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COVER STORY

10-09-1999

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Briefing

INTO BATTLE

As the Congress(I) under Sonia Gandhi launches itself on a tough campaign, keeping its options open in respect of its post-election leadership and possible coalitional arrangements, questions about the party's electoral fortunes loom large.

ON August 19, an atmosphere of intense gloom, witnessed never before in the 17 months that Sonia Gandhi has been Congress(I) president, enveloped 24 Akbar Road in New Delhi, the headquarters of the All India Congress(I) Committee. Everyone present, from grassroots-level workers to middle-level leaders to senior members of the Congress(I) Working Committee, was in its spell. Huddled in groups inside and outside the AICC office were hundreds of them, discussing only one topic: the pointless and politicall y damaging hide-and-seek drama that had preceded Sonia Gandhi's filing of her nomination for the Lok Sabha election from Bellary in Karnataka the previous day. There was much loud tut-tutting and expressions of disbelief that their leader, whom they look ed up to to lead the Congress(I) to the leading position in national politics, had exhibited political naivete and virtually advertised her electoral insecurities. Some even made bold to raise serious doubts about Sonia Gandhi's leadership qualities.

At one clumsy stroke, the Bellary episode had inflicted damage at several levels to the party and its organisational apparatus. It also sent out the message that the Congress(I) and its leader suffered extreme political diffidence in the run-up to the el ections. By resorting to a hide-and-seek stratagem to try and keep her nomination from Bellary a secret, Sonia Gandhi had exposed her insecurity vis-a-vis the Congress(I)'s chances in the Lok Sabha elections. That the whole charade was intended to ensure that the leader, who was being projected as a tough-as-nails political battler, would have an easy passage into the Lok Sabha and not face a strong a challenge from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party was not lost on anyone. Congress(I) workers were left wondering how their top leader could lead the party to victory if she was not sure of her own personal victory and was looking for weak opponents.

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That the attempt to mislead mediapersons and political opponents into believing that Sonia Gandhi would file her nomination for the Cuddappah Lok Sabha constituency in Andhra Pradesh had fooled nobody except Congress(I) workers all over the country too c ame as a setback. On August 17, Congress(I) leaders, including CWC members Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had accompanied Sonia Gandhi to Hyderabad and later to Bellary, pointedly said that the Congress(I) president would contest from C uddappah. If this feint was intended to throw the BJP off-track, it clearly failed. The BJP, which had evidently got wind of the Congress(I)'s ruse, despatched former Delhi Chief Minister Sushma Swaraj to Bellary in order to challenge Sonia Gandhi. Sushm a Swaraj filed her nomination minutes after Sonia Gandhi did. For Congress(I) workers, the inability of the party leadership to carry out a "secret mission" successfully was highly demoralising.

At another level, the fiasco showed up the party organisation in poor light. The script, including the plan to offer Cuddappah as a red-herring, was known only to a handful of people who are considered close to 10 Janpath: the majority of CWC members wer e themselves in the dark about it. This reinforced the message that had gone out on numerous occasions - that the party organisation was not overly important for Sonia Gandhi and that she continued with her "coterie politics" despite the criticism it had drawn in recent times.

Apart from all this, the Bellary misadventure has dealt a body blow to the Congress(I)'s claim that the party is undergoing a "great revival" in the North Indian States of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Party workers wondered how if Sonia Gandhi herself was no t confident of contesting from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, considered the pocketborough of the Nehru-Gandhi family and represented in the past by Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, the party could talk of such a revival? Party workers, who had gathered at the AICC office on August 19, debated these questions over and over again and repeatedly gave expression to their extreme sense of dejection.

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IN the wake of all this, Sonia Gandhi loyalists moved into the damage-control mode and promptly announced that she would contest from Amethi too. However, this announcement was not enough to clear the mood of despondency.

At a personal level, the Bellary episode eroded Sonia Gandhi's stature as a serious politician and the regard she received from associates and fellow politicians. Signals of this erosion were aplenty in the next few days. The Bihar Pradesh Congress(I) Co mmittee virtually revolted against Sonia Gandhi when it said that the seat-sharing deal brokered by her with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Laloo Prasad Yadav was not acceptable to it. This compelled Sonia Gandhi to go back on the word given to th e RJD leadership and initiate fresh discussions on a seat-sharing formula.

More humiliation was in store for the party president. On August 22, the Congress(I)'s alliance partner in Tamil Nadu, the mercurial Jayalalitha, who was to have addressed a joint meeting with Sonia Gandhi in Villupuram, failed to turn up for the meeting . After being kept waiting for a while, Sonia Gandhi gamely addressed the meeting, son Rahul Gandhi by her side. No Congress(I) president, in particular one from the Nehru-Gandhi family, had been treated with such disdain by any fellow politician.

The Bellary episode also served to heighten the aura of secrecy and inaccessibility surrounding Sonia Gandhi and is certain to add to the swadeshi-vs-videshi slogan raised by the BJP and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Such a campaign, which portra ys Sonia Gandhi as a political entity who is not seriously committed enough to India's interests and causes, will place her in a position where she is the party's star campaigner and simultaneously a major political liability.

A CWC member who is known for his forthright views on party affairs told Frontline that the Bellary episode could prove a costly mistake in Sonia Gandhi's political career. Coming on top of a series of blunders since March, "it could even prove to be the proverbial last straw," he said. Another senior leader, who shared this perception, said that these "blunders" had first manifested themselves in the days following the first anniversary of Sonia Gandhi's takeover as party president and had progr essively become more frequent and more grave. This leader pointed out that right up until the November 1998 Assembly elections in four States and Delhi, Sonia Gandhi had consistently said that she would not topple the BJP-led government but would instead concentrate on rebuilding the party machinery. "During the post-anniversary period," the leader said, "along with a plethora of mistakes there were some initiatives that seemingly sought to correct them. But their net result was not positive." There wer e several highs and lows during this period, all of which left the party disoriented: as one CWC member termed it, a "Trishanku feeling" existed in the party. Even so, there was the hope that the Congress(I) would still be able to get its act together ah ead of the elections. However, the Bellary misadventure has dashed all such hopes.

The first of these mistakes, party leaders say, came immediately after the fall of the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led government when Sonia Gandhi claimed that her party had the support of 272 Lok Sabha members and would be able to form a minority government. The CWC member said: "It was this faux pas that upset the party's chances of being invited to form the government on the strength of its being the second largest party." Had Sonia Gandhi desisted from making this claim, the CWC member added, she would no t have faced the ignominy of having to tell President K.R. Narayanan later that the Congress(I) did not have adequate support in the Lok Sabha and was giving up its claim.

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In the perception of several leaders, these mistakes came about because Sonia Gandhi was misguided by a coterie in 10 Janpath, particularly former Union Minister Arjun Singh. Following growing criticism on this count within the CWC and elsewhere, Sonia G andhi made some moves in late April and early May, evidently to send across the message that she was not bound by coterie politics. As part of these moves, leaders with a mass base, such as Sharad Pawar and A.K. Antony, were given a key role in party aff airs. Pawar was appointed chairman of the election strategy committee and given the responsibility of negotiating alliances with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, the RJD in Bihar and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Ut tar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Then came the revolt by Pawar, P.A. Sangma and Tariq Anwar, who raised the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, and once again Sonia Gandhi flipped. The theatrics that followed - Sonia Gandhi's resignation from the party president's post, her supporte rs' show of sycophancy which came in the form of self-immolation attempts and assaults on senior leaders such as Sitaram Kesri - did not go down well with the public, which found the events farcical. Her return as party president at the May 25 AICC sessi on without much demur only served to heighten this perception, although she was able to assert her supreme control over the Congress(I).

The principal issue raised by Pawar and Co. was what they described as the inadvisability, owing to Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, of projecting her as the Congress(I)'s prime ministerial candidate. With hindsight, many senior leaders point out that the party would not have been enfeebled by a split if the present decision not to project anyone as the prime ministerial candidate had been taken at that time. Sonia Gandhi loyalists such as Arjun Singh and Pranab Kumar Mukherjee pushed hard for the expulsi on of the dissident leaders. Many in the party believe that the handling of the Pawar revolt was steamrolled by Arjun Singh and Mukherjee in order to settle scores with their opponents. Whatever the truth, the net result of the Pawar-led revolt is that t he Congress(I), apart from being weakened in Maharashtra and the northeastern region, is now wary of projecting Sonia Gandhi as its prime ministerial candidate.

The Congress(I) was in much the same predicament ahead of the 1998 elections, and this showed in the verdict: it won fewer seats than it had in the previous elections. As it did then, the Congress(I) leadership says that the party will decide on its choi ce for Prime Minister after the elections. Under normal circumstances there would have been no doubt on this score: Sonia Gandhi would have been the obvious choice. But the possibility of having to depend on pre- and post-election allies, if at all the p arty comes within striking distance of power, has compelled the Congress(I) to give up any idea of projecting her as its candidate. The decision to nominate former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh from the South Delhi constituency is significant in this c onnection.

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Some senior Congres(I) leaders have been critical also of Sonia Gandhi's responses to the Kargil crisis in its initial stages. Former vice-president Jitendra Prasada and others are reported to have said in private that Sonia Gandhi had rushed to criticis e the government even as the war was on. According to sources close to Prasada, his view was that the party should have waited for the crisis to be resolved before questioning the government's failure to prevent the infiltration.

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NOTWITHSTANDING all this, however, the party was able to formulate a well-conceived strategy to fight the elections. The strategy, which was evolved at the July 20-21 meeting of the CWC, focussed on four political-organisational tasks: 1. to expose as fa lse the claims of the BJP and its allies on the government's role in the victory achieved by Indian soldiers in Kargil; 2. to project the Congress(I) as the only party equipped to form a stable government and emphasise the importance of a stable governme nt in safeguarding national security; 3. to initiate moves to neutralise the organisational damage caused by the Pawar-led revolt and by faction feuds in various States; and 4. to finalise poll alliances and seat adjustments in regions where the party is weak.

However, on each of these issues, the party was unable to match promise with performance. Its initiatives betrayed a lack of ideological and political cohesion and organisational integration. This was visible in almost all areas, barring the formulation of the election manifesto. What was particularly galling was its efforts to harmonise two concerns - of projecting the idea of single-party rule and of entering into alliances in States where it is organisationally weak such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and T amil Nadu.

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Sonia Gandhi outside Rashtrapati Bhavan in April 1999, after she informed the President of her party's inability to form the government, after having first claimed that she had the numbers.

Immediately after the CWC session of July 20 and 21, some efforts were made to expose the government's failure to prevent the infiltration in Kargil. On July 22, the party revealed, with documentary evidence, that the government had specific information about the intrusion in Kargil as early as August 1998. Party spokesperson Kapil Sibal disclosed the reference number of a letter written by the Brigadier who was in charge of the Kargil sector at that time, which talked about "enhanced threat perception" in the region. However, this initiative was not pressed further as the Army establishment denied the existence of the letter.

Similarly, the party backtracked on its pledge to streamline the organisational network. The process of choosing candidates was bogged down in the usual allegations of favouritism, nepotism and corruption. The AICC office witnessed protests by different groups, and also occasional fisticuffs, which were discounted as "not serious" in the charged election atmosphere. Protests by various groups, such as backward castes in Andhra Pradesh, the Youth Congress(I) in Karnataka and a large section of the party in Uttar Pradesh, marked the selection process. In between all this, former Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, Punjab Congress(I) president Amarinder Singh, Uttar Pradesh Congress(I) president Salman Khurshid, Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang and former Union Minister K. Natwar Singh ensured that a few of their relatives were given the party ticket.

The special organisational plan that was to be implemented in areas such as Maharashtra, the northeastern region and certain parts of Rajasthan, where the NCP had dented the Congress(I)'s organisational structure, failed to take off. The selection proces s in the northeastern region was held up by allegations that some persons who sought the party ticket were mafia leaders. In the meantime, the NCP leadership tied up alliances with various Opposition groups and disgruntled sections within the Congress(I) . Clearly, the Congress(I), which has traditionally won a sizable number of seats in the northeastern region, faces a challenge this time.

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In Maharashtra too, insufficient attention was paid to the need to forge alliances with like-minded parties and select good candidates in order to counter the NCP's growing influence. An understanding was finalised with two groups of the Republican Party of India (RPI), but the method adopted by the Congress(I) in the allocation of seats to these parties led to strains. Many winnable seats were denied to alliance partners, and a section of the State party leadership felt that the entire exercise was sel f-defeating.

Party leaders complained that there was no effort to settle faction feuds and address other problems in the party units in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The most serious situation was in Rajasthan, where the Ashok Gehlot Ministry's failure to deliver on its promise to extend the benefits of reservation to the influential Jat community has led to an erosion in the party's support base.

AMIDST all these developments, there was one area where the Congress(I)'s campaign was elevated beyond the mundane level: the release of the manifesto by Sonia Gandhi on August 13. The manifesto, which was drawn up with the help of academicians after int eractions with various sections of society, is quite a comprehensive document. It addresses vital questions in respect of the need for a stable government, the promotion and preservation of secularism, social justice, panchayati raj and fiscal discipline . In keeping with the line adopted at the CWC on July 20, the correlation between national security and stable governments was taken up as the central theme of the manifesto. As for the minorities, it promises constitutional changes to enable the establi shment of a commission for minority educational institutions. The pledge to give 33 per cent reservation to women in legislative bodies is repeated.

A special feature of the function at which the manifesto was released was the manner in which Sonia Gandhi handled the media: she showed no signs of floundering and gave direct and bold replies to questions. Seasoned leaders of the party and many observe rs said that the manifesto and Sonia Gandhi's performance were a confidence-booster and an appropriate launch-pad for the party.

However, from all indications, it was one of Sonia Gandhi's statements at this function that was at the root of Jayalalitha's snub on August 22. Asked if the Congress(I) would form a coalition government if it did not get a majority on its own, Sonia Gan dhi replied in the negative.

With reverses being the order of the day and even allies playing oneupmanship games, the Congress(I) has moved far away from Sonia Gandhi's spirited statement of May 6, in which she said that "we are riding the wave of victory". Personally, she has come a long way since the time she was hailed - during the first anniversary of her elevation as party president - as the person who transformed the Congress(I) from a "moribund, non-creative, leaderless and directionless establishment into a vibrant organisa tion capable of leading the country on the right path by taking up important national and global concerns."

A leader close to former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao conceded that Sonia Gandhi's leadership had revived the party at the national level but said that the coterie around her had more or less frittered away any gains that may have accrued to the par ty. The Congress(I) organisational network has improved all over the country during the last 17 months and this has raised hopes that the party will improve its position in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But these gains may be more than offset by losses in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the northeastern region, which accounted for 64 of the 141 seats won by the Congress(I) in the 1998 elections.

According to independent estimates by a group of party leaders, the party may gain an additional 45 seats in the seven States but lose between 30 and 35 seats in the other three regions. The net result may be that the party will make no significant gain despite the fact that a viable organisational machinery has been developed all over the country. And if misadventures like Bellary get repeated, the party's image will be dented further.

In this context, Sonia Gandhi's repeated assertions that the Congress(I) is well on the road to victory and is set to provide single-party rule do not sound plausible. The scene as it exists today leaves the Congress(I) with only two possibilities; eithe r support the idea of a non-BJP coalition government or accept the role of a responsible Opposition party by conceding defeat to a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime. The latter scene seems to be far more likely to unfold.

Questions of leadership

AN acute leadership deficit is an obvious reality of the election scene today. The Bharatiya Janata Party claims to be on a roll towards victory, and by its own admission made a serious error of judgment in seeking to recruit the authority of the armed f orces commanders for its political campaign. What is most striking about this supposed error is the tacit acknowledgment that even a Prime Minister who has been anointed, in the imagination of his adoring flock, as a leader to be "trusted in war and peac e", has to prop up his claims by invoking extraneous authorities.

Overlooking the glaring impropriety of press-ganging the military into a political campaign, the mural that provided the backdrop to Vajpayee's public meeting at Karnal, Haryana, on August 20 could be interpreted in different ways, none of which would do any credit to the government or the party he leads. It could be viewed as an effort by a political leadership that has presided over the erosion of various institutions to garner the vicarious benefit of identification with the armed forces. Among all t he instrumentalities of the state, the armed forces today enjoy unprecedented public acclaim as a consequence of the war in Kargil. The mural depicting the three armed forces chiefs (as well as assorted objects including the Prithvi missile) either signi fied the recruitment of the military command as co-equals of the political leadership or, more alarmingly, as patrons and benefactors. Either way, the representation of the armed forces commanders at a political rally can only be construed as a serious e mbarrassment for a country that has always kept the military isolated from political partisanship and set great store by the principle of civilian control over the soldiers of the republic.

As in the case of the brutal manhandling by the police of a college girl at one of his election rallies in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, Vajpayee was quick to express his regret at the lapse. Under pressure from the Opposition, the BJP in its turn owne d up to its mistake without further evasion or equivocation. But the admission of leadership infirmities has not been undone.

Within the Congress(I), occupation has often been considered the entire basis of legitimacy. P.V. Narasimha Rao could weather every manner of adversity during his tenure as Prime Minister and Congress(I) president without facing serious challenge from wi thin the ranks of his party. It was, finally, judicial stricture and indictment in several cases of corruption that laid him low.

Even the less-than-compelling claims of Sitaram Kesri managed to pass internal scrutiny, including the first leadership contest in decades, although he plunged the party into one reckless misadventure after another without gaining for it any dividend. He was finally cast aside by the restoration of dynastic legitimacy. Evidently, dynasty is the only force that can overturn the legitimacy of occupation within the Congress(I).

DYNASTIC associations do not, however, confer an abundance of political discrimination or judgment. As the contest for the party ticket for the Lok Sabha elections sharpened, there were several people within the top hierarchical structure of the Congress (I) who were prepared to question the soundness of Sonia Gandhi's judgment. The buzz grew still louder after the grossly mismanaged drama of Bellary.

The Congress(I) strategy is premised upon a restoration of its role as the central pivot of Indian politics - the party that represents the nation in microcosm and is hence the presumptive party of governance. The absolutist claims of dynastic legitimacy mesh easily with this intent to restore single-party dominance in the Indian polity.

At the same time, there are queries about how credible a candidate for Prime Minister Sonia Gandhi really is. While a natural politician like Vajpayee revels on a public platform and finds himself most comfortable in addressing a large assembly extempore , Sonia Gandhi has to seek protection under layers of access control by her zealous followers and stick to carefully scripted speeches. A recent survey of the electorate found that more than her foreign origin, Sonia Gandhi's lack of political experience was perceived as the more serious disqualification as far as her credentials for high office were concerned.

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For the Congress(I), the subtle projection of Manmohan Singh is an insurance against the miscarriage of the Sonia effect. The former Finance Minister serves a multitude of functions for the party. First, he is recognised as a reluctant politician, one wh o entered the hurly-burly only in order to revive an economy that seemed to be headed towards terminal illness. He introduced a deeply controversial package of policies without attracting any acrimony towards himself. In a milieu where political passions are often raised to fever pitch over marginal differences on substantive issues, Manmohan Singh seems to embody the virtue of bureaucratic neutrality. With politicians as a class generally being in disfavour with the general public, Manmohan Singh's spe cial characteristics may well prove attractive.

Acknowledging the claims to leadership of the former Finance Minister - who has, incidentally, served in every senior official position connected to economic policy, from Chief Economic Adviser to the government to Governor of the Reserve Bank of India a nd Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission - would involve certain hard choices for the Congress(I). First, it would institute a situation of dyarchy within, which has never served the party well. However ardent Manmohan Singh may be in expressions of loyalty to the Gandhi dynasty, occupation of high office is known to confer a certain self-belief that could run contrary to the absolutist principle on which the Congress(I) runs. This could threaten the secure hold of the dynasty on the party and make for a situation of endemic instability.

Sonia Gandhi's rather unequivocal disavowal of any intent to field either of her children as candidates for the Lok Sabha renders the family's hold just that bit more tenuous. There are expectations, however, that both Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi will go t o work in the family's traditional constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. They could involve themselves closely in the Congress(I) campaign from these constituencies, seeking to establish their credentials for a future contest.

THE thinking within the Congress(I) is that in the remote eventuality of the party gaining a near-majority in the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi would be an axiomatic choice for Prime Minister. But if the Congress(I) falls well short and the rival BJP-led coali tion is also unable to put together a viable government, then Manmohan Singh could become a pivotal figure in the construction of new alliances. Prospective allies may have reservations about Sonia Gandhi's leadership. But precisely because of his seemin g bureaucratic neutrality, Manmohan Singh is expected to be a more agreeable figure across the political spectrum.

Even the Left parties could submerge their serious reservations about the economic philosophy that Manmohan Singh represents, in certain conditional assurances of support.

As always, the Congress(I) is far from being internally united on these strategic perspectives. There is a section within that which is dependent for its political sustenance on the patronage of the dynasty and may have reason to feel threatened by the e mergence of alternative power centres. This section would have a vested interest in pre-empting the former Finance Minister by setting in motion the kind of inscrutable forces that have often in the past turned certain Congress(I) victory into ignominiou s defeat in particular constituencies. A Manmohan Singh who fails to gain entry into the Lok Sabha would hardly be a candidate for party leadership. His initial campaign appearances seem to indicate that the bureaucrat is beginning to find his political feet. But in the Byzantine inner processes of the Congress(I), there are enough instrumentalities available to cut the ground from under his feet.

'Seeking a vote for the Congress, not for a coalition'

cover-story

Dr. Manmohan Singh has none of the trappings of a politician. His official residence at 19 Safdarjung Road, New Delhi, lacks the security paraphernalia that many politicians like to flaunt, and hence the former Finance Minister is one of the most accessible leaders around. As the Congress(I) candidate for the South Delhi parliamentary constituency, Manmohan Singh's campaign is also unique for its simplicity. Unlike the average Congress(I) candidate who would not set out for campaigning without a motorcade in tow, he starts off from his house in an Ambassador car that may or may not be joined by other vehicle-borne activists. Still his campaign has been deemed both by supporters and opponents as one of the most impressive in terms of popular resp onse.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan accompanied Manmohan Singh on one of his campaign trips on August 22, and in between meetings and mass contact programmes asked him questions on a variety of subjects including his chances of emerging as an alternative prime ministerial candidate. Although he negated such a possibility during the conversation, there are many people in the Congress(I) itself who perceive his new status as a mass leader as an indicator of his being positioned for the top job. Excerpts from th e interview.

You have been perceived as an "intellectual politician" rather than one with mass appeal. As the Congress(I) candidate in South Delhi, how do you see your new experience in mass politics?

When the party leadership said that I should fight for the Lok Sabha, I decided to abide by it. Personally too, I had thought that one day I should experience what it is like to go to the people directly. And I can say that this is a great education for me. I have come to understand the problems and aspirations of the people not merely from the macro level but from the micro level too. People hope that when politicians go to them some of their problems will be addressed. And these are serious and basic problems like that of shortage of power, of water, neglect of sewerage systems, public health and so on.

From these micro experiences, what is the macro solution that you see for these problems?

I think that we need more active involvement by the government in developing basic infrastructure. I do not think that this is a task which can be left entirely to market forces. When people are living on the edges of subsistence, market signals have no meaning for them. To address these issues satisfactorily, the face of our politics has to change. India needs a new type of politics. I think that politics has ceased to be a servant of social sympathies. It is no longer a creative mechanism to mediate b etween societal tensions. It has become too much of a preoccupation with self-preservation and self-promotion. And the state has become largely dysfunctional. Instrumentalities that could have given great potency to solve our problems have been used to p romote partisan ends. The politicisation of the system in a perverse manner is a factor in corroding people's faith in politics as an instrument of purposeful social change.

But the Congress(I) has also contributed to this.

Of course, the Congress(I) has been in power for so long that you can say that for anything which happens in the country. But the point is to look beyond that. As Karl Marx used to say, we have studied history for long but the challenge is to change it.

So the messiah of economic liberalisation is quoting Marx now...

I have always admired Marx. There are a lot of good things in Marx too.

The perception is that you are being groomed as an alternative candidate for the Prime Minister's post in case the Congress(I) fails to get an absolute majority and seeks to depend on other parties for support.

All this is media speculation. Hypothetical questions that exist in a vacuum.

There were reports that you had refused to contest if some of the accused in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots were given the ticket.

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These are all highly exaggerated reports that came in the media. Newspapers have invented discussions in the Congress Working Committee when there was no discussion at all.

It is being said, even within the party, that the Congress(I) has committed a series of mistakes after the fall of the Vajpayee government, leading to a reversal of its fortunes. That while the Congress(I) was on a winning wicket during the November 1 998 Assembly polls, it is no longer the case now.

I do not think that there is a perception like this. I have not come across any of these things. In any case, the Congress(I) worker does not bring up this issue. He is concentrating on the administrative task of managing the elections now. It is another matter that he does talk about the euphoria of November 1998. But he also knows that this cannot last forever. The Congress(I) represented a new hope from the declining standards of governance that the BJP had provided till then. The Congress(I) organi sation was facing its first major election under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. And the party workers fought hard, knowing full well that they had a chance to wrest the administration from the BJP...

The contention is that it has all died down. And that the chances of the Congress(I) making it have receded.

It is a different type of enthusiasm now. I do not think that the chances are any less now. The BJP might be harping on nationalism and the nationality issue. They could have created a different media atmosphere. But the people understand things in their totality.

Do you think that Kargil is the single most important issue in this election?

People are certainly worried about Kargil. And also about the reasons behind it. It is not that people just accept whatever the BJP establishment is putting out. When we explain to them that these intruders had come many months ago and this government sl ept, people nod with approval.

But according to the BJP, it is the Congress(I)'s nationalism that is being questioned when the government is criticised on the Kargil issue.

I have not come across any such thing. In fact, the common feeling is that the government needs to explain its conduct on the Kargil issue.

What about Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin? This issue has put the Congress(I) on the defensive.

Nobody has brought up the nationality issue anywhere during my campaign. In fact, among the ordinary people there is a lot of sympathy and affection for Sonia Gandhi.

There is the argument that the Congress(I)'s insistence on equating single-party rule with stability is counter-productive, especially in the context of the BJP's success in forming a formidable coalition.

It is true that we are seeking a vote for the Congress(I), not for a coalition. We believe that single-party rule alone can provide the stability it needs. We are going to the people with that slogan. If the people endorse that, well and good, and if the y do not, that will be a different situation. But what kind of stability has the formidable coalition of the BJP given in the last 17 months?

What would be the Congress(I) strategy if it does not get a chance to form a single-party government but can form a coalition Ministry?

We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Behind the scenes

WHO exactly are Sonia Gandhi's advisers? This question had no clear answer until November last year, when as Congress(I) president she started a process of restructuring the party organisation and formed various task forces and committees for the purpose . It was already known that her personal assistant Vincent George and Congress Working Committee (CWC) member Arjun Singh had a special advisory role. During this phase, Sonia Gandhi apparently adopted a classical academic approach by entrusting specific jobs to various leaders on the basis of their interest and areas of specialisation. Thus Manmohan Singh was in charge of a committee to look into economic policy, P.A. Sangma and A.K. Antony had responsibility for a task force entrusted with the restruc turing of the organisation, K. Karunakaran headed a committee to review the party constitution, and Sharad Pawar, then the party's leader in the Lok Sabha, had a role in parliamentary affairs.

However, after the November Assembly elections, in which the Congress(I) registered thumping victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi, the priority shifted from restructuring to taking proactive measures against the Bharatiya Janata Party-led gov ernment. Realpolitik games were a natural part of these, and it is at this point that her set of advisers became more and more visible.

According to sources close to 10 Janpath, there are three layers of advisers around the Congress(I) president. The most proximate group is what is termed the gang of four, comprising Arjun Singh, former Minister M.L. Fotedar, Vincent George and former bu reaucrat R.D. Pradhan. This group apparently handles day-to-day matters. There is no specific job description for any of them - they handle everything from correspondence to the formulation of political strategy.

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The second layer essentially comprises CWC members R.K. Dhawan, Pranab Mukherjee and Ghulam Nabi Azad, who are supposed to organise special trouble-shooting operations. Dhawan and Azad performed similar jobs for former Congress(I) presidents P.V. Narasim ha Rao and Sitaram Kesri. Sometimes this involved putting "troublesome" leaders such as Pawar, Rajesh Pilot, J.B, Patnaik and A.K. Antony in their place during crucial meetings or while deciding important issues.

The members of the third layer, consisting of K. Natwar Singh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Jairam Ramesh, prepare speeches, articles and other policy documents. The one distinguishing characteristic that members of all three layers share is their lack of a ma ss base.

At the May 15 CWC meeting that paved the way for the expulsion of Pawar, Sangma and Tariq Anwar, Dhawan's trouble-shooting skills were in evidence. It was he who cut short the arguments of Pawar and Co. and made the suggestion that the CWC record its app roval to making Sonia Gandhi the party's prime ministerial candidate.

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Dhawan played his part in organising many of the dramatic scenes of agitation after Sonia Gandhi's resignation from presidentship following the Pawar-led revolt. Mukherjee handled the legal and constitutional issues involved in the expulsion of the rebel s.

The first layer is the most influential one. Most of the problems that have faced the Congress(I) and its president recently can be traced to the members of this layer. The list starts with Sonia Gandhi's erroneous claim after the fall of the Vajpayee go vernment that she had the support of 272 Lok Sabha members to form a minority Congress(I) government and includes the recent Bellary nomination fiasco. Many Congress(I) insiders say that it was Arjun Singh who gave the feedback to Sonia Gandhi, which mad e her stake her claim to form a government. Vincent George and Azad, the general secretary in charge of Karnataka, managed the Bellary expedition. The suggestion to file the nomination in stealth was reported to have come essentially from the duo and lat er approved by Arjun Singh and Pranab Mukherjee. The idea was to take the BJP by surprise so that it would not be able to field a strong candidate.

Arjun Singh's role in messing up the efforts to form an alternative government after the fall of the Vajpayee Ministry had caused some Congress(I) allies to take a strong position against him. These included All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supre mo Jayalalitha and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav. Consequently, Arjun Singh was not included in the team to negotiate electoral deals. Manmohan Singh and A.K. Antony were deputed to Tamil Nadu, and Madhavrao Scindia and Pranab Mukherjee were in charge of Bihar.

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But the Arjun Singh-led group's influence in ticket distribution was evident in States such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan and in Delhi. Even in a State like Kerala, where the Congress(I)'s organisational machinery almost matches that of the Left parties, Arjun Singh managed to nominate someone like M.P. Gangadharan, though the former State Minister has not been in active politics for quite some time. However, neither Arjun Singh nor the other members of the group were able to wield much inf luence in the selection of candidates in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, where second-time Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and Pradesh Congress Committee president Amarinder Singh respectively called the shots.

