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COVER STORY

13-08-1999

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Briefing

Big business and elections

cover-story

A decade and more of economic liberalisation has unshackled Indian business from the compulsions of the licence-quota regime, but big business still courts political patronage with election-time funding in order to influence the economic agenda and the pace of its implementation and to bend the regulatory mechanism to optimal advantage.

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN SUDHA MAHALINGAM in New Delhi

WHILE the conflict in Kargil raged, it seemed that any form of dialogue, leave alone one that approached a pretence of civility, would be impossible between India and Pakistan. The two countries' top diplomats met, only to part on a note of glacial hosti lity. Shortly afterwards, a parallel track of dialogue was opened up, featuring not the professional diplomatic corps, but a man who in India was better known as a lobbyist for the Reliance industrial group. His interlocutor from the Pakistan side was a former diplomat, once a popular High Commissioner in Delhi.

Official Delhi maintained an attitude of indifference towards the parallel dialogue. But it was obvious that powerful interests on both sides were driving it. Contacts continued even after the identity of the negotiators was leaked out from quarters that were less than keen on the success of the secret negotiations.

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As the guns began to fall silent in Kargil, Reliance Petroleum, the crown jewel in Dhirubhai Ambani's industrial empire, announced the start-up of its refinery in Jamnagar, Gujarat. Built at a cost of Rs.14,250 crores, the refinery will process a crude o il throughput of 540,000 barrels a day, putting it in the league of the world's largest. Dependent for the most part on imports of crude oil, the Reliance refinery will engender a rapid rise in freight traffic towards the Gujarat coast, originating in We st Asia and traversing the Pakistan coastline. Corporate planners for Reliance cannot be unaware that land-based pipelines running through Pakistan could, at some stage, provide a better and more efficient way of feeding the group's refinery in Jamnagar.

Clearly, the Reliance group has more than the usual stake in peace in the subcontinent, an interest so strong that one of its personnel - a man skilled in the arts of political persuasion - took off, or was persuaded by somebody to go, on a negotiating m ission to Pakistan. Even for an industrial group that pioneered many of the policy innovations of the 1980s - an illustrative listing would include anti-dumping duties, automatic re-endorsement of capacities and conversion of interest-bearing debt into e quity at a high premium - the foray into neighbourhood diplomacy is a bold, even audacious, move. It is a measure, in fact, of the widening horizons and global ambitions of the Reliance group.

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IN the Indian business landscape, Reliance stands alone. Dhirubhai Ambani embraced the cult of equity ownership when other industrial barons were preoccupied with more conservative strategies of perpetuating their control. This ensured the recruitment of a substantial body of shareholders to his cause - an agglomeration of corporate and civic voters with substantial political clout. The Reliance patriarch also made the kind of strategic investments in the political domain that provided the hospitable en vironment for him to redeem his more extravagant pledges to shareholders.

Ambani's style of working the delicate nexus between business and politics was visionary for its times. When other industrial groups were searching for alibis for non-performance in the pervasive apparatus of governmental controls, Reliance was showing h ow the regulatory mechanism could be bent to optimal advantage. Today, in an environment of liberalisation and deregulation, it remains a powerful force for tutored change, its awesome presence in the capital markets and the industrial landscape ensuring that all talk of a level playing field will remain just that.

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Having come off second-best in an encounter with an upstart, the older industrial groups are today beginning to set great store by transparency. The Tatas and the Aditya Birla group have set the lead by establishing Trusts to fund elections in a transpar ent and accountable manner. Yet, the expectation that the rest of business and industry will do so seems unduly optimistic. This must seem curious, since Indian business has today been largely unshackled from the compulsions of the licence-quota regime a nd hence is relatively free of the need to court political patronage.

In ascriptive terms, the role of government in the economy has traversed an entire continuum over just the last decade. Once looked upon as the benevolent provider of all necessities of life, government today finds itself in considerably reduced circumst ances. Indeed, today that government is considered best that confines itself to the minimalist role of facilitating the energies of private enterprise. But in the perception of big business, this does not yet approach the vanishing point of the governmen t. In the approaching elections, big business is not quite investing in no government. Rather, it seeks a government that is durable and stable in its resolve that it will stick to the bare essentials.

IT is a paradox of this whole situation that the decade of growing political instability has run coterminously with a fairly settled course of economic policy. The resolve to retrench and retreat from the economic domain has, in other words, been common to all governments over the last decade, irrespective of its political stripe. By all the indices that could be used to judge the stability of the economic policy environment, the decade of the 1990s shows a fairly consistent record. There have been no b ack-and-forth adjustments of tax rates, whether direct or indirect - these have generally drifted downwards and moved towards a framework of greater simplicity. International currency parities again have moved against the rupee, the decade having witness ed a complete decimation of its value against the U.S. dollar. In the new liberal orthodoxy, however, this is an unmitigated blessing. And, finally, the regulatory framework for trade and industry has tended towards a dismantling of controls and greater leniency of rules.

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Finance Ministers of three regimes - Manmohan Singh of the Congress(I), P. Chidambaram of the United Front and Yashwant Sinha of the BJP-led coalition - on Budget Day. Despite growing political instability, the decade of the 1990s has witnessed a fair ly settled course of economic policy.

Business lobbies have quibbled about the pace of economic reform, without quite being able to achieve any sort of unanimity. But clearly, the evidence of the last decade seems to indicate that political instability has not really dampened economic activi ty. If the sentiment of the business community were to be assessed in terms of the indefinable animal spirits that drive the markets, the months since the fall of the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government have witnessed a virtual effusion, with the stock marke ts scaling new peaks.

The public have cause to be wary of unnatural forces in the markets - recent conjunctures of massive speculative price rises have normally been associated with feverish political fund-raising. Illustrative examples would be the sugar scandal of 1989 and the stock market bubble of 1992. Sugar was revisited by the politically induced speculative fever in 1994, and the most recent outbreak of the disease was in the onions and vegetables market in 1998. Irrational exuberance in the stock markets was again a n attendant phenomenon of the preludes to the last two parliamentary general elections. There is reason for the concerned public to study the boom in the stock markets today for the agents that are driving it and the forces that are immediately benefitin g from it.

TWO extreme situations may be distinguished in terms of the nexus between business and politics. Business lobbies could make collective decisions and channel their contributions on an agreed basis towards political parties in the interest of ensuring a c ertain framework of policies of common benefit. There could, at the other extreme, be unaccounted and surreptitious funding, sourced for the most part from tax evasion or speculative activity conducted under political patronage.

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The former option is impractical simply because the power to mobilise funds and the willingness to contribute to a political cause are unequally shared among business houses. Reliance clearly stands at the apex in these matters, although there is a conti nuum of capabilities stretching downwards from this peak.

Despite their collective interest in the perpetuation of the process of liberalisation, the recession of the last two years has engendered clear distinctions within Indian big business. It may have seemed at one time that business and industry - being co mmon, though not uniform, beneficiaries of liberalisation - could have funded the political process collectively through registered associations and trusts, in return for a collective quid pro quo. This would have represented a salutary departure from the older practice of businessmen funding political parties in their individual capacities in order to extract personalised benefits for their enterprises.

Yet the era of liberalisation is reminder that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Chambers of commerce and industry look the other way as their members pass on unaccounted contributions to their political favourites. The Associated Ch ambers of Commerce (Assocham) - an influential grouping of older foreign-controlled firms that have since gone largely native - has formally disavowed any intention of instructing its membership on how to fund the political process. Says Assocham preside nt K.P. Singh: "That is not our business. We cannot tell our members how to do these things. It is for individual members to decide for themselves. As far as transparency goes, the Companies Act is there to take care of it." These remarks, ironically eno ugh, were offered at a presentation made by Assocham to the media on the economic agenda that it wants political parties to incorporate into their election manifestoes - among which transparency in government functioning features prominently.

Despite the provisions of the Companies Act, concedes K.P. Singh, corporate entities may not wish to make their contributions to political parties transparent primarily out of fear. The Act requires a donor company to make the identity of its recipients public. But if the chosen political party fails to make it to the corridors of power, there is every risk of the company that chose to patronise it being victimised. Few are likely to have the confidence of Rahul Bajaj - third in a line of succession of politically active and influential businessmen - to declare which party he channelled his donations to in the 1998 elections.

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Tarun Das, Director-General of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), unburdens himself of sentiments that are broadly congruent: "When an individual businessman donates in cash to politicians, he expects some quid pro quo for his enterprise. Nobody makes political contributions in the interest of policies that will benefit the entire nation." CII, says Das, does not conceive of a situation where it would try and persuade its membership to pay political donations by cheque. Although the BJP has written to all industrialists insisting that payments be made by cheque, few are likely to comply.

Das believes that there will be a greater chance of fostering transparency if the Income Tax Act is amended to make political contributions exempt from tax. Asks he: "When all other expenses, including advertising, marketing and even entertainment, can b e shown as tax-deductible business expenses, why not election funding?" The sub-text of this question, of course, is a notion of political donations as a facilitator of business efficiency, through selective application of governmental powers.

Deepak Moula, Managing Director of Modi-Xerox Corporation and a key member of the Assocham team that drafted its recent document on the economic agenda for the political parties, says that transparency will come about only when market forces, rather than the quirks of political decision-making, decide the fortunes and performance of a company. After a decade of liberalisation, this must seem like a rather chastening retrospective judgment on its benefits. Das believes that industry cannot take upon itse lf the task of auditing political funds or disciplining the perceived profligacy of political parties. Many politicians who approach industrialists for donations, he says, will simply not countenance the imposition of any conditions. And since each elect ion brings with it new forces and new faces, such efforts become infeasible after a while.

Meanwhile, CII has appointed a Deputy Director-General specifically to brief politicians on economic issues in which its members have an interest, even as it holds seminars and meetings with prominent parties on what it would like to see in their electio n manifestoes. It is also in the process of extracting a commitment from political parties on time-bound implementation of undertakings given in election manifestoes.

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This influence obviously originates in the money that will change hands between now and the day of polling - funds that it is reasonable to suppose will originate in tax evasion or officially sanctioned speculation in the market. This is a presumption th at industry does not care to dispel. And neither does it seek to contest the view that all political donations made are finally recovered from the mass of the citizenry, whether as a penal price or as unpaid taxes. Finally, the issue of transparency on p olitical donations, it appears, touches upon the very core of representative politics. And the push towards this objective is likely to be one among many new initiatives that will be called for if politics is to be salvaged from the morass into which it has descended.

Money has often proved the most effective solvent for ideology. Big business in India today has set itself the goal of stability and this is an end that it sees as best served by the BJP or the Congress(I). The ultimate ideal would of course be of a coa lition that combines the two forces, an Indian version of the "historic compromise" that seemingly enshrines national interest above partisan political dissonances.

Obviously, for reasons derived from the character of the constituencies that these two parties serve, this manner of a compact appears a remote prospect. Both parties have a fringe that is attentive exclusively to the demands of big business, which could conceivably propel such a compact, although the larger needs of the party would dictate otherwise.

For reasons connected with the historic role of the Congress(I) and its relative autonomy of big business, the BJP today appears to be the favoured party of India's industrial interests. Although it has managed to an extent to purge itself of these eleme nts in recent years, the Congress(I) is still seen as a legatee to the public sector conceits of the 1950s, when private enterprise was regarded with barely concealed disdain. In a later, ideologically less pristine time, the Congress showed a greater in clination to engage with the concerns of big business, although always from a position of strength. Business was forced to defer to the arrogance that came to the Congress(I) from holding all the strings in the licence-permit-quota raj.

As far as the BJP is concerned, there is no such legacy of mistrust. The party's core constituencies of small traders and urban professionals have never been seen by big business as a threatening presence. And a basic harmony of interests between these s ections and industry has never been an elusive prospect. It is another matter, however, that parties that enjoy the conspicuous favour of big business have traditionally been easy targets for electioneering that draws on themes of economic populism. But a decade of liberalisation seems to have exhausted the fund of populist rhetoric and drained the credibility of the few parties that still espouse it. That may yet prove the BJP's greatest asset in the general elections to come.

'There is a political consensus on economic issues'

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A captain of Indian industry, Rahul Bajaj is president of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). He is the chairman and managing director of Bajaj Auto Ltd, the flagship of the Bajaj Group which, with a turnover of more than $1.5 billion, is among the top 10 private business houses in India. The group's 26 companies have interests in various industries, ranging from automobile manufacturing to sugar and steel. Bajaj Auto itself made a net profit of Rs.541 crores in 1998-99.

Rahul Bajaj has never been shy about expressing his opinion or proffering his advice on the country's economic policies. Nor does he hold back when speaking about the controversial issue of corporate funding of elections.

He spoke to Lyla Bavadam from his residence in Pune.

What are business houses looking for in terms of political outcome?

Political stability. And this is something that not only business houses but most citizens of India would want. That is, we want Parliament to complete its five-year term instead of what we have been seeing in the last three years. This means either a BJ P or a Congress government or at least a BJP-Congress coalition. The kind of coalitions we saw under the two United Front governments is not conducive to stability because the two major political parties in Parliament at the time - the BJP and the Congre ss - were not a part of the Deve Gowda or the Gujral government. The BJP was opposing the government and the Congress was supporting from the outside. This is actually a negation of democracy and therefore while the ideal situation would be 273 seats for either the Congress or the BJP (though unlikely), I'd like either one or a coalition to be in power and not twenty parties when no one knows who is the boss.

Barring a couple of issues, there is a consensus among parties and especially between the BJP and the Congress about economic policies. After liberalisation started, there has been a consensus on economic issues. There may not be a complete consensus but it is not a desperate situation.

What about groups such as the Swadeshi Jagran Manch which are opposed to liberalisation and have a certain degree of influence with the BJP?

I'm not worried about the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. In fact, I'm confident about them (laughs and elaborates). Their extreme views are only talk. They've realised that we have opened up the economy. In any case, this question is only valid if the BJP get a majority and that's not going to happen!

How would you rate the policy environment right now? Is it stable in terms of policies regarding tax rates, currency parities, and so on?

I won't say stable, but yes, there is a continuity and also, the right policy is being followed.

Tax rates, currency parities, the industrial regulatory framework - all these things are essentially all right. For instance, we can't have better tax rates. Certainly we want reduction in excise duties, steel import duties... certainly there are anomali es that could do with some fine-tuning.

What would you recommend as basic measures to inject life into Indian industry?

Essentially we need six things. One, fiscal discipline. Reduce the fiscal deficit from six per cent in the next year to three per cent. Specific action can be taken, like removing tax-payers from the Public Distribution System.

Two, proper infrastructure. Lack of this is a major handicap for the Indian private sector and doesn't encourage foreign companies to come here.

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Three, privatisation of the PSUs. Not just disinvestment but disinvestment to the extent where government equity comes to below 50 per cent and is ultimately zero. Even profit-making PSUs should finally be privatised.

Four, labour reforms. The policy should certainly be more flexible. Businesses should have the right to hire and fire. This may sound bad but I'm talking of reforms with a human face.

Five, financial sector reforms. This is more needed in the stock exchange, banks, financial institutions, NBFCs, insurance, and so on.

Six, there is a need for administrative reforms. Less of small print, less discretion. More openness, more transparency, more disclosure. The outcome will obviously be less delay in decision-making and less corruption.

More liberalisation means less controls but more regulation. Regulation reform is missing in infrastructure - telecom, roads, ports. There is no privatisation in these areas. All this is what I call liberalisation, deregulation and development.

Unless we go ahead with these six factors, we won't get foreign direct investment beyond three-and-a-half billion dollars per year. China gets 40 billion dollars per year.

Why do think this government or previous governments have not moved rapidly on these six issues?

Now that we have opened up, I don't know what the problem is really. The only place where I can see a problem is with the Left objecting to issues relating to privatisation and labour reforms. Otherwise, there should be nothing holding back the other fou r points.

Is the direction of economic deregulation and liberalisation appropriate?

Yes.

What about the partnership role between Indian and overseas companies - do you see a gradual dilution of the partnership?

Yes. Very categorically, yes. In a partnership between a European and an American company, both can be equally strong partners but it's not the same in our case. Initially foreign companies used their Indian partners because they needed them for liaising with the government, for dealing with labour, and so on. Later on, when they got the hang of all this, they tried to buy out the partner. From their point of view there's nothing wrong with this. I believe that the 200 top Indian companies should have a good mix of Indian and foreign elements. This is good for growth.

In fact, in some areas, I believe we should give foreign companies a majority or even hundred per cent equity. Of course, this would only apply to technologies that we don't have or technologies that are not easily accesible - like bioengineering, pharma ceuticals, biotechnology. But in fields of steel, textiles, automobiles, pulp and paper, we shouldn't give a majority equity to foreign partners.

Is this why you have been called a protectionist by some?

I'm interested in the welfare of the country. Often, national interest can be different from consumer interest. But I reiterate the need for those six factors I mentioned earlier. Those technologies that are in very few hands should be tempted to come to India. As it is, the lack of our infrastructure and other factors are not very inviting ... there should be no cap on foreign equity - 51 per cent can be got in any industry.

How do you respond to corporate funding of political parties during elections?

I believe state funding should be increased so that the need for the private sector to donate will be reduced. Obviously it will not eliminate it all together. I certainly do not think that corporate funding will continue if elections are held every 13 m onths! The last year has not been very good for many businesses - except perhaps for information technlogy, consumer goods and pharmaceuticals.

Does your company contribute to election funds?

Bajaj Auto does send a cheque. But we do it direct from the company and we send it directly to Delhi, not to State-level party offices. With liberalisation, there is less need to give.

How do you decide whom to fund?

I will fund the party I like. The last time I gave to the Congress.

Chequered relations

Over the years the relationship between India's industry and political parties has undergone several transformations, and the objectives of corporate funding of parties changed following liberalisation.

THE relationship between India's industry and political parties has been part symbiotic and part antagonistic. The industry, known for its heterogeneity and lack of cohesion, was to an extent supportive of the country's struggle for political and economi c freedom during the first half of this century. The business class sought to fund the party of the freedom struggle, the Indian National Congress, and secured some leverage over the shaping of the Congress' policy on state regulation of the economy afte r Independence was achieved.

Since the early years of Indian Independence, the private sector functioned under a system of comprehensive control and regulation. The system evolved over a period of three decades. The Nehruvian years saw greater emphasis on planned development and the mixed economy. The state erected a hegemonic public sector that dominated the basic industries. The private sector in turn was tightly controlled by a series of regulatory rules, orders and laws.

During this period, the business community contributed to the bulk of election funds, even as the cost of conducting and fighting elections showed a steep rise after the 1957 general elections. Party membership fees, contributions of candidates and their friends, and a levy on parliamentary income - these produced no more than a fraction of the funds needed.

Contributions were provided in several ways - through companies, individuals, and industry groups. Until 1969 a company in India was permitted, under Section 293A of the Companies Act, to contribute a certain amount of money to political parties provided its memorandum of association authorised such contributions. In the 1960s, the Congress and the Swatantra Party - the latter started by C. Rajagopalachari as a party of free enterprise advocacy - were the main beneficiaries of donations from big busines s groups, such as Tata and Birla, who together accounted for 34 per cent of total company contributions between 1962 and 1968.

In 1960, the Companies Act was amended to provide a ceiling for donations to political parties: the ceiling was fixed at Rs.25,000 or five per cent of the average net profit of the company for the three preceding financial years, whichever was greater. U nder the law, the company that made such donations was required to give in its accounts particulars of the amount of donations and the names of recipients.

By and large, however, the bulk of the political contributions during this period were from individuals, rather than from big business groups. The contributions were given to ensure access for the purpose of obtaining an industrial licence, permit, or ot her such benefit. The small contributions from big business houses were duly accounted for and they were transparent, even though those who gave money did so with the clear expectation of reciprocal benefits. The objectives of political funding included obtaining permits, licences and quotas, insurance against opposition to private sector and building of effective rapport with senior party leaders, who also functioned as efficient fund raisers.

THE business-Congress relationship underwent a significant change after the Congress suffered severe reverses in the 1967 elections, largely at the hands of right-wing parties such as the Jan Sangh and the Swatantra Party. Sections of the business elite, determined to reduce Congress majorities in an effort to enhance their leverage over policy, had provided considerable financial support to these parties. This sparked off resentment within the Congress against the flow of money into Opposition party co ffers.

The Syndicate within the Congress, which brought Indira Gandhi to power in 1966, was viewed by the coterie close to her as being in a position to make policy deals with business in exchange for election funds. This helped the Syndicate cement the faction al loyalties within the party in its favour. The left-wing within the Congress viewed this with concern, as it undermined the party's populist commitments. Indira Gandhi took the side of the left-wing in her fight with the Syndicate. The resultant split helped her to ban company donations to political parties. This accompanied a number of other populist measures such as the abolition of privy purses and the nationalisation of banks. The nationalisation of banks was, in particular, designed to cut at the financial clout that the big business houses enjoyed.

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The ban on company donations removed the only legal channel that was available to big business to contribute to the political process. This prohibition was sought to be circumvented by placing advertisements in souvenirs issued by political parties. The souvenirs were used to raise huge funds for election campaigns. Political compulsions and the threats of selective raids and nationalisation forced business to take recourse to tax evasion, black-market operations, and a whole array of mechanisms to bypa ss and profit from controls. The period after 1969 was notable for "briefcase politics" - the transfer of vast amounts of black money in the form of cash into the coffers of the Congress.

The Janata Party's brief reign at the Centre during 1977-79 was the result partly of the disenchantment of the business class with Indira Gandhi's imposition of Emergency from 1975 to 1977, which was distinguished by massive extortion of corporate donati ons by the ruling party. Indira Gandhi's return to power in 1980 made no difference to this trend. Her return was facilitated by the concern of the big business houses for political stability and a belief that only the Congress(I) could ensure this desir ed outcome.

SINCE 1980, the Congress(I) depended less on domestic businesses and more on huge kickbacks from foreign firms while striking significant deals in the defence and infrastructure sectors. The top leadership centralised fund-raising in the party and used c ertain businessmen as conduits for collecting funds and for parking these in secret bank accounts abroad. As a result, the Congress(I) had no use for its state and local party networks in raising election funds.

The election of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister in 1984 led to the first preliminary effort to reverse the excesses of "briefcase politics". He not only lifted the ban on company donations to political parties, but followed it with a comprehensive effort at liberalisation of controls and reform of the tax laws as part of an effort to spur economic growth and reduce corruption. He restored the ceiling on political donations by companies, limiting it to five per cent of net profits.

