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COVER STORY

04-06-1999

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Letter to Sonia Gandhi

politics

Following is the text of the letter written by CWC members Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar to Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi: Respected Congress president,

It is with a deep sense of responsibility, and an overwhelming sense of concern that we write to you. The founders and the leaders of the Congress party like your eminent grandfather-in-law had always encouraged a tradition of free and uninhibited exchange of views amongst Congressmen. They have built the foundation of Indian democracy on the four pillars of liberty of opinion, freedom of expression, responsibility of action and above all nation before self. We believe we are being true to these ideals in placing our views before you.

Madam President, we belong to a generation which had the good fortune to have, as role models, people like Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Nehru, Maulana Azad, Subhash Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. It is under their tutelage that we learnt about the value of sacrifice, and the intensity of national pride. They taught us to be Indians first and Congressmen next. Your family has, more than once, made the supreme sacrifice to uphold these ideals.

After the demise of Rajivji the party felt orphaned. Like most orphans, its condition deteriorated. With the slow decline of the Congress party, the forces of communalism, violence, and fundamentalism, which would divide and break the country, grew from strength to strength. As a result the country plunged from crises to crises. The last three years have seen more political, social and economic turbulence in this country than the previous 45. Right thinking people were leaving the Congress. The poor, the underprivileged, the minorities and the youth were disillusioned with the party.

It was at such a bleak time, Madam, that some of us came to you. We have all watched with respect and admiration, the great dignity with which you and your children bore the series of blows that life dealt you.

We also sensed the genuine affection and care that you had for Congressmen and the Congress party. At this critical juncture in the party's life we came to you and requested you to take over the reins of the party. We felt that the real respect the Congress party had for your family would rejuvenate the organisation. And we are not wrong. Your presence in the party gave it new life. The disintegration stopped. Congressmen started returning to the fold.

For the past months, we have observed the maturity and dignity you have brought to the high office of the Congress president. You have kept the fold together, consulted with senior colleagues and motivated the youth. Through all this ran a clear purpose that the party so cherished by your family did not perish. Such selflessness is not new to India, and this ability to put the party's interest above yourself gave us hope and strength.

With clarity of purpose you concentrated on the party without getting involved in the political battles fought on the ground and on the floor of Parliament. Despite tremendous pressure, you resisted the temptation to fight elections. Both at the AICC session in Delhi and at Panchmarhi, you very rightly reminded us that keeping the party strong and vibrant was as important as running a government. When the fractured outcome of the general elections were out, you and the party accepted the verdict of the people of India that the Congress party had not fully lived up to their expectations. Other political parties were given a chance to take this great country forward. At all times you intuitively understood and respected the often unstated wishes of the Indian people.

However, of late we have noticed what we hope is only a temporary aberration. We believe that this is the work of a few self-seeking individuals, we pray that you are able to disengage yourself from such minds.

Soniaji, you have lived as a daughter-in-law to India for the past 30 years. You have, in your own way, absorbed much of this great country's spirit. You are in the line of many non-Indians who have loved and adopted this country and worked for its benefit. The Congress party which you now lead was the brainchild of a Scotsman, Sir A. O. Hume. The seat you occupy was once adorned by Annie Besant. It is in this selfless tradition that we see your services to the party and the nation.

Madam President, India is a country with a history and tradition going back 1000s of years. It is a confident culture and a proud nation. Above all it is a country which is self-sufficient in every sense of the word. India has always lived in the spirit of the Mahatma's words, "Let the winds from all over sweep into my room" but again he said "I will not be swept off my feet". We accept with interest and humility the best which we can gather from the North, South, East or West and we absorb them into our soil.

But our inspiration, our soul, our honour, our pride, our dignity, is rooted in our soil. It has to be of this earth.

Soniaji, you have become a part of us because you have all along respected this. We therefore find it strange that you should allow yourself to forget it at this crucial juncture.

It is not possible that a country of 980 million, with a wealth of education, competence and ability, can have anyone other than an Indian, born of Indian soil, to head its government.

Some of us have tried to initiate and open broader discussions on this issue within the party. It is an issue which affects not just the security, the economic interest and the international image of India, but hits at the core pride of every Indian. Unfortunately this initiative has been thwarted at every stage.

At the risk of repetition we would like to emphasise that, as Congressmen, we look up to you as a leader who kept the party together and is a source of strength to all of us. We hope that you will continue in this role for many years. But, as a responsible political party, we also have to understand the genuine concern of the average Indian who may or may not be a Congressman. That Indian is concerned about the person who will guide the course of his destiny for at least five years.

India's Prime Ministership is probably the single most difficult job in the world today. A country the size of a subcontinent, with a population of 980 million. A vibrant, vocal democracy, a struggling economy, fissiparous forces tearing the social fabric, insurgency and terrorism which cuts at national unity. No government anywhere in the world faces the type of complex problems and multidimensional issues that need attention in India. A person who is to take the reins of this country needs a large measure of experience and understanding of public life. That is why the founders of the party insisted that people who aspired for higher positions should first spend time working their way up. This way the party worker got acquainted with the complexity of issues in the country.

The average Indian is not unreasonable in demanding that his Prime Minister have some track record in public life. The Congress party needs to respect this very justifiable expectation. We need to understand that, during an election campaign, every Congress worker has to be able to be aggressive about his party's line. Our workers cannot afford to be either defensive or apologetic. This will negatively affect the party's performance.

We believe, Madam President, that even now it is not too late. Let this great party once again move forward in the direction of Rajivji's dream - a strong resurgent India leading the world into the 21st century. Rajivji's dream was shared by all of us. We look to you to lead the party to fulfil this dream.

We have discussed this matter today in the CWC at great length. We stand by the views we have expressed there. There can be no two opinions that this personalised campaign started by the BJP against you is reprehensible and needs to be opposed strongly. At the same time we would again state that the issue raised by us in today's meeting is real as far as this country is concerned and cannot be wished away.

We believe that it is our responsibility as Congressmen and political leaders to formally place on record our view and request the CWC and you to consider the following suggestion which we feel would set at rest the controversy currently being debated across the country.

(1) The Congress manifesto should suggest an amendment to the Constitution of India, to the effect that the offices of the President, Vice President and Prime Minister can only be held by natural born Indian citizens

We would also request that you, as Congress president, propose this amendment. This will be in line with your own consistent stand that your sole concern in entering public life was to revive and rejuvenate the party for which Panditji, Indiraji and Rajivji gave their all. Such a stand will not only further enhance your status but also give strength to the Congress party as it goes to the polls.

We urge you to consider the issues we have raised in the same spirit and seriousness with which we have raised them. We believe that in the larger interests of the party and the country you would accept the suggestion we have made.

With regards, Yours sincerely, P. A. Sangma Tariq Anwar Sharad Pawar

REVOLT IN CONGRESS(I)

By questioning the projection of Sonia Gandhi as the Congress(I)'s candidate for prime ministership on the grounds of her not being "of this earth" and her lack of "experience and understanding of public life", Sharad Pawar and Co. raise the banner of revolt at a crucial hour for the party.

IT was a virtual bombshell that sent shock waves through large sections of the Congress(I), even as the party was beginning to marshall its troops and set its sights on power at the Centre once again. Addressed to Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, being projected as the party's candidate for prime ministership, a letter dated May 15 from three senior Congress Working Committee (CWC) members, Sharad Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar, signalled a revolt against her leadership. The main issue they raised in the cleverly drafted and portentous letter was precisely the one which a rival contender for power, the Bharatiya Janata Party, was hoping to use as its principal election issue - that it would be politically inadvisable for the Congress(I) to project Sonia Gandhi as its candidate for Prime Minister. The Italian-born wife of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi acquired Indian citizenship in the 1980s .

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"It is not possible," the letter stated categorically, "that a country of 980 million, with a wealth of education, competence and ability, can have anyone other than an Indian, born of Indian soil, to head its government." It added: "Our inspiration, our soul, our honour, our pride, our dignity, is rooted in our soil. It has to be of this earth."

The joint letter, the substance of which might easily be mistaken for propaganda material from the BJP and its allies, seemed further to convey its signatories' opinion that Sonia Gandhi was ill-equipped to be Prime Minister on other grounds as well. "The average Indian," it said, "is not unreasonable in demanding that his Prime Minister have some track record in public life." Elsewhere in the letter the leaders said: "A person who is to take the reins of this country needs a large measure of experience and understanding of public life."

The letter indicated that the matter had come up for discussion at the CWC meeting of May 15. "There can be no two opinions that this personalised campaign started by the BJP against you is reprehensible and needs to be opposed strongly. At the same time we would again state that the issue... is real... and cannot be wished away."

The three leaders then made known the course of action they would prefer the party to take - a suggestion that has already raised the hackles of "Sonia loyalists". They requested the CWC and Sonia Gandhi to consider the proposal that the Congress(I)'s election manifesto suggest an amendment to the Constitution of India "to the effect that the offices of the President, Vice-President and Prime Minister can only be held by natural born Indian citizens." The leaders further requested that Sonia Gandhi, as Congress(I) president, propose this amendment.

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Acknowledging Sonia Gandhi's role in "rejuvenating" the party and stating that they hoped that she would continue to lead the Congress(I), the leaders said that she had "concentrated on the party without getting involved in the political battles fought on the ground and on the floor of Parliament." When the party failed to secure an electoral mandate in 1998, they noted, Sonia Gandhi "accepted the verdict of the people... (and) respected the often unstated wishes of the Indian people."

However, they added, "we have noticed what we hope is only a temporary aberration. We believe that this is the work of a few self-seeking individuals, we pray that you are able to disengage yourself from such minds." This is seen as an allusion to senior Congress(I) leader Arjun Singh, who is believed to have played a key advisory role to Sonia Gandhi during the period immediately before and after the fall of the BJP-led government in April.

THE three leaders' strong presentation of their case at the CWC meeting on May 15 is believed to have blocked an effort by Sonia Gandhi loyalists to get the CWC to pass a resolution stating that she would be the Prime Minister if the Congress(I) won a majority. The resolution was evidently aimed at putting the official stamp of approval on a position that supposedly had overwhelming support within the party. At the meeting, Sonia Gandhi is reported to have taken an "abrasive" position in response to the stand taken by the three leaders. She is believed to have argued that she was "fit to become Prime Minister". Having thwarted the move to get the resolution passed, the three leaders sent off the letter to Sonia Gandhi.

The letter seemed to convey the impression that Maratha strongman and former Defence Minister Pawar - who has a record of battles with the top leadership of the party since Indira Gandhi's times - and the two others had raised the issue of the inadvisability of projecting Sonia Gandhi for prime ministership not with an intention to split or leave the party but to improve its electoral prospects. According to Pawar's supporters, at least five other CWC members approved of his stance but were wary of coming out in the open. Two names mentioned in this connection were those of Rajesh Pilot and Jitendra Prasada, but Pilot's immediate reaction to the developments and the fact that both of them had been involved in efforts by Sonia Gandhi loyalists to strengthen her position in the face of the challenge seemed to indicate otherwise. Responding to the crisis in the party, Pilot said it was "not a healthy development" but expressed the hope that it would be sorted out within the party forum.

Some Sonia Gandhi loyalists, however, seemed eager to take a tough stand against Pawar and Co. On May 16, all CWC members barring Pawar, Sangma and Anwar met informally twice, first at senior leader Pranab Mukherjee's residence and later at 10 Janpath. Three suggestions emerged in respect of how the party should respond to the challenge. R.K. Dhawan and a few others favoured the "immediate expulsion" of the three leaders. A.K. Antony and Arjun Singh suggested that disciplinary action be initiated against Anwar, who is considered the weakest of the three in terms of organisational and mass support, and that this would serve as a warning to the two others. Mukherjee suggested that the CWC pass a resolution affirming that Sonia Gandhi would be the party's candidate for prime ministership. The passing of such a resolution by a majority vote would enhance Sonia Gandhi's "democratic credentials" and isolate the challengers, he argued.

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A handful of CWC members gave voice in private to a fourth option: that Sonia Gandhi accede to the request that she propose a constitutional amendment to bar non-Indians from holding important constitutional positions and that she be given the right to nominate anyone of her choice for the prime ministership. Such a move, said a CWC member, would enhance her image and improve the Congress(I)'s electoral prospects. Theoretically, observers believe that it would also leave the door open for Priyanka Gandhi to become a candidate for prime ministership. But few believe that this option will be exercised, given the Congress(I) style of sycophantic subservience to its "supreme leader".

Congress(I) leaders who support any one of the first three options are of the view that Pawar and Sangma may have entered into a deal with the BJP or with its allies such as the Samata Party, which had said that it would make Sonia Gandhi's "foreign origin" an election issue. (Significantly, the BJP and the Samata Party welcomed the developments in the Congress(I). BJP president Kushabhau Thakre said he was "happy that the dormant spirit of patriotism is slowly awakening in a few patriotic Congressmen".)

Some observers cited reports that some parties such as the Samata Party and the Telugu Desam Party, which had made covert attempts to form a fourth front after the fall of the BJP-led government, favoured Sangma for prime ministership. Interestingly, the three leaders are also believed to have made common cause, albeit indirectly, with the Samajwadi Party (S.P.), which refused to extend support for a minority Congress(I) government following the fall of the Vajpayee government. S.P. leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said at that time that he had sabotaged Sonia Gandhi's attempt to become Prime Minister because he wanted to "save the country from foreign forces".

SONIA GANDHI'S own reaction to the unexpected offensive seemed to indicate that her confidence had been shattered. Unfavourable comparisons were drawn between her response and the style of functioning of her role model and mother-in-law, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

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A stream of Congress(I) leaders - among them, Sitaram Kesri, Arjun Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, A.K. Antony, R.K. Dhawan, Rajesh Pilot, Manmohan Singh, Madhavrao Scindia, Balram Jakhar, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel and Shivraj Patil - wended their way to 10 Janpath and reaffirmed their faith in her leadership. An emergency meeting of the CWC was convened for May 17 to discuss the developments. The presidents of various State units of the Congress(I) and other State-level leaders sent messages affirming their faith in her leadership and sought stern action against the three leaders.

Whatever the final picture that emerges from the situation, it is clear that the Congress(I)'s larger electoral plans have suffered a setback because of these developments. Immediately after it held its "strategy meeting" in New Delhi on May 6, the Congress(I) seemed to be gaining ground. Leaders from other parties - such as former Union Minister and Rajya Sabha member Renuka Chaudhary (formerly of the Telugu Desam Party) and former Union Ministers Kalpnath Rai (formerly of the Samata Party) and Buta Singh (who contested the last election as an independent), office-bearers of the Samajwadi Party in Maharashtra, including its State unit president Hussain Dalwai, as well as six leaders including two former Ministers and four MLAs from the Lok Shakti in Karnataka - joined the Congress(I) in recent weeks. The primary strategic concern of the party during this period was to strike a balance between its promise to provide one-party rule and the need to enter into alliances or adjustments in States where its organisational base was weak, such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu.

In fact Pawar had been given a key role in finalising these alliances. He was made the head of the party's strategy committee and put in charge of the alliance committee, along with Sangma, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmed Patel and Manmohan Singh. It was believed that Pawar was slowly but steadily emerging as the Number Two in the party, ahead of Arjun Singh, who appeared to have fallen from grace following the Congress(I)'s failure to muster adequate support to form a government following the fall of the Vajpayee government.

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But all these initiatives have been reversed. Pawar appears to have timed his strike to match the decline in Arjun Singh's political fortunes, but what particularly shocked Sonia Gandhi loyalists is the stance taken by Sangma, who was until recently a preferred associate of the Congress(I) president. By all indications, one factor that unites the three leaders is their opposition to Arjun Singh, who they feel wields power disproportionate to his mass base or administrative prowess. Seen purely in organisational terms, the action of the three leaders might be a strike against Arjun Singh at a time he has been criticised for his role in the Congress(I)'s failure to install an alternative government.

Whatever the reasons for them, the developments of May 15 have given a fillip to the BJP. The only question, as a CWC member pointed out, relates to the extent of the gains that the BJP will make. If there is a split in the Congress(I) or if the three leaders are expelled from the party, the BJP might gain quite a bit, given Pawar's political clout in Maharashtra and Sangma's support base in the northeastern region. But even if there is a reconciliation of sorts, the BJP is certain to make some gains.

Thondaman's bold gamble

other

The CWC is placed in a rare position of playing kingmaker in three upcountry Sri Lankan Provinces but it is in a far worse predicament as far as the future of Tamils of Indian origin is concerned.

THE results of the April 6 Provincial Council elections in Sri Lanka have served to highlight the importance of the Tamil vote in the upcountry regions comprising the Uva, Sabaragamuwa and Central Provinces. Twelve persons of Indian Tamil origin have been elected to these Councils, which have a total membership of 136. The premier organisation of the plantation Tamils, the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC), won eight seats - one each in Uva and Sabaragamuwa and six in Central Province. The Up Country People's Front (UCPF), the other party which represents Tamils of Indian origin, won two seats in Central Province, while the United National Party's (UNP) Tamil nominee was elected to the Central and Uva Provinces.

Ten Tamil representatives (barring the UNP's two) may not constitute a formidable number in overall terms. In fact, the figure is disproportionate to the size of the Tamil population in the tea and rubber producing areas of the hill regions. Yet the neck and neck verdict in the highland provinces has afforded the CWC a rare opportunity to play kingmaker; the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led ruling People's Alliance (P.A.) cannot form a viable administration without the CWC's support.

In Central Province, the P.A. won 26 out of the 58 seats. It can cobble together a majority only with the aid of the CWC's six councillors. With the UCPF's support the P.A. will be able to get a clear majority. In Sabaragamuwa, the P.A. won 22 of the 44 seats, and the lone CWC councillor's support is crucial to get at least a thin lead. Likewise, the P.A. is dependent on the single CWC member in order to establish a thin lead in Uva where it won 17 of the 34 seats. If the ultra-left Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People's Liberation Front) supports the P.A., the alliance can easily dispense with the support of the Tamil parties in Uva and Sabaragamuwa. The JVP won two seats each in both these councils. But the P.A. cannot do without the support of the Tamil parties in Central Province.

The CWC chief, Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman, holds a Cabinet portfolio in the Chandrika Kumaratunga Government. He also has the advantage of being able to extract maximum concessions in the form of important ministerial portfolios in the Councils, if he so desires. Yet the CWC has provided support only from outside as Thondaman does not want to "tie" his organisation with the P.A. on a permanent basis. He does not want to be identified with it at the provincial level (incidentally, the CWC refrained from contesting the elections under the P.A. banner). In effect, he wants to retain all the options, including that of withdrawal of support.

This situation is certainly complicated. How can a party take contradictory positions at the national and regional levels? But Thondaman is capable of reconciling seemingly opposite positions and interests. He is both an estate owner and the leader of the largest plantation trade union. Even as a Minister he has launched strikes against the government of which he is a part, with consummate ease. Ironically, he functions as a Minister while members of his party sit with the Opposition in Parliament. Technically they were elected on the UNP ticket and cannot cross over formally without forfeiting their seats. Thondaman, having been appointed as a National List Member of Parliament, is not vulnerable to the defection rule.

Thondaman and the CWC, however, have valid reasons for adopting an ambiguous position. Seventeen years of association between the UNP and the CWC has resulted in a greater understanding between the Sinhala and Tamil support bases of both parties. Thus candidates of these two parties fare well when they contest under the Sri Lankan system of voting where people vote for both a party and personally preferred candidates on a common list. The link with the UNP has been of particular benefit to the CWC. In the 1993 provincial and 1994 parliamentary elections, the CWC adopted the UNP's elephant symbol. The CWC won 17 seats in the Provincial Councils and nine seats in Parliament.

But with the advent of the Chandrika Kumaratunga phenomenon, the CWC realised that her platform of peace and charismatic personality would be an attractive proposition that no upcountry Tamil voter could resist. Besides, as a predominantly minority community party, the CWC too was obliged to endorse a manifesto for peace. So Thondaman moved over to the Government ranks. The 1994 presidential elections saw Chandrika Kumaratunga win handsomely, and her record vote of 63 per cent included that of the upcountry Tamils.

