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COVER STORY

24-09-1999

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Briefing

A different view of Kargil

While the Kargil issue is highlighted by politicians on both sides of the border, the average Pakistani thinks that it was merely part of the machinations by politicians to keep their own business going.

PAKISTAN'S Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz calls it an "over-reaction on India's part"; a retired Pakistani bureaucrat and a former consultant with the United Nations, Ghulam Khibria, calls it a "blunder on Pakistan's part"; a Karachi-based business executive, Akhtar K. Alavi, terms it an "election stunt". But the average citizen of Pakistan feels that the Kargil intrusion and India's response to it were something both the countries have been witnessing for years. My taxi driver in Islamabad said:"Logo ko bewakoof banane ki baat hai (The people on both sides are being taken for a ride). Neither your politicians nor ours, neither your army nor ours, is interested in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Unki tau dukan hi bandh ho jayegi (It will put an end to their business)." .

The Foreign Minister denies that Kargil was a "planned operation" by Pakistan. His version is that following "some very aggressive patrolling by Indian troops along the empty space last October-November", the Pakistani troops moved closer to the Line of Control (LoC) to safeguard it. Taking advantage of this situation "the freedom fighters moved in and took up some positions". The LoC is never a quiet place, with firing taking place much of the time, but complaints from either side are normally sorted out.

This time too it would have been the same case but India suddenly "mobilised 50,000 troops, 70 to 80 planes, 20 gunships and large pieces of artillery to displace 500 people. It was plainly an over-reaction," Aziz said.

Even though Kargil has taken Indo-Pakistan relations to an all-time low, Aziz feels that some good might come out of it in the long run. Aziz added:"On both sides there is a realisation that we cannot go on. Look at the fragility and bitterness of our relationship. We shoot down a plane for no reason and tensions again go high. How can two such large countries, both nuclear powers, live in such tension and uncertainty? The relationship has to improve and it cannot improve unless we have negotiations and deal with Kashmir, which is a reality."

As usual there are diverse voices commenting on Indo-Pakistan relations. But one thing that strikes a visitor in Pakistan is the people's incredulity about the "mass hysteria whipped up by the Indian media" over Kargil. A senior diplomat in Pakistan's Foreign Office whom this correspondent met, said: "We were amazed to see the manner in which the Kargil issue was blown out of proportion in your media, especially the electronic media."

Alleging that the Indian media seemed to have no space or time for anything other than "Pakistan-bashing all the time", he said: "To be honest with you, people in Pakistan started looking at Kargil only on June 21 after Pakistan had lost the World Cup (of cricket)." Certain that the "Hindutva government of India had influenced the media to write like that", he accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of creating "a new generation of enemies on either side of the border. We feel the whole hysteria is election-linked and it seems to have paid off too. We hear that pre-election surveys predict a comfortable victory for the BJP and its allies."

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Conveying the same sentiment in softer tones, senior columnist Anees Jillani said: "Kargil was not looked upon as a war in Pakistan at all. It was only the Indian media which converted it into a war."

WHEN one tries to explain that not only the Government of India but also the people feel betrayed by Pakistan responding with Kargil to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's outstretched hand of friendship in Lahore, the response is mixed.

Akhtar K. Alavi, the general manager of Adamjee Insurance, Pakistan's largest insurance conglomerate, strikes a hawkish note when he declares grandly: "We gave you a bloody nose in Kargil; that is why it rankles." After we had taken the argument back and forth for a little while about who really got a bloody nose in the end and who was forced to withdraw, he made a point, which set one thinking.

His argument is that every time Pakistan enters into a squabble with India and its politicians are forced to accept a solution, such as the withdrawal in Kargil, facilitated by the intervention of the United States, there is a backlash from the fundamentalist lobbies in Pakistan. "Such things breed fundamentalism, extremism and fanaticism. And you can see it all around you. You are a woman and a journalist who has been travelling in Pakistan. You must have seen it... women all wrapped up in hijab (veil). I am not saying there is anything wrong in it, but more than the manner of dressing, it is manifested in people's thinking and behaviour."

Maintaining that Islam had become the "new global enemy", particularly for the West which found it a convenient whipping boy after the collapse of communism, Alavi added: "If they keep hammering all the time 'Musalman ko marenge' (we'll kill the Muslim) then he will become a reactionary. Those in Pakistan who are educated, liberal and open-minded are now being pushed and put on the defensive."

One thing is certain. Every time there is... call it war, call it battle or call it skirmish... with India, voices in favour of better Indo-Pakistan ties, economic, cultural and political, tend to get silent. President of the Sindh Industrial Trade Estate, Majyd Aziz, a votary of speedy improvement in Indo-Pakistan trade relations, admitted that events such as Kargil compelled people like him to "keep a low profile".

Maintaining that every Pakistani who rented out video cassette of a Hindi movie did a Rs.10 business with India, he said: "Kargil or no Kargil, traders from both sides find a way for trading. But the role of facilitation, which can be provided by both sides, gets pushed back by a Kargil. A lot of goods go through Dubai from both sides; I would call this official smuggling which denies both governments revenue."

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Aziz was scheduled to lead a 70-member delegation of industrialists from Pakistan to India in the last week of April 1999, under the auspices of the Federation of Indian Exporters Organisation (FIEO). But the fall of the Vajpayee government meant a postponement of the programme and the developments in Kargil put a quick end to it. Businessmen like him who see a huge market in India and potential for collaboration, especially in areas such as Information Technology, are waiting for a new government to take over in New Delhi before meaningful Indo-Pakistan trade relations can resume and the much-talked about touted Indo-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce really takes off.

A Karachi-based businessman who visited Delhi in August - and was a regular invitee to Delhi's golf club during his stay in the capital - was amazed at the warmth and hospitality he got from businessmen in Delhi. "At the Delhi Customs I was made to wait unnecessarily for five minutes and I was truly amazed when the officer came and profusely apologised to me. I have decided never to come to India via Mumbai because Mumbai Customs people are always hostile to Pakistani passport holders," he said.

BESET with problems, not the least the economic crisis and the heavy foreign-debt, the Nawaz Sharif Government, despite its brute majority in the National Assembly, finds itself on the defensive as the opposition parties are getting organised against his ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

The Kashmir bogey has become extremely useful to successive governments in Pakistan which wanted to divert attention from domestic problems. The post-Kargil situation is no different. The line that the Pakistan government has tried hard to sell to the people is that Kargil was after all a result of the aspiration of the mujahideen, or the "freedom fighters of Kashmir", to get "justice for their Muslim brethren in the valley".

Of late the Government has taken a lot of flak from human rights and gender rights activists within and outside the country for allowing a barbaric concept like 'honour killings' to thrive. The essence of this concept is that if a woman in your family has compromised the family's 'honour' by either entering into a marriage of her choice or seeking/getting a divorce, or worse, by getting raped, you can kill her and even the courts will wink at the crime, as 'family honour' is involved. Such killings are prevalent more in the tribal areas but the sanction and support they get sometimes from even the urban elite is surprising.

On the overall gender or human rights front too, Pakistan does not have good record. In this background, it is with a lot of glee that Pakistan holds up the mirror unto India when it comes to violation of human rights in the valley. Forever challenging India to a plebiscite in Kashmir, the average Pakistani asks: If the people of Kashmir really want to stay with India, why do you need such a massive concentration of troops in the valley to "control the Kashmiri Muslims"? Or, if Pakistan is really fomenting terrorism in Kashmir, as India claims, how come it is able to succeed only in Kashmir, and not Rajasthan?

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GHULAM KHIBRIA is a strident critic of all Pakistani regimes and has written books in which he argues that the country has been destroyed by its "privileged classes". It is with a lot of bitterness that he talks about those "like Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah taking both India and Pakistan to the brink of disaster".

He bursts into tears as he says in a choked voice: "We should have been far, far ahead. Ahead of China, with the best among the developed nations of the world."

Attacking Nawaz Sharif as an "elected dictator" and accusing Vajpayee of "exploiting Kargil for electoral gains", he says that Pakistan committed a blunder in Kargil. "Because it is an amateur government they did the whole thing like amateurs. In Kargil they shouldn't have sent their own people. When there is guerilla warfare you shoot the enemy and run back. You went there and you were strangled. That was a bad military strategy."

Coming down heavily on the Sharif government for first being 'stupid' and then indulging in 'double talk', he wondered how any mature government, after saying our army is not involved, "honour its defence people over PTV for their involvement in Kargil? This shows they have no political foresight at all".

SURPRISINGLY enough, one found a lot of faith in Vajpayee in both Islamabad and Karachi. The Sangh Parivar would be stunned to know that many Pakistanis are praying for the return of a BJP government in India as they feel that a "Hindutva Prime Minister" will have better credentials back home to solve the Kashmir issue rather than a Congress Prime Minister who is bound to be slammed for "selling the country to Pakistan", in case of any deal over Kashmir.

However, Khibria has little faith in Vajpayee. "It will be very good if he displays any maturity. But even if he is mature, he is surrounded by very stupid people, just like Sharif. I was very happy when the Lahore Declaration was signed. But either directly or under some pressure, Sharif succumbed later."

While Khibria feels that Pakistan has all the right in the world to "go and assist the Kashmiri people fight for freedom if they don't want to stay with India", he is all for an early solution to the Kashmir issue. "Can't both India and Pakistan - one is 50 per cent illiterate and the second 90 per cent illiterate - realise how much of the taxpayer's money they are spending on defence?"

According to him, a workable solution on Kashmir would be to decide through dialogue that "Azad Kashmir in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir in India will be independent. Let them both form a confederation with both India and Pakistan looking after their foreign affairs and defence."

A KARGIL ELECTION?

There is a 'Kargil inflation' in the BJP-led alliance's prospects in the ongoing national elections. Although a 'Kargil deflation' also seems logical and inevitable, it is impossible to predict the timing of its onset and its effects.

IF democracy involves a continual process of learning through experience, the interregnum between the dissolution of the 13th Lok Sabha and the election of the next one has presented the country with a new spectacle - of a government devoid of a real dem ocratic mandate winning popular endorsement through the prosecution of war. The heights of Kargil were the arena where a government's tattered image was dramatically refurbished, where a party that had little going for it except an affected sense of grie vance over the premature termination of its effort at governance regained a measure of popular legitimacy.

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National elections were notified literally on the day Pakistani forces began an ignominious retreat from Kargil. By then, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee seemed to have put the disorientation and uncertainty of an entire year behind him and to emerge as a national leader by popular acclaim. The euphoria of military victory had decisively snuffed out the transient promise of an election that would not be unduly influenced by extraneous factors.

The Kargil factor is today unmistakably at work across the country. At most it may be moderated or mediated by other localised factors in some areas or States to a greater or lesser degree in its effect on the elections.

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Premature declarations of electoral victory can always be hazardous when they are premised upon a phenomenon as fickle as public euphoria. The results of opinion polls, again, have often proven themselves rather remote from the actual shape of the popula r will that emerges from the exercise of the franchise. There are inherent sources of error, especially in a survey of political intentions conducted over a month before they are actually sealed in the ballot boxes.

Further, ground realities as gauged by most observers do not quite square with the picture derived from opinion polls. A micro-examination by States and then further by constituencies would reveal a political picture of mixed fortunes that does not reall y add up to the kind of sweeping mandate forecast by the polls.

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Yet for all that, there is a certain "law of large numbers" which seems to indicate that in the aggregate, opinion polls conducted with an adequate degree of attention to detail would produce results in which the errors neutralise rather than compound ea ch other. The only problem with this generalisation in the current context is that the Kargil factor has uniformly tended to boost perceptions of the BJP-led alliance across the country. Any dilution of the influence of this factor over the month of poll ing would again have an uneven effect, depending on the quirks of the electoral schedule. But a general deflation in the BJP-led alliance's fortunes cannot be ruled out. What is apparent today in the opinion polls is the "Kargil inflation" in the BJP-led alliance's prospects. Although a "Kargil deflation" seems inevitable on current reckoning, it is impossible to predict the precise timing of its onset and subsequent course.

If the deflation does indeed set in, it would exert an influence in the States where polling is scheduled for the latter half of the election schedule. These include Uttar Pradesh and Bihar (September 18 and 25 and October 3), and Madhya Pradesh (Septemb er 11, 18 and 25) - three States of the Hindi belt where the BJP-led alliance has substantial stakes. Moreover, in the largest of these, Uttar Pradesh, the BJP faces the incumbency disadvantage at the State level. Having won 57 of the 85 seats at stake i n U.P., the party may have nowhere to go but down.

YET it seems the undeniable reality today that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP will have the first claim on the formation of the next government. The magnitude of its putative victory could still be debated till the actual counting ends. And there could be further inconclusive discussions over how secure the parliamentary position of the NDA would be, about how vulnerable the prospective new government of Atal Behari Vajpayee would be to multiple pressure groups within its ranks. J ayalalitha has opted out, but a fresh prospect of internal schisms looms in the shape of the newly consolidated "socialist bloc" led by George Fernandes.

The closest analogue to the current electoral situation would be from the United Kingdom immediately after it waged a successful military campaign to regain the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982. Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Party Prime Mini ster, stood at the nadir of her public approval in early 1982. Her right-wing economic policies had plunged the U.K. into the depths of recession, and public disenchantment was mounting. Falklands provided her with the possibility of redemption, and gene ral elections called in its immediate wake gave her a comfortably enhanced majority. Subsequent developments at the global level - notably the inauguration of a similar regime of right-wing economic policies in the United States, the collapse of internat ional commodity prices and the subjugation of Third World economies through the instrument of debt - endowed her with greater political durability.

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For these diverse reasons, the Falklands war is recognised today as a turning point in modern British history. Yet to say that Kargil is a similarly decisive moment for India may strain credulity. For one, though Vajpayee and his External Affairs Ministe r Jaswant Singh have worked with great ardour towards evolving a special relationship with the U.S., there is little evidence yet to suggest a durable shift in U.S. strategic perceptions in the region. For another, the Indian economy confronts a multitud e of vulnerabilities, which are not likely to be mitigated in the prevalent global environment. Further still, the Indian political scene, though seemingly settling down to a comfortable state of bipolarity, will not remain quiescent for long.

THE disappearance of the Third Force, which stood at the core of two efforts at coalition government over the last decade, has seemingly simplified the electoral contest this time around. Only certain elements of this once formidable force - such as Mula yam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and G.K. Moopanar's Tamil Maanila Congress - today insist on maintaining a degree of autonomy from the two main forces. They have been joined by Sharad Pawar's breakaway faction of the Congress(I), the Nationalist Congre ss Party. As always, Kanshi Ram's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) stays resolutely outside all groupings at the national level.

Indications are that even if all these forces were to put their parliamentary resources together, they would be no more than a marginal force in the 14th Lok Sabha. Their relevance would be premised on an indecisive outcome, in which case they would all be more inclined towards the Congress(I) than the BJP-led alliance. In an oppositional role they could, in league with the Congress(I), exert a gravitational pull on the erstwhile participants of Third Force politics who are now reluctant allies of the B JP.

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AN aspect that needs to be factored into the calculation is the level of comfort that the Congress(I) would enjoy in an oppositional role. For the first nine months of the Vajpayee government's tenure, the Congress(I) seemed reconciled to its status as t he main Opposition party, constructively utilising the ample opportunities afforded by the BJP's maladroit style of governance to consolidate its own position. The results of this approach were apparent in the outcome of the Assembly elections held in tw o northern States and Delhi in November 1998. An opinion poll conducted soon afterwards showed that at that juncture the Congress(I) was in a position to win a comfortable national majority if elections to Parliament were held then.

But at the threshold of national revival, the Congress(I) fumbled. It encouraged All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Jayalalitha to pull out of the BJP-led coalition in the evident belief that an alternative government could be formed out of the incoherent arithmetic of the 13th Lok Sabha. The Congress(I) then proceeded to undermine the remote possibility of such an alternative through an adamant insistence on single-party governance, a failure to accommodate diversity and a relapse into an attitude of dynastic absolutism.

After she cemented her authority with the Assembly elections of 1998, Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi suffered a severe setback when her rather brash claim that she would conjure up a parliamentary majority within days was proved hollow. A willingness to negotiate terms of political engagement with the numerous parties that had a direct stake in forming an alternative government may have paid off. But the Congress(I) brushed aside all such initiatives, demanding unconditional support for a single-par ty government.

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The Left parties had proved relatively amenable to a single-party government but later sought in vain to persuade the Congress(I) to agree to some form of a power-sharing arrangement with the recalcitrants, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav. Underlying the Co ngress(I)'s arrogance was the belief that even in the event of fresh general elections, it could carry the momentum of November 1998 into a vastly improved performance. What it failed to factor into the calculation were a virtual revolt within its own ra nks, and the outbreak of hostilities on the frontier.

Much of the petulance the Congress(I) has shown in dealing with the Kargil situation can be directly ascribed to the dawning perception that it missed out on a historic opportunity in April. Although there has been much criticism of the failure of the go vernment to act in time on the basis of intelligence available to it early enough and the actual conduct of the military operations in Kargil, there is little question that any government in authority would have followed very much the tack that the Vajpa yee Ministry adopted once the intrusions from Pakistan were discovered. Rather than being at the receiving end of the "Kargil inflation", the Congress(I) might well have been its beneficiary.

Far from holding the initiative now, the Congress(I) has been reduced to searching for the electoral advantages that contingent local circumstances may afford. It is uneasily aware that accretions to its strength would be likely to come from the diminish ing electoral base of the Third Force, rather than at the cost of its principal adversary.

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A certain mood of involution is apparent in the leadership as a consequence of the multiple sources of vulnerability that the Congress(I) faces. Sonia Gandhi's candidacy, which should have been a strong assertion of leadership, was transformed under the guidance of the insecure coterie that surrounds her into a furtive effort to pre-empt the possibility of a strong nominee from the adversary camp. And the elaborate norms that had been worked out by an intra-party committee on ethics were thrown overboar d in the distribution of the party ticket.

The conspicuous sense of disdain that Congress(I) campaigners have since expressed for the concept of coalition politics does little to promote public confidence in the political sagacity of the party's leadership. Absent is a strategic sense, a willingn ess to reconstruct the social and political coalitions that underpinned the Congress(I)'s pretence of single-party governance. Far from being a monolith, in its dynamic phases the Congress(I) was always an amalgam of several political factions. Its decli ne began from the time it failed to adapt to changing social realities, to broaden the compass of its policies to accommodate the diversity of aspirations that had been thrown up since the 1970s.

The alternative strategy was for the Congress(I) to dig itself deeper into the borough of dynastic legitimacy. But since the time of Rajiv Gandhi, dynasty within the Congress(I) has only been as good as its functional results. Its principal merit was tha t behind the facade of a nationally recognised leader, it provided the space for a variety of factional bonds to be cemented. These faction leaders were in turn given their due in terms of authority and opportunities for the dispensation of patronage. Bu t to aspire for a position of absolute authority even in a limited domain, as Sharad Pawar did in Maharashtra, was strictly impermissible. Any such effort would call forth reprisals from the supreme leader, leading to another phase of factional instabili ty.

Where a genuine effort to evolve a collective leadership might have contained the chronic malaise of factional instability, the Congress(I) relapsed further into the caprices of dynastic and coterie politics. Today it seems to provide a superficial assur ance that it will constitute one of the stable poles of Indian politics in a bipolar contest with the BJP. But just as the BJP-led alliance could fray on account of the conflict between the compulsions of pragmatism and the hardline ideological agenda of its principal constituent, the Congress(I) too could enter a phase of turbulence and possible schism soon after the election results come in. If Indian politics seems today to be settling into a bipolar framework, this can only be construed as a transie nt phenomenon. The variety of political forces that today contend for influence clearly cannot be accommodated within these constrictions.

Peaceful first phase

V.VENKATESAN cover-story

THE first phase of voting in the general elections, on September 5 in 16 States, the National Capital Territory of Delhi and five Union Territories, was largely peaceful. An average voter turnout of 55 per cent was recorded in this phase. which covered 1 45 Lok Sabha and 343 Assembly constituencies. Nearly 25 million voters used electronic voting machines (EVMs), which performed without any glitches. In some constituencies where EVMs were used, a higher turnout of voters was noticed.

There were at least two isolated incidents of violence. In Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, five persons, including a polling agent of the ruling Telugu Desam Party, died. Four deaths resulted from police firing on supporters of the TDP and the Congr ess(I) as they threw bombs at each other in the Badvel Assembly constituency. The polling agent was killed in a bomb attack in the Kamlapuram Assembly segment.

In Amritsar, Punjab, a Congress(I) polling agent died in "clashes" between the supporters of the Congress(I) and the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal. Two minor incidents were reported from Faridkot and Ferozepur districts of the State.

Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill expressed satisfaction with the first phase of polling. The Statewise polling percentages are: Andhra Pradesh 65; Goa 45; Gujarat 40; Haryana 62; Karnataka 63 (65 in Bellary); Maharashtra 60; Punjab, Rajasthan, and T amil Nadu 55; Delhi 47; Andaman and Nicobar Islands 53; Chandigarh 54; Dadra and Nagar Haveli 51; Daman 70 and Pondicherry 60.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the turnout was 15 per cent in Srinagar, one of two constituencies that went to the polls. In Ladakh, comprising Leh and Kargil districts, the turnout was 70 per cent. At least five persons were injured when the guards of a leader o f the ruling National Conference opened fire at Kandoora in Badgam district, which forms part of the Srinagar constituency. Stray incidents of clashes were reported from sensitive Srinagar localities.

M.S. Gill said that political parties ought to read the signals coming from the high and the low voter turnout. Each of the two major parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress(I), has interpreted the turnout to mean an electoral victory for it . BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya said that his party expected to win more than 100 of the seats that went to the polls in the first phase. Govindacharya smugly declared that the BJP candidate in Bellary, Sushma Swaraj, would win by a margin of over one lakh votes against Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley viewed the huge voter turnout in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, States that have witnessed political realignments since the last elections, as a vote in favour of the BJP.

Congress(I) spokesperson Kapil Sibal, on the other hand, said that Sonia Gandhi would trounce the BJP candidate in Bellary by an "overwhelming" margin. He claimed that there was a "huge wave" in favour of the party and against the "khichri" rule of the B JP-led alliance.

The first phase was not without its aberrations: Election Commissioner G.V.G. Krishnamurthy found to his dismay that his name was missing in the voters' list. He cast his vote when his name was later discovered against his previous residential address. T his lapse raised questions about the effectiveness of the time-consuming exercise of electoral roll revision undertaken by the E.C.

SINCE M.S.Gill assumed office as CEC, he has been introducing the use of EVMs in a phased manner. The EVMs were tried on a limited scale in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections and then in the Assembly elections later that year. In the first phase of polling, vo ters of 21 constituencies, including the seven constituencies in Delhi, cast their votes through the EVMs.

The photo identity card for voters, introduced by the former CEC, T.N.Seshan, has proved of limited value. There were many instances in Delhi in which genuine voters carrying photo identity cards had to forgo their franchise, as their names did not find a place in the voters' list.

The unaligned players

How crucial a role will the handful of parties that are currently unaligned or conditionally aligned with either of the two major political formations come to play in forging a new balance of parliamentary arithmetic post-election? A survey of t he scene.

IN the whirl of Indian politics, alliances come in several forms and shapes. Unconditional exchange of vows pledging two parties to support and nourish each other irrespective of all else are obviously a rarity. Purely contingent agreements on sharing se ats, of one party transferring its political constituency's vote for the purpose of augmenting another's elected representation in Parliament, are rather more frequent. These can come with a variety of conditions attached on the relations between the two parties after elections are concluded.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party presents a multitude of such scenarios. It includes a number of parties that are unconditionally aligned with the BJP's quest to lead the next government at the Centre. At the same time, there are a number of parties that are conditionally aligned, which would sustain their support subject to certain vital interests being addressed and met. Ranking among the foremost of the conditional allies are Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress , N. Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party and Om Prakash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal.

Chandrababu Naidu and Chautala are newly arrived in the BJP's political constellation. Both have strong - and realisable - ambitions in the regional political context. Moreover, they have the kind of support base and resources to compel the BJP to accept a subordinate role in their respective States. Mamata Banerjee too is the senior partner in the West Bengal context, though her ambitions of displacing the ruling Left Front look nowhere near fruition. And though all three are conditionally aligned with the NDA, their ability to work towards the fulfilment of State-specific interests would seem somewhat disparate.

The Biju Janata Dal and the Janata Dal(United) have similarly strong regional interests underpinning their alliance with the BJP at the national level. The J.D.(U) in Karnataka, a splinter of the party ruling the State today, seeks a junior role in a fut ure government led by the BJP. In Bihar, where Assembly elections are due in the next few months, it will presumably like to reverse the order of precedence, gaining for itself the larger share of seats in an electoral arrangement with the BJP. The futur e of the J.D.(U)'s alliance with the BJP would depend upon how far these two scenarios are fulfilled. Since all the top leaders of the J.D.(U) are practised hands in the art of political schisms, this must seem one of the most vulnerable flanks in the ND A.

The BJD in Orissa is yet an untested entity, with its leader by dynastic inheritance, Navin Patnaik, being a novice in politics. Here too the test of the alliance will come in the next few months when Assembly elections are held.

The conditionally aligned parties within the BJP camp would, of course, enjoy only as much leeway as their numbers permit. The current round of elections in Bihar and Orissa would afford the test for any future agreements on seat sharing at the State lev el. Should discord arise at any stage, they are unlikely to switch allegiance to the opposite camp, since for most of them the Congress(I) represents a traditional adversary. Rather, the unaligned parties, although their number is shrinking, are likely t o play a mediatory role in forging a new balance of parliamentary arithmetic.

NO more than four of the unaligned parties seem on current reckoning to have any chance of influencing the course of political events in the months to come. Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party is, for obvious reasons, the most weighty among these. Mula yam Singh draws his sustenance almost entirely from Uttar Pradesh, where he obtained a substantial 28 per cent of the vote share in the 1998 general elections. He is threatened now by a desertion of Muslim voters to a Congress party trying hard to reinve nt itself in the State. But he is likely to dispose of the greater resources at the grassroots and capitalise on the Congress(I)'s obvious lack of credible candidates. Having begun his poll preparations early, Mulayam Singh stands a reasonable chance of retaining his strength of 20 in the Lok Sabha. That could make him the most substantial of the unaligned group.

Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party is fighting hard to harness the anti-incumbency factor in its favour. On current reckoning, the going appears tough for him. The traditional Congress(I) vote appears to have split almost evenly in Maharashtra, le aving the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance the winner by a large margin of the popular vote. But the stakes in overturning the discredited saffron alliance are strong and if Pawar is able to deploy his formidable political skills appropriately, he could benefit fr om a late surge.

G.K. Moopanar's Tamil Maanila Congress is fighting what appears a symbolic battle against the communalism of the BJP and the corruption of Jayalalitha. The personal prestige of some of its leaders may win it a handful of seats. But it would need a substa ntial bloc of unaligned parties in Parliament to team up with if it is to exert any leverage.

The Bahujan Samaj Party, led by Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, is another party that has raised the symbolic battle to the level of fine art. It commands a substantial 20 per cent share of the popular vote in Uttar Pradesh and is not a trivial player in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. But its representation in Parliament has never been proportionate to its popular vote share and it remains averse to any kind of alliance that may dilute its unique political identity.

In the most generous reckoning, the unaligned parties are unlikely to get much more than 7 per cent or so of the seats in Parliament. That would make them not quite a substantial force in the immediate post-electoral context. But as and when the potentia l sources of discord within the NDA begin to multiply, their role could become more significant.

Cosmic surprises

The spectacularly vivid images obtained by the orbiting X-ray observatory Chandra create a sensation among astronomers.

THE cosmos abounds in mysteries, and the first images beamed on August 26 by the orbiting X-ray observatory, Chandra, a little over a month after it was launched aboard the space shuttle Columbia on July 23, have already thrown up two and created a sensa tion among astronomers. The images have been described as extraordinary. "This observatory is ready to take its place in the history of spectacular scientific achievements," said Dr. Martin Weisskopf, Chandra Project Scientist at the Marshall Space Fligh t Centre (MSFC) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Named after the Indian-born Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, whose work laid the basis for much of the understanding of the cosmos today, this most powerful X-ray telescope inspires great expectations. And not without reason. For, the first ima ges from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory (CXO) have resulted in two remarkable discoveries - and these were only "First Light" observations using the telescope. "First Light" is something similar to the commissioning of a ship - the instrument, after being launched and checked, is readied for measurements. It is not the actual first light through the telescope. That occurred on August 13 when the telescope's aperture door was opened. "First Light" measurements are a means to standardise the instruments ag ainst signals from some well-known stellar objects. But in the case of Chandra these initialising exercises themselves brought a wealth of cosmic surprises.

One image traces the aftermath - the expanding shell of hot gas - of a supernova explosion that is believed to have occurred 320 years ago. The supernova remnant is in the constellation Cassiopeia in our galaxy and is called Casseiopeia A or Cas A. Scien tists say that it has been imaged in such "stunning detail" (in the X-ray region of the spectrum) that they can see evidence of what may be a neutron star or a black hole near its centre. Scientists have described it as the best X-ray image ever of a cos mic object. This discovery is expected to answer one of the many questions about Cas A that have bugged astronomers. A supernova remnant usually harbours in its centre a compact, highly dense star called the neutron star. Until now, no one had seen any c entral object in Cas A; it had eluded detection in optical, radio and even X-ray wavelengths. Chandra has, however, shown that it exists. For the present, the object has been named Leon X-1 in honour of Dr. Leon van Speybroeck, the key man behind the des ign of Chandra's highly sensitive X-ray-reflecting mirrors.

Supernovae are exploding stars, which spew out enormous amounts of energy and radiation and are seen as extremely bright objects. Despite its proximity (only about 9,100 light years away), for some reason the explosion had been missed by astronomers. It was discovered by Karl Jansky, the pioneer of radio astronomy, in the 1930s - it was one of the first radio-emitting stellar objects discovered. The nature of the explosion that resulted in the remnant Cas A, however, remained an enigma of sorts. Althoug h radio, optical and X-ray observations of the remnant indicate that it was a powerful explosion, the visual brightness of the outburst was perhaps much less than that of a normal supernova. It is believed that Cas A was produced by the explosion of an u nusually massive star that had already ejected most of its outer layers. Chandra may come up with clues to why Cas A is not quite like other known supernovae.

The spectacularly vivid images obtained by Chandra should allow scientists to trace the dynamics of the remnant and its collision with any material ejected by the star before it exploded. Extensive observations in radio, infrared, visible and X-ray wavel engths have revealed an incomplete shell of expanding gas with 300 glowing compact knots of material at temperatures of up to 28 million degree Celsius. Its outer shell is expanding at a speed of 800 km, creating shock waves rushing into inter-stellar sp ace at tens of millions of kilometres an hour. These violent sonic booms created by shock waves have created a vast 30-million-degree bubble of gas that is emitting X-rays for Chandra to see in fine detail. The first image has revealed the collision of t he debris from the exploded star with the matter around it. Chandra has also detected both the fast outer shock wave and the slower inner shock wave with great precision in addition to giving tantalising evidence of a neutron star associated with the exp losion.

Heavy elements in the hot gas produce X-rays of specific energies. The detectors aboard Chandra will also provide Cas A's precise X-ray spectra. These measurements make it possible to identify the heavy elements present and their quantities. This is nece ssary to understand how the elements essential for life were created and spread through the galaxy space by exploding stars. This should also help resolve another longstanding question: why is the Cas A a source of cosmic titanium-44, a radioactive isoto pe of the metal.

Infrared and X-ray spectral studies conducted until now have revealed the presence, as in all supernovae, of oxygen, neon, silicon, sulphur, argon, iron, calcium and even magnesium silicate, the stuff of inter-stellar dust. But the oddity about Cas A is that it seems to have an unusual abundance of Ti-44 as compared to nickel-56, another product of nucleosynthesis in a star. The presence of Ti-44 was discovered from the indirect evidence provided by the orbiting Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) - of emission lines corresponding to scandium-44 decaying into calcium-44, the last leg of T-44's life cycle. If correct, Ti-44 holds the clue to the nuclear fusion in the core of the star that exploded. Chandra will look for Ti-44 from the sample of star ma terial just above the layers that formed the neutron star that seems to be present and will perhaps throw light on what Cas A's contribution will be in the making of future worlds of our galaxy.

While Chandra's image of Cas A corresponds with earlier X-ray pictures taken by the United States-German-United Kingdom X-ray satellite ROSAT, it has given an incredible amount of detail and that too just after 90 minutes of exposure, whereas ROSAT took days to make its image. This is an indication of the power of Chandra's on-board instruments, making it the largest and the most sensitive X-ray astronomy telescope in the world. Chandra is expected to do for X-ray astronomy what the orbiting Hubble Spac e Telescope (HST) has done to optical astronomy. Chandra's observations vis-a-vis Cas A are not yet over; they will continue even as the telescope's calibration and verification tests will be carried out over the next few weeks. One of the observa tions will be to confirm whether the spectrum, brightness and time variation of the point source at the heart of Cas A do correspond to a neutron star.