The free hand given to leaders such as Digvijay Singh in the selection of candidates and certain developments before and after the Bellary fiasco have been interpreted by some Congress(I) insiders as a bid by Sonia Gandhi to free herself from the group's influence. The appointment of Ahamed Patel as a special authority at 10 Janpath and the diminution of R.D. Pradhan's role in policy discussions are seen as part of this effort.

There are also reports that Sonia Gandhi is increasingly consulting Dr. Manmohan Singh. How far this stage would last for Manmohan Singh is to be seen, especially in the background of Sonia Gandhi's own insecurity vis-a-vis leaders with a mass base. Inci dentally, Pawar too had gone through a similar phase of increased proximity with the Congress(I) president before being thrown out of the party.

Alliance qualms

Innately uncomfortable with coalitions and electoral alliances, the Congress(I) struggles to come to terms with the new realities.

ALL through the recent years, the Congress(I) has been bogged down by a certain elemental flaw in its attempts to pursue coalition politics. This relates to its basic political slogan of stability, which the party argues can be attained only by single-pa rty governance. The party leadership has found it difficult to suborn this idea to the essential need in the context of many States to form coalitions or reach an understanding with other parties. And even on occasions when the party has tried to do so, much of the time it has ended up without being able to forge an effective coalition or understanding.

The case this time is no different. The Congress(I) has functioning coalitions or understandings only in a few States such as Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Kerala. In Gujarat, the party was spared the trouble of forming a problematic alliance when former Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela's Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) merged with it. While proposed alliances with forces such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have failed to materialise, those with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Republican Party of India (RPI) have been stormy and ineffectual. This dismal show is all the more evident in the background of the Bharatiya Janata Party's success in firming up the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), notwithstanding that formation's many infirmities and woes, such as that relating to the entry of the Janata Dal (United) into the combine. Simply put, the BJP has adapted itself better to the era of coalitions.

In the Congress(I), such adaptability has been conspicuous by its absence. What has characterised the Congress(I)'s manoeuvres on this front since the fall of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government is a lack of clarity in analysing the party's own strengths and weaknesses, accompanied by a tendency to flip-flop. Thus one saw party leaders such as P. Shiv Shankar admitting after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha that the Congress(I) should have agreed to form a coalition government after the fall of the Vajp ayee Ministry, and following up the statement with talk about pre-poll alliances on the basis of a common manifesto.

However, by the time the Congress(I) Working Committee held its first meeting in the context of the elections, all talk about alliances on the basis of a common manifesto had vanished. It had been replaced by the discourse on the "momentous" Pachmarhi de claration of September 1998. The Pachmarhi declaration had advanced a line against coalitions and made it clear that in special cases coalitions could be considered but only if the Congress(I) had supremacy within them. Protestations from leaders such as A.K. Antony, Sitaram Kesri and Rajesh Pilot that it would be unrealistic in the present context to hang on to the Pachmarhi declaration were brushed aside by Sonia Gandhi loyalists such as Arjun Singh, Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and R.K. Dhawan.

Much of the discussions on coalition formation was held in the background of this "ideological entanglement" within the party. The difference in the approach of individual leaders got reflected in these discussions. The Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry deal negoti ated by pro-coalition CWC members Antony and Manmohan Singh resulted in an arrangement that involved the Congress(I) accepting 12 seats out of 40, leaving 23 to the dominant partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). In negotiating t his deal, the Congress(I) gave up its Pachmarhi position that it would not accept the role of a junior partner. The deal reflected a realistic assessment of the party's present strength in Tamil Nadu.

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BUT this was not the case during negotiations the Congress(I) had with the BSP and the RJD in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively. In both cases, the local Congress(I) leaderships showed a tendency to overestimate their own strength and put forward unre asonable demands before alliance partners. When the negotiations with the BSP started, the Congress(I) demanded half of the 85 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP, which secured 21 per cent of the popular vote in the State in the last elections as opposed to 6 per cent by the Congress(I), naturally would not agree. Claims about the Congress(I) having since undergone a revival were not acceptable to the BSP leadership. In particular, its vice-president and former Chief Minister Mayawati would have nothing of that kind.

When it became clear that the BSP would not offer more than 25 seats, the Congress(I) steadily climbed down. Finally it accepted what was on offer. The Congress(I) also agreed without protest to other preconditions laid down by BSP supremo Kanshi Ram, su ch as the extension of the alliance to the Assembly polls and projection of Mayawati as the chief ministerial candidate.

However, the party did try to add one rider to the agreement: that the alliance should not be confined to Uttar Pradesh but should be extended to Madhya Pradesh. Clearly, the Congress(I) wanted to benefit even more from the potential of the BSP leadershi p to transfer its votes in any direction it deemed fit. This proposal, however, was not acceptable to the BSP, partly because its Madhya Pradesh unit had felt betrayed by the Congress(I) in the last Assembly polls. On that occasion, the BSP had supported the Congress(I) in more than half the seats in the State on the basis of an understanding that a leader from among the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes would be considered for the position of either the Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister. A fter the elections, the Congress(I) failed to do this.

As the talks with the BSP failed, in Uttar Pradesh the Congress(I) was compelled to have a minimal understanding with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The RLD was given eight seats and the Congress(I) retained the remaining 77. Although this means t hat the Congress(I) gets to contest more seats, there is not much hope of winning most of them in the absence of an alliance with the BSP.

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SIMILAR is the situation in Bihar, where at the beginning of seat negotiations with the RJD the Congress(I) demanded 25 of the 54 seats in the State, although the party had won only five seats and 7.27 per cent of the vote in the previous elections as co mpared to 17 seats and 26.58 per cent of the vote won by the RJD. Significantly, 10 Congress(I) candidates forfeited their deposit in the last polls.

RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav initially offered 11 seats. But the Congress(I) would have none of it. Finally, after repeated discussions involving CWC member Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the RJD leader offered the Congress(I) 13 seats. This was apparently acceptable to the Congress(I) central leadership, including Sonia Gandhi. However, following threats of a revolt in the State unit, Sonia Gandhi asked Laloo Prasad Yadav for mo re seats and the RJD leader agreed to add one more seat to the Congress(I)'s quota. Still the State unit of the Congress(I) held out, claiming that its level of popular support entitled it to a minimum of 17 seats. If this was not granted, they would lea ve the alliance, warned the Congress(I) State leadership. This has caused a deadlock in the Bihar alliance and created bad blood among the RJD cadre, whose wholehearted support is essential for the Congress(I) to be able to improve its position in the St ate. The RJD, on its part, is of the view that it has shown utmost flexibility in the interest of uniting the secular vote in the State and that the Congress(I)'s demand for 17 seats is unjustifiable. Whatever the outcome of this impasse, it is certain t hat secular unity has been impaired in the State, and that does not promise a better deal for the Congress(I).

IN Maharashtra, the Congress(I)'s refusal to accept the fact that its strength has diminished in the wake of the departure from the party of Sharad Pawar and his supporters has put its alliance with two groups of the Republican Party of India - the Praka sh Ambedkar and Gavai groups - in jeopardy. Claiming to retain its strength despite the split, the Congress(I) has denied the RPI groups many seats including one in Nagpur, which has a high concentration of Dalits. Observers are of the view that such a s tand would cost the party dear all over the State.

IN the midst of this dismal picture on the alliances front, the only sources for optimism for the Congress(I) are its time-tested coalition in Kerala and the new understanding reached with the Left parties in Punjab. In Kerala, the party was able to win back the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which had vacillated towards the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front initially, and complete the seat arrangements in quick time to get a headstart in the campaign. In Punjab, the understanding with the Left parti es is working smoothly. This situation is bound to help the party in both the States.

However, in its proclivity to turn even favourable circumstances into a situation of adversity, the Congress(I) leadership, including party president Sonia Gandhi, has been making several mistakes that could impair the party's prospects even in these Sta tes. Sonia Gandhi's statement while releasing the party's manifesto to the effect that the Congress(I) has no plans to form a coalition government after the elections is a case in point. There are apprehensions within the Congress(I) that it would affect the party's chances in Tamil Nadu. For it is evident that AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha's basic purpose in forging an alliance with the Congress(I) was to get a share in power if and when the Congress(I) is in a position to attain it. So the party leadersh ip has added an air of uncertainty even into an advantageous situation because it is unable to see the writing on the wall.

Playing the nuclear card

JOHN CHERIAN in New Delhi science-and-technology

THE release of the draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine was purposely timed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led caretaker government to be as close to the general elections as possible. The document was reportedly cleared by the National Security Advisory Board ( NSAB) about two months earlier. Obviously, the idea behind releasing it on August 17 was to put the nuclear issue back on top of the election agenda. Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, told mediapersons that the document had no of ficial validity as it had not been approved by the government. He said that the purpose was to place it "before the public for debate and discussion".

Brajesh Mishra said that India would pursue a policy of credible nuclear deterrence. India, according to the document, will use nuclear weapons only in retaliation for a first strike: "Any nuclear attack on India and its forces will result in punitive re taliation with nuclear weapons to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor." According to the draft, "India's peacetime posture aims at convincing any potential aggressor that any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India will invoke measures to counter the threat." He says that nuclear weapons will be under tight supervision and will be released with specific authorisation from the Prime Minister. There is no mention about the possibility of India signing either the Comprehensive Test Ban Trea ty (CTBT) or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Opposition parties are furious at the caretaker government's decision to release the document at this juncture. The Congress(I) expressed the "apprehension" that the "irresponsible" observations contained in the document could spark an arms race. Par ty spokesman Pranab Mukherjee said that a caretaker government had "no business, politically and morally, to bring out a document of this nature which will affect the life of the entire subcontinent". The government was attempting to fool the people of I ndia by talking of "credible deterrence", he said.

Mukherjee noted that established nuclear powers such as the United States, Russia and France had conducted a large number of tests before they could acquire "credible deterrence". He observed that Pakistan sent in troops to Kargil despite India having "c redible nuclear deterrence". Mukherjee questioned the rationale behind bringing out a document when the Prime Minister had declared a moratorium on nuclear tests last year. Such an important issue, asserted Mukherjee, should have been first discussed in Parliament.

Former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral said that what the government did was "immoral" and that this instance was symptomatic of its unilateral way of formulating foreign policy. The BJP-led government, he said, had given up the tradition of having a national consensus on important foreign policy issues.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) described the circulation of the draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine as an "illegitimate act". CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Prakash Karat said: "The caretaker government has no business to act on such a critical matter havi ng serious implications for national and international security, just for petty electoral gains. This illegitimate nuclear doctrine must be rejected for what it is: nuclear sabre-rattling to garner votes for an irresponsible and jingoistic party."

According to Karat, the so-called nuclear doctrine advocates "full-fledged" nuclear weaponisation. "This is the real meaning of credible minimum nuclear deterrence," he said. As a result, there would be a nuclear arms race in the subcontinent and "the cr ushing burden of this nuclear adventurism will have to be borne by the ordinary people," he observed.

In a tit-for-tat response, Pakistan announced on August 19 that it was giving "final touches" to its own nuclear doctrine. Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz said that his government's nuclear doctrine would be based on the proposed strategic nuclear restraint regime discussed between India and Pakistan during the Secretary-level talks last year. Aziz said that the Pakistan government was studying the Indian document. Pakistani officials, however, accuse India of resorting to gamesmanship by trying t o show the international community that India has developed its minimum nuclear deterrent as well as a command and control system. Pakistan's representative at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Munir Akram, said that the draft "indi cates that India is about to embark on further and even more dangerous escalation in the nuclear and conventional arms build-up".

Washington, which in recent months tilted towards New Delhi, was also quick to react. U.S. State Department officials have characterised India's move to develop a nuclear deterrent as "unwise". The U.S. spokesperson said that "nuclear weapons do not cont ribute to greater security in South Asia." He added that the draft document could be discussed when External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh met U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in New York in September. Jaswant Singh will be in New York to atte nd the U.N. General Assembly session.

The Clinton administration seems to have adopted a tough stance on the issue. The U.S. spokesperson said that the possession of missiles and nuclear weapons would give India and Pakistan "less and not more security". "We don't think it is in the national interest or the security interest of these countries to develop nuclear weapons capability, to develop an elaborate doctrine, and then to encourage an arms race by both India and Pakistan." In the second week of August, President Bill Clinton wrote to t he Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers urging them to exercise restraint and resume the Lahore dialogue process.

The Clinton administration's stance is getting tougher by the day. U.S. State Department officials now say that the Indian nuclear doctrine is against the interests of global security. The U.S. spokesman dismissed out of hand India's contention that it n eeded a nuclear deterrent to avert "possible nuclear blackmail by China". The Clinton administration is still of the view that India's decision to go nuclear was based on other factors. The Pentagon spokesman was more specific, saying that a nuclear conf lict was possible in the Indian subcontinent if tensions between India and Pakistan continued. "We have urged both sides to show restraint. It is an area where the damage would be extraordinary because of the large populations of the two countries," the Pentagon spokesperson said.

Other Group of Eight (G-8) member-countries have also reacted adversely to the draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine. The U.S. State Department once again reiterated the G-8's decision to continue to defer funding by international financial institutions of India 's non-basic human needs.

China has expressed its misgivings about the nuclear policy document. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson "urged" India not to induct nuclear missiles into its arsenal and to renounce its nuclear weapons programme by implementing U.N. Security Counci l Resolution 1172 "in earnest and comprehensively". In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee asserted that India would induct the Agni-II ballistic missile into its arsenal. The missile is capable of reaching many cities in Chi na. The Chinese spokesperson said: "On the South Asian nuclear issue, the Security Council unanimously adopted by consensus Resolution 1172, which reflects the will and embodies the position of the international community." Among the permanent members of the Security Council, China is the only country that has consistently emphasised the need to abide by Resolution 1172. "This is conducive to the prevention of an arms race in the region and to maintain security and stability. This also serves the fundam ental interests of the people of South Asia," the Chinese spokesperson asserted in the third week of August.

Reacting to mounting international criticism, Jaswant Singh, as was to be expected, discounted concerns about a possible India-Pakistan nuclear conflict. He has also insisted that India is not engaged in an arms race. At the same time, he has expressed h is willingness to discuss the draft Nuclear Doctrine with U.S. officials when he visits New York. "I am fully confident that we will be able to assuage the concerns that have been expressed in Washington and Beijing," he told journalists. He also asserte d, rather ingeniously, that the release of the document on the eve of the general elections was not a "politically contentious issue". He said that the document was not a National Security Council doctrine but a document of the National Security Advisory Board. He, however, admitted that the document said nothing new. It only reiterated what had been said earlier by Vajpayee and other senior officials, he said.

Unclear nuclear identity

R. RAMACHANDRAN science-and-technology

The draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine proposed by the National Security Advisory Board is a remarkable document for the things unsaid and for the vague or confusing statements.

AFTER months of deliberations, the 27-member National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), headed by defence analyst K. Subrahmanyam, has come out with a document, the Indian Nuclear Doctrine (IND) that is perhaps not worth the paper it is written on. The doc ument, which was released on August 17 at a press conference by National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, in the presence of Subramanyam, was labelled as a "draft nuclear doctrine" pending discussion and approval by the National Security Council (NSC), a council of the key Cabinet Ministers concerned with national security.

According to Mishra, the document was being made public to show "greater transparency in decision making". When asked why the document did not spell out the specifics and why he was being secretive about it, he said it was for "reasons of security". The doctrine "is a step necessitated by the security environment", he said, adding quickly that it was "not country specific". As the doctrine was aimed at achieving "an element of strategic autonomy", he said that it was based on the concept of an "effectiv e credible minimum deterrence". He emphasised that the policy of "no first use" was central to the doctrine and that it incorporated the "cardinal principle of civilian control" in the use of nuclear weapons.

On his part, Subrahmanyam asserted that it was a "consensus document" even though individual members of the NSAB might have disagreement on individual elements. A point which has not been highlighted sufficiently is that the NSAB is not a statutory body. Its term expires with the present government. The next government may not even have such an advisory body. Does it mean that national security ends with this draft on nuclear doctrine and the yet-to be-released document on national security strategy? Al so, the document does not indicate the time-frame in which the nuclear force structures it has recommended are to be put in place.

The preamble says: "This document outlines the broad principles for the development, deployment and employment of nuclear forces. Details of policy strategy concerning force structures, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will flow from this fram ework and will be laid down separately and kept under constant review." This implies that a separate body - not identified in the draft doctrine - will have to go into these issues but given the vagueness and the general nature of the doctrine, which doe s not even address the issue of threat perceptions, arriving at a nuclear force structure based on this document would seem impossible and implementation could become arbitrary.

While the fact that a doctrine has been articulated would imply that the process of weaponisation is being carried forward beyond the claimed capabilities after the Pokhran nuclear tests in May 1998, the content of the draft leaves one in doubt whether any substantive thinking had gone into the making of the document, the credentials of the NSAB members notwithstanding. In substance, it goes slightly beyond Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's December 1998 statement on India's Nuclear Policy.

The Prime Minister's statement had pronounced the doctrine of "no first use" of nuclear weapons, which is the only clear-cut doctrinal element in this new document produced by the NSAB. The other clear-cut statement concerns the so-called "nuclear button " - the control of nuclear weapons will rest at the highest political level and the authority to release nuclear weapons for use will reside in civilian control in the person of the Prime Minister or "designated successor(s)". However, who these "designa ted successor(s)" may be is unclear.

The document is remarkable for the things unsaid and for the vague or confusing, sometimes even contradictory, statements. The unqualified use of the phrase "effective credible minimum nuclear deterrence" might pass in the Prime Minister's policy stateme nt, but not in the enunciation of a national nuclear doctrine. Unless qualified by appropriate quantitative elements including an assessment of the threat perceptions and the force numbers for an "adequate retaliatory" capacity (which in turn needs to be quantitatively defined in terms of a second strike or third strike capability), such a phrase carries no meaning for operational significance or even evolving a nuclear strategy. Indeed, the concept itself is a dubious one and largely rhetorical.

Self-evidently, deterrence is no deterrence unless it is credible; in that sense, the use of this adjective is superfluous. Similarly, a deterrent force, by definition, has to be effective. As far as minimality of deterrence goes, it makes sense only aga inst a quantitative assessment of the adversary's nuclear strike capacity. Moreover, no nuclear weapons power has ever admitted that its stockpile is more than the minimum level. What may be regarded as minimum by one may not be perceived as such by the adversary.

As General George Lee Butler, the former Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, pointed out in a recent interview (Frontline, June 18), this is what makes deterrence a false notion that is conceptually flawed because "you will never know what th e enemy is thinking".

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Nuclear weaponisation requires a nuclear doctrine and a well thought out and formulated nuclear strategy (in military terms). As has been pointed out by the former Naval Chief, Admiral Ramdas (Frontline, July 17, 1998), the doctrine and the strate gy should address the following questions: What are our threat perceptions? Are our nuclear adversaries regional or global? Under what set of circumstances or scenarios are the nuclear weapons to be deployed and employed? For the NSAB, it would seem, the se issues are not important in arriving at a nuclear doctrine. A careful and rigorous analysis of an effective deterrence capability in the Indian context, as has been done by Dr.G. Balachandran, an independent analyst (The Hindu, February 15), sh ows that the existing capabilities in the nuclear field will not suffice to build such a nuclear deterrent capacity.

Equally significant is the document's silence on the expected costs of such a weaponisation programme. The draft document makes a general statement (Article 3.1) that "nuclear forces will be effective, enduring, diverse, flexible and responsive" and they will be "based on a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets" in keeping with the above objectives. Specifics, such as whether sea-based assets will include nuclear-capable submarines, are not spelt out but to a question Subrah manyam replied that the "language of the doctrine allows it". If submarines do form part of some unwritten nuclear strategy, the cost of weaponisation will increase dramatically because of the high cost of submarines.

The document speaks of enhancing the "survivability of the forces" with a combination of multiple redundant systems, mobility, dispersion and deception. A survivable nuclear force itself has been defined (Article 4.3) as one that will be "designed and de ployed to ensure survival against first strike and to endure repetitive attrition attempts with adequate retaliatory capabilities for a punishing strike which would be unacceptable to the aggressor". It also states (Article 2.3) that "survivabilty" is a dynamic concept related to strategic environment, technological imperatives and the needs of national security and that the "actual size, components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces will be decided in the light of these factors". A perfectly general premise that seems to defy a definition of "minimum deterrence" and ensure stockpile and attendant cost escalation.

It may be pertinent to highlight some of the ill-conceived elements of the doctrine. Consider Article 2.3 (a) which says "any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall invoke measures to counter the threat." What are these measures? With the " no first use" posture, and given the asymmetry of some nuclear weapon states not declaring a "no first use", what does this element of the doctrine mean? Article 2.5 says: "India will not resort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against stat es which do not possess nuclear weapons or are not aligned with nuclear weapon powers." This a redundant statement given the "no first use" and "retaliation only" policy.

Mishra, while releasing the document, made a strange remark that he did not elaborate upon. He claimed the Kargil conflict and its resolution had vindicated India's nuclear deterrence policy. The question is how? In fact, it is clear that after it achiev ed nuclear parity with India, Pakistan could venture into a conflict with India and India's superior conventional force was not any more sufficient to deter Pakistan from military adventurism.

Article 2.7 is, further, contradictory. It says: "Highly effective conventional military capabilities shall be maintained to raise the threshold of outbreak both of conventional military conflict as well as that of threat or use of nuclear weapons." Subr ahmanyam clarified this point by saying that it implied greater expenditure on conventional forces. But it may be recalled that reduction in the expenditure in conventional military forces was given as a rationale for going nuclear. Now, with India havin g gone nuclear, the proposed doctrine advocates greater investment in conventional force structures "to raise the threshold of conflict".

The doctrine differentiates between "peace-time deployment" and "fully employable forces in the shortest possible time" without giving any measure of what this "shortest possible time" should be - a few hours, a few days, a few months? For example, coupl ed with the requirements of "safety" and "security" of the nuclear stockpile (Article 6), does the doctrine envisage that warheads will be kept separate from weapon systems and delivery vehicles that will be assembled in case of nuclear threats or attack s?

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Security and safety for nuclear materials and nuclear weapons, during their manufacture, transportation and storage, have to be orders of magnitude more stringent than what is maintained for conventional forces. Even an agency like the Department of Atom ic Energy (DAE), with years of experience with nuclear materials, does not have a grand track record of safety in civilian nuclear installations (Frontline, March 26). As Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan, the former chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory B oard (AERB), commenting on safety issues has pointed out (Frontline, June 4, 1999) that in countries such as the United States, a defence nuclear facilities board for independent external overseeing of all nuclear weapon activities from the viewpo int of safety exists.

During his tenure, Gopalakrishnan highlighted the fact that even the R&D programme of the nuclear submarine or the Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) project, had been kept outside the purview of the AERB. In fact, in the Indian context, the AERB does not even have an entirely independent authority to regulate civilian nuclear activities. The Indian defence establishment, even the Defence Research and Defence Organisation let alone the Services, has absolutely no experience in handling nuclear activities . No agency has been or is being created for defence nuclear activities under the Ministry of Defence - unless, of course, the doctrine is envisaging the defence nuclear activities too to be managed by the DAE. The regulatory aspects of a nuclear weaponi sation programme need to be addressed first before building up an arsenal. The pious statement in Article 6.1 of IND will not suffice. Remember that in India nuclear training is imparted only within the DAE system. So even for defence requirements, the n uclear posture will have to draw on personnel from the DAE or a new defence nuclear establishment, with an instituted recruitment and training programme, may have to be established.

Safety of nuclear weapons includes prevention of "inadvertent activation/use" and risks of accident therefrom or even accidental nuclear material dispersion from failed missile launches. One of the criteria of safety against accidental detonation that is used in the U.S. is that "one point safety criterion" and the U.S. conducted a series of "hydro-tests" of yields commensurate with such one-point detonation accidents to ensure safety. Does it mean that such low-yield tests will be carried out violating the moratorium on nuclear explosive testing that has been declared? Even within the civilian programme, elements such as risk assessment are not entirely public. In the defence context, it most certainly will not be. Similarly, the document speaks of "d isaster control" and merely says, "India shall develop an appropriate disaster control system capable of handling the unique requirements of potential incidents involving nuclear weapons and materials" without giving an idea of how this is to be done.

Aspects of Command and Control (C&C) have also been dealt with rather superficially. In fact, Article 5.3 is not very clear and the clarification that Subrahmanyam gave at the press briefing is not of much help. The Article says: "For effective deploymen t, the unity of C&C of nuclear forces, including dual capable delivery systems, shall be ensured." In the context of nuclear forces, what does the term "dual capable" mean when, according to the document, nuclear forces will be based on a triad of force structures. Or does it mean that, for example, an aircraft will at the same time carry both conventional weapons and nuclear weapons? According to Subrahmanyam, however, this statement means that both conventional and nuclear force structures will be und er the same C&C umbrella but with different operational ground rules and command chain. If so, the language used leaves much to be desired because it is confusing, to say the least.

Speaking of technological back-up to C&C structure, Article 5.6 says, "space based and other assets shall be created to provide early warning, communication, damage/detonation assessment." Does the last element mean that the retaliatory response will be a function of damage/detonation assessment and will be carried out only after such an assessment? Article 7 talks of the need to step up R&D efforts in the field "to keep up with technological advances in the field". Does it mean that the doctrine advoca tes the launch of an R&D programme like the Stockpile Stewardship Programme of the U.S.? And what kind of investment does the NSAB envisage for such continued R&D in nuclear weapons? For good measure, the doctrine speaks of Disarmament and Arms Control ( Article 8) and, interestingly, seeks an international treaty banning first-use of nuclear weapons and internationally binding negative security assurances by nuclear weapon states to non-nuclear weapon states.

Besides the political factors that may have tempted the government to make the document public now, even though it had been submitted by the NSAB nearly a month ago, the thinking perhaps is that with the articulation of a doctrine the world will be force d to recognise India as a nuclear weapons state.

The Vajpayee government may feel that mere discussion of the doctrine by world nations - witness reactions from the U.S. - is tantamount to such recognition. It might also have been done to upstage Pakistan, which has refrained from declaring "no first use". Having come out with an apology of a doctrine, the government may turn around and say, "Look, we are a responsible nation."

What this draft nuclear doctrine does is to provide at best grist to a whole new series of seminars on India's nuclear posture. But it does little to clarify for the armed services, not to mention the public and the policy makers, what nuclear weaponisat ion entails.

Dreaming India's nuclear future

N. RAM other

THE first significant act of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government after it came to power in March 1998 was to hijack India's independent, self-restrained and disarmament-oriented nuclear policy and twist it out of shape - rendering it a menace , first, to the people of India and, then, to peace and stability in the region. Perhaps the last significant act of the caretaker government that has, illegitimately and in an anti-democratic way, made several forays into substantive decision-making and policy-making is the unveiling of an open-ended, non-accountable, three-quarters-madcap, one-quarter-inhibited vision of India's nuclear weaponised future. The six-page draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine (dIND) presented as a 'consensus' document in the name of 27 members of the hawk-packed but largely amateur National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) is an egregious exercise of bomb-rattling without responsibility.

The manner and timing of its unveiling has been attacked in Opposition political circles and criticised in the press, but this must be recognised as being entirely in character. The dIND is a worthy follow-up to the authoritarian decision made by the Ras htriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS)-BJP high command to explode five nuclear devices in Pokhran on May 11 and May 13, 1998 and to weaponise the nuclear option, a decision made pre-emptively, in the utmost secrecy, in the name of 'national security' - targeting especially Pakistan and China - and 'shakti', without any objective review or democratic decision, in clear violation of the promises made in the National Agenda for Governance, in utter disregard for both the consequences for the region and the basic interests of the Indian people. It is significant that the only reference to the nuclear issue made in the 1999 manifesto of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is the promise that the recently established National Security Council will advise the gov ernment on "the establishment of a credible nuclear deterrent". However, as part of a motivated post-Kargil, pre-election exercise to boost Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's image as a great leader in war and peace, the Prime Minister's Office has pu t out a draft that was not preceded by the long-promised "strategic review" and was not discussed by the Cabinet. The adverse reaction the NSAB document has drawn in the Indian press, from Opposition parties, and internationally has made the Vajpayee gov ernment go instantly on the defensive. It has claimed that the dIND does not signal any real change in the nuclear weaponisation policy in place and, in any case, is meant to be debated before a final 'consensus' national decision is arrived at after the general elections.

A CLOSE study of the hawkish document reveals first its pretentious, confused character: this is unmistakably the work of amateurs (mostly self-proclaimed strategic affairs specialists) playing nuclear games and a bit of star wars as well, not anything t hat reflects professional military, or serious security, thinking. The exercise involves an attempt to cover all bases and, in aggressiveness, goes well beyond the doctrine of 'credible minimum nuclear deterrence' presented in outline by Prime Minister V ajpayee in his statement of December 15, 1998 in the Rajya Sabha. In that statement, Vajpayee indicated that the main features of the weaponising nuclear policy were as follows: (a) India will deploy its nuclear deterrent; (b) India's nuclear doctrine in cludes a policy of 'No-First-Use' and 'Non-use against non-nuclear weapons states'; (c) a policy of 'No-First-Use' with a minimum nuclear deterrent "implies deployment of assets in a manner that ensures survivability and capacity of an adequate response, " in other words the development and deployment of a deterrent with a second-strike capability; (d) by way of meeting the concerns of the United States and its allies, India was willing to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Mat erial Cutoff Treaty (FMCT)-to-come and to make its export control laws relating to "sensitive technologies" more stringent; and (e) India will continue its missile development programme and not accept "any restraints on the development of India's R&D cap abilities".

The dIND is an attempt to seize the high ground of militarism in the Indian nuclear weaponisation debate. This is why it has assumed a significantly more aggressive posture than that indicated in Vajpayee's somewhat defensive statement made eight months earlier. The apologia of India's nuclear weapons programme being a minimal exercise in the development of instruments of self-defence forced by an insensitive world on a reluctant, peace-loving nation has been dispensed with. While paying lip-service to the formulation that "India shall pursue a doctrine of credible minimum nuclear deterrence", the dIND prescribes an open-ended, far-reaching programme of nuclear weaponisation with capabilities that will push the limits of the minimum.

The preambular section attempts to set out the context in which BJP-led India made its security-led choice: the continued reliance of the nuclear weapons states on their large nuclear arsenals; their proclaimed willingness to use nuclear weapons "even in a non-nuclear context"; their virtual abandonment of nuclear disarmament goals; and "the very existence of offensive doctrines pertaining to the first use of nuclear weapons and the insistence of some nuclear weapon states on the legitimacy of their use even against non-nuclear weapon countries." Out of such international threats to "peace, stability and sovereignty of states" sprang India's nuclear weaponisation. The job of the dIND, the Preamble explains, is to outline the broad principles for "the d evelopment, deployment and employment of India's nuclear forces".