THE situation has, however, changed since then. The prolonged war has caused much hardship to Tamils of Indian origin as the security forces have not been able to distinguish between native Tamils and those of Indian origin. As a result, the upcountry Tamils have also been subjected to harassment. An element of racism among the police and the security forces has also contributed to this. Also, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has infiltrated upcountry provinces in a big way, has indulged in a few acts, including an attack on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Many upcountry Tamil youths have been detained without trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and emergency regulations for long periods. In a climate where consequences and not causes are remembered, public resentment is directed at the P.A. Government for this state of affairs.

Besides, the sufferings of the impoverished Tamil plantation workers have not been mitigated. Rapid privatisation of estates has resulted in retrenchment. Even those employed on a regular basis do not get work on all days. Since they are paid only for the number of days they work and not on a monthly basis, the income earned is not enough. Historically, the plantation Tamils are the most deprived segment of Sri Lankan society. The P.A. Government has done nothing much for their development despite Thondaman being a Minister.

As a result, the upcountry Tamil has become disenchanted with the P.A. and is increasingly turning towards the UNP. Thondaman and the CWC are also losing support in view of their association with the ruling alliance. Factors such as corruption, nepotism and a perceived inability to implement election promises have also been responsible for the CWC's decline.

The current context has placed the CWC in a far worse predicament than before. The upcountry or Kandyan Sinhalese harbour grievances against the Tamil plantation workers. Although a colonial creation, the hapless proletariat has been the focus of Sinhala resentment. The deprivation of citizenship and voting rights and forced repatriation that they faced was the result of pressures exerted by the Sinhala constituency. Unfortunately for the CWC, it finds that the Sinhala voter base of the P.A., whose chief constituent is the more nationalistic Sri Lanka Freedom Party, remains hostile to the CWC. Likewise, the Tamil vote bank is opposed to the P.A. Chandrika Kumaratunga herself may have attracted Tamil votes in the presidential elections, but her party does not enjoy a positive image among Tamils in general.

The local authority elections saw Sinhala supporters shunning the combined P.A.-CWC lists contested under the CWC's election symbol. Similarly, many Tamils did not vote for the candidates from the combined lists contesting under the P.A. symbol.

The beneficiary of this divide was naturally the UNP. In view of this bitter experience, the CWC was reluctant to tie up with the P.A in the Council elections. Instead it formed a new configuration called the Inthiya Vamsavali Makkal Perani (Indian Origin People's Front) along with 19 fraternal organisations. This placed the CWC in a position of strength in three Councils. In spite of his being in a position of advantage, Thondaman is reluctant to associate the CWC with the P.A. in the Councils. He knows that such an association can only erode the Tamil vote bank further.

THE bold gamble that Thondaman undertook in order to enhance voter support did not work to his expectations in the Provincial elections. He relied mainly on the controversial move to mobilise support by emphasising and asserting the Indian identity by leading the umbrella organisation. The formation of the Inthiya Vamsavali Makkal Perani was in a sense a historical regression. Inspired by the Indian National Congress, people of Indian origin in colonial Ceylon formed the Ceylon Indian Congress (CIC), in the presence of Jawaharlal Nehru on July 25, 1939. Its office-bearers had little connection with the plantation workers and represented Indian commercial interests. The rise of Thondaman within the CIC ranks saw the Indian Tamil plantation workers being drawn into the CIC.

With the dawn of Independence, the CIC, representing plantation workers' interests, contested the elections and won seven seats. Thondaman is the only elected representative of the country's first Parliament to hold office even today. In 1950 the CIC renamed itself the Ceylon Workers' Congress. This was to counter the charge that the estate workers regarded India and not Ceylon as their homeland. It also reflected the desire of most Tamil families to seek permanent domicilatory status in Sri Lanka. With Indian Tamils being deprived of their voting rights, the electoral fortunes of the CIC declined. By the 1960s, the CWC replaced the CIC completely. In the 1970s, the CWC began to play a strident electoral role under the auspices of its political wing.

Thus all organisations representing plantation Tamils forsook any overt mention of an Indian connection and emphasised their Sri Lankan credentials. Under Thondaman, these organisations have once again come under the "Indian" banner.

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The assertion of Indian origin could have repercussions. Racist elements in the Sinhala community have in the past protested against efforts to recruit Indians to meet the shortage of teachers in schools in the estates and even efforts to attract Indian tourists by developing Sita Eliya in Nuwara Eliya. Sita Eliya is believed to be the "Ashokavana" where Sita was imprisoned by Ravana.

Yet Thondaman and other Tamil leaders, including those of the leftist trade unions, chose the option of displaying an Indian identity in an act of political brinkmanship. One compelling factor behind this was the decline in trade union membership. A new mode of ensuring communal solidarity became essential. Also, most trade unions have in the past thrived on a diet of CWC bashing. For all of them to merge, a common meeting point was necessary. The main compulsion was to cash in on the general loss of faith in the government and prevent a wave of support for the UNP. This resulted in a flagrantly "communal" campaign asserting the Indian identity and decrying the "Sinhala" UNP. Although this tactic paid some dividends for the CWC, the UNP managed to attract a sizable chunk of the Tamil vote.

But the strategy certainly seems to have backfired on all the Tamil organisations. Except for Mano Ganeshan of the Democratic Workers Congress, who won in Colombo, no other non-CWC Tamil of the "peacock front" (the election symbol used by the umbrella organisation) was elected. The "giant" CWC gained at the expense of the other "pygmy" organisations. In spite of the combined campaign, the overall vote of the Indian Tamil parties fell. One consequence of harping on the Indian identity was that most Sri Lankan Tamils in upcountry areas refrained from voting for the Perani. To a lesser extent, Muslims too did not vote for the front.

Ironically, the greatest blow to the fledgling Perani came from "Mother India". New Delhi's recent scheme which included citizenship benefits for 20 years on payment of a fee of $1,000 for People of Indian Origin (PIO) living abroad was not extended to Tamils of Indian origin in Sri Lanka. This facility, which would have enabled Tamils to invest, buy property and secure bank loans in India, was also not extended to those Indians living in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The denial of the status was construed as India's attempt to disown its umbilical connection, making the community an object of political ridicule.

Thondaman told the press that the decision to keep Sri Lanka's Tamils out of the PIO scheme was inhuman and that the community had been singled out for discrimination.

Thondaman's deputy and parliamentarian P. Devaraj, however, was more pragmatic. He told the press that he acknowledged the compulsions underlying New Delhi's decision to keep Sri Lankan Indians out of the PIO scheme. He, however, suggested the extension of some compensatory benefits. He said the Indian Tamils suffered because they were bracketed with the native Tamils. The onset of the Tamil issue and terrorism made New Delhi suspect all Tamils, Devaraj said. As a result, Tamils of Indian origin were finding it difficult to obtain Indian visas. Devaraj said that New Delhi was continuing with its policy of not antagonising the Sri Lankan Government, in the process sacrificing the interests of Indian origin Tamils.

There is general disillusionment among the front constituents since the provincial elections, with the result that the CWC is displaying its keenness to go it alone. The May Day meetings saw most plantation workers fragmenting under the Indian banner. A realignment of forces is likely to emerge from the hastily organised front.

MEANWHILE, a new organisation called the Sinhala Veera Vidhana has embarked upon a campaign to cleanse the "Sinhala towns and cities" of Tamils and Muslim businesses. It has called upon the Sinhala people to stop patronising Tamil and Muslim establishments. If the movement gathers momentum, the Indian Tamil community will be affected as there are very few Jaffna Tamil businesses left in the Sinhala areas since the 1983 conflict.

On May Day, the members of the movement clashed with the CWC in Nuwara Eliya. The CWC has alleged that the organisation with the connivance of the police attempted to disrupt its meeting. Thondaman complained to President Chandrika Kumaratunga and even threatened to withdraw support to the P.A. in the three Provincial Councils unless action was taken against the activists who disrupted the May Day celebrations were on. The President promised to hold an inquiry and urged Thondaman not to take political action over an administrative lapse.

An expanding interface

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Interview with Dr. E. S. Krishnamoorthy.

Neurology and psychiatry may have started off like chalk and cheese - the first very precise and the second abstract - but over time the differences have blurred and solutions to many of the neurological and mental illnesses lie in the interface between the two, says Dr. Ennapadam Srinivas Krishnamoorthy.

The Raymond Way Research Fellow in Behavioural Neurology at the Institute of Neurology, Queen's Square, London, a major centre of neuroscience and one of the most famous medical institutions in the world, Dr. Krishnamoorthy (32) has had unique training combining psychiatry with behavioural and clinical neurology.

Having acquired his graduate medical training and post-graduate qualifications in India, Dr. Krishnamoorthy went on to train in neurology at Queen's Square, and then at Newcastle-upon- Tyne in northern England, another neurological centre of excellence. He then returned to the Institute of Neurology in London to occupy his present position. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis on the epidemiology of psychiatric disorders in epilepsy, at the Institute of Neurology, and is involved in a number of research projects studying behavioural aspects of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease. Dr. Krishnamoorthy has also authored many scientific papers in this area.

Recipient of a number of awards including the Paul Hamlyn fellowship for post-graduate training in neurosciences, Dr. Krishnamoorthy is a member of the International Commission on Epilepsy and Psychobiology set up by the International League against Epilepsy. In Chennai recently on a lecture tour, Dr. Krishnamoorthy spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the relevance of the interface between neurology and psychiatry, its applications in research, and importance in the Indian context. Excerpts from the interview:

What is the relationship between neurology and psychiatry?

In general, neurology and psychiatry are like chalk and cheese, very different from each other. Neurology is a very logical specialisation, mathematical and analytical. It has clearly defined rules and guidelines. And if you understand the brain and anatomy of the nervous system you can mathematically, following principles of logic, make a diagnosis.

Psychiatry, on the other hand, is entirely abstract or at least perceived that way. And it is in some ways a speciality that is infamous for that reason. It is not very precise, and until some time ago it did not have very clear rules and guidelines. It was very individualistic, so much so that it was and perhaps still is considered as much an art as it is a science.

In conventional terms that is the difference between psychiatry and neurology. But in the last three to four decades these boundaries have become blurred and the distinctions are no longer so clear. We now understand quite clearly that much of human behaviour is the function of the brain. At least we are now quite clear that most psychiatric disorders are due to brain dysfunction. This has led to a very interesting interface between the two specialities. On the one hand you try and understand the biology of psychiatric diseases - that there are abnormalities in the brain and the nervous system that are observed in most major mental illnesses. Some examples of this are schizophrenia and manic depressive illness. We now understand that in these disorders there are genetic and developmental factors that impact the brain.

On the other hand, behavioural disorders were not considered an integral part of most neurological illnesses. But we now understand that in many of these conditions there is a specific behavioural component.

Epilepsy, movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, headache and pain disorders, multiple sclerosis, are examples of neurological conditions with associated behavioural manifestations. Thus the interface between the two specialities is considerable.

When did the differences between the two specialities begin to blur?

The history in this area is rather interesting. The ancients including Hippocrates believed that all psychopathology arose in the brain, and this is clearly reflected in the writings well into the 19th century. An extreme version of this belief was the development of phrenology under which, essentially, external measurements and qualities of the skull were correlated with abnormalities of behaviour.

Then came the era of Sigmund Freud and the birth of psychoanalysis. Freud, his followers and generally the world after that, for nearly half-a-century or more, went on to focus on psychodynamic aspects of mental illness, and psychiatry was drawn away from neurology. With the advent of drugs that could treat mental disorders the scientific world once again took an interest in the role of the brain in mental illness. In the last three or four decades advances in molecular genetics, immunology and in particular brain imaging have led to rapid strides in our understanding of mental disorders and have brought neurology and psychiatry closer than ever before. The scope of the interface is now vast and constantly expanding.

What is the clinical scope of this interface?

When you examine this interface between psychiatry and neurology the areas that are of interest to the clinician and demand his attention are the psychiatric aspects of neurological disease and the neuro-biological aspects of psychiatric illness. There are also the great pretenders; psychiatric disorders that manifest as a neurological problem, and perhaps even more importantly, neurological disorders that manifest as psychiatric illness. A very good example of the former is the problem of non-epileptic seizures. These are attacks brought on by depression, anxiety or stress. Even for the informed observer it can be difficult to distinguish these from epilepsy, and often video-EEG (electroencephalography) is necessary to make this distinction. One in every five persons diagnosed to have epilepsy has non-epileptic seizure. They are misdiagnosed to have epilepsy, and exposed to inappropriate treatment with the risk of side effects. A very good example of the latter are brain tumours that present themselves with predominantly behavioural manifestations, and are misdiagnosed and even treated as psychiatric disorders. This can be potentially life-threatening. There are also illnesses such as dementia that fall squarely within the ambit of this interface. To diagnose and manage this condition effectively, both neurological and psychiatric skills are required.

In many countries including in the West, the problem is that most psychiatrists are not conversant or comfortable with neurology. The same is the case with neurologists with regard to psychiatry. As a consequence the patient is often referred from one specialist to the other and the treatment is often sub-optimal, especially when cases fall within the ambit of this interface.

In the West, to a large extent the referral centres are able to cover this area. In India we do not have, to my knowledge, any academic centres which have specialist clinics or facilities dedicated to this interface. There is, thus, a huge vacuum. This, I think, is going to be very important in the future.

Why do you think this is going to be important?

There are many reasons. Let us consider the dementia example again. About 5 per cent of people over the age of 65 and 20 per cent over 85 suffer from dementia. Its incidence increases as you get older, which means as people begin to live longer the illness is going to become more common. Medical advances are beginning to ensure that people live longer, and this is not merely a Western phenomenon. You would therefore expect dementia to become more common in the future. Combine this with the social changes that are taking place. In India the family has been the backbone of support to the ill person, in the absence of social provisions for care. The break-up of the joint family system, an increased tendency to migrate to other places in the quest for careers and so on have resulted in, at least in the urban milieu, many old people having to live on their own. Thus, while in the past if an elder in the family lost certain faculties he would be supported by the family, in the changed social milieu, many old people end up living alone - the children have moved away to work, and so on. In such situations, any deficiency in mental faculties becomes very apparent. Socially, and as a public health problem, we are not yet prepared to deal with this. Further, as we do not have facilities that combine neurological and psychiatric skills, effective diagnosis and treatment of such conditions are going to be difficult.

Are not neurology and psychiatry taught together?

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In many parts of the world there is a deficiency in training. Doctors engaged in post-graduate training in either speciality do spend a short period of time training in the other. However, the extent of training in the subsidiary speciality is limited, and the level of clinical responsibility assumed inadequate, for this to be effective. To be an effective clinician-scientist in this area, one needs to divide one's time equally between neurology and psychiatry, as some residency programmes in the United States allow, or to develop a background in one speciality, onto which the other is grafted through extensive training and hands-on experience. I have spent a significant amount of time in the two disciplines before dealing with the problems falling within this interface. This is what everyone in our group is trained for, and that I believe is absolutely essential.

What is the focus of your own research?

I am interested in the psychiatric aspects of neurological disease. A question that has not been answered satisfactorily despite many years of research is whether psychiatric disorders are more common in patients with epilepsy. This has tremendous implications both for the patient and his management and for our approach towards epilepsy as a public health problem, for the planning and establishment of resources and so on. This area of research is called epidemiology, and studies the distribution and determinants of disease in the population. I am looking at the epidemiology of psychiatric disorders in epilepsy. As epilepsy is a common neurological disorder and thus a public health problem of significant proportions, this becomes important. Studies have shown that 40 to 50 per cent of people with epilepsy suffer from common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. About 10 per cent (of those afflicted with epilepsy) are estimated to have major psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and manic depressive illness. These figures, however, need further validation before they are accepted. Epilepsy by itself has been shown to have a significant effect on quality of life. Living with epilepsy and a mental disorder can obviously be rather daunting.

Does epilepsy lead to major psychiatric disorders?

It is not clear whether one leads to the other, but they certainly co-exist. We also know that there are certain psychiatric disorders unique to patients with epilepsy. In that sense there is perhaps one causative or common pathology that is causing both illnesses. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that a common pathological process can lead to both illnesses. For instance, the part of the brain called the hippocampus is implicated in many cases of epilepsy, and has been shown to be abnormal in patients suffering from schizophrenia. It is possible that these conditions have common biological origins in the brain.

Another area of research that I am interested in is the lack of will or the inability to perform what is in the mind. This phenomenon called abulia has been observed in both neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Other areas of research interest include the role of the part of the brain called the amygdala in the development of psychopathology, studies of neurotransmitter systems in neuropsychiatric psychoses using functional imaging and so on.

What is the present state of the research in this interface?

Essentially there are four very important areas of research. The first is animals, where you try to understand normal and abnormal human behaviour based on animal models. The advantage obviously is that it is possible to study animal models in ways that are not possible with human subjects. While it may not be possible to transpose findings from animal models directly on to human behaviour, these models do to a very large extent help in improving our understanding of human psychopathology. Animal research is also helpful in the development of drugs that treat these disorders.

Another area of importance is laboratory-based research on human tissue examining biochemistry, pathology, immunology, molecular biology, genetics and so on. There is a growing understanding that many disorders that fall in this interface have clear associations with genetic and developmental factors. There are also changes in brain chemistry that are associated with these disorders, and perhaps are responsible for both the neurological and psychiatric manifestations. A case in point is schizophrenia. We now understand that far from being a disorder of the "mind", schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder with distinct changes in the brain pathology.

The third area is imaging. This has taken huge strides in the last 10-20 years. Much of this is to do with the development of functional imaging, whereby you can see how the brain works. Perhaps the most important of these techniques is Positron Emission Tomography (PET). The others are Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS). The other kind of imaging is Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT). These imaging techniques are becoming very important in understanding human cognition and behaviour. The advantage that some of these techniques, PET in particular, have is that they make it possible for us to see which areas of the brain are activated when we are engaged in a memory task for instance, or perceiving a certain emotion like fear. It is becoming possible to understand how the brain actually works.

The fourth area of research interest is epidemiology, which studies the distribution and determinants of illness in the community. This is clinical, that is, patient-based research done with better guidelines, standardised instruments and, most important, with efforts to limit bias. If you go to a hospital and identify 100 people with epilepsy, their problems do not necessarily reflect those of the average person with epilepsy living in the community. That is because people going to hospitals generally have more severe forms of epilepsy. It is therefore difficult to make an accurate assessment of public health needs based on this. This is only one form of bias. There are several such elements of bias that creep into any form of research. What needs to be done is research with as little bias as possible. Epidemiology uses standardised tools of assessment and better scientific principles to understand diseases as they exist in the community.

What is the status of such research efforts in India?

In India, we have a wealth of clinical material as also scientists. We have some of the oldest neurological and psychiatric post-graduate training programmes in this region.

There is quite some epidemiological research activity both in neurology and psychiatry in India. Unfortunately, save a few exceptions it is confined to major institutes. Such activity needs to spread to smaller institutions and regional medical colleges and centres. And instead of replicating work that is done abroad, we should be trying to see what we can do based on our skills and the facilities available with us. For example, infections abound in India and we have many communicable diseases, with neuropsychiatric manifestations or presentations. The not-so-uncommon example is typhoid. It can have very prominent neuropsychiatric manifestations. Tuberculosis is another example. In fact in both the involvement of the brain due to the disease and the drugs used to treat the condition can lead to very prominent neuropsychiatric manifestations. The presentation usually is with a certain degree of confusion and lack of awareness. Apart from that, the person can also have a mood change and become deluded and start hallucinating. These neuropsychiatric manifestations are not uncommon in the case of many communicable diseases. And very often the primary cause may not be apparent when the person presents himself to the doctor; indeed he may be mistakenly diagnosed as psychiatric. People are from time to time admitted to a psychiatric ward before the organic cause for their symptoms becomes apparent. Infections are just one area of neuropsychiatry where we in India can play a significant role in the improvement of scientific knowledge.