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EVEN before Chandra focussed on Cas A, it had made an amazing discovery with regard to a distant X-ray source called PKS 0637-752, a luminous quasar in the farthest reaches of the universe, six billion light years away. The quasar has been emitting energ y with the power of 10 trillion suns, but from a region smaller than our solar system. It has little background X-ray noise or clutter and was also known to be a point source (against a dark background), making it an ideal target for sky calibration of t he on-board instrument for what is called "point spread function", a measure of the on-axis blur of the focussed radiation in the telescope. But, as Dr. Harvey Tannanbaum, Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observa-tory's Chandra X-ray Centre in M assachusettes, observed after what CXO saw in the quasar, "nature often has surprises in store."

Instead of a neat little point source, Chandra found a massive jet spewing from the quasar. Although radio observations in the past have shown a jet, astrophysicists involved with Chandra did not expect to see it in X-ray because of the ultra-high resolu tion that has been achieved in radio observations by using multiple telescopes in conjunction. Dr. Tannanbaum said: "It is immediately apparent that we are not seeing a dot, that we are not seeing a simple point source." The jet appears to be at least 20 0,000 light years long, a huge expanse in inter-galactic space, which can hold the entire Milky Way.

This serendipitous discovery poses a fundamental question to theoretical and observational astrophysics: how can such a massive burst of matter and energy extend across so much of space? Chandra's image, combined with radio telescope observations, should provide insights into the processes by which supermassive black holes can produce such cosmic jets. It was after detecting the jet-spewing quasar that the CXO was aimed at Cas A, an extended object which gave rise to its own fresh set of mysteries.

According to the Chandra Project team, both images confirm that Chandra is in excellent health and that its instruments and optics are performing up to expectations. The experiments planned and designed for Chandra will commence once its orbital check-ou t and calibration phase is over.

SINCE X-rays are absorbed by the earth's atmosphere, space-based observatories have become necessary. Based on the recommendations of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Chandra, originally called the Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility (AXAF), was c onceived in the 1970s as an advancement over the Second High-Energy Astronomy Observatory (HEAO-2, also called the Einstein Observatory), which was launched in 1978. Chandra has been billed as one of NASA's new Great Observatories for Astrophysics, compl ementing the already orbiting HST (which looks at visible and near infrared wavelengths) and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (which looks at even higher energies than Chandra) and the planned Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) and ground-based r adio observatories.

With the arrival of the first images from Chandra, U.S. scientists have begun to claim that Chandra has put the country back in the lead in X-ray astronomy. Unlike the HST, which has a circular orbit, Chandra has a highly elliptical orbit with a perigee of 10,000 km and an apogee of 140,000 km (one-third of the distance to the moon). Its minimum life is about five years; it is, however, expected to last for at least 10 years.

The importance of X-ray astronomy stems from the fact that X-rays in the universe are not an oddity; they are present everywhere. Every major class of astronomical objects emits X-ray frequencies. It takes temperatures of around a million degrees to prod uce X-rays. X-ray sources have also been found to display tremendous time variability, indicating rapid dynamic events that produce X-rays. The Einstein Observatory found X-rays coming from quasars to normal stars to hot gas pervading the space between c lusters of galaxies and many extra-galactic sources. Weisskopf said: "Most of the mass in the universe seems to be tied up in hot X-ray emitting gas, even more than what is seen from stars in the galaxies." It was X-ray astronomers who, based on observat ions on Cygnus X-1, came up with evidence for the existence of black holes. (The black hole emitted X-rays.)

Dr. K.P. Singh, an X-ray astronomer with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), said: "To understand really the most important elements of Chandra, one has to compare it with what we have had so far and what is likely to become available duri ng its lifetime." It was the advent of truly focussing X-ray telescopes that revolutionised X-ray astronomy. This began with the Einstein Observatory, which brought about a technological leap in imaging and sensitivity. Einstein Observatory was able to i mage with a blur (the angular resolution) of 4 arc-second. This increased the sensitivity to detect faint sources or features by a factor of about 1,000 through the simple act of focussing over much smaller detector areas than before. After that came ROS AT, which had even smoother mirrors. Its resolution was similar to Einstein, but because of a reflecting area that was four to five times larger than that of Einstein, it was much more sensitive. It also had a long operational life. The number of X-ray s ources rose to 100,000 with ROSAT, as compared to 10,000 with Einstein and 800 before.

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After ROSAT came ASCA (US-Japan), which had a poorer spatial resolution but pioneered the use of sensitive (single photon counting) CCD X-ray cameras and increased the spectral resolution by a factor of 10. Dr. K.P. Singh said that Chandra had much more improved X-ray mirrors with a designed resolution capability of 0.3 arc-second. Unprecedented, this improves the sensitivity beyond that of ROSAT by over a factor of 10, even though its effective area is only slightly larger. It also has a better bandwid th, which is important for spectral studies. According to him, the CXO will, therefore, be able to see much deeper into the universe than before and would be the best tool to study faint and distant populations. "It has the sensitivity to look for distan t and faint objects at a factor of 20 to 50 times better than anything that has been done before," Weisskopf said.

So what are the things that Chandra can do once it becomes an operational laboratory? According to Weisskopf, Chandra's ability to dissect energy spectrum and look carefully at line features and their characteristics will enable the study of plasmas in t he vicinities of black holes and neutron stars and other regions of high energy activity. The largest and most massive objects in the universe are galaxy clusters, an enormous collection of galaxies. These are held together by gravity and much of their m ass is in the form of an incredibly hot, X-ray emitting gas that fills the entire space between the galaxies. But neither the mass of the galaxies nor that of the hot gas is sufficient to hold a cluster together. So scientists believe that a dark matter which exerts this gravity, but cannot be seen, exists. So, what and where is this dark matter? X-ray observations with the help of Chandra can help map the location of the dark matter and help its identification. "Perhaps we, the geographers of the unive rse, will not discover what the dark matter is, but surely map where it is," Weisskopf said.

The other outstanding astrophysical question that Chandra may help answer is about the identity of the powerhouse that is driving the explosive activity in many distant galaxies, the centre of many of which are sources of incredibly enormous amounts of e nergy and radiation, particularly X-rays. Scientists theorise that massive black holes are at the centre of galaxies, gobbling up material. Detailed observations with the help of Chandra can probe even the faintest of these active galaxies and study not only their time variability, but also how such intense emissions are generated in the first place.

Weisskopf believes that some of the most astronomical discoveries that could be made with Chandra would relate to the so-called extended objects. Many types of X-ray sources are extended: the debris of exploding stars as shock waves heat the inter-stella r medium, dense regions of bright X-ray stars, the hot gas in galaxies, and clusters of galaxies, the largest known structures in the universe. "In my opinion, the pictures will be as spectacular as any of the pictures from Hubble," said Weisskopf.

The CXO will however, have to contend with competition even before it completes one year in orbit. Two observatories are ready for launch in early 2000 - the XMM , the European X-Ray Multi-Mirror telescope, and ASTRO-E, a U.S.-Japanese satellite. The XMM will have four times more the effective area of the CXO. Although its blurring will be more, the XMM will have a higher spectral resolution, according to Dr. K.P. Singh. It also will carry X-ray CCD cameras. ASTRO-E will have an effective area similar t o the CXO, but with a blur factor higher than that of the CXO and less than that of the XMM. It will have five independent telescopes which will carry CCDs; one will carry a new instrument called microcalorimeter (MCM), having a high spectral resolution at medium X-ray energies, thus having an edge over the CXO and the XMM. However, since the MCM needs to be cryogenically cooled, it will have a life of only two years. The other four telescopes will, however, have a minimum life span of five years.

The new millennium is, therefore, going to be the era of X-Ray astronomy in the true sense of the word. According to Dr. K.P. Singh, notwithstanding the other proposed X-ray observatories, Chandra will be the best for cosmologival studies and will remain at the forefront until the end of its life.

Study group on dementia

AN international group - 10/66 for Dementia - was formed recently by Dr. Martin Prince and Prof. John Copeland in collaboration with medical centres in various countries that study the effects of ageing.

Two groups of doctors, from the Schizophrenia Research Foundation, the Voluntary Health Services (VHS) and the Public Health Centre (PHC), all in Chennai, have been chosen to be a part of this group.

The first group is headed by Dr. Thara Srinivasan, a psychiatrist and director of the Schizophrenia Research Foundation.

The second, a joint venture between the departments of neurology at the VHS and the PHC will have Ravi Samuel, a psychiatric social worker, who is currently a Paul Hamlyn Fellow at the National Hospital, London, as convener. Ravi Samuel has received over all training in dementia care, cognitive behaviour therapy and so on. The supervisor of this group is Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, chairman of the departments of neurology at the VHS and the PHC.

The first 10/66 workshop was held by the group headed by Prof. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas in March. The second was held by the group headed by Dr. Thara Srinivasan in June.

Dealing with dementia

"Memory loss, considered normal among the elderly, is actually a disease that needs to be treated," says Dr. John Copeland, founder-director, Institute of Human Ageing, Liverpool. Dr. Copeland has all through his career worked towards understandin g and measuring mental illnesses. However, since teaching took much of his time (he held the Chair in Psychiatry at the University of Liverpool until his retirement in 1997), he could not devote much time to research. Yet research, which he began to purs ue after his initial training in psychiatry in the United States, remained his first love. Beginning with a U.S.-U.K. diagnostic project supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, Washington, Dr. Copeland kept in touch with state-of-the-art re search in mental illnesses and published over 50 articles in journals and books. After retirement, he turned to full-time research.

Dr. Copeland standardised the diagnostic techniques for many mental illnesses. These included procedures to measure the geriatric mental state (GMS), for which he devised a computer-aided system.

Dr. Copeland, who was recently in Chennai to train doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and health workers in the measurement of GMS, spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of dementia. Excerpts:

What is dementia, and what are its symptoms?

Dementia is a slow decline in what we call cognitive functions and memory. Memory loss is usually the most obvious symptom. All of us lose memory to some extent as we grow older; most people over 30 would have at one time or the other forgotten some name s. The harder you try to remember, the more difficult it becomes to recall. Then suddenly, it comes to you in a flash when you are not thinking about it.

Then comes a situation when you cannot remember where you have kept things, and spend a lot of time searching for them. We consider that normal. But for some reason, which we don't understand, ageing affects memory and, to a lesser extent, the other func tions of the brain.

When people begin to forget the names of their family members and friends, causing difficulty and confusion, memory-loss becomes a serious problem. I think that is when the serious problem of dementia begins. The progress of loss of memory in dementia is very quick. Usually, within six months to a year, there is a serious loss of memory.

The symptoms can vary slightly. The problem begins with an immediate loss of memory, for instance, forgetting where the car is parked. Then, gradually, other symptoms and memory problems occur. People begin to have difficulty calculating numbers, working out finances, finding the right word and, eventually, they may even have difficulty in putting on their clothes because they have forgotten how to. Some tend to put on clothes upside down or inside out. Eventually, they become quite immobile. It is a sa d and tragic condition.

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Is dementia specific to any intelligence level or social group?

It affects people of all intelligence levels and social groups. It is also not confined to any age group, except that certain varieties tend to run in families and occur much earlier in life, any time after 30. The more common types occur around 70 years , and the incidence increases with age. So, at 90, the strike rate can be one in three people.

It is, of course, easy to confuse dementia with normal ageing. In all cultures, memory loss is seen as the final stage of ageing. Earlier, when some people aged faster and went into the child-like stage of dementia, they were said to have become senile. Now we know that it is a disease. Therefore, we ought to be able to tackle it and cure it. There is a lot of research going on to identify the different varieties of dementia.

What are the different types of dementia and when can each be diagnosed?

There is Alzheimer's disease, named after Dr. Alzheimer who first described it. It progresses steadily in a short period of time. You can detect it from within a year or two to almost 10 years of its occurrence. There is another kind which fluctuates. Th is seems to be associated with vascular problems. There is now the new one, the Lewy Body. This was discovered by Dr. Lewy. Apparently this is not very dissimilar to Alzheimer's disease, but if you look through a microscope at the brain of a person with Lewy Body, it shows lumps in the brain. Also, people with Lewy Body sometimes react very badly to drugs.

What are the rates of incidence of the different types of dementia?

In Liverpool, when we looked at the pathology of the brains donated by people for research after death, we found that Lewy Body was a rare condition. The commonest form was Alzheimer's disease. We don't know much about it, except that it is hereditary. W e know people who have lived up to 90 with that genetic make-up although they did not have more than a 50 per cent chance of living beyond 50.

These early studies were based on hospital data. But only when we did community studies to see its distribution in the population did we find that the genetic make-up we know of was not as clear a factor as we thought it was. There may be other genetic f actors, which have not been discovered. However, what we know now makes a considerable difference to our understanding of the problem. Yet it doesn't explain most cases.

What are the different kinds of treatment for dementia?

There are several types of treatment. For instance, when the brain deteriorates, you lose some chemicals. You need to give drugs to compensate for the loss and improve the condition. There is evidence that this process helps, though not dramatically. How ever, none of the drugs now available makes a big impact. They do not cure, they simply replace the lost chemicals.

There is a group working on drugs that arrest the disease. We now understand a lot about the chemistry of the brain and what happens to it in old age. So, efforts are on to intervene in this chemical process in order to stop the disease. Many drug compan ies have invested money in this research. However, nothing has come out of it yet.

How does one manage people with dementia, particularly with the breakdown of the joint family system where the extended family used to take care of the elderly?

The major problem is looking after these people. Traditionally, as you said, they were looked after by the joint and extended families. This was the case all over the world. It is a myth that people in the West do not look after their elderly. The breakd own of the extended family is therefore going to create a major social security problem all over the world.

With life expectancy at birth improving considerably, there will also be an increase in the proportion of the elderly in the population. With this the incidence of dementia will also increase. What are the issues involved in the management of dementia a country like India has to address?

The population of the world is set to change and there is going to be a higher proportion of older people. Two decades ago, the Queen of England used to send about a hundred telegrams to people completing 100 years. Now she sends 4,000.

In Norway, the population aged slowly over the last 100 years. So they had 100 years to prepare themselves to face the problem. But in countries such as Brazil and India, for instance, the proportion of older people had hardly risen until 10 years ago. B ut subsequently, it rose sharply. The projections for the future are also very sharp. These countries now have to look seriously at the economic and social implications of this problem for society.

Another important need is to diagnose the disease in the early stage. Otherwise, even if treated, those affected by it may be left disabled to a certain extent. So it is important to focus on questions such as how to recognise the symptoms.

What are the problems in diagnosing dementia? How did you work out the computer-aided system of diagnosis?

There is a general worry about the differences in diagnosis, particularly of the younger people, in the U.S. and the U.K. In the U.S. there were high levels of schizophrenia cases recorded in hospitals. But that was not the case in the U.K. The U.S. gove rnment was worried. So, I and my colleagues were asked to look at this problem. We did a study, comparing the diagnosis on admission to hospitals in both countries. We found no difference in the number of cases at that time when we applied our diagnosis in the U.S. So it was clear that the American diagnosis was very different from the European. And partly out of that study an interest grew in the U.S. and the U.K. in looking at diagnostic issues - trying to bring some science into what was until then a clinical impression.

With help from the U.S. government, we started looking at the diagnostic problems among the aged. A large number of people were apparently going to American hospitals with dementia, while a much higher proportion went to English mental hospitals with dep ression. Again, we were able to show by using the same diagnostic criteria that there was no difference between the two. Many of the cases that were diagnosed as dementia in the U.S. were diagnosed as depression in the U.K. In fact, when patients were tr eated for depression in the U.S., they got better.

Then, in Liverpool, we prepared a detailed schedule and did a survey to get a more accurate recording of symptoms in order to measure GMS. The next stage was to bring consistency into the diagnosis. This was necessary because until then we expected docto rs to do the interviewing and make their own diagnosis after understanding the symptoms.

So we did a survey, and from its results we devised a computer-assisted diagnostic system we called AGECAT (aged geriatric examination computer-assisted taxonomy). This is a standardised method of diagnosis and can help diagnose many diseases, including dementia. After we published this work, many centres in the world showed interest in using this system.

For what other diseases is AGECAT used?

AGECAT gives a range of diagnoses as well as differential diagnoses. People have found that quite useful. It helps in looking at depression, schizophrenia, neurosis and so on. It is now used widely throughout the world.

Some years ago, I realised that there were nine centres in Europe using GMS/AGECAT for population studies. At that time we approached the European Union and asked for funds to set up a programme involving data-sharing by these centres. We used the data p ut out by these centres and published a number of papers showing the prevalence of depression. Recently, 12 medical centres in Asia showed an interest in this and we have brought them together.

India is going to face a major problem with an increase in the population of the aged. Do you plan to include India in your study?

We have just begun our work in India. Eight centres are doing this work. We are trying to bring them together.

I am now looking at ways to get these centres to collaborate with one another without having to spend too much money. This is because there isn't much money in India to spend on this.

Are there no common, obvious symptoms for dementia?

A majority of symptoms are fairly straight-forward. For example, loss of appetite and loss of concentration and memory. So that is why, I think, we don't have a problem. But nevertheless, we have to make sure that we measure the same sort of things the s ame way everywhere. That is the first stage. Once that is done, we can rely on the computer system to give us the diagnosis. Once we collect all the information from all the centres, we can find out what the underlying causes for dementia are across soci eties, and what causes one society to be more prone to dementia or depression than another.

How do you measure the GMS, and how does India compare with other Asian countries and the world?

To compute the GMS, patients are interviewed and all health data recorded and coded. In this, you have to make a judgment about whether the symptoms the patients describe are genuine symptoms. Those data are then fed into the computer. The computer then comes up with the diagnosis - it may say this is an organic condition and may give you the level of severity. Doctors may disagree on the diagnosis. That is why we are now standardising symptoms across countries with the help of surveys. This system seem s to work in Britain, Australia, India and some other countries.

In terms of the incidence of dementia, there is no difference among countries. Using the GMS, we found that incidence levels varied between 4 per cent and 5 per cent in the population above 65 years. This is the result from the surveys done in many count ries by the European group, the Asian group, our group in Liverpool and in India.

What is the state of the art in research on dementia?

An enormous amount of work is going on. Neurochemists are working on brain tissues. They are looking at the chemical structure of the brain and how progressive are the lesions that are formed. Geneticists are trying to discover the genetic qualities of t he population with dementia. They have had one breakthrough, with the discovery of Apo-E 4 (those with Alzheimer's disease). Now they are working towards another. Then there are the pathologists who are looking at the brains of the dead and trying to rec onstruct how they got to that condition. The chemical composition of the brain that leads to this problem is also being studied to help in the early recognition of the condition. People are visualising the brain with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and using positron emission tomography (PET) to know the chemistry of the brain.

So a lot of work is going on, but it is slow. The interest started with us in the 1970s. There is a conference on dementia almost every week somewhere in the world. Therefore, there is hope that we will make substantial progress very soon. But the countr ies and governments should not be complacent. As we do not know how long it will take for a breakthrough, we need to be prepared for the social problems dementia causes.

Do you think people should "age gracefully"?

I feel one should not age gracefully because ageing gracefully means that you recede to the background in a dignified way. Why should it be so? At 65 you can still contribute substantially. The elderly people also need an economic and political position in society. Otherwise, they will be squeezed out by the younger generation. There has got to be some balance between the young and the old. Elderly people cannot sit back and let the youth run over them. So, I think you should age "disgracefully".

For early prevention

DEMENTIA has become a major problem the world over. In an interview to Frontline (May 21, 1999), Prof. Sid Gilman discussed Alzheimer's disease in detail. Many of the causes of dementia are reversible: for example, thyroid and Vitamin B-12 deficie ncy and some kinds of brain tumours and clots. However, one neglected area is vascular dementia. It was V. Hachinski and his colleagues who drew attention to this condition. However, even now, neurologists and physicians are a little sceptical about this term despite the fact that the term multi-infarct dementia is used rather freely.

The main risk factor in the case of vascular dementia is hypertension. Prof. H.M. Barnett, a pioneer in stroke research, describes four factors that contribute to stroke. They are: high blood pressure, smoking, accumulation of fats called lipids in the b lood cells and diabetes mellitus.

It is necessary for the physician to understand that the onset of this kind of dementia can be prevented by a systematic campaign which would include the launching of a nationwide campaign against smoking; measuring blood pressure periodically and keepin g it under control; controlling diabetes and keeping the blood sugar level within reasonable limits, especially in elderly people; and taking drugs called statins to lower lipids in the blood.

Unfortunately, in a country like India, very little is done towards prevention. If the guidelines mentioned above are followed, even heart disease can be prevented. Instead of spending money on treating these diseases, what is necessary is a public healt h campaign that uses the media to educate people about the risk factors and the preventive measures.

Why does vascular dementia occur? Generally, people associate a stroke with a major paralytic attack. However, strokes of lesser intensity, such as temporary paralysis or numbness of an arm, a leg or one side of the face, also occur. Without being unduly alarmed, people should recognise that these strokes, called transient ischaemic attacks, can be prevented and controlled. In international trials, a consensus was arrived at - that is, 75 mg of aspirin should be taken by individuals who come under the h igh-risk category and run the risk of having a minor stroke.

At present, Alzheimer's disease is given much more attention than vascular dementia. However, it is important that dementia is tackled at the national level.

A 10/66 Dementia group was formed recently. The K. Gopalakrishna Department of Neurology at the Voluntary Health Services and the T.S. Srinivasan Department of Clinical Neurology and Research at the Public Health Centre, both in Chennai, have been includ ed in this group.

The BJP's real agenda

The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India by Thomas Blom Hansen; Oxford, 1999; pages 293, Rs. 495.

THE skeletons began rattling all the more noisily for the desperate determination with which the cupboard was being shut. The Bharatiya Janata Party tried to assure its allies in the so-called National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that issues such as the Ra m temple in Ayodhya, scrapping of Article 370 on Kashmir's autonomy, and a uniform civil code were not on its immediate agenda. But what assurance could it offer its own cadres who supported it precisely because it was committed to these issues and to Hi ndutva?

The mentors, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), can quietly be squared with. If the RSS could spread its influence when its political front, the Jan Sangh, predecessor of the BJP, was but a constituent of the Janata Party Government (1977-79), its in fluence, surely, would be far greater if the BJP is allowed to stay in power as the dominant member of a coalition. The RSS boss, Rajendra Singh, declared in an article in Organiser (May 7, 1995), entitled "Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi", that "no fr iendly interaction between the Hindus and Muslims is possible unless the latter shed their intransigence in regard to Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya."

The silence of a man of such a rabidly communal outlook during the current controversy over the BJP's commitments vis-a-vis its pact with the allies, is as significant as that of the dog that did not bark.

First came the calculated leak. "RSS sources" told a correspondent of The Asian Age (August 18) that "there has been no dilution in the agenda and ... installation of a BJP-led coalition government at the Centre will be a step towards achieving th e implementation of the agenda."

They told him: "Our priority is to install a BJP-led government at the Centre. But that does not mean that it will be done at the cost of our agenda.... It will be the BJP alone which is going to implement our agenda." Atal Behari Vajpayee would be suppo rted to the hilt because he is the best vote-getter available. Incidentally, the issue of Organiser in which Rajendra Singh wrote as he did, also carried Vajpayee's famous article "The Sangh is my soul".

It was left to the BJP's general secretary, the too-clever-by-half K.N. Govindacharya, to give the game away as he tried publicly to assure the cadres. He said in New Delhi on August 22 that the BJP remained committed to the three contentious issues even though it accepted the NDA's agenda. Why? Because "with the BJP yet to traverse some more distance to attain the steering position in Indian politics, we decided that in this interregnum of transition we should commit ourselves" to the NDA's agen da. Kalraj Mishra, Public Works Minister in Uttar Pradesh, confirmed it in Lucknow the next day: "The party is committed to the construction of the Ram temple."

Vajpayee tried frantically to limit the damage, in Ahmedabad on August 23: He was "surprised" to read Govindacharya's statement and said "all contentious issues should not be brought into the political arena". Govindacharya obediently issued a "clarifica tion". Having claimed on August 22 that "we work with bifocal vision", he demonstrated the next day that the BJP also speaks with a forked tongue.

If Pramod Mahajan asserted at Aurangabad on August 23 that the three issues had not been sidetracked, J.P. Mathur said the opposite on August 24. M. Venkaiah Naidu declared on August 25: "Even if tomorrow we were to fight an election on our own an d get 370 seats, we will not make Ram Mandir part of our election agenda." The very next day he denied having said so. He had said that, not to a press reporter, but on the Star News TV channel, which said his "statement was on tape and could not be refu ted" (The Indian Express, August 27).

Kalraj Mishra returned to the fray on August 25. "Even now Ram Mandir was a burning issue for us. But since there was no consensus in the NDA on this, it is not part of the joint manifesto with the NDA... there is no dilution in our stand. However there are the compulsions of coalition politics...." A Times of India report (August 27) from Nagpur said that "the RSS was completely at peace with the BJP on the Ayodhya temple issue, RSS sources claimed. The RSS realises that getting Mr. Vajpa yee back into power is much more important." Mamasaheb Ghumre, former vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), told him: "The temple has a better chance of getting built with him in the saddle for five years." Once in power with a solid majorit y of its own, the BJP will discard the flotsam and jetsam it has gathered in the NDA - and fulfil its own agenda. To paraphrase Milton, case will recant vows made under pain as unsaid and void.

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On April 24, 1996, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, L.K. Advani, then BJP president, said there would be no compromise on the Ram temple and the matter was high on its agenda. The party's 1998 election manifesto had a whole page on Hindutva, and "c ultural nationalism". It concluded with a pledge - to build the temple. The National Agenda for Governance was drawn up subsequently and published on March 18, 1998 when alliances became inescapable if power was to be won. The BJP's decision not t o bring out its own manifesto this year is as unprecedented as it is meaningful - the 1998 document stands.

ONE must not miss the wood for these trees. The Danish scholar, Thomas Blom Hansen's book makes a timely appearance to remind us of what is in store for us once the BJP takes us into the wood. Its sub-title captures the theme: what the BJP's concept of H indu nationalism spells for India's governance and its democracy. His grasp of political theory, intensive field work in Maharashtra, and familiarity with the vast literature on the subject are well reflected in the work. To what do we attribute the saff ron wave? One school of scholarship attributed it to "imaginative political strategies", another to the older "reserves of religious nationalism".

Hansen incorporates both the strands but goes beyond them. "My main argument is that Hindu nationalism has emerged and taken shape neither in the political system as such nor in the religious field, but in the broader realm of what we may call public culture - the public space in which a society and its constituent individuals and communities imagine, represent, and recognise themselves through political discourse, commercial and cultural expressions, and representations of state and civic organi sations" (emphasis added, throughout).

The Sangh's credo is quintessentially paternalistic, xenophobic and authoritarian. "Many Hindu nationalists have only a skin-deep commitment to democratic procedures." But there are some latent fears, some hidden concerns, which it was able to draw upon. Hansen's book is, in its mercilessly incisive analyses, a mirror to Indian society. "Is Hindu nationalism really revealing the dark side of the middle-class culture and social world of the 'educated sections' who have dominated Indian public culture and the Indian state for so long - the authoritarian longings, the complacency, and the fear of the 'underdog', the 'masses', and the Muslims?... The recent Indian experience of Hindu nationalism should remind us that democracy also very often gives birth t o forces, desires, and imaginings of an authoritarian and anti-democratic nature, or 'majoritarian' and moral backlashes against what is seen as 'excessive liberalism' in the public culture."

His resume of the course of Indian politics in recent years is prefaced by a thorough discussion of the ideology of Hindu nationalism as developed in the last century and the present one by men of intellect such as Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Lala Lajpat R ai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak right down to the likes of V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar.

The BJP capitalised on the policy of "soft" Hindu communalism which Indira Gandhi adopted after her return to power in 1980. But the seeds had been sown much earlier. "Radical anti-Muslim discourse had coexisted with political pragmatism within the Sangh Parivar and within the older sanghathanist tradition for almost a century. What was new in the 1980s was, in other words, not so much the employment of the idiom of Hindu communalism per se, but rather the ingenuity and scale with which this idio m was differentiated and disseminated through an array of new technologies of mass mobilisation."

Amazingly - or perhaps not - the BJP's supporters in the "respectable" middle class do not find its techniques of mobilisation offensive. The ends justify the means. Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharati were found useful. The latter was made a Union Ministe r. The author quotes one of her election speeches in 1991: "We could not teach them with words, now let us teach them with kicks... Tie up your religiosity and kindness in a bundle and throw it in the Jamuna... Any non-Hindu who lives here does so at our mercy."

Acts of violence are a natural consequence of speeches such as this. No wonder riots followed the Hindutva campaign.

The Sangh Parivar operates from a narrow electoral base and its success is far more tenuous than is imagined. It owes a lot to the erosion of centrist forces such as the Janata Dal. Regionalist parties fell in line. Its electoral constituency is limited to 25 per cent of the popular votes, a mere 15 to 16 per cent of the country's adult population. One limitation to its expansion is that it is confined "mainly to the Hindu upper-caste and middle class milieus". It has no message for social uplift, econo mic emancipation and gender equality. The women it projects are not known for commitment to issues of gender equality, unlike, for instance, Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or Gita Mukerjee of the CPI.

The Hindutva movement has wreaked sheer havoc in the country. It claimed to have altered the political agenda in the early 1990s, only to profess to discard it at the end of the decade. "Has the Indian democracy been weakened by the BJP's expansion over the last decade and its recent formation of the Central Government in New Delhi? Is this only the beginning of a gradual Hindu nationalist penetration of the public administration, the judiciary, the military, and the press that over time may constrict d emocratic procedures, and encourage a more heavy-handed line toward public protests, social movements and others who are critical of the government or just oppose economic and social exploitation?... Throughout this work I have presented evidence and arg uments that in many ways support the conclusion that the RSS represents a kind of 'Swadeshi fascism' decisively vernacularised and shaped by modern Indian colonial and postcolonial history." But, the author adds, the BJP must not be viewed in isolation f rom other dark social forces in Indian society. "The advent of Hindu nationalism forces us to ask larger and more uncomfortable questions."

This is not to minimise one bit the seriousness of the sheer evil that is the Sangh Parivar: "There is little doubt that the BJP's road to power has ridden over the dead bodies of thousands of innocent Muslims, and there is no doubt that strong forces wi thin the movement and in the BJP's sizeable constituency among bureaucrats, commercial strata, and officers would like to see India as a much stronger, less democratic, and more repressive state that could provide security, labour, and the pleasant sides of modern life to the elite and the middle class." The Parivar must be viewed in the context of the milieu in which it has been able to prosper and attract support from some who were not suspected of being communal. There are many more closet Hindutvais ts than is commonly realised.

The battle for India's democracy is not lost, it will not do to minimise the arduousness of the tasks that lie ahead. The future of India's democracy and its secularism depends on the outlook Indians of all creeds come to share. Ideology matters, still.

India's billion

LAXMI MURTHY the-nation

With the birth of the billionth Indian, as estimated by the U.N's Population Division, one in every six people in the world is an Indian.

THE billionth Indian has been born. According to estimates released by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, this event took place on August 15. The announcement was received with considerable sur prise, since Indian estimates had placed the event as far away as May 2000. Officials at the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare insist that India is still short of the billion mark by about 12 million. The exact date is yet to be fixed by the te chnical committee on Population Projection.

The announcement by the U.N. Population Division took even other U.N. agencies by surprise. The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), which has been gearing for its Day of Six Billion, was somewhat deflated when the "Day of the Billionth Indian" stole some of th e momentum of the build-up to the campaign.

According to UNFPA estimates, the world population will reach the six-billion mark on October 12 - only 12 years after the five-billion mark. From 1804, when the world passed the one-billion mark, it took 123 years to reach the two-billion mark in 1927; 33 years to reach three-billion mark in 1960; 14 years to reach the four-billion mark in 1974. The landmark of five billion was crossed 13 years later, on July 11, 1987, a day which the governing council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggested retrospectively in 1989 should be observed annually as World Population Day. The intent behind this observance was to "focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues, their impact on development and the environment, and on the need to find solutions to these concerns." The theme for the 1999 World Population Day, "Count up to the Day of Six Billion", was intended to drive home the message that although world population growth has slowed, population is still growing - addin g 78 million people every year.