The Objectives section leads off with the assertion that "India's strategic interests" (emphasis added) require in consequence "effective, credible nuclear deterrence and adequate retaliatory capability should deterrence fail" and it is even conte nded that the U.N. Charter allows such a course by sanctioning "the right of self-defence". Two things about this formulation are worth noting. The first is the reference to strategic - and not security - interests, a distinction that is of some importan ce. More important, it becomes clear that the grand inspiration for the dIND is deterrence theory.

The new-found official fascination with the logic of deterrence marks a low point in the history of India's nuclear policy and indeed in the country's politics and international relations. It represents an abject acceptance of the cast-off intellectual r ags of western nuclear weapons establishments at a time when the theory has been shown to be dangerously flawed and indeed false and when it has begun to be questioned by those (like Robert McNamara and General Lee Butler) who once held leadership roles in its practice. The lowest point perhaps came when Prime Minister Vajpayee, replying on March 15, 1999 to the Lok Sabha debate on the motion of thanks to the President, came up with his famous statement: "The nuclear weapon is not an offensive weapon. I t is a weapon of self-defence. It is the kind of weapon that helps in preserving the peace. If in the days of the Cold War there was no use of force, it was because of the balance of terror." Not surprisingly, the dIND stands or falls by the theology of nuclear deterrence.

THE principal source of confusion in this document, its most damning failure, is the inability to answer in any rational, meaningful or logical fashion the questions: deterrence against whom? "Credible" or "minimum" or "effective" against whom? Driven pa rtly by the reluctance to admit openly that the major preoccupation of the pro-nuclear weapons lobby is with Pakistan and China and driven partly by delusions of thermonuclear superpower status, the document presents the absurd proposition that India's n uclear weapons are directed against all possessors of nuclear weapons. To quote para 2.4 of the dIND: "The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapons is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any State or entity against India and its forces."

The heart of the dIND is para 2.2, which is worth quoting in full: "The requirements of deterrence should be carefully weighed in the design of Indian nuclear forces and in the strategy to provide for a level of capability consistent with maximum credibi lity, survivability, effectiveness, safety and security." Although subsequently it is pleaded that the basic doctrine is one of "credible minimum nuclear deterrence" and "retaliation only", it is clear that the whole exercise is to raise the nuclear stak es by introducing the principle of maximising so-called minimum deterrence by emphasising second-strike (or even third-strike) capability and "survivability". It is this maximum and "dynamic" version of "credible minimum deterrence" directed against all nuclear weapons states (and their military allies), read along with the justification of the Indian misadventure in terms of a global rationale, that animates the open-ended, adventurist and unlimited programme of nuclear weaponisation recommended by the NSAB.

It is worth noting that the Objectives section of the dIND, while asserting the validity of the doctrine of deterrence, adds to the irrationality by emphasing the principle of "punitive retaliation to inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor". The no tion of unacceptable damage has often been promoted in the debate among Indian strategic affairs hawks, notably by K. Subrahmanyam, the conceptual father of the dIND, as a more rational basis for determining the size of India's nuclear arsenal than the p rinciple of assured destruction. However, on closer examination, the principle of "unacceptable damage" turns out to be as nebulous as the notion of deterrence itself. In the first instance, just as in any other form of deterrence, the notion of unaccept able damage involves determining the state of mind of the adversary, a virtually impossible task as the history of nuclear deterrence shows. Secondly, the assertion that "the actual size, components, deployment and employment of nuclear forces", that is the nuclear force structure, will be aimed at "convincing any potential aggressor that... India... shall inflict damage unacceptable to the aggressor" sounds as absurdly non-credible as the boast made (in a May 17, 1998 press conference) by Dr. A.P.J. Ab dul Kalam, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and the key figure behind India's ballistic missile programme, that with Pokhran-II India had acquired the "capacity to vacate" any nuclear threat to itself. Does this mean that India will build a nuc lear force able to retaliate and do unacceptable damage to the United States after a U.S. nuclear attack on India, as worst case analysis suggests? Since the threshold of unacceptable damage varies considerably between, say, Pakistan and the United State s and given the all-embracing nature of the target of Indian nuclear deterrence, the notion of unacceptable damage to "any potential aggressor" is virtually useless. What is worse, this means that the minimum in the "credible minimum nuclear deterrent" has less and less meaning.

IN India, democratic and secular public opinion has always regarded nuclear weapons with horror, as weapons of mass destruction of a genocidal character. The hawks of the NSAB are quite aware that their doctrine, which seeks to legitimise and even glorif y nuclear weapons as acceptable means of achieving strategic goals, runs directly into conflict with this sentiment. The dIND has no inhibition in identifying the building blocks of Indian nuclear deterrence: "sufficient, survivable and operationally pre pared" nuclear forces; a "robust" command and control system; effective intelligence and early warning capabilities; comprehensive planning and training for "operations in line with the strategy"; and, perhaps most important, the politico-military "will to employ nuclear forces and weapons". In other words, no moral qualms, no squeamishness, no falling back on Gandhian or Nehruvian values, no peace-oriented value system that has underpinned the country's foreign and nuclear policies since Independence c an be allowed to come in the way of fulfilling this madcap vision.

Underlining the dIND's militarist vision of India's future is the formulation in para 2.7 that requires the maintenance of a high level of conventional capabilities. The claim that this will raise "the threshold of... threat (of use) or use of nuclear we apons" is demonstrably false. In fact, the opposite is true, as Munir Akram, Pakistan's Ambassador at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, pointed out recently: "Thus, although the Indian document states the purpose of a conventional arms build-up is to raise the nuclear threshold, in fact the conventional build-up will further lower the nuclear threshold and bring closer the danger of nuclear use in the sub-continent." At any rate, if this is the adversary's perception, it is clear that Indian dete rrence thinking has got it hopelessly wrong.

Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the dIND deal with nuclear forces, credibility and survivability, and command and control. In this hawkish vision, "minimum" virtually fades away and "credible", "effective", "enduring", "diverse", "flexible" and "responsive" take over in a way that suggests that no real limit will be placed on the Indian nuclear programme in quantity, scope and quality. Thus Indian nuclear forces, according to para 3.1, will be based on "a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-bas ed assets in keeping with the objectives outlined..." Although nuclear-powered submarines as carriers of nuclear-tipped missiles are not mentioned, this is primarily because official Indian policy is not to talk about India's supposedly secret nuclear su bmarine programme; the whole dIND approach makes it clear that submarine-based assets, considered the least vulnerable but the most complex and expensive, are envisaged. Survivability of all these forces will be "enhanced" by a combination of "multiple r edundant systems, mobility, dispersion and deception". Clearly, this encourages the adversary (who may be different at different points of time) to target Indian nuclear and other strategic assets in a far more comprehensive fashion. In the sub-continent al nuclear standoff that is bound to follow should the dIND be accepted by the government, the elements of mobility, dispersion and deception will add substantially to the risk of an actual nuclear exchange.

A notably irresponsible and dangerous feature of the recommended doctrine is that it will push what is claimed to be a 'No-First-Use' policy towards "launch-on-warning" or "launch-under-attack". Para 3.2 of the dIND envisages "assured capability" (emphasis added) to "shift from peacetime deployment to fully employable forces in the shortest possible time" (emphasis added). Timeliness of response is re-emphasised in para 4.2 that speaks about the need to maximise the efficacy of India's nuc lear deterrent "through synergy among all elements involving reliability, timeliness, accuracy and weight of the attack." The matter is clarified further in para 4.3(i), which, addressing the issue of survivability, states that "India's nuclear forces an d their command and control shall be organised for very high survivability against surprise attacks and for rapid punitive response" (emphasis added). Precisely how rapid is the response to be? It is here that the ambiguity and confusion begin. Fu ture interpretations of this formulation may extend to the position that Indian nuclear forces should launch either on warning or under attack. The building of such a capability will mean that India must undertake a nuclear weapons programme with all the associated assets that will approach the levels of the advanced nuclear powers. While all this may seem as grandiose and unreal as it is irresponsible and dangerous, it is very much the dream of the hawks of the NSAB, who will not let us forget for a mo ment that India must be ready to "effectively employ nuclear weapons".

The dIND vision is unmarred by any acknowledgement of the realities of Indian nuclear capabilities or of Indian S&T in general. Nuclear forces and command and control need to survive even "repetitive attrition attempts", meaning more than one strike [par a 4.3(i)], demanding a capability that it is not clear even the advanced nuclear weapon powers possess in practice. The emphasis on timeliness of response will inevitably lead to India's nuclear weapons being on alert status of increasingly high levels. The option of India keeping the fissile material for its weapons separate from delivery systems, a possibility suggested by Jaswant Singh in his last round of talks with Strobe Talbott, is clearly at odds with the prescriptions of the dIND. The NSAB is e ither unaware of, or not bothered by, assessments that Indian nuclear weapons are not adequately safety-tested given the limited range of tests conducted at Pokhran-II. The only way that the 'safety' of Indian nuclear weapons can be ensured with current technical capabilities is to keep the fissile material separate from the warhead assembly and the delivery systems.

In keeping with its complete freedom from humanitarian concern, its total insensitivity to issues of economic, developmental and human security, the dIND does not even attempt a token discussion of a civil defence programme commensurate with the scale of nuclear weaponisation recommended. Nor has any economic cost consideration entered its ken. Earlier ballpark estimates by economists, notably the work of C. Rammanohar Reddy, suggested that the cost of India's "credible minimum nuclear deterrent" might run to Rs.50,000 crores over a ten year period. The open-ended, 'maximal' version of the nuclear deterrent proposed by the NSAB will render such numbers tremendous underestimates.

Indisputably, the dIND has caused deep anxiety and unease among India's neighbours and a tit-for-tat response from Pakistan seems guaranteed. In their enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, the confused luminaries of the NSAB have even amended official commitme nts, made for instance in the Prime Minister's December 15, 1998 statement in the Rajya Sabha, on non-use of India's nuclear weapons against "non-nuclear weapon states". The dIND, in a disturbingly ambiguous formulation, recommends that "India will not r esort to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against States which do not possess nuclear weapons, or are not aligned with nuclear weapon powers" (emphasis added). As Admiral L. Ramdas, former Chief of the Naval Staff, puts it, what the dIN D has done, for transparently partisan reasons, is to open "a Pandora's box to frighten the entire neighbourhood".

All this does not necessarily mean that the prescriptions of the dIND will remain unchanged when a new government takes over after the general elections. Nor does it follow that official nuclear policy has returned to a path of defiant independence. The essence of the strategy of the Hindu Right is to try and hang on to de facto nuclear weaponisation at any cost. Among other things, this will mean abandonment of the global nuclear disarmament agenda and all principled opposition to the discrimina tory global nuclear order. As External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh told Arun Shourie in a remark quoted proudly by the latter in the Rajya Sabha debate of December 15, 1998: "Look at it as a crowded railway compartment. When you are trying to come int o it, your perspective is one. When you are in it, you want the rules that will keep you in and keep the others out." From a democratic standpoint, the pursuit of nuclear weaponisation while surrendering to the CTBT and the FMCT that is being negotiated and being co-opted into the discriminatory global nuclear order as a minor partner must be recognised as the worst possible course for India's nuclear policy. Meanwhile, the hawkishness that has underlain Pokhran-II, the subsequent articulations of offic ial policy relating to nuclear weaponisation, the test-firing of the extended range Agni II intermediate range ballistic missile and the explicit linking of this to nuclear weaponisation is likely to be modulated in accordance with perceived short-term p olitical exigencies and the twists and turns of the evolving regional and international situation. Everything except de facto nuclear weaponisation is bargainable; the limits of acceptance/non-acceptance by the United States and its allies can be probed and tested. The aggressive posture signalled by the dIND must be understood only in this context.

An activist's account

AN activist of the Swasraya Vypeen group from Kochi in Kerala, Jacob Vadakkachery, was present during the slow submergence and was in the same hut as Medha Patkar, Dadlyabai, Devrambhai and Ranyabhai, who had pledged to stay at the satyagraha site regard less of the water level. The following is his account of the events of two days when the waters rose.

August 10: "The water began to rise in the afternoon and by 2 p.m. the tree with the NBA flag sank. The day before that a police team had been shouting to us from afar to move to a safer place but we shouted slogans in return and stayed where we were. On the night of the August 10, Medha had returned from a meeting. By then the water was lapping at the flag post near the satyagraha hut. Medha, Dadlyabai, Ranyabhai and Devrambhai had decided to die in the waters if it came to that. Please understand that this was n ot a jal samarpan. They were sitting in a satyagraha, and the basic idea of this is that you do not run away from the situation.

August 11: The water came into the hut at 2 a.m. It was about one-foot deep. Medha asked all the volunteers to leave but we refused. In the lantern light I could see that every 20 minutes the waters rose about nine inches. The other people of the village were in a larger shed on higher ground. They did not know of the decision of Medha and others to stay at the satyagraha point if the waters rose. We were eight persons in the hut. The mood was peaceful. Some people were crying softly. Medha sang satyagraha songs a nd bhajans. She wrote a letter (detailing the basic issues surrounding the damming of the Narmada).

At 6 a.m. on August 11, the water was at chest level. Adivasi women came into the hut and stood with Medha. She tried to send them away. There was the danger of the hut collapsing. The poles were weak, erected as they were in slushy ground. A large bran ch of the mahua tree had broken off during the night because of the flood. After 16 hours in the water we were shivering, but Medha and the three others were calm. Ranyabhai and Devrambhai wore impassive expressions. I saw the real face of Gandhian satya graha.

At 10 a.m. a person from the village came with a piece of paper, which said that the Collector and the Superintendent of Police were arriving. At 3 p.m., about 50 uniformed men and the S.P. arrived by boat. They sat on some stones on higher ground and ob served us standing chest deep in water. At about 6 p.m. six women police personnel, wearing salwar-kameez, arrived. Then the arrests began. Adivasi women surrounded Medha but they were pulled away and kicked by the police women. One old man was treated q uite brutally. He kept shouting: "Remember, this is not the fate of the Narmada. It is the fate of the whole nation."

We were taken in an open truck to the S.P's office in Dedgaon and charged under Section 68 of the Bombay Police Act and released the next day under Section 69 of the same Act. I am not sure what happened after we left but I know that the arrests were a nticipated and some satyagrahis hid themselves. When we were taken away they continued the satyagraha. After our release we demonstrated in front of the tahsildar's office demanding a survey of the losses incurred by the villagers. Then we all returned to Domkhedi.

Resistance in the valley

other

Activists and supporters of the Narmada Bachao Andolan allege that by arresting the anti-dam satyagrahis the government tried to create a situation that it hoped would draw attention away from the Sardar Sarovar Project.

LYLA BAVADAM

ON August 10, satyagrahis at Domkhedi village watched a tree, which carried the pale blue flag of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), sink in the rising waters of the Narmada. That marked yet another stage in the NBA's 14 year-old struggle to prevent the c onstruction of big dams on the Narmada.

Domkhedi in Maharashtra and Jalsindhi in Madhya Pradesh were chosen for the satyagraha as they would be submerged this monsoon. The waters rose to 127 metres at Rajghat bridge, upstream of Domkhedi, forcing the police to stop all traffic. At Domkhedi wat er entered the satyagraha hut and homes nearby. Across the river, at Jalsindhi, fields were submerged and waters entered the satyagraha hut.

The next day 61 satyagrahis, including NBA leader Medha Patkar, were arrested. "It was a test of our commitment," said Anita S. from Kerala who was among those arrested. Medha Patkar and three dam-affected people had started the satyagraha on June 20 aft er the Supreme Court revoked a four-year stay on the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam, the largest among the 3,200 dams planned on the Narmada river. It is estimated that 2,500 families in nearly 60 villages in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh will b e displaced when the dam height is raised by five metres as a consequence of the court order.

Heavy downpour in the upstream regions of the Narmada Valley, particularly Jabalpur and Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, caused the water level to rise further, beyond the submergence level. Near Hafeshwar, the nearest access point to the villages involved in t he satyagraha, the level was around 98 m. The situation worsened when water was released from the three large dams upstream: 30,000 cusecs from Bargi, 28,000 cusecs from Tawa and 30,000 cusecs from Barna.

Arundhati Roy, author and NBA supporter, said: "The sad thing is that it was an artificially induced flood, a man-made flood. They waited for the rally to leave and then released water from the Bargi, Tava and Barna dams. The only heavy rain that had bee n recorded was in Jabalpur." Arundhati Roy, who had visited the same site a week earlier as part of the Rally for the Valley (Frontline, August 23) in which more than 300 anti-dam protesters participated, returned to the satyagraha sites on August 12, the day after the satyagrahis were arrested.

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She said that she was struck by the "poignancy of the half-submerged and half-dry fields" of Luwariyabhai - "added evidence that the flood was man-made" - and by the "upbeat mood" of the people. "There were the Nimadis and adivasis standing together," sh e said. According to her, there have been attempts by the government to drive a wedge in the anti-dam movement by pitting the Nimadis, essentially wealthy farmers of the Nimar plains of the Narmada Valley, against the adivasis. Arundhati Roy's two-day vi sit bolstered the spirits of NBA supporters. Anita S. said: "Her coming was an affirmation of her integrity and commitment."

Activists of the NBA allege that the flood was caused deliberately by the government to create an emergency situation in order to break the satyagraha, which was once again drawing attention to the beleaguered Sardar Sarovar Project. The timing of the sa tyagrahis' arrest they argue, shows that the Government had planned the situation carefully. The police waited for three hours on high ground, some metres from the satyagraha hut, while the satyagrahis stood in chest-deep water. When it became clear that the water level had not risen in the three hours, the police moved in to arrest them.

The police presence was confined to Domkhedi and Jalsindhi. The act of 'rescuing' Patkar and other satyagrahis, according to NBA activists, was a ruse to avoid embarrassment and a public outcry. They wonder why the same 'concern' was not extended to the villages such as Pipalchip and Sikka, which were also affected by the flood. The flood submerged four houses in Pipalchip, two in Sikka and two in Bharad. The NBA is conducting a survey of the effects of the submergence.

IT is not known how many people will be displaced eventually by the 139-m Sardar Sarovar dam. Four years ago the NBA pointed out that even as the construction of the dam proceeded at a healthy pace the resettlement of the displaced people was neglected. The Supreme Court ordered a stay on the construction until the displaced persons were rehabilitated.

The NBA said that misrepresentations by the governments of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat on the extent of resettlement achieved had led to the latest court order, which lifted the ban on construction. The reality, they said, was that the famili es that had been displaced when the dam height was below 80 metres were yet to be resettled.

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On June 1 and 2, people of the valley approached the Narmada Control Authority (NCA), the apex multi-State body that monitors the project, and questioned it on the availability of land and the claims made by the State governments that they were ready to carry out the resettlement.

It is clear that there is not enough land to resettle all the displaced people from the three States as per the directives of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal or the Supreme Court. For instance, the Maharashtra Government claimed that only 220 familie s in the State would be affected by this monsoon; however, an NBA survey revealed that the number was 685. The State Government claimed that it had 456 hectares of land to resettle all the affected families. But the NBA found that only 285 ha was availab le - that too uncultivable land. In Rozwa and other areas, around 169 families, which had been shifted three or more years earlier to resettlement sites, had not been allotted land. Twenty-one families from Junane and Selagda villages returned home sayin g that they preferred to face submergence rather than stay at the resettlement sites.

In a suit filed in the Supreme Court, Madhya Pradesh has admitted that the quantum of power the State will receive from the project will be 23 per cent less than what was projected initially. New estimates for water availability reveal that the earlier e stimate was higher by 18 per cent. Madhya Pradesh's suit has sought a new tribunal to re-evaluate and redesign the Sardar Sarovar dam.

Support for the NBA is growing in the valley and elsewhere. Residents of villages in the non-submergence zone came to the satyagraha site at Domkhedi and stayed there as the waters rose. Anita S. said: "Medha's strength comes from the people. They have g iven her strength and direction." The people have vowed to stay and fight.

Arundhati Roy said: "For them there are no options. They're not planning any move and they're very clear about that. All the confusion is outside (the area)."

An aborted deal?

If an agreement between India and Pakistan to resolve the Kargil crisis as early as June 27 was indeed aborted, clearly, some people in New Delhi wanted to flourish a military victory for electoral ends, in preference to an early diplomatic solu tion.

WAS there indeed an Indo-Pakistan agreement to resolve the Kargil crisis which was "upset" as a consequence of talks between India and the United States? On July 28, The Hindu published a brief excerpt from a report in The News, a Lahore da ily edited by Maleeha Lodhi, about a "four-point" agreement which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was to sign with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in New Delhi while the former was on his way back from Beijing. The News wrote: "It was on the after noon of June 27 that it all appeared to have been finalised. On his way to Beijing Nawaz Sharif would fly over Indian territory. While doing so he would send a goodwill message to his Indian counterpart. In response to the Pakistani Prime Minister's mess age, Vajpayee would invite him to visit Delhi, to make a technical stop. Responding to Vajpayee's invitation, Nawaz Sharif would stop in Delhi on his way back from China. In Delhi the two Prime Ministers were to sign the four-point finalised agreement."

In fact, Sharif's emissary, Niaz Naik, came to New Delhi on June 26; so did Gibson Lanpher, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, after talks in Islamabad. In fact the quotation was from an article by a respected columnist, Nasim Zehra. Five days earlier The Guardian (of the United Kingdom) had published a report from Islamabad by a correspondent of repute, Suzanne Goldenberg: "India and Pakistan arrived at a secret deal to end the fighting in Kargil three weeks before their generals met (on July 11) to put peace in motion - a delay that cost hundreds of lives." Mushahid Hussain, Pakistan's Information Minister, told her that "by the 19th or 20th, there were the makings of some sort of understanding".

It was arrived at in the 'back-channel' parleys of Niaz A. Naik, former Foreign Secretary and High Commissioner to India, and R. K. Mishra of The Observer of Business and Politics, with Vivek Katju, Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, t o aid him.

In order to appreciate the significance of these reports, it is necessary to recall the background (vide the writer's article, "Kargil diplomacy", Frontline, August 13). Both countries were parleying with the U.S. also while their 'back channel' w as at work, and Nasim Zehra's and Suzanne Goldenberg's accounts vary on minor points. Nasim Zehra reports: "The 'back channel' collapsed in the last days of June when the identity of the secret negotiators was leaked to the Indian press." She alleges th at it was New Delhi that inspired the disclosure by the Press Trust of India (PTI) from Islamabad.

PTI revealed Naik's trip to India under an Islamabad, June 27, dateline: "Stung by the U.S. pressure to pull out of Kargil, the Nawaz Sharif Government has despatched former Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik as its special emissary to India on a mission with a set of new proposals... The mission, which the authorities wanted to keep secret, was leaked by elements in the establishment opposed to the U.S. pressure." Thus PTI attributed the leak to Pakistani sources. But it strains ones credulity that Pakistani sources would have recklessly compromised themselves by leaking to an Indian news agency when they could very well have used the Pakistani media for the same result.

On June 29, Pakistan confirmed the Naik visit but added that R. K. Mishra had been to Islamabad and met Nawaz Sharif and Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed on June 18.

Niaz Naik's authoritative disclosure to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on June 29 removes all doubt. Even after the cover was blown, he was upbeat. "I think the situation will be resolved... We are trying to arrange the first meeting of what we call the Directors of Military Operations. The Prime Minister is up in China, he's coming back tomorrow (June 30) evening. I think things will start moving once he comes back to Islamabad." Nawaz Sharif cut short his trip to China on June 28 even as V ajpayee rushed back to Delhi on June 25 to meet Lanpher and Niaz Naik.

According to Nasim Zehra, around midday on June 27, Niaz Naik returned from New Delhi "with what was a finalised plan of action".

Both Brajesh Mishra and R. K. Mishra were present when Naik met Vajpayee earlier that day.

Nasim Zehra added: "Agreement was reached on four points: appropriate steps to be taken by both sides to mutually respect the LoC determined under the Simla Agreement of 1972; immediate resumption of the composite dialogue initiated under the Lahore proc ess; Islamabad to use its influence on the Mujahideen to request them to disengage; find an expeditious solution to the Kashmir dispute within a specified time-frame. It was also agreed that following the agreement, Pak-India dialogue would resume involv ing the Foreign Ministers. For immediate military de-escalation, the Directors-General Military Operations of the two countries were to hold a meeting.

"The agreement on the text was evolved during the five R. K. Mishra's Pakistan trips (sic). Mishra would carry back and forth amendments in a draft form in which amendments were made based on input from both sides. As a special envoy of the Indian Prime Minister, the businessman R. K. Mishra met with the Pakistani Prime Minister during all his trips to Pakistan."

R. K. Mishra had visited Pakistan five times since June 1. Nasim Zehra adds: "The Americans were completely kept out of back-channel negotiations. Washington did not even know that any such negotiations were taking place until around late June, a senior Cabinet Minister in passing mentioned to the American Ambassador in Pakistan that contacts with Delhi had been established through a back channel."

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On June 27, around 5 p.m., the text of the proposed "goodwill message" from Sharif was faxed from Islamabad to New Delhi. Nasim Zehra wrote: "The return message was coming in later than expected. The Indians were requested to fax the message at the Prime Minister's Model Town residence. The message came at around 10 p.m. And like a bombshell, Vajpayee was not inviting Nawaz Sharif to visit Delhi. Instead he was asking to "withdraw" the intruders from Kargil so that bilateral dialogue could be resumed. T elephone contacts with the Indians at the highest level did not help. India's principal interlocutor blamed Delhi's going back on a 'done deal' first on some misunderstanding on what had been agreed but subsequently conceded that the hawks in the Indian establishment had won out. There was a sudden panic amongst those who were the principal actors of Pakistan's back-channel diplomacy. The trip to China had still to go ahead. However, a decision was taken to cut it short."

News of Niaz Naik's secret trip was leaked to the Islamabad-based correspondent of PTI by Indian hawks opposed to the deal, Nasim Zehra alleges. On some points, however, she skates on thin ice. The pro-Indian stand of the G-8 and the U.S. could not have contributed to the failure: nor Lanpher's trip to New Delhi as she suspects. There was at least one element in the deal which could have spelt its doom. That Vajpayee promised Niaz Naik that he would discuss Kashmir once Pakistan withdrew from Kargil is clear. The Lahore process would be "accelerated", Naik reported. "He twice used the word accelerated." But which Indian Prime Minister could or would possibly agree to "find an expeditious solution to the Kashmir dispute within a specified time-frame?"

The ground situation was tricky for both. Pakistan knew it would have to quit. India, while being confident of success, knew the price it would have to pay. On June 30, L. K. Advani talked of success only by September. Tiger Hill was retaken on July 4, t he day Sharif met President Bill Clinton. The DGMOs wrapped up the deal concluded there only on July 11.

Bar that bit on a time-frame, the rest of the four points were unexceptionable. The time-frame stipulation could have been dropped on India's insistence, for it was an altogether new element. The deal would have survived, and its effect on the climate of opinion in both countries would have been dramatically sobering. Had the deal gone through on June 27, the result would have been vastly better than the one that came after July 11. Bilateralism would have received a powerful boost. Evidently, some peop le in New Delhi wanted to flourish a military victory for electoral ends, in preference to a diplomatic solution. Obviously the people who leaked Naik's visit to PTI on June 27 hoped to wreck the deal. Significantly, the leak was to the Indian, not Pakis tani, press. His interview to the BBC on June 29 shows that it was still possible to salvage the deal. Pakistan has revealed the details of the negotiations with dates and the time. The Vajpayee government's silence is deafening - and eloquent.

Having refused to summon the Rajya Sabha, the least the government can do is to publish a White Paper on the diplomatic record, especially on the aborted deal of June 27.

Vajpayee was very much a party to that deal not only telephonically, as mentioned in this writer's earlier article, but also by fax. The Clinton-Sharif draft was faxed to him, and he returned it with his approval, adding the word 'sanctity' (in respect o f the Line of Control) written in his own hand. The detail none could have invented and risked exposure (Amit Baruah, The Hindu, August 19). Vajpayee owes an explanation to the nation, and that duty is not discharged by bland denials such as the o ne by the official spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs on August 19. It is too preposterous for words.

An Army caught napping

The minutes of a crucial meeting of the Unified Headquarters, the apex body of organisations managing security in Jammu and Kashmir, show why the initial stages of India's response to events in Kargil were confused and directionless.

THE truth, like murder, will out, goes the maxim. Through the three months since the Kargil war began, military officials have insisted that they were prepared for Pakistan's aggression and that the campaign was conducted to a well-thought-through plan f rom its early stages. 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal had, in an interview, even described the campaign as an example of "generalship unparalleled in the history of warfare". Now documents obtained by Frontline have disproved su ch claims. The Army knew next to nothing about the scale and character of the intrusion, even less about the structure of the war that was to follow, and it was entirely unprepared for a full-scale conflagration involving the Pakistan Army in Kargil.

The minutes of the crucial first meeting on the Kargil war of the Unified Headquarters (UHQ), the apex body of organisations managing security in Jammu and Kashmir, cast light on events in the weeks that followed the detection on May 3 of Pakistan's aggr ession. Disturbed by the blase reaction of the Army at that meeting to the occupation of some 1,500 sq km of Indian territory by Pakistani regulars, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah flew to New Delhi on May 24, accompanied by Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley and Director-General of Police Gurbachan Jagat. There he discovered that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and top government officials were unaware of the events unfolding on the Kargil heights. It was a day of desperate pleading before the Cabinet Co mmittee on Security met on May 25. (This sequence of events was reported in Frontline's July 2 issue.)

On May 19, a fortnight after Pakistan's intrusion was detected on the Batalik heights, the UHQ met in Srinagar. The emergency meeting was called to discuss the intrusion and, its minutes record, the "emerging security scenario". The UHQ is chaired by the Chief Minister. His Security Adviser, the 15 Corps Commander, could by custom chair UHQ meetings in the Chief Minister's absence, and thus he played a special role in its deliberations. That this meeting was an unusual one is evident from the fact that almost the entire security establishment in Srinagar attended it.

