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COVER STORY

08-10-1999

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Briefing

GROWING UNEASE

Midway through the elections, the BJP seems to have lost its decisive edge and bravado as it faces the prospect of losing ground in the pivotal State of Uttar Pradesh.

SINCE 1991 when it won 120 seats in the Lok Sabha as the champion of an unalloyed form of political sectarianism, the Bharatiya Janata Party has set much store by the two States of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. These two States accounted for 63 of th e 120 seats it won in the 1991 elections, 79 of its 161 seats in 1996, and 87 of its 182 seats in 1998. There has undoubtedly been a slow process of diversification of the sources of the BJP's power at the Centre. But the dependence on these two States, which between them account for 125 seats in the Lok Sabha, still remains heavy.

Against this background, the curious loss of momentum and initiative on the part of the BJP, just when the polling process has shifted to these two pivotal States, should occasion some surprise. What had been forecast in early opinion polls as a triumpha l romp for the BJP and its allies now seems more closely to resemble a hard slog in the home stretch. What should have been the most comfortable electoral majority for any ruling formation in 15 years could now turn into a wafer-thin margin, susceptible to every manner of disruption from the fractious alliance that the BJP has led into electoral battle.

The inherent imperfections of the craft of poll forecasting were evidently not given sufficient attention in the early predictions of a sweeping triumph for the BJP. In a context that witnesses a diversity of configurations in the States - from bipolar t o multi-cornered contests - there is no credible methodology for accurately converting the vote percentages obtained from opinion polls into a forecast of seats won. This debility is especially acute since all the forecasts were premised upon a broad cho ice of national voter samples and did not pay sufficient attention to the minutiae of the various States.

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Aside from these imperfections, the pollsters evidently did not factor the disorienting effects of the "Kargil inflation" into their calculations. Conducted for the most part before polling actually began in an unprecedentedly long election schedule, sur veys of voting behaviour were easily beguiled by the pervasive aura of national well-being that the Kargil victory created. But just as the euphoria of military victory exerted an undue influence over the early rounds of polling, its impact on the later rounds tended towards a progressive dilution. It just so happens that the latter three rounds of polling take in all the constituencies in U.P., and 26 of the 40 constituencies in M.P.

Ultimately, it is on the outcome in U.P. that the fortunes of the BJP-led coalition will revolve. Since single-party dominance of Indian democracy was shaken in 1967 and irretrievably shattered in 1989, several changes of regime have been witnessed in De lhi. In 1991, P.V. Narasimha Rao managed to put together a tenuous parliamentary majority - premised upon the goodwill of several parties that had greater reason to oppose the BJP than the Congress(I) - with only five seats from U.P. The United Front coa lition that followed had a more substantial parliamentary representation of 19 from the State.

Except for these two interludes, U.P. has always been a decisive factor in any change of regime at the Centre. The transformation of the BJP from its role of Opposition in 1991, to short-lived power in 1996 and then a relatively more durable tenure in au thority in 1998, has been underpinned by its ability to keep this pivotal State firmly in its corner.

Today, for the first time since it was famously thwarted by an alliance of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party in the 1993 Assembly elections, the BJP faces the prospect of actually losing ground in U.P. These expectations have acquired an un mistakable aura of menace for the party's plans to ride back to power. Emergency measures have been initiated to retrieve ground that rapidly threatens to slip out from under the party in the Lok Sabha constituencies that go to the polls on September 25 and October 3. These include raising the pitch of the campaign in all the constituencies by drafting a number of the BJP's more prominent central leaders.

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SEVERAL factors have converged to generate this turbulence in the last phase of the BJP's triumphal march. First, the social coalitions crafted in the crucible of the campaign for the temple at Ayodhya have begun to come apart. Secondly, the incumbency d isadvantage is doubly compounded in the case of U.P., since the BJP has been in power at both the Centre and State levels. Public perceptions of sloppy performance by elected representatives are unlikely to be submerged in contrived projections of nation al glory acquired under the leadership of Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The amalgam of upper castes and backward classes that the BJP put together during the Ayodhya movement was always an unstable political combine. It only took a relatively uninterrupted occupancy of power - just under two years in this case - for all the inherent contradictions to sharpen. Today, the BJP is in mortal danger of losing the entire constituency of Lodh Rajputs, a numerically significant presence in a vast tract of central U.P. Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, himself a Lodh, has conspicuously ab sented himself from an active campaign role. His rift with the Rajput-Brahmin-Bania combine, which has always contested his dominance of the party in the State, now appears to have reached a breaking point.

A number of constituency-specific initiatives have been worked out by the BJP to combat this particular threat. Uma Bharti, the saffron clad politician of backward class extraction, is being despatched to U.P. to stem the tide of defections from the rank s that Sakshi Maharaj, another politician in the robes of mendicancy, has been orchestrating. Kalyan Singh himself is being cajoled to take up the campaign in pockets where he would have no reason to object to the choice of the party's nominees.

The extra campaign effort also includes a planned four-day tour of the State by Vajpayee just before the last phase of polling on October 3, on which day polling is scheduled to take place in 31 constituencies in the State. How far these would turn the t ide remains a matter for speculation. When ground realities turn adverse it often is futile to expect salvation from forces on-high. The BJP may additionally have reasons to worry about the outcome in M.P.

SINCE plumbing the depths with only 31 per cent of the popular vote in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress(I) in M.P. has set itself on a steady path upwards. It obtained 39 per cent of the vote in 1998 and dramatically raised its share to the win ning figure of 45 per cent in the November Assembly elections. Chief Minister Digvijay Singh has successfully placated all sources of dissension within the party and enjoys the kind of popular acceptance that could propel the party to a similarly strong showing. That would be a decisive setback to the BJP's ambitions of emerging with a clear-cut majority in Parliament.

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The declarations of victory then were clearly premature. No longer are elections decided as a referendum on the personalities of contending political leaders. Nor indeed is the transient euphoria of military achievement an adequate substitute for the har d slog of providing a sense of direction to the task of administration at the Centre. Although it seems the most likely outcome of the 1999 elections is that the BJP and its allies would be given the first claim to the formation of a government at the Ce ntre, few today would be prepared to swear that the second Vajpayee administration will be in any way more purposive or more durable than the first.

A violent turn in the third phase

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

MORE than half the electorate has voted by the end of the third phase of polling in the five-phase Lok Sabha elections, scheduled to end on October 3. The second phase on September 11 and the third phase on September 18 recorded moderate polling, with so me major incidents of violence.

An estimated 56.22 per cent of the 15.23 crore voters in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu voted in the second phase, which covered 123 constituencies. Assembly elections in Mahara shtra and Karnataka were also completed in this phase. The first phase on September 5 had recorded a voter turnout of 58.17 per cent.

In the trouble-torn regions of Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu registered 45 per cent polling, Udhampur 35 per cent and Srinagar 11.96 per cent. Cross-border firing did not deter a significant number of voters in the State. Maharashtra's Minister of State for R evenue Udayan Raje Bhosle, the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate for the Satara Assembly seat, was arrested in connection with the murder of a Nationalist Congress Party activist. The Election Commission (E.C.) ordered repolling in 80 booths (14 in Madhya Pradesh, two in Kerala, 22 in Andhra Pradesh, 19 in Tamil Nadu, three in Karnataka, and 20 in Rajasthan) after the second phase.

The BJP complained to the E.C. about "booth capturing" in Hyderabad, besides in Kota, Dausa and Jhalawar in Rajasthan. In the Siripur Assembly seat in Andhra Pradesh, polling was postponed after the Telugu Desam Party candidate, P. Purushottam Rao, was k illed by suspected naxalites.

The third phase of polling covered 76 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir. Polling also took place in 97 Assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh. Elections to the Hoshangabad and Vi disha Lok Sabha constituencies in Madhya Pradesh were postponed from September 18 to September 28 because of incessant rain and flooding.

The average voting in the third phase was 53 per cent. Electronic voting machines were used in four constituencies - Bhopal, Allahabad, Kanpur and Agra. Andhra Pradesh registered 61 per cent polling, followed by 57.5 per cent in Bihar, 51 per cent in Utt ar Pradesh, 45 per cent in Madhya Pradesh. Baramullah recorded a voter turnout of 27 per cent.

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Bihar and Uttar Pradesh joined the polling process only in the third phase. Bihar witnessed massive violence, engineered by naxalites (story on page 27). A Congress(I) leader was stabbed to death in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. Rastriya Rifles ja wans killed two militants who had allegedly tried to intimidate voters in Baramullah.

The E.C. planned a month-long polling exercise in order to facilitate the movement of Central paramilitary forces from one State to another to ensure peaceful elections. However, critics said that the phased elections probably helped violent groups move from one place to another.

Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill, who had expressed satisfaction over the peaceful conduct of the first and second phases of polling, was at a loss to explain the violence that marked the third phase. He claimed that most deaths in Bihar were caused by landmine blasts and were linked to socio-ideological conflicts.

In response to a complaint from the BJP and the Samata Party that an excessive number of ballot papers had been printed in Bihar, the E.C. despatched two special teams, one each to Calcutta and Patna, to verify allegations of large-scale printing and dis tribution of duplicate ballot papers. Quoting the Director of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), Samata Party president and Union Defence Minister George Fernandes alleged that 65,000 duplicate ballot papers meant for Barh and Nalanda (from where Samata Par ty leaders Nitish Kumar and George Fernandes were contesting) had been printed at the West Bengal government-owned Saraswathi Press in Calcutta. However, Fernandes' claim that the I.B. Director had confirmed his charges was denied by the Union Home Minis try. His indiscretion in dragging a senior official into the controversy for partisan ends was widely criticised.

The acting Governor of Bihar, Justice B.M. Lal, asked the E.C. to transfer civilian and police officials whose actions were suspect and to deploy adequate forces in sensitive areas. The acting Governor reportedly blamed the E.C. for not taking adequate m easures to prevent the large-scale violence that took place on September 18. He also expressed dissatisfaction over Election Commissioner G.V.G. Krishna-murthy's claim that there were no fake ballot boxes. Justice Lal is due to retire as the Chief Justic e of the Patna High Court on October 6. Even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee cast doubts about the E.C.'s role in the "fake ballot boxes" controversy.

Meanwhile, the BJP had a difficult time fielding a candidate in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir. Dr. Abdul Rehman Sheikh was named the BJP candidate to replace Ghulam Haider Noorani, who was killed in a landmine blast on September 7. Barely 24 hours after he was nominated, Sheikh's son was kidnapped and he refused to contest. Sheikh paid a hefty ransom for his son's release. The BJP then announced Showkat Hussein Wani, who was allegedly linked to the kidnapping, as its candidate in Anantnag. Showkat filed h is nomination papers. Anantnag will go to the polls on October 4.

Changing scene

The presence of four strong political formations in the fray, and the likely shift in the voting patterns of the castes and communities forming their support bases, have made the electoral outcome highly unpredictable in Uttar Pradesh.

A CURIOUS air of detachment prevails in the Bharatiya Janata Party office in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh. Party volunteers sprawl indolently on mattresses laid out on the floor, not really seeking public attention with the fervour customary of an election se ason. Vinay Katiyar, the battering ram of the BJP's Ayodhya mobilisation, is out campaigning to regain the seat he lost in 1998 after successive triumphs in 1991 and 1996. But his party workers are unaware of his location and itinerary.

Just days earlier, Vishwa Hindu Parishad chieftain Ashok Singhal had been to Faizabad to campaign for his embattled protege. At two rather sparsely attended public meetings, he never once raised the issue of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. In the discourse of the VHP, Ayodhya had obviously been supplanted by Kargil as a symbol of resurgent Indian nationalism.

The palpable sense of indifference in the BJP camp is curious. By any reckoning, the party stands a good chance of regaining Faizabad, a seat of symbolic importance ever since it became the focus of the ritualistic politics of the Ayodhya movement. On ba sic arithmetical logic, it faces an Opposition that is splintered three ways, rather than two ways as in 1998. In obvious ire at being denied the ticket, Mitrasen Yadav who won the seat for the Samajwadi Party in 1998, is contesting as an independent can didate. Having won twice from Faizabad - the first time as a Communist Party of India candidate in 1991 - Mitrasen has a presence in certain pockets of the constituency. Moreover, he is impossible to ignore because of the energy and zeal he brings to his campaign and the various debts of honour he is known to call in at election time.

The Samajwadi Party ticket this time around has been given to Heeralal Yadav, a zilla parishad-level politician of limited horizons and unthreatening mien - attributes that make him an appropriate standard-bearer for party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. Sh ould the two Yadav candidates split the 250,000 votes that the Samajwadi Party obtained in 1998, then Katiyar, who lost by fewer than 8,000 votes, should have an easy time. The Bahujan Samaj Party is also in the fray and is not expected to suffer serious diminution in the 19 per cent vote share it recorded in 1998.

Katiyar's problems emanate from a rather unforeseen quarter. After having virtually sat out two elections, the Congress(I) has returned to the contest in Faizabad with a new energy. Gone is the lack of purpose and direction so evident in 1996, when the C ongress(I) gave the ticket to a local college teacher best known for his manic advocacy of the temple project at Ayodhya. Absent too is the indifference of 1998, when the Congress(I) ceded the seat to Ajit Singh's party, which did not have even a token p resence in the region.

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The Congress(I) this time has fielded Nirmal Khatri who came to prominence as the local legislator in 1980 and as the youngest member of the U.P. Ministry. He subsequently won the election to the Lok Sabha in 1984, but withdrew from active political enga gement after a narrow loss in 1989 and an abject failure of initiative in his party over the BJP's pursuit of the Ayodhya project. A grand-nephew of Acharya Narendra Dev, Khatri brings the prestige of a respected political dynasty to the campaign. But he faces a long haul in pushing the Congress(I)'s tally of the popular vote up from the region of 2 per cent - where it has lingered in the last two general elections. As a member of a minuscule Khatri community, he cannot recruit caste loyalties to his ca use. But his campaign managers expect a substantial number of votes to accrue on the strength of his aura and personality. The erosion of Katiyar's image and the deflation of the Ram temple as an issue are expected to contribute the rest. The energetic c ampaign mounted by the Congress(I) in Faizabad strongly conveys the impression of a party that senses a dramatic - and imminent - reversal of fortunes.

IN nearby Rae Bareli, the man who was partly responsible for initiating the Congress(I)'s fatal flirtation with Hindu communalism as Rajiv Gandhi's closest political confidant, affects an air of supreme confidence. Arun Nehru, Minister of State for Home Affairs in the Rajiv Gandhi administration and later a member of the V.P. Singh Cabinet, is today the standard-bearer for the BJP in a constituency he has won twice before for the Congress(I). He confronts Satish Sharma, a longtime Gandhi family intimate , fighting on the Congress(I) ticket. He is busy calling in old associations from the decade of the 1980s, when he represented Rae Bareli in Parliament.

Arun Nehru's confidence emanates from his reading that between 1980, when he first won with 68 per cent of the vote and 1998, when the Congress(I) logged 7 per cent, the party he once represented has suffered irreversible damage.

Ashok Singh, an old lieutenant of Arun Nehru's, had won Rae Bareli for the BJP in 1998. He switched loyalties to the Congress(I) when the current elections were called, in the evident belief that he would be given the party ticket for the constituency. H e has not taken well to Satish Sharma's late entry and is in a mood to wreak vengeance. In part, the implications can be seen in the conduct of his brother, Akhilesh Singh, a Congress(I) legislator from Rae Bareli known for his ferocious turf instinct.

On September 18, Arun Nehru notably conducted a successful election meeting at Amanwa. The village, 18 km from Rae Bareli, is known to be the operational base from which Akhilesh Singh launches all his intimidatory forays into adjoining areas to enforce compliance with his political diktat. In allowing Arun Nehru the relatively unfettered freedom to operate within his domain, he seemed to signal a more positive disposition towards the BJP.

The S.P. has put up Gajadhar Singh, a zilla parishad-level politician from the Rajput community. This offers the option of caste consolidation to Ashok Singh and his family of traditional feudal overlords. A shift of the Rajput vote to the S.P. could cau se a serious upset. Fighting on the BJP ticket, Ashok Singh had in 1998 prevailed over his S.P. rival by just over 40,000 votes. This is evidently a margin that can easily be bridged, given the new configuration of caste loyalties.

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Despite fielding a relatively high-profile candidate, the Congress(I) is not seen to be seriously in the race in Rae Bareli. Relative to Faizabad, the Congress(I) starts here with a lesser disadvantage. Its vote share in the last two elections has averag ed about 8 per cent. But unlike the candidate in Faizabad, Satish Sharma has shown little inclination to go out and hustle up the votes. Though essentially seen as a contest between the BJP and the Congress(I), Rae Bareli could well be transformed into o ne between the S.P. and the BJP.

A CONGRESS(I) revival in U.P. - if such is indeed under way - is not going to be a spontaneous affair or one occasioned merely by dynastic charisma. In the western sector of the State, it is the strategic alliance with Ajit Singh's party that holds the k ey. And in other parts, it is premised on a credible effort to seek the votes, to bring back sections that have strayed away from their traditional allegiance to the party. Reassembling the Congress(I)'s traditional social coalitions also involves restor ing the party's organisational network, bringing back the cadres who will keep the machinery working through the campaign and the polling process.

It is in these respects that Faizabad and Rae Bareli offer a study in contrasts. Aside from the town squares and main district roads, the Congress(I) seems to have little penetration in Rae Bareli. And its candidate is a person who is unfamiliar with the region and detached from its ethos and identity.

"There has been a disease within the Congress(I) over the last two decades," says Surendra Pratap Singh, member of the All India Congress(I) Committee and election agent for Nirmal Khatri in Faizabad. "Organisational work and cadre building," he says, "h ave come to a halt." The consequences have been apparent in the Congress(I)'s precipitate plunge from a dominant position in the 1980s to the parlous state of 1998. Dynastic charisma has never been a factor of significant moment in the State. Among all t he States that went to the polls in two stages in 1991, U.P. manifested the smallest magnitude of a "sympathy vote" after the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. Each round of elections since then has brought the Congress(I) closer to extinction. Even a strategi c alliance with the BSP in 1996 only brought it temporary succour. A large number of its elected legislators split to make common cause with the BJP early in 1998, in what seemed the death-blow to the party in the State.

In a sense, the 1998 elections marked the final denouement of the politics of convenience that the Congress(I) has always played in U.P. Failure to respond to the challenge of backward class mobility and political assertion in the 1960s was the first of the defaults. Inaugurating the politics of competitive communalism in the 1980s - opening the doors of the Babri Masjid to Hindu worship and overturning the ruling of the Supreme Court on maintenance for Muslim women - was the final and fatal error.

Uncertainty over which constituency to cultivate in U.P. was compounded by a sequence of disastrous alliances. Against the party's best interests, Rajiv Gandhi concluded a pact with Mulayam Singh Yadav in 1990. The consequence was the Congress(I)'s releg ation to third position in the State in 1989 - behind the BJP and the still extant Janata Dal. It only took the complete conquest of the Janata Dal by Mulayam Singh to propel him to second position in U.P.'s political landscape. And the BSP meanwhile was whittling away the Congress(I)'s traditional base among Dalits, to emerge as the third really major player in the State by the 1993 Assembly elections.

Confronted with a challenge from the land-owning backward classes, Sampurnanand, one of the dominant faction leaders within the Congress(I) for much of the 1950s and 1960s, had forcefully endorsed "the continuation of the upper classes coalition in the C ongress(I)". This, he argued, would ensure the party's "influence in rural areas".

The idea was clearly to cement the allegiance of Dalits and Muslims to this coalition of upper classes, to ensure continuing Congress(I) hegemony in the State. That strategy came a cropper when the Congress(I), in response to the demands of its upper cas te constituencies, began stirring up the Ayodhya controversy in the mid-1980s. Muslims were progressively alienated and switched their loyalty to first V.P. Singh and then Mulayam Singh. Concurrently, Dalits were falling under the spell of the BSP, which promised them empowerment in a very direct way in local institutions, rather than the share in a system of upper class patronage that the Congress(I) held out.

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If the pattern of partisan loyalties that crystallised in the 1990s is to splinter in the Congress(I)'s favour, it would have to be at the expense of the S.P. In 1993, the S.P. had demonstrated, in alliance with the BSP, the ability to assemble sufficien t numbers on the ground to overwhelm the BJP. But in subsequent years, it also demonstrated the manifest tendency to wreck this consolidation of forces in pursuit of its own narrow interests. The subsequent contests in 1996 and 1998 have shown that the S .P. is incapable of assembling the coalition of social forces that could actually empower the backward classes and Muslims. This provides an incentive to Muslims to turn to the Congress(I), which remains the only serious national alternative to the BJP.

This factor is offset by a fraying of the BJP's winning combination in U.P. - between the forward classes which traditionally provided the leadership cadres to the Congress(I) and the relatively less prosperous backward classes. An analysis of voting beh aviour from the 1996 Assembly elections in U.P. reveals that the BJP won 76 per cent of the forward caste, 53 per cent of the "most backward caste" and 58 per cent of the Scheduled Tribe vote. The S.P. and its allies, in comparison, assembled their legis lative strength on the basis of 67 per cent of the Muslim vote and 52 per cent of the "landed backward caste" vote. The alliance of the BSP and the Congress(I) won a significant share of the Muslim vote, but was essentially dependent for its sustenance o n the Scheduled Castes, of whose vote it won no less than 73 per cent. Only 6.7 per cent of the forward castes voted for this alliance, which provides the basis for BSP leader Mayawati's assertion that her votes are transferable to the Congress(I), thoug h not vice versa.

A marginal shift of the backward caste vote from the BJP to the S.P. could radically alter the balance of forces in U.P. But if this is accompanied by a shift of Muslim voters to the Congress(I), then the BJP's own strength may not be seriously impaired despite an erosion of its vote share. The possibilities are as diverse as the State of U.P. itself. The trend of the campaign shows that the Congress(I)'s gains will be patchy and contingent on a host of local circumstances. But the overarching probabili ty of the BJP taking substantial losses in U.P., which provides almost a third of its parliamentary strength today, cannot be denied.

Political paradoxes

In this election, the secular vote is more sharply divided in Uttar Pradesh than in previous elections, largely owing to the political resurgence of the Congress(I). Even so, the BJP appears likely to face an erosion in its support base and its tally of seats.

THE electoral scene in the 85 Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh is somewhat paradoxical this time. In the two previous Lok Sabha elections, in 1996 and 1998, the split in the secular vote between the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj P arty (BSP) helped the Bharatiya Janata Party win a majority of the seats in the State. This time, the secular vote is bound to be more divided than before - particularly since a resurgent Congress(I) has forced a quadrangular contest in a sizable number of constituencies. Yet the BJP, which should ordinarily have benefited from such a division of the secular vote, may end up winning fewer seats than it did in 1998.

This political situation, astonishing in many ways, has come about essentially on account of four factors. First, the strong anti-incumbency mood towards the Kalyan Singh-led BJP coalition Government in the State, which may prove to be the decisive facto r in almost every constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Second, the shift in the votes of those belonging to the upper castes, particularly Brahmins, from the BJP to the Congress(I), and the growing support for the Congress(I) among Muslim minorities. Third, th e denial of the ticket to former BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj and the resentment it has caused among large sections of the Lodh Rajput backward caste community, which traditionally supported the BJP. Fourth, the vote arithmetic factor that is bound to give an e dge to the party that finished second in each constituency in the previous elections. Going by campaign trends, this will help either the S.P. or the BSP in at least 18 constituencies, and the BJP in seven constituencies.

The absence of a sense of euphoria over the "great Kargil victory", which the BJP appeared to be banking on, and the failure of the public to share in the BJP's appreciation of the "sterling leadership qualities" of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a re two other factors that are certain to work against the BJP.

The party that is expected to make the biggest and most dramatic gains from all this is the Congress(I). A party that had fared as badly as it did in 1998 - it did not win a single seat - can, of course, only improve its performance this time. To what ex tent the other political forces in the State, such as the S.P. and the BSP, can benefit from a possible erosion in the BJP's strength is a trifle unclear. For in those constituencies where the two parties had won in 1998, they may be affected by the "ant i-incumbency" sentiment directed at the sitting MP. The Congress(I)'s blank score-card in U.P. in 1998 means that it will face no such problem.

Undoubtedly, the Congress(I) is set to transform itself from the position of having been the only clear loser in the 1998 elections to being the only certain winner this time. In 1996 it won only five seats and secured 8.14 per cent of the popular vote i n the State. In 1998, it lost all five seats, and its vote share slumped further to 6.02 per cent. In the view of political analysts, the Congress(I) in U.P. was the only major party to lose out on both counts. Both the BJP and the S.P. increased their s eat and vote share; the BSP increased its vote share from 20.6 per cent to 20.9 per cent, although its seat share fell from six to four. Trends from across the State this time indicate that the Congress(I) is certain to increase its share of votes as wel l as seats.

The rejuvenation of the Congress(I) is evident most strikingly in the hill districts and parts of western and central Uttar Pradesh; the party is expected to do well in about 20 seats in these regions. The party is particularly well placed in the four co nstituencies in the hill districts. Led by veteran leader N.D. Tiwari, who is contesting from his traditional Nainital seat, the Congress(I) is putting up such a good show in the region that independent observers say that it may even make a clean sweep h ere.

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In addition to the anti-incumbency mood against the State Government and the shift in the allegiance of Brahmins and other upper castes in favour of the Congress(I), two factors operate in this region. First, there is deep-rooted resentment against the C entral Government for its failure to deliver on its promise to grant statehood to the hill districts. During the 1998 election campaign, the BJP had promised that a new state of Uttaranchal would be formed within 80 days of its assuming office. The peopl e in the hill districts are incensed that this promise remains unfulfilled. The second factor that is likely to favour the Congress(I) is that its organisational base in the region is far superior to that of the S.P. and the BSP.

In Pratapgarh, former MP Ratna Singh, who is contesting for the third successive time, will benefit from the Congress(I)'s good organisational base. Similar is the situation in Shajahanpur, where former Congress(I) vice-president Jitendra Prasada is pitt ed against Union Minister Satyapal Singh Yadav of the BJP and Ram Murthi Singh of the S.P. In Rampur, a strong grassroots-level support base coupled with the presence of a popular candidate - Begum Noorbhano, who finished second in 1998 - will work to th e Congress(I)'s advantage. The BJP has fielded Mukthar Naqvi, Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, but Noorbhano's charisma and the shift of the votes of Muslims are expected to see her through this time.

In at least five other constituences in central Uttar Pradesh, the Congress(I) is likely to benefit from the emotive appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Amethi and Rae Bareli are considered the pocketborough of the family; this time Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi is contesting from Amethi and Captain Satish Sharma from Rae Bareli. Similar political influences are at work in Sultanpur, Pratapgarh and Allahabad. The dynasty factor comes into play in Farukhabad too, where Louis Khurshid, grand daughter- in-law of former President Zakir Hussain and wife of State Congress(I) president Salman Khurshid, is in the fray.

Similarly, in six constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh, including the key seats of Meerut, Baghpat and Saharanpur, the Congress(I) is putting up a strong show in association with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) led by Ajit Singh. In this region, Muslim vo ters have almost completely deserted the S.P., which they had backed solidly until now. The reason for this desertion seems to be the perception that the S.P. may not be able to defeat the BJP owing to its inability to strengthen its support base among c ommunities other than the minorities.

Scores of Muslims whom Frontline spoke to in various parts of western Uttar Pradesh underlined this point. A group of Muslims in the Shajahanpur region in Meerut said that only Muslims seemed to be voting for the S.P. and that this was not enough to fulfil their primary objective of defeating the BJP. Echoing these sentiments, Dr. Tariqat Ali, an Ayurvedic physician in Daula village in Baghpat constituency, said: "Our votes were going waste. We do not want that to happen again."

In contrast, the Congress(I) and the RLD, both of which are witnessing an improvement in their political fortunes over their abysmal performance in 1998, are drawing support from a section of the upper castes, Gujjars and Jats, in addition to that of Mus lims - a formidable support base as they take on the BJP. However, the Congress(I) has not won such widespread support in central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, even in constituencies where it has won in the past. As a result, doubts about its winnability ha ve prevented an en masse transfer of Muslim votes.

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Resentment triggered by the choice of candidates and the lack of proper organisational machinery have accentuated this deficiency. In Farukhabad, a section of the party activists are upset by the "imposition" of political debutant Louis Khurshid; in Rae Bareli, the nomination of Satish Sharma has led to some heart-burn. Former BJP MP from Rae Bareli Ashok Singh, who has a strong base among the upper-caste Thakur community and who resigned from the BJP two months ago, was hoping to get the Congress(I) ti cket from here. The high command's move to bring in Sharma, an "outsider", has angered Ashok Singh's supporters, who, by all indications, are backing the S.P. candidate, Gajendra Singh, a Thakur and a local politician.

Even in Allahabad, where the Congress(I)'s choice of candidate has not been questioned, the minorities are not quite ready to back the Congress(I) because the party is not seen as a winning prospect. The Congress(I) candidate, Rita Bahuguna, the city May or, has a good administrative track record; being the daughter of former Chief Minister H.N. Bahuguna, she has the support of sections of the upper castes. But her campaign is hampered by the absence of a Congress(I) organisational machinery; the campaig n is being managed in large part by her mother Kamla Bahuguna, 75, who knows the constituency well.

If Rita Bahuguna gets her act together, she can take credit for defeating two powerful candidates, Union Minister for Human Resource Development Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP and former Deputy Chief Minister Reoti Raman Singh of the S.P. But in order to be able to do that, she needs to win over the support of the Muslims. Other seats where the party is putting up a good fight are Varanasi and Kanpur.

THE Congress(I)'s problem in areas other than western Uttar Pradesh and the hill districts is that the strong support it has among the minorities is not supplemented by a support base among other groups. And this is precisely the strength of the S.P. and the BSP in a large number of seats in Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand and Ruhelkhand. The S.P., which registered the biggest growth in terms of vote share in 1998 - it grew from 20.83 per cent in 1996 to 28.69 per cent in 1998 as compared to the BJP's increase from 33.43 per cent to 36.48 per cent - has constantly attracted new sections and communities to its fold.

Between 1996 and 1998 it added sizable sections of Thakurs to its traditional support base of Yadavs and Muslims. Party general secretary Amar Singh played on the feelings of resentment among this upper-caste community triggered by the short-lived BJP-BS P alliance of 1996-97. The party has fielded 19 Thakur candidates this time. The S.P. leadership further claims that it will benefit from the bitterness among Banias and a section of Brahmins against the State and Central governments. These claims are va lid, at least in some areas of the State. In Kusmara and Kishni villages in Mainpuri district as well as in Etawah town, groups of Banias affirmed that they had shifted their loyalty from the BJP to the S.P. "Mulayam Singh Yadav keeps his word: he does n ot go back on his promise - as the BJP leaders do even after taking bribes," said Dinesh Chandra Aggarwal of Etawah.

