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COVER STORY

05-11-1999

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Briefing

Vajpayee again

The Bharatiya Janata Party gets power in New Delhi again, this time along with almost two dozen allies. And there is not a cloud of instability in sight - not at least for now.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party and its 23 allies got off to a brisk start as the counting of votes for the general elections to the 13th Lok Sabha got under way on October 6. By midday it was clear that the BJP had completed an unprecedented sweep of all s even seats in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Observers looking for precedents went back to 1984, when the Congress(I) won all seven seats in Delhi as part of a nation-wide sweep. Other instances were the 1977 Janata Party triumph, which was aga in part of a political wave that brought it an unambiguous majority in the Lok Sabha.

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By evening, though, it seemed more likely that far from sweeping the Lok Sabha polls, the BJP and its allies would only be gaining a slender parliamentary majority. Early results coming from the pivotal State of Uttar Pradesh bore clear evidence of a far more serious erosion of the BJP's position than had been predicted. From the point of view of the BJP, the day must have closed with grim forebodings of another phase of chronic political instability. It seemed the most likely outcome of general electio ns 1999 that the third Vajpayee Ministry would be no more secure than the first two.

Yet by dawn the next day, the situation had once again been transformed, pointing unequivocally towards a robust parliamentary majority for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). What it had lost in U.P., the BJP was more than making good in Bih ar and other parts of the Hindi belt. Till the evening of October 6, the Congress(I) had held the belief that it would retain the position it had taken in the November 1998 Assembly elections in various northern States, and make a breakthrough in Uttar P radesh. The latter half of the wish-list was fulfilled, though on a manifestly partial basis. The first assumption, though, proved thoroughly misdirected.

Apart from its gains in Delhi, the BJP gained ground in Rajasthan and gave little away in Madhya Pradesh. It lost Punjab but swept Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. By the early hours of October 7, the writing on the wall was clear as far as the Congress(I) was concerned - far from emerging as the single largest party, it was headed for its worst-ever performance in elections to the Lok Sabha.

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VERY much more remains to be analysed in the stunning reverses the Congress(I) suffered in the three States it swept as recently as November 1998. Contingent political factors, such as the disgruntlement of the Jats in Rajasthan - a traditional politica l constituency of the Congress(I) - explain some part of the outcome, though not all of it. Organisational failures and a lack of cohesion among the factions in the party have also been responsible for this to some extent, particularly in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. But ultimately, the outcome in these three States can only be interpreted as a verdict on the direct contest between Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi for the prime ministerial post. Between the hoary BJP veteran with close to half a centu ry in public life and the claims of the political novice seeking to invoke public sympathy for the sacrifices her family had made in the past, the electorate seemed quite definitively to favour the former.

There had been an intriguing possibility held out towards the end of the election campaign - that the BJP by itself would end with a lower tally and in consequence become more dependent upon its allies for sustenance. The dramatic results turned in from Andhra Pradesh initially suggested that the possibility was being realised, not to mention the strong showing of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the NDA's senior partner in Tamil Nadu.

These in themselves would not have caused serious concern for the BJP, since the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the DMK are not prone to whimsical political conduct that could endanger the stability of the prospective ruling coalition. The newly unified 's ocialist bloc' under the leadership of George Fernandes was, however, quite a different proposition. The emergence of a new entente between the estranged sections of the Janata Dal had, first, seriously upset the BJP's election preparations in Karnataka. Quite apart from this, there was also the prospect that once the Lok Sabha was constituted, the so-called Janata Dal (United) would be an enduring hazard to governmental stability. These apprehensions were only strengthened by reports that certain senio r leaders of the Janata Dal (United) had conducted secret parleys with elements of the Third Force, to explore means of turning the prospect of an indecisive outcome to mutual advantage.

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THE Janata Dal(United) was also the most top-heavy party in the NDA in terms of leaders with ministerial ambitions. An accretion to its strength would have brought forth a number of demands on the indulgence of its alliance partners. That the NDA turned in a rather dismal performance in Karnataka, with the incumbency disadvantage of the J.H. Patel Ministry being transferred to it in full measure, could in a long-term framework be counted as an asset.

Less certain are the consequences of the rather substantial Janata Dal(United) contingent from Bihar. The senior leaders who have arrived in the BJP camp after voting against the Vajpayee government last April - such as Sharad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan - may have to set aside their ministerial ambitions for the moment. Accommodating them within the Ministry might engender serious misgivings among the BJP's older partners; it would also involve giving the Janata Dal(United) more berths than would be war ranted by its parliamentary strength. Nitish Kumar, though a BJP ally of longer standing, may also want to focus his attentions exclusively on the coming Assembly elections in Bihar. His chief ministerial ambitions have been no secret, but while assignin g berths in his Cabinet Vajpayee would have to acknowledge that the BJP would honour its tacit agreement to reserve the post for him. Bihar has been in part responsible for the NDA's comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha. But it is also the arena where t he NDA is an alliance of equals, where disputes over who should enjoy primacy in a state-level contest are likely to be the most intense.

The Janata Dal(United) remains the most likely source of instability for the new government under Vajpayee. Other partners like Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress pose a different set of problems. Although MamataBanerjee too has her ultimate focus on th e State Assembly elections in West Bengal, her regional ambitions are far more remote in terms of their realisation than those of the Janata Dal(United). Her intention to join the Ministry and secure portfolios of specific interest to West Bengal - such as Railways or Coal - could be accommodated, given some degree of indulgence from other partners in the NDA. But her uncompromising political disposition and reputation for impetuous conduct mean that Vajpayee will continually have to be on guard for the slightest hint of restiveness in that quarter.

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MANY of the BJP's allies see themselves as staunch advocates of various kinds of sectional interests. Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), for instance, is instinctively averse to any measure that could impinge on the fortunes of th e farm sector. He has been upset by the recent hike in high speed diesel prices - taken in line with a policy decision to maintain parity between domestic and global price levels in the case of petroleum products. He is unlikely at this stage to press hi s opposition too far, both because a new government goes through a customary period of heightened public goodwill and because he is dependent on the BJP for his sustenance as Haryana Chief Minister. But the "tough decisions" that Vajpayee warned of immed iately after his election as leader of the NDA parliamentary contingent could cause some strains with INLD.

The DMK and the TDP are both led by pragmatic individuals who are unlikely to dispute seriously the decisions that seem necessary on technical and administrative grounds. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and Murasoli Maran of the DMK wo uld both want to reinforce their image as politicians who are deeply responsive to the philosophy of economic liberalisation. But Chandrababu Naidu, for one, is hamstrung by serious fiscal imbalances in his State's finances. His anxiety to see C. Rangara jan, the economist who occupies the Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad, in the Finance Ministry was partly occasioned by this fact. Failing to win generalised assent for his demand, Chandrababu Naidu then decided not to participate in the Vajpayee government. The d ecision was arrived at after the careful deliberations and consultations that have become part of the TDP's style. The party is likely to ensure, nevertheless, that its nominee continues as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

The prospect of instability is further rendered remote by the arithmetical incoherence in the Opposition ranks. Confounding early expectations, this Lok Sabha will have a rather substantial bloc of unaligned parties. The Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Sama j Party and the Nationalist Congress Party together account for 47 seats. And the Left parties, despite suffering a marginal decline in representation, still number 41 in the Lok Sabha.

Defections from the ranks of the NDA are likely to be deterred by the paltry numbers of the Congress(I) and its allies. And even if any party should make bold to part company with the BJP and team up with the Congress(I), there is little likelihood of th e unaligned parties joining the effort in order to form an alternative government.

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THE Left, for its part, is known to be seriously evaluating the options it has, after acknowledging very early on the sheer irrelevance of any effort to form a non-BJP government. The Communist Party of India(Marxist) went into a meeting of its Polit Bur eau shortly after the results were declared, following which the Central Committee was called into session. In retaining its strength, the CPI(M) has increased its relative influence within the slightly diminished ranks of the Left.

The Communist Party of India, which has been a big loser this time, is known to favour a reassessment of the tactical line that the Left parties overall have adopted since March 1998, when with the exception of the Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Soci alist Party they tilted towards the Congress(I) in an effort to keep the BJP out of power. The CPI also believes that the Left parties erred in April 1999 in endorsing All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Jayalalitha's misconceived effort to p ull down the Vajpayee government and put an alternative formation in its place. All these matters are likely to provide the Left parties food for thought, particularly since the politics of the 'Third Force' has been somewhat resuscitated by the performa nce of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party in U.P..

THE Congress(I) seemed, in the immediate aftermath of the election results, to be too deeply shocked to respond in a sensible manner. Party morale had suffered a perceptible dent on Day One of counting, as the reality of Manmohan Singh's defeat in South Delhi began to sink in. In the scheme of political revival that had been crafted by Congress(I) strategists, the former Finance Minister played the role of standard-bearer. His unique appeal as a competent, enlightened and totally untainted politician wa s expected to give him an easy passage to the Lok Sabha, and subsequently a crucial role in the refurbishment of the Congress(I)'s identity.

Former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh's defeat, according to a senior spokesman of the Congress(I), reflected poorly both on the party's organisational readiness and its level of factional cohesion. At customary meetings with the media, the party's offi cial spokesman, Kapil Sibal, affirmed that appraisals of its entire election strategy would be carried out, particularly with respect to the alliances it concluded in Tamil Nadu and Bihar.

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Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav (left), and Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar (right). Contrary to early expectations, the 13th Lok Sabha will have a rather substantial bloc of unaligned parties.

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It has been a mortifying experience for the Congress(I) to see three members of its top executive body, the Congress Working Committee, being defeated in Delhi. Manmohan Singh, R.K. Dhawan and Meira Kumar are all considered close in their own ways to par ty president Sonia Gandhi. K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy, another member of the CWC and head of the party's disciplinary committee, was defeated at Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh.

Expectedly, the performance of the Congress(I) has given a new impetus to younger elements who have never been convinced of the credibility of the party's top leadership. Expectedly again, there is an effort to protect the party president from any form o f public interrogation. The Congress(I)'s triumph in the Assembly elections in the northern region last year was unequivocally hailed as Sonia Gandhi's. Defeat, though, has no parents. As long as Sonia Gandhi seemed capable of delivering the goods, there was little enforcement of accountability on the coterie that surrounds her and counsels her on every important political matter. Defeat today has changed all that, though the coterie is fighting a desperate rearguard by orchestrating a sequence of resig nations by all the top office-bearers who were involved with planning for these elections.

The spectacle at the Congress(I) headquarters must seem altogether more unseemly since the party's relevance in Indian politics has perhaps received an impetus of an entirely new kind in these elections. Victories in the Assembly elections in Karnataka a nd Arunachal Pradesh, and the prospect of regaining governmental authority in Maharashtra if it follows a course of sensible pragmatism, means that the Congress(I)'s influence in State-level politics is rapidly growing. Together with its three State gove rnments in the northern region - which were elected to five-year terms only last year - the Congress(I) has a much more substantive position in State-level politics than the BJP can aspire to in the near future. This is a prospect that is further underli ned by the waning fortunes of the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh.

It is a new situation for the Congress(I) to enjoy growing authority in the States even as its influence in the Centre fades. It compels a reappraisal of the centralising tendency that has always been a powerful force in the Congress(I). In the process, it would seem that the authority of the Central leadership - which inevitably means the influence of the coterie that surrounds the party president - must yield to a principle of collective or federated leadership.

ON the afternoon of October 11, Atal Behari Vajpayee called on President K.R. Narayanan and secured an invitation to form a new government. After a 13-day venture in 1996 and a 13-month venture beginning March 1998, Vajpayee seems to have developed a par tiality for the number of supposed ill-fortune. His swearing-in as Prime Minister for the third time was scheduled for October 13. He had two days to sort out a multitude of prickly matters involving the disparate parties and individuals in his coalition . Soon afterwards he would have to get down to the substantive issues of policy formulation and governance.

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The possibility of a new round of negotiations under the World Trade Organisation, the appropriate attitude to adopt towards the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan - the number of areas awaiting consensual and purposi ve action is limitless. Overarching above all this is the reality of an economy that is badly out of joint and needs some novel ideas to retrieve it from a headlong plunge towards insolvency.

At the same time, the extremist fringe that the BJP cultivated and nurtured through the years of its ascent to power are unlikely to sit quiet. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has already begun stoking the flames of religious extremism in Gujarat. Its leader G iriraj Kishore has virtually laid out a charter of demands that the Roman Catholic pontiff, John Paul II, would have to meet before he is allowed to visit India in November. Clearly, there are few signals yet that Vajpayee's second tenure as a Prime Mini ster who has secured the confidence of Parliament will be any less turbulent or uneasy than his first.

A challenging assignment

V. VENKATESAN cover-story

THE elections to the 13th Lok Sabha witnessed a massive exercise in mobilising human and material resources and were a stern test of the efficiency and fairness of the Election Commission (E.C.).

The E.C. had the responsibility of completing the election schedule and constituting the new Lok Sabha in time so that it met before October 21. (Under the Constitution, a new House should be constituted no more than six months after the last sitting of the previous Lok Sabha.) Simultaneously, the E.C. held elections to the State Assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim and byelections for a few seats in some other States.

It was a challenging task in many ways, but the E.C. did succeed in conducting the process in a reasonably fair, free and efficient manner. Be it the introduction of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in 46 Lok Sabha constituencies spread over 17 States a nd Union Territories or the speedy dissemination of detailed results on its Web site and the Nicnet, the E.C. showed that it could put to good use appropriate high tech facilities in order to make the electoral process smooth. The results from the consti tuencies where EVMs were deployed were declared a few hours after counting began at 8 a.m. on October 6. Given the excellent communications network that had been put in place, the lead positions in the various constituencies were known across the country by the afternoon of October 6 through television and radio.

The E.C. had on more than one occasion to reckon with the limits placed on its authority by the courts. A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court forced the E.C. to withdraw its ban on the publication of the results of opinion polls and exit polls during a specified time-frame during the election process. In another instance, the Patna High Court restrained it from declaring the result of the Lok Sabha election in Madhepura, where Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Laloo Prasad Yadav faced Janata Dal (Un ited) leader Sharad Yadav. The JD(U) had gone to court claiming that polling in the constituency had not been free and fair and seeking a direction to the E.C. to countermand the elections and order a repoll. The court refused to intervene in the electio n process but asked the E.C. to hear the JD(U)'s complaint before declaring the result. As there was no bar on counting, the E.C. permitted the counting to proceed.

Sharad Yadav complained that the RJD had resorted to large-scale rigging and that paramilitary forces had not been deployed in adequate strength. He went on an "indefinite fast" in Patna in protest against the E.C's refusal to order a repoll. However, Sh arad Yadav changed tack when he learnt that he was leading by a comfortable margin. He presented his case before the E.C. on October 7, but did not ask for a repoll. Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill and Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh permitted t he Returning Officer to declare the results.

The E.C. faced another embarrassment when the Kerala High Court directed on October 4 the E.C. and the Chief Electoral Officer of the State to conduct booth-wise counting of votes in the State. The E.C. had decided that where EVMs were not used, votes wo uld be counted by mixing the ballot papers of the Assembly segments to prevent any intimidation and victimisation of voters by the losing candidates. This procedure was followed in the 1996 and 1998 general elections. The E.C. challenged the High Court' s order in the Supreme Court and obtained a stay on October 5.

THIS was the first time that polling for Lok Sabha elections was held in five phases, spread over a month. The candidates and voters who figured in the earlier phases had a long wait until October 6 for the result in certain pockets. This dampened popula r enthusiasm.

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The E.C. opted for a long-drawn election process in order to give sufficient time for the paramilitary forces to move from one State to another. The demand for larger contingents of paramilitary forces came from the State governments; the E.C., in consul tation with the Union Home Ministry, evolved a plan to meet the demand. Gill told a television channel that the E.C. could hold the next Lok Sabha elections on a single day if the political parties reposed confidence in the ability of the State police fo rces to ensure security on polling day.

There was violence on polling day in some States, including Bihar and northeastern States, such as Tripura and Assam, during the last three phases. Pointing to this, the E.C's critics said that the objective of phasing out the elections had not been achi eved. Gill's response was that tackling insurgency and terrorism was the State's responsibility.

Polling was by and large peaceful in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Most of the violence was seen to be the work of political parties, insurgents and terrorists. Seventeen people (10 in Assam and seven in Tripura) were killed by insurgents on October 3, the last day of polling. Most of the victims were police and paramilitary personnel.

Allegations of rigging came from several places in Bihar; in most cases, the charges were directed at the ruling RJD. Repoll was ordered in booths from where serious complaints were received. The BJP-Janata Dal(U) combine, which made most of the complain ts against the RJD, found, when the results favoured them, that their protest had been an exaggerated response.

The long-drawn election schedule perhaps had an unintended effect on voters who went to the polls in the later phases. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh said that the exit poll results may have influenced the "floating voters" among them in fa vour of the BJP in his State. In some contexts, however, the poll schedule appears to have had little direct impact on the parties' prospects. For instance, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh went to the polls during the last phases but threw up vastly different re sults.

Did the E.C. meet its stated objective for scheduling the elections in September-October rather than immediately after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, as preferred by the BJP and its allies? The E.C. gave the reason that it wanted to complete the revis ion of electoral rolls. However, it cannot claim that the electoral rolls were fully updated and that all eligible voters were duly enrolled. There were many instances of voters, including VVIPs, finding their names missing from the lists. In a few const ituencies in Tamil Nadu, caste Hindus reportedly prevented Dalits from voting.

By hindsight, however, it is clear that the country could not have gone to the polls until July as Kargil war was on. Once the war was over, the E.C. announced the schedule, keeping in mind the time needed to make administrative arrangements.

The monsoon did disrupt campaign and polling arrangements in some areas; polling was postponed in constituencies which were affected by floods - four in Bihar and one each in Assam and Manipur.

All things considered, the E.C. may be said to have passed the test, putting up a creditable performance.

Fractured mandate in Maharashtra

DESPITE the reverses it suffered in the State in the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress(I) has emerged as the single largest party in the Assembly in Maharashtra. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar's image as a major national political f igure, carefully built up and marketed through his years in politics by a friendly Mumbai media, has been shattered by the Assembly results. The NCP's failure to emerge as the stronger force has left Pawar with no option but to secure a suitably packaged deal from the Congress(I). The deal is certainly going to be an unpleasant one for the former Union Minister, for he has few cards to play.

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With the Shiv Sena-BJP combine lobbying energetically to become the first group to be invited to form the new government in Maharashtra, Pawar is at a crossroads. A deal with the Congress(I) would mean accepting the reality of the NCP's status as a junio r partner. Failing to do so, however, holds the even more embarrassing prospect of desertions from his new army.

Shiv Sena-BJP politicians have had little reason for delight in the Assembly results. Despite the break in the Congress(I), the right-wing alliance could gather only 125 seats, well short of a majority in a House of 288. Of these, the Shiv Sena took 69 s eats, down two from its 1995 figure, and the BJP 56, dropping from 80 in the previous Assembly. The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance's performance represented a sharp decline from 1995, when it won 151 seats. The Congress(I), for its part, saw its representation i n the Assembly decline by just five seats, from 80 to 75, despite competition for votes with the NCP, won only 58 seats.

Why did the Shiv Sena-BJP fail to replicate at the Assembly level its success in the Lok Sabha election? Some interesting facts are evident in the preliminary figures. Consider the case of the Ahmednagar Lok Sabha constituency, which the BJP won this tim e in place of the Shiv Sena which took it in 1998. In the 1995 elections, the Shiv Sena-BJP had won all the six Assembly seats that make up the Lok Sabha constituency. This time, despite its overall majority in the Lok Sabha seat, it lost the Shrigoda As sembly seat to the Congress(I) and Shevgaon to the NCP. A third segment, Ahmednagar (North), was taken by an independent. While a disunited Opposition could not wrest the Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat, the depth of local resentment against the Shiv Sena-BJP formation expressed itself sharply at the Assembly level.

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Similar realities expressed themselves in the Mumbai (North-East) Lok Sabha seat, where the BJP's Kirit Somaiya defeated the Congress(I)'s Gurudas Kamat with ease. The Shiv Sena-BJP had won all six Assembly segments here in 1995, but it lost Trombay and Kurla this time around. In 1995, the Shiv Sena-BJP had triumphed in all the six Assembly segments of the Kohlapur Lok Sabha constituency, but this time lost all but one. Clear mandates to the NCP in four segments here meant the party also took the Lok Sa bha seat. By contrast, the NCP took only one Assembly segment of the Sangli Lok Sabha seat this time, while the Congress(I) captured four. Again, the Shiv Sena-BJP could not retain even one of the segments it won in 1995.

Thus, while the NCP-Congress(I) split enabled the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance to hang on to several Lok Sabha seats, public anger against its government ensured that this success could not be replicated in the Assembly elections. Assembly segments were lost e ven where the Shiv Sena-BJP managed to hang on to the Lok Sabha seat, reflecting the general decline in the right-wing alliance's vote share. Although it is too early to work out specific details, it seems probable that a united Congress challenge would have seen the Shiv Sena-BJP decimated in all but a handful of Assembly seats.

Given the fractured mandate, both the major formations in the State now have a shot at power. Broadly, the Shiv Sena-BJP's bid will depend on support from the 12 independents. The previous government of the alliance depended entirely on the backing of in dependents, 33 of whom came to power against a background of large numbers of Congress(I) dissidents fighting the official candidates. This time the situation is different. Feelers have also been sent to the newly elected Ulhasnagar MLA, Suresh 'Pappu' K alani, who allegedly has underworld links. Kalani, after his recent release from jail, set up the Native People's Party.

Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray argues that given the fact that it is a pre-poll alliance, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine should be called first to form a government. Governor P.C. Alexander's response to this argument will take a few days to come, but the nu mbers are clearly not promising in the case of the alliance. By contrast, a possible Congress(I)-NCP front could count on support from two Peasants and Workers Party MLAs, two Samajwadi Party MLAs, and probable outside support from two Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLAs. The two Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs could also follow suit. Several of the 12 independents are known to have some form of affiliation to either the Congress(I) or the NCP. All these make it possible to cobble together a government wi th a thin majority.

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But will a Congress(I)-NCP alliance come about? Although elementary political sense dictates that it ought to, several personality-related obstacles lie in the way. Suresh Kalmadi, who was among Pawar's key associates in the not-too-distant past, demande d that there should be no alliance with the NCP until its leaders apologised for their opposition to Sonia Gandhi's leadership of the Congress(I). At an October 8 press conference Pawar in turn ruled out a rapprochement with the Congress(I) as long as i t was led by Sonia Gandhi. Observers believe that these positions are at least in part polemical postures, a cover for the inevitable hard bargaining over seats and ministerial portfolios.

One possible deal some people within the NCP privately advocate is the appointment of an acceptable Congress(I) figure as Chief Minister, possibly Sushil Kumar Shinde, with representation in the Cabinet for both formations. The real danger is that if the mechanics of such an arrangement take too long to be realised, at least some elements in the NCP could head the Shiv Sena-BJP way. The principal problem with such a deal for Pawar is that it would amount to a public acknowledgement of the fact that the NCP experiment has failed. That, in turn, would only leave him the option of an embarrassing return to the Congress(I), with his authority and influence more than limited when he left the party.

History suggests that Pawar may, indeed, have to engage in precisely this kind of a retreat. The supposed centrepiece of Maharashtra politics, contrary to popular perception, has never led the Congress(I) or any other formation to an outright victory in an Assembly election. In 1978, he became Maharashtra's youngest Chief Minister by breaking the Congress(I) and forming the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF). Two years later, the Congress(I) routed the PDF, taking 186 of the 288 seats. In 1985, despite five years of scandal-ridden Congress(I) rule, which saw five Chief Ministers in as many years, it managed to win 162 seats although the entire Opposition united behind Pawar's Congress(S). Pawar returned to the Congress(I) only to lead it first to a min ority government, in 1990, and then to disaster, in 1995.

Although Pawar has a significant power base of his own, it is far from adequate to secure an unequivocal victory in the State. The creation of the NCP may have come about as an immediate consequence of the frivolous issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin ; however, the development was driven also by the Congress(I)'s lack of inner-party democracy and tactical sense. What lessons both Pawar and the Congress(I) establishment learn from the experience of the 1999 elections could shape Maharashtra politics i n the years to come. The party's one major success in the State, in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, came after the shaping of a broad secular alliance, bringing together the Samajwadi Party and a spectrum of Republican Party of India factions. It ought now to move towards a revival of that alliance, and a healing of its own fissures.

Should the mainstream Congress(I) seek to impose a humiliating surrender on the NCP, it too shall suffer as a consequence. Whether it has the will to open itself up to allow a return of the NCP is, of course, altogether another question.

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THE evening after the results were declared, Maharashtra Pradesh Cong-ress Committee (MPCC) president Prataprao Bhonsale met the Governor to present a letter staking his party's claim to form the government. The letter said the Congress(I) was the single largest party in the State and should therefore be given a chance to prove its majority.

Bhonsale told mediapersons that he expected support from the Janata Dal, the CPI(M), some independents and some members of the PWP. He was, however, non-committal about a tie-up with the NCP, saying that Pawar has "insulted the Congress". Pawar indicated that since the chances of Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister had faded, he was not averse to a tie-up with the Congress(I) in the State.