Farooq Abdullah was accompanied by Minister of State for Home Mushtaq Ahmed Lone, Chief Secretary Jaitley, Principal Secretary B.R. Singh, Principal Secretary (Home) C. Phunsog, Information Director S. Pandey, Divisional Commissioner Khurshid Ahmed Ganie and Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Tanveer Jahan. The Border Security Force sent two Inspectors-General, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police two Deputy Inspectors-General and the Central Reserve Police Force a Deputy Inspector-General and an Additional Deputy Inspector-General. The Director-General of Police led a team consisting of Additional Director-General R. Tikoo, three Inspectors-General and a Senior Superintendent of Police. The Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) Joint Director was present, as were a Commissi oner and a Deputy Commissioner from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

A.K. Chopra, Brigadier-General (Staff) of the 15 Corps, initiated the proceedings with a general briefing on the events in Kargil. The contents of the briefing are not recorded in the minutes, but officials who attended the meeting say that it was a sket chy account lasting only a few minutes, of the presence of infiltrators in the sector. Pal then took over from his subordinate. Paragraph 4 of the minutes record that he made six observations. The first two were routine. "The areas of infiltration were u nheld ones," Pal said, "by both India and Pakistan and dominated by patrols and aerial surveillance by both sides, due to the rugged and extremely difficult high altitude terrain conditions." He then proceeded to outline the "sequence of infiltration in various sub-sectors and actions taken by the Army."

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The term "dominated by patrols and aerial surveillance" passed unchallenged: no one at the UHQ apparently saw it fit to ask how thousands of infiltrators could thus enter and hold such an area. Pal proceeded to make four assertions that proved even more damning. First, he insisted that "no voids were created in the CI (counter-insurgency) grid due to the movement of troops in Kargil Sector and deployment in the valley was fully balanced." The remark was intended to reassure security officials in the Sta te who were disturbed by the gaps created in counter-insurgency deployments by the movements of troops to the borders. The Army, Pal's remarks make it clear, did not expect that events in Kargil would suck in larger numbers of troops from security duties in the State. This was a massive error of judgment, for by the end of the Kargil war, 58 battalions had been moved to guard the borders vacated by troops headed for Kargil.

But this error was the outcome of even larger errors of judgment. Paragraph 4(iv) of the minutes record Pal asserting that there was "no concentration of troops on the Pakistani side and no battle indicators of war or even limited skirmishes." The langua ge used make at least two things clear. For one, the Army did not realise that there was already a concentration of Pakistani troops, from the Northern Light Infantry and Gilgit Scouts, pushing soldiers into Indian territory. Several additional brigades were to be used in the weeks to come. Pal himself is on record as claiming that Pakistan used upwards of 10 battalions, including units of its elite Special Services Group, in the Kargil War. Clearly, at this stage the Army had no idea of these deploymen ts.

Even more serious, Paragraph 4(iv) leaves little room for doubt that the Kargil intrusion was not seen as a conventional military engagement at all. Pal's remark that there were "no battle indicators of war or even limited skirmishes" now seems absurd. T he massive artillery exchanges that were under way through the Kargil sector, from the Mushkoh Valley in the west to Turtok in the east, were evidently misinterpreted as routine duels. By this time, Pakistan was funnelling entire brigades into Kargil, an ticipating a massive Indian retaliation across the Line of Control. India, too, was to prepare for such a possibility, but at this stage its Army clearly had little idea of where the Kargil engagement was headed. The UHQ reports explain just why the ini tial stages of India's response to events in Kargil were confused and directionless.

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Pal proceeded to underline his thesis that the intrusion would be contained with ease. Paragraph 4(v) notes his claim that the "situation was local and would be defeated locally". At least five brigades of the Indian Army, made up largely of troops from outside Jammu and Kashmir, had to be shipped in before containment was achieved. As such, Pal's assertion at the UHQ meeting illustrates a complete failure of comprehension. The 15 Corps Commander even seemed unaware of the threat to troop movements from Pakistan artillery fire on the Srinagar-Leh highway, directed by observation posts set up by infiltrators above Drass, notably on Tiger Hill and Tololing. "The Army convoys were moving unhindered," he noted, "and soon the civil convoy would also commenc e." It only started after the Pakistani withdrawal was near-complete.

HOW does one account for a spectacular misjudgment of the military character of the Kargil intrusion? It is important to note that these judgments were not just made by Pal, but the Army as a whole. Chief of the Army Staff General V.P. Malik, for one, sa w no reason to cut short his week-long visit to Poland in May when he received news of the intrusion. One obvious possibility is that the Army did not have, as on May 19, a cogent picture of what was going on. But Pal himself has, in a tape-recorded inte rview to Frontline, ruled out that possibility. "Our final assessments were made when our frontline contacts and photo surveillance provided detailed inputs that tallied," he said. Those assessments were presumably made by May 17, when Pal claimed to have "a good degree of clarity about just what was going on." He added: "I distinctly remember making it clear when I first briefed the press in Srinagar on May 19 that the depth, extent, logistic support, fire support and magnitude left no doubt in my mind that it was a Pakistan Army-backed operation" (Frontline, August 27).

"Pakistan Army-backed operation" is the crucial phrase here. Army officials, the UHQ minutes make clear, may have understood that their Pakistani adversaries were supporting the intrusion, as they do through the Line of Control and the western internatio nal border. But the Kargil intrusion was clearly not understood as an Army-led conventional engagement. Others at the UHQ meeting disagreed, notably Farooq Abdullah. Paragraph 8(i) records his strong intervention. The Chief Minister argued that the "rece nt infiltration was not a short-term plan but a sinister design of Pakistan aimed to isolate certain areas and cut off Kargil-Leh from the valley as (was) being done in Rajouri-Poonch areas...He opined that these were not mere militants but supported by some Pakistani regulars too."

Farooq Abdullah's sources of information were presumably from his police force, whose warnings from mid-May about the presence of Gilgit Scouts and the Northern Light Infantry had generally been dismissed. Certainly, neither the Intelligence Bureau nor R AW did anything to dispel Pal's notions at the UHQ meeting. Paragraph 6 of the minutes record thus: "On being asked by the Chief Secretary about the intelligence input, Joint Director IB stated that since January this year it was reported that approximat e(ly) 200 Al-Badr militants waiting in Kotli and Kel could not infiltrate due to effective counter-infiltration posture by the Army...'Accordingly, frustration had built up and thus possibly infiltration was effected in Kargil sector." Paragraph 7 notes that the RAW focussed, somewhat mystifyingly given the context of the meeting, on "activation of infiltration routes through Nepal and other areas".

Just why the I.B., in particular, chose to remain silent at the meeting is unclear. Its Joint Director must have been aware of reports coming from his Leh station since last October, reports which were made available to Frontline, warning that gro ups of Pakistani irregulars were being trained in Olthingthang with the express purpose of launching a thrust into Kargil this April. One possibility is that the I.B. chose to remain silent, leaving the job of engaging the 15 Corps Commander in argument to the Chief Minister. A second possibility is that his position, and for that matter Pal's stance, were not fully reflected in the minutes. But neither officer appears to have written to the UHQ Secretariat asking for the minutes to be modified, for no corrections were circulated to its members. As such, the minutes appear to be a plausible narration of the meeting.

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Interestingly, Pal's assessment of Pakistan's objectives in Kargil was remarkably coherent. "On being asked the main objective behind this infiltration," Paragraph 5 of the UHQ minutes records, "the Advisor Security remarked that the possible aim of Paki stan at the macro-level could be to internationalise the situation, create war-like hysteria and attempt to strengthen their case for third party intervention." But he appeared unable to comprehend that Pakistan could act not only by creating a war-like hysteria but actually going to war. The infiltrators' tactics were interpreted firmly in the light of the experience of insurgent tactics in Jammu and Kashmir. "At the operational level, these infiltrators would possibly aim at disrupting the vital lines of communication in this sector to Khalsi and Leh, as also create disturbances in the depth areas."

This position reflected institutional myopia born of the belief that nuclear weaponisation in South Asia precludes the possibility of conventional engagement. As Pal recently argued, the Army continues to believe, along with the Bharatiya Janata Party's defence establishment, that after "nuclear status was acquired, it stood to reason, both military and strategic reason, that any possibility of a conventional conflict will decline." From this premise, he proceeded to argue that the Kargil conflict had " nothing to do with the nuclear scenario". "Perhaps," Pal concluded, "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 identical, too, with what was done in Afghanistan."

This politically driven sundering of events in Jammu and Kashmir from those events set off by Pokhran-II and the entirely ahistorical comprehension of how the Kargil war came about may well force India to pay for the mistakes with the lives of its soldie rs. Interestingly, Farooq Abdullah seems more perceptive than the party he supports in Parliament. Paragraph 8(ii) of the minutes outlines his belief that "as soon as the Kosavo (sic) problem would be over, Pakistan would attempt to bring Kashmir into th e international limelight...He added that the additional aim could also be to keep the Army committed in such inhospitable terrain conditions and extend the areas of their employment by opening up new fronts." The use of the plural form "fronts" is obvio usly relevant. The UHQ minutes expose the dishonesty of the Army leadership on its conduct of the Kargil war, and that of the political establishment which has sought to shield the Army leadership from public scrutiny.

Even more disturbing, it makes evident the poverty of the Indian defence establishment's conceptual and doctrinal thought.

Arrest of an ISI gang

THERE is growing evidence that fundamentalist groups in Pakistan are preparing to set off a new wave of terror across India. The operational strategy seeks to exploit communal fissures: fissures that the Hindu Right has had not a little to do with creati ng in the first place.

On August 20, the Jammu and Kashmir Police announced the arrest of an 11-member Lashkar-e-Taiba cell, whose operatives were active in Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Its top operative, Amir Khan, Pakistani national, w as tasked to recruit Indians whose immediate family members had been killed in communal violence. At the time of his arrest, Khan was engaged in building a cover identity. Having obtained Indian educational documents and a driving licence from India, he planned to marry into a family living in Bhiwandi in Thane district of Maharashtra.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba cell was busted after the Jammu and Kashmir Police and 5 Grenadiers regiment picked up Islam-ud-Din, a resident of Tirwara Ka Nangla village in Gurgaon district of Haryana, on the Samba border in Jammu while waiting for key a Lashkar- e-Taiba operative, Abu Ilyas. Islam-ud-Din was not aware that Ilyas had been killed in an encounter while attempting to cross through Samba on July 31. Codenamed Abu Khalid, Islam-ud-Din told his interrogators that the cell had been ordered to carry out a series of explosions ahead of Independence Day.

Amir Khan's arrest, based on Islam-ud-Din's interrogation, rapidly led to the arrest of other members of the cell - the result of a coordinated operation between the State police and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.). The most important operatives were base d in Mumbai and Bhiwandi, places hit hard by Shiv Sena terror and anti-Muslim pogroms. Bhiwandi residents Usman Khan and Mohammad Ismail had obtained for Amir Khan educational documents and a driving licence and even loaned him an autorickshaw. Abdul Sal am, Ismail's brother, arranged Khan's wedding through a local moulvi. Another Bhiwandi resident, Mohammad Mobin, was engaged in finding accommodation for Khan, without knowing his real identity. Funds for this cell were routed through Jamal Ahmad, a resi dent of Mumbai's Mazagaon areas.

The rest of Khan's recruits were scattered across the country. Abdul Adil, a resident of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, worked for the cell even as he studied at Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi. Muzaffarnagar resident Mohammad Mustafa and Baghpat resident M ohammad Mustafa were roped in too. Wali Mohammad Zahid, originally a resident of Islam-ud-Din's tehsil, was assigned the task of building a base for the group in Hyderabad, where he lived in the Qazi Gali area near the Golconda Fort. Zahid had been instr ucted to obtain fake travel documents to facilitate movement out of India when instructed to do so by the Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership. One of Zahid's recruits, Mohammad Sharif, had been arrested three months earlier.

Jammu and Kashmir Police officials say that Islam-ud-Din was trained at the Lashkar-e-Taiba's Abu Bashir camp in Bhawalpur, Pakistan. The Abu Bashir camp, one of five major Lashkar training centres, specialises in bomb-making. The Umar Kuka camp puts vol unteers through a basic, three-month insurgency course, while the Abdullah bin Masood camp nearby offers more specialised training. The Taiba camp at Muridke engages in basic ideological indoctrination, after which recruits are sent for a rigorous six-mo nth course, the Daura Khasta, in the mountains. Another Muridke camp, Aksa, focusses on training volunteers from several countries, including Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan, for the war in Jammu and Kashmir.

Islam-ud-Din left Pakistan in early 1999, with cash to help set up the cell. More money came from Ilyas. Both visited several cities to gather recruits, using the infrastructure of the revanchist religious organisation, the Tabligh-i-Jamaat. Islam-ud-Din also arranged for Khan to work at the clinic of a doctor in Punhana, Faqir-e-Alam, by introducing the Lashkar operative as his relative. Faqir-e-Alam, a recent migrant to Haryana from Bihar, did not know Khan's real identity.

The latest arrests affirm that the Lashkar-e-Taiba's pan-Indian network is exploiting Muslim insecurities fuelled by the rise of a regime with no commitment to secularism. In the March 26 issue, Frontline had reported on the arrests of several imp ortant members of the Lashkar's Abdul Karim 'Tunda' cell, including Pakistani nationals Mohammad Salim Junaid from Hyderabad and Abdul Sattar from Delhi along with Indian nationals Shoaib Alam, Mohammad Faisal Hussain and Aamer Hashim Kamran. Saifullah C hitrali, a top operative of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and the Hizbul Mujahideen's Ali Mohammad Dar had also set up networks outside Jammu and Kashmir. Organisations such as the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front had even liaised with Abdul Razzak Memon, a k ey accused in the Mumbai serial bomb blasts.

The BJP's pro-active policy, an ill-conceived militarist response to growing violence in Jammu and Kashmir, fails to address the changing character of terrorism and the forces that drive it. As long as Hindu revanchism continues to fuel tensions in India , any number of soldiers will not be enough to engage with the Islamic Right.

Changing strategies

A bid by the Army to redefine the structure of counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir sparks disputes within the security establishment.

THE end of the war on the Kargil heights has marked the beginning of a new phase in the larger war in Jammu and Kashmir. The week before this Independence Day saw a series of dramatic attacks on Indian forces through the State, the largest and most susta ined offensive by terrorist groups in several years. The new offensive is certain to test the forces, thinned by the withdrawal of troops to secure the borders. When the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government assumed power in New Delhi last year , Indian troops and police and paramilitary personnel in the State were taking the lives of six terrorists for each fatality they suffered. Last year that figure fell below five, and it has dropped to two this summer.

Now the Army, with the evident support of the Union government, is advocating new solutions to reorder the structure of anti-terrorist operations in the State. Rashtriya Rifles Director-General Avtar Gill, who took charge of the Army's counter-terrorist operations after 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal asked to be relieved of this charge, has demanded at meetings of the Unified Headquarters (UHQ) in Srinagar that paramilitary organisations such as the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) be placed under his operational command. But the move has sparked disputes within the security establishment, and could open the way for a disturbing transfiguration of the Army's relationship with civilian government .

The backdrop to Gill's demands is only too evident. The week preceeding August 15 was among the most bloody weeks in years. On June 6, terrorists occupied the village of Chak Nathusa in Kupwara and launched a massive assault on the nearby camp of 4 Rasht riya Rifles. Six terrorists and five soldiers were killed. A day later, 4 Rashtriya Rifles lost its commanding officer, Colonel Balbir Singh, in an ambush. Rockets fired on the Rashtriya Rifles encampment on June 7 claimed another life. Three Navy comman dos were killed in an ambush near Bandipore on June 12, while a bomb went off at a BSF encampment in Tral killing one trooper. Yet another Rashtriya Rifles camp at Beerwah was attacked the next day and three soldiers were killed. Finally, on August 14, R ashtriya Rifles lost five personnel in attacks at Deewar-Lolab and Manasbal.

Neither the BSF nor the CRPF appear delighted with Gill's proposals. Highly placed sources told Frontline that BSF Director-General E.N. Ram Mohan had written to Union Home Secretary Kamal Pandey opposing the Army's proposals. Ram Mohan was stated to have argued that the move would disrupt the functional relationships among the security forces in the State, leading to an escalation of internecine feuds and rivalries. The Director-General said that Rashtriya Rifles, which is strictly not part of t he Army, was in effect a central police organisation (CPO), just like the BSF and the CRPF. While BSF units deployed on the border are under the operational command of the Army, the organisation believes that the application of the same structure in the matter internal security duties would be inappropriate.

Gill's proposals have their origin in a Concept Paper on administration in terrorist-affected States, including Jammu and Kashmir. (In a letter to Frontline, published in the issue of July 16, the Army denied the existence of the paper.)

"Management of Internal Conflict" is a 37-page document, illustrated with slides prepared by the Army Training Command in Shimla. It outlines proposals for drastic changes in the way Army deployments in terrorism-affected areas are carried out. Although the authors are not named in the document, it is learnt that the Concept Paper was prepared for presentation by Lieutenant-General Vijay Uberoi to Union Defence Minister George Fernandes on November 24, 1998.

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The Concept Paper has five sections. It outlines perspectives on internal security, discusses the role of the Army in its maintenance, presents proposals for united action by security organisations and a recommended structure for managing internal securi ty operations and finally gives a summary of the recommendations. The Concept Paper begins by fleshing out the thesis that insurgencies are the outcome of failures of governments, particularly State governments. It outlines existing and emerging threats in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern India as examples of these failures. The Army, the Concept Paper says on its very first page, has had to plough a "lone furrow" in ensuring peace where the State apparatus has failed.

There are more than a few curious conceptual elements in these assertions. For one, the authors of the Concept Paper do not see the Army as an instrument of government. Then the document fails to comprehend that terrorism is not the sole problem the Indi an state has had to engage with, and that governments have without Army support dealt with class warfare, economic conflict and caste violence. As important, the Army's successes and failures in those areas where it has played a key role have been no mor e or no less marked than those of other institutions in the State. For example, the Army's successes in ending terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and in northeastern India have not been recognisably greater than those of successive Central and State governme nts.

One key component of the paper is the demand for special legal protection for the Army in all counter-insurgency operations where it is deployed. Currently such protection is available only in some areas, and a welter of considerations come into play bef ore the imposition of these special laws. The Concept Paper argues on page 4 that it is imperative "from the point of view of morale as well as operational efficiency to protect the rights of soldiers". The sole means its authors can apparently envisage to do so is the promulgation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act under the Disturbed Areas Act. The imposition of these Acts where the Army is deployed in internal security operations, the paper claims, "becomes axiomatic".

The use of the term "axiomatic" is of some significance, suggesting as it does that an engagement with terrorism cannot be attempted without a generalised abrogation of democratic rights. While it is possible to argue coherently that such extraordinary l aws are needed in some situations, the demand for blanket impositions reflects a lack of sensitivity to the political, cultural and even diplomatic considerations at play in counter-terrorist operations. Nor is it clear that the Act protects soldiers fro m human rights prosecutions. The example of the Kashmir Valley, where the Act has long been in place, makes clear it has neither ensured unqualified operational efficiency nor protected soldiers from prosecution. Interestingly, at BJP mobilisations in ar eas like Doda, before the party took power in Delhi, the main demand was the imposition of the Special Powers Act.

The paper points to the contrasting situations in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir and makes a larger distinction between insurgencies where the Army acquired a primary role and those where other organisations predominate. The paper argues that where the sec urity environment can be contained by the police and the paramilitaries, the Army's role should only be "highly selective". Under whose command units would be placed in these circumstances, it does not mention. But where the Army has what the Concept Pap er describes as a "lead role", a situation which would come about in the case of full-blown insurgencies or externally aided wars, the paper suggests that all other security organisations be placed under its operational command.

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What this would mean in practice is evident. Paramilitary forces are currently attached to local police units, a system that is meant to upgrade their operational abilities. The paper is bitterly critical of this system, arguing that these district level attachments mean senior CPO officials have no real responsibilities. How simply transferring these attachments to the Army will solve this perceived problem is not clear, but what such a proposal would ensure is that local police involvement in counter- terrorist work would be subverted. Given the repeated assertion in the "Management of Internal Conflict" that the Army wishes to minimise its involvement in counter-terrorist work, the Army's determination to take exclusive command of such operations at the same time is more than mystifying.

The most dangerous of all are the Concept Paper's expansionist claims on the civilian administration. It ends with a demand for Army representation in new coordinating mechanisms to be set up at all levels of the administration, mechanisms that would cre ate an interface between civilian officials, the police and the military. "A coordination apparatus must exist in States down to district and even tehsil levels," the Concept Paper asserts in its eighth recommendation on pages 36-37. "The structure shoul d provide for joint planning, decision making, directions, coordination and control. For the committee to function effectively, there is a need for co-location of headquarters, the establishment of joint control rooms, direct communication and liaison, a nd ensuring that the administrative boundaries of the civil administration, the police and the military merge as a last resort."

The implications of these proposals, which in effect advocate the imposition of near-martial law in terrorism-affected States, are enormous. For one, the language of the proposal, in particular the use of the plural form of "States", leaves it open to in terpretation whether this system would operate only in areas where the Army has a "lead role", or in other areas where emerging threats are apparent as well. The proposal will also subvert the principle of military non-involvement in civilian administrat ion as well as legal requirements mandating police and administrative autonomy. Nowhere does the Concept Paper spell out how the Army's involvement in civilian management would improve administrative functioning; even less does it engage with the extreme ly serious issues that would emerge from such an interface.

IN some important senses, all that the paper serves to illustrate is the profound poverty of doctrinal thought in India's internal security establishment. Demands for new powers and authoritarian systems of command substitute for serious debate on how th e Army and other security organisations including the police and the paramilitary forces must evolve and transform themselves to engage with a rapidly transforming security landscape. Before Pokhran-II, much of the Indian Army doctrine was premised on i ts conventional superiority, an advantage that now has little meaning since massed tanks are unlikely to sweep across Sindh without inviting nuclear retaliation. There has clearly been little reflection on how the Army must reshape its doctrine in order to engage effectively with low-intensity, localised conflicts.

Since Union Home Minister L.K. Advani announced a "pro-active" paradigm for Jammu and Kashmir, there have been few tangible gains in the fight against terrorism. Casualities among neither the security forces nor civilians have shown any significant decli ne; indeed, there is more than a little evidence that with increasing numbers of heavy weapons being brought in and trained insurgents entering Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian forces are being pushed into a defensive mode for the first time since 1996. Fac ed with these stark facts, authoritarian doctrine is proliferating. These modes of thought are mirrored by the flirtation of a section of the Army leadership with the Hindu Right. Witness the decision of Director-General of Military Intelligence N.C. Vij and Air Vice-Marshal S.K. Malik to brief the BJP National Executive on the Kargil events on May 6, or 3 Infantry Division commander Lieutenant-General V.N. Budhwar's endorsement of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's Sindhu Darshan festival in Leh last mo nth.

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No one is certain where Avatar Gill's demands for new powers will head. For the moment, the State Government appears to have fought off the Army's efforts to place itself at the apex of the security establishment. Gill has replaced 15 Corps Commander Kri shan Pal as Security Adviser to the HQ chairperson, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. But, unlike Pal, he does not hold the right to chair over its meetings in Abdullah's absence. That prerogative has been made over to Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitle y. For the moment, civilian authority remains firmly in place. That in itself is not an adequate response to the larger challenges of discovering new means of engaging with terrorism, and ensuring peace. Sadly, no one in power seems interested in this la rger issue.

The State Government celebrated Independence Day with a bright, film-star studded show on the banks of the Dal lake in Srinagar. Ironically closed to the public, the celebration was organised by Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan' s son, Rahul Mahajan. Like the two chess-players who are the central characters in Satyajit Ray's masterpiece, Shatranj ke Khiladi, the Union and State governments seem supremely unconcerned about the violent events that surround them.

Focus on domestic violence

A Truth Commission debates the findings about the high incidence of unnatural deaths of women in dowry-related incidents in Bangalore, and in this context the broader issue of domestic violence, and makes recommendations for tightening investig ative and prosecution procedures.

A THREE-DAY public hearing in Bangalore before a Truth Commission comprising a distinguished jury of political and social activists, lawyers and former judges revisited the issue of domestic violence against women, which was first raised by the women's m ovement in India 20 years ago. It was pressure from the women's movement in the early 1980s that resulted in the amendment of penal statutes to protect women against all forms of marital violence by broadening the definition of cruelty, providing for hea vier penalties, and relaxing evidentiary requirements. Twenty years on, the problem of domestic violence, particularly dowry-related domestic violence, has escalated and assumed shocking proportions, both in its incidence and social spread, as a limited but thorough study-cum-campaign in Bangalore by the women's group Vimochana has shown (Frontline, August 27).

Organised by Vimochana in collaboration with the National Law School University of India, the Truth Commission, which sat for three days from August 15, was confronted with the contemporary face of domestic violence, its patterns and causes, and the limi tations of investigative and justice-giving procedures that are in place to deal with it.

While it was the hope of speedy justice that brought the fifty-plus families before the Commission to depose, for Vimochana the hearings marked a new phase in its ongoing campaign against dowry-related domestic violence. "The Truth Commission provided us the opportunity to take the issue of domestic violence to a more public and political level," Donna Fernandes of Vimochana told Frontline. "It marks for us the beginning of a new stage. We intend to organise these commissions in the districts and also network with other organisations. The report has underscored the need for tighter monitoring of the investigative and prosecution processes. We have to push for acceptance of these findings at the political level."

The members of the commission sat in two juries and heard depositions. The terms of reference were: 1. to identify the shortcomings in police investigations, inquest, dying declarations, forensic science and prosecution; 2. to suggest improvements for be tter medical treatment for women who are victims of domestic violence; 3. to recommend measures and suggest appropriate institutional arrangements to provide adequate protection to women victims of violence; and 4. to help put in place a system that is a ccessible, transparent and accountable. One of the jury panels was headed by Justice H. Suresh, former Judge of the Bombay High Court, and included Justice Leila Seth, former Judge of the Delhi High Court and of the Himachal Pradesh High Court and now a member of the Law Commission of India; Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association; Padma Seth, former member of the National Commission for Women; and Flavia Agnes, lawyer and women's rights activist in Mumbai. The ot her jury was headed by N. Madhava Menon, former Director of the National Law School of India University and Law Commission member, and included Justice Sadashivaiah, former Judge of the Karnataka High Court; R. Venkatramani, senior advocate of the Supre me Court; Madhu Kishwar, editor of the women's journal Manushi; and Corinne Kumar, founder-member of Vimochana.

The jury panel led by Justice Suresh gave a set of specific suggestions on how each of the cases that came up before them at the public hearing could be followed up. It also gave a set of broader recommendations on how the investigative and prosecution p rocedures could be tightened. Of the 24 cases it heard, it found that in 12 cases reinvestigation and reframing of charges was called for owing to the failure of the police to assess the nature of the case. In addition, there were at least five more case s of police negligence. Thus, in 17 of the 24 cases, according to this jury, there was clear evidence of police culpability. In five of the cases, the post-mortem did not give the relevant details, and of these in three there were charges of corruption a gainst the doctors concerned. The inquest proceedings in at least one-third of the cases were faulty. Of the 24 cases, the jury panel found that in eight cases there was evidence of lapses and bias in judicial procedure. Of these, three cases concerned the question of bail for the accused, two concerned irrational adjournment and delay of hearings, and three reflected judicial bias in the judgment, in the jury's opinion. It noted that families of victims did not in some cases have information on the st atus of the case. In 12 cases, the complainants had not been given copies of the First Information Report (FIR) and/or the post-mortem report and had no information on the progress of their cases. The jury also recommended, in four cases, the filing of a ppeals for child custody/maintenance/visiting rights. In all the cases, the natal families of the victims knew of the harassment of the woman prior to her death, and in many cases had sent the woman back to her husband's family with the advice that she s hould "adjust".

In this summation of cases lies a picture of shoddy investigation, lack of transparency and information, the utter lack of accountability of the various arms of the investigative machinery, and the ignorance of the complainant who is sent from pillar to post with little or no idea of the law or where the case stands. The large number of acquittals in such cases is not surprising given the flaws in the initial investigation process.

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All the members of the Truth Commission made special mention of the lack of support that harassed, and often battered, daughters received from their natal families. "By asking her to return to her husband's family, parents have unwittingly signed their d aughter's death warrant," noted Brinda Karat.

This jury also gave specific recommendations with respect to some of the crucial elements of the investigative process. It stressed the importance of the correct filing of the FIR, upon which is based all subsequent investigation. It noted that many poli ce doctors and Special Executive Magistrates do not follow the basic rules in the recording of the dying declaration and the inquest proceedings. The jury also recommended that as far as possible the inquest should be conducted in the presence of the vic tim's family.

Vimochana's study shows that 70 per cent of cases of suspicious deaths of women were closed and the deaths recorded in the Unnatural Death Register (UDR). On this important issue, the jury said that all cases of deaths of married women within seven years of marriage should, as the law provides, be actively investigated. "The police practice of adding a dowry section to every death seems to have boomeranged and has resulted in many acquittals," the jury noted. "Violence against women should be viewed wit hin a wider perspective rather than the narrow scope of 'dowry death'. We need changes in sections which deal with violence against women so that their scope is not narrowed down merely to violence due to dowry. Another automatic presumption of the polic e in cases of hanging, in particular, or of cases of death due to poison is that of suicide. All investigations are conducted within this framework. This often converts what in reality is a murder case under Section 302 to suicide and abetment to suicide . In our findings in 24 cases, there are as many as 11 cases where the wrong sections have been applied by the police due to these false premises."

The jury made some important recommendations on the role of the Public Prosecutor, a crucial agency responsible in bringing about convictions. It noted that most cases failed because of the "corruption, apathy and indifference of this agency". Although t he panel did not have the opportunity to examine many judgments in dowry cases, the few it did contained judicial biases, according to the panel.

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On the last day of the public hearing, each member of the jury offered his/her general comments and personal recommendations on the issue of marital violence and unnatural deaths of women. Madhava Menon was of the opinion that a jury of 12 citizens, of w hich half are women, should try such cases (as is the model in many countries of the West). This idea was opposed by Justice Suresh. Indeed, it is a viewpoint that women's groups and others disagree with. Juries can be influenced by social and ideologica l pressures that would prevent the unbiased application of law.

Brinda Karat noted several points of concern. The first was that one should not look at these cases as individual aberrations or in the framework of a man-woman relationship, but as reflecting a social trend that has enveloped all sections and communitie s. The social context of violence is closely related to the social processes spawned by the culture of economic liberalisation, she said. "The violation of the Line of Control and our territorial integrity brought forth national outrage, as it should hav e. But every day the LoC that preserves basic humanitarian concerns in interaction between human beings is violated, and we are silent." Her point that a society that perceives marriage as central to a woman's role and identity thereby circumscribes her choices was shared by other jury members, including Flavia Agnes and Padma Seth. Madhu Kishwar said that the lives of many women could have been saved if the natal families had extended them the support that they needed.

Smokers under siege

Smokers in Kerala come under pressure as a High Court judgment banning smoking in public places is enforced across the State.