According to senior S.P. leaders, seeing the party's ability to add to its support base, the Muslim community had felt encouraged to stay with the S.P., although a section of the minorities were unhappy over Mulayam Singh Yadav's failure to cooperate in the formation of an alternative government under Sonia Gandhi's leadership following the fall of the Vajpayee government. In Bahraich and Azamgarh constituencies, which were held by the BSP, it is believed that the accretion of support to the S.P. may pe rsuade Muslims to back the S.P. this time. In constituencies such as Badaun, Mainpuri and Kannauj, where the Yadavs are the dominant community along with Muslims, the minorities will almost certainly support the S.P.

The S.P. suffered a series of jolts in the early stages of its campaign when 12 MLAs, including five belonging to the minority community, left the party. Many of them joined the Congress(I). The leadership claims to have made up for this loss by winning over leaders from other parties such as the BSP and the Congress(I) and by winning support from other caste groups. The S.P. has fielded six former BSP candidates, including Kamal Yusuf Malik, V.P. Nishad and Hari Prasad, who had in 1998 finished second in Domariaganj, Fatehpur and Robertsganj respectively. All three seats had been won by the BJP.

Despite resorting to such tactics, the S.P. will face a tough time retaining its seats in Jalesar, Mohanlalganj and Balrampur. The shifting of Muslim votes to either the Congress(I) or the BSP, and anti-incumbency sentiment at the constituency level, may pose problems. While the BSP is reportedly ahead in Jalesar, the BJP's chances seem to be bright in Mohanalalganj and Balrampur.

However, the S.P. hopes to benefit from the Sakshi Maharaj factor, which has effectively delivered to it the votes of a section of the backward castes - Lodh Rajputs. There is a significant presence of Lodh Rajputs in the 11 constituencies that lie betwe en Mathura and Farukhabad; of these, the S.P. won only three in 1998. This time it hopes to wrest seven seats from the BJP. Whether these hopes will be realised is unclear, but it is evident that despite the loss of support of a section of Muslims to the Congress(I), the S.P. is still a force to reckon with in 35 to 40 constituencies. Even if it manages to win half of these, the party will be able to retain the 20 seats it won in 1998.

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The BSP had in 1998 fielded a number of candidates from among the upper castes in order to gain the backing of these groups and add to its traditional support base among Dalits and Muslims. The enterprise did not succeed: the BSP's vote share increased o nly by 0.30 per cent, and the party's parliamentary strength came down by two seats. This time the party has decided to go it alone, hoping to secure the support of a substantial section of Muslim voters, who were believed to be deserting the S.P. The BS P has fielded 31 Muslim candidates, the most by any party. This strategy appears to be working in some constituencies such as Shahbad, Jalesar and Maharajganj, but not in others. In these three seats, the BSP candidates - Dawood Ahamed, Ramveer Upadhyaya and Talat Aziz - have taken the campaign scene by storm.

However, the BSP has always had a problem retaining seats. This time too the party faces a tough time in constituencies such as Bahraich and Azamgarh, where Arif Mohammed Khan and Akbar 'Dumpy' Ahmed respectively won in 1998.

Leaders of the BJP, including general secretary K.N. Govindacharya, say that in their estimation the BSP will finish second in the State, pushing the S.P. to the third place. The BJP had made a similar assessment in 1998 too.

The BSP hopes also to benefit from the "arithmetic factor" in at least 10 seats. Analysts estimate that this factor will come into play in seats where the S.P. or the BSP finished second behind the BJP in 1998 with a margin of less than 50,000 votes and the party that finished second (either the BSP or the S.P.) secured more than one lakh votes. These analysts believe that since both the parties draw their support from a similar voter-constituency (with the minorities playing a major role in their vote share), tactical voting by Muslims this time will help the party that finished second in 1998 to win this time. The BSP finished second in 13 such seats, and the S.P. in 10. Campaign trends in some of these seats, such as Shahbad, Aonla, Sitapur and Robe rtsganj, conform to this theory, but just how far it will be substantiated on a broader electoral plane remains to be seen.

Apart from all these factors, the BJP is handicapped by its cadres' lack of interest in electioneering, an entirely new experience for the saffron party. Leading the list of those whose sincerity in campaigning has been called into question is the Chief Minister, who has not toured Aligarh, his home constituency. Kalyan Singh, who is on record that the BJP high command has given a raw deal to the party workers from among the backward castes in the allocation of the party ticket in the State, is believed to be upset over the denial of the ticket to Sakshi Maharaj. (Kalyan Singh too belongs to the Lodh Rajput community.) BJP insiders alleged that the Chief Minister is tacitly supporting the S.P. in some seats and receiving reciprocal assistance in consti tuencies where candidates known to have his patronage are contesting.

Obviously, all this bodes ill for the BJP. According to Hariraj Singh Tyagi, a long-time associate of the late Socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, the churning within the BJP cadre shows that the rank and file is no longer ready to listen to the diktats of the leadership unquestioningly in the name of party discipline. He said: "The cadre wants its share in decision-making. That is the lesson the current campaign has given."

After the first round of polling on September 18, a section of the BJP leadership, including Govindacharya, had reportedly realised the difficulties in the party's campaign management and initiated measures to overcome potential setbacks. Just how far th e BJP can succeed in checking the erosion in its support base and its seat tally will depend largely on the efficacy of these measures.

'Congress(I)'s stand has regained acceptance'

cover-story
Interview with Salman Khurshid.

Salman Khurshid was appointed president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Congress(I) a year and a half ago specifically to rejuvenate the party which had been virtually wiped out in the State. As the State Congress(I) faces its first election unde r his leadership, the impression within the party and outside is that he has achieved a fair amount of success in his mission. Indications from the campaign theatre are that the Congress(I)'s position has improved vastly in recent times: it is no longer the defunct and lustreless organisation it was during the previous elections. In fact, some observers rate the Congress(I) as the most active and dynamic party in the State today, and for this, Salman Khurshid deserves credit. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan< /B> caught up with Khurshid first at his hometown of Farukhabad and later at Moradabad in the midst of his hectic campaigning. Excerpts from the interview:

It is widely acknowledged that the Congress(I) has revived itself in Uttar Pradesh in the past one year, but then there is also the view that the revival needs to be quantified. It is not difficult to revive an organisation that won no seat at all in the previous elections. How do you respond to these views?

I agree that the revival of the party needs to be quantified. But seats in Parliament and the Assembly are not the only criteria for this. The growth in party units, cadre and membership has all gone into it. That is what has made the party very active o n the campaign field. For me, however, the most important thing is that the party's viewpoint, the anti- communal, anti-casteist, secular and development-oriented agenda of the party, has once again found acceptance with the people of the State. More and more people are realising that true stability and good governance can be provided only by the Congress(I). This in itself is an achievement, for, in the two previous elections, this truly national agenda had got completely subsumed by communal and caste politics.

What has caused this change?

Obviously, the failure of caste and communal politics as represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party. Both the parties drew sustenance from each other and in the process vitiated the social atmosphere in the State. These parties use d the minorities and the backward classes as mere vote banks. All this is changing.

But even during the current campaign, the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party have accused the Congress(I) of having been the first to practise communal and caste politics. According to them it was the Congress(I) that first treated the minorities and t he backward classes as vote banks.

These arguments have no value in the present context as we see more and more people, including Dalits and minorities, freeing themselves from the clutches of these parties which have narrow political considerations. Even the upper castes have realised th at the kind of Hindutva politics practised by the BJP is detrimental to the larger interests of the country. I am not saying that the Congress(I) has committed no mistake in the past. But in spite of everything, it is clear that only the Congress(I) can tread a truly secular, centrist path and provide stable governance. These parties' arguments have also to be seen in the background of their activities. Look at the S.P. It is no secret that the S.P. leadership has a tacit understanding with the BJP in t his election. How else do you account for the fact that the BJP has fielded weak candidates in seats which are crucial for the S.P., such as Kannauj, Sambhal and Mainpuri, and the S.P's reciprocal action in some seats that are crucial for the BJP? As for the BSP, its record is not creditworthy: it has time and again joined hands with the BJP. Only the Congress(I) has steadfastly kept away from the communal forces.

Yet you tried to forge alliances with these parties...

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We never wanted an alliance with the S.P. But we did try for an alliance with the BSP because we believe that this party, despite all its mistakes, can still play an important social role.

According to BJP leaders, all talk of the Congress(I)'s revival is baseless, and the most important issue that has influenced voters this time is whether to have a swadeshi or a videshi Prime Minister...

The BJP has been trying to rake up this issue for the last two years without much success. The elections will show what the people think of this frivolous piece of sloganeering.

Finally, what will the Congress(I)'s revival in U.P. mean in terms of the number of seats it will win?

I would not like to hazard a guess on this. Suffice it to say that the State Congress(I) will make a significant contribution to the formation of a national government.

A national government of the Congress(I) or that of a coalition?

Wait and see.

'There is a plot to discredit the BJP'

cover-story
Interview with Rajnath Singh.

Rajnath Singh, president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, brushes aside predictions that the party's tally in the State will come down in this election. In fact, he claims, the BJP and its allies will increase their strengt h and win at least the 60 seats it won in 1998. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan spoke to Rajnath Singh on the issues confronting the party in the elections. Excerpts:

There is a widespread impression that the BJP is losing ground in Uttar Pradesh.

We have heard this repeatedly in the last three elections, but each time the party has improved its vote share as well as the number of seats. The same will be true this time as well. In fact, I am sure we will improve our position in areas where we were weak earlier.

But many observers believe that the anti-incumbency mood directed against the State Government led by Kalyan Singh is the most important factor at play in the State.

Look, any government that faces elections will experience the anti-incumbency factor. But it would be wrong to surmise that the anti-incumbency factor against the State Government is the most important factor in U.P. In my view, the one question that dom inates the elections this time is: who should hold the Prime Minister's post - whether it should be in swadeshi hands or videshi hands? The question is agitating the people to a greater extent this time because this is the first election af ter India demonstrated its nuclear capability. A country that has the potential to produce atomic weapons cannot be ruled by people of foreign origin. It could have dangerous ramifications. The question is very sensitive and people realise its gravity. I n this context, there is only one choice before the people of U.P., and that is Atal Behari Vajpayee, his party and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by him. People have seen Vajpayeeji's track record of several decades and they have trust in it . The same cannot be said of his opponents.

Do you feel that the record of the Kalyan Singh Government will have no impact at all?

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I am not saying that. In any election, some questions related to the State government concerned do come up. But that is not the dominant issue. In any case, the present Lok Sabha elections cannot be treated as a referendum on the Kalyan Singh Government.

But many BJP MLAs feel that the State Government's record has jeopardised the party's chances to such an extent that it might end up with less than 40 seats. They feel that many internal problems, such as the deficiencies of governance as well as the dissident campaign against the Chief Minister, have not been addressed. There are reports that in many constituencies rival groups in the party are working to ensure the defeat of the party candidate belonging to the other group.

Ours is a democratic party which allows freedom of expression. MLAs have expressed their opinion about their concerns. That does not mean they are working against the party. All party workers and leaders are united in their endeavour to garner the maximu m number of seats in Uttar Pradesh and ensure that Vajpayeeji returns as Prime Minister.

It has been said that Chief Minister Kalyan Singh has not been campaigning too keenly for the party's candidates?

He has campaigned actively and extensively.

But he did not go to Aligarh, his home constituency, as also to important constituencies such as Kannauj, where Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting.

It is clear that there is a conspiracy to discredit the BJP by highlighting non-existent internal problems. No leader can reach every nook and corner of the State. In any case, the Chief Minister knows that the party is strong in his home constituency.

There are also reports that the revolt of former party MP Sakshi Maharaj and his campaign favouring the S.P. were inspired by the Chief Minister, who belongs to the same community as the former MP.

I cannot respond to rumours. In any case, the impact of the so-called revolt by Sakshi Maharaj is insignificant. It will have no negative effect on the party's prospects.

Mood for change

Some parts of Uttar Pradesh appear to articulate strongly in favour of Sonia Gandhi.

"Jo bahu ko behen na maney, woh desh ko kya pehchane?"

(Those who don't regard a daughter-in-law as a sister, how will they understand the ethos of this country?)

BAHUA (daughter-in-law), behen (sister) and beti (daughter) are some of the terms of endearment used, referring to Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, in the villages of the Rae Bareli-Amethi belt of Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks. Po sters, banners, arches (on the day she filed her nomination papers at the Sultanpur district Collectorate in the Amethi parliamentary constituency) and graffiti on walls hailed her as the behen, bahu and beti of India. That was how people i n the region responded to the Bharatiya Janata Party's personalised attacks against her.

For the people of Amethi, Sonia Gandhi's return to her late husband Rajiv Gandhi's constituency was a significant event. But there were signals from other regions in the State also of a renewed interest in the Congress(I). The State did not elect any ca ndidate from the party to the last Lok Sabha.

The anti-incumbency factor was expected to affect the BJP's prospects. Besides, Chief Minister Kalyan Singh presided over a dissidence-ridden party unit. The average Muslim feels betrayed that 'Moulana' Mulayam Singh, leader of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) , prevented the formation of a non-BJP government at the Centre after the fall of the Vajpayee government in April.

The battle between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Karan Singh of the Congress(I) in Lucknow has generated much interest. Ramnath Mishra, a casual labourer, said: "Now this contest will have some life. Karan Singh tau Vajpayee se bhi bade Hindu hain (he is a greater Hindu than even Vajpayee)."

In fact, Amethi had started to celebrate Sonia Gandhi's victory rather early. District Congress Committee chief Ravi Shanker said: "If there is no large-scale rigging by the BJP, she will win by a margin which will create a global record." Voters in Amet hi have waited for Sonia Gandhi for several years, he said.

Erstwhile Congress(I) MP Captain Satish Sharma, who was elected from Amethi in 1996, was seen as having neglected the constituency. Sanjay Singh of the BJP was also perceived in a similar way. "Forget his doing anything at all to help the poor people of Amethi. The kind of sins Sanjay Singh has committed... cannot be forgiven by either God or the people of Amethi," said a farm labourer, Shiv Shankar. "Aaj tak sahi Thakur unke ghar ka paani bhi nahi peetey (till today the real Thakurs do not even drink water in his house)", he added with disdain.

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Ram Aasrey Pande, a Congress(I) supporter, said: "Janata ko maarna peetna aur bandh karwana (getting people beaten up and thrown behind bars) was his speciality. Amethi needs a mother who can care for its battered people and Soniaji will definitel y play this role. But we do hope she will retain this constituency and give up Bellary, which she will certainly win, because the margin here will be much, much higher."

The people of Amethi heaved a sigh of relief that the candidate they had defeated in the 1998 elections, Captain Satish Sharma, was not back there. An angry Amethi voter asked: "What did he do for Amethi as Petroleum Minister except give petrol agencies to some people?" In the neighbouring constituency of Rae Bareli, from where he contested this time, there was some unhappiness over his nomination but it was camouflaged because Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadhra was there to campaign for him.

Indira Gandhi's memory remains alive in Rae Bareli. Almost all people in their thirties and beyond fondly recalled the manner in which she had developed and nurtured her constituency. Even though people may not be euphoric about Satish Sharma's candidacy , they were furious with the BJP regime, and the anti-incumbency factor was the strongest there.

Dinesh Singh, a former machine operator in Modi Carpets in Kathwara, recalled the days of the Indira regime when several factories, including the one he has worked, were started in the constituency. "But it is now sick and lying closed for more than seve n years. No government is interested in reviving it. Now take the BJP candidate, Arun Nehru. Rae Bareli elected him to the Lok Sabha twice. I remember the times his daughter used to shake our hands and offer us ghee mei tali hui badam (almonds fri ed in ghee). But once he became an MP and we approached her with our problems, she asked us 'Who are you?"'.

A group of people gathered at a tea shop in the village joined the discussion. Another resident of the village, Ajit Singh, said: "Sarkar hamare paiye par ghoomti hei, magar hum shikayat nahi kar sakte. Zyada shikayat karney ki koshish kee to bandh ka r detey hei, ya goli bhi maar detey hei (The government survives on our might, but we cannot raise our problems with it. If we complain too much, we can be thrown behind bars or even shot dead)."

ALMOST everywhere in Uttar Pradesh, the mood is one of disenchantment with the political leadership. In the cluster of villages barely 35 km from Lucknow, water is the biggest problem. Dubbing the Kalyan Singh government "anti-farmer", Ram Lal, a small f armer in Brahmadaspur village in the Mohanlal Gunj constituency, was also angry with the previous MP from his constituency, Rina Chowdhary. He said: "She has done nothing for the constituency, nor has any other politician bothered about our plight. We ha ve no water for our fields and you can see for yourself the dry canal which runs through these villages." To water their fields, they are at the mercy of the rich farmers, who charge Rs.40 an hour to hire out their pumpsets. He said: "For one acre, we re quire about six hours of usage every day."

A white-bearded Bhoola Lal seethed at the "hollow promises" made by politicians. He said: "Even today we have no electricity in our village. The electric poles came about eight years ago. Now even the poles have started disintegrating."

Even in the capital, Lucknow, people talk only of water shortages, damaged roads and battered drainage systems."Now this is a VVIP constituency which has returned a Prime Minister to the Lok Sabha. If the ruling party can treat Lucknow, the State capital , so shabbily, imagine the fate of rural U.P." said Saleem, a taxi driver.

He was certain that Muslims in the State would not vote for the BJP. "They are unhappy with Mulayam Singh too, and are likely to vote for the Congress(I) in large numbers, but only in those constituencies where it has strong candidates who can defeat the BJP. Where the Congress(I) has weak candidates, they will vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party and even the S.P., but the criterion will be the ability to stop the BJP."

Nehaluddin Ahamed, president of the All India Muslims Forum, also believed that this was the likely scenario as far as Muslims were concerned. But he was unhappy that "azadi ke pachaas saal ke baad bhi hum is party ya us party ko rokney ki hi baat ka r rahey hain (50 years after Independence, we are still talking about stopping this party or that from coming to power). The problem was that Muslims were a divided lot and hence being taken for a ride by all parties." His contention was that Muslims should "stop running away from politics" and aim for political power "which was necessary for educational and economic emancipation".

State Urban Development Minister Lalji Tandon dismissed the perception of an anti-incumbency factor. Infighting in the BJP State unit, he claimed, "exists only in the media". On the BJP's prospects in the State, he said: "We will do as well, if not bette r than last time."

Confident that Muslims would shift their allegiance from the S.P. to the Congress(I) or even the BSP, he said: "Let them go to the Congress(I). This will teach a politician like Mulayam Singh, who has spread so much communalism in U.P., that communalism is very short-lived."

"The BJP," he declared, "has never sought votes in the name of religion." When reminded that the party sought votes in the name of Ram, he said: "The issue of Ram is not communal. That is a cultural issue."

Lalji Tandon claimed that those Muslims who have broken free from the mindset of the Nehruvian era, which was replicated so successfully by the "so-called secular parties" that they were seen as the saviours of Indian Muslims, would support the BJP this time. His claim did not sound outrageous given that a Lucknow-based Muslim journalist said that politicians like Mulayam Singh have fooled Muslims in the State long enough and were ineffective in stopping the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He asked: "Aap agar hamey zaalim se bacha nahi sakte to hum usi zaalim se hath mila lenge. Aakhir andhey ko do aankhen chahiye aur politicians ko vote. (If you can't save us from our tormentors, we'll join hands with them. After all a blind man needs vision, a nd politicians need votes). So we will give our votes to them."

Amethi's pride

"WHEN the first family of Amethi returns, can we stick to recent loyalties?" Rajjan Lal's voice held an accusatory tone as he hurled this question at this correspondent, standing amidst a group of villagers in Jagadishpur in Amethi constituency.

What provoked this rhetorical comment on the permanence of some political loyalties was a question why Rajjan Lal had left Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Sanjay Singh's camp overnight after Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's candidature had been anno unced from Amethi. Rajjan Lal had campaigned for Sanjay Singh in the 1998 elections and was set to solicit votes for him this time too. But all that changed once it became clear that Sonia Gandhi would contest from Amethi.

Of course, Rajjan Lal and his family were a trifle upset that Sonia Gandhi had contested from Bellary in Karnataka too. To them, this was indicative of "a sense of distrust that madam had", a symptom of her doubts about the political loyalty of the const ituency that had long been assiduously nursed by her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. But far from holding it against her, Rajjan Lal and others said that they would work doubly hard to reassure Sonia Gandhi that their loyalty to the "firs t family of Amethi" was not fickle.

There are hundreds of Rajjan Lals across the length and breadth of Amethi these days - in Tiloi, Salon, Gauriganj or Jagadishpur. The very people who had rejected Captain Satish Sharma, the Congress(I) candidate, in 1998 are now flocking back to the Cong ress(I).

For Mukul Sharma of Tiloi, this had a ready explanation. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Amethi fell on hard times. For a while, Captain Sharma nursed the constituency, but his political sights were fixed on far-away Delhi, and all d evelopment activity in Amethi stopped after a few years. "Amethi," said Mukul Sharma, "became a ghost of what it was during Rajiv Gandhi's time." Between 1993 and 1998, the people of Amethi virtually became "fed up" of politicians, he said. Looking for " a change", they switched their loyalty to Sanjay Singh, who in 1998 became the first Bharatiya Janata Party candidate to be elected from here.

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Today, however, Mukul Sharma, like Rajjan Lal, has turned away from Sanjay Singh. "Not for any fault of Sanjay Singh's," says Mukul Sharma. In fact, he adds, Sanjay Singh did look after the constituency - "but nobody can match the Gandhi-Nehru family's c ontribution."

All that the people of Amethi seem to want at this moment is a darshan of Sonia Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka, who virtually took over the campaign since September 15. Priyanka holds roadside meetings and stops by at wayside dhabas to have jalebis and chai with the local people. Her grace and the easy manner in which she interacts with them often leaves them beaming with joy.

The Congress(I)'s campaign is based principally on whipping up an atmosphere of nostalgia for Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and their contributions to Amethi. Issues of national concern, which are raised in other constituencies, find no articulation her e.

On his part, Sanjay Singh is fighting a hard battle, moving from village to village with his wife Amita and meeting village pradhans. At these meetings, Sanjay Singh tells them that he is aware that they had reposed great hopes in him last time, and that he had endeavoured to fulfil their aspirations. "I will continue to be the son of our soil, unlike those who come visiting you once in a year and who have showed that they do not have enough trust in you," Sanjay Singh says.

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Occasionally, he invokes Atal Behari Vajpayee's name and sings paeans to the "able Prime Minister who saved the country from the grave dangers posed by the Kargil crisis". But the impact of this campaign is nowhere near as evocative as the response durin g the 1998 campaign when he raised the issue of the "apathy and corruption of Captain Satish Sharma".

Sanjay Singh won in 1998 by a margin of 23,000 votes; his campaign managers know that he faces a far more formidable opponent in Sonia Gandhi. In 1998, Mohammed Naim, the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate who finished third, had secured 1.50 lakh votes, part ly on the strength of the party's support among Muslims. There has subsequently been a massive shift of support of Muslims from both the Samajwadi Party and the BSP towards the Congress(I), and Sonia Gandhi should find the going easy.

Also in the fray in Amethi are Mohammed Fauji of the S.P., a popular local leader, and Paras Nath Maurya of the BSP. Muslims account for 13 per cent of Amethi's population, and Dalits for 28 per cent; yet these two parties are not expected to do too well this time.

The battle in Lucknow

ON September 16, two days after Dr. Karan Singh filed his nomination as the Congress(I) candidate in Lucknow, where Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is contesting, the Bharatiya Janata Party effected a significant change in its campaign machinery for the constituency. Former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana was brought in place of senior State leader and Urban Development Minister Lalji Tandon as the chief campaign manager to the Prime Minister.

By no yardstick was this change motivated by an assessment that Karan Singh was posing a major challenge to Vajpayee. BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya said that his party's assessment of Karan Singh's candidature was that "but for the theatrics o f matching Vajpayee shloka for shloka and shair for shair, the Congress(I) cannot hope to gain anything from this contest." However, the BJP leadership did have other things to worry about: complacency, and doubts about the si ncerity of a section of party workers in campaigning for Vajpayee.

By all indications, Tandon was seen as one of those who might give room for overconfidence; the far more serious suspicion related, however, to leaders who were perceived to be close to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. The fact that Kalyan Sing h was not seen to be taking an active part in the BJP's campaign in general had heightened these apprehensions.

In 1998, Vajpayee won from Lucknow by a majority of 2.16 lakh votes. According to Rajesh Pandey, Member of the Legislative Council and the media manager of Vajpayee's campaign in Lucknow, "the effort this time is to give him a bigger margin, one fit for a Prime Minister who had led the country bravely through troubled times."

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The principal themes in the BJP's campaign rhetoric are: Kargil, Vajpayee's indispensability as an "able Prime Minister" at this juncture in India's history, and his political experience, posited against Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's inexperience.

The poor state of the "Prime Minister's constituency" has also become a campaign issue. The condition of roads and other civic amenities is appalling, and the state of the public health system is no better. These deficiencies have been highlighted, more so because a large portion of the allocation for the improvement of civic amenities, made out of funds earmarked for members of Parliament, was not utilised and has lapsed.

The two other Opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), too have seized on this. Bhagawati Singh is the S.P. candidate and Ishar-ul-Haq, the BSP candidate.

The Congress(I), on its part, has taken on the BJP on every issue it has raised, including the one relating to Vajpayee's "experience" and Sonia Gandhi's "inexperience". Karan Singh claims that he himself is far more experienced than Vajpayee, having bec ome a Union Minister at the age of 36. Refuting the BJP's claim that Sonia Gandhi was ill-equipped for governance, he asserts that Sonia Gandhi will govern wisely and well, and will have an able group of accomplished advisers from within the Congress(I) itself.

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The intensity of the Congress(I)'s campaign has forced the BJP to rake up non-issues - Karan Singh's status as an "outsider" to the constituency. The BJP has also levelled allegations relating to his role in the reported moves to provide greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. The S.P. and the BSP have raised the issue of Karan Singh's association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as one of its founder-members. This campaign is not entirely without effect in a constituency where 24 per cent of the 16 lakh eligible voters are Muslims. Many leaders of Muslim organisations have demanded that Karan Singh clarify his position vis-a-vis the VHP; the Congress (I) candidate has denied any association with the Sangh Parivar organisation.

Undoubtedly, after Karan Singh entered the fray, the contest in Lucknow has become interesting; however, in the background of the Congress(I)'s performance in the 1998 election, it might not dramatically change the final outcome. The then Congress(I) can didate Ranjeet Singh finished fourth with 38,636 votes; illustratively, Vajpayee polled 4.31 lakh votes. The Congress(I) has miles to go, and Karan Singh's candidature by itself is insufficient to spring electoral miracles.

Failed alliances

By rejecting an electoral alliance, the S.P. and the BSP have lost a fine opportunity to augment their respective support bases to make a lasting political impact.

HAD an idea mooted by some friends of Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Kanshi Ram in June been accepted, the electoral fortunes of both the parties would have been strikingly different. It would hav e changed the very character of the 13th Lok Sabha with the S.P.-BSP combine emerging as the most formidable force from Uttar Pradesh, capable of tilting the balance of power.

The proposal was to revive the S.P.-BSP alliance of 1993 in Uttar Pradesh in order to form a combine of Dalits, Yadavs, Muslims, a section of Thakurs and Other Backward Classes. The combination would have easily polled 45 per cent of the total votes and won more than 70 of the 85 seats in the State, which has the maximum number of constituencies in the country.

Favouring the prospect, Kanshi Ram is reported to have said that "the result the combine would bring in would alter the face of the 13th Lok Sabha". For it was unlikely that any political formation would have formed a government without it. This would gi ve a powerful boost to Mulayam Singh Yadav's oft-repeated theory that India is too pluralistic socially and politically to submit to the bipolar politics of the Congress(I) and the BJP variety. The expected impact of the alliance also matched Kanshi Ram' s larger political design of creating instability in the country's political system. According to the BSP chief, "frequent elections and unstable governments suited the Bahujan Samaj Party as it has no value for stability that perpetuates the vested inte rests of the upper castes and classes."

Beyond the ideological perspective, the alliance suited the parties organisationally too. The S.P. and the BSP are largely confined to Uttar Pradesh, with pockets of influence in other States. Had the alliance been forged, its leaders could have concentr ated their energies on one State and made a political impact at the national level.

More important, the alliance would have checked the scale of the shift in the BSP's Dalit vote base and the S.P.'s Muslim support base towards the Congress(I). Dalits affiliated to the BSP, other than Chamars and Pasis, were shifting their loyalties to t he Congress(I) in Uttar Pradesh though not on the same scale as in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The consolidation of Dalit and Muslim votes by the two parties would have, in turn, stopped the movement of Brahmins tow ards the Congress(I) from the BJP. As a result, the revival of the Congress(I) in the State would have slowed down. This would have then compelled the Congress(I) to depend on the combine to regain its political supremacy at the Centre.

The idea sounded politically prudent and the two strategists started working out the details. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram communicated with each other through intermediaries. The exercise continued until early July and then fizzled out. The reason was that former Chief Minister and BSP vice-president, Mayawati, was against any association with the S.P. leadership.

Informed sources in the BSP say that Mayawati has not forgiven the S.P. for the assault on her by its activists at a State guest house in June 1995. She cited the episode as the most humiliating experience in her life. Further, she argued that the presen t elections provided the BSP with the best opportunity to fortify its Muslim vote base and emerge as the champion of the forces of social justice in the State. Her contention was that Muslim voters, already disillusioned with the S.P., perceived the BSP as the party with the potential to defeat the BJP. Hence, it could improve its tally on its own. It was on the basis of the same premise that Mayawati ruled out an electoral understanding with the Congress(I) at a later stage.

Although Kanshi Ram was reportedly not pleased with Mayawati's stand, he submitted to her line of argument as she virtually controls the party machinery on account of her special status as a two-time Chief Minister.

Both the parties withdrew from the effort and began to search for alternatives. Having fallen out with its former allies, such as the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on the question of s upporting a minority Congress(I) government following the fall of the Vajpayee Ministry, the S.P. tried to form a new third front consisting of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Republican Party of India (RPI), the Forward Bloc and the Revolution ary Socialist Party. This effort also failed. The alliance with the NCP and the RPI was confined to Maharashtra, where the S.P. has been allotted two Lok Sabha seats and 15 Assembly seats. The S.P. was ready to allot three seats to the NCP in Uttar Prade sh, two of them in the hill districts where the S.P. has no mass base. The offer of a third seat, Varanasi, was withdrawn after the S.P. rejected the choice of the candidate. The S.P. wanted the NCP general secretary, Devendra Dwivedi, to contest, as the candidature of its secretary Vijay Dubey was not acceptable. As Dwivedi refused to comply, the whole seat-sharing exercise was called off.