The evidence indicates, however, that while seeking to bring about a degree of transparency in domestic political donations, Rajiv Gandhi was taking full pecuniary advantage of a number of large defence and infrastructure deals that were concluded during his tenure. Towards the middle of his five-year tenure, a number of payoff scandals - most notably the one involving the purchase of howitzer guns from Sweden for the Indian Army - erupted in Rajiv Gandhi's face, compelling him to abort the experiments in transparency. In a sense, the attempt at liberalisation during early years of Rajiv Gandhi's term was a response to the growing demand of industry, which had funded the Congress(I) in a big way.

E. Sridharan of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and the University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India, New Delhi, says in a paper, to be published in Policy Reform that the system of collecting party funds during this period depended on an intricate web of personal connections and unwritten understandings. Until the 1990s the Congress raised and spent more money than all other parties put together, he says.

The National Front interlude (1989-91) and the return of the Congress(I) regime in 1991 showed that the business class preferred political stability more than anything else. The Narasimha Rao Government further advanced the liberalisation agenda, but, li ke Rajiv Gandhi, was enmeshed in a plethora of scandals, most notably the hawala scandal, which highlighted the unsavoury methods of political funding. The Congress(I)'s failure to secure a majority in the 1996 elections and the subsequent United Front e xperiment led the business class to believe that the era of coalition politics was here to stay. Since then, industry has felt the need to fund the dominant party in every State, be it regional or national, rather than funding only one or two parties at the national level.

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FACED with the prospect of prolonged political instability and inconclusive electoral verdicts, industry has also expressed its inability to fund parties if elections are held at over-frequent intervals, that is, at intervals of less than five years. Whi le the big business groups may probably refuse to fund parties in a big way, as they had done earlier, the smaller groups, however, may have no option but to support the influential and stronger political parties in every State. In 1993, the Confederatio n of Indian Industry (CII) set up a Task Force which recommended that corporate contributions be made tax-deductible once decisions by the board of directors are ratified by the general body of shareholders.

The Indrajit Gupta committee on electoral reforms, in its report submitted to the Government in 1998, has pleaded that the overall limit of five per cent of the company's average net profits over three preceding financial years may be continued for the p urpose of political donations. However, it has urged that such donations should be made only with the approval of the general membership of the company at its Annual General Meeting and not by a mere resolution of the Board of Directors, as currently req uired by the law. The Board of Directors of a company may not always be truly reflective of the political inclinations of its general members, the committee had warned. "Approval at the Annual General Meeting will ensure a decisive say of the general mem bers of the company in any contributions made by it for political purposes," it said. In the interests of transparency, it would be desirable if the members forming the Board of Directors are also made to disclose their affiliations, if any, to political parties, at the Annual General Meeting which considers the proposal for political contributions, the committee recommended.

Even though Rajiv Gandhi restored the legitimacy of corporate donations to political parties in 1985, the companies have been shy of ensuring a transparent process of donations. Sub-section 4 of Section 293A of the Companies Act requires the companies to name the party and give details of the amount contributed in their profit and loss accounts. Section 4 was inserted to the Act in 1985 with the stated objective of "permitting the corporate sector to play a legitimate role within the defined norms in th e functioning of our democracy." The prospect of shareholders raising a stink in the Annual General Meeting and getting the company bad publicity dissuaded the corporate sector from making contributions to the parties in accordance with the Act. Besides, the threat of victimisation by the winning party, if it is known that it received less funds than its rival, was reason enough for the companies not to make details of its contributions public.

Following the Supreme Court's order in 1996, that parties should identify and acknowledge corporate donations in their book of accounts, as per section 13A of the Income Tax Act, both the Congress(I) and the BJP averred that they would prefer contributio ns from companies by cheques. The Supreme Court's ruling came in the wake of its interpretation of Section 77 of the Representation of the People Act. In 1974, the Indira Gandhi Government contrived to take out of the purview of this Section all expenses incurred on behalf of a candidate by a political party or any association of individuals. The Supreme Court, without striking down this Explanation to Section 77, interpreted it to mean that a candidate may well exceed the ceiling on campaign expenses i f the political party which sponsored him or her accounted for the excess expenditure.

The BJP had announced, well before the 1996 Supreme Court ruling, that it would receive contributions amounting to more than Rs.10,000 only by cheque, and that all the contributors would be identified in its party organ, BJP Today. Called the 'Aaj iwan Sahyogis', the donors who contribute lesser sums are identified by name, State-wise, in the last page of the organ. It is interesting, though, that the BJP does not release the full addresses of these donors; nor does it identify donors who contribu te Rs.10,000 or more.

The BJP's treasurer, Ved Prakash Goel, admitted to Frontline that not all contributions to the party are by cheque. Contributions by big business groups constitute only a fraction of the BJP's funding, Goel added; the bulk of the contributions com e from State units of the party, and from its workers, who have excellent rapport with local industrialists and traders. Thanks to its large organised network across the country, the BJP has never felt the pinch for funds and if Goel is to be believed, t he party had nothing to do with big business groups until it came to power.

LIBERALISATION of the economy and coalition politics have brought in their wake an increased need for industry to make its political contributions even-handed. Industry has tried to achieve this by floating neutral trusts to channel funds that could be d iverted for political purposes. On the eve of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the Tata group holding company, Tata Sons, floated an Electoral Trust to receive contributions up to the five per cent ceiling fixed by Section 293 of the Companies Act. Open to outsiders as well, the Trust was to fund political parties in proportion to their strength in the outgoing Parliament.

While half the collections are to be distributed before the elections under this norm, the remaining half would be doled out after the elections, in proportion to the strength of the parties in the new Parliament. Dinesh Vyas, chairman of the Trust, told Frontline that the Trust does not solicit funds - whatever it receives from companies is distributed to the political parties. Vyas was reluctant to release figures of last year's contributions to the Trust's fund and of the disbursement to the p olitical parties. He was sceptical about the response that the Trust would evoke from prospective donors in view of the economic recession and the frequency of elections.

Grasim Industries Limited, the flagship company of the Aditya Birla Group, set up a General Electoral Trust last year, following the example set by the Tatas. However, it is open to receiving donations only from companies of the Aditya Birla group. Among the factors which the group considers while disbursing funds among the political parties are suggestions from its Advisory Board, and the overall business interests of the contributing companies in each State. It follows then that the business interests of a company may result in the company financing one political party in a State and its rival in another State if the interests so demand.

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The Trust established by the Tata group appears to have achieved only limited success. The Trust is open to companies from outside the Tata group as well, but it is a moot question how many non-Tata companies have opted to contribute to the "neutral" Tru st. Observers point out that there is indeed no incentive for the non-Tata companies to contribute to the Trust; instead, companies are generally inclined to deal with the parties individually, in order to gain individual mileage. In any case, there are the industry associations, such as CII, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), and the Associated Chambers of Commerce (Assocham), to fight for the collective rights of the industry. Tata's Trust, therefore, may not have insp ired enough confidence among the non-Tata companies to contribute to the political process in a transparent manner.

If the objective is transparency, the reluctance on the part of the Tata group to share the details of the Trust's 1998 funding of parties would seem curious. What the industry perhaps needs is an agreement among rival companies to make the political fun ding transparent, in accordance with the law. Who can ensure, for instance, that the entire funds raised and so disbursed among the parties are actually spent on elections? As Sridharan says, the reduction of election costs will not reduce corruption muc h or facilitate deregulation and transparency in government.

THE objectives of corporate funding of political parties underwent a transformation following the policy of liberalisation, actively pursued by successive governments at the Centre. The emphasis has clearly shifted from seeking favours from the governmen t for securing licences, permits and quotas, to seeking protection from the entry of multinational corporations. Emboldened by the perceived "irreversibility" of the economic reform process, which largely unshackled it from a regime of controls and permi ts, organised industry has been sending signals to the parties that its voice would have to be heard.

Business houses now have no compulsion to donate to political parties, although they may want to do so for varied individual benefits related to excise levies, sales and income-tax, and foreign exchange regulations. The efforts at collective funding, as shown by the establishment of trusts by a few companies, point to the companies' desire to strike a hard bargain with the government to secure favourable policies, such as protection from external competition and changes in the Industrial Disputes Act.

Political parties with a realistic chance of making it to the ruling coalition promise quite a few economic reforms to attract big business collectively. Failure to make matching contributions to one of the two rival political formations may result in re sistance to the reform process and opposition to some key pieces of legislation. Coalition politics requires a broad consensus among political parties to enact key reforms. Therefore, the government and the political parties might use the threat of resis tance to key reforms that would open up the economy, or refuse to give adequate protection to the domestic industry against foreign competition, if the corporate houses are reluctant to fund evenly across the political parties.

Political parties might like to declare their support to key reforms in the party manifestoes in order to woo prospective donors. On the other hand, they could defer taking a stand on key reforms so as to use it as a bargaining chip with corporate donors . The demise of the permit-licence-quota raj has left a little residual discretionary powers in the hands of the political establishment, although the collective bargaining capacity of big business in relation to the political parties has also been bolst ered.

'The playing field favours foreign companies'

cover-story

In an interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay in Calcutta, Rajive Kaul, chairman and managing director, Nicco Group, and former president of the CII, presents his views on political donations by industry, the expectations of big business f rom the political establishment, and the direction of economic reforms. Excerpts:

What does big business want in terms of political outcome?

I cannot say what big business wants, but I would like to see the next government, of whichever party it may be, continue the liberalisation process which has been set in pace over the last seven to eight years. The biggest requirement, apart from a user -friendly regulatory framework, I feel, is for the government to focus on massive investment in the area of infrastructure - in particular, power, roads, railways and ports. This is desired also as a vehicle of bringing back strong robust growth which th e industry urgently needs.

How far have the verdicts in the last four elections contributed towards providing stability in the policy environment - in terms of tax rates, currency parities and an industrial regulatory framework?

The last four elections have provided continuity in the reforms process, irrespective of the different governments in power. The degree of success in the implementation of the policies has been varied, but the direction has been the same.

Which party is perceived as being the best equipped to deliver on these counts, and why?

I am no political pundit to forecast the elections, but what we need is a stable government which will continue the process of economic reforms, liberalisation and deregulation at a faster pace.

Is the direction of economic deregulation and liberalisation appropriate? Is there a need for acceleration, or should the pace be tempered to take into account the vulnerabilities of the Indian industry?

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Rapid growth can only come through an accelerated growth of investments, which in turn will have to come from savings, be they domestic or global. India has been doing well on the domestic savings front. What we need to fund our large infrastructure requ irements are global savings flowing into this sector. This can by achieved by accelerating the reforms process.

Is a limited degree of protection seen as essential in the context of the current industrial downturn?

What we saw in the last phase of reforms was the opposite of protection. In most cases, the playing field is tilted in favour of foreign companies. This aspect is of great concern and is extremely unfair. The playing field should either be level or tilte d in favour of Indians.

Do you feel that there has been a gradual dilution of the partnership role between Indian industry and overseas multinational enterprises?

Yes, I do feel that. MNCs are keen to take complete charge in the case of erstwhile joint ventures. This is an aspect which Indian companies must keep in mind when they enter into joint ventures. MNCs will always have deeper pockets and therefore the edg e in the ultimate race for control.

Would it be necessary to regulate the entry of MNCs into certain industrial sectors?

Not really. In any case under future WTO requirements, there will be no entry barriers.

How has the Indian industry historically related to political parties?

In the early days of our independence, there was partnership and trust. Thereafter, the industry became the favourite whipping boy for the politicians. Thanks to the reforms process, a sense of partnership and working together is emerging again.

What have been the methods and purposes of corporate donation to election funds? Is the example of transparency in political donations that the Tatas have tried to establish worthy of emulation?

My personal belief is that elections should be funded through levies and taxes, which would provide requisite resources for the same. There should not be any connection between industry houses and political parties. In fact, if government funding and tra nsparency is brought about, it would do a lot of good to our system.

Do governments still have some residual leverage from the licence-quota-permit system to induce political donations from corporate houses?

With progressive liberalisation, it is reducing.

'Stability is essential for the economy'

cover-story

Gaurav Swarup is deputy managing director of Paharpur Cooling Towers Ltd, a Rs.165-crore turnover company involved in the manufacture of process cooling equipment - cooling towers and air-cooled heat exchangers; flexible consumer packaging and plastic woven packaging. In an interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, the former president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries outlines what big business looks for in terms of political outcome.

What does big business want in terms of political outcome?

Stability. Why just big business, any business wants that. Stability is essential for the economy, and nobody likes uncertainty. Because of political instability, a lot of long-term plans have to be shelved, and short-term plans have to be made to make d o with the situation. This is neither good for business, nor is it good for the economy.

How far have the verdicts in the last four elections contributed towards providing stability in the policy environment - in terms of tax rates, currency parities, and industrial regulatory framework?

There are no problems as far as policies are concerned. The policies have all through remained the same. It is the implementation of the policies by the different governments that provides a sort of instability in the policy environment. It was during th e Narasimha Rao Government that there was stability in the policy environment, as far as policy implementation was concerned.

Which party is perceived as being the best equipped to deliver on these counts, and why?

I feel there are only two parties that can deliver these desired outcomes - the Congress(I) and the BJP. I feel these are the only two parties that can provide political stability.

Is the direction of economic deregulation and liberalisation appropriate? Is there a need for acceleration, or should the pace be tempered to take into account the vulnerabilities of the Indian industry?

The pace has to be tempered. Indian industry has been told to restructure itself. But where has it been given the tools for restructuring? One is faced with problems if one tries to cut down on one's workforce, inefficient plants cannot be shut down, and so on. This as a whole is not good for the Indian industry.

Is a limited degree of protection seen as essential in the context of the current industrial downturn?

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Absolutely. The Indian industry should be given the opportunity to restructure itself.

Do you feel that there has been a gradual dilution of the partnership role between Indian industry and overseas multinational enterprises?

There is. I feel the overseas multinational companies have realised that they do not really need the Indian industry. They are interested only in the Indian market.

Would it be necessary to regulate the entry of MNCs into certain industrial sectors?

It is necessary to regulate the entry of MNCs in not just industrial sectors, but also non-industrial sectors. If the entry of MNCs is not regulated to at least a certain extent, Indian industry will not be allowed to grow. There are some sectors that ar e relatively new, but have a lot of potential. If MNCs operating in these sectors enter, the Indian companies in those sectors will simply be lost. They have to be given time to become global players.

How has the Indian industry historically related to political parties?

Historically, the two have always been adversaries. Politically, it suited those in power to treat the private sector as their favourite whipping boy. Now things are changing. Political parties have realised that they need the industry and the private se ctor. They have seen that the public sector cannot deliver the goods.

What have been the methods and purposes of corporate donation to election funds? Is the example of transparency in political donations that the Tatas have tried to established worthy of emulation?

I am sure there is not just one method which corporates follow in extending donations to various political parties. The reason why they do it is obvious, for special favours and to ensure that the political masters protect them and their industry. I do n ot think it is a dedication or a strong belief in any particular political ideology that prompts them into doing that.

As for transparency, I feel transparency is always good, but to what extent are the political parties transparent? Transparency cannot be one-sided. Political parties too should be transparent.

Do governments still have some residual leverage from the licence-quota-permit system to induce political donations from corporate houses?

There are plenty of areas for the government to do that, for example, on matters requiring environmental clearance, land allotment, permission to set up captive power plants... there are so many more ways.

'Most business donations come without strings'

other

Among political leaders, former Congress(I) president Sitaram Kesri is eminently well qualified to talk about the relationship between business, industry and politics. He was Congress(I) treasurer for 17 years, and held that crucial post during th e prime ministerial tenures of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. This was also a period when the Congress(I) was perceived to have benefited most by way of contributions from big business to its election fund. There are countless anecdotes about Kesri's in teractions with "moneybags", and when he is in an expansive frame of mind, Kesri is known to narrate mirthful accounts of his experiences.

But when Venkitesh Ramakrishnan spoke to Kesri to elicit his views on the relationship between big business and politics, the senior leader, who has in recent times been embroiled in a case relating to donations from abroad to the Congress(I), was extremely watchful in his utterances. Wary about some of the questions posed to him, he refused to respond to a few of them, explaining, with a smile, that "one should not create trouble." Excerpts from the interview:

How has Indian industry historically related to political parties? As a person who served as Congress(I) treasurer for 17 years, how would you analyse this relationship?

In every country, industry, big business and politics are bound to develop a relationship based on cooperation. They are bound to be inter-related because all countries go through a developmental process and all three institutions play a major part in th is process. As far as India is concerned, our industry and business as well as its leaders have played an inspiring part in the freedom struggle. On account of this, one can say that the relationship between Indian industry and politics is infused with t he spirit of nation-building. This is a special characteristic of our political system.

If you ask me to draw from personal experience to analyse the relationship, I would once again point out to the aforesaid characteristic, which I consider very positive. But I would also add that during my tenure as Congress treasurer, I have also seen t he bad side of the industry and big business.

What have been the methods and purposes of corporate donations to election funds? Is it not true that there are strings attached to these donations and that Ministers and Members of Parliament are compelled to push the cases of individual business hou ses?

One cannot generalise about donations to election funds. A large majority of the donations do not have strings attached. But there are certainly some problematic donations. The method of handling them would differ from party to party and politician to po litician. If the donations are accounted for properly, there will be fewer strings attached. It is the unaccounted donations that provide leverage for putting pressure on the individual politician and political parties.

Have you relied on such unaccounted donations when you were Congress(I) treasurer?

I would only reply that I have not or that I do not remember ever having done that.

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There is one opinion that licence-quota-permit raj that existed in the industrial and commercial sectors for much of the time that the Congress was in power created a give-and-take system of political funding. Politicians touted licences, quotas and p ermits to industry and business and in return got personal and political donations. How strong is this system now?

There is too much generalisation about all this. In every system, you will have corrupt people who make use of laws, rules and loopholes in them to make advantage individually or for a group. Branding all political parties as representatives of this clas s is not right. There might be some who indulge in such practices. But that is not true of everybody.

The Tata group has tried to establish transparency in political donations by making all their contributions public. Is this worthy of emulation?

Conceptually, there is no doubt that this is worthy of emulation. But the question is how far it can be implemented on a large scale. There will always be violators and they will find ways and means to do what they want to do.

The concept of state funding for elections has come up recently. How do you view it?

Here again, there is no problem with the concept. The question is: how will you implement it and what will be the foolproof mechanism to make sure that politicians and parties do not rely on other sources.

Friends of the BJP

C.P. CHANDRASEKHAR cover-story

The BJP has managed to win all segments of big business with an interest in India, and this is bound to fill its campaign coffers further.

IT has been a time of political instability in India. On April 17, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government lost its majority before completing 13 months in office. A futile search for an alternative followed the installation of a caretaker go vernment and necessitated the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Soon thereafter it was made known that Indian intelligence had completely missed a large-scale intrusion across the Line of Control by Pakistan-sponsored infiltrators. For over two months the mi litary was engaged in a virtual war to flush out the infiltrators, which proved costly in terms of human lives and material and financial resources. Barely had the 'war' neared its end, in the form of a reported retreat of all surviving infiltrators faci liated by an intervention by the United States, that the Lok Sabha elections were announced. The country now prepares for another democratic exercise whose outcome, it is widely believed, would be yet another hung parliament. Uncertainty in the political sphere still persists.

For the ordinary citizen, virtually brainwashed by the advocates of liberalisation into believing that political uncertainty is sure to neutralise and even reverse the gains of "reform" (whatever they may be), this sequence of events seemed to promise no thing but an economic nightmare. To everyone's surprise, however, recent surveys of business confidence indicate that Indian business, having been overcome by recessionary pessimism till recently, is now decidedly upbeat. Two factors seem to account for this turn in business confidence. Signs of a recovery, however moderate. And the increasing proximity, verging on outright collaboration, of the BJP and its government on the one hand and big business (both domestic and foreign) on the other. With a busi ness-friendly government in place, which is expected to provide major concessions to industry if it returns to power, industrialists claim to have been encouraged to increase production, banks and finance companies to provide credit and fuel a consumptio n boom and foreign institutional investors (FIIs) to turn bullish, all of which have rendered stock markets buoyant.

Official figures point to a sharp turnaround in the economy. Industry, which has been in recession since October 1996, appears to have suddenly turned buoyant with the growth rate during April-May 1999 rising to 6.3 per cent in the case of the General In dex and a creditable 7.3 per cent in the case of Manufacturing, compared with the corresponding period of the previous year. The stock market is booming, with the BSE Sensex having touched an all-time high of 4,810 points and still hovering close to that level, driven by FII investments, which amounted to $300 million in just the first fortnight of July.

While there are reasons to believe that this recovery in itself would be difficult to sustain and could prove a mere flash in the pan, the additional expenditures incurred as a result of the Kargil conflict and the huge sums which are likely to be spent during the election campaign and the process is bound to be a source of stimulus for the economy. Until well after the election, therefore, business is likely to be positively happy with the government from a purely profit point of view.

But it is not merely because of a fortuitous recovery at the end of the BJP-led government's shortened term that big business is positively inclined towards the BJP. In fact, just prior to the last election, a survey conducted by a financial newspaper am ong business leaders attending a national convention reportedly indicated that a majority were in favour of a BJP government. This did indeed constitute a change in the attitude of big business. Even till a few years ago there were two factors determinin g the image of the BJP in the eyes of big business. First, that it was directly, through some of its own pronouncements and acts, and indirectly, through its close links with communally inclined movements and organisations, responsible for furthering div isive tendencies and triggering communal strife. Secondly, that while it was securely on the side of private property, its rhetoric was one that suggested a bias in favour of the small (rather than large) traders and businesses and against foreign firms and interests.

These features were not too palatable to a big business community which had decided around the mid-1980s that opportunities for profit in a protected home market were diminishing and had chosen to back a strategy which involved its alliance, as junior pa rtner, with international capital. From this point of view the state had to have three characteristics. First, it must have no truck with any set of forces that rake up divisive issues and intensify civil strife since such tensions could undermine the co nfidence of foreign investors as well as hold up economic activity for varying periods of time. Secondly, it should not be too overtly nationalist, restrict the inflow of foreign capital on the grounds of protecting domestic, especially small, capital, a nd suppress opportunities for collaboration with international capital.

Thirdly, since the relationship between domestic and international capital in the new environment was bound to be contentious, the state needed to be the agency which mediated the relationship between the two and prevented domestic capital from being swa mped by transnational firms.

The first of these requirements was obviously difficult for the BJP to satisfy. Not only is the BJP itself strongly communal, but it utilised the rabble-rousing and emotive capabilities of a number of communal organisations to win itself a leading role i n governance at the centre.

In fact, in a number of areas, especially in culture, education and historical research, through subtle and obvious means, the BJP has indeed sought to further its communal agenda after having come to power.

