capita food consumption, and further that only 40 per cent of the additional food comes from irrigation (which is a very conservative figure because during the Green Revolution 80 per cent of the increase in food came from irrigation), you will still need 17 per cent more water to irrigate - though there is a 70 per cent increase in irrigation potential - than what you are getting now.

At the same time, you know that the urban population is going to double, and that industry and pollution will grow - it may at best remain constant in spite of increased industrialisation and a rise in urban population. With that sort of figures, I wonder if we will have enough water to produce the quantity of food needed. So we have to do something much more dramatic in terms of improving the efficiency of water use and agricultural productivity. There are then the local, regional and global issues which cannot be divorced from one another. They have to be looked at in a holistic way to maintain global balance. That was precisely the reason for creating the World Commission for Water.

When was the Commission set up and what does it envisage for India and the rest of the world?

The Commission was set up on August 11, 1998. And we intend to finish our work (Global Water Vision) and present it on March 22, 2000 (the World Water Day) when the World Water Conference is to begin in The Hague.

The Vision aims to look at the future, asking the kind of questions we have just discussed. The idea is to evolve an approach that will lead to solutions accompanied by action plans; to link the local and global aspects, and provide a workable framework for water management at different levels.

We have five thematic panels that look into many other issues which will have an impact on how water is managed. The five panels are:

One, transformations in information technology, which is going to make major strides in communication.

Two, those concerning energy - such as hydro-power and so on.

Three, issues of biotechnology. This panel looks at the application of genetics to develop plants that are drought-tolerant, that use less water, and so on. It also looks at developing expertise, tools and ways of reducing the requirement for water-borne sewerage and waste water; water re-use in the case of high-value agriculture; drinking water use in cities, and so on.

Four, institutional transformations. In this we look at the role of pressure groups, civil society, private sector, the government - all actors relevant to the institutional arrangement of water management.

Finally, we are looking at data, analyses and forecast models.

Then we have three conventional sectoral panels - water for food; water for people's use and industry; and water for the environment.

We also have two groups. One, the World Commission for Dams, chaired by Dr. I. Asmal, South Africa's Minister for Water and Forests, who is also a member of the Water Commission. And the other group works on National Sovereignty in Inter-national Waters. This is headed in turn by former heads of state or governments.

All this is at the global level. We start with a bottoms-up exercise by seeking regional views - in 10-15 regions of the world. Then, there is the confirmation of the regional views in the thematic and sectoral panels with two special outreach programmes, one for women and the other for youths.

This major process has been on for some months now. The whole effort is aimed at linking the various issues and synthesising them into decisions for the future with a frame-work for action accompanying it. The frame of action obviously is going to be extremely structured because there is enormous variability in water availability. For instance, in North America we have 10,000 cubic metres per person a year. Egypt has 1,000, India 2,000 and Jordan 260.

It is an enormous task you have set for yourself in a short span of 18 months. At what stage is the Commission now?

It is indeed an enormous task. And I am very encouraged by the response I have been getting in taking on this challenge. It is co-sponsored by all U.N. agencies.

What time-frame are you looking at?

We are looking at 2025 and then beyond that to 2050. Why that far? This is because we consider issues, the solutions to which take a long time to have an impact. For example, alternatives to water-borne sewerage and the use of the flush. Now, every time you flush, you use up as much water a poor family might use for a whole day. So, we need to develop alternatives for these things. It seems the solutions to these are not in the offing even by the late 20th or the early 21st century. And even if the horizon for these technologies is 2025, they may not have an impact until 2050. We do not want to say that anything that does not have an impact now is not something worth considering. From my experience in agriculture, I have found that investments in research give results only after 15-20 years. So, though we are looking at 2025, the long-term horizon is 2050.

One of the thematic panels you spoke about was transformations in biotechnology. Broadly speaking, what are the research efforts developed in biotechnology to conserve water?

The issue in biotechnology is to conserve water using plant breeding programmes. For instance, increasing drought and salinity tolerance among plants in order to breed plants that are less thirsty so that we can get more crop per crop.