IT is debatable whether the failure to forge such an understanding will affect the S.P.'s future in U.P. politics. In its hurry to add new castes and communities to its vote bank and thus stay buoyant in the caste-oriented politics of the State, the S.P. seems to have struck a mind-boggling understanding with a section of the backward caste group in the State BJP, led by none other than Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Although Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh have officially denied any such an understa nding, campaign trends from at least 15 constituencies in the State point in this direction.

This understanding stemmed from the humiliation suffered by Kalyan Singh at the hands of the BJP national leadership, particularly Vajpayee, during the selection of candidates. Kalyan Singh wanted many of his nominees, including his son Rajveer Singh and close associate Urmila Rajput, to be given the ticket. Not only were the names not considered, the national leadership denied the ticket to the sitting MP from Farukhabad, Sakshi Maharaj, who belongs to the Lodh Rajput caste. It is this rebuff (Kalyan S ingh is also a Lodh Rajput) that seems to have triggered the covert understanding with the S.P.

Manifestations of this adjustment were visible in Sakshi Maharaj's extensive campaign for the S.P. candidates in the Lodh Rajput belt of Mathura and Farukhabad (this area accounts for 11 parliamentary seats and includes Kalyan Singh's home town of Aligar h) and in Kalyan Singh's refusal to canvass in the region for the BJP candidates. Sakshi Maharaj has been campaigning under the banner of the Lodh Swabhiman Sabha. Interestingly, this organisation has attracted members of the community attached to other political parties, including the Congress(I) and the BSP.

The refrain from members of a crowd that was waiting to hear Sakshi Maharaj for more than three hours at Thariya village in Fatehpur district was that both Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav were their leaders. Rajnath Singh, one of the vocal members o f the pro-Kalyan Singh group, told Frontline that the backward caste-upper caste struggle in the party that intensified in 1989 was far from over. "The upper castes in the BJP and the Congress(I) are trying to undercut backward caste politicians. The denial of the ticket to Sakshi Maharaj is an indication of this. The backward castes cannot allow this to happen."

This sentiment was evident in scores of Lodh Rajput villages that this correspondent visited in the Mathura-Farukhabad belt. Two days before campaigning closed for the September 18 elections in the Lodh-dominated Pashnipura village, a group of BJP worker s had abandoned electioneering and started playing cards even as the party candidate, Ram Baksh Verma, tried to catch their attention. Explaining their indifference, Malhan Singh, a local BJP office-bearer, said that they were committed to Sakshi Maharaj . Discounting the fact that the replaced candidate was also a Lodh, Malhan Singh branded him a "kaagaz ke phool" (paper flower).

According to BJP insiders belonging to the anti-Kalyan Singh group, the Chief Minister and Sakshi Maharaj are helping the S.P. in most of the seats the party is contesting. In a quid pro quo, the S.P. has fielded weak candidates in seats such as F aizabad and Hamirpur, from where Kalyan Singh loyalists, such as Vinay Katiyar and Gangacharan Rajput, are contesting. In Faizabad, the S.P. has replaced its sitting MP, Mitrasen Yadav, with Heeralal Yadav, who is an unknown entity.

While the support of Sakshi Maharaj and his associates does seem to boost the backward caste base of the S.P., there is also the danger that this might alienate Muslim voters from the party, particularly because leaders such as Sakshi Maharaj have been i dentified with the Ayodhya Ram Mandir movement. However, the S.P. leadership tries to present the revolt of Sakshi Maharaj as proof of trouble within the Sangh Parivar that would ultimately benefit the secular forces as it would lead to a split in the St ate BJP. What turn events will take is not clear, but it is evident that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the "great gambler of the Gangetic plains", is once again gambling with his political career. Outwardly, he exudes confidence and claims that the S.P. will win at least 50 seats.

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A SIMILAR air of confidence is evident in the BSP camp despite the absence of any creative alliances. The party's best performance was in 1996 when it won six seats and polled 20.6 per cent of the total votes. Among the national parties, the BSP, with 4. 8 per cent of the votes, occupies the fourth place in terms of vote share, behind the BJP, the Congress(I) and the CPI(M). Kanshi Ram told Frontline that he aimed at a five-fold increase in the seats tally and an increase in the vote share in orde r to move up to the third place. "This would enable the launch of the BSP in future battles," he said.

Sections of the BSP are of the view that but for Mayawati's refusal to form alliances, the party could have performed better. Party insiders say that the differences over the question of seat-sharing between Kanshi Ram and Mayawati had surfaced in April itself when the Vajpayee government faced a vote of confidence. Arguing that the BJP was a bigger danger to the BSP, Kanshi Ram showed keenness to enter into a short-term alliance with the Congress(I) or the S.P. His manoeuvres relating to the vote of co nfidence, which ultimately led to the fall of the government, point to this move.

On the other hand, Mayawati's priority was to save the BJP government, either by voting for it or by abstaining from voting. Her proximity to Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Lalji Tandon, who is in turn close to Vajpayee, is said to have inspired this position. However, she had to conform to Kanshi Ram's line and lead the five-member BSP group in the Lok Sabha to vote against the government. The BSP chief had then successfully initiated a discussion to strike a deal with Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. Kan shi Ram, along with Sharad Pawar, then Leader of the Congress (I) in the Lok Sabha, worked out a deal that involved pulling down the Kalyan Singh Government and making Mayawati the Chief Minister with the support of the Congress(I) and the S.P.

Congress(I) leaders and Kanshi Ram apparently saw the "Uttar Pradesh operation" as the forerunner to the formation of a national alliance. However, the situation changed within a few days. The Congress(I) refused to accept the idea of a coalition governm ent at the Centre and Mulayam Singh Yadav asserted that he would not allow a "foreigner" to become Prime Minister. In the process, the possibility of toppling Kalyan Singh receded. Mayawati has struck back by ruling out any alliance.

Kanshi Ram's persistence with the idea of a coalition with the Congress(I) came in the background of the collapse of both the "Uttar Pradesh operation" and the proposed alliance with the S.P. He tried to revive the deal that involves making Mayawati the Chief Minister and made it clear that he would part with only 25 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress(I), which had initially made tall claims, steadily altered its demands and was even ready to accept what was offered by the BSP.

What finally brought the negotiations to an end was a rider that the Congress(I) attached any agreement. This was that the alliance should not be confined to Uttar Pradesh but should include Madhya Pradesh. Clearly, the Congress(I) wanted to make maximum gains from the potential of the BSP leadership to transfer its votes in any direction it deemed fit.

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This proposal, however, was not acceptable to the BSP, partly because its Madhya Pradesh unit felt betrayed by the Congress(I) in the November Assembly elections. The BSP had supported the Congress(I) in more than half the seats on the basis of an unders tanding that a leader from a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe would be considered for the position of either Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister. After the elections, the Congress(I) failed to keep its promise.

Kanshi Ram has chosen a moderate path compared to Mulayam Singh Yadav's almost adventurist course. Sections of the BSP and the S.P. believe that both the leaders will have to work out some kind of an understanding after the elections, particularly in the context of the backward caste churning within the BJP as well as the resurgence of the Congress(I), which is an equal threat to both the parties.

Polls and opinions

other

A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court forces the Election Commission to withdraw its ban on the publication in the media of the results of opinion polls and exit polls during a specified time-frame during the election process.

SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN V. VENKATESAN in New Delhi

SHORTLY after withdrawing the "guidelines" that it had issued banning the publication of opinion polls and exit polls in the media while the country went through its month-long electoral exercise, the Election Commission issued a statement indicating tha t the questions it had raised still awaited a final resolution. "The substantive issue of opinion and exit polls in a poor and half-literate society, having multi-party democracy," said the Commission, "still remains to be debated by the country and by t he new Parliament, in a calm, post-election atmosphere."

The statement, issued on September 14, was a virtual admission that the power of "superintendence, direction and control" that Article 324 of the Constitution confers on the Election Commission provides it only a limited jurisdiction. Its precise scope r emains to be defined and codified through legislation. But in a situation of ambiguity, the Commission is not at liberty to take pre-emptive action that may enlarge the scope of its powers.

The Commission's statement seems to suggest an intention to bring these matters to the attention of the newly constituted Parliament for appropriate legislation. That would, if it happens, mark a long-overdue initiative. The "guidelines" issued by the Co mmission on August 20, just two weeks prior to the opening of the polls in an unprecedentedly long election schedule, were a reiteration of a set of principles that it spelt out in January 1998. They had elicited a legal challenge then, principally from the Editor of Frontline, N. Ram, which remained unsettled. In moving a writ petition before the Supreme Court on September 10, 1999, the Commission sought judicial sustenance for its view that the guidelines it had successively issued were tenable under the law. In a context of undefined executive powers, the intention was to hold non-compliance with the Commission's directives equivalent to contempt of court.

Since 1998, the Election Commission has tended to view the exercise of opinion polls and exit polls with considerable scepticism and misgiving. "The dissemination of such results of opinion polls receives wide publicity and coverage in the print and elec tronic media and such dissemination, particularly on the eve of polls, has the potential to influence the electors when they are in the mental process of making up of their minds to vote or not to vote for a certain political party or a candidate," the C ommission had reasoned in its guidelines.

On exit polls, the Commission claimed that "publication of (the) result of any exit poll, in the intervening period when the poll in any of the States or Union Territories or constituencies is yet to be taken, is likely to affect the unbiased exercise of franchise by the elector, one way or the other." The Commission referred to restrictions on the dissemination of such poll results, particularly in Canada, France and Italy, where such controls have legal backing. In citing these analogies, the Commissi on did not seem quite willing to grapple with the manifest absence of a legal basis under Indian law for its guidelines.

What made the guidelines especially irksome from the point of view of the media was the prolonged period of their application. The publication of opinion and exit poll results in the print or electronic media was to be banned from 48 hours prior to the closing of polls in the first round of voting (September 5) till half an hour after the closing of polls in the last round (October 3).

Expectedly, certain media organisations proved less than mindful of the Commission's directives. This prompted the writ petition of September 10, which the Supreme Court bench consisting of Chief Justice A.S. Anand, Justice K.T. Thomas and Justice M. Sri nivasan chose to refer to a Constitution Bench. In making this reference, Chief Justice Anand also ordered that papers pertaining to all the related petitions be circulated before the Constitution Bench. This brought to the foreground of judicial attenti on a set of petitions that had been filed in 1998. These included petitions filed by Frontline and its Editor, N. Ram, and the Tamil weekly Nakkeeran and its Editor, R. Rajagopal, apart from a petition filed by S.N. Tiwari, an individual fr om Rajasthan.

The Commission's petition specifically mentioned the Union Government, The Times of India and Jain TV as respondents. But the Commission suffered an early setback when the Union Government made clear its inability to implement the guidelines.

A Constitution Bench comprising Justices S.P. Bharucha, B.N. Kripal, V.N. Khare, S.M.H. Quadri and D.P. Mohapatra took up the matter on September 14. In the course of a four-hour hearing, the bench repeatedly asked the Commission's counsel, Harish Salve , to explain the grounds on which he expected the Supreme Court to help enforce its guidelines. The bench also sought to know how the government could possibly enforce the guidelines in question. Among other things, the bench wanted to know whether the C ommission had the power to issue such guidelines and enforce them. Asking other agencies to implement them is no remedy, the bench said, especially since the judiciary could not play an executive role. Power to enforce a guideline is inherent in the powe r to issue it, the bench suggested.

A second point posed by the bench related to the judicial power to issue a writ of mandamus against individuals and organisations in the media. This power, it observed, was only invoked in cases involving the violation of fundamental rights. Individuals and organisations could seek such a writ against the state. But for the Commission to seek such a direction in its aid amounted to an inversion of constitutional principles.

The Commission, through its counsel, expressed the opinion that the defiance of its guidelines by some newspapers and television channels implied a challenge to the rule of law. As an authority empowered by the Constitution to take all measures to ensure free and fair elections, it enjoyed the requisite power to issue guidelines, Salve claimed.

Shanti Bhushan, counsel for Frontline, as also for Jain TV, argued that Article 324 confers only administrative powers on the Commission. In other words, the Commission can direct and control all officials engaged in election duty and apply certai n norms to candidates and political parties. These powers did not, however, extend to the media, which stand outside the election process, he argued. The Commission enjoys extraordinary powers only with regard to cancellation or postponement of elections , if the situation warrants. It can warn political parties and candidates about the likely consequences of violation of election law, Bhushan pointed out. The publication of opinion and exit poll results did not amount to any such violation. On the contr ary, argued Bhushan, they could be useful inputs for voters to decide which party to endorse, which could contribute to political stability.

At one stage, the bench wondered whether there was any point at all in challenging a set of guidelines that had no teeth. The court did not take up the issue of freedom of expression, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. Although this was one of the grounds listed in Frontline's petition seeking the quashing of the Commission's guidelines, the bench did not take up the question since it was tilting towards the view that the guidelines themselves had no legal basis.

The bench was not convinced by Salve's claim that the guidelines were the result of a near-consensus among the political parties, and that even the Press Council of India had recommended restrictions to be placed on the dissemination of the results of op inion and exit polls.

The Constitution Bench dismissed the Commission's writ petition at the admission stage itself saying that the petition had no merits. It rejected the Commission's plea that the bench should issue appropriate directions, or at least make a declaration tha t the guidelines are enforceable and legal. After dismissing the writ petition, the bench went on to examine the scope of Article 324 by hearing arguments on whether the Commission had the requisite powers to issue such guidelines.

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When the E.C.'s counsel justified the Commission's powers under Article 324, Justice Bharucha told Salve that the bench had had enough of arguments, and asked whether the Commission expected the bench to write a judgment basing itself on Article 324, whi ch would show that the Commission had far less powers than it claimed it had. The bench asked him whether the guidelines could be enforced on CNN or the BBC, international satellite television channels, or even on the Internet, if at all the Commission e njoyed the requisite power under Article 324. At this stage, Salve agreed with the bench, and requested a brief adjournment in order to get in touch with the Commission to find out whether it was willing to recall its guidelines.

After consultations he informed the court that the guidelines would be withdrawn. The course of prudence seemed appropriate in the light of a gentle admonition from the court, that at the "end of the day" the Commission may be left wielding a greatly dim inished power for the supervision of elections.

Although the Commission has since indicated that it intends to keep the issue alive, there is little question that it has in overstretching itself, undermined even the residual sense of respect that sections of the media had shown towards its directives . The Supreme Court did not turn its attention to an examination of the desirability or otherwise of the restrictions proposed by the Commission. It merely examined the limited question of the Election Commission's powers and the existing legal underpinn ing for these. The hearing before the Constitution Bench clearly indicated that Article 324 could not be stretched so far as to restrain the freedom of expression. A fuller exposition of this point was not given since the Election Commission sought to pr e-empt a larger challenge to its authority by discreetly withdrawing its guidelines. The debate on the role of opinion and exit polls, and its impact on the voters will presumably continue.

An early contribution to the discourse on the subject came from N. Bhaskar Rao, chairman of the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. The public debate, he said, had served a salutary purpose, in making larger numbers of people aware of the potentialitie s and limitations of opinion polls. The veteran election analyst concedes that there is a growing tendency to abuse opinion polls to induce a certain pattern of voting behaviour. "But you cannot prohibit," he affirms. "The best course is to sensitise the voting public about the intricacies of these polls."

Bhaskar Rao's own research points towards a certain measurable influence of opinion polls on voting behaviour. "The impact varies according to the actual situation," he says. As a broad generalisation, he has found that the impact tends to be greater whe re a constituency is witnessing an exceptionally keen contest, or where a large number of voters remain undecided till late in the campaign. While the Commission may have a case, a total ban, says Bhaskar Rao, may not be the best way to pursue it.

The political reactions traversed a wide spectrum. Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Arun Jaitley sought to interpret the Commission's capitulation as a triumph for the freedom of the media. Congress(I) spokesman Kapil Sibal reaffirmed his party's commitm ent to the law as interpreted by the highest court, though he did criticise the BJP for trying to portray its vested interests in Jain TV as a matter of high principle. Other parties, such as the Janata Dal (United) and the Samata Party, endorsed the not ion of restraint by the media, but saw little merit in draconian administrative action to enforce it.

IN a related development, a Division Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court had on September 7 quashed an order of the Election Commission prohibiting the broadcast of advertisements by political parties and candidates on private television channels duri ng the elections. The judgment came on a writ petition filed by Gemini TV, a Telugu language channel, challenging an August 20 order of the Commission.

Polls, the media and elections

other

THE Supreme Court's dismissal of the Election Commission's petition seeking a 'declaration' to enforce a 'ban' on the publication by the Indian news media of the findings of pre-election public opinion polls and exit polls for a full month (September 3 t o October 3, 1999) covering the general election process is an important practical triumph for the freedom of speech and expression. At another level, it is a setback to the authority of the Election Commission (E.C.), a constitutionally high body that h as made a tireless effort in recent years to expand its realm of jurisdiction in the system and bring new players and subjects under its effective regulation if not control. Given the adverse turn in the case, when it could not show any legal basis for h aving its banning 'guidelines' of January 21, 1998 and August 20, 1999 enforced against the media and the pollsters, the Election Commission was obliged to withdraw the controversial guidelines whose language was constructed in the style of an order and make the best of the situation by asserting, in a press note, that the "substantive" and "complex" issue of opinion and exit polls "in a poor and half-literate society, having multi-party democracy" needed to be debated by the country and the new Parliam ent "in a calm, post-election atmosphere".

Interestingly, the apex court chose not to go into the principal basis of the legal challenge to the E.C.'s banning guidelines - that they violated the "fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution" ( to quote from the original petition filed in the Delhi High Court in January 1998 by Frontline and its Editor against the Election Commission). Going into this issue in depth and coming up with a new benchmark on Article 19(1)(a) weighed against o ther considerations would have required intensive and prolonged hearings, but there can be little doubt that had the apex court elected to take the strenuous course and determine this issue definitively, the banning guidelines would have stood zero chanc e against the force of Article 19. After all, the Supreme Court of India has, over decades and with remarkable consistency, upheld freedom of the press as an integral part of freedom of speech and expression - putting it virtually on a par with the unass ailable First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press in the Constitution of the United States. Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution permits the imposition of "reasonable restrictions" on the fundamental right of free speech and expression on eig ht specified grounds and for no other reason. The eight grounds are: the sovereignty and integrity of India; the security of the State; friendly relations with foreign States; public order; decency or morality; contempt of Court; defamation; and inciteme nt to an offence. No justification for the banning guidelines cited in the E.C.'s case could have remotely approached the definition and test of a "reasonable restriction" on free speech and expression under these specified heads. It can be added that in the highly unlikely event of Parliament legislating the substance of the E.C.'s guidelines into a statute, that also will stand no chance against Article 19.

Unsurprisingly, the E.C.'s case in the Supreme Court faded away when it failed to rebut the objection that the guidelines were legally unsustainable "because there is no power or authority with the Election Commission to gag the media in this manner" (to quote again from the Frontline petition). To make up for the weakness of its case, the E.C. attempted to take the high ground, arguing essentially that its empowerment by Article 324 of the Constitution for the "superintendence, direction and con trol of elections" gave it wide powers that were more than adequate to issue these banning guidelines. The Constitution Bench that heard the matter made light of the contentions in favour of enforceability of the guidelines, calling attention to the abse nce of "any teeth" or legal basis for enforcement against "third parties" such as the media and the public (as distinct from political parties, candidates and state authorities involved in the conduct of elections). More interestingly, the Bench orally o bserved for the benefit of the E.C.: "At the end of the day, you may go with a perception that you have far less powers than the public perception."

ALL this should not detract from the excellence of the work done by the three-member Election Commission, which after all is conducting one of the wonders of the world, an Indian general election involving some 605 million eligible voters across wonderfu lly vast, diverse, varied and volatile circumstances. After the excesses of the Seshan era, the multi-member E.C. has not merely come to stay. Under the leadership of Dr. M.S. Gill, the Chief Election Commissioner, it has played an objective, fair, secul ar and eminently sensible role in the superintendence, direction and control of elections. It has intervened deftly and in time where warranted; guarded its independence and jurisdiction without making a song and dance about this; resisted improper attem pted encroachments (by those like the acting Governor of Bihar, who has seemed in need of lessons in elementary constitutional functioning vis-a-vis both the E.C. and the elected State government) without inviting public confrontations; shown cour age (as in deciding Bal Thackeray's disenfranchisement for a period on transparently just grounds) but avoided grandstanding; functioned as a team presiding over an election-conducting army of civilians that is without parallel anywhere else in the world ; and served as a force for public education in the values and modalities of elective democracy.

However, the sweeping attempt to give opinion and exit polls a bad name and to suggest that such exercises detract from the freedom of choice by citizens and the democratic process itself, especially given the mix of mass poverty, huge illiteracy and mul ti-party democracy, cannot be upheld. Opinion and exit polls and psephology, the fairly young discipline that attempts to study electoral behaviour scientifically, have over the past 15 years made a qualitatively impressive contribution to an understandi ng of the Indian political process. In general, they have raised the level of public awareness of the opinions and views of various sections of society on political parties, candidates and issues. At their best, when they are conducted honestly, transpar ently and on the basis of the principles of statistical science and a rigorous scientific methodology, polls can serve as an antidote to partisan propaganda and baseless claims made on various sides. The carefully qualified, nuanced and understated prese ntation and analysis of the results of a series of State-wise opinion polls by Dr. Prannoy Roy, a pioneer of Indian psephology, over several days on Star News prior to this thirteenth general election is an example of the insight-providing and educative role of scientific polling.

Dr. Gill and the E.C. are doing an important service to democracy when they criticise and object to the recent trend of abuse of opinion and exit polls for partisan political ends. A notable example of manipulative use of polling over the manipulated med ia is Doordarshan's suspiciously timed telecast of the results of a shoddily done exit poll; the telecast was a crude attempt to influence the electorate in favour of the BJP-led combine. Would government-controlled Doordarshan have telecast, in mid-gene ral election, the findings of an exit poll predicting victory for the Opposition? On the other hand, there is no need to exaggerate the direct impact of opinion and exit polls on mass voting behaviour. If there is a 'bandwagon' effect, there can also be a 'swimming-against-the-current' effect that energises those swimming against the political current to bring out their supporters in larger numbers and put up a more determined fight. In any case, under Indian conditions, the publication of opinion and e xit polls cannot make anything more than a small, if not marginal, difference to how the masses vote.

NEVERTHELESS, the time has come to challenge the authenticity, transparency and competence of several polls commissioned and presented by the non-official and official media in India. Most of these polls fail to provide the reader with the minimum disclo sure of technical and methodological information required by the code of conduct supposed to apply both to polling agencies and the news publications using their services. (Going by the record available in print and on television, a number of poll analys ts and learned commentators do not care, or seem unable, to distinguish between per cent and percentage points while discussing shares of the popular vote, swings, and comparative electoral performance.) Then there is a distinctive problem posed by a first-past-the-post system under conditions of tremendous electoral diversity, unevenness and complexity - the problem of converting shares of the popular vote into seats while making predictions. Most seat predictions made by pollsters for In dian elections have nothing to do with statistical science and represent only plausible guesswork at best; with tall claims made and the methodology and formulae of share-of-the-vote to seat conversion unacceptably sought to be passed off as trade secret , such exercises often degenerate into pseudo-academic sharp practice.

What is required is a balanced and progressive attitude to polling and psephology, which is able to see the advantages they offer in providing relevant public information and raising public awareness in a democracy and also their limitations and the pote ntial for abuse. The E.C. has erred in forming a one-sided, almost dogmatic opinion on the role of opinion and exit polls, seeing mainly the potential for, and the recent trends of, misuse; it has also tended to go beyond its jurisdiction and attempt dra stic 'corrective' action that, on the one hand, conflicts with the constitutionally protected freedom of the media and, on the other, virtually abolishes close-to-the-election polling in India. If the E.C. changes its approach and converts its wholesale hostility to opinion and exit polling into a concretised moral campaign among the public against the manipulative and dishonest use of polling and against professional and media malpractice, it is likely to get a lot of intellectual and popular support.

CTBT contretemps

R. RAMACHANDRAN world-affairs

The entry-into-force deadline is here, but the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty clearly will not make it.

ON September 24, 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), opened for signatures after it was approved by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). This year, that date, will mark the passage of the three-year deadline set by the Treaty's provisi ons to enable the CTBT to come into force. The Treaty can come into effect only if 44 specified countries ratify it and submit the instruments of ratification to the U.N. Secretary-General.

Article XIV of the Treaty lays down the requirements for its entry into force (EIF). The list of 44 states - Annex 2 of the Treaty - comprises the states that formally participated in the 1996 session of the Conference on Disarmament (C.D.).

The EIF clause, that mandates upon the 44 states to ratify the treaty, was a device evolved as a result of backroom manoeuvres to ensure that the (then) threshold states such as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea were forced to become party to the T reaty. (Para 2 of Article XIV is poorly worded resulting in ambiguity with regard to the actual deadline though the Preparatory Commission of the CTBT Organisation (CTBTO-PrepCom) or the signatories to the Treaty do not seem to be overly concerned about it. It speaks of "three years after the date of the anniversary of its opening for signature". The ambiguity is essentially in the use of the word "anniversary" as it lends to the interpretation that the deadline is September 24, 2000. The accepted inter pretation, however, seems to be September 24, 1999, although it is not clear how a court of law will view it.)

Paragraphs 2-3 of Article XIV, which allow annual conferences to enable the entry into force, was the result of the suggestion by the Canadian negotiators as they felt that a strict EIF provision would make it difficult to bring the Treaty into force pro mptly. It requires that a majority of the states that have deposited their instruments of ratification request a special conference "to consider and decide by consensus what measures consistent with international law may be undertaken to accelerate the r atification process in order to facilitate the early entry into force."

As of September 15, 1999, exactly 152 countries had signed the Treaty and 44 countries ratified it. Of these 44 states, only 21 are from the specified list of 44. Of the seven countries which have exploded nuclear devices, only France and the United King dom have ratified the Treaty. Israel and North Korea are the key threshold states that have not signed the ratification.

The U.N. Secretary-General has convened a Special EIF Facilitation Conference during October 6-8, 1999, after the Vienna-based ambassadors of a majority of the ratifying states made a request on May 11 as required under Article XIV.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Preparatory Committee meeting held in May in New York had provided the forum for an informal discussion among the ratifiers on the convening of the EIF Conference. The U.K. has been in the forefront of getting t he EIF conference convened. The informal exercise of arriving at a proper agenda, procedures of the meeting and the measures to be proposed has been on since May 18 with Britain's Ambassador to Austria, John Freeman, serving as the "Consultative Chair".

The EIF clause stipulates that only ratifiers can vote at the conference. Signatories can attend only as "observers". It appears that even non-signatories and non-governmental organisations have been granted an "observer" status. Accordingly, India - a n on-signatory - too has been invited. According to sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India is not likely to attend the meeting. The reasoning could be that since it cannot participate in the discussions, there is no point in attending the meeting.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh clearly stated the Indian position on CTBT in the post-Pokhran-II phase (see Foreign Affairs Journal, September-October 1998): "After the tests, India stated that it will henceforth observe a voluntary morat orium and refrain from conducting underground nuclear test explosions. It has also indicated a willingness to move toward a de jure formalisation of this declaration. The basic obligation of the CTBT is thus met: to undertake no more nuclear tests . Since India already subscribes to the substance of the test ban treaty, all that remains is its actual signature." (emphasis added).

Pakistan, having declared a moratorium on nuclear tests, has adopted a somewhat similar position. In his UNGA address last year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that Pakistan was ready to adhere to the CTBT "in an atmosphere free from coercion and press ure". He reiterated this in his National Defence College address on May 20. Some recent pronouncements have linked the signing of the CTBT to the lifting of sanctions, giving meaning to the phrase "atmosphere free from coercion and pressure". However, pe rhaps to save the embarrassment of being confronted with the question of signing the Treaty, having given some assurances at the last UNGA, Sharif has decided not to attend the session this year.

TOPPING the list of states whose ratification is essential for the Treaty making headway is the United States. The U.S., which holds the largest nuclear arsenal, has conducted 1,030 nuclear tests and has put in place the gold plated multi-billion dollar Stockpile Stewardship Programme (SSP) with the objective of being in readiness to resume nuclear testing if it becomes necessary for reasons of national security and "supreme national interests of the country". Ratification by other countries, particular ly by China and Russia, would be predicated upon the U.S. ratifying it first. The issue of U.S. ratification has, however, been politically stalemated since President Bill Clinton transmitted it to the Senate on September 22, 1997 for its "advice and con sent". The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Jesse Helms, has not held a single hearing on the Treaty. He is holding the CTBT hostage in order to get his political pound of flesh. Senate rules give the Foreign Relations Co mmittee jurisdiction over treaties. While in principle it is possible that the Senate could give its consent after a single hearing, it is most unlikely to take up the Treaty for consideration as the topic is not listed for hearings.

With the deadline nearing, there is much evidence of pressure being mounted on Helms. On June 28, five Republican Senators wrote to Helms urging him to hold hearings. Armed with findings of a poll - which shows that 80 per cent of Republicans and 86 per cent of the Democrats, on the one hand, and 82 per cent of the general public, on the other, want the CTBT approved - Clinton and a group of nine bipartisan Senators issued a joint statement on July 20 calling for prompt action on the Treaty. On the same day, all the 45 Democratic Senators wrote to Helms calling for Senate hearings.

In a letter dated August 2 and addressed to Senator Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader (whose unstinted support Helms seems to enjoy), nine eminent scientists, including Dr. Hans Bethe, who headed an important division of the Manhattan Project, Dr. F reeman Dyson, Dr. Herbert York, founding director of the weapons facility, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, nuclear weapons specialist Dr. Richard Garwin, and some important former intelligence and military officials, called for prompt ratificatio n. They pointed out that in the context of reports of Chinese nuclear espionage in the U.S., ratification of the CTBT was an essential and key step towards protecting the U.S. against weaponisation of stolen nuclear secrets.

On August 9, Clinton, in his address on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the current Chair, General Shulton, and four former Chairs had issued a statement endorsing the CTBT and urged Helms to hold hearings during this fall season. The most dramatic, however, is the statement on September 8 by Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan. Stating that the October conference should not proceed without the U.S. providing a leadership role, he has threatened to obstruct all Senate proceedings unless the CTBT is taken up for debate. Senator Helms appears unmoved.

The underlying issues are complex. While in U.S. domestic terms they are political, in global terms they have to do with issues of nuclear disarmament in general. The reasons for the other two Nuclear Weapon States (NWSs), Russia and China, having not ra tified the Treaty stem from these considerations. The ratification in the U.S. has got linked to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the proposed defence postures of the U.S., the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-II), the alleged Chinese nuclear espionage and the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan. India's opposition to the Treaty at the C.D. was primarily on the grounds that the Treaty, as adopted, had failed to address broader nuclear disarmament issues.