Of the total increase in world population, 60 per cent is contributed by just 10 countries. India tops the list - contributing 21 per cent, with China second at 15 per cent. With India reaching the one-billion mark, one in every six people in the world i s an Indian. Yet it is clear that the population growth rate the world over is slowing. The growth rate of 1.33 per cent a year between 1995 and 2000 is significantly less than the peak growth rate of 2.04 per cent between 1965 and 1970. In the developin g countries, family size has reduced by half in the last three decades.

On October 28, 1998, the UNFPA moved the Day of Six Billion from June 16 to October 12, 1999. Dr. Nafis Sadiq, Executive Director, UNFPA, said: "This is very encouraging news." Yet a closer look reveals that there are distressing reasons underlying the a pparent population slowdown. The UNFPA itself admits that this is, according to the revised estimates, partly a result of the HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) pandemic. For instance, in Botswana, one of the coun tries hardest hit, one adult in four is infected with HIV.

IN any case, how relevant is the precise date of crossing either the billion mark or the six-billion mark? In a vast country like India, exact projections are near impossible and estimates may be way off the mark. While fixing exact dates on these events may be of mere statistical interest, they do serve to whip up a collective frenzy about the population "explosion". It is brought home to us that every sixth person in the world will be an Indian. Cause for celebration? Or alarm? The latter, if the inte rnational media are anything to go by.

A case in point would be a "news brief" of the Worldwatch Institute by Lester Brown and Brian Halweil, authors of Beyond Malthus: Nineteen Dimensions of the Population Challenge, a neo-Malthusian analysis centred on "over"-population as the major causative factor of food scarcity and environmental degradation. The authors outline a gloomy picture for India: "Well before hitting the one billion mark, the demands of India's population were outrunning its natural resource base. This can be seen in i ts shrinking forests, deteriorating rangelands, and falling water tables." They quote the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) which estimates that aquifer depletion could reduce India's grain harvest by one-fourth. The gloomy prognosis contin ues with a dire warning of political anarchy: "Falling water tables will likely lead to rising grain prices on a scale that could destabilise not only grain markets, but possibly the government itself." And in conclusion, the authors intone: "The princip al threat now may not be military aggression from without but population growth from within."

The presentation of population growth as a security threat stems from a supposed causal relationship between population pressures and resource scarcities. The main proponent of the scarcity-conflict model, Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon, suggests that environmentally induced internal conflict in turn causes states to fragment or become more authoritarian, seriously disrupting international security. The scarcity-conflict model today largely informs foreign policy, besides population and environmental policies. This perspective ignores the other, more important, contributory factors of environmental degradation - colonial forest policies which laid the ground for the ravaging of forests by contractors and the government, inequitable con sumption patterns, and polluting technology. Moreover, it ignores the organic relationship with nature shared by many indigenous and rural communities. Human beings are not merely rapacious consumers of the earth's resources, in some social paradigms the y also protect and nurture the earth. The unsustainable depletion of natural resources is more characteristic of an urban, industrial society. Rural Indian women have spearheaded ecological movements, questioned the dominant development paradigm, and cam paigned for a more sustainable model.

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In India, the consumption by the highest income group (1.44 per cent of the population), of electricity, petroleum products and machine-based household appliances - products that have global environmental impact - is about 75 per cent of the total. For i nstance, the land diverted from food crop production to floriculture not only adversely impacts on nutritional levels, but degrades the environment with high pesticide and fertilizer use.

The consumption pattern of the elite in any Third World country is comparable to the relationship between that country and the "developed" world. In Latin America, for instance, vast tracts of valuable rainforest were cleared for cattle ranching. Owing t o favourable tariff treatment, most of the beef in Latin America is exported to the United States, much of it for use in fast-food chains or for pet food. The average Central American eats less beef than the average house-cat in the U.S. Every North Amer ican child consumes as much energy as three Japanese, six Mexicans, 12 Chinese, 33 Indians, 147 Bangladeshis, 281 Tanzanians or 422 Ethiopians.

I = PAT, an algebraic equation put forth in the 1970s by Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, measures the impact of humans on the environment (I) as the product of the number of people (P), affluence/the amount of goods consumed per person (A), and the pollut ion generated by technology per good consumed (T). This analysis fails to account for various complexities such as who among the monolithic P is responsible for what, and the how and why behind pollution. While the global population reaches the six-billi on mark, it is worthwhile to remember that just under 25 per cent of the world's population consumes about 75 per cent of the world's resources and energy, and the same fraction generates most of the world's waste and global atmospheric pollution. The Pe ntagon, for instance, is the largest single consumer of energy in the U.S. and generates a tonne of toxic waste every minute. It is the "luxury" emissions of the rich that generate almost 90 per cent of the ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and two-thirds of carbon dioxide emissions, rather than the "survival" emissions of the poor. However, the "consumption explosion", with its disastrous implications, appears to engender less fear in the public consciousness than the "population explosion".

Yet the belief that all people use resources and create waste, and large families use more resources and create more waste, gained currency among most international development agencies which put population high on their agendas for problem-solving. The 'T' component of the debate - the highest-polluting industrial processes that provide consumer goods for the wealthiest fifth of humanity - are controlled almost entirely by men in the most powerful transnational corporations and governments, which manuf acture chemicals and weapons of mass destruction, with the main goal of maximising economic growth and profit. Yet policies of "population control" are targeted at the "poorest of the poor" - institutionally powerless women whose main goal is survival an d have larger numbers of children for complex reasons that range from immediate survival and necessity to high infant mortality, lack of access to health services and patriarchal control over reproduction.

India has one of the longest-running population programmes in the world, and Indian women, especially those from the poorer sections, have been subject to a population reduction programme garbed in euphemisms ranging from "family planning" to "family wel fare" and now "reproductive health". Sterilisation accounts for 71 per cent of contraception practice in India and the procedure is usually performed after achieving a family size of three or four children. Although it is an effective option of birth con trol for the individual woman, it does not have a significant demographic impact. To reduce birth rates dramatically, spacing methods have to gain primacy. From a policy-maker's perspective, long-acting hormonal contraceptives such as injectables (Net En and Depo Provera) and implants such as Norplant are "ideal" because they are provider-controlled. Women need not be relied upon to remember taking the pill, or to keep intrauterine devices in place, and men need not be persuaded to use condoms. The shif t to long-acting, hazardous contraceptives is justified on the plea that birth rates have to be brought down in a hurry - the price that women pay with their health is irrelevant.

The much-touted "paradigm shift" in population policy following the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994 pressured governments to depart from "demographic imperative" language and accommodate women's perspectives . Yet real changes have yet to take place. The panic about population explosions tends to overtake concerns of empowering women and enlarging the coverage of primary health care. The Delhi Population Bill, which was recently introduced in the Delhi Assem bly, contains harsh disincentives for those who have more than two children.

For many decades it has been known that birth rates are affected by a variety of parameters - the means of production, that is, whether the economy is in subsistence or industrialised mode; women's status and education; family structures; women's partici pation in the labour force, and so on. Though Indian representatives at the first World Congress on Population in Bucharest in 1975 popularised the slogan "Development is the best contraceptive", official policy has concentrated almost exclusively on the provision of contraceptives. The technological "solution" of developing more effective contraceptives is a politically safer option than genuine changes which impact on birth rates - land reform, expansion of social services and a just distribution of r esources. It is this paradigm which has to shift for birth rates to fall and equitable development to take place.

Laxmi Murthy is an activist and researcher in population and gender issues. She is associated with the non-governmental organisation, Saheli.

Questions about capabilities

T. JAYARAMAN science-and-technology

In the light of experiences worldwide, it is impossible to accept the claims that Pokhran-II has established all-round weapons capability for India. Yet such claims are behind the grandiose vision of India's nuclear future prepared by the Nation al Security Advisory Board.

THE draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine (dIND) prepared by the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) is the most hawkish document to emerge so far on the nuclear weapons issue from any official or institutional body associated with the Government of India.

Although it may, on superficial reading, seem to be a fleshing out of the details of the broad nuclear defence posture outlined earlier by the government, particularly in Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Rajya Sabha speech of December 15, 1998, the document in practice stakes out a far more aggressive position on the issue of nuclear weaponisation.

While formally reiterating the position that India should build a credible, minimum nuclear deterrent, the document, in outlining the details of the proposed nuclear doctrine, prescribes in fact an open-ended, far-reaching programme of nuclear weaponisat ion with maximal capabilities.

The ambitious reach of the programme outlined in the dIND follows directly from the one-sided emphasis that is placed on the credible in the "credible, minimum deterrence" mantra. The minimum, except for its initial ritual invocation, finds little mentio n in the rest of the document. The crux of the matter is made clear in the key formulation of para 2.2 of dIND that states:"The requirements of deterrence should be carefully weighed in the design of Indian nuclear forces and in the strategy to provide f or a level of capability consistent with maximum credibility, survivability, effectiveness, safety and security." Despite the subsequent statement that the basic doctrine is one of "retaliation only", it is clear that it is the vision of para 2.2 that an imates the rest of the document.

The scope and quality of the nuclear arsenal and nuclear capabilities that the dIND subsequently prescribes would delight the heart of any nuclear weaponeer. India's nuclear forces are to be such that they can "respond with punitive retaliation should de terrence fail". They are to be based on a "triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets in keeping with the objectives outlined". In other words, even submarine-launched missiles carrying nuclear warheads are on the agenda. The nucl ear forces and their command and control are to be "effective, enduring, diverse, flexible and responsive to requirements".

The nuclear forces envisaged are to be not just survivable, but designed to "endure repetitive attrition attempts with adequate retaliatory capabilities for a punishing strike which would be unacceptable to the aggressor". In other words, the nuclear for ces are supposed to survive multiple strikes by any nuclear aggressor and then still be able to respond with punishing force. Survivability is to be aided by "mobility, deception and dispersion". The dIND repeatedly emphasises that India's nuclear forces must be ready for quick action.

They must be able to shift from "peacetime deployment to fully employable forces in the shortest possible time," and the efficacy of India's nuclear deterrent is to be maximised by, among other things, the "timeliness" of the response. The fact that this emphasis will push India's proclaimed no-first-use policy much closer to that of a launch-on-warning or launch-under-attack strategy is not allowed to stand in the way of pursuing the "credibility" and "effectiveness" of the proposed nuclear deterrent.

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If these prescriptions were to be followed through to the letter, nuclear weapons could become the new growth industry in India. And if global tenders could be floated for such projects, India would have a queue of multinationals at its door, clamouring to be let in on a piece of the action. But regrettably, nuclear weapons and associated technologies are a closed-door affair, jealously guarded and not for export. The NSAB's vision has to be realised by purely indigenous efforts and it is here that real ity intrudes on hawkish dreams in a rude fashion.

The problem is that India's technical capabilities in the area of nuclear weapons, their delivery systems and command and control are nowhere near the levels required by the dIND. Nor is it clear how these capabilities could be enhanced to the levels dem anded by the dIND in the medium or long term, given the various constraints that operate on the development of indigenous capabilities in the defence sector and the country's track record in this area.

THE first issue in this respect is the limited range of capabilities in the design of nuclear weapons that has been achieved by Pokhran-II, both in terms of reliability, in the military sense of the term, and safety (to the users, that is). Following Pok hran-II, Indian nuclear weaponeers can build basic fission weapons of the implosion-type using plutonium as the fission fuel. One such warhead was tested on May 11 last year. The information on the sub-kiloton tests, and the statements of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) on the range of nuclear weapons codes that were tested therein, suggest that some capability exists for variations in the shape and size of the warheads. However, it is not clear that the capability to build reliable fission weapon s of the most advanced designs, including 'levitated' pit fission weapons, has been achieved.

These have two important implications for the scope of the arsenal demanded by the dIND. The first is that not too much leeway will be available in the choice of delivery systems. Submarine-based missiles, for instance, will require the careful minimisin g of weight without loss of yield and the ability to pack warheads with the same yield into smaller and smaller spaces. It appears unlikely that Pokhran-II has delivered such a capability. Secondly, the timeliness of response demanded by the dIND suggest s that weapons must be designed so that the fissile material would be already sealed and in place in the warhead, with many such warheads ready on board various delivery systems.

Importantly, the safety requirements for sealed-pit designs include extensive testing in the hydro-nuclear range, something that has not been undertaken so far. Nor does the DAE appear to have adequately tested three-dimensional weapons codes that are re quired to design 'safe' sealed-pit designs.

The other important aspect of India's current nuclear weapons capability is that reliable and safe boosted fission-weapons or thermonuclear weapons capabilities simply do not exist. Without entering into the merits of the controversy over the yields of t he thermonuclear device that was tested at Pokhran, it is clear from the entire history of the nuclear weapons business that one test does not make for a reliable weapons capability. To make matters more complicated, the thermonuclear device tested had a boosted fission weapon as its weapon primary stage. There has been therefore no independent test of a boosted fission weapon either. Without thermonuclear weapons or boosted fission weapons it is not clear how the dIND's claimed objective of a deterrent capability to inflict unacceptable damage on "any potential aggressor" is to be achieved. If the words of the dIND are to be taken at face value, the term 'potential aggressor' includes even the United States. It would be strange to imagine that India c ould build a deterrent (even if, for argument's sake, that piece of nuclear theology were to be granted any credibility at all) based solely on fission weapons against a nuclear weapons state like the U.S.

Nuclear weaponisation per se is bad enough but worse could be in store if it is pursued on the lines indicated by the dIND. If any thermonuclear arsenal were to be built on current capabilities, it would be highly unreliable and unsafe. And this s tate of affairs could not be remedied without further extensive testing. The logic of the dIND if taken seriously would inevitably lead to the breaking of the moratorium on further nuclear weapons testing that is currently in place, a fact that the lumin aries of the NSAB would not have been unaware of.

THE claim of the DAE that the current nuclear weapons codes and the tests conducted at Pokhran are sufficient is completely untenable in the light of the experience of nuclear weapons states like France. This is a particularly illuminating example for un derstanding the weapons test requirements of a full-fledged Indian nuclear weapons programme, for several reasons. First, the French nuclear weapons programme is by and large an indigenous effort like the Indian one. Secondly, France has tried to bypass the route of several incremental design changes and tested only a few basic designs. Thirdly, the French programme was one of the last to take off and its latest weapon, an advanced warhead designed for use on submarine-launched missiles, began developm ent only in the late 1980s. So like the Indian weapons programme, the French one would also have benefited from the recent developments in basic scientific know-how as well as in computing power, over and above the extensive experience that they already possessed. Nevertheless French weaponeers thought it prudent to conduct 22 tests even for the latest weapon.

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Significantly, President Jacques Chirac declared in a television talk-show in September 1995, that France did not "have the technology for small weapons" (even though he ruled out the possibility of further development of such weapons). Clearly, despite the extensive testing done earlier, the French did not consider their technology adequate in some areas of nuclear weapons.

In the light of such experiences worldwide, it is impossible to accept the claims of the defence and atomic energy establishments that Pokhran-II has established all-round weapons capability for India. But undoubtedly these exaggerated claims are very mu ch behind the sabre-rattling of the NSAB and its grandiose vision of India's nuclear future. In an interview to the Times of India published on August 22, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Dr. R. Chidambaram declared: "Our country has full capability to provide technological back-up to the Indian nuclear doctrine." And further: "R&D capability and technological expertise, which we have for every area related to nuclear technology, will enable India to maintain a credible nuclear dete rrent as enunciated in the doctrine (emphasis added)." On another occasion, in an interview to the Press Trust of India that set off a round of competitive boasting between India and Pakistan about neutron bomb capability, the AEC Chairman was quo ted as saying that India can design and build nuclear weapons of "any type or size" (The Hindu, August 17, 1999).

INDIAN capabilities with regard to the development of delivery systems are clearly somewhat of a secondary issue in the context of the dIND, given the exaggerated claims about the development of nuclear warheads. But even on this front, the sabre-rattlin g of the NSAB is underpinned by the lack of a sober assessment of the capabilities of Indian S&T in this area. It is undoubtedly true that with the development of Prithvi and the further development of Agni-II India's nuclear weapons would have a moderat e reach. And this capability could certainly be achieved in the medium-term. But the requirements of the dIND are considerably higher, including the development of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and p ossible tactical nuclear weapons for induction in the Army.

The truth is that the Indian armed forces are heavily dependent on imported equipment. There is not a single combat aircraft in service that is indigenously produced. In the midst of the Kargil near-war situation, India was hurriedly shopping internation ally for shells for its imported artillery. The long-promised and much-talked-about Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is yet to be completed in prototype form. It is not clear when, if ever, it would be a production line item. The development of even conventio nal arms is enmeshed in difficulties and time and cost overruns. India's indigenous software expertise does not extend in the same fashion to electronic and communication hardware, where imports play an important and crucial role. Indeed, Dr. A.P.J. Abdu l Kalam himself estimates, in his book Vision 2020, that India is self-reliant only with regard to about 30 per cent of its defence needs. But any recognition of this reality is missing in the dIND. The fact that any accelerated move towards weapo nisation would attract sanctions that would have a serious negative effect even on conventional arms capabilities clearly does not bother the gung-ho hawks of the NSAB, who desire a state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal and command and control system.

The misplaced emphasis in the dIND on the 'credible' in the "credible, minimum deterrence", in the absence of a real technological capability to back it up, could be dismissed as a farcical exercise, if it were not for some very real dangers that follow from its prescriptions. With its complete dependence on nuclear theology, particularly deterrence theory together with the variant of "damage unacceptable to the aggressor", it is unsurprising to find that the dIND fails to take into account the issue of peace and security in South Asia, which is already seriously threatened by the first halting moves towards weaponisation.

The guiding principle is "India's strategic interests", an ambiguous term that could cloak all manner of superpower ambitions and posturing, and not security.

Despite the posturing that India's nuclear forces are directed against any potential nuclear threat, it is clear that the real confrontation will continue to be mainly with Pakistan and secondarily with China. Several commentators on nuclear issues in So uth Asia have repeatedly pointed to the fact that it is unlikely that any command and control system can cope with the awesome requirements imposed by the geographical proximity of India and Pakistan. They have also drawn attention to the fact that the l ow technological level of the two nations would contribute to the lowering of the threshold for a nuclear outbreak, due to accidental, unauthorised or deliberate use of nuclear weapons. Despite the perfunctory noting of nuclear weapons safety and securit y issues in the dIND, the rest of its formulations run patently counter to such considerations.

In a deeper sense, the country and society most seriously threatened by Indian nuclear weaponisation is India and Indian society itself. The far-reaching programme of nuclear weaponisation prescribed by the dIND would engender a serious negative shift in the priorities of Indian S&T, away from development issues that need urgent attention, towards an inevitable militarisation of science and technology. The pursuit of the mad-cap vision of India's hawks would consume substantial resources, even if the go als set are never reached.

This is hardly the vision of free India that inspired its freedom struggle. India's Strangeloves are well aware of this fact. In demanding that India possess "the will to employ nuclear weapons", the dIND in fact unequivocally advocates that India abando n any moral values in its politics and discard any peace-oriented value system underlying its foreign and nuclear policies.

LETTERS

other
The Congress(I)

This has reference to the cover story "Into battle" (September 10). With the Congress(I) finding its prospects to be dim in Uttar Pradesh and deciding to contest as a junior partner in alliances in States such as Bihar and Tamil Nadu, it is unlikely that the party will get a majority on its own. The Congress(I) has started speaking of forming a coalition government in the event of the elections producing a hung Parliament. After the fall of the Vajpayee government, the Congress(I) was not able to form a n alternative government because the leadership of Sonia Gandhi was not acceptable to some of the secular parties. As a candidate for the prime ministership Manmohan Singh may be more acceptable to parties across the political spectrum. So, if Sonia Gand hi is really interested in the future of the party and the welfare of the country and in upholding secularism, she should, at least at this late stage, support Manmohan Singh's candidature and confine herself to leading the party.

A. Jacob Sahayam Vellore, Tamil Nadu * * *

The cover story brings out all the facts about the current crisis facing the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress(I). The days of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are over, and the Congress(I) is showing signs of being a spent force.

Instead of being on the offensive during the run-up to the parliamentary elections the party is expending a lot of time and energy defending a) its projection of Sonia Gandhi, a foreigner by birth, as the next Prime Minister of India; b) its attempts to sneak in Sonia as its candidate in Bellary in what you have correctly pointed out as a "hide and seek operation", inviting criticism from members of her own party; and c) its attempts to strike an alliance with Laloo Prasad Yadav's RJD in Bihar, which ha s resulted in a revolt by party cadres in that State. Sharad Pawar, a political heavy-weight, left the Congress(I), weakening its hold in Maharashtra. Ironically, an alliance with Jayalalitha, the maverick Tamil Nadu politician, has further diminished th e party's credibility, because of the corruption cases against her and her unprincipled role in bringing down the BJP-led government in collusion with the Congress(I).

In the final analysis, what works in India during election time is the sort of fuzzy logic used in the microprocessors of washing machines, and not the cold analytical stuff of your columns. Atal Behari Vajpayee's BJP-led alliance may win the elections n ot entirely because of the victory in Kargil, nor on account of the low inflation rate, not even because of his party's image of being less corrupt, but because of his oratorical skills and his frequent dalliance with mellifluous poetry in Hindi when he reaches out to the masses. Personal charisma does indeed matter and right now, Vajpayee's counts a lot more than Sonia's.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Maryland Heights, U.S. Narmada Valley

Arundhati Roy has done a commendable job in drawing attention to the struggle of the Narmada Bachao Andolan ("I felt that the valley needed a writer", August 27).

Her essay "The Greater Common Good" has made a lot of people understand the principle behind the struggle of the tribal people in the Narmada valley. She made a valid point when she said that the "Government has suddenly discovered the emotive power of t hirst." Quenching the thirst of the people of Kutch and Saurashtra has been projected as a goal of the Sardar Sarovar project. If that was so, why were the dammed waters of Mahi and Sabarmati (the rivers closest to the two regions) not diverted to Ahmeda bad, Mehsana and Kheda instead of Kutch and Saurashtra?

At the same time, the NBA and Arundhati Roy have not answered a crucial question: what alternative does the movement offer to farmers in need of water, if the struggle succeeds? Merely stating the obvious - that the water from this dam may still not reac h the farmers - is not the answer. Or is the NBA (and Arundhati Roy) only limiting their concern to the threatened villages?

Shweta Moorthy New Delhi The English language

This has reference to William Safire's column, "The bandwidth of the e-speak" (August 27).

As the centuries passed, the English language, both spoken and written came to be categorised as "Old English" and "Middle English". Present-day English is called "Modern English".

Come 2000, with the advent of the lingo of the netizen, present-day English may come to be called "pre-millennium English".

The Encarta global dictionary, to be published in eight versions - with the collaboration of Microsoft - may reflect "Millennium English".

K. Viswanathan Chennai Muhammad Ali

The book review ("In the fight for black freedom", August 27) by Nirmal Shekar was inspiring.

The story of Muhammad Ali's hardships and struggles is touching. His convictions as well as his momentous and emphatic decisions have a compelling significance. As today's "technocratic" world races towards a global village that is socially, culturally a nd economically monolithic efficiently wiping out all "unfit elements" (societies, ideas and systems regarded by it as backward and obsolete), it requires great courage to swim against the current. Ali deserves to be honoured.

By declaring that he has no quarrel with the Vietcong, he immediately identified himself with all the victims of colonialism and not just blacks.

In the history of the emancipation of oppressed people all over the world Ali has made a special contribution in his own way.

Kamrul Haque Guwahati Nirad C. Chaudhuri

The tribute to Nirad C. Chaudhuri ("The passing of an unknown Indian", August 27) was highly commendable for its style and objectivity.

I feel that Nirad babu paid the highest tribute to the Mahatma when he said that no Prophet was so completely identified with the Indian masses as he and that "he was profoundly uneducated intellectually and lived in utter nakedness of spirit till his de ath." This is the state of a free soul, of the self-realised saint, seer and sage. What was unique about Gandhiji, however, was that, living as he did in that state of inner freedom, he worked tirelessly for the Independence of the country and for the em ancipation of the Indian masses and shone as a beacon for seekers of truth everywhere.

The other remarks of Nirad babu about Gandhiji may be highly prejudiced, but Sukumar Muralidharan has exposed their hallowness with admirable restraint and power. Nirad babu worshipped the intellect and missed the dimension that transcends it.

K.V. Subrahmanyam Ganeshpur, U.P. Plantation workers

The article "A bitter harvest" (August 27) highlighted the plight of the workers of the Manjolai estate in Tamil Nadu. Their hardship can be traced to their poor income. All the managerial, supervisory, clerical, technical and medical staff of plantation s are paid monthly salaries whereas the workers, who are the real backbone of the plantation industry, earn daily wages. The disparity between the salaried staff and the workers is enormous. Unless remedial action is taken to reduce this iniquity, it wil l be difficult to achieve industrial peace in the plantation sector.

During wage negotiations, plantation owners put forth the oft-repeated argument that the industry is unable to foot the wage bills. The Tea Board's figures for the year 1997-98 indicate that the total production of tea in India was 838 million kg, of whi ch 660 million kg was locally consumed; that is, 80 per cent of the tea was sold in the local market. Only 20 per cent was exported.

At Coonoor, one kg of tea dust is sold between Rs.120 and Rs.180 at the retail outlets, depending on the grade and quality. Branded tea is sold at Rs.250 a kg at other places in the country. Tea is normally sold in auctions in different centres in the co untry and the trade is controlled, nationally and internationally, by a handful of monopoly companies. The lion's share is cornered by the intermediaries - brokers, agents, retailers and so on.

An average tea picker can collect, during the peak season 60 to 70 kg and even more, if the picker is young and energetic. During the lean season, which lasts for four to five months a year, the norm is 15 kg for a day's wage. Tea prices go up during the lean season because of the fall in the harvest. Five kg (maximum) of green tea leaf is required to make one kg of dust tea and no one needs to be in doubt about the profitability of the industry.

Tea producers, with the help of the government and the Tea Board, can sell their production in the local market and effectively check the operations of the middlemen, agents and brokers and thus pave the way for a better deal to the workers.

Many plantations do not implement properly the provisions of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951. This Act requires urgent revision to ensure that the workers get adequate health, housing, potable water and other facilities. Instances can be quoted where th e owners of plantations have not paid wages for months on end, and one can imagine the difficulties of the poor workers.

More than one million workers, mostly from tribal communities and socially weaker sections, are directly employed in tea plantations all over India. One hopes that the owners of plantations will shed the age-old colonial concept of management and treat t he workers as an integral part of the industry, recognise their contributions to the growth and development of the industry and banish poverty from their lives.

V. Nadesan Plantation Workers' Industrial Training Institute Gudalur

Neelan Thiruchelvam

Radhika Coomaraswamy's article on Neelan Thiruchelvam (August 27) was more refreshing than the anti-LTTE reports. While she condemns violence, she refrains from making sweeping generalisations about the perpetrator(s) of this murder. However, her support for moderation seems to offer little for the Tamils in Sri Lanka to advance their self-respect and dignity.

Neelan, I agree, was a brilliant lawyer, but he was an individual who basically echoed the sentiments of the Sri Lankan regime. Moderate Tamil leaders have a vision, but I am not sure that the Tamil people would like to be part of this vision.

P. Ramasamy Department of Political Science National University of Malaysia Malaysia

Correction Time

Towards Seattle

BIPLAB DASGUPTA the-nation

The Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in the United States will provide an opportunity for poor countries, including India, to come together and fight for justice in trade-related matters.

THE Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which is to be held at Seattle, Washington, from November 30 to December 31, presents both an opportunity and a danger. A great opportunity because if the poor countries of the world manag e to form an effective trade alliance, do their homework well and bargain hard, they may succeed in rectifying at least to some extent the injustice that had been done to them during the 1994 Marrakesh agreement on TRIPs (Trade Related Aspects of the Int ellectual Property Rights). On the other hand, should they fail to present a united front, there is a real and ominous possibility that whatever little remains of economic sovereignty in the TRIPs Agreement will be taken away by the rich countries. In th e language of economics, it is a zero sum game: the poor countries cannot play for a draw: it is a win or lose situation.

The Indian side should have begun the preparation for this crucial meeting from the beginning of this year, at the latest. In February, when the Patents Bill incorporating exclusive marketing rights (EMR) was being debated in Parliament, the Left parties reminded the Government about the need to prepare for this task in time. However, so far virtually nothing has been done by way of preparation for a meeting that would decide, effectively, whether India, ranked among the poorest countries in the world, would ever be able to move out of the poverty trap and meet the very modest objective of advancing a few inches towards becoming a middle-level income country like South Korea or Taiwan in a few generations' time.

If the Government were sincere about protecting India's economic interests, it could have done one of the following: First, it could have made an attempt to evolve a national consensus on this vital issue either by way of a meeting of the Rajya Sabha or, at the least, by holding consultations with the Opposition parties. Had this been done and a national consensus arrived at, no matter which party or coalition came to power after the elections, the country would have been ready with an agenda for the ne w government to work on. Unfortunately, so far no White Paper or Position Paper has been released setting out the issues that the Government of India would wish to raise in this important world meeting, or around which it would seek to form a trade allia nce with other poor countries. Since nothing has been done so far in this direction, the government that is to be formed in October, barely a month before this crucial conference, will hardly have the time to evolve a national consensus and act on it, no t to speak of forging alliances with other poor countries.

The second route could have been to take advantage of the election campaign to initiate a national debate on this vital issue. In keeping with one of the well-established norms of parliamentary democracy, the government could have placed before the elect orate its agenda for the Seattle meet and challenged other parties to place theirs, so that the people could comprehend the main issues and the various standpoints and then exercise their choice between the alternative positions, through the ballot box.

Rather than follow one of these two routes - of evolving a national consensus or of engaging in a national debate during the election campaign - the tendency has been to shy away from any discussion. And this is not the first time that a government has d eliberately sought to keep the people in the dark about an issue that would profoundly influence their lives and those of also future generations. Both the Congress(I) and Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments adopted devious means over the past four an d a half years to suppress information and to get one Patents Bill through Parliament with virtually no discussion.1 Both the Congress(I) and the BJP opposed the proposal of the Left parties for an in-depth scrutiny by a parliamentary committe e, assisted by experts, since they were motivated by their common desire not to let the people know or understand how their future was being mortgaged in order to appease the multinational companies domiciled in rich countries. In February, only four hou rs were allocated in the Rajya Sabha to discuss the Patents Bill incorporating exclusive marketing rights (EMR). The BJP and the Congress(I) did not find it necessary to field any speaker and relied on their joint voting strength to get the bill through.

In their common concern to avoid any meaningful dialogue on this sensitive issue they were helped by the obscure nature of the bill, which was loaded with legal, technical and scientific jargon making it virtually impossible for the uninitiated to compre hend what it was all about. Further, unlike a rise in the prices of, say vegetables, or the closure of a factory leading to unemployment, the impact of the global patents regime is not immediate. It is not known and understood that the global patents reg ime has irreversibly closed for India the option of ever becoming industrialised or even mildly developed.

The time constraint is serious for yet another reason. Even if one assumes that the new government is honest and sincere and is willing to rectify the injustices done at Marrakesh by raising the issues at Seattle, that cannot be done by India alone; it w ill have to be done by forming trade alliances with other less developed countries. Given its appallingly low share in world trade - 0.6 per cent, compared to 2.67 per cent at the time of Independence - India alone will not count for much. The rich count ries take care to form alliances to augment their bargaining strength: for example, the European Union (E.U.); the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) covering the U.S., Canada and Mexico; the Japanese connection with South-East Asia; organisatio ns and institutions such as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the G-7; and the global trinity of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the WTO, which maintain year-round vigil to protect the interests of r ich countries.

Among the poor countries too one finds similar regional trade alliances, such as the ten-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in South-East Asia, the Andean Pact, Central American Common Market (CACM), the Caribbean Community (Caricom), the Mercado Caomu del Sur (Mercosur) in Latin America, the Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa (PTA), and the Union Douaniere et Economique de l'Afrique Centrale (UDEAC) in Africa. A major incentive for the formation of such alliance s was that these were permitted, under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) rules, to extend to intra-region members additional concessions that were denied to other GATT members.

Where is the trade alliance that India belongs to? The most natural of such alliances could have been called the South Asian Common Market, comprising India and its immediate neighbours, countries that were once part of the British empire and share a com mon historical experience and common cultural roots. These countries also share many common economic interests; for example, they are concerned about the world prices of jute and tea and have opposed the patenting of basmati rice by an American company and the distribution of trade gains that would follow from the dismantling of the textile quotas with the conclusion of the infamous multi-fibre agreement (MFA) in 2005, to name a few. Such trade blocs, could have, by joining hands with other trade blocs in Asia, Africa and Latin America, effectively changed the world trade scenario and vastly improved the bargaining position of poor countries. So far, virtually nothing has been done to achieve this. Still, we have about three more months to work on suc h an alliance and put our diplomatic skills to test on economic issues. These days international diplomacy has more to do with the objective of furthering a country's economic interests than with the question of frontiers and war. It should not be the ca se that our soldiers would die in Kargil to protect our frontier against the infiltration of foreign soldiers and mercenaries while the managers of our economy sell the country to multinationals under what the government describes as "external compulsion ". Often, the "There Is No Alternative" (TINA) argument is advanced as an excuse for not doing anything.