However, on the broader national stage, in the name of the common platform of the coalition that it led, the BJP has not merely eschewed the more overtly communal of its programmes, but has also been able to dampen the communal activity of organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. There have been occasions, as in the case of the conversions issue, when the smouldering divisiveness of this new force in national governance has shown its ugly face. But "BJP the pa rty" has been able to quickly divert attention from what "BJP the movement" does and temporarily defuse what could have been an explosive situation.

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This effort to conceal communal aggression has been buttressed by the drive to present itself as a liberalising moderniser on the economic front. After all, many would argue, a party which is seeking greater integration of the Indian economy with the wor ld system can hardly be accused of being driven by a retrograde ideology. In time, it would become clear to the BJP that liberalisation can pay off in other ways as well. As the BJP-led government was losing credibility partly because of obvious instance s of incompetence and partly because it was struggling to meet the competing demands of partners in an unwieldy coalition, it chose to exercise an option that has been available to successive governments for some years now: that of triggering a second se t of nuclear devices at Pokhran. This act, which was driven more by domestic compulsion than any perceived change in the security environment, received as expected a hostile international response. The BJP reacted to that response by using policy initiat ives favoured by the G-8 and economic concessions to foreign investors to buy the acquiescence of developed country governments.

The result of all this is by now well known. Despite the "swadeshi" rhetoric of the BJP, it has displayed little by way of real economic nationalism since it came to power. Not only has it continued with liberalisation initiated under the Congress(I), bu t it has accelerated this process, especially after the nuclear tests at Pokhran. Foreign firms and governments have been wooed with mining and oil exploration concessions, extremely lax implementation of liberalised foreign investment regulations, reduc tions in import tariffs and the abolition of quantitative restrictions. The recently announced trade policy for 1999-2000, for example, goes way beyond the requirements set by even India's liberal commitments to the World Trade Organisation.

Another factor encouraged the BJP along this route: its close links with the richer sections of the Indian diaspora. Unlike the migrants to West Asia, these sections have more or less chosen their host country as their new homeland. They are either inter ested in directly investing (for profit) a part of their own accumulated wealth in India (which they are familiar with) or in serving as intermediaries in the efforts of foreign firms to build new positions or strengthen an existing foothold in the India n market. They are also keen that restrictions which unwittingly hamper their interaction with their country of origin should go. Nothing demonstrated the BJP's concern for them than its decision to provide a diluted form of dual citizenship in the form of the Person of Indian Origin card.

The BJP's links with a large segment of well-heeled non-resident Indians (NRI) has deep roots. In search of an identity in an alien environment which can at times be hostile, this segment is constantly rediscovering its Indianness. A part of that process is a return to Indian tradition and the adoption of a nationalistic attitude, in forms however distorted.

The BJP's own communal traditionalism and its effort to use nationalism as a political ploy has cemented the relationship between a section of this diaspora and the party. In return for NRI support, the BJP has been only too eager to liberalise policy to facilitate the economic interests of this section, which need not always coincide with national interest.

From the point of view of Indian big business, this ability of the BJP to resolve, in different ways, its dilemma of having to keep alive its traditionalist and nationalist face, while winning favour abroad through economic liberalisation, has not been a ll positive. It has meant that the BJP's willingness to mediate the relationship between domestic and foreign capital has been limited. Nothing illustrates this more than the spate of instances when foreign firms have either parted ways with their Indian partners to create a new fully owned Indian subsidiary or bought out the stake of their Indian partners with the same objective. The recent decision of IBM, which to the economic nationalists of yore epitomised the predatory transnational, to break its partnership with the Tata group, is a typical example.

In response to this trend, the BJP's policy appears to be one of avoiding going against its image of being more open to foreign investors and market-friendly initiatives. It has chosen to appease domestic big business by providing, in lieu, huge concessi ons in areas where foreign equity holding is restricted or by opening up new areas where foreigners can enter only through a firm involving majority Indian partnership. The violation of all norms in the case of the telecom licence fee issue, even when it involved disciplining one of its own Ministers and dismissing objections from the President and the desperate bid to accelerate the process of privatisation of prime public assets are examples of the BJP's desire to provide special concessions to big ca pital. Although sections of Indian big business are losing out to transnational firms, they appear quite satisfied with this special treatment from the state. In any case, big business has had no clear-cut economic policy agenda of its own, in the wake o f its strategic decision to back liberalisation. Nor can it possibly see any other domestic political formation doing more for it than the one led by the BJP. It is likely therefore to vote for a known entity, even if half-heartedly, rather than back for ces whose policy directions are uncertain.

In sum, as of now the BJP has managed to win all segments of big business with an interest in India: the foreign investor, the non-resident player and big domestic capital. This of course is bound to fill the BJP's campaign coffers further, with open and concealed private contributions. It is likely therefore that the tendency in recent years for the BJP to run a much more capital-intensive campaign would only be strengthened. Whether that is likely to sway the minds of the electorate to give it a clear majority is, however, as yet unclear.

Pre-planned and politically motivated'

PUTHIYA THAMIZHAGAM president Dr. K. Krishnaswamy described the police action in Tirunelveli on July 23 as "pre-planned and politically motivated." In a telephone interview to S. Viswanathan from his hotel room in Tirunelveli around mid night on July 24, he said in a voice choked with emotion that it was a wicked attack on a group of people who were all along peaceful. Excerpts:

Could you explain how it all happened?

We had obtained permission from the district administration to take out a procession, stage a demonstration before the Tirunelveli Collectorate and present a petition to the District Collector on Friday (July 23) on issues relating to a dispute between t he workers and the management of the Manjolai estate over the payment of wages and our demand for the release of about 650 estate workers who were arrested during a demonstration more than a month ago. When the head of the procession reached a point abou t 100 metres before the Collectorate gate, the police stopped the processionists. We, the leaders of the participating parties, who included Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly (Tamil Maanila Congress leader S. Balakrishnan) and four other TMC MLAs, besides me, were in an open jeep. The jeep was stopped. We told the police officer that we wanted to present a petition to the Collector. Instead of allowing us to proceed, they (the police) began arguing with us. People raised slogans demanding t hat we be permitted to go into the Collectorate. Suddenly, the policemen started attacking them. Even onlookers were attacked. The police pelted them with stones. Simultaneously they resorted to a lathi-charge and to shooting in the air. Lathi-charge is generally resorted to in order to disperse a crowd. But there was no way for the crowd to disperse except to run down a slope towards the river. In the face of this three-pronged attack by policemen, people started running to the river. Policemen chased them and beat whoever they could reach. They chased the people into the river and beat them up on their heads. If their intention was only to disperse the crowd, why did they beat up with lathis people who were dispersing? The police also threw stones at the leaders in the jeep. A stone hit the driver, and he lost his balance. After driving the jeep upto some distance, he abandoned it and disappeared in the crowd.

What, in your perspective, was the reason for the police action of such severity?

It appears that the brutal police action was taken on the instruction from people at top levels. Perhaps they wanted to create a scene that would be to their advantage politically. Is it fair to chase people into the river and beat them repeatedly so tha t they could not escape? All the victims have suffered head injuries. It appears that many persons were beaten to death and thrown into the river.

The Chief Minister has said that the crowd attempted to enter the Collectorate, defying the police barricade, and that started the trouble.

It was not so. There was no untoward incident all through the procession. No single stone was thrown. The demonstration was entirely peaceful. There was no violence from the processionists' side.

How then could it have happened?

A person who is not able to tolerate our (Puthiya Thamizhagam's) growth, particularly in the southern districts, has been instrumental in letting loose this reign of terror on innocent people. It was a premeditated and politically motivated attack.

What are your demands now?

What has happened is similar to Jallianwallabagh. It is a deliberate attack on a trapped people. The Chief Minister should constitute a commission of inquiry headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, and he should step down. If our charges against the police are proved by the commission, the Chief Minister should bow out of politics and public life. He has no moral right to hold the post any more. It is learnt that the police are even putting pressure on the fire service to discontinue their searc h for bodies in the river. I am afraid the postmortem on the bodies is being done in haste, leaving room for manipulation.

The Chief Minister has said that whenever a solution was sought to be found to end the labour dispute in the Manjolai estate, "the person" who instigated the workers scuttled it. What is your comment?

It is the Government which is, instead of taking affirmative action, interfering in the dispute between the workers and management in an unhelpful way and putting all sorts of hurdles.

The Chief Minister claims that the workers arrested in June were offered to be released on personal bail but they refused to go out on bail without their leader's permission....

The workers demand that the cases against them be withdrawn and that they be released unconditionally. What offence did they commit except for demonstrating in front of the Collectorate (in the first week of June) demanding wages? The arrested workers, m any of them women, have been charged with causing damage to public property.

THE TIRUNELVELI MASSACRE

the-nation

Brutal police action on a procession taken out in support of agitating tea estate workers claims 17 lives in southern Tamil Nadu.

S. VISWANATHAN in Chennai SYED MUTHAHAR SAQAF in Tirunelveli

IN a reign of terror that lasted half an hour, the Tamil Nadu police enacted a mini-Jallianwallabagh on the banks of the Thamiraparani in Tirunelveli, 650 km from Chennai, on July 23. Seventeen persons lost their lives following a brutal police at tack on a procession taken out in support of a labour struggle. The victims, who included two women and a child, were drowned when they, along with scores of others, ran into the river to escape the lathi blows of the policemen who descended on them from all directions. (Search for the missing persons continued at the time of writing.) The processionists had marched to the Collectorate to demand an early solution to long-pending wage-related disputes in a tea estate at Manjolai in the district and the r elease of 652 estate workers who were lodged in jail following a demonstration by them before the same Collectorate on June 8. They also demanded that the State Government take over the administration of the tea estate, run by the Bombay Burmah Trading C ompany.

Besides resorting to lathi-charge, the police fired two rounds in the air and indiscriminately used a new weapon in their armoury - stones and bricks. "It is something unheard of: policemen pelting people with stones," said S. Balakrishnan, Leader of the Opposition in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. The Tamil Maanila Congress(TMC) leader led the procession, along with Dr. K. Krishnaswamy, president of Puthiya Thamizhagam (P.T.), which spearheads the estate workers' agitation for over one year, and the local le aders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India. These leaders themselves became the target of police attack, but party volunteers formed a human shield around them in order to protect them. However, V. Palani, district s ecretary of the CPI(M), received serious head injuries. He was among the 15 persons injured. (According to CPI(M) sources, Palani was injured in the stone-throwing and lathi-charge. He fell unconscious and a Dalit youth, who was also injured in the attac k, took him to the hospital with the help of a Dalit woman. He regained consciousness after about 30 hours and has been declared out of danger.) Also injured were two mediapersons, Antony Xavier and Ramalingam.

The shocking incident drew instant protests from major political parties in the State. While Krishnaswamy and Balakrishnan likened it to the brutal killings at Jallianwallabagh by the British, general secretary of the TMC, Peter Alphonse, said that Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was going the (former Chief Minister) Jayalalitha way. "The high-handed police action at Tirunelveli only reminds us of the anti-people stance adopted by Jayalalitha in the last phase of her government," he said. N. Sankariah, St ate secretary of the CPI(M), appealed to all democratic forces to rise as one man against the police attack. These leaders and CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu demanded an inquiry by a High Court judge into the incident. Krishnaswamy, who described the police action as "pre-planned and politically motivated", has demanded an inquiry by a Supreme Court judge.

The State Government, however, appointed K. Karthikeyan, a retired district judge, as a one-man commission to inquire into "the incidents near the Tirunelveli Collectorate" and submit its report within three months. Karunanidhi in a statement was highly critical of the demonstration. He castigated the leaders of the TMC, without naming them, for joining hands with "instigators of violence", the reference apparently being to Krishnaswamy, whose party has been championing the cause of Dalits. In what is i nterpreted as an attempt to belittle the workers' demand, he stated that all problems had almost been solved except one that related to "half a day's wage". (The workers, on the other hand, demanded that the 50 per cent cut in their daily wages effected by the management for the past four months as penal action be withdrawn as it cut into their paltry earnings.) Relying on information fed by the district administration, Karunanidhi said that the police only retaliated when the crowd turned violent and t hrew stones at them.

Balakrishnan has denied this version. He told Frontline over telephone from his residence at Paramakkudi in Tirunelveli district on July 25, that the police pelted with stones the open jeep that carried the leaders and that a section of the proces sionists retaliated. He said that the participants had been peaceful all along.

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Balakrishnan said that the police action appeared to be pre-meditated and pre-planned. The plan, according to him, was perhaps to injure the leaders and put the blame on the workers. "Their strategy, however, did not work," he said.

Balakrishnan said that the sordid drama could have been avoided had a senior official from the Collectorate met the leaders, six of whom were legislators, and allowed them to meet the Collector. Had the police stopped the procession elsewhere, there coul d have been more exit points for the crowd to disperse. What happened was that the demonstrators were chased and beaten by policemen who came from all directions. Moreover, there were few senior police officers present on the occasion, which meant loss o f control over the constabulary.

Here is a detailed eye-witness account of the incident:

Besides the P.T., the TMC, the CPI(M) and the CPI, the Thamizhaga Muslim Aikkiya Jamaath participated in the agitation. Among those who led the procession were four MLAs - M. Appavu, J. M. Haroon, P. Velthurai and R. Easwaran - besides Balakrishnan and K rishnaswamy.

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About 700 personnel drawn from the Swift Action Force (SAF), the men's and women's companies of the Tamil Nadu Special Police (TSP), the Striking Force, the Armed Reserve Police and the local police had been posted at various points. Three officers in th e rank of Superintendent of Police (S.P.), three Additional S.Ps and nine Deputy S.Ps were also on hand. Shylesh Kumar Yadav, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), along with the Striking Force personnel walked at the head of the procession, in which an estimated 5,000 people participated. The procession was peaceful. All shops in the busy road junction, from where the procession started around 1 p.m., remained closed for a few hours.

There are at least five entry points to the Collectorate and all these were sealed by the police in the morning itself. Demonstrations are usually held in front of the main gate. On July 23, the procession was blocked about 50 metres from the gate. An op en jeep carrying the leaders, which was in the middle of the procession, moved to the front on reaching the Collectorate. Haroon went up to Shylesh Kumar Yadav and pleaded that the jeep be allowed inside the Collectorate so that the leaders could present a petition to the Collector. When the discussion was in progress, about 150 persons, who formed the tail of the procession, got down on to the river bed (three-fourths of the river bed is dry), and moved closer to the main gate. They stood behind the po lice force that was blocking the procession.

These volunteers raised slogans demanding that the leaders be allowed inside the Collectorate. The SAF men suddenly swung into action; they tried to chase them away using force. Noticing this, another section of the processionists, who were standing on t he river bed, began throwing stones at the police. Soon the SAF men and the TSP women rushed inside the Collectorate and hurled stones at the crowd. As the situation was going out of control, the police once again resorted to a lathi-charge and opened tw o rounds of fire in the air. Shylesh Kumar Yadav and a few other officers were seen calling upon policemen to show restraint, but their appeal went unheeded. Hundreds of men and women ran helter -skelter and many of them stepped into the dry river bed. E ven at this juncture, the stone-throwing continued. Some of the stones hurled by the policemen hit their own officers.

As the volunteers had fled the scene, the jeep carrying the leaders was abandoned in the middle of the road. Since the SAF and the TSP men continued to throw stones, about half a dozen workers of the P.T., led by T.S.S. Mani, persuaded the leaders not to leave the jeep and shielded them from a possible attack. One stone hit the driver and he almost lost control of the vehicle. The driver recovered quickly and the vehicle sped away. Just then a stone hit Palani on his head and he was injured.

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Even after the jeep left, a large number of lathi-wielding policemen went into the dry river bed, as some persons were still hurling stones, and started chasing them. The panic-stricken men and women had no other option but to run towards the river. On s eeing the police still pursuing them, they jumped into the water. The policemen did not withdraw even at this stage. Some of them jumped into the water and hit on the heads of the volunteers with lathis.

On seeing women and a few others getting drowned, some people attempted to rescue them, but they too were not spared by the police. One person who rescued a woman was severely assaulted by a dozen policemen in the very presence of the officers.

Some policemen managed to reach the opposite bank of the river and continued their attack. Those who jumped into the river were attacked by policemen from both banks. Ramalingam, Abdul Hameed, Arulraj and Murugan, all mediapersons covering the demonstrat ion, rescued at least four women, but, on being challenged by the police they withdrew. Antony Xavier, who was taking pictures of his colleagues' rescue operation, was assaulted on the river bed. The police damaged the camera and threw the film roll into the water.

During the operation that lasted 35 minutes (from 2-40 p.m. to 3-15 p.m.), Shylesh Kumar Yadav was the only senior officer on the scene. District Collector K. Dhanavel later visited the scene. Fire service personnel were summoned and they retrieved three bodies, including the body of jailed estate worker Mariappan's two-year-old son. The body of the child's mother was recovered the next day. Fourteen more bodies were retrieved in the following two days. According to police, 21 police personnel suffered injuries in the stone-throwing. Three of them have been admitted to hospital.

The Collector and T. K. Rajendran, Commissioner of Police (in-charge), who did not come out of their office, denied at a press conference that the police opened fire. They said that the police resorted to only lathi-charge and the use of teargas shells. According to top police sources, the SAF and TSP companies had no proper officers to command them.

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MEANWHILE, following a discussion the Collector had with the Chief Minister, papers were presented before the court withdrawing the cases against the 652 estate workers lodged in the Tiruchi central prison. All the 39 persons taken into preventive custod y in connection with the July 23 procession were released. Reacting to this, Krishnaswamy said that the bloodshed could have been avoided had the Government acted earlier.

G.K. Moopanar, TMC president, who visited the spot on July 25, expressed the view that the police action was unwarranted and unprovoked since there appeared to be no evidence of any violence from the side of the processionists. He said that the Chief Min ister, who held additional charge of the Home Ministry, should own responsibility for the incident. Significantly, this has been the first time that Moopanar has been critical of the State Government after his party snapped its ties with the ruling Dravi da Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

The ghastly incident has thrown up certain questions concerning the DMK Government's crisis-management system and its approach to issues raised by political parties, trade unions and social groups.

The Chief Minister's statement on the incident raises doubts about the Government's seriousness in considering the demands of the demonstrators. While it is essentially a labour dispute involving 2,000 estate workers, an attempt is made to give a caste c olour to the demands, simply because Krishnaswamy happens to be a Dalit leader championing the cause of Dalits. The Chief Minister's statement indirectly questions the wisdom of TMC leaders joining hands with "casteist elements".

The administration, which had mobilised the police forces in strength in tune with its approach to caste-related agitations, does not appear to have taken care to provide proper guidance to the police. The number of police officers present during the inc ident was not proportionate to the large presence of the police force at the spot.

Such a policy of deploying the police force on a menacingly large scale whenever oppressed sections seek to exercise their legitimate democratic rights may at times lead to unintended consequences. It has the potential of sending out dangerous signals to social groups that are in conflict with each other, particularly in places where caste-related violence erupts very often, and encourage them to take advantage of a volatile situation.

Now, the cover-up

The Army and the political leadership have begun to deploy formidable alibis to repulse criticism of the initial failures in the Kargil campaign.

THE last remnants of Pakistan's forces continue to defend the debris of their summer campaign on the Kargil heights. Indian forces are engaging nine positions that continue to hold out west of the 5,353-metre peak, Marpo La, and some 2 km inside the Line of Control (LoC) from what used to be Pakistan's principal supply base in the Batalik subsector, Muntho Dalo. Some 70 Pakistani irregulars are believed to have dug in at Muntho Dalo and perhaps an equal number near Marpo La. Skirmishes have broken out a round the Tiger Hills in Drass and occasional exchanges of artillery fire still punctuate the days, but villagers are making their way back to their homes, hoping to salvage whatever they can before the winter sets in.

But if this war is over, none of the questions asked of its conduct and its origins seems any closer to being answered. Basking in the warm saffron-suffused glow of victory, both the top Army leadership and politicians of the Hindu Right are using patrio tism to strengthen their armour against uncomfortable questions. Although the A.B. Vajpayee government has ordered an inquiry (the government prefers to call it a review) into the events that led to the Kargil conflict by a panel headed by defence analys t K. Subrahmanyam, there are more than a few signs that the guilty need have no reason to lose sleep. The massing of formations of troops in Kargil looks set to be replaced by the deployment of equally formidable alibis and falsehoods, enough to repulse the most determined critics.

Perhaps the largest emerging area of controversy is why specific intelligence warnings of an intrusion last autumn were not acted upon by the 121 Brigade at Kargil and the command structure in Srinagar and New Delhi. Congress(I) spokesperson Kapil Sibal on July 22 made public the contents of a letter written on August 25, 1998 by Brigadier Surinder Singh, who commanded the brigade, to his superiors. The letter warned of an increased threat perception and asked for the use of remotely piloted surveillanc e aircraft to monitor movements along the LoC. The letter was written in the wake of sharp artillery exchanges between July 27 and August 4, 1998, which resulted in the death of 31 civilians, 10 soldiers and six Border Security Force (BSF) personnel.

Surinder Singh, who was unceremoniously ejected from his command in the middle of the war and attached to the 15 Corps Headquarters, has now reportedly been posted as a sub-area commander in Secunderabad. Many military observers have read the move as an attempt to buy the Brigadier's silence. As reported in the Frontline issue dated July 30, Major K.B.S. Khurana and Major Bhupinder Singh, who led the 121 Brigade's Intelligence and Field Security Unit and Brigade Intelligence Team respectively, ha d warned of a summer intrusion in two alerts put out in September and December 1998. Their reports were based on information from the Intelligence Bureau's field operative in Kargil. It is unclear whether Surinder Singh or anyone else reacted to this inf ormation, but independent scrutiny of the 121 Brigade's files may give some interesting insights into subsequent events.

More than a few questions have emerged from the disclosure of Surinder Singh's letter. For one, the Brigadier did not need clearance from his senior officials to intensify vigil along the LoC. One plausible explanation of his letter is that he merely sou ght to create a defensive paper trail, deferring to the general climate of post-Pokhran political and military complacency. It has now become clear that the 121 Brigade's forward posts along the LoC were indeed vacated in the course of the winter of 1998 -1999. Speaking to the Press Trust of India on July 22, Defence Minister George Fernandes perhaps inadvertently debunked claims by the Army in a letter to Frontline denying that any forward posts had been left unheld. "Of course the LoC needs to b e manned round the year," he said. "We must take quick steps to make sure the entire area is secure."