THE second class chair car of the intercity express train bound for Thiruvananthapuram witnessed an unusual sight recently. Soon after the train left Ernakulam, a passenger lighted a cigarette - not an unusual sight in Indian Railways. What was unusual w as the reaction of his co-passengers. A woman in the adjacent seat requested him firmly to put out his cigarette. When he did not comply, four other travellers got up and surrounded the smoker. "This is Kerala," they said, "Don't you read the newspapers? You can't smoke in public here. Either you put out your cigarette or we hand you over to the Railway Police."

Faced with this determined assault, the man threw away his cigarette, bemused at the reaction of his co-passengers. "Nobody minds in the North, it's not a big deal there," he grumbled. As many others like him have found out, smoking in public in Kerala t hese days can be a painful exercise. If you flourish a cigarette or a beedi in public places - bus stations, streets or railway platforms - the chances are that a policeman will nab you and issue a summons to appear before the local magistrate. If you re sist or refuse to give a credible name and address, he could arrest you. The fine one has to pay for the pleasure of lighting up in public is anything between Rs.200 and Rs.500. If one refuses to pay or cannot afford to, it is one month behind bars.

What amazes visitors nowadays is that one cannot easily smoke in Kerala even if there are no policemen around. The members of the public will prevent you. This is one law the people have welcomed. Snap polls conducted by the media and some commercial org anisations found that nearly 80 per cent of those interviewed were in favour of the ban.

The ban was imposed by District Collectors within days of a landmark judgment delivered by a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on July 12. The judgment followed a petition filed earlier this year by two Keralites: Monamma Kokkad, mother of three ch ildren and a teacher of English Literature at BCM College, Kottayam, and K. Ramakrishnan, an advertising designer from Kozhikode who has since moved to Dubai. Monamma Kokkad used to commute by train between Kottayam and Ernakulam, and it was the hassle o f having to put up with smokers on the journey that motivated her to move the courts.

When the case came up before a Division Bench consisting of Acting Chief Justice A.R. Lakshmanan and Justice K. Narayana Kurup, the judges took an unusual course of action. They enlarged the list of respondents from an original nine to 52, including ever y possible agency of government, the civil administration and the police. This ensured that any action that flowed from the judgment was swiftly executed.

The 48-page judgment - possibly the most detailed legal document on the subject of smoking hazards - drew on dozens of sources both Indian and international (articles and news items from The Hindu were cited). Around one million people die every year in India from tobacco-related diseases, according to the Indian Medical Association. Cigarette smokers have been proven to have a 70 per cent higher chance of dying earlier than non-smokers; in fact, half of these smokers will be dead before they tu rn 40, according to the judgment.

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It devotes much space to documenting the hazards of passive smoking - what the medical profession now calls "environmental tobacco smoking (ETS)". This is a syndrome that is as yet not fully studied in India, but the statistics in the United States are s triking. According to a 1998 report of the American Health Association, quoted by the judges, there are nearly 40,000 deaths caused by the effects of passive smoking in the U.S. every year. Even infants are in danger of contracting asthma and other lung diseases if their parents are heavy smokers.

In India, the Bench found, an indication of the dimensions of the hazard can be seen in the statistics of paediatric admissions in hospitals: one in four is the child of a smoker. After direct smoking and alcohol, concluded the judges, passive smoking is one of the biggest worldwide killers.

It is the interests of this section of the public which is subject to serious health risks for no fault of theirs that invite the court's concern. And, in an analysis which is a throwback to the judgment delivered by V.R. Krishna Iyer in the Ratlam Munic ipality case in 1980, the court found that "existing laws... are quite sufficient to safeguard the interests of the public against the wisp of environmental tobacco smoke."

This, said the court, is because smoking is a public nuisance as covered under Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code - it "causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public". Further, the court invokes another Section which concerns "making the atmosphere noxious to health" and says: "There can be no doubt that smoking in a public place will vitiate the atmosphere so as to make it noxious to the health of persons who happen to be there. Therefore smoking is an offence punishable under Section 278 of the IPC."

The judgment concluded: "Public smoking of tobacco in any form whether in the form of cigarettes, cigars, beedies or otherwise, is illegal, unconstitutional and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India (which assures every citizen the right t o life and liberty). We direct the District Collectors of all districts of the State of Kerala... to promulgate an order under Section 133 (a) CrPC, prohibiting public smoking within one month from today and direct the Director General of Police to issue instructions... to prosecute all persons found smoking in public places... by filing a complaint before the competent magistrate... "

The judgment clarifies that "smoking in public places falls within the mischief of the penal provisions relating to public nuisance as contained in the Indian Penal Code and also the definition of air pollution contained in the statutes dealing with prot ection and preservation of the environment..." A footnote clarified what the judges considered a public place " all educational institutions, hospitals, shops, restaurants, commercial establishments, bars, factories, cinema theatres, parks, walkways, pla ces of amusement, bus stops, bus stations, railway stations, railway compartments, and other public transport vehicles, highways, or other places where people congregate." This turned out to be the crucial and operative part of the court's orders: you ca nnot smoke on a road or within a restaurant - indeed any place where another member of the public has access.

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EVERY District Collector acted within days of the judgment and well before the 30-day deadline. Smoking in public is a cognizable offence, that is, the police can make an arrest even without receiving a formal complaint. The Government now plans to send publicity vans equipped with loudspeakers to all towns and villages to broadcast details of the ban.

In the days following the judgment, the police picked up hundreds of smokers who attempted to smoke at bus stations, on railway platforms or in shopping centres. A pocket cartoon in Mathrubhoomi, the Malayalam daily, showed a policeman telling ano ther: "No room in the lock-up for all the smokers, sir. Shall we let out the petty thieves and pickpockets?"

Old habits die hard, but faced with the hassle of having to appear in court and pay a fine of Rs.200 or more, many smokers have called it quits, at least in public. The foyers of cinema theatres which used to be normally enveloped in a cigarette-induced haze during the interval, were suddenly clear of smoke.

And 'no smoking signs' have sprung up in unlikely places, around places of worship, in local reading rooms and gymnasia. A day after the judgment was published, a heartfelt response was posted on the gates of a church in Champakkara near Kochi: "No smoki ng on these grounds." In smaller letters was a footnote in Malayalam: "High kodathi vidhikku nanni" (thanks for the High Court judgment).

Fifteen days after the court's order, cigarette majors reported a 30 per cent to 50 per cent drop in the offtake of tobacco products by the around two lakh retailers in the State. Officially the Government has accepted the judgment and will not appeal a gainst it. But Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar, a former smoker, has assured smokers that they will not be unduly harassed by the police who would, however, strictly enforce the court orders.

Such compliance will cost the exchequer dear. Tobacco products used to provide Rs.200 crores every year by way of taxes. Kerala Dinesh Beedi, the largest cooperative tobacco venture in the State and an umbrella organisation for 22 primary societies and o ver 300 plants, will soon move an appeal in the High Court, citing the threat to the livelihood of 25,000 people who depend on the manufacture and sale of beedis.

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Legal experts do not see much hope for such appeals. Says P.B. Sahasranamam, an advocate at the High Court who specialises in environmental pollution law: "No review lies in the Kerala High Court unless it can be established that the judgment contains an error apparent on the face of the record." This is unlikely.

The only legal recourse open to those who may want to seek to reverse the judgment is to move the Supreme Court. And that would be a dicey option for the tobacco industry: if it loses its appeal in the apex court, it risks seeing the Kerala ban extended all over the country.

The media are already questioning why States such as Delhi, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were tardy in enforcing laws banning public smoking. And within the last few weeks, anti-smoking activists are reported to have moved both the Madras and Karnataka H igh Courts, seeking a ban similar to that imposed in Kerala.

The hotel and restaurant industry which operates thousands of bars in Kerala has not yet reacted to the ban; but it is likely to feel the impact in the weeks ahead. Observers suggest that the industry may be forced to invest in a facility that is common in countries whose smoking laws are strictly enforced - lobbies for smokers.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is hearing a public interest case filed by Mumbai Congress leader Murli Deora against cigarette manufacturers, seeking Rs.500 crores on behalf of non-smokers and better control over the marketing, advertising and consumption of tobacco products.

It may well happen that the Kerala move triggered by a couple of public spirited citizens and articulated by an alert and sensitive judiciary, will create a nationwide focus on the dangers of tobacco to both active consumers and passive members of the pu blic. That will bring India in line with dozens of other nations where the cigarette industry is under unprecedented pressure to mend the way it does business. As lighters go off all over Kerala it may yet be that smokers nationwide have taken their last nicotine-stained gasps - at least in public.

Designer beedis

other

FACED with tough competition from cigarette manufacturers, beedi-makers are seeking new pastures. Indian beedis in 'designer' flavours such as strawberry, grape and vanilla are all the rage in parts of the United States today.

As cigarettes become costlier, many young Americans have taken to the cheaper option of beedis from India. Beedis made their first appearance this year in Massachusetts and at least some school children who took to smoking flavoured beedis thought they w ere some kind of herbal cigarette sans tobacco.

Beedis available in some States such as California carry no health warnings. They are easily available and can even be ordered on the Internet. Health departments are now waking up to the hazards posed by these handrolled unfiltered tobacco products. Rec ently ABC TV reported that the Massachusetts Department of Health checked a batch of beedis and found that the amount of tar that they contained and carbon monoxide that they emitted was two to three times higher than in the case of cigarettes. And the n icotine per gram was seven times higher than that of regular cigarettes.

Smoke signals

THROUGH most of the 1990s, proceedings in tobacco-related cases in United States' courts followed a set pattern: the plaintiff, usually an individual or a social service organisation, took on the might of the tobacco industry, citing what often seemed da mning medical evidence of harm done to smokers or to those forced to work in a smoke-laden environment.

After weeks of arguments and a procession of experts presented by both sides, the jury went into a brief huddle, only to come out to announce a verdict that favoured the defendant. The tobacco industry's attorney stepped outside the court, smirking in fr ont of a battery of cameras. "We have a justice system that works," one of them said, "Our juries are intelligent. They are not conned by frivolous publicity-seeking plaintiffs. They have sent a clear message."

The first-ever such lawsuit against a tobacco company was filed in 1954 by a lung cancer victim in the U.S. It dragged on for 13 years before it was dropped. In 1964, the Surgeon General released a report that, for the first time, linked smoking with lun g cancer. A year later, health warnings became mandatory on cigarette packets sold in the country - a requirement that was later imposed in dozens of other countries including India.

By 1971, airlines began segregating smokers in separate sections of the aircraft and the U.S. took the lead in banning broadcast advertisements for tobacco products. In the 1980s, the tobacco companies won dozens of lawsuits filed by smokers dying of lu ng diseases. In a bizarre case in 1983, a smoker, Rose Cipollone, dying of lung cancer, was ordered by a court to pay $40,000 in damages - a verdict that was later overturned. Rose died soon after and her son withdrew the case because he could no longer afford to keep it going.

This was a scene that was played out time and again. The tobacco companies had enormous financial clout which enabled them to drive its opponents to penury. In July 1997, U.S. based tobacco companies came to an agreement with the Attorneys General of 40 States, whereby they promised to pay over $200 billion over the next quarter century into a fund to cover medical costs, help people to quit smoking and pay damages to affected smokers. They also agreed to remove cigarette advertisements from hoardings, sporting events and supermarkets and shut down cigarette vending machines. The agreement shielded the companies from cases, but did not restrict individuals from suing them.

And that is what they faced in early 1999, when hearings began in a Miami court. Five of the largest companies were taken to court by the first-ever class action suit filed on behalf of 500,000 sick smokers in Florida suffering from lung cancer, emphysem a and other diseases. On July 7, a jury found the five companies guilty of making a defective product and found them "engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct... with the intent to inflict severe emotional distress".

The jury agreed with the smokers on every count: that the industry deceived them about the dangers of smoking; suppressed research results; terminated research that would have produced safer cigarettes and targeted children with their advertisements. The final figure of punitive damages could well exceed the $200-billion settlement that the tobacco companies reached with the States - that is, if the jury verdict is not overturned in appeal. But the finding is still being seen as a startling reversal of a hitherto unchanging pattern. It was the first major defeat for tobacco companies.

Readers of John Grisham's thrillers might have felt a sense of deja vu while reading about the Miami court proceedings. His The Runaway Jury etched a startlingly prescient scenario: a jury which for the first time returns a finding in favo ur of a dead smoker.

Meanwhile, a special federal court has been set up in the U.S. to hear cases filed by countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Thailand against American cigarette manufacturers. And in mid-August, six smokers with lung cancer filed a class ac tion suit in the Australian Federal Court on behalf of 40,000 fellow-smokers against the 'Big Three' cigarette manufacturers - Philip Morris, Wills and Rothmans.

Groups of sufferers from environmental smoke hazards - such as airline flight attendants forced to serve in the smoking areas of aircraft - have in the past sued cigarette manufacturers, with mixed success. But in the roster of legal moves in support of the innocent non-smoker, the recent Kerala court judgment has its own special place. It was the first instance when the judiciary has acted in favour of all passive smokers of a State without receiving a specific complaint against a tobacco manufacturer or trader.

From ore to yellow cake

the-nation

Uranium Corporation of India's mining and processing facilities in Bihar's Singhbhum district present a range of capabilities in the specialised field.

T.S. SUBRAMANIAN SUHRID SANKAR CHATTOPADHYAY in Jaduguda

NATURAL uranium converted into pellets is the vital fuel for eight nuclear reactors in the country, called Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs), two each at Rawatbhatta in Rajasthan, Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu, Narora in Uttar Pradesh and Kakrapar in Gu jarat. Heavy water is both the moderator and the coolant in these reactors.

The mining and milling (that is, processing) of uranium ore, the first steps leading to nuclear power generation, are undertaken in India by the public sector Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL), which comes under the administrative control of th e Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). UCIL itself was founded in 1967 with its headquarters at Jaduguda in east Singhbhum district of Bihar, where the country's first underground uranium mine was established the same year. UCIL manages the mining of urani um ore and its processing into uranium oxide concentrates, or yellow cake. Yellow cake is sintered and made into fuel pellets at the Nuclear Fuel Complex, Hyderabad.

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Uranium is found in nature in the form of minerals. There are more than 100 such minerals present in almost all rocks. The German scientist Martin Heinrich Klaproth isolated uranium in 1789 in a sample of pitchblende. (It was only in 1896 that A.H. Becqu erel discovered that uranium underwent radioactive decay. The discovery of nuclear fission by Otto Hahn and F. Strassmann in 1939 brought uranium into the limelight.)

The Atomic Minerals Division of the DAE is responsible for uranium prospecting; UCIL mines and processes the ore. Commercially exploitable levels of ore deposits were found at Jaduguda in 1950 and at nearby Bhatin and Narwapahar later in the 160-km-long and 2-km-wide Singhbhum thrust belt.

Picturesque Jaduguda is 230 km from Calcutta and 24 km from Jamshedpur. It is hemmed in by the Chhotanagpur hills. The valley is awash with paddyfields. The Subarnarekha flows nearby. People belonging to the Santhal, Munda and Ho tribes live in the area.

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Although the ore is mined at all the three underground mines, all milling is carried out at Jaduguda. Here the mine and the mill are next to each other.

AS you step into the "cage" in the shaft and the switch is thrown, it is dark all around. The lift speeds down. In a couple of minutes, you step out - 605 metres below the surface of the earth, in an area that is well lit and ventilated. Now you are in t he heart of the Jaduguda mine.

The tunnels go in different directions. Occasionally, miners with their machinery appear. A conveyor belt transports lumps of uranium ore into a measuring bin which, in turn, empties the ore into a skip. The skip, a huge bucket, is hoisted and the ore is emptied on the surface.

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The circular, concrete-lined main mine shaft has a diameter of 5 metres and it is sunk to a depth of 640 m. It was sunk in two stages - the first stage went to a depth of 315 m and the second stage from 315 m. Later, an auxiliary third shaft to a further depth of 350 m was sunk. The three shafts together go to a depth of 990 m.

J.L. Bhasin, who until his death on August 2 of a heart attack, was the Chairman and Managing Director of UCIL, was in charge of the design of the three shafts. (Bhasin had briefed a group of visiting journalists on the activities of UCIL, just last mont h.)

On top of the shaft and on the surface is a 41-m concrete tower that houses machinery. Two multi-rope friction winders control the skip and the cage. The skip can haul 5 tonnes of ore at a time from a loading station situated 605 m below the surface. The cage has two decks to transport men and materials.

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As you go down the shaft, there is an operating level every 65 m, which is connected to the ore drives. At every alternate level there is a pumping station.

One sub-station with high tension lines of 6,600 volts could be spotted at a depth of 434 m. Elsewhere, in a rock-cut "temple", is a control room with automatic panels.

S.C. Bhowmik, Mines Superintendent, explained how the uranium ore bodies are prised out. "Earlier, we used the hand-drill jack hammer. Now we use electrically operated jumbo drills."

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The ore extracted from different levels is collected in a central crushing station, 580 m below the ground. The crushing is done in the mine itself. At a nearby washing station, the rocks are sprayed with water. Then a big jaw crusher breaks the ore lum ps to a size of about 200 mm. The crushed ore is stored in ore pockets below the crushing station, at a depth of 605 m. Here a conveyor belt loads the crushed ore into a measuring bin which, in turn, loads the ore into the skip. The ore is finally hoiste d to the surface in the skip. This ore is transported to the mill. About 750 tonnes of ore a day is extracted at Jaduguda.

Bhasin stressed the importance given to the safety of the workers. He said: "We lay great emphasis on providing adequate ventilation in all the three mines. The most effective way of controlling radon and airborne radioactive dust from the mine air is pr oper ventilation." At Jaduguda, the main shaft is used to supply fresh air. There are also two exhaust fans, located on the surface of the eastern and western ends of the mine, which get rid of impure air.

LOCATED 4 km west of Jaduguda is the much smaller Bhatin mine. Entry into this mine, which goes to a depth of 135 m, is by means of an adit and two winzes. Bhatin's uranium deposit is the western extension of the Jaduguda ore body. This mine has been pro ducing ore since 1986-87 and production now is around 150 tonnes a day. This ore is transported to the Jaduguda mill.

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The Narwapahar mine is 12 km away from Jaduguda. It is one of the most modern mines in the country. Bhasin said state-of-the-art technology involving "trackless mining with decline" and "ramps in stopes" was utilised here for ore extraction from depths o f up to 140 m.

The Narwapahar mine is also an underground one, but the preferred entry here is down a ramp rather than through the shaft. This is the only underground mine in India where such dual-type access is possible. At a production point, a jumbo drill bores into the rock that contains uranium ore. Trucks transport the ore outside.

The Narwapahar mine was set up at a cost of Rs.216 crores. The 5-m diameter shaft here is sunk to a depth of 355 m. The working level is up to 275 m. The mine now produces about 650 tonnes of ore a day; it is planned to increase production to about 1,00 0 tonnes.

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According to R.P. Sengupta, General Manager of the Narwapahar mine, trackless mining equipment such as jumbo drill, low profile dump trucks and passenger carriers were introduced for the first time in the country here.

D. Acharya, mine manager, said the jumbo drill used drill bits made of tungsten carbide. As these drill bits cut into the rock, rock particles flew out.

THE mill at Jaduguda is a modern complex with a massive chemical house. It can process 1,000 tonnes of ore a day. Here there is also a sulphuric acid manufacturing unit and a plant to recover byproducts.

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According to K.K. Beri, Director (Technical), UCIL, the processing is done in three stages: crushing, grinding and leaching. The ore is crushed and ground and uranium leached into solution by sulphuric acid. The solution is filtered, concentrated and pur ified, and uranium is precipitated in the form of magnesium diuranate, or yellow cake. Crushing is done in stages in rollers with 4-inch-diameter iron rods and steel balls. The rods and the steel balls impact on the ore, smashing it. The smashed ore is s ieved into 4-inch, 2.5-inch, and one-inch particles. The 4-inch and 2.5-inch particles are again crushed, to produce one-inch particles, which are mixed with water (to prevent dust formation) and ground.

The grinding produces a slurry which is 40 per cent solid; it is thickened into 60 per cent solid state. This is filtered to 80 per cent solid state." This ore pulp is dissolved in sulphuric acid in a process that lasts about 12 hours at a temperature of 40-to 50-C. Thus, the uranium gets oxidised and dissolved. The left-out solids are gangue minerals - waste products. The uranium-bearing solution is filtered and purified by the ion exchange process of clarification. Subsequently, the uranium is separat ed as magnesium diuranate after a reaction with magnesia slurry.

A.R. Ray, General Manager (Electrical), UCIL, said that at a certain percentage of the hydrogen value, the uranium gets precipitated. The yellow cake thus formed is sent to the NFC to be sintered into uranium bundles. Once uranium is extracted, magnetite is recovered. Magnetite has applications in the coal industry.

All the processes after leaching take place in the chemical house. Double filtration is also done in the chemical house and its main purpose is to take out the uranium solution.

Villages and woes

Tribal people living near the uranium mining and processing facilities say they are the victims of radiation. But UCIL attributes their afflictions to other factors.

URANIUM Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) is today at the centre of a controversy which relates to allegations that tribal people living near the three tailings ponds outside Jaduguda have become victims of radiation. Tailings are radioactive waste tha t is left behind during uranium processing. Villages such as Dungridih, Chatitocha, Tilaitand, Mechua and Matigora, are situated between 250 metres to 3.5 km from the UCIL facilities.

Ghanshyam Biruli, president of Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation (JOAR), which leads a struggle on behalf of the tribal people, says that a survey conducted by the organisation in 1997 revealed that a large number of residents of the villages suff er from cancer, skin diseases, physical deformities, blindness, brain damage, disruption of menstrual cycle or loss of fertility. Children are the most affected, according to him. Biruli belongs to Tilaitand village.

Top officials of UCIL and scientists of the Environmental Survey Laboratory (ESL), Jaduguda, which is under the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), refute the allegations and cite a BARC committee report in support of their stand. The report, which was submitted in December 1998, says: "The team was convinced and unanimously agreed that the diseases pattern cannot be ascribed to radiation exposure in these areas."

Since uranium forms only 0.5 per cent of the ore, almost the entire bulk of the material handled is rejected as waste. The waste, however, contains all the radionuclides other than uranium that occur in the ore. It also carries additive chemicals such as manganese, sulphates and chlorides. As Radon-222, a kind of radiation, is emitted from the tailings, the waste has to be disposed of carefully. The tailings are neutralised with lime and carried from Jaduguda through pipelines to the tailings ponds. Cle an water from the ponds comes out of decantation wells and is taken through a closed channel to an effluent treatment plant for the removal of radium and manganese. The solid tailings are retained in the ponds.

The ponds, situated about 2 km from Jaduguda, are engineered structures with massive bunds made of rocks and earth. These bunds/embankments are 125 metres wide at the base and 25 metres high.

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When the controversy erupted in 1991, it was of a different nature. It began as an agitation against UCIL displacing local people in order to construct the third tailings pond. The tribal people who were threatened with displacement formed the Jharkand A divasi Bistapit Nirojgar Sangh under Biruli's leadership. He told Frontline: "When UCIL started mining in Jaduguda our families gave away their lands. They have not received compensation for them. Our demands are that those who lost their land in recent times in the process of expansion of the company's activities should be employed in UCIL, given compensation based on the price of land, and provided with alternative land to set up their homesteads."

After several meetings with the organisation's leaders, UCIL agreed to allot 12 decimal of land at Do Vani village to 30 displaced villagers and pay a compensation of Rs.65,000 to each family to build a house. J.L. Bhasin, UCIL's Chairman and Managing Di rector, said: "We were willing to give compensation and employment to the displaced villagers but Biruli tried to coerce us into employing people of his choice. We were not ready to accept that."

However, UCIL's problems on this count were far from over. The Jharkhand Adivasi Bistapit Nirojgar Sangh transformed itself into the Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation as its members felt that radiation from the ponds affected the inhabitants of th e area.

In a report in CSE-Down to Earth Feature Service, entitled "A deformed existence" and dated June 4, 1999, Manish Tiwari quoted Biruli as saying, "Many women in the area complain of disrupted menstrual cycles. This area also has a high rate of either misc arriages or still-born babies... Biruli claims that nearly 30,000 people living in 15 villages in the five-km radius of the tailings ponds are exposed to radiation. 'Earlier, children were still-born. Now they die within few days of their birth,' he says . He also claims that nearly one-third of the women living in these areas are suffering from loss of fertility. Even animals such as cows and buffaloes are suffering from rare diseases."

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The JOAR found a friend in Medha Patkar, the anti-Narmada Valley Project activist, who visited the villages. According to Biruli, "her visit was a source of strength and support to the people."

Pano Majhi, a JOAR activist, told Frontline that "none of the doctors in the area could say for sure that radiation is the cause of the ailments, yet cases of tuberculosis, cancer and child mortality are high here." His father, an ex-UCIL employee , died of cancer at the age of 42. Dopan Majhi (65), pradhan of Tilaitand, said: "When UCIL started its operations, a lot of my contemporaries were employed there. They are all dead now."

According to Jyotsna Tirkey, a member of the Adivasi Mahila Manch, which works in close association with JOAR, it has been found that since 1990, more and more women are becoming barren in the villages situated near Jaduguda. Many of those who conceived gave birth to still-born or deformed babies. She said: "This has shattered the sociological pattern in the villages. More and more marriages are breaking up and the practice of bigamy is growing."

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THE Bihar Government set up a committee of the Legislative Council (Rajya Vidhan Parishad Paryavaran Samiti) under the chairmanship of Gautam Sagar Rana to investigate the matter. The committee, in its report submitted in December 1998, said: "The waste material, which contains traces of radioactive materials, should be taken to the effluent treatment plants by pipes. It was noticed by the team that water from the dumping ground is returned by open drains. This may allow some of the radioactive material s to be absorbed by the soil, which may result in long-term radiation problems." The report said that there were traces of radiation, up to 0.2 millirem (mr) an hour, in the "flowing water exposed to the public".

The committee expressed concern about the safety aspect with regard to the tailings ponds. It said: "The people and cattle have free and unchecked access to the area around the mines. The dumping ponds are unfenced and there are no proper warning signs t o restrict entry."

Bhasin said that the committee members "bulldozed the people" and did not have a medical practitioner on the panel. Biruli would just collect five people and declare that they suffered from the effects of radiation, he alleged. He added that Biruli did n ot associate himself with any committee. Bhasin said that the Legislative Council Committee report contained contradictions. The report noted that "none of them (affected tribal people) mentioned any problem relating to radiation hazard..." and that "the radiation was well within tolerance limits."

Bhasin said: "The report is ambiguous. It is in no way conclusive." On the one hand it says that the symptoms could be attributed to radiation while on the other hand it says that there is no proof that the local people had really been affected by radiat ion, he added.

The BARC committee came to Jaduguda in November 1998 at the request of the State Government. Its report, entitled "Medical Survey of Inhabitants Residing Within Two-Km Radius of the UCIL's Tailings Storage Pond", says: "In order to make a factual assessm ent regarding health impacts, if any, on account of radiation emission from the UCIL's tailings storage pond, a detailed medical survey was carried out by a team of doctors and scientists from BARC." The 11-member team consisted of Dr. S.S. Ali, medical officer-in-charge. Trombay Dispensary, and overall-in-charge, zonal dispensaries; Dr. L. Kasturi, head of the paediatric unit, BARC Hospital; Dr. M. Seshadri, Bio-Medical Group, and Dr. D.K. Ghosh. Besides, there were two doctors each from the Bihar Gove rnment and UCIL, two doctors, including a nuclear medicine specialist from the Tata Main Hospital, Jamshedpur, and a scientist from the ESL.

The BARC report says that the short-listed (doubtful) cases were examined in the hospital and the others at the villages. As most of the cases were of children, Dr. Kasturi "examined them in detail, reviewed the investigations, discussed with other team members... and concluded the opinion." Seshadri and Ghosh reviewed the monitoring levels provided by the ESL and personally verified them by doing the re-monitoring themselves.

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The committee concluded: "The consensus of all the doctors was that the cases examined had congenital anomalies, diseases due to genetic abnormalities like thalassaemia major and retinitis pigmentosa, moderate to gross splenomegaly due to chronic malaria l infection (as this is hyperendemic area), malnutrition, post encephalitis, post head injury sequelae and certain habits (alcohol) and have no relation to radiation." Its report adds: "The team was convinced and unanimously agreed that the diseases' pat tern cannot be ascribed to radiation exposure in any of these cases."

In addition to a process of case-by-case medical examination, two BARC committee members and a Bihar Government doctor measured the radiation level from the tailings ponds and the nearby areas on November 30, 1998. They were assisted by three scientific/ technical members of the ESL. The instrument used was a dosimeter. The measurements were conducted one metre from the ground. These readings were compared with the readings taken between 1993 and 1997. The conclusion was that "the operations undertaken b y the UCIL in the Jaduguda environment have not resulted in any increase in the natural background radiation levels prescribed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)."

Bhasin said that malnutrition is the main cause of the high incidence of tuberculosis and child mortality and the low level of health among the tribal people. The men are generally healthy until the age of 27. He said that after that they took to drinkin g. This coupled with their poor economic background resulted in the deterioration of their health, he said.

TOP UCIL officials accompanied a team of journalists to the tailings ponds. The ponds are surrounded on three sides by verdant hills. In the valley there are paddy fields and the villages.

The ponds cover an area of 82.28 acres (32.9 hectares), 35 acres (14 hectares) and 76 acres (30.4 hectares) respectively. The first two have solid embankments as prescribed by the AERB. The bund for the third is under construction at a cost of Rs.2 crore s.

At the first pond, saturated with tailings, A.H. Khan, scientific officer and officer-in-charge, ESL, measured the radiation readings with the help of the dosimeter. Inside the pond the device registered a radiation count of 0.75 microGray an hour, whic h is three times the permissible limit of 0.25 microGray an hour. However, the level started dropping as the meter was moved away from the pond. It read 0.2 microGray an hour on the embankment, 0.17 outside the bund, then 0.15 and 0.11 outside - all belo w the permissible limit. In the third pond, the reading on the bund was 0.14 microGray. Khan said: "If the radiation count just outside the tailings pond falls below the permissible limit, then it is obvious that in the nearby villages it is much lower." (These limits are set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection). He said that radiation from the ponds did not go beyond a few metres.

According to Khan, the local background radiation in the area is 0.15 microGray an hour. For the common man, the threshold limit is 0.25 microGray an hour. The annual limit is 1,000 microGray. One would receive this limit (of 1,000 microGray) only if one were to stand in the pond for four hours every day, 365 days of a year.

Khan, who has been on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) technical/advisory committees, said: "In the last 33 years, there has been no significant impact on radiation because of the UCIL's operations." He said that while the limit was 20 mil lisieverts for a mine worker, the average radiation doses received by him in the last five years at Jaduguda, Bhatin and Narwapahar were eight, five and seven millisieverts respectively.

