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COVER STORY

27-08-1999

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Briefing

THE BJP'S TROUBLES

As the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections begins, the BJP is beset with troubles. The unethical telecom bailout package has whipped up a controversy, the party's relations with some of its allies are strained, and it is faced afresh with faction feuds.

THE euphoric aftermath of the Kargil conflict has clearly unhinged political calculations in certain quarters. Yielding to the perception that the Lok Sabha elections to come will be a triumphal romp for the coalition led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, politicians of infirm convictions have beaten a path to the doorstep of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking its patronage for the contest they will soon be engaged in. Vajpayee's own flock is less than amused at the spectacle of the neo-converts to the cause of the BJP. But the Prime Minister is proving rather more indulgent. He undoubtedly sees in a greater diversity of political allies an opportunity to keep truculent elements within his own brood in check. As the BJP and its partners get their campaign off to a rocky start, there is much amused comment about the state of their alliance. Having negotiated his way through the conflicting demands of his various allies, Vajpayee may well find that the most tenuous linkage within the ruling coalition could well prove that between him and his own party.

At the same time, a mood of effrontery seems to have taken hold in quarters close to the Prime Minister, a willingness to risk public opprobrium in what may be considered smaller details of policy. The tacit calculation is that the political capital earned in Kargil will sustain a few reckless gambles in the cause of building up the electoral war-chest of the Prime Minister and his party. The nation is thus treated to the spectacle of a Cabinet Minister being divested of his charge by a caretaker Prime Minister, for a very specific purpose. This happens in the midst of a war situation, when the political leadership should perhaps be focussing its attention elsewhere.

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This is followed in quick time by a departure from established policy of such serious moment that it invites probing queries from the Head of State. The ruling coalition responds with little regard for the niceties of political engagement, with selective leaks to the media, oblique suggestions of bias and a stubborn resistance to any form of accountability.

The basic norms of functioning in an electoral interregnum have been overturned by the BJP-led coalition. In the process, it has also called into question the delicate system of constitutional separation of powers. Union Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam is still quite the neo-convert seeking to earn his spurs within the BJP's political universe - a domain that was completely alien to him till just two years back. His bumptious suggestion that the President of India can function as a watchdog over affairs of state, provided he does not bark or bite, surpasses even the standards of crudity set by the likes of Bal Thackeray and Murli Manohar Joshi.

Since they suffered defeat in the Lok Sabha in April, the BJP and its allies have targeted the President with a certain lack of refinement that suggests grim events in the future, should they return to power. The questions posed by the President on telecom policy changes were deflected by rote repetition that the new directions were worked out before the Vajpayee Ministry was defeated on the floor of the Lok Sabha. This, as various political parties have shown, is clearly not the case. The policy changes, introduced just hours before the Election Commission brought into effect the model code of electoral conduct, depart significantly and questionably from the recommendations that the Government received from the expert bodies it consulted.

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In working out its policy package, the Government clearly drew ideas and inspiration from sources other than the duly constituted authorities. Opposition spokesmen have, with growing insistence, urged a thorough investigation. It is clear that the Prime Minister himself has been the principal motivating factor behind the policy changes. How far his party and its political allies subscribe to his belief that whatever has been done is for the better remains unclear.

WHAT is evident is that the BJP has been rather disoriented by the need to work out a new set of relations with its allies. A faction of the Janata Dal insists that it will be part of the BJP-led coalition, the National Democratic Alliance. Sections within the BJP are equally insistent that it will have nothing to do with the discredited rump of a party that now exists only in name. Influential figures within the NDA, such as George Fernandes and Ramakrishna Hegde, are sponsoring the new political alignment with the obvious intention of securing greater bargaining power within.

The rocky relations with allies apart, the BJP is also confronting a fresh eruption of factional turbulence within. Two prominent figures - Sushma Swaraj in Delhi and Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh - have opted out of the electoral fray in obvious disdain at the dominant cliques within the party. And the effort to clinch fresh alliances with influential regional parties in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh seems to have run aground. Orissa presents another picture of bitter animosities within the BJP's principal ally, the Biju Janata Dal.

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BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharati, who have opted out of the electoral fray owing to intra-party tussles.

The BJP needs to sustain the euphoria of the Kargil triumph to divert public attention away from its multiple sources of anxiety. But the aftermath of the Pakistani withdrawal from the Kargil heights has been bloody. A new phase of warfare has clearly commenced, with armed intruders abandoning fixed positions in favour of guerilla-style attacks against the Indian Army and paramilitary forces.

Concurrently, there is mounting pressure from newly won friends overseas to open talks with Pakistan on all contentious issues, including Kashmir. There is a measure of sympathy for the reality that a caretaker government cannot engage in meaningful negotiations with external interlocutors. But the guest militants sponsored by Pakistan are unlikely to respect these niceties. With every armed strike they carry out on Indian targets, they underline the reality that Kargil was far from being an unqualified victory. Much still remains to be done to consolidate on that achievement, both on the political and military fronts. The BJP and its allies are yet to convey credibly the impression that they have the intellectual and political resources to do so.

The telecom tangle

By facilitating the migration of private telecom operators from a regime of licence fee payment to one of revenue sharing, overlooking the legal and ethical hazards involved, the Vajpayee Government has set a new standard of impropriety for a caretaker administration.

THE best defence that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government has to offer for the telecom policy directives that were spelt out on July 6 is that they were in essence determined well before the Government was reduced to a caretaker capacity. In fact, it is authoritatively stated that the details of the policy were agreed at a meeting of the Union Cabinet on March 26.

The plea slips up on one small detail: the Union Cabinet on March 26 considered the report of the Group on Telecom (GoT) which had been constituted late last year to propose the broad directions of policy. But the GoT specifically ruled out the policy option that the Government has rushed to embrace today. And this is the point central to ongoing controversies - the migration of private telecom operators from a regime of licence fee payment to revenue sharing. In overhauling the rules of commercial participation after contracts have long been executed, this effectively rewards the private telecom operators for a pattern of persistent default on contractual obligations.

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The GoT's findings were underpinned by the realisation that licence fee payments could not be the sole or principal criterion for awarding contracts. This was a finding that was based on the evident reality that most private telecom operators had grievously erred in making their bids, and undertaken licence fee obligations that they could not possibly fulfil.

Against this backdrop, the GoT outlined three policy options that the Government could consider where existing telecom licensees were concerned. It could revoke all licences in accordance with the provisions of the law and open up a process of bidding to award fresh contracts. It could, on the other hand, allow licensees to continue subject to the fulfilment of contractual obligations, and allot the vacant telecom circles to fresh bidders on the principle of revenue sharing. Finally, it could renegotiate existing licences to facilitate a shift towards a revenue-sharing arrangement. But such a course, the GoT warned, should be "legally tenable".

The legal and ethical hazards were very apparent to the GoT, on account of which it advocated a cautious approach: "As and when the circles presently occupied by existing licensees are vacated either by expiry of the existing period, surrender, through mutual consent or otherwise, new licensees should be appointed under the new policy regime. This would enable a New Telecom Policy to be formulated, notified and implemented without litigation or controversy, and over a period of time the entire country can be covered under the new policy regime."

THE reasons for the caution were clear. As the Delhi Science Forum (DSF) has pointed out in its public interest petition filed in the Delhi High Court, contracts for private telecom operators were awarded exclusively on the criterion of licence fee bids in the case of cellular services, and with predominant weightage to this criterion in the case of basic telephony. Invariably, it was the highest bidder who was awarded the contract. Infamously, the highest bidder in most circles - acting collusively with the then Minister for Communications Sukh Ram - was allowed without penalty to renege on all it promises.

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The Government then adopted a curious attitude - it would selectively accept the highest bids, but would not consider itself obliged to assess the feasibility or internal consistency of the proposals it received. Commercial realism was discouraged by this process, with all the rewards being reserved for those who made the most extravagant promises. A few bailouts, it needs to be added, were also ensured for those who went over the limits of prudence.

The bailout being fashioned for the operators today is, by any perspective, repugnant to the integrity of the original process of commercial bidding. Many who lost out in that round could consider themselves unfairly deprived, for the simple sin of using commercially realistic parameters in formulating their bids. As Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee pointed out in an opinion rendered on January 6, a shift from licence fees to revenue sharing for existing licensees "would be vulnerable to a challenge from unsuccessful bidders". The grounds they could use would be simple: "Had they known that departures from the licence agreements would be subsequently permitted, they would have given bids on different calculations and perhaps succeeded in obtaining licences." Legally and logically, this seems to be the obverse of affirming that if realism rather than fantasy had been the basis of the original award of tenders, then changes in contractual conditions today would not have become a matter of compulsion.

THIS was one among many asymmetries that Jagmohan, as Minister for Communications, drew attention to in a detailed note drafted in May. Confronting the private operators' demand that a revision of their contractual terms was called for, Jagmohan asked how far it was "legally, constitutionally, financially, commercially and morally justifiable to sign legal agreements, after giving competitive bids, and then not to observe contractual obligations".

If the operators were incurring losses as they claimed, then Jagmohan suggested, the option before them was very simple - to surrender their licences. It did not make commercial sense for operators to continue in a business simply to have their losses "multiplied". At the same time, Jagmohan also sought to envision the situation that may have evolved had the private operators been more successful than anticipated in their venture: "If the licensees had made more profits than originally calculated, would they have come forward to share the extra gains with the licensors?"

Clearly, these were inconvenient questions for both the private operators and their official patrons. Jagmohan was shifted out from the Ministry of Communications in June, a bizarre expression of skewed priorities by a caretaker government in a war-like situation. And in a public avowal of undue interest, Vajpayee - a Prime Minister rallying the nation to confront an external aggression - found the time and the inclination to take the portfolio under his direct charge. After Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj and Jagmohan, the first among equals had to take up the mantle himself. Having shuffled the portfolio among three trusted aides without getting any closer to meeting his objective, Vajpayee was compelled in just over a year, to take direct charge.

THE Attorney-General undoubtedly received the right cue from this personal affirmation of commitment by the Prime Minister. In a fresh opinion, sought by Jagmohan but rendered to Vajpayee, he proved himself completely acquiescent to political directives. Since his opinion of January, the only substantive change in ground realities had been the Union Cabinet decision of March 26, a mere expression of intent that the public interest demanded that the telecom policy parameters be uniform across the country.

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The Attorney-General unfortunately seemed to forget in the process that policy directives should be symmetric in their application and the process of the law, uniform for all citizens. After arguing in January that government actions "should not be perceived as putting a premium on defaults or favouring defaulters", Soli Sorabjee found in June that there could be no viable legal challenge to a regime that permitted the migration of existing operators from licence fee payments to revenue sharing. He stipulated certain conditions - for instance, there should be no waiver of licence fee arrears, which should be wholly or partly collected, with the outstanding amount being secured by bank guarantees taken on by the licensee. But his finding was authoritative - there could be no sustainable legal challenge to the migration of operators to a revenue-sharing regime if the conditions he stipulated were met.

The Ministry of Communications note, presented to the Union Cabinet on July 6, went substantially by this assurance and sanctioned the migration of existing licensees to a regime of revenue sharing. Apart from the law of contracts applied asymmetrically over time, this also raises questions about the uniform treatment of unequals, an approach which only reinforces and perpetuates existing disparities.

CELLULAR telephone operators in the metropolitan regions are known to suffer few disabilities as far as payment of licence fees is concerned. The number of subscribers for Hutchison Max in Mumbai multiplied by a factor of almost ten - from 12,000 to 117,000 - between year one and year three of operations. BPL-Mobile, which is the competing concern in the metropolis, had an equal windfall, its subscriber base multiplying from 14,000 to 111,000 in the same period of time. With capital expenditure having been incurred largely in the first year, the two companies should be turning the corner and beginning to earn a substantial revenue-surplus from year four onwards. In fact, existing licence arrangement stipulate that from the fourth year, the metro cellular operators would shift from a schedule of fixed licence fees to paying Rs.6,023 on every subscriber. The main accruals as licence fees from the metro areas, in other words, were expected to start in year four. But with the abrupt and arbitrary switch to revenue sharing, the Union Government has virtually written off this option. The metro cellular operators will now be governed by identical rules as any other telecom service provider. If licence fees are retained at the stipulated figure of 15 per cent of revenue, metro operators would be coming into nothing less than a bonanza.

For other operators, there is no strong inducement inherent in the new policy dispensation. There is a promise that the date of application of their licences will be extended for six months, to redress the commercial harm that may have been caused by delays in official sanctions. This waiver alone is expected to cause a revenue loss of Rs.1,400 crores to the Union Government in the current financial year. It is a completely new circumstance today for a caretaker government to write off this volume of revenues, after both Houses of Parliament had passed a Union Budget which provided for Rs.1,800 crores in receipts from telecom licence fee. This was the substance of President K.R. Narayanan's queries to the Government about the propriety of pushing through summary changes in policy. The queries, of course, remain unanswered.

What was the cause of such pressing urgency, asked the Delhi High Court, while hearing a public interest petition filed by the DSF? What would have been lost if two months had been allowed to elapse before the policy directives were framed? Appearing for the Government, the Attorney-General was categorical in his affirmations. Large sums of money were involved for the telecom operators, as also for the Government. Further delay would have led to a mounting sense of uncertainty and possible bankruptcy and closure for many of the operators. Public interest was also involved in the security of large funds invested in the telecom firms by various financial institutions. These circumstances, said Soli Sorabjee, compelled the Government to act without further delay.

In doing so, the Vajpayee Government has set a new standard of impropriety for a caretaker administration and underlined public cynicism about those in authority. Rather than iron out the irrationalities of the policy regime it inherited, it has chosen to compound them. The party that had little hesitation in aligning itself with Sukh Ram, the architect of the policy disaster, has now provided definitive affirmation of its intent to follow his example.

'The Prime Minister must take the responsibility'

cover-story

Nilotpal Basu, Communist Party of India (Marxist) member of the Rajya Sabha, has been a keen participant in the telecom policy debate in recent times. The following are excerpts from an interview he gave Sukumar Muralidharan on the issues r aised by the Government's recent moves:

You have made the point that the Government has shown undue haste in implementing the new telecom policy. Could you elaborate?

Essentially, the fact is that the procedures that are normally undertaken before ushering in these kinds of changes were conspicuous by their absence. First of all, the report of the Group on Telecom was the basis for the Cabinet's March 26 decision. Bet ween then and the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, the Government could have placed the policy on the table of the House. Although there is no law asking the Government to do this, in these matters we normally go by precedents and conventions, which are as good as law.

Secondly, we now know that the recommendations of the Group on Telecom had nothing to do with the actual policy decision. The question of migration from licence fees to revenue sharing was not covered by the Group on Telecom. So, it essentially is a new policy which cannot be introduced by a caretaker government. The President, in his wisdom, did not go into the merits and demerits of the Government's decision; he only suggested that it should wait until the next Lok Sabha is constituted. The Government was not prepared to do so. When questions were raised by the Election Commission, the Government was not prepared to provide all the details. Now we find that the Government is not prepared even to define in legal-commercial terms what will constitute r evenue, let alone quantify the revenue implications. Finally, with this observation by the Delhi High Court, any government with some sense of propriety would have realised that the decision should be delayed since so many constitutional authorities have raised questions, and since it has lost its majority . Instead, it is working overtime to bring in the new regime, which raises our suspicions further.

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The situation has become very ambiguous now, with the High Court having insisted on a commitment by all telecom operators that they will abide by whatever decision is taken by the next government. So, essentially, it is a policy vacuum now.

That is exactly our point. The Government today cannot anticipate what the next government is going to decide. To try and force the entire sector into this kind of uncertainty is most improper. I do not think the heavens will fall if the Government waits for two months. Because of the mala-fide act of the Government, the whole atmosphere of the policy debate has been vitiated.

There is an argument that financial institutions have been exposed very heavily in the telecom sector and would have suffered severe distress if the issue was not quickly sorted out.

This is baseless. First of all, none of the companies whose licences have been terminated by Jagmohan is going to have its licence restored. On the one hand, you have a situation in which the companies that are short of cash will have no way, even in the new regime, of restoring their profitability. On the other hand, you have the cash-rich metro operators who never suffered a loss. Our figures indicate that of the Rs.12,000-crore business turnover in the cellular sector all over the country, 60 per cen t is accounted for by metro operators. All over the world, none of the companies even think of making a profit in telecom before the fifth or sixth year. Here, you have metro operators making profits from the first year itself, despite the initial capita l investments.

You are questioning the very assumptions behind privatisation, because this kind of imbalance was anticipated between pockets of high-demand density, such as metro regions, and regions of low demand.

That is the unfortunate part of the story. At the July 6 Cabinet meeting, there were two items on the agenda - one on the question of migration and the other on the creation of a Telecom Development Fund. The idea was that the licence fees and other moni es accruing to the Government would be ploughed into strengthening the Department of Telecommunications' network. It was the unanimous recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications that a Telecom Development Fund be created by pooling the licence fees. But nothing has been done on this so far.

So you have to accept basically that privatisation is a fait accompli. The best you can hope to achieve is to redress the various imbalances that have come in.

Privatisation will only compound the inequities because you have a tremendous unevenness across regions. At the same time, we feel that if some additionality could be provided, then the money that is coming in as revenue to the Government from private se ctor participation could be used to develop the underdeveloped regions.

What is your position on the current decision - that defaulters should have their licences revoked and that fresh bids should be invited?

This is a hypothetical question because the timing of the move was such that you could not really have a proper discussion. But at least the position that Jagmohan took - and the suggestion that was inherent in the Attorney-General's view - was that exis ting licences would be terminated and that another chance should be provided to the unsuccessful bidders of 1995 on a different basis. And the entry fee could be auctioned, which would provide the Government with some revenue. If this had been done, ther e would have been some sound basis for the new policy. But what we have now is a basically flawed approach.

Essentially, you think that the metro cellular operators would be the main beneficiaries. But what about the others? What is their interest in the new regime?

This is an interesting point. You see, there have been some peculiar developments in the share markets. If you look at the equity prices, even the companies that have not been very successful have been ruling very high. Many companies were simply not int erested in improving services, only in participating in the secondary market for equities. Some of the licensees are walking out and we have something akin to distress sales and takeovers. We have a peculiar situation of one company in Mumbai having clos e to 70 per cent foreign equity although the policy does not allow for more than 49 per cent. Similar methods could be replicated wherever licensees have been unable to generate adequate revenues.

So you think that all the less profitable licensees are vulnerable to takeover, whether by more successful domestic companies or by multinationals?

It is the institutional investors who have been playing a big role in this sector, not only in our country but even overseas. There is a tendency towards monopoly which is being driven by these institutions.

The Ministry has been under the charge of three different individuals in the last year and a half. Under whose tenure were these moves the most pronounced?

I think the briefest tenure has seen the most rapid changes - that is of the Prime Minister himself. I think he owes the nation an explanation as to why he decided to change Jagmohan in the first place. That was the watershed in this entire process.

Is there, as somebody said, a needle of suspicion pointing somewhere?

Certainly. It is very obvious that the Prime Minister has to take the responsibility. And the way he has tried to override the questions raised by the President, the Election Commission and the judiciary has been most improper.

Would the regulatory authority be the appropriate arbiter in this debate?

We have to be aware of the whole bizarre role of the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India). It is the Government which has been pleading that nothing can be done about the TRAI's recommendations. When it came out with tariff proposals that were an ti-people and anti-small subscriber, we kept opposing it on the floor of the House and elsewhere. It was the Government which took the plea that it had no authority to modify the statutory recommendations of the TRAI. Ultimately under public pressure, th ey made some modifications, albeit with the approval of Parliament.

Now look at the new proposals. Clearly, the Government has encroached upon the powers of the TRAI. When this question was raised, the Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson said that the TRAI's powers had been challenged in court and hence there was no need for consulting it.

So you think that the TRAI has become an instrument of convenience?

Whenever the TRAI does something against the public interest, the Government goes along with it. But when the Government wants to do something against the public interest, it will ride roughshod over the regulatory body. A party like the BJP will have to do this. It is inherent in their political philosophy that they will have to curtail and circumscribe the powers of statutory bodies and institutions.

'It is a revival package'

cover-story

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led caretaker government at the Centre is facing a barrage of criticism from Opposition parties on the telecom package announced by it close on the heels of the Election Commission's announcement of the poll schedule. The Gover nment defended the decision, claiming that it was taken keeping in mind the interests of the industry. BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley, a senior advocate in the Supreme Court and a key strategist of the party, spoke to V. Venkatesan about why the Opposition's attack is unwarranted. The interview was prefaced with Jaitly questioning Frontline's objectivity. Excerpts:

How do you explain the haste shown by the Government in implementing the change in the telecom policy?

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There has been absolutely no haste in the matter of the recent decision of the Government in the telecommunications sector. In the early 1990s, the telecom policy was formulated when telecommunications was thrown open to the private sector. The earlier p olicy was a flawed one. In fact, in the first petition filed before the Delhi High court in this case, the petitioners categorically said that the earlier licence fee policy was flawed. The object of the policy is to expand the telecommunications network along the length and breadth of the country and make available telecommunication facilities to the people at the cheapest rate. The policy failed to achieve this target. In fact, in many areas the operators were unable even to pay the licence fee.

Even though some political parties have changed their stance now, in their representations to the Government earlier they spoke some other language. Thirty-three members of the Congress(I) wrote to the Prime Minister, stating that the licence fee regime had failed. Pranab Mukherjee wrote to him on June 7, saying that the industry had already been crippled because the Prime Minister was awaiting the Attorney-General's opinion on making revenue sharing applicable to existing licensees. "Please wait, and d on't cancel any licences," he wrote. Somnath Chatterjee went a step further. In his letter to Vajpayee as caretaker Prime Minister, written on May 12, he said: "Those who are overstating the ability of the industry to pay this licence fee are the interes ted quarters who want the industry in India to collapse. There is now an urgent need to change." I am quoting from their letters.

But both Chatterjee and Mukherjee have retracted.

They have retracted for political reasons. The economists in Pranab Mukherjee and Somnath Chatterjee wanted revenue sharing. But now, the politicians in them wants them to reap political benefit on the eve of elections. It is a dishonest change of tack b y them for political and collateral benefit.

When was the policy of revenue sharing introduced? Revenue sharing as a policy was announced on March 26, 1999, when Jagmohan was the Communications Minister. It was Jagmohan who, as Communications Minister, favoured the policy of revenue sharing. This p oint should be underlined. A legitimate question arose after the new telecom policy: everybody goes into revenue sharing. What happens to the existing licensees? For the first time, this matter was referred by Jagmohan to the Attorney-General for his opi nion.

Now you are asking why the Attorney-General gave two different opinions. It is because one was given in January and the other in June. In January, the question was entirely different. There was no policy on revenue sharing; it was decided only on March 2 6, 1999. In January, the demand was that the existing licensees should be exempted from paying 20 per cent of the arrears the Government was insisting on, since the Government was considering the formation of a new policy.

The Attorney-General at that time had said that they had no automatic right to ask for that, and therefore the Government was well-advised to ask for the 20 per cent. The second question was: should the existing licensees be covered under the new policy? The Attorney-General felt that if you have two sets of people - existing and future - it would be a discriminatory regime, and therefore, you allow them to come into it. But before you allow them to come into it, you must clear all the arrears till Marc h 31 and July 1999. Not only this, you must also make payment. You have only given them the benefit of some instalments in payments. The Government said, where the past arrears with interest is up to July, the amalgamations will take place from July, and pay 35 per cent now, securitise the rest by bank guarantees, and pay the balance before January 31, 2000.

Under the old policy, the success of the policy was to be determined by the projected revenue. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. There was complete non-realisation of the actual revenue. The only option left was to insist on encashment of ba nk guarantees. Jagmohan did this. He then struggled to collect even 20 per cent of the revenue. The present policy ensures that all the arrears will come till March 31. The interest will come in two stages. At the same time, for the future you go in for some revenue-sharing arrangement.

When the policy was announced on March 26, why did Somnath Chatterjee, Pranab Mukherjee and their parties not oppose revenue sharing? All they are opposing is the July 7 decision, whereby revenue sharing was made applicable to even existing licensees. Th e Government has already explained this.

Under the old policy, there was real non-realisation of revenue. We projected revenues in anticipation, but the actual revenue did not come. The only option left was to cancel the licences. So you go in for fresh bids. Once you go in for fresh bids, your future would be covered by the new policy, which is revenue sharing. Same players will come back into the game. In the interim period, there will be a vacuum, and the country will be without the services. But after that you are back to square one.

The Government had two options. The first was to cancel a large number of licences, have fresh tenders, disrupt the investment environment and telecom services in the country and then start revenue sharing for the future. The other option was to introduc e a more pragmatic policy and collect the arrears. Give an option for the future and have continuity. On the very first day, the ICICI wrote to the Government - this document was made available in the court - that the people have shown interest in bringi ng in Rs.10,000 crores more in terms of investment under the new arrangement.

Under the old policy, one of the reasons why the companies were not able to pay the money was that a lot of banks and financial institutions (FIs) did not regard the arrangement as bankable.

Under the new arrangement, because the industry can survive, money will be forthcoming from FIs and banks. Therefore the present arrangement is a pragmatic one. It prevents existing companies from becoming bankrupt. The same money is transferred to FIs.

Granted the policy is sound, but why could the Government not have postponed its implementation until after the elections?

The budget for this financial year provided for the collection of Rs.17,000 crores from the industry. Half the year has gone by and we have still not been able to collect it. If the August 15 deadline is met, you will be able to collect, on the basis of the 35 per cent. Every time you have a caretaker government, the country cannot come to a standstill.

Do you assume that the next government will also be short-lived?

There is no assumption. But past experience has been bad. A caretaker government is not a non-responsive government. The BJP government came out with a policy on March 26 and has implemented it in relation to the industry. It has discharged its duty to t he economy. This is not a bail-out package, as is made out, but a revival package intended to ensure that a major infrastructure industry does not collapse.

The Government's claim that the FIs have taken on exposure of Rs.10,000 crores in the telecom sector has been disputed.

I don't have the details. But obviously, FIs have a very large stake in the industry.

What about the ethical question in condoning defaults on licence fees by companies that won contracts for telecom services on the basis of competitive bidding?

There is no question. If the policy is made applicable to everybody across the board, everyone has the option of either switching over to the new policy or not. If somebody doesn't benefit from the new option, he can have the old option. The new policy a lso ensures that two more players come into every segment. When you have a larger number of players, they will compete with each other to cut down rates. The TRAI will ensure that the companies which make profits transfer their advantages to the consumer . Eventually, the consumer will pay less.

The Congress(I) has alleged that certain individuals from the Prime Minister's Office have taken undue interest in the new policy regime.

Not a shred of evidence has been seen. The words of the Congress(I) and the CPI(M) do not hold credibility since they have changed their stand on the issue. It is an irresponsible allegation that must be repelled.

A 'united' Dal and a divided NDA

With powerful sections of the BJP putting up stiff resistance, the Sharad Yadav group of the Janata Dal finds entry into the National Democratic Alliance difficult.

THE "Janata Dal crisis" in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has refused to blow over.

Despite the combined support of the BJP's allies and the tacit approval of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Janata Dal faction led by Sharad Yadav is struggling to strike a deal with the NDA. The reason is the stiff opposition from dominant secti ons of the BJP.

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Leaders of the BJP owing allegiance to Union Home Minister L.K. Advani are opposed to admitting Sharad Yadav and Karnataka Chief Minister J.H. Patel into the NDA. This section, guided by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other members of the Sang h Parivar have even accused Vajpayee of increasing the BJP's dependence on the Dal formation, which includes the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party. Informed sources in the Sangh Parivar said that by facilitating a reunification of socialist forces Vajpayee sought to strengthen his own position in the alliance as he does not enjoy the support of the RSS. (The reunified Janata Dal consisting of erstwhile leaders of the Janata Party and the Janata Dal, is in favour of a government under Vajpayee.)

The theory that only leaders close to the Sangh Parivar are against the reunified Dal's entry is reinforced by the fact that the BJP's allies such as the Trinamul Congress, the National Conference and the Akali Dal have supported the new political format ion. Digvijay Singh, Samata Party spokesperson, told the media on July 25 that initially both Vajpayee and Advani had favoured the entry of the realigned forces but Advani backed out submitting to pressure from the RSS. "Their public statements blaming G eorge Fernandes for not letting them know about the unity discussions with the Janata Dal faction are nothing but a lie. They are feigning ignorance," he said.

Meanwhile, NDA insiders point out that the tough postures adopted by the reunified Janata Dal and some BJP leaders over the singular issue of wielding greater clout in the alliance is the reason for the suspicions over the new alignment.

The fears of a power struggle within the alliance became evident on August 7, when a rally marking the formal merger of the Sharad Yadav faction, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party was held in Bangalore. It was not merely a show of strength but a warnin g that the Sharad Yadav group's entry could not be blocked. Significantly, the Janata Dal faction got National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah to declare his support to its efforts.

In a related development on that day, the Election Commission (E.C.) directed the Janata Dal factions not to use the name of the party and it froze the wheel symbol. (On August 8, the E.C. awarded the Sharad Yadav faction the name Janata Dal (United) and the arrow symbol. The Lok Shakti and the Samata Party will contest the elections under the common name and symbol.)

Almost on cue, BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley unleashed hardline party rhetoric on the Bangalore rallyists: "The Lok Shakti and the Samata Party are indeed part of the NDA and will remain so. But the problem with the Dal faction's entry into the NDA relat es to its very existence. Does the Dal exist? What are the contours of that party?" These questions, he said, needed to be answered before a decision on its entry was taken.

The point that Jaitley sought to make was obvious. He believed that there was no need to accept the Janata Dal faction, recognise it as a political force of any consequence, allot it seats for the Lok Sabha elections, or share power with it. If the Lok S hakti or the Samata Party wished to share with the Sharad Yadav faction, the seats allotted to them, they were free to do so, he maintained.

On the other hand, the Lok Shakti and the Samata Party tried all avenues to press home their point. According to their leaders, the reunified Dal has emerged as a major political force, particularly in States such as Karnataka and Bihar. They sought to e mphasise that this formation needed to be accommodated in the NDA on the basis of its new-found strength.

Sharad Yadav, Samata Party leader George Fernandes and Lok Shakti chief Ramakrishna Hegde have, since July 21, the day the three parties came together, ferreted out data on polling patterns to substantiate the claim that they have gained in strength. The y said that the polling patterns of previous elections showed that the Janata Dal-BJP combine was capable of winning 40 of the 54 seats in Bihar and 21 of the 28 in Karnataka. In the last elections, the BJP-led alliance won 32 and 16 seats respectively i n these States. The three leaders maintained that they had retained most of the support base of the original Janata Dal, and 90 per cent of the votes polled by the Janata Dal in the last elections would accrue to the reunified party. The Janata Dal won 9 per cent of the votes polled and one seat in Bihar, and in Karnataka its voteshare was 21.7 per cent and it won three seats. On the basis of these calculations, they claimed that the reunified Dal had the potential to win 25 per cent of the vote in Biha r and over 34 per cent of that in Karnataka. The BJP polled 23 per cent and 27 per cent of the votes in Bihar and Karnataka respectively in the previous elections. These figures were highlighted by them to demand that the Janata Dal (United) be allotted 54 seats, including 27 in Bihar.

The BJP has rejected these calculations. Arun Jaitley said that projections made on the basis of the last elections were not valid. In the first place, the Janata Dal had been degenerating in the last two years and there was no way it could have held on to its support base, he argued. He claimed that large chunks of the Janata Dal's support base in Karnataka and Bihar had switched over to the BJP. He pointed out that the BJP had led in 94 Assembly segments in the last Lok Sabha elections, whereas the Lo k Shakti led only in 24. Naturally, according to him, his party had a stronger claim to the chief ministership.

The contentious computation apart, the Karnataka unit of the BJP has expressed strong reservations about aligning itself with J.H. Patel, against whom it has launched a campaign. "Under no circumstances can we align with the Janata Dal faction. Our cadre s dislike the chakra (wheel) symbol," Union Minister and State BJP leader Ananth Kumar told Frontline. By all indications, the hate factor will subside with the freezing of the wheel symbol.

But this is only a minor problem. More important in terms of realpolitik are the questions of seat allocation and chief ministership. Apparently the BJP is ready to allot 74 Assembly and 10 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka to the Dal group, but with the ride r that the chief ministership will go to the BJP nominee.

On July 31, when the NDA met for the first time after the former Janata Dal groups united, a formula was suggested by certain BJP leaders, including Sushma Swaraj who is considered close to Advani, to solve the Karnataka imbroglio. The suggestion involve d projecting Rajashekhara Murthy, who joined the BJP recently, as the chief ministerial candidate instead of B.S. Yediyurappa. Informed sources said that this proposal found acceptance in the BJP and the Lok Shakti but was rejected by George Fernandes.