The second area is to look at alternatives. For example, to look at breeding methods outside the conventional ones. Then, the issue of treatment of waste water. For example, biological remediation of water which can be used for high-value fruits and vegetables and so on. There are a number of other areas where biotechnology can be of use.

What are your views on patents in biotechnology?

This is a major issue. Patents in biotechnology and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) raise a whole lot of ethical and legal issues. Patents are in some sense justified as huge investments go into research. But what is most important is not to overlook indigenous and small farmers. So, while dealing with patents, aspects of equity, benefit-sharing, recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples and so on are very important. Also, the recognition of international agreements such as on biological diversity and farmers' rights. All these issues need to be addressed together.

Some countries have made headway in this. For instance, India is developing a legislation that tries to take into account the different regimes under the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), the World Trade Organisation and the Convention on Biological Diversity. We need to evolve that into a more coherent multilateral system that recognises the role of the private sector to do what it does best and to recognise the importance of international and national public goods that have to remain in the public domain to protect the poor and vulnerable.

What is your position on the Terminator technology that has been patented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Delta Pineland Company?

Let me first make CGIAR's (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) position on Terminator technology clear. Since most Third World farmers are small and marginal, who hold back seeds in one season to sow in the next, CGIAR will not be releasing seeds that contain Terminator technology.

On the other hand, there are some good things to be learnt from this technology. A complicated piece of science is involved here, and therefore there is a lot to be learnt about how to approach problems by switching genes on and off, controlling their expressions and so on. Second, it is conceivable that even if it is designed for one purpose, it could be used as a potential biosafety measure. This is certainly something worth exploiting.

Coming to the other thematic panel, an institutional transformation, what is the role of the private and public sectors in water conservation?

There is no question that institutional transformation is necessary. The idea that everything needs to be done by the state is not working out well. Private operators have a role to play. The state and the private sector have to share some responsibility. The notion that the state or the private sector is going to have a natural monopoly is not quite true. Experience shows that you can break down the pieces of the system, and it works just as well. Innovations from that idea coupled with community action, help of local groups, users and state regulation, private sector investments and a range of institutions that need to be brought in place and so on, are very important.

Do you still think that the wars of the next century will be over water?

We are taking steps to avoid precisely that. That statement of mine in 1995 in Newsweek, which was picked up by CNN, was intended as some kind of setting off the alarm for people not to continue with the fragmented attitude towards water. Since then a lot has been done in the right direction. Many programmes were started - the Marrakesh Forum was formed, the World Commission for Water in the 21st century was set up, and a whole lot of discussions initiated on ending the fragmented attitute towards water use.

Let us hope all these things, along with the developments in science and biotechnology, will help us handle the water situation.

LETTERS

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

NATO's aggression

'Shock' is a mild word to describe my feelings when I read about NATO's naked aggression against Yugoslavia ("War in Europe", April 23). After the fall of the Soviet Union, the world has become unipolar with the U.S. calling the shots. The U.S. has become the greatest threat to world peace.

In order to check the U.S., a strategic triangle comprising Russia, China and India, as proposed by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov a few months ago, should be formed. Countries with huge military capabilities such as the U.S. and the U.K., are tempted to undertake military action against smaller countries in the absence of pressure from the international community. A military alliance like the Warsaw Pact is needed in order to contain the U.S. and maintain world peace.

S. Raghunatha Prabhu Alappuzha, Kerala EMS

The two-day seminar organised to commemorate the first death anniversary of E.M.S. Namboodiripad ("Remem- bering EMS," April 23) was a fitting tribute to the late Marxist leader in that it will help propagate his vision of a secular and egalitarian India. EMS was a man of history. Yet he was the first victim of misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution. But from there, the Communist movement has come a long way.

Launching a mass movement against communalism may be a better way to pay tributes to EMS than installing a statue.

A. Jacob Sahayam Thiruvananthapuram BJP rule

The Cover Story, "Combative Mood"(April 9), was bold and comprehensive. The steep rise in the prices of onion and other vegetables, edible oil, pulses and spices, the Vishnu Bhagwat affair, Mohan Guruswamy's allegations - all these sullied the reputation of the BJP-led Government.