K.K. Beri, Director (Technical), UCIL, said: "We give all the information to the IAEA." He said that environmental gamma radiation measurements were done in 22 places up to a distance of 25 km (at Jamshedpur) and they indicated that UCIL's operations had virtually no impact on the environment. The places included the Jaduguda, Bhatin and Narwapahar mines, Dungridih north and south, Chatitocha, Tilaitand, Matigora and Jamshedpur. The natural background exposure level in this region varied from 782 to 1,5 86 microGray a year with an average of 1,106 microGray a year. In fact, the allowable gamma radiation level for exposure to the public from the nuclear industry was 1,000 microGray a year above the natural regional background level, Beri said.

Bhasin said that each UCIL worker was sent for medical examination every five years. They undergo breath examination regularly. While the worker kept the medical examination record, UCIL kept the radiation records. "Not a single worker has asked for the records, nor have I denied him these when asked," the CMD said. Between 1967 and 1994, 22 employees had been stricken with cancer, he said.

Bhasin said that UCIL wanted 15 families living near the first and third ponds to vacate. "That is not because there is a hazard of radiation but we want some elbow room." UCIL offered these families alternative sites in three places, levelled the land a nd offered to instalhandpumps.

The district administration is unable to shift them. Bhasin asked: "Why do they not shift?" Thus the stalemate continues.

Alliance qualms

Innately uncomfortable with coalitions and electoral alliances, the Congress(I) struggles to come to terms with the new realities.

ALL through the recent years, the Congress(I) has been bogged down by a certain elemental flaw in its attempts to pursue coalition politics. This relates to its basic political slogan of stability, which the party argues can be attained only by single-pa rty governance. The party leadership has found it difficult to suborn this idea to the essential need in the context of many States to form coalitions or reach an understanding with other parties. And even on occasions when the party has tried to do so, much of the time it has ended up without being able to forge an effective coalition or understanding.

The case this time is no different. The Congress(I) has functioning coalitions or understandings only in a few States such as Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Kerala. In Gujarat, the party was spared the trouble of forming a problematic alliance when former Chief Minister Shankarsinh Vaghela's Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) merged with it. While proposed alliances with forces such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have failed to materialise, those with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Republican Party of India (RPI) have been stormy and ineffectual. This dismal show is all the more evident in the background of the Bharatiya Janata Party's success in firming up the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), notwithstanding that formation's many infirmities and woes, such as that relating to the entry of the Janata Dal (United) into the combine. Simply put, the BJP has adapted itself better to the era of coalitions.

In the Congress(I), such adaptability has been conspicuous by its absence. What has characterised the Congress(I)'s manoeuvres on this front since the fall of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government is a lack of clarity in analysing the party's own strengths and weaknesses, accompanied by a tendency to flip-flop. Thus one saw party leaders such as P. Shiv Shankar admitting after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha that the Congress(I) should have agreed to form a coalition government after the fall of the Vajp ayee Ministry, and following up the statement with talk about pre-poll alliances on the basis of a common manifesto.

However, by the time the Congress(I) Working Committee held its first meeting in the context of the elections, all talk about alliances on the basis of a common manifesto had vanished. It had been replaced by the discourse on the "momentous" Pachmarhi de claration of September 1998. The Pachmarhi declaration had advanced a line against coalitions and made it clear that in special cases coalitions could be considered but only if the Congress(I) had supremacy within them. Protestations from leaders such as A.K. Antony, Sitaram Kesri and Rajesh Pilot that it would be unrealistic in the present context to hang on to the Pachmarhi declaration were brushed aside by Sonia Gandhi loyalists such as Arjun Singh, Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and R.K. Dhawan.

Much of the discussions on coalition formation was held in the background of this "ideological entanglement" within the party. The difference in the approach of individual leaders got reflected in these discussions. The Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry deal negoti ated by pro-coalition CWC members Antony and Manmohan Singh resulted in an arrangement that involved the Congress(I) accepting 12 seats out of 40, leaving 23 to the dominant partner, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). In negotiating t his deal, the Congress(I) gave up its Pachmarhi position that it would not accept the role of a junior partner. The deal reflected a realistic assessment of the party's present strength in Tamil Nadu.

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BUT this was not the case during negotiations the Congress(I) had with the BSP and the RJD in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively. In both cases, the local Congress(I) leaderships showed a tendency to overestimate their own strength and put forward unre asonable demands before alliance partners. When the negotiations with the BSP started, the Congress(I) demanded half of the 85 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP, which secured 21 per cent of the popular vote in the State in the last elections as opposed to 6 per cent by the Congress(I), naturally would not agree. Claims about the Congress(I) having since undergone a revival were not acceptable to the BSP leadership. In particular, its vice-president and former Chief Minister Mayawati would have nothing of that kind.

When it became clear that the BSP would not offer more than 25 seats, the Congress(I) steadily climbed down. Finally it accepted what was on offer. The Congress(I) also agreed without protest to other preconditions laid down by BSP supremo Kanshi Ram, su ch as the extension of the alliance to the Assembly polls and projection of Mayawati as the chief ministerial candidate.

However, the party did try to add one rider to the agreement: that the alliance should not be confined to Uttar Pradesh but should be extended to Madhya Pradesh. Clearly, the Congress(I) wanted to benefit even more from the potential of the BSP leadershi p to transfer its votes in any direction it deemed fit. This proposal, however, was not acceptable to the BSP, partly because its Madhya Pradesh unit had felt betrayed by the Congress(I) in the last Assembly polls. On that occasion, the BSP had supported the Congress(I) in more than half the seats in the State on the basis of an understanding that a leader from among the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes would be considered for the position of either the Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister. A fter the elections, the Congress(I) failed to do this.

As the talks with the BSP failed, in Uttar Pradesh the Congress(I) was compelled to have a minimal understanding with Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD). The RLD was given eight seats and the Congress(I) retained the remaining 77. Although this means t hat the Congress(I) gets to contest more seats, there is not much hope of winning most of them in the absence of an alliance with the BSP.

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SIMILAR is the situation in Bihar, where at the beginning of seat negotiations with the RJD the Congress(I) demanded 25 of the 54 seats in the State, although the party had won only five seats and 7.27 per cent of the vote in the previous elections as co mpared to 17 seats and 26.58 per cent of the vote won by the RJD. Significantly, 10 Congress(I) candidates forfeited their deposit in the last polls.

RJD leader Laloo Prasad Yadav initially offered 11 seats. But the Congress(I) would have none of it. Finally, after repeated discussions involving CWC member Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the RJD leader offered the Congress(I) 13 seats. This was apparently acceptable to the Congress(I) central leadership, including Sonia Gandhi. However, following threats of a revolt in the State unit, Sonia Gandhi asked Laloo Prasad Yadav for mo re seats and the RJD leader agreed to add one more seat to the Congress(I)'s quota. Still the State unit of the Congress(I) held out, claiming that its level of popular support entitled it to a minimum of 17 seats. If this was not granted, they would lea ve the alliance, warned the Congress(I) State leadership. This has caused a deadlock in the Bihar alliance and created bad blood among the RJD cadre, whose wholehearted support is essential for the Congress(I) to be able to improve its position in the St ate. The RJD, on its part, is of the view that it has shown utmost flexibility in the interest of uniting the secular vote in the State and that the Congress(I)'s demand for 17 seats is unjustifiable. Whatever the outcome of this impasse, it is certain t hat secular unity has been impaired in the State, and that does not promise a better deal for the Congress(I).

IN Maharashtra, the Congress(I)'s refusal to accept the fact that its strength has diminished in the wake of the departure from the party of Sharad Pawar and his supporters has put its alliance with two groups of the Republican Party of India - the Praka sh Ambedkar and Gavai groups - in jeopardy. Claiming to retain its strength despite the split, the Congress(I) has denied the RPI groups many seats including one in Nagpur, which has a high concentration of Dalits. Observers are of the view that such a s tand would cost the party dear all over the State.

IN the midst of this dismal picture on the alliances front, the only sources for optimism for the Congress(I) are its time-tested coalition in Kerala and the new understanding reached with the Left parties in Punjab. In Kerala, the party was able to win back the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which had vacillated towards the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front initially, and complete the seat arrangements in quick time to get a headstart in the campaign. In Punjab, the understanding with the Left parti es is working smoothly. This situation is bound to help the party in both the States.

However, in its proclivity to turn even favourable circumstances into a situation of adversity, the Congress(I) leadership, including party president Sonia Gandhi, has been making several mistakes that could impair the party's prospects even in these Sta tes. Sonia Gandhi's statement while releasing the party's manifesto to the effect that the Congress(I) has no plans to form a coalition government after the elections is a case in point. There are apprehensions within the Congress(I) that it would affect the party's chances in Tamil Nadu. For it is evident that AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha's basic purpose in forging an alliance with the Congress(I) was to get a share in power if and when the Congress(I) is in a position to attain it. So the party leadersh ip has added an air of uncertainty even into an advantageous situation because it is unable to see the writing on the wall.

'To see a person recover completely is what is gratifying'

the-nation

For Shanthi Ranganathan, awards are secondary. What makes her happy is the success in helping restore normalcy in the lives of those who come to her for help. To those undergoing treatment at the T.T.K. Hospital, she is "amma" or mother. "Amma gav e us our lives back," they say. Shanthi Ranganathan spoke to Vinita Viswanathan on awards, addicts and more.

Excerpts from the interview:

First of all, congratulations on receiving the award. You must be an extremely happy person.

Of course. I am delighted to be one of the first recipients (of the award). I knew I was one of the 100 or so nominees (Shanthi Ranganathan was nominated by the Indian government), but when I received the official letter from the U.N. office in Vienna, i t came as a pleasant surprise.

What motivated you to set up the T.T.K. Hospital?

When my husband was taken to the U.S. for treatment, I came to know that alcoholism was actually a disease and that it could be treated. His death affected us deeply. But instead of living in the past, I wanted to bring the knowledge available in the U.S . to India and implement it here. Initially, there was a lot of scepticism. Many said: 'Poor woman. She lost her husband at a young age, so she is trying to do something grand that will not work.' But we did not give up. We started small, but today we ca n look back in pride at our work.

How do families react to alcoholism and are these reactions different in India and abroad?

Families anywhere in the world are affected if any of their member is an alcoholic. They go through the same feelings and traumas of anger, shame and resentment. In India, I notice a change in the social attitude towards alcoholics. Earlier it was a tabo o to be a drinker. Therefore, it was that much harder to identify victims of alcoholism as it was hushed up within the families. Whereas abroad, even in schools, children are educated on the ill-effects of alcohol and drugs and on various other issues. W hile this may not necessarily bring down the number of victims, at least they knew that help was available and whom they could contact and how to go about with the recovery process. There is a change for the better in India now as more people are open ab out their drinking. The priority has shifted: from not letting the neighbours know to getting affected family member cured.

What do you feel about the phenomenon of 'social drinking'?

The average age of initiation to alcohol has gone down. Earlier, young people would have their first drink at college. Nowadays, they are initiated into drinking at parties held to celebrate the conclusion of board exams. Children say it is just for one night and that they will not get addicted. But addiction is a process that does not start with a warning. My personal opinion is, why have that drink? Can one not have fun and enjoy oneself without alcohol?

Has the T.T.K. Hospital done anything to prevent youngsters from indulging in drinking, particularly drinking binges?

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We have come out with two books that schools use. We hope they will be included as part of the curriculum. The books are designed and written in such a way as to appeal to youngsters. We have adopted a campaign similar to the 'Say No to Drugs', in the U. S. Ours is 'Alcohol - Not My Taste', where we tell children that there is no need to give in to peer pressure.

How different are the expectations of working with patients at the centre and working with those in villages?

I think the success rate at the village camps is definitely higher than at the centre. For one thing, since we go through a host organisation, it is easy for us to win the trust of the people in villages in a short time. Once we have their trust, half th e problem is solved. They give their complete attention and dedication to us and follow everything we say. Secondly, in case of a relapse, the whole village rallies behind the victim and supports him. This is because the village is a small community.

What has been the role of the government in your endeavour?

The Central Government provides us with funds for bringing out our publications and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment gives us grants for community projects. The government involves non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in many of its progra mmes.

The centre is soon to complete two decades. What is it that keeps you going?

When a rehabilitated patient comes to me and says 'I have been sober for so many years', or 'I am happy now', it gives me the strength and the will to keep going. Awards and recognitions are good, but ultimately what is most gratifying is to see a patie nt recover completely and lead a normal, healthy life.

Do you have more plans for the centre?

Our immediate plan is to teach patients two vocations, tailoring and repairing household appliances. These skills would be a source of employment for them once they leave the centre.

An opportunity lost

Evolving a common developing country perspective and approach ahead of the crucial Seattle Ministerial Meeting of the WTO proved an elusive dream at the Bangalore meeting of the G-15.

FEW people expected the meeting of Trade Ministers and officials of a group of 17 developing countries - called the G-15 after the founding quorum of members - to produce a dramatic breakthrough in strategic perspectives. Meeting in Bangalore on August 17 and 18, the G-15 showed ample evidence of all the infirmities that it has been beset by since its founding, notably a conspicuous lack of shared trade interests which impede the evolution of a strategic consensus. Since it was expected to evolve a com mon developing country perspective for the third Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to be held in Seattle, United States, between November 30 and December 4, the Bangalore meeting must count as an opportunity lost.

Given the differences in perception that emerged, observers were left in bleak contemplation of the possible impact that developing countries, whether individually or in blocs such as the G-15, would be able to make in Seattle. The stakes, undoubtedly, a re high. The U.S. is leading the push towards a fresh round of global trade negotiations that will seek to open up unexplored vistas before the WTO. Several industrialised countries have generally lent their authority to this initiative, which could seek to put in place a regime of intrusive trade regulation by the WTO.

Reflecting the G-15's dilemma on what could be legitimately placed on the agenda in Seattle was the chairman's "summary of discussions" that was released after the Bangalore meeting. The summary ended up being just that - a statement of intentions rather than a united stand on issues. As Union Commerce Minister Ramakrishna Hegde, chair of the Bangalore Ministerial Meeting, said, it is "not a resolution, but a statement reflecting the views of various delegates".

It was evident from the chairman's statement and from conversations with delegates that the stands differed widely. Either individually or collectively, the member-countries of the G-15 forum took stands on specific issues that on various occasions ident ified them with the advanced countries.

Existing differences were neither resolved nor mitigated. Malaysia and Indonesia, members of both the G-15 and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), are for example ready for a new round of discussions that would cover the reduction of ind ustrial tariffs. This position arises from their shared interest in lowering customs duties on consumer electronics in their major export markets. Two G-15 countries, Argentina and Chile, both members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countri es - are open to negotiations on further liberalisation of trade in agriculture. This is a position that puts them at odds with fellow G-15 countries, India and Egypt. There are also differences on whether the WTO should be allowed to draw up a global pa ct on foreign investment. While some of the G-15 countries, notably Brazil and Chile, are open to the idea, India and Egypt are against it.

The Bangalore meeting reiterated the willingness of some members, notably the Latin American states, to enter into a new round of trade negotiations where all issues would be negotiated as part of one single undertaking. This again is a view that is at v ariance with the current Indian position.

As spelt out by Ramakrishna Hegde, India is clearly opposed to any new round of all-encompassing trade talks. India also holds the position that the Seattle meeting should confine its attention to a review of the problems and unfulfilled promises of the Uruguay Round. As far as negotiations are concerned, India believes that only areas that have already been entrusted to the mandate of the WTO, such as agriculture and services, should be taken up for talks after Seattle.

"We have emphasised that promises made at the Uruguay Round should be fully and faithfully implemented," said Ramakrishna Hegde. He added: "No purpose will be served by taking on new issues before that. And we do not want to overload the agenda, since th is only causes delay as happened in Uruguay."

In a shift of emphasis, Ramakrishna Hegde made it clear that India would not oppose the introduction of new issues such as tariff reduction that may be brought for negotiations. But he stressed caution: "Let us first review what resolutions we have alrea dy adopted. The touchstone of any agreement will be the extent of benefits developing and least developing countries have derived from so-called free trade."

Despite the major differences, consensus was possible, though in limited spheres. The chairman's statement in no uncertain terms stressed that the G-15 was totally opposed to any WTO talks that sought to link trade with core labour or environmental stand ards. Consensus was also achieved over the need to oppose the introduction of issues such as national competition policies, electronic commerce and government procurement in the negotiating agenda of the WTO.

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There was unanimity also on the removal of inequities in the existing agreements and on the restoration of "the balance of rights and obligations forged in the Uruguay Round". Also arousing the unanimous concern of the G-15 was the non-realisation of be nefits by many developing countries in areas such as agriculture and textiles because of the failure of the developed countries to honour obligations in spirit, and the non-implementation of special and differential provisions made during the Uruguay Rou nd.

The mood that permeated the meeting was not a new one: a disappointment with the responses from the developed world to the problems and concerns of the developing world, especially the least developed countries. As Ramakrishna Hegde said during a present ation by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) coinciding with the G-15 event, the experiences of the last two years had been that "there was sympathy and plenty of crocodile tears for the developing world but no free access to the markets of the de veloped world".

The Bangalore meeting was a continuation of the process of consultations that the G-15 started in Cairo in May 1998, prior to the 1998 Geneva Ministerial Conference. Delegates of the G-15 countries had also met in a WTO-issues-related symposium in New De lhi in November 1998 and then again during the Ninth Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the G-15 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in February 1999. With the third WTO Ministerial Conference in Seattle ahead, it was decided at Montego Bay that a G-15 Ministerial Meeting would be held before finalising a common stand on issues.

The G-15 countries account for more than 43 per cent of GDP of all developing countries, have an average per capita GDP of $2,116 and is home to 30 per cent of the world's population. But its large size could be the grouping's biggest stumbling block. Pe rceptions, needs and responses are as large and as varied.

Curiously, despite all the hype on the importance of the G-15 standing together and straining every sinew if it is to prevent a repeat of the raw deal handed down to the developing countries at the Uruguay Round, only eight of the G-15's 17 members decid ed to depute a Minister - among whom three were junior Ministers - for the Bangalore meeting. Worse still, many of the representatives did not quite seem to be in tune with all the intricacies of processes of the WTO.

For strategic coordinaton

RAVI SHARMA the-nation

WITH the third ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), to be held at Seattle in the United States, between November 30 and December 4, fast approaching, social organisations across the world are trying to influence the stand of the gov ernments in their respective countries. A two-day conference of consumer groups, organised in Bangalore by the Jaipur-based civil society Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) on the occasion of the G-15 ministerial meeting, supported this strategy, an d called for unity among the countries of the South (developing countries) in achieving their goal.

The message from the conference titled 'Southern Agenda for the Next Millenium: Role of the Civil Society' was primarily three-fold - oppose any new round of negotiations, discuss existing problems, and, most importantly, urge governments of the South to involve civil societies as they prepare for the Seattle Round.

The conference exhorted developing countries to coordinate strategically in order to identify common interests and negotiate collectively to advance them. It called upon the civil societies to ensure that equity and social justice are given priority at t he negotiations and the interests of consumers, rural and urban workers, small farmers and other vulnerable groups are safeguarded. The conference asked governments of the South to encourage, support and collaborate with civil society organisations in th eir countries, and not to put issues such as investment and government procurement on the agenda of the WTO until existing and negotiated issues were resolved satisfactorily.

Pradeep Mehta, secretary-general of CUTS, said: "While civil societies in the North (developed world) are pushing issues, in India (as in other developing countries) the Government does not even want to acknowledge our presence. The U.S., for example, is encouraging trade unions to talk about social clauses. The Indian Government should want us to be part of the bandwagon opposing new WTO rounds like the Millennium Round, which is being advocated by some countries of the developed world. Civil society p articipation can help sharpen the Government's agenda on specific issues like environment, labour standards, investment policy, competition policy and government procurement - issues that are likely (disregarding the G-15 opposition to it) to be pushed a t Seattle."

Delegates at the conference, such as former Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey, opined that developing countries should realise that "bargaining positions of countries are not equal". He cited the example of the U.S., which, because it was not pleased with the conclusions of the initial round of negotiations on telecom and financial services, saw to it that another round was held. This it did by first using the Association of Petroleum Exporting Countries (APEC) forum as a building block, getting APEC to endorse the need for a fresh round of negotiations. Subsequently, the U.S. stand was reaffirmed at the recent ARF Foreign Ministers' meeting in Singapore.

Dubey also felt that the G-15 would be unable to forestall the WTO sponsoring another round (the Millennium Round), of discussions which would in all probability take up such issues as e-commerce and investment. Dubey said: "For one thing the G-15 is not organised enough and for another, it is too vulnerable."

The conference also expressed the need for the governments of developing countries to be pragmatic - by refraining from saying 'no' for the sake of it, realising their positions, strengthening it and then bargaining effectively.

The message conveyed by the conference was that governments from developing countries should work at two levels - public posturing and private preparation. While a G-15 ministerial meeting can provide the public posturing, it was according to Mehta, equa lly important to put forward privately one's concerns and be prepared to negotiate them".

Mehta said that non-governmental organisations like CUTS could make effective contributions if they were allowed to participate in the negotiating process, "We are not asking for a seat at the negotiating table since the WTO is a contractual body. What w e want is transparency. For example, we could be given the annotated agenda in time. This will help us talk to our governments and, through our sister organisations, to their governments."

An Army caught napping

The minutes of a crucial meeting of the Unified Headquarters, the apex body of organisations managing security in Jammu and Kashmir, show why the initial stages of India's response to events in Kargil were confused and directionless.

THE truth, like murder, will out, goes the maxim. Through the three months since the Kargil war began, military officials have insisted that they were prepared for Pakistan's aggression and that the campaign was conducted to a well-thought-through plan f rom its early stages. 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal had, in an interview, even described the campaign as an example of "generalship unparalleled in the history of warfare". Now documents obtained by Frontline have disproved su ch claims. The Army knew next to nothing about the scale and character of the intrusion, even less about the structure of the war that was to follow, and it was entirely unprepared for a full-scale conflagration involving the Pakistan Army in Kargil.

The minutes of the crucial first meeting on the Kargil war of the Unified Headquarters (UHQ), the apex body of organisations managing security in Jammu and Kashmir, cast light on events in the weeks that followed the detection on May 3 of Pakistan's aggr ession. Disturbed by the blase reaction of the Army at that meeting to the occupation of some 1,500 sq km of Indian territory by Pakistani regulars, Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah flew to New Delhi on May 24, accompanied by Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitley and Director-General of Police Gurbachan Jagat. There he discovered that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and top government officials were unaware of the events unfolding on the Kargil heights. It was a day of desperate pleading before the Cabinet Co mmittee on Security met on May 25. (This sequence of events was reported in Frontline's July 2 issue.)

On May 19, a fortnight after Pakistan's intrusion was detected on the Batalik heights, the UHQ met in Srinagar. The emergency meeting was called to discuss the intrusion and, its minutes record, the "emerging security scenario". The UHQ is chaired by the Chief Minister. His Security Adviser, the 15 Corps Commander, could by custom chair UHQ meetings in the Chief Minister's absence, and thus he played a special role in its deliberations. That this meeting was an unusual one is evident from the fact that almost the entire security establishment in Srinagar attended it.

Farooq Abdullah was accompanied by Minister of State for Home Mushtaq Ahmed Lone, Chief Secretary Jaitley, Principal Secretary B.R. Singh, Principal Secretary (Home) C. Phunsog, Information Director S. Pandey, Divisional Commissioner Khurshid Ahmed Ganie and Srinagar Deputy Commissioner Tanveer Jahan. The Border Security Force sent two Inspectors-General, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police two Deputy Inspectors-General and the Central Reserve Police Force a Deputy Inspector-General and an Additional Deputy Inspector-General. The Director-General of Police led a team consisting of Additional Director-General R. Tikoo, three Inspectors-General and a Senior Superintendent of Police. The Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) Joint Director was present, as were a Commissi oner and a Deputy Commissioner from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

A.K. Chopra, Brigadier-General (Staff) of the 15 Corps, initiated the proceedings with a general briefing on the events in Kargil. The contents of the briefing are not recorded in the minutes, but officials who attended the meeting say that it was a sket chy account lasting only a few minutes, of the presence of infiltrators in the sector. Pal then took over from his subordinate. Paragraph 4 of the minutes record that he made six observations. The first two were routine. "The areas of infiltration were u nheld ones," Pal said, "by both India and Pakistan and dominated by patrols and aerial surveillance by both sides, due to the rugged and extremely difficult high altitude terrain conditions." He then proceeded to outline the "sequence of infiltration in various sub-sectors and actions taken by the Army."

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The term "dominated by patrols and aerial surveillance" passed unchallenged: no one at the UHQ apparently saw it fit to ask how thousands of infiltrators could thus enter and hold such an area. Pal proceeded to make four assertions that proved even more damning. First, he insisted that "no voids were created in the CI (counter-insurgency) grid due to the movement of troops in Kargil Sector and deployment in the valley was fully balanced." The remark was intended to reassure security officials in the Sta te who were disturbed by the gaps created in counter-insurgency deployments by the movements of troops to the borders. The Army, Pal's remarks make it clear, did not expect that events in Kargil would suck in larger numbers of troops from security duties in the State. This was a massive error of judgment, for by the end of the Kargil war, 58 battalions had been moved to guard the borders vacated by troops headed for Kargil.

But this error was the outcome of even larger errors of judgment. Paragraph 4(iv) of the minutes record Pal asserting that there was "no concentration of troops on the Pakistani side and no battle indicators of war or even limited skirmishes." The langua ge used make at least two things clear. For one, the Army did not realise that there was already a concentration of Pakistani troops, from the Northern Light Infantry and Gilgit Scouts, pushing soldiers into Indian territory. Several additional brigades were to be used in the weeks to come. Pal himself is on record as claiming that Pakistan used upwards of 10 battalions, including units of its elite Special Services Group, in the Kargil War. Clearly, at this stage the Army had no idea of these deploymen ts.

Even more serious, Paragraph 4(iv) leaves little room for doubt that the Kargil intrusion was not seen as a conventional military engagement at all. Pal's remark that there were "no battle indicators of war or even limited skirmishes" now seems absurd. T he massive artillery exchanges that were under way through the Kargil sector, from the Mushkoh Valley in the west to Turtok in the east, were evidently misinterpreted as routine duels. By this time, Pakistan was funnelling entire brigades into Kargil, an ticipating a massive Indian retaliation across the Line of Control. India, too, was to prepare for such a possibility, but at this stage its Army clearly had little idea of where the Kargil engagement was headed. The UHQ reports explain just why the ini tial stages of India's response to events in Kargil were confused and directionless.

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Pal proceeded to underline his thesis that the intrusion would be contained with ease. Paragraph 4(v) notes his claim that the "situation was local and would be defeated locally". At least five brigades of the Indian Army, made up largely of troops from outside Jammu and Kashmir, had to be shipped in before containment was achieved. As such, Pal's assertion at the UHQ meeting illustrates a complete failure of comprehension. The 15 Corps Commander even seemed unaware of the threat to troop movements from Pakistan artillery fire on the Srinagar-Leh highway, directed by observation posts set up by infiltrators above Drass, notably on Tiger Hill and Tololing. "The Army convoys were moving unhindered," he noted, "and soon the civil convoy would also commenc e." It only started after the Pakistani withdrawal was near-complete.

HOW does one account for a spectacular misjudgment of the military character of the Kargil intrusion? It is important to note that these judgments were not just made by Pal, but the Army as a whole. Chief of the Army Staff General V.P. Malik, for one, sa w no reason to cut short his week-long visit to Poland in May when he received news of the intrusion. One obvious possibility is that the Army did not have, as on May 19, a cogent picture of what was going on. But Pal himself has, in a tape-recorded inte rview to Frontline, ruled out that possibility. "Our final assessments were made when our frontline contacts and photo surveillance provided detailed inputs that tallied," he said. Those assessments were presumably made by May 17, when Pal claimed to have "a good degree of clarity about just what was going on." He added: "I distinctly remember making it clear when I first briefed the press in Srinagar on May 19 that the depth, extent, logistic support, fire support and magnitude left no doubt in my mind that it was a Pakistan Army-backed operation" (Frontline, August 27).

"Pakistan Army-backed operation" is the crucial phrase here. Army officials, the UHQ minutes make clear, may have understood that their Pakistani adversaries were supporting the intrusion, as they do through the Line of Control and the western internatio nal border. But the Kargil intrusion was clearly not understood as an Army-led conventional engagement. Others at the UHQ meeting disagreed, notably Farooq Abdullah. Paragraph 8(i) records his strong intervention. The Chief Minister argued that the "rece nt infiltration was not a short-term plan but a sinister design of Pakistan aimed to isolate certain areas and cut off Kargil-Leh from the valley as (was) being done in Rajouri-Poonch areas...He opined that these were not mere militants but supported by some Pakistani regulars too."

Farooq Abdullah's sources of information were presumably from his police force, whose warnings from mid-May about the presence of Gilgit Scouts and the Northern Light Infantry had generally been dismissed. Certainly, neither the Intelligence Bureau nor R AW did anything to dispel Pal's notions at the UHQ meeting. Paragraph 6 of the minutes record thus: "On being asked by the Chief Secretary about the intelligence input, Joint Director IB stated that since January this year it was reported that approximat e(ly) 200 Al-Badr militants waiting in Kotli and Kel could not infiltrate due to effective counter-infiltration posture by the Army...'Accordingly, frustration had built up and thus possibly infiltration was effected in Kargil sector." Paragraph 7 notes that the RAW focussed, somewhat mystifyingly given the context of the meeting, on "activation of infiltration routes through Nepal and other areas".

Just why the I.B., in particular, chose to remain silent at the meeting is unclear. Its Joint Director must have been aware of reports coming from his Leh station since last October, reports which were made available to Frontline, warning that gro ups of Pakistani irregulars were being trained in Olthingthang with the express purpose of launching a thrust into Kargil this April. One possibility is that the I.B. chose to remain silent, leaving the job of engaging the 15 Corps Commander in argument to the Chief Minister. A second possibility is that his position, and for that matter Pal's stance, were not fully reflected in the minutes. But neither officer appears to have written to the UHQ Secretariat asking for the minutes to be modified, for no corrections were circulated to its members. As such, the minutes appear to be a plausible narration of the meeting.