Former Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde was elected the BJP's leader in the Assembly. On October 9, the Shiv Sena-BJP planned to elect an alliance leader as well as make a representation to the Governor to stake its claim to form the next government. However, these plans were shelved because that day was amavasya, (a day with moonless night), traditionally considered inauspicious. The parties decided to leave the matter of choosing the alliance leader to Bal Thackeray and Atal Behari Vajpayee .

Silent shift

PARVATHI MENON cover-story

THE Congress(I) made a spectacular come-back to power in Karnataka, winning over substantial sections of its traditional vote base which it had lost to the Janata Dal in the 1994 Assembly elections. It won 133 seats in the 224-member Legislative Assembly . The BJP, which had run a very confident campaign despite being saddled with an alliance partner it did not want, won 44 seats, marking a marginal increase over its 1994 tally. Its ally, the Janata Dal (United), was all but wiped out: It won just 19 sea ts, with former Chief Minister J.H. Patel and a large number of his ministerial colleagues defeated by large margins. The Janata Dal (Secular), led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, fared even worse, winning just eight seats. Independent candidat es won 19 seats.

Just as the 1994 elections brought the Janata Dal to power on a massive anti-incumbency wave, these elections have demonstrated the popular rejection of the Janata Dal government. In 1994, the Janata Dal won 115 seats and 33.56 per cent of the vote share , while the Congress(I) won just 36 seats and 27.4 per cent of the vote share. Today their positions stand reversed. The recent split in the Janata Dal, with the section led by J.H. Patel seeking an alliance with the BJP in a desperate attempt to shore up its eroding base, is a factor that had a great impact on the results. The BJP-JD(U) alliance, opportunistic as it was in its timing and motive, was no compensation for a tenure of virtual non-governance, especially in the last two years, by the Janata Dal in power.

The results also demonstrated the rejection of the BJP and its divisive ideology, which it sought to downplay in these elections. The BJP campaign was built around the Kargil and Vajpayee symbols for the Lok Sabha elections and local issues for the Assem bly elections. The losses the party suffered even in constituencies that were considered 'safe' for it (Shimoga, Dharwad, Bangalore South, Mysore and the coastal constituencies) point to an erosion of its base quite independent of that in the case of its ally. The series of communal incidents that occured in small towns in some of these constituencies last year, in which members of the minority community were the victims of attacks by organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar, could well have contrib uted to the alienation of people from the party.

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Added to the poor overall performance by the BJP-JD (U) is the defeat of several prominent leaders of these parties. Among them are those who engineered cynical political alliances, those who did not meet popular expectations as Ministers, and even those , such as State BJP president B.S.Yediyurappa, who obviously held out no promise for the electorate of a constituency he thought would never desert him. Among those who lost were J.H. Patel, who contested from Channagiri in Davangere district: he lost to Vadnal Rajanna, a BJP rebel candidate, by a margin of almost 30,000 votes. The other Cabinet Ministers who lost include K.N. Nage Gowda (Kirugavalu); M.S. Patil (Raichur); G. Basavannappa (Holehunnur); K.M. Krishna Reddy (Chintamani); Anant Nag (Basavan gudi); and M.P. Prakash (Hadagali).

Also among those who lost were former Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of the JD(S) in Chamundeswari constituency in Mysore district; the president of the Karnataka Lok Shakti, Jeevraj Alva, from Jayamahal in Bangalore district; and Deve Gowda's sons, H.D. Revanna and H.D. Kumaraswamy, in Holenarasipur and Satnur Assembly constituencies respectively. For the BJP, the most stunning defeat was that of Yediyurappa in Shikaripura in Shimoga district, and those of senior leaders K.S. Eashwarappa and Premil a Nesargi in Shimoga and Chamarajpet.

Among the prominent persons who won were S.M. Krishna of the Congress(I), from Maddur; former Congress(I) Minister Y.K. Ghorpade (Sandur); P.G.R. Sindhia (Kanakapura) and B.N. Bacche Gowda (Hoskote) of the JD(U); and former Ministers Roshan Baig (Jayama hal) and Ramalinga Reddy (Jayanagar) of the Congress(I). Former Chief Secretary J. Alexander, who had a controversial record in office, won on the Congress(I) ticket from Shantinagar in Bangalore city. Suresh Kumar of the BJP won the Rajajinagar seat.

S.M. Krishna, who was elected leader of the Congress Legislative Party on October 10, paving the way for his choice as Chief Minister, feels that the verdict was a positive one and not merely the consequence of an anti-incumbency wave. He told Frontli ne: "We made capital out of the disastrous rule of the Janata Dal government of J.H. Patel, but I don't think that this played a major role. It was Sonia Gandhi's presence in Karnataka and the unity exhibited by the leadership that enthused our party workers and ensured our victory."

In the last three Assembly elections in Karnataka - 1999, 1994 and 1989 - the anti-incumbency factor was responsible for the decisive nature of the verdicts. In 1989, the Congress(I) won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.79 per cent. The Janata Dal had s plit prior to the elections after one of its periodic bouts of factionalism. Deve Gowda had left the party and joined the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP). The Janata Dal won just 24 seats in 1989 and Deve Gowda lost in both the constituencies he contested, Holenarasipura and Hassan. The present situation is in many ways similar to the one at that time.

The 1999 elections in Karnataka followed the 1989 pattern in another respect as well. The last time the State saw elections to both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly was in 1989, and, as in 1999, the electorate voted overwhelmingly for the same party in bot h elections, and voted against the all-India trend. If the Congress(I) led in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 1989, the voting pattern ran counter to the all-India trend, which was against the party. This time too the verdict in Karnataka is very much at odds with that in the rest of the country which has, by and large, given the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) the mandate to rule at the Centre.

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It is clear that in Karnataka a silent shift of the support base from the constituents of the Janata Dal to the Congress(I) has taken place, and this resulted in a sweep that surprised even the Congress(I). Kargil, the Vajpayee factor, and swadeshi versus videshi talk obviously meant nothing to the voters. People voted with their eyes on local issues, punishing individuals and parties who made promises but did not deliver on them. The voter decided that if a party is not fit to govern the State it is not fit to govern at the Centre.

The shift in the support base from the Janata Dal to the Congress(I), which will be better substantiated as more election data are available, has resulted in a considerable shift in voting patterns in some areas that were considered traditional stronghol ds of the BJP. For example, the Congress(I) has made inroads into the BJP base in the coastal belt, in Shimoga and in Bangalore city. Of the 24 Assembly segments that constitute the three Lok Sabha constituencies of Kanara, Udupi and Mangalore, the Congr ess(I) won 15 seats and the BJP seven. In Shimoga, the Congress(I) won six Assembly seats and the BJP only one. And in Bangalore city (North and South), the Congress(I) won 10 out of 16 Assembly seats whereas the BJP won only four. This happened despite the fact that the Congress(I) did not really run a coherent and well-planned election campaign. The party in fact ran a defensive campaign, which responded to issues raised by the BJP. For the Congress(I), the focus was Bellary, and all senior leaders we re personally involved, at one level or another, in ensuring the victory of party president Sonia Gandhi.

To what extent the alliance of the BJP with the JD(U) transferred the anti-incumbency vote from the BJP kitty to that of the Congress(I) can be fully understood only when the details of the voting patterns are available. The alliance with the JD(U), whic h was forced upon the local BJP unit, came into operation only a day before the last date for the withdrawal of nominations. There was in fact no alliance on the ground. In almost 50 constituencies, BJP and JD(U) candidates fought each other; in a number of constituencies the committed BJP cadre did not work for the non-BJP candidate. Unlike in 1998, when Lok Shakti and BJP leaders conducted a joint campaign, this time there was no such show of unity even at the leadership level. In fact, resentments an d accusations were openly expressed by leaders of the JD(U) and the BJP.

In its post-mortem of these elections, the BJP State unit will surely make the JD(U) the scapegoat for its own unexpectedly poor performance. It has already started to do so. Would the BJP have done better without the alliance, or would it have done even worse? The fact that there has been a significant erosion of its support in its traditional strongholds suggests that the blame for the BJP's losses cannot be laid entirely at the door of the JD(U). Veteran leaders of the BJP were defeated in these elec tions, and the reasons surely go beyond the alliance.

Silent shift

PARVATHI MENON cover-story

THE Congress(I) made a spectacular come-back to power in Karnataka, winning over substantial sections of its traditional vote base which it had lost to the Janata Dal in the 1994 Assembly elections. It won 133 seats in the 224-member Legislative Assembly . The BJP, which had run a very confident campaign despite being saddled with an alliance partner it did not want, won 44 seats, marking a marginal increase over its 1994 tally. Its ally, the Janata Dal (United), was all but wiped out: It won just 19 sea ts, with former Chief Minister J.H. Patel and a large number of his ministerial colleagues defeated by large margins. The Janata Dal (Secular), led by former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, fared even worse, winning just eight seats. Independent candidat es won 19 seats.

Just as the 1994 elections brought the Janata Dal to power on a massive anti-incumbency wave, these elections have demonstrated the popular rejection of the Janata Dal government. In 1994, the Janata Dal won 115 seats and 33.56 per cent of the vote share , while the Congress(I) won just 36 seats and 27.4 per cent of the vote share. Today their positions stand reversed. The recent split in the Janata Dal, with the section led by J.H. Patel seeking an alliance with the BJP in a desperate attempt to shore up its eroding base, is a factor that had a great impact on the results. The BJP-JD(U) alliance, opportunistic as it was in its timing and motive, was no compensation for a tenure of virtual non-governance, especially in the last two years, by the Janata Dal in power.

The results also demonstrated the rejection of the BJP and its divisive ideology, which it sought to downplay in these elections. The BJP campaign was built around the Kargil and Vajpayee symbols for the Lok Sabha elections and local issues for the Assem bly elections. The losses the party suffered even in constituencies that were considered 'safe' for it (Shimoga, Dharwad, Bangalore South, Mysore and the coastal constituencies) point to an erosion of its base quite independent of that in the case of its ally. The series of communal incidents that occured in small towns in some of these constituencies last year, in which members of the minority community were the victims of attacks by organisations belonging to the Sangh Parivar, could well have contrib uted to the alienation of people from the party.

16220291jpg

Added to the poor overall performance by the BJP-JD (U) is the defeat of several prominent leaders of these parties. Among them are those who engineered cynical political alliances, those who did not meet popular expectations as Ministers, and even those , such as State BJP president B.S.Yediyurappa, who obviously held out no promise for the electorate of a constituency he thought would never desert him. Among those who lost were J.H. Patel, who contested from Channagiri in Davangere district: he lost to Vadnal Rajanna, a BJP rebel candidate, by a margin of almost 30,000 votes. The other Cabinet Ministers who lost include K.N. Nage Gowda (Kirugavalu); M.S. Patil (Raichur); G. Basavannappa (Holehunnur); K.M. Krishna Reddy (Chintamani); Anant Nag (Basavan gudi); and M.P. Prakash (Hadagali).

Also among those who lost were former Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah of the JD(S) in Chamundeswari constituency in Mysore district; the president of the Karnataka Lok Shakti, Jeevraj Alva, from Jayamahal in Bangalore district; and Deve Gowda's sons, H.D. Revanna and H.D. Kumaraswamy, in Holenarasipur and Satnur Assembly constituencies respectively. For the BJP, the most stunning defeat was that of Yediyurappa in Shikaripura in Shimoga district, and those of senior leaders K.S. Eashwarappa and Premil a Nesargi in Shimoga and Chamarajpet.

Among the prominent persons who won were S.M. Krishna of the Congress(I), from Maddur; former Congress(I) Minister Y.K. Ghorpade (Sandur); P.G.R. Sindhia (Kanakapura) and B.N. Bacche Gowda (Hoskote) of the JD(U); and former Ministers Roshan Baig (Jayama hal) and Ramalinga Reddy (Jayanagar) of the Congress(I). Former Chief Secretary J. Alexander, who had a controversial record in office, won on the Congress(I) ticket from Shantinagar in Bangalore city. Suresh Kumar of the BJP won the Rajajinagar seat.

S.M. Krishna, who was elected leader of the Congress Legislative Party on October 10, paving the way for his choice as Chief Minister, feels that the verdict was a positive one and not merely the consequence of an anti-incumbency wave. He told Frontli ne: "We made capital out of the disastrous rule of the Janata Dal government of J.H. Patel, but I don't think that this played a major role. It was Sonia Gandhi's presence in Karnataka and the unity exhibited by the leadership that enthused our party workers and ensured our victory."

In the last three Assembly elections in Karnataka - 1999, 1994 and 1989 - the anti-incumbency factor was responsible for the decisive nature of the verdicts. In 1989, the Congress(I) won 178 seats with a vote share of 43.79 per cent. The Janata Dal had s plit prior to the elections after one of its periodic bouts of factionalism. Deve Gowda had left the party and joined the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP). The Janata Dal won just 24 seats in 1989 and Deve Gowda lost in both the constituencies he contested, Holenarasipura and Hassan. The present situation is in many ways similar to the one at that time.

The 1999 elections in Karnataka followed the 1989 pattern in another respect as well. The last time the State saw elections to both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly was in 1989, and, as in 1999, the electorate voted overwhelmingly for the same party in bot h elections, and voted against the all-India trend. If the Congress(I) led in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 1989, the voting pattern ran counter to the all-India trend, which was against the party. This time too the verdict in Karnataka is very much at odds with that in the rest of the country which has, by and large, given the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) the mandate to rule at the Centre.

16220292jpg

It is clear that in Karnataka a silent shift of the support base from the constituents of the Janata Dal to the Congress(I) has taken place, and this resulted in a sweep that surprised even the Congress(I). Kargil, the Vajpayee factor, and swadeshi versus videshi talk obviously meant nothing to the voters. People voted with their eyes on local issues, punishing individuals and parties who made promises but did not deliver on them. The voter decided that if a party is not fit to govern the State it is not fit to govern at the Centre.

The shift in the support base from the Janata Dal to the Congress(I), which will be better substantiated as more election data are available, has resulted in a considerable shift in voting patterns in some areas that were considered traditional stronghol ds of the BJP. For example, the Congress(I) has made inroads into the BJP base in the coastal belt, in Shimoga and in Bangalore city. Of the 24 Assembly segments that constitute the three Lok Sabha constituencies of Kanara, Udupi and Mangalore, the Congr ess(I) won 15 seats and the BJP seven. In Shimoga, the Congress(I) won six Assembly seats and the BJP only one. And in Bangalore city (North and South), the Congress(I) won 10 out of 16 Assembly seats whereas the BJP won only four. This happened despite the fact that the Congress(I) did not really run a coherent and well-planned election campaign. The party in fact ran a defensive campaign, which responded to issues raised by the BJP. For the Congress(I), the focus was Bellary, and all senior leaders we re personally involved, at one level or another, in ensuring the victory of party president Sonia Gandhi.

To what extent the alliance of the BJP with the JD(U) transferred the anti-incumbency vote from the BJP kitty to that of the Congress(I) can be fully understood only when the details of the voting patterns are available. The alliance with the JD(U), whic h was forced upon the local BJP unit, came into operation only a day before the last date for the withdrawal of nominations. There was in fact no alliance on the ground. In almost 50 constituencies, BJP and JD(U) candidates fought each other; in a number of constituencies the committed BJP cadre did not work for the non-BJP candidate. Unlike in 1998, when Lok Shakti and BJP leaders conducted a joint campaign, this time there was no such show of unity even at the leadership level. In fact, resentments an d accusations were openly expressed by leaders of the JD(U) and the BJP.

In its post-mortem of these elections, the BJP State unit will surely make the JD(U) the scapegoat for its own unexpectedly poor performance. It has already started to do so. Would the BJP have done better without the alliance, or would it have done even worse? The fact that there has been a significant erosion of its support in its traditional strongholds suggests that the blame for the BJP's losses cannot be laid entirely at the door of the JD(U). Veteran leaders of the BJP were defeated in these elec tions, and the reasons surely go beyond the alliance.

A clear majority for TDP

DASU KESAVA RAO cover-story

BEATING back a spirited Congress(I) challenge, N. Chandrababu Naidu steered the Telugu Desam Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance to a phenomenal victory in the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh. The combine secured a two-thirds majority in the 294-m ember House.

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Chandrababu Naidu and 30 of his Cabinet Ministers were re-elected. The BJP improved its position, particularly in the Telengana region where it wrested seats from the Congress(I). The BJP held only two seats in the previous Assembly.

The TDP's massive mandate exceeded its own estimate. A seemingly reinvigorated Congress(I), under the leadership of Pradesh Congress(I) Committee chief Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, was widely expected to give a tough fight to or if not defeat the TDP. Favour able opinion poll and exit poll predictions notwithstanding, the success of the TDP was never taken for granted, more so in the context of the hype of near-invincibility built up around the party by the Congress(I) campaign managers.

Significantly, the TDP went to the polls on highlighting its performance in government rather than making attractive promises or by raising emotional issues. If an anti-incumbency factor existed, Chandrababu Naidu seemed to have overcome it.

Chandrababu Naidu sees the mandate as an endorsement of his government's performance in the four years it was in office, and the total support of women voters who responded to his repeated calls at election rallies to vote in good numbers. It is his conv iction that people would reward good governance and credible leadership. With this in mind, he worked almost "18 hours a day, 30 days a month and 365 days a year" right from the time he assumed office on September 1, 1995. He said that the triumph of the TDP only strengthened his resolve to continue the work with greater vigour.

THE Congress(I), which had visions of a grand revival, was shell-shocked, although it improved its presence in the Assembly to 90 from a mere 26 (short of the minimum required for its leader to get recogised as the Leader of the Opposition) in 1994. The PCC(I) chief said that the party would accept the people's verdict, and attributed the defeat to the coming together of the BJP and the TDP.

It was quite a setback for Rajasekhara Reddy and Congress(I) Legis-lature Party leader P. Janardhana Reddy who strengthened the organisation after the party's rout in 1994. The former had firmly set his eyes on the chief ministership. On the eve of the c ounting of votes, Rajasekhara Reddy said that he would embrace political sanyas if the Congress(I) failed to win and challenged the Chief Minister to do likewise. However, he backed out on the promise later on the grounds that Chandrababu Naidu ha d not accepted the challenge. He maintained that he was prepared to give up the party leadership but left the decision to the high command.

The Congress(I) suffered major upsets in several constituencies. Janardhana Reddy lost to K. Vijayarama Rao, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (who contested on the TDP ticket) in the Khairatabad constituency by a slender margin of 5 ,400 votes. Other Congress(I) losers include the legislative party office-bearers Gade. Venkata Reddy (Parchur) and M. Kodanda Reddy (Murshidabad), party spokesmen K. Rosaiah (Tenali), Gali Muddukrishnama Naidu (Puttur) and P. Veeranna (Mahabubnagar). On ly two members of the earlier Chandrababau Naidu Cabinet - Patnam Subbaiah (Palamner) and Padala Aruna (who was fielded from the Bobbili Lok Sabha constituency) - suffered defeat. PCC chief Rajashekara Reddy was elected from the Pulivendla constituency.

The ruling party performed fairly well in the coastal districts of the Andhra region and in Rayalaseema, a traditional stronghold of the Congress(I), but lost ground in the Telengana region where it shared the honours with the Congress(I). Party leaders dismissed the view that by joining hands with the BJP, it had alienated Muslims and other minorities. In fact, TDP nominees were elected in some constituencies with a considerable minority presence. The fact that the TDP's term was generally free of comm unal incidents in Hyderabad stood the party in good stead. (Chandrababu Naidu had made 30 nearly surprise visits to the old city of Hyderabad, which has a predominant Muslim population.) In Hyderabad, the TDP won four seats and the BJP two, whereas the C ongress(I) won only the Afifnagar seat. The TDP candidate polled 1,400 votes fewer than sitting MLA and Majlis Bachao Tehreeq chief Mohd. Amanullah Khan and about 14,000 votes fewer than the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) winner in the Chandrayangutta constituency. In Charminar, the TDP took the second spot behind the MIM while the Congress(I) finished fourth and polled less than half the TDP votes.

The election witnessed setbacks to the Left parties, once trusted allies of Chandrababu Naidu, and the smaller players in the arena such as the NTR-TDP, the Anna-TDP and the Mahajan Front. The Left parties had a combined strength of 33 in the 10th Assemb ly. The majority of the sitting MLAs of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) were defeated. The CPI(M) won two seats and the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) one. The Communists' loss turned out to be the Congress(I)' gain.

The NTR-TDP leader Lakshmi Parvati, was defeated in both Sompeta and Eluru Assembly constituencies; she polled a mere 1,500 votes in the latter. Nandamuri Harikrishna, Anna TDP chief, finished third in the Gudivada Assembly constituency, the seat which w as once held by his father N.T. Rama Rao.

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The Congress(I) levelled several charges of corruption against the Chief Minister and even sought the Governor's permission to launch prosecution proceedings against him. The Left parties had launched an extensive campaign against the World Bank loans th e State obtained on disadvantageous terms.

The Congress(I) promised free power supply to farmers. This had appeared to catch the imagination of the voters, particularly in Telengana. But the Chief Minister countered this by saying that he did not wish the painstaking reforms in the power sector t o be jeopardised for political gains.

CHANDRABABU NAIDU has reason to feel happy about the outcome of the elections. This was the first time that his party faced simultaneous elections to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha under his stewardship. Further, there was no NTR charisma to fetch votes for the party.

His Praja Deevena (people's blessings) call to intellectuals, professionals and non-committed voters to evince interest in the elections as a matter of right had a good response. A case in point was the entry into the electoral fray of Vijayarama Rao and women functionaries of the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) and women college lecturers. (Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of DWCRA groups - about 2.5 lakh - which pooled savings to the tune of Rs.500 crores. Chandrab abu Naidu promoted the DWCRA concept vigorously and covered the group members in the 'Deepam' - free cooking gas to rural poor women - scheme.) Industrialists such as T.G. Venkatesh (Kurnool) and 'Ambica' Krishna (Eluru) picked up seats for the TDP.

The TDP's attempts to portray Rajasekhara Reddy as a faction leader with a criminal record - it described him as having the potential to extend the bomb culture of Rayalaseema to other parts of the State - was given up midway after a bomb exploded in the premises of the Panchayati Raj Minister and TDP candidate for the Narasaraopet Assembly seat, Dr. Kodela Siva Prasada Rao. The TDP's managers reverted to focussing on the party's policies and performance. Siva Prasad Rao won the seat.

With a solid mandate, Chandrababu Naidu plans to be back in the business of furthering the reform process, increasing the pace of development and pursuing the goal of 'Swarnandhrapradesh'.

Dual victory for SDF

KALYAN CHAUDHURI cover-story

THE Sikkim Demo-cratic Front (SDF) was swept back to power in the Himalayan State with a two-thirds majority in the 32-member Assembly. The SDF also won the lone parliamentary seat.

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The SDF's dual victory not only shattered the hopes of Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) chief Nar Bahadur Bhandari to regain power but also reaffirmed the domination of regional forces over a national party, the Congress(I). The Congress(I), which was respo nsible for the State's merger with the Indian Union 24 years ago, has never been elected to power in the State. It ruled Sikkim twice in the past by co-opting a ruling regional party into its fold.

The SDF, led by Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, which contested 31 seats, won 24 seats, and the SSP seven. The country's only non-territorial seat, the Sangha (monasteries), was won by an independent, Palden Lama, who was backed by the SDF. The Cong ress(I) and the SSP contested all the 32 seats. In 1994 the SDF won 19 seats but its tally increased to 25 when it admitted six SSP deserters.

The SDF's Bhim Dahal won the Lok Sabha seat for the third consecutive time by defeating his SSP rival, Satish Chandra Rai, by more than 20,000 votes. The Congress(I) candidate, Somnath Poudyal, got a little more than 9,000 votes.

Chamling was elected from his home constituency of Damthang for the fifth time in a row. However, two of his ministerial colleagues, D.P. Kharel (Health) and Ram Lepcha (Finance), lost to the SSP in the Central Pandam and Pathing constituencies respectiv ely. Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who ruled the State with a iron hand for almost 15 years until 1994, made it to the House from Rhenock, a constituency dominated by upper-caste Nepalis. However, he was defeated in his native Soreng seat by the SDF's R.B. Subba , by 66 votes. His wife and former member of Parliament, Dil Kumari Bhandari, lost to State Tourism Minister Garajaman Gurung in Temi Tarku by more than 1,300 votes. The key Gangtok seat in East district went to the SSP's Narendra Pradhan for a second ti me.

Ethnic issues dominated the election scene. The 2,55,253 voters consisted mainly of the three ethnic communities of Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalis. The SDF enjoys the support of the Other Backward Classes within the majority Nepali community. Nepalis const itute about 72 per cent of the State's population of nearly six lakh (upper castes 26 per cent, OBCs 38 per cent and Scheduled Caste 8 per cent). The remaining 28 per cent comprises of the minority Buddhist Bhutia-Lepcha tribal community and a fraction o f the plains people.

THE results have indicated that the SDF's support base in the rural areas has remained intact. In a bid to win over the Bhutia-Lepcha community, the SDF had demanded that one more seat be reserved for Sikkim in both Houses of Parliament. The SDF had also demanded that Newars, Bahuns and Chhetries, or the NBC, and Jogis, Sanyasis and Thamis be included in the list of OBCs. This helped the SDF garner the electoral support of a sizable section of upper-caste Nepalis, in addition to that of Bhutias and Lepc has, who belong to backward communities. The fact that Chamling himself belongs to the OBC category, which constitutes the largest chunk of the electorate, helped the SDF win the support of voters of those communities.