We already know from the way the 8th (Uruguay) Round of GATT negotiations operated (1986-1993) what is in store for Indian negotiators in the Seattle meeting. The three key players in the Uruguay negotiations were the U.S., Europe and Japan. They exchang ed drafts among themselves and finalised everything and without bothering to seek the opinion of the poor countries. As the Jamaican Ambassador to GATT commented on the Dunkel Draft: "The draft package is reflective of the distribution of negotiating pow er and whether or not we are prepared to accept it as a reasonable basis for the further phase is academic."2 Apart from these three, a fourth player who was sometimes consulted was the Cairns Group of 14 members, representing rich and middle- income countries specialising in agricultural exports and having close links with the G-7. These included Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Fiji, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. These countrie s, accounting for one-tenth of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and manufacturing output and 30 percentage of the world's agricultural exports, made a much bigger impact than the much larger group of less developed countries.3 If the r ich countries ever wanted to consult the less developed countries, they talked to South Korea or Taiwan. The poor countries operated in the periphery, seldom consulted until the rich ones completed negotiations amongst themselves. As one commentator poin ted out: "Whatever the skills of the negotiators from the South, for the most part they are like extras on the GATT stage; the show can't go on without them, but nobody is remotely interested in what they have to say."4

One major reason for the poor performance of the less developed countries in the negotiations, apart from their weak economic power and lack of unity, was the absence of specialised staff and advises. In the 1990 Brussels meeting during the Uruguay Round negotiations, Carla Hills, the U.S. Trade Representative, brought along 400 advisers, a number that exceeded the combined strength of all the sub-Saharan Africa and Latin American trade missions. The formidable intellectual strength of those 400 people was augmented by another 200 or so, who were lent to Hills by corporate giants such as American Express, Citibank and IBM, and agro-chemical conglomerates such as Pfizer, Monsanto, Cargill and Du Pont. They had the ability to examine an issue from all po ssible angles and then to project into their drafts U.S. interests under the guise of benefitting the entire humankind. Although 70 of the 108 countries in GATT negotiations were the less developed ones, they had no voice and they expressed their views - on the few occasions on which they did - "within a framework scripted by the major industrialised states".5 It is hardly possible for India to bring together, as the U.S. did, such an array of skills or to match it in terms of the number of e xperts. But the least one would expect of a government is not to surrender without a fight, and to devote as much time and energy as possible to a proper homework. It seems likely that the Indian delegation will reach Seattle without having done adequate homework and without any significant skilled assistance, thanks to the criminal indifference, if not actual complicity with the multinationals, on the part of our government.

BROADLY speaking, five types of issues can be raised by the Indian delegation at the Seattle conference, all of which relate to the major changes brought about by the 1994 TRIPs Agreement at Marrakesh.

First, until the TRIPs Agreement, patents were a matter of national law. Each country formulated its own legislation taking into account its own national and human resources, national characteristics, the stage of development and history. Now, under TRIP s, each and every member-country of the WTO has to conform to an international patent regime and change its national law accordingly. The all-important question is: why this attempt to standardise and harp on conformity and make everything - in TRIPs and in some of the other proposals under discussion such as patents, labour standards, environmental standards, investment norms - uniform, when this is diametrically opposed to the norms laid down in the 1993 Convention on Bio-Diversity (CBD), which emphas ises that life cannot be sustained without diversity. If 150 countries have signed TRIPs, 170 countries have signed the CBD, and an overwhelming majority have signed both without taking notice of the essential conflict between these two international doc uments in terms of prescription. The CBD, in its Article 16.5, asserts that intellectual property rights must not be in conflict with conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, a provision that has been totally ignored by those who composed the TR IPs Agreement. While in the case of agriculture, the higher yield of patented products induces the farmers to switch to these products from a more varied production pattern, the resulting narrowing of genetic base makes the economy and society more vulne rable to plant diseases and epidemics.6 The emphasis on conformity in TRIPs and that on diversity in the CBD cannot be right at the same time; one or the other has to go.

Secondly, we can question this concern over "piracy" of intellectual property now when, historically, every developed country of today has at some time borrowed or copied technology from other countries in the course of its development. Japan, South Kore a, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong were among the last to adopt foreign technology on a large scale by way of what came to be known as "reverse engineering", but the developed European countries also did the same - to a larger extent in the case of Italy and to a smaller extent as in the case of U.K., while they were undergoing the process of industrialisation. The reason for the globalisation of the patent regime now is to make such copying impossible and thus to take away the option of reverse enginee ring. The result is that backward countries of today will remain backward and poor for ever as they will not have the option of copying and eventually developing their own technologies and thereafter selling those under their own brand names. They will b e forced to depend permanently for technology on multinational companies, which control more than 80 per cent of world patents.

Thirdly, we can challenge the extension of the patent period to 20 years under TRIPs when there are strong arguments against doing so, and demand that it be revised downwards to four or five years in this age of fast changing technologies and emergence o f new products. In the case of India, black-and-white and colour television sets, video cassette recorders, cable televison and multimedia came in quick succession - after every four or five years. Over the past 10 to 12 years, we have seen how 286 compu ters were replaced by the 386 ones, then by the 486 ones, and this in turn by the Pentium and its subsequent versions. We have also seen how the measure of the hard-disk capacity of computers has changed from kilobytes to megabytes and then to gigabytes, all within the last 10 years or so. In such a situation, a product becomes grossly out of date long before its patent period of 20 years expires. The only rationale behind lengthening the patent period to 20 years is to perpetuate the technological depe ndence of poor countries on multinationals.

Fourthly, we can challenge conceptually the decision to extend patenting to life forms in the TRIPs Agreement, and the consequent rush of multinational agri-business firms to scour the countryside of poor countries to collect, by means legal or illegal, plants and their germplasm. Such plant varieties are taken to their own countries and, after some tinkering, patented under their own names to establish themselves as their legal owners for the patent the period world over, and to take away from others, including indigenous Third World producers who would have been producing them for centuries, the right to produce them. This conference gives us the opportunity to establish safeguards against bio-piracy, particularly of medicinal plants.

Fifthly, we can question how the U.S. can exercise both the options, multilateral action through the WTO and unilateral action by way of "special 301" which is actually article 1303 of the U.S. Trade Act, which operates like Article 301, also known as Su per 301. Under the law the U.S. Congress has passed on the Uruguay Round of GATT negotiation, in case of any conflict between the GATT-WTO rules and the U.S. law, the latter would prevail. We can insist that the U.S. should desist from such open and decl ared violation of GATT-WTO rules and that it should not flex its superpower muscles to force poor countries to do what it is itself not willing to do.

There are many other issues that can be raised, but these are major ones. In case Third World countries fail to unite and push these demands, some of the safeguards that still exist in the TRIPs Agreement are likely to be taken away. Under Articles 27.2 and 27.3 of the Marrakesh TRIPs Agreement, the countries may deny patent protection on a number of grounds - for reasons of public order, morality, or protecting human, animal or plant life, or protecting the environment. Protection can also be denied fo r inventions involving "diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical methods for the treatment of humans and animals, and plants and animals (other than micro-organisms) and biological process (other than microbiological processes) for their production".7 Reference to public order and morality are wide enough to permit a significant amount of discretionary power to the governments. "Immorality" can mean obscenity, blasphemy, breach of peace, immoral activities and so on, while the French counterpart of "public order", "ordre public" is closer to "public policy" than to "public order". The U.K. used this provision to refuse twice a patent on a contraceptive device.8 There is a serious risk that this provision would be taken away at Seattle unless the poor countries resolve to unite and fight.

Biplab Dasgupta, an economist, is a CPI(M) Rajya Sabha member.

1. Biplab Dasgupta, "Patent Lies and Latent Danger - a study of the political economy of patent in India", in Economic and Political Weekly, 17-24 April, 1999, pp 979-993.

2. Kevin Watkins, Fixing the Rules: North South Issues in International Trade and GATT Uruguay Round, Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, 1992, p 31.

3. Rod Typres, "The Cairns Group Perspective", in K.A. Ingersent, A.J. Rayner, and R.C. Hine(eds.), Agriculture in the Uruguay Round, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1994, pp 88-109.

4. Watkins, op. cit., p 37.

5. Raymond F. Hopkins, "Developing Countries in the Uruguay Round: Bargaining under uncertainty and inequality", in William P. Avery (ed.) World Agriculture and the GATT, Lynn Rienner Publishers, Boulder and London, 1993. pp 143-163.

6. H. William Lesser, Equitable Patent Protection in the Developing World-Issues and Approaches, Eubios Ethics Institute, Christchurch (New Zealand) and Sukuba (Japan), 1991, p 6.

7. UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), Trade and Development Report, 1993, UNCTAD, Geneva, 1994; The Outcome of the Uruguay Round: An Initial Assessment, UNCTAD, Geneva, 1994; Biplab Dasgupta, Structural Adjustme nt, Global Trade and the New Political Economy of Development, Sage-Vistaar (Delhi) and Zed Books (London), 1998, Chapter IV; Jeffrey J. Schott (assisted by Johanna W. Buurman), The Uruguay Round, Institute for International Economics, Washing ton DC, 1990.

8. Edward Armitage and Ivor Davis, 1994, Patents and Morality in Perspective, Common Law Institute of Intellectual Property, London.

The looming shadow

JAYATI GHOSH columns

Recent trade data confirm that the government's management of the external sector has made future balance of payments problems likely.

IN the 15 months that the BJP-led government has been in power, it has done perhaps more in terms of liberalising imports and furthering the interests of international capital, and done it faster, than any previous government. Indeed, its effective polic y in this regard has been in marked contrast to its stated electioneering position, both in this election and the previous one. The party that once prided itself on its declared economic aim of "swadeshi" has been leading a government that has allowed a greater degree of import penetration, especially in the area of non-necessary consumer goods, than ever before in independent India.

This has largely occurred at the cost of domestic producers, in a whole gamut of manufacturing industries ranging from small-scale producers of marble and small consumption items to sugar manufacturers. And this in turn is likely to have had an unfavoura ble effect on employment in these sectors, which in turn will create negative multiplier effects.

However, there are other adverse consequences of the government's management of the external sector, quite apart from those relating to domestic economic activity and employment. The export-import policy has been associated with a widening of the trade d eficit, an increase in non-oil imports into the country even during a period of industrial recession, and a major deceleration (even decline) in exports in dollar terms.

This is made amply evident in the data relating to external trade which have just been released by the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCI&S). They indicate that the trade balance deteriorated substantially over 1998-99, l argely because of the increase in non-oil imports, even though the ongoing recession in domestic manufacturing industry at that time meant that the requirement of raw material and intermediate imports was less. Subsequently the trade deficit has recovere d slightly, largely because of the depressing effects of industrial recession, since the expansion in exports remains muted at best.

Thus, in the period April-July 1999, exports increased by only 4 per cent in dollar terms, compared to the same period of 1998. While this was still a slightly better performance than that of the previous year, when exports actually fell by 3 per cent, i t is hardly much cause for celebration, especially as this rate of growth still remains below the estimated rate of growth of world exports during these months.

Even more to the point, it still remains well below the average of $3 billion a month for export values that were achieved in 1997-98. So the export performance over the past 15 months has been such that it has not even recovered to the levels that were seen as barely adequate even two years ago.

Meanwhile, the only reason that the trade deficit has been kept within even manageable limits is the collapse in international oil prices, which has kept India's oil import bill low. Non-oil imports grew fairly rapidly until March 1998, suggesting that t he import liberalisation measures undertaken over the 1990s had contributed to a surge in imports despite fairly depressed domestic demand for manufactured goods. Since then, however, the recession appears to have taken its toll in terms of a reduced rat e of expansion of non-oil imports.

However, since April 1999 there has been a firming up of world oil prices, and this must have involved an increase in India's oil import bill. It is still not clear how much of the increase in imports over the period April-July is due to this factor, but this will certainly be a major source of concern for policy makers in future since it reduces the leeway for non-oil imports.

The large trade deficits have still not become a source of concern in the public perception because the current account deficit remains quite low. This is essentially due to the role played by worker's remittances from abroad, which have in fact shored u p India's balance of payments throughout the 1990s. In 1998-99, Reserve Bank of India data show that transfer incomes from abroad, which are dominated by worker's remittances, financed more than 80 per cent of the trade deficit.

The role of all invisible payments has been less because the country loses some income to profit remittances by multinational companies. Last year these amounted to nearly another one-third of the trade deficit. It is also worth noting that transfer inco mes from abroad in 1998-99 (as indeed, in every other year of this decade) have been more than all sources of capital inflow put together, by more than 22 per cent.

When considering the role of capital inflows, another legacy of the economic policies of the decade, which have been so avidly followed and pushed by the BJP government also, has been the growing share of foreign direct investment (FDI), which has been i n the form of purchase of shares in existing Indian companies rather than as greenfield investment. Even in 1995-96, the ratio of such investment to total FDI was only 1 per cent. By 1998-99, the BJP-led government had managed to raise this to 16 per cen t, and guesstimates for the current year suggest that it is likely to be even higher and could reach as much as one-third. It is interesting that this should be part of the economic legacy of the party that earlier presented itself as the champion of Ind ian business.

These mergers and acquisitions are important not only because of any simplistic nationalist economic sentiment. They also imply a future drain of foreign exchange resources because of the repatriation of profits by such foreign purchasers, where there wa s no such outflow in the past. This is not an idle concern. In Brazil at the moment, there is a heated debate over this issue, because the outflow of such remitted profits has soared from $37 million to as much as $7 billion in just five years from 1993 to 1998, following a wave of such FDI in the form of mergers and acquisitions.

All this becomes particularly worrisome because the other sources of capital inflow into the country have proved to be extremely fragile at best. Both portfolio capital inflows and net short-term external commercial borrowing into the country turned nega tive in 1998-99. While the reduction of reliance on such highly volatile capital is to be welcomed, it should be remembered that this has happened not because of the sagacity of the Indian government, but because foreign investors have turned away from t his emerging market. This suggests that it would be highly problematic to base a future growth strategy on reliance in such external capital inflows.

In sum, several features of the trade pattern and the balance of payments are major causes for concern. The chances are high that after the elections the new government will have to take on quite soon the challenge of coping with yet another incipient ba lance of payments crisis. It is a pity, therefore, that so few fresh ideas are evident in this regard from both the leading political combinations.

The song supreme

M.S. Subbulaksmi is no ordinary musician; she is a living legend, a role model for every aspiring singer. A tribute on the occasion of her 83rd birthday.

THE announcement by the President of India, K.R. Narayanan, on March 1, 1998, conferring the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, on M.S. Subbulakshmi was received with universal approval. It was the first time that a musician had received this signal recognition. How did this come about?

The short answer is that M.S. is no ordinary musician. Today, she is a living legend, a role model for every aspiring singer.

M.S. was born on September 16, 1916, in Madurai. Her father was Subramania Iyer, a lawyer by profession and a rasika, and her mother was Shanmugavadivu, a well-known veena player of her times. Blessed with a mellifluous voice with total tonal purity ( sruti suddham), and an unusual understanding of the subtleties and nuances of our complex musical system, best described as gnanam, M.S. quickly became a popular concert artist, as well as a recording artist. Her musical education, beginning w ith her mother, developed further under a well-known vidwan of Madurai, Srinivasa Iyer. Her first public concert was given when she was 13. She also attained proficiency on the veena, and is an accomplished veena player to this day.

In 1936, M.S. moved to Madras. Chennai was then, as it is now, the capital of Carnatic music. She was already a much-sought-after concert artist. Here she met T. Sadasivam, at that time a senior executive in the popular Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan . She married Sadasivam in 1940, and with it began a new and very fruitful phase in her life.

For the next 57 years, until his demise in November 1997 at the age of 95, he was, in the words of M.S. herself, her "guide, philosopher and friend". With Sadasivam's encouragement she was able to meet the famous vocalists of those times, Ariyakudi Raman uja Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and also the vainika, K.S. Narayanaswami. With these contacts, her repertoire expanded and her rendering of raga and kriti, neraval, swaram, and so on attained even higher levels of excellence. Semmangudi became a close friend of the family, when he moved to Madras after his distinguished tenure as principal of the Swati Tirunal College of Music in Thiruvananthapuram. Semmangudi was practically a daily visitor at the T.S.-M.S. home . Musiri was also a frequent visitor, and he gladly shared his special gift for bhava sangeetham with M.S.

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At Ananda Vikatan, the star writer was R. Krishnamurthi, who wrote under the pen-name "Kalki". Besides writing essays, short stories, novellas and musical critiques, he composed songs which M.S. would sing. With the combination of the executive ab ility of Sadasivam and the literary talent of Kalki, a new Tamil magazine, Kalki, was established, which is still going strong.

M.S. starred in a number of films. Her earliest appearance, in the 1930s, was in Seva Sadan, in which she gave a superb rendering of the Kalyani kriti "Needu Charana". In Shakuntala she was cast opposite the great vidwan G.N. Balasubramania n, and this film was also replete with many song hits. She shared the honours with Shanta Apte in Savitri appearing as the sage Narada. Her rendering of "Broohi Mukundeti" in this film made it very popular.

Her brightest achievement in the celluloid medium was as the Krishna devotee Meera. This film was first produced in Tamil and later remade in Hindi. The Hindi version was an instant hit and established her as a great bhajan singer. As the stateswoman-poe tess Sarojini Naidu said, "it was pure enchantment... it was a true representation of Meera, nay it was Meera herself singing songs of devotion of prayerful appeal... it was Meera herself come to life." She also called M.S. the Nightingale of India.

Partly thanks to her films, but even more because of the large number of gramophone discs and (later) audio tapes, the voice of M.S. could be heard in every corner of India, from the remotest villages to the crowded metropolises. Her public concerts, whi ch were usually given for the benefit of some favoured cause, drew packed houses. On several occasions, her concerts were open-air affairs, and the audience numbered several thousands.

Her major international exposure began with her programme at the Edinburgh International Festival of Arts in 1963. In 1966, the Secretary-General of the U.N., U Thant, invited her to give a special concert at the United Nations. This programme was given in the magnificent General Assembly hall, and I had the privilege of introducing her to the audience. A coast-to-coast concert tour of the U.S. followed. This was repeated in 1977, and on this visit I had the honour of presenting her programme at the Car negie Hall in New York, where all the musical greats of this century have performed. She gave the inaugural concert of the Festival of India in London in 1982, which was attended by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who stayed till the end of the prog ramme. In 1987, she gave the inaugural concert of the Festival of India at the Kremlin in Moscow in the presence of the Prime Ministers of India and the USSR.

Her Meera bhajans, soaked with bhakti, may be said to have been responsible for her interest in rendering various "stotras" in Sanskrit. Her "Venkatesa Suprabhatam", first in Sanskrit and then in Tamil, rendered with perfect enunciation and beauti ful musical intonation, were best-sellers: so was her "Vishnu Sahasranamam." The other side of this record features a ragamalika rendering of the "Bhaja Govindam" of Adi Sankara with a masterly introduction in English by Rajaji.

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Rajaji was a major influence on the life of T.S. and M.S. The devotion of T.S. to Rajaji was total and absolute. Rajaji's composition in Tamil, "Kurai Ondrum Illai", was set to music as a ragamalika by Kadayanallur Venkataraman. M.S.' soulful rendering o f this song has become extremely popular, and is sung by many concert artists.

T.S. and M.S. also came under the benign grace of the Paramacharya of Kanchi. It was the Acharya who composed the benediction "Maitreem Bhajata" which M.S. sang at the conclusion of her U.N. and Carnegie Hall concerts, ending with the ringing words "Srey o bhooyat sakala jananam' (Let there be grace abounding for all mankind).

While on the subject of devotional music, one must mention her record albums of the compositions of the great bhakta Tirupati Annamacharya. The compositions were beautifully sung and one has become common in Carnatic music - "Sriman Narayana", in Bhouli, thanks to M.S.' rendering of this kriti.

The laurels she has won, all unsought, are many and varied. She received the Padma Bhushan in 1954, when the national awards were instituted, and the President's award for Carnatic music in 1956. She has received several honorary doctorates. She was the first woman artist to receive the Sangita Kalanidhi title from the Music Academy of Chennai. She received the Ramon Magsaysay award, usually referred to as the Asian Nobel Prize, in 1974. The Padma Vibhushan award from the President came in 1975 and the Bharat Ratna in 1998. In 1988, she received the "Kalidas Sanman" of the Madhya Pradesh Government.

T.S. and M.S. made it a habit to give all she received to charitable causes. It all began with Rajaji's request to M.S. to give five benefit recitals for the Kasturba Memorial Fund in 1944. From then on, not only the proceeds of her concerts, but also th e considerable sums representing royalties on her gramophone records and tapes, have gone to charitable and worthwhile causes. The major beneficiaries include the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam, the Ramakrishna Math, the Nanak Foundation, the Subramanya B harathi memorial at Ettayapuram, the Hindu temple in Flushing, New York, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Kamakshi temple at Kanchi, the Sankara Nethralaya, the Cancer Institute and the Voluntary Health Services, all in Chennai, the Kamban Kazhagam, the M usic Academy and the Sri Sri Sri Mahalakshmi Mathru Bhuteswarar Trust, which is building the Kanchi Mahaswami Mani Mandapam at Orirukkai village near Kanchipuram.

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If I were to attempt a critique of M.S.' music, I can sum it up in one word, "perfection". Her repertoire is immense and her rendering of any song in public is perfect, representing hours of dedicated effort. Her diction is a model of clarity. She learnt the correct pronunciation, and understood the meaning of every word. Her tonal purity is extraordinary. Her raga alapana is always musical and never too long. Her neraval and swara prastara are tuneful and crisp with complete master y of laya. Her bhajans can move the audience and touch hearts; she can induce in them a paravasam (ecstasy) because she is herself in such a state. She has sung bhajans in ten languages, each one of them an example of the highest standards of purity of diction and emotional content.

T.S. and M.S. together lived a life of Gandhian simplicity. (The Mahatma himself longed to hear her sing Ram Dhun and bhajans). They moved from the spacious acres of "Kalki Gardens" to a modest abode in Kotturpuram with the utmost ease. The VIPs were rec eived here with the simple dignity that was the hallmark of this blessed couple. After T.S. passed away, M.S. was truly a woman bereft. Only her bhakti to T.S.' memory and to the Almighty has sustained her. She remains the same simple unaffected h uman being, with her gentle humanity and inborn grace.

M.S. is not in the best of health, but she keeps going with some physical therapy and medical attention. One can only hope that before long she is able to resume her singing, if not at public concerts, at least through the electronic media. Her music is a god-given gift. She must sing again!

C.V. Narasimhan, a former Indian Civil Service officer, was Under Secretary-General of the United Nations between 1956 and 1978.

Plebiscite on prejudice?

This is the country's dirtiest, most personalised, election campaign. By launching it, the BJP has confronted India with a choice: for or against bigotry, pro- or anti-exclusivism, for or against sexism.

"ITALIAN opera singer", "cafe crooner", "kaalmukhi" (someone who brings ill-luck), "dirty widow", "upri" (interloper), "matric-pass" (college dropout), "Pope ki cheli" (The Pope's disciple), "Monica Lewinsky"... The vilest of abuse, the choicest of epithets. It is almost impossible to believe that our sensibilities could be so deadened as to make all this foul personal calumny and disgusting political slander seem like "normal" campaigning in a general election in a country that cla ims to be a more or less civilised democracy. It is even harder to imagine that someone as decent and infectiously polite as Manmohan Singh could "provoke" his rival to resort to downright obscenity, by challenging the professor to remove his turban and prove he is a true Sikh! The conclusion is inescapable. This is without doubt India's dirtiest, most personalised, vilest, campaign since elections in some form or other were organised in this country.

Even Atal Behari Vajpayee, supposedly the BJP's most gentle, moderate, "civilised" face, has stooped to the level of agitating the "foreign origins" issue after having solemnly promised any number of times that he would not do so. Not only did he say (Lu cknow, August 27) that Sonia Gandhi should not hold high office, for the reason of her origin. He has also been a passive spectator to the delivery of foul personal attacks on her in meeting after election meeting. His belated, half-hearted, August 30 st atement calling for "restraint" and gender-sensitivity in campaigning does little to redeem the damage.

BJP leaders like Vajpayee's most trusted Minister Pramod Mahajan, having taken their cue from the Prime Minister himself, have surpassed themselves in slander campaigns. Mahajan's outrageous comparison of Sonia Gandhi with Monica Lewinsky - doubly confir med by his denial - is perhaps the most offensive assault on decency in public discourse which we have recently witnessed. It was quickly followed with George Fernandes' vituperative remarks on Sonia Gandhi on August 28 in Bellary. Fernandes reduced Gand hi's entire "contribution" to India as giving birth to her children, two amongst our population of one billion. Mahajan's and Fernandes' remarks have rightly excited strong condemnation from scholars, political leaders and feminists. There is every reaso n why they must be categorically condemned for their deep-seated male- supremacist prejudice.

First, it is utterly insulting to any civilised mind that Sonia Gandhi, who is a full-fledged Indian citizen, should be put in the same category as Monica Lewinsky, or Bill Clinton or Tony Blair - merely because of her foreign origin. It is even worse th at she should be personally targeted for vilification in this gutter-level campaign at least partly because she happens to be a woman, and a white woman at that. It is hard to dissociate the strongly sexist innuendoes that are being deploye d in this campaign from the fact of Sonia Gandhi's gender. This is itself part of a larger phenomenon - of women like Rabri Devi, Jayalalitha and Sonia Gandhi being singled out for particularly sharp sexist barbs.

(Even M.Karunanidhi has indulged in this, predicting that Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha's equation will be worse than the 13 month-long Vajpayee-Jayalalitha relationship because now both allies are women, who are bound to give each other a hard time.) App ellations like "crooner" and "kaalmukhi" (or their masculine equivalents) are not used against men. It is telling that Fernandes chose to diminish Sonia Gandhi to a mere bearer of children - a reproductive machine, a passive receptacle, without ag ency or personality. He did not do this even to Rajiv Gandhi, no favourite of his. Evidently, such insults are reserved for women alone.

However, there is a special "white" angle to the reviling of Sonia Gandhi. This derives from the widely prevalent middle class prejudice that white women typically have "loose morals", that they are quintessentially either saints (for example, Mother Ter esa, Annie Besant or Meera Behn) or (more usually) sinners (Monica Lewinsky). This makes the latter fair game for all manner of sexist attacks. Such views are so common that even the Chief Minister of one of our most progressive States, Kerala, once pour ed scorn over the outrage that the rape of two white women in the State caused. What's all the fuss, he asked. For whites, rape is common, normal, it's like having a cup of tea.

The Sonia Gandhi-Lewinsky comparison was no aberration or accident. It captured a stereotype, the polar opposite of the Bharatiya Naari, the hallowed, artificially constructed "Indian" (read, Hindu) woman of pure character and unblemished personal ity. This sees the white, foreign, mleccha woman as sullied, spoiled, immoral, at best a sex object. We should feel offended at this not only because the president of India's oldest party is being equated with a former White House intern, nor so m uch because "Indian motherhood" is being slighted, but because the equation implicitly reviles Lewinsky (rather than the older, more powerful, more "responsible" Clinton) for having had a sexual relationship. This amounts to revictimising the victim. It is the kind of mindset that regards the rape victim as the guilty party - an "impure" woman who "must have done something" to bring that outcome about.

This mindset is typical of the Sangh Parivar. Indeed, a former president of the BJP's Mahila Morcha, Mridula Sinha, is on record as saying that wife-beating and domestic violence against women have "two sides": often the woman herself "provokes" it. The same attitude characterises the Parivar's adherence to the "Aryan" values of the Manusmriti, some of its leaders' defence of sati (they include former vice-president Vijayaraje Scindia and J.P. Mathur) and the demand repeatedly made by a number of VHP (V ishwa Hindu Parishad) leaders that women be banned from reciting the Vedas or performing sacred rituals.

Beneath this gutter-level campaign, then, are deep-rooted sexist prejudices and hatreds characteristic of the Sangh Parivar's male-supremacist ideology. Clearly, this has rubbed off even on Fernandes. He now uses the same language as do such well-known P arivar ideologues as Arun Shourie - for example, terming all Congress members hijras (eunuchs); hijras are here contrasted to real, virile, strong, brave, males. All other sexual identities are considered inferior, low or unauthentic. The whole id ea of womanhood here is suffused with male-chauvinism of the dirtiest variety, of the kind that "respectable" middle class bhadralog people are supposed to be too embarrassed to vent in public. The fact that the Mahajans and the Fernandeses no lon ger feel so restrained, and that they know they could speak in that vein in the presence of Vajpayee, is testimony to the debasement of our political discourse.

Some of these vile sentiments now being vented have a distinctly contrived quality about them. They appear manufactured. They represent very little spontaneity, and are calculated to create and fan prejudice and appeal to primordial identities. It is har d to believe that Fernandes really thinks that Sonia Gandhi's claim to being Indian is primarily predicated upon her wearing a sari and learning some Hindi, as he alleged. It is also difficult to believe that the attack on her comes from a mainly pers onal, as opposed to a political, assessment of her. This makes the BJP-NDA (National Democratic Alliance) campaign all the more reprehensible. At its heart is an attempt to tug at notions of national "loyalty" and put people on the defensive. Those who disagree with the government's handling of Kargil have been equated with Pakistan - by Vajpayee himself. This is grossly unfair. Indeed, this dirty campaign highlights the need for laws and norms against hate speech. We must drastically reduce our "tolerance" of hate speech.

Clearly, however, the worthies of the NDA think that all means are justified by the end they have set: defeat their secular Centre-Left opponents. Once you sever ends from means, anything can be rationalised. Indeed, why stop at verbal attacks? Even viol ent disruptions of the opponent's campaign are permissible.

Within this framework, politicising Kargil, communalising the armed forces (through "Sindhu Darshan", VHP leaders' visits to army hospitals and distribution of Ramacharitamanas, flooding the Defence Ministry with lotus-shaped raakhis) is permissib le. As is character assassination of your opponents. Scoring low-level points in the manner of the small-town criminal lawyer can become a higher priority than grappling with substantive policy issues. Programmes can be relegated to the background. What matters is creating symbols, charging emotions, playing with identities, false or real.

The present election campaign confronts us all with a stark choice, a choice imposed by the decision of the BJP-NDA to go for broke: to concentrate on issues of identity and "authenticity", rather than substance. We are not being asked to decide which al ternative policy course we favour, whose programmatic perspective we find more convincing, whose claim to provide decent, stable governance is more credible. We are not asked to choose candidates for what they do. Rather we are being asked to vote for who or what they are or claim to be: Indian or foreign, Hindu or otherwise, like us or against us. Their trade-marks, promoted through the clever marketing of images and icons, are calculated to play on "affinities", however irrational .

This gives this election a singular character. Only in 1984 were issues of identity - at that time, national "unity" and the grave "threat" to it highlighted through barbed-wire fences - played up in such a significant fashion. Their deliberate use in th is campaign is even more cynical. They compel us to take a stand on prejudice: against false patriotism, manufactured nationalism, Kargilised identities. Therefore, we must refuse to set aside issues of real relevance - whether food security or education , or our right to minimum public services, and to be protected by the law of the land. Such issues must not be sacrificed at the altar of "national security" and macho symbols of "national strength", themselves divorced from flesh-and-blood people.

This depraved identity politics is not just a massive diversion of our attention from our needs and priorities. It is an assault on our sensibilities: we are being asked to cater to xenophobia, legitimise male supremacism, privilege narrow sub-identities , and suppress plurality. We can no longer be ordinary people going about their worldly business, or people committed to a larger project of humanisation and deepening of this democracy. We are asked to wear our Mera-Bharat-Mahan badges on our sleeves, a nd fool ourselves that our real problems are not about hunger, deprivation, inequality, corruption and bigotry within our borders. Rather, the problems are presented as caused by them: those monsters across the border.

In this sense, this election is a plebiscite on prejudice. True, it is an extremely complicated affair - with regional parties as well as national ones offering a range of black, white and (largely) grey options. The BJP's opponents are divided. T he Congress is not playing its cards well. The Third Force has taken a knock with the vanishing of the Janata Dal. No one is presenting dazzling new, fresh alternatives. And yet, at its core, the choice is starkly simple. Either we succumb to the politic s of false identities and manufactured "pride", and vote for the NDA. Or we reaffirm our real priorities, re-emphasise our true concerns as citizens, return to programmatic issues, and vote for secular, pluralist, democratic parties. At the end of the da y, it is an either-or choice.