Given the rigid stands adopted by both sides, an early settlement to the issues appears difficult. Sections of the BJP state in private that the Prime Minister could have been asked to find a solution had he not been viewed with suspicion by the RSS. Acc ording to a senior leader from Uttar Pradesh, the RSS fears that if Vajpayee is given a free hand he will even work out a settlement that has the potential to impair the BJP's electoral interests. Apparently, this apprehension was one of the reasons for the omission of the controversy over the entry of the reunified Dal from the agenda of the NDA's July 31 meeting. "In a sense, the BJP itself seems to have abetted this process. After the Kargil conflict, there has been more talk about Vajpayee's leaders hip qualities than about the party's strengths. Vajpayee's status as an independent leader has been on the rise," the leader said.

The BJP is banking essentially on the belief that the reunified Dal will stay with it for fear of handing over the electoral advantage to the Congress(I).

'We are not ready to go to the polls with the Janata Dal'

cover-story

B.S. Yediyurappa, the president of the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who is projected by the party as the next Chief Minister, has been outspoken in his opposition to an electoral alliance with the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav). His vi ews are shared by the rest of the State unit of the party. Yediyurappa explained his stand in an interview to Parvathi Menon on August 6. Excerpts:

Are you still opposed to an alliance with the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav)?

There is no change in our stand. We are not ready to go to elections with the Janata Dal. First, the people have rejected that party. In the last Lok Sabha elections they contested all the Lok Sabha constituencies and won just three seats; they came firs t in only 20 out of the 224 Assembly segments. Secondly, we have from the beginning, whether inside or outside the House, opposed this party. That is why we do not want to go with the Janata Dal, whether the Deve Gowda faction or the J. H. Patel faction. For the last four and a half years we have been continuously agitating against this Government. We don't have anything against J.H. Patel as an individual... in fact he is a good man, but as a Chief Minister he has failed in all respects, and many of hi s Ministers have corruption charges against them. People have rejected that party.

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You have said that you will ally with the Patel faction if it fights on the Lok Shakti symbol. This is being read as a sort of face-saving explanation, in a situation where you have to go along with what your central leadership wants.

The Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav) group is not going to get the chakra (wheel)symbol. That symbol will either be frozen or allotted to the other group. Afterwards, they have full liberty to join any political party. Their MLAs and workers will definitely go to the Congress, the BJP or the Lok Shakti. We do not oppose that. The BJP will face elections with the Lok Shakti. In the forefront will be Ramakrishna Hegde and the BJP leadership. So people definitely have rejected the Janata Dal, they want some chang e... we have the full confidence that the voters will support the BJP and the Lok Shakti.

So far your opposition has not been to the Janata Dal symbol; it has been to those persons who are part of that party. If the same people now adopt a new symbol, does that make them acceptable to you?

Out of 110 Janata Dal MLAs, there are a few good people, such as C. Byre Gowda. So if they join the Lok Shakti, we have no objection. After all, the voters are only against the Janata Dal.

Why has your central leadership put you in this position, where you are forced to accept into your fold a party which you opposed all these years? Why are they imposing this alliance on you?

Our central leadership is not against our stand. I spoke personally to Atalji, Advaniji and Kushabhauji. They are very much with us. They do not support Ramakrishna Hegde's and George Fernandes' efforts to make the Janata Dal a part of the National Democ ratic Alliance.

But they are going to become a part of the alliance.

That question does not arise. When they lose their symbol, the Janata Dal will not exist.

Even so, you will have to speak for people you opposed all these years. You yourself said that your party will lose credibility.

Our workers, sympathisers and voters will have no objection if a few good Janata Dal MLAs join us. This is a very unfortunate development, because at present at the Centre they are supporting our party. So if we have to take a few people for the sake of the political situation, we cannot oppose it; there is no other go for us.

What about the Lok Shakti alliance? Can you do without them?

There is no difference of opinion between the Lok Shakti and the BJP. But one thing is certain. The BJP alone will get a majority in the elections. We will be the majority partner in the alliance.

The Lok Shakti made public its displeasure at your having announced your list of candidates without consulting them.

How can they oppose this? We announced candidates only for those 13 seats where we won the last time. They can't object to this.

Squabbles over seats

The BJP and its regional allies are caught up in tussles over seat-sharing.

THE National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies was born out of the compulsions of sharing power and the felt need to expand the political support base of the coalition following the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha. The BJP realised that one of the reasons for the collapse of the 13-month-old government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee was the reluctance of several smaller parties to support the Government or join the ruling coalition. The NDA was conceived of at that time in order to win over new allies, who may have been holding themselves back because they were suspicious of the BJP's dominance in the coalition and the likelihood of its trying to enforce its Hindutva agenda on the other constituents. In fact, in order to try and convince the non-BJP NDA constituents and new allies that the BJP would not pursue its own agenda, the BJP went so far as to decide that it would not release its own manifesto but subscribe to the NDA's common manifesto.

However, the BJP finds to its dismay that its show of evident readiness to dilute its Hindutva identity is not sufficient to win adequate number of new friends or even buy peace within the NDA. In State after State, the BJP finds that its authority as th e largest national party in the alliance stands considerably whittled; it has also come under pressure from its allies to concede more seats to the other constituents in the NDA.

In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the BJP has had to reconcile itself to playing the role of a junior partner in the Dravida Munnetra Kazh-agam(DMK)-led front. In a few other States, its quest for primacy in the allocation of Lok Sabha seats - or even get a r easonable share for itself - met with intense resistance from regional allies who felt no compelling need to concede too much turf in their pockets of strength. In some States, the BJP's local units refused to accommodate the allies' aspirations, but in Tamil Nadu the BJP went out of its way to offer the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) one of the six seats allotted to it by the DMK. MDMK leader Vaiko was initially displeased by the DMK's decision to give it only five seats, when another re gional ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, was favoured with at least seven seats (see box). The BJP, which felt that the MDMK was a valuable ally, offered it one of the seats allotted to it, but Vaiko politely declined the offer.

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The BJP units in most other States were, however, not quite in the same conciliatory mood. The central leadership of the BJP was acutely embarrassed by the stiff resistance from its Karnataka unit to the proposal to accommodate Chief Minister J.H. Patel within the coalition; the central leaders had earlier reconciled themselves to the entry of the Janata Dal group led by Sharad Yadav - which was subsequently named the Janata Dal (United) - into the NDA. Commerce Minister and Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishn a Hegde was sufficiently provoked to accuse the BJP units in Karnataka, Orissa and Bihar of being "greedy" for seats and warned that unless the BJP was more accommodative of its allies' interests, the allies would be constrained to desert it.

In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP unit rejected a proposal from Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu to have the 1994 Assembly election results (the BJP won only four seats) as the basis for determining the seat-sharing formula f or the Lok Sabha elections. The TDP (it is not a member of the NDA, but it extended support from outside to the Vajpayee Government) was not swayed by the BJP's argument that it was entitled to a dozen Lok Sabha seats and 45 Assembly seats on the basis o f the fact that it secured 18 per cent of the popular votes in the 1998 elections. Vajpayee, whose sights were set on securing a higher tally for the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections even if it meant giving up a few seats in the Assembly elections, was wil ling to consider the TDP's offer. Samata Party leader George Fernandes was despatched to Hyderabad for talks with Chandrababu Naidu. However, State BJP leaders felt that it would be impractical to have an alliance with the TDP for the Lok Sabha elections alone.

In Bihar, the Samata Party, emboldened by the coming together of the party with the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav), demanded a higher share of the seats than it contested in 1998. In Orissa too, the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal, which contested as allies in 19 98 and fared well, have not been able to agree on a seat-sharing formula. In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP finalised an agreement with the Himachal Vikas Congress led by former Union Minister Sukh Ram, under which the HVC will contest the Shimla (Reserved) s eat and the BJP three other seats. BJP leader and former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, who was displeased by the agreement, warned the leadership that the agreement would be suicidal for the BJP in the long run.

In Uttar Pradesh, a crucial battleground, the BJP decided not to concede any of the 57 seats it won in 1998 to its regional allies, even though the Loktantrik Congress Party (LCP) staked its claim to three of them. The LCP and the Jantantrik Bahujan Sama j Party (JBSP) have each sought 10 seats. The Samata Party, the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav), Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and independent MLAs too are reportedly demanding their pound of flesh. In 1998, the BJP allotted to its allies only five of the 85 Lo k Sabha seats in the State.

The BJP released its first list of candidates for 138 Lok Sabha seats even before it finalised a seat-sharing arrangement with its allies. The party has by and large renominated those who won on the party ticket in 1998; however, this has led to severe h eartburning among some of its leaders. In Madhya Pradesh, five BJP members of the dissolved Lok Sabha have declined their renomination. They are Sumitra Mahajan (Indore), Uma Bharati (Khajuraho), S.C. Verma (Bhopal), Baburao Paranjpe (Jabalpur) and Vijay araje Scindia (Guna). While Paranjpe and Scindia opted out on health grounds, the others declined because of intra-party tussles. Sushma Swaraj, the party's official spokesperson and a member of the dissolved Lok Sabha, too has declined the party ticket for South Delhi. The names of the three senior BJP leaders - Vajpayee, Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi - figure in the first list: they will contest from Lucknow, Gandhinagar and Allahabad respectively.

Hurdles in Tamil Nadu

SEAT-SHARING talks within the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front in Tamil Nadu, of which the Bharatiya Janata Party is a constituent, ran into rough weather early in August. At one stage, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Va iko, unhappy with the five parliamentary seats allotted to it, was preparing for a stand-off with the DMK, but the hitch was subsequently resolved on August 8.

However, the DMK-led front was wracked by another convulsion on August 9, following differences between two other constituents, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) over the sharing of the nine seats allotted to the two parties by the DMK, the principal constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Unhappy with the PMK's offer of just one parliamentary seat (Salem), the TRC decided on August 9 to put up candidates in two constituencies, Salem and Rasipuram (Reserved). Earlier in the day, the PMK had declared its intention to contest eight seats, wh ich left only one seat for the TRC. Relations between the two parties had been strained for days following reports that the PMK would allot the TRC only one seat. TRC president and Union Petroleum Minister Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy had warned that if the T RC did not get two seats, it would think of its "next plan of action".

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The DMK's formula satisfied no one in the alliance. The MDMK was displeased that the DMK had allotted nine seats to the PMK and the TRC. The BJP accepted the six seats it was allotted. The MGR-ADMK headed by S. Tirunavukkarasu and the MGR Kazhagam led by R.M. Veerappan got one seat each. The DMK retained for itself the 18 seats it contested in the 1998 elections.

Sensing the MDMK's displeasure and hoping to resolve that crisis, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani sent word to Vaiko on August 6 that the BJP would give up one of its six seats - Sivaganga - for the MDMK. A meeting of MDM K leaders said it appreciated the gesture, but resolved that the BJP should contest from Sivaganga too. Vaiko told reporters later that the MDMK would accept the five seats and stay on in the NDA.

On August 7, however, the DMK and the MDMK were locked in another tussle, this time over the choice of constituencies. There were no differences in respect of the three seats that the MDMK won in 1998 - Sivakasi, Tindivanam and Palani; but whereas the MD MK wanted two of four other constituencies - Thanjavur, Tiruchengode, Tiruchendur and Tirunelveli - the DMK was willing to offer any two out of Gobichettipalayam, Karur and Pollachi (Reserved). In order to close the MDMK's option, Karunanidhi announced t he DMK candidates for Thanjavur, Tiruchendur and Tirunelveli.

After discussions with his party functionaries on August 8, Vaiko met Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi and later announced that the MDMK would settle for Tiruchengode and Pollachi. To persistent questioning by newspersons, Vaiko said he wa s happy that an agreement had been reached between the two parties.

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THE mood in the DMK-led front had been markedly more upbeat barely a week earlier. On July 24, when Vaiko draped a shawl around Karunanidhi at the venue of the MDMK conference on "State autonomy" at Kanchipuram, near Chennai, the crowd burst into applaus e. It was an emotional moment for the two leaders who had parted ways in 1993. (Vaiko formed the MDMK that year after Karunanidhi expelled him from the DMK.)

In his speech, Karunanidhi returned to a metaphor used by Vaiko when the MDMK leader met him at his residence on May 18. (That visit, Vaiko had said, was akin to a son calling on his father after setting up a separate family.) Karunanidhi said in Kanchip uram: "I have come to see how the son, who broke away from the father, is running his separate family." In his concluding speech the next day, Vaiko declared, "If any harm were to come to Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) or the DMK, we will stand like a fort arou nd them."

Given the history of DMK-MDMK relations, that occasion seemed surreal to most observers. Ten days later, the new-found bonhomie all but disappeared.

The first indication that all was not well came when Karunanidhi said on July 31 that there were "hitches over the number of seats" and since they would take a while to resolve, aspirants for the DMK ticket could apply for all 40 seats (39 in Tamil Nadu and one in Pondicherry) and that in respect of seats that were not allotted to the DMK, the applicants would get back the money. This was evidently a pressure-tactic to force the MDMK, which was pitching its demand high, to fall in line.

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As if on cue, State BJP general secretary L. Ganesan and PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss said that their parties were not to be blamed for the hitches. Ramadoss even took a swipe at the MDMK. Alluding to the MDMK's reported insistence that it be given more s eats than the PMK, he said: "We don't have the culture of demanding that we should get more seats than our allies."

What queered the pitch was the announcement on August 2, after Ramadoss met Karunanidhi, that the PMK and the TRC would get nine seats between them. This meant that the BJP and the MDMK would get only 11 seats; both parties were displeased because both w ould get fewer seats than the PMK.

On August 3, BJP leaders Ganesan, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam and State BJP president K.N. Lakshmanan met Karunanidhi and later announced that an agreement had been reached on the number of seats the BJP would contest. They, however, declined to reveal the number. Ganesan said the MDMK would deal "directly" with the BJP, a clear intimation of a crisis. Vaiko met Karunanidhi that evening, but with Vaiko holding out for seven seats there was apparently no breakthrough.

On August 4, Ganesan, Lakshmanan and Rangarajan Kum- aramangalam again met Karunanidhi and other DMK leaders, including general secretary K. Anbazhagan. It was then announced that the BJP would contest six seats. Karunanidhi disclosed that the MDMK had b een offered five seats and the Natham Assembly seat, where a byelection is to be held. It was a take-it-or-leave-it offer to the MDMK, but the party leadership remained unyielding.

Informed sources blamed the DMK for the tangle. According to these sources, when Ramadoss and Ramamurthy met Karunandihi on May 3, they were offered nine seats, but the news was kept under wraps. The sources said that the DMK had "rewarded" the PMK for n ot joining the rival front led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), as Ramadoss had threatened to.

Under an earlier formula, the DMK was to give 20 seats to the BJP and ask it to share them among itself, the MDMK, the PMK and the TRC. But sources said that the BJP did not want to take on that responsibility. The DMK used a clever stratagem to put the breakaway MDMK in place. It gave combined offers to the PMK and the TRC on the one hand, and the BJP and the MDMK on the other. The DMK offered nine seats to the PMK and the TRC together, and 11 to the BJP and the MDMK; even so, both the BJP and the MDMK were upset because each would get fewer seats than the PMK.

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Leaders of the MDMK hit back, and started interviewing candidates for all 40 seats. There were also sections within the DMK who felt that the PMK-TRC had been allotted more seats than they deserved; however, Karunanidhi denied that there was any resentme nt in the DMK. Sources in the DMK said the MDMK was given five seats taking into consideration its chances of victory. According to them, the PMK commanded a more powerful presence across northern and western Tamil Nadu.

MEANWHILE, AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha gained a head start on the campaign trail. She addressed meetings in Chennai suburbs and later headed for interior districts. At well-attended meetings, she targeted the BJP - "a communal party, which is ag ainst the minorities" - and the DMK. "We aligned with the BJP to form a stable government under an able Prime Minister," she said. "But the BJP's mask has been ripped off. We have undunderstood that it is an evil force."

The AIADMK had earlier finalised the seat-sharing formula with its allies, under which it kept 23 for itself and gave 12 seats to the Congress(I), two seats each to the CPI(M) and the CPI and one seat to the INL.

A dubious exercise

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

Despite widespread public disquiet about intelligence failures that led up to the Kargil conflict and the response of the Government and the Army after Pakistan's intrusion was discovered, the Kargil committee appointed by the Government has a s everely narrow remit. Its anodyne terms of reference do not inspire confidence.

TO be worth its name, any inquiry must be directed in unambiguous terms to the specific issues that caused public disquiet and prompted the demand for an inquiry. In the Kargil case, the issues were not confined to intelligence failure or to events befor e Pakistan's intrusion. They covered even more pointedly the Government's and the Army's response after they discovered the foul deed. Not least, the dates of discovery. The Government and the Army differ on that.

The Government of India knew of the widespread disquiet and the precise questions on which the people demanded the answers. It chose, nonetheless, to appoint on July 24 a committee of four members with the most anodyne terms of reference terminating sha rply at the intrusion - "to review the events leading upto the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil district... and to recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security." These were later embodied in a formal announcement o n August 4 without any significant change in response to public criticism. No effort was made to expand the terms of reference to cover other issues in response to public demands. The Opposition was not consulted either on the terms of reference or on th e membership. Here is a unique committee whose vague terms of reference were left to a spin doctor to flesh out. Pramod Mahajan's lack of seriousness is evident in his remark that it can go into "two years or twenty years of history." He said also that " the committee is free to interpret" (the terms of reference) and "when we say events leading to, it may be intelligence, administrative, political failures." The remit ends abruptly with the incursion and is delightfully vague. No committee can "interpre t" it to exceed the limits. No committee should accept terms so imprecise as those. The least it can do now is to declare its own understanding of its terms of reference for the public to know. Especially since Defence Minister George Fernandes wiped out the spin the very next day in Calcutta. He said that the committee was not meant to probe intelligence failure. It will only review the situation that led to the conflict and recommend measures to strengthen national security.

None will accept Fernandes' denial of the Calcutta statement the day after he made it. PTI as well as correspondents of reputed dailies reported him in identical terms and in direct quotes, too. PTI reported him as saying: "The committee is not meant to probe intelligence failure. It will only (sic.) review the situation that led to the conflict and recommend measures to strengthen national security."

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The report in The Statesman (July 26) has this nugget, besides, which explains Pramod Mahajan's reference to 20 years. Fernandes is quoted as saying: "The three-member committee formed to probe the build-up to Kargil will review the role of oth er governments and other Defence Ministers vis-a-vis the present one, apart from suggesting measures of national security, he announced." The intention is plain - tarnish the name of predecessors, exonerate the incumbents, the Government and t he Defence Minister, both. Consciousness of guilt is all too evident.

This is surely not the inquiry which the Government had promised nor one which the public expected of it.

By a spate of statements, the Government of India had pledged itself to the nation and, not least, to the jawans who had risked their lives, that there would be an inquiry into the lapses which had enabled the intruders from Pakistan to go as far as they did; so far, indeed, as to make sacrifice of the lives of the jawans necessary. That inquiry is an imperative of democratic accountability.

The crucial question always was: what will be the scope and remit of the probe. In a TV interview on July 17, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra said that an inquiry would be conducted to find out if there was an intelligence lapse on the Pakistani intrusions and whether the Army failed to react on time. In a press interview on the same day, he spoke of a "post-mortem to find out what went wrong and what lessons we have learnt from the Kargil episode." This is comprehensive. Asked "When did the Go vernment first hear of the intrusion?", he replied: "At a moment, we can say that the first information came on 6 May."

However, Fernandes told the all-party meeting on May 29 that it was only on the night of May 12 that the Army informed him of the intrusion. The Army had learnt of it through a shepherd on May 6. In an interview to Sunday (June 13), he amplified t hat at Srinagar, later, the Corps Commander told him that "things were under control and we should get back the ridges that had been occupied in a day or two. When I returned, I asked for a situation report. I found no mention of this in the routine sit- rep. When I asked what was going on, I was told those chaps are there, but we will have the situation under control soon."

There is clearly a strong case for all involved to answer. Especially in view of Fernandes' own statements, contradictary as they are. On June 27 he said that the "intelligence establishment had failed to provide any advance warning of the Pakistani infi ltration." Eighty per cent of them were Army regulars. "The fact was that there was no intelligence on this." On July 14 and since, he has repeatedly denied that there was any "intelligence failure".

Disclosures of various cautionary reports by officials mount by the day; based, no doubt, on anguished sources within the Army and the paramilitary forces. They cite precise dates of reports which they had sent, only to be ignored. There are also credibl e reports on the commencement of the intrusions.

Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh said on July 20 that the Government would soon institute a high-level inquiry into whether intelligence failure led to the Pakistani intrusion into Kargil. "The members of the inquiry commission and its terms o f reference will be known (sic.) shortly."

The terms of reference should not be confined to the initial intelligence failure alone but should also cover the responses of, both, leaders of the Government and the Army, at all levels. It would have been in the fitness of things had they been drawn up in consultation with former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and H.D. Deve Gowda. (Inclusion of I.K. Gujral will not add to the prestige of the group.) Additionally, senior leaders of the Opposition, such as Harkishan S ingh Surjeet, Jyoti Basu, A.B. Bardhan and Sharad Pawar, should have been consulted. An inquiry with a narrow remit which excludes failures such as those of intelligence and the roles of the men at the top, whether in government, the Army or in the intel ligence services, will not inspire confidence. It will be a mere "review", not an "inquiry" at all. There can be no underestimating the depth of the resentment felt by many at attempts to cover up. They fear that the probe would be programmed to let the big fish escape. Appointment to comfortable posts of persons in the know, who are themselves accountable, has fuelled the suspicion.

In such an atmosphere, the Establishment begins to leak like a sieve. The ship of state is the only one to leak from the top, as Sir Humphrey Appleby reminded Bernard Woolley. Why did the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court disagree with Chief Justice War ren Burger's proposition in the Pentagon Papers case that the duty of every citizen with respect to the discovery or possession of stolen property, applicable to cabmen, applies also to The New York Times? Because the Government was perceived to b e deceiving the public.

Hardly had Outlook (July 25) come out with an expose setting out in precise detail repeated warnings by Brigadier Surinder Singh, Brigade Commander, Kargil sector, since August 1998 than a correspondent was tipped off that the documents were among the 26 letters attached to the Brigadier's legitimate Redressal of Grievance (ROG) petition addressed, through proper channels, to the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. V.P. Malik. At least two retired Lieutenants-General have added their voice to criticism of the Government. No prize is given for identifying the source that leaked the ROG to the correspondent.

The committee will be gravely remiss if it does not requisition the entire record and summon the principal actors. Section 11 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 empowers the Government to arm "any authority (by whatever name called) other than a Com mission appointed under" the Act with the coercive powers available to a Commission of Inquiry, proper. Will the Kargil committee demand these powers? The committee's silence in the face of disquiet over its severely narrow remit is deafening. The commit tee's statement on August 4 invites inputs from the public "based on reliable and authentic information", but said nothing in response to public criticism of its absurdly narrow remit. "Highly placed sources" told Chandan Nandi of The Telegraph (A ugust 4) that the committee had been advised to proceed in a "general" manner and not make it "individual-specific". In other words, individual culpability is excluded. A farce of the process of accountability. The source added, "The focus will be on sys temic problems."

Significantly, we have not had any commitment from the Government that it would publish the committee's report. The litmus test of accountability is that the process must cover the entire state machinery involved in the affair - from the top downwards.

THE Kahan Commission of Inquiry, set up by the Israeli Government to probe into the atrocities in the Shatilla and Sabra camps in Lebanon, observed in its report, submitted on February 7, 1983: "We wish to note to the credit of the lawyers who appeared b efore us that none of them raised any argument to the effect that in the investigation being conducted before us, the status of Cabinet members (the Prime Minister and the Defence and Foreign Ministers) is different from that of others. In our view, any claim that calls for a distinction of this sort is wholly untenable."

For three days (August 3 to 5, 1983), Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke gave evidence before the Hope Commission on Security Agencies and was closely cross-examined by counsel for the Security Intelligence Organisation and for the suspect, David Combe. Intelligence is not a subject exempt from judicial inquiries.

There are, of course, obvious procedural precautions to be observed. Two precedents reveal starkly the contrast between the Government of India's committee and a mechanism for real accountability. One is the report of the Franks Committee of Privy Counse llors entitled "Falkland Islands Review", the other is the Agranat Report on the Yom Kippur War.

On July 8, 1982, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced that, following consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and leaders of other Opposition parties, the Government had decided to appoint a Committee of Privy Counsellors under the Chairmans hip of Lord Franks with the following terms of reference: "To review the way in which the responsibilities of Government in relation to the Falkland Islands and their Dependencies were discharged in the period leading upto the Argentine invasion of the F alkland Islands on 2 April 1982, taking into account all of such factors in previous years as are relevant and to report." Nothing was excluded. Note that the focus was on the discharge of responsibility. This is what accountability is about. The Kargil probe is hopelessly unfocussed.

Documents of the Foreign Office and of the Ministry of Defence on the subject were furnished to the Committee as well as all relevant files of the first three months of 1982; as also "every report from the intelligence agencies relating to the Falkland I slands from the beginning of 1982 until 2 April 1982", the date of the Argentine invasion, plus "a number of reports from previous years" and "every assessment on Argentina and the Falkland Islands made by the Joint Intelligence Organisations since 1965, together with any relevant minutes of meetings."

The public was invited to submit memoranda. The Committee studied press reports and consulted a number of books. Oral evidence was taken of all the Prime Ministers since 1965. It read "all the relevant papers that the Prime Minister personally saw from t he time the present Government took office" and "all relevant Cabinet and Cabinet Committee papers and minutes of meetings from 1965 onwards."

The Committee met in camera. The Report, published in January 1983, recommended a shake-up of the intelligence machinery. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned from his office.

The Agranat Report is perhaps an even more appropriate model. The Yom Kippur War began on October 6, 1973. On October 22, 1973, Egypt agreed to a ceasefire. Soon thereafter, on November 18, 1973, the Israeli Cabinet adopted the following resolution:

"Resolved: A) That the following matters, namely: 1. The information, in the days preceding the Yom Kippur War, concerning the enemy's moves and his intentions to open war, as well as the assessments and the decisions of the duly authorised military and civilian bodies with regard to the aforementioned information; 2. The Israel Defence Forces' deployment for battle in general, its preparedness in the days preceding the Yom Kippur War and its actions up to the containment of the enemy - are of vital pub lic importance at this time requiring clarification.

"B) That an Inquiry Commission shall be set up to investigate the aforementioned matters and report to the Cabinet..."

Contrast the precision of these terms of reference, with their explicit mention of the topics on which the public demands the answers, with the vague terms of reference of the Kargil inquiry.

The Inquiry Commission was headed by Dr. Shimon Agranat, President of the Supreme Court, and comprised four other members. The Commission's Report was presented on April 2, 1974. The Agranat Report is a veritable classic on accountability.

It will be noticed that the terms of reference covered both intelligence failure and the Army's role; its preparedness in the days preceding the war as well its "actions up to the containment of the enemy". The Commission discussed the personal responsib ility of the Prime Minister and the other Ministers concerned. The Commission's "Partial Report" was devoted to intelligence, its evaluation and the state of alert. It decided to consider in a later Report the Army's deployment prior to the war and its p erformance on its outbreak, till the ceasefire. "The public is entitled to learn as soon as possible of the findings and recommendations on those subjects on which the Commission has concluded its deliberations, and it is desirable that the Government ma y be able to act in accordance on them without delay."

It, added, however, that "this report contains a general, very brief, description of facts, insofar as such a description is needed for an understanding of the conclusion. In view of its contents, this report may be published; whereas the further report, which contains a detailed description of the facts and a complete exposition of the Commission's conclusions reached by the Commission, will contain many secret facts which, in all probability, will rule out publication in full." Accountability to the n ation and preservation of military secrets in the nation's interests are not incompatibles.

The Commission was set up under Israel's Inquiry Commission Law, 1968. In its resolution, the Cabinet decided that "the matter which are the subject of the investigation and the Commission's deliberations require secrecy." Accordingly, the Commission dec ided to hold its deliberations in camera. But legal representation and the cross-examination of witnesses were allowed to persons whose conduct was in question. One para vividly illustrates the nature of the inquiry and deserves to be quoted in extenso.

"The opening of the war by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, 6.10.73, at approximately 14.00 hours, took the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) by surprise in that until the early morning hours of that day the IDF's Supreme Command and the political leadership did not evaluate that total war was about to commence and on the morning of that day. When it was already clear to them that the war would break out, the Supreme Command mistakenly assumed that it would break out only at 18.00 hours. Responsibility for thes e mistaken evaluations should be placed primarily on the Director of Military Intelligence and on his Principal Assistant in charge of the Intelligence Branch's Research Department, which is the only body in the country engaged in intelligence research. They failed by providing the IDF with totally insufficient warning: It was only at about 4.30 a.m. on Yom Kippur that the DMI, on the strength of fresh intelligence he had received, notified that the enemy would open war at 18.00 hours on both fronts. Th is brief warning did not allow for mobilisation of the reserves in an orderly fashion, and involved the hasty mobilisation of the land forces, contrary to the regular time tables and mobilisation procedures. The additional error of four hours, between 18 .00 and 14.00, further reduced the interval between the call-up of the reserves and the opening of fire by the enemy. This second error caused further disruptions in the readiness of the regular forces at the fronts and their correct deployment, particul arly on the Canal front."

The Commission proceeded to analyse the reasons for the failure of the authorities responsible for evaluation. It pronounced not only on the intelligence set-up and on the Foreign Ministry's Research Department, but also on the functioning of the Cabinet in the parliamentary system. The Director of Military Intelligence was praised for his candour and for his abilities; but "in the light of his serious failure, Major-General Zeira can no longer continue to serve in his position as Director of Military I ntelligence." Similar censures were passed on some other senior officers.

Heads rolled, in consequence. And this is the true test of any honest, thorough inquiry. It must reach the tallest poppies in the field: "During the period of tension in the week preceding the war, he (the Chief of Staff) did not even visit the fronts, i n order to get a personal feeling of what was happening there, to receive a first-hand impression from the threatening signs discovered by the observations which had been made to elicit information from the commanders in the field and to consult them. To the Chief of Staff's credit it should be recalled that he demanded the mobilisation of the whole body of reserves on Saturday morning. But in the existing conditions he should already have recommended a partial mobilisation of the reserves on 1 October, when the Egyptian 'exercise' began, and at the latest on 2 October. We did not accept his explanation that on that day he did more than enough by declaring the highest state of alert in the regular army, including the Air Force (the cancellation of leav es, duty rosters of officers at command posts, etc.), and putting the reserves mobilisation system in a state of alert." After a careful consideration of the evidence, the Commission concluded: "We regard it as our duty to recommend the termination of Lt .-General David Elazar's appointment as Chief of Staff." The Report concluded with a tribute to the armed forces.

In contrast to Indian inquiries, the Franks and Agranat Reports were submitted with remarkable despatch; a reflection on Indian work culture. It is unlikely that the committee which the Government of India has appointed will have much impact.

We shall be surprised if it performs half as well as these two bodies and if its report assuages public disquiet. The BJP and the Congress(I) will exploit the Kargil affair for political ends. But the public at large are contemptuous of attempts at polit ical exploitation of the tragedy. Concerned with national security, they ask precise questions. They are entitled to the answers - fully and honestly.

'The Army leadership has been politicised'

cover-story

Interview with Moti Dar, former Vice-Chief of the Army Staff.

Former Vice-Chief of the Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Moti Dar, has broken his official silence over the handling of the Kargil war. While most retired military officials familiar with strategic policy have remained silent so far on the way the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and the defence establishment conducted the campaign, Dar believes that officers like him have a special duty to speak out. "This is not an issue on which institutional loyalties or personal friendships are paramount ," he said. "This is an issue of India's defence. We have to make sure that what happened at Kargil is never allowed to happen again."

Dar, a highly decorated officer, was injured in the war of 1971. He retired as the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff three years ago. From 1967 to 1970, he served as Brigade Major of the 121 Brigade, which is responsible for Kargil's defence and which is now at the core of the controversies regarding on the handling of the war. From 1981 to 1984, he was again connected with events in Kargil, while commanding the 114 Brigade in Leh. In 1983, he participated in major exercises in the Kargil area, which formed the basis for subsequent strategic policies in the area. Lt.-Gen. Dar was also involved in designing strategies for the defence of the Siachen Glacier, and was closely connected with counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

In his interview to Praveen Swami, Dar challenged many of the official claims on the conduct of the Kargil campaign, and pointed to the growing politicisation of the Army's top leadership. Excerpts:

When you were posted in Kargil, what form of patrolling and observation was in place? Did your perceptions of threat vary from time to time, or was there a fixed paradigm?