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Interestingly, Pal's assessment of Pakistan's objectives in Kargil was remarkably coherent. "On being asked the main objective behind this infiltration," Paragraph 5 of the UHQ minutes records, "the Advisor Security remarked that the possible aim of Paki stan at the macro-level could be to internationalise the situation, create war-like hysteria and attempt to strengthen their case for third party intervention." But he appeared unable to comprehend that Pakistan could act not only by creating a war-like hysteria but actually going to war. The infiltrators' tactics were interpreted firmly in the light of the experience of insurgent tactics in Jammu and Kashmir. "At the operational level, these infiltrators would possibly aim at disrupting the vital lines of communication in this sector to Khalsi and Leh, as also create disturbances in the depth areas."

This position reflected institutional myopia born of the belief that nuclear weaponisation in South Asia precludes the possibility of conventional engagement. As Pal recently argued, the Army continues to believe, along with the Bharatiya Janata Party's defence establishment, that after "nuclear status was acquired, it stood to reason, both military and strategic reason, that any possibility of a conventional conflict will decline." From this premise, he proceeded to argue that the Kargil conflict had " nothing to do with the nuclear scenario". "Perhaps," Pal concluded, "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 identical, too, with what was done in Afghanistan."

This politically driven sundering of events in Jammu and Kashmir from those events set off by Pokhran-II and the entirely ahistorical comprehension of how the Kargil war came about may well force India to pay for the mistakes with the lives of its soldie rs. Interestingly, Farooq Abdullah seems more perceptive than the party he supports in Parliament. Paragraph 8(ii) of the minutes outlines his belief that "as soon as the Kosavo (sic) problem would be over, Pakistan would attempt to bring Kashmir into th e international limelight...He added that the additional aim could also be to keep the Army committed in such inhospitable terrain conditions and extend the areas of their employment by opening up new fronts." The use of the plural form "fronts" is obvio usly relevant. The UHQ minutes expose the dishonesty of the Army leadership on its conduct of the Kargil war, and that of the political establishment which has sought to shield the Army leadership from public scrutiny.

Even more disturbing, it makes evident the poverty of the Indian defence establishment's conceptual and doctrinal thought.

Arrest of an ISI gang

THERE is growing evidence that fundamentalist groups in Pakistan are preparing to set off a new wave of terror across India. The operational strategy seeks to exploit communal fissures: fissures that the Hindu Right has had not a little to do with creati ng in the first place.

On August 20, the Jammu and Kashmir Police announced the arrest of an 11-member Lashkar-e-Taiba cell, whose operatives were active in Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Its top operative, Amir Khan, Pakistani national, w as tasked to recruit Indians whose immediate family members had been killed in communal violence. At the time of his arrest, Khan was engaged in building a cover identity. Having obtained Indian educational documents and a driving licence from India, he planned to marry into a family living in Bhiwandi in Thane district of Maharashtra.

The Lashkar-e-Taiba cell was busted after the Jammu and Kashmir Police and 5 Grenadiers regiment picked up Islam-ud-Din, a resident of Tirwara Ka Nangla village in Gurgaon district of Haryana, on the Samba border in Jammu while waiting for key a Lashkar- e-Taiba operative, Abu Ilyas. Islam-ud-Din was not aware that Ilyas had been killed in an encounter while attempting to cross through Samba on July 31. Codenamed Abu Khalid, Islam-ud-Din told his interrogators that the cell had been ordered to carry out a series of explosions ahead of Independence Day.

Amir Khan's arrest, based on Islam-ud-Din's interrogation, rapidly led to the arrest of other members of the cell - the result of a coordinated operation between the State police and the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.). The most important operatives were base d in Mumbai and Bhiwandi, places hit hard by Shiv Sena terror and anti-Muslim pogroms. Bhiwandi residents Usman Khan and Mohammad Ismail had obtained for Amir Khan educational documents and a driving licence and even loaned him an autorickshaw. Abdul Sal am, Ismail's brother, arranged Khan's wedding through a local moulvi. Another Bhiwandi resident, Mohammad Mobin, was engaged in finding accommodation for Khan, without knowing his real identity. Funds for this cell were routed through Jamal Ahmad, a resi dent of Mumbai's Mazagaon areas.

The rest of Khan's recruits were scattered across the country. Abdul Adil, a resident of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, worked for the cell even as he studied at Jamia Milia Islamia in New Delhi. Muzaffarnagar resident Mohammad Mustafa and Baghpat resident M ohammad Mustafa were roped in too. Wali Mohammad Zahid, originally a resident of Islam-ud-Din's tehsil, was assigned the task of building a base for the group in Hyderabad, where he lived in the Qazi Gali area near the Golconda Fort. Zahid had been instr ucted to obtain fake travel documents to facilitate movement out of India when instructed to do so by the Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership. One of Zahid's recruits, Mohammad Sharif, had been arrested three months earlier.

Jammu and Kashmir Police officials say that Islam-ud-Din was trained at the Lashkar-e-Taiba's Abu Bashir camp in Bhawalpur, Pakistan. The Abu Bashir camp, one of five major Lashkar training centres, specialises in bomb-making. The Umar Kuka camp puts vol unteers through a basic, three-month insurgency course, while the Abdullah bin Masood camp nearby offers more specialised training. The Taiba camp at Muridke engages in basic ideological indoctrination, after which recruits are sent for a rigorous six-mo nth course, the Daura Khasta, in the mountains. Another Muridke camp, Aksa, focusses on training volunteers from several countries, including Afghanistan, Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan, for the war in Jammu and Kashmir.

Islam-ud-Din left Pakistan in early 1999, with cash to help set up the cell. More money came from Ilyas. Both visited several cities to gather recruits, using the infrastructure of the revanchist religious organisation, the Tabligh-i-Jamaat. Islam-ud-Din also arranged for Khan to work at the clinic of a doctor in Punhana, Faqir-e-Alam, by introducing the Lashkar operative as his relative. Faqir-e-Alam, a recent migrant to Haryana from Bihar, did not know Khan's real identity.

The latest arrests affirm that the Lashkar-e-Taiba's pan-Indian network is exploiting Muslim insecurities fuelled by the rise of a regime with no commitment to secularism. In the March 26 issue, Frontline had reported on the arrests of several imp ortant members of the Lashkar's Abdul Karim 'Tunda' cell, including Pakistani nationals Mohammad Salim Junaid from Hyderabad and Abdul Sattar from Delhi along with Indian nationals Shoaib Alam, Mohammad Faisal Hussain and Aamer Hashim Kamran. Saifullah C hitrali, a top operative of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and the Hizbul Mujahideen's Ali Mohammad Dar had also set up networks outside Jammu and Kashmir. Organisations such as the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front had even liaised with Abdul Razzak Memon, a k ey accused in the Mumbai serial bomb blasts.

The BJP's pro-active policy, an ill-conceived militarist response to growing violence in Jammu and Kashmir, fails to address the changing character of terrorism and the forces that drive it. As long as Hindu revanchism continues to fuel tensions in India , any number of soldiers will not be enough to engage with the Islamic Right.

Changing strategies

A bid by the Army to redefine the structure of counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir sparks disputes within the security establishment.

THE end of the war on the Kargil heights has marked the beginning of a new phase in the larger war in Jammu and Kashmir. The week before this Independence Day saw a series of dramatic attacks on Indian forces through the State, the largest and most susta ined offensive by terrorist groups in several years. The new offensive is certain to test the forces, thinned by the withdrawal of troops to secure the borders. When the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government assumed power in New Delhi last year , Indian troops and police and paramilitary personnel in the State were taking the lives of six terrorists for each fatality they suffered. Last year that figure fell below five, and it has dropped to two this summer.

Now the Army, with the evident support of the Union government, is advocating new solutions to reorder the structure of anti-terrorist operations in the State. Rashtriya Rifles Director-General Avtar Gill, who took charge of the Army's counter-terrorist operations after 15 Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Krishan Pal asked to be relieved of this charge, has demanded at meetings of the Unified Headquarters (UHQ) in Srinagar that paramilitary organisations such as the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) be placed under his operational command. But the move has sparked disputes within the security establishment, and could open the way for a disturbing transfiguration of the Army's relationship with civilian government .

The backdrop to Gill's demands is only too evident. The week preceeding August 15 was among the most bloody weeks in years. On June 6, terrorists occupied the village of Chak Nathusa in Kupwara and launched a massive assault on the nearby camp of 4 Rasht riya Rifles. Six terrorists and five soldiers were killed. A day later, 4 Rashtriya Rifles lost its commanding officer, Colonel Balbir Singh, in an ambush. Rockets fired on the Rashtriya Rifles encampment on June 7 claimed another life. Three Navy comman dos were killed in an ambush near Bandipore on June 12, while a bomb went off at a BSF encampment in Tral killing one trooper. Yet another Rashtriya Rifles camp at Beerwah was attacked the next day and three soldiers were killed. Finally, on August 14, R ashtriya Rifles lost five personnel in attacks at Deewar-Lolab and Manasbal.

Neither the BSF nor the CRPF appear delighted with Gill's proposals. Highly placed sources told Frontline that BSF Director-General E.N. Ram Mohan had written to Union Home Secretary Kamal Pandey opposing the Army's proposals. Ram Mohan was stated to have argued that the move would disrupt the functional relationships among the security forces in the State, leading to an escalation of internecine feuds and rivalries. The Director-General said that Rashtriya Rifles, which is strictly not part of t he Army, was in effect a central police organisation (CPO), just like the BSF and the CRPF. While BSF units deployed on the border are under the operational command of the Army, the organisation believes that the application of the same structure in the matter internal security duties would be inappropriate.

Gill's proposals have their origin in a Concept Paper on administration in terrorist-affected States, including Jammu and Kashmir. (In a letter to Frontline, published in the issue of July 16, the Army denied the existence of the paper.)

"Management of Internal Conflict" is a 37-page document, illustrated with slides prepared by the Army Training Command in Shimla. It outlines proposals for drastic changes in the way Army deployments in terrorism-affected areas are carried out. Although the authors are not named in the document, it is learnt that the Concept Paper was prepared for presentation by Lieutenant-General Vijay Uberoi to Union Defence Minister George Fernandes on November 24, 1998.

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The Concept Paper has five sections. It outlines perspectives on internal security, discusses the role of the Army in its maintenance, presents proposals for united action by security organisations and a recommended structure for managing internal securi ty operations and finally gives a summary of the recommendations. The Concept Paper begins by fleshing out the thesis that insurgencies are the outcome of failures of governments, particularly State governments. It outlines existing and emerging threats in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeastern India as examples of these failures. The Army, the Concept Paper says on its very first page, has had to plough a "lone furrow" in ensuring peace where the State apparatus has failed.

There are more than a few curious conceptual elements in these assertions. For one, the authors of the Concept Paper do not see the Army as an instrument of government. Then the document fails to comprehend that terrorism is not the sole problem the Indi an state has had to engage with, and that governments have without Army support dealt with class warfare, economic conflict and caste violence. As important, the Army's successes and failures in those areas where it has played a key role have been no mor e or no less marked than those of other institutions in the State. For example, the Army's successes in ending terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and in northeastern India have not been recognisably greater than those of successive Central and State governme nts.

One key component of the paper is the demand for special legal protection for the Army in all counter-insurgency operations where it is deployed. Currently such protection is available only in some areas, and a welter of considerations come into play bef ore the imposition of these special laws. The Concept Paper argues on page 4 that it is imperative "from the point of view of morale as well as operational efficiency to protect the rights of soldiers". The sole means its authors can apparently envisage to do so is the promulgation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act under the Disturbed Areas Act. The imposition of these Acts where the Army is deployed in internal security operations, the paper claims, "becomes axiomatic".

The use of the term "axiomatic" is of some significance, suggesting as it does that an engagement with terrorism cannot be attempted without a generalised abrogation of democratic rights. While it is possible to argue coherently that such extraordinary l aws are needed in some situations, the demand for blanket impositions reflects a lack of sensitivity to the political, cultural and even diplomatic considerations at play in counter-terrorist operations. Nor is it clear that the Act protects soldiers fro m human rights prosecutions. The example of the Kashmir Valley, where the Act has long been in place, makes clear it has neither ensured unqualified operational efficiency nor protected soldiers from prosecution. Interestingly, at BJP mobilisations in ar eas like Doda, before the party took power in Delhi, the main demand was the imposition of the Special Powers Act.

The paper points to the contrasting situations in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir and makes a larger distinction between insurgencies where the Army acquired a primary role and those where other organisations predominate. The paper argues that where the sec urity environment can be contained by the police and the paramilitaries, the Army's role should only be "highly selective". Under whose command units would be placed in these circumstances, it does not mention. But where the Army has what the Concept Pap er describes as a "lead role", a situation which would come about in the case of full-blown insurgencies or externally aided wars, the paper suggests that all other security organisations be placed under its operational command.

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What this would mean in practice is evident. Paramilitary forces are currently attached to local police units, a system that is meant to upgrade their operational abilities. The paper is bitterly critical of this system, arguing that these district level attachments mean senior CPO officials have no real responsibilities. How simply transferring these attachments to the Army will solve this perceived problem is not clear, but what such a proposal would ensure is that local police involvement in counter- terrorist work would be subverted. Given the repeated assertion in the "Management of Internal Conflict" that the Army wishes to minimise its involvement in counter-terrorist work, the Army's determination to take exclusive command of such operations at the same time is more than mystifying.

The most dangerous of all are the Concept Paper's expansionist claims on the civilian administration. It ends with a demand for Army representation in new coordinating mechanisms to be set up at all levels of the administration, mechanisms that would cre ate an interface between civilian officials, the police and the military. "A coordination apparatus must exist in States down to district and even tehsil levels," the Concept Paper asserts in its eighth recommendation on pages 36-37. "The structure shoul d provide for joint planning, decision making, directions, coordination and control. For the committee to function effectively, there is a need for co-location of headquarters, the establishment of joint control rooms, direct communication and liaison, a nd ensuring that the administrative boundaries of the civil administration, the police and the military merge as a last resort."

The implications of these proposals, which in effect advocate the imposition of near-martial law in terrorism-affected States, are enormous. For one, the language of the proposal, in particular the use of the plural form of "States", leaves it open to in terpretation whether this system would operate only in areas where the Army has a "lead role", or in other areas where emerging threats are apparent as well. The proposal will also subvert the principle of military non-involvement in civilian administrat ion as well as legal requirements mandating police and administrative autonomy. Nowhere does the Concept Paper spell out how the Army's involvement in civilian management would improve administrative functioning; even less does it engage with the extreme ly serious issues that would emerge from such an interface.

IN some important senses, all that the paper serves to illustrate is the profound poverty of doctrinal thought in India's internal security establishment. Demands for new powers and authoritarian systems of command substitute for serious debate on how th e Army and other security organisations including the police and the paramilitary forces must evolve and transform themselves to engage with a rapidly transforming security landscape. Before Pokhran-II, much of the Indian Army doctrine was premised on i ts conventional superiority, an advantage that now has little meaning since massed tanks are unlikely to sweep across Sindh without inviting nuclear retaliation. There has clearly been little reflection on how the Army must reshape its doctrine in order to engage effectively with low-intensity, localised conflicts.

Since Union Home Minister L.K. Advani announced a "pro-active" paradigm for Jammu and Kashmir, there have been few tangible gains in the fight against terrorism. Casualities among neither the security forces nor civilians have shown any significant decli ne; indeed, there is more than a little evidence that with increasing numbers of heavy weapons being brought in and trained insurgents entering Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian forces are being pushed into a defensive mode for the first time since 1996. Fac ed with these stark facts, authoritarian doctrine is proliferating. These modes of thought are mirrored by the flirtation of a section of the Army leadership with the Hindu Right. Witness the decision of Director-General of Military Intelligence N.C. Vij and Air Vice-Marshal S.K. Malik to brief the BJP National Executive on the Kargil events on May 6, or 3 Infantry Division commander Lieutenant-General V.N. Budhwar's endorsement of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's Sindhu Darshan festival in Leh last mo nth.

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No one is certain where Avatar Gill's demands for new powers will head. For the moment, the State Government appears to have fought off the Army's efforts to place itself at the apex of the security establishment. Gill has replaced 15 Corps Commander Kri shan Pal as Security Adviser to the HQ chairperson, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. But, unlike Pal, he does not hold the right to chair over its meetings in Abdullah's absence. That prerogative has been made over to Chief Secretary Ashok Jaitle y. For the moment, civilian authority remains firmly in place. That in itself is not an adequate response to the larger challenges of discovering new means of engaging with terrorism, and ensuring peace. Sadly, no one in power seems interested in this la rger issue.

The State Government celebrated Independence Day with a bright, film-star studded show on the banks of the Dal lake in Srinagar. Ironically closed to the public, the celebration was organised by Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan' s son, Rahul Mahajan. Like the two chess-players who are the central characters in Satyajit Ray's masterpiece, Shatranj ke Khiladi, the Union and State governments seem supremely unconcerned about the violent events that surround them.

Focus on domestic violence

A Truth Commission debates the findings about the high incidence of unnatural deaths of women in dowry-related incidents in Bangalore, and in this context the broader issue of domestic violence, and makes recommendations for tightening investig ative and prosecution procedures.

A THREE-DAY public hearing in Bangalore before a Truth Commission comprising a distinguished jury of political and social activists, lawyers and former judges revisited the issue of domestic violence against women, which was first raised by the women's m ovement in India 20 years ago. It was pressure from the women's movement in the early 1980s that resulted in the amendment of penal statutes to protect women against all forms of marital violence by broadening the definition of cruelty, providing for hea vier penalties, and relaxing evidentiary requirements. Twenty years on, the problem of domestic violence, particularly dowry-related domestic violence, has escalated and assumed shocking proportions, both in its incidence and social spread, as a limited but thorough study-cum-campaign in Bangalore by the women's group Vimochana has shown (Frontline, August 27).

Organised by Vimochana in collaboration with the National Law School University of India, the Truth Commission, which sat for three days from August 15, was confronted with the contemporary face of domestic violence, its patterns and causes, and the limi tations of investigative and justice-giving procedures that are in place to deal with it.

While it was the hope of speedy justice that brought the fifty-plus families before the Commission to depose, for Vimochana the hearings marked a new phase in its ongoing campaign against dowry-related domestic violence. "The Truth Commission provided us the opportunity to take the issue of domestic violence to a more public and political level," Donna Fernandes of Vimochana told Frontline. "It marks for us the beginning of a new stage. We intend to organise these commissions in the districts and also network with other organisations. The report has underscored the need for tighter monitoring of the investigative and prosecution processes. We have to push for acceptance of these findings at the political level."

The members of the commission sat in two juries and heard depositions. The terms of reference were: 1. to identify the shortcomings in police investigations, inquest, dying declarations, forensic science and prosecution; 2. to suggest improvements for be tter medical treatment for women who are victims of domestic violence; 3. to recommend measures and suggest appropriate institutional arrangements to provide adequate protection to women victims of violence; and 4. to help put in place a system that is a ccessible, transparent and accountable. One of the jury panels was headed by Justice H. Suresh, former Judge of the Bombay High Court, and included Justice Leila Seth, former Judge of the Delhi High Court and of the Himachal Pradesh High Court and now a member of the Law Commission of India; Brinda Karat, general secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association; Padma Seth, former member of the National Commission for Women; and Flavia Agnes, lawyer and women's rights activist in Mumbai. The ot her jury was headed by N. Madhava Menon, former Director of the National Law School of India University and Law Commission member, and included Justice Sadashivaiah, former Judge of the Karnataka High Court; R. Venkatramani, senior advocate of the Supre me Court; Madhu Kishwar, editor of the women's journal Manushi; and Corinne Kumar, founder-member of Vimochana.

The jury panel led by Justice Suresh gave a set of specific suggestions on how each of the cases that came up before them at the public hearing could be followed up. It also gave a set of broader recommendations on how the investigative and prosecution p rocedures could be tightened. Of the 24 cases it heard, it found that in 12 cases reinvestigation and reframing of charges was called for owing to the failure of the police to assess the nature of the case. In addition, there were at least five more case s of police negligence. Thus, in 17 of the 24 cases, according to this jury, there was clear evidence of police culpability. In five of the cases, the post-mortem did not give the relevant details, and of these in three there were charges of corruption a gainst the doctors concerned. The inquest proceedings in at least one-third of the cases were faulty. Of the 24 cases, the jury panel found that in eight cases there was evidence of lapses and bias in judicial procedure. Of these, three cases concerned the question of bail for the accused, two concerned irrational adjournment and delay of hearings, and three reflected judicial bias in the judgment, in the jury's opinion. It noted that families of victims did not in some cases have information on the st atus of the case. In 12 cases, the complainants had not been given copies of the First Information Report (FIR) and/or the post-mortem report and had no information on the progress of their cases. The jury also recommended, in four cases, the filing of a ppeals for child custody/maintenance/visiting rights. In all the cases, the natal families of the victims knew of the harassment of the woman prior to her death, and in many cases had sent the woman back to her husband's family with the advice that she s hould "adjust".

In this summation of cases lies a picture of shoddy investigation, lack of transparency and information, the utter lack of accountability of the various arms of the investigative machinery, and the ignorance of the complainant who is sent from pillar to post with little or no idea of the law or where the case stands. The large number of acquittals in such cases is not surprising given the flaws in the initial investigation process.

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All the members of the Truth Commission made special mention of the lack of support that harassed, and often battered, daughters received from their natal families. "By asking her to return to her husband's family, parents have unwittingly signed their d aughter's death warrant," noted Brinda Karat.

This jury also gave specific recommendations with respect to some of the crucial elements of the investigative process. It stressed the importance of the correct filing of the FIR, upon which is based all subsequent investigation. It noted that many poli ce doctors and Special Executive Magistrates do not follow the basic rules in the recording of the dying declaration and the inquest proceedings. The jury also recommended that as far as possible the inquest should be conducted in the presence of the vic tim's family.

Vimochana's study shows that 70 per cent of cases of suspicious deaths of women were closed and the deaths recorded in the Unnatural Death Register (UDR). On this important issue, the jury said that all cases of deaths of married women within seven years of marriage should, as the law provides, be actively investigated. "The police practice of adding a dowry section to every death seems to have boomeranged and has resulted in many acquittals," the jury noted. "Violence against women should be viewed wit hin a wider perspective rather than the narrow scope of 'dowry death'. We need changes in sections which deal with violence against women so that their scope is not narrowed down merely to violence due to dowry. Another automatic presumption of the polic e in cases of hanging, in particular, or of cases of death due to poison is that of suicide. All investigations are conducted within this framework. This often converts what in reality is a murder case under Section 302 to suicide and abetment to suicide . In our findings in 24 cases, there are as many as 11 cases where the wrong sections have been applied by the police due to these false premises."

The jury made some important recommendations on the role of the Public Prosecutor, a crucial agency responsible in bringing about convictions. It noted that most cases failed because of the "corruption, apathy and indifference of this agency". Although t he panel did not have the opportunity to examine many judgments in dowry cases, the few it did contained judicial biases, according to the panel.

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On the last day of the public hearing, each member of the jury offered his/her general comments and personal recommendations on the issue of marital violence and unnatural deaths of women. Madhava Menon was of the opinion that a jury of 12 citizens, of w hich half are women, should try such cases (as is the model in many countries of the West). This idea was opposed by Justice Suresh. Indeed, it is a viewpoint that women's groups and others disagree with. Juries can be influenced by social and ideologica l pressures that would prevent the unbiased application of law.

Brinda Karat noted several points of concern. The first was that one should not look at these cases as individual aberrations or in the framework of a man-woman relationship, but as reflecting a social trend that has enveloped all sections and communitie s. The social context of violence is closely related to the social processes spawned by the culture of economic liberalisation, she said. "The violation of the Line of Control and our territorial integrity brought forth national outrage, as it should hav e. But every day the LoC that preserves basic humanitarian concerns in interaction between human beings is violated, and we are silent." Her point that a society that perceives marriage as central to a woman's role and identity thereby circumscribes her choices was shared by other jury members, including Flavia Agnes and Padma Seth. Madhu Kishwar said that the lives of many women could have been saved if the natal families had extended them the support that they needed.

Smokers under siege

Smokers in Kerala come under pressure as a High Court judgment banning smoking in public places is enforced across the State.

THE second class chair car of the intercity express train bound for Thiruvananthapuram witnessed an unusual sight recently. Soon after the train left Ernakulam, a passenger lighted a cigarette - not an unusual sight in Indian Railways. What was unusual w as the reaction of his co-passengers. A woman in the adjacent seat requested him firmly to put out his cigarette. When he did not comply, four other travellers got up and surrounded the smoker. "This is Kerala," they said, "Don't you read the newspapers? You can't smoke in public here. Either you put out your cigarette or we hand you over to the Railway Police."

Faced with this determined assault, the man threw away his cigarette, bemused at the reaction of his co-passengers. "Nobody minds in the North, it's not a big deal there," he grumbled. As many others like him have found out, smoking in public in Kerala t hese days can be a painful exercise. If you flourish a cigarette or a beedi in public places - bus stations, streets or railway platforms - the chances are that a policeman will nab you and issue a summons to appear before the local magistrate. If you re sist or refuse to give a credible name and address, he could arrest you. The fine one has to pay for the pleasure of lighting up in public is anything between Rs.200 and Rs.500. If one refuses to pay or cannot afford to, it is one month behind bars.

What amazes visitors nowadays is that one cannot easily smoke in Kerala even if there are no policemen around. The members of the public will prevent you. This is one law the people have welcomed. Snap polls conducted by the media and some commercial org anisations found that nearly 80 per cent of those interviewed were in favour of the ban.

The ban was imposed by District Collectors within days of a landmark judgment delivered by a Division Bench of the Kerala High Court on July 12. The judgment followed a petition filed earlier this year by two Keralites: Monamma Kokkad, mother of three ch ildren and a teacher of English Literature at BCM College, Kottayam, and K. Ramakrishnan, an advertising designer from Kozhikode who has since moved to Dubai. Monamma Kokkad used to commute by train between Kottayam and Ernakulam, and it was the hassle o f having to put up with smokers on the journey that motivated her to move the courts.

When the case came up before a Division Bench consisting of Acting Chief Justice A.R. Lakshmanan and Justice K. Narayana Kurup, the judges took an unusual course of action. They enlarged the list of respondents from an original nine to 52, including ever y possible agency of government, the civil administration and the police. This ensured that any action that flowed from the judgment was swiftly executed.

The 48-page judgment - possibly the most detailed legal document on the subject of smoking hazards - drew on dozens of sources both Indian and international (articles and news items from The Hindu were cited). Around one million people die every year in India from tobacco-related diseases, according to the Indian Medical Association. Cigarette smokers have been proven to have a 70 per cent higher chance of dying earlier than non-smokers; in fact, half of these smokers will be dead before they tu rn 40, according to the judgment.

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It devotes much space to documenting the hazards of passive smoking - what the medical profession now calls "environmental tobacco smoking (ETS)". This is a syndrome that is as yet not fully studied in India, but the statistics in the United States are s triking. According to a 1998 report of the American Health Association, quoted by the judges, there are nearly 40,000 deaths caused by the effects of passive smoking in the U.S. every year. Even infants are in danger of contracting asthma and other lung diseases if their parents are heavy smokers.

In India, the Bench found, an indication of the dimensions of the hazard can be seen in the statistics of paediatric admissions in hospitals: one in four is the child of a smoker. After direct smoking and alcohol, concluded the judges, passive smoking is one of the biggest worldwide killers.

It is the interests of this section of the public which is subject to serious health risks for no fault of theirs that invite the court's concern. And, in an analysis which is a throwback to the judgment delivered by V.R. Krishna Iyer in the Ratlam Munic ipality case in 1980, the court found that "existing laws... are quite sufficient to safeguard the interests of the public against the wisp of environmental tobacco smoke."

This, said the court, is because smoking is a public nuisance as covered under Section 268 of the Indian Penal Code - it "causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the public". Further, the court invokes another Section which concerns "making the atmosphere noxious to health" and says: "There can be no doubt that smoking in a public place will vitiate the atmosphere so as to make it noxious to the health of persons who happen to be there. Therefore smoking is an offence punishable under Section 278 of the IPC."

The judgment concluded: "Public smoking of tobacco in any form whether in the form of cigarettes, cigars, beedies or otherwise, is illegal, unconstitutional and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India (which assures every citizen the right t o life and liberty). We direct the District Collectors of all districts of the State of Kerala... to promulgate an order under Section 133 (a) CrPC, prohibiting public smoking within one month from today and direct the Director General of Police to issue instructions... to prosecute all persons found smoking in public places... by filing a complaint before the competent magistrate... "

The judgment clarifies that "smoking in public places falls within the mischief of the penal provisions relating to public nuisance as contained in the Indian Penal Code and also the definition of air pollution contained in the statutes dealing with prot ection and preservation of the environment..." A footnote clarified what the judges considered a public place " all educational institutions, hospitals, shops, restaurants, commercial establishments, bars, factories, cinema theatres, parks, walkways, pla ces of amusement, bus stops, bus stations, railway stations, railway compartments, and other public transport vehicles, highways, or other places where people congregate." This turned out to be the crucial and operative part of the court's orders: you ca nnot smoke on a road or within a restaurant - indeed any place where another member of the public has access.

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EVERY District Collector acted within days of the judgment and well before the 30-day deadline. Smoking in public is a cognizable offence, that is, the police can make an arrest even without receiving a formal complaint. The Government now plans to send publicity vans equipped with loudspeakers to all towns and villages to broadcast details of the ban.

In the days following the judgment, the police picked up hundreds of smokers who attempted to smoke at bus stations, on railway platforms or in shopping centres. A pocket cartoon in Mathrubhoomi, the Malayalam daily, showed a policeman telling ano ther: "No room in the lock-up for all the smokers, sir. Shall we let out the petty thieves and pickpockets?"

Old habits die hard, but faced with the hassle of having to appear in court and pay a fine of Rs.200 or more, many smokers have called it quits, at least in public. The foyers of cinema theatres which used to be normally enveloped in a cigarette-induced haze during the interval, were suddenly clear of smoke.

And 'no smoking signs' have sprung up in unlikely places, around places of worship, in local reading rooms and gymnasia. A day after the judgment was published, a heartfelt response was posted on the gates of a church in Champakkara near Kochi: "No smoki ng on these grounds." In smaller letters was a footnote in Malayalam: "High kodathi vidhikku nanni" (thanks for the High Court judgment).

Fifteen days after the court's order, cigarette majors reported a 30 per cent to 50 per cent drop in the offtake of tobacco products by the around two lakh retailers in the State. Officially the Government has accepted the judgment and will not appeal a gainst it. But Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar, a former smoker, has assured smokers that they will not be unduly harassed by the police who would, however, strictly enforce the court orders.

Such compliance will cost the exchequer dear. Tobacco products used to provide Rs.200 crores every year by way of taxes. Kerala Dinesh Beedi, the largest cooperative tobacco venture in the State and an umbrella organisation for 22 primary societies and o ver 300 plants, will soon move an appeal in the High Court, citing the threat to the livelihood of 25,000 people who depend on the manufacture and sale of beedis.