Police in the dock

Independent inquiries by non-governmental organisations and social action groups find that unwarranted and brutal police violence led to the July 23 massacre in Tirunelveli.

A JUDICIAL inquiry ordered by the Tamil Nadu Government into police violence against a procession of tea estate workers in Tirunelveli on July 23, which claimed 17 lives (Frontline, August 13), is yet to take off. However, a number of non-governme ntal organisations and social action groups have conducted independent inquiries.

The Tamil Nadu unit of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) - Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, and the Writers and Thinkers Forum for Social Harmony (WTF), a human rights organisation in Madurai, s ent separate fact-finding teams. Other groups jointly held a joint "a public inquest".

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The "jury" of the "public inquest" comprised Justice H. Suresh, former Judge of the Bombay High Court; V.R. Lakshminarayanan, a former Director-General of Police, Tamil Nadu; V. Vasanthi Devi, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Manonmaniam Sundaranar Univer sity in Tirunelveli; and V. Karuppan, a retired IAS officer. The organisers were the Human Rights Education and Protection Council, Tirunelveli; the Society for Community Organisation Trust, Madurai; the Society for Integrated Rural Development, Madurai; the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (Tamil Nadu chapter); Human Rights Foundation, Chennai; and the People's Watch - Tamil Nadu, Madurai.

The reports prepared by the PUCL, the AIDWA and the WTF provided detailed accounts of the police action, which they descibed as "unwarranted". An interim report of the public inquest said: "Prima facie evidence indicates that the police were bruta l and callous in dispersing the crowd." According to the interim report, the crowd was surrounded by the police on three sides and the only way the people could escape from the lathi-charge was by jumping into the river. "If the objective was to disperse the crowd near the Collector's office, there was no need for the police to chase them up to the river and continue to beat them even when they were jumping into river," the jury members observed.

The interim report said that there was evidence to believe that most of the deaths had resulted from police beating and not cases of drowning. Photographs placed before the jury showed the victims bleeding ante-mortem, owing to head and chest injuries. T here were grievous injuries in other parts of their bodies. Post-mortem reports did not record the injuries suffered by the victims, the report said. It concluded: "This makes us doubt the veracity of the post-mortem reports."

(According to a government counter-affidavit filed in response to a writ petition by Puthiya Thamizhagam president Dr. K. Krishnaswamy, who has sought a second post-mortem, some of the bodies had only fish bites and minor aberrations and death in all cas es was due to drowning. The petition is pending before the court.)

All the inquires brought to light the humiliation meted out to some women processionists at a police station in Tirunelveli hours after the police action on July 23 afternoon. They were illegally detained at the police station and stripped and abused by police personnel. They were let off after they gave the police a written assurance of good behaviour.

A press release signed by the "members of the jury of the public inquest" said that 40 persons, most of them eyewitnesses, had deposed on the first day of the inquest, August 19. Many witnesses were women. They alleged that they were "beaten and chased i nto the river by the police and even stripped naked at the police station".

Vasanthi Devi told Frontline that there was a big response from the affected people, particularly women, at the public inquest. The organisers had invited officials to present their case on August 20, but no one turned up. Some local people who de posed on the second day said that processions organised by the Puthiya Tamizhagam usually turned violent. Some of them mentioned that women constables were teased by a section of the processionists. There was, however, no mention of such teasing in the p ress reports or in the first information reports (FIRs) filed by the police. Vasanthi Devi said: "What happened in Tirunelveli on July 23 was a heart-rending incident and a gruesome evidence of what is going on in our society."

THE PUCL team, led by its president Sudha Ramalingam, an advocate, visited Tirunelveli on August 8 and 9 and interviewed 18 eyewitnesses and 15 persons, including relatives of those killed in the incident. V. Palani, secretary of the Tirunelveli district committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who was injured in the incident; District Collector K. Dhanavel; Commissioner of Police T.K. Rajendran; and legislators K. Krishnaswamy (Puthiya Tamizhagam) and Appavu (Tamil Maanila Congress) were am ong those interviewed.

The team observed that a common aspect of all the versions it heard was the idea that the problem was localised and could have been solved by "mature and balanced handling" by the police. "Even assuming that a section of the processionists indulged in so me unwarranted activities which provoked the police to take some action, the large-scale lathi-charge, stone-throwing and chasing of people down the ramp wall of the road and up to and into the river cannot be justified," the team said.

The very fact that all the deaths occurred in the Thamiraparani river more than 100 metres away from the place where the procession was stopped, the team said, "clearly establishes that the police did not stop with dispersing the crowd".

Disagreeing with the official view that the deaths were only due to drowning, the team noted that at least two of the victims, A. Syed Abdul Rahman, 24, and Shah Nawaz, 20, were good swimmers. The only logical explanation for their death, the team said, was that they received head injuries at the hands of the police even after they jumped into the river. The team observed that stone-throwing by the police, "a wholly irresponsible behaviour", aggravated the situation.

The team made a pointed reference to the absence of the City Police Commissioner at the scene, although the administration had anticipated a large turnout and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly S. Balakrishnan was leading the procession, with some other legislators.

The team said that the Deputy Commissioner of Police was the senior-most police official at the scene. "It is very clear that the lathi-charge and the stone-throwing by the police personnel started even as the Deputy Commissioner was talking to the leade rs. According to him, he even physically prevented some of the constables who were close to him from beating up the people. Thus the absence of another senior officer on the spot is one of the major reasons for the incident," the team observed.

The team said that the lathi-charge had not been ordered by the senior-most police official present. "It is very clear that the police contingents present took the law into their own hands and were totally uncontrollable. Very clearly, the police did not behave like a disciplined force." The team dismissed the police version that their action was to protect the honour of the policewomen who were allegedly teased by some processionists.

The team said: "Since the offenders in this case are the police themselves, the investigation and the laying of charge-sheet against these personnel should be done by a Special Investigation Team constituted under Section 37 of the Protection of Human Ri ghts Act, 1993."

A SEVEN-MEMBER team of the Tamil Nadu unit of the AIDWA, led by its working president, Mythily Sivaraman, visited Tirunelveli on August 3 and 4 and met several persons, including members of the families of some victims. The AIDWA report said: "Unless the Collector and the DIG are transferred, an impartial inquiry into the police action is impossible." Citing the fact that the shops on the procession route had remained open, it said that the entire procession was peaceful.

Refuting the official version that the processionists triggered the violence by throwing stones at the police, the team observed that the women witnesses had told the team that there were heaps of stones inside the Collectorate and that the first stone c ame from policemen inside the Collectorate compound, even as the leaders of the procession pleaded with police officials to clear the way for their entry into the premises.

The team said that the only escape route was the river. It added that on being kicked by policemen, women rolled down into the riverbed through thorny bushes, and, hit on the heads, many fell into the river unconscious. The report alleged that the police snatched Vignesh, the 18-month-old son of Rathina Mary, and threw him into the river. The mother was chased and beaten. Both the child and the mother died.

The report said that policewomen stripped and humiliated a few women who swam to safety but were taken to the police station. Some women started bleeding after they were kicked in the abdomen. One woman lost three of her front teeth. The team said that t he injured victims, who were admitted in the Government Hospital, were ridiculed and chided by the staff and they received scant attention. The AIDWA team also demanded a second post-mortem of the bodies.

DESCRIBING the police action as "an unprecedented brutal attack on an unarmed, innocent people", the WTF team led by A. Marx, which visited Tirunelveli on August 15 and 16, criticised the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government's hard line towards Dal it processions. A substantial number of the Manjolai tea estate workers, who participated in the procession, were Dalits. Noting that the police had indulged in violence even after an official had ordered them not to attack the processionists, the team e xpressed concern over the growing indiscipline in police ranks.

Another victim in Orissa

The hate campaign against minorities in Orissa leads to one more killing, the victim this time being a Christian priest.

THE sustained hate campaign against Christians in Orissa has assumed diabolic proportions with the killing of a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Arul Doss, by a mob of non-Christian fanatics at Jamabani, a remote village in Mayurbhanj district, on the night of September 1. This is the third such incident involving minorities in the State this year: Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons were burnt to death at Manoharpur on the night of January 22, and a Muslim trader, Sheikh Rehman, was killed at Padiabeda village in Mayurbhanj district on August 26. Fr. Arul Doss died in a mob attack on him and other Christians who were participating in festivities after a prayer meeting. (Jamabani is not far from the spot where Graham Staines and his sons were killed.)

The 35-year-old Fr. Doss, a native of Tamil Nadu, had been the priest of the Anandapur Roman Catholic church in Mayurbhanj district for the past five years. He had been visiting villages in the area since August 31.

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Fr. Doss arrived at Jamabani on September 1 along with two other church workers, Darsan Birua and Kate Singh Khuntia, and organised a prayer meeting there the next day. According to some reports, they were watching a cultural programme after a prayer mee ting when a group of 10 to 15 persons, who were armed with lathis, bows and arrows, attacked them. As the participants in the celebrations, including Fr. Doss, tried to escape, the attackers reportedly pierced his body with arrows. The attackers set fire to local church before leaving. Khuntia is in a critical condition.

Fr. Jose Thundiyil, a fellow priest, said that Fr. Doss used to make weekly visits to Jamabani. The journey involved a 32-km scooter ride followed by a 19-km trek. "He had been in our diocese for five years, and he was a very good missionary," Fr. Thundi yil said. "He led a simple life. He wanted to be with the poor all the time. He was not interested in conversions. He was keen on organising the poor people and educating them about their rights so that they could lead better lives," he added.

Condemning the killing, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee urged the Orissa Government to arrest immediately the perpetrators of the "heinous crime" and of previous such incidents, irrespective of their political or other forms of affiliation. "It is ex tremely distressing that such murderous attacks on representatives of the minority community should be taking place unchecked and with alarming regularity in Orissa," he said.

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Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang blamed "non-secular forces" for the killing. The incident occurred in the "area of operation" of Dara Singh, who is wanted in connection with the murder of Graham Staines and his sons and of Sheikh Rehman. "Any killi ng on the eve of the elections can only be the handiwork of non-secular forces, aimed at creating confusion in the minds of voters," Gamang said.

On September 3, Opposition parties organised a Statewide bandh, calling for the Chief Minister's resignation in the light of the latest act of violence against members of minority communities.

The killing of Fr. Doss came barely a week after Dara Singh, the prime accused in the Staines murder case, allegedly killed Sheikh Rehman in Padiabeda. Dara Singh and his men allegedly chopped off Rehman's hands at a crowded market before burning him to death. The ghastly attack came as a shock to the State police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who have been searching for Dara Singh for months. One of Sheikh Rehman's neighbours, Madina Bibi, alleged that Dara Singh had announced his inte ntions in advance. Padiabeda's 20-odd Muslim families, who are terrorised, made similar allegations. They said that Dara Singh had been visiting the area and that he had been spotted at the weekly markets. They wondered why the CBI and the State police h ad not arrested him. They alleged that Dara Singh had a history of attacking Muslim traders, especially cattle dealers.

The State Government was non-committal on whether Dara Singh was involved in the killing of Fr. Doss. "We will neither confirm nor deny it," State Home Secretary Ajit Tripathy said. However, police sources in Mayurbhanj said that the Jamabani attack had the hallmarks of Dara Singh's modus operandi; for instance, the way in which the victims were attacked and churches burnt. They said that Dara Singh's involvement could not be ruled out as the four organised attacks on Christians and Muslims that had taken place over the past eight months in the villages of Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts in north Orissa had occurred within 30 km from Thakurmunda, which is believed to be his stronghold. Dara Singh, an alleged religious fanatic, is believed to b e a Bajrang Dal activist who is on a "mission to take out the minorities". He carries a reward of Rs.5 lakhs on his head.

The Wadhwa Commission which inquired into the Staines murder case has stated in its report that Dara Singh did not act at the behest of any political organisation. This observation has, however, been rejected by many people who say that evidence indicate s otherwise.

The National Council of Churches in India and associated Christian missions have called for a fresh inquiry into the Sangh Parivar's alleged links with Dara Singh. The NCCI president, K. Rajaratnam, and the India Missions Association's vice-chairman, Ebe Sunder Raj, said that the continued killings of members of minority communities necessitated a fresh probe with wider terms of reference that would implicate the abettors of the crime. They said that the Wadhwa Commission report was full of contradictio ns as an overwhelming number of affidavits and documents that were placed before the Commission pointed to Dara Singh's links with the Bajrang Dal/Bharatiya Janata Party/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They alleged that statements made by various Sangh Pari var leaders, which appeared indirectly to justify the killing, were further pointers to the involvement of the Bajrang Dal.

The CBI, which has identified Dara Singh as the prime suspect in the Staines case, is yet to track him down; he is believed to be operating from a dense forest in tribal-dominated north Orissa. The CBI has filed a charge-sheet against 18 accused in the S taines murder case. The charge-sheet, filed at the Designated Court of Justice E. Vasudev Rao in Bhubaneswar, sought permission to conduct further investigations and issue warrants against the absconders. Altogether, 46 persons are believed to have been involved in the killing: nine have been arrested; nine, including Dara Singh, have been mentioned as absconders; the others are yet to be identified. The CBI is reported to have conducted nearly 500 raids to arrest Dara Singh. Police sources conceded tha t the State Government had "washed its hands of" the Staines murder case by handing it over to the CBI in March. The number of raids conducted by the State police on Dara Singh's suspected hideouts in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts came down drastical ly. Dara Singh's decision to lie low for six months after the murder of Graham Staines misled the police into believing that he was "cornered" and that he may have taken refuge in Uttar Pradesh, his home State. "Just when we thought he was gone, he came out of nowhere and struck again," one official said.

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Officials of the CBI said that Dara Singh had become a prominent figure in the area bordering Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts. His name entered the police records after he launched a series of attacks on Muslim cattle traders in the area. It has been a lleged that villagers with whom Dara Singh shared his loot, harbour him.

Evidence collected by the CBI so far reveals that Dara Singh instigated his supporters by saying that Christian missionaries spent a lot of money trying to "convert poor tribal brothers and sisters". According to investigating officers, Dara Singh is bot h respected and feared by the local people. The CBI has decided to start booking cases against those who have been harbouring him.

Pioneer of Indian rocketry

Dr. S. Srinivasan, 1941 - 1999.

DR. S.SRINIVASAN, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, who died on September 1, was the pioneer of rocketry in India. He was the architect of the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Rohini sounding rockets, the Satel lite Launch Vehicle, SLV-3, the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), and was looking forward to the lift-off of the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from Sriharikota next year. He was fully involved with the GSLV, which entails the application of the frontier technology using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. He was an expert in launch vehicle technology. Srinivasan was 58 and is survived by his wife, a daughter and a son.

Dr. Srinivasan was admitted to a hospital in Chennai on August 29 and underwent emergency heart surgery. He had undergone bypass surgery a decade ago. Hundreds of his colleagues from the VSSC and SHAR paid their respects to him in Chennai.

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ISRO chairman Dr. K. Kasturirangan, who attended the funeral, told Frontline: "Dr. Srinivasan was an exceptional scientist. He was the pioneer of rocketry in India. He was the architect of Indian rocketry in more than one sense because in the desi gn, configuration and implementation of a launch vehicle project - in all aspects - he was outstanding. He grew with ISRO, evolved with ISRO and gave the pride of place to ISRO in the comity of space-faring nations."

According to fellow-scientists and engineers, he was a visionary, working on the dream project of a technology demonstrator for a re-usable launch vehicle which would reduce the cost of access to space.

D. Narayana Moorthi, Programme Director, Launch Vehicle Programme Office, ISRO Headquarters, Bangalore, said that Dr. Srinivasan was wedded to technology. Moorthi said: "He was a technologist and a project manager, both moulded together."

BORN on April 14, 1941 in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, Srinivasan took his B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering with honours from Annamalai University and M.E. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He received h is doctorate in Engineering Mechanics from Ohio State University, the U.S.

Srinivasan worked for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore as an aeronautical engineer. He joined ISRO in 1970. He was first involved in the development of hardware for the Rohini rockets, and from 1973 started working on the SLV. When A.P.J. A bdul Kalam, now Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, was the Project Director of SLV-3 in 1980, Dr. Srinivasan was the Deputy Project Director. They formed a great team and the launch of SLV-3 in 1980 from SHAR was hugely successful; it deployed a 35-kg Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit. Then followed a series of SLV-3 flights. According to Rajaram Nagappa, Associate Director, VSSC, Dr. Srinivasan was instrumental in the design and development, qualification and realisation of the flight stage s of the SLV-3.

Dr. Srinivasan was the Project Director of the PSLV in its formative stages. He became the Programme Director of the Integrated Launch Vehicle Programme in 1988 and contributed to the planning of the follow-on PSLVs, GSLVs and advanced vehicles. He was D irector, SHAR, for a brief period, after which he became Director, VSSC, in 1994.

Nagappa said that after the first two ASLV flights failed, Dr. Srinivasan provided a re-configuration to the vehicle by adding fins and other features, giving controllability to the vehicle. The next two ASLV flights were successful.

Narayana Moorthi said that Dr. Srinivasan was responsible for the evolution of the PSLV from the drawing stage to its commercial launch on May 26, 1999 when it lifted three satellites - Indian Remote-Sensing Satellite (IRS), a German satellite and a Sout h Korean spacecraft. According to Nagappa, even as Dr. Srinivasan gave shape to the PSLV's configuration, design and development, he simultaneously conceived, planned and established the facilities needed for the project. These included vehicle integrati on and checkout facilities at Valiamala and Thumba, Kerala, and at SHAR, Andhra Pradesh.

A characteristic trait of Dr. Srinivisan was that even as he was working on one project, he would scout around for future projects. He kept track of developments in space in other countries and decided what speciality ISRO should develop. Narayana Moorth i said, "He was thinking of a technology demonstrator for a re-usable launch vehicle."

In the assessment of G. Madhavan Nair, Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, ISRO, Dr. Srinivasan "was a master of vehicle technology. Besides, he was one person who could cover any aspect in the field. PSLV was his dream baby."

R.V. Perumal, Project Director, GSLV, said: "He was a builder. He was a man of grand ideas, which were substantially met. He was a good man to a fault."

There was all round praise about the human side of Dr. Srinivasan too. S. Ramakrishnan, Project Director, PSLV, said: "He was a positive person. He was a good leader."

A different view of Kargil

While the Kargil issue is highlighted by politicians on both sides of the border, the average Pakistani thinks that it was merely part of the machinations by politicians to keep their own business going.

PAKISTAN'S Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz calls it an "over-reaction on India's part"; a retired Pakistani bureaucrat and a former consultant with the United Nations, Ghulam Khibria, calls it a "blunder on Pakistan's part"; a Karachi-based business executive, Akhtar K. Alavi, terms it an "election stunt". But the average citizen of Pakistan feels that the Kargil intrusion and India's response to it were something both the countries have been witnessing for years. My taxi driver in Islamabad said:"Logo ko bewakoof banane ki baat hai (The people on both sides are being taken for a ride). Neither your politicians nor ours, neither your army nor ours, is interested in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem. Unki tau dukan hi bandh ho jayegi (It will put an end to their business)." .

The Foreign Minister denies that Kargil was a "planned operation" by Pakistan. His version is that following "some very aggressive patrolling by Indian troops along the empty space last October-November", the Pakistani troops moved closer to the Line of Control (LoC) to safeguard it. Taking advantage of this situation "the freedom fighters moved in and took up some positions". The LoC is never a quiet place, with firing taking place much of the time, but complaints from either side are normally sorted out.

This time too it would have been the same case but India suddenly "mobilised 50,000 troops, 70 to 80 planes, 20 gunships and large pieces of artillery to displace 500 people. It was plainly an over-reaction," Aziz said.

Even though Kargil has taken Indo-Pakistan relations to an all-time low, Aziz feels that some good might come out of it in the long run. Aziz added:"On both sides there is a realisation that we cannot go on. Look at the fragility and bitterness of our relationship. We shoot down a plane for no reason and tensions again go high. How can two such large countries, both nuclear powers, live in such tension and uncertainty? The relationship has to improve and it cannot improve unless we have negotiations and deal with Kashmir, which is a reality."

As usual there are diverse voices commenting on Indo-Pakistan relations. But one thing that strikes a visitor in Pakistan is the people's incredulity about the "mass hysteria whipped up by the Indian media" over Kargil. A senior diplomat in Pakistan's Foreign Office whom this correspondent met, said: "We were amazed to see the manner in which the Kargil issue was blown out of proportion in your media, especially the electronic media."

Alleging that the Indian media seemed to have no space or time for anything other than "Pakistan-bashing all the time", he said: "To be honest with you, people in Pakistan started looking at Kargil only on June 21 after Pakistan had lost the World Cup (of cricket)." Certain that the "Hindutva government of India had influenced the media to write like that", he accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of creating "a new generation of enemies on either side of the border. We feel the whole hysteria is election-linked and it seems to have paid off too. We hear that pre-election surveys predict a comfortable victory for the BJP and its allies."

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Conveying the same sentiment in softer tones, senior columnist Anees Jillani said: "Kargil was not looked upon as a war in Pakistan at all. It was only the Indian media which converted it into a war."

WHEN one tries to explain that not only the Government of India but also the people feel betrayed by Pakistan responding with Kargil to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's outstretched hand of friendship in Lahore, the response is mixed.

Akhtar K. Alavi, the general manager of Adamjee Insurance, Pakistan's largest insurance conglomerate, strikes a hawkish note when he declares grandly: "We gave you a bloody nose in Kargil; that is why it rankles." After we had taken the argument back and forth for a little while about who really got a bloody nose in the end and who was forced to withdraw, he made a point, which set one thinking.

His argument is that every time Pakistan enters into a squabble with India and its politicians are forced to accept a solution, such as the withdrawal in Kargil, facilitated by the intervention of the United States, there is a backlash from the fundamentalist lobbies in Pakistan. "Such things breed fundamentalism, extremism and fanaticism. And you can see it all around you. You are a woman and a journalist who has been travelling in Pakistan. You must have seen it... women all wrapped up in hijab (veil). I am not saying there is anything wrong in it, but more than the manner of dressing, it is manifested in people's thinking and behaviour."

Maintaining that Islam had become the "new global enemy", particularly for the West which found it a convenient whipping boy after the collapse of communism, Alavi added: "If they keep hammering all the time 'Musalman ko marenge' (we'll kill the Muslim) then he will become a reactionary. Those in Pakistan who are educated, liberal and open-minded are now being pushed and put on the defensive."

One thing is certain. Every time there is... call it war, call it battle or call it skirmish... with India, voices in favour of better Indo-Pakistan ties, economic, cultural and political, tend to get silent. President of the Sindh Industrial Trade Estate, Majyd Aziz, a votary of speedy improvement in Indo-Pakistan trade relations, admitted that events such as Kargil compelled people like him to "keep a low profile".

Maintaining that every Pakistani who rented out video cassette of a Hindi movie did a Rs.10 business with India, he said: "Kargil or no Kargil, traders from both sides find a way for trading. But the role of facilitation, which can be provided by both sides, gets pushed back by a Kargil. A lot of goods go through Dubai from both sides; I would call this official smuggling which denies both governments revenue."

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Aziz was scheduled to lead a 70-member delegation of industrialists from Pakistan to India in the last week of April 1999, under the auspices of the Federation of Indian Exporters Organisation (FIEO). But the fall of the Vajpayee government meant a postponement of the programme and the developments in Kargil put a quick end to it. Businessmen like him who see a huge market in India and potential for collaboration, especially in areas such as Information Technology, are waiting for a new government to take over in New Delhi before meaningful Indo-Pakistan trade relations can resume and the much-talked about touted Indo-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce really takes off.

A Karachi-based businessman who visited Delhi in August - and was a regular invitee to Delhi's golf club during his stay in the capital - was amazed at the warmth and hospitality he got from businessmen in Delhi. "At the Delhi Customs I was made to wait unnecessarily for five minutes and I was truly amazed when the officer came and profusely apologised to me. I have decided never to come to India via Mumbai because Mumbai Customs people are always hostile to Pakistani passport holders," he said.

BESET with problems, not the least the economic crisis and the heavy foreign-debt, the Nawaz Sharif Government, despite its brute majority in the National Assembly, finds itself on the defensive as the opposition parties are getting organised against his ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

The Kashmir bogey has become extremely useful to successive governments in Pakistan which wanted to divert attention from domestic problems. The post-Kargil situation is no different. The line that the Pakistan government has tried hard to sell to the people is that Kargil was after all a result of the aspiration of the mujahideen, or the "freedom fighters of Kashmir", to get "justice for their Muslim brethren in the valley".

Of late the Government has taken a lot of flak from human rights and gender rights activists within and outside the country for allowing a barbaric concept like 'honour killings' to thrive. The essence of this concept is that if a woman in your family has compromised the family's 'honour' by either entering into a marriage of her choice or seeking/getting a divorce, or worse, by getting raped, you can kill her and even the courts will wink at the crime, as 'family honour' is involved. Such killings are prevalent more in the tribal areas but the sanction and support they get sometimes from even the urban elite is surprising.

On the overall gender or human rights front too, Pakistan does not have good record. In this background, it is with a lot of glee that Pakistan holds up the mirror unto India when it comes to violation of human rights in the valley. Forever challenging India to a plebiscite in Kashmir, the average Pakistani asks: If the people of Kashmir really want to stay with India, why do you need such a massive concentration of troops in the valley to "control the Kashmiri Muslims"? Or, if Pakistan is really fomenting terrorism in Kashmir, as India claims, how come it is able to succeed only in Kashmir, and not Rajasthan?

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GHULAM KHIBRIA is a strident critic of all Pakistani regimes and has written books in which he argues that the country has been destroyed by its "privileged classes". It is with a lot of bitterness that he talks about those "like Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah taking both India and Pakistan to the brink of disaster".

He bursts into tears as he says in a choked voice: "We should have been far, far ahead. Ahead of China, with the best among the developed nations of the world."

Attacking Nawaz Sharif as an "elected dictator" and accusing Vajpayee of "exploiting Kargil for electoral gains", he says that Pakistan committed a blunder in Kargil. "Because it is an amateur government they did the whole thing like amateurs. In Kargil they shouldn't have sent their own people. When there is guerilla warfare you shoot the enemy and run back. You went there and you were strangled. That was a bad military strategy."

Coming down heavily on the Sharif government for first being 'stupid' and then indulging in 'double talk', he wondered how any mature government, after saying our army is not involved, "honour its defence people over PTV for their involvement in Kargil? This shows they have no political foresight at all".

SURPRISINGLY enough, one found a lot of faith in Vajpayee in both Islamabad and Karachi. The Sangh Parivar would be stunned to know that many Pakistanis are praying for the return of a BJP government in India as they feel that a "Hindutva Prime Minister" will have better credentials back home to solve the Kashmir issue rather than a Congress Prime Minister who is bound to be slammed for "selling the country to Pakistan", in case of any deal over Kashmir.

However, Khibria has little faith in Vajpayee. "It will be very good if he displays any maturity. But even if he is mature, he is surrounded by very stupid people, just like Sharif. I was very happy when the Lahore Declaration was signed. But either directly or under some pressure, Sharif succumbed later."

While Khibria feels that Pakistan has all the right in the world to "go and assist the Kashmiri people fight for freedom if they don't want to stay with India", he is all for an early solution to the Kashmir issue. "Can't both India and Pakistan - one is 50 per cent illiterate and the second 90 per cent illiterate - realise how much of the taxpayer's money they are spending on defence?"

According to him, a workable solution on Kashmir would be to decide through dialogue that "Azad Kashmir in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir in India will be independent. Let them both form a confederation with both India and Pakistan looking after their foreign affairs and defence."

Battle for survival

The future of the Nationalist Congress Party hinges crucially on its electoral performance this time in Maharashtra, the home State of its leader Sharad Pawar.

FOR the first time in democratic India, all the major political parties have begun to acknowledge the inevitability of coalition governance at the Centre. It is this factor that gives some hope to the newly formed Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The pa rty's survival is by and large linked to its showing in Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha elections. Sharad Pawar, its leader and former Union Defence Minister is playing a high stakes political game.

Of Maharashtra's 48 Lok Sabha seats, the NCP will contest 39 and support the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) in one. It has offered eight seats to its partners in alliance collectively called the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF), who include the two f actions of the Republican Party of India (RPI), the Janata Dal (U), the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and Sharad Joshi's Swatantra Bharat Party.

Pawar is a shrewd politician, but this time he faces serious disadvantages. First, he lacks the organisational infrastructure of his rivals. Second, in order to build his party he had to attract influential Congressmen, but very little time was available for him to do this - hardly two months, between the formation of the NCP and the beginning of the election campaigns. And third, compared to its opponents in the State, the NCP is strapped for cash.

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Despite these shortcomings, Pawar asserts that he will win a majority of seats in the State. Relying on his 32 years' experience in public life, vast rural support base and tremendous grasp of issues pertaining to the State, Pawar hopes to capitalise on the voters' disillusionment with the four-and-a-half-year-old Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party rule, marked by scandals and corruption charges.

The saffron combine relies largely on the division of votes between the Congress(I) and the NCP. It also hopes to cash in on Prime Minsier Atal Behari Vajpayee's public meetings in the State. As a BJP source admits, "Atalji's public meetings here are ver y important to us."

Both the NCP and the Shiv Sena-BJP do not consider the Congress(I) a formidable opponent because of its weak local leadership. A source in the NCP said: "In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra, 44 per cent of the vote went to the Congress(I). Aft er splitting away from the Congress, we expect to get at least 22 per cent of that share. The Shiv Sena-BJP had 42 per cent of the vote at that time. This time the NCP will take away about 15 per cent of that vote. Plus we will get 4 per cent of the vote through the RPI. Our tally thus comes to 41 per cent. The coalition government's tally drops to 35 per cent." Thus the fight in Maharashtra is between the Shiv Sena-BJP and the NCP and its allies, the NCP leader argues.

Pawar's power in the State was amply demonstrated in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress(I) and its allies won 37 of the 48 seats, compared to the 15 seats it had won in 1996.

Pawar himself attributes the 1998 victory to "the hatred that the people had developed for the Shiv Sena and BJP" as well as to the popular acceptance of the alliance between the Congress(I), the RPI and the S.P.

Immediately after forming the NCP, Pawar set about roping in Congress(I) members. Fifteen MPs (14 from the Congress(I) and one from the RPI) of the dissolved Lok Sabha joined Pawar right away. This gave the NCP an edge.

Maharashtra has six district regions - western Maharashtra, north Maharashtra, Marathwada, Vidarbha, Konkan and Mumbai. The highest number of Lok Sabha seats, 12, are in western Maharashtra, which has the rich and powerful sugar cooperatives that have tr aditionally supported the Congress. In fact, this is the only region where the NCP is engaged in a clear tug-of-war with the Congress(I). In an effort to consolidate his party's position, Pawar won over four of the 11 Congress(I) MPs from here. In the co nstituencies of the remaining seven, including Baramati which is Pawar's constituency, the NCP has a strong winning chance, except perhaps in Karad.

North Maharashtra has six Lok Sabha seats, of which the Congress(I) won five last time. The region has three reserved constituencies. Two Congress(I) MPs form this region joined Pawar's party. While Dhule, Nasik and Malegaon (where the Janata Dal (U) has a strong candidate) are safe constituencies for the NCP, the party will face a tough fight in Nandurbar, Jalgaon and Erandol where the fight is between the BJP and the Congress(I).

Marathwada has eight Lok Sabha seats, of which the Congress(I) won six and the BJP two in the last elections. Pawar won over the Congress(I) MPs from Hingoli and Parbhani. The NCP appears to be strong in Beed and Jalna, where the BJP member in the dissol ved Lok Sabha, who has not been renominated, is believed to be working against the party candidate. The NCP appears to be weak in Nanded, Aurangabad, Latur and Osmanabad. The Latur seat has consistently gone to the Congress candidate and former Speaker o f the Lok Sabha Shivraj Patil. His devoted following is referred to as MaMuLi, an acronym for "Marwaris, Muslims and Lingayats".

Marathwada is crucial to Pawar. With its large Dalit and tribal populations, the region has been a centre of social turmoil for decades. In 1996, the Congress(I) lost almost all of Marathwada but regained most of the region in 1998. The Shiv Sena, which had grabbed four seats in 1996, is unlikely to repeat that perfomance. Pawar claims that Shiv Sena "shakhas are being closed and their boys are joining the NCP. They are very disillusioned." The Renapur Assembly constituency in Beed district has evoked s pecial interest since Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde of the BJP is in the fray here. Munde has a large following among his Vanjara tribe but alleged acts of high-handedness by the members of his family during Shiv Sena-BJP rule could work in favour of the NCP candidate, Radhakrishna Patil, who was a member of the last Lok Sabha.