Ironically, after Pokhran-II, the BJP government's position on CTBT, aided by the arguments of the hawkish defence analysts and strategists, is being dictated by what one may call the "railway compartment mentality". Arguments related to disarmament have been thrown to the winds and the present government is all for signing the Treaty for some imagined quid pro quo from the U.S. administration, such as the transfer of dual-use technologies. Indeed, it would have gone ahead and signed the Treaty b ut for the fact that the government itself fell and the hold-out states now includes the U.S. as well.

The crux of the problem in the U.S. imbroglio is the proposed revision of the ABM Treaty which the U.S. is negotiating with Russia. Helms' contention is that the ABM Protocols and the Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Convention on Climate Change have not been sent to the Foreign Relations Committee as required and, unless that is done, he will not take up the CTBT which is very low in his priority. A key issue in the proposed ABM Protocols pertains to the demarcation of Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) and ABM, the development and deployment of the latter being prohibited under the ABM Treaty. The objective of the revised protocols is to enable the development and deployment of the proposed National Missile Defence (NMD) system for which Clinton has sought a $1 0.5-billion funding between now and 2005.

On the one hand, Russia perceives the NMD to be violative of the ABM Treaty and will not move on START-II, which is awaiting ratification by the Duma, until ABM Treaty Protocols are renegotiated to its satisfaction and NMD is not pursued. Indeed, ratific ation has perhaps become even more remote in the light of the recent developments in Yugoslavia. On the other hand, the U.S. administration wants the immediate deployment of a robust NMD (which could include space-based weapons) for national security aga inst the perceived emerging ballistic missile threats from North Korea, China and India, and views the proposed revision of the ABM Treaty to be restrictive. In fact, the hawkish Helms wants the ABM Treaty, which according to him is defunct after the col lapse of the Soviet Union, scrapped so that the NMD can be established. "The Clinton administration wants to negotiate permission from Russia over whether the U.S. can protect itself from ballistic missile attack by North Korea. This is unacceptable," sa ys Helms. Fearing that the new protocols will not get two-thirds majority in the Senate, and without the benefit of START-II ratification by Russia, the Clinton administration is unlikely to send it to the Senate.

ALTHOUGH unrelated to the CTBT or other arms control issues, the Clinton Administration does not want the Kyoto Protocol, which puts binding obligations on the U.S., accepted until there is stronger commitment from developing countries for greenhouse gas reduction. Clinton feels that it is premature to send the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate. But Clinton had, according to Helms, given a legally binding commitment to send the two treaties to the Senate. When this did not happen, Helms set June 1 as the dea dline for a debate on the CTBT. June 1 has passed and Helms is steadfast in his refusal to consider the CTBT as the situation remains unchanged. Helms has also used the Indian nuclear tests as arguments for opposing the CTBT saying that "the Indian tests , from a non-proliferation standpoint, have demonstrated that CTBT is scarcely more than a sham."

North Korea's August 1998 launch of the Taepo Dong-I missile, and reports of increased deployment of Chinese M-11 missiles opposite Taiwan, have had their ramifications in the U.S. debate on TMD in East Asia (proposed to be deployed in conjunction with J apan and Taiwan) and the NMD itself. This has increased the already tense Sino-U.S. relations after the Cox Report on nuclear espionage and the attack on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Beijing has argued that the development of an East Asian TMD would be inconsistent with U.S. commitments on the ABM Treaty. Chinese officials have warned that U.S. missile defences could force China to increase its offensive forces, or, due to the technology involved, lead to an arms race in space.

In his March 26 address at the C.D., Chinese President Jiang Zemin, even as he announced that the CTBT would soon be submitted to the National People's Congress for ratification, said: "Disarmament should not become a tool for stronger nations to exert c ontrol over weaker ones, still less should it be an instrument for a handful of countries to optimise their armament to seek unilateral security superiority. To reduce the armament of others while keeping ones own intact, to reduce the obsolete while dev eloping the state-of-the-art, or even to sacrifice the security of others for one's own security and to require other countries to scrupulously abide by treaties while giving oneself the freedom of action by placing domestic laws above international law, all these are acts of double standards. They are a mockery of international disarmament efforts and run counter to the fundamental purposes and objectives of disarmament."

IN the light of all this, the likely scenario after September 24 is that the October EIF conference is unlikely to have these key countries as voting participants. With the U.S. absent, the conference is unlikely to take any significant decisions. Also, as MEA sources point out, since the UNGA will be held at the same time, nothing significant is likely to happen at the EIF meeting. So the question is: what would or what can the Conference do in terms of "measures to accelerate ratification"? Indeed, it would be interesting to speculate what kind of measures the remaining ratifiers will envisage to accelerate the process in the U.S.

What the EIF conference definitely cannot achieve is to waive the requirement of the 44 ratifying states to bring the Treaty into force. It also cannot make amendments to the Treaty. Indeed, during the C.D. negotiations, it was ensured that such a "waive r conference" is not permitted. However, John Holum, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and Politico-Military Affairs, at a special briefing on April 7, 1998, after the U.K. and France ratified the Treaty, said: "They could adopt on their own a test ban treaty that would have all the same provisions but a different EIF provision. That's a theoretical possibility. Or they could decide on provisional application. I think any of those kinds of options would be very difficult to pursue becau se the EIF provisions were the product of very intense negotiations and... certainly, the two who have ratified last week have strong views on that question."

In all likelihood, the October conference will open with the opening remarks of all the ratifiying states and conclude with a pious declaration with regard to the importance of the CTBT with a resolution calling upon the rest of the 44 states to ratify t he Treaty at the earliest. The conference may also adopt a resolution to step up diplomatic efforts for the conclusion of the Treaty and a decision to convene another special EIF conference in 2000, if the CTBT is not in force by then. It is becoming inc reasingly clear that, unless nuclear disarmament is addressed in its entirety, the CTBT could remain a non-starter.

Pakistan's compulsions

PAKISTAN'S decision not to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at this stage comes as no surprise. Linked to this decision is the formal announcement that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will not visit New York to attend the ongoing United Nations General Assembly session. However, the issue reportedly figured in the discussion between Sharif's younger brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in Washington on September 15.

Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz told Dawn on September 12: "We will not consider the signing of the CTBT till the time the sanctions imposed against Pakistan by the United States are removed." Aziz also told the newspaper that Pakistan had committed itself to signing it by September 1999 only if a coercion-free atmosphere was created. "Our condition has not yet been met so there is no question of signing the CTBT at this stage." The Foreign Minister said that the recent enunciation of a draft nuclea r doctrine by India would have nothing to do with Pakistan's decision in this regard.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on September 23, 1998, Nawaz Sharif said: "We have declared a moratorium on nuclear testing; so has India. There is no reason why the two countries cannot adhere to the CTBT. In a nuclearised South Asia, the CTBT woul d have relevance if Pakistan and India are both parties to the Treaty."

Sharif said then that Pakistan would be ready to sign up in September 1999 in conditions "free from coercion or pressure". If India resumed testing while Pakistan adhered to the CTBT, Islamabad would invoke the "supreme interests clause" as provided unde r Article 9 of the Treaty, he said.

Earlier, speaking to the foreign media on May 23, 1998, prior to the Pakistani nuclear tests, the Prime Minister had questioned the relevance of the CTBT and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Sharif said: "Apart from threatening Pakistan, India is now blackmailing the world by offers of bargain on the CTBT. We believe that the Indian actions (tests) have rendered the non-proliferation regime and instruments such as the NPT and the CTBT irrelevant. The Indian tests have posed new challenges and dilemmas in the field of non-proliferation. Fresh thinking is now needed on these issues."

Clearly, between May and September 1998, Pakistan's thinking on the "relevance" of the CTBT had undergone a major change. From a position of considering the Treaty irrelevant, Pakistan shifted to a position of adhering to the CTBT in conditions free from coercion and pressure.

Similarly, while the Foreign Minister in his comments to Dawn on September 12 denied any linkage between India's nuclear doctrine and Pakistan's position on the CTBT, Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad gave a different opinion in a lecture delivered at the Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS) in Islamabad on September 7. He said: "If this (nuclear) doctrine is to be implemented, India will require nuclear warheads to be placed on its short, medium and longer-range missiles. It would want to match t he other nuclear powers by developing thermonuclear weapons. Unless India has received nuclear weapons designs from clandestine sources, it will need further nuclear tests to achieve the advanced deployment capabilities it desires... the very possibility that India may conduct further nuclear tests creates doubts in Pakistan regarding the advisability of our early adherence to the CTBT. If India conducts further nuclear tests, this will, once again, oblige Pakistan to respond."

Shamshad Ahmad added: "Further nuclear tests by India will completely subvert the CTBT. The first priority for the world must be, therefore, to press India - and not Pakistan - to sign and ratify the CTBT and to reverse the preparations it has made for f urther nuclear tests."

Pakistan is keen that the U.S. should withdraw the Pressler Amendment, which imposed a ban on arms sales to Pakistan. Pakistan also wants to link its decision on the CTBT to what India does - at this moment Nawaz Sharif can ill-afford to be attacked by t he Opposition for yet another "pro-U.S." action.

The Sharif Government had come in for considerable criticism for its July 4 accord with the United States to end the Kargil misadventure. With the Opposition mounting a challenge through street demonstrations, the Prime Minister would be loath to sign th e CTBT at this stage. Hence the decision not to go to New York at this juncture.

Had India been in a position to adhere to the CTBT, Pakistan could have taken a decision on signing the Treaty with relative ease. However, the fall of the Vajpayee government complicated the situation for Pakistan. It also stalled the parallel U.S.-Paki stan and U.S.-India dialogue on nuclear non-proliferation.

In his September 7 lecture, Shamshad Ahmad also proposed that until the CTBT came into force, Pakistan and India "could formalise their unilateral moratoriums into a binding bilateral arrangement".

Whatever be the U.S. decision on lifting the Pressler sanctions on Pakistan, Islamabad will still link its decision on the CTBT to what India does. It would appear that Pakistan's decision not to link its stand to that of India's on the CTBT stands rever sed.

The Sharif Government also faces flak from right-wing, Islamist elements which see any decision to sign the CTBT as a "sell-out" to the West. It is clear that for Pakistan, the domestic dimension is crucial to any decision on the Treaty.

A plea to the LTTE

D.B.S. JEYARAJ world-affairs

In an unprecedented step, Amnesty International urges the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to spare the lives of those who may be on the terrorist organisation's hit-list.

AMNESTY International, the London-based human rights organisation, issued in August a direct appeal to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), that has acquired over the years a reputation of being one of the most ruthless guerilla organisations in the world. The appeal was extraordinary in three respects.

First, it was unusual for Amnesty to direct such an appeal to an organisation that has no legal basis to be considered a de jure entity. Usually Amnesty's appeals pertain to alleged human rights violations by sovereign states and their duly consti tuted governments. Basically a guerilla outfit, the LTTE is at best a sort of non-governmental organisation that is entitled to certain "belligerent rights" as a consequence of its protracted military campaign, during the course of which it established t erritorial control over certain parts of Sri Lanka.

Secondly, the appeal was in essence a pre-emptive move against the LTTE. It was not a case of Amnesty merely reacting to a past event; the appeal was based on a prognosis for the future. The Amnesty communique highlighted the civilian status of certain T amil politicians, mentioning them by name, and of other unnamed persons falling under that category, and appealed to the Tigers not to assassinate them. Taking into account the record, Amnesty is clearly trying to prevent further such incidents - again a n unusual move.

Thirdly, Amnesty expanded the scope of its appeal by not restricting it to just the LTTE's international secretariat based in Britain but extending it to several other branch and front offices of the Tigers - in France, Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, Norw ay, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. Amnesty issued the appeal as a proactive venture and as a means to exert pressure on the LTTE on as many fronts as possible. Since the Tiger hierarchy in the Northern mainland of the Wanni was neither visible n or accountable for incidents, pressure was being exerted on the more vulnerable Tiger agencies in the west.

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AS is the consequence of most such appeals issued by Amnesty, the LTTE addresses mentioned are receiving a flood of letters from members of the Amnesty's network living in many parts of the world. This is perhaps the first time that the overseas branches of the LTTE are being subjected to humanitarian pressure inspired by Amnesty. Usually, Tiger propagandists use Amnesty appeals concerning human rights violations by the Sri Lankan state and its organs for their own purposes.

Whenever charged with human rights violations, it has been a routine ruse for the LTTE to condone itself on the grounds that it was a government in the making and that having to conduct a liberation struggle against overwhelming odds, it was not always p ossible to adhere to human rights tenets. While disclaiming any responsibility to adhere to the principles of human rights on those grounds, the Tigers, on the other hand, insist that they and they alone should be recognised as the sole representatives o f Tamils and that Tamil Eelam was already a de facto reality. The killing of perceived opponents and dissidents from the Sri Lankan Tamil community is a brutal manifestation of this objective. The LTTE has for quite some time gotten away with such dual conduct, and the Amnesty appeal in a way attempts to check that. The LTTE is forced to accept the reality that there are some universal rights it must recognise if it wants the civilised world to accept its bona fides.

That the overseas branches of the LTTE are feeling the pressure inspired by the Amnesty seems evident from the reaction of some of its minions. The Tiger weekly Eela Murasu and fortnightly Ulagathamilar, published from Paris and Toronto res pectively, have written editorials criticising the Amnesty appeal. A website maintained by N. Satyendra in Britain has launched a frontal assault on Amnesty International. Satyendra was the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) representative at the Thimphu talks of 1985. His abrasive behaviour at the talks contributed greatly to its collapse, and later Satyendra was issued a deportation order by New Delhi. But he had left India before it could be served on him. Now he is an LTTE supporter, and in a bid perhaps to outlive his TELO past, Satyendra at times is more strident than LTTE supremo V. Prabakaran himself.

The Amnesty appeal to the LTTE is based on the premise that owing to their civilian status most of the Tamil non-LTTE political leaders are entitled to full protection under international human rights laws. Of its own volition, the LTTE had agreed to adh ere to the Geneva Convention, which among other things has set down rules regarding the treatment of civilians in troubled situations. Although the LTTE runs neither a de jure nor a de facto government, it had in February 1988 unilaterally announced and given guarantees to relevant institutions that it would abide by the provisions of the Geneva Convention, as also its optional protocols one and two. The LTTE engaged in this manoeuvre during the height of its confrontation with the Indian Peace Keeping Force for reasons unknown. Nevertheless, it is now bound to that commitment in the international perception.

Even as Amnesty condemned the executions and is now trying to prevent further killings, it is clear that this stance is based upon its principled opposition to the death penalty, whether officially or unofficially imposed. When death sentences were passe d on five soldiers convicted for the rape and murder of the 19-year-old Jaffna schoolgirl, Krishanthy Kumaraswamy, and the killing of her mother, brother and neighbour, Amnesty promptly issued an appeal against the death sentence. Since the penalty itsel f was reintroduced in Sri Lanka, Amnesty also lodged a public appeal urging that it be repealed. Amnesty secretary-general Pierre Sane wrote directly to Chandrika Kumaratunga, imploring her to revise the position. Sane also pointed out that it was not p ossible "for a government to respect human rights and execute prisoners at the same time."

THE Amnesty appeal is based on Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, 1940, that enshrines the protective principles of individuals in a conflict situation. Article 3 forbids governments and armed opposition groups from indulging in torture or killing of ci vilians not taking part in hostilities. It is in this context that Amnesty has mentioned the names of certain individual Tamil politicians and Tamil political leaders in general as perceived targets of the LTTE. It has also made clear that its initiative should in no way be interpreted as an endorsement of them or their parties. Amnesty believes that the LTTE's attacks are in clear violation of international human rights laws against killing anyone not directly involved in hostilities.

In the Sri Lankan context, there are certain difficulties in trying to define who a "civilian" is. For instance, President Chandrika Kumaratunga as head of the armed forces or other ministers participating in National Security Council meetings may not pa rticipate in active combat but are they strictly "civilians"? Also some Tamil political party members also double up as paramilitary or auxiliary soldiers. Some politicians are former guerillas and carry personal weapons. Many have armed bodyguards. Defi ning these "civilians" is an intricate exercise.

Yet, the fact that some elected officials or office-bearers of political parties carry arms or possess bodyguards is not a criterion for negating civilian status, Amnesty feels. A clear distinction, however, has to be drawn between "combatant leaders" su ch as Manickathasan of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Razeek of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) as opposed to the patently non-violent Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and other "non-combatan t", political wing leaders such as Siddharthan of the PLOTE and Suresh Premachandran of the EPRLF. In any event, Amnesty has gone ahead with its proactive initiative because it discerns a clear pattern in the LTTE's killings that show no signs of stoppin g and because it feels it is imperative to prevent them rather than issue condemnatory statements.

The recommended action is to send telegrams, telex and fax messages and express and airmail letters to the LTTE offices abroad. Amnesty has proposed that certain provisions be included in the recommended missives. They are:

(a) Explaining that Amnesty's action on behalf of the persons allegedly under LTTE threat conforms to obligations under international humanitarian law;

(b) Condemning the deliberate and arbitrary killing of political leaders;

(c) Expressing concern for the lives of N. Raviraj of the TULF (Acting Mayor of Jaffna), R. Sambandan (the TULF MP for Trincomalee), Y. Balachandran (the PLOTE MP for Wanni), K. Sivajilingam (the TELO chairman for the Velvettithurai Urban Council), V. An andasangari (acting president of the TULF) and other politicians reportedly under LTTE threat;

(d) Urging the LTTE leadership to issue a clear statement condemning the deliberate and arbitrary killings of all civilians including politicians not taking part in the hostilities;

(e) Appealing to the LTTE for an immediate halt to attacks on people taking no direct part in hostilities by the LTTE or by forces under the LTTE control. The latter clause has been necessitated by the fact that in many cases the LTTE claims non-involvem ent in an attack while the foul play is conducted by satellite outfits such as Sangilian, Ellalan and Pandara Vanniyan "Padaigal". It is well known that these names are bandied about by the LTTE in a puerile attempt to absolve itself of any blame.

Ingrid Massage, the Amnesty International official in charge of the Sri Lanka desk in London, when contacted said: "There is a grave concern in the international community about the continuing, deliberate and targeted attacks on civilians like Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam or the local councillors in Jaffna. There is no way that the LTTE can commit such killings and at the same time maintain that it abides by the Geneva Convention."

AMNESTY'S immediate concern for the lives of certain Tamil politicians has been necessitated by the prevailing circumstances. The LTTE has been issuing notices calling on these politicians to resign or face the consequences. Many of them have received th reatening letters and telephone calls in the name of the LTTE or its fellow travellers. Neelan Tiruchelvam, who was killed on July 29, was under a threat too. Amnesty appears to be building up pressure on the LTTE in order to deter possible plans to exte rminate these people.

Although many prominent political leaders, including Chandrika Kumaratunga and Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, are under continuous threat, the current political situation makes lesser politicians, mainly Tamils, imminent targets. According to poli tical analysts, the LTTE is perhaps in its most virulent phase. The brunt of their violence would seem to be directed at fellow Tamils rather than the so-called main enemy, the Sinhala state.

The LTTE finds that in spite of years of fighting and innumerable losses, it is nowhere in sight of its political objective. What is more, it finds itself increasingly alienated from international opinion. The territory controlled by it in Sri Lanka has shrunk considerably. Although by no means a spent force, the LTTE is certain that the process of decline has begun. Furthermore, there is a possibility that the devolution package may be implemented bypassing the Tigers. Under these circumstances, the r esulting political frustration seeks to target perceived scapegoats for this state of affairs. The tradition in Tamil politics has been to blame forces or individuals among the community or the internal enemy as the source of all troubles. Therefore, the LTTE has apparently turned its wrath on Tamils who are a hindrance to their goal. After all, Prabakaran had his baptism of fire by gunning down former Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah on July 27, 1975. Tamil killings have continued for nearly two decades.

The LTTE has its own motives for targeting Tamil political parties. According to the Editor of Lanka Guardian, Dayan Jayatilleke, "the LTTE's plan is to monopolise the Tamil nationalistic space and present the Colombo-Delhi-Washington axis with a fait accompli and force the latter to arrive at a modus vivendi with it. The LTTE's goal goes beyond the limited objective of monopolising the Tamil political space ahead of any talks with the Sri Lankan Government."

Jayatilleke, in a newspaper interview, went on to say: "The killings are a signal to Colombo to stop propping up the TULF, the EPDP, the EPRLF, the PLOTE and the TELO as alternative Tamil formations to work its devolution and other political plans for th e Tamils in the face of the LTTE's hostility. As regards New Delhi, the LTTE thinks that the BJP-led government is friendly, but South Block's powerful bureaucracy is highly suspect in its eyes. It is to Indian officialdom that the LTTE attributes the ro utine extension of the ban on it. The LTTE is trying to make India see the futility of propping up groups like the TULF and the EPRLF. To the U.S., the assassinations are a signal to suggest that the LTTE cannot be rejected and ignored but has to be cons tructively engaged."

If the prognosis about the LTTE's current hostility is correct then some more killings can be expected. In that context, Amnesty's appeal is a desperate measure enacted under desperate circumstances to mobilise international opinion against the LTTE and prevent a bloodbath of Tamil innocents. What is further needed is for the Amnesty initiative to be supported by other human rights and non-governmental organisations too. Only a world wide campaign of great proportions can possibly contain the bloody str ategy. Though some would say that the neo-fascist LTTE would not respect even international opinion, it does seem worthwhile to make such an attempt, however quixotic it may appear.

There are two other issues in this regard. One, the Sri Lankan government must wake up to the imminent danger most Tamil politicians are in and provide them adequate security. The TULF with its "unarmed democracy" policy is particularly vulnerable. The s econd issue relates to developments in India, notably Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nationalist Movement led by P. Nedumaran, a long-time supporter of the Tamil Eelam and LTTE cause, is currently engaged in a campaign to get the death sentences imposed on four p ersons convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination stopped. As part of this campaign, Nedumaran and other like-minded persons have been arguing strongly against the concept of capital punishment. In that process, some eloquent and emotional points have b een made regarding the sanctity of human life, how no one has the right to deprive a person of life and how killing someone does not deter the cause and so on. Now, the life and death question before these people is whether the same yardstick does not ap ply to the LTTE. If death sentences imposed after due process are a matter of objection, then what is to be done in the case of Tiger killings that are arbitrarily executed? If the supporters of the LTTE who are clamouring for eradication of capital puni shment in India can prevail upon the LTTE too to implement a moratorium on civilian killings, then it would provide a reprieve for many beleaguered persons on the brink of death in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

A relentless campaign

D.B.S. JEYARAJ world-affairs

AMNESTY International has been conducting an intensive campaign to get the death sentence awarded to four persons - S. Nalini (33) and Perarivalan (24) (Indian nationals) and Nalini's husband Murugan (28) and Santhan (28) (Sri Lankans) - in the Rajiv Gan dhi assassination case commuted to life imprisonment. This campaign is based on the organisation's principled opposition to the death penalty and its aim to redress certain perceived flaws in the judicial process in the matter.

Amnesty has opposed the death penalty and in all cases in all countries on the ground that it is a violation of the right to life and the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The organisation has time and agai n tried to mobilise the global collective conscience to express unconditional opposition to the death penalty as a violation of the right to life, emphasising that the punishment is never known to have acted as a deterrent or to have established retribut ive justice.

Amnesty has given special attention to the Rajiv Gandhi murder trial ever since the due process of law was initiated. It has issued press releases and communiques calling for international action whenever the need arose in its perception. Its latest and most comprehensive report and connected appeal was issued on August 12 (AI Index ASA 20/32/99). In the seven-page report, the organisation has traced the progress of the Rajiv Gandhi trial, the trial court convictions, the Supreme Court appeal and the su bsequent verdict. While being attentive to the perceived flaws in the judicial process, Amnesty has, however, focussed more attention on getting the death sentences commuted.

It has expressed concern that while Nalini, Murugan, Perarivalan and Santhan were acquitted by the Supreme Court of offences under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), the Supreme Court failed to consider the incompatibility o f certain provisions of TADA with international standards for fair trial when it held that their trial under those provisions should not be called into question.

"To confirm sentences of death imposed after a trial held under provisions of a law which has now lapsed following widespread criticism from national and international human rights bodies that it denied the right to a fair trial, is manifestly unsound," Amnesty has stated.

While reiterating that capital punishment is based on a misguided perception that the death penalty is an appropriate means of deterrence or retribution, Amnesty has also pointed out that though the Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty could be applied only in the "rarest of the rarest cases", at least a dozen executions are carried out in India every year. It also draws attention to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights urging governments to impose a moratorium on executions, and has requested India to abolish the death penalty.

Even as Amnesty spearheads a campaign to get the death sentences commuted, the stay on the death sentence on the four convicts has been extended as a consequence of periodic appeals.

Amnesty hopes the Supreme Court will review the petition in the light of the concerns raised, and it has called upon the President of India to exercise his powers to commute the death sentences in case the petition is rejected.

A no-win situation

Bringing peace to the northeastern region of Sri Lanka requires more than a smart military operation. Lack of progress on the political front has created a no-win situation here.

NORTHEASTERN Sri Lanka is going through a painful phase, marked by an impasse, in both political and military terms. With the country set to face national and presidential elections in the year ahead, it is possible that positions will harden among both the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government. The Opposition United National Party (UNP), whose endorsement of the policy decisions taken by the ruling People's Alliance (P.A.) is crucial to resolving the crisis, is also expe cted to adopt a tough stand.

Exactly a year ago, following a fierce battle between government troops and the separatists, Killinochchi and Manku-lam changed hands. While Killinochchi came under the control of the LTTE, the government regained Mankulam.

Since then nothing much has happened to alter the situation. But the security forces have scored a string of successes in the Wanni area, regaining chunks of territory from the Tigers. The crucial gain was the retaking of Madhu, a pilgrim centre in Manna r district.

In the second week of September, the security forces started a fifth round of Rana Gosa (Battle Cry) operations in the Wanni area comprising four northern districts. The previous such operation had been conducted with remarkable ease. Going by reports co ming from the northeastern area, Rana Gosa V has not made much gains as the LTTE has put up stiff resistance.

(Reportage on military operations is largely confined to information based on secondary sources as journalists are not permitted to enter the areas until after the completion of a military operation. Moreover, censorship of news related to military opera tions has been in place since June 1999.)

The Defence Ministry said that the troops "advanced from general areas north and east of Welimarandamadu Tank and general areas east of Periyamadu tank". Indications are that the total number of casualties on both sides could well be above 150.

Heavy casualties have been reported from the northern Mannar district, where a fresh offensive was launched on September 12. The operation has strategic significance in that it seeks to cover areas which would, if successfully penetrated, lead to the ope ning of a much-needed main supply route to the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The operation launched in September 1998 implied a rethinking on the part of the government with regard to its plans to open a main supply route to Jaffna through a series of offensives called Operation Jaya Sikuru (Sure Victory). After Operation Jaya Si kuru was given up, the western offensive was launched, and it has been widely perceived as one aimed at opening a main supply route along the western coast.

Operation Rana Gosa also marks a shift in military strategy after the Killinochchi operations in that an earlier approach to open a main supply route along the Kandy-Jaffna road, which runs through the Tiger heartland, was abandoned in favour of a more p ractical western route.

Bringing peace to the troubled northeastern region would require more than a smart and successful military operation. While the military advance is crucial, equally important would be the progress made on a resolution of the political issues. Unfortunate ly, nothing has happened on this front as the goals of both the government and the LTTE have remained unachievable.

For its part, the government is keen on a solution within a framework that envisages a united but non-unitary nation, while the Tigers remain committed to their separatist agenda. And so the attrition continues.

So it is imperative for the government to address the ground realities in the northeastern region, especially the situation faced by civilians living under the LTTE's sway. Regulations on fishing, and movement between the government-held and LTTE-held ar eas, lack of proper transportation facilities between Jaffna and the rest of the island and mounting pressures on the food delivery system are but early manifestations of more trouble ahead.

The advantage now lies with the military, successive operations having eroded the territorial base of the LTTE. With the ongoing military thrust, the efficacy of the civil administration, already handicapped as a result of the government having to run ba sic affairs in an essentially enemy-held area, has been further affected. The prevailing no-win situation, according to Tamil politicians, could help the LTTE to try to prove that it has a presence all over the northeast. This could impel it to launch at tacks on economic installations and security personnel, as was seen in a recent attack on a police station in Trincomalee.

By systematically dismembering the other militant groups, the LTTE is better placed to claim the status of the "sole representative of the Tamils". The assassination of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, senior leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), an d those of Razeek of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front and Manickathasan of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam are indicators of the LTTE's unwillingness to accommodate an alternative leadership for Tamils, either politic ally or militarily.

However, the present delicate balance and uncertainty could change dramatically if the LTTE were to strike at any Army camp. Military strategists are in no doubt about the LTTE's capabilities. The question now is when and where it will strike.

A long and winding road

SIDDHARTHA BAVISKAR world-affairs

In Guatemala, which has come a long way from the days of a military dictatorship to a barely functioning democracy, the outcome of a nationwide referendum and the scuttling of peace accords slow down further progress towards peace and democracy.

JULY 1999, Santa Anita estate, Colomba Costa Cuca, Quezaltenango, Guatemala: Looking at Aura Vicente as she cradles an infant inside a damp and dirty building, it is hard to imagine that she was once the first female captain in the Revolutionary Organisa tion of the People in Arms (ORPA). "When the army kidnapped and murdered my father, I had no choice but to flee to the mountains near San Marcos," she says softly. It was there that Vicente, then known only by her alias, "Juana", joined the Left-wing ins urgency that erupted in the mid-1960s. She spent the following 10 years on the run before escaping to Mexico. It was only in 1997, following the signing of the United Nations-sponsored peace accords, that she could return home. Camps scattered across the verdant landscape provide some 1,50,000 former Guatemalan refugees and demobilised Left-wing combatants a chance to lead normal lives once again.

In December 1996, the Government of Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) signed the last of a series of peace accords, one that promised to bring a "firm and lasting peace" to a country that had been torn apart by a 36-year-lo ng civil war. Some 2,00,000 persons were killed or "disappeared" during the bloody conflict; hundreds of thousands sought refuge abroad or in other parts of the country.

The scope of the accords is impressive. It ranges from a Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights to an Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to another on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society. Indeed, there is scarcely an area of national life that they leave untouched. Such comprehensiveness would seem to augur well for the future of Guatemala. It would, for instance, imply that the harsh discrimination that marks this div ided society will soon be reduced if not eliminated, and that its armed forces will have greater respect for democratic norms.

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Unfortunately, recent events point to a less sanguine outlook. Although Guatemala figures among middle-income countries in terms of per capita income, there is a gross maldistribution of land and income. Such inequalities are exacerbated by the cleavage between ladinos (Spanish-speaking whites or mestizos) and (predominantly Mayan) indigenous peoples, and the rural-urban divide.