To do this, we have to recognise that clinician-scientists are important and that we should encourage their continued development and progress in areas of research that are relevant to us. Investment from the private sector and the support of philanthropists become important, as government funds are often limited and the priority for their use lies elsewhere. It is also important that we encourage a climate that fosters such development. Both the establishment and the public need to realise that scientists in any field, perhaps more so in medicine, need to be adequately compensated financially in order to be able to contribute to science. We should also try and develop training programmes, at least in the major institutes, which allow doctors to train in both neurology and psychiatry, and this should include a strong research orientation rather than the "also research" attitude that currently predominates.

How does India compare with the West in terms of medical technology?

Facilities in India are comparable to many other countries in terms of diagnostic technology. Modern forms of imaging are available in many Indian cities and towns. The difficulty is that these facilities are mostly available in the private sector and therefore are not very affordable for the average person. But when it comes to research, India does not probably have the facilities required to do state-of-the-art research. Functional imaging, for instance, is very expensive and currently has limited clinical applications. It is also expensive to maintain. We could perhaps develop such facilities in one or two centres.

Has pharmacology kept pace with the developments in research and technology?

Drugs are being constantly developed for various neurological and psychiatric disorders. In a sense pharmacology has kept pace with technology and research. We are still a long way from finding the cure for many disorders, but we do have better drugs today that control illnesses and give the patient a better quality of life than we did in the past. In the area that I work in, improvements in our understanding of the way the brain works have led to drugs that target different systems. We have new drugs for schizophrenia, for instance, which target different mechanisms in the brain. Earlier abnormalities in a brain transmitter called dopamine were the focus. The focus now is also on other transmitters such as serotonin.

That has come about through neuropsychiatric research and with this newer and perhaps more effective drugs have been developed. Similar developments have taken place in disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.

The major change, however, is generally not in the efficacy of the newer drugs but in their improved side-effect profile. An important consideration while prescribing a drug is the side-effects that the patient may experience, and these often determine the choice of the drug. Perhaps the most important reason for non-compliance among patients is the unacceptable side-effects. One of the big advantages of the newer drugs is that they manage to minimise side-effects. And while they are expensive, it will be difficult to do away with them.

LETTERS

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BJP-led government

Sukumar Muralidharan's analysis of the 13-month rule of the BJP and its allies ("A roller coaster ride'', May 7) was interesting and thought-provoking.

The BJP and its allies claim that their Government has done so much for India in a short period of time, which others could not do in 50 years. I agree with them. They have caused so much harm to the country in these few months which others could not have done in 50 years. It took Muhammad bin Tughlaq 26 years to implement his five wild projects, whereas the BJP-led government executed two of its projects on a single day (May 11, 1998).

The first was the nuclear tests in Pokhran, which evoked an international outcry and provoked Pakistan to respond with its own nuclear tests. This has brought the two countries closer to a nuclear war. The second despicable act of the Government was to raise the retirement age of government servants from 58 to 60. Surprisingly, there were no major protests against this decision although this decision affected the employment opportunities of millions of youth.

BJP leaders claim that Pokhran-II, Agni-II and Vajpayee's bus ride to Lahore were the three major achievements of the government. No one would say that millions of poor Indians prefer bombs over two meals a day or missiles over a decent house to live in.

Previous governments always kept eradication of poverty their topmost priority even though sometimes they only paid lip-service to this goal. But it would seem that words such as poverty, illiteracy, social welfare and social justice do not exist in the vocabulary of the BJP leaders. They only harp on bombs and missiles and themes of the nation's security and patriotism.

The BJP is a party of the upper castes, upper classes living in urban India. That is why it does not have any inclination to work for the poor. To hide its failure in the social and economic fields, the BJP, helped by a section of the media, is trying to tom-tom its security concerns and patriotic credentials. It does not bother them that India had acquired nuclear capability even before their party came into existence and that the Agni missile is a result of the policies of their predecessors. The real aim of Pokhran-II and Agni-II was not to enhance the security of the country but to provide security to the BJP-led Government.

Vajpayee's bus ride to Lahore was another attempt to create the illusion of an achievement. Things became clear after Agni-II. Is it really possible to exude hostility and friendliness at the same time?

Pramod Kumar Lucknow * * *

It was indeed the "end of an ordeal" for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to have got rid of Jayalalitha who had been tormenting him ever since the formation of the coalition government.

April 17, 1999 will be remembered as one of the saddest days in the history of Indian democracy. Vajpayee rightly said: "Just as fish cannot live without water, the Congress party cannot remain without power for long." In its desperate bid to capture power, the Congress(I) joined hands with its sworn enemies. It is a matter of regret that people like Mayawati and Saifuddin Soz have placed their individual interests above the nation's interest. Mayawati's politics of "revenge" does not augur well for the country.

S.Balakrishnan Jamshedpur * * *

The BJP-led Government has done more for the country during its short tenure of 13 months than its predecessor, the Congress(I) which ruled the country for more than 45 years. How long will our countrymen be dazzled by the Mahatma, acquired by "accident" by Sonia Gandhi.

Dr. S.K. Das Dr. M.S. Kataria Surrey, U.K. * * *

The President ought not to have insisted on Vajpayee moving a confidence motion immediately on Jayalalitha withdrawing her support to the government. He should have let the Opposition move a no-confidence motion if they thought the time was ripe and they were prepared to form an alternative government.

Rohan Krishna Chennai * * *

This has reference to "The end of a benighted phase" (May 7). Though, in principle, there is nothing wrong in the press taking sides or playing the role of a constructive opposition, this Editorial article was biased. I admired Frontline when it came out against the Pokhran blasts. You can criticise the BJP for all its wrong policies but do not glorify people like Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha and Laloo Prasad Yadav. The Vajpayee Government fell because of the narrow-mindedness of these leaders. As for Sonia Gandhi, she is being projected as a prime ministerial candidate just because she belongs to a family that served (read ruled over) India for long. It is ridiculous that veteran leaders like Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee have to rely on her charisma. I do not object to Sonia being a foreigner by birth but a person without any political experience aspiring for the Prime Minister's post is unacceptable.

The BJP is communal, no doubt. But 'casteism' is as dangerous as communalism.

Atoorva Sinha Lucknow Secularists in Pakistan

A.G.Noorani's article on secularists "in the territories that now comprise Pakistan" suffers from a limited perspective ("Secularists in Pakistan," April 23). Noorani has failed to mention personalities such as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Dr. Khan Saheb in the North West Frontier Province, Abdus Samad Khan in Baluchistan and Alla Baksh in Sind, who stood for Hindu-Muslim unity and for a secular definition of nationalism. On the other hand, Noorani cites Jinnah's speech of August 11, 1947 as an expression of his position in favour of a secular state. However, Noorani failed to mention that it was Jinnah who said, in December 1947, that the Pakistani state would be based on Islamic principles. Jinnah also said, in March 1948, that Pakistan represented the unity of the nation and so it must remain. This understanding of nationhood cannot be described as secular by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, it is noteworthy that this understanding of nationhood does not even represent Pakistani nationalism as such but merely a sectarian nationalism within Pakistan, which left out of its scope even the non-Muslims who inhabited "the territories that now comprise Pakistan".

Logically, this approach and the approach represented, for example, by Advani, fall in the same category and will have to be countered together.

Sucheta Mahajan New Delhi Dyslexia

I read with interest the article on dyslexia ("Coping with a disability", April 23). I wish to compliment you and the author, Asha Krishnakumar, for this well-written and informative piece. There is a great need to educate all on dyslexia, a very serious but hidden disability. As a parent of three daughters with dyslexia and supporting their appropriate education in the U.S. for nearly 25 years I want to make a few observations which may be of interest.

Dyslexia is a specific language learning disability noted all over the world. In most countries the incidence of dyslexia among schoolgoing children is around 10 per cent. It occurs in all socio-economic and cultural settings. There is often a strong familial incidence though the severity of the disability may be variable in different members of a family. The genetics of dyslexia is yet to be well characterised. It is possible that several genes may be involved. Dyslexia is a critical problem in societies where literary skills are crucial to employment and a good standard of living. As we move into a society where information technology is more important than agriculture or unskilled manufacturing processes, dyslexia will become a greater handicapping condition.

The role of a parent is crucial in supporting the education of a youngster with dyslexia. Parents often are the first to suspect that all is not well with their child's ability to read or write. Often this delay is attributed to a variety of reasons and nothing is done to help the child. At times it is the child's teacher in the elementary class who raises concerns about the child's learning style. These early signals are crucial to a child's development and diagnostic and remedial measures should be instituted before the child fails in his/her attempt to learn to read. Every child desires to learn. It is up to the adults to provide adequate and appropriate learning tools for the child to be successful. If this is not done, the child labels himself or herself a failure and gives up trying. It is indeed a much bigger task (and not often successful) to help a high school child with dyslexia who may have a long history of frustration and failures.

It is important to train all teachers - particularly those teaching in the elementary years - on learning disabilities as well as on alternative methods of reading instruction such as those based on multisensory phonetic-based techniques.

It is important that we set high achievement goals for children with dyslexia, which will be commensurate with their interest and desire for striving towards those goals. My eldest daughter with a severe disability is now living, in her own condominium, with support and has a part-time job. My second daughter was able to graduate from college and pursues her career as an artist. Her art is on display in a gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My youngest daughter is at present a medical student in the University of Wisconsin, an ambitious but nevertheless attainable pursuit, provided she receives appropriate accommodation both in the institution and the testing processes.

Parents of children with dyslexia need ongoing technical help and emotional support for their advocacy role. It is a life-long task. A parent support group comprising parents of children of different ages and skills, concerned educators, psychologists and students themselves can be very useful. There is indeed some truth in the statement that "it takes a whole village to raise a child".

I am pleased that governments of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have legislation recognising dyslexia and allow certain accommodation in school board examinations. (The term "accommodation" is more appropriate than the term "concession". I have myopia and as a student in school wore corrective glasses. I did not feel that I was being given a "concession".) Taped books, calculators, computers, note takers, and extended time for testing are all adaptive tools and should be a part of the education process.

While I commend the pioneering work done by several remedial centres in Chennai on educating children with dyslexia, I think this can only be considered a good beginning. Every school, private or public, should have the ability to diagnose and provide adequate support for children with disabilities of all kinds. Expense is always a problem. In the state of Wisconsin, there is an ongoing debate, at times vociferous and emotionally charged, on how to pay for the increasing costs of educating children with special needs. These are by and large social issues.

I am convinced that educating a child with special needs is very cost-effective. In the absence of such education, one must consider the lost wages and taxes, and the expenditure that would be incurred in dealing with youth and adults with learning disablity who often end up in the country's jails and correction facilities.

Your article mentions several successful persons who had dyslexia. An individual with dyslexia can indeed be very successful and productive if there is adequate support for his/her education. There is a view that Akbar, considered to be India's most enlightened ruler, might have had dyslexia. He kept himself very well informed by his Ministers who were the most knowledgeable and educated people of the time!

Dr. A.V.Moorthy Madison, U.S. A statement

We, fellows of The Transnational Institute, scholars and activists from different parts of the world, strongly condemn the systematic harassment of journalists, specifically those who have been opposing the nuclearisation of Pakistan. We are deeply concerned at the recent spate of abductions and arrests of senior journalists like Najam Sethi and the ransacking of the house of Imtiaz Alam, a noted columnist. We demand the immediate release of Sethi.

We also condemn the decision of the Pakistani and Indian governments to celebrate the anniversary of the nuclear tests conducted by them on May 11 and 28 last year. We call upon the two governments to refrain from proceeding with nuclear and missile development. We demand that the five official nuclear weapons states immediately initiate negotiations on complete nuclear disarmament in accordance with their obligation under Article 6 of the NPT, the mandate of the World court and the repeated request of the U.N. General Assembly.

Signed by:

Susan George (France), Peter Weiss (U.S.), Hilary Wainright (U.K.), Walden Bello (Philippines), John Cavanagh (U.S.), Karamat Ali (Pakistan), Amrita Chhachhi (India), Ari Sitas (South Africa), Theo Roncken (Bolivia), Karel Koster (Netherlands), Danial Chavez (Uruguay), Roger van Zwanenburg (Britain), Daphne Wysham (U.S.), Dot Keet (South Africa), Phyllis Bennis (U.S.), Praful Bidwai (India), Harsh Kapoor (India), Howard Wachtel (U.S.), Joel Rocamora (Philippines), Alex Weldhof (Netherlands), Pauline Tiffen (U.K.), Marieme Helie-Lucas (Algeria), Ricardo Soberon (Peru), Coletta Youngers (U.S.), Margarita Nanda Schulz (Argentina), Martin Jelsma (Netherlands), Oronto Douglas (Nigeria), Tom Blickman (Netherlands), Mariano Aguirre (Spain), James Early (U.S.), Cristine Estrada (Spain)

On being foreign and being nationalist

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The focus on the foreign origins of Sonia Gandhi as an electoral plank is misplaced, for it distracts from the main question of dynastic rule.

SINCE the campaign for the coming general elections has effectively begun (despite the fact that the election dates are yet to be announced), those issues which politicians feel are likely to be the most important for the electorate are already prominent in the political debate. Going by the current count, one of the most "significant" of such issues seems to be that of the foreign origins of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi.

In fact, this has been raked up not only by representatives of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is quite predictable, but even by those of the Samajwadi Party and politicians belonging to other parties. And indeed the Congress party itself has risen to the bait, spending much press conference time in reacting to these accusations and stressing the current Indianness of its president.

It is remarkable how this entire discussion has missed the point about what is desirable in a prime ministerial candidate for this country. It is also remarkable because it stresses the personality and origins of particular individuals, independent of socio-economic agenda or political motivation.

Those on either side of this debate who are currently devoting so much time, energy and resources to it must have a rather poor perception of the political consciousness of the Indian electorate. And this despite recent and continuing evidence that we now have not just the largest but possibly one of the most sophisticated group of voters in the world.

LET us consider the issue of "foreignness" first. This country is no stranger to the involvement of "non-nationals" in domestic politics. Modern Indian history is replete with stories of the committed and crucial contributions of some remarkable people of foreign birth who became closely tied up with the struggle for national independence.

Indeed, the very progenitor of the Congress party, the Indian National Union, was founded in 1854 by two British men, Allan Octavian Hume and Henry Cotton. When this body assumed the name of Indian National Congress in 1885 at a conference in Calcutta under the presidency of W. C. Bonerjee, it was attended by 72 delegates of both Indian and foreign extraction.

In the century and more since then, the Congress has had five presidents of foreign origin, of whom Sonia Gandhi is only the latest. Some of them, such as Sir William Wedderburn, served more than one term. Others, such as Annie Besant, remain household names across the country, still remembered for their signal contribution to the national movement and to social and economic change in the country.

No one in India ever doubted, or even today questions, the commitment and dedication of these and many other "foreigners" to the Indian nationalist cause. So the mere fact of foreign origin per se obviously cannot be seen as the basic, or even major, impediment to substantial involvement in Indian politics or ability to become an elected leader of the country.

A further point needs to be noted here. Those who are dismayed or even alarmed at the idea of a "foreigner" becoming the Prime Minister, especially those within the middle class, are quite often those who are themselves seeking foreigner status either for themselves or their near kin. Quite often, those who are shouting the loudest in this matter turn out to be the same people who are desperate to get "Green Card" resident status for their children in the United States, or already have close kin as Non-Resident Indians.

It has frequently been observed that real citizenship is in the mind. And in that context there can be very little doubt that many of the constituents of this country's elite are Indian citizens only in name, with lifestyles, aspirations, affiliations and even identities that belong to the richer countries of the industrialised world. Yet such are the complexities of our world that many such people see no contradiction between this and opposing a politician because of his or her natal origin. It is interesting that the most enthusiastic proponents of the "Hindu bomb", for example, who also tend to be the most vociferous opponents of a foreign-born Prime Minister, are Non-Resident Indians who do not even deign to live in this country.

THIS being said, however, it should not be taken to mean that there are no arguments against the possible choice of Sonia Gandhi as Prime Minister. There are in fact some persuasive arguments against such a choice, and it is intriguing that these have hardly been raised in the course of the present discussion.

The most obvious such argument relates to a basic issue that has been at the centre of opposition to Congress-style politics for at least three decades now, and that is the tendency towards dynastic rule. The real problem with the Congress today is not that it has chosen someone with another natal identity to be its president, but that it seems unable to find anyone outside of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty to run its affairs for any reasonable length of time.

This is ultimately what defines the real bankruptcy of this party. And it is a bankruptcy that seems to be more stark and more desperate over time, because it requires less and less prior input from the members of the dynasty themselves. True, Sonia Gandhi has been handed over the control of the party on a platter, but that was true of her husband before her, and even of her mother-in-law to some extent.

But Indira Gandhi had substantial political exposure even before she took control of the Congress, and subsequently had to prove her mettle very quickly. Even Rajiv Gandhi had to devote some time to "helping mummy" before circumstances and fate intervened to make him Prime Minister. But his widow had no such public exposure before the first attempt by the party to make her his successor upon his assassination, and seemed to require no further qualification even eight years later.

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THIS less than minimalist requirement from the Congress towards its ruling dynasty has a number of unfortunate consequences, quite apart from the generally unpalatable nature of dynastic rule in itself. It means that membership of the "family" dominates all other considerations, which in turn means that the most effective or desirable candidates are not chosen even from within the party.

In the case of Sonia Gandhi, the implications are even more severe. For the first seven years of her widowhood, she distinguished herself chiefly by her sphinx-like capacity to keep everyone guessing. And even to date, hardly anything is known about her ideology, her views on important matters, her general capability in administrative matters, or, more generally, her capacity to govern a country. Like her husband before her, she took complete charge over a major national party without ever having had to fight a single election on her own account. And her charisma is widely believed, even by devoted Congress workers, to lie in her ability to evoke public memory in the name of her husband's family.

So advanced is the Congress party's tendency towards such dependence on this dynasty that its members now speak openly of bringing Priyanka Gandhi into the campaign to add to the supposed swaying of the electorate that the Gandhi name is said to achieve. And once again, the only qualification being sought is that she belong to the family.

This issue is major, but it certainly has nothing to do with foreign origins. Indeed, the problem would have been just as acute had the current Congress president been born in Allahabad, Chennai or Lakshadweep. That is why the focus on foreign origin is not only misplaced but distracts from the main question.

Despite all this if the Congress remains a force to reckon with in Indian politics, it reflects the paucity of a sufficiently persuasive and progressive national agenda, and evidence of the will to implement it, among the other parties. And this in turn reflects the relative failure of the political process in India's otherwise vibrant democracy, which is its inability as yet to move the real issues of the day onto the centre-stage of parliamentary politics.

THE main question, therefore, is not even about the real qualifications that various prime ministerial candidates bring to the job. Rather, it is about which policies they are likely to promote. In the past decade, the Indian electorate has demonstrated over and over again its general unhappiness with the policies being pursued by the succession of governments in the country, by voting them out whenever they are given the chance.

Currently, besides Sonia the other buzzword is "stability", which at one level simply expresses the elite's desire that the electorate be kept out of such serious matters as "liberalisation", and the making of money. It is not just an accident that every government from V.P. Singh's to Vajpayee's promised the electorate that it would reverse the liberalisation policies of its predecessor, and proceeded to do just the opposite. The ensuing instability is comfortably put down to caste and region. However, unlike these, but like the idea of "liberalisation", the instability of the Indian political system is only a decade old.

The people of India do care about the real effects of economic and political strategy. They know that there is a real subterranean tension in the kow-towing to foreign capital and "globalisation", which pits the masses who lose against the few who get rich. The former clutch repeatedly at the alternatives offered, while the latter seek to fool, divide and rule. The most recent BJP-led government too, despite its earlier protestations, effectively functioned as little more than the swadeshi dalals of large international capital.

Given that context, Sonia Gandhi, being not just foreign but also of the dynasty, stands a fair chance against those who swear by nationalism and swadeshi, flex the nuclear muscle built up by her family, but sell out the nation quicker than anyone else. While that may be the depressing choice in Indian politics today, the only saving grace in this forced choice between the swadeshi dalals and a videshi bahu is that this election too is unlikely to throw up a "stable" government. But how many more such elections will it take before truly progressive politicians are able to put the focus on the need for real change?

The final judgment

The Supreme Court, holding the LTTE alone responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, awards death sentence to three of the 26 accused and life imprisonment to four persons and acquits the rest.