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ARMY officials now claim that the occupation of LoC posts in the Kargil area, where temperatures are known to drop to -60C, will cost up to Rs.15 crores a year. The Army believes that the winter posts will have to be supplied by helicopter and that expe nsive high-altitude equipment will have to be purchased to sustain troop presence there. Engineers are busy building new tracks through the area, while specially bred mules will be used to push up equipment before the first snow falls. Between 8,000 and 10,000 soldiers from the 8 Mountain Division are expected to be deployed in the region until the summer of 2000. Officials routinely describe this winter enterprise as a "second Siachen", with some claiming that conditions in the Kargil sector will be mo re brutal than on the glacier.

Yet, this high-cost response to the Kargil war answers none of the questions on forward deployments. Troops of the BSF assigned to Marpo La before 1987 routinely stayed on the heights through winter without the help of massive air back-up or special equi pment. Indeed, the Channigund area west of Kargil and Chorbat La to its east were spared of Pakistani incursions because BSF troopers held their posts this winter, as before. BSF positions on Chorbat La were supplied without air support. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) also holds the punishing Daulat Beg Oldi heights, looking out on to the Karakoram range, with minimal air support. There has been no cogent explanation as to why the Army could not hold winter positions if the BSF and the ITBP, orga nisations with relatively thin resources, can.

Several observers believe that the cost-intensive operation now planned at Kargil is an exercise in deflecting blame. Having first insisted that the Army did not vacate any posts, senior Army officials now claim that the LoC posts were not held last wint er because adequate resources were not made available. Indeed, the Army top brass has resorted to dishonesty in the wake of the Kargil war. In a series of exposes, defence journalist Rahul Bedi pointed out that Chief of the Army Staff General V.P. Malik' s claims that the Army had inadequate battle surveillance and radar equipment were pure chicanery. The lack of Battlefield Surveillance Radar (BSR), which can track enemy gun positions, was cited by Army officials as a major reason for their early failur es in the campaign.

Bedi's reports pointed out that the Army had first begun trials of two BSR systems, from France's Thomson CSF and Germany's Alcatel SEL in 1983. After three rounds of field trials lasting a decade, the Army declared that both systems were technologically comparable, and the manufacturers submitted financial bids. The German BSR bid turned out to be 40 per cent lower than that submitted by Thomson CSF. For reasons that are more than a little opaque, the Army executed a volte-face, declaring that i t had no need for a BSR system after all. The Ministry of Defence, which secured funding for the system after a protracted battle with the Finance Ministry, protested. All that emerged was that the Army displayed a marked preference for the French BSR, d espite having made it clear earlier that the German system was just as good and that price would be the final arbiter.

Frontline found similar strange anomalies in the handling of the Direction Finding (DF) equipment, another case of key equipment deficiency cited by the Army. This equipment allows troops to detect wireless transmissions and thus helps establish t he number of enemy positions as also their geographical location. Army officials say that in the absence of the DF equipment the location of Pakistani troops in Kargil could be established only after prolonged physical surveillance. It is now clear that the DF equipment offered to the Army in the summer of 1997 was rejected on the grounds that it did not, in mountain terrain, achieve its stated objective. Ironically, the same equipment has been purchased in the wake of the Kargil war.

In June 1997, a team from Japan's Taiyo-Musein Corporation had arrived in Jammu and Kashmir to demonstrate a DF system to the Army's 8 Mountain Division at Sharifabad. The Taiyo-Musein DF system was built around a triangular grid of fixed stations which locked into the general coordinates of transmissions. Precise locations were then determined with vehicle-mounted and hand-held DF sets. But 8 Mountain Division officials claimed that the sets were less than accurate. They said that since radio signals r eflected off the mountains, the equipment often gave false locations. The Taiyo-Musein team argued that experienced operators would learn to distinguish between reflected signals and authentic transmissions, but the 8 Mountain Division was unconvinced. T aiyo-Musein had the last laugh: orders for the DF sets landed in June after the war broke out.

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PURCHASE of equipment are not the only curious aspects of top-level military functioning. In key senses, the real reasons for the military failures were political, with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government working overtime to turn Army com mand positions into branch offices of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The disgraceful decision of the Director-General of Military Operations, Lieutenant General M.C. Vij, and the Additional Chief of Air Staff (Operations), Air Vice-Marshal S.K. M alik, to brief the BJP's National Executive about the war on May 30 was the first instance in India's post-Independence history of military officials having briefed any particular political organisation on the conduct of war. Efforts have been made to st rip the Army of its apolitical heritage, an enterprise which has had disastrous consequences.

On March 15, 1999, Vajpayee laid out what was to form India's post-Pokhran military doctrine. "Now both India and Pakistan are in possession of nuclear weapons," he said. "There is no alternative but to live in mutual harmony... It is the kind of weapon that helps in preserving peace." Army officials sympathetic to the RSS world view listened attentively. When the intrusions were first detected, 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant General Kishan Pal proclaimed at the Unified Headquarters in Srinagar that the "handful" of terrorists who had infiltrated would be thrown out in days. Northern Command chief Lieutenant General H.M. Khanna, in turn, told Fernandes on May 12 that the intruders would be evicted "in 48 hours". Gen. Malik, for his part, saw no reason t o cut short his week-long visit to Poland, despite having been informed of the conflict.

Officers and troops of the 1 Naga Regiment, among the first units to be pushed into Drass, faced the consequences of such apathy. "We were told that there were two or three terrorists on one ridge and another couple somewhere else," an officer told Fr ontline. "We went in company strength and without heavy weapons." The first troops were butchered.

Although India's successes in the Kargil campaign are a tribute to the soldiers who fought against all odds, the United States-authored end of the war is no triumph for the government. "In the beginning, the Defence Minister talked about considering the idea to give safe passage to the intruders," former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar pointed out. "It was ridiculed and rejected. Now the same is being implemented. Whatever may be the claim, in reality it is a ceasefire and safe passage."

But with an election campaign just round the corner, the BJP finds it imperative to sustain the myth that the Kargil war has been an unequivocal triumph; some of its luminaries have even claimed that the victory was greater than the one in 1971. The inte grity of Indian defence, the politicians of the Hindu Right evidently believe, is a cheap price to pay for coming back to power.

Other engagements

A RELIGIOUS festival planned by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and organised by the security establishment? A regiment of Tibetan soldiers paid for with Indian tax money and set up to invade China?

Leh's Shangri-la image is not just tourist hype. Cut off from public scrutiny, the town has become host to a spectrum of bizarre military enterprises.

Consider the Sindhu Darshan festival organised in Leh at the end of June. This programme to celebrate the Indus river has its origins in a 1997 visit to the town by L.K. Advani, now Union Home Minister. The Sindhi community in India attaches an emotional significance to the Indus. Advani, having discovered that the river flows through Ladakh, decided to organise the festival.

If none of this seems exceptionable, subsequent events certainly were. The infrastructure for last year's celebrations was provided by the 3 Infantry Division in Ladakh on the instructions of its commander, Lieutenant General V.N. Budhwar. More than 500 RSS workers, including RSS ideologue Tarun Vijay, attended the Sindhu Darshan. Most of them stayed on premises made available by the Army, which also sent troops to erect platforms and pavilions.

Two points are to be noted. One, a public-funded organisation such as the Army has no business subsidising private religious and cultural activities. Moreover, Sindhu Darshan had explicit ideological affiliations which militate against the Army's apoliti cal character. Instructions have been issued to the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the district police to facilitate this year's Sindhu Darshan.

Budhwar, a controversial officer on the firing line in view of his infamous conduct of the Kargil campaign, is famous in Leh for his efforts to develop, among other things, a zoo and a sprawling children's amusement park in the tiny town. Local officials have been more than a little stunned by his ideological leanings. They fought a protracted rearguard action to fend off demands from the General to have Muslim villages evicted from the Turtok area along the Line of Control. Budhwar evidently believed t he villages to be a threat to India's security, a baseless proposition.

BUT the real news from Leh has been hushed. Last month, ITBP troopers discovered that a group of 40 Chinese soldiers had begun to construct a road near a forward position called Track Junction in the general area of Daulat Beg Oldi. The road was built so me 4 km into the territory claimed both by India and China and unheld by both. The Chinese troops were unarmed and evidently confident there would be no armed reprisal. Interestingly, the road construction began from the point claimed by China to constit ute the international border.

Mindless Chinese provocation? In May, one of the most curious units of the Indian Army saw its first known combat deployment. The Vikas Regiment was put up on the Batalik heights as first reports of Pakistani intrusion came in. Weeks later, as it became clear that the fighting was serious and that Vikas Regiment troopers could be taken prisoner, its men were withdrawn. The reason was simple. The Vikas Regiment is commanded by Indian officers but its soldiers are children of refugees from Tibet. The Tibe tan soldiers are hired on fixed-term contracts and take orders from a special political office under the command of the Dalai Lama.

The Vikas Regiment has its origins in efforts by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to set up deep-penetration guerilla units in Tibet after China took control of the region. India played along with those efforts well after the CIA aban doned its Tibet enterprise, a fact that should be of some relevance to those who believe that the 1962 war was entirely unprovoked. In the wake of the 1962 war, the guerilla units were turned into the Vikas Regiment, tasked to conduct deep penetration op erations in China in the event of war. In effect, India was doing exactly what it now complains that Pakistan engages in: funding, training and arming a force of foreign nationals with the purpose of waging war against a neighbour.

The Track Junction affair appears to have been at least partly provoked by the use of the Vikas Regiment in Batalik. Reliable sources say that the affair was discussed by the Cabinet Committee on Security and instructions were issued not to provoke a con frontation at Track Junction. Efforts by Frontline to establish the precise sequence of events leading to the use of the Vikas troops were stonewalled and public relations officials in Srinagar said that they had no information on either the Regim ent or its deployments. But some serious questions clearly have to be answered, even if news is slow in making its way across the mountains, physical and metaphorical, that guard Shangri-la.

Massacres and cold facts

While the sharpening of the communal divide has been the thrust of the terrorist massacres this summer in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP-led government's response has appeared to be centred round anything but ground realities.

ON the afternoon of July 19, Panna Lal's friend, a forest guard named Abdul Qayyum, dropped by at his home in the hamlet of Lihota, a 10-kilometre walk from the town of Thatri on the Doda-Kishtwar highway. The forest guard had heard that a group of terro rists planned to attack Lihota's Village Defence Committee (VDC) that night. No one took the warning seriously.

By next morning, Panna Lal's wife and three daughters were butchered in the fourth major massacre Jammu and Kashmir has seen in three weeks. His mother Parma Devi and brothers Shiv Lal, Krishan Lal, Lekh Raj and Mohan Lal, Mohan Lal's wife Dalipan Devi a nd infants Naresh Kumar and Satish Kumar were among those killed. Shiv Lal lost his entire family: his wife Thakri Devi and sons Bagh Singh and Mohinder Singh. The 15 deaths meant that almost half of Lihota's population of 39, living in a cluster of five huts, was wiped out in a single night. The villagers were targeted for participating in the VDC, a programme to arm local residents against terrorist attacks.

The attack on Lihota began at 8.45 p.m. Two of the nine villagers who had been armed with .303 rifles were keeping watch from a make-shift bunker on the fringes of the hamlet. When they noticed a group of about 10 terrorists moving near the hamlet, warni ng shots were fired. A full-blown exchange of fire soon broke out. Other VDC members returned fire but the bunker was eventually overrun. The villagers who were inside were killed and the route to their homes was now clear. But the seven surviving VDC me mbers displayed exemplary courage. When one terrorist clambered up a hut and lobbed a grenade, which claimed several lives, a shot up the chimney killed him and injured two others. Wireless intercepts identified the two terrorists, who succumbed to wound s, by their code names Akbar and Iqbal.

The carnage would have been worse if three residents, Amrik Singh, Bhushan Kumar and Ramesh Kumar, had not continued to hold out. Other residents say they continued to return fire until past 9 p.m. when reinforcements finally reached the area. Three chil dren, Surjit Singh, Sunil Singh and Mukesh Singh, loaded empty rifle magazines while some women supplied water and food to the defenders. This last line of resistance allowed the survivors, including many of those injured, to run into the woods. At 6 a.m ., two women informed the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel stationed at Batara of the incident. Personnel of the Special Operations Group at Fixoo reached the village after fighting off an ambush midway.

Local residents recognised three of the intruders as Manzoor, Abdul Hamid and Parvez of the Hizbul Mujahideen. The rest of them are believed to be of Pakistani or Afghan origin. The Hizbul Mujahideen's Shakeel Ahmad group is also believed to have been re sponsible for the second major attack on VDC members this month. On July 22, three VDC members were kidnapped from Dudu-Basantgarh in Udhampur and murdered. Five Muslim members of the VDC at Purnara were kidnapped from Kansar Top and taken to Dudu-Basant garh to call out three VDC members there. Darshan Kumar, Vakil Singh, Ramesh Chand and Sudesh Kumar responded to the calls. While Ramesh Chand escaped the minute he saw the ploy, his three comrades were shot.

THIS is Jammu and Kashmir's second summer of communal carnage. The summer of 1998 saw a string of killings, beginning with the April 19, 1998 butchery at Prankote village in Reasi which claimed 28 lives. Twenty-five members of a wedding procession were k illed at Chapnari, near Doda town, on June 19. The villages of Kishtwar district, Thakrain-Hor and Sarwan, witnessed the murder of 17 Hindus on June 27, possibly a reprisal for the killing of four members of the family of Mohammad Qasim, Hizbul Mujahidee n commander for Doda, at their home in Machlal village eight days earlier. It is rumoured in Doda that the killings of Qasim's family members were carried out by VDC vigilantes with Army backing, a charge officials deny. The summer of murder ended with the gunning down of 34 road construction workers at two outposts just across Doda's border with Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh on August 3.

What purposes do these communal massacres serve? One objective is simple. Right-wing terrorists, like a plethora of communal politicians in and outside the State, hope to accentuate the geographical fault lines between Hindus and Muslims. Each massacre s parks off Hindu migration to areas south of the Chenab, while Hindu communal mobilisation contributes to Muslim consolidation north of the Chenab. Politicians of the BJP benefit from such killings in Hindu-dominated areas, while the National Conference, which functions as an affiliate of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the Jammu region, benefits from Muslim communal consolidation. Sadly, there is no mainstream political force which has attempted to strengthen the traditional trans-communal cultural and social ti es of the area.

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The massacres also serve one further purpose: they allow terrorists to present themselves as defending a besieged Islamic minority from a Hindu state. The massacre at Mendhar on June 1, for example, had its roots in an affair between Shankar Lal, a local resident, and Arifa, the daughter of Sher Mohammad, another local resident. The two eloped in mid-May, following which Muslim communalists insisted that the girl had been abducted. A police case was filed and investigations began. Hindu leaders decided to make political capital out of the issue, claiming that the local police harassed Shankar Lal's family. On May 2, a fracas broke out at a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office in Jammu when Sub-Inspector Prem Nath and Assistant Sub-Inspector Mohan S ingh reached the location to search for Arifa and Shankar Lal.

Terrorists joined in the fracas, threatening local Hindus that failure to return Sher Mohammad's daughter would not be tolerated. The intervention triggered the Mendhar massacre.

If the sharpening of the communal divide has been a key thrust of the massacres this summer, an upsurge of frontal attacks on security personnel has been the second. Before dawn on July 23, terrorists attacked a residential complex situated on the fringe s of the Border Security Force's (BSF) sprawling Sector Headquarters at Bandipore, 90 km west of Srinagar. Constable M. Rajappa and his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Surekha were injured and his wife Bharati was killed in a burst of fire at one of t he three multi-storey apartment blocks. Deputy Inspector-General S.K. Chakravarty was shot dead when he arrived at the scene of the shoot-out, the consequence of the careless use of a searchlight that illuminated the officer's position. The Joint Directo r of the BSF's intelligence unit, the G-Branch, Mahendra Raj, was also killed in the fire along with Sub-Inspector K. Bhaskar.

While initial reports suggested that 12 hostages had been taken by the terrorists, it is now clear that the people who were saved by National Security Guard commandos were not hostages. These residents had locked themselves in a room at the far end of th e apartment. Man Singh, a BSF jawan, told Frontline that he and his wife cut a hole in the false ceiling to crawl into the adjoining flat. There they joined 10 other survivors, including six children, of the first shoot-out. Man Singh claims to ha ve seen two terrorists inside the building just before dawn.

The successful conclusion of the BSF operation offers no cause for celebration. Data obtained by Frontline make clear that the BJP-led government's much-advertised "pro-active" policy on Jammu and Kashmir last year has been something of a disaster . The ratio of terrorists killed for each security personnel has been registering a steady decline since 1997 and has reached a record low after the Kargil campaign began. This would suggest that India's military and strategic planners have been unable t o respond effectively to new terrorist tactics, notably the widespread use of explosive devices. Also disturbing is the fact that the ratio between the number of terrorists killed and the civilian lives lost has been declining. Signs of trouble were evid ent well before the Kargil campaign, illustrating the fact that redeployment of troops cannot alone account for the phenomenon.

While the presence of the troops has already been thinned by the Kargil war, the State administration is determined to undermine what remains. A welter of recent and flagrantly election-related transfers, notably the shunting of Inspector-General of Poli ce P.S. Gill to a somewhat ill-defined post in charge of operations, constitute a sign of the State Government's lack of will to end the violence. If trends for the first six months of this year are sustained through 1999, more Hindus and Muslims will di e in terrorist violence than at any time since 1997. So, too, will more members of all the forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir. None of these cold facts appears to have informed the Union Government's rhetoric on Jammu and Kashmir, which increasingly se ems more centred around statements made in Washington and London than on ground realities.

The split and the wait

politics

The Janata Dal splits once again, this time over the issue of joining the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. However, the entry of the J.H. Patel-led group into the NDA does not promise to be easy.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN S.K. PANDE in New Delhi

FOR the Janata Dal, which has undergone much fission in recent years, another turn of the wheel of political misfortune has brought yet more bad news. Following the events of July 21, the most important of which was the division of the party's Political Affairs Committee (PAC) on the question of aligning with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Janata Dal split for the fourth time in five years.

Led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, the majority of PAC members, including senior leaders Madhu Dandavate, S. Jaipal Reddy and S.R. Bommai, wanted the Janata Dal to continue to maintain equidistance from both the BJP and the Congress(I), and st rive to strengthen the third front. The remaining PAC members, including party president Sharad Yadav, former Railway Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and Karnataka Chief Minister J.H. Patel, however, wanted to "reunite" with the breakaway factions of the Janat a Dal, including the Samata Party and the Lok Shakti, to oppose the "dynastic" Congress(I) which is led by a "foreigner", and join the NDA.

Significantly, former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, who virtually started the Janata Dal's tilt towards the BJP-led front during the last Lok Sabha elections when he accepted the support of the Akali Dal, a constituent of the NDA, maintained a neutral stan ce, although he is believed to be in agreement with the minority group.

The split was preceded by hectic discussions and manoeuvres spread over three days, aimed at working out a compromise. These efforts, however, failed; since July 21, each side has claimed that it is the "real" Janata Dal. Subsequently, the two groups mad e a series of expulsion announcements; Sharad Yadav became one of the first casualties when the majority group in the PAC expelled him from the post of party president and appointed Deve Gowda in his place. The two groups are currently engaged in the pro cess of "reconstituting" party bodies at the central and State levels.

AS with the earlier splits, this one too is expected to have a major impact on national politics. However, given the Janata Dal leaders' inconsistencies, it is not yet clear who will make political gains from the latest events. On the face of it, the spl it is likely to weaken the anti-BJP secular forces. For, despite its gradual decimation over the last five years, the Janata Dal did have some influence in States such as Bihar and Karnataka. If one were to go by normal electoral arithmetic, the split wo uld cause the secular forces to lose at least a part of this vote. However, the Janata Dal is not a "normal" party. At the best of times it has shown a penchant for causing atypical political fall-outs. Going by the immediate reaction to the July 21 even ts, the story is unlikely to be any different this time around too.

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If one were to go by conventional wisdom, the BJP should gain from the split and the so-called "re-unification" of the parties that were at one time part of the Janata Dal. However, BJP leaders themselves are sceptical about the gains their party would a ccrue. In fact, the split may prove to be a bigger headache for the BJP in particular and the NDA in general, than to the secular Opposition.

Barely 24 hours after the Janata Dal split, power equations began to change within the NDA, and even within the BJP. There were reports within the constituents of the NDA that the developments vis-a-vis the Janata Dal were a part of an elaborate s trategy initiated by Defence Minister and Samata Party leader George Fernandes to secure greater clout within the NDA at the expense of the BJP. According to another theory that emerged around the same time, the entire exercise had the blessings of Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, who, it was reported, was unhappy with his own position in the Sangh Parivar.

It is no secret that Vajpayee enjoys little support or authority within the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS-led Sangh Parivar. It is also well known that since the time he became Prime Minister, Vajpayee has had to reckon with many RSS and BJP leaders, including Home Minister L.K. Advani. Time and again he has had to fall back on allies such as the Trinamul Congress and the Telugu Desam Party to get his views to prevail over those of the RSS leadership and even Advani. In fact, sections of the BJP have termed the so-called "re-unification" of the Janata Dal a Vajpayee-inspired manoeuvre aimed at increasing the BJP's dependence on other constituents of the NDA.

Many people in the Sangh Parivar, especially those opposed to Vajpayee, have spoken out against the entry of the Janata Dal - more specifically, the group led by Sharad Yadav - into the NDA. They criticised the initiative taken by George Fernandes and Lo k Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde to bring the Janata Dal into the NDA. Leaders of the BJP's Karnataka unit and the party's national vice-president J.P. Mathur stated that the Janata Dal was not welcome in the NDA. Advani criticised George Fernandes for holding discussions with Janata Dal leaders without informing the NDA. Speaking to mediapersons two days after the Janata Dal split, Advani asked: "How would George Fernandes have felt if the BJP had held discussions with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leade r Laloo Prasad Yadav to induct him into the NDA?"

Top RSS leaders too are opposed to the idea of the Janata Dal joining the NDA. In fact, that group of Janata Dal leaders who favour an alliance with the NDA initiated efforts to placate RSS leaders such as K. Sudarshan and H.V. Seshadri. However, the San gh Parivar leaders, particularly Sudarshan, refused to budge and called the Janata Dal leadership a bunch of unreliable politicians.

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Despite the opposition they were likely to encounter from various quarters of the Sangh Parivar, the group comprising leaders such as Ram Vilas Pawan, J.H. Patel and Sharad Yadav decided to take the plunge. However, if the Sangh Parivar succeeds in keepi ng them out of the NDA, all their well laid-out political plans will come to naught. The manoeuvres of these leaders - which resulted in the Janata Dal split - were not based on ideology or political concepts. Political survival appears to have been thei r sole motive.