Our political leaders have become experts in giving assurances which would never materialise. This explains why the rich have become richer and the poor poorer. Even after 50 years of freedom our villages do not have proper roads, schools, hospitals and not even safe drinking water.

B.N. Bose Mumbai Folk deities

The article "Deities of the people" (April 9) was rich in detail. It aptly stressed the significance of the study of folklore in the economic, political and cultural spheres in the present-day world. It also drew attention to the fact that folk culture, which represents the culture of a majority of the people of this country, has been unjustly overtaken by classical and popular cultures and cautions readers against the dangerous attempts to homogenise culture.

I hope this article will create an awareness about our rich and diverse cultural heritage and the importance of according respect to its various facets.

Ponneelan Monikettipottal, Tamil Nadu Khajuraho

This has reference to "Millennium at Khajuraho" (April 9). It is heartening to note that the Madhya Pradesh Government plans to launch an integrated plan for the all-round development of Khajuraho, a thousand-year-old architectural splendour. It is one of our national assets which we must preserve at all costs. Our rich cultural heritage, as reflected in the Khajuraho temple complex is truly a monument to the celebration of life in all its complexity.

Onkar Chopra New Delhi DGHS

Apropos the article, "A key appointment under a cloud" by T.K. Rajalakshmi (April 9), the position of the case is as under:

This article is about the ACRs written in respect of Dr. S.P. Agarwal, DGHS, for the years 1988-89 to 1995-96 and his selection to the post of DGHS. These issues were the subject matter in a court case (OA No.952/96) filed by Dr. V.P. Bansal, Addl. DGHS, in the Central Administrative Tribunal (Principal Bench), New Delhi, and the Tribunal dismissed this OA (vide judgment dated 20.3.1997), after hearing arguments and examination of the original records of the ACRs. The Review Application No.118/97 with MA No.1201 and 1202 of 1997 against this judgment was also rejected by the Tribunal on 11.8.1997.

Against these judgments, Dr. Bansal has filed a writ petition in the High Court of Delhi (C.W. No.4617/97) which is still pending. On the same issues, Dr. Bansal had also filed another case (OA No. 105/98) in CAT, New Delhi which was also dismissed by the CAT on 29.1.99.

Separately, a Criminal Contempt Petition was moved by Dr. Bansal in the OA No.952/96 on 11.11.97 in which it was, inter alia, alleged that there were interpolations and fabrications in the ACR Dossiers of Dr. S.P. Agarwal. On this petition, the Chairman of the Tribunal ordered that no prima facie case was made out for criminal contempt nor it appears just and expedient to initiate contempt proceeding. Against this order, dated 16.12.97, Dr. V.P. Bansal filed a Criminal Writ Petition No.254/98 in the High Court of Delhi which was eventually dismissed on 24.2.99.

S. Subramanian, Deputy Principal Information Officer, Government of India, New Delhi.

The points that were raised by Dr. Bansal in his petitions are not within our knowledge. But we are aware of the complaints sent to the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Cabinet Secretary, which provide documentary evidence that certain Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs) may have been rendered in an irregular manner. The story was based in essence on these complaints. As far as we are aware, no court of law has yet provided an authoritative determination of this question. - Editor, Frontline.

Gender justice

The All India Democratic Women's Association deserves appreciation for its struggles in the cause of women ("Women and their battles", April 9). Women's role in social life, especially in India, is largely confined to giving birth to children and looking after the home. They suffer even more oppression after marriage. In a male-dominated society like India this oppression leads to many psychological problems, which manifest themselves in various forms.

Women's organisations generally confine themselves to issues affecting urban women. A majority of women in India live in villages, poverty-stricken and ignorant. Their yearning for emancipation often remains unexpressed. The hazards they face in everyday life should be highlighted and addressed.

Buddhadev Nandi Bishnupur, West Bengal * * *

The public distribution system as it functions today is not woman-friendly. As articles are not distributed at a fixed time, women, already burdened with manifold, stressful responsibilities at home, have to spend long hours in the queue. Rural women are the worst sufferers, for villages have fewer fair price shops than towns and cities. Which women's organisation will fight for them?

Reserving 33 per cent of seats for women in legislature and panchayats will not help unless problems such as illiteracy and health are not addressed. Also, there is no evidence to show that all women leaders have worked for the uplift of women. It was men like Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Gandhiji who did this.