THE battle between the facts of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, and the curious fictions authored about it, has been decisively resolved. Nine days short of the eighth anniversary of his death, the Supreme Court affirmed that members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were alone responsible for the assassination. Justice K.T. Thomas' judgment reads: "There is not even a speck of doubt that the criminal conspiracy to murder Rajiv Gandhi was hatched by at least four persons comprising (LTTE chief) Veluppillai Pirabhakaran, (intelligence chief) Pottu Amman, (hit man) Sivarasan and (women's wing chief) Akila."

However, the Union Government-appointed Multi-Disciplinary Monitoring Agency (MDMA) is yet to submit its report on Justice M.C. Jain's bizarre inquisition into the assassination. And those sentenced to death by the Supreme Court are certain to move review petitions in which the MDMA's findings could be a key issue. The last echoes of the human bomb explosion at Sriperumbudur are yet to fade away.

The Supreme Court was disposing of appeals by the 26 accused against the death sentence awarded to them by the Designated Court of Judge V. Navaneetham in January 1998. The trial court pronounced all the accused guilty of a spectrum of offences under the provisions of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) and Sections 120-B (conspiracy) and Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), read with various sections of the Explosive Substances Act, the Passport Act, the Foreigners Act, the Wireless Telegraphy Act and the Arms Act (see chart).

The content of the judgment

Contrary to the impression that initial reportage may have conveyed, the Supreme Court has not provided any judicial letter of absolution to 19 of the 26 accused. All the 26 persons were indeed acquitted of TADA charges, and 18 of the 19 accused now released from jail were cleared of being participants in a criminal conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. But separate sentences they received for other related crimes, including those under the Arms Act and the Explosive Substances Act, were confirmed by the Supreme Court. Indeed, counsel for defence, Senior Advocate N. Natarajan, chose not to argue against these sentences. This group was released because all its members had completed their sentences. B. Robert Payas (A-9), S. Jayakumar (A-10) and P. Ravichandran (A-16), found guilty of participating in criminal conspiracy, had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment. Only S. Shanmugavadivelu (A-15) was totally acquitted of any criminal act, since he was charged only under TADA.

How did the three-Judge Bench of Justices Thomas, D.P. Wadhwa, and Syed Shah Mohammad Quadri arrive at its conclusions? All three judicial accounts accept the exclusive role of the LTTE in shaping and executing the conspiracy. Its genesis lay in the India-Sri Lanka Accord of July 29, 1987, the instrument through which Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene sought to recognise the sovereignty of the island nation and resolve the insurgency in eastern and northern Sri Lanka. A reluctant LTTE was dragged into the agreement under pressure from India, and almost immediately became embroiled in a bloody conflict with the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) posted in the Tamil majority areas. V. Prabakaran, the LTTE supremo, described the accord as a "betrayal" by India.

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Prime Minister V.P. Singh rapidly reversed his predecessor's schizoid Sri Lanka policy, but by early 1991, the Congress(I) appeared back on the road to power. The LTTE's core concern was Rajiv Gandhi's stand on the agreement. In a magazine interview in August 1990, Rajiv Gandhi backed the accord and criticised V.P. Singh for withdrawing Indian troops from Sri Lanka. The conspiracy to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi was then set in motion on Prabakaran's orders, Natarajan conceded, to ensure that the accord was not again put in place, a move that would have subverted the LTTE's objective of achieving a separate Tamil Eelam state in Sri Lanka.

According to the account of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the first batch of conspirators arrived in India shortly after the magazine published the interview on September 12, 1990. S. Vijayan, his wife V. Selvaluxmi and her father S. Baskaran registered themselves as refugees in Rameswaram. They were seen off in Jaffna by the Sriperumbudur hit team's boss Sivarajan and his aide Subha, and were to provide shelter to them after the assassination, the prosecution said. Vijayan's house was also used by Sivarajan, before the SIT surrounded his Bangalore safehouse and the LTTE group committed suicide, to send wireless messages to Prabakaran and Pottu Amman.

None of the three judges disputed this sequence of events, but rejected the SIT's understanding of their import. The mere fact that all three knew Sivarajan, Justice Wadhwa argued, did not mean that they were aware of the conspiracy and its object. Vijayan had indeed confessed that Sivarajan told him on May 22, 1991, that "the work was finished and that Rajiv Gandhi had been killed", a statement that the prosecution said made clear he was waiting to know the results the assassination squad had obtained. But, Justice Wadhwa said in his judgment that "the evidence that they had knowledge of the conspiracy is lacking," even in their confessional statements.

In any case, Justice Wadhwa made clear, "mere knowledge of the existence of a conspiracy is not enough." "One has to agree to the object of (the) conspiracy to be guilty." Of this again, the judges found no evidence. Vijayan and Baskaran, while guilty of keeping an illegal wireless set, had no way of knowing what the coded transmissions Sivarajan and his collaborator Nehru were sending to Sri Lanka actually were. Indeed, while Justice Wadhwa found the convictions of Vijayan and Baskaran for giving shelter to members of the hit squad to be acceptable under Section 212 of the IPC, he argued that Selvaluxmi was guilty of "merely living with her husband and merely on that account knowledge and intention cannot be attributed to her, particularly when no overt act is alleged against her."

Justices Thomas and Quadri broadly agreed with Justice Wadhwa's line of argument, but not the specifics of his acquittal of Selvaluxmi on all counts. In the end, her conviction under Section 212 along with those of her husband and father was confirmed by a majority of two to one. The 19 appellants acquitted of a role in the criminal conspiracy benefited from similar positions on the questions of their knowledge of the conspiracy and their consent to it. However, the trial court's convictions for various secondary offences committed by them were upheld. In general, their confessional statements under Section 15 of TADA did not disclose explicit knowledge of the contours of the conspiracy or its aims and objectives.

The most important differences among the three judges, however, hinged on the fate of Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran. The death sentences on them have been commuted to life imprisonment; in India this means a minimum of 14 years in jail. Justice Wadhwa said that the three deserved to be acquitted of charges of being participants in the assassination conspiracy. Although Payas knew Sivarajan well and participated in sending wireless messages, Justice Wadhwa said, this did not mean that he knew their contents. "Suspicion, however strong, cannot take the place of proof,'' he wrote in his judgment. In the other two cases too, Justice Wadhwa found inadequate evidence of complicity, pointing to a wireless message from Sivarajan which stated that he, the belt-bomb killer Dhanu and aide Subha alone knew of the object of the conspiracy.

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Justices Thomas and Quadri differed on this perception. Both relied in part on evidence of Payas' deep links with the LTTE and evidence suggesting that he waited in his home on the eve of the assassination for a message from Sivarajan. Sweets were distributed at Payas' house on the day of the assassination, witnesses said. Jayakumar's confessional statement, for its part, said that he had seen Sivarajan set out for Sriperumbudur with a 9-mm pistol. Witnesses recounted Sivarajan's repeated visits to Jayakumar. "We therefore hold without hesitation," Justice Thomas wrote, "that (the) prosecution has succeeded in proving that A-10 (Jayakumar) was an active participant in the conspiracy for (the) assassination of Rajiv Gandhi."

If the death sentences for Payas, Ravikumar and Jayachandran were reduced to life imprisonment, the judges had no hesitation in confirming the death penalty awarded to Nalini (A-1), Santhan (A-2) and Murugan (A-3) by the Designated Court. The LTTE intelligence wing member, Santhan, was one of Sivarajan's collaborators in the murder of Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front leader K. Padmanabha in Chennai in 1990, and a close confidant. He was despatched to India as part of the LTTE's hit squad along with Sivarajan on May 9, 1991. Murugan, Nalini's former lover and now husband, inducted her into the conspiracy, suggesting to Sivarajan that he would recruit his girlfriend for the task of garlanding Rajiv Gandhi at a public meeting. This made clear he knew the former Prime Minister was a target. G. Perarivalan alias Arivu (A-18) was sentenced to death for purchasing the 9-volt battery used in the belt-bomb which Dhanu strapped around her waist. A single passage in his confessional statement made clear that this battery was used in the bomb. Since the only way he could have known this was prior to the blast, and on the basis of corroborative evidence, the judges came to the conclusion that Arivu had prior knowledge of the assassination attempt.

On Nalini's fate, the judges differed sharply. Justice Thomas' argument pointed to the fact that Nalini had been drawn into the plot only as a consequence of her relationship with Murugan. "One gets the impression, on reading her confession, that she was led into the conspiracy by playing on her feminine sentiments," an unfortunate turn of phrase that may provoke some ire among feminists. The fact that she participated in the actual commission of the murder brought her the death penalty, Justice Thomas contended. Also, the fact that Murugan, the father of her child, was to hang, and the personal reasons for which she joined the plot were relevant, he said. Neither Justice Wadhwa nor Justice Quadri endorsed this reasoning; their finding was that her crime was not mitigated by circumstances.

Legal issues arising from the judgment

If the judgment's findings on the charges relating to various sections of the IPC against the accused appear incontrovertible, its finding that TADA was not applicable to the facts of the assassination is certain to provoke a lively legal debate in the years to come. In essence, the three judges held that none of the TADA charges against each of the accused had relevance. For the assassination did not meet the criteria for what constituted a terrorist crime. Sub-Section 3(1) of TADA defines a terrorist act as one carried out "with intent to overawe the Government as by law established or to strike terror in people or any section of the people or to alienate any section of the people or to adversely affect the harmony amongst different sections of the people."

Justice Thomas' argument perhaps most succinctly outlines the contours of the Bench's argument. He relied extensively on the seminal 1994 Supreme Court judgment in the Hitendra Vishnu Thakur & ors vs. State of Maharashtra and ors., delivered after charge-sheets were filed in the Rajiv Gandhi case. In the Hitendra Vishnu Thakur case, the Supreme Court had held that "unless the (criminal) act complained of falls strictly within the letter and spirit of Section 3(1) of TADA and is committed with the intention as envisaged by that section by means of the weapons etc. as are enumerated therein with the motive as postulated thereby, an accused cannot be tried or convicted for an offence under Section 3(1) of TADA."

Justice Thomas reasoned that there was no evidence to suggest that the LTTE's intention had been to overawe the Government of India (as envisaged in Section 3(1) of TADA) although they were bitterly critical of the India-Sri Lanka Accord in general and Rajiv Gandhi personally. Although the expression 'terrorist' can be used to refer to any person for acting to "deter the Government from doing anything or refrain from doing anything," the Judge said that was not Prabakaran's intention. The judgment noted the LTTE supremo's personal sense of betrayal against Rajiv Gandhi and his conviction that the India-Sri Lanka Accord would subvert the organisation's core political objective. On pages 27 and 28 of his judgment, Justice Thomas cites at length an editorial in the LTTE journal, Voice of Tigers, to support the argument that the organisation was not hostile to the Indian Government per se, and quotes Prabakaran as telling newsmen in April 1990, that he was "not against India or the Indian people but against the former leadership in India who is against the Tamil liberation struggle and the LTTE".

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Similar arguments were advanced by Justice Wadhwa. "When the prosecution during the course of the trial, which lasted over a number of years, had taken the stand that (the) killing of Rajiv Gandhi was a terrorist act, it cannot now turn about and say that (the) killing itself was not a terrorist act but was committed to achieve the object of conspiracy which was to overawe the Government. As a matter of fact, in the case of Kasi Anandhan, who was a member of the Central Committee of the LTTE, it has come on record that he met Rajiv Gandhi in March 1991, when Rajiv Gandhi supported the stand of (the) LTTE and had admitted that it was his mistake in sending IPKF to Sri Lanka and wanted (the) LTTE to go ahead with its agitation. That being the evidence brought on record, there is no question of it now contending that there was conspiracy to overawe the Government."

But not all observers are convinced with this line of reasoning. Special Public Prosecutor E. Jacob R. Daniel, who dealt with the Rajiv Gandhi case from its outset, said that "intent has to be inferred from the act itself. The Supreme Court has not seriously considered why Rajiv Gandhi was chosen to be killed. It was because the LTTE wished to coerce the Government of India to act in some ways and not others. Why was the assassination ordered in 1991 and not earlier, if revenge was the only motive? I would have been happier if this issue had been properly discussed by a Constitution Bench, for there are many questions that remain unanswered." Daniel's argument requires more serious scrutiny than has come about so far. Can the assassination of an important political figure be sundered from the impacts that their action will have on the affairs of government and the state?

On the other end of the spectrum, defence lawyers are dismayed at the Supreme Court's decision that irrespective of its decision to strike down TADA charges, confessional statements made under the Act are nonetheless admissible in the trial of related IPC cases. The decision reverses the Supreme Court's earlier decision by two-judge benches in the 1997 cases of Bilal Ahmed Kaloo vs State of AP, and Kalpnath Rai vs State. The court now accepted the overriding legitimacy of the provisions of Section 12 of TADA, which enables Designated Courts to try individuals not only for offences under TADA, but any other offences "with which the accused may under the Code be charged at the same trial if the offence is connected with such other offence." Justice Thomas, like the other two judges, found that "if there was a trial of any offence under TADA together with any other offence under any other law, the admissibility of the confessional statement would continue to hold good even if the accused is acquitted under TADA offences."

DEFENCE lawyers say this issue will be a central feature of their revision petitions in the cases of the four accused facing death sentences. "What the Court has done," says defence counsel Rama Subramaniam, "is to signal to policemen that every serious crime should have had a TADA charge pegged to it so that the confessional statement could be used." In the Rajiv Gandhi case, confessional statements under TADA were central pieces of evidence.

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D.R. Karthikeyan, the SIT chief, told Frontline that it would have been near-impossible to secure convictions without the special provisions of TADA. The Supreme Court judgment will profoundly affect other trials where similar issues are at stake, including that of the alleged assassins of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh.

But the more important factors in what remains of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case are certain to be political. The MMDA has yet to submit its findings on the "larger conspiracy" that Justice M.C. Jain's Commission of Inquiry had claimed lay behind the Sriperumbudur bombing. Whether a BJP-appointed body will be able to resist endorsing the scurrilous references made by Justice Jain during various phases of his enterprise remains to be seen. Jain had variously insinuated the involvement of religious conman Nemi Chand Jain alias Chandraswami, politician Subramanian Swamy and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, and a number of shadowy international intelligence agencies and arms dealers.

Those released from jail have already made dark hints about Chandraswami's role in the affair. Such claims, and the ongoing work of the MDMA, are likely to be the ground advocated by the defence for a stay on the execution of death sentences on Nalini and her three associates. The most important fact of the Supreme Court judgment is that it has pinned the blame on the LTTE. But it is impossible to predict just what the MDMA will find, and whether, in the event of its discoveries being pulp fiction, politicians who have transformed Rajiv Gandhi's name into a career asset will have the sense to stand up for the truth.

A commendable role

IN its verdict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the three-Judge Supreme Court Bench had words of praise for R.K. Raghavan, now Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for his role in solving the case. The senior Indian Police Service officer was present at the scene of the assassination. Raghavan preserved the camera found on the body of photographer Haribabu. The 10 frames of the film which had been exposed by him provided vital clues to the identity of some of the prime accused, which gave the case its first and major breakthrough.

Justice D.P. Wadhwa said: "We also have a word of praise for Mr. R.K. Raghavan, who was at the relevant time Inspector-General of Police, Forest Cell (CID), Madras, and was entrusted with the election arrangements in the Chingleput range. He was on duty at the time the crime was committed at Sriperumbudur. He immediately realised the gravity of the situation. He stayed on at the scene of the crime, organised relief and ensured that material evidence was not tampered with. It was he who found the camera (MO-1 or material object) on the body of Haribabu which provided the breakthrough in the case."

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According to E. Jacob R. Daniel, Special Public Prosecutor and Deputy Legal Adviser, CBI, Raghavan saw the Chinon camera lying on the body of Haribabu around 3 a.m. on May 22 and it immediately struck him that it might contain important clues to the killing. He retrieved the camera and sent it to a laboratory through two Police Inspectors, Krishnan and Mathuram, around 5 a.m. for developing the film roll, Daniel said.

"Raghavan took charge and guarded the scene of the crime single-handedly although angry mobs were pelting stones,'' Daniel said. He faced the situation while some policemen fled the scene. But for his presence, the investigating agency would have lost vital material." Daniel, who examined Raghavan as Prosecution Witness 7 in the case in the lower court, said that he gave excellent evidence and was a "model witness". Daniel said he was proud to work under such an efficient and sincere officer.

Senior Advocate N. Natarajan, who was defence counsel for 25 of the 26 accused in the assassination, regards Raghavan highly for his presence of mind in collecting the camera, which helped in solving the case.

Out of the TADA net

T.S.SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

The Supreme Court accepts the arguments of defence counsel N. Natarajan to hold that the 26 accused persons committed no offence under the TADA Act, 1987.

AN important feature of the Supreme Court verdict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case is that all three judges have held that the 26 accused committed no offence under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987. In their order presiding Judge Justice K.T. Thomas, Justice D.P. Wadhwa and Justice Syed Shah Mohammed Quadri set aside the conviction and sentence passed by the trial court against all the accused for offences under Sections 3(3), 3(4) and 5 of TADA and acquitted them of the charges under TADA.

This signals a victory for N. Natarajan, defence counsel, who appeared for 25 of the 26 accused (except Shanmugavadivelu). In the hearings in the Supreme Court, Natarajan's main contention was that although the killing of Rajiv Gandhi and its consequences might well be in conformity with a terrorist act as described in TADA, the intention specified in TADA was lacking here. The assassination was mainly the result of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader V. Prabakaran's personal animosity to Rajiv Gandhi, arising out of his sending the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) to the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka and the IPKF's atrocities against Tamils. The killing was not meant to strike terror in the people and was not meant to overawe a government lawfully established, as required by TADA, Natarajan said. (Natarajan, 67, is senior counsel in the Supreme Court, practising on the criminal law side. Natarajan was the Chief Special Public Prosecutor for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in the Mumbai blasts case. He was the Special Public Prosecutor for the CBI in the "Jain hawala" case. He is also senior counsel for the Tamil Nadu Government for the corruption cases against former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha, her former ministerial colleagues and others.)

In their separate orders, the three judges accepted Natarajan's arguments and concluded that the accused had committed no crime under Section 3(3), 3(4) or 5 of TADA.

Justice Thomas found it difficult to "conclude that the conspirators intended, at any time, to overawe the Government of India as by law established. Nor can we hold that the conspirators ever entertained an intention to strike terror in people or any section thereof."

Justice Wadhwa said: "There is nothing on record to show that the intention to kill Rajiv Gandhi was to overawe the Government."

Justice Quadri declined to maintain the conviction by the Designated Court for offences under TADA.

ACCORDING to the prosecution, the conspiracy to commit offences under TADA, which began on July 29, 1987 when the India-Sri Lanka Accord was signed, subsisted till the Union Government banned the LTTE on May 14, 1992. Thus, the conspiracy continued even after the assassination on May 21, 1991, the prosecution said.

The defence contended that TADA could not be invoked for any offence which created terror because any violent crime automatically created terror in the victim and the people in the vicinity. This creation of terror was not the essence of the matter. However, the ingredients of the terrorist act must be established as spelt out in TADA if the prosecution were to invoke TADA. A terrorist act could be counted as one once it conformed to its definition under Section 3(1) of TADA, Natarajan said.

Section 3(1) says: "Whoever with intention to overawe the Government as by law established or to strike terror in people or any section of the people or to alienate any section of the people or to adversely affect the harmony amongst different sections of the people does any act or things by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or fire-arms or other lethal weapons or poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals...as is likely to cause the death of, or injuries to any person... or damage to, or destruction of property....commits a terrorist act." Or the act should seek to coerce the governmental authority to yield to pressure.

But all this would not suffice to bring TADA into play unless the act was done with the intention as contemplated in TADA, Natarajan argued.

The intentions contemplated in TADA were three-fold: 1. To overawe the government lawfully established; 2. To strike terror in people; and 3. To create disharmony among various sections of people.