Three-fourths of Guatemala's 11 million citizens live below the poverty line; of the 58 per cent of the population that lives in extreme poverty, over four-fifths is Mayan. The top 10 per cent of the population receives 46.4 per cent of the national inco me while the two lowest quintiles combined get only 7.9 per cent. As little as 0.15 per cent of the rural population (a little more than 10,000 people), engaged in commercial agriculture, controls as much as 70 per cent of agricultural land.

A 1997 assessment by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) describes Guatemala as one of the most "archaically repressive, unjust and racist societies in the western hemisphere." Agricultural production has focussed on exports, leading to a critical level of food insecurity. Infant mortality rates, illiteracy and malnutrition continue to be unacceptably high.

Thus, poverty afflicts the peasant more than it does the city-dweller; it hurts the indigenous majority much more than it does the ladino minority. The state has done little to improve things. Its spending on education and health is one of the lowest in the region; its capacity to tax, redistribute wealth and provide basic services to the needy, frighteningly low.

The unequal distribution of resources which, in turn, has led to the concentration of power in the hands of a small private sector and military elite, was one of the main reasons for the rise of the Marxist-led, Cuban-supported insurgency (broadly repres ented by the URNG) in the country. The fact that toward the second half of the 1980s the insurgency was largely a spent force may be attributed largely to the brutal and widespread repression unleashed by the Army and right-wing paramilitary groups. Thei r justification? Defence of national sovereignty and, later, also of the constitutional order against an internationally-supported Communist insurgency.

In the Cold War context, these counter-insurgency efforts, which included grave human rights violations, were actively supported by the United States as part of its foreign policy - a fact noted by the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) establ ished in June 1994 as part of the peace agreements. Observers note that, unlike the peace process in neighboring El Salvador where guerillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) were firmly maintaining the offensive against the beleagu ered Salvadoran military when they came to the negotiating table, in Guatemala the URNG guerillas had become more of a nuisance than a threat to the state even before the talks began.

Having gained the upper hand over its opponents, why did the Guatemalan military agree to support the peace initiative formally? One plausible reason is the presence of a moderate faction within the military high command. According to Colonel Benito Ragg io, Military Adviser to the U.N. Mission for the Verification of Human Rights and of Compliance with the Commitments of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights in Guatemala (MINUGUA), "the Guatemalan military is a professional institution. There are moderate 'visionaries' in the military high command who realised that, although the insurgency had been defeated militarily, an ideological and political victory was not possible. Also, Guatemala's image in the international community had deteriorated an d, with the end of the Cold War, international pressure on the government had mounted."

In Raggio's view, the Army's strength and resistance to civilian control stemmed from the fact that the Guatemalan state was weak and had abdicated its basic responsibilities to the military. "It was the Army that largely dealt with the crisis that Hurri cane Mitch (November 1998) left in the wake. Only it could deal with the soaring crime in the country." This opinion, however, ignores the important contribution of local non-governmental organisations and international agencies to relief operations, and towards strengthening and improving key political institutions such as the judiciary and the police.

A second factor, besides the Army's pragmatism, is that the military has not found the terms of the peace agreements to be punitive. While the armed forces seem to be fulfilling some of the commitments demanded by the peace agreements (some of these even preceded the accords as, for instance, reducing manpower by a third) it is far from clear whether their basic autonomy with respect to the state has been eroded thus far. During the conflict, the military acted with impunity against any perceived opposi tion. It kidnapped, tortured and killed scores of guerillas as well as innocent civilians.

The reports of both the CEH and the Catholic Church-sponsored Project on Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) provide chilling testimony to its flagrant violations of human rights. The CEH report, "Guatemala: Memory of Silence", concludes that the state -perpetrated genocide (including over 600 massacres) against the Mayan community between 1981 and 1983 and that, together with paramilitary groups, it was responsible for over 90 per cent of the human rights violations committed. The report calls for bri nging the perpetrators to justice and compensating the victims. Unfortunately, its recommendations are not legally binding.

Another clear sign of military independence is that those responsible for the brutal assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi - the Army is widely suspected to be behind it - in April 1996 are still at large. The military has been unwilling to cooperate with the investigation, which has dragged on fruitlessly. Bishop Gerardi, a staunch defender of human rights and the leader of the REMHI project, was killed barely two days after he presented the project report titled "Guatemala. Never Again".

Military resistance to control by the state is perhaps understandable given that it has governed the nation for much of this century, including an uninterrupted three-decade rule after the U.S.- led overthrow of the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz G overnment in 1954. It had also influenced the framing of the last Constitution (in 1986) which does not permit a civilian to hold the position of Minister of Defence.

Raggio attributes military autonomy to deeper problems. He says: "If the military can act with impunity, it is ultimately due to a political, structural problem; one that is related to the poverty, corruption and illiteracy in this country." The causes o f military supremacy may be many, but one thing remains clear: the military vehemently opposes any effort to make it answer for its crimes.

Recent startling revelations, however, may force it to be more cooperative in this regard. A military logbook that records in frightening detail the fate of 183 Guatemalans at the hands of the security forces during the mid-1980s - and U.S. complicity i n the anti-insurgency campaign - surfaced last May in the U.S. What makes the document unique is that it was smuggled out of the Guatemalan Army's own archives. Although the military has denied the report, its publication may well build up sufficient pre ssure on a reluctant Alvaro Arzz Government to take the military to task.

OBSERVERS note that two serious inherent weaknesses undermine the accords. First, to what extent do the signatories to the agreements represent the aspirations of Guatemalan society as a whole? The URNG is an umbrella organisation formed in 1982 by vario us politico-military organisations such as the Guerilla Army of the Poor (EGP); the Organisation of the People in Arms (ORPA); and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). It claims to speak for a broad spectrum of disaffected Guatemalan citizens, in partic ular the Mayan majority.

However, while the revolutionaries were involved in promoting social movements in support of the indigenous cause from the mid-1970s, the relationship between the Mayans and those who claimed to fight on their behalf has often been marked by suspicion, h ostility or outright rejection.

Finally, although diverse civic organisations were consulted during the negotiations, clear support to the agreements, and to the broader process that they represent, has not been forthcoming from important right-wing groups, in particular the Guatemalan Revolutionary Front (FRG). The FRG is one of the two right-wing parties - the other being the ruling National Advancement Party (PAN) that dominate national politics. As Edelberto Torres-Rivas, a Guatemalan sociologist and adviser to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), puts it, "for the FRG, the URNG is just a gang of criminals; therefore it views the promises made at the negotiating table by the PAN government not as moral commitments of the Guatemalan state but only obligations undertake n by the current Government."

The second drawback of the accords has to do with implementation. The agreements are full of ambitious objectives and stirring phrases. Yet their wording is so ambiguous and they involve so many agencies that verifying them and holding someone responsibl e for their implementation will be a slippery task.

The Government has already fallen short of its scheduled commitments on most issues. It has dragged its feet on vital components of the reform process, for instance, those affecting the tax system. Guatemala's effective rate of taxation is dismayingly lo w: only 8 per cent, a little over half the average rate for Latin America and way below the 30 per cent average in western Europe. This has prompted even the fiscally conservative International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to ask for a signific ant increase in tax rates. It should not be surprising, then, that the state is financially strapped.

Land reform is another issue on which critics charge the government with having done very little, and made largely cosmetic, changes. As a source from the international community, who wished to remain anonymous emphasises, any attempt at a genuine land r eform will confront stern resistance from the landed elite. The source said: "The mechanisms established by the government are so inadequate that it will take as many as a hundred years for the half a million peasants estimated to be potential beneficiar ies of the reform actually to receive such benefits. There is not going to be any redistribution of land here. There are two topics that are taboo in this country: land and the military. They have not changed; nor are they going to."

Looming elections (presidential, congressional and municipal scheduled for November 1999) have distracted the governing party from accord implementation and further debilitated an already flagging political will. Indeed, observers note that were it not f or the persistence of a raft of international agencies and occasional prodding from generous international donors who are pouring money into the country, even the progress shown thus far would not have been achieved. If the FRG wins the November election s, as is being speculated, the fate of the agreements will be even more uncertain.

UNDOUBTEDLY the most severe setback to the process of peace and democratisation in Guatemala was the mandate against the constitutional reform in a nationwide referendum held in May 1999. The reforms were designed to provide fundamental legal and constit utional authority for key elements in the peace agreements, particularly those relating to indigenous rights, the role of the armed forces, and the reform of the justice system. The nation's rejection of the reform package means, for example, that it ref uses to acknowledge the rights of its indigenous community by failing to grant official recognition to its 23 languages. It also implies that the role of the Army in Guatemalan society and its position with respect to civilian authority continues to be a mbiguous. Torres-Rivas points out that centuries of oppression and systematic exploitation, first at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors and the creole elite and later by the predominantly ladino elite, has meant that today the Mayan communities live in appalling conditions of poverty, ethnic discrimination and exploitation. "They are second-class citizens", he sums up.

However, what is perhaps more troubling is that less than a fifth of the registered voters bothered to go to the Consulta Popular (as the referendum was called) at all. Indeed, Guatemala has had one of the lowest rates of voter turn-out in Latin America. For many poor, illiterate Guatemalans, voting is a time-consuming and expensive ritual, the outcome of which offers little hope for change. Many others regard it with cynicism. Given these circumstances, their apparent indifference to a referendum that was promoted more by a host of international agencies than by their government itself is perhaps understandable.

Several explanations are offered as to why people turned down the proposed changes. Foremost among them are that Guatemalan society is deeply racist and conservative; that promoters of the reform were unduly complacent; and that the government lacked the will to "sell" the reform. According to Torres-Rivas, a lack of political will and the hostile attitude of the influential evangelical Church guaranteed a negative response.

The reforms had taken a long time to get through the Guatemalan Congress and had expanded from 12 to 50 items in their coverage. "Congress wilfully scuttled the reform initiative. It overburdened the reform package in order that its complexity would conf ound voters, ultimately leading most of them to reject it," Torres-Rivas said. The injunction of the powerful and conservative evangelical Church to its followers to vote against the reform if they did not understand the contents of the reform package ha d further stood against its success.

The rejection of the proposal means that a new government, whether formed by the FRG or the PAN, will be even less enthusiastic about reforms than the present one. What makes things worse is that the young Left-wing coalition party, the New Nation Allian ce (ANN), and other Left-wing groups have been unable to rally popular support for the accords.

THE return of peace and democracy to Latin America has been hailed widely. Elections are held; votes are cast. Guatemala, too, has shed its authoritarian legacy. Today the possibility of another military coup is remote because the military knows that in the present international context, it will prove costly if it strays beyond the boundaries of constitutional legality. However, if Guatemala has to be something more than a barely functioning democracy it needs to surmount daunting structural obstacles, among them, widespread poverty and severe inequality and discrimination. So far, the push for reform has come from without, mainly at the urging of the international community. But for any change to be successful in the long term, it has to come from wi thin.

This is happening, albeit at what seems an agonisingly slow pace. The result of the referendum was discouraging and little progress on the accords can be expected from a lame-duck Arzz Government in an election year. Yet at the same time, Mayan organisat ions, human rights groups and a host of other non-governmental organisations representing civil society are gradually coming to the fore. Only when Guatemalans themselves understand and are convinced of the need for change will far-reaching reforms be pr oposed, accepted and implemented.

Such a process will take time but so long as it is carried out through the ballot box and not through the barrel of a gun, there is hope yet. Dinorah Azpuru, a researcher at the Association for Research and Social Studies in Guatemala City, is optimistic about the possibilities of a more peaceful and democratic nation. "I think that we are advancing on both fronts; democracy continues to be strengthened, and though the peace process has met with obstacles, it has not stalled. If we consider the current situation in the context of Guatemala's political history, recent changes have been transcendental."

From seamstress to guerilla leader to vegetable seller and, now, to a community creche worker, Aura Vicente has come a long way. "Now I have to attend to problems faced by the community and to the education of my children. The peace was signed; but it is only a signature. It stopped the war and the massacres... that's good. But things haven't really changed. Poverty and ill-treatment still exist. Now we have to take up a political struggle."

Siddhartha Baviskar is a research scholar at the University of Pittsburgh in the U.S., working towards a doctorate in Latin American politics.

The Kosi untamed

The floods-prone Kosi is 'Bihar's sorrow', a nightmare in flood management. Efforts to contain the river's annual season of fury by building embankments have not succeeded. A trip along the Kosi, in the thickly-populated and desperately poor northern Bihar, that revealed tales of woe.

FOR the third time after sunset, Ganga Prasad Yadav had predicted "landfall" in two hours, when the boat rammed yet again into silt. As his fellow boatmen jumped into knee-deep water in the middle of nowhere in the Kosi, Ganga Prasad remained motionless - a silhouette on the wooden ridge, but for the early-night glow off his silver teeth. Rescuing a wooden boat from the Kosi's silt was an everyday chore that would be done in good time. He therefore peered eagerly at the small crowd inside the boat in th e hope that someone would play the tape-recorder once again. Rarely had Ganga Prasad listened to himself singing the Ramayana, squatting on the edge of the boat, for night travellers crossing the endless river.

Time has no meaning on the Kosi, as is the case in most parts of north Bihar, where urban priorities are often made to stand on their heads. It was six hours since Ganga Prasad and his friends had raised their oars and started the return journey with the visitors to Ghonghepur village on the edge of the western embankment of the Kosi. For the team of journalists, who had made their onward crossing downstream in five hours, the string of villages so full of life within the river were the least of the day 's surprises.

From the mainland village of Baluaha to the east, the Kosi was but a broad expanse and the villages long green beads in its middle. The western embankment was a distant mist. The boat had struck the bottom right in the heart of the Kosi, when the river u nveiled ever-changing, ever-recharged channels of muddy water and silt, small trees, paddy fields, cattle and huts. For every serpentine channel that the Kosi made within itself, it clogged and choked another under silt. Navigation on the Kosi's bosom wa s therefore a necessary discovery on foot for the boatmen who took turns to pull the boat with nylon ropes through freshly deposited mud, through tall grass and shrubs, sometimes along the crumbling edges of island-villages.

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The Kosi was full of freshness: playful river dolphins, spotlessly white cattle dotting rows of jute-and-bamboo huts, handpumps on the riverbanks, rising above flooded tubewells, women in canoes that were full of fodder, a friendly hoot, silence that mad e music out of the sinking footfalls of boatmen. Momentarily at least, the Kosi seemed like a different world.

But remove the lens, as it were, and the larger setting is as muddy and depressing as the Kosi silt. Northern Bihar, through which the Kosi and all other major tributaries of the Ganga flow, is among the poorest and the most backward regions of India. In many parts of the 21 northern districts of the State, which are among the least urbanised parts of the country, flood-mauled gutters masquerade as highways. Nights underline the absence of electricity. There are virtually no transport and communication facilities. The first link to settled society down south, a bridge (at Mokameh) across the Ganga which flows west to east dividing the State, is only three decades old. The pervading lawlessness in north Bihar had so far been encouraged mostly by isolati on - not by an organised awareness of caste or by social and political consciousness, unlike in the case of the South. However, that is changing - for the worse.

North Bihar's worst curse is not lawlessness or even the lack of developmental infrastructure - it is geography. Geography, paradoxically, is its blessing too. The plains of Bihar, adjoining Nepal, are drained by a number of rivers that have their catchm ent in the steep and geologically nascent Himalayas. For centuries, torrential rains in the Nepal Himalayas have made these rivers - including the Ghaghra, the Gandak, the Buhri Gandak, the Bagmati, the Bhutahi Balan, the Kamala, the Kosi and the Mahanan da - carry a very high sediment load down to the plains. North Bihar's plains are hence one of the most fertile regions in the country, and settlement began here as early as the 7th century B.C. Many locations in the region are associated with legends, i ncluding those in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Several of these were centres of the first kingdoms of India, such as Magadha; the first empire of the Mauryas, had its capital in the North Bihar plains.

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Once the rivers enter the plains much of the silt begins to settle, raising the beds of the rivers, shrinking their channels, blocking their flow. Come the rainy season and the rivers cut fresh paths through the sediment. Most rivers of north Bihar have done this extensively, the Kosi being the most notorious example. The interlacing channels of the Kosi, which confuse Ganga Prasad and other boatmen in Saharsha district, in a way symbolise the scourge that is endemic to north Bihar rivers.

The silt yield of the Kosi, one of the largest tributaries of the Ganga, has been estimated to be about 19 cubic metres per hectare per annum, which is among the highest in the world, according to a report of the Centre for Science and Environment. The r iver is better known today as "Bihar's sorrow", for the devastating floods that it causes and, more particularly, for its disastrous shifting of course. It has been variously estimated that in the last 250 years the Kosi has moved westwards by an astound ing 210 km, that in 200 years it has shifted its course by about 130 km, and so on. As satellite pictures indicate, the river, which flowed east of Purnea (in the 18th century, according to some people) has moved, through more than 12 distinct channels, to its present course, on the east of Saharsha. The root cause of such shifting of course by the Kosi is the steepness and fragility of the Himalayas where it originates: the river carries five times the sediment load of any other river in Bihar.

Now, a silent revolution is on in north Bihar. Organisations have been sprouting in every other locality against what has been independent India's solution to the waywardness of the Himalayan rivers - trying to contain them within sand-and-mud embankment s on either side. For example, as the length of the embankments along the Kosi has increased, the string of activist organisations representing what is termed as "Kosi sufferers" too have grown. The people indeed "suffer" because of the Kosi; however, en gineering solutions initiated by successive governments have made its lethal mood swings inevitable.

"It is like tying a snake into knots to keep it in good humour," says Dinesh Kumar Mishra, an engineer-turned-activist-researcher and convener of the Barh Mukti Abhiyan (BMA), who is in the forefront of north Bihar's campaign against man-made flood disas ters and putting the blame for them on the rivers. "By building embankments on either side of a river and trying to confine it to its channel, its heavy silt and sand load is made to settle within the embanked area itself, raising the river bed and the f lood water level. The embankments too are therefore raised progressively until a limit is reached when it is no longer possible to do so. The population of the surrounding areas is then at the mercy of an unstable river with a dangerous flood water level , which could any day flow over or make a disastrous breach."

At Shatwar in Mahishi block of Saharsha district, villagers Ramakanth Mukya and Rajendra Jha say that their land, though outside the Kosi's eastern embankment, has been under stagnating water for months. Manik Chandra Jha, a teacher of the local school f or 30 years, said that the village was low-lying vis-a-vis the Kosi, and, that in addition to the eastern embankment a road had been constructed parallel to it, blocking the natural drainage into the river. Rainwater stagnates on land that was use d for cultivation. So do the waters of the small streams that used to flow into the Kosi. Mosquitoes, not fish, breed in the stagnant, oxygen-starved water.

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"This is a ubiquitous sight in north Bihar," says Mishra. "Rainwater collects outside the embankments and the rise in the water level within causes seepage through the embankments to the "protected" areas. A more serious problem arises when the embankmen ts on the main river prevent the entry of a tributary. Sluice gates are constructed, but they have to be kept closed during the rainy season, as the flood waters of the main river would otherwise force their way through the tributary into the protected a reas. But closed sluice gates during the rains also mean that the tributary would submerge the protected areas. So the tributaries also have been embanked, and rain and flood water stagnates between the embankment of the main river and that of the tribut ary. It has to be pumped out, or people have to wait endlessly, sometimes for more than a year, for the water to evaporate."

The case of Ghonghepur village, at the southern tip of the western Kosi embankment, is typical. According to the original plan, the embankment was to have ended 4 km upstream. However, as misfortune would have it, it was extended up to Ghonghepur. It now runs 126 km down the river, to the west, from Nepal and ends abruptly at Ghonghepur. Beyond this point the Kosi started spilling back into the village, submerging areas that were until then free from floods, according to Mishra.

Politicians and government officials came to the village again. Another embankment was constructed at right angles to the western embankment, to prevent the Kosi from entering the village. But during the next monsoon, floodwaters of the nearby Kamala riv er were blocked by the new 'T-spur embankment'. The village today is under water for nearly six to eight months a year, according to its residents.

At Belwara, on the eastern Kosi embankment, Vidyanand Janand, who introduced himself as a "lecturer", said that before the embankments were built the river would swell only gradually giving the people sufficient warning to move to safe places. Moreover, he said, the farmers used to welcome the annual floods, which would certainly recede after replenishing the soil with fertile silt. "Today it is hazardous to live near the embankments. Waterlogging has left valuable land unfit for cultivation. Productivi ty has come down drastically. Yet people live there with a false sense of security."

According to one estimate, there is permanent water-logging in over 1,82,000 ha of land outside the eastern Kosi embankment alone. The State Government claims that it had drained out water from 65,000 ha but villagers living near the embankment and activ ists of the BMA point out that it has been of no use because the major sluices at Basua and Belwara are as good as closed permanently, cancelling any effect of drainage.

Ever since embankment-building started on the Kosi, the other north Bihar rivers - the Gandak, the Mahananda, the Burhi Gandak, the Ghaghra, the Kamala-Balan, the Bhutahi Balan and the Bagmati, in addition to the Ganga - too have been embanked systematic ally, producing the same problems. The length of embankments along the Bihar rivers grew from 160 km in 1954 to 3,465 km in 1998 (at a cost of Rs.746 crores). Simultaneously, a network of roads and railway lines were built east to west, cutting across th e natural drainage system in the plains where all the rivers flow from north to south. Thus, embankments that were meant to control floods have resulted in the flood-prone area in north Bihar going up from 2.5 million ha in 1952 to 6.89 million ha in 199 4.

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The social and environmental costs of this have been heavy. But the benefits to the well-entrenched network of politicians, engineers and contractors from the construction of embankments (and roads), the repairs to them, and the flood relief work have be en enormous.

Bihar is India's most flood-prone State, with 76 per cent of the population in the north living under the recurring threat of devastation. This year monsoon floods started early in several districts of north Bihar. The very first spell of rain breached t hree embankments, flooded 550 villages in eight districts, and displaced more than a million people. At least 12 people were killed in the first week of August; by September 6, the toll mounted to 282, with all the major rivers, including the Kosi, the B agmati, the Gandak, the Mahananda and the Ganga flowing above the danger mark and threatening to breach their embankments.

On August 5 itself, the annual ritual of shifting the blame to the Centre was performed in the Legislative Council by Chief Minister Rabri Devi and State Water Resources Minister Jagdanand Singh. Rabri Devi told the Council that it was beyond the State's means to check the annual floods. The onus, she said, was on the Centre. Replying to a special debate, Jagdanand Singh said: "It is impossible for us to save north Bihar from floods without the cooperation of Nepal. It is for the Union Government to tak e up this issue with that country."

The State Government skirted the issue of embankments and referred to a 50-year-old proposal to construct a high dam across the Kosi at Barahkshetra in Nepal. Such a dam has been widely projected (but rarely believed) as the true solution to the problem of floods in north Bihar. Year after year the flood-hit population has been fed on this mirage of the dam in Nepal, which would store the Kosi's monsoon deluge and release it during the summer months to help irrigation and the production of electricity.

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But the Government has had no clear answers to questions about the safety of such a dam in a highly seismic zone, about the heavy siltation that could fill it too early, about the enormous quantity of water that would continue to flow down the Kosi bec ause it has a huge catchment below the proposed dam. Nor does it say anything about the huge construction cost that would put the price of power and water from the dam above the reach of the ordinary people, or about the opposition in Nepal to such a pro ject.

The effect of the dream is beginning to wear thin. At a meeting organised in Belwara to discuss the issue of embankments, the residents of the villages were sharply divided though many were unaware of the factors that spell disaster from the high dam: "W e have been doctored into believing that when there is a lot of water, it is because the Nepal Government releases it to India. Can't Nepal take water to its own land?" one of them asked. Another said: "If the water flows naturally as it did in our villa ges before these embankments were built, a flood would spread slowly and affect us less. But add to these embankments a big dam in Nepal. What will happen if it bursts, as the embankments do now?"

Along all the northern rivers, breaches in the embankments, both natural and man-made, are becoming more frequent.

The State Government describes those who cut the embankments to save their own lives as "anti-social elements". Vijaya Kumar, an activist of the BMA, says:"In many villages, people are assisted in such endeavours by local government officials. Clearly, a n enraged river has no respect for authority."

Social and environmental groups are joining hands to conduct awareness camps in the island villages in the Kosi heartland. There is a clamour for "the total liberation of the Kosi", "the total abrogation of the Kosi project", "letting the river have its original space right down to the Ganga". More practical suggestions include "controlled flooding through carefully managed breaches". There are really absurd ones too, such as "building embankments parallel to the existing ones".

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Elsewhere, occasionally, prominent individuals like Bihar's Inspector-General of Police Ramchandra Khan catch the imagination of the people by leading villagers to the Kosi to read poetry to the river and to pray to and plead with it: "Come back to us!" Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like the BMA have decided to move the National Human Rights Commission against the Government's neglect of more than 10 lakh "Kosi sufferers".

In the past three to four decades, the population has grown rapidly and human occupation of the flood plains of the river has reached alarming proportions. The embankments have become so well-entrenched in north Bihar's populous landscape that when ther e are people who welcome their dismantling (for example, people living within the Kosi embankments) there will be others who want them to continue, until the threats to their own interests end. It has become a personal issue rather than a social problem for many. Was there not the clamour for taming the Kosi in pre-Independence days? And if embankments are dismantled completely, as the demand goes, who would account for the resultant immediate havoc? Therefore, the Government and its engineers convenien tly ask: what exactly is the solution, if it is not the dam in Nepal? The answers are as unclear as the idea of the dam in Nepal.

The embankments have made north Bihar's human and environmental tragedy a formidable jigsaw puzzle. There are too many pieces, too many gaps. A lot of pieces convey images of poverty and ignorance, apathy and mismanagement, corruption and fatalism, which are so characteristic of rural Bihar society.

This feature is based on a study tour of flood-ravaged north Bihar organised in early August by Panos South Asia for a team of South Asian journalists. The Kathmandu-based media support organisation sponsored the tour, one of a series of such tours, a s part of its efforts towards enhancing information flows on water management issues in South Asia.

A transplanted village

THE river dictates lifestyle in Ghonghepur, a speck on the edge, a victim of the Kosi's western embankment. The small village will have a place in any flood map of north Bihar, and its claim to fame is the stagnant waters of the Kosi and the Kamala that engulf it for most of the year.

The embankment that was meant to protect the village is, according to residents, sometimes the only dry stretch of land available. Most households have built makeshift homes there; some live there permanently - in huts of bamboo, rags and hay, in between temporary shops. A village transplanted on to the embankment.

Even as the Kosi erodes an area, it builds up land elsewhere. Large tracts suddenly become available for cultivation, but crops ripe for harvest go under. The unpredictability makes farming or any other investment a risky venture, and young men leave ear ly, as labourers in search of employment, mostly to Punjab and Haryana. Women and children and the old subsist on the edges of poverty. They are at the mercy of moneylenders and dependent on the money orders that take a long time to reach their destinati on. Cattle provide a major source of income, but milk must reach the cities the same day. For most part of the year, hours in a boat is the only way to reach civilisation. There is no land worth working on.

The local school exists only on paper; the Kosi claimed it long ago. The teacher seldom comes, thanks to the flood. Children catch fish, cut fodder or herd cattle, and pin their hopes on becoming labourers in the cities. Sometimes they are lent to the ca rpet weaving industry in towns far away.

The water from the handpumps on the slopes of the embankment emits a stench. The same as that of the Kosi, only a step away. The nearest government health centre is 4 km away, accessible by boat. No one goes there, because "there is no doctor". The sick go to Ajith Vastralaya, the textile shop, right there on the embankment, where the wooden shelf has more of tonics and tablets and emergency medicines than clothes. The owner, Mahendra Prasad Sah, is the village "medicine man". Mahendra Prasad has a medi cine for every known disease in the village and ostensibly has the licence to sell them. "The really sick (if they are lucky) go to the public health centre 12 km away by boat, paying Rs. 25 per head," he said.

The village has no fixed boundary. No one can say when a submerged piece of land will emerge again. The villagers know the Kosi will force them to leave, if not today, tomorrow. They are ready to leave to return later. For the State government, they do n ot exist.

'Congress(I)'s stand has regained acceptance'

cover-story
Interview with Salman Khurshid.

Salman Khurshid was appointed president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Congress(I) a year and a half ago specifically to rejuvenate the party which had been virtually wiped out in the State. As the State Congress(I) faces its first election unde r his leadership, the impression within the party and outside is that he has achieved a fair amount of success in his mission. Indications from the campaign theatre are that the Congress(I)'s position has improved vastly in recent times: it is no longer the defunct and lustreless organisation it was during the previous elections. In fact, some observers rate the Congress(I) as the most active and dynamic party in the State today, and for this, Salman Khurshid deserves credit. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan< /B> caught up with Khurshid first at his hometown of Farukhabad and later at Moradabad in the midst of his hectic campaigning. Excerpts from the interview:

It is widely acknowledged that the Congress(I) has revived itself in Uttar Pradesh in the past one year, but then there is also the view that the revival needs to be quantified. It is not difficult to revive an organisation that won no seat at all in the previous elections. How do you respond to these views?

I agree that the revival of the party needs to be quantified. But seats in Parliament and the Assembly are not the only criteria for this. The growth in party units, cadre and membership has all gone into it. That is what has made the party very active o n the campaign field. For me, however, the most important thing is that the party's viewpoint, the anti- communal, anti-casteist, secular and development-oriented agenda of the party, has once again found acceptance with the people of the State. More and more people are realising that true stability and good governance can be provided only by the Congress(I). This in itself is an achievement, for, in the two previous elections, this truly national agenda had got completely subsumed by communal and caste politics.

What has caused this change?

Obviously, the failure of caste and communal politics as represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party. Both the parties drew sustenance from each other and in the process vitiated the social atmosphere in the State. These parties use d the minorities and the backward classes as mere vote banks. All this is changing.

But even during the current campaign, the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party have accused the Congress(I) of having been the first to practise communal and caste politics. According to them it was the Congress(I) that first treated the minorities and t he backward classes as vote banks.

These arguments have no value in the present context as we see more and more people, including Dalits and minorities, freeing themselves from the clutches of these parties which have narrow political considerations. Even the upper castes have realised th at the kind of Hindutva politics practised by the BJP is detrimental to the larger interests of the country. I am not saying that the Congress(I) has committed no mistake in the past. But in spite of everything, it is clear that only the Congress(I) can tread a truly secular, centrist path and provide stable governance. These parties' arguments have also to be seen in the background of their activities. Look at the S.P. It is no secret that the S.P. leadership has a tacit understanding with the BJP in t his election. How else do you account for the fact that the BJP has fielded weak candidates in seats which are crucial for the S.P., such as Kannauj, Sambhal and Mainpuri, and the S.P's reciprocal action in some seats that are crucial for the BJP? As for the BSP, its record is not creditworthy: it has time and again joined hands with the BJP. Only the Congress(I) has steadfastly kept away from the communal forces.

Yet you tried to forge alliances with these parties...

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We never wanted an alliance with the S.P. But we did try for an alliance with the BSP because we believe that this party, despite all its mistakes, can still play an important social role.