Until recently, leaders such as Paswan, Sharad Yadav and J.H. Patel repeatedly stressed their commitment to protect secularism and fight the "communal BJP". As recently as April this year, Paswan stated - in the context of the debate on the vote of confi dence sought by the A.B. Vajpayee government - that although he was opposed to the RJD regime in Bihar, he would join hands with that party to fight the BJP. However, now Paswan is of the view that the "corruption of the RJD and the threat to national se curity posed by a foreign prime ministerial candidate (Sonia Gandhi) is greater than the threat of communalism."

Paswan told Frontline that his attitude towards the BJP had changed after he was convinced that it had no hidden agenda. He claimed that the BJP was no longer pursuing contentious issues such as the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, the e nforcement of a uniform civil code and the abrogation of Article 370. When pointed out that the leaders of the Sangh Parivar, which includes the BJP, had made no statement to this effect, Paswan said that there was a tacit understanding within the BJP on these issues. Clearly, Paswan's need to get back into the Lok Sabha is compelling.

At one time, J.H. Patel had refused to respond to the overtures made by Hegde to lure him into the NDA. However, when faced with a threat to his chief ministership from the Deve Gowda faction, he changed his stance.

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Sharad Yadav's case is even stranger. Even a week before the Janata Dal split, he was negotiating a deal with Laloo Prasad Yadav to ensure his entry into the Lok Sabha. In fact, the deal had nearly been clinched when he reportedly received a better offer from the Samata Party, which he took.

In a sense, the tendency to flip-flop on ideology and political commitments has been the wont of the erstwhile socialists of this country, who form the core of the Janata Dal leadership, from the early days of Independence. Time and again the socialists generated visions of their group emerging as the pivot of a "Third Alternative" opposed to the Congress(I) and the saffron brigade, only to disappoint the people. The reason was invariably the personal ambitions of the leaders. These leaders have split a nd reunited numerous times in their pursuit of personal goals. The events of July 21 constituted another such instance.

GEORGE FERNANDES, who has emerged as a sort of "first among equals" in the "re-unified Janata Dal parivar", gains the most from the recent developments. The other gainer is Ramakrishna Hegde, who will now be able to bargain with the BJP for more seats in Karnataka by pointing out his role in bringing about a merger between the J.H. Patel-led group and his Lok Shakti. As for the rest of them, the improved probability of holding political office once again is the major gain. However, all this will be poss ible only if the BJP and the RSS allow them into the NDA. Despite the persistence of this doubt, the Sharad Yadav-led group believes that Vajpayee needs more allies around him to overcome the challenge from the RSS-led Sangh Parivar and will therefore fa cilitate their entry into the NDA. However, whether Vajpayee succeeds in his efforts or not depends upon the tactic the RSS decides to adopt. If RSS stalwarts such as Sudarshan continue to oppose their entry, even Vajpayee will find it difficult to force the issue. Clearly, the future of this NDA-oriented group is subservient to the political-organisational judgment of the RSS bosses.

The fallout in Karnataka

THE announcement by J.H. Patel, the Chief Minister of the only Janata Dal-led State Government in the country, that his party would align with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) set in motion a chain of developments that have altered political equati ons in Karnataka.

After the formal split of the Janata Dal at the Central level, Patel moved swiftly and dropped eight Ministers - four of Cabinet rank and four Ministers of State - from his Council of Ministers. They included Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and H.D. D eve Gowda's son H.D. Revanna. In order to pre-empt any move by the Deve Gowda faction to make political capital out of the situation, Patel followed up his action with a recommendation to Governor Khurshid Alam Khan to dissolve the Legislative Assembly. The Governor accepted the recommendation, and the Assembly was dissolved on July 22. The decision came in for scathing criticism from Janata Dal leaders who were opposed to Patel, as well as from other political parties. It is believed that Patel spoke t o Lok Shakti president Ramakrishna Hegde and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee before recommending the dissolution.

While explaining his decision, Patel said that the recommendation had nothing to do with the split in the Janata Dal. "It is superfluous to have an Assembly before which there is no agenda. So why have one?" he asked.

However, Patel's political opponents within and outside the erstwhile Janata Dal do not buy this explanation. They believe that Patel's action was prompted by his desire to remain as the head of a caretaker government until fresh elections are held. "Thi s is unconstitutional, undemocratic and unethical" Siddaramaiah told Frontline. He said: "The Governor has taken this decision in undue haste. It is well known that there was a split in the party and that a majority in the Political Affairs Commit tee (PAC) had backed Sharad Yadav's expulsion and Deve Gowda's election as president. It follows from this that Patel's Ministry is reduced to a minority and he cannot recommend the dissolution of the Assembly. The Governor should have taken this into ac count."

The Deve Gowda-led entity and the State unit of the Congress(I) have both said that the Governor should have imposed President's rule in the State instead of dissolving the Assembly, since the question of whether Patel had majority support in the House w as in doubt. They said that although the Governor was bound by the advice of the Cabinet, he needed to ensure that the government that made such a recommendation actually enjoyed majority support. Even before the Janata Dal split, Patel enjoyed a very th in and uncertain majority in the 224-member House. When a group of Ministers led by R.V. Deshpande resigned from the House just prior to the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the Janata Dal's strength in the House came down to less than 112, the 50 per cent mark . The present split, which prompted Patel to dismiss eight senior Ministers, would naturally have reduced his support further. "It should have been clear to the Governor that Patel did not enjoy majority support," C. Narayanaswamy, general secretary of t he State unit of the erstwhile Janata Dal, told Frontline. "The Governor should have asked him to prove his majority before accepting his recommendation," he said. Even as Patel handed over the letter to the Governor, there were 30 MLAs waiting at the Raj Bhavan with a letter stating that they were withdrawing their support to Patel. Now, Patel will continue as the head of a caretaker government until the elections."

Both the factions claim majority support within the party. Soon after he sacked the Ministers, Patel appointed former Agriculture Minister C. Byre Gowda president of the State unit of the party, or rather of that entity which recognises Sharad Yadav as t he national president. Besides, he immediately declared "illegal" the Janata Dal Legislative Party meeting convened by Siddaramaiah. "Our cadres are intact, our support in the district units remains unchanged and we have the support of a large number of MLAs and ex-MLAs," Siddaramaiah told Frontline. "We are not going to challenge the decision of the Governor to recommend dissolution, but we will make it an election issue."

Patel has the support of several of the more high-profile Ministers, including Home Minister P.G.R Sindhia, Minister for Major Irrigation K.N. Nage Gowda, Minister for Panchayati Raj M.P. Prakash, Minister for Primary and Secondary Education Govinde Gowd a, Minister for Industries B.L. Shankar, and Minister for Revenue B. Somashekar. In the many and bitter factional struggles that the State Janata Dal has seen, these Ministers have identified themselves with the anti-Deve Gowda group led by Patel. Even s o, none of them is likely to be comfortable with the idea of an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is what Patel and his mentor Ramakrishna Hegde have been working towards.

Now that the Assembly has been dissolved, the crucial issue before each of the Janata Dal entities is that of credibility rather than numerical support. A Chief Minister, who only a few days ago called the BJP a "cancer" is now eager to ally his group wi th it. This will damage the electoral chances of his party and by extension, the party he allies himself with, despite the fact that he tried, in typical Patel fashion, to joke away the faux pas by saying that "Cancer is curable."

THE State unit of the BJP is not amused at this. In fact, the split in the Janata Dal and Patel's defection to the BJP-led alliance cast a pall of gloom over the State unit of the BJP rather than being received as a shot in the arm since these developmen ts have opened up the prospect of the party having to share seats with yet another entity. Besides, the BJP has built its campaign around the anti-incumbency factor; in other words, the Patel government's "non-performance" over the last five years. Leade rs of the BJP, who are still smarting under the verbal insults that Patel and his supporters have periodically hurled at them, are determined not to have any sort of alliance with Patel.

"Going with Patel is a liability to us, and we have told our party president this in clear terms," S. Suresh Kumar, spokesman for the party's State unit, told Frontline. "Our alliance with the Lok Shakti stays, but we will not go with the Janata D al. In fact, the Lok Shakti too should not allow a liability like Patel to become a part of it." Important leaders of the BJP who belong to Karnataka, such as Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar, State unit president and the man being projected as its c andidate for Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, and the party's floor leader in the Assembly K.S. Easwarappa, are vehemently opposed to an alliance which has Patel as an element. "If an alliance of this sort is imposed on us, we will go it alone in the ele ctions," said Suresh Kumar. "We are ready to sit in the Opposition. We have waited for so long, we do not mind waiting longer. We must have a credible image," he said.

However, Jeevraj Alva, president of the Lok Shakti's State unit, does not foresee any problems in the alliance with the BJP following the merger of the Lok Shakti with the Janata Dal. He said that they were willing to concede to the BJP the post of Chief Minister should the alliance came to power.

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Patel's decision to align his group with the NDA was not entirely unexpected; his political gravitation in that direction had become obvious several months ago. For a long time now, Patel has made his sympathies for the BJP evident, offering frequent sta tements of friendship and support. When the A.B. Vajpayee government sought a vote of confidence early this year, Patel surprised everybody by saying that the Janata Dal should support the government. He also supported the BJP's stand that a person of fo reign origin should not be allowed to become Prime Minister. His frequent meetings with George Fernandes of the Samata Party and Hegde gave rise to intense speculation both within the party and without of his intention to switch loyalties.

On July 13, a day before the crucial Janata Dal State executive committee meeting was to be held, Patel announced that Prime Minister Vajpayee had telephoned him, requesting him to join the broad anti-Congress(I) platform the BJP was eager to erect. Pate l told mediapersons that he had accepted the suggestion and that he would meet leaders of non-Congress(I) parties. The same day, 15 Janata Dal Ministers and legislators demanded that all breakaway factions of the Janata Dal, including the Rashtriya Janat a Dal, the Biju Janata Dal, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party, come back into the parent party under the leadership of Patel.

A terse resolution emerged from the June 14 meeting of the Janata Dal State executive, which stated that the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister were authorised to work out the possibilities of a third front, but within the framework of the Jana ta Dal's long-held position of equidistance from the Congress(I) and the BJP. The very next day, after a breakfast meeting with Hegde and Fernandes, Patel announced his plans to align his group with the NDA.

AN alliance with a Lok Shakti-Patel group, if forced upon the BJP's State unit by its central leadership, will certainly improve the chances of the Congress(I), which is poised to do well in the elections. "We are not too worried about the developments i n the Janata Dal," said S.M. Krishna, State Congress(I) president and the party's chief ministerial candidate. "I don't know whether this baggage (Patel's faction) is acceptable to the BJP as three of its dyed-in-the-wool RSS leaders from the State have opposed it. I don't think the party can compete with the Congress(I) with this deadweight on its back."

There is also a great deal of opposition within the Congress(I) to an alliance with the Deve Gowda-led entity which may be imposed by the party's central leadership. "I refuse to succumb to pressure on this," Krishna told Frontline. (The Congress( I) lost a number of middle-level leaders to the BJP in recent defections, including M. Rajashekaramurthy, a prominent leader.)

Siddaramaiah has said that his "party", or rather the Deve Gowda-led entity will continue with its policy of equidistance from the Congress(I) and the BJP. "We are fighting this battle on our own. The rumours about us joining hands with the Congress(I) i s based on speculation," he told Frontline.

The Deve Gowda- and Sharad Yadav-led entities now await the decision of the Election Commission on which will be allotted the party symbol.

Naturally, it is the Janata Dal which is the worst affected by the split. This is a party in which intense personality-based factionalism is a permanent affliction. On several occasions this has led to splits, the last of which occurred in the Karnataka unit when Ramakrishna Hegde was expelled from the party in July 1996. That episode was followed by several similar occasions, when "dissidence" (the official word for factionalism) threatened to break the party.

Patel's decision to move to the BJP-led coalition through the agency of the Lok Shakti was influenced by his personal rivalry with Deve Gowda. After Patel became Chief Minister in May 1996 (in an inner-party contest against Deve Gowda's candidate Siddara maiah, the present Deputy Chief Minister), he charted a course independent of Deve Gowda, in which he kept his links with Hegde public and, to Deve Gowda's chagrin, very cordial.

Weakened by in-fighting and a poor record in government, the Janata Dal fared poorly in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. It won only three of the 28 Lok Sabha seats, as against the 16 it won in the 1996 elections.

The split will have a major impact on the politics of Karnataka. In the short term it has changed the political equations within and among the major political parties. In the long run, the disintegration of the Janata Dal in some sense signifies the weak ening of centrist politics, which shaped in Karnataka an alternative model of planned government in the post-Emergency period. Centrist politics took root in the socialist movement in Karnataka, and one of the reasons for its disintegration lies in the r ightward shift in the ideology and politics of many of those who were part of the socialist trend - for example, Ramakrishna Hegde, and now J.H. Patel. Of course, the Janata Dal has on more than one occasion resurrected itself. In any case, Karnataka's p olitics will never be the same again.

'It was a well-planned conspiracy'

politics
Interview with H.D. Deve Gowda.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who has been made president of one of the Janata Dal groups following the split in the party, plans to undertake a tour of the country. In an interview to S.K. Pande, Deve Gowda conceded that the Janat a Dal was going through a difficult and challenging period. He blamed the media and "power brokers" for destabilising the party. Excerpts:

How do you view the current crisis in the Janata Dal?

The situation was engineered over the last three years, with the media, power brokers and others wanting to project me and certain other members of the party as villains. It was a well-planned conspiracy aimed at destabilising the Janata Dal. Now it is o ut in the open. Without being over-ambitious, in the short term, by selecting a few specific areas, we can show part of our strength. In the long term, however, the Janata Dal has to be revamped.

What is the party's position in Karnataka?

It is not a question of majority or minority. All those who are committed to the party's basic ideology will remain this way, that is, with us. The thrust will be to keep the Congress(I) and the Bharatiya Janata Party out. There will be many developments in Karnataka.

Now that you are your party's president, what are your plans?

The long-term plan is to revive the party at the grassroots level. However, this is a tall order and it is unrealistic as of now. Tall claims will not be of any use. We have to press for seats in places where we matter. I will tour the country after a me eting in Karnataka and another in Delhi.

What is your overview of the general situation?

Very fluid indeed. As far as we are concerned, a clear picture has begun to emerge to some extent. In Kerala we will align with the Left, and in Maharashtra we hope to tie up with Sharad Pawar. State-wise, we will not have too many problems in Tamil Nadu , Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, to name a few. In Karnataka, the situation will be ultimately helpful to us.

Are you going to approach the Election Commission to stake your claim to be declared the real Janata Dal?

Yes, we are going to approach the Election Commission immediately. Our case is foolproof.

You say that your group is the real Janata Dal. Could you elaborate?

We believe in the philosophy of the Janata Dal. We are upholding the view of the majority of members of the Political Affairs Committee, that is, opposition to any association with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Eleven of the 16 members of the PAC are with us.

How would you sum up the situation?

I would put it this way. It is an extremely fluid situation and there will be many quick developments over the next few days. Ultimately, we will be seen as a party with an ideology, principles and credibility. It is too early to call it the end of the J anata Dal experiment. In any case, I have no problem in swimming against the tide when it has to be done. The tide can also change. Watch the pattern of alignments and realignments.

Kaiga on course

The second unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project attains criticality in August.

THE rain had stopped and there was a nip in the air as we drove up the dirt track on a forested hill in the Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats in Karnataka. In the valley below, which was surrounded by densely forested hills, the domes of two massive re actor buildings rose amidst the clouds. The scene was one of remarkable coexistence of high technology and pristine nature.

This is Kaiga, where the second unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project will attain criticality in the second fortnight of August. The second unit will be commissioned first because the undersurface of a portion of the inner dome of the first unit's doubl e containment collapsed on May 13, 1994. Work on the modified dome is at an advanced stage. The first unit will be commissioned next year. The two units have a capacity of 220 megawatt (MW) each. Eventually, four more reactors with similar capacity will be built. (When a reactor in an atomic power project reaches criticality, the project becomes a station. When the second unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project reaches criticality, it will be called the Kaiga Atomic Power Station.)

V.K. Sharma, Project Director, told the visiting Frontline team: "The run-up to the attainment of criticality has been smooth. Hot commissioning has been completed."

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Station Director N. Rajasabai said: "We completed fuel loading today (July 15). We did it in a short span of seven days." Filling up of heavy water is planned for July 30. "We will add 70 tonnes of heavy water in the coolant system and another 140 tonnes in the moderator system... So far there has been no problem," he said.

Like the other Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), the Kaiga project will use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as both moderator and coolant. The second unit at Kaiga will be the ninth PHWR that will be operational in the country. There are two each at Rawatbhatta in Rajasthan, Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu, Narora in Uttar Pradesh and Kakrapar in Gujarat. Two boiling water reactors, built by General Electric of the United States, are located at Tarapur in Maharashtra. All these units belong to t he Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC).

THE plant is situated near Kaiga village on the left bank of the Kalinadi river, about 60 km from Karwar in Uttara Kannada district. The nearest airport is 150 km away at Dabolim in Goa. The drive on the smooth metalled road from Dabolim to Kaiga unfolds the beauty of the Sahyadri. The road from Mallapur village to Kaiga - a distance of about 18 km - winds through dense forests inhabited by the Kunabi tribal community.

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Recalling the tough task of acquiring the land for the project, which began in 1987, Jugal Kishore Singh, Manager (Public Relations), said: "There was only a pucca road from Karwar to Dewalmukki. A cart track led up to Mallapur, and there was no road to Kaiga from there. We had to clear the vegetation to make a track for our vehicles." It took a lot of persuasion to make people living in the vicinity to part with their land, a total of about 425 acres (170 hectares). The reactor plant, the buildings and other facilities of the project occupy about 25 hectares of a total of 120 hectares of forest land that was acquired.

Today, there is hectic activity at the second unit.

The reactor building is about 73 metres tall and 46 metres in diameter. Sophisticated machines, are all in place, and the control rooms are ready. The project took about 3,20,000 cubic metres of concreting. The deployment of a 650-tonne heavy duty crawle r crane with 105-metre boom length; the installation of two end-shields, each weighing 120 tonnes, in the reactor vault; the clamping in of the fuel channels; the readying of two state-of-the-art control rooms (where computerised information on 2,000 par ameters would be available every second) give an indication of the frontier technology that went into the construction of the two units. Kilometres of cables have been used in them.

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Sharma said: "The PHWR is one of the most advanced reactors in the world. It compares in safety at any level with any other type of reactor." He dismissed as "ridiculous" fears that a Chernobyl-type accident was possible. The dreaded scenario of a Loss o f Coolant Accident (LOCA) - when the fuel core loses its cooling, the fuel melts down and loses its shape and a fire breaks out - might be possible in the case of other types of reactors but not in the case of the Indian PHWRs, he said.

Three huge doors, called personal air locks, provide entry into the reactor building of the second unit. They are arranged in such a way that only one door can be opened at a time. The third door, made of three-foot-thick concrete and lined with steel, s lides on rails to lead into the calandria vault, the heart of the reactor. The calandria is a huge cylindrical vessel made of stainless steel. It is supported on either end by massive plates, the end-shields. The calandria consists of 306 pressure tubes, also called coolant tubes. These tubes house the natural uranium fuel bundles, about 50 cm long and 8.17 cm in diameter and in pellet form. Twelve such bundles are located in each pressure tube. In other words, these pressure tubes are the fuel channels . The coolant tubes are located inside the calandria tubes, both containing heavy water. The calandria tubes are rolled into the end-shields.

The initial fuel load for the unit is 56 tonnes of natural uranium. The uranium required for the PHWRs is mined by the Uranium Corporation of India at Jaduguda, Narvapahar and Bhatin in Bihar. It is sent to the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad, where it is sintered and made into pellets. The heat produced due to fission in the natural uranium bundles is removed by the heavy water coolant, which transfers it to light water (ordinary water) contained in the secondary side of the steam generators to produ ce steam. The steam is led to turbines, which drive the generator to generate electricity. This electricity is wheeled into the Karnataka grid.

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Nuclear engineers completed the hot commissioning of the coolant system in March. This provided a protective layer of 0.7 micron thickness of magnetite to the coolant system. According to Dr. Ashok Mohan, Technical Advisor to Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, hot commissioning entails depositing layers of iron oxide on the coolant system to produce a surface that slows down further oxidation and prevents corrosion.

In the first week of July, 3,672 (306x12) fuel bundles were loaded into coolant tubes manually as the fuel was new and entailed no radiation. But it was a tough job, which demanded accuracy in millimetres.

According to Rajasabai, only 3,637 uranium bundles were fed into the reactor; the remaining 35 were thorium bundles which reduce neutron flux. Neutron flux would be high in the fuel core and could lead to high fission. The heat output would also be high and the temperature would tend to rise. "In order to avoid that, we put thorium bundles. Thorium cannot (by itself) cause fission. So the rising trend in temperature will be controlled."

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Once the reactor becomes operational, manual loading of fresh fuel will not be possible because there would be intense radiation and the calandria vault would be inaccessible. (The fuel bundles last about a year.) Two robots or fuelling machines would re move the radioactive spent fuel bundles and load fresh bundles once the unit attains criticality. The fuelling machines are like cranes, with scores of thick cables flowing out of them. The PHWRs have the advantage of on-line fuelling; that is, machines feed fuel bundles into the reactor without having to shut down the reactor.

Although each fuelling machine weighs several tonnes, the machines would clamp the fuel bundles with an accuracy of a few millimetres. This operation would be done from the control room of the reactor, Ashok Mohan said. "Accuracy of the installation of f uel bundles is important. Any mismatch could cause leakage of heavy water. The subtlety of engineering is evident from the accurate performance of these machines."

Each fuelling machine has 12 chambers called magazines and each serves a purpose: storing new fuel, spent fuel, seal plugs (to make coolant channels water-tight), sealed plugs (to provide radiation shielding) and so forth.

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One fuelling machine would be positioned near each end-shield. First, one machine would remove the seal and sealed plugs and keep them in their respective magazines. This would make the radioactive, spent fuel bundles in the fuel channels visible. Then i t would pick up two fuel bundles and clamp them inside the fuel channels by pushing out two spent fuel bundles. The other machine, in turn, would receive the bundles that are pushed out. In one day, four pairs or eight bundles would be fed into the react or. Rajasabai said: "By pushing in eight new bundles, eight old bundles will be pushed out. Then, the sealed plugs and the seal plugs will be put in place." Sharma calls it "a push-and-pull arrangement."