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No, we had a permanent assessment of what the threat to Kargil was, and had a fixed defensive system. We used to hold in strength most of the valleys which offered the most easy routes for infiltration. Up on the ridges, we used to have posts to monitor movements. From these major posts, we used to put out extensions and carry out patrols. For example, near Kaksar, we had a strong position on the shoulder of the ridge. We used that as a base to put out extensions. In the Chorbat La area, we used to have a base in the Indus valley, which used to move halfway up the mountains in the summer. At that time, patrols used to move up to the top regularly. Remember, in 1967 we had far fewer troops than are available now. We had a battalion for Drass, one each f or Channigund and Kargil, and just half a battalion for Batalik. There were two companies of the Jammu and Kashmir Militia, which later became the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry. So, some areas, like Marpo La, were thinly held.

There has been considerable controversy over the vacation of posts in the winter - about how many posts were actually on the Line of Control (LoC) to monitor movements in the winter, and what they were doing. What was the system during your tenure in Kargil?

There was absolutely no concept of vacating posts in the winter. If the snow was exceptionally bad one year, some posts might move a little further up or down. Equipment then, compared to now, was rudimentary, but we managed as best as we could. The wint er is bad in Kargil, but not so bad that military activity becomes impossible. Our men, who used to get supplies through local porters and ponies, used to stay up. Each of the pickets used to be stocked up for the winter. I used personally to visit the f orward pickets and make sure that patrols moved as they ought to.

So, in your considered professional view, there is no way that the spring intrusion by Pakistan could have gone undetected until May, had the pickets and patrols been functioning as they should have?

Definitely. There is absolutely no doubt about it. If the posts were up on the heights through the winter, if link patrols between them were executed on schedule, and if long-range patrols were regularly carried out, there is no way that the intrusion co uld have passed undetected. Local commanders also ought to have been maintaining contact with local village communities, who have excellent information on any unusual movements in the area. I am totally mystified and perplexed as a military professional, how something of this kind could have happened. Frankly, it is incredible.

Senior Army officials say that simply by having posts, patrols and so on, such an intrusion could not necessarily have been detected. In fact the Army has put this proposition on record in a letter to Frontline.

Movements on the ridges in particular can be detected fairly easily. If there had been small patrols tasked to carry out observation, the arrival of the infiltrators and their activities, including the setting up of improvised bunkers and ammunition stor es would have certainly been seen. Observation posts set up outside the pickets would also have spotted the intrusion. I am unclear whether there were helicopter patrols in winter, which we used to have in our time. If there were such patrols, they shoul d have certainly spotted something. We used to fly along the LoC regularly. In fact, I remember an incident when I strayed a considerable distance across it by accident! Now, I am not underestimating the difficulties of physical observation, particularly when the weather is bad. There is certainly a very strong case for upgrading our surveillance capabilities, using electronic sensors and improving our airborne platforms. But I cannot believe that a thousand, two thousand, infiltrators could not be dete cted by routine physical patrolling.

How would you respond to the counter-proposition that patrolling does not succeed in detecting intrusion in other areas? For example, large numbers of infiltrators routinely cross the LoC in Kupwara, Uri, Gurez and other areas.

There are two factors here. First, there is thick forest cover in those areas along the LoC. In Kargil, the mountains are bald. The forest cover in, say, Kupwara, makes detection of movement considerably more difficult than in Kargil. But the more import ant point is that infiltration is routinely detected in Kupwara or Uri. Patrols make fire contact with infiltrators almost every day along those parts of the LoC despite the Pakistani artillery and small arms support designed to suppress our defensive po sitions. Every year, hundreds of Pakistani infiltrators are shot dead on the LoC, and hundreds more are repulsed. If, in Kargil, some amount of infiltration had not been detected, but other groups had been detected and challenged, that would be explicabl e. What has happened defies explanation, and the public deserves an explanation.

Coming back to the issue of local intelligence, there is now a perception that the local population in Kargil is hostile to India, a claim that sections of the media and some politicians have made. Was this true of your time?

Perhaps the best way of answering this is that in our time, the flow of intelligence from the local community was excellent. We had a very good idea of what was happening in Skardu and Olthingthang, down to company-level movements. Most of it came from l ocal people with relatives on the other side. I, like my predecessors, made it a point to attend local ceremonies and maintain regular social contacts with the community. What really worked for us was the contrast between the development of this side of Jammu and Kashmir, minimal as it then was, with the abysmal condition of the people in Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan.

In 1967, we launched a border demarcation exercise, since there was some disputes between Pakistan and India on just which areas each country was entitled to hold after the 1965 war. The largest problems were in Kaksar, where we had returned the key feat ure over Kargil, Point 13620, and in Darulang. Anyway, we eventually arranged a meeting on the Long Ridge on Kaksar with the Pakistani command, and both sides took surveyors along to resolve the problem. I remember taking up copies of Filmfare and cartons of Panama cigarettes, which were very popular with Pakistan troops. The Pakistani commander, Brigadier Ghulam Murtaza, who was from the northern area, bitterly complained about the Punjabi domination of the region. The state of civil infrastruct ure there was pathetic compared to what we had. So, the population in Kargil had no reason for complaint. If things have changed since then, and I do not believe they have, then people ought to do some thinking.

How do you see the future of military deployment in Kargil shaping up? There is talk that a second Siachen has been imposed on India.

It is very sad that people are responding to this situation in a defensive way. Pakistan has very poor and stretched lines of communication in this area. There is one route from Astor, another from Skardu and one from Happalu. None of them used to be in good shape. We always used to consider Kargil an excellent theatre of offensive operations for India because of its superior communications infrastructure. The point was finally proved in 1971. Even today, the fact that we have a highway there should be seen as an asset rather than a cause for concern. Secondly, our troops are far superior and better equipped than theirs. The Northern Light Infantry is not, strictly speaking, even a part of the Pakistan Army. So, rather than get into a defensive rut, we should consider what our options are and make sure the system functions in the future.

In a broader sense, are you concerned about events in Jammu and Kashmir? Recent developments have been quite alarming.

Yes, they have, and it is very disturbing. In some ways, things have deteriorated quite sharply since, say, the situation that prevailed after the elections of 1996. I think the most important thing that has happened since then is the nuclear tests in Po khran, which have transformed the situation in ways that we have yet to understand or deal with properly. What I find most disturbing is that the Army leadership itself has been politicised in a very crude way, so much so that political assessments are o bscuring and confusing military judgment. What is desperately needed now is an objective and impartial inquiry into what has happened. Pinning blame should be secondary to the important task of determining what happened and finding ways of ensuring that it does not happen again.

A probe and its prospects

The composition of the Committee of Inquiry on the Kargil war and the fact that it does not have any statutory authority raise questions about the real reasons for its formation.

THE Union Government's Committee of Inquiry on the Kargil war is not dissimilar to a board of Union Carbide employees charged with investigating the Bhopal gas disaster. The Committee is responsible for reviewing the events that led to the Kargil war and making recommendations to prevent such situations in the future, but the organic links of its members with the structures of power in New Delhi have done little to inspire confidence that the exercise will serve any meaningful purpose. The fact that the Committee has no statutory authority means that it will have little real power. Cynics may be forgiven for believing that the sole purpose of setting up the Kargil Committee is not to excavate the truth, but to permit the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) go vernment to broadcast that it has nothing to hide.

It takes little to see why many observers have greeted the Committee's formation with derision. Two of its three members - journalist B.G. Verghese and defence analyst K. Subrahmanyam - are members of the National Security Council's Advisory Board (NSCAB ). The NSCAB is a government-nominated body, which advised the defence establishment on its management of the crisis, which they will now examine. The Committee's Member-Secretary, Satish Chandra, heads the National Security Council's Secretariat, which is responsible for appraising intelligence and integrating strategic doctrine. Since the Government's failure to evaluate and act on intelligence reports vis-a-vis Kargil is one of the key controversies to emerge from the Kargil conflict, Chandra will ju dge, among other things, his own conduct. Lieutenant General K.K. Hazari, who retired from service in 1986, is the only person of the Committee who does not hold any official position.

While the personal integrity of the members of the Kargil Committee is beyond dispute, its composition clearly fails to meet the minimum standards of what would constitute an impartial inquiry. Even more curious is the Government's failure to set up a st atutory body with legal powers to summon witnesses and documents. Given its lack of statutory status, the Committee will have no right to seek intelligence documentation or demand those who were involved in the conflict to appear before it to answer diff icult questions. Indeed, those witnesses who do choose to appear will be under no legal obligation to speak the truth. Some observers suggest that the individual reputations of the Committee's members will render official stonewalling difficult. This is, however, a less than adequate guarantee of the integrity of the process of inquiry.

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Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan laid out on July 24 the Union government's agenda for setting up the Kargil Committee. The Committee, he said, would "review the events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in Kargil district in Lada kh in Jammu and Kashmir." On the basis of its review, the Committee would, he said, "recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security." When asked whether the Committee would investigate only the events of the conflict o r also the processes that preceded it, Mahajan said that it was free to do what it wished. The Kargil conflict, he said, "may have a short or a long history," and the Committee could look at "two years or twenty, and not just what happened in the last th ree months." "When we say events leading to, it may be intelligence, administrative, political failures. We are not binding the Committee with one or two aspects."

Mahajan proceeded to outline the reasons for setting up the Committee in the first place. Concern for future security policy, the stated purpose of the Committee, appeared to be the Union government's secondary concern. Mahajan's principal line of attack was on the Opposition's calls for a Rajya Sabha session on the conflict. The setting up of the Committee, he claimed, made clear the Union Government's commitment to transparency. "Many times in the past," he said, "the Prime Minister, the Home Minister , the Defence Minister and the External Affairs Minister have repeatedly said that there is nothing to hide for the government, that national security is supreme, and that after the war is over, we are ready to inquire into it." "We are sure," he conclud ed, "that the Committee, which has eminent persons, will give us a report which will help us strengthen national security."

Speaking to party workers in Chennai on the same day that Mahajan announced the formation of the Kargil Committee, Union Home Minister L.K. Advani expressed surprise at the Congress(I)'s decision to attack Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for his Karg il war record. "Is anyone advising them, I asked myself. Nothing but suicidal tendencies could make them choose such an agenda for the elections." Indian troops, he said, had won against the enemies on the Kargil heights and the government had secured a signal diplomatic triumph. "Every country now praises Prime Minister Vajpayee and his government, except for Pakistan," he said. Every party in this country is praising Vajpayee, except for the Congress. The world has now come to realise that the Army in Pakistan is a rogue Army. It is not a democracy like India where the elected representatives have the last word. There are autonomous centres in Pakistan who act on their own."

It is clear that the announcement of the Kargil Committee was designed to strengthen the BJP's defensive fortifications against the Congress(I)'s election assault. However, some problems remained. Defence Minister George Fernandes may have been delighted at Advani's belated endorsement of his controversial claim that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had nothing to do with the Kargil aggression, but he had other problems. On July 25, Fernandes proclaimed that the Kargil Committee would not review pos sible intelligence failures. Clearly, he was less than delighted by even the remote possibility of the flow of information about Pakistan's plans in the Kargil sector to Defence Headquarters, and the responses to it, being subjected to scrutiny. But two days later, faced with public outrage, Fernandes, true to his form throughout the Kargil conflict, denied that he had said anything of the kind.

However, more problematic than the political theatre surrounding the Kargil Committee is the possibility that its members may be starting their tasks with closed minds. Even as Vajpayee's management of the conflict was under attack, Subrahmanyam sought t o argue that the Prime Minister's errors were no different from those made by previous Congress(I) Prime Ministers. "It is forgotten," Subrahmanyam wrote in The Times of India (June 7), "that this is not the first time an Indian Prime Minister has taken Pakistani declarations at face value and was then taken for a ride." "It happened to Lal Bahadur Shastri. As the Indian and Pakistan envoys (who also happened to be brothers-in-law) were signing the agreement on submitting the Rann of Kutch disput e for arbitration in June 1965, General Ayub Khan was preparing to unleash the Operation Gibraltar infiltration force on Kashmir."

Subrahmanyam proceeded to flesh out his case with a series of polemically persuasive but facile parallels between the BJP's gross mismanagement of the Kargil campaign and mismanagement of similar situations by Congress governments. "Zulfikar Ali Bhutto," the defence analyst states, "wheedled the Simla Agreement out of Indira Gandhi, promising to work for conversion of the LoC (Line of Control), but let her down." "General Zia-ul-Haq talked of a no-war pact even as he was supporting the Khalistani terror ists and pushing ahead with his nuclear weapons programme. Ms. Benazir Bhutto spoke to Rajiv Gandhi about greater understanding among the post-Partition generations, even as her Inter-Services Intelligence was triggering the insurgency in Kashmir, and he r Army was toying with the idea of nuclear blackmail in 1990." The Union government's errors were therefore, no greater than those of its predecessors, probably less so.

Subrahmanyam came out with even more express support for the government in another artcile he wrote in The Times of India (June 21). "Pakistan's aim in initiating this aggression," he argued, "is obvious." "It was intended to internationalise the Kashmir issue as per the Pakistani framework. It was carried out at a time when Pakistan thought the Indian leadership, preoccupied with the forthcoming elections, would be weak and indecisive." But, Subrahmanyam proceeded, this strategy had collapsed. " Now Pakistan knows this plan has failed. The Indian response was both firm and restrained. The air strikes were launched, but both ground and air operations were confined to Indian territory except for retaliatory artillery fire. The most disappointing d evelopment for Pakistan was the recognition by leading nations that there was a definite aggression by Pakistan across the LoC."

The similarities between this endorsement of the government's management of the Kargil war and Advani's Chennai speech are unmistakable. Indeed, Subrahmanyam's thinking on other issues also closely mirrored that of the Union government. In the June 21 ar ticle, he challenged the "fixed ideas that the U.S.-Pak, U.S.-China and Pak-China relationships - which were developed in the Cold War - are immutable." "Pakistan no longer serves a useful purpose for the United States as it did in the Cold War era, and during the period of intense US hostility to Iran." Similar claims were later made by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh in an interview to Star News.

In a third article which appeared in The Times of India on June 29, Subrahmanyam even asserted that India's "armed forces have all the necessary skills and the professional competence to be ready to meet the whole range of Pakistani escalation pos sibilities." The proposition then leaves open to question whether the Kargil Committee has a raison d'etre.

The issue here is not whether Subrahmanyam's views are correct or not, but whether he can be an impartial judge of the events that led to the Kargil war. If the Kargil Committee is meant merely to be an in-house review of events, the composition of its m embers and their ideological persuasion would be of little relevance. However, the Committee is being projected to India's people as a public exercise, an alternative to transparent discussion in Parliament of the failures that led to Pakistan occupying and holding some 1,500 square kilometres of Indian territory. The string of events which began with the Pokhran-II nuclear tests last May, and the subsequent window of opportunity which opened for Pakistan to secure international intervention on Kashmir, are unlikely to be the subject of a credible and dispassionate discussion by an evidently partisan Committee.

As A.G. Noorani has pointed out in his discussion of possible inquiries ("Questions of Accountability", Frontline, July 2, 1999), there are more than a few appropriate models for what should have been put in place after the Kargil conflict. Soon a fter the Yom Kippur War of 1973 ended, for example, Israel set up a formal Commission of Inquiry empowered by a Cabinet resolution to investigate the state of intelligence before the war and the preparedness of the Israel Defence Forces to cope with it. The Commission was headed by Shimon Agranat, the President of Israel's Supreme Court. Noorani describes the report as a "veritable classic on accountability." "It would do Indian democracy no credit," Noorani wrote, "if Ministers and officials of the Gov ernment of India are allowed to escape accountability." "The people are entitled to know the facts."

However, the BJP-led government clearly believes otherwise. No one is as yet certain if the Kargil Committee's report will be made public, and whether Parliament will have an opportunity to discuss it. But it is increasingly clear that if the Union gover nment has its way, it is more than likely that the report will mark a triumph for fiction over fact.

'We did fairly well'

In March 1998, with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition poised to take power in New Delhi, Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal made one of the most dramatic pronouncements on strategic policy in Jammu and Kashmir ever made through the State's deca de of terror. Discussing Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, the Commander of India's key 15 Corps, headquartered in Srinagar, argued that "the only real solution is that you have to be tough with the other side." "To deter Pakistan from exporting terrorism," he asserted, "we have to raise the cost level for them. We have to say, 'if you do not stop sending terrorists here, well, we know where the camps across the Line of Control (LoC) are and we will attack them'. Despite the fact that the camps are across the LoC, we should be able to destroy them. We must have that kind of will. We should be able to go across and strike them."

In the wake of the Kargil crisis, the many ironies of Lt.-Gen. Pal's propositions, which were later to form a leitmotif of the BJP-led government's "pro-active" polemic on Jammu and Kashmir, are only too evident. At the end of a year of this "pro-active" policy and the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, Pakistan succeeded in occupying and holding, for over eight weeks, some 1,500 square kilometres of Indian territory, and increasing the violence in Jammu and Kashmir to levels that are unprecedented in almost thr ee decades. Krishan Pal, a highly regarded officer, is now himself on the firing line.

In this exclusive interview to Praveen Swami, Pal fiercely defended the Army and the defence establishment in particular, against the charges of misjudgment, negligence and poor leadership levelled against it. The campaign on the Kargil heights, h e said, illustrated "generalship unparalleled in the history of warfare." Most important, he said that the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan would, irrespective of the events in Kargil, lead to a long-term de-escalation of conventional tensions in the region. However, in his first major interview after the end of the Kargil crisis, the 15 Corps Commander made it clear that further conventional confrontations could be anticipated in the short-term. Excerpts:

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At the start of the Kargil war, you and other senior Army officers believed that the numbers of infiltrators were considerably lower than what they actually turned out to be and were optimistic that they could be evicted in a short period. Was this a n error of judgment and intelligence, as your critics allege?

For one, no such assessment was ever made by me. An assessment is always made once the picture becomes clear, and the picture was not clear at that stage. In the initial stages, the inputs came from various sources, primarily as far as the military is co ncerned, from the fire contact our troops made with the forward positions of the Pakistan attack, and from physical observation. In-depth contact with the enemy's positions obviously takes some time. You have first to destroy their forward positions or b ypass them, which can be a slow process.

So, to expect that right from the day go, from the moment our patrol observed two people at one place and seven at another place in the Batalik sector, we should have a full assessment of things is not practical. In this particular case, because of our s wift action it took us about a week to ten days before a clear picture of the situation emerged. In fact, it was a dynamic situation, and our assessments kept on changing. Our assessments had to be fluid because the enemy reinforced at several places. So , it is simply unfair and incorrect to expect our first assessments to be our final ones.

Our final assessments were made when our front-line contacts and photo surveillance provided detailed inputs that tallied. I remember that around May 17 I had a good degree of clarity about just what was going on. I distinctly remember making it clear, w hen I first briefed the press in Srinagar on May 19, that the depth, extent, logistic support, fire support and magnitude of the intrusion left no doubt in my mind that it was a Pakistan Army-backed operation. That statement should leave no one in any do ubt about what our assessment was. If anybody believes that the Army underestimated the situation, they are wrong. Our first patrol was ambushed on the night of May 8. If, in ten days, I could come to the assessment I did, I think we did fairly well. Of course, if someone had asked me the exact number of intruders at that stage, that may have still involved an element of conjecture.

There is considerable talk about having to hold all the posts on the LoC in the Kargil sector through the winter. In fact, the Border Security Force says that its forward positions were held through the winter in Chorbat La and the Chhanigund area. I ndeed, all the forward posts seem to have been held through the winter until about 1987. In the light of the artillery exchanges that began in 1997, was there some laxity on the Army's part in this regard?

If the BSF is saying this - and I do not know if it is - this is a complete distortion of facts. In fact, these areas have never been held, not just from 1987 but right from the beginning. As such, the question of vacating does not arise. You can vacate a place only if you are holding it. And if someone says they are a great force, that is just half the story. We also held positions on the Hathimatha feature and others through the winter.

One of the posts being talked about, for example, is the Bajrang post in Kaksar.

This is a misnomer. There is no post called Bajrang. There is just a feature the troops have named Bajrang. There is no post there. It is just like Tiger Hill is called Tiger Hill. It doesn't mean there is a post there. There never was anybody there.

So, all the posts were manned through the winter?

Well, there are some "winter vacated posts" from which we pull people out. And there are some "winter cut-off posts" where people stay. But I made it clear on May 19 that not a single post in the 15 Corps zone has been taken by Pakistan. Pakistan moved i n and occupied areas which have been "unheld" for the last 50 years. This distortion and confusion are very unfortunate.

The other big area of controversy is, of course, intelligence. Local officials of the 121 Brigade say that there were intelligence inputs about such an intrusion and these were ignored. Is that correct?

That is again, you know, misleading. The documents which are being quoted are misleading. This will come out soon. This was a totally unexpected development. There were no reports from any quarter about an intrusion or attack by Pakistan. If somebody wan ts to say that he warned that 500 militants were being trained in Skardu, and to link that report to what happened, this is totally far-fetched. The militants who are being trained in Skardu can come to Kupwara or any other place. Anyway, in this case th ere were no militants, only regular troops.

You will recall that in March, I had discussed with you the possibility of Pakistan planning some form of conventional conflagration using its newly obtained nuclear parity in order to force the internationalisation of the Kashmir issue. In that sens e, was India too relaxed about the consequences of Pokhran-II?

No, quite the contrary. After the nuclear status was acquired, it stood to reason, both military and strategic reason, that any possibility of a conventional conflict will decline.

But is that really the case? The great powers fought a number of conventional engagements, and in some cases even border skirmishes. Have the chances of Pakistan using its nuclear power status as a shield against any conventional reprisal by India in creased?

Well, I would not like to comment on that, but that is not my understanding. The real reasons for this particular misadventure Pakistan embarked upon will come out in due course. But I don't think it has anything to do with the nuclear scenario. Perhaps the linkages are more with the proxy war it is waging in Kashmir. That seems, to me, to be more plausible. What has happened seems similar to what Pakistan did in 1947 and 1965, when it used the facade of Mujahideens and Kabailis. The tactics are identic al, too, with what was done in Afghanistan. There too, this fiction of the Taliban was created when the entire world knew that it was the Pakistan Army which was fighting.

My question is, would Pakistan have risked the Kargil adventure had the risk of a full-scale conventional war still existed?

That may have been a miscalculation. Pakistan may have underestimated the resolve of the Indian Union.

Do you now think that any further enterprises of this kind by Pakistan can be anticipated in the near future?

The point is, we cannot rule it out. In fact, knowing the past record of the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, we should be prepared for such things. Pakistan is not going to stop. It wants to carry on with a low-cost war which imposes g reater burdens on us. I have always said that unless we raise the costs for Pakistan, in whatever way we choose, it will be very difficult to stop this. It is lucrative for Pakistan militarily and strategically. Why should they stop?

Finally, what lessons do you think Pakistan will learn from this? There is a great deal of euphoria about the Indian victory, but at the end of the day, did Pakistan not succeed in tying several Indian brigades down, expending relatively little in th e process?

Now, I will correct your proposition in a larger, overall proposition. You are working on the premise, the presupposition, that only a few thousand Pakistani troops were involved. In fact, Pakistan used between 10 and 11 battalions for this entire aggres sion. This is definite, a conservative figure if anything. I am one hundred percent sure of this. Up to 11 battalions, including the Special Services Group commando battalions, were used.

Now, contrast this with the number of troops I used in the attack. I did not use even twice the number of the attacking force, 22 to 23 battalions! The other day, we were working out just how many battalions we had used, and the number was just 16 or 17 battalions. What we did was to concentrate our forces at the point of incision, step-wise. That is how we succeeded.

You know, there is another misconception that is going around. There is no doubt that our younger officers have done a great job. They led the attack from the front. But has anyone paused to ask why the morale is so high in 15 Corps, and why the soldiers are bubbling with enthusiasm? On Tiger Hill, my commanding officers, some of whom are quite old, were right there with the boys. Ravinder Nath, Joshi, Chakravarty, Bajwa, these officers climbed up the mountains with my boys. This was generalship unparal leled in the history of warfare. Talk to people who know what this kind of warfare is all about.

The amount of fan mail I am getting from retired Generals is an eye opener. My officers did an outstanding job in strategy and planning, in giving direction to the operations. Look at the innovative use of the Bofors gun. It is unknown in military histor y for 155-millimetre guns to have been used for direct firing at a 12 km range. Who thought of this? What I will say is that this effort by some journalists to drive a wedge between junior and senior officers is misplaced. Why were the youngsters putting their life on the line? Because they knew that they were working to the best plans. Those plans succeeded.

A consolidation of forces

Political developments in Tamil Nadu following the Tirunelveli massacre point to a consolidation of organisations representing the oppressed sections of society, particularly Dalits.

A SIGNIFICANT fallout of the brutal police action on a procession taken out in support of agitating tea estate workers in Tirunelveli on July 23, which resulted in the death of 17 persons (Frontline, August 13), is a consolidation of the oppressed sections, particularly Dalits, in Tamil Nadu.

The development is seen as having the potential to bring about substantial changes not only in electoral politics in the State but in the nature of political activism in general and the approach of mainstream political parties to organisations that repre sent Dalits' aspirations.

More than the fact that 11 of the 17 victims of the police brutality were Dalits and four others were Muslims, it is Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi's attempt to give caste hues to a labour dispute that has driven the two vulnerable sections to come togeth er. These two sections have been frequent targets of violence perpetrated by communal and casteist forces and of police repression unleashed under the pretext of maintaining law and order.

The consolidation of Dalit groupings became strikingly evident on July 31 when several Dalit organisations of divergent political persuasions joined the fasts organised in Chennai and other district headquarters in protest against the police action. The fasts were organised by the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Puthiya Tamizhagam (P.T.), and the Tamizhaga Muslim Aikkiya Jamaath, which were among the sponsors of the July 23 procession. Among the leaders of Dalit organisations who participated in the f ast were moderates such as L. Elayaperumal (a former Member of Parliament) of the Human Rights Party and Vai. Balasundaram of the Ambedkar Makkal Iyakkam, besides the stormy petrels of the Dalit movement in the State, Dalit Panthers president R. Thirumav alavan, and P.T. president K. Krishnasamy, who led the Tirunelveli procession along with Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly and TMC leader S. Balakrishnan. In addition, organisations representing Muslims, such as the Indian Union Muslim Leagu e (IUML), took part in the fast.

Thirumavalavan, whose Dalit Panthers has a significant presence in certain northern districts of the State, announced his support for the TMC-led front, of which the P.T., a formidable force in the southern districts, is a key constituent. The Dalit Pant hers' entry into this front was formalised on August 3; the same day, two other Dalit organisations, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Republican Party of India (RPI) led by C.K. Tamilarasan, joined the front. The Dalit Panthers and the RPI had earlier bee n part of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK)-led front.

On an average Dalits account for 15 to 20 per cent of the population in the 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in Tamil Nadu. The consolidation of Dalit organisations is therefore bound to be a crucial factor in the electoral arithmetic. According to political observers, this development will benefit the TMC, which was seen as having been politically isolated in the State after it ended its alliance with the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and failed to form an alliance with the Congress(I). Together wi th the polarised anti-establishment votes of the Muslim minorities, the new factor is expected to boost the TMC's prospects. The Dalit organisations, which have together found an ally for the first time in Tamil Nadu politics and are poised to make their biggest impact in the electoral arena, too will benefit in equal measure. Elayaperumal and Thiru- mavalavan acknowled-ged TMC president G.K. Moopanar's efforts in unifying Dalit groups in the State.

IN his initial reaction to the Tirunelveli incidents, Karunanidhi questioned the wisdom of TMC leaders finding common cause with "casteist elements"; he then made another attempt to give a caste colour to the estate workers' struggle. Rejecting the deman d of the TMC, the P.T. and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that action be taken against the District Collector and the Police Commissioner and other police officials connected with the Tirunelveli incidents pending an inquiry, he said that if he w ere to take action against these officials, "people belonging to the backward classes" would object to it. "This is a blatant attempt to instigate casteist forces," said P. Sampath, a member of the State secretariat of the CPI(M). He pointed to a stateme nt issued by Sethurama Pandian, the leader of a Tirunelveli-based caste organisation, which thanked the district administration "for maintaining law and order by curbing violence". The statement was prominently published in Tamil newspapers.

Sampath saw in Karunanidhi's effort to give a caste colour to the incidents an attempt to win the support of the dominant Thevar community, a large section of which is believed to back the DMK's principal rival, the AIADMK. The southern districts have wi tnessed periodic outbursts of violence involving Dalits and Thevars. Interestingly, AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha's criticism of the police excesses in Tirunelveli was mild.

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Karunanidhi also rejected the demand for a second post-mortem on the bodies of the victims. However, he modified his earlier order instituting a judicial inquiry by a retired District Judge and announced that Justice S. Mohan, a retired judge of the Supr eme Court, would conduct the inquiry. The TMC and other parties had demanded an inquiry by a sitting judge of the High Court. (Karunanidhi said that he had consulted Moopanar before making the announcement.)

The Chief Minister's announcement was evidently part of an effort to dissuade the TMC-P.T. combine from organising a protest fast by MLAs and MPs in front of the State Secretariat on July 28. A huge police cordon, which was part of one of the largest mob ilisation exercises by the State police, was thrown around the Secretariat to thwart the protest. Krishnasamy alleged that he was "wrongfully confined" in his hotel room by a large police presence. The TMC and its allies subsequently announced that their leaders and party workers would observe a one-day State-wide fast on July 31 to condemn the police excesses in Tirunelveli and "the Chief Minister's attempt to give a caste colour to the Manjolai workers' agitation."

In a joint statement, leaders of these parties said that the fast was to focus people's attention on the "anti-Dalit, anti-minorities and anti-poor stance adopted by the State Government." The leaders criticised the Chief Minister's statement that any ac tion taken against the district officials would lead to protest by backward communities; they saw it as an attempt to create bad blood among different castes.

On July 30, the Communist Party of India and the CPI(M), which had associated themselves with the Tirunelveli procession, held protest demonstrations and meetings all over the State. In Tirunelveli, they held a public meeting after the police denied them permission to take out a procession. In Chennai, demonstrations were held at five centres. CPI(M) leaders alleged that printing presses in Chennai refused to print posters for the party's protest programme. "Press owners said that they were acting on po lice instructions," said T. Nandagopal, secretary of the CPI(M)'s South Chennai unit.

Leaders of the TMC-P.T. combine went on a nine-hour fast on July 31 to reiterate their demand for action against the officials and a second post-mortem of the victims of the police action. Moopanar criticised the tendency to brand a particular organisati on (meaning, the P.T.) as a violent force. He said that he hoped to have a "moderating influence" on the Dalit leaders. Krishnasamy declared that he had no faith in violence and sought the cooperation of leaders of all castes and parties to resolve the M anjolai estate workers' problems.

Observers see the fact that Dalits did not retaliate violently following the Tirunelveli atrocities, unlike on similar occasions in the past when they suffered huge losses, and their success in mobilising public opinion in their favour through political means as a welcome change in Dalit politics.

(In another development, Krishnasamy filed a petition in the Madras High Court on August 3 seeking an inquiry into the Tirunelveli incidents by the Central Bureau of Investigation and a second post-mortem on the victims' bodies. The court directed the St ate Government to file its reply.)

Thirumavalavan told Frontline that the coming together of Dalit organisations would help them establish themselves as an organised political force and a force to reckon with. This would go a long way in fulfilling the aspirations of Dalits to achi eve political recognition and empowerment and to isolate the Dravidian parties, which, he said, had all along used Dalits for their political ends.

A bitter harvest

Workers in the tea and coffee plantations at Manjolai are pressing for higher wages and better working and living conditions, but the management's "adamant" attitude has hindered a negotiated settlement.

THE tea and coffee plantations at Manjolai, whose workers have been involved in a year-long struggle against their employers, are situated in the Western Ghats in Ambasamudram taluk in Tirunelveli district. Spread over forest land measuring about 3,500 h ectares at altitudes ranging from 100 metres to 1,867 metres, the plantations are owned by the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation (formerly the Bombay Burmah Trading Company). They consist of a group of tea estates - Singampatti Group - which is divided i nto three units: Manjolai estate (three divisions), Manimuthar estate (two divisions) and Oothu estate (two divisions). The three units account for a total workforce of 2,386, of whom 743 are temporary workers. Over 80 per cent of the workers are Dalits.