Chamlings's hold over the Nepalis of Mongoloid origin was seen to be intact as he won all the 16 seats in the South and West districts. On the other hand, Bhandari, an upper-caste Nepali Kshatriya, and his candidates won six out of the 12 seats in the u pper-caste-dominated East district. In the last Assembly elections, the SSP won eight seats in the district. Of the 12 seats reserved for Bhutias and Lepchas, the SDF won 10 and the SSP two. In the previous elections, the SSP had won six reserved seats. The SDF retained the two reserved seats of Reteypani Western Pandam and Khamdons.

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Former Chief Minister Sanchaman Limboo and former Ministers, including Man Bahadur Dahal, Thukchuck Lachungpa and Taraman Rai, who contested on the Congress(I) ticket, were defeated. Former SDF Deputy Chief Minister P.T. Lucksom and former head of the Si kkim Ekta Manch Laxmi Prasad Tewari, who represented the Congress(I), were defeated in Renchinpong and Dentam constituencies respectively.

Unable to win a single seat, the Congress(I)'s game plan failed. The State party leadership was aware of the fact that it would not be able to win a good number of Assembly seats. But it tried to win at least three seats in addition to the four it has in the previous Assembly, in order to be in a position to strike a deal with the SDF or the SSP in the event of a hung Assembly. With the hope of capturing the tribal vote bank in the rural areas, the Congress(I) kicked off its poll campaign immediately af ter the announcement of poll dates by holding a rally in Gangtok.

The Congress(I) ruled the State for five years from 1974. It started losing strength after the 1979 elections. Bhandari quit the Congress(I) and formed the SSP, which was elected to power in 1979. He ruled for three terms, barring a brief break in 1984 w hen the State was under President's Rule. In the 1985 elections the SSP won 29 of the 32 seats. Its performance was astounding in the 1989 elections, when it won all the 32 seats. It was in 1993, a year before another round of Assembly elections was due, that Chamling, a Minister in Bhandari's Cabinet, broke away to form the regional party, the SDF. The party won an absolute majority in the 1994 elections. This time it has come to power with increased strength, marginalising the SSP and decimating the C ongress(I).

Congress(I) sweep

KALYAN CHAUDHURI cover-story

IN a landslide victory, the ruling Congress(I) won the two Lok Sabha seats and 53 seats in the 60-member Legislative Assembly in Arunachal Pradesh, decimating the Arunachal Congress, led by Gegong Apang, former Chief Minister, and once again proving that the people of this hilly northeastern State are opposed to the growth of regional forces.

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The main advantage for the Congress(I) was that the anti-incumbency factor had not come into play as the party came to power only in January this year, replacing the Arunchal Congress government headed by Apang. Four Congress(I) candidates, including Chi ef Minister Mukut Mithi, were elected unopposed.

In the East Arunachal Lok Sabha constituency, two-time winner Wangcha Rajkumar defeated the BJP's Tapir Gao by 41,403 votes. The constituency comprises Rajkumar's home district of Tirap and the five other districts of Changlang, Lohit, Dibang Valley and Upper and East Siang. In Arunachal West, Jarbon Gamlin won by 55,000 votes against Union Minister of State Omak Apang of the Arunachal Congress.

Mukut Mithi's gamble of dissolving the Assembly eight months ahead of the expiry of its term and opting for simultaneous polls paid off. Apang opposed the holding of Assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha elections, saying that the situation was not conducive to free and fair elections. He suggested that the State be put under President's Rule until the time was ripe for Assembly elections. Apang alleged that the outlawed National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang faction), active in Tirap an d Changlang districts bordering Nagaland, had declared that only the Congress(I) would be allowed to contest. The elections were, however, held in a peaceful atmosphere, and the voter turnout was more than 65 per cent.

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Of the 42 candidates fielded for the Assembly by the Arunachal Congress, only Gegong Apang was elected. He contested from his home constituency of Yingkiong in Upper Siang district. He, however, lost from Liromba, a second seat he contested.

The BJP, an ally of the Arunachal Congress, fielded 28 candidates but did not win a single seat. The two parties had reached an understanding on the parliamentary seats but not for the Assembly polls. In 10 constituencies they fielded candidates against each other thereby spliting opposition votes.

The fledgling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar fielded 18 candidates and won four seats.

The election process in this frontier State, which borders China, Myanmar and Bhutan, was a challenge for both the candidates and the poll officials. Candidates had often to trek for miles across jungles to reach remote villages. Twenty-five major tribes and 120 sub-tribes constitute the State's population.

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Arunachal Pradesh is traditionally a Congress(I) stronghold. In the 1995 Assembly elections, the Congress(I) won an overwhelming majority and formed a government with Gegong Apang as Chief Minister. Apang left the party following differences with Prime M inister P.V. Narasimha Rao and formed the Arunachal Congress in September 1996 with the support of 54 MLAs. In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the Arunachal Congress allied itself with the BJP. Omak Apang was elected from Arunachal West and was later induc ted into the A.B. Vajpayee Ministry.

Several leaders of the party, even Apang's close associates, were not happy with the way Gegong Apang pushed for his son's entry into the Ministry, depriving senior leader Wangcha Rajkumar, two-time winner from Arunachal East, of a chance to become a Min ister. Rajkumar was angry, and a revolt followed. Five Ministers, including Mukut Mithi, who stood by Rajkumar, were dropped from the State Cabinet. Shortly thereafter the dissidents led by Mukut Mithi, formed the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) with 40 MLAs on their side. Mithi was installed as Chief Minister in January. In April, the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) merged with the Congress(I), which had only four MLAs, and formed the Congress(I) government.

Mukut Mithi, who has now led the Congress(I) to a resounding victory, said that the main task before him was the overall development of the State, which has hardly any industrial infrastructure. The State's primary problem is communications. "What I want to achieve is a peaceful and prosperous Arunachal with equal opportunities and gainful employment for all," Mithi said.

Tasks of transformation

The centrality of race in the South African system and society remains even under democratic rule, and a real change on this front will evidently take time.

ANY political transition entails both continuity and change. This is so of transitions of the most uncompromisingly revolutionary kind as of those marked by negotiations and deals - not to speak of long-anticipated transitions such as the one from Presid ent Nelson Mandela to President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa.

The completion of a hundred days of the Thabo Mbeki presidency has provided the occasion for many analyses, each trying to discover and delineate the points of departure from the policies laid down in the first five years of democratic government in the country. As always, implicit in such analyses is the conviction that the democratic credentials of the new President, who continues to be portrayed in the liberal English language print media as a secretive and vengeful Africanist, in sharp contrast to t he supposedly benevolent Mandela, are suspect. In this perspective, the jury is still out on Thabo Mbeki. This, despite the fact that throughout the Mandela presidency, Thabo Mbeki was closely involved in every aspect of the crafting and implementation o f the policies of the government and of the African National Congress (ANC).

The fundamental tasks facing the new government remain substantially the same as faced by the first democratic government; and arise out of the same history that the people of South Africa have inherited. In the context of the immediate and urgent needs of the people, these are: reduction in what is oddly described as 'unacceptable levels of crime' - as if there are or ought to be 'acceptable levels of crime', and the related problem of corruption; economic growth and a more equitable distribution of th e results thereof; creation of jobs to mitigate the problem of around 30 per cent unemployment, also causally related to the problem of crime; and service delivery - drinking water, electricity, housing, education, primary healthcare, social services. At a more fundamental level, and less easy to measure either in terms of its nature and magnitude or its implementation is the transformation, meaning the genuine deracialisation of South African society, going beyond the legal dismantling of apartheid law s structures; and the entrenchment of a democratic culture.

While all these are inter-linked, the most serious task is the control of crime. Even for a society and a state long inured to cruelties and horrors, the recent incident in Bez Valley in Johannesburg where a young woman was gang-raped over two days and, further, had her face disfigured by hot iron, presents moral and administrative challenges with which it appears simply unable to cope. Crime, the one activity that has been totally deracialised, touches all, even the seemingly highly-placed and the powe rful. Two Members of Parliament became victims recently. In the first case, the MP was shot in an apparent 'car-jacking' attempt. But he foiled the attempt by shooting back. (It is not uncommon for people to carry a personal weapon.) In the second incide nt, another MP was a victim of car-jacking. Rape and murder, molestation of children, murders on farms, taxi wars, bank heists, unless involving high-profile victims or very large sums and numbers of victims, have long ceased to be news. White-collar and commercial crime involving millions of rands, too, has ceased to be news.

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None of this is new. Nor is the problem in any way related to the onset of the democratic dispensation. However, of late there is a growing perception that the democratic and constitutional order is 'soft on crime'; and that by favouring the criminals it is victimising the victims of crime further. While this perception is widespread among the people, not all of them diehard supporters of the old order, there are other nuances suggesting that some in authority too may share such perceptions. Indeed, the government appears to have been caught in its own rhetoric of taking the hardest line on crime. The new Minister for Safety and Security, admiringly nicknamed by those seeking instant solutions as 'Fix-it' Steve Tshwete, has adopted a 'no-non sense, hands-on' approach (the description is borrowed from media coverage of the Minister's initiatives) and take the war to the criminals. While such determination is welcome, rather more problematic is the apparent attempt to see links between crime a nd vagrancy, or crime and street trading, crime and shacks and other necessarily unattractive features of urban life, reinforcing the worst middle class prejudices.

One such initiative that is foredoomed to fizzle out is the ongoing 'clean-up' of the pavements of Johannesburg that are crowded by hawkers and vendors, to reclaim them for the use of pedestrians. Such exercises are planned for other cities as well. Ther e have been such initiatives earlier, with squatters evicted from lands they had illegally occupied, protesting with futile rage or mutely watching the destruction of their hovels. It is entirely possible that behind such squatters and street traders are organised rackets controlled by criminals. But no one seems to consider whether such zealous initiatives which necessarily involve the destruction of the livelihood of many poor people, forcing them to take to crime and add to the already large number o f criminals, are a realistic option to solve the very real problem of urban decay, especially in the city centres. No one seems even to consider the factors and the motives that initially led to the abandonment of the city centre by business and indu stry.

The approach is integrally related to the broader perspective on economic growth, employment and distribution adopted in mid-1996 - the so-called Gear (Growth, Employment and Redistribution). Although the bitter polemics surrounding Gear between the ANC and its allies in the tripartite alliance, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Cosatu, during the last two years, which were openly manifest both at the ANC's Mafikeng Conference in December 1997 and the SACP's Congress in Johannesburg in June 1998, appear to be now muted, differences on macro-economic policy persist.

The recent strike action by 12 public sector unions, not all of them affiliated to Cosatu, protesting against the government's decision to break off negotiations on the annual demand for inflation-linked wage increases, is only one manifestation of such differences. The unions demanded an average increase of 7.3 per cent (with an additional one per cent for teachers) while the government would not resile from its offer of a 6.3 per cent increase.

However, the dispute goes beyond a difference over a one per cent gap. The government simply could not afford to appear to be climbing down to the unions' demands because of its conviction that only such a hardline attitude towards the unions would reass ure the 'foreign investors' - that amorphous and indefinable community which, despite all evidence to the contrary, is presumed to be anxious to bring in large investments into the country.

Underlying this approach is the conviction that only large foreign investments can ensure Growth, which in turn would generate Employment, which in turn would lead to Redistribution - together forming that near divine triumvirate of the policy anagramat ised as Gear. This is a perspective with which the unions profoundly disagree both out of political conviction and as a matter of experience of what such a perspective has done to the economies of other countries that have followed such prescriptions.

Given its near-total commitment to the orthodoxy of the market, the progressive reduction of fiscal deficit and to the perfectly-balanced budget, it is unlikely that pressures from its allies in the tripartite alliance will lead to any basic changes in t his commitment, though Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has said that Cosatu would throw its weight behind the public sector unions when they launch their strike action in November. Equally, given the logic of the tripartite alliance and the fact that its historic necessity is recognised on all sides, these confrontations, howsoever bitter, are unlikely to lead to the break-up of the alliance. For the government's macro-economic policy is contested not merely by the Communists and the unions; it is an area of contestation within the ANC as well.

Above all is the complex task of transformation. Superficially one sees evidence of transformation all around. Leaving aside Parliament which since it became genuinely representative reflects the ethnic and racial demography of the country, blacks are pr ominently present in many other structures and institutions, though some sectors such as banking, advertising, mining and higher research institutions remain racially exclusive, with an insignificant black presence. The financial papers keep mentioning t he increasing share of black-run companies in the market capitalisation of shares on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Tito Mboweni, is a veteran of the liberation struggle and a former Minister of Labour in the Mandela government. Society pages in the glossies now routinely carry pictures of black, upwardly mobile professionals of both sexes, glowing with good life and mingling with apparent confidence with whites of their ilk. Black economic empowerment i s a shrine at which everyone wants to worship, or at least make a genuflectory gesture. Indeed, the rage now is African Renaissance, an idea and an objective enunciated by Thabo Mbeki and now taken over by others, some genuinely convinced and others simp ly on to a good thing.

AND yet, in the midst of this flowering of black self-confidence and pride and optimism, an incident like the one that occurred at the Tempe military base of 1 SA Battalion near Bloemfontein on September 16 jolts one to the harsh realities of South Afric a. On that day, Lieutenant Sibusiso Madubela of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) shot dead seven of his brother officers and soldiers, as well as a civilian, all white, before he was himself shot dead. Sibusiso Madubela, needless to say, was black. He was part of the component of the Azanian People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, which had been absorbed into the SANDF. Similarly, components of the Umkhonto weSizwe, the ANC's armed wing, have be en absorbed into the SANDF. This process was supposed to be part of the transformation of the old South African Defence Force into the SANDF.

The transformation of the defence forces, given their rigid and ordered culture of discipline and obedience to authority, not to speak of the esprit de corps, should have been a relatively smooth affair. The latest incident and, even more so, its aftermath, shows how difficult and problematic the task is. The soldiers he killed were given military burials unless the family preferred otherwise. Madubela, evidently, could not qualify for such honours even though the PAC and his relatives requested for one.

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However, when the body was taken to Umtata in Eastern Cape for burial, about 40 fellow-soldiers from Tempe, all black, attended the funeral. They had been permitted to do so by the authorities on condition that they did not wear their uniforms and did no t carry weapons. Nevertheless, a salvo of shots was fired there. Present at the funeral was the APLA's former chief of operations, Letlapa Mphahlele, who gave the order for a 'ten shot salute'. Many of those attending the funeral, going by the pictures t hat have appeared in the media, wore their old APLA uniforms. Madubela may have died in the course of committing a crime (which dis-entitled him to a military funeral); but for those who attended the funeral, he was 'a soldier, a hero', one who "offered his life in the struggle against the oppression of the black soldiers in 1 SA Battalion". One of the reports on the funeral quoted a relative of Madubela as saying that she wished he had killed more whites.

It would be facile to dismiss such openly expressed hatred and bitterness as an aberration, related to the peculiar history and political pathology of the PAC. Indeed, political and army leaders have underplayed the all-too-evident racial dimensions to t he incident. While such caution is perhaps necessary, the incident only underlines the complexity of the task of transformation. Rumours and inspired leaks that the officer who had overstayed his leave had 'gone berserk' because his salary had been withh eld, cannot explain the enormity of the outrage. Only less inadequate are other factors recounted by friends and relatives - that Madubela had been frequently ill-treated and marginalised, that he constantly felt diminished as a person and as a soldier b y the dominant culture of the armed forces.

What the incident does show is the centrality of race in South Africa. To argue that this should not be the case 'even five years after the democratic transformation' is to be blind to reality. As in India where decades after caste has been 'abolished' a s a category in collection of census data, it remains a crucial social and economic indicator, so in South Africa where despite the dismantling of apartheid laws, race remains a crucial indicator.

What should really disturb those committed to democratic transformation is not the persistent reality of race as a factor affecting every area of economy and society, or an alleged 're-racialisation' of South African society, but that there seems to be a deliberate shift from the perspective of a genuinely non-racial democratic South Africa, a defining feature of the ideology of the liberation movement, to creeping multi-racialism.

From South Africa, with feeling

world-affairs
R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

SEATED under a life-size painting of Mahatma Gandhi in the Durbar Hall of the State Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, Winnie Madikizela Mandela looked very much the survivor that she is today in her own country.

"We know him as a man wearing the English gown. You remember him in the image of a frail old man wearing a loincloth and holding a walking stick. He is ours, as much as he is yours," the unlikely guest in Kerala during this year's Gandhi Jayanti celebrat ions, was reminding Indians of Mahatma Gandhi.

The setting seemed tailor-made for the South African MP and president of the Women's League of the African National Congress (ANCWL), whose bold and vitriolic leadership had triumphed over years of political and racial harassment, controversy and persona l pain to make her a symbol in her own right in the new South Africa.

"South Africa is as much our homeland as it is yours. But there is very few of you there," she said, speaking at a reception hosted by Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar and his Cabinet colleagues and senior State officials at the Secretariat.

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In many ways, Winnie Mandela's comments during her three-day visit to Kerala last fortnight, her first to India, to inaugurate the Millennium Festival (a four-month educational and cultural programme organised by the Kerala Children's Film Society), were reflections on the role she played in defiance of the apartheid regime, her fall from the heights of popularity to controversy, censure and criticism, and an indication of the role that she was possibly evolving for herself in the new South Africa, afte r her divorce from Nelson Mandela.

Winnie Mandela, who was on one occasion at the centre of a virulent controversy over a speech she made supporting "necklacing" (burning suspected government collaborators to death by putting a blazing tyre around their neck) and arguably the most powerfu l and poignant voice against apartheid during the worst years of the racist regime, said she had no regrets about the violent course the freedom struggle had to take in her country. The South African freedom movement had desired a non-violent transition of power and had great respect for Gandhian principles. But the racist government had tried to deal with it with an iron hand. That was why the country's path to freedom was one of pain and violence. The ANC resorted to violence because peaceful means ha d taken it nowhere. Violence was the only language that the enemy understood, she said.

Speaking at the local Press Club, she said that South Africa was today reeling under the after-effects of apartheid, which had devastated the economy. "Apartheid was a very expensive system to maintain with its need for separate institutions, schools for example. The new government inherited a legacy of extreme poverty and unemployment. The crisis in the gold market also affected South Africa."

While seemingly conceding that she was not in the political mainstream anymore, Winnie Mandela claimed that she continued to represent the voice of millions of black south Africans who are yet to benefit from the country's transition to democracy. Accord ing to her, revolutionary slogans alone could not help the new government bridge the gap between the poor and the rich. "One had to be realistic and practical. The ANC had promised a million homes in five years, free education and health care - but it co uld not deliver because of the state in which the country's economy found itself in." She said that South Africa was therefore inviting multinationals to improve its economy and to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, to create jobs and improve the lot of its people.

According to her, the legacy of apartheid was a big gulf between races of people in her country and there would be racial tension in South Africa for a long time to come. It was not easy for those who enjoyed privileges to relinquish them. But the govern ment today does not discriminate between its people in terms of language, nationality or race. There is no such thing as South African Indians. There are only people of South Africa."

Winnie Mandela spoke with no bitterness but with deep emotion on some of the controversial chapters of her life - the kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Stompie Seipei in the months before Nelson Mandela's release from prison, and her divorce from the President. On the killing of Stompie she said that the truth had been established that a police informer had killed the child in order to tarnish the image of the ANC. She said she was not aware of any other allegation against her other than that she had fought the apartheid regime physically and politically, and she was never going to apologise for that.

Winnie said in answer to a question that she would have very much liked to drop her surname 'Mandela', but that the people of South Africa would not let her to do that. "They want me to drop my maiden name instead," she said. She described her relations with Mandela as "good", even though the patriarchal society of which she was part of made women lose their individuality. Women were overshadowed by their husbands. "It occurred to me that I have to be an individual. The political worker that I am today is not Mandela's creation. I am a product of the struggle against apartheid and the ANC. I would love to be me." She said she still respected Mandela as a leader of the freedom struggle, and he was indeed the symbol of the South African struggle. But it was Mandela who should explain why their divorce had come about, she said.

Addressing separate audiences in Thiruvananthapuram, Winnie Mandela expressed her concern for issues of women's empowerment, crimes against women, unemployment, education, housing and the threat of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) as a conseque nce of the erosion of cultural values. She said that though she was impressed by Kerala's achievements in the matter of empowering women, it was clear that India had a long way to go in this field even after so many years of freedom. She said women all o ver the world faced similar problems.

At the Gandhi Jayanti celebrations organised by the KCFS and Asianet, she told a gathering of children: "Do you know what racism is? Do you know how lucky you are? You have education. You have freedom. In South Africa, the racist government had denied ed ucation to our children. We did not have even the right to sit near a white man. The colour of the skin decided which school you will study in. Children were separated from their mothers. Thousands of mothers were sent to jail. We were not even allowed t o walk freely. Before 1990, I was not even allowed to leave the country. The racists had considered me as their enemy. South Africa's history was rewritten by children who had sacrificed their childhood."

She said she was fulfilling a cherished desire by visiting India for the first time. "When Nelson Mandela was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award, Indira Gandhi had told my friend Fatima Meer how wonderful it would have been if I had come to India to rece ive the award. But I too was a prisoner then and could not get a passport," she said.

Reforms as ideology

India in the Era of Economic Reformsedited by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Ashutosh Varshney and Nirupam Bajpai; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999; pages 312, Rs. 525.

THIS volume is based on the deliberations of a conference on India's economic reforms held at Harvard University in December 1996. While there have been many assessments of the reforms by Indian and foreign scholars during the past few years, practically all of them have concentrated on the economic aspects. This book's attempt to go beyond economics and to relate the reforms to the political processes makes it of special interest.

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For this reason, I shall only briefly comment on the economic issues dealt with in the volume although five of the eight chapters (including the Introduction) are on economic aspects. Montek S. Ahluwalia's chapter making an overall appraisal of the refor ms is quite comprehensive. So is the chapter on fiscal policy by Nirupam Bajpai and Jeffrey Sachs. There is some overlapping in these two chapters dealing primarily with macro-economic aspects. Ashok Kotwal and Bharat Ramaswami consider the impact of the reforms on agriculture and the rural economy. The central argument is that liberalisation of trade can lead to diversification of the rural economy and to an increase in the demand for labour and thus to raising of rural incomes. The chapter on labour g ives an account of the structure of the labour market but relies on the experiences of other countries to speculate on what is likely to happen in India.

The chapter on exports deserves special mention because it deals with three of India's leading export industries - diamond cutting, garments and software. In the case of diamond cutting and polishing, the paper shows how the industry is coming under the grip of the international diamond cartel, De Beers, and its common marketing agency, the Central Selling Organisation that control the supply of gems. India's many small diamond-polishing establishments have to deal with these global giants. Garment expo rts come under the Multi-Fibre Agreement which restricts garment imports by quotas in the U.S., Canadian and West European markets. And the software industry has to reckon with the fact that while its performance has been very satisfactory, its export pe rformance depends on the fact that the skilled labour it requires is much cheaper in India than in the countries it is exporting to, but it is likely to be outdone by Russia and China where skilled labour is even cheaper. These cases show some of the par ameters on which actual market performance depends.

While the papers on the economic facets of reform deal with many aspects (most of them quite familiar by now), some issues that they do not touch may be worth noting. Practically all the papers admit that the proximate background to the reforms was the b alance of payments crisis of 1991. It is shown that the opening up of the economy and the flow of foreign capital that followed resolved the crisis fairly soon, but there is no discussion of the manner in which the external crisis is linked to the intern al reform measures insisted upon, such as the reduction in the fiscal deficit. Second, while it is clearly shown that the reduction in the fiscal deficit when it was achieved was done by drastically reducing the government's capital expenditure, t here is virtually no discussion about the impact of this measure on the development of infrastructure on which market performance critically depends. Third, the papers written before 1996 did not anticipate the industrial recession that set in fairly soo n afterwards, and even Ahluwalia's paper written after 1996 and dealing with statistical material up to 1998-99 does not deal with that problem, a rather uncomfortable one to those who are mainly interested in pushing the reforms.

NOW on the two papers dealing with politics. The late Myron Weiner examines the role of State governments in the implementation of the economic reforms. Overlooking the fact that when the reforms were launched in 1991 it was a decision taken entirely by the central government and that many crucial aspects of reforms were thus suddenly thrust upon the State governments, the author provides three reasons for the tardiness of the States in implementing the reforms. One reason is that State political leader s have short time horizons and in the debate on reforms the short-term drawbacks and losses of reforms get greater attention than the long-term advantages. Secondly, many organised interests opposed to one or other aspect of economic reforms have conside rable clout at the State level. And thirdly, politicians and officials in the States are more reluctant than others to give up the patronage and rents that are acquired through the regulatory system.

What I consider the lead paper in the volume, Ashutosh Varshney's examination of "elite politics" and "mass politics" in the context of economic reforms, deals more elaborately with the role of politics and ideology in the implementation of reforms. The macro aspects of reforms - devaluation of the currency, restructuring of public finance and capital markets, liberalisation of the trade regime and so on - are elitist in nature. According to the author, the discussions on these aspects are "confined to the English language newspapers, the country's graduates, the discourses on the Internet, the Bombay stock market and Delhi's India International Centre and its economic ministries". They hardly enter into mass politics where the issues are either emotio nal ones such as religion, caste and ethnicity or down-to-earth matters such as prices, employment and job security. The issue of economic reforms hardly ever penetrates mass politics.