On September 4, Munde's brother Pandit Anna Pandurang Munde was stabbed by a group of 50 men allegedly belonging to the Congress(I) and the NCP. His attackers alleged that Munde's brother, while campaigning, had been announcing to the crowds that the loc al NCP and Congress(I) candidates had withdrawn their candidature.

While touring Beed, Pawar was greeted by ecstatic party workers who assured him that Munde's chances were damaged by his brother's behaviour. Party workers said that Munde was "so worried about his chances here that he is not leaving his constituency". M unde got Vajpayee and Pramod Mahajan to address public meetings in Renapur. While Vajpayee addressed one meeting, Mahajan addressed some half a dozen. Former BJP MLA Vimal Mundada has shifted to the NCP. Mundada had for long complained of being sidelined by Munde.

Vidarbha, which has 11 Lok Sabha seats, has had a record of being politically volatile. In 1998 the Congress(I) won all the seats here; whereas its 1996 tally was just two. The 1998 victory was largely because of the alliance with the RPI. This time the RPI is fractured; two factions are with the Congress(I) and two with the NCP. Pawar has achieved some success here by winning over the Congress(I) members of the last Lok Sabha from Bhandara and Wardha. The Congress(I)'s morale, however, received a boost because of the alliance with the Prakash Ambedkar and R.S. Gavai factions of the RPI. Ambedkar's group is strong in Akola, Washim and Mumbai, while Gavai is strong in Amravati. The RPI faction led by Ramdas Athavale, which is an NCP ally, has support al l over Maharashtra. While it is difficult to be specific about Athavale's areas of influence, the merger of the Khobragade faction with the Athavale faction has improved the prospects of Pawar's alliance in Marathwada and Vidarbha.

There has been considerable shuffling of seats between parties and candidates in Vidarbha. The Congress(I) member in the dissolved Lok Sabha from Bhandara Praful Patel, contests on the NCP ticket this time from Chimur, where he is pitted against Joginder Kavade of the RPI faction that has allied itself with the Congress(I). Kavade represented Chimur in the previous Lok Sabha. The Congress(I) has put up Dr. Shrikant Jhichkar against the NCP's Jagdish Nimbathe in Bhandara. The relatively unknown Nimbathe is expected to benefit from Praful Patel's campaigning. In Washim, former Chief Minister Sudhakkarrao Naik, who has joined the NCP, will campaign for the NCP candidate, Javed Khan. The NCP is expected to win a big chunk of Muslim vote as well as the Banj ara (Naik's community) vote. There is considerable uncertainty in the Ramtek constituency since all the candidates are new.

The NCP is strong in Yavatmal, where it has fielded former BJP MP Rajabhau Thakre. Thakre lost in 1998 to the Congress(I) by less than 60,000 votes.

The coastal Konkan region, which has five seats, is the chink in the Congress(I) armour. In 1998 the party got just one seat in the region. Pawar admits that the region has been neglected. In the Kulaba constituency, the PDF will support the Peasants and Workers Party candidate, Ramshet Thakur, who is expected to retain his seat. Janata Dal (S) stalwart Madhu Dandavate, who contests from Rajapur, the southern-most constituency in the State, faces Suresh Prabhu, Shiv Sena member in the last Lok Sabha.

Mumbai, a Shiv Sena bastion, has six seats. In 1996 the Congress(I) did not win any seats, but in 1998 it won three with the help of its allies. The NCP and its allies contest all seats in Mumbai.

Although Pawar has consistently ruled out any alliance with the BJP, it is believed that the BJP had considered a mutually beneficial alliance with the NCP in the State. Such an alliance would have benefited the BJP, which has lost considerable strength, especially in Mumbai, because of the strong-arm tactics and corrupt ways of the Shiv Sena.

'No support for Sonia or BJP'

cover-story

In the first 12 days of his election campaign in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), toured more than 200 villages and towns by helicopter. His speeches dealt with Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin or, as he punn ed in his speech, the videshi haath (foreign hand); the failure of the BJP-led government to detect the infiltration in Kargil early; the price rise; and the plight of farmers and Dalits under saffron rule in Maharashtra. Pawar's public meetings attracted only fair-sized crowds but this veteran of 32 year s of public life remained unfazed: "It's not the size but the response that matters". Pawar spoke to Lyla Bavadam about the NCP's prospects:

What is your assessment of the post-election prospects of the parties other than the Congress(I) and the BJP-led alliance?

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It is too early to say. But I can say that we are not going to associate with the BJP and we are not going to support or associate with Sonia Gandhi. One has to see if there is any other alternative.

Which un-aligned parties will be important at the national level after the elections?

Unless and until one knows about the strength, this has no meaning. For instance, in 1996 the Janata Dal had some 40 MPs. In 1998, the Janata Dal had six MPs. So the party might be important but ultimately its performance in the election is most importan t.

How would you rate the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP), for instance?

I don't think it will improve its position. In the last Parliament, it stood sixth or fifth in terms of numbers. It will be somewhere near that.

How will the BJP's alliance with the Telugu Desam party of N. Chandrababu Naidu work out in Andhra Pradesh?

There are two problems that the TDP will face if it is going to associate itself with the BJP. First, the State has a substantial population of minorities, especially in Telengana. Secondly, in the election process the People's War Group plays an importa nt role. These two sections will never support anybody who hobnobs with the BJP. So that might affect him. People say that the BJP has 16 per cent of the vote, and if that information is correct, then that 16 per cent can change the entire position.

Have you made any specific plans if the polls are indecisive? The NCP will be in great demand in a situation like that.

Let us see. Two things are clear. No Sonia. No BJP. We will be happy to sit in the Opposition.

Sonia Gandhi has often said that the interests of the country are dear to her. Will she agree not to take up the prime ministership in national interest?

If the people are not ready to accept (her), what can she do? If other parties are not ready to support... at least Mulayam Singh and I are clear that we will not support...

Do you think the Congress(I) will be willing to sacrifice Sonia Gandhi if the NCP helps it form the government?

The Congress will do anything. I know that a sizable section in the Congress does not want Sonia as Prime Minister.

Why did they not come with you?

They had no courage, and secondly anyone who is interested in entering Parliament has to see how they will be able to do so. I have to accept and admit one thing. I have not created that kind of strength in a number of States as yet where I will be able to bring someone into Parliament. My organisational set-up is not yet built up. It's only a few months since the NCP was started on June 10. It has not been possible for me to build up the party in different States and that is why people stay away. If th ey want to contest elections, they would prefer a safer party. A number of people have expressed their views, that they are not happy with Sonia Gandhi, that they are waiting for the appropriate time...

Have any Congress members in Maharashtra indicated that they will shift to the NCP if you prove stronger?

In Maharashtra there is a sharp division and a bitter fight.

Whom would you find acceptable in the Congress as a prime ministerial candidate?

Why should we disclose that at this juncture? First of all, why should we accept anyone from the Congress? Why should they not accept our candidate?

You wish to be Prime Minister?

I will not get 270 seats... Let us see what happens. If a person like Sonia Gandhi expects to be Prime Minister after 13 months of experience in public life... at least I have been getting elected continuously for 32 years.

In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra you were largely responsible for the Congress(I) doing much better than it did in 1996. Do you think you can work the same magic for the NCP?

We will get a majority in the State... 30 to 35 seats in the Lok Sabha. There is of course the problem of money. The Shiv Sena-BJP and the Congress have access to lots of money. We have no money but we've got the people. Our workers plead with us. They s ay, "Saheb, just hold one sabha". The people are determined to defeat the Sena-BJP. This factor and our alliance will get us victory.

Are you isolated in politics right now? You had earlier said that everyone was gunning for you. At public meetings leaders as diverse as Pramod Mahajan, Sonia Gandhi and Bal Thackeray have had something to say about you.

I'm not isolated. On the contrary, I seem to be in a good position if they are all talking about me.

Is the NCP isolated in terms of money power, organisational abilities?

Monetarily, yes. We are a very young party.

Which are the large interest groups interested in supporting the NCP?

The farming community, the middle class and Dalits.

Corporate support?

Not so much. I have a personal relationship with many corporate houses but we've been continuously asking them to help. The 1995 elections, then 1996, then 1998, now 1999... one feels ashamed even to ask.

Have you got any assistance this time from corporate houses?

By and large, no.

'Every alliance will undergo changes'

KALYAN CHAUDHURI cover-story

GENERAL SECRETARY of the Nationalist Congress Party, P.A. Sangma, believes that none of the major political formations - the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Congress(I) and its allies, or the NCP and its partners - will remain intact afte r the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections are known.

Speaking to Frontline in Calcutta, Sangma predicted a hung Parliament, a situation in which the NCP would play a crucial role. He said: "Every alliance will undergo changes after the elections. In the post-election scenario, all political parties will witness a realignment at the national level. A hung Parliament will follow a fractured mandate whereby the Sharad Pawar-led NCP will play a crucial role." Sangma ruled out any alliance between the NCP and the NDA.

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Sangma, a former Lok Sabha Speaker and once the most prominent Congress(I) leader from among the northeastern States, rejected the possibility of the NCP returning to the Congress(I) under Sonia Gandhi. He predicted a split in the Congress(I) after what he described would be its worst-ever drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections. This would lead to an intra-party revolt and there would be a demand for a change of leadership, he said, and added that such a change would help the Congress(I) mend fences with t he NCP. The BJP and the Congress(I) were fighting the polls on non-issues, he said. "One of them is busy projecting Vajpayee and the other Sonia Gandhi."

Following Sangma's appreciation of Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee for her "cautious role vis-a-vis the BJP-led NDA", there was speculation in West Bengal that the NCP might join forces with her. Sangma said that Mamata had kept her options open by not joining the NDA. Sangma appears to be not averse to closer ties with the Trinamul Congress if the NCP gets an opportunity to play a crucial role after the elections.

Anti-Congress, anti-BJP mood

cover-story

Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav has been on the campaign trail for the past one and a half months, mostly in Uttar Pradesh where his party contests 83 of the 85 Lok Sabha seats. He has also made trips to Maharashtra, Rajasthan , Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat where the S.P. has fielded candidates. When Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met him in Delhi for an interview, Mulayam Singh Yadav was upbeat, obviously undeterred by reports of erosion of the S.P.'s support base, especially am ong the minorities. Excerpts:

Whatever happened to your efforts to form a third front as an alternative to both the Congress(I) and the BJP?

We have forged an alliance in Maharashtra with the Nationalist Congress Party, the Republican Party of India (Athawale), the Peasants and Workers Party and the Janata Dal (Secular) led by Deve Gowda. In Uttar Pradesh too the NCP and the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP) led by former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar are with us. In Gujarat and Rajasthan we have an understanding with the NCP and other like-minded parties. In States where we do not have formal tie-ups because of seat allocation problems, forces opposed to the Congress(I) and the BJP are rallying around the most influential alternative in each constituency. This varies from State to State, sometimes from constituency to constituency.

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But such alliances seem too weak to make any real impact on the electoral outcome.

The fundamental problem with many of our non-Congress(I), non-BJP friends is that they have lost confidence in themselves. They have failed to read the anti-Congress(I), anti-BJP mood among dominant sections. I am sure they will realise the situation onc e the election results come out.

Many of them, including your former allies such as the CPI(M), see the BJP as the main enemy now.

That is their perception. The S.P. has its own perception of the national situation. As far as I am concerned there is no doubt that parties such as the CPI(M) have made a grievous error in assessing the situation. I am sure they will correct their mista ke in course of time.

But you had said earlier that the days of 'anti-Congressism' are over. That was one of the premises on which the S.P. and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) formed the Rashtriya Loktantrik Morcha.

At that time we wanted to oust the Vajpayee government and put an end to the Sangh Parivar's communal and fascist rule. We were ready to give the Congress(I), the largest Opposition party, an opportunity to lead this fight. However, the Congress(I) faile d miserably in fulfilling this responsibility. Instead, it competed with the BJP in asserting its commitment to Hindutva. Even the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution to underline this point. After all this, Congress(I) leaders are trying to b e votaries of protecting the minorities. They are trying to teach us the values of secularism. Nothing could be more ridiculous than this.

The general impression is that this time the fight is essentially between the Congress(I) and the BJP in a majority of States.

Some sections of the media do not tire of converting India into a bipolar political society. But India is too pluralistic socially and politically to submit totally to the fascist- communal agenda of the BJP or the dynastic rule of the Congress(I). Remem ber the 1991 elections? Then too the Third Front was written off and said to be non-existent. But in the round of polls held before the unfortunate assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, it was the Third Front parties that claimed the majority of seats.

Conditional allegiance

MAMATA BANERJEE, the founder of the Trinamul Congress, says she is happy with the performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government and expects it to return to power. She told Frontline that the Trinamul Congress wanted a "friend ly" government at the Centre which would honour the Bengal Package the Vajpayee government had announced, investigate economic "irregularities" committed by the Left Front Government in West Bengal and send Central teams to oversee the law and order situ ation in the State. She said: "The Trinamul will forge ties with whichever party is ready to fight the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The removal of the CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal is our ultimate aim. To fulfil this objective, the Trinamul will join the government at the Centre if it is headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee."

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Mamata Banerjee said that her party had declined to join the government in 1998 because it had sought the people's mandate only to provide external support to the government. In this election, she said, the party sought a mandate to join the government. Although the manifesto of the Trinamul Congress promises a stable government under Vajpayee's leadership, it does not seek to bring in legislation that will ensure a full term for a government, as suggested by other National Democratic Alliance (NDA) par tners.

She reiterated that the BJP was not "untouchable"; however, she pointed out that her party had not entered an alliance with it but had merely made seat adjustments."Some say that the BJP is a communal party that demolished the Babri Masjid. When the Elec tion Commission has recognised the party and the people have voted for it, how can it be untouchable? If the BJP is guilty of demolishing the Babri Masjid, so is the Congress, for at that time the Narashimha Rao Government was in power at the Centre. The Left parties cannot afford to call the BJP communal since in 1989 they had joined hands with it against the Congress," she said. She believes that the minorities are not worried about their security under a Vajpayee-led government because there were no communal riots during its 13-month tenure.

The manifesto of the Trinamul Congress has praised Vajpayee for the way in which he handled the BJP's alliance partners and ran the government. However, it is silent on Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, a key issue in the NDA campaign. Mamata Banerjee said: "To keep the issue out of our manifesto is our party's decision and one should not read too much into it. Our decision is final. Even in the event of a hung Parliament, Trinamul will not desert the BJP and join any other political formation that may req uire our support to form a government."

Coming closer to the BJP

THE Telugu Desam Party is going to the polls again with the Bharatiya Janata Party as an alliance partner after the gap of a decade. The two parties and the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) fought against the Congress(I ) in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections and in the 1985 and 1989 Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh.

After the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992, the TDP distanced itself from the BJP and moved closer to the Left parties. However, with the fall of two successive United Front governments, in the formation of which TDP leader and Chief Mi nister N. Chandrababu Naidu had played a key role, the TDP performed a somersault by extending "conditional and issue-based support" to the BJP-led coalition government that was formed after the 1998 elections. BJP leaders acknowledge his gesture with gr atitude. Critical of the TDP's stance, the Left parties parted ways with it.

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The Congress(I) and the Left parties condemned the TDP's volte-face as opportunistic and as damaging to the secular fabric of the nation. Chandrababu Naidu, however, explained that the collapse of the United Front had narrowed his choice to either the Congress(I) or the BJP. As the TDP was founded on an anti-Congress plank, he opted for the BJP. He believed that if the Congress(I) came to power at the Centre, it would queer the pitch for his government in Andhra Pradesh.

Leaders of the TDP claimed that by not joining the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government or the coordination panel of the BJP and its allies, their party had refused to dilute its commitment to secularism. For the same reason, they say, the TDP still does not want to join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), or a government it may form.

What then will be the TDP's role if the elections yield a hung Parliament? In the first place, TDP insiders discount the possibility of a hung Lok Sabha; they insist that Vajpayee will be re-elected Prime Minister with a bigger mandate. The TDP will cont inue to extend issue-based and conditional support to his Government without prejudice to its commitment to secularism and the welfare of minorities. According to party leaders, the close presence of a strong secular party, like the TDP would help checkm ate any BJP plans to revive the Hindutva agenda.

Chandrababu Naidu and Vajpayee, who shared platforms in Hyderabad, Bhimavaram and Bellary, heaped praise on each other.

Of promises and policies

The election manifestoes of the National Democratic Alliance and the Congress(I) are marked by a consensus on economic policy while the Left presents a distinctive agenda.

IN the rough-and-tumble of hectic election campaigns, attention to serious issues often takes a backseat. Yet, it is important that such issues come to the fore in public discussions. The election manifestoes of political parties, even allowing for the i nherent incentive for such documents to be self-serving, represent a partial attempt to meet this need. At any rate, they do provide material for meaningful public discussion. In this context, it would be interesting to examine what the manifestoes of th e three leading formations - the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Congress(I) and the Left parties - have to say.

The most striking visual feature of the NDA manifesto is the pervasive presence of Atal Behari Vajpayee. A little less than ten pages of text in print are accompanied by nine full page photographs featuring Vajpayee, not counting the ninth text page, hal f of which is occupied by a picture of Vajpayee addressing a meeting. Interestingly, the text of the manifesto does not mention the leading party of the NDA, the Bharatiya Janata Party, even once. It does refer to Vajpayee more than once, describing him, among other things, as "...a statesman who is accepted by all sections of the country" but makes no reference to his role as a leader of the BJP.

In terms of content, there are no big surprises. The manifesto predictably blames the Opposition parties, described as a "...negative coalition led by the Congress," for forcing fresh elections and claims credit for the clearing of Pakistani intruders fr om Kargil.

On economic policy, the NDA manifesto pledges to continue the reforms, control fiscal and revenue deficits and carry out "...comprehensive reforms of the public sector undertakings, including restructuring, rehabilitation and divestment". While stating t hat NDA's main thrust will be to eradicate unemployment, the manifesto does not put forward a credible strategy towards this end. On foreign direct investment (FDI), the manifesto claims that "...the country cannot do without FDI because besides capital stock it brings with it technology, new market practices and most importantly employment (emphasis added)." The manifesto seeks to reform the public distribution system (PDS) "...to serve the poorest of the poor", the implicit implication being th e exclusion of many currently benefiting from PDS.

Although the manifesto claims "consensus on a common cause and a common set of principles..." among its partners, the nuances in some of its formulations are suggestive of a certain tilt. Thus, it talks of: special efforts to be made in animal husbandry, "...particularly in respect of cow and its progeny"; "the establishment of a credible nuclear deterrence"; "genuine secularism" and "...the concept of secularism consistent with the Indian tradition..." However, by and large, the NDA manifesto is consis tent with the BJP's tactical decision to put its key Hindutva agenda on the backburner at least until after the elections.

An interesting aspect of the NDA manifesto is its stand on Centre-State relations. It states: "We are convinced that there is a clear case for devolution of more financial and administrative powers and functions to the States." This is one democratic con cession that the BJP has had to make to its regional allies. Cleverly, however, this concession is accompanied by an assertion that the NDA will "...take measures for ensuring a fixed term (five years) for all elected bodies including legislatures." This is a patently undemocratic stand.

THE Congress(I) manifesto is the longest and most elaborate. Shorn of verbiage, though, the manifesto is all-too-familiar. The neoliberal paradigm and the new economic policies unleashed by the Congress(I) in 1991 are defended. While the manifesto conced es that self-reliance has served India well, it seeks to give it what it calls "... a contemporary meaning" and what follows is an exercise in evasion. Self-reliance is, by simple assertion, made synonymous with eradication of poverty and unemployment th rough faster growth in agriculture and industry.

Like the NDA, the Congress(I) also calls for $10 billion of FDI a year. Despite a plethora of incentives, the total FDI from 1991-92 to 1998-99 is only around $10 billion or an average of $1.25 billion a year. The neoliberal paradigm that underlies both the NDA and Congress(I) manifestoes fails to recognise that FDI gravitates to an economy growing rapidly rather than to one that expects it to fuel such growth in the first instance.

The manifesto repeats the familiar and arbitrary figure of 4 per cent (or less) as the target for combined fiscal deficit of the Centre and the States. It states both that "tax reforms will be continued", and that "the tax-GDP ratio must be brought up to at least 18 per cent over the next five years". The contradiction between these two statements will be obvious if one recalls that the Congress-initiated tax reforms (pursued by the United Front and the BJP governments) have led to a significant decline in the tax-GDP ratio over the 1990s.

The Congress(I) manifesto repeats its claim to have ushered in genuine decentralisation in this country through constitutional initiatives, though this is far from accurate, and its own practice has been highly centralist and often in utter disregard of the rights of State governments. The manifesto continues the Congress(I) policy of playing off panchayati raj against the autonomy of States by declaring: "All Central funds for poverty alleviation and rural development will be credited directly to the f unds of elected panchayati raj institutions." The Congress(I)'s concern for panchayati raj is somewhat difficult to square with its own record in respect of holding elections to local bodies in the States where it had been in power, but perhaps the Madhy a Pradesh experiment may have convinced sections of the Congress(I) leadership of the political benefits of commitment to a degree of democratic local governance.

The Congress(I) manifesto strains one's credulity when it states: "The Congress will continue to lay great stress on land reforms..." In a reference that must have caused the Congress(I) considerable agony, the manifesto actually talks of "...registratio n of all tenancies through Operation Barga type campaigns..." (Operation Barga was the West Bengal Government's pioneering programme for the registration of share-croppers.)

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In what seems to be a case of promising everybody everything, the Congress(I) manifesto states: "The terms of trade will always be kept in favour of agriculture." In an interesting and rather far-reaching proposal, it says: "Organisations that supply inp uts to farmers will be converted into farmer managed and controlled organisations." What this implies is not made clear, but the proposal would not at all be easy to implement.

One area where the manifesto comes close to making a progressive commitment pertains to education. It states: "Over a period of time, we must move towards making primary and secondary education compulsory as well." However, it stops well short of making a time-bound commitment to honour, at least belatedly, the promise of free and compulsory education for all children in the 6-14 age group.

In an evident attempt to rewrite history, the Congress(I) which instigated, along with the Sangh Parivar, violent opposition to V.P. Singh's attempts to implement the Mandal Commission report, now declares in its manifesto: "It was the Congress that buil t the consensus over the Mandal Commission report."

While the NDA and Congress(I) manifestoes thus have little to set them apart with respect to economic policies, the Congress(I) makes a rather more categorical statement on secularism. It states that "...secularism can only mean... the clear separation o f politics from... religion. Religion is a private matter for individuals. Politics is all about activities in the public arena." And further: "Religion cannot be used as an instrument of mobilisation... The Congress vehemently rejects the use of religio n for political ends." One can only hope that the Congress(I) will, unlike in the past, be consistent in its stand on secularism.

Finally, it must be noted that the Congress(I) is dismissive of regional parties ("Regional parties are born and fade away") and poses before the people the choice between "... a coalition that has failed miserably and a cohesive Congress alternative." T his last assertion has since been somewhat tampered by a more sober assessment of political ground realities.

THE election manifesto of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in two parts. The first part provides a detailed critique of 13 months of the BJP-led coalition rule, rejects the notion that the Congress(I) can be an alternative to the BJP, draws atte ntion to the record of the Left, and finally calls upon the electorate to defeat the BJP and its allies, strengthen the CPI(M) and the Left and support the Left, democratic and secular forces. The second part puts forward the CPI(M)'s positive programme of action.

The CPI manifesto is similar in structure to that of the CPI(M). Both the Left parties draw attention to what they regard as the major failures of the BJP-led Government:

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* failure to protect religious minorities from attacks by various constituents of the 'Sangh Parivar'.

* nuclear adventurism, now tending to capitulationism on such issues as the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), attitude to the aggressive actions of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in various parts of the wo rld and so on.

* sell-out to the transnational corporations and an even more vigorous pursuit of neoliberal economic policies including a wholesale attack on the public sector.

* authoritarian actions, including the ultimately unsuccessful invoking of Article 356.

* compromising national security, by its complacent attitude post-Pokhran and "Lahore" euphoria.

* record of corruption, capped by the telecom scam.

The manifestoes of the Left parties reject the Congress(I) as the alternative. The CPI(M) makes the point that the Congress(I) "...still advocates the economic policies initiated in 1991, which are against the interests of the toiling people of the count ry" and that "on questions of economic policies the BJP and the Congress have no basic differences." Even on the issue of secularism, the Congress "...is bereft of the political and ideological will to rally all the secular and democratic forces to fight the menace of communalism."

In sharp contrast to the NDA and the Congress(I), the Left parties put forward an economic agenda that rejects neo-liberalism and calls for:

* radical land reforms

* increased public investment in infrastructure and agriculture

* review of telecom and power policies * protection for domestic industry * defence of the public sector

* renegotiating the World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms, forging common cause with other countries of the South

* broadening the direct tax base, with higher tax rates on affluent sections

* opposition to opening up the financial sector

* review of patent laws * strong public distribution system * job security and working class rights

In a similar vein, the Left parties support a number of democratic demands pertaining to women, youth, Dalits and Adivasis and other socially and economically vulnerable sections.

The Left manifestoes call for strengthening India's secular foundations, promotion of federalism for national unity including the replacement of Article 356 by a suitable, democratic alternative; an independent, non-aligned and anti-imperialist foreign p olicy; reversing nuclear weaponisation and not signing the CTBT; universalisation of child care services and abolition of child labour; compulsory primary education, guaranteed free and universal education for all children up to the age of 14 years; an e nvironment policy to serve the needs of rapid and sustainable development; the promotion of scientific and technological self-reliance; and progressive electoral and judicial reforms.

While the Left Parties have presented a distinctive secular and progressive agenda before the people, in sharp contrast to those of the Congress(I) and the NDA, given their limited media access, it is unlikely that their programmes and policies will reac h as wide a segment of the electorate as those of the Congress(I) and the NDA.

The Left manifestoes address the needs of the bottom 90 per cent of the population and not of the articulate and powerful top 10 per cent and they deserve to reach the people much more widely. The fact that they do not is yet another reminder of the rele vance of the Chomsky-Herman concept of "manufactured consent".

Greater concern for children

ARE political parties becoming more sensitive to issues concerning children? The manifestoes of parties in the fray suggest that they are.

According to the Delhi-based Child Labour Action Network (CLAN), which studied the election manifestoes of eight parties vis-a-vis issues relating to children, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxis t), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) have promised measures to abolish child labour. In the 1996 elections, according to the study, only two parties had referred to the issue, that too vaguely.

The TMC is for the "abolition of child labour". The NCP supports abolition of child labour and the introduction of compulsory primary education.

The CPI(M) promises "abolition of child labour and enforcing rights of children subjected to such exploitation." The BJP merely says that it will "take measures to eliminate child labour", without explaining how it will go about it.

The Congress(I) outlines some strategies to tackle the child labour problem. These include creation of special educational facilities in child-labour-endemic areas, strengthening of the mid-day meal and poverty alleviation programmes, and strict implemen tation of the legal provisions against the practice of child labour.

Primary education figures in almost all manifestoes this time; only three dealth with this subject in the 1996 elections. The manifestoes demonstrate an increasing awareness of the problems caused by low literacy levels and high drop-out rates.

The Congress(I) manifesto stresses that "girls and women belonging to the Dalit, Adivasi and other backward class and minority communities (should) have access to the best education and health facility by the end of the next decade." It states that "a ti me-bound programme for universalising access to elementary education for all children up to 14 by 2003 will be implemented and resources found for making this happen."

The Congress(I) has reiterated its commitment to increase the expenditure on education at least up to 6 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). It has also promised that 50 per cent of the expenditure on education will be earmarked for elementary e ducation.

The CPI(M) manifesto guarantees free and universal education for all children up to 14. According to CLAN chairperson Joseph Gathia, the CPI(M) is the only party among the eight parties, whose manifestoes were studied, to have said that the 83rd Constitu tional Amendment Bill, which has lapsed, must be revived in order to make education a basic right of children up to the age of 14.

Warnings in vain

Revelations about warnings provided by Brigadier Surinder Singh on rising border tensions ahead of the Kargil intrusion raise new questions about the designs of a political and army establishment which was desperate first to conceal the scale of the intrusion and then to project rapid military gains.

The GOC directs that all Bdes (brigades) will capture / procure suitable animals / birds peculiar to their sect(or) and hand them over to 3 Inf(antry) Div(ision) Sig(nals) Regt (Regiment) by 31 Mar(ch) 1998. However in case of animals / birds under hi bernation, the sizes of cages which may be required should be intimated to 3 Inft Div Sig Regt for their fabrication action at the earliest... concerted efforts will be put by all concerned.

- from letter 6361/STN/21 dated March 2, 1998, signed by Colonel S.P. Tanwar for Lieutenant-General V.N. Budhwar, General Officer Commanding, 3 Infantry Division, Leh.

IN the spring of 1998, even as Pakistan was preparing the contours of its Kargil offensive, matters of war would seem to have receded from the consciousness of the Indian Army's 3 Infantry Division based at Leh. Lieutenant-General V.N. Budhwar, General O fficer Commanding, was busily engaged in a Frederick of Bavaria-style enterprise of setting up a zoo for the tiny town, a charming project albeit one of somewhat dubious legality. Even when massive artillery exchanges broke out around Kargil in the wake of the May 1998 nuclear tests at Pokhran, the zoo project remained central to the 3 Infantry Division's activities. Even as their Brigade Headquarters was under sustained fire, officers in Kargil received a second urgent order, marked 6361/9/ZOO/Q1, on J une 8 from Lieutenant-Colonel V.K. Singh with the instruction that the search for suitable wildlife specimens be speeded up.

By a curious coincidence, Brigadier Surinder Singh took command of the 121 Infantry Brigade at Kargil the same day this second zoo missive was issued. But the no-nonsense Brigadier, decorated for gallantry and valour as Captain, Major and Colonel and res ponsible for the capture of the key 5,108-metre mountain dominating the Kaksar area in 1980, realised that the Army ought to have things other than zoo-building on its mind. Frontline's continuing investigation into the failures that enabled Pakis tan's summer intrusion in the Kargil sector has thrown up new evidence that Brigadier Surinder Singh had repeatedly warned of rising tension on the border, but his warnings were ignored. Strangely, the Brigadier's reward has been a military inquiry that violates elementary principles of natural justice.

Chief of the Army Staff General V.P. Malik was, Frontline's investigation has found, among the first to be informed of Brigadier Surinder Singh's concerns. In August 1998, as General Malik prepared to visit Kargil, the 121 Brigade was asked to put up a note to 3 Division Headquarters stating just what they intended to tell the Chief of Staff. This procedure is meant to ensure that in this case Lieutenant-General Budhwar would be aware of the issues that Brigadier Surinder Singh intended to bring up with General Malik. The 121 Brigade's note, marked "BRIEF: COAS" and numbered 124/GSD/VIS, was sent out on August 21, 1998. A report in Outlook magazine wrongly called it a letter to the Chief of the Army Staff, and this led to official denials on Sep tember 2 that General Malik had ever received such a letter. The denial is in a narrow sense therefore correct, but since the Army admits that General Malik was indeed briefed in accordance with its contents on August 29, 1998, the fact remains that he w as aware of the Brigadier's note.

Paragraph 5(a) of the August 21 note made clear Brigadier Surinder Singh's perception that Pakistan would seek to escalate violence in Jammu and Kashmir after the Pokhran-II tests. It also pointed to the upcoming summits of the South Asian Association fo r Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Non-Aligned Movement. It proceeded to suggest that major efforts would be made to push insurgents across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kargil. The reasons for this belief were outlined in Paragraph 8, beginning with the heading 'Enhanced Threat Perceptions'. Paragraph 8(a) recorded that the 24 Sindh Regiment, a reserve unit at Gilgit, had been moved up to Pakistan's forward headquarters at Olthingthang. One battalion had also moved from Sialkot to Skardu, although i ts precise location was not known at that time. Twenty-five heavy and five medium guns had been sent to the sector, the note said, along with M-198 155-millimetre howitzers and M-11 missiles.

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Pointing in paragraph 15 to "infilt(ration) routes available through (the) Mushkoh Valley from Doda side to Panikhar, Yaldor and through nullahs", the briefing note proceeded to demand new equipment. Brigadier Surinder Singh asked for "one air OP (observ ation) fl(igh)t for observation, control of artillery fire and evacuating casualties to be at Kargil" on a full-time basis. One Remote Pilotless Vehicle (RPV), part of India's fleet of four such Israeli-manufactured aircraft, along with seven gun and mor tar locating radar, air photographs and satellite images, and an electronic warfare detachment were also requested. For reasons it best understands, the Army, in defiance of independent defence experts' evaluations, insists in its denial that RPVs and we apon locating radars "do not form part of the Army's inventory". "If Brigadier Surinder Singh had asked for equipment the Army did not have," one official pointed out, "he would have faced charges of insanity, not incompetence. It is extremely unlikely t hat a senior officer with decades of experience would have asked for things we don't have."