Jyoti Doshi Jamnagar, Gujarat * * *

It was an enlightening article. However, it is regrettable that none of the resolutions passed at the meeting spoke about two things that set women apart from men: motherhood and the predominant role of women in the family in the Indian context.

Motherhood cannot be substituted. This does not mean that a woman is a machine for reproduction. Motherhood is something more than that. In any auspicious occasion in the family the women and the purohits play dominant role.

One of the resolutions passed at the meeting refers to the increase in the number of cases of crime against women and their spread to new areas. Invariably in most of the cases of crimes against women, it is a woman (a mother-in-law or a sister-in-law) who is blamed. Women's attention should be drawn to this aspect of the problem also.

K.C. Kalkura Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh Jammu and Kashmir

The voices from different quarters suggesting a division of Jammu and Kashmir have no basis in reality. Any such move would only deepen the communal divide. More dangerous, it would give room to separatist forces and their nefarious designs to flourish.

Sanjeev Kudesia Hafr-al-Batin, Saudi Arabia Vishnu Bhagwat

In an interview telecast on Doordarshan on April 6, Defence Minister George Fernandes gave the reasons for the dismissal of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. The reasons were: the Admiral defied government orders; his actions jeopardised the career of certain senior naval officers; he lied to the Government and he leaked to the media sensitive information on naval operations. Fernandes broke his silence only when a "political earthquake" threatened to bring down the Government. However, in substance his revelations were no different from what he had said in January after the dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat. The only difference was that his tone and tenor this time was quite harsh, the defence mechanism in him being hyperactive!

If the charges against the former Chief of the Naval Staff were so serious, what restrained the powers-that-be from warning him in the first instance or from instituting an inquiry? Such a course of action would have also given Bhagwat an opportunity to explain his stand.

The President's action in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 15(1) of the Navy Act, 1957 goes against the principles of natural justice. Nor does it conform to the known pattern of responsive and responsible governance, bound by the rule of law.

Since the issues raised are of national concern, the demand for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) is absolutely justified.

Gp.Capt. G.C. Mohanty (retd.) Chhanpur, Orissa

Politics today

What are the minimum requirements for seeking to form an alternative government? I suppose issues, concern, and love for the people you want to serve.

One expects politicians to think of the need to reach out to millions of people who are deprived of political, social and economic justice, to employ educated persons productively in projects that create jobs and wealth for the country, to educate those who have been left out of the education system (crucial in the information age), to create a health care system that takes care of every income group, and so on. These are some of the issues on which politicians of various hues are expected to have differences. But those who seek power do it out of their selfishness. The elected representatives are spending a good part of their time in political intrigue and manipulation.

Those who seek to exploit the present situation of political instability in India will be doing injustice to the coming generations. The unhealthy trends in politics one sees today need to be stopped. One of the ways to do this is to elect a Prime Minister after a national debate in which issues are discussed and ensure that he or she stays in power for a full term.

Dr. Prasad S. Thenkabail New Haven, United States

Khalsa tercentenary

The country, particularly North India, is witnessing a grand celebration of the tercentenary of the birth of the Khalsa. The 'secular' Indian state is financing the event by donating more than Rs.100 crores to the organisers. The Sangh Parivar is participating in a big way in the celebrations. The vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, B.L. Sharma Prem, has converted to Sikhism. (One really wonders why he should convert to Sikhism when it is claimed to be a part of Hinduism.)

Unfortunately, however, the problem with such religious celebrations turned political spectacles is that history is taken as unidirectional. The history of Khalsa has not always been a story of the fight for truth and justice. Unlike the Sikh masses, the Sikh ruling classes more often than not sided with the British rulers. Has anyone attempted to know how many times saropas (religious honour) were presented to the British rulers by the leaders of the Khalsa Panth? In Delhi, outside the Delhi Gate GPO and the Hindu Rao Hospital, are two stone tablets erected by the British rulers in remembrance of their victory over the native forces in 1857. They say, "The Company forces entered the city from here with the help of the timely arrival of Sikh and Gorkha forces ...."