Varshney is of the view that the peripheral role of reforms in mass politics can go to the advantage of reformers. He uses this observation to explain one of the paradoxes in the recent Indian political scene in relation to economic reforms. How did P. V . Narasimha Rao, heading a minority government, succeed in putting through radical economic reform, while Rajiv Gandhi, with a massive majority in Parliament, was forced to go slow with his modest reform programme? And the answer? "Economic liberalisatio n became a victim of its splendid solitude on the political agenda in 1985-86. In 1991, economic reforms were crowded out of mass politics by issues that aroused greater passion and anxiety about the nation. Because they were crowded out, reforms could g o as far as they did."

It would appear that between the time Varshney wrote his paper for the Harvard conference and became a member of the team that wrote the Introduction to the conference volume, there was something of a change in perception. In the paper the position was t hat where mass politics is concerned with emotive issues, elitist bureaucrats can successfully implement economic reforms; a rather different position is taken in the Introduction. "There has been an absence of ideological thrust in India's reform progra mme, which is arguably one of the causes behind the moderate speed of post -1991 reforms ... Political leaders and parties are implementing reforms, but not making clear ideological arguments in favour of reforms ... Economic reforms are yet to be boldly presented on the ideological platform of political parties. They are yet to be made into the centrepiece of electoral campaigns."

WHAT accounts for this change in perception? It may be recalled that (most of) the papers for the Harvard conference were prepared while the economic reforms of the Narasimha Rao government were making progress, and the Introduction was prepared perhaps early in 1999, by which time there was concern that the reforms were beginning to stall. The cheer leaders of reform, therefore, must adapt themselves to the new reality. They are concerned that in the parliamentary elections of 1996 and 1998 economic re forms did not receive adequate attention and the ideological support they deserve. The Congress party, they say, did not turn its economic policy breakthrough into a theme for electoral campaigns in 1996 and 1998. And the BJP, in spite of its traditional support for freer internal business and trade, also failed to canvass for a more market-driven economy. This theme had become the new slogan for the authors that they boldly state: "In the 1998 election manifestos of the BJP and Congress considerable sp ace was given to economic policy but the electoral battle was over whether Sonia Gandhi, the ace campaigner of the Congress party, was an Italian or an Indian ..."

That Sonia Gandhi played a relatively minor role in the parliamentary elections of 1998 (and that the question of her nationality was not a major issue then) would have made no difference to the argument because the approach of the authors to economic re forms is essentially ideological. They are convinced that a greater role for the market in an economy will lead to more competition, more efficiency and more growth and that these will be beneficial to all, at least in the long run. That the restructurin g of the economy in this manner will adversely affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people, those least likely to be able to face such problems, appears to be of no concern to the authors.

True, they concede that "deeper and quicker reforms in India will require not only assuming, but also demonstrating, that they are positively linked to mass welfare." If they had taken this seriously, though, the themes discussed in the book and the fact s assembled and analysed would have been different. They would have also noticed that the masses are not ignorant of and indifferent to reforms. They would have noticed too that while the masses do not enter into academic discussions about economic refor ms, they do react to how the reforms are being implemented. They would have observed that in the elections to the State Assemblies held in 1994-95 and in the parliamentary elections of 1996 the masses punished the Congress party for the adverse effect th e reforms had on them though the reforms had opened up a richer and more varied life to the elites. And that even the BJP faced the wrath of the masses in the Assembly elections of late 1998 because that party's economic policies had resulted in an excep tionally high price of onions!

The fact is that economic reforms have entered very much into the real politics of India, but perhaps in a manner that elites and ideologues do not approve of because they do not understand the logic and language of the masses.

'Empower gram panchayats'

other

Interview with Arthur Bonner, author and journalist.

Seventy-six-year-old Arthur Sebastian Bonner, who has spent much of his life writing or talking about India, introduces himself as "a self-taught journalist". Bonner started his career in journalism with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) when he was 19, after dropping out from school. Since then he has accumulated vast experience in radio, television and the print media. Over the last five decades, his main interest has been studying social movements and the institution of democracy in the U nited States, India and some other countries.

Bonner, who considers himself a Gandhian, has been a vegetarian since he came to India first in 1953 as a foreign correspondent for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and lived on in the country for eight years. His love for India was so great tha t he decided to return to the country in 1986 after retiring from NBC. Such is his family's bonding with India that one of his two sons (both were born in India) was named Rahul. Rahul is doing research work in Sanskrit.

Recently in Chennai to collect material for his proposed seventh book, to be titled "Deconstructing India", which deals with the changing caste system, Arthur Bonner spoke to Asha Krishnakumar about his perceptions of India over the last five deca des and reminisced about the India of the 1950s. Excerpts from the interview:

What has been the nature of your relationship with India?

I came to India first in 1953 as a radio and television correspondent for CBS. I was always interested in coming to India and I took the first opportunity I got. Unfortunately, I landed here a few years after Gandhiji died but was lucky enough to tour th e country with Jawaharlal Nehru. Being also a photographer, I went with him to cover many important places and events. I was there when (E.M.S.) Namboodiripad was sworn in the first elected Communist Chief Minister of Kerala, and when major dams were com missioned, and Nehru gave the famous speech of how 'Dams are the temples of modern India'. I walked with Vinoba Bhave across the country. That was a truely revealing experience. I saw India first hand, at the grassroots level.

In the 1950s, there were a large number of foreign correspondents in India. Maybe over 20 - six Americans, six Englishmen, a Japanese, Germans, French and so on - practically every nation was represented. This was largely because Nehru was an internation al personality. He was always glad to meet the press.

The 1950s was the period of "Nehruvian consensus". The whole nation was represented in Nehru's Cabinet. It was not a coalition, but all States were well represented. And any Cabinet member could pick up the telephone and speak to Nehru. So too could J.K. Galbraith or Daniel Patrick Moynihan (both were U.S. Ambassadors in India). Nehru was very approachable and scholarly.

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The problem with Nehru was that though he preached secularism and socialism, he never really concretised them. The failure to have a clear policy on many issues, such as on secularism, has led to the problems that India is facing now. Thus, even at that time opinion was divided on Nehru. Some compared him to Stalin while others spoke of him as Charlemagne, the great, brave king of medieval Europe.

I was in India from 1953 to 1961. Then for about a year I worked with a television network in New York and came back to India in 1962 to cover the India-China war for NBC. But the battle was over by the time we went there.

For 20 years I worked for NBC, covering events in the U.S. I also worked as a television producer. I took early retirement when I was 62. At that time I met The New York Times editor A.N. Rosenberg and told him that I would like to be a foreign co rrespondent. He said: "You dare become a foreign correspondent at 62." But I said I would go where nobody else would, to Afghanistan. He said: "We can't send anybody there as we fear they would be killed". But I insisted and he let me go. Then I went to Afghanistan several times between 1984 and 1986, each trip lasting six to seven weeks. I did detailed coverage of how the majority of the people there lived. I also wrote a book, Among the Afghans (Central Asia Book Series; Duke University Press; 1987). This was my second book. (The first was on Evangelism, Jerry McAulay and His Mission, revised in 1990).

I came to India on my own, with my retirement funds, in 1986 to study social movements in different parts. I wandered all over India and studied the emergence, working and significance of the local social movements:

One started by a man, whose name I forget, in a match factory in Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi area. He strived to release, educate and rehabilitate working children;

A movement started by J.P. Ryan to help the fishing community in an Uttar Pradesh village along the Ganga, where, owing to the drastic fall in the catch, women were turning to prostitution to eke out a living;

A movement to rehabilitate tribal people in south Mumbai;

An education movement in a remote, rural Andhra Pradesh village, started by an American, who set up a school with community help. This was really fantastic. Everyone pitched in, each with Rs.5 or Rs.10;

SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association) in Gujarat, which worked for women's development.

Contrary to my expectation, Gandhism was dead in all these places. They all had the spirit of Gandhiji in them - simple living, humility, non-violence and so on - but they denied it. This is because while they liked Gandhiji's humane nature, they did no t like his religious or political approach.

The major factor about Gandhiji, and the thousands of people of his generation who died for the nation in the 1930s and the 1940s, was that they were not politicians who fought on the basis of caste or class, but for principles. I found some of that spir it in these people. So I thought there was some hope. But, then, these people need to be empowered. Grassroots democracy is crucial, especially at a time like this when there is political instability.

My experiences of the social movements in India led to my third book, Averting the Apocalypse: Social Movements in India Today (Duke University Press; 1990). It discusses 30 social movements in India. I concluded the book saying that these experie nces are not widespread but need to be projected on a large scale for them to become broad-based and real.

You came to India in 1986 after a gap of 25 years and have been in touch with the country since then. Do you see many changes?

Certainly. Inequalities - economic and social - among the people have increased and basic infrastructural facilities such as education and health have become inaccessible to most. That is why I feel that India needs more broad-based social movements of t he kinds I described.

I also felt that the idea of euologising India as the biggest democracy in the world was a myth. This concern led me on to edit a book, Democracy in India: A Hollow Shell, along with Kancha Ilaiah and Suranjit Kumar Saha (American University Press ; 1994). This book exposes Indian democracy. It has contributions from Asgar Ali Engineer on secularism and Kancha Ilaiah on the Dalit movement in Hyderabad. There are also articles on RSS' activities in Madhya Pradesh, the growth of the BJP, the growth of the Dalit movement over the years and a comparison of racism in the U.S. and casteism in India. There is also an article on the anti-liquor movement by the women of Andhra Pradesh.

Why do you say democracy is a hollow shell in India?

Because caste masks it. Most people, academics in particular, deny what I believe is the reality. It is caste that determines everything in India. And that is a real bane.

What are you now working on?

I am working on a book that I have named ''Deconstructing India''. India is changing so rapidly, especially in terms of caste hierarchy, that its leadership is unable to keep pace. Democracy is used as a mask by the leaders to cover up many things. They talk about democracy all the time. Democracy in India cannot copy the European system. There has to emerge a democratic structure that is sui-generis - that which suits India.

How would you describe the sui-generis system for India?

That is where I would bring in the role of all the social movements. There is a big difference now. A caste awakening has happened. You can see this in the increasing number of caste clashes in southern Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and in several northern States. Empowering gram panchayats is very important. People should be given the power. Only then would they see to it that everyone goes to school, that teachers get paid. There should be someone people can go to if they do not have drinking water, or a school within one kilometre of their village. So the panchayats should be empowered. It is precisely this that the politicians do not want to do because they do not want to give up their power.

Talking to many people across the board, my perception is that the solution to most of India's problems lies in giving power to the people... to the panchayats. And you need to have women in them. I realised this when I was working on the book, Averti ng the Apocalypse. All the people who spearheaded the social movements were willing to sacrifice their lives. For instance, this woman in Mumbai who was working with the people engaged in charcoal-making had decided not to have a child so that she co uld dedicate her life for these people. These are the people who need to be empowered. This kind of dedication and sacrifice is what I was referring to when I said the spirit of Gandhiji was still alive.

What is the role of the government in these kinds of social movements?

It is important. But I do not know anything about how it works because I have not studied it in any detail. But what I see now is that in Indian villages if people have problems - of drinking water, of schools, of getting minimum wages and so on - they go to the people who spearhead social movements. Politicians are by and large busy with other things - they do not have time for the people. It is their (the politicians') work that some selfless people are doing. This is the change I see in India now.

Would you say that the emergence of these social movements in large numbers is the change you see now?

There were social groups even then. But what I now see is their greater acceptance by intellectuals. They now feel that there need to be panchayats. You may ask when you would see proof of this change. Unfortunately, you have crooks breaking down governm ents (excuse me for using the word 'crooks'). You have a situation in Bihar where the wife is made the Chief Minister. This is not democracy. So, it may take longer than necessary for these kinds of changes (brought about by social movements) to make a d ifference to the common people.

What do you think of the future of India?

I am not really sure. But I think there must be much greater autonomy for the States - never separation, but greater autonomy. This is one of the many errors Nehru committed. There should have been greater autonomy for States such as Punjab, Assam and (J ammu and) Kashmir. But Nehru suppressed all of them. Its price we are paying now. We no longer have people who came from the national freedom movement, but we have those working for a regional cause.

What are your other interests, apart from studying India?

I have worked on many social issues in the U.S. My primary interests have been studying racism, the tribal people and the lives of the downtrodden and vulnerable in general. I have written a book on the history of the Chinese in New York (Alas! What B rought Thee Hither?: The Chinese in New York - 1800-1950; Fairlaigh Dickinson University Press; 1996), which is an examination of racism in the U.S. The Chinese (there) have been tremendously hit by racism.

I am also interested in Mexico. Recently I studied the tribal people of southern Mexico who converted from Catholicism to Protestantism. The plight of the tribal people in Mexico is similar to such people in India - they speak their own languages and are isolated from the mainstream. I studied why they got converted and what difference it made to their lives. Based on this study, I wrote a book, We Will Not Be Stopped: Evangelical Persecution, Catholicism and Zapatismo in Chiapas, Mexico; Upublis h.Com; 1999.

Double-talk on subsidies

BIPLAB DASGUPTA the-nation

The case of agricultural subsidies in global trade negotiations.

ONE of the paradoxes of world trade is that the richest and the most industrialised countries, which enjoy no comparative advantage in agriculture, dominate the world export market for wheat and several other primary products. Given their relative labour situation and natural endowments, one would expect, on purely economic grounds, that they would specialise in the production and export of industrial goods, leaving to the poor agricultural countries the production and export of agricultural goods. But the fact is that despite the high costs of labour and machine, they supply wheat to the world market at a price that is lower than that quoted by Third World exporters.1

The paradox is quite easy to resolve. The rich countries have succeeded in "creating" comparative advantage for their agricultural exports by way of subsidies to their very small number of agriculturists. The subsidy is of such an unimaginable scale that it has turned what is costly and non-viable and should not be produced in developed countries into one of their most lucrative export items. The "cheap" wheat is used both to make agriculture a profitable business for the farmers of the United States an d West Europe and to attain the diplomatic goals of their governments. From the days of PL 480, food diplomacy has been one of the major components of the foreign and defence strategies of the U.S.2 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and De velopment (OECD) countries (taking the European Community, or E.C., the U.S. and others together) account for 80 per cent of the world cereal trade; more than 55 per cent of these cereals are sold to less developed countries.3

While the high subsidy, coupled with rigorous import control and high tariff, helps to explain this paradox - of highly industrialised countries capturing the world agricultural market - this in turn gives rise to yet another paradox. How countries that advocate a "no subsidy" world trade order and pressure poor countries to withdraw agricultural subsidies in all forms - including those given to the Public Distribution System (PDS) and for price support and export - could give subsidy to their own agric ulturists? Again, this paradox can be explained easily: because they dominate the world politically, militarily and economically and frame the rules for world trade in their own interest. These rules allow them to continue, even after the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement, with their own large subsidies, albeit in some diluted form, while the markets of the poor countries are forced open and flooded with subsidised "cheap" wheat exports from the rich countries. Defying economic logic and their own market- based theology, both the U.S. and western Europe, the greatest champions of an open-house policy, continue to protect and subsidise their own agriculture and, by all accounts, will do so for many years to come. "Do what I say, don't do what I do" seems t o be their motto.

How large a subsidy do they give their less-than-10-million agriculturists? Compared with the equivalent of $1 billion that India gives its 600 million agriculturists, the U.S. Government provided farm subsidy to the tune of $32 billion even in 1989 acco rding to one calculation while the corresponding figures for western Europe and Japan were $53 billion and $33 billion.4 The total subsidy given annually by OECD countries to their agricultural producers reached a staggering figure of $240 bil lion.5 One OECD study in the early 1990s estimated production subsidy equivalents (in percentage of producer prices) in 1991 at 66 per cent for Japan, 49 per cent for the countries of the E.C., and 30 per cent for the U.S.6 There ca nnot be the slightest doubt that if such subsidies and import control are withdrawn by the E.C. and the U.S. , the direction of trade would radically change overnight. These markets would be flooded by wheat exports from the Third World. In that changed world scenario, not a single grain of their wheat would be exported, not to speak of their exports dominating the world wheat market. These subsidies have artificially kept world wheat prices at a level that is between 8 per cent and 17 per cent lower th an what would have been the case otherwise, and this has deprived agriculturists in the Third World of their due share from trade.7

The issue of agricultural subsidy, which exposes the double-talk of the rich world more than on any other subject and explodes the myth of world wheat prices being rational and objective, will come up for discussion in the four-day Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Seattle from November 30. According to a 1993 estimate, a reduction by 30 per cent in the average level of protection in the OECD countries would produce a gain of $195 billion for the world economy, which is gre ater than the entire income of the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Of this, about $90 billion would accrue to less developed countries, an amount that is twice the annual quantum of official development assistance given to these countries. Complete abol ition of protection would entail a global welfare gain of $475 billion, according to this estimate.8.

Historically, until the Uruguay Round, U.S. government policy on agriculture had been highly protectionist. It began with the objective of import substitution, which arose from a concern for national security and the consequent urge for self-reliance in food. But this is grossly overdone. In time, the astronomical level of subsidies catapulted the country to its present position as the leading exporter in the world. Along with subsidies, a ridiculously large agricultural administration has come into bei ng in the U.S. It is difficult to believe but true that there is now one bureaucrat for every five farmers and the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture exceeds the net income of all farmers.9

In western Europe, a food-deficit region until the 1970s, the subsidy is given under what is known as the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) of the Common Market, which has been operating since 1962 as a component of an import substitution strategy. Under C AP, high support prices are maintained for major crops, and a variable levy system, which ensures that foreign agricultural goods are always priced higher than their local counterparts, is imposed. Further, export subsidies (referred to as expo rt refunds or restitution) are given to agricultural producers to dispose of their surplus. The massive subsidies, under what is known as the Export Enhancement Programme (EEP), radically transformed the agrarian economy of essentially food-defict Eu rope. In 1970 the E.C. imported agricultural goods but, thanks to the subsidies, by 1980 it was self-sufficient in food, and by 1986 its agricultural exports - cereals, beef, sugar, and dairy products - surpassed those from the U.S.

Naturally, both the U.S. and western Europe were opposed to making agriculture a major item of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations until the Uruguay Round, as their agricultural policies were clearly at variance with known GATT prescriptions. In 1955, in an extraordinary manner, again defying all sense of fair play, the U.S. was given a waiver from normal GATT prescriptions, and this allowed it to continue with high levels of protection for its agriculture.10 In Eur ope's case, the justification for the protection and subsidy was that CAP was an essential element needed to bind its members together and without this Europe would lose its political cohesion.11 So much for the principles of free trade and th e "fundamental" economic principle of unhindered flow of goods and services across international borders.

However, over time, as a consequence of ever-increasing pressure from various lobbies, agricultural subsidies, continued to rise steeply, even faster than what even the richest countries could afford. Sixty to seventy per cent of the E.C's common fund wa s spent on subsidies, leaving lesser and lesser funds for other equally demanding needs. The E.C. budgetary support for agriculture rose from 4.7 billion ecu out of the 6.2-billion ecu overall budget in 1975 to 46.3 billion ecu out of the 58.4 billion bu dget in 1991.12

The level of agricultural subsidies proved too high even for an economic giant like the U.S., particularly when the U.S. budget showed enormous deficits,13 thereby seriously threatening the country's macroeconomic balance. In 1986, U.S. agricu ltural exports slumped to $26 billion, but the government handout to farmers, at $30 billion, exceeded the export earnings. In this situation, one alternative actively promoted by the U.S. government to reduce production prompted by subsidy, ridiculous t hough it may appear in the global context, was to induce farmers to leave the land fallow, for which they were rewarded with subsidy. Thus the farmers were paid not to produce in a desperate bid to reduce the scale of subsidy.14

Once the U.S. Government, facing chronic budget and balance of payment deficits, decided to reduce its own level of subsidy, it was in its own interest to make the rest of the world conform to its policies. This explains the 180-degree turn in the policy of the U.S. on agriculture, its advocacy of lower agricultural subsidies, and its pushing of agriculture as a major item for trade negotiations in the Uruguay Round.

However, the U.S. did not propose complete elimination of producer subsidy in the Uruguay Round discussions; it wanted only the part of subsidy tied to output-increasing incentives to go. The U.S. safety regulations in relation to internal food supply we re not sacrificed. In the Marrakesh Agreement on agriculture, under reduction commitments, members were expected to reduce from 1986-90 levels their budgetary outlay on agricultural subsidies, by 36 per cent and their volume by 21 per cent, over a period of six years. For the less developed countries, a 24 per cent cut in value and a 14 per cent cut in volume in 10 equal annual instalments were ordained. It is important to notice that subsidies were only subjected to proportionate cuts, not to a ny absolute ceiling, or per-agriculturist or per-beneficiary ceiling. Given that subsidy levels were already high in the U.S. and western Europe, even after such percentage reductions, the actual levels of subsidy given to their agriculturists remain ext raordinarily high, compared with those in less developed countries. It will take generations for this to be whittled down to the levels of subsidy in India.15

The very high subsidies given by rich governments were to be cut as a percentage of their steep levels, but, by a suitable manipulation of definition, they managed to take most of their subsidies out of the way of these cuts. This they managed to do by c lassifying subsidies into "goodies" and "baddies", so to say, and made only the "trade-distorting subsidies" illegal. However, what is trade distorting in its effect on production and what is not is a matter of judgment. The rich countries, which frame t he rules, decided that most of their own subsidies had no trade-distorting effect on production and, therefore, were not subjected to cuts. The deficiency payments of the U.S. and compensation payments of the European Union were exempted, a s also a long list of their other subsidy programmes.16

WHILE the provisions in the Marrakesh Agreement are grossly unfair, the attitude of successive Indian governments since 1991 on this question has been despicable and demeaning. In their servile attempt to please the rich countries they have withdrawn mor e subsidy than was necessary. Although no new export subsidy on products is permitted, the GATT-permitted Aggregate Measure of Support (AMS) by the state to its agriculture is calculated in value terms as a global measure and not as specific to products, and is expected to be reduced by 20 per cent in six years, at an aggregate level, allowing flexibility in shifting support between products. Further, a de minimis provision allowed a country to exclude from the AMS calculation any support that di d not exceed 5 per cent of the value of production of that commodity, and for non-product-specific support where it did not exceed 5 per cent of the value of the country's total agricultural production. For the less developed countries, de minimis level was fixed at 10 per cent, and specified agricultural input subsidies were excluded from the AMS.17

For every individual product the Marrakesh Agreement requires a minimum of 15 per cent reduction in tariff, but for the less developed countries the figure is 24 per cent. It also permits special safeguards to allow temporary duties during the six -year period, when sudden movements, above trigger levels, in prices and the volume of imports make that necessary. However, any such subsidies and duties are subjected to a minimum amount of access to be given to foreign competitors - of 3 per cent init ially, rising to 5 per cent in six years.18 These provisions were not used to protect our subsidies, nearly all of which were well within the limits prescribed by the Marrakesh Agreement on Agriculture. The Government of India, however, went o ut of its way to reduce subsidies to levels that were not strictly warranted under the Marrakesh Agreement.

Moreover, the Marrakesh Agreement allows import control for some specific purposes, for example sanitary and phytosanitary measures in order to "protect human, animal or plant life or health". It has been left to the country concerned to work out its own acceptable level of risk, but the controls are to be used on a non-discriminatory basis. In fact the E.U. used this provision to ban the import of hormone-fed beef from the U.S.19 In India's case, rather than the country using this provision favourably, it has been used from time to time by the European countries to impose bans on shrimp exports from India.

The very generous implementation of the GATT subsidy rules in India has adversely affected Indian agriculture and has led to a decline, compared with the figure for 1991 when the reform was initiated, in per capita food availability and in the rate of gr owth of agricultural output. This was despite the very unusual favourable occurrence of 11 successive good monsoons, a significant increase in the flow of capital to agriculture via cooperatives, substantially higher support prices and a highly supportiv e adjustment programme. The main reasons for the poor performance of agriculture were a drastic curtailment in public investment in agricultural infrastructure, and an increase in the prices of potassic and phosphatic fertilizers, following subsidy reduc tion, with a consequent disporportionate increase in the consumption of nitrogenous fertilizers.20 The decline in public sector investment in agriculture and rural infrastructure, particularly in irrigation and power, has not been compensated by a corresponding rise in private investment that was expected by the International Monetary Fund-World Bank establishment. The idea that the public sector was "crowding out" the latter and that the withdrawal of the public sector would create space for the private sector for investment has been completely discredited in India and other poor countries.

Furthermore, despite generous state support since 1991, agricultural exports from India have not made any significant impact either domestically or in the world as a whole. To give an example, according to Fund-Bank theology, if shrimp is tradeable and r ice is not, it would make sense to bring saline water to paddyfields and discard paddy production in favour of export-oriented shrimp farming. However, experience with shrimp production and exports shows how vulnerable it can be to cyclical diseases, to cheaper and better production possibilities in other countries from the point of view of multinational companies (MNCs) controlling agri-business, to periodic bans and the rigorous imposition of hygiene standards, to various trade restrictions that are c haracteristic to developed country economies particularly in the field of agriculture, to the whims and caprices of developed countries' administrators, and to the rise and fall in world demand and supply on which India's indigenous producers have no con trol.