The 133-year-old BBTC entered the plantation business in 1913 and has been at the centre of one controversy or another from the time it acquired the forest land in 1929 on a 99-year lease under agreed conditions from the Singampatti zamin. The company ma de a down payment of Rs.88 per hectare and agreed to pay an annual rent of Rs.4.32 per hectare. On February 19, 1952, the land was taken over from the ownership of the zamindar and vested with the Government under the Madras Estates Abolition Act, 1948. However, the Board of Revenue, in its proceedings of August 13, 1958, stated that although the company was not entitled to any rights in or to remain in possession of, the land leased out to it, on or after February 19, 1952, it could continue to use the land subject to certain additional conditions that were deemed necessary in the public interest. The conditions, which placed restrictions on the company in respect of clearing forests and selling timber, were modified whenever the need arose. On a numb er of occasions the company faced charges that it had violated the conditions. A State Forest Department complaint against the company in this regard is pending in the High Court (Frontline, August 23, 1996).

The Singampatti Group is a major exporter of tea; its annual production is eight million kilograms, valued at about Rs.20 crores. The group's annual coffee production amounts to one million kilograms. In keeping with the growing global awarness about pre servation of the environment, the BBTC pioneered the organic cultivation of tea in 1988 at its Oothu estate. Organic tea is grown on 312 hectares with no chemical inputs, fertilizers or pesticides. The black and green organic tea, produced at its factory (with a capacity of one million kilograms a year) established in 1992, is exported to Japan, the United States, Germany and other European countries. Today BBTC is world's single largest producer of organic tea.

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Work-stoppage in the estates owing to strikes and lockouts since August 1998 has affected the company's operations in the last one year and cut into its earnings. Although the strike in the three estates was called by a relatively new political organisat ion, the Puthiya Tamizhagam (P.T.), under the banner of its nascent trade union, the Puthiya Thamizhagam Tea Estate Workers Union, it sustained itself for nearly a year with the support of a vast majority of the workforce. It came at a time when disconte nt among the workers was at its peak: the 2,000 workers were agitated over their "deplorable" living and working conditions and dissatisfied with the existing recognised trade unions. The conditions were ripe for the entry of P.T. founder-president K. Kr ishnasamy, who unsuccessfully contested the 1998 Lok Sabha elections from the Tenkasi (Reserve) constituency, within which the Singampatti Group estates fall.

The main grievance of the Manjolai estate workers relates to the non-implementation of the Plantations Labour Act (1951) in its true spirit, says J. Hemachandran, president of the Tamil Nadu unit of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and vice-presi dent of the All-India Plantation Workers Federation. He told Frontline in Nagercoil on July 31 that the management had failed to provide the workers many of the facilities they were entitled to under the Act. Their houses were not fully fit for oc cupation; many of them were wet. Clean drinking water was not supplied to them. There were also problems related to medicare and working conditions.

A VISIT to the estates and interaction with a cross-section of the workers confirmed many of these grievances. Barely 50 per cent of the employees had been provided houses, one worker said. "Most of the houses are old and dilapidated, unfit for living du ring the monsoon," said another. A woman worker said, "There are cases where five families are forced to live in a single house." Medical facilities were inadequate, workers complained. Not all of them are provided free medical service. Temporary workers are not eligible for medicare facilities when they are not on duty. Even dependent children above the age of eight are excluded from the scheme. "The medicines are expensive and if we go to the plains for treatment, we do not get full reimbursement," sa id a worker. Their complaints to the supervisors have drawn no response. They also complained of favouritism in attending to the workers' needs.

Most workers expressed their displeasure with the four recognised unions, which included unions affiliated to the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC). The two other unions, the Labour Progressive Fe deration and the Anna Thozhirsangha Peravai, are under the control of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which rules the State, and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), respectively. The workers said that the unrecognised union affili ated to the CITU was sensitive to their interests but was too small to wield any influence with the management. (Under the check-off system practised in the estates, the managements collect subscriptions for the unions from the workers by recovering the amounts from their salaries; only those unions that subscribe to this arrangement are recognised. The CITU opposes this system on principle and so remains unrecognised.)

The CITU-led Tirunelveli District Estate Workers Union's president M. Rajangam said that although the union had not been recognised, its candidates had been elected to the works committees. He said that these committees' powers were limited: the elected representatives did take up the workers' grievances with the management but they could do so only up to a certain level. Workers complained that many of their "customary rights" - for instance, the right to have kitchen gardens, rear cattle and build sma ll annexes to their houses when their families expanded - were gradually withdrawn. In addition, the workload had increased over the years in all four plantation operations - plucking, pruning, applying fertilizers, manures and pesticides and processing.

(The Revenue Divisional Officer, who recently investigated a complaint that the Manjolai estate management took an anti-worker stance, reported to the Government after an on-the-spot inquiry that the management's attitude was adamant and that there was n o give-and-take. The report said that the workers were affected by increased workloads, particularly in pruning. Workers did not have a single shed in the workspots where they could eat their food. As for the redress of grievances, the report said that o nly those who were close to the management could get things done, for instance in getting houses repaired. It is the prevalence of such conditions that had created discontent among the workers, the report said.)

IT was in such circumstances, when discontent among the workers was growing, that Krishnasamy, who is also a member of the State Assembly, entered the scene. He organised the workers and took up their cause. After two rounds of conciliation talks held at the initiative of the district administration failed, the workers went on strike on August 20, 1998. That day, in violation of a prohibitory order imposed by the Government, Krishnasamy led a demonstration to press for the implementation of 21 demands; one of the demands was a revision of the workers' daily wage from Rs.53 to Rs.150. The charter of demands also alleged that the workers were treated as bonded labour.

Following up on this, about 1,500 estate workers staged a demonstration in front of the District Collectorate at Tirunelveli, about 100 km from Manjolai. From then on it is a story of struggles, strikes and lock-outs. The management said that the grievan ces, particularly the one alleging that workers were treated as bonded labour, were "imaginary" and the demand for a three-fold rise in wages was "unrealistic". It also contended that wages were paid under an industry-level State-wide bipartite settlemen t, a revision of which was due after January 1, 1999. The recognised unions endorsed the management's views, even going so far as to take out advertisement space in newspapers.

IS the demand for a three-fold rise in wage "unreasonable"? Hemachandran does not think so. He said that if the Government had accepted in 1956 the recommendation of a tribunal it had appointed to revise the plantation workers' wages that a daily wage of Rs.2.25 linked to the cost of living index be paid, the workers would now be entitled to a daily wage of Rs.98. But the Government modified the recommendation and fixed the wage at Rs.1.72; it further did not link the wages to the cost of living index. Krishnasamy said that a wage hike of the magnitude sought by the estate workers had not been considered unusual in the case of government employees, university teachers and employees of public sector undertakings. He pointed out that the Fifth Pay Commis sion of the State Government had revised the basic pay of "office assistants" from Rs.750 to Rs.2,550.

Krishnasamy followed up on his complaint in respect of the "bonded labour" status of the workers with the National Human Rights Commission; its Director-General D.R. Karthikeyan visited the estate and after a detailed inquiry concluded that there was no bonded labour; he, however, stated that some of the workers' genuine grievances needed to be resolved. At his initiative, a settlement was reached; under this, the issue of a wage hike was to be decided at State-level tripartite talks. The management agr eed to take action on certain demands relating to amenities and working conditions. Meanwhile, following an interim arrangement at the State level, the daily wage was raised to Rs.63.88. Work resumed in the estates, but trouble erupted soon thereafter, t his time over the working hours. The workers wanted the time they took to walk from the reporting point to the workspot, which could be 4 km in some instances, to be included in the working hours. The management did not agree. The workers on duty at the farthest workspots cut back on the management-fixed working hours by about one and a half hours. The management penalised them by deducting half a day's wages on such days.

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This tussle continued for about three months. The workers struck work demanding restoration of the cut in their wages. When they attempted to stage a demonstration before the Tirunelveli Collectorate on June 6 and 7, over 600 of them were arrested and se nt to the Tiruchi jail. It was to demand their release that the July 23 procession in Tirunelveli, which resulted in the death of 17 persons following the brutal police action, was held.

In Hemachandran's view, the Manjolai estates' problems became unmanageable only because of the non-implementation of the provisions in the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, relating to workers' welfare in their true spirit and the management's failure to evo lve a grievance-redress machinery and an inspection mechanism. He said that even the provision relating to the appointment of labour welfare officers had not been implemented.

On July 26, the estate workers who were arrested on June 6 and 7 were released; with this, the dispute relating to th the wage cut appears to be the only unresolved problem for now. Hemachandran said that at the State-level negotiations on a revision of wages for plantation workers held in June 1999, the unions had demanded the fixation of monthly wages. The employers' representatives had sought time to consult their trade organisations.

While the strike continues, about 400 of the 2,000 workers are reporting for work. Most of the workers who participated in the July 23 procession and bore the brunt of the police brutality are yet to return to the estates. Some of them stay as guests in Arockiyanathapuram, a Dalit hamlet about 10 km from Tirunelveli, partaking of food prepared in a common open-air kitchen with the support of the local people. Although several of them had suffered injuries or lost their close relatives in the police repr ession, they expressed their determination to continue their struggle.

New tensions across Taiwan Strait

Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui's recent remarks on Taiwan's relations with China have set off a chain of events that could lead to turbulence in East Asia.

WHEN, on July 9, President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan described the relations between Taiwan and China as "state-to-state" relations, the political temperature in East Asia rose rapidly, exacerbating the already severely strained relationship between the Un ited States and China. Tension rose further as harsh words and warnings were traded across the Taiwan Strait and the Pacific. Hong Kong's newspapers reported unconfirmed Chinese military exercises and naval movements in the Taiwan Strait, while Taiwan sa id that it was fully prepared to face any military threat from China. There was also speculation that the U.S. may deploy its vessels in those waters as it had done during the 1994-95 crisis, and the region was gripped by the fear of an eyeball-to-eyebal l standoff between the two big powers.

However, this did not transpire, for both sides quickly took steps to pull back from the briny brink. Instead, these events acted as a catalyst for resuming contacts that had been broken off by the Chinese after the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's ( NATO) forces bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade three months ago. Confrontation anywhere, and particularly in the Taiwan Strait, where it could only be of a military nature, was not in the present interests of either the U.S. or China. President Clin ton took the initiative to reaffirm U.S. commitment to a "one China" policy in a telephonic conversation with President Jiang Zemin and advised both China and Taiwan to exercise restraint.

While a U.S.-China standoff seemed to have been averted, at least for the present, the military alert on both sides of the Taiwan Strait continued. Yet, two weeks later, the spectre of the "Taiwan problem" hovered uncomfortably over the Association of So uth-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum meeting in Singapore, in a case of 'never send to ask for whom the bell tolls'. All those who were present must have been aware that any change in the status quo or any shift in the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait would herald a period of grave uncertainty and high tension for the whole of Asia. The "Taiwan problem" also took priority over the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in the talks between U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan. This was the first high-level political meeting between the two sides since the sharp downturn in their relations following the Belgrade bombing.

For 27 years, China and the U.S. have lived with the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the "Taiwan formula" that was devised to make President Richard Nixon's 1972 "breakthrough" visit to Beijing possible. As enshrined in the Shanghai Communique issued during that visit, the U.S. merely "acknowledged" that the "Chinese" "on either side" of the Taiwan Strait "maintain" that there is only one China and Taiwan "is a part of China", and that the U.S. does not "challenge" that position. This was as far as Nixon was prepared to go. In return he asked China to seek a peaceful solution to the problem - which China said was its own preference - and to abjure the use of force - which China categorically refused. This formula served to bridge the yawning gap between their respective positions on, and interests in, Taiwan. It enabled them to build an anti-Soviet strategic understanding and to proceed towards formally ending the state of Cold War non-recognition between the two countries that had persiste d since the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949. The arrangement, as is obvious, was bilateral. It did not include Taiwan, nor was Taiwan consulted. Taiwan is a military ally of the U.S. which at that time claimed to represent all of China - a claim that the U.S. had supported since 1949. Down the years, however, when the reality of Communist China became too stark to ignore or manage, the U.S. would periodically float the idea of "two Chinas" or of "one China, one T aiwan". Each time, the Kuomintang (KMT) government in Taipei would refuse to countenance such proposals, thus helping to sustain Beijing's claim that there is only one China, of which Taiwan is an inalienable part.

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This shared understanding the KMT subscribed to until President Lee's recent remarks - whether as a myth or as a reality - has, over the years, upheld the status quo in that region. It enabled the U.S. and China to construct a broad-based equation of mutual benefit despite political decisions on the part of the U.S. that suggested a weakening of its commitment. However, with each such decision, the U.S. would, at the presidential level, reiterate its commitment to a "one China" policy. With each such act, China would remind the U.S. of its "solemn promise" and reiterate that the Taiwan issue was the most critical aspect of their bilateral relationship. Consequently, for the outside world, Taiwan was the symbol of an uneasy U.S.-China strategic r elationship and a reminder of China's unfinished agenda of territorial reunification. Thus, after 1971, when Taiwan ceased to occupy the China seat in the United Nations and a host of countries switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, Tai wan suddenly ceased to be an international "person". Yet it had the largest foreign exchange reserves in the world, a per capita income next only to that of Japan, and a sophisticated technological base. It was not a member of most international organisa tions; it was a member of some, but as "Taipei, China". This was because it continued to perceive itself as China.

It is this self-identification and the common understanding that have been undone by President Lee's recent remarks. In an interview to Deutsche Welle, he described cross-Strait relations as "state-to-state or at least special state-to-state relations", thereby implying that Taiwan was a sovereign political entity in its own right and was no longer China. With this one statement, President Lee shed the various personae that Taiwan had assumed over the past 50 years. As "KMT China", it challenged the leg itimacy of CCP rule on the mainland. As "Confucian China", it claimed to be the flag-bearer of the great Chinese civilisation. As America's unsinkable aircraft carrier, it upheld democracy, although itself authoritarian. As "Taipei, China" it was an econ omic and financial powerhouse. However, in July this year, President Lee presented the world with the prospect of the emergence of a new political entity called Taiwan. This development threatens to nullify China's carefully crafted strategy of "one coun try two systems", which had taken Taiwan's separate political and economic realities into account in order to achieve the goal of uniting Taiwan with the mainland.

Beijing reacted angrily to what it called Lee Teng-hui's "separatist malice" in pursuing a "one-China one-Taiwan" ambition. It warned him not to defy "the will of the people and the general trend", which, it said, recognised that there was only one China in the world and that Taiwan was part of China's territory and sovereignty. It called on him to pull back from the precipice and reminded him that Beijing would never permit the separation or independence of Taiwan. Sabres could be heard rattling in the background.

President Lee has been the target of Chinese verbal assaults almost from the time he came to power. Beijing considers his views and policies to be more dangerous than those of the opposition pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), perhaps be cause the KMT could have great legitimacy as a nationalist party in a new era of Chinese nationalism, even on the mainland. After the last crisis China began to appeal above his head, to the people of Taiwan, promising to "listen to their voices" and sup port all "reasonable propositions which are in the interest of reunification of the motherland". But in today's age, nationalism is a two-edged sword, especially in multi-ethnic societies. With the big state under question everywhere, sub-national identi ties are beginning to assert themselves. Their struggles resonate with the new political values and norms that are fast becoming universal and which evoke wide support and sympathy.

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Perhaps Beijing hoped to build on the legendary Chinese pride in China and on the People's Republic of China's (PRC) successful pursuit of wealth and power now. But after Tiananmen and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the lure of democratic freedo ms has proved irresistible for the people of Taiwan, as for many others. For several years now, President Lee has said that he supports the idea of unification, but only if China changes its system and adopts democracy. Therefore, his "tilt" towards inde pendence could not have taken Beijing entirely by surprise.

After he came to power in 1988, Lee introduced fundamental changes in Taiwan's domestic political system, external relations, and, of course, cross-Strait relations. He transformed Taiwan into a democracy - the first legislative elections were held in 19 92 and direct presidential elections, which triggered off the missile crisis, in 1994. The DPP, which called for independence, was the new opposition party. Martial law, in place since 1949, was lifted and economic liberalisation was introduced. Lee took the big step of ending the state of civil war with the "bandits" on the mainland, and in effect recognised the PRC as a political entity through legislation that permits Taiwan to have separate relations with Hong Kong and Macao under the autonomy promi sed to them under the "one plus two system". Above all, he opened "official unofficial" talks with Beijing at a level equivalent to ministerial level. The talks, which were called off in 1995 following the missile crisis, were scheduled to be resumed soo n in Taipei, but have once again been postponed or cancelled by Beijing.

Also in these years, as both sides undertook economic liberalisation and opened up to each other, Taiwan soon became the largest single investor in China. Its total utilised investment to date is about $20 billion, while its committed investment is twice that amount. Cross-Strait trade amounts to about $22 billion, making Taiwan the second largest trading partner of China after the U.S. Tourism and family contacts have also flourished, but mainly in one direction - from Taiwan to China. The texture of t heir interaction thus became dense and should have enhanced China's confidence in the prospects for future unification, especially after the smooth return of Hong Kong to China. Instead, Beijing's fears have grown and have been articulated as Taiwan has sought to establish a separate political identity for itself by adopting what it called pragmatic diplomacy, and enhanced its self-defence capacity, and as critical shifts have taken place in the U.S.' dealings with Taiwan. Lee has also attempted to rede fine the basis of Taiwan's future relationship with China, proposing a "one country, two governments" formula for Beijing's "one country, two systems" formula, which China, needless to say, rejected. Lee's latest formulation of "state to state" relations could also borrow from the Korean model of "one nation, two countries, two governments", which permits full statehood while keeping the goal of unification alive. It is too early to say whether this is the direction in which Lee is headed. But it may be safe to speculate that China, which approves of the Korean formula, would any day prefer this to a declaration of independence by Taiwan.

As this process of redefinition and adjustment got under way in Taiwan, China kept a vigilant eye on what the U.S. was doing, since it is aware of the U.S.' security and strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region and the great influence that Washingt on can bring to bear on Taipei. Seven years after Nixon "dumped" Taipei for Beijing, as the U.S. and China exchanged instruments of formal diplomatic recognition, the U.S. Congress gave legal expression to the continuing American interest in that island. The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979 legitimises U.S. arms supplies to Taiwan in order to ensure that it has an adequate self-defence capacity. No one needed to ask against whom, as the answer was self-evident. Over the years, the U.S. has provided Ta iwan with the latest jet fighters, tanks, frigates, anti-submarine warfare systems, Stinger missiles and so on, and more recently with radar and other equipment, despite Chinese protests. In the midst of the present crisis, the U.S. is reported to have m ade more arms transfers, calculated to make it difficult for China to think of a military solution to the Taiwan problem.

More such transfers are likely to follow, as the Congress recently passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act which, as the name implies, seeks to enhance further Taiwan's capacity for defence. China appears to fear that this may permit the U.S. to inclu de Taiwan in its proposal for a Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) system. There is also an unsettled debate in the U.S., which China is undoubtedly following with great interest, as to whether the TRA commits the U.S. to go to the defence of Taiwan.

China's fears are focussed on the U.S. Its strategy so far has been to try and substitute U.S. interests in China for market and security-related factors for its traditional interest in Taiwan for the same reasons but with China as the "enemy". It has at tempted to persuade the U.S. that the two countries have shared, not competing interests in Asia and the world, and that they should "stand tall and look far" and build a cooperative relationship and structures that advance mutual security. China's main objective was to prevent the return and consolidation of a hostile U.S. military presence in Asia. But in recent years, despite two summits, Beijing and Washington have been pulling in different directions. Broadly speaking, the U.S. has over the past fi ve years worked to revive its security arrangements in Asia, particularly with Japan, which also has economic and other interests in Taiwan. (Taiwan was a Japanese colony for 50 years from 1894.) China fears that this will impair the balance of security in the region and lead to an arms race.

Is China already in this race? Since the Kosovo crisis and in the midst of the present crisis vis-a-vis Taiwan, China has revealed some of its nuclear achievements. President Jiang is reported to have called for speeding up plans for military mode rnisation and acquisitions. Whether or not this is indicative of China joining an arms race, it does point to the return of the military and strategic factor in world politics and in U.S.-China relations, in which it was perhaps never entirely absent. Th is factor has acquired greater salience after President Lee's pronouncements. By knocking down the foundation on which the status quo in East Asia has remained undisturbed for the past quarter century and more, Lee has forced the U.S. and China to bring their reserved positions to the fore, just as he did by talking about "state to state" relations with China. In the same telephone conversation that Clinton had with Jiang in which he assured Jiang that the U.S. position on "one China" remained un changed, he added that U.S. policy was "governed" by the TRA. China knows, as do a lot of other countries that have suffered, that in the U.S. system, domestic law takes precedence over international commitments or treaty obligations. In short, he chose, as it were, to inform Jiang that the TRA (which can be further amended, as was done recently), will override the three presidential communiques that uphold the Taiwan formula. This legislation, as discussed above, assures Taiwan of U.S. military supplie s for purposes of self-defence. In that same conversation, Jiang is said to have reiterated that China was not committed to abandoning the possible use of force. "We will never sit idle," he is reported to have told Clinton, "if some people engage in 'Ta iwan's independence' and foreign forces interfere in China's reunification cause." Both are reported to have supported their words with deeds. China is said to have put its forces on alert along the coast facing Taiwan, besides seizing a Taiwanese supply ship bound for Hainan. The U.S. is reported to have conducted "naval exercises" near the mouth of the Strait, but without much fanfare.

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Thus, President Lee's remarks have served to reveal the contradictions and ambiguities in the positions of the U.S. and China on the Taiwan problem. They have also revealed that there may be no return to the relatively more innocent days of 1972, since t he world has changed, and Lee's remarks have only exposed this change. For one, Taiwan is now a full party to the problem to which it has lent its name. No longer can its future be decided in the main by the two great powers of East Asia. Instead, in the months to come, it may be Taiwan that will take the initiative and call the shots, while the U.S. and China merely react. For another, if Lee holds on to his present position, the Taiwan problem will no longer be primarily a Sino-U.S. one: it will be m ore critically a China-Taiwan problem, which will create foreign policy and security issues for all countries, but more urgently for those in Asia. Thirdly, if Taiwan does proceed towards independence, it not only will make nonsense of China's reunificat ion goal, but could set a precedent for Tibet and Xinjiang - already restive and capable of summoning external support and sympathy. It will also create for Beijing the need to devise a new strategy. The "one country, two systems" approach has been nulli fied by Lee's denial of its "one China" basis as well as by Taiwan's search for a cultural and political Taiwanese identity that reaches back to its tribal and aboriginal roots. The other aspect of the PRC's strategy, that is, the threat to use force, ca n perhaps no longer be employed, for it appears that the costs will be prohibitively high.

Suddenly, one seems to be entering a whole new era of uncertainty in which the cards seem to be stacked against China in both the short and the long run. Much of what may happen will depend on the ability of the Chinese leadership to deal with a set of p roblems that it did not appear to have anticipated or prepared for. If President Lee, with the support of the U.S., does take Taiwan forward to full independence, it is not unlikely that East Asia may become a region of great turbulence in the first deca des of the next century.

Mira Sinha Bhattacharjea is with the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi.

'Dowry deaths' in Bangalore

Investigations by a women's group in Bangalore point to a high incidence of unnatural deaths among newly married women following dowry-related incidents, with the persons responsible for them largely being acquitted.

HOARDINGS put up by the traffic police at prominent places along Bangalore's traffic-congested roads exhort reckless drivers to go slow. Grim statistics loom over traffic snarls - 704 men and women died in traffic accidents in the city in 1997, 726 in 1998, and 168 until June 1999. Reckless driving is truly a problem in India's sixth largest metropolis, and the seriousness with which it is being addressed is gratifying to the citizens of the city.

There is, however, another category of deaths that occur on a daily basis in the city, for which no such public recognition or concern is awarded. These figures far outnumber traffic-related deaths (or indeed any category of avoidable death). They are exclusively of women - mainly young, newly married women. In police records they are classified under three specific categories, which invoke different sections of the law. They are "dowry murders" (committed by the woman's husband or members of his family for additional dowry or non-payment of promised dowry); "suicides" (forced or voluntary, but in most cases related to dowry demands); and "accidents" (a majority classed under "stove-burst" or "kitchen-accident"). Deaths under these three categories add up to an alarming figure. In Bangalore city, 1,133 women died in murders, suicides and accidents in 1997, 1,248 in 1998, and 618 till mid-July 1999.

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On an average, therefore, almost one hundred women have been dying violent deaths every month in the privacy of their homes. And these are the official figures. When 44 persons died of plague by September 1994 in Surat, the epicentre of the plague outbreak of that year, the epidemic assumed the proportions of a national crisis. Yet, public acknowledgement of the unnatural deaths of young women in Bangalore city is restricted to perfunctory two-line news items in the daily newspapers, where they are reported as "accidents" or "suicides" over "dowry harassment". Thereafter, they drop from public consciousness into the anonymity of a police or court 'case'.

A dowry murder comes under a distinct class of violence. Motivated mainly by greed, the crime is committed within the four walls of a home on an unsuspecting wife by her own husband or his family; there are rarely any eyewitnesses who are prepared to give evidence against the murderers. The large number of these deaths is an indication that the law is not a sufficient deterrent for those who commit these crimes. Nor have these grotesquely violent murders sparked the kind of social outrage that could pressure the government and its law-enforcing machinery into acting swiftly and firmly in enforcing the law. The scale of this problem, its causes and consequences, have not been adequately acknowledged by the state and its agencies, the media, or the public at large.

"Such figures certainly impress upon us the need to relook at what we understand by the police classification of 'unnatural deaths'," says Donna Fernandes of Vimochana, a women's organisation which first uncovered the horrifying dimensions of the problem in Bangalore. "Our investigations have proved that for large numbers of married women, the right to live in safety and in a climate free from intimidation and violence is under great threat. Why is there this social unconcern when women are dying in such large numbers?"

DOWRY-RELATED violence against married women by the families they marry into is a phenomenon that is on the increase all over the country, particularly in urban areas where such violence gets reported on. Women's groups have been engaging with this issue at various levels in different parts of the country. In the absence of comparable data from other cities, it may be premature to conclude that the high incidence of unnatural deaths of young women in Bangalore is, in some way, a problem specific to this city. What has put Bangalore on the map of cities with a high incidence of dowry-related atrocities against women is an exceptional research-cum-social-intervention project by Vimochana. This study has, for the first time, quantified this problem and put it firmly in the public realm. Vimochana's sustained two-and-half-year campaign on the issue of unnatural deaths of women resulted in the setting up, on April 7, 1999, of a Joint House Committee on Atrocities against Women to investigate these deaths and make recommendations for their prevention. The Joint Committee, which was chaired by BJP MLA Premila Nesargi, presented its report on July 1.

There are therefore two detailed public documents on the phenomenon of the high rate of unnatural deaths of women in Bangalore - the Vimochana documentation and campaign material and the House Committee Report. There is also detailed, month-wise statistics compiled and maintained by the State Crime Records Bureau, which Vimochana has collated and analysed in its study. Together these provide a reliable database on the numbers of women dying; the classification of their deaths by the police (whether murder, suicide, accident); the ways by which they die (burning, hanging, poisoning, and so on); the reasons for the death; the nature of the police investigation into each of these cases; the reasons for the slow pace of judicial redress; and the reasons why so many dowry death cases end in acquittal of the accused. Vimochana's database, which it began compiling from early 1997, also includes a detailed register of the women who are admitted into the burns ward of the Victoria Hospital, their ages, marital status, reasons for death, and case details.

Unnatural deaths and stove-bursts

In the early phase of the study, as it collated police statistics, Vimochana noted a major anomaly between its figures and those of the police. It found that a large number of deaths were being classified in police records as "accidents" under "UDR" (Unnatural Death Register). The category of "dowry deaths" in a technical sense only included those cases that had been booked by the police under the relevant sections of the law . The "accident" cases that were closed for want of evidence, however, were largely due to "stove-bursts" or "kitchen accidents". On the basis of its follow-up investigations with the families of the victims of these so-called accidents, Vimochana came up with some startling findings that changed the whole perception of this social problem, the assumptions that underlay it, its causes and the course that remedial action must take. Vimochana alleged that a large number of murders and suicides, punishable under law, were being made to look like "accidents" by the husband and members of his family. These cases were closed by the investigating police officers for want of hard evidence of a crime. When a professional eye looked at the whole category of unnatural deaths (and not just "dowry deaths"), the number of women dying in suspicious circumstances rose sharply. Vimochana's contention is that a large number of the cases simply escape detection and punishment in the prevailing social conditions.

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Frontline attempted an independent assessment of some of the findings of the Vimochana study, as well as of the House Committee Report. Data provided to Frontline by the police department for Karnataka as a whole show that out of 3,826 deaths recorded as accidents in 1997, 1,715, or around 50 per cent, were connected with fire accidents, including stove and cooking gas cylinder bursts. V. Gowramma, a Vimochana activist and the recipient of this year's Neerja Bhanot award (which was instituted in memory of the 23-year-old Pan Am airhostess who died showing exemplary courage in helping passengers escape during a hijack attempt in Karachi in 1986), says: "We found that of 550 cases reported between January and September 1997, 71 per cent were closed as 'kitchen/cooking accidents' and 'stove-bursts' after conducting investigations under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedures." When the cause of death in a majority of registered dowry death cases is due to burning, such a high rate of "stove-burst" accidents involving daughters-in-law can hardly be regarded as natural or coincidental.

"It is an unfortunate fact that in a strictly legal sense, an accidental stove-burst is not an offence under the law," Bangalore City Police Commissioner L. Revannasiddaiah observed to Frontline. "However, what is the use of an investigation if it does not arrive at the truth? If there are two or three stove-burst accidents in a day, in which only daughters-in-law die, we must look behind the formal facade and take up investigations immediately." Noting that the police are now trying to do this, he asked: "Have you ever heard of a mother-in-law or a husband dying in a stove-burst?"

Since September 1997, two Vimochana volunteers have been posted permanently at the burns ward of the Victoria Hospital, where most of the serious burns cases in the city are admitted. "About seven cases are admitted on an average every day, with the numbers going up to ten following certain traditional festivals, when it is the practice for women to be sent to their natal homes with additional demands for dowry," explained Donna Fernandes. "The burnings usually take place past 1 a.m., well past cooking time, which itself throws the 'stove-burst' theory into doubt. Women come with burns of 70 per cent and more, and on their death leave behind babies and small children."

There are several reasons why murders or forced suicides often get registered as a "stove-burst". "The first reaction of a woman who has been burnt by her husband or his family is to say it is a stove-burst," says Rudrappa Hanagavadi, Special Executive Magistrate for Bangalore, who is reponsible for the conduct of inquests in cases relating to women who have died under suspicious circumstances. "Her dying declaration, which is supposed to be taken in private by the policeman in the presence of a doctor, is invariably a public procedure, and she is afraid to tell the truth." Members of the husband's family often threaten to harm her children and her natal family if she does not say she was injured in a cooking accident. Often, relatives and friends of the victim are reluctant to raise doubts about the nature of the death as they fear harassment by the victim's husband and his family. They also do not want to get involved in laborious police and legal proceedings. The police, for their part, do not try to penetrate this community resistance to look for evidence of what really could have happened.

THERE are pressures on women to conceal the truth about what happened to them even when they know they are dying. This correspondent visited the Victoria Hospital burns ward on July 13 . On that day, five women were admitted. There was Shabrin Begum, 20, who had been married for one month, and had been admitted with 90 per cent burns; Selvi, 18, married for two years and admitted with 80 per cent burns; Lalitha, married for eight years and admitted with 80 per cent burns; Aniyamma, 40, with five children, admitted with 60 per cent burns; and Rehana Taj, 15, from Kolar district, unmarried, and admitted with 45 to 50 per cent burns.

In her first dying declaration, Shabrin, an articulate PUC student, said she was injured in a kitchen accident. In her second declaration, she said her husband and mother-in-law set her on fire; based on this declaration, the police have filed cases against them under Sections 498(A) and 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) (FIR Crime No. 479/99 filed on July 16, 1999 at the Madivala police station). Selvi gave three dying declarations: in her first declaration she said she was injured in an accident; in her second declaration, she said she had attempted suicide; in her third declaration, she alleged that her mother-in-law attempted to murder her. A case has been booked under Section 302 of the IPC (FIR Crime No. 261/99 filed on July 16, 1999 in the Srirampura police station). Lalitha gave two dying declarations, the first saying that she was injured in a kitchen accident, the second that she did it to herself out of "despair". Her relatives did not wish to file a complaint, and Lalitha herself said nothing about dowry demands. With tact and persuasiveness, the police could have elicited the real causes behind Lalitha's despair. But her case (UDR No. 17/99) was closed as a suicide after her death on July 16, 1999.