According to BJP leaders, all talk of the Congress(I)'s revival is baseless, and the most important issue that has influenced voters this time is whether to have a swadeshi or a videshi Prime Minister...

The BJP has been trying to rake up this issue for the last two years without much success. The elections will show what the people think of this frivolous piece of sloganeering.

Finally, what will the Congress(I)'s revival in U.P. mean in terms of the number of seats it will win?

I would not like to hazard a guess on this. Suffice it to say that the State Congress(I) will make a significant contribution to the formation of a national government.

A national government of the Congress(I) or that of a coalition?

Wait and see.

'There is a plot to discredit the BJP'

cover-story
Interview with Rajnath Singh.

Rajnath Singh, president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, brushes aside predictions that the party's tally in the State will come down in this election. In fact, he claims, the BJP and its allies will increase their strengt h and win at least the 60 seats it won in 1998. Venkitesh Ramakrishnan spoke to Rajnath Singh on the issues confronting the party in the elections. Excerpts:

There is a widespread impression that the BJP is losing ground in Uttar Pradesh.

We have heard this repeatedly in the last three elections, but each time the party has improved its vote share as well as the number of seats. The same will be true this time as well. In fact, I am sure we will improve our position in areas where we were weak earlier.

But many observers believe that the anti-incumbency mood directed against the State Government led by Kalyan Singh is the most important factor at play in the State.

Look, any government that faces elections will experience the anti-incumbency factor. But it would be wrong to surmise that the anti-incumbency factor against the State Government is the most important factor in U.P. In my view, the one question that dom inates the elections this time is: who should hold the Prime Minister's post - whether it should be in swadeshi hands or videshi hands? The question is agitating the people to a greater extent this time because this is the first election af ter India demonstrated its nuclear capability. A country that has the potential to produce atomic weapons cannot be ruled by people of foreign origin. It could have dangerous ramifications. The question is very sensitive and people realise its gravity. I n this context, there is only one choice before the people of U.P., and that is Atal Behari Vajpayee, his party and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by him. People have seen Vajpayeeji's track record of several decades and they have trust in it . The same cannot be said of his opponents.

Do you feel that the record of the Kalyan Singh Government will have no impact at all?

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I am not saying that. In any election, some questions related to the State government concerned do come up. But that is not the dominant issue. In any case, the present Lok Sabha elections cannot be treated as a referendum on the Kalyan Singh Government.

But many BJP MLAs feel that the State Government's record has jeopardised the party's chances to such an extent that it might end up with less than 40 seats. They feel that many internal problems, such as the deficiencies of governance as well as the dissident campaign against the Chief Minister, have not been addressed. There are reports that in many constituencies rival groups in the party are working to ensure the defeat of the party candidate belonging to the other group.

Ours is a democratic party which allows freedom of expression. MLAs have expressed their opinion about their concerns. That does not mean they are working against the party. All party workers and leaders are united in their endeavour to garner the maximu m number of seats in Uttar Pradesh and ensure that Vajpayeeji returns as Prime Minister.

It has been said that Chief Minister Kalyan Singh has not been campaigning too keenly for the party's candidates?

He has campaigned actively and extensively.

But he did not go to Aligarh, his home constituency, as also to important constituencies such as Kannauj, where Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav is contesting.

It is clear that there is a conspiracy to discredit the BJP by highlighting non-existent internal problems. No leader can reach every nook and corner of the State. In any case, the Chief Minister knows that the party is strong in his home constituency.

There are also reports that the revolt of former party MP Sakshi Maharaj and his campaign favouring the S.P. were inspired by the Chief Minister, who belongs to the same community as the former MP.

I cannot respond to rumours. In any case, the impact of the so-called revolt by Sakshi Maharaj is insignificant. It will have no negative effect on the party's prospects.

Mood for change

Some parts of Uttar Pradesh appear to articulate strongly in favour of Sonia Gandhi.

"Jo bahu ko behen na maney, woh desh ko kya pehchane?"

(Those who don't regard a daughter-in-law as a sister, how will they understand the ethos of this country?)

BAHUA (daughter-in-law), behen (sister) and beti (daughter) are some of the terms of endearment used, referring to Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi, in the villages of the Rae Bareli-Amethi belt of Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks. Po sters, banners, arches (on the day she filed her nomination papers at the Sultanpur district Collectorate in the Amethi parliamentary constituency) and graffiti on walls hailed her as the behen, bahu and beti of India. That was how people i n the region responded to the Bharatiya Janata Party's personalised attacks against her.

For the people of Amethi, Sonia Gandhi's return to her late husband Rajiv Gandhi's constituency was a significant event. But there were signals from other regions in the State also of a renewed interest in the Congress(I). The State did not elect any ca ndidate from the party to the last Lok Sabha.

The anti-incumbency factor was expected to affect the BJP's prospects. Besides, Chief Minister Kalyan Singh presided over a dissidence-ridden party unit. The average Muslim feels betrayed that 'Moulana' Mulayam Singh, leader of the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) , prevented the formation of a non-BJP government at the Centre after the fall of the Vajpayee government in April.

The battle between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Karan Singh of the Congress(I) in Lucknow has generated much interest. Ramnath Mishra, a casual labourer, said: "Now this contest will have some life. Karan Singh tau Vajpayee se bhi bade Hindu hain (he is a greater Hindu than even Vajpayee)."

In fact, Amethi had started to celebrate Sonia Gandhi's victory rather early. District Congress Committee chief Ravi Shanker said: "If there is no large-scale rigging by the BJP, she will win by a margin which will create a global record." Voters in Amet hi have waited for Sonia Gandhi for several years, he said.

Erstwhile Congress(I) MP Captain Satish Sharma, who was elected from Amethi in 1996, was seen as having neglected the constituency. Sanjay Singh of the BJP was also perceived in a similar way. "Forget his doing anything at all to help the poor people of Amethi. The kind of sins Sanjay Singh has committed... cannot be forgiven by either God or the people of Amethi," said a farm labourer, Shiv Shankar. "Aaj tak sahi Thakur unke ghar ka paani bhi nahi peetey (till today the real Thakurs do not even drink water in his house)", he added with disdain.

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Ram Aasrey Pande, a Congress(I) supporter, said: "Janata ko maarna peetna aur bandh karwana (getting people beaten up and thrown behind bars) was his speciality. Amethi needs a mother who can care for its battered people and Soniaji will definitel y play this role. But we do hope she will retain this constituency and give up Bellary, which she will certainly win, because the margin here will be much, much higher."

The people of Amethi heaved a sigh of relief that the candidate they had defeated in the 1998 elections, Captain Satish Sharma, was not back there. An angry Amethi voter asked: "What did he do for Amethi as Petroleum Minister except give petrol agencies to some people?" In the neighbouring constituency of Rae Bareli, from where he contested this time, there was some unhappiness over his nomination but it was camouflaged because Sonia Gandhi's daughter Priyanka Vadhra was there to campaign for him.

Indira Gandhi's memory remains alive in Rae Bareli. Almost all people in their thirties and beyond fondly recalled the manner in which she had developed and nurtured her constituency. Even though people may not be euphoric about Satish Sharma's candidacy , they were furious with the BJP regime, and the anti-incumbency factor was the strongest there.

Dinesh Singh, a former machine operator in Modi Carpets in Kathwara, recalled the days of the Indira regime when several factories, including the one he has worked, were started in the constituency. "But it is now sick and lying closed for more than seve n years. No government is interested in reviving it. Now take the BJP candidate, Arun Nehru. Rae Bareli elected him to the Lok Sabha twice. I remember the times his daughter used to shake our hands and offer us ghee mei tali hui badam (almonds fri ed in ghee). But once he became an MP and we approached her with our problems, she asked us 'Who are you?"'.

A group of people gathered at a tea shop in the village joined the discussion. Another resident of the village, Ajit Singh, said: "Sarkar hamare paiye par ghoomti hei, magar hum shikayat nahi kar sakte. Zyada shikayat karney ki koshish kee to bandh ka r detey hei, ya goli bhi maar detey hei (The government survives on our might, but we cannot raise our problems with it. If we complain too much, we can be thrown behind bars or even shot dead)."

ALMOST everywhere in Uttar Pradesh, the mood is one of disenchantment with the political leadership. In the cluster of villages barely 35 km from Lucknow, water is the biggest problem. Dubbing the Kalyan Singh government "anti-farmer", Ram Lal, a small f armer in Brahmadaspur village in the Mohanlal Gunj constituency, was also angry with the previous MP from his constituency, Rina Chowdhary. He said: "She has done nothing for the constituency, nor has any other politician bothered about our plight. We ha ve no water for our fields and you can see for yourself the dry canal which runs through these villages." To water their fields, they are at the mercy of the rich farmers, who charge Rs.40 an hour to hire out their pumpsets. He said: "For one acre, we re quire about six hours of usage every day."

A white-bearded Bhoola Lal seethed at the "hollow promises" made by politicians. He said: "Even today we have no electricity in our village. The electric poles came about eight years ago. Now even the poles have started disintegrating."

Even in the capital, Lucknow, people talk only of water shortages, damaged roads and battered drainage systems."Now this is a VVIP constituency which has returned a Prime Minister to the Lok Sabha. If the ruling party can treat Lucknow, the State capital , so shabbily, imagine the fate of rural U.P." said Saleem, a taxi driver.

He was certain that Muslims in the State would not vote for the BJP. "They are unhappy with Mulayam Singh too, and are likely to vote for the Congress(I) in large numbers, but only in those constituencies where it has strong candidates who can defeat the BJP. Where the Congress(I) has weak candidates, they will vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party and even the S.P., but the criterion will be the ability to stop the BJP."

Nehaluddin Ahamed, president of the All India Muslims Forum, also believed that this was the likely scenario as far as Muslims were concerned. But he was unhappy that "azadi ke pachaas saal ke baad bhi hum is party ya us party ko rokney ki hi baat ka r rahey hain (50 years after Independence, we are still talking about stopping this party or that from coming to power). The problem was that Muslims were a divided lot and hence being taken for a ride by all parties." His contention was that Muslims should "stop running away from politics" and aim for political power "which was necessary for educational and economic emancipation".

State Urban Development Minister Lalji Tandon dismissed the perception of an anti-incumbency factor. Infighting in the BJP State unit, he claimed, "exists only in the media". On the BJP's prospects in the State, he said: "We will do as well, if not bette r than last time."

Confident that Muslims would shift their allegiance from the S.P. to the Congress(I) or even the BSP, he said: "Let them go to the Congress(I). This will teach a politician like Mulayam Singh, who has spread so much communalism in U.P., that communalism is very short-lived."

"The BJP," he declared, "has never sought votes in the name of religion." When reminded that the party sought votes in the name of Ram, he said: "The issue of Ram is not communal. That is a cultural issue."

Lalji Tandon claimed that those Muslims who have broken free from the mindset of the Nehruvian era, which was replicated so successfully by the "so-called secular parties" that they were seen as the saviours of Indian Muslims, would support the BJP this time. His claim did not sound outrageous given that a Lucknow-based Muslim journalist said that politicians like Mulayam Singh have fooled Muslims in the State long enough and were ineffective in stopping the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He asked: "Aap agar hamey zaalim se bacha nahi sakte to hum usi zaalim se hath mila lenge. Aakhir andhey ko do aankhen chahiye aur politicians ko vote. (If you can't save us from our tormentors, we'll join hands with them. After all a blind man needs vision, a nd politicians need votes). So we will give our votes to them."

Amethi's pride

"WHEN the first family of Amethi returns, can we stick to recent loyalties?" Rajjan Lal's voice held an accusatory tone as he hurled this question at this correspondent, standing amidst a group of villagers in Jagadishpur in Amethi constituency.

What provoked this rhetorical comment on the permanence of some political loyalties was a question why Rajjan Lal had left Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Sanjay Singh's camp overnight after Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's candidature had been anno unced from Amethi. Rajjan Lal had campaigned for Sanjay Singh in the 1998 elections and was set to solicit votes for him this time too. But all that changed once it became clear that Sonia Gandhi would contest from Amethi.

Of course, Rajjan Lal and his family were a trifle upset that Sonia Gandhi had contested from Bellary in Karnataka too. To them, this was indicative of "a sense of distrust that madam had", a symptom of her doubts about the political loyalty of the const ituency that had long been assiduously nursed by her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. But far from holding it against her, Rajjan Lal and others said that they would work doubly hard to reassure Sonia Gandhi that their loyalty to the "firs t family of Amethi" was not fickle.

There are hundreds of Rajjan Lals across the length and breadth of Amethi these days - in Tiloi, Salon, Gauriganj or Jagadishpur. The very people who had rejected Captain Satish Sharma, the Congress(I) candidate, in 1998 are now flocking back to the Cong ress(I).

For Mukul Sharma of Tiloi, this had a ready explanation. Following the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Amethi fell on hard times. For a while, Captain Sharma nursed the constituency, but his political sights were fixed on far-away Delhi, and all d evelopment activity in Amethi stopped after a few years. "Amethi," said Mukul Sharma, "became a ghost of what it was during Rajiv Gandhi's time." Between 1993 and 1998, the people of Amethi virtually became "fed up" of politicians, he said. Looking for " a change", they switched their loyalty to Sanjay Singh, who in 1998 became the first Bharatiya Janata Party candidate to be elected from here.

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Today, however, Mukul Sharma, like Rajjan Lal, has turned away from Sanjay Singh. "Not for any fault of Sanjay Singh's," says Mukul Sharma. In fact, he adds, Sanjay Singh did look after the constituency - "but nobody can match the Gandhi-Nehru family's c ontribution."

All that the people of Amethi seem to want at this moment is a darshan of Sonia Gandhi and her daughter Priyanka, who virtually took over the campaign since September 15. Priyanka holds roadside meetings and stops by at wayside dhabas to have jalebis and chai with the local people. Her grace and the easy manner in which she interacts with them often leaves them beaming with joy.

The Congress(I)'s campaign is based principally on whipping up an atmosphere of nostalgia for Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and their contributions to Amethi. Issues of national concern, which are raised in other constituencies, find no articulation her e.

On his part, Sanjay Singh is fighting a hard battle, moving from village to village with his wife Amita and meeting village pradhans. At these meetings, Sanjay Singh tells them that he is aware that they had reposed great hopes in him last time, and that he had endeavoured to fulfil their aspirations. "I will continue to be the son of our soil, unlike those who come visiting you once in a year and who have showed that they do not have enough trust in you," Sanjay Singh says.

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Occasionally, he invokes Atal Behari Vajpayee's name and sings paeans to the "able Prime Minister who saved the country from the grave dangers posed by the Kargil crisis". But the impact of this campaign is nowhere near as evocative as the response durin g the 1998 campaign when he raised the issue of the "apathy and corruption of Captain Satish Sharma".

Sanjay Singh won in 1998 by a margin of 23,000 votes; his campaign managers know that he faces a far more formidable opponent in Sonia Gandhi. In 1998, Mohammed Naim, the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate who finished third, had secured 1.50 lakh votes, part ly on the strength of the party's support among Muslims. There has subsequently been a massive shift of support of Muslims from both the Samajwadi Party and the BSP towards the Congress(I), and Sonia Gandhi should find the going easy.

Also in the fray in Amethi are Mohammed Fauji of the S.P., a popular local leader, and Paras Nath Maurya of the BSP. Muslims account for 13 per cent of Amethi's population, and Dalits for 28 per cent; yet these two parties are not expected to do too well this time.

The battle in Lucknow

ON September 16, two days after Dr. Karan Singh filed his nomination as the Congress(I) candidate in Lucknow, where Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is contesting, the Bharatiya Janata Party effected a significant change in its campaign machinery for the constituency. Former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana was brought in place of senior State leader and Urban Development Minister Lalji Tandon as the chief campaign manager to the Prime Minister.

By no yardstick was this change motivated by an assessment that Karan Singh was posing a major challenge to Vajpayee. BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya said that his party's assessment of Karan Singh's candidature was that "but for the theatrics o f matching Vajpayee shloka for shloka and shair for shair, the Congress(I) cannot hope to gain anything from this contest." However, the BJP leadership did have other things to worry about: complacency, and doubts about the si ncerity of a section of party workers in campaigning for Vajpayee.

By all indications, Tandon was seen as one of those who might give room for overconfidence; the far more serious suspicion related, however, to leaders who were perceived to be close to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. The fact that Kalyan Sing h was not seen to be taking an active part in the BJP's campaign in general had heightened these apprehensions.

In 1998, Vajpayee won from Lucknow by a majority of 2.16 lakh votes. According to Rajesh Pandey, Member of the Legislative Council and the media manager of Vajpayee's campaign in Lucknow, "the effort this time is to give him a bigger margin, one fit for a Prime Minister who had led the country bravely through troubled times."

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The principal themes in the BJP's campaign rhetoric are: Kargil, Vajpayee's indispensability as an "able Prime Minister" at this juncture in India's history, and his political experience, posited against Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi's inexperience.

The poor state of the "Prime Minister's constituency" has also become a campaign issue. The condition of roads and other civic amenities is appalling, and the state of the public health system is no better. These deficiencies have been highlighted, more so because a large portion of the allocation for the improvement of civic amenities, made out of funds earmarked for members of Parliament, was not utilised and has lapsed.

The two other Opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), too have seized on this. Bhagawati Singh is the S.P. candidate and Ishar-ul-Haq, the BSP candidate.

The Congress(I), on its part, has taken on the BJP on every issue it has raised, including the one relating to Vajpayee's "experience" and Sonia Gandhi's "inexperience". Karan Singh claims that he himself is far more experienced than Vajpayee, having bec ome a Union Minister at the age of 36. Refuting the BJP's claim that Sonia Gandhi was ill-equipped for governance, he asserts that Sonia Gandhi will govern wisely and well, and will have an able group of accomplished advisers from within the Congress(I) itself.

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The intensity of the Congress(I)'s campaign has forced the BJP to rake up non-issues - Karan Singh's status as an "outsider" to the constituency. The BJP has also levelled allegations relating to his role in the reported moves to provide greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. The S.P. and the BSP have raised the issue of Karan Singh's association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as one of its founder-members. This campaign is not entirely without effect in a constituency where 24 per cent of the 16 lakh eligible voters are Muslims. Many leaders of Muslim organisations have demanded that Karan Singh clarify his position vis-a-vis the VHP; the Congress (I) candidate has denied any association with the Sangh Parivar organisation.

Undoubtedly, after Karan Singh entered the fray, the contest in Lucknow has become interesting; however, in the background of the Congress(I)'s performance in the 1998 election, it might not dramatically change the final outcome. The then Congress(I) can didate Ranjeet Singh finished fourth with 38,636 votes; illustratively, Vajpayee polled 4.31 lakh votes. The Congress(I) has miles to go, and Karan Singh's candidature by itself is insufficient to spring electoral miracles.

Failed alliances

By rejecting an electoral alliance, the S.P. and the BSP have lost a fine opportunity to augment their respective support bases to make a lasting political impact.

HAD an idea mooted by some friends of Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Kanshi Ram in June been accepted, the electoral fortunes of both the parties would have been strikingly different. It would hav e changed the very character of the 13th Lok Sabha with the S.P.-BSP combine emerging as the most formidable force from Uttar Pradesh, capable of tilting the balance of power.

The proposal was to revive the S.P.-BSP alliance of 1993 in Uttar Pradesh in order to form a combine of Dalits, Yadavs, Muslims, a section of Thakurs and Other Backward Classes. The combination would have easily polled 45 per cent of the total votes and won more than 70 of the 85 seats in the State, which has the maximum number of constituencies in the country.

Favouring the prospect, Kanshi Ram is reported to have said that "the result the combine would bring in would alter the face of the 13th Lok Sabha". For it was unlikely that any political formation would have formed a government without it. This would gi ve a powerful boost to Mulayam Singh Yadav's oft-repeated theory that India is too pluralistic socially and politically to submit to the bipolar politics of the Congress(I) and the BJP variety. The expected impact of the alliance also matched Kanshi Ram' s larger political design of creating instability in the country's political system. According to the BSP chief, "frequent elections and unstable governments suited the Bahujan Samaj Party as it has no value for stability that perpetuates the vested inte rests of the upper castes and classes."

Beyond the ideological perspective, the alliance suited the parties organisationally too. The S.P. and the BSP are largely confined to Uttar Pradesh, with pockets of influence in other States. Had the alliance been forged, its leaders could have concentr ated their energies on one State and made a political impact at the national level.

More important, the alliance would have checked the scale of the shift in the BSP's Dalit vote base and the S.P.'s Muslim support base towards the Congress(I). Dalits affiliated to the BSP, other than Chamars and Pasis, were shifting their loyalties to t he Congress(I) in Uttar Pradesh though not on the same scale as in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The consolidation of Dalit and Muslim votes by the two parties would have, in turn, stopped the movement of Brahmins tow ards the Congress(I) from the BJP. As a result, the revival of the Congress(I) in the State would have slowed down. This would have then compelled the Congress(I) to depend on the combine to regain its political supremacy at the Centre.

The idea sounded politically prudent and the two strategists started working out the details. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram communicated with each other through intermediaries. The exercise continued until early July and then fizzled out. The reason was that former Chief Minister and BSP vice-president, Mayawati, was against any association with the S.P. leadership.

Informed sources in the BSP say that Mayawati has not forgiven the S.P. for the assault on her by its activists at a State guest house in June 1995. She cited the episode as the most humiliating experience in her life. Further, she argued that the presen t elections provided the BSP with the best opportunity to fortify its Muslim vote base and emerge as the champion of the forces of social justice in the State. Her contention was that Muslim voters, already disillusioned with the S.P., perceived the BSP as the party with the potential to defeat the BJP. Hence, it could improve its tally on its own. It was on the basis of the same premise that Mayawati ruled out an electoral understanding with the Congress(I) at a later stage.

Although Kanshi Ram was reportedly not pleased with Mayawati's stand, he submitted to her line of argument as she virtually controls the party machinery on account of her special status as a two-time Chief Minister.

Both the parties withdrew from the effort and began to search for alternatives. Having fallen out with its former allies, such as the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on the question of s upporting a minority Congress(I) government following the fall of the Vajpayee Ministry, the S.P. tried to form a new third front consisting of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Republican Party of India (RPI), the Forward Bloc and the Revolution ary Socialist Party. This effort also failed. The alliance with the NCP and the RPI was confined to Maharashtra, where the S.P. has been allotted two Lok Sabha seats and 15 Assembly seats. The S.P. was ready to allot three seats to the NCP in Uttar Prade sh, two of them in the hill districts where the S.P. has no mass base. The offer of a third seat, Varanasi, was withdrawn after the S.P. rejected the choice of the candidate. The S.P. wanted the NCP general secretary, Devendra Dwivedi, to contest, as the candidature of its secretary Vijay Dubey was not acceptable. As Dwivedi refused to comply, the whole seat-sharing exercise was called off.

IT is debatable whether the failure to forge such an understanding will affect the S.P.'s future in U.P. politics. In its hurry to add new castes and communities to its vote bank and thus stay buoyant in the caste-oriented politics of the State, the S.P. seems to have struck a mind-boggling understanding with a section of the backward caste group in the State BJP, led by none other than Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Although Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh have officially denied any such an understa nding, campaign trends from at least 15 constituencies in the State point in this direction.

This understanding stemmed from the humiliation suffered by Kalyan Singh at the hands of the BJP national leadership, particularly Vajpayee, during the selection of candidates. Kalyan Singh wanted many of his nominees, including his son Rajveer Singh and close associate Urmila Rajput, to be given the ticket. Not only were the names not considered, the national leadership denied the ticket to the sitting MP from Farukhabad, Sakshi Maharaj, who belongs to the Lodh Rajput caste. It is this rebuff (Kalyan S ingh is also a Lodh Rajput) that seems to have triggered the covert understanding with the S.P.

Manifestations of this adjustment were visible in Sakshi Maharaj's extensive campaign for the S.P. candidates in the Lodh Rajput belt of Mathura and Farukhabad (this area accounts for 11 parliamentary seats and includes Kalyan Singh's home town of Aligar h) and in Kalyan Singh's refusal to canvass in the region for the BJP candidates. Sakshi Maharaj has been campaigning under the banner of the Lodh Swabhiman Sabha. Interestingly, this organisation has attracted members of the community attached to other political parties, including the Congress(I) and the BSP.

The refrain from members of a crowd that was waiting to hear Sakshi Maharaj for more than three hours at Thariya village in Fatehpur district was that both Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav were their leaders. Rajnath Singh, one of the vocal members o f the pro-Kalyan Singh group, told Frontline that the backward caste-upper caste struggle in the party that intensified in 1989 was far from over. "The upper castes in the BJP and the Congress(I) are trying to undercut backward caste politicians. The denial of the ticket to Sakshi Maharaj is an indication of this. The backward castes cannot allow this to happen."

This sentiment was evident in scores of Lodh Rajput villages that this correspondent visited in the Mathura-Farukhabad belt. Two days before campaigning closed for the September 18 elections in the Lodh-dominated Pashnipura village, a group of BJP worker s had abandoned electioneering and started playing cards even as the party candidate, Ram Baksh Verma, tried to catch their attention. Explaining their indifference, Malhan Singh, a local BJP office-bearer, said that they were committed to Sakshi Maharaj . Discounting the fact that the replaced candidate was also a Lodh, Malhan Singh branded him a "kaagaz ke phool" (paper flower).

According to BJP insiders belonging to the anti-Kalyan Singh group, the Chief Minister and Sakshi Maharaj are helping the S.P. in most of the seats the party is contesting. In a quid pro quo, the S.P. has fielded weak candidates in seats such as F aizabad and Hamirpur, from where Kalyan Singh loyalists, such as Vinay Katiyar and Gangacharan Rajput, are contesting. In Faizabad, the S.P. has replaced its sitting MP, Mitrasen Yadav, with Heeralal Yadav, who is an unknown entity.

While the support of Sakshi Maharaj and his associates does seem to boost the backward caste base of the S.P., there is also the danger that this might alienate Muslim voters from the party, particularly because leaders such as Sakshi Maharaj have been i dentified with the Ayodhya Ram Mandir movement. However, the S.P. leadership tries to present the revolt of Sakshi Maharaj as proof of trouble within the Sangh Parivar that would ultimately benefit the secular forces as it would lead to a split in the St ate BJP. What turn events will take is not clear, but it is evident that Mulayam Singh Yadav, the "great gambler of the Gangetic plains", is once again gambling with his political career. Outwardly, he exudes confidence and claims that the S.P. will win at least 50 seats.

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A SIMILAR air of confidence is evident in the BSP camp despite the absence of any creative alliances. The party's best performance was in 1996 when it won six seats and polled 20.6 per cent of the total votes. Among the national parties, the BSP, with 4. 8 per cent of the votes, occupies the fourth place in terms of vote share, behind the BJP, the Congress(I) and the CPI(M). Kanshi Ram told Frontline that he aimed at a five-fold increase in the seats tally and an increase in the vote share in orde r to move up to the third place. "This would enable the launch of the BSP in future battles," he said.

Sections of the BSP are of the view that but for Mayawati's refusal to form alliances, the party could have performed better. Party insiders say that the differences over the question of seat-sharing between Kanshi Ram and Mayawati had surfaced in April itself when the Vajpayee government faced a vote of confidence. Arguing that the BJP was a bigger danger to the BSP, Kanshi Ram showed keenness to enter into a short-term alliance with the Congress(I) or the S.P. His manoeuvres relating to the vote of co nfidence, which ultimately led to the fall of the government, point to this move.

On the other hand, Mayawati's priority was to save the BJP government, either by voting for it or by abstaining from voting. Her proximity to Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Lalji Tandon, who is in turn close to Vajpayee, is said to have inspired this position. However, she had to conform to Kanshi Ram's line and lead the five-member BSP group in the Lok Sabha to vote against the government. The BSP chief had then successfully initiated a discussion to strike a deal with Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi. Kan shi Ram, along with Sharad Pawar, then Leader of the Congress (I) in the Lok Sabha, worked out a deal that involved pulling down the Kalyan Singh Government and making Mayawati the Chief Minister with the support of the Congress(I) and the S.P.

Congress(I) leaders and Kanshi Ram apparently saw the "Uttar Pradesh operation" as the forerunner to the formation of a national alliance. However, the situation changed within a few days. The Congress(I) refused to accept the idea of a coalition governm ent at the Centre and Mulayam Singh Yadav asserted that he would not allow a "foreigner" to become Prime Minister. In the process, the possibility of toppling Kalyan Singh receded. Mayawati has struck back by ruling out any alliance.

Kanshi Ram's persistence with the idea of a coalition with the Congress(I) came in the background of the collapse of both the "Uttar Pradesh operation" and the proposed alliance with the S.P. He tried to revive the deal that involves making Mayawati the Chief Minister and made it clear that he would part with only 25 seats in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress(I), which had initially made tall claims, steadily altered its demands and was even ready to accept what was offered by the BSP.

What finally brought the negotiations to an end was a rider that the Congress(I) attached any agreement. This was that the alliance should not be confined to Uttar Pradesh but should include Madhya Pradesh. Clearly, the Congress(I) wanted to make maximum gains from the potential of the BSP leadership to transfer its votes in any direction it deemed fit.

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This proposal, however, was not acceptable to the BSP, partly because its Madhya Pradesh unit felt betrayed by the Congress(I) in the November Assembly elections. The BSP had supported the Congress(I) in more than half the seats on the basis of an unders tanding that a leader from a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe would be considered for the position of either Chief Minister or Deputy Chief Minister. After the elections, the Congress(I) failed to keep its promise.

Kanshi Ram has chosen a moderate path compared to Mulayam Singh Yadav's almost adventurist course. Sections of the BSP and the S.P. believe that both the leaders will have to work out some kind of an understanding after the elections, particularly in the context of the backward caste churning within the BJP as well as the resurgence of the Congress(I), which is an equal threat to both the parties.

A no-win situation

Bringing peace to the northeastern region of Sri Lanka requires more than a smart military operation. Lack of progress on the political front has created a no-win situation here.

NORTHEASTERN Sri Lanka is going through a painful phase, marked by an impasse, in both political and military terms. With the country set to face national and presidential elections in the year ahead, it is possible that positions will harden among both the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government. The Opposition United National Party (UNP), whose endorsement of the policy decisions taken by the ruling People's Alliance (P.A.) is crucial to resolving the crisis, is also expe cted to adopt a tough stand.

Exactly a year ago, following a fierce battle between government troops and the separatists, Killinochchi and Manku-lam changed hands. While Killinochchi came under the control of the LTTE, the government regained Mankulam.

Since then nothing much has happened to alter the situation. But the security forces have scored a string of successes in the Wanni area, regaining chunks of territory from the Tigers. The crucial gain was the retaking of Madhu, a pilgrim centre in Manna r district.