It cannot be that India would allow the free import of subsidised foreign agricultural goods and invite the destruction of domestic agricultural producers who cannot be subsidied, or subsidised to that level, while the rich countries would continue to fo llow protectionist policies in support of their own high-cost producers, accounting for a very high proportion of their public expenditure. There cannot be one set of rules for them because they are rich and powerful and another for those who are poor an d weak.

That the Marrakesh trade rules, now implemented by the WTO in the name of globalisation, have been framed to favour western MNC interests is recognised by the highly researched literature emanating from institutional sources in rich countries themselves. The following is an interesting quote from an important OECD document on technology and globalisation, which was published in 1992.21

"Globalisation represents a new phase in the process of internationalisation and the spread of international production. It refers to a set of emerging conditions in which value and wealth are increasingly being produced and distributed within worldwide corporate networks. Large multinational firms operating in concentrated supply structures are at the hub of these conditions."

As for the consequences, this document states categorically: "The first concerns the marginalisation of developing countries within the globalisation process. The second concerns concentration as a world process and whether a global competition policy is needed and how it might be implemented. The third relates to the problems posed by support given by governments to firms engaged in global competition and the need for new rules and codes of behaviour. The fourth relates to standards and norms in a cont ext of rapid and pervasive technological change, corporate concentration and globalisation."

UNFORTUNATELY, documents such as these are not read by the policy makers in India, or, if read, are immediately swept under the carpet. Subsidies of all kinds - on procurement, the PDS, export, interest on agricultural loans, and so on - are seen by the Indian government as distortions that make production inefficient and misallocate the resources according to optimality rules. According to this view, the prices of inputs, whether fertilizers, water or power or what have you, should fully recover their costs. This new approach is also manifested in the policies adopted in other areas. For instance, the Narasimhan Committee on the financial sector, which recommends doing away with priority area lending and subsidised interest rate and the pruning of no n-profit making branches of banks in remote and backward rural areas. The fiscal policy backs the acquisition of wealth, and hence that of land in the rural areas, and does not favour taxes on these. While the new fiscal policy, based on the recommendati ons of the Raja Chelliah Committee, attempts to widen the tax base, rural wealth tax is not on its agenda. The new industrial policy frowns at the location of industries in backward agricultural areas, and the general policy thrust is opposed to such and other measures that aim at reducing inter-regional disparities.

The GATT opposition to subsidies is based on the view that a project or economic activity should cover its costs and provide returns within a given time-frame. A broad social cost-benefit analysis, recognising the linkages of projects with the rest of th e economy and taking a long-time horizon into account, would go beyond such time-bound and project-bound framework. A subsidy can be treated as an investment for creating viability at a future date, or even as a measure that protects the interests of the future generation or of the environment. Optimality rules deployed by the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, the global trinity that rules the poor countries, to justify their theology hold for full and free global integration, not for the partial and pie cemeal ones noticed in world trade today. If integration is less than total and free, the optimality rules break down. Subsidies can be justified on many grounds, even using the analogy of the functioning of the MNCs and other non-government organisation s that subsidise many of their activities from the profits made from other activities. In many cases such subsidy or short-term loss is in the nature of an investment with a long-term profit goal. For example, foreign insurance companies planning to ente r the Indian market are prepared to make losses for six years before their balance sheet would turn white. A government can take a wider view - for example, that loss-making branches of banks are creating more social benefits than costs despite conventio nal losses, compared to private companies which are motivated only by profit can, by providing an alternative to money sharks, by augmenting agricultural production and thus reducing food imports, by helping to mobilise saving, and by inculcating the sav ing habit.

"Crop insurance" is not an area where any private insurance company, Indian or foreign, would be interested, but the government can go beyond the concern for profitability in the insurance business and subsidise crop insurance in order to stabilise agric ultural earnings and make investment in agriculture less risky and more attractive. Similarly, no private electricity company would be even remotely interested in distributing power to widely diffused rural settlements. This is a task that only a state e nterprise would undertake, maybe at a loss initially, and with a generous subsidy; but if it helps the local economy to bloom, maybe in the long run, it will help make profit. There is also the question of the interests of future generations. A private c ompany motivated only by profit and discounting the present value of future earnings at the current rate of interest, would not see anything beyond 15 years, as the present value of earnings beyond that period would be nearly zero. Only the government ca n protect the interests of future generations and save the environment from degradation that is not discernible at one point of time but accumulates over decades - for example, the depletion of the ozone shield.

This is not to argue for mindless subsidies or controls to keep foreign competition away forever. This is simply to suggest that we do what all countries of the world, rich or poor, large or small, socialist or capitalist, usually do - to examine careful ly cases where such subsidy and control are necessary to augment domestic production and seek self-sufficiency. One should note that the call by the global trinity to abandon self-sufficiency in food and to attain "food security via the global market" ha s been dismissed with contempt by the Japanese, who can buy anything from anywhere at any price, who are determined to maintain food self-sufficiency no matter what the cost is.

One of the first things that the Indian delegation should do in Seattle is to raise at least some of the issues discussed here. The main thrust of its argument should be why the rich countries would be allowed to subsidise their agriculture on such a big scale and continue with rigorous import control on Third World agricultural exports when, going by their own rules based on comparative advantage, agricultural production and export should be left with the poor countries.

Biplab Dasgupta is an economist and a CPI(M) member of the Rajya Sabha.

Structural Adjustment, Global Trade and the New Political Economy of Development

The Changing Role of the United States in the Global Agricultural Trade Regime

Technology and the Economy The U.S. Perspective Agriculture in the Uruguay Round

Fixing the Rules: North South Issues in International Trade and GATT Uruguay Round

The International Grain Trade

Snouts in the Trough: European Farmers, the Common Agricultural Policy and the Public Purse

The Common Agricultural Policy Beyond the Machsherry Reform

Trading Free - the GATT and the U.S. Trade Policy

The Outcome of the Uruguay Round: An Initial Assessment, Geneva

Growth, Employment and Poverty in Rural India: Change and Continuity

AIDS and some concerns

As international agencies pour in funds for AIDS programmes in India, doubts are raised in some quarters about the priorities.

MAHARASHTRA has the highest reported incidence of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) cases among the States of India. As of August 31, 1998, according to the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), 417,844 persons were screened in the State an d 45,864 of them were confirmed sero-positive or infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, and 3,251 had full-blown AIDS. The State also has the only known cases of infection by HIV-II, a mutated form of HIV, of which there are only two other reported cases in South Asia - in Sri Lanka. According to a 1997 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, the estimated number of people infected with HIV in India are 2.5 million.

On September 28, Maharashtra received $41.5 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for an AIDS control project to be implemented by NACO in collaboration with the State government. The project, which will receive the USAID funding over a period of seven years, seeks to increase the use of effective and sustainable means to reduce the rate of transmission and mitigate the impact of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and related infectious diseases in the State.

While NACO will implement the project, many more agencies will be involved in the field work. The donor agencies will work closely with the Maharashtra AIDS Society, the Mumbai District AIDS Society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), private health care providers, municipal authorities and community-based groups. A Health Department official said: "The role of NGOs is crucial because they can operate more freely than government agencies and I admit that they also have better credibility than govern ment medical bodies."

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Pramod Nigudkar, Deputy Director of the Mumbai District AIDS Society, said: "We will be the facilitators and provide both technical and financial support.'' Nigudkar believes that AIDS control is possible only through a multi-sectoral response from socie ty since AIDS has to be treated primarily as a social rather than a medical problem, especially considering the fact that there was no known cure for the syndrome.

There are three known routes by which HIV spreads and the project would look into all three. The commonest route is sexual intercourse, homosexual and heterosexual. A WHO publication has said that the nature of the virus makes women more vulnerable than men to AIDS because the transmission of HIV from male to female is more efficient than from female to male. Women are more vulnerable also because of their low status in society which limits their choices. It has been noticed that persons suffering from STIs were susceptible to HIV infection. In Maharashtra, STIs figured among the top five diseases for which adults sought medical help. The project planned to vigorously target this group.

The second route of HIV transmission is through infected blood and blood products and contaminated needles and syringes, including those used by injecting drug users (IDUs). The rate of HIV transmission is highest in the northeastern States.

The third route is from an infected mother to a child during pregnancy, at birth or after birth. The possibility of HIV transmission at these stages is believed to be 30 per cent. The trend seen in many countries is that the virus spreads quickly to the general population. Women are increasingly infected, and the number of instances of pregnant women passing on the infection to babies has risen. The programme aims to treat pregnant women. This would involve the use of antiretroviral drugs - as yet an ex pensive and controversial method of treatment.

Nigudkar outlined the main target groups of the project as long-distance truck drivers, migrant workers, street youth, commercial sex workers (CSWs) and their children, patients with STIs and IDUs. In essence, the programme will follow the IEC strategy - Information, Education and Communication - propounded about 12 years ago when the first phase of the battle against AIDS in India was taken up with funding from the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAID) and the World Bank. Although the programme projected the goal of AIDS control, it was generally known that the initial seven-year period was one of learning rather than implementation. "Now we will put into practice what we learnt between 1992 and 1999," said Nigudkar.

Government agencies and NGOs agree that the most effective way to control AIDS is to influence sexual behaviour. "The only way we can do this is by educating them and by implementing complementary programmes to ensure the detection and cure of STIs and t uberculosis (TB), safe blood transfusion procedures and safe injecting behaviour," said Nigudkar.

One success story of the IEC approach is the NACO-WHO project implemented at Sonagachi in Calcutta's red light district in 1992 (Frontline, December 29, 1995). The project initiated an STI-HIV intervention programme for CSWs. The baseline survey r evealed a high percentage of women with STIs. A clinic was established in the area. After a year another survey showed that the number of STI cases had dropped by 30 per cent and the awareness on STI and HIV increased by almost 100 per cent.

FOREIGN funding was increasingly becoming a source of controversy in the field of AIDS control and care. Earlier this year the World Bank sanctioned funds totalling $250,000 for the second phase of another all-India AIDS control programme. For the first phase, from 1992 to 1997, the Bank had allotted $84 million. And UNAID is expected to release an as yet unstated amount for the same programme soon.

Many social workers have objected to the estimates on AIDS cases in India. Requesting anonymity, a worker with an organisation that has received foreign funding insisted: "There is no AIDS pandemic. This is just a big scare." Another social worker descri bed the vast foreign funding as "a dollar-driven agenda with the final goal of using people with AIDS in India as guinea pigs for vaccine trials. Just look at the figures these funding agencies throw at us. Four million! Elleven million! It is unrealisti c to put a number on AIDS or HIV-infected cases."

The 1997 UNAIDS Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic and the World Health Organisation said: "In India, infection rates, at under 1 per cent of the total adult population, are still low by the standards of many countries, although it is well over 10 ti mes higher than in neighbouring China. Surveillance is patchy, but all indications are that between 3 and 5 million people in India are living with HIV. Even at the bottom of that range, India is the country with the largest number of HIV-infected people in the world. Testing on pregnant women in Mumbai showed infection rates of around 2.4 per cent in 1996."

On a global scale, the same report estimated that 30.6 million people lived with AIDS at the end of 1997, of whom six million were in South Asia and South-East Asia. The report also said: "Nine out of 10 infected people in the world do not know their HIV status. At current estimates, that would suggest there are over 27 million people in the world today who have no idea that they are infected."

In April this year in New Delhi, the parliamentary Standing Committee on Dreaded Diseases said in its report that one in four HIV-positive persons worlwide is in India.

Another common complaint is that funds should be spent for the control of TB and malaria, diseases for which there are cures rather than spending on what one social worker called "a lost hope". Social workers allege that the figures of TB are inverted an d projected as possible AIDS figures and that the blood samples that are taken into account are largely from people who practised high-risk behaviour, such as CSWs and truck drivers, and the test results projected as being representative of the general p opulation.

Workers spoke of the desperate need to change the attitude of the medical profession towards AIDS patients, both in terms of doctors turning away AIDS-affected people and families being informed of person's status vis-a vis AIDS without the consen t of that person.

Some social workers feel that funding is not sufficiently oriented towards care and relief of AIDS patients. "The need of the moment is relief from AIDS. We have seen women who were thrown out of their homes because their families suspected they had AIDS . People have lost their jobs because of social stigma and fear. What about this segment of people?" asked a social worker who says that hardly any funds have been spent to provide relief to AIDS patients.

Health activists and workers say that any AIDS control programme should extend its reach to encompass safe management of blood and sperm banks, management of hospital waste, precautionary measures in hospitals, availability of drugs, provision of counsel ling and terminal care services and sensitisation of the medical profession.

A complex case

LYLA BAVADAM public-health

THE Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a complex one which rapidly changes its structure. This is a reason why it has been difficult to find a cure or develop a vaccine for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is part of a closely related g roup of viruses known as retroviruses. As the name suggests, this group goes against the natural order of things: instead of following the biological rule in which genetic commandments flow from the master molecule deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to ribonucl eic acid (RNA), retroviruses reverse the process. The effect of the reversal of genetic hierarchy is catastrophic. Simply put, it enables HIV to incapacitate the white blood cells to fight disease.

It is important to distinguish between full-blown AIDS cases and an HIV infection. People infected with HIV may take between seven and ten years to develop AIDS. Other factors such as malnutrition and poor health could speed up the progression of the dis ease.

Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV form a deadly duo with the latter riding piggyback on the passive TB bacterium. The bacterium is supposed to be present in one-third of the world's population but it gets activated only if the immune system is weak. The presence of HIV not only severely affects a TB carrier but results in the mutatation of the bacterium, which becomes resistant to known TB cures. The prevalence of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) is worldwide. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the rate of MDR-TB in India is on the increase, especially in Mumbai where HIV infection rates among TB patients is estimated to be above 40 per cent.

One more upturn?

If at all there has been a turnaround in the economy, it is not because of the successful implementation of the reform programme but because of the failure to implement fiscal stabilisation.

THE Indian economy, it is being argued, is on the mend. The most recent evidence quoted in support of this view is the Central Statistical Organisation's (CSO) estimate of GDP growth during the first quarter (April-June) of 1999-2000. According to the CS O, though agriculture grew at just 2.8 per cent during April-June as compared with the corresponding period of the previous year, robust growth rates in manufacturing (6.2 per cent), construction (6.7 per cent) and various services (7.8 per cent), have h elped raise the overall rate of GDP growth from 3.6 per cent during the first quarter of 1998-99 to 5.5 per cent during the first quarter of financial year 1999-2000. Encouraged by these figures, observers have declared that the Indian economy is witness ing a turnaround.

The CSO's practice of issuing quarterly figures of GDP is, of course, recent. It started with the release of figures for the fourth quarter (January-March) of 1998-99 in June. But at that time, for purposes of comparison, figures for all quarters of fina ncial years 1996-97 to 1998-99 were also issued. Any judgments relating to the first quarter of 1999-2000 must therefore be based on such a comparison. The accompanying chart presents the quarterly rates of GDP growth since the first quarter of 1997-98. As should be clear, after having registered creditable rates of quarterly growth of between 5.8 and 6.9 per cent between April and December 1997, growth slumped to 1.5 per cent in the first quarter (January to March) of calendar year 1998. This was not s o much a consequence of the South-East Asian crisis as it was of a collapse in the rate of agricultural growth. GDP generated in agriculture fell by 7.4 per cent during that quarter. However, as agriculture recovered in the subsequent months, the quarter ly rate of GDP growth rose continuously from a low of 1.5 per cent to 8.4 per cent during the fourth quarter of 1998-99.

Seen in the context of that performance, growth during the most recent quarter for which figures are available is indeed disappointing. The consistent recovery during 1998-99 was in fact reversed during the first quarter of 1999-2000, when growth stood a t 5.5 per cent. The tendency on the part of many commentators to ignore this and focus instead on the fact that growth during April-June 1999 was higher than during the corresponding months of the previous year is indeed surprising.

One reason could be that manufacturing seems particularly buoyant, having notched up a quarterly growth rate of 6.2 per cent. But even this is merely a return to a rate of growth which prevailed a year back after what, on the basis of the CSO's figures, appears to be a minor dip in production. In fact, an indication that all is not well in the manufacturing sector is the trend in non-oil imports, which registered a fall of 4.07 per cent during the first five months (April-August) of the current fiscal year.

Given this background, the tendency to make much of the recent GDP growth figures appears to be a peculiar instance where the oft-discussed "feel good" factor applies not to how economic agents behave but how economic analysts read reality. With the post -reform boom during the years 1993-94, 1994-95 and 1995-96 having petered out, especially in the manufacturing sector, advocates of reform are desperately in search of indicators which can be taken to suggest that liberalisation and reform have indeed de livered their promised results. The current mood, illustrated by periodic surveys of an ostensibly upbeat business leadership whose expectations rarely materialise, seems to be that if you cannot find those indicators you could invent them.

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THE most recent effort based on the CSO's quarterly GDP estimates is, however, the last straw. Making much of those figures is particularly pathetic, given the trends in a range of other variables. For example, though it is eight years since India's econ omic reforms programme began, exports are virtually stagnant. Exports in dollar terms registered a growth of just 4.4 per cent during the first five months of fiscal 1999-2000. While this is an improvement on the negative growth rates reported a few mont hs back, it is still inadequate to provide the stimulus to growth that exports were expected to deliver in the wake of liberalisation. On the other hand, with the reversal in the collapse of international oil prices, India's oil imports rose by 56.5 per cent during these months. Hence, but for the sluggishness in non-oil imports, India's trade and current account deficits would have widened substantially.

It is not just that exports are doing badly. There are indications that foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows, which, rightly or wrongly, were seen as a major trigger for growth in the wake of liberalisation, are also drying up. According to the World Investment Report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in 1998 FDI flows into India fell from $3.35 billion in 1997 to $2.26 billion. More recent figures released by the Reserve Bank of India indicate that during April-June 1999, inflows stood at $454 million. If inflows remain at this level over the rest of the fiscal year, the annual inflow would be around $1.8 billion. These figures compare with India's FDI inflow target of $10 billion a year and an actual inflow of $45 .46 billion into China in 1998, up from $44.23 billion in 1997. All of this has not told on India's reserves position partly because of large remittance inflows and partly because of a growing external debt.

India embarked on an accelerated programme of reform in 1991 in response to a balance of payments crisis. The principal benefit of reform was to be a process of balance of payments adjustment. Such adjustment was to be ensured through an improvement in exports facilitated in part by relocative foreign investment which was expected to use India as a production source for world markets. Eight years later, it is clear that liberalisation has not delivered on that front.

Nor has it for that matter ensured the fiscal adjustment which was the other area of emphasis in the reform programme. Failure on the fiscal front has been the result of tax reductions and concessions associated with reform. To quote the Annual Report of the Reserve Bank of India: "The large shortfall in tax collections during 1998-99 needs to be viewed against a decline of over 1 percentage point in the ratio of the Centre's gross tax revenue to GDP between 1991-92 and 1997-98 (from 10 per cent to 8.9 per cent). Excluding trade taxes, revenue from domestic taxes as a percentage of GDP fell by 0.4 percentage point during this period. This trend has been reinforced in 1998-99, with the overall tax GDP ratio declining further to 8.5 per cent and domestic tax-GDP ratio to 6.0 per cent."

This shrinking tax base has meant that even with modest increases in expenditure the fiscal deficit on the Centre's budget rose to 5.7 per cent of GDP in 1997-98 and 5.9 per cent in 1998-99. Expectations are that this would further rise substantially thi s financial year, partly because of the expenditures associated with the Kargil War. It is this persistence and increase in recent times of the fiscal deficit that accounts for the buoyancy in domestic demand and the growth, however moderate, in manufact uring. Thus, if at all there has been a turnaround in the Indian economy, it is not because of the successful implementation of the reform programme but because of the failure to implement what was considered its crucial plank, namely, fiscal stabilisati on.

But for advocates of reform desperately in search of indicators of success, these details do not matter. Any positive sign, however weak and transient, is swooped upon to defend what now seems the indefensible.

Stifling dissent and debate

Under attack from NGOs for its communal orientation, the BJP seeks to browbeat them and also impose indirect forms of censorship.

EVERY political party has a distinct, characteristic, style which is as important as the substance of what it stands for. Any reasonable description of the Bharatiya Janata Party's style must prominently mention crudeness, brazenness and a certain kind o f daring to do what many would think is unthinkable: the Babri Masjid demolition, the nuclear tests, the wanton attacks on Christians, the telecom scam, the Kargil fiasco, the gutter-level electioneering.... This pattern has been on display in two action s of the BJP-led "caretaker" government. The first is its attempt to restrict and censor scholarly and activist debate. The second is the BJP's vicious attack on a number of civil society organisations (CSOs), which joined or endorsed the Communalism Com bat campaign exposing Hindutva (Frontline, October 8, 1999).

Rather than counter the allegations that were levelled as part of the campaign with facts, the BJP first maligned the signatories, accusing them of (what else?) having taken "foreign money", and then stooped even lower by activating the state machinery a nd getting it to issue notices under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA) to the CSOs concerned. Both the actions display a paranoid, venal, mindset, a mortal fear of criticism, and contempt for elementary norms of democratic functioning.

TO take the second issue first, BJP spokesperson M. Venkaiah Naidu and general secretary Narendra Modi on September 25 launched a vitriolic attack on Communalism Combat and associated CSOs, accusing them of being "anti-national and anti-BJP". Venkaiah Na idu alleged that they were campaigning for the Congress(I) and the Left. Asked how this could make them anti-national, he said they had also criticised the Pokhran-II tests "and this is anti-Indian".... "Naidu clarified that [his] objection was to forei gn funds being used for political propaganda. If they were using their own money they had every right to do whatever they saw fit, but the FCRA prohibited use of foreign funds for political activity''(The Hindu, September 26). Among the organisati ons were some of our best known and most respected women's groups, such as Forum against Oppression of Women, Ankur, Women's Centre, National Alliance of Women's Organisations, Awaaz-e-Niswan, Asmita, Kali for Women, Nirantar, and Shakti Shalini.

Meanwhile, Narendra Modi in Lucknow urged the government to inquire into the matter of the funds received by 13 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from foreign sources and prosecute them for violating FCRA. He claimed that the NGOs had used the funds for propaganda "which amounted to interference in the country's electoral process by foreign money power and constituted a serious threat to its sovereignty". He cited sections of the FCRA which prohibit political donations.

Exactly two days later, with exceptional alacrity, the Foreigners Division of the Home Ministry issued identical notices to the 13 organisations, to Communalism Combat (CC), the Indian Social Institute (ISI), and Voluntary Action Network India (VANI). Th e notices cited Section 5(1) of the FCRA which stipulates that no organisation of a political nature, not being a political party, shall accept any foreign contribution except with the prior permission of the Central Government. The letter said: "It has come to the notice of the Central Government that, in the run up to the ongoing general elections, your association has been associated with the release of certain advertisements in the press and with certain documents the contents of which are in the na ture of comments of a political nature", and then demanded that the CSO concerned show cause why it should not be required "to obtain prior permission of the Central Government before accepting any foreign contribution; and notified as an organisation of a political nature.... under Section 5(1) of the Act."

There could be no clearer circumstantial evidence of collusion between the BJP and the Home Ministry, or rather its misuse by the former. The official letter parrots the BJP functionaries' precise argument and illogic. It too wrongly characterises as "po litics" and "comments of a political nature" the factual charges made in the Communsalism Combat-led advertisements about the BJP's callous, discriminatory, attitudes towards women, its endorsement of sati and dowry and its assault on the minorit ies. The charges were primarily based on quotes from BJP leaders' own past statements.

It can be convincingly argued that the Communalism Combat campaign was a strong defence of the constitutional values of democracy, secularism, pluralism and equality. The right to life and to non-discrimination is a fundamental right of all citizens. The campaign was fully consistent with the fundamental duties of the citizen under Article 51(a), including the duty to promote social and religious harmony and renounce practices derogatory to women.

Such rights cannot be abridged, leave alone violated, by recourse to technical provision of some enactment like the FCRA. There is nothing improper at all about CSOs or NGOs issuing advertisements on broad social issues on which certain political parties have taken a retrograde stand. That is perfectly in order. It is either presumptuous of the Ministry to hold, as does the BJP, that the CSOs concerned were in breach of the FCRA insofar as the advertisements were funded with foreign money, or else, that their content was "political".

Yet, this charge cannot possibly apply to CSOs such as the Indian Social Institute, VANI and the Centre for Women's Development Studies, which were not even signatories to the advertisements released by Communalism Combat, but some of which endorsed the "People's Agenda for the General Elections 1999". Now the People's Agenda too is a critique of the governance under the BJP-led coalition and an appeal to defend cultural plurality and progressive values on the basis of a broad secular-democratic agenda.

Although the show-cause notice only speaks of "certain documents", it does not specify which. Nor does Sanjay Datta, director in the Foreigners' Branch, who has signed all the show-cause notices which are identical to the point of faithfully mis-spelling "contrinbution" and "poilitical". If it is the People's Agenda that the Ministry has in mind, it will be hard put to defend its description as "political" without distorting the meaning of the word and obliterating the distinction between the political and the social.