The prosecution, led by Additional Solicitor-General Altaf Ahmed, argued that the first two intentions, namely, overawing a government lawfully established and striking terror in people, had been made out by direct and circumstantial evidence. The defence counsel said that this might not be correct for the simple reason that although the conspiracy period alleged by the prosecution was long (from 1987 to 1992), no other TADA offence was said to have been committed in Tamil Nadu during that period. The killing of Rajiv Gandhi was the first TADA case charge-sheeted and tried in Tamil Nadu. The next one was the murder of K. Padmanabha, leader of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), in June 1990 in Chennai, and some other cases followed.

The prosecution said the conspiracy began when the India-Sri Lanka Agreement was signed on July 29, 1987 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayewardene. Jayewardene demanded that the LTTE be disarmed in order to ensure the island's territorial integrity. The arrival of the IPKF in Sri Lanka and its actions did not suit the LTTE, which decided to eliminate Rajiv Gandhi as a warning for those in power in India not to support the Sri Lankan Government. The elimination of Rajiv Gandhi was intended to overawe a government lawfully established and this, in turn, affected the sovereignty of India. The assassination, therefore, was a terrorist act, the prosecution said.

The second ingredient regarding the intention, namely, striking terror in the people, was also present because the murder took place during a public meeting; a number of persons were killed; and panic and terror were created.

Natarajan argued that this was a circuitous and non-existent theory, not supported by existing materials of the case. It had been well settled in law and in the Supreme Court that striking terror was not tantamount to terror created in the victim and those who stood nearby. Terror in law was much greater than questions of law and order, or even public order. It was creating a psychological fear not merely in an individual but in society.

Natarajan quoted in detail from the Supreme Court judgment in Hitendra Vishnu Thakur vs the State of Maharashtra. Justice Dr. A.S. Anand (now Chief Justice of India) and Justice Faizan Uddin said:

"'Terrorism' is one of the manifestations of increased lawlessness and cult of violence... 'Terrorism' has not been defined under TADA nor is it possible to give a precise definition of 'terrorism' or lay down what constitutes 'terrorism'.

"Even though the crime committed by a 'terrorist' and an ordinary criminal would be overlapping to an extent but then it is not the intention of the Legislature that every criminal should be tried under TADA, where the fallout of his activity does not extend beyond the normal frontiers of the ordinary criminal activity... The criminal activity in order to invoke TADA must be committed with the requisite intention as contemplated by Section 3(1) of the Act by use of such weapons as have been enumerated in Section 3(1) and which cause or likely to result in the offences as mentioned in the said section."

Justices Anand and Faizan Uddin added: "...If it is only as a consequence of the criminal act that fear, terror or/and panic is caused but the intention of committing the particular crime cannot be said to be the one strictly envisaged by Section 3(1), it would be impermissible to try or convict and punish an accused under TADA. The commission of the crime with the intention to achieve the result as envisaged by the section and not merely where the consequence of the crime committed by the accused create that result, would attract the provisions of Section 3(1) of TADA.''

Natarajan pointed out that according to the prosecution, the murder was dictated by Prabakaran's personal motive against Rajiv Gandhi (and not a terrorist act). This position had been borne out by the evidence, which made it clear that the animosity developed over a period of time. When the Agreement was about to be signed, Prabakaran was pressured to accept it. Prabakaran's reaction as revealed by his speech at Sudumalai in the Jaffna peninsula on August 4, 1987 had been brought to the notice of the court. In that speech, he had said that the "racist" Sinhalese would slowly consume the Sri Lankan Tamils. Prabakaran said he agreed to India signing the Agreement since a great man like Rajiv Gandhi had given his word that the rights, safety and security of the Tamils would always be protected by India.

Evidence, however, showed that in spite of Rajiv Gandhi's promise, the IPKF caused untold suffering to Tamils, the defence counsel said. When 17 LTTE leaders were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy in October 1987 and help was sought from Rajiv Gandhi to get them freed, nothing was done by India. Earlier, another LTTE leader, Thileepan, had fasted to death in the Jaffna peninsula. All this left the Sri Lankan Tamils and Prabakaran in particular disillusioned.

Natarajan said that even according to the prosecution, this was the motive behind Prabakaran ordering the killing of Rajiv Gandhi. The Designated Judge in the trial court had said: "From the foregoing discussion and analysis of evidence, I have no hesitation to come to the conclusion that V. Prabakaran, the LTTE supremo and the LTTE organisation, had a very strong motive to kill Rajiv Gandhi." Natarajan asked: "Where is the evidence to say that it was done to overawe a government lawfully established?"

The defence counsel said that from another angle also the assassination might not be construed a terrorist act. Terrorist acts were committed by a small group of people against a state or a bigger group. Their object and aim was to terrorise people. So they had always advertised their acts and owned up responsibility for them. But evidence in this case showed that the LTTE had in a sustained manner let it be known to the world that it was in no way connected with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

It was also in evidence that the LTTE had been in India from 1983 with the goodwill of the people of Tamil Nadu, who were concerned about the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils. The guerilla warfare in Sri Lanka waged by the LTTE had been sustained to a great extent by the help given by the people of Tamil Nadu. The LTTE was aware that it would lose the sympathy of the people of Tamil Nadu if it was involved in the killing of Rajiv Gandhi and was, therefore, keen to distance itself from the assassination. This ruled out the possibility that the assassination was a terrorist act as contemplated under TADA, Natarajan said.

Prabakaran feared that if Rajiv Gandhi returned to power, his own political equations with the Sri Lankan government would be sabotaged and therefore did not relish the prospect. Natarajan argued that the assassination resulted, if at all, from this attitude.

Quoting from Supreme Court judgments, Justice Thomas said: "Thus, the legal position remains unaltered that the crucial postulate for judging whether the offence is a terrorist act falling under TADA or not, is whether it was done with the intent to overawe the government as by law established or to strike terror in people, etc."

But the LTTE's attitude towards the Government of India could be seen from its official publication, Voice of Tigers, which said the LTTE was "firmly convinced" that the Tamil Nadu Government led by M. Karunanidhi and the V.P. Singh Government at the Centre were "favourably disposed" towards it and that the V.P. Singh Government would create appropriate conditions for the LTTE to come to political power. Justice Thomas said: "The above editorial is a strong piece of material for showing that the LTTE till then did not contemplate any action to overawe the Government of India. Of course, the top layer of the LTTE did not conceal their ire against Rajiv Gandhi who was then out of power."

Justice Thomas said: "Nothing else is proved in the case either from the utterances of the top brass (of the) LTTE or from any writings edited by them that anyone of them wanted to strike fear in the government either of the Centre or of any State." He, therefore, found it "difficult... to conclude that the conspirators intended at any time to overawe the Government of India as by law established." He added: There is absolutely no evidence that any one of the conspirators ever desired the death of any Indian other than Rajiv Gandhi."

The Judge said the killing of a public servant or any other person bound by oath would be an offence under the IPC. But such killing as such did not amount to disruptive activity. Certain types of actions which preceded such killing alone were regarded as a disruptive activity through the "legal fiction" created by Section 4 (3) of TADA. These preceding actions included advocating, advising, suggesting, inciting or prompting the killing of such persons. But there was no evidence to show that there was any such preceding activity.

16111031jpg Justice Thomas said:

"However, there is plethora of evidence for establishing that all such preceding activities were done by many among the accused arrayed for killing Rajiv Gandhi. But unfortunately Rajiv Gandhi was not then 'a person bound by oath under the Constitution to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.'

"The inevitable fallout of the above situation is that none of the conspirators can be caught in the dragnet of sub-section (3) of Section 4 of TADA."

The Judge rejected the prosecution argument that the photographs taken by the LTTE of Fort St. George, Chennai (which houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly), the police headquarters and the Central Prison within the Vellore Fort were aimed at disrupting the sovereignty of India.

According to Justice Thomas, the defence contended that the conspiracy was hatched only to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi and that none of the appellants had participated in the conspiracy. (Natarajan argued that confessions of the accused under Section 15 (1) of TADA could not be made use of to secure their conviction under Section 120-B read with 302 IPC.) Under Section 15 (1) "... a confession made by a person before a police officer not lower in rank than a Superintendent of Police... shall be admissible in the trial of such person (or co-accused, abettor or conspirator) for an offence under this Act or rules made thereunder." (Confessions made under other laws such as the IPC are not admissible as evidence.)

The Judge pointed out that the defence counsel argued against the admissibility of the confessional statements on the premise that no offence under TADA could be found against any of the accused. So they could not be applied in the case of offences outside TADA. However, Justice Thomas said, Section 12 of TADA enabled the Designated Court to try jointly, at the same trial, any offence under TADA together with any other offence "with which the accused may be charged" as per the Code of Criminal Procedure. "The correct position is that the confessional statement duly recorded under Section 15 of TADA would continue to remain admissible as for the other offences under any other law which too were tried along with TADA offences, no matter that the accused was acquitted of offences under TADA in that trial."

Justice Wadhwa also upheld the defence argument that there was no intent on the part of the accused to overawe the government or strike terror among people. On interpreting and analysing Section 3(1) of TADA, Justice Wadhwa said: "We do not find any difficulty in concluding that evidence does not reflect that any of the accused entertained any such intention or had any of the motive to overawe the government or to strike terror among people... There was no conspiracy to the indiscriminate killing of persons. There is no evidence directly or circumstantially that Rajiv Gandhi was killed with the intention contemplated under Section 3 (1) of TADA."

Justice Wadhwa added: "We accept the argument of Mr. Natarajan that terrorism is synonymous with publicity and it was sheer personal animosity of Prabakaran and other LTTE cadre developed against Rajiv Gandhi which resulted in his assassination.''

Justice Quadri also agreed that the conviction under Sections 3, 4 and 5 was "unsustainable". He said the charges did not reflect any intention to overawe the government. Additional Solicitor-General Altaf Ahmed has submitted that the omission to mention the ingredient of the charge did not result in misleading the accused persons, and though the words, "to overawe the government", were not mentioned in the charge, the charge was not bad in law. "In my view," Justice Quadri said, "the question here does not relate to the defect in the charge but to the content of the charge but without the said germane words in the charge, it cannot be said that the charge includes the intention to overawe the government... The appellants are accordingly acquitted of the charges under the TADA Act."

Justice Quadri said that the confessions recorded under Section 15 of TADA, and admitted in the trial of TADA offences and under Sections 120-B read with 302 IPC, "can be relied upon to record the conviction of the appellants for the said offences under the IPC even though they are acquitted of offences under the TADA Act."

The judges commended the defence team led by Natarajan and the prosecution led by Altaf Ahmed. Justice Wadhwa said: "Mr. Natarajan, senior advocate, led the team for all the accused except one. He was ably assisted by Mr. Sunder Mohan, Mr.B. Gopikirushna, Mr. S. Duraiswamy, Mr.V. Elangovan, Mr. N. Chandrasekaran, Mr. T. Ramdass and Mr. R. Jayaseelan. A heavy burden lay on the shoulders of Mr. N. Natarajan. He carried it with aplomb. His presentation of the case showed his complete mastery on facts and law. It was a pleasure to hear him, not losing his poise even for once. He was fair in his submissions, conceding where it was unnecessary to contest. Mr. Sivasubramanium, senior advocate, assisted by Mr. Thanan, who represented the remaining one accused, rendered his bit to support Mr. Natarajan."

Altaf Ahmed was not far behind in any way, Justice Wadhwa said. The Judge added: "He in his task was ably assisted by Mr. Jacob Daniel, Mr. Ranganathan, Mr. P. Parameswaran, Mr. A.D.N. Rao, Mr. Romy Chacko, Mr. T.G.N. Nair, Ms. Meenakshi Arora, Mr. S.A. Matoo and Mr. Mariaputam, advocates. Mr. Altaf Ahmed was forthright in his submissions. He presented his case with learning and assiduity. We express our sense of gratitude to all the counsel and admire their profound learning and experience. They did their job well."

When Frontline met Natarajan, he said the investigation commenced when TADA was extant and at the time of trial it had been repealed. However, Section 1 (4) of TADA entailed that the Act's expiry shall not affect the previous operation of, or anything duly done or suffered under, this Act. So all the accused had to bear the rigours of the draconian TADA, Natarajan said. They continued in jail without bail, had only a limited visiting life, faced hardship, and suffered mental agony with a death sentence hanging over them, he said.

A mystery solved

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

The SIT had to deal with "a crime that was cunning in conception, meticulous in planning and ruthless in execution," but through sustained efforts it completed the investigation.

"I accept with utmost respect the verdict of the highest court of the land. At the end of the day, I have satisfaction because the court has accepted the findings of our investigation in toto and expressed its appreciation too," said D.R. Karthikeyan, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and chief of its Special Investigation Team (SIT), who led the investigation into the murder of Rajiv Gandhi.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur near Chennai, by belt-bomb assassin Dhanu who belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Both the Designated Court and the Supreme Court had no hesitation in concluding that it was the LTTE alone which was responsible for the killing.

A day after the murder, when the Union Government asked Karthikeyan to head the SIT, it had appeared to be a "blind" and unsolvable case. But Karthikeyan put together an efficient investigation team and filed the charge-sheet before the Designated Judge on May 20, 1992, a day before the first anniversary of the assassination. The now-repealed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 required that the charge-sheet be filed within one year of the police making the first arrest in the case.

After the Supreme Court's judgment in the case on May 11, Karthikeyan told Frontline: "Very few political assassinations get detected, fewer go to court and still fewer end up in conviction. When I took over the investigation, people said it would end up like the (John F.) Kennedy assassination case. Unlike the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, who were caught red-handed, there was no clue here. The investigation was tough because the crime was cunning in conception, meticulous in planning and ruthless in execution. The perpetrators of the crime had taken care to turn back and wipe the trail at every turn, and it was programmed to remain a mystery forever."

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The Supreme Court's verdict came as a big relief to the 19 persons, who have been acquitted. After the lower court's verdict, they were lodged in the Central Prisons of Chennai, Vellore and Salem.

"Are you happy?" a reporter asked Subha Sundaram, one of those acquitted, as he stepped out of the Chennai Central Prison on May 12 evening. "After years of suffering and jail life, will I not be happy?" he answered. J. Ranganath, also released from the same prison, said, "I am bitter even though I know I am through." Ranganath threatened to reveal everything to the press including the "motive" behind the assassination and who financed Sivarajan, leader of the LTTE's assassination cell. He said the motive was to create a "political vacuum" in the country. Irumborai, who was released from another prison, found it hard to adjust to the din of the city. "The world outside is noisy," said the short, thin man, managing a smile.

Outside the gates of the Chennai Central Prison, scores of volunteers of the Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam and the Tamil Nadu Marxist Leninist Party gave a noisy welcome to Subha Sundaram and Ranganath. Flanked by Tamil National Party president P. Nedumaran and advocate N. Chandrasekaran, who appeared for the accused in the case, Subha Sundaram fought back tears as he told reporters: "I committed no crime but spent eight years in jail. After the lower court passed death sentence on all of us, we were nonplussed." He appreciated Nedumaran's help in fighting the case in the apex court and praised Senior Advocate N. Natarajan.

THE SIT's first breakthrough in the investigation came from the photographs taken by Haribabu who died in the blast and left behind his camera. The 10 photographs showed Dhanu, garland in hand; Rajiv Gandhi's arrival at the venue of the election meeting; Dhanu moving closer to Rajiv Gandhi; Sivarajan in kurta and pyjama, with a shorthand notebook, and pretending to be a reporter; the crowd at the venue; and then the explosion itself.

Another breakthrough came when the police halted a Sri Lankan Tamil youth on a motorcycle near Vedaranyam in coastal Tamil Nadu. Interrogation of Shankar alias Koneswaran revealed that he was one of the nine-member assassination cell that reached Kodiakkarai near Vedaranyam from the Jaffna peninsula on May 1, 1991. He had a piece of paper with the office phone number of Nalini and the contact number of B. Robert Payas, both accused in the case.

When newspapers published pictures of Sivarajan, Dhanu and others, the SIT office in Chennai received hundreds of phone calls. The information offered by the callers, the interrogation of those present in the crowd and other witnesses helped the SIT to develop the leads which resulted in the arrest of more accused.

A day after the murder, forensic expert Prof. P. Chandra Sekharan had made the sensational disclosure that Rajiv Gandhi's killer was a woman who acted as a human bomb by wearing a denim belt loaded with RDX (Research Department Explosive) and thousands of 2 mm steel pellets.

Karthikeyan told Frontline in May 1992: "In the first seven days after the assassination, the world media speculated whether the crime would remain a mystery forever. But within ten days, we found some slender clues. Within 20 days, we made the first arrests - of Bhagyanathan and Padma. We unearthed substantial evidence in 60 days and made a number of arrests. Within 90 days, we tracked down the main conspirators in Bangalore." The collection of sufficient evidence took the next six months, he said.

The charge-sheet was a painstakingly researched document which dealt with various details of the conspiracy to kill Rajiv Gandhi. It named 41 persons as accused. Of these, three were absconding: Prabakaran, the LTTE supremo, Pottu Amman, its intelligence chief, and Akila, deputy chief of the LTTE's Women's Intelligence Wing. Twelve were dead. The remaining 26 were brought to trial before the Designated Court, Poonamallee, about 30 km from Chennai.

The pre-trial proceedings, that is, arguments by the prosecution and defence lawyers, began before the Designated Judge on May 5, 1993. The court framed charges against the 26 accused on November 24, 1993. The trial, which started on January 19, 1994 with the examination of the witnesses, was held in camera. Of the 1,044 witnesses cited, 288 were examined. The prosecution produced 1,477 documents, which ran to about 10,000 pages. It also produced 1,180 objects of evidence in order to buttress its case. The defence produced 74 documents. The arguments concluded on November 5, 1997. On January 28, 1998, the judge of the Designated Court-1, V. Navaneetham, convicted and sentenced all the 26 accused to death.

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The accused appealed in the Supreme Court against the death sentence.

The Supreme Court judgment praised Karthikeyan and his team. Justice D.P. Wadhwa, of the three-Judge Bench, observed, "We would also like to record our appreciation for the Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the case. Under the stewardship of Mr. D.R. Karthikeyan, SIT did assiduous work and was able to solve the crime within a short time. Investigation was meticulous, loose ends tied to bring out a clear picture of conspiracy and the part played by each of the conspirators. Members of SIT performed their job with dedication and determination. They succeeded in their mission but their only regret perhaps was that they could not capture Sivarajan alive."

Senior Advocate N. Natarajan, who led the defence team in the Supreme Court, also praised Karthikeyan. He said, "Mr. Karthikeyan has done a tremendous job with his meticulous investigation, which only he is capable of."

Besides Karthikeyan, the SIT comprised Radhavinod Raju, R. Srikumar, S. Balaji, Salim Ali, Amit Verma, C. Balasubramaniam, Ashok Kumar, D. Manoharan and Y. Chellathurai. The Chief Investigating Officer was K. Ragothaman.

E. Jacob R. Daniel, Special Public Prosecutor and Deputy Legal Adviser to the CBI, worked hard to convert the findings of the SIT investigation into convictions. He appeared for the prosecution both in the trial court and the Supreme Court.

Daniel said he was happy with the sentences handed down by the Supreme Court but was unable to accept the finding that there was paucity of evidence to prove that it was a terrorist act. "The moment you decide to kill a former Prime Minister using a human bomb, your intention is to kill other people also (and strike terror). This is the inference you have to draw from the act," Daniel said. He, however, added: "We are bound by the judgment of the apex court and therefore accept it."

Looking back on his tenure as the SIT chief, Karthikeyan said he accepted the assignment on a couple of conditions: that there should be no political interference in the investigation and that he would not allow his team to use third-degree methods. What caused him agony was the disinformation campaign during the investigation and the consequent attempt to politicise it. He had to deal with the Jain Commission of Inquiry before which all kinds of theories were floated that political parties and personalities were involved in the assassination. There were other complications as well.

Karthikeyan said: "Very often, I was made to feel that it was a thankless job but at the end of the day, I have the satisfaction that there is appreciation from the Supreme Court... Our investigation was appreciated all over the world and by Interpol as a model investigation."

Targeting critics

The Nawaz Sharif Government's continuing crackdown on journalists comes in for strong criticism inside and outside Pakistan.