In the second week of September, the security forces started a fifth round of Rana Gosa (Battle Cry) operations in the Wanni area comprising four northern districts. The previous such operation had been conducted with remarkable ease. Going by reports co ming from the northeastern area, Rana Gosa V has not made much gains as the LTTE has put up stiff resistance.

(Reportage on military operations is largely confined to information based on secondary sources as journalists are not permitted to enter the areas until after the completion of a military operation. Moreover, censorship of news related to military opera tions has been in place since June 1999.)

The Defence Ministry said that the troops "advanced from general areas north and east of Welimarandamadu Tank and general areas east of Periyamadu tank". Indications are that the total number of casualties on both sides could well be above 150.

Heavy casualties have been reported from the northern Mannar district, where a fresh offensive was launched on September 12. The operation has strategic significance in that it seeks to cover areas which would, if successfully penetrated, lead to the ope ning of a much-needed main supply route to the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The operation launched in September 1998 implied a rethinking on the part of the government with regard to its plans to open a main supply route to Jaffna through a series of offensives called Operation Jaya Sikuru (Sure Victory). After Operation Jaya Si kuru was given up, the western offensive was launched, and it has been widely perceived as one aimed at opening a main supply route along the western coast.

Operation Rana Gosa also marks a shift in military strategy after the Killinochchi operations in that an earlier approach to open a main supply route along the Kandy-Jaffna road, which runs through the Tiger heartland, was abandoned in favour of a more p ractical western route.

Bringing peace to the troubled northeastern region would require more than a smart and successful military operation. While the military advance is crucial, equally important would be the progress made on a resolution of the political issues. Unfortunate ly, nothing has happened on this front as the goals of both the government and the LTTE have remained unachievable.

For its part, the government is keen on a solution within a framework that envisages a united but non-unitary nation, while the Tigers remain committed to their separatist agenda. And so the attrition continues.

So it is imperative for the government to address the ground realities in the northeastern region, especially the situation faced by civilians living under the LTTE's sway. Regulations on fishing, and movement between the government-held and LTTE-held ar eas, lack of proper transportation facilities between Jaffna and the rest of the island and mounting pressures on the food delivery system are but early manifestations of more trouble ahead.

The advantage now lies with the military, successive operations having eroded the territorial base of the LTTE. With the ongoing military thrust, the efficacy of the civil administration, already handicapped as a result of the government having to run ba sic affairs in an essentially enemy-held area, has been further affected. The prevailing no-win situation, according to Tamil politicians, could help the LTTE to try to prove that it has a presence all over the northeast. This could impel it to launch at tacks on economic installations and security personnel, as was seen in a recent attack on a police station in Trincomalee.

By systematically dismembering the other militant groups, the LTTE is better placed to claim the status of the "sole representative of the Tamils". The assassination of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam, senior leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), an d those of Razeek of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front and Manickathasan of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam are indicators of the LTTE's unwillingness to accommodate an alternative leadership for Tamils, either politic ally or militarily.

However, the present delicate balance and uncertainty could change dramatically if the LTTE were to strike at any Army camp. Military strategists are in no doubt about the LTTE's capabilities. The question now is when and where it will strike.

A long and winding road

SIDDHARTHA BAVISKAR world-affairs

In Guatemala, which has come a long way from the days of a military dictatorship to a barely functioning democracy, the outcome of a nationwide referendum and the scuttling of peace accords slow down further progress towards peace and democracy.

JULY 1999, Santa Anita estate, Colomba Costa Cuca, Quezaltenango, Guatemala: Looking at Aura Vicente as she cradles an infant inside a damp and dirty building, it is hard to imagine that she was once the first female captain in the Revolutionary Organisa tion of the People in Arms (ORPA). "When the army kidnapped and murdered my father, I had no choice but to flee to the mountains near San Marcos," she says softly. It was there that Vicente, then known only by her alias, "Juana", joined the Left-wing ins urgency that erupted in the mid-1960s. She spent the following 10 years on the run before escaping to Mexico. It was only in 1997, following the signing of the United Nations-sponsored peace accords, that she could return home. Camps scattered across the verdant landscape provide some 1,50,000 former Guatemalan refugees and demobilised Left-wing combatants a chance to lead normal lives once again.

In December 1996, the Government of Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) signed the last of a series of peace accords, one that promised to bring a "firm and lasting peace" to a country that had been torn apart by a 36-year-lo ng civil war. Some 2,00,000 persons were killed or "disappeared" during the bloody conflict; hundreds of thousands sought refuge abroad or in other parts of the country.

The scope of the accords is impressive. It ranges from a Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights to an Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to another on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society. Indeed, there is scarcely an area of national life that they leave untouched. Such comprehensiveness would seem to augur well for the future of Guatemala. It would, for instance, imply that the harsh discrimination that marks this div ided society will soon be reduced if not eliminated, and that its armed forces will have greater respect for democratic norms.

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Unfortunately, recent events point to a less sanguine outlook. Although Guatemala figures among middle-income countries in terms of per capita income, there is a gross maldistribution of land and income. Such inequalities are exacerbated by the cleavage between ladinos (Spanish-speaking whites or mestizos) and (predominantly Mayan) indigenous peoples, and the rural-urban divide.

Three-fourths of Guatemala's 11 million citizens live below the poverty line; of the 58 per cent of the population that lives in extreme poverty, over four-fifths is Mayan. The top 10 per cent of the population receives 46.4 per cent of the national inco me while the two lowest quintiles combined get only 7.9 per cent. As little as 0.15 per cent of the rural population (a little more than 10,000 people), engaged in commercial agriculture, controls as much as 70 per cent of agricultural land.

A 1997 assessment by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) describes Guatemala as one of the most "archaically repressive, unjust and racist societies in the western hemisphere." Agricultural production has focussed on exports, leading to a critical level of food insecurity. Infant mortality rates, illiteracy and malnutrition continue to be unacceptably high.

Thus, poverty afflicts the peasant more than it does the city-dweller; it hurts the indigenous majority much more than it does the ladino minority. The state has done little to improve things. Its spending on education and health is one of the lowest in the region; its capacity to tax, redistribute wealth and provide basic services to the needy, frighteningly low.

The unequal distribution of resources which, in turn, has led to the concentration of power in the hands of a small private sector and military elite, was one of the main reasons for the rise of the Marxist-led, Cuban-supported insurgency (broadly repres ented by the URNG) in the country. The fact that toward the second half of the 1980s the insurgency was largely a spent force may be attributed largely to the brutal and widespread repression unleashed by the Army and right-wing paramilitary groups. Thei r justification? Defence of national sovereignty and, later, also of the constitutional order against an internationally-supported Communist insurgency.

In the Cold War context, these counter-insurgency efforts, which included grave human rights violations, were actively supported by the United States as part of its foreign policy - a fact noted by the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) establ ished in June 1994 as part of the peace agreements. Observers note that, unlike the peace process in neighboring El Salvador where guerillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) were firmly maintaining the offensive against the beleagu ered Salvadoran military when they came to the negotiating table, in Guatemala the URNG guerillas had become more of a nuisance than a threat to the state even before the talks began.

Having gained the upper hand over its opponents, why did the Guatemalan military agree to support the peace initiative formally? One plausible reason is the presence of a moderate faction within the military high command. According to Colonel Benito Ragg io, Military Adviser to the U.N. Mission for the Verification of Human Rights and of Compliance with the Commitments of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights in Guatemala (MINUGUA), "the Guatemalan military is a professional institution. There are moderate 'visionaries' in the military high command who realised that, although the insurgency had been defeated militarily, an ideological and political victory was not possible. Also, Guatemala's image in the international community had deteriorated an d, with the end of the Cold War, international pressure on the government had mounted."

In Raggio's view, the Army's strength and resistance to civilian control stemmed from the fact that the Guatemalan state was weak and had abdicated its basic responsibilities to the military. "It was the Army that largely dealt with the crisis that Hurri cane Mitch (November 1998) left in the wake. Only it could deal with the soaring crime in the country." This opinion, however, ignores the important contribution of local non-governmental organisations and international agencies to relief operations, and towards strengthening and improving key political institutions such as the judiciary and the police.

A second factor, besides the Army's pragmatism, is that the military has not found the terms of the peace agreements to be punitive. While the armed forces seem to be fulfilling some of the commitments demanded by the peace agreements (some of these even preceded the accords as, for instance, reducing manpower by a third) it is far from clear whether their basic autonomy with respect to the state has been eroded thus far. During the conflict, the military acted with impunity against any perceived opposi tion. It kidnapped, tortured and killed scores of guerillas as well as innocent civilians.

The reports of both the CEH and the Catholic Church-sponsored Project on Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) provide chilling testimony to its flagrant violations of human rights. The CEH report, "Guatemala: Memory of Silence", concludes that the state -perpetrated genocide (including over 600 massacres) against the Mayan community between 1981 and 1983 and that, together with paramilitary groups, it was responsible for over 90 per cent of the human rights violations committed. The report calls for bri nging the perpetrators to justice and compensating the victims. Unfortunately, its recommendations are not legally binding.

Another clear sign of military independence is that those responsible for the brutal assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi - the Army is widely suspected to be behind it - in April 1996 are still at large. The military has been unwilling to cooperate with the investigation, which has dragged on fruitlessly. Bishop Gerardi, a staunch defender of human rights and the leader of the REMHI project, was killed barely two days after he presented the project report titled "Guatemala. Never Again".

Military resistance to control by the state is perhaps understandable given that it has governed the nation for much of this century, including an uninterrupted three-decade rule after the U.S.- led overthrow of the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz G overnment in 1954. It had also influenced the framing of the last Constitution (in 1986) which does not permit a civilian to hold the position of Minister of Defence.

Raggio attributes military autonomy to deeper problems. He says: "If the military can act with impunity, it is ultimately due to a political, structural problem; one that is related to the poverty, corruption and illiteracy in this country." The causes o f military supremacy may be many, but one thing remains clear: the military vehemently opposes any effort to make it answer for its crimes.

Recent startling revelations, however, may force it to be more cooperative in this regard. A military logbook that records in frightening detail the fate of 183 Guatemalans at the hands of the security forces during the mid-1980s - and U.S. complicity i n the anti-insurgency campaign - surfaced last May in the U.S. What makes the document unique is that it was smuggled out of the Guatemalan Army's own archives. Although the military has denied the report, its publication may well build up sufficient pre ssure on a reluctant Alvaro Arzz Government to take the military to task.

OBSERVERS note that two serious inherent weaknesses undermine the accords. First, to what extent do the signatories to the agreements represent the aspirations of Guatemalan society as a whole? The URNG is an umbrella organisation formed in 1982 by vario us politico-military organisations such as the Guerilla Army of the Poor (EGP); the Organisation of the People in Arms (ORPA); and the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). It claims to speak for a broad spectrum of disaffected Guatemalan citizens, in partic ular the Mayan majority.

However, while the revolutionaries were involved in promoting social movements in support of the indigenous cause from the mid-1970s, the relationship between the Mayans and those who claimed to fight on their behalf has often been marked by suspicion, h ostility or outright rejection.

Finally, although diverse civic organisations were consulted during the negotiations, clear support to the agreements, and to the broader process that they represent, has not been forthcoming from important right-wing groups, in particular the Guatemalan Revolutionary Front (FRG). The FRG is one of the two right-wing parties - the other being the ruling National Advancement Party (PAN) that dominate national politics. As Edelberto Torres-Rivas, a Guatemalan sociologist and adviser to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), puts it, "for the FRG, the URNG is just a gang of criminals; therefore it views the promises made at the negotiating table by the PAN government not as moral commitments of the Guatemalan state but only obligations undertake n by the current Government."

The second drawback of the accords has to do with implementation. The agreements are full of ambitious objectives and stirring phrases. Yet their wording is so ambiguous and they involve so many agencies that verifying them and holding someone responsibl e for their implementation will be a slippery task.

The Government has already fallen short of its scheduled commitments on most issues. It has dragged its feet on vital components of the reform process, for instance, those affecting the tax system. Guatemala's effective rate of taxation is dismayingly lo w: only 8 per cent, a little over half the average rate for Latin America and way below the 30 per cent average in western Europe. This has prompted even the fiscally conservative International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to ask for a signific ant increase in tax rates. It should not be surprising, then, that the state is financially strapped.

Land reform is another issue on which critics charge the government with having done very little, and made largely cosmetic, changes. As a source from the international community, who wished to remain anonymous emphasises, any attempt at a genuine land r eform will confront stern resistance from the landed elite. The source said: "The mechanisms established by the government are so inadequate that it will take as many as a hundred years for the half a million peasants estimated to be potential beneficiar ies of the reform actually to receive such benefits. There is not going to be any redistribution of land here. There are two topics that are taboo in this country: land and the military. They have not changed; nor are they going to."

Looming elections (presidential, congressional and municipal scheduled for November 1999) have distracted the governing party from accord implementation and further debilitated an already flagging political will. Indeed, observers note that were it not f or the persistence of a raft of international agencies and occasional prodding from generous international donors who are pouring money into the country, even the progress shown thus far would not have been achieved. If the FRG wins the November election s, as is being speculated, the fate of the agreements will be even more uncertain.

UNDOUBTEDLY the most severe setback to the process of peace and democratisation in Guatemala was the mandate against the constitutional reform in a nationwide referendum held in May 1999. The reforms were designed to provide fundamental legal and constit utional authority for key elements in the peace agreements, particularly those relating to indigenous rights, the role of the armed forces, and the reform of the justice system. The nation's rejection of the reform package means, for example, that it ref uses to acknowledge the rights of its indigenous community by failing to grant official recognition to its 23 languages. It also implies that the role of the Army in Guatemalan society and its position with respect to civilian authority continues to be a mbiguous. Torres-Rivas points out that centuries of oppression and systematic exploitation, first at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors and the creole elite and later by the predominantly ladino elite, has meant that today the Mayan communities live in appalling conditions of poverty, ethnic discrimination and exploitation. "They are second-class citizens", he sums up.

However, what is perhaps more troubling is that less than a fifth of the registered voters bothered to go to the Consulta Popular (as the referendum was called) at all. Indeed, Guatemala has had one of the lowest rates of voter turn-out in Latin America. For many poor, illiterate Guatemalans, voting is a time-consuming and expensive ritual, the outcome of which offers little hope for change. Many others regard it with cynicism. Given these circumstances, their apparent indifference to a referendum that was promoted more by a host of international agencies than by their government itself is perhaps understandable.

Several explanations are offered as to why people turned down the proposed changes. Foremost among them are that Guatemalan society is deeply racist and conservative; that promoters of the reform were unduly complacent; and that the government lacked the will to "sell" the reform. According to Torres-Rivas, a lack of political will and the hostile attitude of the influential evangelical Church guaranteed a negative response.

The reforms had taken a long time to get through the Guatemalan Congress and had expanded from 12 to 50 items in their coverage. "Congress wilfully scuttled the reform initiative. It overburdened the reform package in order that its complexity would conf ound voters, ultimately leading most of them to reject it," Torres-Rivas said. The injunction of the powerful and conservative evangelical Church to its followers to vote against the reform if they did not understand the contents of the reform package ha d further stood against its success.

The rejection of the proposal means that a new government, whether formed by the FRG or the PAN, will be even less enthusiastic about reforms than the present one. What makes things worse is that the young Left-wing coalition party, the New Nation Allian ce (ANN), and other Left-wing groups have been unable to rally popular support for the accords.

THE return of peace and democracy to Latin America has been hailed widely. Elections are held; votes are cast. Guatemala, too, has shed its authoritarian legacy. Today the possibility of another military coup is remote because the military knows that in the present international context, it will prove costly if it strays beyond the boundaries of constitutional legality. However, if Guatemala has to be something more than a barely functioning democracy it needs to surmount daunting structural obstacles, among them, widespread poverty and severe inequality and discrimination. So far, the push for reform has come from without, mainly at the urging of the international community. But for any change to be successful in the long term, it has to come from wi thin.

This is happening, albeit at what seems an agonisingly slow pace. The result of the referendum was discouraging and little progress on the accords can be expected from a lame-duck Arzz Government in an election year. Yet at the same time, Mayan organisat ions, human rights groups and a host of other non-governmental organisations representing civil society are gradually coming to the fore. Only when Guatemalans themselves understand and are convinced of the need for change will far-reaching reforms be pr oposed, accepted and implemented.

Such a process will take time but so long as it is carried out through the ballot box and not through the barrel of a gun, there is hope yet. Dinorah Azpuru, a researcher at the Association for Research and Social Studies in Guatemala City, is optimistic about the possibilities of a more peaceful and democratic nation. "I think that we are advancing on both fronts; democracy continues to be strengthened, and though the peace process has met with obstacles, it has not stalled. If we consider the current situation in the context of Guatemala's political history, recent changes have been transcendental."

From seamstress to guerilla leader to vegetable seller and, now, to a community creche worker, Aura Vicente has come a long way. "Now I have to attend to problems faced by the community and to the education of my children. The peace was signed; but it is only a signature. It stopped the war and the massacres... that's good. But things haven't really changed. Poverty and ill-treatment still exist. Now we have to take up a political struggle."

Siddhartha Baviskar is a research scholar at the University of Pittsburgh in the U.S., working towards a doctorate in Latin American politics.

The curse of the Kosi

BELWARA, a small village on the eastern embankment of the Kosi, has been eroded in large stretches by the river at least 11 times in the past three decades, according to the villagers. The sluice gates that were built on the embankment, to allow the Satr as Dhar, a tributary, to enter the Kosi, is now in a state of disrepair, smashed by the deluge in 1984, and clogged, as the Kosi's bed is at a higher level. The tributary is now a dead stream on a new route along the embankment, submerging areas original ly protected by the eastern embankment.

When the embankment was being built in the late 1950s, villagers who lived in areas within, such as the family of Brajendra Singh, were sold on the dream of "land for land, house for house, employment for one" and "permanent salvation from floods". But t he promises seldom materialised, and even if they did, the results were not as rosy as they were made out to be.

The alternative land offered was soon permanently waterlogged and thus unproductive. The construction of some houses was abandoned half-way through as the loan disbursements did not come. No employment was offered. Only a few were "rehabilitated". So Bra jendra Singh has continued to live within the embankment whenever the Kosi shrunk its flow, and has no place to go when the river engulfs his land annually. "It had always been the river of sorrow for us. We cannot control it. The embankment must come do wn," he said.

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At the time of construction, the two embankments of the Kosi had 304 villages between them and the river. In the last 40 years, the Kosi has never failed to inundate these villages and life has been quite unsettling.

Those who fought to stay immediately outside the embankments, by demanding at the time of construction that the space between the embankments be kept to a minimum, are no better off today. Satyanarayan Sahai, who lives outside the embankment on "protecte d land", too wants it to be dismantled. "By the end of October, the flood waters within the embankment drain out, but the so-called protected land where I live is permanently water-logged," he explained.

Says Prabhu Narain Javad of the local Jyan Vigyan Samiti, which is spearheading a post-literacy movement in the village (the literacy rate here is 10 to 15 per cent): "We have shifted our homes 11 times from the village. There were floods during the time of our forefathers too. But the intensity was bearable. The silt that the Kosi spread on our lands was good for our crops. Now everything has changed. The embankment has spelt our doom. The river got us... for trying to control it."

Of real security

L. RAMDAS other

Society, State and Security: The Indian Experience by Verghese Koithara; Sage Publications, New Delhi; pages 414, Rs. 550.

Real Swaraj will come not by acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused.

- Mahatma Gandhi, in Young India, 1925.

THESE pearls of wisdom came from the Father of the Nation almost three quarters of a century ago. It focussed on the empowerment of the people as the most important aspect of 'swaraj', or freedom. Unfortunately the state of the nation today is far remov ed from the vision that he had of India. Over half a century has passed since Independence and the Human Development Report 1999 brought out by the United Nations Development Programme tells it all. On the basis of the Human Development Index, India rank s 132nd among 174 countries listed in the report. Countries such as Botswana and Gabon rank above India. In short, the national leadership has failed its people. Basic needs such as drinking water, health, primary education and shelter have been continuo usly neglected. These and related aspects of 'human security' have been kept in sharp focus by Verghese Koithara while analysing India's national security concerns in this maiden work of his.

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Having chosen an all-embracing title, it was inevitable that the author would end up saying something about everything. The master craftsman that he is, Koithara has arranged his 'collage' in an interesting and logical manner. The book comprises three di stinct parts. Part I is titled "The Fifty Years, 1947-1997", Part II "The Coming Decade 2000-2010", and Part III "Security Assurance, 2000-2010". Each of these parts has six chapters and various aspects are treated under numerous sub-headings. This does at times tend to interfere with the smooth flow of the arguments being made. Perhaps the number of the sub-headings could have been reduced so that the text flowed more easily.

Matters affecting 'human security' feature throughout this monumental work. Unlike many analysts of 'national security' who neglected 'human security', Koithara feels that both these issues need to be addressed concurrently. In his view the leadership ne eds to take immediate corrective action in both these areas if India is to meet the aspirations of its people. Part I deals with the evolution of the modern Indian state, the social and economic changes and the management of external and internal securi ty issues. In the opening chapter on the 'evolution of the modern Indian state', the author states: "Security has always been twinned with status in the minds of the Indian elite who have from the time of Independence harboured aspirations of the country becoming a great power." In the final piece called 'Looking Ahead' at the end of Part III, Koithara reinforces this Indian concept with yet another reference: "Jawaharlal Nehru fifty years ago had identified future great powers as the USA, USSR, China a nd India. The U.K., France, Germany and Japan did not feature in his list. If after fifty years the latter continue to remain ahead of India, in terms of both power and influence, there is need for introspection."

This obsession for power has not left us even today. Every conceivable trick is being played on the country's masses by eulogising 'militarism' and flexing the 'nuclear muscle' even as the core sectors concerning human security continue to be neglected. Discussing the economic performance of the country, Koithara concludes: "The gross failure in developing its human potential, through better health and education, has notably contributed to the modest economic results."

Lastly, there is an interesting chapter comparing India's achievements with those of China and Indonesia. The author gives his reasons for selecting these countries for the comparison as in his view these two came closest to the situations obtaining in I ndia. The overall picture sketched by Koithara in the closing paragraphs of this chapter clearly brings out that although all three countries started roughly at the same levels in 1948/49, both China and Indonesia are way ahead in their achievements. Be it gross domestic product or the levels of poverty or literacy, India brings up the rear. The only area in which we seem to have a slight edge is the 'human rights spectrum', which involves protection from the state itself - at least on paper. It is no surprise, therefore, that we emerge as the third among the three even in matters concerning national security!

Part II is an attempt by the author to play the 'futurologist'. It is a well-reasoned analysis of the likely trajectories most countries and regions are expected to follow in the coming decade. In the chapter on the 'emerging international system', Koith ara sketches the future stance and posture of the main players as he sees it - the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the European Union, China, Russia, Japan, South Asia, South Asia Periphery, and Islam! It would appear very odd to m ost readers that a discussion on Islam has been included in this section. The author has justified its inclusion by mentioning that it is the only politico-religious multinational grouping wielding considerable influence on the world scene today. One can also sense the impact of Huntingon's work The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order in Koithara's examination of the "global power matrix" in this section. It is a very interesting analysis of a question which may in the author's view have far-reaching implications for India in the coming decade.

In the chapters concerning 'latent dangers and manifest threats', there is a detailed examination of the latent dangers in terms of an enfeebled people, society, economic and technological mismanagement and environmental degradation. The analysis of mani fest threats includes an examination of the Chinese and Pakistani threats, as also the maritime and nuclear threats. The author concludes that there is very little if any chance of either China or Pakistan starting a full blown war with India in the comi ng decade. Pakistan may, however, continue with its low intensity engagement if the outstanding disputes are not settled by then.

IN the discussions on weapons of mass destruction, Koithara subscribes to the traditional view that nuclear weapons have both a political and a military role. He has also highlighted the new twist given by the U.S. of downplaying the role of nuclear weap ons and favouring the use of sub-nuclear high technologies.

While the author comes through in some parts as a proponent and supporter of nuclear weapons and their political and military usefulness, he does accept the fact that "the decision to find military usefulness in nuclear weapons against Pakistan and China has clearly created problems" - an understatement if ever there was one! He concludes Part II thus: "In the foreseeable future there is no conceivable cause for China or Pakistan to start a conventional, much less a nuclear, war against India." It woul d have been appropriate if the author had also analysed in this section the possibilities of India - under a given set of circumstances - starting a conventional or nuclear war with either of these two adversaries in the same time-frame.

Part III concerns itself with chalking out a strategy for security assurance in the coming decade. I would like to call this the 'foundation and stabilising strategy', because that is what it is. It consists of empowering people, good governance, resourc e mobilisation, force structure and force architecture. This section also includes a discussion of the role of nuclear weapons, the defence industry and security management. Most of the subjects treated here have featured in some form or the other in the earlier parts and therefore seem to fall into place easily. It contains a series of recommendations stating "what needs to be done" in the various sectors mentioned. Unfortunately the "how" part seems to elude us. This is an infirmity in an otherwise ou tstanding analytical work. Indians are past masters at making rules and regulations, laws, agreements, reports, commissions of inquiry, speeches, advice. In short, we are genuine 'paper tigers'. Never short of ideas but apathetic and too heavily bureaucr atised to implement anything. Is there something that we can do to correct this? Maybe Koithara has already a title for his next book.

On the whole this is a masterly work, duly supported by references and statistics. It is a courageous, powerful and an in-depth analysis of a very complex subject. It is incisive and informative. Reading it, one feels the impact of an economist, scholar, political analyst and sailor - all of which Vice-Admiral Verghese Koithara represents in abundant measure. A must for every library and all those interested in South Asian affairs in general and India in particular.

Admiral L. Ramdas (retired) is a former Chief of the Naval Staff.

Questions of contempt

other

The subject of the application of contempt powers by courts has re-emerged as a matter for public debate. A look at the international position with regard to the issue.

Frontline - Editor, Frontline. ZAHID F. EBRAHIM

IN 1937, Justice Cardozo of the United States Supreme Court described freedom of expression as "the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom." Accurate as it is powerful, Justice Cardozo's matrix theory lies at the heart of all defences of the right of freedom of expression. Yet, in many countries, the courts of law, the ultimate guarantors of free expression, have found it difficult to come to terms with free speech critically directed at the courts themselves.

The laws of contempt are primarily designed to balance the freedom of expression with the judiciary's quest to maintain its authority and safeguard public order. Broadly speaking, contempt of court falls into three general areas: (i) violation of an orde r of a court, (ii) interference in the judicial process, and (iii) criticism of a judge, his or her judgment, or the institution of the judiciary.

The contemporary law of contempt, which seeks to prohibit the criticism of the judge, his or her judgment or the institution of the judiciary, now re-emerged as a matter for public debate with the Supreme Court of India's ire being directed at the Booker Prize winning author of The God of Small Things. The matrix is under threat.

The offence of 'scandalising the court'

The criticism of a judicial officer, his or her judgment or the institution of the judiciary is generally recognised in the Commonwealth countries as the offence of scandalising the court. Contemporary scholars, such as Geoffrey Robertson and Andrew Nico l, view the offence of scandalising the court in England as "...an anachronistic relic of 18th century struggles between partisan judges and their vitriolic critics". Echoing such views, Eric Barendt suggests that the offence of scandalising the court is "now so unimportant in practice that it may appear fruitless to spend much space in debating its justification."

However, across the world, 'scandalising the court' continues to pose significant challenges to the rights of free expression guaranteed by national constitutions and international covenants. Even in such hostile environment, credible defences have evolv ed, and at times have even been adopted by the courts.

The 'courtesy and good faith' defence is one such defence. In the words of the Queen's Bench in England, "no criticism of a judgment, whatsoever vigorous, can amount to contempt of court, providing it keeps within the limits of courtesy and good faith." In many jurisdictions, the courtesy and good faith defence has allowed scholars and legal practitioners the ability to launch significant criticism and gain new ground for free expression.

The letter from a Kenyan lawyer, Feroze Nawrojee, which became the cause of a contempt action against Nawrojee, is a good example of how courtesy and good faith may be artfully woven in with powerful critique. Frustrated by a judge's delay in deciding a motion to stay proceedings in a traffic offence case in which a prominent critic of the Kenyan government had been killed, Nawrojee wrote in protest: "It is unusual that in the meantime the same learned judge has dealt with several hundred matters as dut y judge and left this one matter as yet uncompleted. Such delay amounts in law to a refusal to adjudicate...These departures from the usual, the indefinite delay, despite reminders and the willingness to specify a fixed date, may create the impression th at the ruling is being tailored...I convey my anxiety at the unusual treatment of this or any applicant to our courts, and the belief that trust in our judges is a major contributor to the security of that trust. The events taking place in this case tend to the erosion of that trust."

The aggrieved judge attempted to prosecute Nawrojee for the offence of scandalising the court. However, the Kenyan High Court determined that "courts could not use their contempt power to suppress mere criticism of a judge or to vindicate the judge in hi s personal capacity, but rather could use it only to punish scurrilous abuse of a judge when necessary in the interests of justice." The High Court stressed that "a judge must scrupulously balance the need to maintain his or her authority with the right to freedom of speech," and refused to find Nawrojee in contempt.

The public confidence in the judiciary argument

Courts have vigorously punished offensive speech directed at the judiciary on the grounds that intemperate criticism of the court leads to erosion of public confidence in the judiciary. Throughout history, courts have concluded that public confidence in the judiciary is both vital and fragile and therefore requires special protection from offending free expression. As David Pannick explains, "The grandiloquent fear that criticism of the courts may endanger civilisation has, in the 20th century, continue d to lead to the punishment of persons who have insulted members of the judiciary or impugned their impartiality."

Does immunity strengthen the judiciary?

But the very basis of the public confidence has been laid bare by David Pannick as he argues that "public confidence in the judiciary is not strengthened by the deterrence of criticism." After all, Lord Atkin in the Privy Council case of Ambard v. Att orney-General for Trinidad and Tobago, had ruled that "the path of criticism is a public way: the wrong-headed are permitted to err therein: provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the admini stration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism, and not acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice, they are immune. Justice is not a cloistered virtue: she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and re spectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men."

Questioning the presumption that judges are beyond bias

The threat to public confidence argument is predicated on the assumption that the judiciary is incapable of bowing to outside influences and immune from bias or prejudice. Courts are loath to admit that they may be susceptible to political, economic and moral prejudices that hold favour in a society.

When the Chief Minister of Kerala publicly proclaimed that "Marx and Engels considered the judiciary as an instrument of oppression and even today...it continues to be so," he was charged with contempt of court in the case reported as E.M.S Namboodiri pad v. T.N. Nambiar, AIR 1970 Supreme Court 2015.

The Chief Minister had also alleged that "judges are guided and dominated by class hatred, class interests and class prejudices and where the evidence is balanced between a well-dressed, pot-bellied rich man and a poor, ill-dressed and illiterate person, the judge instinctively favours the former."