The CSOs and institutes concerned, including the ISI and P3 women's groups, and Communalism Combat itself, have refuted the Government's tendentious charge-sheet fairly convincingly, denying that foreign funding had a role in the campaign, and showing wh y their defence of women's and minority rights does not constitute "political" activity.

The more fundamental point is this. The BJP and, at its behest, the government, are trying to use the FCRA to browbeat progressive CSOs. They are not only making a false connection between the secular commitment of these organisations and the fact that t hey have clearances under the FCRA to receive contributions. Worse, there is a suggestion that secularism in this country is intimately linked to foreign sources!

The FCRA's rationale could never have been to create an instrument with which to harass social activists. It is the Home Ministry's responsibility to issue FCRA clearances in each individual case. It usually takes a couple of years to scrutinise the appl ication and applicant, inquire into its antecedents and so on. It has no business to turn around suddenly and hound the CSOs just because they have done something the ruling party does not like. However, according to Combat editor Teesta Setalvad, it has recently cancelled FCRA clearances of more than a dozen CSOs.

BEHIND this harassment of CSOs is the deep-seated prejudice that "foreign money" is evil, and that it is causing political and social havoc through religious conversion, especially to Christianity, through the spread of "subversive" ideas. This is danger ously wrong. Foreign contributions to Church-based organisations in India only account for a small fraction of the total. For instance, according to John Dayal, of the United Christian Forum, Church-based groups accounted for a mere 4 per cent of Europea n Union contributions received last year. It is reasonable to assume that a lot more money goes to non-Christian, especially Hindutva-oriented, organisations.

This money is poorly, inadequately, audited. According to scholar Amrita Basu of Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, the VHP-USA, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the United States, remitted about $1.25 billion between 1977 and 1993 to India. That is wh at its records show in the U.S. However, much of this money - which works out to a huge Rs. 5,300 crores - was probably transferred clandestinely. At best only a tiny proportion surfaces in the accounts of the VHP, the BJP and affiliated organisations in India. Their books would be an auditor's delight - or nightmare - as taxman Vishwa Bandhu Gupta has repeatedly discovered. The VHP in India cannot account for a huge proportion of its income. Its books are one vast mess. But there is an attempt to dress them up and remove officials who ask awkward questions.

By contrast, genuine CSOs/NGOs are subjected to relatively rigorous audit on the basis of institutionalised transfers. The funds they receive are not easily-divertible donations, but typically earmarked for specific projects. They have to be accountable to the government, to donors, and to their own members on how they spend their money.

The Sangh Parivar, with all its shady but strong foreign connections, is accountable to no one. The Vajpayee government has turned a blind eye to the Sangh organisations' foreign funding. In the process, it has immensely strengthened the super-hawkish f orces within the Hindutva camp, which feel encouraged to continue to attack the religious minorities and human rights and secular activists.

It is significant that some of India's most radical and committed CSOs have been victimised in the second wave of notices sent out by the Home Ministry. Many of them, like the ISI, the CWDS, Kali, FAOW, Women's Centre, and Communalism Combat, are the gre atest allies of progressive forces fighting for justice and human dignity. They have a superb record of supporting worthy causes. Earlier, many Christian organisations were targeted. According to Dayal, this was a signal to Parivar fanatics that Church-b ased groups are fair game.

FCRA notices are only one method of harassment. Others include police interrogation and virtual stalking of some CSOs in order to dig out information about their contacts and links with other groups. For instance, in recent weeks, Women's Centre and Aksh ara in Mumbai have had numerous instances of queries about and interference in their work by all kinds of unidentified agencies and individuals. At least two women's CSOs in Delhi too have been similarly harassed. Similarly, a Dutch private aid organisat ion has also had persistent inquiries about the "Christian groups" it might fund, as if this were illegal, shady or improper.

This Hindutva campaign against "foreign" funds would have sounded a little less biased and outrageous had the BJP, its cohorts, and its government, had consistent standards. As it happens, they do not. The Vajpayee government could not even countenance n ot being dependent of World Bank and IMF subventions. In the 1990s, the bulk of India's economic policies tended to be written by forces and agencies that represent foreign, indeed big, multinational capital. Attracting foreign capital - the most concent rated expansion of "foreign" funds - is part of the core agenda of India's policy-makers. Indeed, many of India's social programmes have become heavily dependent on foreign aid - for example, those relating to primary education, literacy, drinking water supply and reafforestation.

It is thus thoroughly duplicitous and hypocritical for those who have willingly surrendered economic sovereignty to foreign capital and become dependent on international finance, to be ranting about minuscule amounts of audited, largely project-specific, institutionalised and non-profit oriented fund flows to CSOs. This shows more than a paranoid fear of things foreign. It is a cynical device to try to isolate progressive CSOs in a vindictive manner.

THE same logic has been at work in imposing and tightening totally unreasonable restrictions on who can be invited by institutions, including universities and CSOs, to conferences and seminars. This is essentially a form of censorship and physical curfew on independent scholars. Since the middle of this year, the Home Ministry has been issuing instructions that any voluntary organisation/NGO planning to hold an international meeting/seminar must first get clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), from the nodal Ministry dealing with the issue, and finally itself. Only then will the names of the participants be forwarded to the Indian embassies in the countries concerned. It is only after following this process that the participants can get their visas.

Strangely, the MEA has no basis on which to screen any application for such clearance. Nor are there written guidelines. When VANI took up the issue with the MEA, it was told by Under Secretary Manmohan Singh that "the instructions regarding foreigners a ttending seminars etc. are formulated by the Ministry of Home Affairs" and that the MEA "merely complies" with them.

Demanding prior approval is a method typical of the crafty, devious, bureaucrat: delay clearances until they become infructuous and thus victimise the CSO whose face you do not like or who is independent-minded. This is exactly what happened to a number of prospective participants in at least three recent civil society conferences. Indian embassies refused to grant them visas and they were told that "all conferences to do with the voluntary sector and which appear to be government/politically sensitive have to get clearance for participants from abroad."

Similar restrictive conditions are increasingly being applied to universities organising seminars, and to teachers who might be invited to conferences abroad. This is dangerous. Such restrictions are an assault on academic freedom, on genuine debate and critical inquiry. They must be stoutly resisted.

What the BJP regime is doing is turning India into an even more authoritarian replica of Pakistan, where too university professors must get a no-objection certificate from various authorities before they can go abroad. Indeed, they cannot board an aircra ft without the NOC. This shameful form of high-handedness and anti-democratic regulation is calculated to stifle dissent and intimidate secular scholars and activists in an Emergency-type operation. The government must be forced to retrace its steps.

The meaning of George Fernandes

A critique of the man and the Minister.

A COLLEAGUE in his Samata Party, Jaya Jaitley, said before the votes were counted, that George Fernandes does not aspire to be Prime Minister of India. That comment tells us a lot about him and, incidentally, about Jaitley herself. It is astonishing that such a thought should have crossed their fevered minds at all. In the entire front rank of public figures today, there is not one person who is more discredited than he as a politician, a Minister and as a person. He has been ideologically fickle, polit ically unreliable and a disaster as Defence Minister.

Two constants, however, stand out - unbounded ambition unmatched by aptitude and exhibitionism in the service of opportunism. No one can tell what he stands for. Why did he demand peremptorily of Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee, at the swearing-in o f his Ministers on March 19, 1998, the Defence portfolio and not Labour, having flourished as a trade unionist all his chequered life? Why did this noisy champion of the downtrodden and the deprived, this denouncer of economic and social inequalities, ad opt silence on these themes and prefer to exercise his lungs on matters of national security on which he had kept his expertise so well concealed all these years?

The Samata Party's election manifestoes of 1996 and 1998 provide a clue. The 1996 document had two pages on "foreign policy". It rejected the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but said "the country will keep her options open" - not exercise it.

Also, the "party firmly rejects the theory of dominance and deterrence" (emphasis added, throughout). Both formulations were repeated in 1998. Even a few weeks before Pokhran-II, there was no pledge to acquire nuclear weaponry. The concept of "det errence" was lumped with "the theory (sic) of dominance" for a joint burial. Both manifestoes urged the "active involvement of India in international movements to ban research and development in the weapons industry."

But an altogether new section on "national security" was added in 1998. It began with an attack on all previous governments "irrespective of the parties that led them, to put national security on their high priority agenda." This, a favourite refrain, is repeated at the beginning of the Foreword he wrote (on December 17, 1998) to the Penguin reprint of D. R. Mankekar's book The Guilty Men of 1962: "National security and defence of our territory have not been priority items on the agenda of India' s governments, starting with that of Jawaharlal Nehru's."

The 1998 manifesto of his party proceeded to dilate on China's "threat" to India and its liaison with "Burma" (sic). The old nomenclature was used three times. It said: "By refusing to take up the cause of the Bhutanese people who are agitating through p eaceful means to establish a democratic polity with a constitutional monarchy in Bhutan, India is further weakening its defences in its northern frontiers." Fernandes' recipe, if adopted by the Government, would understandably annoy the King of Bh utan, impair India's existing close relations with that country and weaken India's defences in a strategically important region. The sheer arrogance of this simplistic, ignorant plea is amazing.

It is a man with such an outlook and intellectual equipment to whom Vajpayee entrusted the Defence portfolio. The results are there for all to see. Fernandes single-handedly damaged India's friendly relations with China. It took a year to repair the dama ge. He politicised sections of the armed forces, wiped out a decade's record of progress on the Siachen issue with Pakistan, undermined the morale of the entire armed forces by sacking the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, and acted with egregious incompetence in the Kargil crisis. Consistent prevarication provided constant company to an unsteady and destructive hand. It is grossly unjust to compare him with an ill-starred predecessor. For all his flaws V. K. Krishna Menon was an educate d man. More, till the very end, he remained true to his ideological beliefs. Fernandes is pitiably ignorant and fickle in his ideological commitments.

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"The demolition of the Babri Masjid and the events that followed it have created conditions which threaten to strike at the very basis of our nationhood," the 1996 manifesto of the Samata Party declared. These strong words were not followed by denunciati on of the perpetrators of the crime but by the plea: "The political leadership must encourage the two communities involved to find an amicable solution to all outstanding issues in a manner acceptable to all and in keeping with the dignity and self-respe ct of each community." The formulation was repeated in 1998. The evenhandedness is spurious. In effect it urges condonation of the crime of 1992.

BY 1996, Fernandes had become an open ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party after a phase of tacit liaison. The cover was blown in 1993. As Christophe Jaffrelot records in his classic The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (page 472), on July 29, 19 93, the P. V. Narasimha Rao Government introduced the Constitution '80th Amendment' Bill, along with a Bill to amend the election law, designed to delink religion from politics. "George Fernandes (Janata Dal), in a dissenting note to the Joint Committee Report, objected that no change in the law was needed; rather, a political response to the challenge of communalism had to be worked out" - presumably the kind of response enunciated in his manifestoes. Elections in India 1952-96 by J. C. Aggarwal and N. K. Chowdhry (Shipra; 1996; page 71) mentioned Fernandes as a "prime-mover" for the BJP-Samata pact, but added that Jaya Jaitley "has also been involved in bringing Fernandes close to the BJP. Quite a turnaround anyhow."

Against this background, none should be surprised at the improprieties which Praveen Swami records in his book The Kargil War (Leftword Books; 1999). He writes: "The rise of the Hindu right to power was anticipated by the systematic infiltration o f the highest levels of the Army apparatus. While the bulk of the Army leadership remains avowedly apolitical, the BJP has made methodical efforts to subvert this tradition, dragging a section of senior officers on to expressly partisan terrain. The deci sion of Director-General of Military Operations M.C. Vij and Air Vice-Marshal S. K. Malik to brief the BJP National Executive on the Kargil War on May 6 is just one example of this process. 3 Infantry Division commander Lieutenant-General V.S. Budhwar he lped provide logistical support for the RSS-organised Sindhu Darshan festival at Leh in 1998. Advani and RSS ideologue Tarun Vijay were among those who attended. In 1999, he again attended the Sindhu Darshan, organised with official aid, and graced by Va jpayee, Fernandes and Advani."

No wonder that Fernandes so readily gave a clean chit to the Sangh Parivar for the Staines murders after a hurried trip to Keonjhar on January 27, 1999. "There does not seem to be any motive," he asserted in New Delhi the next day. Even the flawed Wadhwa Commission Report holds that motive there, indeed, was.

THIS is where blind ambition has landed him. Fernandes was never content to be a player. He aspired to be captain and craved for applause by theatrical performances. If the 1974 railway strike led by him sought to bring Indira Gandhi to her knees by para lysing the strategic junction at Moghulsarai, the quixotic venture with dynamites during the Emergency had the same objective - "to transport the explosives from Baroda to Varanasi". The sheer ineptness of the operation and the consistent misjudgment of chosen associates reflect utter incompetence as a leader of men (C.G.K. Reddy; Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy; 1977). Two socialist leaders, S.M. Joshi and N.G. Goray, who were no less opposed to the Emergency, spoke of the "so-called rebels who talke d the language of violence. We tried to tell them that theirs was not the right path; they must act more maturely and sanely if they wish to win back democracy in the country."

Fernandes became Industries Minister in the Janata Party Government but did not figure in Janardhan Thakur's portraits of All the Janata Men (1978). Fernandes defended the Government in the Lok Sabha on the motion of no-confidence in July 1979 and then deserted it.

The National Front Government of V.P. Singh provided him with a fine opportunity when he was made Minister for Kashmir Affairs in addition to the charge as Railway Minister. This brought him into conflict with another V.P. Singh appointee, Jagmohan, the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir. In his memoirs, My Frozen Turbulence, Jagmohan excoriated Fernandes; not least, for "establishing contacts" with the militants. "Given to a sense of drama he showed no sensibility to the administrative requirements." Last year, as Defence Minister, Fernandes rejected unconditional talks with them. Jagmohan, in turn, was denounced by Jaya Jaitley in her review of the memoirs (The Telegraph; November 1, 1991). Among the epithets she showered were "a megalomania c" and "intellectual perversity", qualities which Fernandes possesses in rich abundance. The duo's presence as colleagues in the Vajpayee regime is a sight for the gods.

It was frustrated ambition which drove him into the BJP's arms. In 1998 he emerged as a player whose votes were vital to the regime's survival. His skills as a manipulator were freely deployed by Vajpayee. Jayalalitha's interest in national securi ty was one of her better kept secrets. She denounced him on March 27, 1999 on the Bhagwat issue clearly because the operator had failed to deliver on his promises to her (The Hindu, March 28, 1999).

As unsuccessful were his forays in Bihar. The vendetta against Laloo Prasad Yadav, a former colleague never in awe of Fernandes, yielded poor returns. The latest episode, the clash with the Election Commission, reflects familiar disdain for proprieties a nd for institutions whether from the refusal to be frisked by securitymen at the Delhi airport in 1978 or the politicisation of the army. There are strict procedural rules for soliciting the assessment of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B) or, for that matter , the opinion of the Attorney-General. It is not open to any Minister to do either unless his request is routed through the "proper channels". But, on September 17, Fernandes telephoned Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill from Bihar to allege a conspir acy between the governments of Bihar and West Bengal to print in Calcutta excess ballot papers for the election in Bihar. "He said he had spoken to the Director of the Intelligence Bureau in Delhi, who had confirmed this from his sources." Gill, very pro perly, asked him to put it in writing. The next morning the three Election Commissioners met together and asked for an explanation from the Home Secretary with a copy of the I.B's information to Fernandes. "Back came the report in the afternoon - the DIB had given no such report to Mr. Fernandes" (The Times of India; September 21, 1999). Union Home Minister L.K. Advani confirmed this on September 23. Earlier, on September 18, Nitish Kumar said that Fernandes had told him that the DIB, Shyamal Dat ta, "had made an inquiry and confirmed the report". The E.C. made its own inquiries and roundly accused Fernandes on September 20 of using the DIB "by his own written admission ... to disturb the constitutional electoral process". This is the first time ever that a Union Minister has been censured by the Election Commission.

The blemished record is not mitigated by any achievement worth the name. What has he to show as Defence Minister, bar the dramatised trips to Siachen? The organisational set-up, with its anachronistic linkage between the Ministry and the Army Hea dquarters, cries for change. It was promised in January to allay public disquiet over Bhagwat's dismissal. Not one step was taken in the direction.

A. B. Bardhan, the soft-spoken leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI), was outraged by Fernandes' conduct. Bardhan remarked on January 3, 1999: "It has become apparent that every time he opens his mouth he tells a fresh lie which is not proved and cannot be proved".

All in all, this is a record of recklessness unrelieved by talent and braggadocio barren of achievement. By now, even the egotism has ceased to amuse.

Polluted Palar

other

"Along the polluted Palar" (October 8, 1999) rightly stated that apart from highly toxic effluents, tanneries generate sludge, which also causes environmental pollution.

The monograph, "Treatment Technology of Tannery Effluents," prepared by S. Rajamani, W. Madhavakrishna and G. Thiagarajan of the Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), Chennai, which was referred to in M.C. Mehta Vs Union of India and Others, stated: "In the case of chrome tannery waste, the dried sludge should be buried or disposed of suitably as per the directions of regulatory agencies in local bodies." Dr. G. Thiagarajan, who later became the Director of the CLRI, stated that there was no viable method by which tannery sludge can be disposed of without causing health hazards.

In connection with the writ petition filed by the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, the Supreme Court referred to the report of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Research Centre (TNAURC) in Vellore (now at Virincheepuram), dated March 6, 1992. The TNA URC had observed: "The preliminary survey of tannery pollution has revealed that nearly 35,000 to 40,000 hectares of valuable agricultural land have become partially or totally unfit for cultivation." A similar point has been made by the author of the ar ticle. The TNAURC had also stated: "The people in the tannery belt are found to suffer from skin rashes, diarrhoea and heaviness of head." It added that tannery effluents "cause abortion in cattle".

In the light of such evidence, the question is whether we need the leather industry at all. It is pointed out in the article that the leather industry fetches Rs.2,000 crores in foreign exchange. But at what cost? In its judgment in the case filed by our forum, the Supreme Court observes: "Though the leather industry is of vital importance to the country as it generates foreign exchange and provides employment avenues, it has no right to destroy the ecology, degrade the environment and pose a health haz ard. It cannot be permitted to expand or even to continue with the present production unless it tackles by itself the problem of pollution caused by the said industry."

I do not agree with the author's view that pollution in the State has been checked to a great extent with the help of the effluent treatment plants.

P.S. Subrahmanian Honorary Secretary, Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum

* * *

The tanneries may have spent crores of rupees to show the government and society that they are serious about treating effluents. However, many effluent treatment systems currently in use are faulty and do not meet the norms laid down by the pollution con trol boards (PCBs).

A new type of effluent treatment system can be used for tanneries and dyeing units that are clustered in one place. The basic aim of the design is to solidify and burn the contaminants. In the first stage, the effluent is collected in a tank. Then saw du st, agricultural waste, paper waste and municipal waste - 5 to 10 per cent - are added to it. These biodegradable materials absorb many chemical contents such as salts, colours and impurities.

In the third stage the solids are removed by centrifuging, dried and pelletised for use in boilers or to be burnt.

The effluent is then drained and filtered further with a micro filter in order to remove the remaining solids.

In the next stage, the effluent is treated with activated carbon to remove colour and odour. In the last stage it is subjected to a process of reverse osmosis in order to remove dissolved salts. After this the waste water can be disposed of safely.

This ETP unit can be operated independently by qualified technicians. Investment and operational cost can be levied from the tanneries that use it.

D. Anandaraj Coimbatore

Vikram Sarabhai

It is said that adversities bring out the best in a person. The same seems to be true of a nation as well. For more than a century, our country remained under British rule. From being a rich and prosperous nation, it descended to total financial and econ omic ruin owing to the exploitative policies of the foreign rulers. In was under these circumstances that men like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel emerged.

Nehru, who went on to become the maker of modern India, orchestrated the scientific and technological revolution of the country. He was lucky to have people like J. Homi Bhabha, C.V. Raman, J.R.D. Tata and Vikram Sarabhai by his side. While Bhabha became the founder of the country's atomic energy programme, Vikram Sarabhai contributed uniquely to the field of space science.

Dr. Sarabhai, scion of a well-known industrial family and a man of style, became a cult figure. His contribution to the nation included the Physical Research Laboratory and the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, and Uranium Corporation of India Ltd at Jaduguda.

In addition, as Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and Secretary to the Government of India in the Department of Science and Technology, he contributed to the all-round development of atomic energy and space programmes.

Like his predecessor Homi Bhabha, Sarabhai too died early. India needs someone as charismatic, talented and dedicated as Bhabha and Sarabhai.

Your magazine's tribute to Sarabhai ("Remembering Vikram Sarabhai", Frontline, October 8, 1999) was most appropriate.

Amitabh Thakur Superintendent of Police Deoria, Uttar Pradesh

Healthcare and education The September 24 issue of Frontline had good coverage of the state of Indian politics. But it deserves special compliments for carrying a feature on healthcare and education in Karnataka.

Health and education form the backbone of society, and the main reason for India's increasingly poor performance in the social, economic and political spheres is that these areas have been neglected and the media have failed to highlight these issues.

Some of the articles that appear in Frontline on the political scene reflect the intensive study and research that the magazine does. "A Kargil election?" and "Slander campaign" (Frontline, September 24, 1999) deserve special mention.

Dr. Vinay Prasad Sahu Imphal

Kargil and the Falklands It is not quite correct to say that Margaret Thatcher won the 1983 general elections in the U.K. because of the successful war against Argentina over the Falklands ("A Kargil Election", Frontline, September 24, 1999).

Rather more important was the fact that there had been a breakaway party from Labour - the Social Democratic Party. Many Labour MPs defected to this party and it entered into an alliance with the Liberals, a so-called centrist party. At the same time, th e Labour Party lurched dramatically to the left - its manifesto has been described as the "longest suicide note in history" - and proposed withdrawal from the European Union. These two factors were much more important than Kargil.

The implications for progressive forces in India are actually good. Kargil, or a rattling of the jingoistic military drum, are less important than unity and credible, coherent policies.

Stirling Smith Bolton, England

Army's views

In ''Changing strategies'' (September 10), Praveen Swami has brought to fore certain aspects of the concept paper on ''Management of Internal Conflict'' that has been prepared by the Army Training Command, or ARTRAC, as known in defence circles. They do sound logical at times, when he tries to throw light on the so-called biased and lopsided view of the Army on solving or managing its burning internal conflict. Neverthless, given the present state of affairs in the country, be it in Jammu and Kashmir or in the northeastern States, it is high time that we stopped countering somthing that is constructive and innovative and that might go a long way in helping solve crises. The article seems to be reactionary and it appears that the author, like the Gov ernment, seconds status quo policies and discourages any meanigful step to solve the crisis.

The paper, as presented by ARTRAC, does warrant a serious thought by the Establishment since it brings out the problem as seen through the eyes of the armed forces. As has been seen by us, the price of the proxy war as also of various ''Kargils'' is app arently going to be borne by the Army in terms of men and machines.

The feature gives no weightage to the views of the organisation that ultimately faces the immediate consequences of the proxy war. How can we expect our soldiers to tick unless the Government gives an ear to what they say and take steps that will have th eir acceptance in letter and spirit?

Seeing the Army's views in the correct perspective - rather than just use the men in uniform as ''cannon fodder'' for insurgents, militants and infiltrators - would be an appreciative step on the part of the Government and our intelligentsia.

Malathi Ranjan Purnea, Bihar

Correction: In the article titled "Somanatha and Mahmud" by Romila Thapar published in the April 23, 1999 issue of Frontline, end-note no. 38 should read as follows: R.H. Davis, Lives of Indian Images, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1997, p. 93.>(110) Against secular NGOs I am writing in response to an item which has appeared in several newspapers, including The Asian Age (Rezaul H. Laskar), regarding a series of "show cause" notices which have apparently been issued to several prominent non-governmental organisat ions (NGOs). The Asian Age report, titled "Home Ministry singles out anti-BJP NGOs", lists some of the best known and most active groups - groups that have been working for over three decades in fields covering the most critical areas of social de velopment, including education, health, gender issues, rural development, tribal development, and Dalit and human rights issues across the country.

I as a founder-director of Ankur, one of the several groups that have chosen to associate themselves with the advertisement campaign initiated by Communalism Combat, and we as citizens who have always appreciated the democratic space provided by our Cons titution and our polity, view with alarm and concern the present actions, which point to increasingly unhealthy trends to harass, choke and silence all dissent and the right to freedom of expression. The dark days of the Emergency apart, there are few pr ecedents to this kind of action to stifle the voice of civil society. Whether it was in the post-1984 riots period or the post-Babri Masjid demolition period, the right of citizens' groups and NGOs to exercise their "watchdog" role was never in question or under assault as it is today.

It is important to analyse and open up to public debate the notion of what constitutes "political activities" and who has the right to decide and determine these definitions in an allegedly open and democratic society. Here again, the role of the organs of the state in defining and determining the parameters of "patriotism", of "nationalism", and now of "political activity", must be subject to scrutiny and widespread critique.

It is not only the prerogative but the duty of civil society organisations - the globally accepted terminology for a range of organisations and groups, including NGOs - to provide information and facts and to create awareness among and educate the publ ic. Most of us joined social movements precisely to be better able to reach out to the unreached, oppressed and exploited masses through education and other programmes, and with a clear, overtly stated objective of empowering people who had been denied a ll access to human rights through oppressive, systemic, social, economic and political structures.