No action was taken on this request, and lack of sustained air surveillance was subsequently cited as a major reason for Pakistan's intrusion having passed undetected.

By September 1998, Brigadier Surinder Singh's apprehensions had sharpened. Letter 132/GSI/Pak/China, sent to 3 Infantry Division's headquarters on September 1 by Major H.C. Dwivedi, outlined insurgent movements on the Pakistan side of the LoC. "Int(ellig ence) sources have revealed that 500 Afghani militants have been conc(entrating) at Gurikot (map reference) NG 7959 for induction to (our) own side," it read. The likely routes of infiltration, the letter continued with a precision that is in retrospect chilling, were the Kil nullah, Safaid nullah and Kaobal Gali into the Mushkoh Valley and on to Pindras and Drass. A copy of an Intelligence and Field Security Unit letter, number 1/1 016 dated August 30, 1998, was attached to Major Dwivedi's letter (bear ing out earlier reports in Frontline on the availability of such information with Military Intelligence). "Pakistan," the letter concluded, "is likely to intensify art(iller)y duels and train L(o)C firing to ensure (their) induction."

COULD Brigadier Surinder Singh's warnings have prevented the Pakistani incursion? Several senior officials have sought to underplay the significance of the Brigadier's letters, arguing that his reports pointed only to infiltration, not a full-scale attac k. This position is, however, frivolous. As Brigadier Surinder Singh pointed out in a writ petition filed in August 1999 before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, "the conceptual thrust in regard to the enemy tilted towards selective infiltration, not an invasion". Nonetheless, had his warnings been heeded, Pakistan's aggression would most probably have been detected early, and Indian soldiers would have been better prepared to deal with the early incursions. However, Brigadier Surinder Singh was widely termed alarmist by his seniors, and his warnings became a recurring topic of cocktail party humour.

Air surveillance was clearly one key element needed to engage with the emerging threat perception. In January 1999, reliable sources told Frontline, the 121 Brigade desperately asked for an escalation of winter air surveillance, requesting that at least one helicopter be stationed in Kargil on a full-time basis. Intelligence reports were cited in support of a request to upgrade the Mushkoh Valley's priority for surveillance. It was also suggested that at least one surveillance sortie be carried o ut each week over Mushkoh Valley, the Mumar Shung and the Tololing nullah.

But these requests were turned down, and knowledgeable sources say that in the end barely four flights were carried out through the winter over the entire Kargil sector. Requests for additional troops, including a company to play a specialised anti-infil tration role east of Batalik, particularly Yaldor, were also rejected. Troops from the 9 Mahar Regiment were pulled out, leaving the Batalik area open to any enemy offensive.

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THE stage was now set for war. After the first fire contact with Pakistan irregulars and troops on May 6 in the Batalik area, Brigadier Surinder Singh's first instinct was to launch a cautious response, focussing on cutting the infiltrators' supply lines rather than launching full-scale, near-suicidal assaults up the mountains. The military strategy was sound, but it was evidently irreconcilable with the designs of a political and army establishment desperate first to conceal the scale of the intrusion and then to project rapid military gains. Friction grew between Brigadier Surinder Singh and Lieutenant-General Budhwar, who chose to attend a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-sponsored Sindhu Darshan festival in Leh this summer as he had done last summer. Br igadier Surinder Singh's removal from office was now becoming imminent, with senior officers charging that his conduct of the campaign was incompetent.

Facts suggest that competence was not in fact the issue at stake. Indeed, early on in the campaign, Brigadier Surinder Singh was assigned charge of operations in Drass although that area had been placed under the command of 70 Infantry Brigade on April 2 4, 1999. After combat broke out in Drass, Brigadier Surinder Singh was ordered to take charge of the operations conducted by the Deputy Commander of 70 Brigade. His strategy to contain Pakistan positions at points 4,080 m and 4,590 m and the highest 5,14 0-m summit on the Tololing ridge was to push troops around them and consolidate to their north. Similar manoeuvres were used to effect containment around Tiger Hill, and points 4,195 m and 4,410 m. Such containment enabled troops to choke Pakistani posit ions, and it was recognised that the rapid physical eviction demanded by New Delhi would cause an unacceptable level of casualties.

But a desperate Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in New Delhi was simply unable to wait for a sound operational strategy to play itself out. On June 6, Brigadier Surinder Singh was abruptly told to report in Srinagar, where he was to be attached to 15 Corps Headquarters. Four days later the order was cancelled in the face of the Brigadier's protests, but it was revived on June 21. He was informed that his transfer was prompted by concern for an injury he had sustained in his left ear, an injury tha t the officer himself had not complained about. Brigadier Surinder Singh made repeated attempts to contact General Malik at this stage, and was finally informed that he would be granted an interview on June 28. In the event, the Chief of the Army Staff f ailed to keep the appointment. After waiting for six days in Delhi, on June 28 Brigadier Surinder Singh submitted a letter, marked 29734/SS/CONFD listing his grievances, along with a file containing documents. A receipt for these documents was issued by General Malik's staff upon the Brigadier insisting on it.

Back in Srinagar, the Brigadier learned on July 2 that he was to be posted as the Andhra Sub-Area Commander based in Secunderabad. Before his luggage had arrived in Secunderabad, fresh orders came on July 17 shifting him to Ranchi. This transfer is alleg ed to have been prompted by fears that the Brigadier planned to open an investigation into the denotification of a large tract of Army land in Secunderabad, parts of which several senior officers subsequently purchased. Whatever the truth, a frustrated B rigadier Surinder Singh now applied for a month's leave, which was granted on July 21. Part of the leave period was later terminated, and he was told to proceed to Ranchi by August 22. This posting too was withdrawn. Now the Brigadier was ordered to repo rt back to the 3 Infantry Division in Leh. When he asked why this was being done, he was reported to have received only vague verbal assurances that he was required to assist in an enquiry.

Pushed to the wall by these quick-fire transfers, Brigadier Surinder Singh moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court. The petition makes clear his belief that he was being punished for doing his job well, but none of the confidential correspondence on secu rity issues is appended to the legal document. "On account of the truthful stand taken by him in various communications addressed to Chief of Army Staff," the petition stated, "the authorities are feeling scared and are wanting to somehow deal with the p etitioner in an unfair, inequitable and unjust manner." The petition also stated: "The petitioner also perceives serious threat to his life, and his life is in danger." Brigadier Surinder Singh's counsel, military law expert R.S. Randhawa, later withdrew the petition, but has been granted liberty to approach the High Court in the event of the Brigadier facing any persecution in Leh.

That is more than a little likely. The Leh inquiry into the leakage of official documents to the media has been constituted by the 3 Infantry Division's Budhwar, an officer about whom Brigadier Surinder Singh has complained in writing and who is at the c entre of the Kargil controversy. Led by Deputy General Officer Commanding Ashok Duggal, Budhwar's immediate subordinate, and made up of Brigadiers C.M. Nayar and Devinder Singh, the inquiry will have little credibility since its members will in effect be judging their own cause. Indeed, Brigadier Surinder Singh's logical demand that others with access to the documents the Army claims he has leaked also be examined - individuals including the Army chief and his staff - has so far met with no response. "T he whole inquiry is a travesty of every principle of the law and the basic principles of natural justice," says Randhawa. "It is a vindictive attempt to persecute Brigadier Singh, and it has no legal legitimacy."

The witch-hunt launched against Brigadier Surinder Singh illustrates official responses to investigative disclosures on the political and defence establishment's handling of the Kargil war. Instead of welcoming scrutiny which would lead to a meaningful e xamination of just what went wrong and why, there has been a flat denial of the truth. The objective of inquiry ought to be to ensure that Kargil-type debacles do not recur. Instead, protecting top officers and their political patrons has, it would seem, become the defence establishment's principal concern.

Dealing with dementia

"Memory loss, considered normal among the elderly, is actually a disease that needs to be treated," says Dr. John Copeland, founder-director, Institute of Human Ageing, Liverpool. Dr. Copeland has all through his career worked towards understandin g and measuring mental illnesses. However, since teaching took much of his time (he held the Chair in Psychiatry at the University of Liverpool until his retirement in 1997), he could not devote much time to research. Yet research, which he began to purs ue after his initial training in psychiatry in the United States, remained his first love. Beginning with a U.S.-U.K. diagnostic project supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, Washington, Dr. Copeland kept in touch with state-of-the-art re search in mental illnesses and published over 50 articles in journals and books. After retirement, he turned to full-time research.

Dr. Copeland standardised the diagnostic techniques for many mental illnesses. These included procedures to measure the geriatric mental state (GMS), for which he devised a computer-aided system.

Dr. Copeland, who was recently in Chennai to train doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and health workers in the measurement of GMS, spoke to Asha Krishnakumar on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of dementia. Excerpts:

What is dementia, and what are its symptoms?

Dementia is a slow decline in what we call cognitive functions and memory. Memory loss is usually the most obvious symptom. All of us lose memory to some extent as we grow older; most people over 30 would have at one time or the other forgotten some name s. The harder you try to remember, the more difficult it becomes to recall. Then suddenly, it comes to you in a flash when you are not thinking about it.

Then comes a situation when you cannot remember where you have kept things, and spend a lot of time searching for them. We consider that normal. But for some reason, which we don't understand, ageing affects memory and, to a lesser extent, the other func tions of the brain.

When people begin to forget the names of their family members and friends, causing difficulty and confusion, memory-loss becomes a serious problem. I think that is when the serious problem of dementia begins. The progress of loss of memory in dementia is very quick. Usually, within six months to a year, there is a serious loss of memory.

The symptoms can vary slightly. The problem begins with an immediate loss of memory, for instance, forgetting where the car is parked. Then, gradually, other symptoms and memory problems occur. People begin to have difficulty calculating numbers, working out finances, finding the right word and, eventually, they may even have difficulty in putting on their clothes because they have forgotten how to. Some tend to put on clothes upside down or inside out. Eventually, they become quite immobile. It is a sa d and tragic condition.

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Is dementia specific to any intelligence level or social group?

It affects people of all intelligence levels and social groups. It is also not confined to any age group, except that certain varieties tend to run in families and occur much earlier in life, any time after 30. The more common types occur around 70 years , and the incidence increases with age. So, at 90, the strike rate can be one in three people.

It is, of course, easy to confuse dementia with normal ageing. In all cultures, memory loss is seen as the final stage of ageing. Earlier, when some people aged faster and went into the child-like stage of dementia, they were said to have become senile. Now we know that it is a disease. Therefore, we ought to be able to tackle it and cure it. There is a lot of research going on to identify the different varieties of dementia.

What are the different types of dementia and when can each be diagnosed?

There is Alzheimer's disease, named after Dr. Alzheimer who first described it. It progresses steadily in a short period of time. You can detect it from within a year or two to almost 10 years of its occurrence. There is another kind which fluctuates. Th is seems to be associated with vascular problems. There is now the new one, the Lewy Body. This was discovered by Dr. Lewy. Apparently this is not very dissimilar to Alzheimer's disease, but if you look through a microscope at the brain of a person with Lewy Body, it shows lumps in the brain. Also, people with Lewy Body sometimes react very badly to drugs.

What are the rates of incidence of the different types of dementia?

In Liverpool, when we looked at the pathology of the brains donated by people for research after death, we found that Lewy Body was a rare condition. The commonest form was Alzheimer's disease. We don't know much about it, except that it is hereditary. W e know people who have lived up to 90 with that genetic make-up although they did not have more than a 50 per cent chance of living beyond 50.

These early studies were based on hospital data. But only when we did community studies to see its distribution in the population did we find that the genetic make-up we know of was not as clear a factor as we thought it was. There may be other genetic f actors, which have not been discovered. However, what we know now makes a considerable difference to our understanding of the problem. Yet it doesn't explain most cases.

What are the different kinds of treatment for dementia?

There are several types of treatment. For instance, when the brain deteriorates, you lose some chemicals. You need to give drugs to compensate for the loss and improve the condition. There is evidence that this process helps, though not dramatically. How ever, none of the drugs now available makes a big impact. They do not cure, they simply replace the lost chemicals.

There is a group working on drugs that arrest the disease. We now understand a lot about the chemistry of the brain and what happens to it in old age. So, efforts are on to intervene in this chemical process in order to stop the disease. Many drug compan ies have invested money in this research. However, nothing has come out of it yet.

How does one manage people with dementia, particularly with the breakdown of the joint family system where the extended family used to take care of the elderly?

The major problem is looking after these people. Traditionally, as you said, they were looked after by the joint and extended families. This was the case all over the world. It is a myth that people in the West do not look after their elderly. The breakd own of the extended family is therefore going to create a major social security problem all over the world.

With life expectancy at birth improving considerably, there will also be an increase in the proportion of the elderly in the population. With this the incidence of dementia will also increase. What are the issues involved in the management of dementia a country like India has to address?

The population of the world is set to change and there is going to be a higher proportion of older people. Two decades ago, the Queen of England used to send about a hundred telegrams to people completing 100 years. Now she sends 4,000.

In Norway, the population aged slowly over the last 100 years. So they had 100 years to prepare themselves to face the problem. But in countries such as Brazil and India, for instance, the proportion of older people had hardly risen until 10 years ago. B ut subsequently, it rose sharply. The projections for the future are also very sharp. These countries now have to look seriously at the economic and social implications of this problem for society.

Another important need is to diagnose the disease in the early stage. Otherwise, even if treated, those affected by it may be left disabled to a certain extent. So it is important to focus on questions such as how to recognise the symptoms.

What are the problems in diagnosing dementia? How did you work out the computer-aided system of diagnosis?

There is a general worry about the differences in diagnosis, particularly of the younger people, in the U.S. and the U.K. In the U.S. there were high levels of schizophrenia cases recorded in hospitals. But that was not the case in the U.K. The U.S. gove rnment was worried. So, I and my colleagues were asked to look at this problem. We did a study, comparing the diagnosis on admission to hospitals in both countries. We found no difference in the number of cases at that time when we applied our diagnosis in the U.S. So it was clear that the American diagnosis was very different from the European. And partly out of that study an interest grew in the U.S. and the U.K. in looking at diagnostic issues - trying to bring some science into what was until then a clinical impression.

With help from the U.S. government, we started looking at the diagnostic problems among the aged. A large number of people were apparently going to American hospitals with dementia, while a much higher proportion went to English mental hospitals with dep ression. Again, we were able to show by using the same diagnostic criteria that there was no difference between the two. Many of the cases that were diagnosed as dementia in the U.S. were diagnosed as depression in the U.K. In fact, when patients were tr eated for depression in the U.S., they got better.

Then, in Liverpool, we prepared a detailed schedule and did a survey to get a more accurate recording of symptoms in order to measure GMS. The next stage was to bring consistency into the diagnosis. This was necessary because until then we expected docto rs to do the interviewing and make their own diagnosis after understanding the symptoms.

So we did a survey, and from its results we devised a computer-assisted diagnostic system we called AGECAT (aged geriatric examination computer-assisted taxonomy). This is a standardised method of diagnosis and can help diagnose many diseases, including dementia. After we published this work, many centres in the world showed interest in using this system.

For what other diseases is AGECAT used?

AGECAT gives a range of diagnoses as well as differential diagnoses. People have found that quite useful. It helps in looking at depression, schizophrenia, neurosis and so on. It is now used widely throughout the world.

Some years ago, I realised that there were nine centres in Europe using GMS/AGECAT for population studies. At that time we approached the European Union and asked for funds to set up a programme involving data-sharing by these centres. We used the data p ut out by these centres and published a number of papers showing the prevalence of depression. Recently, 12 medical centres in Asia showed an interest in this and we have brought them together.

India is going to face a major problem with an increase in the population of the aged. Do you plan to include India in your study?

We have just begun our work in India. Eight centres are doing this work. We are trying to bring them together.

I am now looking at ways to get these centres to collaborate with one another without having to spend too much money. This is because there isn't much money in India to spend on this.

Are there no common, obvious symptoms for dementia?

A majority of symptoms are fairly straight-forward. For example, loss of appetite and loss of concentration and memory. So that is why, I think, we don't have a problem. But nevertheless, we have to make sure that we measure the same sort of things the s ame way everywhere. That is the first stage. Once that is done, we can rely on the computer system to give us the diagnosis. Once we collect all the information from all the centres, we can find out what the underlying causes for dementia are across soci eties, and what causes one society to be more prone to dementia or depression than another.

How do you measure the GMS, and how does India compare with other Asian countries and the world?

To compute the GMS, patients are interviewed and all health data recorded and coded. In this, you have to make a judgment about whether the symptoms the patients describe are genuine symptoms. Those data are then fed into the computer. The computer then comes up with the diagnosis - it may say this is an organic condition and may give you the level of severity. Doctors may disagree on the diagnosis. That is why we are now standardising symptoms across countries with the help of surveys. This system seem s to work in Britain, Australia, India and some other countries.

In terms of the incidence of dementia, there is no difference among countries. Using the GMS, we found that incidence levels varied between 4 per cent and 5 per cent in the population above 65 years. This is the result from the surveys done in many count ries by the European group, the Asian group, our group in Liverpool and in India.

What is the state of the art in research on dementia?

An enormous amount of work is going on. Neurochemists are working on brain tissues. They are looking at the chemical structure of the brain and how progressive are the lesions that are formed. Geneticists are trying to discover the genetic qualities of t he population with dementia. They have had one breakthrough, with the discovery of Apo-E 4 (those with Alzheimer's disease). Now they are working towards another. Then there are the pathologists who are looking at the brains of the dead and trying to rec onstruct how they got to that condition. The chemical composition of the brain that leads to this problem is also being studied to help in the early recognition of the condition. People are visualising the brain with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and using positron emission tomography (PET) to know the chemistry of the brain.

So a lot of work is going on, but it is slow. The interest started with us in the 1970s. There is a conference on dementia almost every week somewhere in the world. Therefore, there is hope that we will make substantial progress very soon. But the countr ies and governments should not be complacent. As we do not know how long it will take for a breakthrough, we need to be prepared for the social problems dementia causes.

Do you think people should "age gracefully"?

I feel one should not age gracefully because ageing gracefully means that you recede to the background in a dignified way. Why should it be so? At 65 you can still contribute substantially. The elderly people also need an economic and political position in society. Otherwise, they will be squeezed out by the younger generation. There has got to be some balance between the young and the old. Elderly people cannot sit back and let the youth run over them. So, I think you should age "disgracefully".

For early prevention

DEMENTIA has become a major problem the world over. In an interview to Frontline (May 21, 1999), Prof. Sid Gilman discussed Alzheimer's disease in detail. Many of the causes of dementia are reversible: for example, thyroid and Vitamin B-12 deficie ncy and some kinds of brain tumours and clots. However, one neglected area is vascular dementia. It was V. Hachinski and his colleagues who drew attention to this condition. However, even now, neurologists and physicians are a little sceptical about this term despite the fact that the term multi-infarct dementia is used rather freely.

The main risk factor in the case of vascular dementia is hypertension. Prof. H.M. Barnett, a pioneer in stroke research, describes four factors that contribute to stroke. They are: high blood pressure, smoking, accumulation of fats called lipids in the b lood cells and diabetes mellitus.

It is necessary for the physician to understand that the onset of this kind of dementia can be prevented by a systematic campaign which would include the launching of a nationwide campaign against smoking; measuring blood pressure periodically and keepin g it under control; controlling diabetes and keeping the blood sugar level within reasonable limits, especially in elderly people; and taking drugs called statins to lower lipids in the blood.

Unfortunately, in a country like India, very little is done towards prevention. If the guidelines mentioned above are followed, even heart disease can be prevented. Instead of spending money on treating these diseases, what is necessary is a public healt h campaign that uses the media to educate people about the risk factors and the preventive measures.

Why does vascular dementia occur? Generally, people associate a stroke with a major paralytic attack. However, strokes of lesser intensity, such as temporary paralysis or numbness of an arm, a leg or one side of the face, also occur. Without being unduly alarmed, people should recognise that these strokes, called transient ischaemic attacks, can be prevented and controlled. In international trials, a consensus was arrived at - that is, 75 mg of aspirin should be taken by individuals who come under the h igh-risk category and run the risk of having a minor stroke.

At present, Alzheimer's disease is given much more attention than vascular dementia. However, it is important that dementia is tackled at the national level.

A 10/66 Dementia group was formed recently. The K. Gopalakrishna Department of Neurology at the Voluntary Health Services and the T.S. Srinivasan Department of Clinical Neurology and Research at the Public Health Centre, both in Chennai, have been includ ed in this group.

The BJP's real agenda

The Saffron Wave: Democracy and Hindu Nationalism in Modern India by Thomas Blom Hansen; Oxford, 1999; pages 293, Rs. 495.

THE skeletons began rattling all the more noisily for the desperate determination with which the cupboard was being shut. The Bharatiya Janata Party tried to assure its allies in the so-called National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that issues such as the Ra m temple in Ayodhya, scrapping of Article 370 on Kashmir's autonomy, and a uniform civil code were not on its immediate agenda. But what assurance could it offer its own cadres who supported it precisely because it was committed to these issues and to Hi ndutva?

The mentors, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), can quietly be squared with. If the RSS could spread its influence when its political front, the Jan Sangh, predecessor of the BJP, was but a constituent of the Janata Party Government (1977-79), its in fluence, surely, would be far greater if the BJP is allowed to stay in power as the dominant member of a coalition. The RSS boss, Rajendra Singh, declared in an article in Organiser (May 7, 1995), entitled "Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi", that "no fr iendly interaction between the Hindus and Muslims is possible unless the latter shed their intransigence in regard to Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya."

The silence of a man of such a rabidly communal outlook during the current controversy over the BJP's commitments vis-a-vis its pact with the allies, is as significant as that of the dog that did not bark.

First came the calculated leak. "RSS sources" told a correspondent of The Asian Age (August 18) that "there has been no dilution in the agenda and ... installation of a BJP-led coalition government at the Centre will be a step towards achieving th e implementation of the agenda."

They told him: "Our priority is to install a BJP-led government at the Centre. But that does not mean that it will be done at the cost of our agenda.... It will be the BJP alone which is going to implement our agenda." Atal Behari Vajpayee would be suppo rted to the hilt because he is the best vote-getter available. Incidentally, the issue of Organiser in which Rajendra Singh wrote as he did, also carried Vajpayee's famous article "The Sangh is my soul".

It was left to the BJP's general secretary, the too-clever-by-half K.N. Govindacharya, to give the game away as he tried publicly to assure the cadres. He said in New Delhi on August 22 that the BJP remained committed to the three contentious issues even though it accepted the NDA's agenda. Why? Because "with the BJP yet to traverse some more distance to attain the steering position in Indian politics, we decided that in this interregnum of transition we should commit ourselves" to the NDA's agen da. Kalraj Mishra, Public Works Minister in Uttar Pradesh, confirmed it in Lucknow the next day: "The party is committed to the construction of the Ram temple."

Vajpayee tried frantically to limit the damage, in Ahmedabad on August 23: He was "surprised" to read Govindacharya's statement and said "all contentious issues should not be brought into the political arena". Govindacharya obediently issued a "clarifica tion". Having claimed on August 22 that "we work with bifocal vision", he demonstrated the next day that the BJP also speaks with a forked tongue.

If Pramod Mahajan asserted at Aurangabad on August 23 that the three issues had not been sidetracked, J.P. Mathur said the opposite on August 24. M. Venkaiah Naidu declared on August 25: "Even if tomorrow we were to fight an election on our own an d get 370 seats, we will not make Ram Mandir part of our election agenda." The very next day he denied having said so. He had said that, not to a press reporter, but on the Star News TV channel, which said his "statement was on tape and could not be refu ted" (The Indian Express, August 27).

Kalraj Mishra returned to the fray on August 25. "Even now Ram Mandir was a burning issue for us. But since there was no consensus in the NDA on this, it is not part of the joint manifesto with the NDA... there is no dilution in our stand. However there are the compulsions of coalition politics...." A Times of India report (August 27) from Nagpur said that "the RSS was completely at peace with the BJP on the Ayodhya temple issue, RSS sources claimed. The RSS realises that getting Mr. Vajpa yee back into power is much more important." Mamasaheb Ghumre, former vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), told him: "The temple has a better chance of getting built with him in the saddle for five years." Once in power with a solid majorit y of its own, the BJP will discard the flotsam and jetsam it has gathered in the NDA - and fulfil its own agenda. To paraphrase Milton, case will recant vows made under pain as unsaid and void.

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On April 24, 1996, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, L.K. Advani, then BJP president, said there would be no compromise on the Ram temple and the matter was high on its agenda. The party's 1998 election manifesto had a whole page on Hindutva, and "c ultural nationalism". It concluded with a pledge - to build the temple. The National Agenda for Governance was drawn up subsequently and published on March 18, 1998 when alliances became inescapable if power was to be won. The BJP's decision not t o bring out its own manifesto this year is as unprecedented as it is meaningful - the 1998 document stands.

ONE must not miss the wood for these trees. The Danish scholar, Thomas Blom Hansen's book makes a timely appearance to remind us of what is in store for us once the BJP takes us into the wood. Its sub-title captures the theme: what the BJP's concept of H indu nationalism spells for India's governance and its democracy. His grasp of political theory, intensive field work in Maharashtra, and familiarity with the vast literature on the subject are well reflected in the work. To what do we attribute the saff ron wave? One school of scholarship attributed it to "imaginative political strategies", another to the older "reserves of religious nationalism".

Hansen incorporates both the strands but goes beyond them. "My main argument is that Hindu nationalism has emerged and taken shape neither in the political system as such nor in the religious field, but in the broader realm of what we may call public culture - the public space in which a society and its constituent individuals and communities imagine, represent, and recognise themselves through political discourse, commercial and cultural expressions, and representations of state and civic organi sations" (emphasis added, throughout).

The Sangh's credo is quintessentially paternalistic, xenophobic and authoritarian. "Many Hindu nationalists have only a skin-deep commitment to democratic procedures." But there are some latent fears, some hidden concerns, which it was able to draw upon. Hansen's book is, in its mercilessly incisive analyses, a mirror to Indian society. "Is Hindu nationalism really revealing the dark side of the middle-class culture and social world of the 'educated sections' who have dominated Indian public culture and the Indian state for so long - the authoritarian longings, the complacency, and the fear of the 'underdog', the 'masses', and the Muslims?... The recent Indian experience of Hindu nationalism should remind us that democracy also very often gives birth t o forces, desires, and imaginings of an authoritarian and anti-democratic nature, or 'majoritarian' and moral backlashes against what is seen as 'excessive liberalism' in the public culture."

His resume of the course of Indian politics in recent years is prefaced by a thorough discussion of the ideology of Hindu nationalism as developed in the last century and the present one by men of intellect such as Bankim Chandra Chatterji, Lala Lajpat R ai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak right down to the likes of V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar.

The BJP capitalised on the policy of "soft" Hindu communalism which Indira Gandhi adopted after her return to power in 1980. But the seeds had been sown much earlier. "Radical anti-Muslim discourse had coexisted with political pragmatism within the Sangh Parivar and within the older sanghathanist tradition for almost a century. What was new in the 1980s was, in other words, not so much the employment of the idiom of Hindu communalism per se, but rather the ingenuity and scale with which this idio m was differentiated and disseminated through an array of new technologies of mass mobilisation."

Amazingly - or perhaps not - the BJP's supporters in the "respectable" middle class do not find its techniques of mobilisation offensive. The ends justify the means. Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharati were found useful. The latter was made a Union Ministe r. The author quotes one of her election speeches in 1991: "We could not teach them with words, now let us teach them with kicks... Tie up your religiosity and kindness in a bundle and throw it in the Jamuna... Any non-Hindu who lives here does so at our mercy."

Acts of violence are a natural consequence of speeches such as this. No wonder riots followed the Hindutva campaign.

The Sangh Parivar operates from a narrow electoral base and its success is far more tenuous than is imagined. It owes a lot to the erosion of centrist forces such as the Janata Dal. Regionalist parties fell in line. Its electoral constituency is limited to 25 per cent of the popular votes, a mere 15 to 16 per cent of the country's adult population. One limitation to its expansion is that it is confined "mainly to the Hindu upper-caste and middle class milieus". It has no message for social uplift, econo mic emancipation and gender equality. The women it projects are not known for commitment to issues of gender equality, unlike, for instance, Brinda Karat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or Gita Mukerjee of the CPI.

The Hindutva movement has wreaked sheer havoc in the country. It claimed to have altered the political agenda in the early 1990s, only to profess to discard it at the end of the decade. "Has the Indian democracy been weakened by the BJP's expansion over the last decade and its recent formation of the Central Government in New Delhi? Is this only the beginning of a gradual Hindu nationalist penetration of the public administration, the judiciary, the military, and the press that over time may constrict d emocratic procedures, and encourage a more heavy-handed line toward public protests, social movements and others who are critical of the government or just oppose economic and social exploitation?... Throughout this work I have presented evidence and arg uments that in many ways support the conclusion that the RSS represents a kind of 'Swadeshi fascism' decisively vernacularised and shaped by modern Indian colonial and postcolonial history." But, the author adds, the BJP must not be viewed in isolation f rom other dark social forces in Indian society. "The advent of Hindu nationalism forces us to ask larger and more uncomfortable questions."

This is not to minimise one bit the seriousness of the sheer evil that is the Sangh Parivar: "There is little doubt that the BJP's road to power has ridden over the dead bodies of thousands of innocent Muslims, and there is no doubt that strong forces wi thin the movement and in the BJP's sizeable constituency among bureaucrats, commercial strata, and officers would like to see India as a much stronger, less democratic, and more repressive state that could provide security, labour, and the pleasant sides of modern life to the elite and the middle class." The Parivar must be viewed in the context of the milieu in which it has been able to prosper and attract support from some who were not suspected of being communal. There are many more closet Hindutvais ts than is commonly realised.

The battle for India's democracy is not lost, it will not do to minimise the arduousness of the tasks that lie ahead. The future of India's democracy and its secularism depends on the outlook Indians of all creeds come to share. Ideology matters, still.

LETTERS

other
The Congress(I)

This has reference to the cover story "Into battle" (September 10). With the Congress(I) finding its prospects to be dim in Uttar Pradesh and deciding to contest as a junior partner in alliances in States such as Bihar and Tamil Nadu, it is unlikely that the party will get a majority on its own. The Congress(I) has started speaking of forming a coalition government in the event of the elections producing a hung Parliament. After the fall of the Vajpayee government, the Congress(I) was not able to form a n alternative government because the leadership of Sonia Gandhi was not acceptable to some of the secular parties. As a candidate for the prime ministership Manmohan Singh may be more acceptable to parties across the political spectrum. So, if Sonia Gand hi is really interested in the future of the party and the welfare of the country and in upholding secularism, she should, at least at this late stage, support Manmohan Singh's candidature and confine herself to leading the party.

A. Jacob Sahayam Vellore, Tamil Nadu * * *

The cover story brings out all the facts about the current crisis facing the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress(I). The days of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are over, and the Congress(I) is showing signs of being a spent force.

Instead of being on the offensive during the run-up to the parliamentary elections the party is expending a lot of time and energy defending a) its projection of Sonia Gandhi, a foreigner by birth, as the next Prime Minister of India; b) its attempts to sneak in Sonia as its candidate in Bellary in what you have correctly pointed out as a "hide and seek operation", inviting criticism from members of her own party; and c) its attempts to strike an alliance with Laloo Prasad Yadav's RJD in Bihar, which ha s resulted in a revolt by party cadres in that State. Sharad Pawar, a political heavy-weight, left the Congress(I), weakening its hold in Maharashtra. Ironically, an alliance with Jayalalitha, the maverick Tamil Nadu politician, has further diminished th e party's credibility, because of the corruption cases against her and her unprincipled role in bringing down the BJP-led government in collusion with the Congress(I).

In the final analysis, what works in India during election time is the sort of fuzzy logic used in the microprocessors of washing machines, and not the cold analytical stuff of your columns. Atal Behari Vajpayee's BJP-led alliance may win the elections n ot entirely because of the victory in Kargil, nor on account of the low inflation rate, not even because of his party's image of being less corrupt, but because of his oratorical skills and his frequent dalliance with mellifluous poetry in Hindi when he reaches out to the masses. Personal charisma does indeed matter and right now, Vajpayee's counts a lot more than Sonia's.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Maryland Heights, U.S. Narmada Valley

Arundhati Roy has done a commendable job in drawing attention to the struggle of the Narmada Bachao Andolan ("I felt that the valley needed a writer", August 27).