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* Manjula smiles shyly from out of her marriage photographs. She was married in May 1998, when she was just 18, to Vruthesh Prasad, a mechanic in the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. Her father gave her a dowry worth almost Rs.2 lakhs. Manjula used to complain to her mother and sister that she was being harassed by her husband, his brother and other members of his family for more dowry, but her family told her she must adjust and that they would try to meet the demand. On July 7, 1999, more than a year after her marriage, Manjula was dead. She was found in her brother-in-law's bathroom, a pool of blood under her head and between her legs, her upper torso and face burnt. Her husband's family said she had committed suicide (there was a tin of turpentine and a box of matches lying near her), but her own family filed a police complaint. A case has been booked against four persons under Section 498(A) and 304(B) of the IPC (FIR Crime No. 388/99).

* "I never imagined that he would be like this," a shaken B.P. Krishnaswamy said of his son-in-law, H. Narasimhamurthy, a primary school teacher at Bapu Palika Mahila Prautha Salai in Yeshwantpur. Krishnaswamy trades in vegetables. His daughter, B.K. Rojavathi, a primary school teacher in Seshadripuram Primary School in Yelahanka, narrowly escaped an attempt on her life by her husband. She was married in May 1999; her husband was given a dowry of Rs.30,000 in cash and another lakh of rupees worth of jewellery and household goods; soon after the marriage, Rojavathi's husband and father-in-law demanded more dowry from her. On July 16, her husband, under the pretext of taking her to a temple, took her instead to the isolated Soldevanahalli forest and tried to strangle her with a chain that she was wearing. When that was not successful, he returned with a can of kerosene from his scooter, and poured it over her. A forest guard saw him just as he tried to light a flame. Narasimhamurthy fled the scene, the police were informed and Rojavathi was quickly taken to hospital. Cases have been booked against her husband under Sections 498(A) and 307 of the IPC (FIR Crime No. 446/99 filed on July 16 at the Nelamangala police station). He is absconding, as is the rest of his family. Rojavathi, the whites of her eyes suffused with blood owing to the effects of strangulation, and her body bruised from the blows she sustained, is slowly recovering from her injuries and shock.

* H.T. Indira, a young wife and mother, died in November 1998; her husband's family tried to pass it off as suicide by hanging. A charge-sheet (CC No. 2033/99) was filed within a month of her death under Sections 498(A) and 304(B) of the IPC; it names four accused - her husband P.Thyagaraj, brothers-in-law P. Sivakumar and P. Krishnamurthy, and mother-in-law Padmamma. Says Indira's sister Chandramma, who has undertaken to fight the case: "My sister suffered unspeakable torture for more dowry. A week before her death, they threw her out of the house with the child and she slept on the steps that night. She told a neighbour that she was leaving as she could bear it no longer." According to Chandramma, Indra's brother was to have brought her home but she died before that. "This is not a suicide, I know," asserts Chandramma. "My sister was forced to commit suicide."

These three recent incidents share a certain pattern of social behaviour and individual response. The giving of dowry, an act illegal in itself, is not perceived by the victim's families as socially condemnable, or as having made the woman's position vulnerable right from the day of the marriage. The husband and his family view her primarily as a money-source and increase their pressure until it results in her death or suicide. What is also significant is the absence of support structures for the woman - a counselling centre, a shelter home, concerned neighbourhoods - which could prevent the worst from happening. She cannot even turn to her own family when in the throes of distress.

SOME broad generalisations have been made from the database now available on unnatural deaths of women. Its victims are generally young (Vimochana's study, in fact, looks only at the death of married women between the ages of 18 and 40), and in a large number of cases the death occurs within the first two years of marriage. A large number of victims (and perpetrators of the violence) are from poor or lower middle-class backgrounds, although this is not an issue that affects poor women alone. In most cases, the woman would have undergone mental and physical harassment prior to her death. Lastly, a majority of dowry murders and suicides are by burning. Police figures made available to Frontline on suicide deaths alone show that more than 50 per cent of suicides are committed by the woman setting herself on fire. In one of the several studies that Vimochana undertook, it found, for example, that out of 711 women who died in 1998 under unnatural circumstances, 454 died of burns. Significantly, 441 were between the ages of 18 and 30.

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"In 90 per cent of the cases I deal with, the women are from poor backgrounds," Hanagavadi told Frontline. "Migrants, like construction workers and those who live in slums, account for a large number of those involved in such cases."

The House Committee recommendations

Vimochana and the House Committee concur on one point. The special laws that are in place to deal with atrocities against women are undermined at every stage of investigation at both the police and judicial levels. The House Committee made exhaustive recommendations covering every stage of the police investigation and judicial procedure - the registration of the complaint when a death or injury under suspicious circumstances takes place, the preparing of the First Information Report (FIR), the recording of a victim's dying declaration, the inquest proceedings, the post-mortem and forensic investigations, the framing of the charge-sheet, and the judicial process after that. The Committee presented five draft bills to the House dealing with atrocities against women. One of these, the Karnataka Prevention of Domestic Violence and Atrocities Against Women Bill, 1999, deals specifically with the issue of marital violence and dowry-related deaths.

The investigative process

While the reasons for the large number of violent crimes against women must be sought in a fast-changing social and economic milieu which reinforces rather than retards patriarchal notions and values, accountability for the failure to prevent such crimes must be shared by the institutions of civil society: the legislature, the police, the judiciary, and, to some extent, the media as well. The death of a woman in unnatural circumstances has to go through two procedural tiers. The first is investigation by the police and the inquest officer (a government official at the level of a district magistrate) with assistance from doctors who perform the post-mortem as well as forensic experts. Upon the thoroughness of this investigation depends the fate of the case once it gets admitted into the courts. This is the second procedural tier. If the charge-sheet in a particular case has sound investigative backing, it will have a much better chance of standing up in a court of law.

Deaths, whether murders or suicides, that are related to the relentless demand for dowry constitute a special category of crime. Given the cultural context, tremendous social pressures operate upon the victim and her family, pressures that seek to obscure truth and scuttle the investigation. In Bangalore, there is a groundswell of resentment among the families of victims and activist groups against the police department for what is perceived as a lack of thoroughness and integrity in pursuing cases of unnatural deaths among women. The House Committee was severe in its criticism of police investigations and set out elaborate recommendations on how the investigative mechanism could be sensitised, streamlined and improved.

''There is only one institution in this society that is charged by law to intervene in a situation like this, and that is the police," says Revannasiddaiah. "But you must understand this institution too is a product of this society. We have not been structured, resourced, motivated and kept in readiness to meet this requirement, and we too proceed on the old track." But he adds that the old mind-set of the police force is changing and that he is making a conscious effort to sensitise the force in its perceptions and investigative approach towards domestic violence against women.

The Vanitha Sahaya Vani was set up seven months ago by the police department for women in distress to call in for help and counselling. While this was initially welcomed by women's activists, it has come in for some criticism as the success of this facility, they say, is now being measured in terms of the numbers of "reconciled" cases, and not by the additional number of offences detected. For a woman desperate enough to call the help-line, advice to "adjust" to the unequal terms of her marriage closes one more door or escape route.

Under Revannasiddaiah's initiative, the police department worked with Vimochana and a group of concerned IAS officers to bring out a manual of guidelines for investigating offences against women. He has also constituted a new forum, Parihar, under the police department, which he hopes will meet the needs of women in crisis - in homes or at workplaces.

Registration of a complaint

The House Committee Report has drawn attention to the need for the police to register a complaint immediately after receiving information about grievous injuries sustained by a woman under suspicious circumstances. "After they receive a complaint the police should go to the house and seal it off, which they do not always do," notes Hanagavadi. They tend to wait until the death of the woman, by which time valuable evidentiary material slips out of their hands. The FIR must, on the basis of initial investigations, book a case under the relevant sections of the law. "Who decides whether a death in suspicious circumstances is a murder or a suicide or caused by a cooking accident or a stove-burst?" asks Donna Fernandes. "If done by an incompetent investigating officer, a chance of a cursory investigation is very high. We believe from our investigations that the temptation to classify and reduce unnatural deaths as accidents and suicidal burns is high as it reduces workload and suits the purposes of reporting." Members of families of victims who testified before the House Committee had grievances relating to the FIRs and the carelessness with which they were made. It is mandatory for a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), and in cities an Assistant Commissioner of Police, to investigate all cases of attempted suicide and death, under suspicious circumstances, of young married women within the first five years of marriage. However, according to Vimochana activists, the police do not always follow this injunction.

The dying declaration

The recording of the statement of the victim, which often becomes her dying declaration, is a part of the investigative procedure, but it often turns into a procedure for absolving the real perpetrator of the crime. It is quite common to find a burns victim giving more than one dying declaration. Meant to be recorded in privacy, the dying declaration is often taken in the presence of the victim's husband and his relatives. As mentioned earlier in the story, when this correspondent visited the burns ward of Victoria Hospital, there were three women who gave more than one dying declaration each. One of them, Selvi, gave three in the course of one afternoon. "Such a case is unlikely to stand in court. The defendant lawyer will present it as conflicting evidence," a Special Public Prosecutor in Bangalore told Frontline.

The inquest

A crucial part of the investigative process, the inquest, is to be conducted by an officer of the level of a magistrate. He must visit the spot of the death, examine the body, collect physical and verbal evidence, and give a report that indicates the cause of death. Both Vimochana and the House Committee have recommended that the inquest be made an independent inquiry accountable to a higher review committee. The House Committee has also recommended that the magistrate hold a public hearing within a week of the woman's death, at which all evidence, including the post-mortem and forensic reports, should be presented. The final report should be a public document.

"Because of the alarming increase in the incidence of dowry-related deaths, Assistant Commissioners were appointed to assist Tahsildars in conducting inquests," explains Special Executive Magistrate Hanagavadi as we drive to Kengeri where he is to conduct an inquest in the case of a death by hanging that had been reported. "It is a horrible job, seeing the deaths of young women every day." As an Assistant Commissioner, Hanagavadi has three other charges and is on the move the whole day. The post of Special Executive Magistrate (SEM) was created in March 1998 to look exclusively into unnatural deaths of women. A person is appointed to it for a year and this is extendable by another year. Bangalore has two SEMs.

A large crowd had gathered outside the one-room dwelling where Bhagyamma, a young wife and mother, had hanged herself from the ceiling; her four-month-old baby lay in a crib nearby. On examination of her body, it was found that she had written her suicide note on her two legs, obviously hoping that it would escape detection until the police arrived. In it she squarely blamed her husband, a groundsman at the stadium of the Sports Authority of India, for her death. She could no longer bear his torture, the suicide note said. She asked that her child be taken care of by her mother after her death. Bhagyamma's inquest report (No.42/99-2000) was sent on July 20, 1999 to the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court.

The judicial process

Once a case enters the courts, it often takes months for it to be heard and tried. In Bangalore, there used to be only one Special Court to try cases of atrocities against women. By August 1998, there were 1,600 pending cases in the court, "the highest pendency rate for a sessions court anywhere in the country," a Special Public Prosecutor told Frontline. Three new courts were set up that month to clear the backlog of cases. The average time taken for a case to be disposed of is six to seven years.

There is a high rate of acquittals in cases of dowry murders or suicides. The same Special Public Prosecutor told Frontline that of the 730 cases pending in his court at the end of 1998, 58 resulted in acquittals and only 11 in convictions. At the end of June 1999, out of 381 cases pending, 51 resulted in acquittals and eight in convictions.

What are the reasons for this? Families of the victims, ignorant of the law and its procedure, get demoralised with the long wait before a case can be decided. "In 90 per cent of the cases, witnesses turn hostile," the Special Public Prosecutor told Frontline. "Money plays a major role. Since most of the aggrieved families are poor, they are willing to make out-of-court settlements. It is common to find that during the trial, they will suddenly change their story and say that the victim had a health problem or that her death was an accident. In fact, in eight of my cases, the parents gave their second daughter in marriage to the same person after the case was filed!" The second reason, according to him, is the "perfunctory police investigation" that spoils the case right from the start. The "half-hearted presentation of cases by the prosecutors who are burdened with 10 to 12 cases at any given point of time" is yet another reason he cites for the high rate of acquittal. However, the "most important reason" according to him "is the liberal view taken by the judiciary in cases of dowry deaths."

Vimochana, in collaboration with the National Law School University, proposes to have a public hearing before a Truth Commission from August 15 to 17, 1999 in Bangalore. The Commission will comprise representatives of the Law Commission, former judges, lawyers and women activists. Complaints from parents who have lost daughters in suspicious circumstances, in which justice was not perceived to have been done, will be heard. The findings of the Truth Commission will be made the subject matter of a public interest petition before the Supreme Court with a view to bringing relief to the aggrieved families. Geetha Ayappa, a lawyer who has been working with Vimochana in the campaign, looks ahead to a new stage of pressing for action: "We will use the evidence we get to invoke the Supreme Court's intervention to protect a woman's right to life."

Dowry harassment and the law

PARVATHI MENON social-issues

OVER the last ten to 15 years, penal statutes have been amended under pressure from women's groups in order to prevent marital violence against women. These changes seek to protect women against all forms of marital violence by broadening the definition of cruelty, making penalties higher, and relaxing evidentiary requirements. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961, was amended in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

Dowry deaths constitute a special category of death that was first defined in a section introduced into the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1986. Section 304(B) stipulates that a death of a woman within seven years of her marriage by burns or bodily injury wi th evidence of cruelty or harassment by her husband or his relatives in connection with a demand for dowry is a "dowry death" and punishable with imprisonment for not less than seven years.

Three years prior to this, Section 498(A) was introduced in the IPC. This states that any form of cruelty, whether it is from a husband or the relative of a husband, to a woman is an offence that is punishable with imprisonment up to three years. Cruelty , as defined in this section, includes any wilful conduct that could cause mental torture, physical injury, or drive the woman to commit suicide, whether in connection with any unlawful demand for property or not. In fact, the first part of Chapter XVI o f the IPC (Sections 299 to 311, which are offences affecting life) can also be invoked in case of a dowry death or suicide. Under Sections 299, 300, 301 and 304(A), culpable homicide, murder and death by negligence are crimes. Section 302 lays down the p unishment for murder: death sentence or imprisonment for life.

Sections 113A (Presumption as to abetment of suicide of a married woman) and 113B (presumption as to dowry death) were added to the Indian Evidence Act and can be invoked in cases of dowry murder or suicide. The Code of Criminal Procedure (mainly Section s 174 and 175) lays down the procedure and principles of investigation into a crime.

Despite these legal safeguards, the incidence of domestic and marital violence has continued to grow: indeed, violence has acquired more grotesque and outrageous forms, while the perpetrators of such violence can yet escape the law.

Inside the burns ward

PARVATHI MENON social-issues

THE more than 40 beds in the female burns ward of the Victoria Government Hospital are always occupied. There is a typical occupancy profile in this ward. The women who come here are mostly young, married, from lower middle-class or poor economic backgro unds. Most of them are victims of the most vicious forms of marital violence. It is here that we get a searing picture of the horror and violence of a death by burning. The wards are as busy as a railway platform, and indeed as unclean. Patients' relativ es, policemen, harried doctors and overworked nurses walk freely in and out of the ward. There seems little chance of keeping out the infection that can prove deadly to a severely burnt victim fighting for her life. "In the late 1970s, when my associatio n with this ward first started, four or five burns cases a week was considered very high," recalls Dr. Gurumurthy, Head of Department of Plastic Surgery and Burns. "Today we have six to seven patients coming in every day."

"Will these marks go? Will I get better," whimpers Shabrin Begam, 20, a second-year PUC student, her bloated and peeling face wincing under the effort of speaking. She has just given a clear statement, in the presence of the doctor and the investigating officer, of the circumstances which led to her husband setting her on fire. She has suffered 90 per cent burns and, although she does not know it, there is little chance that she will live more than a couple of days.

"I'm hurting, help me," implores Lalitha to a passing nurse, a few beds away. She holds out her arms from which hang strips of burnt skin. Lalitha says she set herself on fire out of "despair", but declines to give the reasons for it.

In yet another bed lies Selvi, 18, her upper torso and face charred. Her husband, who is no more than a boy himself, hangs uncertainly around, his attention more on the police than on his dying wife. "What, changed her statement again?" sniggers the port ly investigating officer, preparing to take her declaration, the third since she was admitted. "First she says it was an accident, then that she was forced to do it to herself, and now that her mother-in-law did it to her. Why don't these people make up their minds?" he grumbles as he enters the ward again. Selvi worked in an agarbathi factory; her husband, Anwar, is a construction worker.

"There is a high mortality rate in our burns ward," explains Dr. Gurumurthy. "While other hospitals can treat cases that have up to 50 per cent burns, all cases above 80 per cent are sent to us." Good nursing is critical to the survival and recovery of a burns patient with over 50 per cent burns. "All patients with burns up to 50 per cent should survive, and above that some should survive. Nurses must monitor burns cases 24 hours a day. Ideally there should be one nurse per bed," he says. At the Victori a Hospital, there are just three doctors with five house-surgeons to assist them, and only three nurses for an eight-hour shift.

There have been many changes for the better in recent times in the quality of treatment, nursing care and cleanliness in the Victoria Hospital burns ward. The credit for this goes partly to Vimochana, which initiated a campaign in September 1997 to draw attention to the general state of the burns wards. There were complaints of negligence and rampant corruption, while the general levels of cleanliness were very poor. Following Vimochana's campaign, which included a hunger strike in front of the hospital in April 1998, there were also demands, in both Houses of the Legislature, for an inquiry into the state of the wards. Not only did this result in a dramatic improvement in conditions within the wards but an entirely new burns ward was constructed on an other floor at a cost of Rs.18 lakhs. The cost of air-conditioning the new unit has been underwritten by Infosys, the Bangalore-based software company.

Vimochana also got permission to have two volunteers posted in the wards. They keep detailed registers on individual cases, counsel victims and families on legal procedures, talk to victims and try to elicit their real stories, monitor under what section s the police book cases, and act as friends to traumatised victims and families.

A mother's battle for justice

PARVATHI MENON social-issues

FROM among the hundreds of cases of young and unsuspecting women who were either killed or driven to suicide by avaricious husbands and their families in Bangalore last year, the case of Fatimunissa Ashrafi, a young doctor of Unani medicine, stands out. There is a tragic poignancy to the story of a self-confident young woman who, just as she begins to savour the joys and satisfactions of a hard-earned career, finds her world going to pieces. She discovers that her right to live in safety becomes conditi onal on her ability to meet her husband's escalating demands for money.

Fatima was set on fire by her husband in a fit of drunken rage on December 5, 1998, according to her dying declaration and according to the complaint filed by her mother at the K.G. Halli police station the same day. Three FIRs (Crime No.589/98) were fil ed in this particular case: the first on December 5, 1998, the second on December 11 and the third on January 6, 1999.

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Fatima's case also stands out as a story of a remarkable mother's dogged search for justice, and her refusal to be cowed or discouraged by obstacles in her way - hostile policemen, inflexible and obscure legal procedures, poor health, meagre means and th e hostility of her son-in-law and family. Mariya Bai Ashrafi presented her case before the House Committee on Atrocities Against Women set up by the Karnataka Government under the chairpersonship of BJP MLA Pramila Nesargi.

Standing before the members of the Committee, Mariya Bai made a series of allegations against the policemen who investigated her case. She listed the names of the police persons she claimed had harassed her, and had even tried to bribe her. The final rep ort of the House Committee contains her testimony, the explanations sought by members of the House Committee from the City Police Commissioner and the Director-General of Police and their replies. The Police Commissioner was asked to inquire into the all egations made by Mariya Bai. He later told the Committee: "There is no fault in this case. Laymen have so much pain, they will tend to exaggerate things" (page 7 of the House Committee Report).

Sitting in the office of Vimochana, Mariya Bai, a small wiry, bespectacled woman in her late fifties, recounts the story of her only daughter's life and tragic end. She is articulate and emphatic and has a remarkable memory for names, dates and places. " My daughter always wanted to be a doctor and I came to Bangalore from Hyderabad in 1977 when she was six, mainly for her education," she says. A well-wisher gave her space in the City Civil Court premises where she set up a stamp-vending and typing shop. Here she worked from 1977 to 1995. Living frugally in a rented place in Wilson Garden, Mariya Bai saved up money, putting her daughter through school and college. Fatima sat for the medical entrance exams and got a seat in the Unani Medical College.

In Fatima's fourth year, Mariya fell seriously ill with meningitis. Fatima took leave from college and stayed at home treating her mother. During this time, S. Khajapeer, a young man who claimed to be a computer engineer moved into the house next door. K hajapeer and his parents befriended Mariya Bai and her daughter. The young couple decided, with the approval of their parents, to get married. The marriage took place on October 23, 1997 after Fatima completed her last exam. "I spent almost a lakh of rup ees on the wedding. In addition, I had kept jewellery for Fatima," recalls Mariya Bai. The married couple moved in with Mariya Bai.

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According to Mariya Bai, Khajapeer stopped working soon after the marriage and demanded that a clinic be opened for his wife. The mother agreed and spent another Rs.50,000 on the clinic, but with the understanding that Fatima would give her a monthly upk eep of Rs.1,000. The clinic was opened in early January 1999. Khajapeer, according to Mariya Bai, resented the monthly payments Fatima made her. Fights started, he became abusive and physically violent, and frequently came home drunk.

"I threw him out of my house on March 19," says Mariya Bai. "They moved further away and opened a clinic where he posed as an MBBS doctor and started 'practice'." Fatima's visits became infrequent, and when she did visit, she would stay only for a short while. Her last visit to her mother - "she was upset and unhappy that day" - was on November 20. On December 5, Khajapeer came to Mariya Bai's house to tell her that Fatima was burnt in a stove-burst and had been admitted to hospital.

Fatima sustained 90 per cent burns and died in hospital on December 11. In her first dying declaration, she said that she was burnt in an accidental stove-burst. In the second declaration, she accused her husband of setting fire to her. She said that her husband had gone out of the house at 8 a.m. and returned drunk an hour later. She opened the door for him and then felt something cold on her back. Before she knew what had happened, he set her ablaze. He took her to the hospital only in the afternoon, after he had cleaned up the house. He instructed her to tell the police that she sustained burns in an accidental stove-burst.

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Mariya Bai claims that valuable evidence of the murder was lost by the callousness of the K.G. Halli police. She claims that at 7 p.m. on the day of the incident, she went with the Sub-Inspector of Police, two constables and her son-in-law to her daughte r's house to find that the stove was intact and the house clean. The stove, she claims, was not confiscated. Her letter to the then Home Minister Roshan Baig resulted in the intervention of a senior police official in her case. According to her, it was o nly then that the case began to get the attention it deserved. A charge-sheet was filed (CC No. 24848/99) in the Criminal Court in Mayo Hall on June 21, 1999. Charges were framed under Sections 498(A) (cruelty against a woman for dowry, leading to her in jury or death) and 302 (punishment for murder) of the Indian Penal Code. Mariya Bai will depose before the Truth Commission in August 1999.

In the fight for black freedom

other
NIRMAL SHEKAR

Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties by Mike Marqusee, Verso, London, 1999; 298 pages, price unstated.

AS we approach the end of an eventful century - one that has, in many ways, transformed our basic presumptions about life and living - in every sphere of human activity there is bound to be a critical review of the last 100 years and all sorts of attempt s, some scholarly, others less so, to isolate the dominant figures of the period.

Who is the greatest political leader of the twentieth century? Who is the No.1 scientist? Who is the most influential writer?

Surely, none of these questions can be settled without a debate.

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The one area of human activity where the debate on the most influential figure of the century is hardly a debate is sport. This is rather strange. For sport is one activity that gives rise to endless arguments about who is the best. Given the emotional u ndercurrents that characterise most debates, objectivity is elusive and seldom do we see a scientific attempt to arrive at a valuable critical judgment.

In the event, it is quite remarkable that there is hardly any suspense as to who will be the majority choice as the most influential sportsperson of the century. Time magazine was so sure about the identity of the person that it did not even think it necessary to wait till the end of the year to feature Muhammad Ali as the sportsperson of the century.

As we have witnessed in the second half of this century, the mass media can churn out instant fame and celebrity can reach an extraordinary level of intensity. But we also know how ephemeral fame can be. Yesterday's hero may be a has-been, if not a nobod y, today. In this context, the unquestioned No.1 status that Ali enjoys as the century's dominant sports personality is a truly extraordinary phenomenon. From the poverty-stricken villages of sub-Saharan Africa to the glitzy tree-lined avenues of Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, from the over-crowded, narrow-cobbled lanes of Calcutta to steamy sweat-stained inner-city gyms in Chicago, Manhattan and London, Muhammad Ali is a name that is instantly recognised.

How? And why? In a crowded, often cataclysmic, but always eventful century, how is it that a single sportsperson who dominated the world of heavyweight boxing in the 1960s and 1970s has come to enjoy the sort of fame that has eluded some of the greatest political leaders, scientists and artists of the twentieth century?

As a sportswriter, I have seen this question answered in vastly different ways by several eminent members of my tribe from time to time. But as an Ali fan who idolised the great man from my days in school in the 1960s for reasons that went way beyond the handsome heavyweight's prowess in the ring, this reviewer must admit that the most satisfactory answer to the question is to be found, at last, in Mike Marqusee's compact masterpiece.

The thing about sports books is that they are quite often just that - sports books. They don't aspire to greater heights. They are researched for, written, and often read in a narrow context. And the worst part is that most of them are filled with hyperb ole and you are so full of the view through rose-tinted glasses that you choose to put them aside before you are halfway through.

If one had not been aware of the author's excellent credentials as an American-born but England-based writer in the mould of C.L.R. James, a discerning and elegant cricket writer, an illuminating thinker on the politics of sport, the first question that would have come to mind would be: why another book about Ali? Isn't he the most-written-about sportsperson of the century? What can anyone say about Ali that has not already been said? But the moment one saw Mike Marqusee's name (he has contributed value d articles to Frontline) on the impressive jacket of the hardback, one was curious about what was in store. For, Marqusee is a writer who sees deeper than most, peeling away the layers and getting to the core.

So, it turns out, Redemption Song is much more than a book about Muhammad Ali. It is a masterly recollection of the revolutionary events of the 1960s in Black America with Ali as the central figure, as influential a hero of his era as such figures as Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King.

It is a tribute to Marqusee's scholarly wisdom and powers of reflection that he has managed to lift Ali - it was about time someone did that and put Ali's status as the pre-eminent sportsperson of the century in the right perspective - out of the narrow context of boxing and sport and place him in a larger plateau where his influence as a rebel-hero of the most politically significant decade of the second half of this century is clearly manifest. "Ali wasn't just a symbol of emerging black pride, he was the source of it," wrote John Schulian. And Marqusee traces the arduous route that a young man called Cassius Clay took - the formidable challenges he faced and overcame, staring adversity in its face without blinking - in the 1960s and 1970s to earn th e sort of distinction that Schulian wrote about.

Sport, even a dangerous body contact sport such as boxing, is quite often not much more than a trivial pursuit. It has little relevance outside of the playfield, the boxing ring or cricket pitch or the tennis court.

But boxing in America this century has a relevance that goes way beyond the ring. For the African-American descendants of slaves who faced cruel discrimination well into the post-War years - in fact, they still do - black champions, especially heavyweigh t champions, were a great source of pride. Then again, until Ali came along, most great black heavyweight champions, including Joe Louis and Floyd Patterson, were perfect role models in the mould that the white man had chosen for them.

All that changed, of course, on the unforgettable evening of February 25, 1964 when Clay beat Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion of the world and then, the next morning, told the media that he had joined Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam."I don't have to be what you want me to be. I am free to be what I want," said Ali. It was the sort of declaration of independence that no black sportsperson had ever attempted until the moment.

And Marqusee, as he takes us on an enlightening journey through the political minefield of the 1960s and the decade's dominant cultural influences in the context of the black man's fight for equality in racist United States, never loses sight of the symb olic meaning of those words: "I don't have to be what you want me to be." Isolated and pilloried first for becoming a Muslim and changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and later for refusing to fight in Vietnam, Ali never lost faith in his o wn ability to overcome the odds - in the ring and outside.

What he achieved in the roped-in square was significant as he danced on twinkling feet to bring up the sort of victories that saw him become the outstanding boxer of the century. But the punches Ali had to deal with outside the ring were an altogether di fferent sort and it took extraordinary courage and conviction to deal with them and emerge unscathed.

Physically, of course, Ali did not come out of it all without a scar, as we now know. For the great man suffers from Parkinson's syndrome, the brutal effects of the disease evident on a memorable day at Atlanta in 1996 when the Ali lit the Olympic flame with his hands shaking and was embraced by the whole of America - not just black America - as a hero. By then the boundaries of black freedom had shifted a little in the so-called Land of the Free, although even today it is not easy to flag down a passin g cab outside the Grand Central in New York past 10 in the evening if the colour of your skin is black.

The 1960s, of course, formed an altogether different era. The rising tide of black protests against discrimination, the great protest marches and the agitational activities against the Vietnam War in virtually every American college campus, a cultural re volution led by such men of genius as Bob Dylan - it was an extraordinary decade in American history. Then again, so was it elsewhere in the world, not the least in Africa. Marqusee appropriately highlights the contributions of Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah to the freedom struggle in the continent from which Ali's ancestors were herded out in slave ships.

This is another significant achievement of this book - placing the struggle for black freedom and equality in the U.S., and Ali's role in that epochal movement, in an international context. For the key to Ali's appeal beyond the boundaries of the U.S. la y in the fact that millions of people in Asia and Africa and Latin America could identify with what he stood for in his own country. "Ali's evolution in the Sixties paralleled a broader evolution in black (and white) opinion. His assertion of his persona l prerogatives led him to embrace a universal cause. Like Malcolm, he emerged from the cocoon of nationalism to spread his wings as an internationalist," writes Marqusee.

If Ali had simply said that he did not want to fight in Vietnam because doing so would mean going against his religious beliefs, he would have hardly become a universal hero. Instead, Ali memorably proclaimed, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong." What he meant was that a black victim of white racism in the U.S. did not think it necessary - or morally right - to fight a brown victim of white American racism in his own country to suit the whims of Washington and swear by its perverted idea of free dom in the world.

In the end, Ali won, even as the army sent out by the most powerful state on earth had to retreat from the land of the brave men and women with whom the champion said he did not have a quarrel - "them Vietcong". In the 1960s and 1970s, every Ali victory, in the ring and outside, was a major step forward for the blacks in the U.S. And African American sports heroes have come a long way from the days when Ali was reviled as a traitor in his own country. Nevertheless, the success symbolised by the likes of Michael Jordan and a handful of other top basketball, baseball and American football stars should not blind us to the ground reality of the condition of the mass of blacks in the U.S. today. "The advancement of blacks in big money sports has gone hand i n hand with the impoverishment of the communities they come from. The escalating rewards at the highest levels - epitomised by Michael Jordan - have made black sports stars ever less representative of the black community as a whole, 45 per cent of which lives below the poverty line," writes Marqusee.

In a larger historical perspective, what was witnessed in the 1960s was merely a battle, for the war itself is still on. But it was the most significant battle of the century, and Ali was one of its most influential heroes. In telling this inspiring and moving tale against the backdrop of large political and cultural developments, this book is a pure one-off. We strongly recommend it to a wide range of readers.

'We are not ready to go to the polls with the Janata Dal'

cover-story

B.S. Yediyurappa, the president of the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, who is projected by the party as the next Chief Minister, has been outspoken in his opposition to an electoral alliance with the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav). His vi ews are shared by the rest of the State unit of the party. Yediyurappa explained his stand in an interview to Parvathi Menon on August 6. Excerpts:

Are you still opposed to an alliance with the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav)?

There is no change in our stand. We are not ready to go to elections with the Janata Dal. First, the people have rejected that party. In the last Lok Sabha elections they contested all the Lok Sabha constituencies and won just three seats; they came firs t in only 20 out of the 224 Assembly segments. Secondly, we have from the beginning, whether inside or outside the House, opposed this party. That is why we do not want to go with the Janata Dal, whether the Deve Gowda faction or the J. H. Patel faction. For the last four and a half years we have been continuously agitating against this Government. We don't have anything against J.H. Patel as an individual... in fact he is a good man, but as a Chief Minister he has failed in all respects, and many of hi s Ministers have corruption charges against them. People have rejected that party.

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You have said that you will ally with the Patel faction if it fights on the Lok Shakti symbol. This is being read as a sort of face-saving explanation, in a situation where you have to go along with what your central leadership wants.

The Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav) group is not going to get the chakra (wheel)symbol. That symbol will either be frozen or allotted to the other group. Afterwards, they have full liberty to join any political party. Their MLAs and workers will definitely go to the Congress, the BJP or the Lok Shakti. We do not oppose that. The BJP will face elections with the Lok Shakti. In the forefront will be Ramakrishna Hegde and the BJP leadership. So people definitely have rejected the Janata Dal, they want some chang e... we have the full confidence that the voters will support the BJP and the Lok Shakti.