The role of NGOs and CSOs in bringing about a universal recognition for the language of people's empowerment is well accepted today by groups and institutions across a wide spectrum.

In a country which pioneered and spearheaded structural and constitutional changes by way of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution in order to enable the practice of grassroots democracy, and in a land which takes pride in calling itself the " largest democracy in the world", it is appalling to see the highhanded use of power and authority to curb and limit precisely these voices and institutions of democratic participation and opinion. This is the sure path to fascism - and it is up to every right-thinking Indian to speak out against the actions of the Home Ministry (if these are true) and to stand up for the freedom and the right to form and propagate opinions. Quoting Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) provisions and other interpretati ons of the laws governing social institutions as grounds for such action is nothing short of harassment and should be condemned without hesitation.

Lalita Ramdas, Alibag, Maharashtra, Sagari Ramdas, Madhusudhan, Usha, Asha, Pandu Dorai, Secunderabad

Standing up for a right

social-issues

Organisations representing the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have chalked out a programme of agitation aimed at protecting their constitutional right to reservation.

VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN in New Delhi

THE failure of the executive and the judiciary in recent years to uphold in its entirety the constitutional right of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes to reservation in educational institutions and in employment has led to intense resentment among these disadvantaged social groups. The movement seeking to protect this right is set to intensify, and moves are afoot in this context to forge a broad unity of members of Parliament belonging to the S.Cs and the S.Ts, who will participate in agita tions both inside Parliament and outside.

In the past two years, the reservation issue has sparked off mass struggles by various organisations representing the S.Cs and the S.Ts. These were rooted in the perception that the executive was denying the S.Cs and the S.Ts opportunities under their en titlement for reservation under various pretexts, including the pretext that judicial orders were being implemented (Frontline, January 29, 1999).

Ram Raj, chairman of the All India Confederation of S.C. and S.T. Organisations, told Frontline that the mass struggles that had been planned had two objectives. "On the one hand, we have to expose and oppose the apathy and indifference of and dec eption by the government in the light of its failure to fulfil its promises in respect of reservation for the S.Cs and the S.Ts." On the other hand, he said, the agitations would draw attention to the fact that some recent rulings by the Supreme Court ha d had the effect of "depriving " the S.Cs and the S.Ts of their right to reservation.

Office-bearers of organisations representing the S.Cs and the S.Ts point to the August 10 judgment of the Supreme Court, which struck down reservation for the S.Cs, the S.Ts and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in "super speciality" courses in medical a nd engineering colleges. The organisations petitioned the President of India and sought his intervention in the matter; on September 1 they also staged a protest demonstration in front of the Supreme Court.

Leaders of these organisations complain that the S.Cs and the S.Ts continue to be discriminated against. Ram Raj said: "Speciality and super speciality posts in government have been kept beyond the purview of reservation in a large number of departments such as defence, space and nuclear science, science and technology and engineering. All this is done by reasoning that reservation militates against merit. Now that argument is being advanced to deny us reservation in higher education too."

Office-bearers of the Confederation of S.C.-S.T. Organisations say that developments on the reservation front in recent years have been particularly disheartening for the disadvantaged social groups. The Supreme Court's judgment on the Mandal Commission recommendations; the issue of controversial Office Memorandums (O.Ms) by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) between January 30, 1997 and August 1, 1998, when the United Front was in power; and the failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led co alition government to honour its assurance that it would withdraw these O.Ms - all of these, in the perception of these representatives, conform to a pattern of discrimination.

The O.Ms issued by the United Front Government violated not only the overall guidelines governing reservation for the S.Cs and the S.Ts but also a constitutional amendment that was aimed to overcome the adverse effect of the Supreme Court judgment on the Mandal Commission recommendations.

When the Mandal Commission recommendations reserving 27 per cent of Central government jobs for OBCs were adopted in August 1990 and later in September 1991, the move was challenged in the Supreme Court by a group of activists opposed to the recommendati ons. The Supreme Court ruled that reservations did not go against the principle of merit but held that the recommendations were applicable only for the initial appointment, not for promotions. It also held that reserved posts that were not filled in a p articular year would not be carried forward. The apex court further ruled that reservations would not apply to technical posts in research and development organisations as also specialities and super specialities in medicine, engineering, defence service s and nuclear and space applications.

Although the petitioners in the case had referred only to reservation for the OBCs, the Supreme Court suo motu made the judgment applicable to reservation for the S.Cs and the S.Ts.

The judgment triggered widespread protests, and in June 1995 the government was compelled to bring forward a constitutional amendment bill to remedy the situation. That legislative measure, the Constitution (77th Amendment) Bill, stipulated that reservat ions for the S.Cs and the S.Ts would be applicable even for promotions and at all classes and levels of employment.

However, on January 30, 1997, the DoPT came out with the first of its controversial O.Ms: it stated that a person who had secured a promotion under the quota for the S.Cs and the S.Ts would lose his seniority to a candidate in the general category even i f the latter was promoted in a particular grade at a later date. The second O.M., issued on July 2, 1997, changed the system of roster maintenance from a vacancy-based one to a post-based one; this had the effect of slowing down the process of filling up reserved posts. The third O.M., of July 22, 1997, withdrew certain concessions and relaxations that had been provided to the S.Cs and the S.Ts to enhance their promotional opportunities. This too was seen to be in violation of the provisions of the Cons titution.

Three other O.Ms, issued on August 13 and August 29, 1997 and July 1, 1998, were equally discriminatory. The first of these had the effect of barring government departments from extending reservation to all classes and posts; this was a blatant transgres sion of the provisions of the 77th Amendment. The second had the effect of discontinuing the special recruitment drive for the S.Cs and the S.Ts. The third laid down that S.C. and S.T. candidates who qualified on merit would be considered as candidates i n the reserved category, not in the general category.

As with the Supreme Court ruling on the Mandal Commission recommendations, the O.Ms led to protests by the organisations representing the S.Cs and the S.Ts. The O.Ms of January 30 and August 13, 1997 were challenged in court. Members of Parliament belong ing to the S.Cs and the S.Ts raised the issue in the House. In response to these representations and demands, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee stated in the Lok Sabha on March 18, 1999 that the government would take steps to withdraw the controversial O.Ms.

Vajpayee gave a more specific assurance to a delegation comprising Ram Raj, former Union Health Minister Dalit Ezhilmalai and Dalit Voice Editor V.T. Rajashekhar. He told them that the O.Ms of July 2, July 22 and August 29, 1997 would be withdrawn and that the O.Ms that had been challenged in court would be abrogated after complying with the legal formalities. The government did file an affidavit in the Supreme Court in the cases relating to the O.Ms but did not deliver on its assurance.

According to Ram Raj, organisations representing the S.Cs and the S.Ts had hoped that all political parties would address in their election manifestoes the problem arising from the failure of the executive and the judiciary to uphold the constitutional r ight to reservation of underprivileged sections. "However," he said, "apart from the Congress(I) none of the parties has raised the issue." Disheartened, representatives of the organisations have resolved to step up their agitation. The leadership and ra nk and file believe that only through an intense campaign can they force the "high class rulers" and leaders of various parties to take note of their just demands.

A clear majority for TDP

DASU KESAVA RAO cover-story

BEATING back a spirited Congress(I) challenge, N. Chandrababu Naidu steered the Telugu Desam Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance to a phenomenal victory in the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh. The combine secured a two-thirds majority in the 294-m ember House.

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Chandrababu Naidu and 30 of his Cabinet Ministers were re-elected. The BJP improved its position, particularly in the Telengana region where it wrested seats from the Congress(I). The BJP held only two seats in the previous Assembly.

The TDP's massive mandate exceeded its own estimate. A seemingly reinvigorated Congress(I), under the leadership of Pradesh Congress(I) Committee chief Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, was widely expected to give a tough fight to or if not defeat the TDP. Favour able opinion poll and exit poll predictions notwithstanding, the success of the TDP was never taken for granted, more so in the context of the hype of near-invincibility built up around the party by the Congress(I) campaign managers.

Significantly, the TDP went to the polls on highlighting its performance in government rather than making attractive promises or by raising emotional issues. If an anti-incumbency factor existed, Chandrababu Naidu seemed to have overcome it.

Chandrababu Naidu sees the mandate as an endorsement of his government's performance in the four years it was in office, and the total support of women voters who responded to his repeated calls at election rallies to vote in good numbers. It is his conv iction that people would reward good governance and credible leadership. With this in mind, he worked almost "18 hours a day, 30 days a month and 365 days a year" right from the time he assumed office on September 1, 1995. He said that the triumph of the TDP only strengthened his resolve to continue the work with greater vigour.

THE Congress(I), which had visions of a grand revival, was shell-shocked, although it improved its presence in the Assembly to 90 from a mere 26 (short of the minimum required for its leader to get recogised as the Leader of the Opposition) in 1994. The PCC(I) chief said that the party would accept the people's verdict, and attributed the defeat to the coming together of the BJP and the TDP.

It was quite a setback for Rajasekhara Reddy and Congress(I) Legis-lature Party leader P. Janardhana Reddy who strengthened the organisation after the party's rout in 1994. The former had firmly set his eyes on the chief ministership. On the eve of the c ounting of votes, Rajasekhara Reddy said that he would embrace political sanyas if the Congress(I) failed to win and challenged the Chief Minister to do likewise. However, he backed out on the promise later on the grounds that Chandrababu Naidu ha d not accepted the challenge. He maintained that he was prepared to give up the party leadership but left the decision to the high command.

The Congress(I) suffered major upsets in several constituencies. Janardhana Reddy lost to K. Vijayarama Rao, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (who contested on the TDP ticket) in the Khairatabad constituency by a slender margin of 5 ,400 votes. Other Congress(I) losers include the legislative party office-bearers Gade. Venkata Reddy (Parchur) and M. Kodanda Reddy (Murshidabad), party spokesmen K. Rosaiah (Tenali), Gali Muddukrishnama Naidu (Puttur) and P. Veeranna (Mahabubnagar). On ly two members of the earlier Chandrababau Naidu Cabinet - Patnam Subbaiah (Palamner) and Padala Aruna (who was fielded from the Bobbili Lok Sabha constituency) - suffered defeat. PCC chief Rajashekara Reddy was elected from the Pulivendla constituency.

The ruling party performed fairly well in the coastal districts of the Andhra region and in Rayalaseema, a traditional stronghold of the Congress(I), but lost ground in the Telengana region where it shared the honours with the Congress(I). Party leaders dismissed the view that by joining hands with the BJP, it had alienated Muslims and other minorities. In fact, TDP nominees were elected in some constituencies with a considerable minority presence. The fact that the TDP's term was generally free of comm unal incidents in Hyderabad stood the party in good stead. (Chandrababu Naidu had made 30 nearly surprise visits to the old city of Hyderabad, which has a predominant Muslim population.) In Hyderabad, the TDP won four seats and the BJP two, whereas the C ongress(I) won only the Afifnagar seat. The TDP candidate polled 1,400 votes fewer than sitting MLA and Majlis Bachao Tehreeq chief Mohd. Amanullah Khan and about 14,000 votes fewer than the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) winner in the Chandrayangutta constituency. In Charminar, the TDP took the second spot behind the MIM while the Congress(I) finished fourth and polled less than half the TDP votes.

The election witnessed setbacks to the Left parties, once trusted allies of Chandrababu Naidu, and the smaller players in the arena such as the NTR-TDP, the Anna-TDP and the Mahajan Front. The Left parties had a combined strength of 33 in the 10th Assemb ly. The majority of the sitting MLAs of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) were defeated. The CPI(M) won two seats and the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) one. The Communists' loss turned out to be the Congress(I)' gain.

The NTR-TDP leader Lakshmi Parvati, was defeated in both Sompeta and Eluru Assembly constituencies; she polled a mere 1,500 votes in the latter. Nandamuri Harikrishna, Anna TDP chief, finished third in the Gudivada Assembly constituency, the seat which w as once held by his father N.T. Rama Rao.

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The Congress(I) levelled several charges of corruption against the Chief Minister and even sought the Governor's permission to launch prosecution proceedings against him. The Left parties had launched an extensive campaign against the World Bank loans th e State obtained on disadvantageous terms.

The Congress(I) promised free power supply to farmers. This had appeared to catch the imagination of the voters, particularly in Telengana. But the Chief Minister countered this by saying that he did not wish the painstaking reforms in the power sector t o be jeopardised for political gains.

CHANDRABABU NAIDU has reason to feel happy about the outcome of the elections. This was the first time that his party faced simultaneous elections to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha under his stewardship. Further, there was no NTR charisma to fetch votes for the party.

His Praja Deevena (people's blessings) call to intellectuals, professionals and non-committed voters to evince interest in the elections as a matter of right had a good response. A case in point was the entry into the electoral fray of Vijayarama Rao and women functionaries of the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) and women college lecturers. (Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of DWCRA groups - about 2.5 lakh - which pooled savings to the tune of Rs.500 crores. Chandrab abu Naidu promoted the DWCRA concept vigorously and covered the group members in the 'Deepam' - free cooking gas to rural poor women - scheme.) Industrialists such as T.G. Venkatesh (Kurnool) and 'Ambica' Krishna (Eluru) picked up seats for the TDP.

The TDP's attempts to portray Rajasekhara Reddy as a faction leader with a criminal record - it described him as having the potential to extend the bomb culture of Rayalaseema to other parts of the State - was given up midway after a bomb exploded in the premises of the Panchayati Raj Minister and TDP candidate for the Narasaraopet Assembly seat, Dr. Kodela Siva Prasada Rao. The TDP's managers reverted to focussing on the party's policies and performance. Siva Prasad Rao won the seat.

With a solid mandate, Chandrababu Naidu plans to be back in the business of furthering the reform process, increasing the pace of development and pursuing the goal of 'Swarnandhrapradesh'.

Dual victory for SDF

KALYAN CHAUDHURI cover-story

THE Sikkim Demo-cratic Front (SDF) was swept back to power in the Himalayan State with a two-thirds majority in the 32-member Assembly. The SDF also won the lone parliamentary seat.

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The SDF's dual victory not only shattered the hopes of Sikkim Sangram Parishad (SSP) chief Nar Bahadur Bhandari to regain power but also reaffirmed the domination of regional forces over a national party, the Congress(I). The Congress(I), which was respo nsible for the State's merger with the Indian Union 24 years ago, has never been elected to power in the State. It ruled Sikkim twice in the past by co-opting a ruling regional party into its fold.

The SDF, led by Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, which contested 31 seats, won 24 seats, and the SSP seven. The country's only non-territorial seat, the Sangha (monasteries), was won by an independent, Palden Lama, who was backed by the SDF. The Cong ress(I) and the SSP contested all the 32 seats. In 1994 the SDF won 19 seats but its tally increased to 25 when it admitted six SSP deserters.

The SDF's Bhim Dahal won the Lok Sabha seat for the third consecutive time by defeating his SSP rival, Satish Chandra Rai, by more than 20,000 votes. The Congress(I) candidate, Somnath Poudyal, got a little more than 9,000 votes.

Chamling was elected from his home constituency of Damthang for the fifth time in a row. However, two of his ministerial colleagues, D.P. Kharel (Health) and Ram Lepcha (Finance), lost to the SSP in the Central Pandam and Pathing constituencies respectiv ely. Nar Bahadur Bhandari, who ruled the State with a iron hand for almost 15 years until 1994, made it to the House from Rhenock, a constituency dominated by upper-caste Nepalis. However, he was defeated in his native Soreng seat by the SDF's R.B. Subba , by 66 votes. His wife and former member of Parliament, Dil Kumari Bhandari, lost to State Tourism Minister Garajaman Gurung in Temi Tarku by more than 1,300 votes. The key Gangtok seat in East district went to the SSP's Narendra Pradhan for a second ti me.

Ethnic issues dominated the election scene. The 2,55,253 voters consisted mainly of the three ethnic communities of Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalis. The SDF enjoys the support of the Other Backward Classes within the majority Nepali community. Nepalis const itute about 72 per cent of the State's population of nearly six lakh (upper castes 26 per cent, OBCs 38 per cent and Scheduled Caste 8 per cent). The remaining 28 per cent comprises of the minority Buddhist Bhutia-Lepcha tribal community and a fraction o f the plains people.

THE results have indicated that the SDF's support base in the rural areas has remained intact. In a bid to win over the Bhutia-Lepcha community, the SDF had demanded that one more seat be reserved for Sikkim in both Houses of Parliament. The SDF had also demanded that Newars, Bahuns and Chhetries, or the NBC, and Jogis, Sanyasis and Thamis be included in the list of OBCs. This helped the SDF garner the electoral support of a sizable section of upper-caste Nepalis, in addition to that of Bhutias and Lepc has, who belong to backward communities. The fact that Chamling himself belongs to the OBC category, which constitutes the largest chunk of the electorate, helped the SDF win the support of voters of those communities.

Chamlings's hold over the Nepalis of Mongoloid origin was seen to be intact as he won all the 16 seats in the South and West districts. On the other hand, Bhandari, an upper-caste Nepali Kshatriya, and his candidates won six out of the 12 seats in the u pper-caste-dominated East district. In the last Assembly elections, the SSP won eight seats in the district. Of the 12 seats reserved for Bhutias and Lepchas, the SDF won 10 and the SSP two. In the previous elections, the SSP had won six reserved seats. The SDF retained the two reserved seats of Reteypani Western Pandam and Khamdons.

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Former Chief Minister Sanchaman Limboo and former Ministers, including Man Bahadur Dahal, Thukchuck Lachungpa and Taraman Rai, who contested on the Congress(I) ticket, were defeated. Former SDF Deputy Chief Minister P.T. Lucksom and former head of the Si kkim Ekta Manch Laxmi Prasad Tewari, who represented the Congress(I), were defeated in Renchinpong and Dentam constituencies respectively.

Unable to win a single seat, the Congress(I)'s game plan failed. The State party leadership was aware of the fact that it would not be able to win a good number of Assembly seats. But it tried to win at least three seats in addition to the four it has in the previous Assembly, in order to be in a position to strike a deal with the SDF or the SSP in the event of a hung Assembly. With the hope of capturing the tribal vote bank in the rural areas, the Congress(I) kicked off its poll campaign immediately af ter the announcement of poll dates by holding a rally in Gangtok.

The Congress(I) ruled the State for five years from 1974. It started losing strength after the 1979 elections. Bhandari quit the Congress(I) and formed the SSP, which was elected to power in 1979. He ruled for three terms, barring a brief break in 1984 w hen the State was under President's Rule. In the 1985 elections the SSP won 29 of the 32 seats. Its performance was astounding in the 1989 elections, when it won all the 32 seats. It was in 1993, a year before another round of Assembly elections was due, that Chamling, a Minister in Bhandari's Cabinet, broke away to form the regional party, the SDF. The party won an absolute majority in the 1994 elections. This time it has come to power with increased strength, marginalising the SSP and decimating the C ongress(I).

Congress(I) sweep

KALYAN CHAUDHURI cover-story

IN a landslide victory, the ruling Congress(I) won the two Lok Sabha seats and 53 seats in the 60-member Legislative Assembly in Arunachal Pradesh, decimating the Arunachal Congress, led by Gegong Apang, former Chief Minister, and once again proving that the people of this hilly northeastern State are opposed to the growth of regional forces.

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The main advantage for the Congress(I) was that the anti-incumbency factor had not come into play as the party came to power only in January this year, replacing the Arunchal Congress government headed by Apang. Four Congress(I) candidates, including Chi ef Minister Mukut Mithi, were elected unopposed.

In the East Arunachal Lok Sabha constituency, two-time winner Wangcha Rajkumar defeated the BJP's Tapir Gao by 41,403 votes. The constituency comprises Rajkumar's home district of Tirap and the five other districts of Changlang, Lohit, Dibang Valley and Upper and East Siang. In Arunachal West, Jarbon Gamlin won by 55,000 votes against Union Minister of State Omak Apang of the Arunachal Congress.

Mukut Mithi's gamble of dissolving the Assembly eight months ahead of the expiry of its term and opting for simultaneous polls paid off. Apang opposed the holding of Assembly elections along with the Lok Sabha elections, saying that the situation was not conducive to free and fair elections. He suggested that the State be put under President's Rule until the time was ripe for Assembly elections. Apang alleged that the outlawed National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang faction), active in Tirap an d Changlang districts bordering Nagaland, had declared that only the Congress(I) would be allowed to contest. The elections were, however, held in a peaceful atmosphere, and the voter turnout was more than 65 per cent.

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Of the 42 candidates fielded for the Assembly by the Arunachal Congress, only Gegong Apang was elected. He contested from his home constituency of Yingkiong in Upper Siang district. He, however, lost from Liromba, a second seat he contested.

The BJP, an ally of the Arunachal Congress, fielded 28 candidates but did not win a single seat. The two parties had reached an understanding on the parliamentary seats but not for the Assembly polls. In 10 constituencies they fielded candidates against each other thereby spliting opposition votes.

The fledgling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar fielded 18 candidates and won four seats.

The election process in this frontier State, which borders China, Myanmar and Bhutan, was a challenge for both the candidates and the poll officials. Candidates had often to trek for miles across jungles to reach remote villages. Twenty-five major tribes and 120 sub-tribes constitute the State's population.

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Arunachal Pradesh is traditionally a Congress(I) stronghold. In the 1995 Assembly elections, the Congress(I) won an overwhelming majority and formed a government with Gegong Apang as Chief Minister. Apang left the party following differences with Prime M inister P.V. Narasimha Rao and formed the Arunachal Congress in September 1996 with the support of 54 MLAs. In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the Arunachal Congress allied itself with the BJP. Omak Apang was elected from Arunachal West and was later induc ted into the A.B. Vajpayee Ministry.

Several leaders of the party, even Apang's close associates, were not happy with the way Gegong Apang pushed for his son's entry into the Ministry, depriving senior leader Wangcha Rajkumar, two-time winner from Arunachal East, of a chance to become a Min ister. Rajkumar was angry, and a revolt followed. Five Ministers, including Mukut Mithi, who stood by Rajkumar, were dropped from the State Cabinet. Shortly thereafter the dissidents led by Mukut Mithi, formed the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) with 40 MLAs on their side. Mithi was installed as Chief Minister in January. In April, the Arunachal Congress (Mithi) merged with the Congress(I), which had only four MLAs, and formed the Congress(I) government.

Mukut Mithi, who has now led the Congress(I) to a resounding victory, said that the main task before him was the overall development of the State, which has hardly any industrial infrastructure. The State's primary problem is communications. "What I want to achieve is a peaceful and prosperous Arunachal with equal opportunities and gainful employment for all," Mithi said.

Consolidation in Uttar Pradesh

The results in Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party fared exceedingly well, show that, contrary to speculation, "Mandal politics" may not have run out of steam.

THE remarkably good performance by the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh proves two things. First, that the politics of backward classes-Dalit assertion has not waned despite conjectures to the contrary. Second, the tendency among Muslims to see the prominent political forces representing the backward classes and Dalits as their natural allies and to forge tactical alliances with them to defeat the upper-caste-oriented Bharatiya Janata P arty has become sharper.

The voting pattern in U.P. shows that substantial sections of Dalits and members of the backward classes and minorities continue to be committed to the politics of social justice - or Mandal politics, as it is termed - and will settle for nothing less th an a real share in power. Their message is that attempts to accommodate them in systems that serve only to perpetuate the hegemony of the upper castes are doomed to fail.

In the run-up to the elections, many media commentators claimed that with the revival of the Congress(I) in the State, the practice of "umbrella politics", which ensured a measure of external harmony among the various castes and communities, had re-emerg ed; in their perception, the "caste politics" of the S.P. and the BSP would not be as successful as it has been in the past. This theory had it that the Congress(I)'s revival was being made possible by a shift in allegiance of Muslims, Dalits, Brahmins a nd backward castes from the S.P., the BSP and the BJP to that party.

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But what U.P. ultimately witnessed was a reassertion of caste politics as practised by the S.P. and the BSP. So much so that even within the BJP and the Congress(I), supporters from among the backward classes ended up supporting S.P. candidates at the lo cal level. Former BJP member of Parliament Sakshi Maharaj, who was denied the party ticket, campaigned for the S.P. There were indications that this campaign, conducted under the auspices of an organisation that represented Lodh Rajputs, a backward commu nity, was supported by backward class leaders within the State unit of the BJP, including Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, who belongs to that community.

Although S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh denied that they were working in tandem, the voting pattern in at least 15 constituencies point to a measure of cooperation between them. Kalyan Singh's refusal to campaign in the Mathura-Faruk habad region, where Sakshi Maharaj canvassed extensively for the S.P., was telling. In fact, in many constituencies people belonging to the backward classes claimed that both Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav were their leaders. "Mulayam Singh Yadav f or Prime Minister, Kalyan Singh for Chief Minister", was their slogan. Across the State, in meeting after meeting of these groups, one point was reiterated over and over again: that the struggle between backward classes and upper castes was far from over , and that people belonging to the upper castes in the BJP and the Congress(I) were out to undermine the influence of politicians from among the backward classes.

In Unnao, the BJP's candidate, Devi Bux Singh, complained that the official administration helped members of the backward classes to rig the polls in favour of the S.P. She later claimed that her complaint had not been acted upon following instructions f rom a senior BJP leader - an obvious allusion to Kalyan Singh.