Sharma said that the spent fuel would be kept in a stainless steel tank, which has water up to a depth of 20 feet. This tank, lined with stainless steel, is located in the reactor building. "Ten years of spent fuel plus one calandria fuel unload in case of an emergency can be kept in this tank," he said.

Kaiga has two separate state-of-the-art control rooms for the two reactors. The reactor controls at Kaiga are more advanced than those available at the other PHWRs. They have several banks of computer consoles. The control panels provide full information to reactor operators on the status of the plant.

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Rajasabai said that information on every one of the 2,000 parameters such as compressor, pressure, flow and temperature for every second was stored in the computer for 24 hours. In case of any disturbance, or for any review, control room engineers could retrieve the information for every second of the previous 24 hours. "We can find out the cause of the abnormality and its effects. This is called computerised operator information system (COIS)," he said.

Sharma said that there were two computers in the control room. "These controls are unique and they are used for the first time at Kaiga. This is in line with the system that is in vogue anywhere else in the world."

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The testing of fire alarms was under way in the control room of the second unit when the Frontline team visited it. The fire alarm windows lit up. The panels would glow if anything went wrong with the emergency core cooling system, the primary shu t-down system, the steam generator or the turbine.

Thus, everything is on course at Kaiga.

Safety first

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

AT the Kaiga Atomic Power Project, the watchword is safety. All activities are geared towards ensuring the safety of the reactor. "If anything, we are overcautious," says Dr. Ashok Mohan, Technical Advisor to Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic En ergy Commission.

Project Director V.K. Sharma said: "The crux of reactor safety is based on core cooling." All safety systems were aimed at preventing the dreaded eventuality of a Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA). Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) is one of the safety systems adopted at Kaiga, which also boasts of a number of in-built safety measures, Sharma says.

Sometimes micro-cracks develop in the coolant tubes that house the natural uranium bundles. If these cut across the thickness of the coolant tubes, they can lead to a loss of coolant, that is heavy water, from the primary system and inadequate cooling of the fuel in the core. A LOCA may lead to a fire in the reactor.

Multiple barriers have been created to prevent radioactivity from escaping into the environment. To start with, the fuel pellet itself retains the fission products within its matrix. This is surrounded by the cladding of the fuel, which serves as the sec ond barrier. Any radioactivity released owing to a failure of the cladding is confined to the primary heat transport system (PHT) by the PHT boundary, which is the third barrier. The fourth and fifth barriers are the inner and outer containment of the do me over the building that houses the reactor. Besides, there is an exclusion zone of 1.6 km around the plant.

According to Sharma, once the reactor starts operating the fuel has to remain cool even if the reactor needs to be shut down. In other words, radioactivity has to be retained in the fuel itself. He said: "As long as you are able to cool the core, there i s no safety issue at all. All safety systems in the reactor address issues relating to core cooling."

The Project Director pointed out that natural uranium in the form of pellets were canned, aiming at low neutron absorption. As long as there was no rupture of the fuel, radioactivity remained inside the pellet and the cladding. Even if the shielding brok e, radioactivity would not escape because the structure of the fuel helped retain it, he said.

Sharma said: "The problem arises only when the cooling of the fuel core is lost. The dreaded scenario is the prospect of the entire cooling being lost and a significant failure of the fuel when the core melts down. That is what happened at Chernobyl (in the former Soviet Union) and Three Mile Island (in the United States). But there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere at Three Mile Island." Before the core meltdown took place, the fuel started losing shape. When the fuel touched the pres sure tube, the latter in turn came in contact with the calandria tube. The design of the Indian reactors was such that even if the pressure tubes and the calandria tubes came in contact with each other, the coolant would take care of it, Sharma explained .

Safety experts said that the RBMK-type reactor at Chernobyl used graphite, a burnable material, as moderator. The station operators there were conducting unauthorised experiments. Besides, Chernobyl had no containment dome to prevent radioactivity from e scaping.

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Sharma said: "Assuming that the entire core melts, the double containment (at Kaiga) is designed to withstand the pressures resulting from a LOCA and to contain the radioactivity inside the reactor without the plant personnel and people outside getting a ny significant dose.." A 100-metre-high stack with particulate filters filters radioactive emissions before letting them into the atmosphere. The stack height has been so designed that a person standing at the edge of the exclusion zone would receive rad iation within permissible limits.

As long as the primary circuit at Kaiga was intact, a LOCA would not occur, Sharma said. The reactor automatically shuts down when the power to the primary circuit goes off. This was one of the passive safety features, which was not based on outside inte rvention but on spontaneous reaction, he said. But the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC) was so obsessed with safety that it postulated an accident scenario when a double-ended rupture of this largest pipeline would take place without a wa rning, Sharma said. However, the steel used in the fabrication of the primary circuit would not permit crack-like defects to appear in it, he said. It was tested at minus 40C because steel tended to become brittle at lower temperature. But the material boasted of ductility.

Dr. Ashok Mohan said that the steel used in the making of the primary circuit was much stronger than multi-crystal and that there was no point where stress concentration would take place. Besides, quality checks were rigid, he added.

Station Director N. Rajasabai said that three stages of ECCS were provided in the reactor design. A rupture in the primary circuit and a fall in the pressure would be immediately detected and heavy water would be injected over the core by the opening of valves. The second stage involved the injection of light water (ordinary water) from the storage tanks. These would take care of the initial LOCA. Since light water would be of limited quantity, a third stage would come into operation when a massive quan tity of water - eight feet depth of water - available at the basement of the reactor building would do suppression cooling, Rajasabai said. Sharma pointed out that the philosophy was to use more and more water if a rupture took place in the primary circu it.

The fire incident in the first reactor at Narora made the NPC wiser. At the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat and at Kaiga, there is a separate routing of electricity cables to prevent a blackout, the kind of which engulfed the reactor building at Narora. Diesel and battery back-ups for the generation of electricity are available at Kaiga. The normal electricity cables, the cables from diesel generators and those from batteries were segregated physically by routing them in three different rooms. The cables were encased in metal trays too. Even if the wires leading from the batteries were damaged, the others would take over.

Sharma is convinced that a Narora-type blackout is not possible in Kaiga. Rajasabai added: "Even if a fire breaks out in one place, it will affect only one system of cables because the routes are different for the three systems of cables. So protection t o the reactor is still available. Physical separation of cables is an important safety feature in Kaiga."

A lifetime for Carnatic music

music
Interview with D.K. Pattammal.

She is a traditionalist but not one who has been bound by it. Not in her life nor in her music. Damal Krishnaswamy Pattammal took Carnatic music to new heights by blending traditionalism and trailblazing novelism, and defied tradition to become th e first Brahmin woman to give public concerts. She challenged traditional attitudes, not by argument, but by talent. Thus, DKP, as she is popularly known, was the first woman to sing in concerts ragam-tanam-pallavis, the rhythmic complexities of w hich call for great skill and demand a high degree of concentration.

And all this with no formal grounding in basics. Circumstances prevented her from learning in the gurukula system under one guru. But she trained under many vidwans to acquire a rich and varied repertoire of not merely the compositions of t he Trinity - Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri - but also the Tamil kritis of Muttuthandavar, Arunachala Kavi, Gopalakrishna Bharati, Subhramania Bharati, and hymns from such Tamil devotional anthologies as Tiruppugazh, Thevaram an d Arutpa. Again, in a break with tradition, DKP was among the first woman playback singers in films where she is best remembered for her rendering of patriotic songs in Naam Iruvar and Thookku Thookki. Her special talent and musical sensibi lity were evident even when she was three.

Not very surprising because if her father, Krishnaswamy Dikshitar, was deeply interested in music, her mother, Rajammal, was a singer whose talent remained suppressed by the orthodox ways of those days. DKP managed to break those shackles, nurture her ta lent and rise to become a major figure in the world of Carnatic music. And since 1933, when as a 14-year old she began her career in music, she has not looked back.

DKP's 65-year-old career has seen her winning innumerable awards and titles, including the coveted Sangita Kalanidhi conferred by the Madras Music Academy (1970), the Padma Bhushan (1971), the Kalidas Samman (1998-99) and the Padma Vibushan (1999) confer red by the President of India. For Pattammal, however, the most significant accolade is the one from one of the giants of Carnatic music, "Tiger" Varadachari, who described her as Gana Saraswati.

Meeting Pattammal, one realises that her capacity for feeling is immense. She recalls: "At 50, I turned from the heady laya to bhava, singing with feeling, singing so as to let the music touch you deep inside." As she sings "Enraiku siva kr ipai varumo" one is moved, immersed in music the power of which lies not in virtuosity or vocal gimmicks, but in feeling. Her feeling extends beyond music to the love showered on her by her parents, her headmistress Ammukuttiamma (who encouraged her to s ing in public), her guru Krishnaswamy Iyengar, her greatest inspiration Naina Pillai, and others who supported and encouraged her. She breaks down as she reminisces about them.

After her marriage to R. Iswaran at the age of 20, Pattammal performed her "duties" as wife, mother and daughter-in-law alongside her busy career. Music, she says, has been her solace and if there is another birth she would dedicate it to music.

Pattammal, in spite of her ill-health, has been training youngsters and giving concerts. On July 11 she sang in the 18-hour Carnatic music concert conducted in Chennai for the Kargil soldiers benefit fund.

Severe arthritis has left her almost immobile. But the unassuming and ever-smiling DKP readily agreed to meet Chitravina exponent Ravi Kiran (RK) and Frontline Special Correspondent Asha Krishnakumar (AK) at her Chennai residence . In the two-hour-long interview, DKP looked back at her life and music. She also spoke about Carnatic music, and about musicians and audiences then and now.

Excerpts from the interview:

RK: Can you share with us the experience of your first stage performance?

I gave my first public concert in 1932 at Madras' Rasika Ranjani Sabha. I was 13 then. It was a group concert in which five of us sang. But before that I had given a concert on Madras Corporation Radio (run by the Corporation of Madras before the All Ind ia Radio came into being) in 1929. In those days it was a rare feat.

AK: You were the first Brahmin woman to come on stage in Carnatic music. It must have required a lot of courage. Who encouraged you?

It was indeed a big thing in those days. I was the first Brahmin woman to come on stage in Carnatic music as Rukmini Devi was for Bharatanatyam. Everyone was supportive. At first my father opposed it. But later he gave in.

AK: What about the support from fellow musicians and the public?

Colleagues were supportive. But I have heard some people make remarks like "How dare a Brahmin girl sing in public?" and so on. I did not give up. At that time women from one particular community used to sing in public. It was anathema for a Brahmin woma n to sing in public. My mother, Kanthimathi (Rajammal), used to sing very well. But she never sang in public.

AK:Who encouraged you to sing in public?

Primarily my father's friends. I was 10 when my father's friends approached him to let me sing for a gramophone record company. First, my father refused, fearing that the record will be played at all and sundry places. He did not want the works of great masters like Thyagaraja and Dikshitar and his daughter's voice to he heard at such places. Then Dr.Srinivasan of Kancheepuram, who is my husband's uncle (I was not married then), persuaded my father to let me sing. My school headmistress, Ammukutti-amma, also urged my father to let me accept the offer. After a lot of pressure from a number of his friends, my father finally agreed.

RK: You were the first woman musician to present layam in pallavi. Whom did you learn that from?

Naina Pillai used to sing pallavi with kuraippu. I used to go to his concerts repeatedly to learn the technique. I then practised it on my own. I have set pallavis such as "Mamava Pattabhirama" inspired by Muthuswami Dikshitar's mast er-piece in raga Manirangu.

RK: What were your practise methods? This may be a useful tip for youngsters.

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I used to practise whenever I got the time. Untiring practice is most important. My father was my first guru. Even when I was four he would wake me up at 3.30 a.m. for practice. First he taught me to sing shlokas (hymns) and later, kritis(c ompositions). I used to sing 10 kritis in different ragas everyday. My father would make a weekly time-table. Every day the songs would be different. To perfect the songs, I had to sing each one for about 50 times. After that I would have to do alapana (delineating raga in extenso) for each one of the raga. I used to practice till 6 a.m. (from 3.30 a.m.) every day. Then again, after I returned from school in the evening I used to practise singing shlokas such as Mukundamalai, Shyama la Dhandakam, Meenakshi Pancharath-nam and Lalitha Pancharathnam. And, then, more kritis.

My father never allowed me to look into a notebook and sing. He used to say that it will divert concentration. Nowadays youngsters use notebooks all the time, even during concerts. I wonder how they can concentrate on singing.

RK: Did you ever practice under Naina Pillai?

No. I did not. But even when I was five, he was an inspiration for me. My father used to take me to all his concerts, and I would come home and practise the songs he sang.

Naina Pillai used to conduct a Thyagaraja Utsavam in Kancheepuram every year. Carnatic music giants such as Ariyakudi (Ramanuja Iyengar) and Musiri (Subramania Iyer) used to sing there. I used to attend all the concerts. Rajaratnam Pillai was another ins piration for me. I was also encouraged by my elder brother, Ranganathan (he is no more).

When I was eight, Naina Pillai conducted a competition at Kancheepuram. I got the first prize, singing "Raksha Bettare" in Bhairavi. Naina Pillai was impressed. That was a real turning point in my life.

RK: I have heard a lovely rendition of "Raksha Bettare" by Palghat Mani Iyer. From whom did you learn the song?

I learnt it in Kancheepuram from Chinnamma, who used to live in Pattu Iyengar's house. I learnt about 10 kritis from her.

AK: Who were your other gurus?

Naina Pillai was my primary inspiration. It used to be a wonderful experience hearing Naina Pillai sing "Nenje Ninai Anbe", a pallavi in Jaganmohini. I also learnt from his student, N.S.Krishnaswamy Iyengar and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar's student Vaidyanathan. Kancheepuram P.B. Srinivasan and Chinnamma were my other teachers.

In Madras, I learnt some Dikshitar kritis from Ambi Dikshitar and T.L. Venkatrama Iyer. I studied under Papanasam Sivan, the great composer. I learnt about 50 Tiruppugazh songs from Appadurai Achari. I also learnt a few compositions of Tirupati Na rayanaswami and also many varnams, pallavis and javalis from Vidyala Narasimhalu Naidu.

RK: I have listened to the records you cut when you were young. You had not only a high sruti (pitch) but also tonal depth. How did you marry the two? Did it come naturally?

From shadjamam to panchamam (lower to higher octave) I had the same depth in voice. This, I think, was because of my intense, and long hours, of practice from very early in the morning.

RK: Did you learn music from the beginning, say, from sarali and janta varisai?

I have never learnt sarali and janta varisai, geetham and so on. I practised some varnams on my own. Now, I start from kritis to my students.

AK: How has the audience culture changed? What is the difference between the musicians and the audience of your times and now?

There is a change in the attitudes of both listeners and artists. At the beginning of a concert the youngsters sing a swaram and then a korvai, for which they get a long applause. They sing that way to get that applause. There needs to be < I>bhava and depth, without sacrificing vidwat (scholarship). The youngsters need to practise a lot for that. Art should be performed for art's sake. It should not become commercial. If it does, then we would be forced to sing for the audience and not for the sake of the art. Music is now being sung with great speed. It has become very commercial. That is very sad.

As for the audience, only genuine music lovers used to come to concerts in the earlier days. But, now, it has become fashionable to go to concerts.

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RK: Has the kutcheri pattern changed over time?

Earlier pallavi was the central piece of any concert and hence varnam was very important. They used to sing only four to five songs.

RK: What pattern do you follow?

I follow the pattern set by Ariyakudi and Naina Pillai. I sing a varnam, a few krithis of different types, a ragam-tanam-pallavi, some javalis and padams. In some concerts I sing thillanas, patriotic and other lighter s ongs .

RK: I would like you to clarify a few doubts about Dikshitar kritis. Subbarama Dikshitar has put together 250 keertanas in Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini and we all accept that as authentic. But now, many songs that are not in that co llection are also passed off as Dikshitar kritis. How authentic are these?

Yes. There are many spurious songs attributed to Muthuswami Dikshitar. Some such as the popular kriti "Akilandeswari", in Dwajawanthi, are not Dikshitar kritis. But they are all passed off as his. T.L.Venkatarama Iyer made a specific point when he said that "Akilandeswari" was not Dikshitar's kriti.

RK: There are also some other keertanas in this category. For instance, "Sri Ranganatham" in Poornachandrika. The chittaswaram in that song is the same as the one rendered in "Paluka Vemi". How did that come about?

I was responsible for that. I tried it and then discussed it with Venkatarama Iyer, who encouraged me to go ahead.

RK: What about "Gananayakam"?

Again, there is a problem with that. Some say it is in Rudrapriya and others say it is in Poornasajjam. I am not clear on that.

RK: You sing "Gananayakam" in Poornasajjam. Isn't it?

Yes. I learnt it from Venkatarama Iyer.

RK: Some other keertanas, such as "Gajanana Yutham" in Vegavahini, do not have the grandeur of Dikshitar kritis...

Yes. Also, "Gajamba Nayako" in Junjooti, which even I used to sing. Some composers have spuriously introduced such songs as Dikshitar kritis so that they become popular especially when rendered by leading artists.

AK: You have sung many swathanthara geetams (freedom movement songs) in Tamil...

Yes, I have sung a number of freedom movement songs. Even before the Tamil Isai Sangam was formed, I popularised Tamil songs composed by Gopalakrishna Bharathi and Muthuthandavar.

AK: How did you get interested in Tamil songs?

The works of Papanasam Sivan and Gopalakrishna Bharathi are among those that inspired me to sing Tamil songs.

RK: We don't have Gopalakrishna Bharathi's original compositions. Do we?

I do not know whether or not they were original compositions, I only learnt those that already existed. There are books on Bharathi's songs now. Not in those days. In fact, the infrastructure was poor - no records, television, radio or books. We just had to listen to musicians during concerts and learn. I had to struggle to get the lyrics of the songs. My elder brother used to help me. It used to be very difficult.

RK: From whom did you learn Gopalakrishna Bharathi's songs and Arunachala Kavirayar?

Ariyakudi tuned Arunachala kavirayar and I learnt it from Vaidyanathan. I also learnt thevaram in Kancheepuram. I sing a lot of thevaram songs such as "Sirai Arum", "Adukkanai", "Bhanthathal" and so on.

AK: How did you start singing in films?

It was Papanasam Sivan who introduced me to films. Then K.Subramaniam, the well-known director, also encouraged me to sing in films. I used to sing only bhakti and patriotic songs. I never sang romantic songs. Thyaga Bhoomi was my first fil m. After that I sang for Naam Iruvar and so on.

RK: What are the concerts you cherish?

I feel elated to have sung at the shastiabdapoorthi (60th birth anniversary) celebrations of many great musicians such as Swaminatha Pillai, Papanasam Sivan and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhaga-vathar and on many such occasions in T. Brinda's and some ot her musicians' houses. I am proud that I sang in Brinda's house before a dream audience well-versed in Carnatic music. There was Jayamma, Brinda, Mukta, Balasaraswathi, Periya Kuttiamma, Chinna Kuttiamma, T.Sankaran, Swami-natha Pillai and others. I sang "Rama Rama Prana Sakhi" (padam in Bhairavi) and it was well appreciated. That was a memorable experiences for me.

RK: From whom did you learn to sing padams?

Ariyakudi's student, Vaidyanathan, taught me a few padams - Sankarabharanam, Atana, Gaulipanthu, Panthuvarali, Kambodhi, Bhairavi and so on. Mukta also taught me some padams. I love singing padams in concerts.

RK: When did you first go to Mumbai?

In 1934. I gave a number of concerts there. I used to sing a lot of Tamil songs. Chidambaram Iyer, a music critic in Bombay, used to write: "We are all fortunate to be treated by Pattammal's Tamil songs". Since 1934, I visited Bombay every year.

AK: How many students do you have now and how promising are they?

I have seven students now. Two are very promising. I have students all over the world, including French, German, American, Canadian and Japanese people. Akiko, from Japan, was brilliant. She sings very well. Absolutely impressive. Carnatic music is popul ar in the United States. But in Japan it is unfamiliar. She sang at the Thyagaraja Aaradhana in Tiruvaiyar near Thanjavur, a few years ago. It was well received.

RK: When did Palghat Mani Iyer play on the mridangam for you?

He played for me first in 1967. Till then he would not play for women. I did not ask him, but he himself volunteered to play for me at the Music Academy. Not because he is my son's father-in-law but because he thought I sang in the traditional manner.

RK: Initially you gave only solo concerts. When did your brothers join you?

Much later. First Nagarajan (now in Washington) sang with me in concerts. My other brother, Jayaraman, was first my student and later started to sing with me.

RK: When you sang with Jayaraman, did you have to compromise on sruti?

I reduced sruti a bit and he increased it a little. But it was very difficult for him.

RK: You have given many concerts abroad and popularised Carnatic music...

First I went to the U.S. on an invitation from the Carnatic Music Association of North America. Then I went to France for the Festival of India. Since then I have been to many places - Berlin, Bonn, Geneva, many places in Canada and the U.S. and so on.

AK: How many concerts on an average do you give every month?

During my busy days I used to give 20 concerts every month. But not now.

AK: Who would manage the household when you were away?

My mother-in-law used to be at home. We had a cook. For my husband, home was very important. Even when I had to go off somewhere on tour I had to buy all the household items before I left. When I was at home, my husband was particular that I took care of the house and everyone at home, even the cows!

AK:What is your advice to youngsters?

They are very talented. They can sing any raga. But they should have a sense of proportion. They should avoid extensive swarams and raga alapanas for a small keertana. Proportion is very important. They should practise a lot and sing for the sake of the art and not, as I said earlier, for the applause. They should understand the words of every song and enjoy singing. They need to desist singing with great speed. They should not get into the commercial tangle.

RK: People like you have been an inspiration for the younger generation. You have done Carnatic music proud...

Carnatic music is like an ocean. There is so much to learn. How much ever you learn, there is always more. One lifetime is not enough even to fathom the depth of the art. My wish is that I should die singing. I ask for nothing more.

Triumph of the heart

A six-year-old Pakistani girl receives a new lease of life after a complex surgery at the Madras Medical Mission in Chennai.

NOTHING perhaps unites people more than personal tragedy. A medical crisis, for instance, makes people reach out to help one another regardless of their social, economic and political differences. An event in a Chennai hospital on June 28 reiterated this seemingly incongruous aspect of human behaviour.

As India and Pakistan fought a bitter battle in the Kargil-Dras-Batalik sector, hundreds of miles away, a team of doctors led by Dr.K.M. Cherian at the Madras Medical Mission (MMM) fought to save the life of Sadia, a six-year-old Pakistani girl who suffe red from a congenital heart problem. After a four-and-a-half-hour surgical procedure which involved complex medical interventions, including the fixing a homograft conduit that comprised a heart valve and an artery from the cadaver of an Indian, Sadia g ot a fresh lease of life.