Her essay "The Greater Common Good" has made a lot of people understand the principle behind the struggle of the tribal people in the Narmada valley. She made a valid point when she said that the "Government has suddenly discovered the emotive power of t hirst." Quenching the thirst of the people of Kutch and Saurashtra has been projected as a goal of the Sardar Sarovar project. If that was so, why were the dammed waters of Mahi and Sabarmati (the rivers closest to the two regions) not diverted to Ahmeda bad, Mehsana and Kheda instead of Kutch and Saurashtra?

At the same time, the NBA and Arundhati Roy have not answered a crucial question: what alternative does the movement offer to farmers in need of water, if the struggle succeeds? Merely stating the obvious - that the water from this dam may still not reac h the farmers - is not the answer. Or is the NBA (and Arundhati Roy) only limiting their concern to the threatened villages?

Shweta Moorthy New Delhi The English language

This has reference to William Safire's column, "The bandwidth of the e-speak" (August 27).

As the centuries passed, the English language, both spoken and written came to be categorised as "Old English" and "Middle English". Present-day English is called "Modern English".

Come 2000, with the advent of the lingo of the netizen, present-day English may come to be called "pre-millennium English".

The Encarta global dictionary, to be published in eight versions - with the collaboration of Microsoft - may reflect "Millennium English".

K. Viswanathan Chennai Muhammad Ali

The book review ("In the fight for black freedom", August 27) by Nirmal Shekar was inspiring.

The story of Muhammad Ali's hardships and struggles is touching. His convictions as well as his momentous and emphatic decisions have a compelling significance. As today's "technocratic" world races towards a global village that is socially, culturally a nd economically monolithic efficiently wiping out all "unfit elements" (societies, ideas and systems regarded by it as backward and obsolete), it requires great courage to swim against the current. Ali deserves to be honoured.

By declaring that he has no quarrel with the Vietcong, he immediately identified himself with all the victims of colonialism and not just blacks.

In the history of the emancipation of oppressed people all over the world Ali has made a special contribution in his own way.

Kamrul Haque Guwahati Nirad C. Chaudhuri

The tribute to Nirad C. Chaudhuri ("The passing of an unknown Indian", August 27) was highly commendable for its style and objectivity.

I feel that Nirad babu paid the highest tribute to the Mahatma when he said that no Prophet was so completely identified with the Indian masses as he and that "he was profoundly uneducated intellectually and lived in utter nakedness of spirit till his de ath." This is the state of a free soul, of the self-realised saint, seer and sage. What was unique about Gandhiji, however, was that, living as he did in that state of inner freedom, he worked tirelessly for the Independence of the country and for the em ancipation of the Indian masses and shone as a beacon for seekers of truth everywhere.

The other remarks of Nirad babu about Gandhiji may be highly prejudiced, but Sukumar Muralidharan has exposed their hallowness with admirable restraint and power. Nirad babu worshipped the intellect and missed the dimension that transcends it.

K.V. Subrahmanyam Ganeshpur, U.P. Plantation workers

The article "A bitter harvest" (August 27) highlighted the plight of the workers of the Manjolai estate in Tamil Nadu. Their hardship can be traced to their poor income. All the managerial, supervisory, clerical, technical and medical staff of plantation s are paid monthly salaries whereas the workers, who are the real backbone of the plantation industry, earn daily wages. The disparity between the salaried staff and the workers is enormous. Unless remedial action is taken to reduce this iniquity, it wil l be difficult to achieve industrial peace in the plantation sector.

During wage negotiations, plantation owners put forth the oft-repeated argument that the industry is unable to foot the wage bills. The Tea Board's figures for the year 1997-98 indicate that the total production of tea in India was 838 million kg, of whi ch 660 million kg was locally consumed; that is, 80 per cent of the tea was sold in the local market. Only 20 per cent was exported.

At Coonoor, one kg of tea dust is sold between Rs.120 and Rs.180 at the retail outlets, depending on the grade and quality. Branded tea is sold at Rs.250 a kg at other places in the country. Tea is normally sold in auctions in different centres in the co untry and the trade is controlled, nationally and internationally, by a handful of monopoly companies. The lion's share is cornered by the intermediaries - brokers, agents, retailers and so on.

An average tea picker can collect, during the peak season 60 to 70 kg and even more, if the picker is young and energetic. During the lean season, which lasts for four to five months a year, the norm is 15 kg for a day's wage. Tea prices go up during the lean season because of the fall in the harvest. Five kg (maximum) of green tea leaf is required to make one kg of dust tea and no one needs to be in doubt about the profitability of the industry.

Tea producers, with the help of the government and the Tea Board, can sell their production in the local market and effectively check the operations of the middlemen, agents and brokers and thus pave the way for a better deal to the workers.

Many plantations do not implement properly the provisions of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951. This Act requires urgent revision to ensure that the workers get adequate health, housing, potable water and other facilities. Instances can be quoted where th e owners of plantations have not paid wages for months on end, and one can imagine the difficulties of the poor workers.

More than one million workers, mostly from tribal communities and socially weaker sections, are directly employed in tea plantations all over India. One hopes that the owners of plantations will shed the age-old colonial concept of management and treat t he workers as an integral part of the industry, recognise their contributions to the growth and development of the industry and banish poverty from their lives.

V. Nadesan Plantation Workers' Industrial Training Institute Gudalur

Neelan Thiruchelvam

Radhika Coomaraswamy's article on Neelan Thiruchelvam (August 27) was more refreshing than the anti-LTTE reports. While she condemns violence, she refrains from making sweeping generalisations about the perpetrator(s) of this murder. However, her support for moderation seems to offer little for the Tamils in Sri Lanka to advance their self-respect and dignity.

Neelan, I agree, was a brilliant lawyer, but he was an individual who basically echoed the sentiments of the Sri Lankan regime. Moderate Tamil leaders have a vision, but I am not sure that the Tamil people would like to be part of this vision.

P. Ramasamy Department of Political Science National University of Malaysia Malaysia

Correction Time

The song supreme

M.S. Subbulaksmi is no ordinary musician; she is a living legend, a role model for every aspiring singer. A tribute on the occasion of her 83rd birthday.

THE announcement by the President of India, K.R. Narayanan, on March 1, 1998, conferring the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, on M.S. Subbulakshmi was received with universal approval. It was the first time that a musician had received this signal recognition. How did this come about?

The short answer is that M.S. is no ordinary musician. Today, she is a living legend, a role model for every aspiring singer.

M.S. was born on September 16, 1916, in Madurai. Her father was Subramania Iyer, a lawyer by profession and a rasika, and her mother was Shanmugavadivu, a well-known veena player of her times. Blessed with a mellifluous voice with total tonal purity ( sruti suddham), and an unusual understanding of the subtleties and nuances of our complex musical system, best described as gnanam, M.S. quickly became a popular concert artist, as well as a recording artist. Her musical education, beginning w ith her mother, developed further under a well-known vidwan of Madurai, Srinivasa Iyer. Her first public concert was given when she was 13. She also attained proficiency on the veena, and is an accomplished veena player to this day.

In 1936, M.S. moved to Madras. Chennai was then, as it is now, the capital of Carnatic music. She was already a much-sought-after concert artist. Here she met T. Sadasivam, at that time a senior executive in the popular Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan . She married Sadasivam in 1940, and with it began a new and very fruitful phase in her life.

For the next 57 years, until his demise in November 1997 at the age of 95, he was, in the words of M.S. herself, her "guide, philosopher and friend". With Sadasivam's encouragement she was able to meet the famous vocalists of those times, Ariyakudi Raman uja Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and also the vainika, K.S. Narayanaswami. With these contacts, her repertoire expanded and her rendering of raga and kriti, neraval, swaram, and so on attained even higher levels of excellence. Semmangudi became a close friend of the family, when he moved to Madras after his distinguished tenure as principal of the Swati Tirunal College of Music in Thiruvananthapuram. Semmangudi was practically a daily visitor at the T.S.-M.S. home . Musiri was also a frequent visitor, and he gladly shared his special gift for bhava sangeetham with M.S.

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At Ananda Vikatan, the star writer was R. Krishnamurthi, who wrote under the pen-name "Kalki". Besides writing essays, short stories, novellas and musical critiques, he composed songs which M.S. would sing. With the combination of the executive ab ility of Sadasivam and the literary talent of Kalki, a new Tamil magazine, Kalki, was established, which is still going strong.

M.S. starred in a number of films. Her earliest appearance, in the 1930s, was in Seva Sadan, in which she gave a superb rendering of the Kalyani kriti "Needu Charana". In Shakuntala she was cast opposite the great vidwan G.N. Balasubramania n, and this film was also replete with many song hits. She shared the honours with Shanta Apte in Savitri appearing as the sage Narada. Her rendering of "Broohi Mukundeti" in this film made it very popular.

Her brightest achievement in the celluloid medium was as the Krishna devotee Meera. This film was first produced in Tamil and later remade in Hindi. The Hindi version was an instant hit and established her as a great bhajan singer. As the stateswoman-poe tess Sarojini Naidu said, "it was pure enchantment... it was a true representation of Meera, nay it was Meera herself singing songs of devotion of prayerful appeal... it was Meera herself come to life." She also called M.S. the Nightingale of India.

Partly thanks to her films, but even more because of the large number of gramophone discs and (later) audio tapes, the voice of M.S. could be heard in every corner of India, from the remotest villages to the crowded metropolises. Her public concerts, whi ch were usually given for the benefit of some favoured cause, drew packed houses. On several occasions, her concerts were open-air affairs, and the audience numbered several thousands.

Her major international exposure began with her programme at the Edinburgh International Festival of Arts in 1963. In 1966, the Secretary-General of the U.N., U Thant, invited her to give a special concert at the United Nations. This programme was given in the magnificent General Assembly hall, and I had the privilege of introducing her to the audience. A coast-to-coast concert tour of the U.S. followed. This was repeated in 1977, and on this visit I had the honour of presenting her programme at the Car negie Hall in New York, where all the musical greats of this century have performed. She gave the inaugural concert of the Festival of India in London in 1982, which was attended by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who stayed till the end of the prog ramme. In 1987, she gave the inaugural concert of the Festival of India at the Kremlin in Moscow in the presence of the Prime Ministers of India and the USSR.

Her Meera bhajans, soaked with bhakti, may be said to have been responsible for her interest in rendering various "stotras" in Sanskrit. Her "Venkatesa Suprabhatam", first in Sanskrit and then in Tamil, rendered with perfect enunciation and beauti ful musical intonation, were best-sellers: so was her "Vishnu Sahasranamam." The other side of this record features a ragamalika rendering of the "Bhaja Govindam" of Adi Sankara with a masterly introduction in English by Rajaji.

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Rajaji was a major influence on the life of T.S. and M.S. The devotion of T.S. to Rajaji was total and absolute. Rajaji's composition in Tamil, "Kurai Ondrum Illai", was set to music as a ragamalika by Kadayanallur Venkataraman. M.S.' soulful rendering o f this song has become extremely popular, and is sung by many concert artists.

T.S. and M.S. also came under the benign grace of the Paramacharya of Kanchi. It was the Acharya who composed the benediction "Maitreem Bhajata" which M.S. sang at the conclusion of her U.N. and Carnegie Hall concerts, ending with the ringing words "Srey o bhooyat sakala jananam' (Let there be grace abounding for all mankind).

While on the subject of devotional music, one must mention her record albums of the compositions of the great bhakta Tirupati Annamacharya. The compositions were beautifully sung and one has become common in Carnatic music - "Sriman Narayana", in Bhouli, thanks to M.S.' rendering of this kriti.

The laurels she has won, all unsought, are many and varied. She received the Padma Bhushan in 1954, when the national awards were instituted, and the President's award for Carnatic music in 1956. She has received several honorary doctorates. She was the first woman artist to receive the Sangita Kalanidhi title from the Music Academy of Chennai. She received the Ramon Magsaysay award, usually referred to as the Asian Nobel Prize, in 1974. The Padma Vibhushan award from the President came in 1975 and the Bharat Ratna in 1998. In 1988, she received the "Kalidas Sanman" of the Madhya Pradesh Government.

T.S. and M.S. made it a habit to give all she received to charitable causes. It all began with Rajaji's request to M.S. to give five benefit recitals for the Kasturba Memorial Fund in 1944. From then on, not only the proceeds of her concerts, but also th e considerable sums representing royalties on her gramophone records and tapes, have gone to charitable and worthwhile causes. The major beneficiaries include the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanam, the Ramakrishna Math, the Nanak Foundation, the Subramanya B harathi memorial at Ettayapuram, the Hindu temple in Flushing, New York, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Kamakshi temple at Kanchi, the Sankara Nethralaya, the Cancer Institute and the Voluntary Health Services, all in Chennai, the Kamban Kazhagam, the M usic Academy and the Sri Sri Sri Mahalakshmi Mathru Bhuteswarar Trust, which is building the Kanchi Mahaswami Mani Mandapam at Orirukkai village near Kanchipuram.

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If I were to attempt a critique of M.S.' music, I can sum it up in one word, "perfection". Her repertoire is immense and her rendering of any song in public is perfect, representing hours of dedicated effort. Her diction is a model of clarity. She learnt the correct pronunciation, and understood the meaning of every word. Her tonal purity is extraordinary. Her raga alapana is always musical and never too long. Her neraval and swara prastara are tuneful and crisp with complete master y of laya. Her bhajans can move the audience and touch hearts; she can induce in them a paravasam (ecstasy) because she is herself in such a state. She has sung bhajans in ten languages, each one of them an example of the highest standards of purity of diction and emotional content.

T.S. and M.S. together lived a life of Gandhian simplicity. (The Mahatma himself longed to hear her sing Ram Dhun and bhajans). They moved from the spacious acres of "Kalki Gardens" to a modest abode in Kotturpuram with the utmost ease. The VIPs were rec eived here with the simple dignity that was the hallmark of this blessed couple. After T.S. passed away, M.S. was truly a woman bereft. Only her bhakti to T.S.' memory and to the Almighty has sustained her. She remains the same simple unaffected h uman being, with her gentle humanity and inborn grace.

M.S. is not in the best of health, but she keeps going with some physical therapy and medical attention. One can only hope that before long she is able to resume her singing, if not at public concerts, at least through the electronic media. Her music is a god-given gift. She must sing again!

C.V. Narasimhan, a former Indian Civil Service officer, was Under Secretary-General of the United Nations between 1956 and 1978.

Police in the dock

Independent inquiries by non-governmental organisations and social action groups find that unwarranted and brutal police violence led to the July 23 massacre in Tirunelveli.

A JUDICIAL inquiry ordered by the Tamil Nadu Government into police violence against a procession of tea estate workers in Tirunelveli on July 23, which claimed 17 lives (Frontline, August 13), is yet to take off. However, a number of non-governme ntal organisations and social action groups have conducted independent inquiries.

The Tamil Nadu unit of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA), the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) - Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, and the Writers and Thinkers Forum for Social Harmony (WTF), a human rights organisation in Madurai, s ent separate fact-finding teams. Other groups jointly held a joint "a public inquest".

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The "jury" of the "public inquest" comprised Justice H. Suresh, former Judge of the Bombay High Court; V.R. Lakshminarayanan, a former Director-General of Police, Tamil Nadu; V. Vasanthi Devi, a former Vice-Chancellor of the Manonmaniam Sundaranar Univer sity in Tirunelveli; and V. Karuppan, a retired IAS officer. The organisers were the Human Rights Education and Protection Council, Tirunelveli; the Society for Community Organisation Trust, Madurai; the Society for Integrated Rural Development, Madurai; the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (Tamil Nadu chapter); Human Rights Foundation, Chennai; and the People's Watch - Tamil Nadu, Madurai.

The reports prepared by the PUCL, the AIDWA and the WTF provided detailed accounts of the police action, which they descibed as "unwarranted". An interim report of the public inquest said: "Prima facie evidence indicates that the police were bruta l and callous in dispersing the crowd." According to the interim report, the crowd was surrounded by the police on three sides and the only way the people could escape from the lathi-charge was by jumping into the river. "If the objective was to disperse the crowd near the Collector's office, there was no need for the police to chase them up to the river and continue to beat them even when they were jumping into river," the jury members observed.

The interim report said that there was evidence to believe that most of the deaths had resulted from police beating and not cases of drowning. Photographs placed before the jury showed the victims bleeding ante-mortem, owing to head and chest injuries. T here were grievous injuries in other parts of their bodies. Post-mortem reports did not record the injuries suffered by the victims, the report said. It concluded: "This makes us doubt the veracity of the post-mortem reports."

(According to a government counter-affidavit filed in response to a writ petition by Puthiya Thamizhagam president Dr. K. Krishnaswamy, who has sought a second post-mortem, some of the bodies had only fish bites and minor aberrations and death in all cas es was due to drowning. The petition is pending before the court.)

All the inquires brought to light the humiliation meted out to some women processionists at a police station in Tirunelveli hours after the police action on July 23 afternoon. They were illegally detained at the police station and stripped and abused by police personnel. They were let off after they gave the police a written assurance of good behaviour.

A press release signed by the "members of the jury of the public inquest" said that 40 persons, most of them eyewitnesses, had deposed on the first day of the inquest, August 19. Many witnesses were women. They alleged that they were "beaten and chased i nto the river by the police and even stripped naked at the police station".

Vasanthi Devi told Frontline that there was a big response from the affected people, particularly women, at the public inquest. The organisers had invited officials to present their case on August 20, but no one turned up. Some local people who de posed on the second day said that processions organised by the Puthiya Tamizhagam usually turned violent. Some of them mentioned that women constables were teased by a section of the processionists. There was, however, no mention of such teasing in the p ress reports or in the first information reports (FIRs) filed by the police. Vasanthi Devi said: "What happened in Tirunelveli on July 23 was a heart-rending incident and a gruesome evidence of what is going on in our society."

THE PUCL team, led by its president Sudha Ramalingam, an advocate, visited Tirunelveli on August 8 and 9 and interviewed 18 eyewitnesses and 15 persons, including relatives of those killed in the incident. V. Palani, secretary of the Tirunelveli district committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who was injured in the incident; District Collector K. Dhanavel; Commissioner of Police T.K. Rajendran; and legislators K. Krishnaswamy (Puthiya Tamizhagam) and Appavu (Tamil Maanila Congress) were am ong those interviewed.

The team observed that a common aspect of all the versions it heard was the idea that the problem was localised and could have been solved by "mature and balanced handling" by the police. "Even assuming that a section of the processionists indulged in so me unwarranted activities which provoked the police to take some action, the large-scale lathi-charge, stone-throwing and chasing of people down the ramp wall of the road and up to and into the river cannot be justified," the team said.

The very fact that all the deaths occurred in the Thamiraparani river more than 100 metres away from the place where the procession was stopped, the team said, "clearly establishes that the police did not stop with dispersing the crowd".

Disagreeing with the official view that the deaths were only due to drowning, the team noted that at least two of the victims, A. Syed Abdul Rahman, 24, and Shah Nawaz, 20, were good swimmers. The only logical explanation for their death, the team said, was that they received head injuries at the hands of the police even after they jumped into the river. The team observed that stone-throwing by the police, "a wholly irresponsible behaviour", aggravated the situation.

The team made a pointed reference to the absence of the City Police Commissioner at the scene, although the administration had anticipated a large turnout and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly S. Balakrishnan was leading the procession, with some other legislators.

The team said that the Deputy Commissioner of Police was the senior-most police official at the scene. "It is very clear that the lathi-charge and the stone-throwing by the police personnel started even as the Deputy Commissioner was talking to the leade rs. According to him, he even physically prevented some of the constables who were close to him from beating up the people. Thus the absence of another senior officer on the spot is one of the major reasons for the incident," the team observed.

The team said that the lathi-charge had not been ordered by the senior-most police official present. "It is very clear that the police contingents present took the law into their own hands and were totally uncontrollable. Very clearly, the police did not behave like a disciplined force." The team dismissed the police version that their action was to protect the honour of the policewomen who were allegedly teased by some processionists.

The team said: "Since the offenders in this case are the police themselves, the investigation and the laying of charge-sheet against these personnel should be done by a Special Investigation Team constituted under Section 37 of the Protection of Human Ri ghts Act, 1993."

A SEVEN-MEMBER team of the Tamil Nadu unit of the AIDWA, led by its working president, Mythily Sivaraman, visited Tirunelveli on August 3 and 4 and met several persons, including members of the families of some victims. The AIDWA report said: "Unless the Collector and the DIG are transferred, an impartial inquiry into the police action is impossible." Citing the fact that the shops on the procession route had remained open, it said that the entire procession was peaceful.

Refuting the official version that the processionists triggered the violence by throwing stones at the police, the team observed that the women witnesses had told the team that there were heaps of stones inside the Collectorate and that the first stone c ame from policemen inside the Collectorate compound, even as the leaders of the procession pleaded with police officials to clear the way for their entry into the premises.

The team said that the only escape route was the river. It added that on being kicked by policemen, women rolled down into the riverbed through thorny bushes, and, hit on the heads, many fell into the river unconscious. The report alleged that the police snatched Vignesh, the 18-month-old son of Rathina Mary, and threw him into the river. The mother was chased and beaten. Both the child and the mother died.

The report said that policewomen stripped and humiliated a few women who swam to safety but were taken to the police station. Some women started bleeding after they were kicked in the abdomen. One woman lost three of her front teeth. The team said that t he injured victims, who were admitted in the Government Hospital, were ridiculed and chided by the staff and they received scant attention. The AIDWA team also demanded a second post-mortem of the bodies.

DESCRIBING the police action as "an unprecedented brutal attack on an unarmed, innocent people", the WTF team led by A. Marx, which visited Tirunelveli on August 15 and 16, criticised the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Government's hard line towards Dal it processions. A substantial number of the Manjolai tea estate workers, who participated in the procession, were Dalits. Noting that the police had indulged in violence even after an official had ordered them not to attack the processionists, the team e xpressed concern over the growing indiscipline in police ranks.

Another victim in Orissa

The hate campaign against minorities in Orissa leads to one more killing, the victim this time being a Christian priest.

THE sustained hate campaign against Christians in Orissa has assumed diabolic proportions with the killing of a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Arul Doss, by a mob of non-Christian fanatics at Jamabani, a remote village in Mayurbhanj district, on the night of September 1. This is the third such incident involving minorities in the State this year: Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons were burnt to death at Manoharpur on the night of January 22, and a Muslim trader, Sheikh Rehman, was killed at Padiabeda village in Mayurbhanj district on August 26. Fr. Arul Doss died in a mob attack on him and other Christians who were participating in festivities after a prayer meeting. (Jamabani is not far from the spot where Graham Staines and his sons were killed.)

The 35-year-old Fr. Doss, a native of Tamil Nadu, had been the priest of the Anandapur Roman Catholic church in Mayurbhanj district for the past five years. He had been visiting villages in the area since August 31.

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Fr. Doss arrived at Jamabani on September 1 along with two other church workers, Darsan Birua and Kate Singh Khuntia, and organised a prayer meeting there the next day. According to some reports, they were watching a cultural programme after a prayer mee ting when a group of 10 to 15 persons, who were armed with lathis, bows and arrows, attacked them. As the participants in the celebrations, including Fr. Doss, tried to escape, the attackers reportedly pierced his body with arrows. The attackers set fire to local church before leaving. Khuntia is in a critical condition.

Fr. Jose Thundiyil, a fellow priest, said that Fr. Doss used to make weekly visits to Jamabani. The journey involved a 32-km scooter ride followed by a 19-km trek. "He had been in our diocese for five years, and he was a very good missionary," Fr. Thundi yil said. "He led a simple life. He wanted to be with the poor all the time. He was not interested in conversions. He was keen on organising the poor people and educating them about their rights so that they could lead better lives," he added.

Condemning the killing, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee urged the Orissa Government to arrest immediately the perpetrators of the "heinous crime" and of previous such incidents, irrespective of their political or other forms of affiliation. "It is ex tremely distressing that such murderous attacks on representatives of the minority community should be taking place unchecked and with alarming regularity in Orissa," he said.

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Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang blamed "non-secular forces" for the killing. The incident occurred in the "area of operation" of Dara Singh, who is wanted in connection with the murder of Graham Staines and his sons and of Sheikh Rehman. "Any killi ng on the eve of the elections can only be the handiwork of non-secular forces, aimed at creating confusion in the minds of voters," Gamang said.

On September 3, Opposition parties organised a Statewide bandh, calling for the Chief Minister's resignation in the light of the latest act of violence against members of minority communities.

The killing of Fr. Doss came barely a week after Dara Singh, the prime accused in the Staines murder case, allegedly killed Sheikh Rehman in Padiabeda. Dara Singh and his men allegedly chopped off Rehman's hands at a crowded market before burning him to death. The ghastly attack came as a shock to the State police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who have been searching for Dara Singh for months. One of Sheikh Rehman's neighbours, Madina Bibi, alleged that Dara Singh had announced his inte ntions in advance. Padiabeda's 20-odd Muslim families, who are terrorised, made similar allegations. They said that Dara Singh had been visiting the area and that he had been spotted at the weekly markets. They wondered why the CBI and the State police h ad not arrested him. They alleged that Dara Singh had a history of attacking Muslim traders, especially cattle dealers.

The State Government was non-committal on whether Dara Singh was involved in the killing of Fr. Doss. "We will neither confirm nor deny it," State Home Secretary Ajit Tripathy said. However, police sources in Mayurbhanj said that the Jamabani attack had the hallmarks of Dara Singh's modus operandi; for instance, the way in which the victims were attacked and churches burnt. They said that Dara Singh's involvement could not be ruled out as the four organised attacks on Christians and Muslims that had taken place over the past eight months in the villages of Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts in north Orissa had occurred within 30 km from Thakurmunda, which is believed to be his stronghold. Dara Singh, an alleged religious fanatic, is believed to b e a Bajrang Dal activist who is on a "mission to take out the minorities". He carries a reward of Rs.5 lakhs on his head.

The Wadhwa Commission which inquired into the Staines murder case has stated in its report that Dara Singh did not act at the behest of any political organisation. This observation has, however, been rejected by many people who say that evidence indicate s otherwise.

The National Council of Churches in India and associated Christian missions have called for a fresh inquiry into the Sangh Parivar's alleged links with Dara Singh. The NCCI president, K. Rajaratnam, and the India Missions Association's vice-chairman, Ebe Sunder Raj, said that the continued killings of members of minority communities necessitated a fresh probe with wider terms of reference that would implicate the abettors of the crime. They said that the Wadhwa Commission report was full of contradictio ns as an overwhelming number of affidavits and documents that were placed before the Commission pointed to Dara Singh's links with the Bajrang Dal/Bharatiya Janata Party/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They alleged that statements made by various Sangh Pari var leaders, which appeared indirectly to justify the killing, were further pointers to the involvement of the Bajrang Dal.

The CBI, which has identified Dara Singh as the prime suspect in the Staines case, is yet to track him down; he is believed to be operating from a dense forest in tribal-dominated north Orissa. The CBI has filed a charge-sheet against 18 accused in the S taines murder case. The charge-sheet, filed at the Designated Court of Justice E. Vasudev Rao in Bhubaneswar, sought permission to conduct further investigations and issue warrants against the absconders. Altogether, 46 persons are believed to have been involved in the killing: nine have been arrested; nine, including Dara Singh, have been mentioned as absconders; the others are yet to be identified. The CBI is reported to have conducted nearly 500 raids to arrest Dara Singh. Police sources conceded tha t the State Government had "washed its hands of" the Staines murder case by handing it over to the CBI in March. The number of raids conducted by the State police on Dara Singh's suspected hideouts in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts came down drastical ly. Dara Singh's decision to lie low for six months after the murder of Graham Staines misled the police into believing that he was "cornered" and that he may have taken refuge in Uttar Pradesh, his home State. "Just when we thought he was gone, he came out of nowhere and struck again," one official said.

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Officials of the CBI said that Dara Singh had become a prominent figure in the area bordering Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts. His name entered the police records after he launched a series of attacks on Muslim cattle traders in the area. It has been a lleged that villagers with whom Dara Singh shared his loot, harbour him.

Evidence collected by the CBI so far reveals that Dara Singh instigated his supporters by saying that Christian missionaries spent a lot of money trying to "convert poor tribal brothers and sisters". According to investigating officers, Dara Singh is bot h respected and feared by the local people. The CBI has decided to start booking cases against those who have been harbouring him.

Pioneer of Indian rocketry

Dr. S. Srinivasan, 1941 - 1999.

DR. S.SRINIVASAN, Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), Thiruvananthapuram, who died on September 1, was the pioneer of rocketry in India. He was the architect of the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Rohini sounding rockets, the Satel lite Launch Vehicle, SLV-3, the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), and was looking forward to the lift-off of the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) from Sriharikota next year. He was fully involved with the GSLV, which entails the application of the frontier technology using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. He was an expert in launch vehicle technology. Srinivasan was 58 and is survived by his wife, a daughter and a son.

Dr. Srinivasan was admitted to a hospital in Chennai on August 29 and underwent emergency heart surgery. He had undergone bypass surgery a decade ago. Hundreds of his colleagues from the VSSC and SHAR paid their respects to him in Chennai.

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ISRO chairman Dr. K. Kasturirangan, who attended the funeral, told Frontline: "Dr. Srinivasan was an exceptional scientist. He was the pioneer of rocketry in India. He was the architect of Indian rocketry in more than one sense because in the desi gn, configuration and implementation of a launch vehicle project - in all aspects - he was outstanding. He grew with ISRO, evolved with ISRO and gave the pride of place to ISRO in the comity of space-faring nations."

According to fellow-scientists and engineers, he was a visionary, working on the dream project of a technology demonstrator for a re-usable launch vehicle which would reduce the cost of access to space.

D. Narayana Moorthi, Programme Director, Launch Vehicle Programme Office, ISRO Headquarters, Bangalore, said that Dr. Srinivasan was wedded to technology. Moorthi said: "He was a technologist and a project manager, both moulded together."

BORN on April 14, 1941 in Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, Srinivasan took his B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering with honours from Annamalai University and M.E. in Aeronautical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He received h is doctorate in Engineering Mechanics from Ohio State University, the U.S.

Srinivasan worked for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore as an aeronautical engineer. He joined ISRO in 1970. He was first involved in the development of hardware for the Rohini rockets, and from 1973 started working on the SLV. When A.P.J. A bdul Kalam, now Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, was the Project Director of SLV-3 in 1980, Dr. Srinivasan was the Deputy Project Director. They formed a great team and the launch of SLV-3 in 1980 from SHAR was hugely successful; it deployed a 35-kg Rohini satellite in near-earth orbit. Then followed a series of SLV-3 flights. According to Rajaram Nagappa, Associate Director, VSSC, Dr. Srinivasan was instrumental in the design and development, qualification and realisation of the flight stage s of the SLV-3.

Dr. Srinivasan was the Project Director of the PSLV in its formative stages. He became the Programme Director of the Integrated Launch Vehicle Programme in 1988 and contributed to the planning of the follow-on PSLVs, GSLVs and advanced vehicles. He was D irector, SHAR, for a brief period, after which he became Director, VSSC, in 1994.

Nagappa said that after the first two ASLV flights failed, Dr. Srinivasan provided a re-configuration to the vehicle by adding fins and other features, giving controllability to the vehicle. The next two ASLV flights were successful.

Narayana Moorthi said that Dr. Srinivasan was responsible for the evolution of the PSLV from the drawing stage to its commercial launch on May 26, 1999 when it lifted three satellites - Indian Remote-Sensing Satellite (IRS), a German satellite and a Sout h Korean spacecraft. According to Nagappa, even as Dr. Srinivasan gave shape to the PSLV's configuration, design and development, he simultaneously conceived, planned and established the facilities needed for the project. These included vehicle integrati on and checkout facilities at Valiamala and Thumba, Kerala, and at SHAR, Andhra Pradesh.

A characteristic trait of Dr. Srinivisan was that even as he was working on one project, he would scout around for future projects. He kept track of developments in space in other countries and decided what speciality ISRO should develop. Narayana Moorth i said, "He was thinking of a technology demonstrator for a re-usable launch vehicle."

In the assessment of G. Madhavan Nair, Director, Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, ISRO, Dr. Srinivasan "was a master of vehicle technology. Besides, he was one person who could cover any aspect in the field. PSLV was his dream baby."

R.V. Perumal, Project Director, GSLV, said: "He was a builder. He was a man of grand ideas, which were substantially met. He was a good man to a fault."

There was all round praise about the human side of Dr. Srinivasan too. S. Ramakrishnan, Project Director, PSLV, said: "He was a positive person. He was a good leader."

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Oct 9,2020