This backward class consolidation helped the S.P. get near-total support from Yadavs and Lodhs and substantial backing from other backward classes such as Kurmis and Keoris. Members of certain Scheduled Castes such as Pasis and Malhas also joined hands w ith the S.P., swayed by the influence of dacoit-turned politician Phoolan Devi. Yadavs and Lodhs are estimated to account for nearly 10 per cent and 6 per cent respectively of the State's population. Mulayam Singh Yadav wields near-total influence among Yadavs and Kalyan Singh over Lodhs.

Muslims evidently supported this combination wherever it seemed capable of defeating the BJP. The apprehension that the support extended to the S.P. by Sakshi Maharaj, who had been identified with the Ayodhya Ram temple movement, would drive away Muslim voters was found to be misplaced. In Agra, Farrukhabad and Firozabad, Sakshi Maharaj's supporters and Muslims made common cause with the S.P. Clearly, Mulayam Singh Yadav's political gamble paid off in this region.

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However, the S.P. did not make uniform gains across the State. For instance, in western Uttar Pradesh, the Jat belt that includes Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Kairana and Saharanpur constituencies, the S.P-led backward class combination was not the natural cho ice of the minorities. In earlier elections the S.P. had derived its strength in this region solely from the minorities, and that was clearly insufficient to defeat the BJP. This time the minorities backed the resurgent Congress(I), which drew support al so from among Jats, Gujjars and a section of Brahmins. Evidently, a section of the minorities was unhappy over the S.P's failure to back a Congress(I)-led government following the collapse of the Vajpayee government in April.

The S.P's support base among Muslims in this region was seriously eroded, as was evidenced in Meerut where it polled only 13,050 votes this time against 2,70,363 votes in 1998. In Saharanpur too the S.P. finished fourth, polling over a lakh votes fewer t han it did in 1998. In Meerut, the Congress(I) benefited from tactical voting by the minorities. Such wholesale shifts of support from the S.P. in some constituencies brought down its vote share from 28.69 per cent to 24 per cent.

THE BSP improved its strength by retaining its support among Dalits and winning over support from a few other communities in some constituencies. The new votes were won by means of a judicious choice of candidates. As it did in two previous elections, th e BSP won the votes of even Brahmins in constituencies where it fielded Brahmin candidates.

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The BSP's vote share has gone up steadily in the past decade - from 8.32 per cent in 1991 to 20.60 per cent in 1996 to 20.90 per cent in 1998 and further to about 22 per cent this time. Studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societie s show that alongside this, the BSP's share of vote among upper-castes voters is also going up - it went up from 3.6 per cent in 1996 to 10.2 per cent in 1998. This may have gone up further, by three or four percentage points in this election.

In Amroha, Basti, Saharanpur and Shahbad constituencies, the BSP gained from the perception among Muslims that it stood the best chance of defeating the BJP. According to party supremo Kanshi Ram, the BSP finished a close second to the BJP in nine consti tuencies this time and will win these next time.

Pollsters proved wrong

Every time the media and political pundits predicted stunning reverses for the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) in elections in Uttar Pradesh, the party has confounded them by coming up with an improved performance. The story has been no different this time. The S .P., which had increased its tally to 20 seats in 1998 from 16, won an all-time high of 26 seats in 1999. Yet, when Venkitesh Ramakrishnan met Mulayam Singh Yadav, the S.P. president was not happy. Surrounded by admirers and party workers w ho had come to congratulate him, Mulayam Singh Yadav said that adverse media projections and exit polls had deprived his party of at least 15 seats. Expcerpts:

Throughout the election campaign you emphasised the importance of rebuilding the Third Front as an alternative to the Congress(I) and the BJP. You said there was an anti-Congress(I), anti-BJP mood among the people. How do you now analyse the Lok Sabh a election results?

I had emphasised this point and even made some moves in that direction by aligning with forces such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). However, many of my old friends from non-BJP, non-Congress(I) parties did not understand this. The fundamental pr oblem with many of them was that they had lost confidence in themselves. Hence they played second fiddle to the Congress(I), thinking that it would stop the BJP's march. I warned them that the Congress(I) was in alliance with the BJP and would only help it come back to power. The elections have shown that the Congress(I) is the single most important factor that helped the BJP's return to power. It is evident that the Congress(I) cannot stop the BJP. It needs a vibrant force like the Samajwadi Party. Thi s is evident from the results in Uttar Pradesh, where the S.Ps organisational might is at the maximum. While my old friends failed to read the anti-communal, anti-dynastic-rule sentiment among dominant sections of the population we saw it early and tappe d it well. Now that the results are out, I am sure that all those who pooh-poohed the Third Front concept have realised their mistake.

You had claimed that you would win around 35 to 40 seats in Uttar Pradesh.

I would have won 40 to 50 seat, had it not been for the media pundits and the exit pollsters. Then, the BJP would not have been able to return to power. They went on campaigning that I would end up with three to five seats. They confused the minorities b y propagating that Muslims across the country were deserting me and joining the Congress(I). This created a negative impression on the undecided voters. Most of these pundits and pollsters belong to the elite and they do not understand Bharat at all. The y do not know about the rivers, hills, roads and forests of this great country. They do not know how people live here. They do not know what hardship poverty and lack of nutrition can cause. These are the people who reduced the S.P. to five seats. These are the people who always say that I am losing in my constituency even when I am winning by over a lakh of votes. There are television channels that say that I am trailing even after I have got the certificate of victory. I am sure that an inquiry as to how these media pundits underestimate the S.P's strength in every election would make an interesting study. Some shocking facts might come out of that.

Are you indicating a political conspiracy?

I am only saying that an inquiry into this repeated underestimation would make an interesting study.

During the election campaign it was said that the S.P. had struck a secret understanding with the BJP.

Three types of people made this baseless allegation. First, those who wanted to abuse me personally and politically. Second, those who pursued devious political designs, like some Congress(I) leaders. The third type of people who make this allegation are those who are ignorant of the political realities. I have answered all of them through the election results.

But BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh is on record as having said that the bitterness between him and Mulayam Singh Yadav is a thing of the past.

I never had any personal animosity towards Kalyan Singh. Perhaps he was bitter at times but I took care never to say anything personal against him. This time he also did not make personal allegations. But our political rivalry continues.

How far did former BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj's campaign under the auspices of the Lodh Swabhiman Sabha help the S.P.?

The BJP leadership humiliated Sakshiji and he wanted to get them defeated. He realised that only the S.P. could undertake this task. He campaigned for the S.P. without any conditions. In fact, throughout the campaign I had not even met him. It was only a fter the announcement of results that I saw him.

Do you think that the Lok Sabha results would make an impact on U.P.politics? If so, will it lead to a realignment of forces, especially between you and Kalyan Singh since his own colleagues are targeting the Chief Minister?

How can anybody predict the future? We will have to see how the situation develops.

Managing to lose

The Congress(I) slumps to its worst-ever electoral performance, despite regional gains and an increase in its overall vote share. An analysis of the factors behind the debacle.

REPORTS that poured into the All India Congress(I) Committee (AICC) office from various States as campaigning for the 13th Lok Sabha elections came to an end suggested a major downswing in the National Democratic Alliance's prospects. Congress(I) leaders , convinced of the party emerging as the single largest party in Parliament, even put forward to President K.R. Narayanan the demand that the single largest party, and not an alliance, be invited to form the government. Discussions within the Congress(I) focussed on whether Sonia Gandhi would be the Prime Minister or whether she would nominate Manmohan Singh for the job. There was unanimity on the view that it was Sonia Gandhi's leadership that had revived the party at the national level.

However, it was clear by October 8 that the party had slumped to its worst-ever electoral performance: it had won just 112 seats, a decline of 29 seats from its 1998 tally, which in itself was the poorest showing ever by the party. In fact the Congress(I ) and its alliance partners - the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) - could together muster only 134 seats.

Yet, the Congress(I) was placed in a unique position, of having increased its vote share to 33.8 per cent, almost six percentage points more than in the previous elections, while the vote share of the BJP dropped. Congress(I) spokesperson Kapil Sibal poi nted out that it was clear from the votes polled that the Congress(I)'s organisational network had improved during the last 17 months under Sonia Gandhi's leadership although the party could not convert this factor into Lok Sabha seats.

Owing to this gain and the perception that there is no alternative to a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, the party may not witness the kind of upheaval that characterised the post-election situation in 1998. (In 1998, party president Sitaram Kesri was unceremoniously replaced with Sonia Gandhi, who went on to become the leader of the Congress(I) Parliamentary Party (CPP) without being an MP). However, Congress(I) Working Committee (CWC) member Rajesh Pilot has decided to contest for CPP leadership in order to assert the "democracy principle".

THE Congress(I) had hoped to improve its strength in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It was estimated that the total gain from these States would be 45 seats. The party leadership thought these gains woul d offset the loss of between 30 and 35 seats in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the northeastern States, which accounted for 64 of the 141 seats the Congress(I) won in 1998, and leave the party with a net gain of 10 to 15 seats. However, during the last phase of the campaign the leadership revised this estimate, saying that the losses in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the northeastern States would not be as substantial as anticipated and hence the party could actually improve its position. This perception got fi rmly established as party leaders from Andhra Pradesh claimed that there was an unprecedented shift of Muslim votes towards the Congress(I). They said that the party would improve upon its 1998 tally of 22 seats out of the 42 in the State. In Rajasthan t he party had won 18 out of 25 seats in 1998; State party leaders reported to the central leadership that it would retain at least 15 seats in spite of the anti-incumbency factor.

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It was estimated that a minimum of 100 seats would come from Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, while the losses in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the northeastern region would amount to less than 35 seats. Overall, a gain of 65 seats was projected.

In the event, the total gain from the areas mentioned was just 51 seats and the loss suffered in Maharashtra and Rajasthan alone added up to 30. Andhra Pradesh returned only five party candidates as opposed to the expected figure of 25. In Madhya Pradesh , the net gain was of just one seat although the expected number was 20. Rajasthan witnessed a decline of nine seats, from 18 in 1998. In Gujarat the party's tally dropped to six, one less than that in the previous Lok Sabha. In Bihar, its strength decli ned to three seats from five. Only Karnataka did not belie the leadership's expectations: the party won 18 seats and emerged victorious in the Assembly elections. Yet, the net loss was 29 seats.

ALTHOUGH the Congress(I) is yet to undertake a comprehensive post-election analysis, five factors are attributed to its debacle. First, lack of an imaginative approach on the part of Sonia Gandhi's coterie, which called the shots in the selection of cand idates and in evolving the campaign strategy. What is regarded as the worst misadventure of the coterie was the decision to put up Sonia Gandhi for the Bellary seat and the way she filed her nomination. According to a senior leader, the negative effect o f this on the rank and file was never fully overcome despite the confidence exuded by the leadership in the latter stages of the campaign. The Bellary episode strengthened the public perception that associated Sonia Gandhi's names with secrecy and inacce ssibility; it also highlighted her dependence on the coterie.

The second factor is the contradictory statements that Congress(I) leaders made on the question of coalition government versus single-party rule. Sonia Gandhi, it is felt, did not adopt a clear line on this. She talked about single-party rule most of th e time but occasionally lapsed into accepting the possibility of a coalition government. This deprived the party of an effective campaign strategy. The failure to project a prime ministerial candidate is also identified by certain Congress(I) leaders as a reason for the defeat. Many senior leaders now feel that in order to give the campaign a cutting edge, the party should have boldly projected either Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh as its prime ministerial candidate.

Thirdly, the assessment is that the party failed to counter effectively the NDA's campaign on the Kargil war, particularly ahead of the first two phases of polling.

The fourth factor is the lack of concrete moves to repair the damage caused to the organisation by the revolt led by Sharad Pawar and to neutralise the effect of the faction fights in various State units. The results from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa indicate the failure of the organisational set-up in these States.

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The failure to implement the special organisational plans in Maharashtra, the northeastern States and certain parts of Rajasthan, and the fielding of candidates with doubtful credentials - such as alleged mafia don M.K. Subba in Assam - are highlighted i n this context. Attempts to perpetuate dynastic politics in the form of allotment of seats to party leaders' relatives - among them were former Kerala Chief Minister K. Karunakaran's son, Punjab Congress(I) president Amarinder Singh's wife, Uttar Pradesh Congress(I) president Salman Khurshid's wife, Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang's wife and former Union Minister K. Natwar Singh's son - have been cited as representing an unhealthy trend.

Lastly, the alliances with the AIADMK and the RJD and the lack of coordination with the allies are seen as having had negative effect. In order to emphasise this point, critics mention the unrest in the Bihar unit of the party during seat adjustment talk s between Sonia Gandhi and RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav as well as the snub that AIADMK leader Jayalalitha handed to Sonia Gandhi by skipping her first election rally in Tamil Nadu.

THE question now is whether the outcome of the elections will give rise to a threat to Sonia Gandhi's leadership. According to a senior leader, the elections were characterised by the continuation of a plethora of mistakes Sonia Gandhi committed since No vember 1998, after the Congress(I) scored a major victory in the Assembly elections in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Yet it is unlikely that her position will be challenged. However, the attack against the coterie, which consists of CWC member Arj un Singh, Sonia Gandhi's secretary Vincent George, and party general secretaries Pranab Kumar Mukherjee and Oscar Fernandes, would gain strength. Mukherjee and Fernandes have already resigned their party posts.

Whatever Sonia Gandhi's immediate fate as Congress(I) president, there has been change in the way she is described: hailed not long ago as the person who transformed the Congress(I) from a moribund and direction-less establishment into a vibrant organisa tion capable of leading the country, her position today is that of a leader who led the Congress(I) to one of its worst defeats. That is bound to diminish her stature in the party.

Whose agenda?

VENKATESH ATHREYA cover-story
Tasks before the new government.

AS the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government in New Delhi settles down, attention should shift to the question of the agenda before it.

There has already been considerable discussion in the print and electronic media on the agenda. The overwhelming focus has been on economic issues. The captains of industry, speaking through various industry associations, have been especially vociferous in spelling out the economic agenda.

The concern with economic issues, and the sense of urgency about them, is understandable. During the election campaign, the two main formations in the fray - the NDA and the Congress(I) - pushed economic issues into the background.

The NDA campaigned almost solely on the plank of A.B. Vajpayee's virtues, and the fact that he was "able and stable" prime ministerial material, while the Congress(I) claimed that it alone had in the past provided a stable government, and it alone could do so again. It was only the Left parties which projected economic issues, both in their manifestoes and in their campaign. However, the Left had accorded primacy to the issue of secularism even while attacking the economic policies of the BJP, which con stituted both the continuation and intensification of neoliberal policies pursued by the earlier Congress(I) and United Front governments. Given this fact and the limited reach of the Left, economic issues did not figure prominently in the election campa ign. Of course, the telecom scam hit the headlines, but was not sustained as a campaign issue in a big way.

It is now obvious that the new government will have to contend with several urgent economic issues. The National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has described the fiscal situation as "...a source of grave concern".

The pressure on the government's finances is coming from both the revenue and expenditure sides. While revenues have grown by only 13 per cent as against the projected 19 per cent, the additional expenditure on the Kargil war alone is estimated by some sources at more than Rs.5,000 crores. The Central government's net borrowings in the first two quarters of the current financial year at Rs.50,331 crores amount to 87 per cent of the amount budgeted for the entire financial year 1999-2000. The fiscal def icit is expected to reach 6 per cent of GDP and will exceed the figure if public sector disinvestment does not generate the budgeted provision of Rs.10,000 crores.

The current rate of inflation is quite low, this being the result of a very high base created by the extraordinarily rapid increase in primary product prices earlier. However, with 'normalcy' in primary product prices getting restored, and several new in flationary pressures emerging - witness, for instance, the sharp rise in petroproduct prices - the rate of inflation is expected to reach 7 to 8 per cent by the end of the year. In fact, a feature of the neoliberal policy regime of the 1990s has been the coexistence of a high inflation rate with sustained recession. The average annual rate of inflation for the decade of the 1990s is close to 9 per cent.

These emerging economic issues apart, there is also an air of expectancy among the corporate sector leaders of some quick and decisive action from the NDA government, now that its parliamentary majority is not as precarious as that of the previous regime . The industry bodies - the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and so on - have put forward the following agenda.

* Clearing, within two to three months, the backlog of economic legislation pending before Parliament including the Companies Bill, the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) Bill and the Foreign Exchange Management Bill;

* Privatisation of the public sector by bringing down government holding below 51 per cent;

* Allowing 74 per cent foreign equity in the car, auto component, bulk grain handling and tourism sectors;

* Financial sector reforms including privatisation of banks;

* Easing of price controls in the pharmaceutical industry;

* Approval of the new telecom policy;

* Focussing on intellectual property rights, and the agricultural and services sectors at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) coming up in Seattle.

The corporate agenda is quite in line with the policies of the previous BJP-led government. During its 13-month rule, the BJP-led government had pursued neoliberal policies with greater vigour than all its predecessors. It opened up the economy to foreig n investors in a big way, pushed hard the agenda of privatisation of public sector undertakings, provided several tax concessions to the corporate sector, and substantially raised the issue prices of rice, wheat and sugar provided through the public dist ribution system (PDS), besides hiking other administered prices and tariffs.

Interestingly, in anticipation of its return to power, the caretaker government had been busy making plans for the pursuit of an economic agenda largely consistent with what the corporates have now sought. Thus, the core group of Secretaries of the Gover nment of India have finalised plans for the sale of several public sector undertakings including the Indian Petrochemical Corporation Limited (IPCL), the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL). Close on the heels of the sharp rise in diesel prices announced by the caretaker government a day before counting of votes began on October 6, the Petroleum Ministry mooted proposals for hikes in the prices of kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The Prim e Minister himself was quoted as saying that once the new government is in office, the IRA Bill will be passed in three days' time.

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It is interesting to note, however, that while the NDA manifesto had spoken of continuing with the reform process, it also claimed that it would "... give it a strong swadeshi thrust..." and reappraise and revitalise reforms through giving primacy to removal of unemployment.."

It is clear that the economic agenda of the new government will largely be in line with the needs of the demands of the corporate sector, Indian and foreign, and that there would be a fair degree of consensus among NDA partners on the matter of the agend a. The socio-political agenda of the new government is, however, an issue on which consensus will be less easy to forge.

During the election campaign, while the NDA manifesto steered clear of the contentious issues of Ayodhya, Article 370 and a uniform civil code, this was not necessarily true of the actual campaign itself. In communally sensitive constituencies (such as C oimbatore in Tamil Nadu), a clear effort was made by the BJP to consolidate the 'Hindu vote', with a not insignificant degree of success. It would, therefore, appear somewhat naive to assume that the presence of such parties as the DMK or the TDP would e nsure that the dominant partner BJP will abjure communal mobilisation and stick to the parameters agreed upon among the NDA partners. In fact, the rather evasive remarks of senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, to a question on whether the Ayodhya issue was bei ng postponed or given up, provides a clue to the dilemmas facing the BJP leadership as well as the NDA. Clearly, the BJP's agenda is not the same as that of the NDA's, and equally pertinent, the RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal agenda is not in every instance (though it is in the main) necessarily identical to that of a BJP in government.

In an important sense, this election has shown that communal mobilisation is not always efficacious even in electoral terms. Where clear alternatives to the BJP's communal-plus-neoliberal agenda were present, they have received popular support. The perfo rmance of the Left forces in Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura and that of the S.P. and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh bear this out. On the other hand, as already noted, communal mobilisation has helped the BJP win in several constituencies. The political and s ocial forces which seek to fight for a secular and democratic polity will need to keep this complexity in mind, and hence also the need to retain the focus on the three inter-related goals of secularism - social justice and economic equity and self-relia nce.

An issue of which much was made in the NDA manifesto is that of constitutional reforms. The NDA sought to make the 'stability' of an elected government - and guarantee of its continuity throughout the five-year term of the Lok Sabha - the focus of such r eforms.

Leaving aside the essentially undemocratic proposals that seek to ensure a five-year term for an elected government at all costs, an issue that is of longstanding importance and is bound to come up is that of Centre-State relations. Going by the record, both the BJP and the Congress(I) have tended to ride roughshod over elected State governments, and have sought to utilise Article 356 to bring them down. In the present coalition dispensation, that would be rather more difficult. Be that as it may, a wel l-thought-out overhaul of Centre-State relations in order to ensure a genuinely federal, democratic and pluralist polity, which strengthens the Union as well as the States, should certainly be on the nation's agenda. To this, one should add further decen tralisation of power and authority to elected local bodies, as well as reservation for women in Legislative Assemblies and parliament as issues to be addressed urgently.

FINALLY, does the BJP/NDA agenda correspond to the needs of the people of India? It unfortunately does not, in most respects. Its agenda of continuance and intensification of the reform process, including the carrying out of the so-called second generati on of reforms, flies in the face of people's experience with the neoliberal economic policy regime for nearly a decade now. These nine years of economic reforms have not led to accelerated growth, nor to significant reduction of poverty or unemployment. There have been no major breakthroughs in such areas of human development as education or health, despite lip-service to such goals as part of the official rhetoric on reforms. The economy today is far more vulnerable to external shocks and the policy ma kers find themselves increasingly constrained by the need to attract foreign investors and keep them happy. The failure of the state to mobilise resources for development is evident in the decline in the tax-to-GDP ratio and the sharp decline in governme nt capital formation, a decline not compensated by private investment. The erosion of the PDS imperils the people's food security. India's weakness at the WTO forum weakens the nation's economic sovereignty. The economic agenda really ought to address an d reverse these developments, rather than pursue neoliberal economic policy as the panacea for all ills.

Similarly, on the socio-political front, securalism, and commitment to India's socio-cultural, linguistic and religious plurality are essential to ensuring political stability, which can hardly be guaranteed by mere parliamentary arithmetic.

There is, of course, the all-important question of nuclear policy. In the months to come, the consequences of Pokhran-II will come to haunt India repeatedly, as they have already done in Kargil. The pressures to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CT BT) will be strong. The straws in the wind - witness Murli Manohar Joshi's statement to the effect that India was ready to sign the CTBT, all that remained was to get the NDA partners to agree - indicate that the NDA partners, many of whom have in the re cent past held forth on the inadvisability of signing the treaty, would have to be vigilant.

Finally, there is the larger issue of India's foreign policy, its role in a unipolar world and its relations with major countries as well as its neighbours. The complex questions of foreign policy need a far more nuanced discussion than would be possible here. Suffice it to say that cozying up to the United States, allowing it to intercede in the Kashmir issue in the hope that it will favour India as a regional power or announcing China as the country's main enemy - these hardly constitute an inspiring record.

As the nation faces a complex agenda, the incongruence between the people's agenda and that of the NDA/BJP is bound to have implications for economic and political stability.

Against secular NGOs

other

I am writing in response to an item which has appeared in several newspapers, including The Asian Age (Rezaul H. Laskar), regarding a series of "show cause" notices which have apparently been issued to several prominent non-governmental organisat ions (NGOs). The Asian Age report, titled "Home Ministry singles out anti-BJP NGOs", lists some of the best known and most active groups - groups that have been working for over three decades in fields covering the most critical areas of social de velopment, including education, health, gender issues, rural development, tribal development, and Dalit and human rights issues across the country.

I as a founder-director of Ankur, one of the several groups that have chosen to associate themselves with the advertisement campaign initiated by Communalism Combat, and we as citizens who have always appreciated the democratic space provided by our Cons titution and our polity, view with alarm and concern the present actions, which point to increasingly unhealthy trends to harass, choke and silence all dissent and the right to freedom of expression. The dark days of the Emergency apart, there are few pr ecedents to this kind of action to stifle the voice of civil society. Whether it was in the post-1984 riots period or the post-Babri Masjid demolition period, the right of citizens' groups and NGOs to exercise their "watchdog" role was never in question or under assault as it is today.

It is important to analyse and open up to public debate the notion of what constitutes "political activities" and who has the right to decide and determine these definitions in an allegedly open and democratic society. Here again, the role of the organs of the state in defining and determining the parameters of "patriotism", of "nationalism", and now of "political activity", must be subject to scrutiny and widespread critique.

It is not only the prerogative but the duty of civil society organisations - the globally accepted terminology for a range of organisations and groups, including NGOs - to provide information and facts and to create awareness among and educate the publ ic. Most of us joined social movements precisely to be better able to reach out to the unreached, oppressed and exploited masses through education and other programmes, and with a clear, overtly stated objective of empowering people who had been denied a ll access to human rights through oppressive, systemic, social, economic and political structures.

The role of NGOs and CSOs in bringing about a universal recognition for the language of people's empowerment is well accepted today by groups and institutions across a wide spectrum.

In a country which pioneered and spearheaded structural and constitutional changes by way of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Constitution in order to enable the practice of grassroots democracy, and in a land which takes pride in calling itself the " largest democracy in the world", it is appalling to see the highhanded use of power and authority to curb and limit precisely these voices and institutions of democratic participation and opinion. This is the sure path to fascism - and it is up to every right-thinking Indian to speak out against the actions of the Home Ministry (if these are true) and to stand up for the freedom and the right to form and propagate opinions. Quoting Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) provisions and other interpretati ons of the laws governing social institutions as grounds for such action is nothing short of harassment

Lalita Ramdas, Alibag, Maharashtra, Sagari Ramdas, Madhusudhan, Usha, Asha, Pandu Dorai, Secunderabad

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