Nana Saheb of Bithoor, who most heroically led the native forces, wrote a letter in the seventh Sudi of Kartik Samvat 1915 (year 1858). In this letter written after his defeat he said: "This was the defeat of the entire country, not mine (alone). It was because of the Gorkhas, Sikhs and the princely order... India has been defeated. The defeat has been caused by the Gorkhas, Sikhs and princely states." (from Remember Us Once in a While... Letters of Martyrs; Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India).

Neelima Sharma Delhi

The end of historiography?

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, 1912-1999.

WITH the passing of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai on April 10, 1999 at his native village in Kuttanad taluk of Alappuzha district at the age of 87, a certain phase of Malayalam fiction with a good deal of emphasis on historiographic documentation may be said to have come to its logical end. That the novel should hold up a mirror to life in the raw, cooked rare and showing the red, was almost an axiom with the generation of writers who grew up under the tutelage of the redoubtable intellectual Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, whose unorthodox views and cosmopolitan outlook had a substantial influence on them in their formative years. It was perhaps Thakazhi who benefited most from it in his creative work.

Hailing from an underdeveloped village, where he had his early education, he went to Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram) to study law, which later helped him work as a pleader. The years he spent in Trivandrum in the company of Kesari made him familiar with world literature, especially with the novels of Balzac, Flaubert, Maupassant, Hugo, Zola, Tolstoy and Gorki. In a sense this contact with the Western masters of the narrative opened his vision, both in terms of content and the technique of story-telling, which in his last years he was eager to unlearn.

Thakazhi's first short story (The Poor) was published in 1929, his first novel (Reward for Sacrifice) in 1934. In the 1930s and 1940s he was active in the Progressive Literature Movement, and his early stories and novels reveal the twin influence of Freud and Marx. His involvement with leftist politics has left its imprint on his early novels like Thottiyude Makan (Scavenger's Son, 1947) and Randidangazhi (Two Measures, 1948). The trend began to change slowly towards the publication of his popular classic Chemmeen (Shrimps, 1956). This evolution of his perception of art and life continued into his later masterpieces such as Ouseppinte Makkal (Children of Ouseph, 1959), Enippadikal (Rungs of the Ladder, 1964), and Chukku (Dried Ginger, 1967), culminating in his magnum opus Kayar (The Rope, 1978).

One can see two things in this trajectory: one, the relentless, though slow, development of his creative powers; the other, the indifference with which he pushes off pot-boilers in between irresistible masterpieces. But it cannot be denied that, whatever be the final assessment of the aesthetic quality of his individual works, there is a fierce and sustained concern for the suffering of the underdog - beggar, prostitute, peasant, factory worker, fisherfolk, scavenger, shopkeeper, the downtrodden, the impoverished middle class, destitute women, orphans, and what not. He was no sentimentalist, although he could portray human sentiments with sharp objectivity and precision. All his 600-odd short stories, his novels, his innumerable articles, speeches, biographical writings and travelogues throb with concern for mankind. They run through the whole gamut of human emotions.

ON April 11, a grateful village bade farewell to the man who had put their tiny spot of land forever on the map of the world. The crowds had their last look at him, whom they had grown familiar with in their routine daily activities, but got dazed as though they were seeing him for the first time that afternoon. The village was appropriating to itself the writer who had appropriated its name to himself for nearly seven decades, meticulously recording the history of its people in all its lovely and ugly nuances, its joys and sorrows, its petty quarrels and aching dreams. The village historian himself was becoming part of history.

Trying to write in the past tense about Thakazhi, the chronicler of the eternal present, is an unenviable task. Which reflects only the limitations of our understanding of human mortality, for, by writing one's age, one becomes ageless.

"He's gone, gone away, leaving us all behind," murmured his wife Kathamma to herself, as I moved over to her by the side of the hero whom she had looked after, silently and wistfully, for over sixty years. "He'll never go away, he's always with us, will be so, in our hearts, for all time to come," I whispered to myself, for it was what everybody there felt. They had all, it seemed, walked out of his stories and novels, the humble and the lowly, the little men and women, who could never aim at superhuman proportions. Here was life indistinct from the literature that grew out of it and in turn created it. He is now part of the memory of the land, which memory he himself had enshrined in his immortal writings.