So far your opposition has not been to the Janata Dal symbol; it has been to those persons who are part of that party. If the same people now adopt a new symbol, does that make them acceptable to you?

Out of 110 Janata Dal MLAs, there are a few good people, such as C. Byre Gowda. So if they join the Lok Shakti, we have no objection. After all, the voters are only against the Janata Dal.

Why has your central leadership put you in this position, where you are forced to accept into your fold a party which you opposed all these years? Why are they imposing this alliance on you?

Our central leadership is not against our stand. I spoke personally to Atalji, Advaniji and Kushabhauji. They are very much with us. They do not support Ramakrishna Hegde's and George Fernandes' efforts to make the Janata Dal a part of the National Democ ratic Alliance.

But they are going to become a part of the alliance.

That question does not arise. When they lose their symbol, the Janata Dal will not exist.

Even so, you will have to speak for people you opposed all these years. You yourself said that your party will lose credibility.

Our workers, sympathisers and voters will have no objection if a few good Janata Dal MLAs join us. This is a very unfortunate development, because at present at the Centre they are supporting our party. So if we have to take a few people for the sake of the political situation, we cannot oppose it; there is no other go for us.

What about the Lok Shakti alliance? Can you do without them?

There is no difference of opinion between the Lok Shakti and the BJP. But one thing is certain. The BJP alone will get a majority in the elections. We will be the majority partner in the alliance.

The Lok Shakti made public its displeasure at your having announced your list of candidates without consulting them.

How can they oppose this? We announced candidates only for those 13 seats where we won the last time. They can't object to this.

Squabbles over seats

The BJP and its regional allies are caught up in tussles over seat-sharing.

THE National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies was born out of the compulsions of sharing power and the felt need to expand the political support base of the coalition following the dissolution of the 12th Lok Sabha. The BJP realised that one of the reasons for the collapse of the 13-month-old government led by Atal Behari Vajpayee was the reluctance of several smaller parties to support the Government or join the ruling coalition. The NDA was conceived of at that time in order to win over new allies, who may have been holding themselves back because they were suspicious of the BJP's dominance in the coalition and the likelihood of its trying to enforce its Hindutva agenda on the other constituents. In fact, in order to try and convince the non-BJP NDA constituents and new allies that the BJP would not pursue its own agenda, the BJP went so far as to decide that it would not release its own manifesto but subscribe to the NDA's common manifesto.

However, the BJP finds to its dismay that its show of evident readiness to dilute its Hindutva identity is not sufficient to win adequate number of new friends or even buy peace within the NDA. In State after State, the BJP finds that its authority as th e largest national party in the alliance stands considerably whittled; it has also come under pressure from its allies to concede more seats to the other constituents in the NDA.

In Tamil Nadu, for instance, the BJP has had to reconcile itself to playing the role of a junior partner in the Dravida Munnetra Kazh-agam(DMK)-led front. In a few other States, its quest for primacy in the allocation of Lok Sabha seats - or even get a r easonable share for itself - met with intense resistance from regional allies who felt no compelling need to concede too much turf in their pockets of strength. In some States, the BJP's local units refused to accommodate the allies' aspirations, but in Tamil Nadu the BJP went out of its way to offer the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) one of the six seats allotted to it by the DMK. MDMK leader Vaiko was initially displeased by the DMK's decision to give it only five seats, when another re gional ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, was favoured with at least seven seats (see box). The BJP, which felt that the MDMK was a valuable ally, offered it one of the seats allotted to it, but Vaiko politely declined the offer.

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The BJP units in most other States were, however, not quite in the same conciliatory mood. The central leadership of the BJP was acutely embarrassed by the stiff resistance from its Karnataka unit to the proposal to accommodate Chief Minister J.H. Patel within the coalition; the central leaders had earlier reconciled themselves to the entry of the Janata Dal group led by Sharad Yadav - which was subsequently named the Janata Dal (United) - into the NDA. Commerce Minister and Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishn a Hegde was sufficiently provoked to accuse the BJP units in Karnataka, Orissa and Bihar of being "greedy" for seats and warned that unless the BJP was more accommodative of its allies' interests, the allies would be constrained to desert it.

In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP unit rejected a proposal from Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu to have the 1994 Assembly election results (the BJP won only four seats) as the basis for determining the seat-sharing formula f or the Lok Sabha elections. The TDP (it is not a member of the NDA, but it extended support from outside to the Vajpayee Government) was not swayed by the BJP's argument that it was entitled to a dozen Lok Sabha seats and 45 Assembly seats on the basis o f the fact that it secured 18 per cent of the popular votes in the 1998 elections. Vajpayee, whose sights were set on securing a higher tally for the NDA in the Lok Sabha elections even if it meant giving up a few seats in the Assembly elections, was wil ling to consider the TDP's offer. Samata Party leader George Fernandes was despatched to Hyderabad for talks with Chandrababu Naidu. However, State BJP leaders felt that it would be impractical to have an alliance with the TDP for the Lok Sabha elections alone.

In Bihar, the Samata Party, emboldened by the coming together of the party with the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav), demanded a higher share of the seats than it contested in 1998. In Orissa too, the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal, which contested as allies in 19 98 and fared well, have not been able to agree on a seat-sharing formula. In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP finalised an agreement with the Himachal Vikas Congress led by former Union Minister Sukh Ram, under which the HVC will contest the Shimla (Reserved) s eat and the BJP three other seats. BJP leader and former Chief Minister Shanta Kumar, who was displeased by the agreement, warned the leadership that the agreement would be suicidal for the BJP in the long run.

In Uttar Pradesh, a crucial battleground, the BJP decided not to concede any of the 57 seats it won in 1998 to its regional allies, even though the Loktantrik Congress Party (LCP) staked its claim to three of them. The LCP and the Jantantrik Bahujan Sama j Party (JBSP) have each sought 10 seats. The Samata Party, the Janata Dal (Sharad Yadav), Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and independent MLAs too are reportedly demanding their pound of flesh. In 1998, the BJP allotted to its allies only five of the 85 Lo k Sabha seats in the State.

The BJP released its first list of candidates for 138 Lok Sabha seats even before it finalised a seat-sharing arrangement with its allies. The party has by and large renominated those who won on the party ticket in 1998; however, this has led to severe h eartburning among some of its leaders. In Madhya Pradesh, five BJP members of the dissolved Lok Sabha have declined their renomination. They are Sumitra Mahajan (Indore), Uma Bharati (Khajuraho), S.C. Verma (Bhopal), Baburao Paranjpe (Jabalpur) and Vijay araje Scindia (Guna). While Paranjpe and Scindia opted out on health grounds, the others declined because of intra-party tussles. Sushma Swaraj, the party's official spokesperson and a member of the dissolved Lok Sabha, too has declined the party ticket for South Delhi. The names of the three senior BJP leaders - Vajpayee, Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi - figure in the first list: they will contest from Lucknow, Gandhinagar and Allahabad respectively.

Hurdles in Tamil Nadu

SEAT-SHARING talks within the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led front in Tamil Nadu, of which the Bharatiya Janata Party is a constituent, ran into rough weather early in August. At one stage, the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) led by Va iko, unhappy with the five parliamentary seats allotted to it, was preparing for a stand-off with the DMK, but the hitch was subsequently resolved on August 8.

However, the DMK-led front was wracked by another convulsion on August 9, following differences between two other constituents, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress (TRC) over the sharing of the nine seats allotted to the two parties by the DMK, the principal constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Unhappy with the PMK's offer of just one parliamentary seat (Salem), the TRC decided on August 9 to put up candidates in two constituencies, Salem and Rasipuram (Reserved). Earlier in the day, the PMK had declared its intention to contest eight seats, wh ich left only one seat for the TRC. Relations between the two parties had been strained for days following reports that the PMK would allot the TRC only one seat. TRC president and Union Petroleum Minister Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy had warned that if the T RC did not get two seats, it would think of its "next plan of action".

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The DMK's formula satisfied no one in the alliance. The MDMK was displeased that the DMK had allotted nine seats to the PMK and the TRC. The BJP accepted the six seats it was allotted. The MGR-ADMK headed by S. Tirunavukkarasu and the MGR Kazhagam led by R.M. Veerappan got one seat each. The DMK retained for itself the 18 seats it contested in the 1998 elections.

Sensing the MDMK's displeasure and hoping to resolve that crisis, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani sent word to Vaiko on August 6 that the BJP would give up one of its six seats - Sivaganga - for the MDMK. A meeting of MDM K leaders said it appreciated the gesture, but resolved that the BJP should contest from Sivaganga too. Vaiko told reporters later that the MDMK would accept the five seats and stay on in the NDA.

On August 7, however, the DMK and the MDMK were locked in another tussle, this time over the choice of constituencies. There were no differences in respect of the three seats that the MDMK won in 1998 - Sivakasi, Tindivanam and Palani; but whereas the MD MK wanted two of four other constituencies - Thanjavur, Tiruchengode, Tiruchendur and Tirunelveli - the DMK was willing to offer any two out of Gobichettipalayam, Karur and Pollachi (Reserved). In order to close the MDMK's option, Karunanidhi announced t he DMK candidates for Thanjavur, Tiruchendur and Tirunelveli.

After discussions with his party functionaries on August 8, Vaiko met Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi and later announced that the MDMK would settle for Tiruchengode and Pollachi. To persistent questioning by newspersons, Vaiko said he wa s happy that an agreement had been reached between the two parties.

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THE mood in the DMK-led front had been markedly more upbeat barely a week earlier. On July 24, when Vaiko draped a shawl around Karunanidhi at the venue of the MDMK conference on "State autonomy" at Kanchipuram, near Chennai, the crowd burst into applaus e. It was an emotional moment for the two leaders who had parted ways in 1993. (Vaiko formed the MDMK that year after Karunanidhi expelled him from the DMK.)

In his speech, Karunanidhi returned to a metaphor used by Vaiko when the MDMK leader met him at his residence on May 18. (That visit, Vaiko had said, was akin to a son calling on his father after setting up a separate family.) Karunanidhi said in Kanchip uram: "I have come to see how the son, who broke away from the father, is running his separate family." In his concluding speech the next day, Vaiko declared, "If any harm were to come to Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) or the DMK, we will stand like a fort arou nd them."

Given the history of DMK-MDMK relations, that occasion seemed surreal to most observers. Ten days later, the new-found bonhomie all but disappeared.

The first indication that all was not well came when Karunanidhi said on July 31 that there were "hitches over the number of seats" and since they would take a while to resolve, aspirants for the DMK ticket could apply for all 40 seats (39 in Tamil Nadu and one in Pondicherry) and that in respect of seats that were not allotted to the DMK, the applicants would get back the money. This was evidently a pressure-tactic to force the MDMK, which was pitching its demand high, to fall in line.

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As if on cue, State BJP general secretary L. Ganesan and PMK founder Dr. S. Ramadoss said that their parties were not to be blamed for the hitches. Ramadoss even took a swipe at the MDMK. Alluding to the MDMK's reported insistence that it be given more s eats than the PMK, he said: "We don't have the culture of demanding that we should get more seats than our allies."

What queered the pitch was the announcement on August 2, after Ramadoss met Karunanidhi, that the PMK and the TRC would get nine seats between them. This meant that the BJP and the MDMK would get only 11 seats; both parties were displeased because both w ould get fewer seats than the PMK.

On August 3, BJP leaders Ganesan, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam and State BJP president K.N. Lakshmanan met Karunanidhi and later announced that an agreement had been reached on the number of seats the BJP would contest. They, however, declined to reveal the number. Ganesan said the MDMK would deal "directly" with the BJP, a clear intimation of a crisis. Vaiko met Karunanidhi that evening, but with Vaiko holding out for seven seats there was apparently no breakthrough.

On August 4, Ganesan, Lakshmanan and Rangarajan Kum- aramangalam again met Karunanidhi and other DMK leaders, including general secretary K. Anbazhagan. It was then announced that the BJP would contest six seats. Karunanidhi disclosed that the MDMK had b een offered five seats and the Natham Assembly seat, where a byelection is to be held. It was a take-it-or-leave-it offer to the MDMK, but the party leadership remained unyielding.

Informed sources blamed the DMK for the tangle. According to these sources, when Ramadoss and Ramamurthy met Karunandihi on May 3, they were offered nine seats, but the news was kept under wraps. The sources said that the DMK had "rewarded" the PMK for n ot joining the rival front led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), as Ramadoss had threatened to.

Under an earlier formula, the DMK was to give 20 seats to the BJP and ask it to share them among itself, the MDMK, the PMK and the TRC. But sources said that the BJP did not want to take on that responsibility. The DMK used a clever stratagem to put the breakaway MDMK in place. It gave combined offers to the PMK and the TRC on the one hand, and the BJP and the MDMK on the other. The DMK offered nine seats to the PMK and the TRC together, and 11 to the BJP and the MDMK; even so, both the BJP and the MDMK were upset because each would get fewer seats than the PMK.

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Leaders of the MDMK hit back, and started interviewing candidates for all 40 seats. There were also sections within the DMK who felt that the PMK-TRC had been allotted more seats than they deserved; however, Karunanidhi denied that there was any resentme nt in the DMK. Sources in the DMK said the MDMK was given five seats taking into consideration its chances of victory. According to them, the PMK commanded a more powerful presence across northern and western Tamil Nadu.

MEANWHILE, AIADMK general secretary Jayalalitha gained a head start on the campaign trail. She addressed meetings in Chennai suburbs and later headed for interior districts. At well-attended meetings, she targeted the BJP - "a communal party, which is ag ainst the minorities" - and the DMK. "We aligned with the BJP to form a stable government under an able Prime Minister," she said. "But the BJP's mask has been ripped off. We have undunderstood that it is an evil force."

The AIADMK had earlier finalised the seat-sharing formula with its allies, under which it kept 23 for itself and gave 12 seats to the Congress(I), two seats each to the CPI(M) and the CPI and one seat to the INL.

A dubious exercise

A.G. NOORANI cover-story

Despite widespread public disquiet about intelligence failures that led up to the Kargil conflict and the response of the Government and the Army after Pakistan's intrusion was discovered, the Kargil committee appointed by the Government has a s everely narrow remit. Its anodyne terms of reference do not inspire confidence.

TO be worth its name, any inquiry must be directed in unambiguous terms to the specific issues that caused public disquiet and prompted the demand for an inquiry. In the Kargil case, the issues were not confined to intelligence failure or to events befor e Pakistan's intrusion. They covered even more pointedly the Government's and the Army's response after they discovered the foul deed. Not least, the dates of discovery. The Government and the Army differ on that.

The Government of India knew of the widespread disquiet and the precise questions on which the people demanded the answers. It chose, nonetheless, to appoint on July 24 a committee of four members with the most anodyne terms of reference terminating sha rply at the intrusion - "to review the events leading upto the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil district... and to recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security." These were later embodied in a formal announcement o n August 4 without any significant change in response to public criticism. No effort was made to expand the terms of reference to cover other issues in response to public demands. The Opposition was not consulted either on the terms of reference or on th e membership. Here is a unique committee whose vague terms of reference were left to a spin doctor to flesh out. Pramod Mahajan's lack of seriousness is evident in his remark that it can go into "two years or twenty years of history." He said also that " the committee is free to interpret" (the terms of reference) and "when we say events leading to, it may be intelligence, administrative, political failures." The remit ends abruptly with the incursion and is delightfully vague. No committee can "interpre t" it to exceed the limits. No committee should accept terms so imprecise as those. The least it can do now is to declare its own understanding of its terms of reference for the public to know. Especially since Defence Minister George Fernandes wiped out the spin the very next day in Calcutta. He said that the committee was not meant to probe intelligence failure. It will only review the situation that led to the conflict and recommend measures to strengthen national security.

None will accept Fernandes' denial of the Calcutta statement the day after he made it. PTI as well as correspondents of reputed dailies reported him in identical terms and in direct quotes, too. PTI reported him as saying: "The committee is not meant to probe intelligence failure. It will only (sic.) review the situation that led to the conflict and recommend measures to strengthen national security."

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The report in The Statesman (July 26) has this nugget, besides, which explains Pramod Mahajan's reference to 20 years. Fernandes is quoted as saying: "The three-member committee formed to probe the build-up to Kargil will review the role of oth er governments and other Defence Ministers vis-a-vis the present one, apart from suggesting measures of national security, he announced." The intention is plain - tarnish the name of predecessors, exonerate the incumbents, the Government and t he Defence Minister, both. Consciousness of guilt is all too evident.

This is surely not the inquiry which the Government had promised nor one which the public expected of it.

By a spate of statements, the Government of India had pledged itself to the nation and, not least, to the jawans who had risked their lives, that there would be an inquiry into the lapses which had enabled the intruders from Pakistan to go as far as they did; so far, indeed, as to make sacrifice of the lives of the jawans necessary. That inquiry is an imperative of democratic accountability.

The crucial question always was: what will be the scope and remit of the probe. In a TV interview on July 17, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra said that an inquiry would be conducted to find out if there was an intelligence lapse on the Pakistani intrusions and whether the Army failed to react on time. In a press interview on the same day, he spoke of a "post-mortem to find out what went wrong and what lessons we have learnt from the Kargil episode." This is comprehensive. Asked "When did the Go vernment first hear of the intrusion?", he replied: "At a moment, we can say that the first information came on 6 May."

However, Fernandes told the all-party meeting on May 29 that it was only on the night of May 12 that the Army informed him of the intrusion. The Army had learnt of it through a shepherd on May 6. In an interview to Sunday (June 13), he amplified t hat at Srinagar, later, the Corps Commander told him that "things were under control and we should get back the ridges that had been occupied in a day or two. When I returned, I asked for a situation report. I found no mention of this in the routine sit- rep. When I asked what was going on, I was told those chaps are there, but we will have the situation under control soon."

There is clearly a strong case for all involved to answer. Especially in view of Fernandes' own statements, contradictary as they are. On June 27 he said that the "intelligence establishment had failed to provide any advance warning of the Pakistani infi ltration." Eighty per cent of them were Army regulars. "The fact was that there was no intelligence on this." On July 14 and since, he has repeatedly denied that there was any "intelligence failure".

Disclosures of various cautionary reports by officials mount by the day; based, no doubt, on anguished sources within the Army and the paramilitary forces. They cite precise dates of reports which they had sent, only to be ignored. There are also credibl e reports on the commencement of the intrusions.

Minister for External Affairs Jaswant Singh said on July 20 that the Government would soon institute a high-level inquiry into whether intelligence failure led to the Pakistani intrusion into Kargil. "The members of the inquiry commission and its terms o f reference will be known (sic.) shortly."

The terms of reference should not be confined to the initial intelligence failure alone but should also cover the responses of, both, leaders of the Government and the Army, at all levels. It would have been in the fitness of things had they been drawn up in consultation with former Prime Ministers V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, P.V. Narasimha Rao, and H.D. Deve Gowda. (Inclusion of I.K. Gujral will not add to the prestige of the group.) Additionally, senior leaders of the Opposition, such as Harkishan S ingh Surjeet, Jyoti Basu, A.B. Bardhan and Sharad Pawar, should have been consulted. An inquiry with a narrow remit which excludes failures such as those of intelligence and the roles of the men at the top, whether in government, the Army or in the intel ligence services, will not inspire confidence. It will be a mere "review", not an "inquiry" at all. There can be no underestimating the depth of the resentment felt by many at attempts to cover up. They fear that the probe would be programmed to let the big fish escape. Appointment to comfortable posts of persons in the know, who are themselves accountable, has fuelled the suspicion.

In such an atmosphere, the Establishment begins to leak like a sieve. The ship of state is the only one to leak from the top, as Sir Humphrey Appleby reminded Bernard Woolley. Why did the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court disagree with Chief Justice War ren Burger's proposition in the Pentagon Papers case that the duty of every citizen with respect to the discovery or possession of stolen property, applicable to cabmen, applies also to The New York Times? Because the Government was perceived to b e deceiving the public.

Hardly had Outlook (July 25) come out with an expose setting out in precise detail repeated warnings by Brigadier Surinder Singh, Brigade Commander, Kargil sector, since August 1998 than a correspondent was tipped off that the documents were among the 26 letters attached to the Brigadier's legitimate Redressal of Grievance (ROG) petition addressed, through proper channels, to the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. V.P. Malik. At least two retired Lieutenants-General have added their voice to criticism of the Government. No prize is given for identifying the source that leaked the ROG to the correspondent.

The committee will be gravely remiss if it does not requisition the entire record and summon the principal actors. Section 11 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 empowers the Government to arm "any authority (by whatever name called) other than a Com mission appointed under" the Act with the coercive powers available to a Commission of Inquiry, proper. Will the Kargil committee demand these powers? The committee's silence in the face of disquiet over its severely narrow remit is deafening. The commit tee's statement on August 4 invites inputs from the public "based on reliable and authentic information", but said nothing in response to public criticism of its absurdly narrow remit. "Highly placed sources" told Chandan Nandi of The Telegraph (A ugust 4) that the committee had been advised to proceed in a "general" manner and not make it "individual-specific". In other words, individual culpability is excluded. A farce of the process of accountability. The source added, "The focus will be on sys temic problems."

Significantly, we have not had any commitment from the Government that it would publish the committee's report. The litmus test of accountability is that the process must cover the entire state machinery involved in the affair - from the top downwards.

THE Kahan Commission of Inquiry, set up by the Israeli Government to probe into the atrocities in the Shatilla and Sabra camps in Lebanon, observed in its report, submitted on February 7, 1983: "We wish to note to the credit of the lawyers who appeared b efore us that none of them raised any argument to the effect that in the investigation being conducted before us, the status of Cabinet members (the Prime Minister and the Defence and Foreign Ministers) is different from that of others. In our view, any claim that calls for a distinction of this sort is wholly untenable."

For three days (August 3 to 5, 1983), Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke gave evidence before the Hope Commission on Security Agencies and was closely cross-examined by counsel for the Security Intelligence Organisation and for the suspect, David Combe. Intelligence is not a subject exempt from judicial inquiries.

There are, of course, obvious procedural precautions to be observed. Two precedents reveal starkly the contrast between the Government of India's committee and a mechanism for real accountability. One is the report of the Franks Committee of Privy Counse llors entitled "Falkland Islands Review", the other is the Agranat Report on the Yom Kippur War.

On July 8, 1982, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced that, following consultation with the Leader of the Opposition and leaders of other Opposition parties, the Government had decided to appoint a Committee of Privy Counsellors under the Chairmans hip of Lord Franks with the following terms of reference: "To review the way in which the responsibilities of Government in relation to the Falkland Islands and their Dependencies were discharged in the period leading upto the Argentine invasion of the F alkland Islands on 2 April 1982, taking into account all of such factors in previous years as are relevant and to report." Nothing was excluded. Note that the focus was on the discharge of responsibility. This is what accountability is about. The Kargil probe is hopelessly unfocussed.

Documents of the Foreign Office and of the Ministry of Defence on the subject were furnished to the Committee as well as all relevant files of the first three months of 1982; as also "every report from the intelligence agencies relating to the Falkland I slands from the beginning of 1982 until 2 April 1982", the date of the Argentine invasion, plus "a number of reports from previous years" and "every assessment on Argentina and the Falkland Islands made by the Joint Intelligence Organisations since 1965, together with any relevant minutes of meetings."

The public was invited to submit memoranda. The Committee studied press reports and consulted a number of books. Oral evidence was taken of all the Prime Ministers since 1965. It read "all the relevant papers that the Prime Minister personally saw from t he time the present Government took office" and "all relevant Cabinet and Cabinet Committee papers and minutes of meetings from 1965 onwards."

The Committee met in camera. The Report, published in January 1983, recommended a shake-up of the intelligence machinery. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, resigned from his office.

The Agranat Report is perhaps an even more appropriate model. The Yom Kippur War began on October 6, 1973. On October 22, 1973, Egypt agreed to a ceasefire. Soon thereafter, on November 18, 1973, the Israeli Cabinet adopted the following resolution:

"Resolved: A) That the following matters, namely: 1. The information, in the days preceding the Yom Kippur War, concerning the enemy's moves and his intentions to open war, as well as the assessments and the decisions of the duly authorised military and civilian bodies with regard to the aforementioned information; 2. The Israel Defence Forces' deployment for battle in general, its preparedness in the days preceding the Yom Kippur War and its actions up to the containment of the enemy - are of vital pub lic importance at this time requiring clarification.

"B) That an Inquiry Commission shall be set up to investigate the aforementioned matters and report to the Cabinet..."

Contrast the precision of these terms of reference, with their explicit mention of the topics on which the public demands the answers, with the vague terms of reference of the Kargil inquiry.

The Inquiry Commission was headed by Dr. Shimon Agranat, President of the Supreme Court, and comprised four other members. The Commission's Report was presented on April 2, 1974. The Agranat Report is a veritable classic on accountability.

It will be noticed that the terms of reference covered both intelligence failure and the Army's role; its preparedness in the days preceding the war as well its "actions up to the containment of the enemy". The Commission discussed the personal responsib ility of the Prime Minister and the other Ministers concerned. The Commission's "Partial Report" was devoted to intelligence, its evaluation and the state of alert. It decided to consider in a later Report the Army's deployment prior to the war and its p erformance on its outbreak, till the ceasefire. "The public is entitled to learn as soon as possible of the findings and recommendations on those subjects on which the Commission has concluded its deliberations, and it is desirable that the Government ma y be able to act in accordance on them without delay."

It, added, however, that "this report contains a general, very brief, description of facts, insofar as such a description is needed for an understanding of the conclusion. In view of its contents, this report may be published; whereas the further report, which contains a detailed description of the facts and a complete exposition of the Commission's conclusions reached by the Commission, will contain many secret facts which, in all probability, will rule out publication in full." Accountability to the n ation and preservation of military secrets in the nation's interests are not incompatibles.

The Commission was set up under Israel's Inquiry Commission Law, 1968. In its resolution, the Cabinet decided that "the matter which are the subject of the investigation and the Commission's deliberations require secrecy." Accordingly, the Commission dec ided to hold its deliberations in camera. But legal representation and the cross-examination of witnesses were allowed to persons whose conduct was in question. One para vividly illustrates the nature of the inquiry and deserves to be quoted in extenso.

"The opening of the war by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur, 6.10.73, at approximately 14.00 hours, took the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) by surprise in that until the early morning hours of that day the IDF's Supreme Command and the political leadership did not evaluate that total war was about to commence and on the morning of that day. When it was already clear to them that the war would break out, the Supreme Command mistakenly assumed that it would break out only at 18.00 hours. Responsibility for thes e mistaken evaluations should be placed primarily on the Director of Military Intelligence and on his Principal Assistant in charge of the Intelligence Branch's Research Department, which is the only body in the country engaged in intelligence research. They failed by providing the IDF with totally insufficient warning: It was only at about 4.30 a.m. on Yom Kippur that the DMI, on the strength of fresh intelligence he had received, notified that the enemy would open war at 18.00 hours on both fronts. Th is brief warning did not allow for mobilisation of the reserves in an orderly fashion, and involved the hasty mobilisation of the land forces, contrary to the regular time tables and mobilisation procedures. The additional error of four hours, between 18 .00 and 14.00, further reduced the interval between the call-up of the reserves and the opening of fire by the enemy. This second error caused further disruptions in the readiness of the regular forces at the fronts and their correct deployment, particul arly on the Canal front."

The Commission proceeded to analyse the reasons for the failure of the authorities responsible for evaluation. It pronounced not only on the intelligence set-up and on the Foreign Ministry's Research Department, but also on the functioning of the Cabinet in the parliamentary system. The Director of Military Intelligence was praised for his candour and for his abilities; but "in the light of his serious failure, Major-General Zeira can no longer continue to serve in his position as Director of Military I ntelligence." Similar censures were passed on some other senior officers.

Heads rolled, in consequence. And this is the true test of any honest, thorough inquiry. It must reach the tallest poppies in the field: "During the period of tension in the week preceding the war, he (the Chief of Staff) did not even visit the fronts, i n order to get a personal feeling of what was happening there, to receive a first-hand impression from the threatening signs discovered by the observations which had been made to elicit information from the commanders in the field and to consult them. To the Chief of Staff's credit it should be recalled that he demanded the mobilisation of the whole body of reserves on Saturday morning. But in the existing conditions he should already have recommended a partial mobilisation of the reserves on 1 October, when the Egyptian 'exercise' began, and at the latest on 2 October. We did not accept his explanation that on that day he did more than enough by declaring the highest state of alert in the regular army, including the Air Force (the cancellation of leav es, duty rosters of officers at command posts, etc.), and putting the reserves mobilisation system in a state of alert." After a careful consideration of the evidence, the Commission concluded: "We regard it as our duty to recommend the termination of Lt .-General David Elazar's appointment as Chief of Staff." The Report concluded with a tribute to the armed forces.

In contrast to Indian inquiries, the Franks and Agranat Reports were submitted with remarkable despatch; a reflection on Indian work culture. It is unlikely that the committee which the Government of India has appointed will have much impact.

We shall be surprised if it performs half as well as these two bodies and if its report assuages public disquiet. The BJP and the Congress(I) will exploit the Kargil affair for political ends. But the public at large are contemptuous of attempts at polit ical exploitation of the tragedy. Concerned with national security, they ask precise questions. They are entitled to the answers - fully and honestly.

'The Army leadership has been politicised'

cover-story

Interview with Moti Dar, former Vice-Chief of the Army Staff.

Former Vice-Chief of the Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Moti Dar, has broken his official silence over the handling of the Kargil war. While most retired military officials familiar with strategic policy have remained silent so far on the way the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and the defence establishment conducted the campaign, Dar believes that officers like him have a special duty to speak out. "This is not an issue on which institutional loyalties or personal friendships are paramount ," he said. "This is an issue of India's defence. We have to make sure that what happened at Kargil is never allowed to happen again."

Dar, a highly decorated officer, was injured in the war of 1971. He retired as the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff three years ago. From 1967 to 1970, he served as Brigade Major of the 121 Brigade, which is responsible for Kargil's defence and which is now at the core of the controversies regarding on the handling of the war. From 1981 to 1984, he was again connected with events in Kargil, while commanding the 114 Brigade in Leh. In 1983, he participated in major exercises in the Kargil area, which formed the basis for subsequent strategic policies in the area. Lt.-Gen. Dar was also involved in designing strategies for the defence of the Siachen Glacier, and was closely connected with counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

In his interview to Praveen Swami, Dar challenged many of the official claims on the conduct of the Kargil campaign, and pointed to the growing politicisation of the Army's top leadership. Excerpts:

When you were posted in Kargil, what form of patrolling and observation was in place? Did your perceptions of threat vary from time to time, or was there a fixed paradigm?

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No, we had a permanent assessment of what the threat to Kargil was, and had a fixed defensive system. We used to hold in strength most of the valleys which offered the most easy routes for infiltration. Up on the ridges, we used to have posts to monitor movements. From these major posts, we used to put out extensions and carry out patrols. For example, near Kaksar, we had a strong position on the shoulder of the ridge. We used that as a base to put out extensions. In the Chorbat La area, we used to have a base in the Indus valley, which used to move halfway up the mountains in the summer. At that time, patrols used to move up to the top regularly. Remember, in 1967 we had far fewer troops than are available now. We had a battalion for Drass, one each f or Channigund and Kargil, and just half a battalion for Batalik. There were two companies of the Jammu and Kashmir Militia, which later became the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry. So, some areas, like Marpo La, were thinly held.

There has been considerable controversy over the vacation of posts in the winter - about how many posts were actually on the Line of Control (LoC) to monitor movements in the winter, and what they were doing. What was the system during your tenure in Kargil?

There was absolutely no concept of vacating posts in the winter. If the snow was exceptionally bad one year, some posts might move a little further up or down. Equipment then, compared to now, was rudimentary, but we managed as best as we could. The wint er is bad in Kargil, but not so bad that military activity becomes impossible. Our men, who used to get supplies through local porters and ponies, used to stay up. Each of the pickets used to be stocked up for the winter. I used personally to visit the f orward pickets and make sure that patrols moved as they ought to.

So, in your considered professional view, there is no way that the spring intrusion by Pakistan could have gone undetected until May, had the pickets and patrols been functioning as they should have?

Definitely. There is absolutely no doubt about it. If the posts were up on the heights through the winter, if link patrols between them were executed on schedule, and if long-range patrols were regularly carried out, there is no way that the intrusion co uld have passed undetected. Local commanders also ought to have been maintaining contact with local village communities, who have excellent information on any unusual movements in the area. I am totally mystified and perplexed as a military professional, how something of this kind could have happened. Frankly, it is incredible.