THE crackdown on the press by the Nawaz Sharif Government does not come as a surprise. It has been in the making for several months now. The first indication came when the Government targeted the Jang group of newspapers - starving it of newsprint and launching an investigation into alleged income tax violations by its proprietor Mir Shakilur Rehman.

More recently, on April 1, the Sharif Government got Rehmat Shah Afridi, the Editor of The Frontier Post, arrested on charges of smuggling narcotics; on May 4, Hussain Haqqani, a leading columnist and politician, on charges of corruption; and on May 8, Najam Sethi, the Editor of The Friday Times, for his alleged links with the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's external intelligence agency. In an effort to diminish these developments, the Government claims that Afridi, Haqqani and Sethi were arrested not for their writings, but for specific offences that are unrelated to their professional status.

In other instances of harassment and intimidation, M.A.K. Lodhi, the Lahore-based head of the investigative bureau of The News, was detained for 48 hours for "providing help" to a BBC team that was making a film on the alleged corruption of Nawaz Sharif's family.

Imtiaz Alam, Editor (Current Affairs), The News, who organised a meeting of parliamentarians from India and Pakistan in Islamabad, had his car torched by unidentified persons who entered his house in the early hours of the day.

Sethi was "arrested" by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for the "disparaging comments" he made about an "all-round crisis" in Pakistan, at the India International Centre in New Delhi on April 30. His comments were used to label him as a person who had "links" with RAW, and he was accused of undermining the foundations of Pakistan as an Islamic state.

A damning report submitted by Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, Pakistan's High Commissioner to India (he was present at the conference Sethi addressed), was used to justify Sethi's "arrest". Around 2-30 a.m. on May 8, several armed men forced their way into Sethi's house in Lahore, beat up two armed guards, and entered his bedroom. Sethi's wife Jugnu Mohsin alleged that they beat him with clubs and the chain attached to the hand-cuffs they carried. She further alleged that Sethi was whisked away without being allowed to put on his spectacles and wear his shoes. She said that when she asked the armed men whether they had an arrest warrant, she was told that she would get her husband's "body". Jugnu alleged that she was tied up and locked up in the dressing room.

A statement issued by the Government on May 8 said: "It is suspected that the journalist has some nexus/connection with the RAW. He has projected a dismal picture of Pakistan at their behest to create despondency and doubts in the minds of Pakistanis. In order to unearth such links, it was considered necessary to investigate him on matters of national security."

However, it is widely believed that Sethi was arrested not for what he said in India, but for his outspoken criticism of the Nawaz Sharif Government. The tone and tenor of his weekly editorials in The Friday Times are biting, and they often mock the Government. It is widely believed that the Government had been waiting for an opportunity to strike.

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Sethi began his lecture at the India International Centre by referring to the multiple crises gripping Pakistan. "The crisis of identity and ideology refers to the fact that after 50 years (of Independence), Pakistanis are still unable to collectively agree upon who we are as a nation, where we belong, what we believe in and where we want to go..." He had used these very words in an editorial titled "What is to be done?" in The Friday Times of January 1-7, 1999. The editorial and the lecture he gave are similar in content.

The Government said that critical remarks about the country could be made on Pakistani soil, but not in India. Obviously, the Lahore Declaration does not extend to individuals or the right to criticise each other's government or society. A 'fact sheet' released by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) on May 13 makes the same point: "There is enough material to show that he (Sethi) vehemently questioned the very basis of the creation of Pakistan. No doubt many others in Pakistan hold similar views, but most of them follow the ethical principle that one does not denigrate or ridicule one's own country when visiting foreign lands, particularly before an audience known to be opposed to the existence of the country." (Obviously, the fact that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee referred to Pakistan and India as "separate nations" - an acknowledgment of Partition - during his visit to the Minar-i-Pakistan is not enough to convince Sharif's Muslim League that India does not oppose Pakistan's existence.) The 'fact sheet' further states that Sethi started his career as a "book seller" and a "gun-runner", and that he has been dabbling in politics, having been a Minister in Farooq Leghari's caretaker government (November 1996-February 1997). "He is still known to have close links with Mr. Leghari and his recently launched Millat Party," it states, "...but his detention is related neither to his being an editor, nor a politician from an Opposition party. The immediate reason officially stated is the speech he made recently at a seminar in New Delhi. But his alleged links with the Indian intelligence agency RAW were under investigation for long."

APART from being criticised by independent journalists, human rights organisations and a host of other groups for its actions, the Sharif Government has been strongly criticised by the United States, the European Union and Canada.

Interestingly, this is the first time since Sharif assumed power that the U.S. has expressed such categorical views on what is obviously Pakistan's "internal" issue. The U.S. maintained a studied silence and refused to comment on the dispute between Sharif and Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah in 1997 and on the confrontation between Sharif and the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Jehangir Karamat, in 1998.

CLEARLY, a battle is on to safeguard the independent press in Pakistan. Najam Sethi's case could well become a test case. If the Government gets away with putting one of Pakistan's best-known journalists behind bars and the courts remain silent spectators (the Lahore High Court rejected a habeas corpus petition in this regard), all the writers who are critical of the Government would be easy game for the Government. The saving grace is that a small but vocal section of Pakistani society is committed to defending the freedom of the press and the right to expression from attacks by the Government.

David takes on Goliath-II

BEENA SARWAR world-affairs

Pakistan is witnessing attempts at the systematic dismantling of institutions through manipulation and, where that fails, through downright intimidation and heavy-handed tactics.

WE mourn the passing away of the eminent scholar, Dr. Eqbal Ahmed, in the midst of a crisis brought up once more against the kind of situation he fought against all his life. It was not so long ago that he took up the issue of government-press relations in one of his compelling weekly columns in Dawn - when the Jang group of newspapers clashed with government might in the quest for press freedom. "If it is so determined, a government may beat up journalists and ruin a publishing house. But the life of man is short and the judgment of history can be lasting. A wise leader does not sacrifice the future on the altar of power which does not endure," he wrote ("David takes on Goliath", Dawn, February 7, 1999).

The words rang true then as they do now, at the time of writing this article, on May 12. This day, at about the time that Eqbal Ahmed was being laid to rest in Islamabad, the Lahore High Court began hearing the habeas corpus petition relating to the "kidnapping" of the Editor of The Friday Times, Najam Sethi. Four hours later, the court disposed of the writ petitions filed on Sethi's behalf demanding that he be produced before the court and medically examined, that charges against him be framed, and that the mala fide intention or otherwise of the detention be proved or disproved.

When Eqbal Ahmed wrote his "David and Goliath" article, the issue at stake - as taken up by himself and by many other eminent journalists, columnists, analysts and indeed, ordinary people - was not just that of one group of newspapers, just as now it is not about the detention of an individual journalist. The issue was, and is, freedom of expression and the visible efforts to influence or curb this expression, with far-reaching repercussions for the entire system. In his column, Eqbal Ahmed wrote: "I wish there was a way to convince Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that each time an incident like this happens, a blow is struck against Pakistan's infant and stumbling democracy, of which he and his Cabinet members are by far the biggest beneficiaries. Like the Mulla Do Piaza of our folk tales, they are chopping off the branch on which they sit... The Government's assurances and disclaimers notwithstanding, at stake is the future of freedom in this country, and of the press in particular. It is one of those rare occasions when national interest should take preference over self-interest."

Instead, we are still witnessing attempts at the systematic dismantling of institutions through manipulation, and where that fails, through downright intimidation and heavy-handed tactics that appear ominously close to those witnessed in fascist regimes.

Can such tactics prevail in the long run? Power, as Eqbal Ahmed wrote, does not endure. Today, technology ensures that news of oppression gets about fast, bringing with it an equal and opposite reaction, not necessarily in terms of intimidation and heavy handedness but in terms of moral outrage.

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Despite the official propaganda about the Jang group's "tax evasion" and Najam Sethi's "suspected links with hostile intelligence agencies", many people do not quite buy the government line. They make no bones about the fact that they see the harassment, kidnapping and detention of Sethi as part of an ongoing vendetta against the press. There is plenty to support this view, despite the official line that Sethi's arrest had nothing to do with his "journalistic activities" and despite the government's protestations of being "media friendly" as Information Minister Mushahid Hussain termed it on World Press Freedom Day. Freedom there is, but it is selective. And most of the people who are free seem to be those who harangue, threaten and pillory, in statements printed prominently by sections of the press, with the government taking no notice of these open incitements to violence and murder.

Sethi is not the only journalist who has been arrested or harassed over the last few weeks. The list of similar incidents that have occurred in Lahore alone is long - some reported and some not reported. It started with the detention from May 2 to 4 of M.A.K. Lodhi for helping a BBC team film a documentary on corruption in Pakistan. Soon after, columnist Hussain Haqqani was picked up - he too gave an interview to the BBC team, although like Sethi, he has not been formally charged with this "crime". Other journalists and mediapersons who granted interviews to or helped the BBC team have also been harassed to the extent that one of them, an American citizen, had to take refuge in the U.S. Embassy. The Friday Times Web site was hacked and its printing press kept under surveillance and threat for a few days by plainclothesmen from the intelligence agencies. Hardly the kind of behaviour one expects in a country where the government is media-friendly.

The Friday Times is known for its reports, analyses and editorials that are critical of government policies and for exposing corruption. For this, it has received several raps on the knuckles, including the withdrawal of government advertisements, which is but one of the indicators of official displeasure, as independent publications know all too well.

But being stingy about government advertising is one thing, to have armed policemen in uniform barge into a journalist's house, beat him up, smash his telephone and drag him off without allowing him to put on his shoes or glasses and leaving his wife tied up in the dressing room is another. So is denying any knowledge of his whereabouts for a good five days, despite fears expressed in court about his safety during the proceedings in a habeas corpus petition and eventually, following court directives to ascertain his whereabouts and the charges against him, only to say that the detenu is "in the custody of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), which is investigating his suspected links with hostile intelligence agencies."

This is an insult to intelligence, if one may use the term. There were two senior police officials in uniform among the raiding party that picked up Sethi; the police come under provincial jurisdiction, while the ISI, which is directly answerable to the Prime Minister, is a federal agency. Secondly, even if Sethi was handed over to the ISI, it should have been done within the framework of law. He has to have been charged with some crime under some law. No such case exists.

In fact, while disposing of the writ petitions, the Lahore High Court admitted that Sethi was "not an accused". That is, he has not been charged with any crime. Yet, he is detained and the habeas corpus petition not held as maintainable.

The Lahore High Court stated that it could ask for him to be produced in court because he was with the ISI, an agency not under its jurisdiction and headed by a serving Army General. Does this mean that anyone can be picked up by the ISI or handed over to the ISI without any charges, and with no constitutional rights? If the ISI was headed by a retired Army officer, as has been the case, would it then come within the court's jurisdiction? What about the dozens of case laws and precedents (some cited during the hearing, like that of Pakistan People's Party MNA (Member of the National Assembly) Mukhtar Rana) of detenus having been produced in habeas corpus petition even during martial law? Where should ordinary citizens go for relief in Pakistan? The Supreme Court, the Judge suggested. With or without this suggestion that would be the next obvious step. But is it an answer?

Even if the Army does not fall within the court's jurisdiction, the ISI is not a branch of the Army, as Sethi's defence counsel, Dr. Khalid Ranjha, pointed out. It is not even a constitutional body. "Nor is it within the ISI's jurisdiction to register cases, arrest or investigate," he said. "Its job is to give communiques to the Prime Minister."

Other questions arise. Asma Jehangir of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan asks: "Should people now fear the ISI and the Army as they fear the police, instead of looking up to them as institutions which defend the people's and the country's national interests?" She said: "The Government is doing a disservice to both institutions by portraying them as within their rights to act arbitrarily. It is time for civilian governments to build bridges between the Army and the people, not drive rifts between them."

It is not just this rift that is being created. The rift between the Government and the press is deepening again. The backlash, the public opinion and international pressure created because of the Government's mishandling of the Jang group issue, is again visible with far greater intensity.

A final observation. By over-reacting the way it did, the Government has ensured an unprecedented viewership for the BBC documentary when it is finally aired, not only in Pakistan but throughout the world. Only, this time it is unlikely that television viewers will get to see this film on Pakistan Television on which the BBC's "Princess and Playboy" (a programme on Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari) was transmitted with great glee by the present Government. But then, that was apparently before the BBC launched its "anti-Pakistan drive".

Beena Sarwar, who is based in Lahore, is Editor, The News on Sunday.

An anniversary of ironies

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN in New Delhi science-and-technology

The BJP-led caretaker government celebrates May 11, the day it conducted a series of nuclear tests last year, as National Technology Day and Resurgent India Day.

RESIDENTS of Khetolai, a village 4 km from the Pokhran test range, are unaware that history was created in the vicinity of their village. A year after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government conducted a series of nuclear tests in its vainglorious pursuit of a new global role, Khetolai witnessed a mobilisation of peace activists intent on repudiating the legacy of Pokhran. The village itself reflects none of the technological prowess the nuclear tests supposedly represented and little of the progress it promised. Civic amenities remain in the same state of disrepair and the structural damage caused to the dwellings by the nuclear tests remains unremedied.

This year, May 11 was celebrated under a dual rubric. As National Technology Day, it was an occasion to honour and reward the pursuit of technological achievement. In this interpretation, the Pokhran blasts were cast as a symbol of progress across diverse fields. A parallel commemoration saw May 11 designated as Resurgent India Day. This was the more overtly political observance, suffused with the symbolism of the BJP's rather quirky reading of Indian history. It was an occasion to invoke ancient glories, besides inventing a few. The musculature of nuclear weapons, it seemed, was all that was needed for a recreation of all the civilisational grandeur of the past.

Speaking at a celebratory rally in Mumbai, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said that the dance of destruction in Yugoslavia vindicated India's decision last year to go nuclear. No country was safe in the new world order, he said, and the acquisition of nuclear weapons would ensure that in an environment of global insecurity, India would never lack the means to defend itself.

These were curious locutions for a Prime Minister who had proffered his first explanations for the nuclear tests to the President of the United States, causing much bemusement within the country, and outrage in the neighbourhood. If they represent a genuine awakening, then they signal something crucial - that eight rounds of the rather grandly titled "strategic dialogue" with the U.S., conducted in an environment of secrecy and opacity, have ended in ignominious failure. The "new beginning" in relations promised in January by India's special envoy Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott - the interlocutors from the two sides - has proven to be a non-starter.

After initial resistance, the U.S. indicated during the course of the Jaswant-Talbott dialogue that it would not be averse to India pursuing a "minimum credible nuclear deterrent" - provided, the magnitude of the deployment is firmly specified. India, for its part, seemed only to be asking for the U.S.' stamp of approval for this rather hazy notion before acceding to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

K. Natwar Singh, chief of the foreign policy cell of the Congress(I), revealed that Talbott had been assured of India's accession to the CTBT by May. After the most recent of their encounters in January this year, Jaswant Singh had reportedly given him this rather firm undertaking. Natwar Singh was incredulous on being blandly informed of this momentous commitment, but held his counsel - Talbott paid a courtesy call on Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi after concluding his discussions, and it seemed unwise to make too much of what transpired.

Evidently, after plunging neighbourhood relations into turmoil, the BJP-led government was seeking a strategic accommodation with the U.S., a junior partnership role in the enforcement of the new world order. When the U.S. rained missiles on Afghanistan and Sudan in August last year, the Indian government chose not to question the validity of its purpose; it mildly questioned the selective and unilateral nature of the U.S.' action. When Iraq suffered a more brutal assault in December last year, the BJP-led government once again reacted with prudent understatement. It has taken the sheer vindictiveness of the attack on Yugoslavia to persuade Vajpayee and his Cabinet colleagues that an accommodation with the U.S., even if it were possible, could only be at the cost of the principles that India holds most dear.

INDIA'S accession to the CTBT before the September 1999 deadline for its entry into force now seems an impossibility. Few voices across the political spectrum speak in its favour today. Even the BJP, which had furtively entered into a deal of mutual convenience with the U.S., is today assailed by a sudden sense of doubt.

Fortuitously, the pressure on India is likely to ease in the coming months on account of global developments. The U.S. Senate looks increasingly unlikely to take up the CTBT for consideration until the Russian Duma ratifies the second of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START-2). The Duma in turn is irked by the U.S.' effort to revive the national missile defence programme in clear contravention of the Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABM) Treaty. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and senior Chinese spokesmen have further warned that the global disarmament dialogue in general, and the CTBT in particular, have been gravely endangered by the U.S. aggression in the Balkans.

Sobriety and reason are likely to be at a severe premium in this global cacophony. The CTBT was an inevitable price the nuclear weapons states had to bear to secure the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995. Its collapse, which now seems a real prospect, would cast an ominous shadow over the NPT review conference scheduled for the year 2000. It is a context that invests the agenda of nuclear abolition with a fresh relevance. But in having squandered valuable moral capital after Pokhran, India may be powerless to influence the global debate. Far from being a defining moment in the resurgence of the nation, Pokhran may well prove to be a way-station in the rapid descent into a new global disorder.

Where do we go from here?

A. GOPALAKRISHNAN science-and-technology

If India is to regain its standing in the international arena as a country working towards a nuclear weapons-free world, it is imperative that it reach a national consensus on its future course of action.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is on its way out after causing what I consider great damage to India's prestige and its bargaining power in international negotiations aimed at establishing a nuclear weapons-free world. To appreciate this, it is necessary to examine briefly the path we have been following since Pokhran-1 in 1974 and our recent fall from the high moral ground we were on during the closing days of the negotiations to finalise the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996. At that time India may have been called obstructionist by a few people, but we were still held in high esteem by many voiceless nations, which held and continue to hold universal disarmament as a cherished goal. We also need to keep in view the present realities, which include the serious doubts expressed about the extent of true technological gains made from the Pokhran-II and Agni-II tests. It is clear that we have to go a long way before achieving a semblance of minimum nuclear deterrence. The economic implications of this for the coming decades are also staggering. However, notwithstanding the damage done, it is imperative that we reach a national consensus on what to do next.

In 1964, China became a nuclear weapons power. Even if India wanted to go nuclear then, we could not have done so because of the lack of sufficient nuclear materials and technology. It would appear that the unique parochial advantages that the nuclear establishment could gain by making an atomic bomb were first realised by the hawkish elements in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) long before politicians and defence organisations realised what was in it for them. It was the DAE which got the nuclear weapons programme initiated in the first place. The arrogance of power in Delhi after the liberation of Bangladesh, the flexing of muscles by the United States, which sent its Sixth Fleet to Asian waters in 1971 to intimidate India, and the increasing political opposition Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had to face in the early 1970s saw Indira Gandhi viewing the bomb as a tool to salvage her reputation and provide stability to her government. The scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) were only too eager to help her out with the Pokhran-I explosion in 1974. The euphoria that followed was, however, short-lived. Politics and power struggles went back to what they usually are in India. The DAE's image was bolstered for a couple of years, but the technology ban imposed by the rest of the world stifled its performance and it fell increasingly into disrepute. In spite of this, successive governments allowed the DAE to continue on with research and development work related to nuclear weapons, which fell short of actual testing. From the mid-1980s, the DAE was ready with the full set of materials and at least crude technologies to conduct a second nuclear explosion at Pokhran. It began to press successive governments for clearance, driven primarily by the motive to boost its poor national image as a non-performing scientific department. One more series of explosions became a dire need for it to survive and to regain the hollow glory that it tasted in 1974. The option to conduct nuclear tests once again was very much available to governments that came to power from mid-1980s. However, in spite of the continuous knocking on their doors by the DAE, saner advice prevailed. There was a realisation that the country's real security did not lie in possessing a few crude nuclear weapons, but in being able to feed, clothe and shelter its large population and provide the people with basic amenities such as drinking water and basic health care. Those governments also gave some weightage to the fact that having attained Independence through a prolonged, non-violent struggle based on the principle of ahimsa, India should not stray into the race for developing and deploying weapons of mass destruction.