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AS a story-teller Thakazhi was an artist to his fingertips. His short, crisp sentences narrate the tale with controlled breath. There is no trace of bombast anywhere. In his best stories, one can almost hear the sound of breathing as if it were orally told. His imagination was down to earth, and his grand theme was the earth, man's attachment to the earth.

Kayar weaves it into a massive symphony, fully orchestrated with landscape and watershed. In more than a thousand pages, it unfolds the majestic tapestry with scores of tales that a village loves to remember and recount. In slow movement it unfolds the tragicomic chronicle of individuals and families and groups that integrates and disintegrates this imagined community. Kayar may be read as an epitome of Kerala history, told from the perspective of a tiny village. There are recurring images of a familiar historian, a raconteur, like Achoma Kurup, who cannot take rest unless he passes on the tradition of story-telling, along with the inherited and accumulated stories of the community to the new generation, both the tale and its telling, both the history and its historiography. Thakazhi has gone on record that he learned this dual art from Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata.

The documentary aspect of Kayar is brought out by the very topography of Kuttanad, which is Thakazhi's home tinai (region). Kerala is proverbially thought of as land reclaimed from the sea by Parasurama - perhaps a rubric for the tribe or tribes that worked the miracle before history and historiography started. So is Kuttanad an entirely man-made land, where the annual flood still acts as a reminder of the primordial dominance of water. Small plots of land made of mud dug up mostly by the landless Pulayas and Parayas from the placid waters at the meeting place of rivers like the Pampa and the backwaters of the Vembanand lake. But those who created this fertile delta owned no part of it; and this alienation of man and the fruits of his labour is a focal theme of the novel.

The craze for landed property has for long been a fundamental feature of humankind's character, until in the post-industrial age people left the fields to take up other enterprises such as tea and rubber plantations or go abroad for more lucrative jobs. The rise and fall of Kuttanad is retold in Kayar from the time of the first land survey and settlement about 200 years ago. Land had then functioned as the counter for all financial transitions, and continued to dominate all human concerns and relationships, till the Land Reforms Act changed everything. This historic transformation of man's relationship with land, as also between man and man, men and women and even man and God, forms the staple theme of Kayar.

As the simple sentences form little paragraphs, tiny episodes, snatches of dialogues and reminiscences, and echo across the vast paddyfields and the expansive backwaters, they swell into epic dimensions, and tarawad after tarawad collapses in the flood tide of socio-economic and political upheavals. Through the microcosm of Kuttanad, Thakazhi emerges not merely as the chronicler of his village complex, but by exploiting the puranic mode of narration, as the historiographer of mankind.

The horizontal and vertical mobility of the speaker and the listener and the subject of speech is subtly suggested by the image of the coir yarn, homespun, multi-layered, strong and resilient, but never monological: the land survey and settlement, the Nair Regulation Act, the spread of Western education, the Moplah rebellion, the freedom struggle, all the earth-shaking events dovetailed into a fine sequence, and a finer consequence. Randidangazhi is concerned with the struggle of the agricultural labourers of Kuttanad and their ruthless masters; Thottiyude Makan with the scavengers of Alappuzha; Chemmeen with the fisherfolk of Ambalappuzha and its surroundings; Enippadikal with the ambitious politicians and bureaucrats of the State Capital; Kayar is a blend of all these, including and transcending all these, with a narrative sweep, imaginative vision, and spiritual insight, unsurpassed by any other contemporary novel in Malayalam.

Dr. Ayyappa Paniker is a writer and literary critic. He retired as Professor of English and Chairman of the Institute of English, University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.