Sadia's mother, Uzma Asif, said: "The Pakistan-India war is not something new. It has been going on for 50 years. But the people of the two countries are constantly reaching out to each other." Although they were apprehensive about coming to Chennai, Uzm a and her husband Mohammed Asif, both 32, had few other options. Doctors in Karachi had given their daughter four months to live. Today, Asif and Uzma are happy that they made the trip.

Asif, a Mammon, and Uzma, a Pathan, got married in 1992 against the wishes of their parents. But the families were reconciled when Sadia was born in 1993. However, their joy was short-lived as Sadia was a blue baby. She suffered from constant colds and c oughs and also had frequent epileptic attacks. She was diagnosed as having complex congenital medical problems, including a hole in the heart. When she was seven months old, a hospital in Karachi inserted a shunt in Sadia's heart to improve the blood flo w.

Within five years, Sadia's problems recurred and she required a complex and quick intervention. No hospital in Karachi had either the technology or the expertise to treat her condition. Dr. Mehnaz Atik of the Agha Khan Hospital in Karachi tried hard but could not locate a facility in Pakistan to treat Sadia. She suggested that Asif and Uzma approach the MMM, which specialised in paediatric heart problems and was the only facility doing homografts in the subcontinent.

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In early May, Asif got in touch with Dr. Cherian, who suggested that Sadia be brought to Chennai at the earliest. Asif, who works in an export-import company for a salary of 4,000 (Pakistan) rupees, was not sure if he could put together the money require d for the travel and the treatment. As Sadia's life was at stake, the couple decided to take a chance. Uzma said: "Dr. Cherian's assurance and his clear and positive explanations gave us confidence."

Although friends, relatives and colleagues helped them with the money, obtaining a visa became difficult as hostilities heightened in Kargil. After numerous trips to the Indian Consulate in Karachi with the supporting evidence provided by Dr. Cherian, th ey received their visas in June. Sadia, her parents and her 10-month-old brother reached Chennai via Mumbai on June 21.

According to Dr. Cherian, Sadia suffered from complex congenital problems, which included the transposition of the great arteries, ventricular septal defect (hole in the heart), pulmonary atresia and sub-aortic conus (a shelf of muscle growth below the p ulmonary artery, which carries blood to the lungs). These caused inadequate blood flow from the heart to the lungs. The shunt inside her heart improved the blood flow and gave her respite but did not solve the problem.

Dr. Cherian and his team interrupted the shunt, closed the hole with a cortex tube graft so that the aorta emerged from the left ventricle (instead of from the right as before), divided the pulmonary artery, and used a homograft to connect the right vent ricle and the pulmonary artery. The MMM's homograft bank, the first of its kind in the country, harvested the homograft from a cadaver.

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The surgery alone would usually cost Rs.1.4 lakhs, but considering the family's economic background and as a gesture of friendship the MMM decided to give Sadia a concession. According to Dr. Cherian, the total hospital charges, including the surgery, wo uld not exceed Rs.1.5 lakhs".

Asif, overwhelmed by the warmth shown to him and his family during the course of their stay in Chennai, said: "Once we crossed the border, all our fears were allayed. We felt more at home in Chennai than even in Karachi."

Sadia flew back to Karachi on July 18.

Understanding Tyagaraja

An interesting controversy in the columns of Sruti, a magazine devoted to classical music and dance, focusses on the real musical achievement of the great composer Tyagaraja, freed from obfuscating mythology.

AMONG the inherent contradictions of musical creation, the dislocation between the inspiration and musical realisation of a work often poses a challenge to any confident historical perspective. Two examples from Germany illustrate this. Beethoven's Third ("Eroica") Symphony was first dedicated to Napoleon. The dedication was withdrawn after the composer became bitterly disillusioned with Bonaparte's betrayal of Revolutionary ideals. The music, however, remained unchanged. A composer's intentions can als o be more questionable. The operas of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), which were conceived partly to establish the supremacy of German art and carried strong anti-Semitic undertones, were taken up by the Nazis as cultural propaganda. The stain of German supr emacism and anti-Semitism remains, but in distancing oneself from Wagner's political purposes, it is impossible to ignore his enormous contribution to the literature of Western classical music. His many technical advances in the nature and treatment of t he orchestra as well as the unprecedented scale on which he was able to develop his motives provided future composers with bearings to explore then undreamed-of territories.

The music of Tyagaraja (1767-1847) represents a great historical turning point in the evolution of Carnatic music and the relationship between his bhakti and his music has led to much confusion. For the introduction of sangati-s (variations) into the kri ti form as well as many other personal contributions, he is regarded as having advanced the kriti form to an unsurpassed coherence. Although it is remarkable that Tyagaraja and the other members of the Trinity never seem to have met in their lifetimes (b oth Syama Sastri and Muttuswami Dikshitar lived in Tiruvarur), it is also instructive that all three felt, independently, the historical necessity of developing the kriti form. A clear appreciation of Tyagaraja's achievements, however, has been prevented by a haze of mythological stories surrounding his life.

The tenacity of these illusions was recently illustrated when a young reader of the Chennai-based Sruti magazine, in a letter entitled "Naive Beliefs" (see Sruti, December 1994), asked why we try to deify Tyagaraja instead of appreciating h is achievement as a man. A mob of angry opinions crowded the letters' page of the following issue, "shocked into disbelief" at the letter's "iconoclastic and rationalistic" message. A heated exchange continued in the following issues, revealing the unwil lingness of many Carnatic music listeners to separate Tyagaraja's musical accomplishment from his devotion to Rama.

For the past five years, N. Pattabhi Raman, the editor-in-chief of Sruti, has been speaking about this subject at conferences and festivals. To Pattabhi Raman, the separation between "art music" and "bhakti music" is vital to the understanding of Tyagaraja's work. He defines one of the main characteristics of art music as raga exploration, and shows how Tyagaraja and his contemporaries shifted the emphasis from the text to the music.

"Until the advent of the trinity," Pattabhi Raman writes (see Sruti, October 1996), "the dominant song-form was the prabandha. In this song-form, the emphasis was, by and large, on the text rather than the musical content (Geya prabandha s were important exceptions). But Tyagaraja and the other two... emphasised the musical content. They were really musical explorers.... I cite the fact that Tyagaraja has composed more than 30 kritis in Todi - and bequeathed to us different images of the raga within the same scalar framework." This new strength the kriti form found in the music of the Trinity helped to lead music away from its devotional past (centred on the religious poetry being set to music) and bring about the establishment of m odern concert music through the development of the kriti-suite format.

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HOW did Tyagaraja come to be deified? William J. Jackson, in his book Tyagaraja, Life and Lyrics (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991), suggests that the years following Tyagaraja's death were a period of great uncertainty for the Brahmins of the Cauvery river valley. The encroachment of their territories by the Muslim kings and the British Empire led the Hindu population to look to the near past for people representing their threatened ideals. Tyagaraja was a perfect candidate for Hindu saintho od: having devoted his life to praise of Rama and music, he became a sanyasi shortly before he died. A rapid transformation of his life story into mythology began almost immediately after his death. The first biographies were written by two of his discip les, a father and son. Already we see some of the many myths appearing that form our present picture of the man - the recitation of the Rama nama 96 crore times, the revival of a drowned man with the song Na Jivadhara ('staff of my life') and so o n.

Part of the mythology surrounding Tyagaraja is the belief that his music flowed from his lips through divine inspiration and without effort. The renowned master of the chitravina, Chitravina N. Ravikiran, argues that this view of the composer is incomple te. "Tyagaraja was a brilliant person and composer, his compositions were extremely down to earth and very communicative. He had a wonderful expression." This emotional directness has led many people to believe that composition was facile for him, as Rav ikiran further explains: "He had tremendous scholarship, many of the compositions he composed are not merely inspired works, but were also extremely deep, scholarly works."

Ravikiran's other concern is that people tend to overlook Tyagaraja's human side. He points out the several songs where Tyagaraja gives vent to numerous personal frustrations, such as Nadupai palikeru in Madhyamavati where Tyagaraja complains of t he local gossip that he has caused the partition of his family home. A surprising (though understandable) bitterness reveals itself in Vararagalayajnulu in Cencukambhoji where Tyagaraja describes some of his fellow musicians. The poem begins with:

They chatter and blabber pretending they're topnotch experts in melody and cadence...

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(Tyagaraja, Life and Lyrics, William J. Jackson, OUP, Delhi, 1991)

"Maybe Tyagaraja might not have found the inclination to go and gossip with his neighbours about all the things happening to him," Ravikiran says. "He just preferred to compose these things as poetry and address them to God."

Pattabhi Raman also feels that a deeper understanding of Tyagaraja as a human being will allow many of the intended moods of his compositions to be understood. He is also concerned when people criticise elaborate alapanas and swaraprastaras and claim tha t such musical devices detract from the bhakti nature of the music. "Simply because Tyagaraja was a great bhakta, his music is not bhakti music. The fact that Wordsworth wrote about flowers does not make him a botanist. If Tyagaraja was a bhakti composer , he would only have written bhajans. I would go so far as to say that if Tyagaraja had not written music, we would not be talking about him today, and he would be remembered as a minor saint."

Ravikiran explains: "There are sides of Tyagaraja that people overlook, or choose to overlook, or start trying to justify. Once you start trying to justify something, then you are really doing injustice. Because that shows insecurity in being able to app reciate him for what he was. So you try to build a wall around him, of stories. They don't need it - Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, Shakespeare..."

Uday Krishnakumar is a student of music at the University of California, Berkeley.

'Stability is essential for the economy'

cover-story

Gaurav Swarup is deputy managing director of Paharpur Cooling Towers Ltd, a Rs.165-crore turnover company involved in the manufacture of process cooling equipment - cooling towers and air-cooled heat exchangers; flexible consumer packaging and plastic woven packaging. In an interview to Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay, the former president of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries outlines what big business looks for in terms of political outcome.

What does big business want in terms of political outcome?

Stability. Why just big business, any business wants that. Stability is essential for the economy, and nobody likes uncertainty. Because of political instability, a lot of long-term plans have to be shelved, and short-term plans have to be made to make d o with the situation. This is neither good for business, nor is it good for the economy.

How far have the verdicts in the last four elections contributed towards providing stability in the policy environment - in terms of tax rates, currency parities, and industrial regulatory framework?

There are no problems as far as policies are concerned. The policies have all through remained the same. It is the implementation of the policies by the different governments that provides a sort of instability in the policy environment. It was during th e Narasimha Rao Government that there was stability in the policy environment, as far as policy implementation was concerned.

Which party is perceived as being the best equipped to deliver on these counts, and why?

I feel there are only two parties that can deliver these desired outcomes - the Congress(I) and the BJP. I feel these are the only two parties that can provide political stability.

Is the direction of economic deregulation and liberalisation appropriate? Is there a need for acceleration, or should the pace be tempered to take into account the vulnerabilities of the Indian industry?

The pace has to be tempered. Indian industry has been told to restructure itself. But where has it been given the tools for restructuring? One is faced with problems if one tries to cut down on one's workforce, inefficient plants cannot be shut down, and so on. This as a whole is not good for the Indian industry.

Is a limited degree of protection seen as essential in the context of the current industrial downturn?

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Absolutely. The Indian industry should be given the opportunity to restructure itself.

Do you feel that there has been a gradual dilution of the partnership role between Indian industry and overseas multinational enterprises?

There is. I feel the overseas multinational companies have realised that they do not really need the Indian industry. They are interested only in the Indian market.

Would it be necessary to regulate the entry of MNCs into certain industrial sectors?

It is necessary to regulate the entry of MNCs in not just industrial sectors, but also non-industrial sectors. If the entry of MNCs is not regulated to at least a certain extent, Indian industry will not be allowed to grow. There are some sectors that ar e relatively new, but have a lot of potential. If MNCs operating in these sectors enter, the Indian companies in those sectors will simply be lost. They have to be given time to become global players.

How has the Indian industry historically related to political parties?

Historically, the two have always been adversaries. Politically, it suited those in power to treat the private sector as their favourite whipping boy. Now things are changing. Political parties have realised that they need the industry and the private se ctor. They have seen that the public sector cannot deliver the goods.

What have been the methods and purposes of corporate donation to election funds? Is the example of transparency in political donations that the Tatas have tried to established worthy of emulation?

I am sure there is not just one method which corporates follow in extending donations to various political parties. The reason why they do it is obvious, for special favours and to ensure that the political masters protect them and their industry. I do n ot think it is a dedication or a strong belief in any particular political ideology that prompts them into doing that.

As for transparency, I feel transparency is always good, but to what extent are the political parties transparent? Transparency cannot be one-sided. Political parties too should be transparent.

Do governments still have some residual leverage from the licence-quota-permit system to induce political donations from corporate houses?

There are plenty of areas for the government to do that, for example, on matters requiring environmental clearance, land allotment, permission to set up captive power plants... there are so many more ways.

Friends of the BJP

C.P. CHANDRASEKHAR cover-story

The BJP has managed to win all segments of big business with an interest in India, and this is bound to fill its campaign coffers further.

IT has been a time of political instability in India. On April 17, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government lost its majority before completing 13 months in office. A futile search for an alternative followed the installation of a caretaker go vernment and necessitated the dissolution of the Lok Sabha. Soon thereafter it was made known that Indian intelligence had completely missed a large-scale intrusion across the Line of Control by Pakistan-sponsored infiltrators. For over two months the mi litary was engaged in a virtual war to flush out the infiltrators, which proved costly in terms of human lives and material and financial resources. Barely had the 'war' neared its end, in the form of a reported retreat of all surviving infiltrators faci liated by an intervention by the United States, that the Lok Sabha elections were announced. The country now prepares for another democratic exercise whose outcome, it is widely believed, would be yet another hung parliament. Uncertainty in the political sphere still persists.

For the ordinary citizen, virtually brainwashed by the advocates of liberalisation into believing that political uncertainty is sure to neutralise and even reverse the gains of "reform" (whatever they may be), this sequence of events seemed to promise no thing but an economic nightmare. To everyone's surprise, however, recent surveys of business confidence indicate that Indian business, having been overcome by recessionary pessimism till recently, is now decidedly upbeat. Two factors seem to account for this turn in business confidence. Signs of a recovery, however moderate. And the increasing proximity, verging on outright collaboration, of the BJP and its government on the one hand and big business (both domestic and foreign) on the other. With a busi ness-friendly government in place, which is expected to provide major concessions to industry if it returns to power, industrialists claim to have been encouraged to increase production, banks and finance companies to provide credit and fuel a consumptio n boom and foreign institutional investors (FIIs) to turn bullish, all of which have rendered stock markets buoyant.

Official figures point to a sharp turnaround in the economy. Industry, which has been in recession since October 1996, appears to have suddenly turned buoyant with the growth rate during April-May 1999 rising to 6.3 per cent in the case of the General In dex and a creditable 7.3 per cent in the case of Manufacturing, compared with the corresponding period of the previous year. The stock market is booming, with the BSE Sensex having touched an all-time high of 4,810 points and still hovering close to that level, driven by FII investments, which amounted to $300 million in just the first fortnight of July.

While there are reasons to believe that this recovery in itself would be difficult to sustain and could prove a mere flash in the pan, the additional expenditures incurred as a result of the Kargil conflict and the huge sums which are likely to be spent during the election campaign and the process is bound to be a source of stimulus for the economy. Until well after the election, therefore, business is likely to be positively happy with the government from a purely profit point of view.

But it is not merely because of a fortuitous recovery at the end of the BJP-led government's shortened term that big business is positively inclined towards the BJP. In fact, just prior to the last election, a survey conducted by a financial newspaper am ong business leaders attending a national convention reportedly indicated that a majority were in favour of a BJP government. This did indeed constitute a change in the attitude of big business. Even till a few years ago there were two factors determinin g the image of the BJP in the eyes of big business. First, that it was directly, through some of its own pronouncements and acts, and indirectly, through its close links with communally inclined movements and organisations, responsible for furthering div isive tendencies and triggering communal strife. Secondly, that while it was securely on the side of private property, its rhetoric was one that suggested a bias in favour of the small (rather than large) traders and businesses and against foreign firms and interests.

These features were not too palatable to a big business community which had decided around the mid-1980s that opportunities for profit in a protected home market were diminishing and had chosen to back a strategy which involved its alliance, as junior pa rtner, with international capital. From this point of view the state had to have three characteristics. First, it must have no truck with any set of forces that rake up divisive issues and intensify civil strife since such tensions could undermine the co nfidence of foreign investors as well as hold up economic activity for varying periods of time. Secondly, it should not be too overtly nationalist, restrict the inflow of foreign capital on the grounds of protecting domestic, especially small, capital, a nd suppress opportunities for collaboration with international capital.

Thirdly, since the relationship between domestic and international capital in the new environment was bound to be contentious, the state needed to be the agency which mediated the relationship between the two and prevented domestic capital from being swa mped by transnational firms.

The first of these requirements was obviously difficult for the BJP to satisfy. Not only is the BJP itself strongly communal, but it utilised the rabble-rousing and emotive capabilities of a number of communal organisations to win itself a leading role i n governance at the centre.

In fact, in a number of areas, especially in culture, education and historical research, through subtle and obvious means, the BJP has indeed sought to further its communal agenda after having come to power.

However, on the broader national stage, in the name of the common platform of the coalition that it led, the BJP has not merely eschewed the more overtly communal of its programmes, but has also been able to dampen the communal activity of organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. There have been occasions, as in the case of the conversions issue, when the smouldering divisiveness of this new force in national governance has shown its ugly face. But "BJP the pa rty" has been able to quickly divert attention from what "BJP the movement" does and temporarily defuse what could have been an explosive situation.

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This effort to conceal communal aggression has been buttressed by the drive to present itself as a liberalising moderniser on the economic front. After all, many would argue, a party which is seeking greater integration of the Indian economy with the wor ld system can hardly be accused of being driven by a retrograde ideology. In time, it would become clear to the BJP that liberalisation can pay off in other ways as well. As the BJP-led government was losing credibility partly because of obvious instance s of incompetence and partly because it was struggling to meet the competing demands of partners in an unwieldy coalition, it chose to exercise an option that has been available to successive governments for some years now: that of triggering a second se t of nuclear devices at Pokhran. This act, which was driven more by domestic compulsion than any perceived change in the security environment, received as expected a hostile international response. The BJP reacted to that response by using policy initiat ives favoured by the G-8 and economic concessions to foreign investors to buy the acquiescence of developed country governments.

The result of all this is by now well known. Despite the "swadeshi" rhetoric of the BJP, it has displayed little by way of real economic nationalism since it came to power. Not only has it continued with liberalisation initiated under the Congress(I), bu t it has accelerated this process, especially after the nuclear tests at Pokhran. Foreign firms and governments have been wooed with mining and oil exploration concessions, extremely lax implementation of liberalised foreign investment regulations, reduc tions in import tariffs and the abolition of quantitative restrictions. The recently announced trade policy for 1999-2000, for example, goes way beyond the requirements set by even India's liberal commitments to the World Trade Organisation.

Another factor encouraged the BJP along this route: its close links with the richer sections of the Indian diaspora. Unlike the migrants to West Asia, these sections have more or less chosen their host country as their new homeland. They are either inter ested in directly investing (for profit) a part of their own accumulated wealth in India (which they are familiar with) or in serving as intermediaries in the efforts of foreign firms to build new positions or strengthen an existing foothold in the India n market. They are also keen that restrictions which unwittingly hamper their interaction with their country of origin should go. Nothing demonstrated the BJP's concern for them than its decision to provide a diluted form of dual citizenship in the form of the Person of Indian Origin card.

The BJP's links with a large segment of well-heeled non-resident Indians (NRI) has deep roots. In search of an identity in an alien environment which can at times be hostile, this segment is constantly rediscovering its Indianness. A part of that process is a return to Indian tradition and the adoption of a nationalistic attitude, in forms however distorted.

The BJP's own communal traditionalism and its effort to use nationalism as a political ploy has cemented the relationship between a section of this diaspora and the party. In return for NRI support, the BJP has been only too eager to liberalise policy to facilitate the economic interests of this section, which need not always coincide with national interest.

From the point of view of Indian big business, this ability of the BJP to resolve, in different ways, its dilemma of having to keep alive its traditionalist and nationalist face, while winning favour abroad through economic liberalisation, has not been a ll positive. It has meant that the BJP's willingness to mediate the relationship between domestic and foreign capital has been limited. Nothing illustrates this more than the spate of instances when foreign firms have either parted ways with their Indian partners to create a new fully owned Indian subsidiary or bought out the stake of their Indian partners with the same objective. The recent decision of IBM, which to the economic nationalists of yore epitomised the predatory transnational, to break its partnership with the Tata group, is a typical example.

In response to this trend, the BJP's policy appears to be one of avoiding going against its image of being more open to foreign investors and market-friendly initiatives. It has chosen to appease domestic big business by providing, in lieu, huge concessi ons in areas where foreign equity holding is restricted or by opening up new areas where foreigners can enter only through a firm involving majority Indian partnership. The violation of all norms in the case of the telecom licence fee issue, even when it involved disciplining one of its own Ministers and dismissing objections from the President and the desperate bid to accelerate the process of privatisation of prime public assets are examples of the BJP's desire to provide special concessions to big ca pital. Although sections of Indian big business are losing out to transnational firms, they appear quite satisfied with this special treatment from the state. In any case, big business has had no clear-cut economic policy agenda of its own, in the wake o f its strategic decision to back liberalisation. Nor can it possibly see any other domestic political formation doing more for it than the one led by the BJP. It is likely therefore to vote for a known entity, even if half-heartedly, rather than back for ces whose policy directions are uncertain.

In sum, as of now the BJP has managed to win all segments of big business with an interest in India: the foreign investor, the non-resident player and big domestic capital. This of course is bound to fill the BJP's campaign coffers further, with open and concealed private contributions. It is likely therefore that the tendency in recent years for the BJP to run a much more capital-intensive campaign would only be strengthened. Whether that is likely to sway the minds of the electorate to give it a clear majority is, however, as yet unclear.

Massacres and cold facts

While the sharpening of the communal divide has been the thrust of the terrorist massacres this summer in Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP-led government's response has appeared to be centred round anything but ground realities.

ON the afternoon of July 19, Panna Lal's friend, a forest guard named Abdul Qayyum, dropped by at his home in the hamlet of Lihota, a 10-kilometre walk from the town of Thatri on the Doda-Kishtwar highway. The forest guard had heard that a group of terro rists planned to attack Lihota's Village Defence Committee (VDC) that night. No one took the warning seriously.