With a clearly expounded abhorrence to weapons of mass destruction and an abiding conviction in total nuclear disarmament and elimination of nuclear weapons everywhere, India had championed this cause among the international community in spite of the Pokhran-I test. The position of past Indian governments was always deliberately against India becoming a nuclear weapons power. This restraint was more difficult than just giving in to the pressures of top DAE scientists and other hawks in the country. At the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and at the United Nations, India, in solidarity with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), pushed a number of proposals aimed at achieving rapid de-escalation and a phased elimination of nuclear weapons. India could hold its head up in the comity of nations, especially among the developing and deprived nations of Asia and Africa which never had any independent say in world matters. Respect for India was evoked because the world could see that here was a country that was capable of nuclearising itself but had instead chosen to argue vehemently for de-nuclearisation. It was this approach that gradually increased India's bargaining strength and emboldened it to put forward the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan (RGAP) of 1988.

The essential theme of the RGAP was that disarmament and elimination of weapons of mass destruction must go hand in hand. Thus, all treaties on arms control, arms limitation and non-proliferation would have to be properly linked and timed to serve a single objective - the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons on earth within a universally agreed time schedule. In this context, the CTBT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) were to be re-examined to ensure that they equitably met this overall objective. The underlying operational plan alluded to in the RGAP was a balanced, two-sided one: Let the nuclear powers agree, through a multi-lateral treaty obligation, that they will reduce their current nuclear stockpiles rapidly through a phased, stage-wise elimination on a schedule acceptable to all nations, and in return the non-nuclear powers, especially threshold powers such as India and Pakistan, would agree to commit themselves through a treaty obligation to accept all the applicable clauses in existing and envisaged instruments such as the NPT, the CTBT and the FMCT. (However, these instruments as they stand today may not be acceptable in toto in this context.) Successive governments since Rajiv Gandhi's time have, in principle, held on to the above Indian position. It is in this background that India refused to become a party to the deliberations on the indefinite extension of the NPT, discarded the CTBT as a discriminatory treaty, and stayed away from the deliberations on the FMCT.

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SO, what changed suddenly in 1998? What was the hurry for the BJP-led government to destroy all the groundwork and the position of strength past governments had painfully established over a long period of time? The nuclear establishment was once again the keenest player in this drama; it may have all along kept the top BJP politicians informed about the progress and readiness for conducting such tests even when the BJP was out of power. The DAE knew that the BJP was the only major political party that had for decades been clamouring to make India a nuclear weapons power, and that the relationship between this scientific department and a favourable political party had been built on mutual appreciation and need, each hoping that the other will help out when the time comes. Unfortunately for India, this occasion arose when the BJP-led coalition came to power in 1998. The rest is history, and a sad one at that. With one series of Shakti tests in May 1998, the DAE, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the BJP-led government have together wiped out the moral stand, the bargaining power and the esteem which successive governments had built over decades.

What did we gain in return? Very little, if any. It is now somewhat clear that the DAE and the DRDO selectively used the nuclear test data through preferential analysis routes to show an unrealistically large explosive power from the devices that were tested. This aside, it is impossible to believe scientifically that the five nuclear tests of May 1998 have indeed made us totally capable of designing, fabricating and deploying weapons to suit our "minimum deterrence" needs. Cleverly, the government or the scientists have never defined minimum deterrence; it is conveniently said that it can never be quantified. The same is the story with the Agni tests. After one test of the Agni-II, are we ready to deploy these missiles? The DAE, the DRDO and the BJP-led Government may have succeeded in fooling most of the people of India, but the rest of the world will certainly not accept these proclamations of strength. In order to become a nuclear weapons power capable of causing concern to China, we still have miles to go.

WHAT about the safety aspects of India's nuclear weapons during their fabrication, assembly and storage? In countries such as the U.S., under public statute (PL-100-456), a Defence Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has been created for independent external overseeing of all nuclear weapons activities affecting the health and safety of workers and the public. This Board reports to the U.S. Secretary of Energy. If the reviews by this Board disclose an imminent or severe threat to public health and safety, the Board is required by law to transmit its recommendations directly to the President and the Defence Secretary. In India, the DAE keeps a strangle-hold on even the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) which was set up to provide "independent" regulatory overseeing of the DAE's civilian programmes. Can the Government be expected to set up an independent and effective safety board for nuclear weapons activities? What risks are we taking then?

What are the options before a new government, and on what precisely can we reach a consensus? Broadly, it seems to me that we have to follow one of the two roads in front of us. One is to retain the present line of thinking: lie to ourselves that we have become a nuclear power, and deceive ourselves by believing that achieving a position of "minimum deterrence" is something within reasonable economic and technological reach. As many people have elaborated in the last one year, this will be a long-winding road leading to nowhere. But, if we decide to move in the direction of making India a strong nuclear power, we will have to conduct further nuclear and missile tests. The exhortions of the DAE and the DRDO about being satisfied with what they have done cannot be believed. We may be inviting a great deal more of wrath and sanctions from others, even though I personally am not against this option merely because of the fear of external sanctions. In any case, we may finally have to face some sanctions even if we take a more principled stand and proceed down another road, if that stand happens to be inconvenient to the P-5 (Permanent members of the United Nations Security Council). But the approach to nuclearisation will certainly lead us to further isolation, even from our few current friends. Economic ruin is sure to follow and it will, at the end of the day, leave us a depleted and exhausted nation. Do we deserve such a future?

A saner approach would be to go back to the essential elements of the 1988 RGAP, update our thinking, and prepare a programme for implementation in the context of our recent actions and other world developments since 1988. Basically, this will mean that India will have to stand firm on its earlier stand of not signing the CTBT. The consequences of such action could, in the short term, include further economic sanctions and technology denials, having to settle for a lower growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); acceptance of a slower pace of industrialisation; and the need to tighten our belts in general.

The essential elements of this overall strategy, as I see it, should be as follows:

1. Refuse to sign the CTBT in its present form.

2. Simultaneously, through the unanimous consent of Parliament, put through a Resolution or Act which will commit any Indian government to:

a) Effecting a moratorium on all nuclear weapons tests of any kind, as well as missile tests;

b) Deferring all actions towards weapons and missile fabrication, nuclear weaponisation and deployment;

c) Non-use of existing nuclear warheads against any nation; and

d) Preventing the export of weapons-related technologies or materials to any country.

3) Update the RGAP. Retain its core thrust and modify the operational clauses in the context of our recent actions and international developments since 1988, but aim to produce a text which can eventually be presented as a draft treaty document for international consideration.

The above parliamentary resolution/Act shall, however, be valid only for a period of three years from the date of its clearance and shall not apply beyond this period if substantial progress has not been achieved on the Nuclear Weapons Convention by then.

In pursuit of this policy, India should solicit and obtain the cooperation, participation and concurrence of the threshold nuclear powers, especially Pakistan, as well as countries that constitute the NAM, to thrash out an approach based on common resolve. With the NAM countries in the vanguard, India could table a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly, asking the U.N. to instruct the Conference on Disarmament to open negotiations on a time-bound (modified) Nuclear Weapons Convention for the verifiable elimination of weapons of mass destruction within a mutually agreed time-frame. It was India which co-sponsored such a request to the U.N. in the past along with Western powers to initiate discussions that eventually led to the present CTBT. Now, it will be the turn of the Western nations to join us in putting this problem to rest finally. We should be optimistic in this overall effort and the nation must stand together as one to face the adverse consequences, if any. Even if all this fails, it will kindle a feeling of true national pride, unlike the hollow euphoria that followed the nuclear tests. And if we fail, we can always look at alternative options to ensure national security. The only thing that we would have lost is three years of patience and waiting. We may even be stronger when we bounce back and may have many more supporters who respect us, something we do not have today.

Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan is former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.

Bombs, missiles and scientific progress

PERVEZ HOODBHOY science-and-technology

Pakistan has declared bombs and missiles to be the touchstone of scientific progress. However, it has achieved this without having created an educated society or working science institutions or even attempting to move towards a society where science can ultimately develop.

TEN days of officially sponsored celebrations, leading up to the first anniversary of the nuclear tests of May 28, are scheduled to culminate with the award of prizes and honours by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to leading members of Pakistan's nuclear establishment. In preparation for this grand finale, Pakistan Television is continuously exhorting its viewers to celebrate Pakistan's power to wreak apocalyptic destruction. The Chagai tests, together with the more recent Ghauri-II and Shaheen-I missile launches, have been deemed heroic symbols of high scientific achievement.

Making the bombs and missiles has indeed demonstrated a high level of engineering and management skills, and the individuals to be decorated are undoubtedly competent, resourceful, and dedicated to the tasks they were assigned. But these programmes have little to do with cutting-edge science, original scientific research, high-technology, or the country's general scientific progress. Testing even a hundred bombs or missiles cannot change this reality by the tiniest bit.

The truth about science in Pakistan flatly contradicts all claims of scientific progress. But it is pointless to answer hyperbole with more hyperbole. Therefore I shall first define suitable criteria for gauging scientific achievement.

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One key criterion of progress is what new scientific discoveries, analyses, inventions, or processes a country's scientists have produced. Since modern science is about the discovery and invention of new knowledge in highly specific areas, all scientists need to establish their professional credentials by publishing their work in internationally referred journals or file patents.

Pakistan's international status can be determined from publications of the Institute for Scientific Information that regularly tabulates the scientific output of each country. Professor Atta-ur-Rahman, Pakistan's leading chemist, quotes the following facts published by the Institute. In the period 1990-1994, Pakistani physicists, chemists, and mathematicians produced a pitiful 0.11 per cent, 0.13 per cent, and 0.05 per cent respectively of the world's research publications. Pakistan's total share of world research output in 1994 was just 0.08 per cent.

These painfully small numbers are even more painful if one also looks at the usefulness of these papers, also measured by the Institute. The average number of citations per paper was around 0.3, which is barely above zero. In other words, an overwhelming majority of papers by Pakistani scientists had zero impact on their respective fields. Atta-ur-Rahman also points out that between 1947 and 1986 the total number of Ph.Ds in the sciences produced by all the Pakistani universities and research institutes put together was 128. In comparison, India produces over 150 science and engineering Ph.Ds in one single year.

With fewer than 40 active research physicists in the country, about 100 active chemists, and far fewer mathematicians, Pakistan is starved of scientists. Even in nuclear physics, contrary to what may be suggested by Pakistan's successful nuclear weapons programme, there are just a handful of nuclear physicists. Ill-informed journalism is responsible for certain popular misconceptions. For example, Dr. A.Q. Khan, the pre-eminent architect of Pakistan's nuclear programme, is often called a nuclear physicist when, in fact, his degrees and professional accomplishments belong to the field of metallurgy, which is an engineering discipline rather than physics. When Dr. Khan visited the physics department of Quaid-e-Azam University about two months ago, he endeared himself even more to his admirers by wistfully saying he wished he could come some day to that university to study physics.

The small size and poor quality of Pakistan's science establishment is firmly linked to the miserable state of Pakistan's universities, which rate among the poorest in the world. There are very few qualified and motivated faculty members, student quality is low, rote learning is normal, academic fraud is widespread, and student violence is common. Pakistan does not satisfy the first criterion.

The second criterion for scientific achievement is the degree to which science enters into a nation's economy. Again, the facts are stark. Pakistan's exports are principally textiles, cotton, leather, footballs, fish, fruits, and so on. The value-added component of Pakistani manufacturing somewhat exceeds that of Bangladesh and Sudan, but is far below that of India, Turkey and Indonesia. Apart from relatively minor exports of computer software and light armaments, science and technology are irrelevant in the process of production.

Thirdly, and lastly, a nation's scientific level is estimated by the quality of science taught in its educational institutions, and the extent to which scientific thinking is a part of the general public consciousness. It is not necessary to say very much in this regard. Even Pakistan's leaders admit that the country's schools, colleges, and universities are a shambles. An internationally administered test in 1983 established that Sixth Grade students in Japan performed better in physics and mathematics than 11th Grade students in Pakistan. And with creeping Talibanisation, the dawn of scientific enlightenment among the masses recedes daily. Pakistan fails the third criterion as well.

The arguments given above must have left some readers puzzled, and others angry but still confident that I am taking them for a ride. Everyone knows that nuclear bombs and long-range missile technologies are extremely complex systems. So if a country is indeed scientifically impoverished, how can it possibly manufacture them?

A large part of the answer lies in the modular nature of modern technology, and the ease with which separate modular units can be transported and then joined together to form highly complex and effective systems. You only need to know how the units are to be assembled, not how they work. Therefore, making bombs and missiles of the type Pakistan and India possess is now the work of engineers, and no longer that of scientists. Even here global technological advancement has created enormous simplifications. Consider, for example, that 30 years ago an electronic engineer working on a missile guidance system had to spend years learning how to design extremely intricate circuits using transistors and other components. But now he just needs to be able to follow the manufacturer's instructions for programming a tiny microprocessor chip, available from almost any commercial electronics supplier. Today sophisticated motorists and hikers can buy so-called GPSS (Global Positioning System Satellite) receiver units costing a few hundred dollars to determine their coordinates, and similar units can guide a missile launched thousands of miles away to a level of accuracy of better than 50 metres.

Modular technology applies also to rocketry, including engine design and aerodynamic construction. Advanced numerically-controlled machines have made reverse engineering of mechanical parts easy. No longer is "rocket science" a correct expression for indicating scientific complexity. Famine-stricken North Korea, with few other achievements, clearly has a very advanced missile programme. In fact, it has been repeatedly accused of transferring this technology to Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. None of these countries has a reputation for scientific and technological excellence, yet all three have intermediate range missiles.

The facts about nuclear weapons are equally stark. Unquestionably, the first atomic bomb was an exceedingly brilliant, if terrible, achievement by the world's finest physicists. It required the creation of wholly new physical concepts, based on a then very newly acquired understanding of the atomic nucleus. The ensuing technological effort, the Manhattan Project, was quite unparallelled in the history of mankind for its complexity and difficulty.

But here too the passage of five decades has changed everything and the design of atomic weapons, while still non-trivial, is vastly simpler now than it was earlier. Basic information is freely available in technical libraries throughout the world and simply surfing the Internet can bring to anyone a staggering amount of detail. Advanced textbooks and monographs contain details that can enable reasonably competent scientists and engineers to come up with "quick and dirty" designs for nuclear explosives. The physics of nuclear explosions can be readily taught to graduate students.

Implosion calculations are also far simpler now. This is owing to the free availability of extremely powerful but cheap computers, as well as numerical codes which allow one to see how a bomb's characteristics change as one changes sizes and shapes, purity of materials and so on. In contrast, the early bomb calculations had been painfully carried out by hand or by programming huge and primitive vacuum-tube computers. Today, a pocket calculator worth only Rs.500, has more computational power than the room-sized early computers which were worth millions of dollars.

In a world where science moves at super-high speeds, nuclear weapons and missile development is today second-rate science. The undeniable fact is that the technology of nuclear bombs belongs to the 1940s, and the furious pace of science makes that ancient history. Nevertheless, the reader may still demand an answer to the question: exactly how hard is it to make nuclear weapons?

Hard and easy are relative terms. Therefore, to make things more precise, consider the following hypothetical situation. Let us suppose that the developed countries exercise no export controls, or that a given Third World country has a sufficiently clever purchasing network to get around these controls, and hence that it can obtain all the non-military technologies it wants. Assume also that it has the cash to pay for such commercially available equipment, electronic systems, machine parts, special steels and materials, and so forth, as are needed in a modern industrial setting. And, finally, suppose that the country either possesses naturally found uranium, or waste material from some reactor. What, then, would be the chances of success?

Botswana, Lesotho and Somalia still could not make it, I am afraid. Nor could Madagascar or the Maldives. Libya or Saudi Arabia would also have great difficulty unless they hired scientists and engineers from abroad. But one can count more than 60 countries currently without nuclear weapons, which could very well have them if the conditions of the above hypothesis were fulfilled - and, of course, if they wanted the weapons.

It is not my purpose to denigrate the considerable achievements of Pakistani and Indian nuclear and missile experts. They have accomplished their goal of being able to reduce each other's country to radioactive ashes in a matter of minutes. This is no mean feat because even today substantial engineering ingenuity is required to make any textbook method actually work. It takes intelligence to get complex machines to work, and reliably convert formulas given in books and documents into bombs and rockets. But this does not amount to scientific genius or to meaningful overall advancement of the nation's technology.

Does it really matter that making bombs and missiles is no longer high-science? The answer is yes, for three reasons. First, making these weapons no longer impresses the rest of the world. There was indeed a time when being nuclear and missile armed meant that a country was big and powerful, but today's international pecking order is determined by a nation's economic, not military, strength. India had hoped for a Security Council seat after the May 11 tests but miserably failed.

Secondly, the highly focussed, and hugely expensive, Pakistani and Indian weapons programmes are wasteful because they use scientific principles discovered and developed elsewhere and so cannot produce any important spin-offs. In contrast, the strongly research-oriented military-industrial complex in the U.S. has often produced new spin-off technology with enormous applications, the Internet being one example.

Thirdly, the irrelevance of high-science to bombs and missiles has yet another, and still deeper, implication. Pakistan has established that even a scientifically impoverished country can, with minimal infrastructure, produce bombs that will go off and missiles that will fly. The prescription for success is sufficient money and resources, a few hundred engineers working under the direction of effective and intelligent group leaders, an international buying network, and the will to do it all.

Therefore one does not need high-class research scientists or world-class universities. A couple of good engineering institutes will suffice, together with a few good schools and colleges. More would be welcome, but an expensive luxury. Hence, Chagai cannot give an impetus for resurrecting an educational system that had collapsed over a decade ago.

The Pakistani state has declared bombs and missiles to be the touchstone of scientific progress and its present elation is understandable. But it has been able to acquire these without having created an educated society, or working science institutions, or even attempting to move towards a society where science can ultimately develop. Historically, every society where science has flourished has necessarily submitted to the power of reason and been radically transformed. When science came to Europe three centuries ago, it swept away the old theocratic medieval order and replaced it with ideas of progress, humanism, and rationalism. Curiously, the offspring of science, technology, has been summoned to serve and defend an increasingly Talibanised Pakistan. The country's emerging new medieval theocracy, that now impatiently awaits its turn for power, counts upon having at its disposal the power of fiery jinns to use as it wills.

Pervez Hoodbhoy is Professor of Nuclear and High-Energy Physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.

Disturbing questions

M.V. RAMANA science-and-technology

The heavy water leak in the Madras Atomic Power Station on March 26 has raised important questions about safety standards.

THE heavy water leak in the second unit of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) on March 26 (Frontline, April 23) raises disturbing questions. The most important among them are: how much of the spilled radioactive heavy water escaped into the environment, and what were the radiation doses that the 42 workers who "mopped up" the spill were subjected to? If one were to go by official statements, the impact of this accident would seem to be negligible. However, even a rough assessment of the magnitude of the dose and an analysis of past experience indicate otherwise.

There have been at least two similar accidents at MAPS. A heavy water leak forced the reactor to be shut down in September 1988. On March 5, 1991, 0.847 tonnes of heavy water escaped from the moderator system.

Heavy water is used both to slow down neutrons generated by the fission of uranium (that is, as a moderator) and to remove the resultant heat (that is, as a coolant). Over a period of time, the heavy water becomes radioactive because some of the heavy hydrogen absorbs neutrons to become tritium (hydrogen with two neutrons in an atom). Therefore, the process of cleaning up spills and recovering the heavy water or flushing it into the environment almost invariably leads to workers and the general public receiving radiation doses. During the 1997 strike by workers at MAPS, it was revealed that there were areas within the reactor which had routinely (that is, not related to spills or other accidents) high radiation levels and that employees were forced to work in these areas.

Some details of the 1991 accident were reported by four researchers from the Health Physics Division of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in a paper presented at the National Symposium on Safety of Nuclear Power Plants and Other Facilities (March 11-13, 1992). Of the heavy water that had leaked, only 350 kg (barely 41 per cent) was recovered. Over 53 per cent of the spilled heavy water was released into the atmosphere through the stack and about 3 per cent was released into the sea. On March 5, 1991, the radioactivity concentration of the heavy water was 10 curies/litre and the radioactivity concentration of the air in the chamber was 3,225 DAC (Derived Air Activity). Derived Air Activity is defined as the radioactivity concentration level in the air such that if a worker were to work for a whole year (assumed to be 2,000 hours) in such an atmosphere, he or she would inhale the annual limit for tritiated water vapour set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. In the case of tritiated water vapour, the DAC is 20 microcuries/cubic metre. Clearly, 3,225 DAC of tritium air activity is dangerously high. A worker will receive more than the annual limit if he or she were to work in such an atmosphere for even an hour. Since the volume of the spill was relatively small, the reactor containment is unlikely to have been saturated with heavy water vapour and the air concentrations lower than the theoretical limit. A larger spill would have led to even higher concentrations of tritium in the air.