The end of a benighted phase

other

India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU

INDIA is headed for its 13th general election within a year-and-a-half of conducting the 12th in the series. The only question is whether the election will come straightaway or will be preceded by an interim government representing the varied, competing and, frequently, contradictory interests of those who came together, against the odds, to put an end to the worst Central Government the people of India have seen in over half a century of Independence. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government was a regime of the Hindu Right, diluted and shaped, to an extent, by the narrow interests of some coalition partners and eventually brought down by the defection of the largest and most volatile coalition partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The Vajpayee regime was communal and divisive with a vengeance: it enabled, and colluded with, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's longstanding project of minority-baiting, allowing the most virulent and thuggish constituents of the saffron brigade to unleash a new level of hate politics and terrorise especially India's small Christian minority, ostensibly on the issue of 'conversion'. Even though the National Agenda for Governance, the BJP's compact with its coalition partners, formally excluded the saffron demands on Ayodhya, Article 370 and a Uniform Civil Code, the regime managed to put tremendous pressure on the system's commitment to secularism and the rule of law. It attempted, without a great deal of success but in a manner indicative of its future plans, to further the RSS plan of saffronising education.

It hijacked India's independent and peace-oriented nuclear policy, twisted it out of shape, and imposed on the people of India and Pakistan a dangerous and costly new nuclear arms race. It wantonly undermined bilateral relations with China and Pakistan, before attempting, unsuccessfully and unconvincingly, to repair some of the damage. Its economic policy, following the Pokhran nuclear explosions and the imposition of sanctions by the United States and some of its allies, was (in the words of a Frontline columnist, the economist Jayati Ghosh) a policy of "placat(ing) foreign governments and international capital by offering economic concessions, through greater liberalisation, greater incentives for foreign investors and offering the opportunity to enter captive Indian markets and buy up domestic assets cheaply." By attempting cynically to use the knife of Article 356 against the elected government and Legislative Assembly of Bihar and threatening to use it elsewhere, it put destabilising pressure on federalism and cooperative Centre-State relations. Through its determination to hang on to power after clearly forfeiting parliamentary legitimacy, it forced the polity to register a new low in sordid opportunism and horse-trading. In sum, the BJP-led regime set an unmatched - and difficult-to-match - record of divisive, reactionary and chauvinist misgovernance.

Hearteningly, the people of India seemed to show the capability to recognise and act on this political truth quicker than anyone was willing to give them credit for. The saffron debacle in the November 1998 Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh proved beyond any doubt that the masses of the people, alienated by sharp rises in the prices of essential commodities and by the manifestly communal, divisive and inept performance of the government of the Hindu Right, were not willing to buy the pseudo-nationalist and chauvinist agenda based on nuclear hawkishness, efforts to saffronise education, and minority-baiting. But these election results represented only the strongest, the most direct, evidence of the change in the popular mood across the land. The constant tensions and vacillations within the Central Government coalition must be recognised, at least in retrospect, as behavioural manifestations of the truth of alienation from the electorate. At the core, the Jayalalitha party's end game defection from the government of the Hindu Right was the expression of the realisation that the saffron cause was in headlong retreat in the national political arena and, therefore, continuing to ally with it would be a self-damaging course.

All this has meant, of course, that the pendulum has swung in favour of the BJP's main rival in the national political arena, the Congress(I) led by Sonia Gandhi. The party of traditional dominance in the system has clearly emerged as the supplanter of the BJP at the Centre, the party that will emerge, in all probability and way and ahead, the single largest party (even if not a party with a majority) in a fresh all-India electoral contest. The only viable interim government conceivable for, say, six months before general elections become unavoidable is a minority government formed by the Congress(I) and supported from outside by all those parties that are presently ranged against the BJP. The two main constructive purposes such an interim regime can serve would be these. First, it must re-commit the Indian state to a course of secular democracy, renew the constitutional commitment to the protection of minorities, and put an immediate end to policies that are guaranteed to divide and indeed vivisect India. Secondly, the interim regime must initiate steps to undo nuclear weaponisation and the nuclear arms race, and rebuild trust and confidence in India's relations with China and Pakistan. It can begin this vital task by making a commitment not to deploy and induct nuclear weapons, and iniating discussions with Pakistan to develop this commitment into a bilateral agreement. It was clear from the start that the government of the Hindu Right would not be able to get off the nuclear tiger. A change of political regime in New Delhi appeared to be the condition precedent for this. Whatever a non-BJP successor government can or cannot do in other areas, whether it proves to be transitional or longer-lived, it will serve the people's interest decisively if it shows the political will and courage to undo nuclear weaponisation in South Asia.

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Oct 9,2020