Reasoning that "the likely effects of his words must be seen and they have clearly the effect of lowering the prestige of judges and courts in the eyes of the people...," the Supreme Court of India ruled that "...there is not a semblance of doubt in our minds that the appellant was guilty of contempt of court." The possibility that the Chief Minister's charge had any grain of truth did not receive consideration by the court, since truth is not a defence when proceeded against for contempt.

Judicial independence

Some jurisdictions have had to contend with the dangerous area of bias within the judiciary where the judiciary finds itself chastened by government efforts to cajole and browbeat it into falling in line with state diktat. Consider, for instance, the cas e of Tanzania, where according to M.K.B. Wambali and C.M. Peter, "the government and the party play a vital, if not a decisive, role in determining who will man various positions in the judiciary. This in a way has a bearing on the work of this important institution." Although the "Constitution also provides safeguards to the judges (to maintain their independence)...experience has shown that these safeguards are formal enactments and are not all that water-tight. Judges have been transferred from the j udiciary and given other responsibilities in government service. The very fact that the executive makes appointments has at times tended to make members of the judiciary subservient to the executive and the party."

Tanzania is no solitary example, and in other countries too newspapers and journalists who expose and protest against efforts to make the judiciary subservient to the executive have found themselves muzzled by strident prosecution under contempt laws. As Robertson and Nicol note, "in certain Commonwealth countries there does exist an unhealthy relationship between the judges and the government that appoint them..." When the Belize Times Press published an article entitled "Predicament of Change", stating that "the courts have been reshaped. Both the Chief Justice and the sole Puisne Judge had been replaced. The courts which represent the seat of justice and fair play, the institution where arbitrariness and tyranny may be checked and controlled , had been transformed by the new administration," it faced a successful action for the offence of scandalising the court. It is a moot point whether this was, in fact, a statement in support of judicial independence.

The Malaysian Supreme Court has gone even further and cast its vote against even temperate criticism. In Attorney General and Others v. Lee (1987) LRC (Crim) 580 Mal SC, it has gone as far as to hold: "For the present, except possibly - and we say this with great reservation - for the limited purpose of proving it in actual court proceedings, any allegation of injustice or bias, however couched in respectful words and even if expressed in temperate language, cannot be tolerated, particularly when such allegation is made for the purpose of influencing or exerting pressure upon the court in the exercise of its judicial functions."

With this, the Malaysian Supreme Court not only determined that even temperate criticisms are not protected if these are motivated by intent to influence the court, but, more dangerously, ruled that intent can be found by reading into what the court refe rred to as "implicit threats". Development of jurisprudence where implicit threats are read into the written word, and even temperate criticism is outlawed on that basis, confirm that the offence of scandalising the court continues to gain hazardous new ground.

Beyond 'public confidence', the quest for deference

In a startling decision, the Indian Supreme Court in Sanjiv Datta & Ors, (1995) 3 SCR, not only relied on the erosion of public confidence in the judiciary argument to justify restricting free speech but also argued that the deference in which the judiciary is held must be equally safeguarded. In the Sanjiv Datta case, contempt proceedings were initiated against Sanjiv Datta, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) of the Government of India, for filing an affidavit critical of the court's interlocutory order in a case where the Supreme Court had permitted a multinational broadcasting corporation to broadcast a cricket match by generating its own signals. Although the decision of the Supreme Court was complied with in letter and spirit by the MIB, Datta filed an affidavit expressing grievance at the court's decision to allow a foreign broadcasting company to generate its own signals in India. Datta's affidavit protested that the Supreme Court had "...erred in law by entertaining this petition and thereafter passing interim orders with undue haste... thereby causing irreparable damage to the respondents (MIB) by making a mockery of the established policy of the Government of India by permitting a foreign corporati on to undertake broadcasting from India against the national interest and thereby undermining the sovereignty of the (nation)..." The Supreme Court promptly initiated contempt proceedings against Datta and he was served with a show cause notice asking hi m to explain why he should not be proceeded against for contempt. In reply, Datta pleaded that he was "truly and sincerely sorry" and tendered an unconditional apology for such utterances.

The Supreme Court, however, was not forgiving. It reasoned that Datta's statements were "...a malicious attempt to cast aspersions on and attribute motives to the court." According to the court's deductive reasoning, "if such trends as are displayed in t hese proceedings by the contemner are allowed to go scot-free, there is a danger of the erosion of the deference to and confidence in the judicial system... and an invitation to anarchy." Datta was found guilty of contempt and was sentenced to pay a fine of Rs.2,000 and, in default, to undergo simple imprisonment for one week.

Although Datta's criticism is vigorous, the "invitation to anarchy" discovered by the Supreme Court in Datta's affidavit is beyond comprehension. Equally important, and here is perhaps the more troubling aspect, the court claimed that Datta's statements were eroding the "deference" in which the court is held. Thus the Supreme Court edged towards yet another standard under which freedom of expression would be chastened.

An unequivocal challenge to contempt

A more powerful challenge to the public confidence argument was advanced by Justice Amua Sekyi of the Supreme Court of Ghana who wrote the dissenting judgment in the Republic v. Mensa Bonsu case. In Republic v. Mensa Bonsu, a newspaper colu mnist, an editor and the printer/publisher were prosecuted for contempt of court for publishing a letter which accused a judge of making wrong attributions and changing orders that had earlier been dictated in open court. The majority of the Supreme Cour t of Ghana reasoned that "imputation of lack of impartiality by the judge and statements describing him as a liar and one guilty of criminal behaviour amounted to scurrilous abuse imputing improper motive...It was therefore contempt of the Supreme Court when scurrilous abuse was directed even at one member."

In contrast, Justice Sekyi of the Supreme Court of Ghana argued in his dissenting judgment in the Mensa Bonsu case that "courts must have regard to the right of every person to express himself freely and openly on all matters of public concern whe ther pertaining to the actions of the executive, the legislature or the judiciary. The ordinary laws of libel were the only check on any abuse of the right of free speech in circumstances such as these."

Joined by two judges, Justice Sekyi made three important points: first, that the judiciary should not demand immunity that is not accorded to the legislature or the executive; second, that any aggrieved judge has access to the ordinary laws of libel to p rosecute defamatory speech, if the criticism is malicious and unjustified; third, that robust debate on matters of public interest must not be interpreted as efforts to obstruct the course of justice.

Cultural relativism holds back challenge to contempt

Unfortunately, even minority voices such as that of Justice Sekyi continue to be pushed back by judgments advancing anachronistic arguments of cultural relativism. In 1899, the Privy Council ruled in the case of McLeod v. St Aubyn that "committals for contempt of court by scandalising the court itself have become obsolete in this country. Courts are satisfied to leave to public opinion attacks or comments derogatory or scandalous to them. But it must be considered that in small colonies, consisti ng principally of coloured populations, the enforcement in proper cases of committal for contempt of court for attacks on the court may be absolutely necessary to preserve in such a community the dignity of and respect for the court."

Almost a hundred years later, in 1998, the Privy Council reiterated this opinion in its judgment in Gilbert Ahnee v. D.P.P., in an appeal from the Supreme Court of Mauritius. After gingerly iterating that the offence of scandalising the court exis ts 'in principle' to maintain the public confidence in the judiciary, the Privy Council went on to consider whether such offence is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. The Law Lords reasoned that "in England such proceedings are rare and none have been successfully brought for more than 60 years. But it is permissible to take into account that on a small island such as Mauritius the administration of justice is more vulnerable than in the United Kingdom. The need for the offence of scandalis ing the court is greater on a small island."

Advancing the 'public confidence' rationale to curb critical speech

The European Court of Human Rights, in a narrow 5-4 decision in the Prager & Oberschlick case, adopted the public confidence argument while upholding the charge of contempt. In 1997, however, the European Court re-adjusted the balance in favour of freedom of expression in the case of De Haes & Gijsels v. Belgium. In this case, De Haes and Gijsels had published articles accusing four Belgian judges of bias and had been prosecuted for contempt in Belgian courts. In this case the European Cou rt ruled that "although Mr. De Haes' and Mr. Gijsels' comments were without doubt severely critical, they nevertheless appeared to be proportionate to the stir and indignation caused by the matters alleged in their articles. As to the journalists' polemi cal and even aggressive tone, which the court should not be taken to approve, it must be remembered that Article 10 protects not only the substance of the ideas or information expressed but also the form in which they are conveyed."

Why the Supreme Court must rethink Contempt while trying Roy

It is imperative that the raison d'etre for retaining the offence of scandalising the court be re-examined. It may be necessary to review how public confidence in the judiciary has fared outside the Commonwealth and in Europe. The U.S., where cour ts long abandoned traditional caveats to free speech, is a strong candidate for such comparative appraisal. The U.S. Supreme Court's views are eloquently expressed in the words of Justice Black who wrote for the majority in 1941: "The assumption that res pect for the judiciary can be won by shielding judges from published criticism wrongly appraises the character of American public opinion. For it is a prized American privilege to speak one's mind, although not always with perfect good taste, on all publ ic institutions. And an enforced silence, however limited solely in the name of preserving the dignity of the bench, would probably engender resentment, suspicion and contempt much more than it would enhance respect."

History has proved Justice Black right. Also, the way forward may well lie within the words of Justice Amua Sekyi who reasoned that "the courts must have regard to the right of every person to express himself freely and openly on all matters of public co ncern whether pertaining to the actions of the executive, the legislature or the judiciary."

Zahid F. Ebrahim is an advocate of the High Courts in Pakistan, and a faculty member of the S.M. Law College at Karachi University. This is an edited version of an article written for Interights and Article 19's Joint Litigation Project on Freedom of Expression.

Recording media trends

The 1999 National Readership Survey, which has made a foray into rural areas, offers insights into media-audience relations along class, linguistic and regional lines.

THE release of the 1999 National Readership Survey (NRS 99) has provided new insights into the changing character of India's media landscape. Based on surveys in 818 urban centres and 2,058 villages, NRS 99 provides a comprehensive account of the state o f India's media. It is particularly significant for being the first comprehensive survey of rural newspaper readership and television audience size in the rural areas. Each week, NRS 99 says, the print media reaches 242 million Indians, television 329 mi llion and radio 174 million. These enormous numbers, the survey suggests, represent a chain of growth, driven both by expanding literacy and improved living standards.

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Broadly, NRS 99 shows that Indian newspapers and magazines have continued to grow in both urban and rural areas. Since 1997, when the last NRS report came out, the percentage of adults in India who read newspapers and magazines grew by four percentage po ints, from 45 to 49. Assuming a population of 620 million adults over the age of 15, as NRS 99 does, that means well over 25 million people have begun to read some newspaper or magazine for the first time in these two years. However, since NRS 97 based i ts readership figures entirely on urban residents, the real growth of print media audiences could in fact be larger than the data at first suggest. While 62 per cent of the 183 million Indians in urban areas read newspapers or magazines each week, NRS 99 records, only 29 per cent of the 437 million rural residents do so. This lower rural reach was not factored into NRS 97.

The number of adults who read a daily newspaper overall grew by one percentage point from 1997, reaching 42 per cent of all adults or some 260 million people. By contrast, evening papers, popular in urban centres, showed a decline in circulation. But the real growth in the print media was marked by magazines; many adult Indians took to reading a magazine for the first time. Magazine readers as a percentage of all adults rose from 25 per cent in 1997 to 28 per cent, which in absolute terms means there ar e some 174 million magazine readers today. The growth in magazine audiences was driven by news, general interest and subject-specific publications, while business magazines performed relatively poorly.

The largest publications in the country, true to the findings of earlier NRS surveys, are regional language publications, not their more high-profile English counterparts. Not a single English newspaper figures in the top 10 Indian newspapers (see table) . The Daily Thanthi in Tamil comes out at the top of the NRS 99 list, followed closely by the Dainik Jagaran in Hindi, Malayala Manorama in Malayalam and the Eenadu in Telugu and the Mathrubhumi in Malayalam. The prepon derance of publications from the south in the list illustrates the fact that high literacy rates drive circulation. Despite their huge potential audience, just three newspapers from the north figure in the top ten.

Exposure to television also grew more sharply through the period between NRS 97 and NRS 99. Some 69 million Indian homes, NRS 99 says, now have access to television and 276 million adults watch broadcasts in a typical week. In some senses, television has become the principal source of information and entertainment in most Indian homes. On a Sunday morning, an average Indian spends most of the three hours she or he has available for all kinds of media, watching television. NRS 99 data suggest that typica lly an average person spends 130 minutes watching television, 20 minutes reading newspapers and 30 minutes on magazines. Weekday figures are similar - 119 minutes a day for television, 23 minutes for newspapers, and 32 minutes for magazines.

Radio is the only major medium to have seen an erosion of its audience since 1997. Radio reached 29 per cent of adults in an average week in 1997. NRS 99 records that that figure has come down to 26 per cent. Given the growth of population, however, the audience size of 161 million may not represent a significant fall in absolute terms. The decline could possibly be linked to the growth of television in rural areas, with sections of the agrarian rich switching their allegiance to the new medium.

CINEMA, too, showed less than riveting results, despite some media hype about a renewed wave of blockbuster films. NRS 99 recorded that just 3 per cent of the adult population, both rural and urban, went to a cinema in an average week. Audience figures f or cinema showed no increase from 1997. Internet usage has grown, but as yet only 1.4 million adults have access to it and they are concentrated mainly in the eight principal cities.

Did the large growth in television come at the expense of the print media? NRS 99 offers some interesting answers to this question. For one, it again underlines the argument that growth in newspaper and magazine circulations has a close relationship with literacy levels. In Kerala, a State with near-total literacy, 71 per cent read at least one newspaper or magazine. In Bihar, a State with just 45 per cent literacy, only 15 per cent of the population read newspapers or magazines. In urban Kerala, where 96 per cent of the adult population is literate, 80 per cent read publications, while in urban Maharashtra and Goa, where 84 per cent are literate, 53 per cent of the population read at least one newspaper or magazine. Growing literacy has clearly fuelle d the growth of the print media.

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But the presence of television makes the media picture more complex than it perhaps was a decade ago. Conventional wisdom has it that television caters to audiences in States where literacy levels are relatively low. But NRS 99 makes clear that that isn' t the case. In Bihar, just 29 per cent of the adult population watches television. In Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, where 67 per cent of adults are literate, just 27 per cent access a newspaper or magazine, just above the national average, while 69 per cent watch television, a good 16 percentage points above the national average. In Assam and other northeastern States as also in West Bengal, higher than average literacy rates again do not translate into high reach for the print media.

In some States and areas, both high television viewership and print-media reach go together. In Tamil Nadu, an average family spends some 3.3 hours each day watching television, while in Uttar Pradesh, such a family does so for two hours. But Tamil Nadu' s figures for the percentage of adults forming the newspaper and magazine reading public are almost twice those of Uttar Pradesh. NRS 99 suggests that States like Tamil Nadu, which have seen a proliferation of satellite television channels, have seen a l ess sharp growth in newspaper circulation than those like Uttar Pradesh, where the spread of satellite television has been less marked. But the mere proliferation of television choices clearly does not explain the growth of certain media platforms - or the absence of it.

NRS 99 thus makes at least two major points clear. The first is that the growth of television has been the most marked in the relatively affluent States, not in those with the lowest levels of literacy. In one sense, therefore, if the growth of the print media is literacy-driven, that of television is affluence-driven. This tells us not a little about the breakdown of India's public service broadcasting paradigm, where the creation of state television was legitimised on the basis of the claim that it wo uld make the medium available to the illiterate rural poor. The second point is that television has not in any meaningful way emerged as a substitute for print media, in the sense that the proliferation of channels and increase in television audiences ha s not led to a reduction in the number of people reading newspapers and magazines.

A wealth of further analysis based on the NRS 99 findings is certain to follow. As important as its findings, the report suggests that serious research on the structure of the Indian media is finally finding its feet. N. Murali, Chairman of the National Readership Studies Council, the parent body of the NRS, pointed out at the NRS 99 release in Mumbai on September 17 that such research has been painfully thin. Until the Advertising Agencies Association of India, the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) and the Indian Newspaper Society revamped the NRS in 1994, there was little reliable data on who read newspapers or how many readers there were. "Research was seen as an expense", says ABC's Gautam Rakshit, "not as an investment."

NRS 95 and NRS 97 laid the foundations for this year's empirical treasure-trove. NRS 99 has several new features, among them sheer scale, spanning 192 newspapers and 265 magazines. Then, the survey has now gone six-monthly, with the next phase of NRS 99 being due by the end of this year. Two further NRS reports will be available by February 2001, enabling better trend analysis. The methodology used in the survey was also more rigorous than in the past, with three agencies, TN Sofre Mode, Indian Market R esearch Bureau (IMRB), and AC Nielsen cross-checking each other's fieldwork. NRS 99 is available on floppies and CD ROMs, and search engines have been developed to enable researchers to disaggregate easily media audiences by their economic status, for ex ample, or their purchasing habits.

It is important that such research be carried out by serious students of the media, and not just agencies whose primary interests lie in the commercial realm. The broad brush strokes of NRS 99 are made up of an enormous mosaic of local-level data, offeri ng insights into the relationship of the media with audiences sharply differentiated along class, linguistic and regional lines. "It's almost as if there are several countries within the country," says the head of NRS 99's Technical Committee, Ketaki Gup te. "The variations are enormous." NRS 99 contains a vast amount of information on just where the Indian mass media is headed. With its signal inclusion of data on the media's rural reach and character, the poverty of empirical material that researchers on the Indian media have long felt is at last starting to be addressed.

Slander campaign

other

The ongoing electioneering is the most abusive and vulgar in the electoral history of independent India ("Slander campaign", September 24). Populism and political expediency now form the bedrock of electoral politics.

In a parliamentary democracy, electioneering provides an opportunity to the political parties to tell voters about their socio-economic and political agenda and motivate them to participate in the task of combating the problems of the country. But politi cians are using this opportunity only to denigrate individual leaders and thus set a bad precedent for the future. The erosion in the political culture is the result of many political parties giving up their ideological commitment. For them, nothing matt ers except the vote.

Sanjai Kumar Hazaribagh, Bihar Nuclear issues

The articles on nuclear issues (September 10 and September 24) are critical or at least highly sceptical of the draft Indian Nuclear Doctrine. Once a country becomes overtly nuclear and decides to target real or potential adversaries, it is assumed that there is a policy that will make it clear under what conditions nuclear weapons will be used. The five nuclear states have readymade pleas to use their weapons.

In "Questions about capabilities" (September 24), you carried a quote from the Chinese about the danger posed to South Asia's stability by India's nuclear doctrine. In what way does the huge Chinese arsenal contribute to peace and stability in East Asia or the world? How did the Chinese formulate their own nuclear doctrine and in what way is their policy more enlightened and thorough than that of India? The very fact that China tested and produced so many bombs is an indication that it has an intention of using them in certain situations.

Varun Shekhar Islington, Canada India and Israel

The article "India, Israel and Arab fears" (September 24) was thought-provoking. It is not surprising that the government run by the Sangh Parivar, which is guided by an anti-Islamic ideology, extended the hand of friendship to Israel. Policymakers of th e day are taking the country closer to Israel, even though India has traditionally supported the Palestinian cause. Seeking Israeli military help will have dreadful consequences for the Indian subcontinent.

Some people may cite the fact of Arab countries having diplomatic relations with Israel to justify India's ties with Israel. But it is undeniable that people in Arab countries are against their governments' policies in this regard. It is also true that m ost Arab nations support India's position on Kashmir. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh has himself commended the role of Saudi Arabia in helping solve the Kargil crisis.

Mehaboob Ali Balganur Sindgi, Karnataka Power and politics

This refers to the article on the Dabhol power project ("Dear power," September 10). One of the election promises made by the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance four years ago was that it would throw the project into the Arabian Sea. But its coalition government gav e the go-ahead to the Dabhol Power Company to set up shop "in the interest of the people of Maharashtra".

The argument floated in favour of the construction of 55 flyovers within a span of two years (a world record, perhaps) in Mumbai city was that the flyovers would help streamline vehicular traffic and thus save over Rs.1,000 crores on fuel. A farsighted p lan indeed! But this gain will be offset by the annual loss the Maharashtra Government is expected to incur in the purchase of power from the DPC at a cost of Rs. 5.50 a unit against the agreed cost of Rs. 2.40.

Rajan Ramarao Mumbai Uranium production

In "Villages and woes" (September 10) it is mentioned that the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has made arrangements to control radon emission, a radioactive gas that is emitted in the process of mining uranium. It has been demonstrated the w orld over that without protective clothing and appropriate masks, which of course are beyond the scope of Indian industry in general, miners are exposed to small quantities of radiation that in course of time will irradiate lung cells. It is estimated th at this results in the death of 50 per cent of people exposed to such radiation. According to Dr. Helen Caldicott, an Australian paediatrician and well-known nuclear activist, this may not happen immediately but after 15 years of the actual period of exp osure.

Technicians who operate x-ray machines wear a lead-lined apron and stand behind a lead screen in order to avoid exposure to radiation. Although the amount of radiation is small in this case, the cumulative effect of regular exposure is harmful and may le ad to cancer in the long run. Doctors from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre surely know this, but then we are dealing with mere tribal people who are voiceless and are considered expendable. These poor citizens of India who live near the tailing ponds a re exposed every day to small doses of radiation. No wonder they suffer from cancer, blindness, sterility and a host of other diseases that are difficult to treat.

The only way to tackle the problem is to bury the wastes in selected areas, using appropriate methods. But, of course, it is expensive and will cut into the profits of UCIL. A much cheaper option is to relocate the tribal people from their homelands, the ir sacred groves, their burial sites and their habitat. To rephrase Mark Twain, all life is sacred in India, except human life.

Dr. Harikumari John Chennai Islam and journalists

There is a dearth of basic knowledge of Islamic beliefs, Islamic terms and Islamic organisations within the general journalistic community. Journalists tend to use the words jihad, ulema and Shariah as derogatory terms. Their information on Islami c organisations is still worse. Even Frontline is not totally immune to it.

In "Arrest of an ISI gang" (September 10) Tabligh-i-Jamaat has been described as a revanchist organisation, implying that it is a politically motivated extremist organisation. The facts are totally the opposite. (This writer is not a member of Tabligh-i- Jamaat.)

Tabligh-i-Jamaat is a non-political organisation aiming to improve the character and spirituality of Muslims through a six-point programme. Those six points are - renewal of the basic creed of Islam, five-times daily prayers, religious knowledge, sinceri ty, respect of other Muslims and spending money/time/life in the way of Allah.

As is clear from this, the agenda of the Tabligh-i-Jamaat consist of the spiritual improvement of Muslims. It is not a political organisation. It even draws criticism from some other Muslim organisations which think that it is too moderate and that it is not doing missionary work among non-Muslims. It is an open organisation and has organised large annual international gatherings, many of them in India. The temporary association of some lumpen elements should not be used as an excuse to tarnish its imag e.

Mohammed Ayub Ali Khan Chicago Ban on smoking

The judgment of the Kerala High Court directing the State Government to enforce Section 278 of the Indian Penal Code to prevent smoking in public places is commendable ("Smokers under siege," September 10). The level of social awareness of the people of Kerala has prevented them from resorting to any agitation against this because prevention of smoking will affect the beedi and cigarette industries.

S. Muthuswamy Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu Pakistan's claim

Pakistan's demand for compensation for the loss of its maritime surveillance aircraft, which was shot down by a MiG-21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force last month ("A confrontation in the Kutch," September 10) cannot be accepted. The Pakistani plane intr uded into Indian air space. If India is to pay compensation for it, then Pakistan will have to compensate India for the losses incurred owing to acts of terrorism abetted by it in Jammu and Kashmir.

N. Vijayaraghavan Chennai Dowry deaths

Parvathi Menon's report "Dowry deaths in Bangalore" (August 27) speak volumes of the neglect of women in this country. It reflects a gradual erosion of our values. This attitude to women also runs counter to the objective of empowering women. Despite leg al safeguards, violence against women has assumed alarming proportions. The question is where exactly we have gone wrong and what must be done to root out this evil.

It is agonising to note that even educated women are victims of this trend. The apathy of the government, the inability of the judiciary to deal firmly with the criminals and the hypocrisy of the police force - all have contributed to the worsening of th e situation.

The situation demands a dispassionate analysis. A mass movement is needed to combat the problem.

Shahnaz Begum Darbhanga, Bihar Plantation workers

This has reference to the article "A bitter harvest" (August 27).

It appears that unfortunately, communication was not established between the author and our management and therefore the article missed the point of view of the management. We would, therefore, wish to focus on the following facts so that your readers ca n get a just and balanced perspective:

1. The various allegations made by J. Hemachandran, president, CITU, Tamil Nadu, against us are totally false. All along, he has not only been an active party in wage negotiations between the Planters' Association of Tamilnadu and various industry unions , but was also a signatory to all the settlements. Having agreed on the wages, he cannot now question the fairness of the wages.

2. In all its 134 years of existence, the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Ltd. has strictly adhered to the provisions of legislative acts including the Plantation Labour Act, 1951. Our workforce is provided with housing, perquisites, retirement benefit s, holidays, free medical care, creches with free food for children, conservancy and sanitation, etc., in conformity with the Act.

3. The photograph published with the article depicts an illegal attachment to the existing housing provided and is not officially allowed. This is why it appears shabby. The management did not remove this illegal extension even though it should have, pur ely on humanitarian considerations.

4. The accusation that workload has increased over the years is baseless. All the daily tasks or specified output are determined by mutual consent on lines similar to other estates.

5. The call for a three-fold increase in wages is unreasonable, unaffordable and uneconomical. Factors such as global competitiveness, free markets and the possible onslaught of low-cost imports from Sri Lanka and Kenya do not allow any further increase in wages. India's plantation industry is one of the most manpower-intensive ones. It will face a bleak future if economics is mixed with politics. The wage levels and welfare benefits provided to plantation workers in Tamil Nadu are superior to those in the rest of the country and amongst the highest in the world.

6. The estate colonies are essentially private housing colonies and not public places. Thus they are bound by rules and regulations of employment and prevailing standing orders. The workers' benefits accrue according to contractual obligations. Under the Plantation Labour Act, there is no provision for making available kitchen gardens and cattle rearing facilities.

7. The annual production of the Singampatti Group is 2 million kg and not 8 million kg as indicated. Likewise, the annual coffee production of this group is between 15,000 and 20,000 kg and not 1 million kg.

Arun C. Vakil Chief of Public Relations and Corporate Communication, The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Limited, Mumbai

Kargil

It is a shame that former Army Commanders such as Lt.-Gen. Moti Dar should be speaking against the very establishment that nurtured them, while glorifying their own era in the service ("The Army leadership has been politicised", August 27).

Will someone please remind the former Vice-Chief of the Army Staff of the intrusion of "Dalunag" when he was a Brigade Major at Kargil (1967-71)? Commanders like him are very much to blame for the state of the Army today. While at the helm, they never to ok any steps to improve the forces. Owing to the self-gratifying life-styles of some senior officers, junior officers lost respect for their seniors. These are the reasons behind the fall in the morale of the armed forces.

It is ridiculous to compare the situation in the valley in 1983 to the present-day situation. There was hardly any insurgency then. The role of the Army has changed in many ways since then. Moti Dar should look back and ask himself: how much of all this did his generation anticipate? And if it did, what did it do about it?

Col. Kadan (retd.) New Delhi Correction

Carnage in eastern Sri Lanka

other

AS September 18 dawned in eastern Sri Lanka, a total of 50 Sinhalese villagers, men, women and children, lay dead. The innocent villagers, residing in a nebulous zone in a linguistically polarised island-nation, were hacked to death in their sleep, repor tedly by members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). An otherwise silent night was shattered by the killing-spree.

Gonagala division of Ampara district, bordering Batticaloa district, bore the brunt of the attack by the LTTE. The hacked remains of 14 persons in Chilaw Bund village were a sad sight. Butchered and chopped, the remains spoke of the intensity of the atta ck by the cadres of the LTTE.

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A dissected palm in front of a pulverised skull was the final act of protection a middle-aged man had desperately sought before he was butchered. In the same room, barely a few feet away lay an overturned cot, under which one could see the body of a boy, perhaps not yet into his teens, 'sleeping' in a pool of blood. Next to him was a severely hacked body of a teenager. Both appeared to have been sleeping on the cot when they were butchered.

Herath Premasiri was the lone survivor of his family. The living room of his house was a veritable morgue. Walking across the blood-splattered floor one came across mutilated and hacked bodies. Twelve hours after the cold-blooded murders the remains awai ted the arrival of judicial authorities with body-tags written out in paper and strapped around their wrists.

Of the 50 villagers hacked to death, 46 hailed from Gonagala. Of these, 14 were children. A total of 31 men and 15 women were done to death. No firearms were reportedly used by the killers as they "preferred the silence of the night" to operate. Two vill agers each were killed from two other hamlets.

While no information is available on the number of attackers, details provided by some of the villagers indicated the presence of women cadres as well. Defence authorities estimate that the number of attackers could have been about 10, going by the magni tude of the deaths. The attackers had apparently arrived from nearby Batticaloa district, parts of which were under LTTE control. Going by previous incidents and the cold-blooded trail left behind, the hand of the Tigers in the killing does not appear to be in doubt.

The immediate provocation for this attack appeared to be an aerial bombing on September 15 by the Sri Lanka Air Force of Puthukudiyiruppu, a Tamil village, killing 22 Tamil people. While the incident was reported by the LTTE and confirmed by the Internat ional Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Sri Lankan defence authorities had denied it. They continue to maintain that the Puthukudiyiruppu bombings were "on selected and positively identified LTTE targets" and say that the ICRC was known to have made mistakes in the past.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, expressing "shock at the massacre", said that the act, committed at a time when the "Government is doing all possible efforts to solve the two-decade-long ethnic crisis in the island, was not acceptable to any civilised s ociety." Assuring the Government's "assistance to the families of the victims," she "called upon political and civil authorities to take all measures to restore normalcy and provide protection for the affected areas."

Deputy Defence Minister Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, who visited the affected areas along with the Army Commander and the Chief of the Air Force, condemned the act as "dastardly" and "carried out by a set of cowards." He said the LTTE was "acting in despera tion" and was "taking revenge" for military setbacks in the Vanni area.

Reacting to the massacre, the Parliamentary leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), Joseph Pararajasingham, did not fail to mention the bombing of Puthukudiyiruppu. While "condemning the murder of innocent civilians" in Ampara, Pararajasingha m in a letter to the President said, "When your Excellency's air force bombed the Puthukudiyiruppu village in Mullaitivu last Wednesday, killing 22 innocent Tamils, your Excellency neither expressed grief nor conveyed your sorrow." This "contrasting beha viour" he said "has gone to reinforce in the minds of the Tamil people that your Excellency too have decided to follow the same communal path of your predecessors."

While much blood has been shed in the decades-long separatist strife, this month's killings were the extreme manifestations of deeper maladies which come in the way of well-intentioned peace-makers and liberal political leaders.

V.S. Sambandan

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Oct 9,2020