By next morning, Panna Lal's wife and three daughters were butchered in the fourth major massacre Jammu and Kashmir has seen in three weeks. His mother Parma Devi and brothers Shiv Lal, Krishan Lal, Lekh Raj and Mohan Lal, Mohan Lal's wife Dalipan Devi a nd infants Naresh Kumar and Satish Kumar were among those killed. Shiv Lal lost his entire family: his wife Thakri Devi and sons Bagh Singh and Mohinder Singh. The 15 deaths meant that almost half of Lihota's population of 39, living in a cluster of five huts, was wiped out in a single night. The villagers were targeted for participating in the VDC, a programme to arm local residents against terrorist attacks.

The attack on Lihota began at 8.45 p.m. Two of the nine villagers who had been armed with .303 rifles were keeping watch from a make-shift bunker on the fringes of the hamlet. When they noticed a group of about 10 terrorists moving near the hamlet, warni ng shots were fired. A full-blown exchange of fire soon broke out. Other VDC members returned fire but the bunker was eventually overrun. The villagers who were inside were killed and the route to their homes was now clear. But the seven surviving VDC me mbers displayed exemplary courage. When one terrorist clambered up a hut and lobbed a grenade, which claimed several lives, a shot up the chimney killed him and injured two others. Wireless intercepts identified the two terrorists, who succumbed to wound s, by their code names Akbar and Iqbal.

The carnage would have been worse if three residents, Amrik Singh, Bhushan Kumar and Ramesh Kumar, had not continued to hold out. Other residents say they continued to return fire until past 9 p.m. when reinforcements finally reached the area. Three chil dren, Surjit Singh, Sunil Singh and Mukesh Singh, loaded empty rifle magazines while some women supplied water and food to the defenders. This last line of resistance allowed the survivors, including many of those injured, to run into the woods. At 6 a.m ., two women informed the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel stationed at Batara of the incident. Personnel of the Special Operations Group at Fixoo reached the village after fighting off an ambush midway.

Local residents recognised three of the intruders as Manzoor, Abdul Hamid and Parvez of the Hizbul Mujahideen. The rest of them are believed to be of Pakistani or Afghan origin. The Hizbul Mujahideen's Shakeel Ahmad group is also believed to have been re sponsible for the second major attack on VDC members this month. On July 22, three VDC members were kidnapped from Dudu-Basantgarh in Udhampur and murdered. Five Muslim members of the VDC at Purnara were kidnapped from Kansar Top and taken to Dudu-Basant garh to call out three VDC members there. Darshan Kumar, Vakil Singh, Ramesh Chand and Sudesh Kumar responded to the calls. While Ramesh Chand escaped the minute he saw the ploy, his three comrades were shot.

THIS is Jammu and Kashmir's second summer of communal carnage. The summer of 1998 saw a string of killings, beginning with the April 19, 1998 butchery at Prankote village in Reasi which claimed 28 lives. Twenty-five members of a wedding procession were k illed at Chapnari, near Doda town, on June 19. The villages of Kishtwar district, Thakrain-Hor and Sarwan, witnessed the murder of 17 Hindus on June 27, possibly a reprisal for the killing of four members of the family of Mohammad Qasim, Hizbul Mujahidee n commander for Doda, at their home in Machlal village eight days earlier. It is rumoured in Doda that the killings of Qasim's family members were carried out by VDC vigilantes with Army backing, a charge officials deny. The summer of murder ended with the gunning down of 34 road construction workers at two outposts just across Doda's border with Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh on August 3.

What purposes do these communal massacres serve? One objective is simple. Right-wing terrorists, like a plethora of communal politicians in and outside the State, hope to accentuate the geographical fault lines between Hindus and Muslims. Each massacre s parks off Hindu migration to areas south of the Chenab, while Hindu communal mobilisation contributes to Muslim consolidation north of the Chenab. Politicians of the BJP benefit from such killings in Hindu-dominated areas, while the National Conference, which functions as an affiliate of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the Jammu region, benefits from Muslim communal consolidation. Sadly, there is no mainstream political force which has attempted to strengthen the traditional trans-communal cultural and social ti es of the area.

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The massacres also serve one further purpose: they allow terrorists to present themselves as defending a besieged Islamic minority from a Hindu state. The massacre at Mendhar on June 1, for example, had its roots in an affair between Shankar Lal, a local resident, and Arifa, the daughter of Sher Mohammad, another local resident. The two eloped in mid-May, following which Muslim communalists insisted that the girl had been abducted. A police case was filed and investigations began. Hindu leaders decided to make political capital out of the issue, claiming that the local police harassed Shankar Lal's family. On May 2, a fracas broke out at a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office in Jammu when Sub-Inspector Prem Nath and Assistant Sub-Inspector Mohan S ingh reached the location to search for Arifa and Shankar Lal.

Terrorists joined in the fracas, threatening local Hindus that failure to return Sher Mohammad's daughter would not be tolerated. The intervention triggered the Mendhar massacre.

If the sharpening of the communal divide has been a key thrust of the massacres this summer, an upsurge of frontal attacks on security personnel has been the second. Before dawn on July 23, terrorists attacked a residential complex situated on the fringe s of the Border Security Force's (BSF) sprawling Sector Headquarters at Bandipore, 90 km west of Srinagar. Constable M. Rajappa and his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Surekha were injured and his wife Bharati was killed in a burst of fire at one of t he three multi-storey apartment blocks. Deputy Inspector-General S.K. Chakravarty was shot dead when he arrived at the scene of the shoot-out, the consequence of the careless use of a searchlight that illuminated the officer's position. The Joint Directo r of the BSF's intelligence unit, the G-Branch, Mahendra Raj, was also killed in the fire along with Sub-Inspector K. Bhaskar.

While initial reports suggested that 12 hostages had been taken by the terrorists, it is now clear that the people who were saved by National Security Guard commandos were not hostages. These residents had locked themselves in a room at the far end of th e apartment. Man Singh, a BSF jawan, told Frontline that he and his wife cut a hole in the false ceiling to crawl into the adjoining flat. There they joined 10 other survivors, including six children, of the first shoot-out. Man Singh claims to ha ve seen two terrorists inside the building just before dawn.

The successful conclusion of the BSF operation offers no cause for celebration. Data obtained by Frontline make clear that the BJP-led government's much-advertised "pro-active" policy on Jammu and Kashmir last year has been something of a disaster . The ratio of terrorists killed for each security personnel has been registering a steady decline since 1997 and has reached a record low after the Kargil campaign began. This would suggest that India's military and strategic planners have been unable t o respond effectively to new terrorist tactics, notably the widespread use of explosive devices. Also disturbing is the fact that the ratio between the number of terrorists killed and the civilian lives lost has been declining. Signs of trouble were evid ent well before the Kargil campaign, illustrating the fact that redeployment of troops cannot alone account for the phenomenon.

While the presence of the troops has already been thinned by the Kargil war, the State administration is determined to undermine what remains. A welter of recent and flagrantly election-related transfers, notably the shunting of Inspector-General of Poli ce P.S. Gill to a somewhat ill-defined post in charge of operations, constitute a sign of the State Government's lack of will to end the violence. If trends for the first six months of this year are sustained through 1999, more Hindus and Muslims will di e in terrorist violence than at any time since 1997. So, too, will more members of all the forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir. None of these cold facts appears to have informed the Union Government's rhetoric on Jammu and Kashmir, which increasingly se ems more centred around statements made in Washington and London than on ground realities.

Kaiga on course

The second unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project attains criticality in August.

THE rain had stopped and there was a nip in the air as we drove up the dirt track on a forested hill in the Sahyadri range of the Western Ghats in Karnataka. In the valley below, which was surrounded by densely forested hills, the domes of two massive re actor buildings rose amidst the clouds. The scene was one of remarkable coexistence of high technology and pristine nature.

This is Kaiga, where the second unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project will attain criticality in the second fortnight of August. The second unit will be commissioned first because the undersurface of a portion of the inner dome of the first unit's doubl e containment collapsed on May 13, 1994. Work on the modified dome is at an advanced stage. The first unit will be commissioned next year. The two units have a capacity of 220 megawatt (MW) each. Eventually, four more reactors with similar capacity will be built. (When a reactor in an atomic power project reaches criticality, the project becomes a station. When the second unit of the Kaiga Atomic Power Project reaches criticality, it will be called the Kaiga Atomic Power Station.)

V.K. Sharma, Project Director, told the visiting Frontline team: "The run-up to the attainment of criticality has been smooth. Hot commissioning has been completed."

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Station Director N. Rajasabai said: "We completed fuel loading today (July 15). We did it in a short span of seven days." Filling up of heavy water is planned for July 30. "We will add 70 tonnes of heavy water in the coolant system and another 140 tonnes in the moderator system... So far there has been no problem," he said.

Like the other Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), the Kaiga project will use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as both moderator and coolant. The second unit at Kaiga will be the ninth PHWR that will be operational in the country. There are two each at Rawatbhatta in Rajasthan, Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu, Narora in Uttar Pradesh and Kakrapar in Gujarat. Two boiling water reactors, built by General Electric of the United States, are located at Tarapur in Maharashtra. All these units belong to t he Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC).

THE plant is situated near Kaiga village on the left bank of the Kalinadi river, about 60 km from Karwar in Uttara Kannada district. The nearest airport is 150 km away at Dabolim in Goa. The drive on the smooth metalled road from Dabolim to Kaiga unfolds the beauty of the Sahyadri. The road from Mallapur village to Kaiga - a distance of about 18 km - winds through dense forests inhabited by the Kunabi tribal community.

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Recalling the tough task of acquiring the land for the project, which began in 1987, Jugal Kishore Singh, Manager (Public Relations), said: "There was only a pucca road from Karwar to Dewalmukki. A cart track led up to Mallapur, and there was no road to Kaiga from there. We had to clear the vegetation to make a track for our vehicles." It took a lot of persuasion to make people living in the vicinity to part with their land, a total of about 425 acres (170 hectares). The reactor plant, the buildings and other facilities of the project occupy about 25 hectares of a total of 120 hectares of forest land that was acquired.

Today, there is hectic activity at the second unit.

The reactor building is about 73 metres tall and 46 metres in diameter. Sophisticated machines, are all in place, and the control rooms are ready. The project took about 3,20,000 cubic metres of concreting. The deployment of a 650-tonne heavy duty crawle r crane with 105-metre boom length; the installation of two end-shields, each weighing 120 tonnes, in the reactor vault; the clamping in of the fuel channels; the readying of two state-of-the-art control rooms (where computerised information on 2,000 par ameters would be available every second) give an indication of the frontier technology that went into the construction of the two units. Kilometres of cables have been used in them.

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Sharma said: "The PHWR is one of the most advanced reactors in the world. It compares in safety at any level with any other type of reactor." He dismissed as "ridiculous" fears that a Chernobyl-type accident was possible. The dreaded scenario of a Loss o f Coolant Accident (LOCA) - when the fuel core loses its cooling, the fuel melts down and loses its shape and a fire breaks out - might be possible in the case of other types of reactors but not in the case of the Indian PHWRs, he said.

Three huge doors, called personal air locks, provide entry into the reactor building of the second unit. They are arranged in such a way that only one door can be opened at a time. The third door, made of three-foot-thick concrete and lined with steel, s lides on rails to lead into the calandria vault, the heart of the reactor. The calandria is a huge cylindrical vessel made of stainless steel. It is supported on either end by massive plates, the end-shields. The calandria consists of 306 pressure tubes, also called coolant tubes. These tubes house the natural uranium fuel bundles, about 50 cm long and 8.17 cm in diameter and in pellet form. Twelve such bundles are located in each pressure tube. In other words, these pressure tubes are the fuel channels . The coolant tubes are located inside the calandria tubes, both containing heavy water. The calandria tubes are rolled into the end-shields.

The initial fuel load for the unit is 56 tonnes of natural uranium. The uranium required for the PHWRs is mined by the Uranium Corporation of India at Jaduguda, Narvapahar and Bhatin in Bihar. It is sent to the Nuclear Fuel Complex in Hyderabad, where it is sintered and made into pellets. The heat produced due to fission in the natural uranium bundles is removed by the heavy water coolant, which transfers it to light water (ordinary water) contained in the secondary side of the steam generators to produ ce steam. The steam is led to turbines, which drive the generator to generate electricity. This electricity is wheeled into the Karnataka grid.

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Nuclear engineers completed the hot commissioning of the coolant system in March. This provided a protective layer of 0.7 micron thickness of magnetite to the coolant system. According to Dr. Ashok Mohan, Technical Advisor to Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, hot commissioning entails depositing layers of iron oxide on the coolant system to produce a surface that slows down further oxidation and prevents corrosion.

In the first week of July, 3,672 (306x12) fuel bundles were loaded into coolant tubes manually as the fuel was new and entailed no radiation. But it was a tough job, which demanded accuracy in millimetres.

According to Rajasabai, only 3,637 uranium bundles were fed into the reactor; the remaining 35 were thorium bundles which reduce neutron flux. Neutron flux would be high in the fuel core and could lead to high fission. The heat output would also be high and the temperature would tend to rise. "In order to avoid that, we put thorium bundles. Thorium cannot (by itself) cause fission. So the rising trend in temperature will be controlled."

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Once the reactor becomes operational, manual loading of fresh fuel will not be possible because there would be intense radiation and the calandria vault would be inaccessible. (The fuel bundles last about a year.) Two robots or fuelling machines would re move the radioactive spent fuel bundles and load fresh bundles once the unit attains criticality. The fuelling machines are like cranes, with scores of thick cables flowing out of them. The PHWRs have the advantage of on-line fuelling; that is, machines feed fuel bundles into the reactor without having to shut down the reactor.

Although each fuelling machine weighs several tonnes, the machines would clamp the fuel bundles with an accuracy of a few millimetres. This operation would be done from the control room of the reactor, Ashok Mohan said. "Accuracy of the installation of f uel bundles is important. Any mismatch could cause leakage of heavy water. The subtlety of engineering is evident from the accurate performance of these machines."

Each fuelling machine has 12 chambers called magazines and each serves a purpose: storing new fuel, spent fuel, seal plugs (to make coolant channels water-tight), sealed plugs (to provide radiation shielding) and so forth.

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One fuelling machine would be positioned near each end-shield. First, one machine would remove the seal and sealed plugs and keep them in their respective magazines. This would make the radioactive, spent fuel bundles in the fuel channels visible. Then i t would pick up two fuel bundles and clamp them inside the fuel channels by pushing out two spent fuel bundles. The other machine, in turn, would receive the bundles that are pushed out. In one day, four pairs or eight bundles would be fed into the react or. Rajasabai said: "By pushing in eight new bundles, eight old bundles will be pushed out. Then, the sealed plugs and the seal plugs will be put in place." Sharma calls it "a push-and-pull arrangement."

Sharma said that the spent fuel would be kept in a stainless steel tank, which has water up to a depth of 20 feet. This tank, lined with stainless steel, is located in the reactor building. "Ten years of spent fuel plus one calandria fuel unload in case of an emergency can be kept in this tank," he said.

Kaiga has two separate state-of-the-art control rooms for the two reactors. The reactor controls at Kaiga are more advanced than those available at the other PHWRs. They have several banks of computer consoles. The control panels provide full information to reactor operators on the status of the plant.

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Rajasabai said that information on every one of the 2,000 parameters such as compressor, pressure, flow and temperature for every second was stored in the computer for 24 hours. In case of any disturbance, or for any review, control room engineers could retrieve the information for every second of the previous 24 hours. "We can find out the cause of the abnormality and its effects. This is called computerised operator information system (COIS)," he said.

Sharma said that there were two computers in the control room. "These controls are unique and they are used for the first time at Kaiga. This is in line with the system that is in vogue anywhere else in the world."

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The testing of fire alarms was under way in the control room of the second unit when the Frontline team visited it. The fire alarm windows lit up. The panels would glow if anything went wrong with the emergency core cooling system, the primary shu t-down system, the steam generator or the turbine.

Thus, everything is on course at Kaiga.

Safety first

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN the-nation

AT the Kaiga Atomic Power Project, the watchword is safety. All activities are geared towards ensuring the safety of the reactor. "If anything, we are overcautious," says Dr. Ashok Mohan, Technical Advisor to Dr. R. Chidambaram, Chairman of the Atomic En ergy Commission.

Project Director V.K. Sharma said: "The crux of reactor safety is based on core cooling." All safety systems were aimed at preventing the dreaded eventuality of a Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA). Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) is one of the safety systems adopted at Kaiga, which also boasts of a number of in-built safety measures, Sharma says.

Sometimes micro-cracks develop in the coolant tubes that house the natural uranium bundles. If these cut across the thickness of the coolant tubes, they can lead to a loss of coolant, that is heavy water, from the primary system and inadequate cooling of the fuel in the core. A LOCA may lead to a fire in the reactor.

Multiple barriers have been created to prevent radioactivity from escaping into the environment. To start with, the fuel pellet itself retains the fission products within its matrix. This is surrounded by the cladding of the fuel, which serves as the sec ond barrier. Any radioactivity released owing to a failure of the cladding is confined to the primary heat transport system (PHT) by the PHT boundary, which is the third barrier. The fourth and fifth barriers are the inner and outer containment of the do me over the building that houses the reactor. Besides, there is an exclusion zone of 1.6 km around the plant.

According to Sharma, once the reactor starts operating the fuel has to remain cool even if the reactor needs to be shut down. In other words, radioactivity has to be retained in the fuel itself. He said: "As long as you are able to cool the core, there i s no safety issue at all. All safety systems in the reactor address issues relating to core cooling."

The Project Director pointed out that natural uranium in the form of pellets were canned, aiming at low neutron absorption. As long as there was no rupture of the fuel, radioactivity remained inside the pellet and the cladding. Even if the shielding brok e, radioactivity would not escape because the structure of the fuel helped retain it, he said.

Sharma said: "The problem arises only when the cooling of the fuel core is lost. The dreaded scenario is the prospect of the entire cooling being lost and a significant failure of the fuel when the core melts down. That is what happened at Chernobyl (in the former Soviet Union) and Three Mile Island (in the United States). But there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere at Three Mile Island." Before the core meltdown took place, the fuel started losing shape. When the fuel touched the pres sure tube, the latter in turn came in contact with the calandria tube. The design of the Indian reactors was such that even if the pressure tubes and the calandria tubes came in contact with each other, the coolant would take care of it, Sharma explained .

Safety experts said that the RBMK-type reactor at Chernobyl used graphite, a burnable material, as moderator. The station operators there were conducting unauthorised experiments. Besides, Chernobyl had no containment dome to prevent radioactivity from e scaping.

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Sharma said: "Assuming that the entire core melts, the double containment (at Kaiga) is designed to withstand the pressures resulting from a LOCA and to contain the radioactivity inside the reactor without the plant personnel and people outside getting a ny significant dose.." A 100-metre-high stack with particulate filters filters radioactive emissions before letting them into the atmosphere. The stack height has been so designed that a person standing at the edge of the exclusion zone would receive rad iation within permissible limits.

As long as the primary circuit at Kaiga was intact, a LOCA would not occur, Sharma said. The reactor automatically shuts down when the power to the primary circuit goes off. This was one of the passive safety features, which was not based on outside inte rvention but on spontaneous reaction, he said. But the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPC) was so obsessed with safety that it postulated an accident scenario when a double-ended rupture of this largest pipeline would take place without a wa rning, Sharma said. However, the steel used in the fabrication of the primary circuit would not permit crack-like defects to appear in it, he said. It was tested at minus 40C because steel tended to become brittle at lower temperature. But the material boasted of ductility.

Dr. Ashok Mohan said that the steel used in the making of the primary circuit was much stronger than multi-crystal and that there was no point where stress concentration would take place. Besides, quality checks were rigid, he added.

Station Director N. Rajasabai said that three stages of ECCS were provided in the reactor design. A rupture in the primary circuit and a fall in the pressure would be immediately detected and heavy water would be injected over the core by the opening of valves. The second stage involved the injection of light water (ordinary water) from the storage tanks. These would take care of the initial LOCA. Since light water would be of limited quantity, a third stage would come into operation when a massive quan tity of water - eight feet depth of water - available at the basement of the reactor building would do suppression cooling, Rajasabai said. Sharma pointed out that the philosophy was to use more and more water if a rupture took place in the primary circu it.

The fire incident in the first reactor at Narora made the NPC wiser. At the Kakrapar Atomic Power Station in Gujarat and at Kaiga, there is a separate routing of electricity cables to prevent a blackout, the kind of which engulfed the reactor building at Narora. Diesel and battery back-ups for the generation of electricity are available at Kaiga. The normal electricity cables, the cables from diesel generators and those from batteries were segregated physically by routing them in three different rooms. The cables were encased in metal trays too. Even if the wires leading from the batteries were damaged, the others would take over.

Sharma is convinced that a Narora-type blackout is not possible in Kaiga. Rajasabai added: "Even if a fire breaks out in one place, it will affect only one system of cables because the routes are different for the three systems of cables. So protection t o the reactor is still available. Physical separation of cables is an important safety feature in Kaiga."

From failure to success

FOR Murali Nair, the cinematic journey that culminated in Cannes this year with the award of the Golden Camera for his 57-minute featurette, Marana Simhasanam, began nearly a decade ago when he, a geology student, came to Mumbai from Kerala to stu dy film-making at the Xavier Institute of Communication. He chucked it half way through and plunged into the real film and television world.

He served as an assistant to director Mani Kaul and also worked on a few commercial Hindi films before joining the crew of the popular serial Chandrakanta. In 1993, his short documentary Tragedy of an Indian Farmer, based on a poem by the M alayalam poet Changampuzha Krishna Pillai, won the Silver Lotus at the National Film Awards. Three years later he made his first foray to Cannes, with a seven-minute film, Oru Neenda Yatra (A Long Journey). It won no prizes - but it probably help ed the second time around, when he sent in Marana Simhasanam this year. The selectors promptly accepted it for screening in the section devoted to new talent.

Currently working on a children's film serial for the British "Channel 5" television network, Murali is based in London where his wife Preeya heads their production company, Flying Elephant Films. The Cannes award, he admits, has made it easier for him t o market his films. He is expected to come to India in early September - he has accepted an invitation from the Thiruvananthapuram-based Soorya Film Society to attend its annual film festival.

In a matter-of-fact media interview, Murali Nair said: "I come from a family of farmers. I have seen my father facing success and failure with equanimity. Sometimes you reap a rich harvest; sometimes the crops fail." Maybe, but this year's forecast seems to suggest plentiful creative downpours and a bumper harvest.

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