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Compared to the 1991 accident, the recent spill was much larger in magnitude. There have been different estimates about the amount of heavy water that leaked. According to Dr. K.S. Parthasarathy, Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), it was less than four tonnes, whereas Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, former Chairman of the AERB, felt that it could have been as high as 14 tonnes. According to a Press Trust of India report, it was about six tonnes. Despite the differences in estimates, it is clear that a large quantity of heavy water leaked. There is, however, no argument over the fact that the heavy water came from the coolant cycle.

If one were to assume that the heavy water from the recent spill was collected with the same efficiency as it was done in 1991, then somewhere between two and seven tonnes would have been released into the atmosphere through the stack. The radioactivity level of the heavy water depends on the area of its origin (whether it was from the coolant or the moderator), and the length of time it has been in the reactor. Typical values for coolant heavy water are in the range of 0.5 to 2 curies/kg. Thus, somewhere between 1,000 and 14,000 curies may have been released - several times the permitted 300 curies per day per reactor and perhaps even exceeding the discharge limit of 10 times the daily quota. Had the heavy water leaked from the moderator, it would have had 20-30 times more radioactivity, and thus the release of radioactivity into the atmosphere would have been that much greater.

According to the 1991-92 Department of Atomic Energy Annual Report, standards for MAPS are set in such a way that members of the public do not receive more than 1 mSv/year (or 0.1 rem/year) per person as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). A release that is many times the prescribed limit would presumably lead to a potential dose which is that many times higher.

It is possible to estimate the radiation doses received by the workers involved in cleaning up the recent spill. The dosage depends chiefly on the radiation levels of the heavy water spilt and the length of time the workers are involved in the clean-up, and is independent of the extent of heavy water that is released into the atmosphere. As mentioned earlier, if the heavy water came from the coolant cycle, it would have a radioactivity concentration of about 1 curie/kg. While most of the water would remain in liquid form, part of it would evaporate and workers trying to clean it up would inhale the vapour. Since tritium emits relatively low-energy electrons, the primary dose received by workers would be internal - when the tritium enters the body. The amount of water that would evaporate is determined by the temperature. Just as clothes dry faster on a warm day, the level of vapourisation goes up with the temperature. The temperature recorded in Chennai on the morning of March 26 was 36o Celsius; at this temperature, the partial vapour pressure of water is about 40 mm of mercury. This means that the equilibrium fraction of heavy water content would be about 40/760 within the reactor chamber. At this concentration, the heavy water vapour would have a radioactivity of 0.053 Ci/cubic metre.

We may assume conservatively that the concentration was only 0.01 Ci/cubic metre to allow for a lower humidity level, some admixture with ordinary water vapour, and the possibility of lower radioactivity levels in the heavy water. This is much smaller than the measured tritium air activity during the 1991 spill. Another useful point of comparison is the tritium concentration measured in experiments conducted by the TLD laboratory at MAPS (reported in the Bulletin of Radiation Protection, Vol. 10, 1987). In these experiments, a radioactivity concentration of 0.016 Ci/cubic metre was found to result from tritiated heavy water with a radioactivity level of 0.8 Ci/litre. Scaling this to the assumed 1 Ci/litre in the case of the heavy water spill in MAPS would result in a radioactivity concentration of 0.02 Ci/cubic metre, twice the value we have assumed.

Radiation safety standards in India and elsewhere are set by assuming that the average worker engaged in "light activity" breathes in a little over one cubic metre of air each hour and that the average worker weighs 70 kg. If workers weigh less or breathe more air, their dose would increase. Under these assumptions, assuming a concentration of 0.01 Ci/cubic metre and using standard methods of dose calculation, the radioactive dose to a single worker is calculated at about 6-8 mSv for each hour of work. This estimate should be compared with the 1991 recommendation by the ICRP, which set a limit of 20 mSv per year per worker averaged over five years, the effective dose not exceeding 50 mSv in each year. Thus, even at the lower limit an employee working for less than four hours would receive a dose in excess of the ICRP recommendation. Additional evidence that the actual dose the workers received is in this range is provided by the fact that representatives of the workers' union have said that seven of the workers who helped plug the leak have been placed in the "removal category" (The Hindu, April 9, 1999). The Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC) subsequently confirmed that "some of the persons involved in leakage rectification tasks received tritium uptake in excess of investigation level" and that these employees have been "restricted to work in the reactor as per the station procedures" (The Hindu, April 21, 1999).

If the dose of radiation received by each worker during each hour of work in the chamber where the spill occurred was 6 mSv, the collective exposure to 42 workers could be as high as 0.252 Sieverts for each hour they worked. Given the magnitude of the spill, it is likely that the "mopping up" operation would have taken several hours, if not days. (The 1991 spill was cleaned up over a period of four days.) Thus, the collective exposure would almost certainly exceed the 0.25 person Sieverts, the AERB Secretary has claimed.

THERE are additional components to radiation exposure. Some of the tritium gets bound to organic molecules and is not eliminated from the body for long periods of time. If workers come in contact with liquid tritiated water during mop-up operations or when the heavy water is upgraded for re-use, a dose from the tritiated water would be absorbed through the skin. Wearing plastic suits can reduce this risk, but it is unlikely to be completely eliminated. While both these paths of radiation doses are well known, standard methods do not incorporate them adequately because they are hard to quantify. In addition, if there are any small holes in the fuel element cladding, there could be tiny amounts of fission products in the heavy water, which would add to the radioactive dose. These additional components would only increase the size of the dose.

Over the last few decades, epidemiological and microbiological research has increasingly revealed that even low levels of radiation are hazardous. There is no scientific evidence about any threshold below which radiation doses may be considered "safe". Broadly speaking, two kinds of effects are predominant: an increase in a variety of cancers and mutations to genes. In addition, exposure of in utero foetuses to radiation could affect its physical and mental development.

Tritium could cause these effects because the body easily absorbs it in the form of tritiated water. Any tritiated water vapour that is inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested will result in complete absorption of all the radioactivity. The absorbed tritiated water is rapidly distributed throughout the body via blood, which in turn equilibriates with extracellular fluid in about 12 minutes. Since tritiated water can pass through the placenta, it could lead to mental retardation and other developmental effects of babies when ingested by pregnant women. Further, some experiments suggest that tritium is more effective in causing many of these effects than, say, high-energy gamma rays resulting from nuclear explosions, because the low-energy electrons that result from the decay of tritium are more efficient in ionising cellular material.

The dose estimates made here are, of course, based on assumptions and are admittedly approximate. But it does provide a genuine basis for concern. For the authorities at MAPS, the AERB and the NPC to say merely that the releases and doses are within limits is insufficient and unsatisfactory. The only way to know for sure is that the authorities release all the relevant raw data so that their claims can be verified independently. It is important that we know if the radioactivity levels in the ambient air at the point of the spill were measured, what instruments were used to measure them, when and how these instruments were calibrated, and their measurements over a period of time - both during reactor operation and shutdown. All the workers who were in the plant at the time of the spill or clean-up operation should be monitored for internal exposure by analysing their urine samples. These data should be made public, although the identities of the workers need not necessarily be revealed. More importantly, adequate steps should be undertaken to ensure that such accidents do not occur again.

M.V. Ramana is Research Associate, Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies, Princeton University.

LETTERS

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BJP-led government

Sukumar Muralidharan's analysis of the 13-month rule of the BJP and its allies ("A roller coaster ride'', May 7) was interesting and thought-provoking.

The BJP and its allies claim that their Government has done so much for India in a short period of time, which others could not do in 50 years. I agree with them. They have caused so much harm to the country in these few months which others could not have done in 50 years. It took Muhammad bin Tughlaq 26 years to implement his five wild projects, whereas the BJP-led government executed two of its projects on a single day (May 11, 1998).

The first was the nuclear tests in Pokhran, which evoked an international outcry and provoked Pakistan to respond with its own nuclear tests. This has brought the two countries closer to a nuclear war. The second despicable act of the Government was to raise the retirement age of government servants from 58 to 60. Surprisingly, there were no major protests against this decision although this decision affected the employment opportunities of millions of youth.

BJP leaders claim that Pokhran-II, Agni-II and Vajpayee's bus ride to Lahore were the three major achievements of the government. No one would say that millions of poor Indians prefer bombs over two meals a day or missiles over a decent house to live in.

Previous governments always kept eradication of poverty their topmost priority even though sometimes they only paid lip-service to this goal. But it would seem that words such as poverty, illiteracy, social welfare and social justice do not exist in the vocabulary of the BJP leaders. They only harp on bombs and missiles and themes of the nation's security and patriotism.

The BJP is a party of the upper castes, upper classes living in urban India. That is why it does not have any inclination to work for the poor. To hide its failure in the social and economic fields, the BJP, helped by a section of the media, is trying to tom-tom its security concerns and patriotic credentials. It does not bother them that India had acquired nuclear capability even before their party came into existence and that the Agni missile is a result of the policies of their predecessors. The real aim of Pokhran-II and Agni-II was not to enhance the security of the country but to provide security to the BJP-led Government.

Vajpayee's bus ride to Lahore was another attempt to create the illusion of an achievement. Things became clear after Agni-II. Is it really possible to exude hostility and friendliness at the same time?

Pramod Kumar Lucknow * * *

It was indeed the "end of an ordeal" for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to have got rid of Jayalalitha who had been tormenting him ever since the formation of the coalition government.

April 17, 1999 will be remembered as one of the saddest days in the history of Indian democracy. Vajpayee rightly said: "Just as fish cannot live without water, the Congress party cannot remain without power for long." In its desperate bid to capture power, the Congress(I) joined hands with its sworn enemies. It is a matter of regret that people like Mayawati and Saifuddin Soz have placed their individual interests above the nation's interest. Mayawati's politics of "revenge" does not augur well for the country.

S.Balakrishnan Jamshedpur * * *

The BJP-led Government has done more for the country during its short tenure of 13 months than its predecessor, the Congress(I) which ruled the country for more than 45 years. How long will our countrymen be dazzled by the Mahatma, acquired by "accident" by Sonia Gandhi.

Dr. S.K. Das Dr. M.S. Kataria Surrey, U.K. * * *

The President ought not to have insisted on Vajpayee moving a confidence motion immediately on Jayalalitha withdrawing her support to the government. He should have let the Opposition move a no-confidence motion if they thought the time was ripe and they were prepared to form an alternative government.

Rohan Krishna Chennai * * *

This has reference to "The end of a benighted phase" (May 7). Though, in principle, there is nothing wrong in the press taking sides or playing the role of a constructive opposition, this Editorial article was biased. I admired Frontline when it came out against the Pokhran blasts. You can criticise the BJP for all its wrong policies but do not glorify people like Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha and Laloo Prasad Yadav. The Vajpayee Government fell because of the narrow-mindedness of these leaders. As for Sonia Gandhi, she is being projected as a prime ministerial candidate just because she belongs to a family that served (read ruled over) India for long. It is ridiculous that veteran leaders like Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee have to rely on her charisma. I do not object to Sonia being a foreigner by birth but a person without any political experience aspiring for the Prime Minister's post is unacceptable.

The BJP is communal, no doubt. But 'casteism' is as dangerous as communalism.

Atoorva Sinha Lucknow Secularists in Pakistan

A.G.Noorani's article on secularists "in the territories that now comprise Pakistan" suffers from a limited perspective ("Secularists in Pakistan," April 23). Noorani has failed to mention personalities such as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Dr. Khan Saheb in the North West Frontier Province, Abdus Samad Khan in Baluchistan and Alla Baksh in Sind, who stood for Hindu-Muslim unity and for a secular definition of nationalism. On the other hand, Noorani cites Jinnah's speech of August 11, 1947 as an expression of his position in favour of a secular state. However, Noorani failed to mention that it was Jinnah who said, in December 1947, that the Pakistani state would be based on Islamic principles. Jinnah also said, in March 1948, that Pakistan represented the unity of the nation and so it must remain. This understanding of nationhood cannot be described as secular by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, it is noteworthy that this understanding of nationhood does not even represent Pakistani nationalism as such but merely a sectarian nationalism within Pakistan, which left out of its scope even the non-Muslims who inhabited "the territories that now comprise Pakistan".

Logically, this approach and the approach represented, for example, by Advani, fall in the same category and will have to be countered together.

Sucheta Mahajan New Delhi Dyslexia

I read with interest the article on dyslexia ("Coping with a disability", April 23). I wish to compliment you and the author, Asha Krishnakumar, for this well-written and informative piece. There is a great need to educate all on dyslexia, a very serious but hidden disability. As a parent of three daughters with dyslexia and supporting their appropriate education in the U.S. for nearly 25 years I want to make a few observations which may be of interest.

Dyslexia is a specific language learning disability noted all over the world. In most countries the incidence of dyslexia among schoolgoing children is around 10 per cent. It occurs in all socio-economic and cultural settings. There is often a strong familial incidence though the severity of the disability may be variable in different members of a family. The genetics of dyslexia is yet to be well characterised. It is possible that several genes may be involved. Dyslexia is a critical problem in societies where literary skills are crucial to employment and a good standard of living. As we move into a society where information technology is more important than agriculture or unskilled manufacturing processes, dyslexia will become a greater handicapping condition.

The role of a parent is crucial in supporting the education of a youngster with dyslexia. Parents often are the first to suspect that all is not well with their child's ability to read or write. Often this delay is attributed to a variety of reasons and nothing is done to help the child. At times it is the child's teacher in the elementary class who raises concerns about the child's learning style. These early signals are crucial to a child's development and diagnostic and remedial measures should be instituted before the child fails in his/her attempt to learn to read. Every child desires to learn. It is up to the adults to provide adequate and appropriate learning tools for the child to be successful. If this is not done, the child labels himself or herself a failure and gives up trying. It is indeed a much bigger task (and not often successful) to help a high school child with dyslexia who may have a long history of frustration and failures.

It is important to train all teachers - particularly those teaching in the elementary years - on learning disabilities as well as on alternative methods of reading instruction such as those based on multisensory phonetic-based techniques.

It is important that we set high achievement goals for children with dyslexia, which will be commensurate with their interest and desire for striving towards those goals. My eldest daughter with a severe disability is now living, in her own condominium, with support and has a part-time job. My second daughter was able to graduate from college and pursues her career as an artist. Her art is on display in a gallery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My youngest daughter is at present a medical student in the University of Wisconsin, an ambitious but nevertheless attainable pursuit, provided she receives appropriate accommodation both in the institution and the testing processes.

Parents of children with dyslexia need ongoing technical help and emotional support for their advocacy role. It is a life-long task. A parent support group comprising parents of children of different ages and skills, concerned educators, psychologists and students themselves can be very useful. There is indeed some truth in the statement that "it takes a whole village to raise a child".

I am pleased that governments of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have legislation recognising dyslexia and allow certain accommodation in school board examinations. (The term "accommodation" is more appropriate than the term "concession". I have myopia and as a student in school wore corrective glasses. I did not feel that I was being given a "concession".) Taped books, calculators, computers, note takers, and extended time for testing are all adaptive tools and should be a part of the education process.

While I commend the pioneering work done by several remedial centres in Chennai on educating children with dyslexia, I think this can only be considered a good beginning. Every school, private or public, should have the ability to diagnose and provide adequate support for children with disabilities of all kinds. Expense is always a problem. In the state of Wisconsin, there is an ongoing debate, at times vociferous and emotionally charged, on how to pay for the increasing costs of educating children with special needs. These are by and large social issues.

I am convinced that educating a child with special needs is very cost-effective. In the absence of such education, one must consider the lost wages and taxes, and the expenditure that would be incurred in dealing with youth and adults with learning disablity who often end up in the country's jails and correction facilities.

Your article mentions several successful persons who had dyslexia. An individual with dyslexia can indeed be very successful and productive if there is adequate support for his/her education. There is a view that Akbar, considered to be India's most enlightened ruler, might have had dyslexia. He kept himself very well informed by his Ministers who were the most knowledgeable and educated people of the time!

Dr. A.V.Moorthy Madison, U.S. A statement

We, fellows of The Transnational Institute, scholars and activists from different parts of the world, strongly condemn the systematic harassment of journalists, specifically those who have been opposing the nuclearisation of Pakistan. We are deeply concerned at the recent spate of abductions and arrests of senior journalists like Najam Sethi and the ransacking of the house of Imtiaz Alam, a noted columnist. We demand the immediate release of Sethi.

We also condemn the decision of the Pakistani and Indian governments to celebrate the anniversary of the nuclear tests conducted by them on May 11 and 28 last year. We call upon the two governments to refrain from proceeding with nuclear and missile development. We demand that the five official nuclear weapons states immediately initiate negotiations on complete nuclear disarmament in accordance with their obligation under Article 6 of the NPT, the mandate of the World court and the repeated request of the U.N. General Assembly.

Signed by:

Susan George (France), Peter Weiss (U.S.), Hilary Wainright (U.K.), Walden Bello (Philippines), John Cavanagh (U.S.), Karamat Ali (Pakistan), Amrita Chhachhi (India), Ari Sitas (South Africa), Theo Roncken (Bolivia), Karel Koster (Netherlands), Danial Chavez (Uruguay), Roger van Zwanenburg (Britain), Daphne Wysham (U.S.), Dot Keet (South Africa), Phyllis Bennis (U.S.), Praful Bidwai (India), Harsh Kapoor (India), Howard Wachtel (U.S.), Joel Rocamora (Philippines), Alex Weldhof (Netherlands), Pauline Tiffen (U.K.), Marieme Helie-Lucas (Algeria), Ricardo Soberon (Peru), Coletta Youngers (U.S.), Margarita Nanda Schulz (Argentina), Martin Jelsma (Netherlands), Oronto Douglas (Nigeria), Tom Blickman (Netherlands), Mariano Aguirre (Spain), James Early (U.S.), Cristine Estrada (Spain)

A commendable role

IN its verdict in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the three-Judge Supreme Court Bench had words of praise for R.K. Raghavan, now Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), for his role in solving the case. The senior Indian Police Service officer was present at the scene of the assassination. Raghavan preserved the camera found on the body of photographer Haribabu. The 10 frames of the film which had been exposed by him provided vital clues to the identity of some of the prime accused, which gave the case its first and major breakthrough.

Justice D.P. Wadhwa said: "We also have a word of praise for Mr. R.K. Raghavan, who was at the relevant time Inspector-General of Police, Forest Cell (CID), Madras, and was entrusted with the election arrangements in the Chingleput range. He was on duty at the time the crime was committed at Sriperumbudur. He immediately realised the gravity of the situation. He stayed on at the scene of the crime, organised relief and ensured that material evidence was not tampered with. It was he who found the camera (MO-1 or material object) on the body of Haribabu which provided the breakthrough in the case."

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According to E. Jacob R. Daniel, Special Public Prosecutor and Deputy Legal Adviser, CBI, Raghavan saw the Chinon camera lying on the body of Haribabu around 3 a.m. on May 22 and it immediately struck him that it might contain important clues to the killing. He retrieved the camera and sent it to a laboratory through two Police Inspectors, Krishnan and Mathuram, around 5 a.m. for developing the film roll, Daniel said.

"Raghavan took charge and guarded the scene of the crime single-handedly although angry mobs were pelting stones,'' Daniel said. He faced the situation while some policemen fled the scene. But for his presence, the investigating agency would have lost vital material." Daniel, who examined Raghavan as Prosecution Witness 7 in the case in the lower court, said that he gave excellent evidence and was a "model witness". Daniel said he was proud to work under such an efficient and sincere officer.

Senior Advocate N. Natarajan, who was defence counsel for 25 of the 26 accused in the assassination, regards Raghavan highly for his presence of mind in collecting the camera, which helped in solving the case.

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Oct 9,2020