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Legal experts do not see much hope for such appeals. Says P.B. Sahasranamam, an advocate at the High Court who specialises in environmental pollution law: "No review lies in the Kerala High Court unless it can be established that the judgment contains an error apparent on the face of the record." This is unlikely.

The only legal recourse open to those who may want to seek to reverse the judgment is to move the Supreme Court. And that would be a dicey option for the tobacco industry: if it loses its appeal in the apex court, it risks seeing the Kerala ban extended all over the country.

The media are already questioning why States such as Delhi, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh were tardy in enforcing laws banning public smoking. And within the last few weeks, anti-smoking activists are reported to have moved both the Madras and Karnataka H igh Courts, seeking a ban similar to that imposed in Kerala.

The hotel and restaurant industry which operates thousands of bars in Kerala has not yet reacted to the ban; but it is likely to feel the impact in the weeks ahead. Observers suggest that the industry may be forced to invest in a facility that is common in countries whose smoking laws are strictly enforced - lobbies for smokers.

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, is hearing a public interest case filed by Mumbai Congress leader Murli Deora against cigarette manufacturers, seeking Rs.500 crores on behalf of non-smokers and better control over the marketing, advertising and consumption of tobacco products.

It may well happen that the Kerala move triggered by a couple of public spirited citizens and articulated by an alert and sensitive judiciary, will create a nationwide focus on the dangers of tobacco to both active consumers and passive members of the pu blic. That will bring India in line with dozens of other nations where the cigarette industry is under unprecedented pressure to mend the way it does business. As lighters go off all over Kerala it may yet be that smokers nationwide have taken their last nicotine-stained gasps - at least in public.

Designer beedis

other

FACED with tough competition from cigarette manufacturers, beedi-makers are seeking new pastures. Indian beedis in 'designer' flavours such as strawberry, grape and vanilla are all the rage in parts of the United States today.

As cigarettes become costlier, many young Americans have taken to the cheaper option of beedis from India. Beedis made their first appearance this year in Massachusetts and at least some school children who took to smoking flavoured beedis thought they w ere some kind of herbal cigarette sans tobacco.

Beedis available in some States such as California carry no health warnings. They are easily available and can even be ordered on the Internet. Health departments are now waking up to the hazards posed by these handrolled unfiltered tobacco products. Rec ently ABC TV reported that the Massachusetts Department of Health checked a batch of beedis and found that the amount of tar that they contained and carbon monoxide that they emitted was two to three times higher than in the case of cigarettes. And the n icotine per gram was seven times higher than that of regular cigarettes.

Smoke signals

THROUGH most of the 1990s, proceedings in tobacco-related cases in United States' courts followed a set pattern: the plaintiff, usually an individual or a social service organisation, took on the might of the tobacco industry, citing what often seemed da mning medical evidence of harm done to smokers or to those forced to work in a smoke-laden environment.

After weeks of arguments and a procession of experts presented by both sides, the jury went into a brief huddle, only to come out to announce a verdict that favoured the defendant. The tobacco industry's attorney stepped outside the court, smirking in fr ont of a battery of cameras. "We have a justice system that works," one of them said, "Our juries are intelligent. They are not conned by frivolous publicity-seeking plaintiffs. They have sent a clear message."

The first-ever such lawsuit against a tobacco company was filed in 1954 by a lung cancer victim in the U.S. It dragged on for 13 years before it was dropped. In 1964, the Surgeon General released a report that, for the first time, linked smoking with lun g cancer. A year later, health warnings became mandatory on cigarette packets sold in the country - a requirement that was later imposed in dozens of other countries including India.

By 1971, airlines began segregating smokers in separate sections of the aircraft and the U.S. took the lead in banning broadcast advertisements for tobacco products. In the 1980s, the tobacco companies won dozens of lawsuits filed by smokers dying of lu ng diseases. In a bizarre case in 1983, a smoker, Rose Cipollone, dying of lung cancer, was ordered by a court to pay $40,000 in damages - a verdict that was later overturned. Rose died soon after and her son withdrew the case because he could no longer afford to keep it going.

This was a scene that was played out time and again. The tobacco companies had enormous financial clout which enabled them to drive its opponents to penury. In July 1997, U.S. based tobacco companies came to an agreement with the Attorneys General of 40 States, whereby they promised to pay over $200 billion over the next quarter century into a fund to cover medical costs, help people to quit smoking and pay damages to affected smokers. They also agreed to remove cigarette advertisements from hoardings, sporting events and supermarkets and shut down cigarette vending machines. The agreement shielded the companies from cases, but did not restrict individuals from suing them.

And that is what they faced in early 1999, when hearings began in a Miami court. Five of the largest companies were taken to court by the first-ever class action suit filed on behalf of 500,000 sick smokers in Florida suffering from lung cancer, emphysem a and other diseases. On July 7, a jury found the five companies guilty of making a defective product and found them "engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct... with the intent to inflict severe emotional distress".

The jury agreed with the smokers on every count: that the industry deceived them about the dangers of smoking; suppressed research results; terminated research that would have produced safer cigarettes and targeted children with their advertisements. The final figure of punitive damages could well exceed the $200-billion settlement that the tobacco companies reached with the States - that is, if the jury verdict is not overturned in appeal. But the finding is still being seen as a startling reversal of a hitherto unchanging pattern. It was the first major defeat for tobacco companies.

Readers of John Grisham's thrillers might have felt a sense of deja vu while reading about the Miami court proceedings. His The Runaway Jury etched a startlingly prescient scenario: a jury which for the first time returns a finding in favo ur of a dead smoker.

Meanwhile, a special federal court has been set up in the U.S. to hear cases filed by countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Thailand against American cigarette manufacturers. And in mid-August, six smokers with lung cancer filed a class ac tion suit in the Australian Federal Court on behalf of 40,000 fellow-smokers against the 'Big Three' cigarette manufacturers - Philip Morris, Wills and Rothmans.

Groups of sufferers from environmental smoke hazards - such as airline flight attendants forced to serve in the smoking areas of aircraft - have in the past sued cigarette manufacturers, with mixed success. But in the roster of legal moves in support of the innocent non-smoker, the recent Kerala court judgment has its own special place. It was the first instance when the judiciary has acted in favour of all passive smokers of a State without receiving a specific complaint against a tobacco manufacturer or trader.

A secular expose

The Concerned Indian's Guide to Communalism edited by K. N. Panikkar; Viking; pages 252, Rs.395.

THE show of moderation is deceptive and is intended to deceive. Atal Behari Vajpayee does not enjoy command over the Bharatiya Janata Party. It suits its mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), to leave him alone till it is able to muster a solid majority in its own right. The allies will then be discarded - along with the mask of moderation. None should be surprised at the recent recruitments made to the BJP. Some joined it for the lure of power, others were closet Hindutva adherents anyw ay.

The situation lends added relevance to this collection of essays edited by an academic who combines scholarly pursuits with active espousal of causes he holds dear. Professor of Modern History at the Centre for Historical Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, K. N. Panikkar has written extensively on the cultural and intellectual history of modern India.

An anguished concern at the present situation is reflected all over his incisive introduction. A religious concept of nationhood led to India's Partition. The two-nation theory was propounded by V. D. Savarkar in his book Hindutva in 1924. M. A. Jinnah b egan to advocate it from 1939 onwards. But as Nehru wrote in his Autobiography, "many a Congressman was a communalist under his nationalist cloak." Rajeshwar Dayal's memoirs, A Life of Our Times (1998), record how, as Chief Secretary of Utt ar Pradesh, he found damning evidence of the RSS boss M. S. Golwalkar's complicity in a conspiracy to stage anti-Muslim pogroms but the man was protected by the Chief Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, from arrest and prosecution. Pant foiled Nehru's and Pat el's attempts to undo the forcible conversion of the Babri Mosque into a Hindu temple in the night on December 22/23, 1949.

Gandhi's assassination and Nehru's strong commitment kept the Hindutva forces at bay. The situation has "changed dramatically, particularly during the past two decades", Panikkar writes. Hindu communalism has spread its tentacles in civil society and als o succeeded in gaining access to state power. In the process some of the vital principles and practices of a secular state and society have been either undermined or endangered. The essays collected in this volume seek "to join the public debate made imp erative by the communal initiatives taken by the government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party" during its brief term and by the social and cultural interventions of the members of the Sangh Parivar, particularly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the RSS a nd the Bajrang Dal.

The contributors are writers of repute, each distinguished in his/her own intellectual discipline. It is only appropriate that historians should lead the charge against obsucrantism. "For, the Hinduised history is a deliberate construction, which seeks t o valourise the Hindu in the chequered history of the nation. It traces the lineage of the nation to the ancient Hindu past, claims the Hindu scriptures as the source of all knowledge, the Indian civilisation as superior to every other civilisation, and ancient India's achievement in science, mathematics and other branches of knowledge as unsurpassed by other civilisations. The political history of India is interpreted as a record of the heroic Hindu resistance against foreigners and the last one thousa nd years as a period of continuous conflict between the Hindus and Muslims."

Panikkar recalls that a Maharashtrian intellectual in the mid-19th century, Bhaskar Pandurang Tarkadkar, distinguished the Muslim rulers from the British. The only instance of foreign rule in India, he held, was British colonial rule. Although they ruled for about 200 years the British distanced themselves from Indian society. Unlike earlier rulers such as Mughals and Turks, they drained wealth out of India.

"The politics of Hindutva, as the essays in this volume bring out, is primarily engaged in defining the nation as Hindu through a process of cultural homogenisation, social consolidation and political mobilisation of the majority community and at the sam e time, by stigmatising the minorities as aliens and enemies."

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ROMILA THAPAR, one of India's foremost historians, metes out deserved justice to the communal interpretation of India's history, a subject on which she has written extensively. British contribution to the writing of India's history was baleful in its per iodisation of Indian history as that of the Hindu, Muslim and British periods. Muslim and Hindu communalists took over and constructed two monolithic communities, uniformly hostile, utterly free from diversities, immune to interaction and indifferent to a nationalism transcending the communal divide.

Romila Thapar writes: "The tragedy is that actually the study of the past sends us very different messages but we choose not to read them. Indian society has always been a multi-religious, multicultural society where identities have inevitably been multi ple. Such a society is not in itself secular but is conducive to the evolving of a secular society protecting the civil and human rights of all its citizens. Our history in India has been very different from that projected in the two-nation theory and th e Hindutva ideology. If we can read our history with more sensitivity and insight, it would contribute to avoiding a fascist future."

What Nehru wrote of the Hindu Mahasabha applies to the RSS and its political front, the BJP. Their communalism "masquerades under a nationalist cloak," he wrote, and added insightfully: "The test comes when a national and democratic solution happens to i njure upper-class Hindu interests." It is a test in which the Mahasabha "repeatedly failed". So have the RSS and the BJP, repeatedly.

As Jayati Ghosh writes in her incisive analysis of the economic underpinnings, "In the Hindutva world view, the only internal enemies are those determined by social and cultural differences. There is no recognition of classes or even of domestic economic antagonisms in this perspective, and therefore no understanding of the constraining role on development which can be played by certain classes such as large landed interests and big capital." She points out that while the Hindutva brigade's rhetoric is majoritarian, "in actuality it represents the interests of a very small minority - typically male upper-class and upper caste - and even of a relatively small sub-section within that group."

Tanika Sarkar's essay exposes "the gender predicament of the Hindu Right" with a wealth of documentation carefully sourced. She points out a curious feature of its behaviour which has been overlooked. The Sangh Parivar consciously projects women to the f orefront. But "the women who are thus exalted do not come from women's organisations, nor do they have prominent bases among the women of their own political clusters. They also are quite indifferent to women's issues, problems and demands."

Sumit Sarkar's essay on conversions records how the fight against Christian missionary activity was an early plank of the Jan Sangh. Even as Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee sees nothing wrong in sponsoring officially (January 10, 1999) a debate on the righ t to practise and propagate one's religion. Rajeev Dhavan's analysis of the constitutional implications of the secular credo rises far above the level of arid legalism common to most lawyers. His interests are wide and his research is extensive.

Siddharth Varada-rajan caps the contributions with one of the ablest analyses of the role of the media yet written. He is one of the rare breed who can effortlessly glide from academia to journalism and back. The thesis is made good convincingly. "Mass m edia's tendency to fragment news serves to depoliticise the body politic... When combined with fragmentation, the immediacy of news generates individual passivity and a public sphere that is generally inert except when the mass media itself is used by po wer politics to mobilise it. In the context of communalism in India, the layers of combustible myths which accumulate around most riots as time passes make this kind of memoryless media all the more manipulatory and dangerous."

Nuances and complexity are shunned in "junk food journalism, which one author has labelled 'News McNuggets'." Varadarajan's essay, the longest in the volume, briefly surveys the history of Indian journalism to show how the communal slant became pronounce d over the years. "Most Indian newspapers in the latter part of the nineteenth century had internalised the colonial political culture to such an extent that even when colonialism was challenged or excoriated, it was often from a 'Hindu' or 'Muslim' poin t of view. Even language became a bone of contention. The Urdu-Hindi divide began shortly after the advent of British rule and was reflected in some newspapers using Devanagari and others the Persian script."

Some grave errors of lasting consequence were made by the Congress, not least, by Gandhi. His "tendency in his capacity as a Congress leader, to use 'we' and 'us' when referring to Hindus has also been criticised for its alienating effect on Muslims. See R. Palme Dutt, Inside India Today, London, 1940; page 326," a footnote points out.

Coming to present times, Siddharth Varadarajan discusses the role of the media during moments of trial - the Punjab crisis and the anti-Sikh riots; the Shah Bano case, the Ayodhya movement and the communal riots of which there seems to be no end. The Sha h Bano case, for instance, was essentially a gender issue. The BJP made it a communal one. Large sections of the media played the same tune.

"As a manager of news, the BJP has proved to be much more skilful than the Congress or any other political formation in the country. In the run-up to the Ayodhya agitation, the party pioneered the use of press releases, leaks and press conferences, which took place on more or less a daily basis, thereby ensuring that the BJP and its activities and views received continuous and prominent coverage in the newspapers. According to the media analysts Charu Gupta and Mukul Sharma, the BJP's forte is the creat ion and management of the pseudo-event."

The print media is not the only culprit, Doordarshan and All India Radio played no mean role. Contrast Doordarshan's treatment of the film Tipu Sultan with its generosity towards Ramayana whose serialisation many now acknowledge was a mista ke of great consequence.

It is a very thought-provoking contribution, altogether. "Communalism in the media is a problem but it is only an instantiation of the largely undemocratic nature of the mass media. What we need, therefore, is journalism which raises the level of discuss ion in society by addressing the concerns of the people. In modern market economies, two obstacles need to be overcome. The first is the market mechanism itself."

The other is the stranglehold of the state. It is able to influence media coverage and mould public opinion. In India, for example, the police and paramilitaries are considered to be the authority on questions of law and order; the Reserve Bank of India, the Union Finance Ministry and investment banks on the economy; and the Defence Ministry and quasi-government think-tanks like the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the last word on issues of defence and national security. Journalists looking for an objective assessment turn mostly to officials from institutions."

In bringing such a fine group of thinkers around the table for an informed discussion, Panikkar has rendered no small service.

The real and the mythical

Kesavante Vilapangal by M. Mukun- dan, D.C. Books, Kottayam; pages 206, Rs. 75.

THE latest novel by M. Mukundan, one of the progenitors of modernity in Malayalam literature, is intensely political like all his earlier works. His novels and short stories have been sensitive to the people's struggle for liberation from colonial domina tion, the post-colonial disappointment and frustration, and the brutalisation that slowly set in in Indian society. Thematic novelty and innovative craft are the hallmarks of his earlier works, which have earned him much literary recognition and acclaim. His recent novel, Kesavante Vilapangal (The Lamentations of Kesavan), which breaks new ground in both conception and composition, is likely to create considerable interest and even controversy.

The formation and articulation of the Left political consciousness in Kerala form the central theme of the novel, whose focus is on E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who, arguably, exercised the most decisive influence on its course. Yet this is not a work on or abo ut EMS, despite such an impression that the copper plate etching of EMS embossed on the cover will possibly create.

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It is neither a biographical account of EMS nor a representation, faithful or otherwise, of his social and political activism. The novel therefore escapes being a caricature of EMS, as in Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things or in some Malayala m literary resurrections after his death. At the same time, the presence of EMS in the novel is overarching, almost divine and mythical, which mediates at every stage, decisively influencing its course.

Kesavante Vilapangal has a multi-layered structure with a complex narrative strategy that brings out a relationship, almost symbiotic in nature, between its two main strands. There are, in fact, two intertwined and complementary plots in the nove l. The first is about the tensions and travails as well as the popular recognition involved in the production of a literary work, drawing upon contemporary political issues and leaders. This is exemplified by the experience of the protagonist of the nove l, Kesavan, a fairly successful writer, who undertakes to compose a novel on EMS. The second is the novel so written by Kesavan in which EMS looms large through a mythic presence in the life of a boy named Appukuttan. In the course of the narrative the d istinction between the narrator and the narrated is so blurred that the former becomes a victim of the fallout of his own creative effort.

The myth takes shape in the life of Appukuttan while he was still in the cradle. Its beginning is marked by the inexplicable influence on the boy exercised by a photograph of EMS fixed on the wall by Appukuttan's uncle. He grows up in its enchanting pres ence and is enamoured of the leader's childlike smile and the red colour that embellished the portrait's background. The child, it appeared, was in constant communication with the photograph, so much so that he protested when his view was obstructed by a change in the position of the cradle. In due course the myth assumes dynamic qualities, directing the mental and physical world of the child. In a crowded fair he could, even when he was only three years old, lead his father to the place where the photo graph of EMS was on sale along with those of innumerable gods and goddesses. Or is it that the photograph was drawing him towards it? The influence thus exercised was so overpowering that the child in Appukuttan was marginalised; he did not enjoy the com pany of his friends nor indulge in what children are normally fond of. His world was confined to EMS and to the possibilities inherent in the ideas that he represented. His sole ambition was to pursue the path charted out by EMS and to end up as a martyr for that cause. As a result he sought to fashion himself in the image of EMS, meticulously tried to follow and internalise the details of his life and to devote himself to the pursuit of the ideals set by him. Yet, EMS remained enigmatic and mythical - distant but intimate, elusive but accessible, and awe-inspiring but gentle. He had no opportunity to know the 'real' EMS - Mukundan's engagement is not with the real - but the myth is so firmly embedded in his mind that he effortlessly translates it i nto real politics.

The translation of the myth into the reality of politics is facilitated by the mediation of his school teacher, Aman Master, who transforms Appukuttan from a dull and indifferent student to a front-runner in the class. Aman Master envisions in him a futu re leader and, reminiscent of the role school teachers have played in the dissemination of Left influence in Kerala, guides him in that direction. To the dismay of his father, a disillusioned naxalite who sought solace in religion, Appukuttan, though onl y 15 years, associates himself with the Communist Party. His ambition always was to become a martyr which he ultimately becomes by killing another former naxalite who had turned an alcoholic and committed the 'sacrilege' of urinating on a photograph of E MS. Appukuttan is arrested and taken to jail where he finds fulfilment in the strong arms of EMS who descends from a red star in the sky surrounded by a red halo. Thus Kesavan's political choice is clearly delineated.

KESAVAN'S attempt to construct the myth of EMS elicits a variety of responses. A Left-leaning intellectual and literary critic warns him that writing on a theme that he is ignorant of is not short of serious danger.

That he buttresses his arguments with quotations from Living in Truth by Vaclav Havel and Reality Effect by Ronald Barthes is possibly intended as a comment on the intellectual practice in Kerala.

However, when the novel was completed, the same critic writes a laudatory review and also offers to use his political influence to get Kesavan important positions in government-controlled academies. He also receives a lucrative offer from a commercial pu blisher. All of these Kesavan rejects with disdain. To him, the moment of fulfilment was beyond all these, when the myth he created turns real and EMS appears in person before him, though for a fleeting moment, to bless him and thus give recognition to h is creative ability.

The opposition to and disapproval of Kesavan's work were equally sharp. They presumably came from the Hindu fundamentalist groups which sent him anonymous letters threatening him for writing on the present-day Sankaran and not on Adi Sankara. This is rem iniscent of the tactics of Hindu communalists who threaten and intimidate the secular intelligentsia who are critical of their cultural and political projects. Kesavan ignored the threat and publicly denounced it, which led to his murder. The novel thus ends by underlying the ominous possibilities inherent in Hindu fundamentalism.

The Left intellectual and political life in Kerala was largely dependent upon the theoretical erudition and political acumen of EMS. For a long time he strode like a colossus, guiding and influencing its direction. EMS was not only a leader engaged in ev eryday politics, but was an effective communicator who took great care to disseminate his ideas in society and thus to intervene in the existing social and political consciousness and eventually to transform them. The myth that the novel so cleverly crea tes is actually a reflection of this reality. But then the foregrounding of the myth is in itself an attempt to explore the meaning of the real. The subtle and suggestive manner in which the novel underlines the relationship between the real and the myth ical makes it an extremely complex work, compelling a critical introspection on how political ideals make or unmake the popular consciousness.

LETTERS

other
Narmada

The way the Narmada issue is being handled by the government causes concern. It is now clear that most of the so-called benefits of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) are to be cornered by Gujarat, while the tens of thousands of people who will be displace d are primarily from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The Government of Madhya Pradesh has filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court, stating that it does not have enough land to resettle the people, while the Maharashtra Government has conveyed the same message to the media. In this background, it is shocking to see the apathy exhibited by the Central Government, the Supreme Court and the Gujarat Government.

Vijay Kumar Manghnani North Carolina, United States

Mobilisation of Dalits

It is true that Dalits have been politically mobilised in Tamil Nadu as never before ("A consolidation of forces", August 27). But it appears to have happened more on a casteist basis. Could it be owing to the failure of major political parties to organi se them on the basis of principles and policies? Does it mean a setback to democracy? It is clear that the Tirunelveli massacre and the continued oppression of Dalits in the South have created a new awareness among them about the need for unity. It is es sential to ensure that caste differences are not widened. Instead of looking for short-term gains, the political leadership should show the vision to foster harmony.

A. Jacob Sahayam Vellore, Tamil Nadu Nuclear weapons

In "A flawed character" (August 27), the author quotes Henry Kissinger as saying that "the strategic arsenal of nuclear warheads is useful to deter nuclear attacks from the enemy and for little else" and makes a comment that this should provide a soberin g thought for "our nuclear hawks". The so-called "nuclear hawks" have no problems in accepting this reasoning. Strength in conventional arms is not a sufficient deterrent against a state like Pakistan, unless it is made known to it that any first strike with nuclear warheads would invite instant retaliation. In fact, it is the numerical and technological superiority of India's armed forces and its conventional weapons that would tempt Pakistan to deploy nuclear weapons and venture a first strike.

R. Anjana Chennai Neelan Tiruchelvam

Your coverage of the assassination of Neelan Tiruchelvam (August 27) was comprehensive. Several prominent personalities from different parts of the world have condoled the death of the Tamil leader. However, what puzzles and disappoints me is that neithe r the Tamil Nadu Government nor any prominent politician from Tamil Nadu has issued any statement in this regard.

K. Sabesan Madurai Solar eclipse

The article on the solar eclipse (August 13) was informative. It was an authoritative description of the natural phenomenon.

A.K. Bose Calcutta Kargil

In "A probe and its prospects" (August 27) the author says that the committee on the Kargil conflict has no statutory authority. Could he cite even one instance of any committees appointed by government in free India having statutory powers? The BJP is p laying the same game that was played by its predecessors in power. At least in the future all political parties should agree to respect and follow the findings of inquiry commissions. Their findings should be treated in the same manner as Supreme Court v erdicts.

R. Rajaraman Chennai * * *

As you rightly pointed out ("Now the cover-up", August 13), the decision of Lt. Gen. N.C. Vij, the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO), to brief the BJP National Executive was indeed disgraceful. But the question is: did he do so on his own in itiative? The Chief of the Army Staff has disowned any responsibility, saying that he had no control over the senior officer who did the briefing. If that is so, did the DGMO carry out the briefing without clearance from his chief? Or does the Army chief 's statement betray a lack of moral courage? The Army should clarify.

Col. D. Lal (retd) Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh * * *

The quality of the victory in Kargil is questionable ("The unending cost", August 13). The conflict was the result of the BJP-led government's misgovernance. In order to evict a handful of infiltrators, the Indian armed forces had to fight a "war" for 50 days. They had to deploy powerful war machines, and hundreds of soldiers had to sacrifice their lives.

Rajan Ramarao Mumbai BJP government

By a strange stroke of luck, the BJP-led government's handling of the Kargil crisis has heightened the rating of A.B.Vajpayee and his government although it was they who were responsible for the crisis, as it was their failure to prevent the infiltration that resulted in the avoidable national tragedy. There is no reason to give special credit to the BJP-led government for the "Kargil victory". At best, it may be partially ascribed to Vajpayee's ability as an individual.

Democracy in India has reached a stage where a government which lost the confidence of the House and was voted out continues in office and functions with more independence, fearlessness and vigour than before. The reason is simple, while in power, it was subjected to pushes and pulls from its coalition partners.

But once it lost the confidence motion, it had nothing to fear because it could not fall any further and has therefore become hundred per cent stable. Neither house of Parliament is in session. The Government is no longer subject to its coalition partner s' pulls and pushes - and herein lies the strength of a voted-out government.

Even if the prediction that the National Democratic Alliance will win over 300 seats in the September elections comes true, Vajpayee of "Kargil fame" cannot be the same again. For, when every partner of the NDA - more than 20 parties that have temporaril y come together in search of power - starts demanding its pound of flesh, Vajpayee will become his old self - a person who could not lead an alliance. Unable to control the affairs of the NDA, the government will soon meet with the same fate of the previ ous government.

C.K. Lawrence Shillong The telecom tangle

My attention has been drawn to an interview given by Mr.Arun Jaitley to Frontline ("It is a revival package", August 27), in which he has referred to some alleged excerpts from my letter dated May 12, 1999, written to Prime Minister Atal Behari Va jpayee to the effect that "those who are overstating the ability of the industry to pay this licence fee are the interested quarters who want the industry in India to collapse. There is now an urgent need to change." After the quotation, he has said that he was quoting from the letter.

I am enclosing a copy of my letter dated May 12, 1999, addressed to Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee, Prime Minister. There is no such sentence as has been purported to be "extracted" from my letter dated May 12, 1999, and in fact my letter does not contain any observation to that effect at all.

It is strange that a Senior Advocate of Mr. Jaitley's standing, claiming to be a key strategist of the BJP, is indulging in total disinformation, if not fabrication, trying to make out a desperate case finding that the government led by Sri Vajpayee has indulged in gross anti-people and anti-national activity.

Mr. Jaitley has questioned why the revenue sharing system of March 26, 1999 was not opposed. That policy was not applicable to the existing cellular operators. By my letter of May 12, 1999, I actually brought the representations made by the existing cell ular operators to the notice of the Government of the day and I categorically stated in my letter that "If it is ascertained by the Government, on a proper review, that the existing cellular operators cannot survive without introduction of a revenue shar ing arrangement, then obviously proper consideration has to be given upon an objective assessment of all the issues with an open mind." I further mentioned that upon such review and assessment, if the apprehensions of the cellular operators were found to be justified then the question of integration might be worth considering. Significantly, till today, the Government of India has not disclosed whether any study or review was made and if so, to what effect. I never asked the Government to take any wrong or anti-people decision based upon their subjective feelings.

I charge that the BJP and its so-called spokesmen and strategists are deliberately misleading the people in an attempt to extricate their government from a very murky situation, knowing that they have no proper answer and they are making insinuations and indulging in false propaganda in spite of the fact that their own Minister for Communications and Minister for Finance had objected to the change of policy regarding the existing operators, which clearly points to corruption at the highest level, which prompted the Government to take such a controversial decision.

I hope Mr. Jaitley would tender an apology in writing for the deliberately misleading and incorrect allegations made against me. I am enclosing a copy of this letter to Mr. Jaitley.

Somnath Chatterjee, ex-M.P., Leader CPI(M), Lok Sabha

* * *

Following is the text of the letter written by Somnath Chatterjee:

During my tenure as the Chairman, Standing Committee on Communications, and even thereafter, several cellular operators belonging to the concerned Association met me and brought to my notice the problems faced by them. They have been requesting for due c onsideration by the Government of the disadvantaged position they are occupying.

The Telecom Policy of 1994, it seems, very significantly, failed to achieve most of, if not all, its objectives. As a result, the expansion of the network that was expected through the efforts of DoT as well as the private operators, both in basic teleco m and cellular operations, has not been achieved.

The cellular operators have very categorically denied that they have received premium by sale of shares at a discount as has been alleged against them in some interested quarters. It has been represented by them, and as the facts appeared to be, that the Indian operators have not only participated in equity but also have had to provide guarantees to DoT apart from debt funding, which their foreign collaborators did not have to do. So far as I have been able to ascertain, the final stake of cellular oper ations in the different regions has been substantially more so far as Indian operators are concerned, compared to their foreign counterparts.

It is well-known that the cellular operators have not been able to have the targeted number of customers as per the projection of DoT, which, according to them resulted in poor cash flow, culminating in the failure on the part of cellular operators to pa y the licence fees. The Indian cellular operators have represented to me that by reason of additional induction of funds, their financial capability was put under great strain.

The new Telecom Policy formulated by your Government has provided for a dual system - one for payment of licence fees by existing operators and the other for revenue sharing by the new operators. This has, as has been represented by the cellular operator s, not only created an anomaly but has also made their future operations totally uncertain and unviable. Such operators, from time to time, have been requesting for review of the position.

If it is ascertained by the Government, on a proper review, that the existing cellular operators cannot survive without introduction of a revenue sharing arrangement, then obviously proper consideration has to be given upon an objective assessment of all the issues with an open mind. Indian concerns, who genuinely wanted to make a contribution for the development of the telecom network in our country, are almost now out of business for no direct fault of theirs. Certainly the Government has to ensure th at the foreign telecom companies should not at any time be able to take over our telecom network and for that reason also, it is essential that the Indian operators should be provided due consideration so that their financial viability is not affected.

Integration of the existing cellular operators into the new Telecom Policy framework seems to be worth considering, in the face of apprehensions that have been apparently expressed in some quarters. I feel that since there is considerable justification i n the representations that are being made by the existing cellular operators, this matter should be brought to your attention so that no Indian operator is ultimately denied justice, considering the present situation in an objective manner, consistent wi th national interest.

Somnath Chatterjee

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Oct 9,2020