Senior Army officials say that simply by having posts, patrols and so on, such an intrusion could not necessarily have been detected. In fact the Army has put this proposition on record in a letter to Frontline.

Movements on the ridges in particular can be detected fairly easily. If there had been small patrols tasked to carry out observation, the arrival of the infiltrators and their activities, including the setting up of improvised bunkers and ammunition stor es would have certainly been seen. Observation posts set up outside the pickets would also have spotted the intrusion. I am unclear whether there were helicopter patrols in winter, which we used to have in our time. If there were such patrols, they shoul d have certainly spotted something. We used to fly along the LoC regularly. In fact, I remember an incident when I strayed a considerable distance across it by accident! Now, I am not underestimating the difficulties of physical observation, particularly when the weather is bad. There is certainly a very strong case for upgrading our surveillance capabilities, using electronic sensors and improving our airborne platforms. But I cannot believe that a thousand, two thousand, infiltrators could not be dete cted by routine physical patrolling.

How would you respond to the counter-proposition that patrolling does not succeed in detecting intrusion in other areas? For example, large numbers of infiltrators routinely cross the LoC in Kupwara, Uri, Gurez and other areas.

There are two factors here. First, there is thick forest cover in those areas along the LoC. In Kargil, the mountains are bald. The forest cover in, say, Kupwara, makes detection of movement considerably more difficult than in Kargil. But the more import ant point is that infiltration is routinely detected in Kupwara or Uri. Patrols make fire contact with infiltrators almost every day along those parts of the LoC despite the Pakistani artillery and small arms support designed to suppress our defensive po sitions. Every year, hundreds of Pakistani infiltrators are shot dead on the LoC, and hundreds more are repulsed. If, in Kargil, some amount of infiltration had not been detected, but other groups had been detected and challenged, that would be explicabl e. What has happened defies explanation, and the public deserves an explanation.

Coming back to the issue of local intelligence, there is now a perception that the local population in Kargil is hostile to India, a claim that sections of the media and some politicians have made. Was this true of your time?

Perhaps the best way of answering this is that in our time, the flow of intelligence from the local community was excellent. We had a very good idea of what was happening in Skardu and Olthingthang, down to company-level movements. Most of it came from l ocal people with relatives on the other side. I, like my predecessors, made it a point to attend local ceremonies and maintain regular social contacts with the community. What really worked for us was the contrast between the development of this side of Jammu and Kashmir, minimal as it then was, with the abysmal condition of the people in Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan.

In 1967, we launched a border demarcation exercise, since there was some disputes between Pakistan and India on just which areas each country was entitled to hold after the 1965 war. The largest problems were in Kaksar, where we had returned the key feat ure over Kargil, Point 13620, and in Darulang. Anyway, we eventually arranged a meeting on the Long Ridge on Kaksar with the Pakistani command, and both sides took surveyors along to resolve the problem. I remember taking up copies of Filmfare and cartons of Panama cigarettes, which were very popular with Pakistan troops. The Pakistani commander, Brigadier Ghulam Murtaza, who was from the northern area, bitterly complained about the Punjabi domination of the region. The state of civil infrastruct ure there was pathetic compared to what we had. So, the population in Kargil had no reason for complaint. If things have changed since then, and I do not believe they have, then people ought to do some thinking.

How do you see the future of military deployment in Kargil shaping up? There is talk that a second Siachen has been imposed on India.

It is very sad that people are responding to this situation in a defensive way. Pakistan has very poor and stretched lines of communication in this area. There is one route from Astor, another from Skardu and one from Happalu. None of them used to be in good shape. We always used to consider Kargil an excellent theatre of offensive operations for India because of its superior communications infrastructure. The point was finally proved in 1971. Even today, the fact that we have a highway there should be seen as an asset rather than a cause for concern. Secondly, our troops are far superior and better equipped than theirs. The Northern Light Infantry is not, strictly speaking, even a part of the Pakistan Army. So, rather than get into a defensive rut, we should consider what our options are and make sure the system functions in the future.

In a broader sense, are you concerned about events in Jammu and Kashmir? Recent developments have been quite alarming.

Yes, they have, and it is very disturbing. In some ways, things have deteriorated quite sharply since, say, the situation that prevailed after the elections of 1996. I think the most important thing that has happened since then is the nuclear tests in Po khran, which have transformed the situation in ways that we have yet to understand or deal with properly. What I find most disturbing is that the Army leadership itself has been politicised in a very crude way, so much so that political assessments are o bscuring and confusing military judgment. What is desperately needed now is an objective and impartial inquiry into what has happened. Pinning blame should be secondary to the important task of determining what happened and finding ways of ensuring that it does not happen again.

THE BJP'S TROUBLES

As the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections begins, the BJP is beset with troubles. The unethical telecom bailout package has whipped up a controversy, the party's relations with some of its allies are strained, and it is faced afresh with faction feuds.

THE euphoric aftermath of the Kargil conflict has clearly unhinged political calculations in certain quarters. Yielding to the perception that the Lok Sabha elections to come will be a triumphal romp for the coalition led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, politicians of infirm convictions have beaten a path to the doorstep of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), seeking its patronage for the contest they will soon be engaged in. Vajpayee's own flock is less than amused at the spectacle of the neo-converts to the cause of the BJP. But the Prime Minister is proving rather more indulgent. He undoubtedly sees in a greater diversity of political allies an opportunity to keep truculent elements within his own brood in check. As the BJP and its partners get their campaign off to a rocky start, there is much amused comment about the state of their alliance. Having negotiated his way through the conflicting demands of his various allies, Vajpayee may well find that the most tenuous linkage within the ruling coalition could well prove that between him and his own party.

At the same time, a mood of effrontery seems to have taken hold in quarters close to the Prime Minister, a willingness to risk public opprobrium in what may be considered smaller details of policy. The tacit calculation is that the political capital earned in Kargil will sustain a few reckless gambles in the cause of building up the electoral war-chest of the Prime Minister and his party. The nation is thus treated to the spectacle of a Cabinet Minister being divested of his charge by a caretaker Prime Minister, for a very specific purpose. This happens in the midst of a war situation, when the political leadership should perhaps be focussing its attention elsewhere.

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This is followed in quick time by a departure from established policy of such serious moment that it invites probing queries from the Head of State. The ruling coalition responds with little regard for the niceties of political engagement, with selective leaks to the media, oblique suggestions of bias and a stubborn resistance to any form of accountability.

The basic norms of functioning in an electoral interregnum have been overturned by the BJP-led coalition. In the process, it has also called into question the delicate system of constitutional separation of powers. Union Minister Rangarajan Kumaramangalam is still quite the neo-convert seeking to earn his spurs within the BJP's political universe - a domain that was completely alien to him till just two years back. His bumptious suggestion that the President of India can function as a watchdog over affairs of state, provided he does not bark or bite, surpasses even the standards of crudity set by the likes of Bal Thackeray and Murli Manohar Joshi.

Since they suffered defeat in the Lok Sabha in April, the BJP and its allies have targeted the President with a certain lack of refinement that suggests grim events in the future, should they return to power. The questions posed by the President on telecom policy changes were deflected by rote repetition that the new directions were worked out before the Vajpayee Ministry was defeated on the floor of the Lok Sabha. This, as various political parties have shown, is clearly not the case. The policy changes, introduced just hours before the Election Commission brought into effect the model code of electoral conduct, depart significantly and questionably from the recommendations that the Government received from the expert bodies it consulted.

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In working out its policy package, the Government clearly drew ideas and inspiration from sources other than the duly constituted authorities. Opposition spokesmen have, with growing insistence, urged a thorough investigation. It is clear that the Prime Minister himself has been the principal motivating factor behind the policy changes. How far his party and its political allies subscribe to his belief that whatever has been done is for the better remains unclear.

WHAT is evident is that the BJP has been rather disoriented by the need to work out a new set of relations with its allies. A faction of the Janata Dal insists that it will be part of the BJP-led coalition, the National Democratic Alliance. Sections within the BJP are equally insistent that it will have nothing to do with the discredited rump of a party that now exists only in name. Influential figures within the NDA, such as George Fernandes and Ramakrishna Hegde, are sponsoring the new political alignment with the obvious intention of securing greater bargaining power within.

The rocky relations with allies apart, the BJP is also confronting a fresh eruption of factional turbulence within. Two prominent figures - Sushma Swaraj in Delhi and Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh - have opted out of the electoral fray in obvious disdain at the dominant cliques within the party. And the effort to clinch fresh alliances with influential regional parties in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh seems to have run aground. Orissa presents another picture of bitter animosities within the BJP's principal ally, the Biju Janata Dal.

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BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharati, who have opted out of the electoral fray owing to intra-party tussles.

The BJP needs to sustain the euphoria of the Kargil triumph to divert public attention away from its multiple sources of anxiety. But the aftermath of the Pakistani withdrawal from the Kargil heights has been bloody. A new phase of warfare has clearly commenced, with armed intruders abandoning fixed positions in favour of guerilla-style attacks against the Indian Army and paramilitary forces.

Concurrently, there is mounting pressure from newly won friends overseas to open talks with Pakistan on all contentious issues, including Kashmir. There is a measure of sympathy for the reality that a caretaker government cannot engage in meaningful negotiations with external interlocutors. But the guest militants sponsored by Pakistan are unlikely to respect these niceties. With every armed strike they carry out on Indian targets, they underline the reality that Kargil was far from being an unqualified victory. Much still remains to be done to consolidate on that achievement, both on the political and military fronts. The BJP and its allies are yet to convey credibly the impression that they have the intellectual and political resources to do so.

A flood of support

social-issues

In a show of solidarity with the dam-affected people, campaigners from the country and abroad led by author Arundhati Roy, among others, march through the Narmada valley.

LYLA BAVADAM in the Narmada valley Pictures: Vivek Bendre

THE Narmada has turned turbulent again. Hundreds of campaigners, led by the feisty Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy and film-maker Jharana Jhaveri, lent their voice to the 14-year-old struggle of social activist Medha Patkar's Narmada Bachao And olan(NBA). They journeyed with the river on an eight-day rally under the banner of "Free the Narmada Campaign", which ended on August 5.

The rally covered 800 km, three-fourths the distance between Mumbai and New Delhi, along a rigorous route, which began and ended in Indore. Its destination was Jalsindhi, a village that would submerge this monsoon. There were countless halts along the wa y as people thronged to greet the rally. Leaving their fields, the residents of Karamal village waited more than six hours for the convoy. After the first few halts the rally fell into a pattern.

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As the convoy approached a village, the drivers, who were familiar with the large pale blue banner of the NBA, would slow down. The organisers, followed by mediapersons, would alight and be greeted with garlands, tilak and petal showers. Arundhati Roy or Jharana Jhaveri would say a few words. As the convoy left the village slowly, the buses would be showered with flowers.

The coming together of artists, students, engineers, architects, interior decorators, documentary film-makers, scientists, lawyers, tribal activists, teachers and journalists, both Indian and foreign, represented a strange amalgamation, but they were bou nd by a common cause. Jyotsna, a scientist from Hyderabad, said: "I have come to add my voice (to that of the displaced people and of the NBA)." Several partcipants were inspired by Arundhati Roy's essay, The Greater Common Good. Manu from Thiruva nanthapuram found the essay compelling. Kavita from Mumbai said that she had been aware of the Narmada issue for several years but had never really understood the details until she read the essay.

Arundhati Roy called for solidarity with the affected people and also said that there was a need for "an honest debate between the pro- and anti-dam lobbies. This debate is being blocked and instead there is misinformation."

Spontaneous camaraderie developed between the rallyists and the people in the Narmada valley. A group from Kerala quickly taught the residents of some villages to shout a slogan in Malayalam. Another group from Andhra Pradesh followed suit. At Anjad vill age, a group of ulultant women interspersed their calls with the slogan "Pani chahiye, Pepsi nahi" (We want water, not Pepsi).

A midnight meeting at Nisarpur was perhaps the most bohemian. Participants were enveloped by a crowd of more than 800 people led by two musicians - an old man vigorously beating a drum and a boy hitting a large thali (plate), which sounded like ch urch bells chiming. An Englishman pulled out a clarinet and the make-shift orchestra transported listeners to a state of frenzied delight.

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WHEN the rally halted at Baba Amte's ashram in Kasravad, the venerated Gandhian social worker referred to the rally as "the Gangotri of global mobilisation of the intelligentsia for this cause. I hope Arundhati will continue to stir the world's conscienc e."

Village after village, people brimmed with confidence and appeared cheerful. Most villages which supported the NBA put up signs that forbade entry to dam advocates. Government officials were ticked off and in a few cases manhandled. NBA activist Rama Pat idar of Karmal village asserted in halting English: "No entry to 'gorment' officer."

The NBA has consistently endeavoured to raise the self-respect of the people and make them aware of their right to information. This has resulted in a long-lasting process of empowerment, especially of women. The first large public meeting as part of the rally was held at Pathrad village, where Urmila Patidar was in charge of the organising committee. Flat-bottomed boats with wide sails, some with slogans painted on them, crowded the Narmada. Fisherman Jharelal Yadav cheerfully called out to the rally p articipants to see the river before it changed its roop (image).

The rally was initially meant to start from Gujarat but the State administration was in no mood to entertain any campaign connected with the NBA. It not only refused to cooperate with the organisers, but went to the extent of blocking the border with Mad hya Pradesh at Hafeshwar. All traffic, regardless of destination, was halted for two days.

In Madhya Pradesh, there was heavy security ostensibly to protect the rallyists. An Inspector was on deputation throughout. At certain night halts, the District Superintendent of Police would also pay a cursory visit. When the rally stopped at Maheshwar Fort, the S.P. and the District Magistrate were present. That morning a local newspaper carried scandalous 'news' of alleged sexual encounters between some NBA activists who were jailed last year. The District Magistrate admitted that he had told the new spaper that used contraceptives were found in cells used by the activists. But when 200-odd rallyists sought a clarification, he withdrew the allegation.

Police presence was most visible at Jalsindhi and Domkhedi, another village likely to be submerged this monsoon and from where the members of samarpit dal (dedicated squad) of the NBA has vowed to sacrifice themselves to the rising waters. Police camps dot the hills and a barge with police divers on board patrols the river.

THE rally was organised to draw attention to the immediate prospect of submergence faced by 50-odd villages in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra as a consequence of a Supreme Court order. In addition to an increase in the height of the Sardar Sarov ar dam, the largest on the river, from 81.5 metres to 85 m, the court sanctioned three more humps, totalling three metres, at the top of the dam. In February, acting on affidavits filed by the Gujarat Government, the court lifted a four-year-long stay or der against raising the height of the dam.

This seemingly inconsequential increase in the height of the dam would ultimately displace 2,500 families from tribal communities. The governments in the States concerned claim that they have an adequate rehabilitation programme, which the NBA denounces as a falsehood perpetuated since the inception of the Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP) in the 1960s.

WITH varying success, the NBA has questioned the public purpose, the cost-benefit analysis, and the social, environmental and socio-political aspects of the proposed dams on the Narmada. The high point of the agitation was when the World Bank pulled out of the project in 1993. The Bank's action was based on the Morse Committee Report, which lambasted the resettlement policy of the State governments.

Since then there was a lull in construction, and the NBA gathered further momentum. Displaced people who had gone to resettlement sites returned to join the NBA. While the Supreme Court order initially dampened the people's enthusiasm, NBA activists said that it also galvanised the movement into action once again. The people of the Narmada Valley were prepared to confront what they saw as a great injustice perpetrated by the state.

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A satyagraha was launched on June 20 with a call for the decentralisation of the decision-making process. Medha Patkar and the residents of affected villages undertook a fast. About 1,500 people gathered on the banks of the Narmada and took an oath to fi ght the threat of submergence. Alarmed at this rising tide of protest, the Madhya Pradesh Govern-ment issued a notice that some villages would be submerged. The cry of ''Doobenge par hatenge nahi'' (We will drown but will not move from our homes) rose louder. On July 11, Medha Patkar and other NBA activists said that if the Sardar Sarovar dam has allowed to rise above 88 m without a new tribunal being appointed and a public hearing held, then they would commit jal samarpan (sacrifice thems elves to the rising waters).

The NBA received an unexpected boost when Arundhati Roy became involved with the issue as part of her work on the essay The Greater Common Good, and Jharana Jhaveri, who has made a documentary film on the effects of damming the Narmada, conceived a solidarity rally.

WHY is the damming of one river such a big issue? The answer touches political, social, environmental, geographical, economic, anthropological and historical issues, but what is of prime concern now is the displacement of countless people.

The tragedy of the displacement strikes one even deeper when one visits the area. The riverside communities are self- sufficient because of the river and the fertile land on its banks. Submergence will mean a loss of lands, lifestyle, homes and the right to resources which will ultimately be contracted to outsiders. NBA activist Chittaroopa Palit said: "General Outram gave the river rights to the tribal people and now our own government is going to make them landless and resourceless." The area is so pr osperous that only two people from Pathrad village, consisting of 1,200 households, have sought jobs outside the village. Fisherman Gisalal Yadav said: "We have no need to look outside for jobs."

An unquantifiable dimension of the displacement is uncertainty. Generations grow up not knowing the ultimate fate of their villages. NBA activist Shripad Dharmadhikari explained: "When it is announced that an area will face submergence, all development w ork comes to a halt. So if a school is being built or roads are being constructed, everything is stopped. The actual submergence may remain on paper but the work stops." In Kakrana village, Behena, a Bhillala tribesman, told Frontline that the ele ctricity to his village was cut a year ago after it was announced that the village would be submerged. Kakrana is still above the waters. but power supply has been stopped.

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Lakshman Patidar of Sulgaon village, which will be submerged by the Maheshwar dam, said it was increasingly difficult to get brides for eligible boys. He asked: "Who will want to send their daughters to a home which will soon be under water?" In Maheshwa r town, which will not be severely affected by the rising waters, land prices on the riverfront have dropped. The people live in dread of the year 2000, which is expected to be one of a huge cyclical flood which occur once in 100 years.

The resettlement issue is a powerful weapon that the NBA wields against the state. Once the Sardar Sarovar dam is completed, it will create a reservoir that will engulf and submerge more than 245 villages and displace at least 2.5 lakh people in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The number of displaced persons would swell to 10 lakhs if the people affected by subsidiary projects of this dam are included.

The availability of land has proved a bottleneck for the process of resettlement and rehabilitation. People who will be displaced before the dam height reaches 90 m face a peculiar situation. The Gujarat Government claimed that it had no land for this ca tegory of project-affected people. Madhya Pradesh has also taken a similar stand. Thousands of people are expected to surrender their homes and lands without any guarantee that they will be given land in return. The land problem is as acute in Maharashtr a, the State that will benefit least from the project. In an attempt to solve the problem, it earmarked some land for resettlement by cutting down forests. Land is not the only component of people's lives. What about compensation for the absence of other resources, such as forests, river water and fishing facilities?

Former Chairman of the Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDP) Sharad Jain told Frontline that the rehabilitation process "has gone out of control". He admitted: "Nobody thought that so many people would be displaced or that we would be cultur ally displacing them." However, he still justifies the project "because too much investment has gone in to turn back now. The people of Gujarat are expecting a lot."

While the NVDP has made a grand promise to provide canal-fed water to the drought-prone regions of Kutch and Saurashtra, the reality may be different. The water will pass through heavily industrialised areas, which will siphon off the water long before i t reaches the intended destination. Gujarat was awarded a disproportionately large quantity of water because it has drought-prone regions. Instead, the prosperous areas of central Gujarat, where the paper and pulp mills and sugar and cement factories are located, will have the first access to the waters.

THE benefits of this gigantic scheme are ostensibly power and irrigation benefits for an area that lacks these. But the politics of water will ensure that the promise is never fulfilled. Not only are Kutch and Saurashtra unlikely to get the Narmada water ; in the process the prosperous economies of the Narmada riverbanks will be destroyed and a whole new population of displaced people will be created.

While addressing an audience in Indore, Arundhati Roy highlighted the tragedy of the displaced people and the injustice of the dams with a gruesome simile. She likened the situation to a news report that she had read of a tiger in the Belgrade zoo. Drive n mad by the aerial bombings, the tiger started to eat its own limbs. "We are like that tiger," she said. "We have begun to gobble at the edges of our own fringes, at our own people." The price of damming the Narmada may prove too high.

A paradise lost

social-issues

"We only need to buy salt, tea and clothes. The rest we get from the land and the river. Take these away from us and all we can do is to hold a bowl and stand with our heads bowed on the city street."

- Shankar Patidar, landowner in Chotta Bardan, a village that is expected to be totally submerged.

THE village of Chotta Bardan has about 2,000 people. The riverbanks are steep and the village seems to hang over the fast flowing river, and does not dry even in the summer. Shankar Patidar has 20 hectares of land. Peanuts, sugarcane, cotton, vegetables and fruits are grown on the rich black soil of the area. He said: "There are six hands of black soil, below which there is about 26 feet of yellow soil and then there are five hands of gravel." This land is a heaven for farmers and they cannot understand why the Government is trying to persuade them to take money or land with thin soil in exchange.

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He asked: "Why did no one ask us if we wanted this dam? This injustice cuts deep. We are the people who feed the nation and the Government treats us like goats. We have grown fat on this land and now we are being slaughtered and sold."

'I felt that the valley needed a writer'

social-issues

Arundhati Roy's essay The Greater Common Good and the "Rally for the Valley" campaign that she organised and participated in have given the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) a boost. Although the 39-year-old Booker Prize-winning author insisted during the rally that she was "just a writer", there is no doubt that more is expected of her in the months ahead. Even though cynics said that she was trying to don the mantle of NBA leader Medha Patkar, the rally showed that Arundhati Roy had no such a mbitions. For the people of the valley, she is their didi (elder sister) and Patkar their devi (goddess).

Travelling with other participants in a convoy of six buses, Arundhati Roy was mobbed at the countless stops on the 800-km route that began and ended in Indore. She handled the flower-showers, tilak ceremonies and autograph hunters with amazing calm. Ask ed to speak at almost every halt, she affirmed her solidarity with the people and encouraged them to speak. "We are here to listen to you," she said.

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In an interview with Lyla Bavadam she spoke of her experiences during the rally. Excerpts:

The Rally for the Valley has certainly brought the issue of big dams on the Narmada back into the public arena and given the work of the NBA a boost. What is the extent of your commitment to the cause? And what form will your involvement take in the long term?

I don't know how one quantifies the extent of one's commitment (Large, Extra Large, Petite?), neither do I think of the struggle in the valley as a 'cause' because 'cause' is too small a word...Was the Holocaust a 'cause'? As far as I'm concerned, whethe r the protest is about Nuclear Weapons or Big Dams on the Narmada, what one is fighting for is nothing less than a worldview, a way of seeing. Why, even The God of Small Things is a worldview. What all of these works have in common is that they at tempt to analyse power and powerlessness. So, to answer the question of my commitment - all I can say is that I have no other way of seeing - instinctively, emotionally, intellectually, politically. What form will my involvement take in the long term? I don't really know, but I imagine what is most effective is my writing.... My commitment is total, but I have to be effective, otherwise it would be pointless.

What brought the Narmada issue to your notice first?

To be honest, I hadn't been following the struggle in the valley in minute detail. Like most people, I thought that some dams (not 3,200 of them) were being built on the Narmada, that large numbers of people were being displaced and that resettlement was being carried out callously in true government fashion. When the World Bank withdrew in 1993 and the Supreme Court ordered a stay on the construction in 1994, I thought that the struggle had more or less been won. I assumed that the Court was reviewing the whole project. In February this year, when the stay was lifted, my antennae went up. I began to read up on what was happening and grew more and more horrified at what I learned. I learned that rehabilitation was only one of several vital issues. From all that I read, I felt that what was missing was a communication of the entire issue to an interested lay person - I felt that what had been communicated was a fractured picture - displacement, rehabilitation, irrigation issues, the politics of who get s the benefits - all these had somehow got disconnected from each other. The reason for this is quite simple - it's a complex issue and journalists would have had to fight for column space to communicate even a part of the problem. I really felt that the valley needed a writer...and so I wrote The Greater Common Good.

Critics say that you have suddenly developed a social conscience and the Narmada Bachao campaign is a convenient bandwagon to assuage it. How would you react to this?

Maybe they're right. It's such a delightful accusation. Is it a crime to develop suddenly a social conscience? Is there a sort of age limit after which one should avoid developing a social conscience? But maybe the critics you mention should take a look at my earlier work - for instance they could begin by reading The God of Small Things, or going to the School of Architecture and reading my B.Arch thesis. They could read back issues of a magazine called Urban India, published by the Natio nal Institute of Urban Affairs. They could read back issues of Sunday, where I published three essays before I became 'famous'. Back then I was criticised for writing what I wrote because I was a 'failed' writer. Now I'm criticised because I'm a ' successful' writer. As for the Narmada Bachao Andolan being a 'convenient' bandwagon - here is a movement that is one of a kind. Nowhere in the world has there been a more spectacular fight for a river valley. As a writer I have written in support of it - now that can be twisted and made to sound ugly. What can I say? Simply that I support the struggle in the valley. My motives for supporting it are not the issue. The struggle is the issue. The unfolding human and ecological tragedy is the issue.

Gail Omvedt has written an article which amounts to being a critique of your essay. In it she has called your essay "rhetoric" and categorised your statement about the common destructiveness of big dams and bombs as "reckless". She also strongly cond emns opposition to big dams, calling it "eco-romanticism''. Could you comment on this.

I respect Gail Omvedt for presenting a counter-argument graciously instead of dismissing everybody who is against Big Dams with some tasteless invective. Her article is more a critique of the NBA (which she obviously dislikes) than a critique of my essay . I think there are too many facts and figures in The Greater Common Good for it to be dismissed as mere rhetoric...Eco-romanticism? I don't think so. Gail Omvedt subscribes to the classic 'green revolution' school of thought - maximise production in a minimum period of time regardless of the ecological consequences. Long-term sustainability is not even taken into consideration. Thousands of hectares of land are now water-logged and salt-affected thanks to this approach. It's the steroid-user syn drome. If avoiding steroids is romantic then perhaps I am a romantic. Gail should read Silenced Rivers by Patrick McCully. I think it answers her queries comprehensively. It is not reckless to say that Big Dams have proved to be instruments of mas s destruction. From me, she deserves more than just an off-the-cuff answer in someone else's interview. Perhaps I'll get down to writing it. Let me simply say here that I would love to be convinced that Big Dams are the solution to India's problems. She hasn't managed to make me change my mind. I wish, I wish she had come to the valley. How do you compensate a people once you submerge their civilisation? We must stop pretending that rehabilitation is possible. It isn't. In the last 15 years not one vill age in the submergence zone has been rehabilitated according to the orders of the Tribunal. In the last 50 years between 33 million and 40 million people have been uprooted by the reservoirs of Big Dams. Those of us who support these Stalinist schemes mu st at least be honest enough to support them even if there is no rehabilitation. Honest enough to admit that like the terrorised tiger in the Belgrade Zoo during the NATO bombing, we have begun to eat our own limbs.

There was a lot of opposition to the Rally for the Valley from Gujarat and there were also a few instances of local journalists being overly aggressive. Could you describe what happened?

The Gujarat Government flooded Kevadia colony and the dam site with the police. They turned it into an international order. They declared Section 144. They closed the local haat (market) at Kavaat. They prevented all those who had to come through Baroda (Vadodara) from joining the rally. Some newspapers triumphantly declared that the rally had tried to enter Gujarat at night and had been turned back. They claimed this was a moral victory for Gujarat. It's astounding, the lies they managed to spre ad. Earlier BJP and Congress goons had vied to burn my book in Gujarat. They threatened to break up a meeting in Ahmedabad at which I had been invited to speak and therefore the invitation was cancelled. I suppose Rs. 44,000 crores, which is the total es timated project cost, is too much money for any political party to pass up. Imagine the election campaigns that can be funded with that kind of money.

Even in Indore, again and again, certain people from the press who were rumoured to be in the employ of either S. Kumars or the Nigam would come and suddenly switch on a television camera and accuse me of being a foreign agent. The upshot of all this is that the people who are being cheated and denied the right to information are the people of Gujarat. It's interesting that the maximum number of orders by mail for my book, The Greater Common Good, come from Gujarat. I think they are beginning to smell a rat. After all it's their money that's going into creating this old dinosaur of a dam. And very few of them are going to get anything out of it. You cannot fool all the people all the time. Sooner or later the argument is bound to f ilter through and then, truly all hell will break loose.

There were moments in the rally when you were unable to cope with the constant public focus...moments of exhaustion, of repeating the same thing, handling aggressive press persons who were clearly opposed to the rally. Is it going to be difficult to be a public figure for a while at least?

Yes, that's true. I'm not wild about public speaking or facing huge crowds. The most exhausting thing for me however was the unreasonable, manipulative aggression of a few members of the press. They were frightening people - thugs more than journalists. Paid goons. This is a serious problem - the lies, the disinformation - behaviour that almost amounts to blackmail. I don't know how to begin to address this issue because it is such an ugly morass of amorality. But there is something vicious and rotten h appening on that front... Is it going to be difficult to be a public figure? Well, one of the reasons I was involved with the rally was that I hoped that people who came along would make their own independent alliances in the valley - that they would bec ome fighters too. While I may not be able to claim (at least for a while) that I'm not a Public Figure - I'd like, for the future, a scenario in which my writing is public, but my life is private... if you see what I mean. No more rallies and press confe rences.

The reaction of the people to you has been amazing. You were almost idolised by those waiting to receive you. Some had seen and met you before, but the majority had not. How do you explain hundreds of people waiting hours to meet you?

I'm not sure how to explain it... I suppose everyone who came on the rally had their theories. Here's mine - since February (after the Supreme Court lifted its stay) things have been going badly for the people in the valley. They have been cornered and l et down by the nation's institutions, the rains have started, their lands and homes are going to be submerged, they have nowhere to go. For four years there was a lull in the struggle because of the legal stay, suddenly the people needed to rally their f orces once again. They needed to show their strength. To do that they needed an occasion. I was the occasion - just somebody very famous who had come out and said - clearly, unequivocally, unhesitatingly "I'm on your side". I think that's what it was. Bu t also - it wasn't just me. They knew very well that the Rally for the Valley was a group of 500 people, many of them journalists. The valley showed its strength. And how!

Did you know that there were people in the rally who came purely because they were inspired by your essay? Though you keep insisting you are just a writer there seems to be something here that goes beyond good writing or persuasive presentation of fa cts. What is it that is suddenly making you a rallying point for people who had never dreamed that they would travel nearly 1,000 km to join a rally in solidarity with displaced people?

Yes, I did know that some had come because they read my essay... but I still maintain that I'm a writer (though not 'just' a writer). People travelling a 1,000 km to join a rally to show solidarity with people facing submergence and forcible displacemen t is a wonderful thing. It means that there is hope yet, in this brutal, broken world of ours. They didn't come for me - they came for those I wrote about. The power of a writer's writing is far more magical, far more majestic than the power of a writer' s human form. They didn't rally around me. They rallied around what I wrote about - The Narmada and her people.

To what extent have you interacted with Medha Patkar and what does she expect from you?

I haven't spent a great deal of time with her, but enough to know that she is an exceptional woman. What does she expect from me? That's something you should ask her - I imagine what she expects is what everybody in the valley expects - my support as a w riter, as a human being.

What do you mean when you join in the slogan Hum tumhare saath hai (we are with you) - in what way are you with the people?

What I meant quite literally was "I am with you". The whole point of the Rally for the Valley was to make alliances - urban-rural, writer-farmer, musician-fisherman - the idea was that we were all citizens of the earth making common cause of the struggle in the Narmada Valley. I'm very interested in the debate over the politics of dissent - this sneering attempt of many people to delegitimise those who protest - the NBA dismissed as urban activists, Arundhati Roy as an elite writer, the rallyists as for eign agents and so on. They declare that the only legitimate protestors are local people, preferably adivasi and Dalit. Once they've isolated them they squash them like bugs and the fight is over. It's interesting that the very same people unquestioningl y accept a project devised entirely by urban engineers and planners but insist that the critique must be only rural and only local. I think that the great strength of the struggle in the Narmada Valley is that the critique comes from all angles. From adi vasis, from Dalits, from the Patidars of the Nimar plains, from IIT engineers, from writers, from painters, from architects, from film-makers, from all of civil society. It spans the range and that's what gives it its strength and beauty. So when I said "Hum tumhare saath hai" I meant all this.

An intellectual and an institution

RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY world-affairs

Neelan Tiruchelvam was not merely an ideas man. He was a great lover of the law and culture; he created dynamic institutions in both civil society and government; his commitment to institution-building was unparalleled in South Asia.

A FEW days before his death, Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam gave a memorial lecture for one of Sri Lanka's leading lawyers. Before the doyens of the legal community, he spoke of the Tamil epic Silappadikaram and, using its symbolism, analysed modern const itutional law, including the concepts of the unitary state, democracy and human rights. According to those present at the lecture, this was Tiruchelvam at his best, weaving cultural symbols with the cold face of the law, giving it life and meaning. They said that it was a supreme moment of triumph, a brilliant presentation by one of South Asia's leading jurists. The speech also highlighted Tiruchelvam's twin interests and the motivating forces of his life - the law and the love for South Asian culture.

Tiruchelvam was the son of one of Sri Lanka's leading lawyers and Tamil politicians. From a young age he was trained in the law by his father. He excelled in the law school and then went on to do his Master of Laws (LLM) and SJD at the Harvard Law School , where he was a Fulbright scholar. He formed a life-long attachment to this institution and often went back to teach for a semester or two. The Boston Globe carried the grief-stricken statements of his colleagues at the Law School, including the Dean, upon hearing the news of his death. On September 17, the Law School will have a special commemoration to celebrate the life and work of Neelan Tiruchelvam. Close family members have been invited to be present on the occasion.

This tribute by one of the world's leading law schools highlights the fact that Tiruchelvam was first and foremost a scholar. His political activism was a result of deeply held beliefs arising out of his scholarship and his love of ideas. He was a voraci ous reader. Despite his many commitments, he found the time to read the many books in his comprehensive library. What was fascinating about Tiruchelvam's approach to law was that from its very inception it was multi-disciplinary. His first thesis was a s ocio-legal study of Kandyan Law. Throughout his career he read books on history, anthropology, sociology and political science. He carried on a constant dialogue with the leading thinkers of South Asia, from Ashis Nandy to Gananath Obeyesekere. He drew t hem around him and their work and ideas infused the institutions of research that he set up in Sri Lanka.

Tiruchelvam's primary area of interest was constitutional law. Although his concern for human rights animated most of his work, he was interested in all aspects of constitutional law. His skills in this area were recognised internationally and he was ask ed to help draft constitutions in Central Asia and Ethiopia. It was his belief that constitutions should be consensual, not instrumental, and that they should represent the moral firmament of the society. It is this attitude that motivated his involvemen t in Sri Lanka's exercises in constitution drafting since the 1970s. Not all his ideas were accepted but he tried his best to persuade government after government that they should strengthen the chapter on Fundamental Rights in the Constitution and that a genuine scheme of devolution was the only way to meet the aspirations of the Tamil-speaking peoples of the North and the East. His idealistic belief that he could persuade Machiavellian governments to do the right thing was often criticised and ridicul ed. Only those closest to him knew that such an attitude stemmed from his belief that moral persuasion and dialogue were the only way forward, not rancour, bitterness or armed conflict.

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It is in the area of human rights that Tiruchelvam made his greatest mark and it is human rights activists all over the world who will miss his work the most. The research institutions he set up, the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) and the Law and Society Trust, became important fora for human rights research and activism. Scholars and activists from all over the world, especially those from South Asia, gathered at regular intervals at these institutions to dialogue and discuss strategies of action. The two institutions have produced a plethora of books, articles and manuals on every aspect of human rights. Their journals and newsletters carry the latest developments and analyses on human rights questions in Sri Lanka and the rest of the world. Tiruchelvam was deeply concerned about the human rights situation in his own country; he was also passionately interested in the fate of Aung San Suu Kyi, for whom he sponsored a resolution in the Sri Lankan Parliament. He was concerned among oth ers about indigenous people, the Chakma tribal people of Bangladesh, military rule in Pakistan and women's rights in Afghanistan. He fought all these causes and actively worked for the protection of human rights at the international level.

Tiruchelvam's commitment to human rights made him an integral part of international civil society. The outpouring of grief in statement after statement from well-known human rights groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the special commemor ation meeting held in the premises of the United Nations in New York, testify to this fact. Their response to his death was captured at the sub-commission session of the Human Rights Commission when Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rig hts, and Chairman Aisborne Eide made special references to Tiruchelvam in their opening presentations. Tiruchelvam was also elected Chairman of the prestigious Minority Rights Group in London. The Group's commitment to his vision is so deep that it has o pened a Website on his life and work. While academics continue to mourn him, it is human rights activists who have already made his name internationally famous. He will be another martyr in their cause and another reason for their increased activism agai nst all forms of barbarism and intolerance.

Tiruchelvam's interest in the law was not limited to the Constitution. With his wife Sithie, he developed one of the foremost law firms in Sri Lanka, Tiruchelvam Associates, which is the leading law firm in the field of corporate and commercial law. Tiru chelvam's interest in this area was also from the perspective of the underdog. He was very interested in the law's regulation of the economy and in developing negotiating skills so that Third World countries could deal with multinationals. When he was a director of research at the Marga Institute, he spent a great deal of time doing research into international contracts and the need for increasing the bargaining power of Third World countries. He was inspired by the New International Economic Order and the need for a legal framework for poverty alleviation.

Tiruchelvam's other abiding interest and passion was South Asian culture. While the love of law came from his father, the love of South Asian culture was inherited from his mother, Punidham Tiruchelvam, an extraordinary woman who was involved in Tamil cu ltural life and social service. Tiruchelvam's interest in cultural studies as a whole made him focus on ethnicity as a phenomenon. He set up the ICES, which has now gained worldwide reputation. A large part of the centre's programme was related to politi cal issues of power-sharing and ethnic equity. It engaged in projects that studied devolution, federalism, language policy, land settlement and employment equity. Publications emerged as he encouraged researchers to work hard.

His rapport with young people was extraordinary. He made each one of them feel special. He expected them to put in the 24-hour day that he put into his work. He inspired them with ideas, encouraged them to read books and, as Ruwanthie Chickera said at hi s funeral, he taught them that the only difference between a dream and reality was the will power to make it happen. Dozens of young people from Sri Lanka and all over the world have passed through the ICES and the Law and Society Trust in the last 20 ye ars. When the news of Tiruchelvam's death hit the world press, phone calls and e-mail came pouring in. Many wept uncontrollably for the man who had often given them their first research idea, who had encouraged their natural creativity, and who was alway s willing to give them responsibility. His legacy is worldwide and the enormous international response is partly owing to the activism of these young people. I am certain they will not allow Tiruchelvam's name to be forgotten.

Many of the young people and interns who came to the ICES were feminists, who were drawn to its feminist research programme. Tiruchelvam was particularly interested in feminist theory and its contribution to legal paradigms and he closely followed their work. When he died, the news was contained on all the leading feminist e-mail networks with special tributes, a rare privilege for a man in a very woman's world. His last act at the centre was to encourage me with words and ideas to deal with some of the long-term issues raised by the problem of women, ethnicity and armed conflict, a lecture I was to give in Geneva as part of an ICES lecture series. He had inaugurated this lecture series against all odds to correspond with the meetings of the U.N. Worki ng Group on Minorities. He was delighted when Mary Robinson agreed to chair this meeting, put together by a Third World NGO. He read my script in detail and gave me extensive notes, as he had done throughout my working life. He was the "safety net" for m any people and many institutions. Despite his severe commitments, Tiruchelvam gave every research colleague and intern his full attention, read their work and made detailed suggestions. That is how seriously he took the world of ideas.

Tiruchelvam's interest in ethnicity was not only political but cultural. He pushed the ICES to organise cultural events. He loved films and, as a result, the centre organised a South Asian Documentary Film Festival for many years. Contemporary films were screened at the ICES. He invited musicians and dancers from different parts of South Asia to give demonstrations and lectures. Leading exponents of Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music have passed through the portals of the ICES Colombo.

Tiruchelvam's interest in culture was not limited to specific events; it was also about everyday life. If a visitor came from abroad, he or she was given the typical "Neelan tour". They were taken to the Gotami Vihara, where the chief priest often showed them the George Keyt paintings. They were then taken on a tour of the Dutch remnants of the Fort area and, finally, at dusk, they were taken to the temple in Dehiwela, with the Buddha with the Sapphire Eyes. The priest would light the lamp near the eyes of the Buddha and after that sight, enlightenment always had a special meaning.

His love for culture was not merely confined to the culture of Sri Lanka but of entire South Asia. He collected books and compact discs on all of South Asia. He loved South Indian bronzes; Moghul miniatures and the Sakyamuni Buddha adorned his office. He would hold conferences in the ancient cities of South Asia and before he went to these cities he would study their history and culture. At the conference he would give all the participants a guided tour of the monuments and places of worship. Nothing ma de him happier than discovering the history and culture of South Asia.

Tiruchelvam and his wife were generous to a fault; they were hospitable to everyone. Tiruchelvam had time for every human being who came to see him - rich or poor, strong or weak. He would go to extraordinary lengths to help people. If he believed someon e's story he would leave no stone unturned in his effort to help them. A young couple was weeping in a corner at his funeral house. I asked them their name. They said they were Wijesinghe. They said that for every problem they would call Tiruchelvam for advice. There were hundreds of such people, including my mother and her many widowed friends. He would always have time for them and he always came up with suggestions and solutions.

Despite his love of scholarship, Tiruchelvam was also a man who believed that ideas should be put into practice. For this, against the advice of friends and family, he joined the world of politics. He tried to ensure that the ideas he had for constitutio nal law and multi-culturalism were sustained by his involvement in politics. He enthusiastically joined any attempt to change constitutions and ethnic politics. He tried to influence constitution drafting. He was instrumental in setting up the Official L anguage Commission; much of the legislation was drafted in his office. He greatly assisted the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission and was helping to prepare a draft Equal Protection Commission.

Since his father was a leading Tamil politician, Tiruchelvam entered politics through the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). He was deeply concerned about the Tamil people and their aspirations. He implored the Government to act with restraint in cond ucting the war. He was always for a negotiated solution. But being a pacifist and being non-violent to the core, he put his energies into drafting constitutions and creating human rights institutions in government as well as civil society.

Tamil politics nurtured Tiruchelvam and it was Tamil politics that killed him. He would spend a lot of time caring for individual Tamil victims of the war and emergency regulations. He would voice strong criticism (even if it was done in private) and hel ped the government agents in the various war-affected areas articulate their grievances about the needs of the civilian population. Several hours were spent on the telephone pleading his case with the powers that be. He was not always successful but he n ever stopped trying, believing that dialogue and discussion were the only way forward. The Tamils have lost a powerful voice that articulated their grievances within the democratic fabric of Sri Lanka.

His involvement in political life encouraged many of his civil society activities. He was a great believer in parliamentary democracy and the independence of the judiciary. He believed in the primacy of electoral politics. At the ICES, he inaugurated a p rogramme of elections monitoring for all of South Asia. The ICES brought together leaders of civil society and he took them to monitor elections in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and even Sri Lanka. When the process of constitutional drafting was on, he gathered all the leading intellectuals of the region at seminars and discussions to get their inputs into the process. He was passionately committed to non-violence and a democratic process. That was more important to him than ethnic ideology. He use d the democratic process to further the interests of the Tamil-speaking people but he was interested in all aspects of democratic life. His institutions of civil society were actively engaged in ensuring that his democratic vision would have concrete man ifestations.

Several people believed that Tiruchelvam was the most brilliant product of his generation. He was not only an ideas man. He created dynamic institutions both in civil society and in the government. His commitment to institution-building was unparalleled in South Asia. He was a creative, imaginative person who was also blessed with a practical, analytical mind. His death must not end with the triumph of mediocrity and barbarism in a country often filled with despair. It is important that his legacy be co ntinued and that those whom he relied upon help make his vision a reality.

With the death of Tiruchelvam, the world has lost a man who dreamed impossible dreams and made them a reality. Sri Lanka has lost a democrat and a peace-maker; the Tamil people have lost a man who deeply cared for their security and their aspirations; hi s colleagues have lost their inspiration and his commitment to excellence; his friends have lost his generosity and nurturing ways and his family has lost a loyal and caring husband and father. We are all poorer without him. As a columnist recently wrote : "We always kill the best." But in responding to his killing we must heed the views of his son Mithran. When a reporter of The New York Times asked him what his father would have felt about the assassination, Mithran replied that his father would not have been angry, he would have only been sad.

Radhika Coomaraswamy is United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Director, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo.

Rediscovering Ramanujan

The academic lineage of most eminent scholars can be traced to famous centres of learning, inspiring teachers or an intellectual milieu, but Srinivasa Ramanujan, perhaps the greatest of Indian mathematicians, had none of these advantages. He had just one year of education in a small college; he was basically self-taught. Working in isolation for most of his short life of 32 years, he had little contact with other mathematicians.

"Many people falsely promulgate mystical powers to Ramanujan's mathematical thinking. It is not true. He has meticulously recorded every result in his three notebooks," says Dr. Bruce C. Berndt, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Illino is, whose 20 years of research on the three notebooks has been compiled into five volumes.

Between 1903 and 1914, before Ramanujan went to Cambridge, he compiled 3,542 theorems in the notebooks. Most of the time Ramanujan provided only the results and not the proof. Berndt says: "This is perhaps because for him paper was unaffordable and so he worked on a slate and recorded the results in his notebooks without the proofs, and not because he got the results in a flash."

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Berndt is the only person who has proved each of the 3,542 theorems. He is convinced that nothing "came to" Ramanujan but every step was thought or worked out and could in all probability be found in the notebooks. Berndt recalls Ramanujan's well-known i nteraction with G.H. Hardy. Visiting Ramanujan in a Cambridge hospital where he was being treated for tuberculosis, Hardy said: "I rode here today in a taxicab whose number was 1729. This is a dull number." Ramanujan replied: "No, it is a very interestin g number; it is the smallest number expressible as a sum of two cubes in two different ways." Berndt believes that this was no flash of insight, as is commonly thought. He says that Ramanujan had recorded this result in one of his notebooks before he cam e to Cambridge. He says that this instance demonstrated Ramanujan's love for numbers and their properties.

Although Ramanujan's mathematics may seem archaic by today's standards, in many respects he was far ahead of his time. While the thrust of 20th century mathematics has been on building general theories, Ramanujan was a master in finding particular result s which are now recognised as providing the core for the theories. His results opened up vistas for further research not only in mathematics but in other disciplines such as physics, computer science and statistics.

After Ramanujan's death in 1920, the three notebooks and a sheaf of papers that he left behind were handed over to the University of Madras. They were sent to G.N. Watson who, along with B.M. Wilson, edited sections of the notebooks. After Watson's death in 1965, the papers, which contained results compiled by Ramanujan after his return to India from Cambridge in 1914, were handed over to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1976, G. E. Andrews of Pennsylvania State University rediscovered the papers at the T rinity College Library. Since then these papers have been called Ramanujan's "lost notebook". According to Berndt, the lost notebook caused as much stir in the mathematical world as Beethoven's Tenth Symphony did in the world of Western classical music.

Berndt says that the "unique circumstances surrounding Ramanujan and his mathematics" make it very difficult to assess his greatness among such mathematical giants as Newton, Gauss, Euler and Reimann. According to Berndt, Hardy had provided the following assessment of his contemporary mathematicians on a scale of 0 to 100: "On the basis of pure talent he gave himself a rating of 25, his collaborator J. E. Littlewood 30, German mathematician D. Hilbert 80, and Ramanujan 100." Berndt says that it is not R amanujan's greatness but only its measure that is in doubt.

Besides the five volumes, Berndt has written over 100 papers on Ramanujan's works. He has guided a number of research students in this area. He now works on Ramanujan's "lost notebook" and on some other manuscripts and fragments of notes. Recently in Che nnai to give lectures on Ramanujan's works at the Indian Institute of Technology, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the Ramanujan Museum and Mathematical Centre, Berndt spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on his work on Ramanujan's notebooks, the broad areas in mathematics that Ramanujan had covered, the vistas his work has opened up and the application of his work in physics, statistics and communication.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did you get interested in Ramanujan's notebooks?

After my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, I took my first position at the University of Glasgow (Scotland) in 1966-67. Prof. R. A. Rankin was a leader in number theory at that time. I remember being in Rankin's office in 1967 when he told me about R amanujan's notebooks for the first time. He said: "I have a copy of the notebooks published by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bombay (Mumbai). Would you be interested in looking at it?" I said, "No, I am not interested in it."

I did not think about the notebooks for some years until early 1974 when I was on leave at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, U.S. In February that year, I was reading two papers of Emil Grosswald in which he proves some formulae from Raman ujan's notebooks. I realised I could prove these formulae as well by using a theorem I proved two years ago. I did that and then I was curious to find out whether there were other formulae in the notebooks that I could prove using my methods. So, I went to the Princeton University library and got hold of Ramanujan's notebooks published by the TIFR. I was thrilled to find out that I could actually prove some more formulae. But there were a few thousand others I could not.

I was fascinated with the notebooks and in the next few years I wrote papers around the formulae I had proved from the notebooks. The first was a repository paper on Ramanujan's theta 2n+1 formula, for which I did a lot of historical research on other pr oofs of the formula. This I wrote for a special volume called Srinivasa Ramanujan's Memorial Volume, published by Jupiter Press in Madras (Chennai) in 1974. After that, wherever I went, I was all the time working on, and proving, the various formulae of Ramanujan's - to be precise - from Chapter 14 of the second notebook. Then I wrote a sequel to this.

Let me jump ahead to May 1977, when I decided to try and prove all the formulae in Chapter 14. I took this on as a challenge. There were in all 87 results in this chapter. I worked on this for the next one year. I took the help of my first Ph.D. student, Ron Evans.

After about a year of working on this, the famous mathematician George E. Andrews visited Illinois and told me that he discovered in the spring of 1976 Ramanujan's "lost notebook" along with G. N. Watson and B. M. Wilson's edited volumes on Ramanujan's t hree notebooks and some of their unpublished notes in the Trinity College Library. I then got photocopies of Ramanujan's lost notebook and all the notes of Watson and Wilson. And so I went to the beginning of the second notebook.

What does the second notebook contain?

This is the main notebook because it is the revised and enlarged version of the first. I went back to the beginning and went about working my way through it using Watson and Wilson's notes when necessary.

How long did you work on the second notebook?

I really do not know how many years exactly. But some time in the early 1980s Walter Kaufmann-Buhler, the mathematics editor of Springer Verlag in New York, showed interest in my work and decided to publish it. That had not occurred to me till the n. I agreed and signed a contract with Springers.

That was when I started preparing the results with a view to publishing them. I finally came out with five volumes; I had thought it would be three. It also took a much longer time than I had anticipated.

After I completed 21 chapters of the second notebook, the 100 pages of unorganised material in the second notebook and the 33 pages in the third had a lot more material. I also found more material in the first which was not there in the second. So, I fou nd a lot of new material. It was 20 years before I eventually completed all the three notebooks.

Why did you start with the second notebook and not the first?

I knew that the second was the revised and enlarged edition of the first. The first was in a rough form and the second, I was relatively certain, had most of the things that were there in the first and a lot more.

What did each notebook contain?

The new results that were in the second notebook were generally among the unorganised pages of the first. And the third notebook was all unorganised. A higher percentage of the results in the unorganised parts of the second and the third were new. In oth er words, you got a higher percentage of new results as you went into the unorganised material.

What do you mean by new results? Results that have not been got earlier.

What is the percentage of new results in the notebooks?

Hardy estimated that over two-thirds of the work Ramanujan did in India was rediscovered. That is much too high. I found that well over half is new. It is difficult to say precisely. I would say that most results were new because we also have to consider that in the meantime, from 1920 until I started doing this work, other people discovered these things. So, I would say that at least two-thirds of the material was really new when Ramanujan died.

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Ramanujan is popularly known as a number theorist. Would you give a broad idea about the results in his notebooks? What areas of mathematics do they cover?

You are right. To much of the mathematical world and to the public in general, Ramanujan is known as a number theorist. Hardy was a number theorist but he was also into analysis. When Ramanujan was at Cambridge with Hardy, he was naturally influenced by him (Hardy). And so most of the papers he published while he was in England were in number theory. His real great discoveries are in partition functions.

Along with Hardy, he found a new area in mathematics called probabilistic number theory, which is still expanding. Ramanujan also wrote sequels in highly composite numbers and arithmetical functions. There are half a dozen or more of these papers that ma de Ramanujan very famous. They are still very important papers in number theory.

However, the notebooks do not contain much of number theory. It is, broadly speaking, in analysis. I will try and break that down a little bit. I would say that the area in which Ramanujan spent most of his time, more than any other, is in elliptic funct ions (theta functions), which have strong connections with number theory. In particular, Chapters 16 to 21 of the second notebook and most of the unorganised portions of the notebooks are on theta functions. There is a certain type of theta functions ide ntity which has applications in other areas of mathematics, particularly in number theory, called modular equations. Ramanujan devoted an enormous amount of effort on refining modular equations.

Ramanujan is also popular for his approximations to pie. Many of his approximations came with his work on elliptic functions. Ramanujan computed what are called class invariants. Even as he discovered them, they were computed by a German mathematician, H . Weber, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But Ramanujan was unaware of this. He computed 116 of these invariants which are much more complicated. These have applications not only in approximations to pie but in many other areas as well.

Have you gone through every one of the 3,254 entries in the three notebooks and proved each of them, including in the unorganised material?

I have gone through every entry in the notebooks. If a result has already been proved in the literature, then I just wrote the entry down and said that proofs can be found in this literature and so on. But I will also discuss the relevance in history of the entry.

What are the applications of Ramanujan's discoveries in areas such as physics, communications and computer science?

This is a very difficult question to answer because of the way mathematics and science work. Mathematics is discovered and it is then there for others to use. And you do not always know who uses it. But I have regular contact with some physicists who I k now use Ramanujan's work. They find the results very useful in their own application.

What are the areas in physics in which Ramanujan's work is used?

The most famous application in physics is in the area of statistical mechanics. Among those who I know have used Ramanujan's mathematics extensively is W. Backster, the well-known physicist from Australia. He used the famous Rogers-Ramanujan identities i n what is called the hard hexagon model to describe the molecular structure of a thin film.

Many of Ramanujan's works are used but his asymptotic formulae have found the most important application; I first wrote this in 1974 from his notebook.

Then there is a particular formula of Ramanujan's involving the exponential function which has been used many times in statistics and probability. Ramanujan had a number of conjectures in regard to this formula and one is still unproven. He made this con jecture in a problem he submitted to the Indian Mathematical Society. The asymptotic formula is used, for instance, in the popular problem: What is the minimum number of people you can have in a room so that the probability that two share a common birthd ay is more than half? I think it is 21, 22 or 23. Anyway, this problem can be generalised to many other types of similar problems.

Have you looked at the lost notebook?

That is what I am working on now with Andrews. It contains about 630 results. About 60 per cent of these are of interest to Andrews. He has proved most of these results. The other 40 per cent are of great interest to me as most of them were a continuatio n of what Ramanujan considered in his other notebooks. So, I began working on them.

What are your experiences of working on Ramanujan's notebooks? Do you think Ramanujan was a freak or a genius or he had the necessary motivation to write the notebooks?

I think one has to be really motivated to do the kind of mathematics he was doing, through either teachers or books. We understand from Ramanujan's biographers that he was motivated in particular by two books: S. L. Loney's Plane Trigonometry and Carr's Synopsis of Elementary Results in Pure Mathematics (which was a compilation of 5,000 theorems with a few proofs) at the age of 12. How much his teachers motivated him, we really do not know as nothing about it has been recorded. Reading these book s and going through the problems must have aroused the curiosity that he had and inspired him.

He is particularly amazing because he took off from the little bit he knew and extended it so much in so many directions, leading to so many new and beautiful results.

Did you find any results difficult to decipher in any of Ramanujan's notbooks?

Oh yes. I get stuck all the time. At times I have no idea where these formulae are coming from. Earlier, Ron Evans, whom I have already mentioned as having worked on Chapter 14, helped me out a number of times. There are times I would think of a formula over for about six months or even a year, not getting anywhere. Even now there are times when we wonder how Ramanujan was ever led to the formulae. There has to be some chain of reasoning to lead him to think that there might be a theorem there. But ofte n this is missing. To begin with, the formulae look strange but over time we understand where they fit in and how important they are than they were previously thought to be.

Did you find any serious errors in Ramanujan's notebooks?

There are a number of misprints. I did not count the number of serious mistakes but it is an extremely small number - maybe five or ten out of over 3,000 results. Considering that Ramanujan did not have any rigorous training, it is really amazing that he made so few mistakes.

Are the methods of mathematics teaching today motivating enough to produce geniuses like Ramanujan?

Some like G. E. Andrews think that much of the reforms have come about because students do not study as much. This, along with the advent of computers, has changed things. A lot of mathematics which can be done by computations, manipulations and by doing exercises in high school are now being done using calculators and computers. And the computer, I do not think, gives any motivation.

The books on calculus reform (that is now introduced in the U.S.) include sections on using a computer. To calculate the limit of a sequence given by a formula, the book says press these numbers, x, y and z... Then there appears a string of numbers that get smaller and smaller and then you can see that is tends to zero. But that does not lead to any understanding as to why they are tending to zero. So, this reasoning, motivation and understanding of why the sequence tends to zero is not being taught. I think that is wrong.

There seem to be two schools of thought: one which thinks that the development of concepts and ideas is important and the other, like that in India, which thinks that development of skills is important in teaching mathematics. Which do you think is m ore important?

I think you cannot have one without the other. Both must be taught. The tendency in the U.S. is to move away from skills and rely on computers. I do not think this is correct because if you have the skills and understanding, then you can see if you have made an error in punching in the computers. Andrews and I have the experience of students putting down results that are totally ridiculous because they have not understood what is going on. They do not even realise that they made mistakes while punching in the computers. So, developing skills is absolutely necessary. But on the other hand if you just go on with the skills and have no understanding of why you are doing this, you lose the motivation and it becomes just a mechanical exercise.

However, even now there is a possibility that geniuses like Ramanujan will emerge. It is important that once you identify such children, books and material should be found for them specially. The greatest thing about number theory in which Ramanujan work ed is that you can give it to people of all ages to stimulate them. Number theory has problems that are challenging, that are not too easy, but yet they are durable and motivating. A foremost mathematician (Atle Selberg) and a great physicist (Freeman Dy son) of this century have said that they were motivated by Ramanujan's number theory when they were in their early teens.

LETTERS

other
Kashmir violence

The latest round of communal killings in Jammu and Kashmir were another reminder of our lack of perspective and initiative with regard to this disturbed State ("Massacres and cold facts", August 13).

Through Article 370, which is intended to keep the identity of Jammu and Kashmir intact, the people of the State have remained isolated from mainstream Indian society. India has spent billions of rupees, sacrificed invaluable lives of soldiers and faced humiliations at different international forums. In return, the tricolour is burnt, anti-India slogans are raised, and hostility is shown towards people of the rest of the country. Where does the fault lie?

In a recent interview, Punjab's former Director-General of Police K.P.S. Gill said that first the anti-nationals had to be crushed with an iron hand, and only then would any political measure succeed; and this had been proved beyond doubt in Punjab. The sheepish behaviour of our policymakers has aggravated the situation and strengthened the hands of anti-India forces. This was demonstrated in a spectacular fashion by the terrorist attack on the Bandipore sector headquarters of the Border Security Force. This big country of 950 million people does not have the will of a small nation like Israel, which protected itself efficiently and tackled terrorists mercilessly despite international pressure against doing so.

The time has come for India to declare that it will no longer tolerate the murder of innocent civilians. If the enemy uses foul means, India too has the right to use all possible means of defence. If there is concern for the human rights of anti-social a nd anti-national elements, there should be concern for the rights also of people who are killed for no fault of theirs.

Further, there is a need to review Article 370. Has the Article served its purpose? The answer is a resounding 'no'. Jammu and Kashmir is the most disturbed region in the country. All developmental activities have stopped there. So why don't we take a ne w stand and scrap Article 370. Interaction between the people of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India may promote a new way of thinking.

Prashant K. Baranwal Dumka, Bihar * * *

Peace has finally been restored in Kargil, but the the crisis must be attributed to the country's internal problems. Internal political problems diverted attention from the border problem to some extent.

As the elections are coming, I as a citizen would like to plead with the party that comes to power to ensure that a clean and stable government is set up and that another Kargil does not happen.

A.D. More Nashik, Maharashtra Armed forces

'God and soldiers we adore In times of danger, not before, The danger passes and all things righted, God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.'

The above quote is apt in the case of the Government and the citizens of the Republic of India. Apart from the time when there was a debacle in 1962 involving China, Indians have never bothered about the armed forces. General Shankar Roy Chowdhury has ri ghtly said that "investing in the armed forces is like paying premium for insurance. It pinches while paying but the insurance is what saves you when the disaster strikes." I hope that post-Kargil, the Indian public will not forget the 'Veer Jawan' and w ill give him due respect.

Kapil Rana Kupup, Sikkim Scientists' statement

We, the members of Indian Scientists Against Nuclear Weapons, feel that nuclear weaponisation on the subcontinent has been a huge step backward, which has seriously undermined the internal, external and economic security of our country.

Recent events in Kargil demonstrate that nuclear weapons fail to prevent military confrontation. In fact, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan has heightened tensions between the two countries.

We are deeply disturbed by the irresponsible statements made by certain political leaders and people in responsible positions in India and Pakistan about readiness for a nuclear confrontation. The simple fact is: there is no defence against a nuclear att ack and there are no winners in a nuclear war. The current situation is extremely unstable and dangerous. Even a minor misunderstanding or error could trigger a nuclear confrontation. Civilian populations would then be annihiliated and the land defiled f or generations to come.

We appeal to scientists in the subcontinent to add their voices to the protest against nuclear weapons and work towards nuclear disarmament not only on the subcontinent but also globally.

We appeal to all citizens of the subcontinent to understand the consequences of nuclear armament and exercise their democratic rights to save the subcontinent from the horrors of another Hiroshima.

Indian Scientists Against Nuclear Weapons Bangalore

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No right-thinking man can think of producing or using nuclear weapons. I am with all those who care for the living system and the future of mankind.

Makhan Lal Gupta Siliguri Railway accident

The resignation of Railway Minister Nitish Kumar owning moral responsibility for the terrible railway accident involving two trains in West Bengal is small consolation to the families of the hundreds people who died and to those who were seriously injure d.

Human failure appears to have been the cause of the head-on collision between the two trains, which travelled at 80 km an hour. There should be an immediate review of the safety measures throughout the railway network to restore the confidence of passeng ers. Top officials must personally supervise their staff and ensure that no one cuts corners on safety. The maintenance of tracks, coaches and engines must be the first priority. It appears that some of the interlocking and signalling systems are not fai l-safe. This is a cause of serious concern and must be looked into immediately and steps taken to improve them. Budget constraints must not come in the way of urgent repairs and maintenance work. A sense of concern for passenger safety must pervade the R ailways, without which the passengers are exposed to unacceptabe risks.

D.B.N. Murthy Bangalore Tirunelveli killings

"The Tirunelveli massacre" (August 13) was unfortunate and distressing. The judicial inquiry should bring out the truth about who was responsible for them and whether the killings could have been averted. Human life is precious and no compensation can in demnify it. Whoever is at fault, it reflects most poorly on the ruling party. The Government has to be cautious and tactful in dealing with such situations.

Addressing members of the Coimbatore Chapter of the National Institute of Personal Management (NIPM), the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Coimbatore range, K. Rajendran, said that to resolve tense situations, tact, patience and the policy of "a littl e early, a little late and a little more" should be used, rather than force. The Government has to be tolerant towards the expression of dissent through demonstrations or othermeans. While taking steps to avoid such situations in the future, the least th e Government can do now is to find a lasting solution to the Manjolai estate problem.

A. Jacob Sahayam Vellore, Tamil Nadu Teaching music

I was thrilled to note that D.K. Pattammal did not learn sarali and jantai varisais. If a child is not sufficiently motivated to learn music, learning sarali and jantai varisais can be boring and may even discourage the chil d together. Although the traditional way of teaching music has its advantages and many children have learnt music that way, if the teacher begins by teaching little songs with catchy tunes, more and more children would be attracted to music. Let me add t hat by catchy tunes I do not mean filmy or Western tunes.

I recently acquired an interesting set of two cassettes consisting of Tamil songs for children composed by Sri Rama Bharathi of Divya Prabhandha Patasalai, Jalladianpet. The songs are melodious, simple and based mostly on classical ragas. My daughter was immediately attracted to these songs and started singing some of them with ease. Such efforts are needed to universalise art and music.

Dr. T. Sengadir Bangalore

Corrections:D.K. Pattamal sang in Tamil films, Tyaga Bhoomi and Naam Iruvar, and not in Thooku Thooki as mentioned in the interview with her ("A lifetime for Carnatic music", August 13).

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Oct 9,2020